A Letter from Naomi Judd

Mental Health Action Day is this Thursday, May 19th. In partnership with more than 1600 brands, nonprofits, government agencies and cultural leaders, Cure Brain Disease is proud to be a partner in this day, and we will encourage and empower people to take the next step for #MentalHealthAction. Go to MentalHealthActionDay.org to learn more and join our effort to shift from awareness to action on mental health.

Head to Cure Brain Disease’s ‘Helpful Links’ page to learn of ways that you can take action for yourself or a friend on Mental Health Action Day. There is no-one-size-fits-all action, but rather, this is an open source effort for all who want to use their megaphones to drive our culture of mental health from awareness to action.

Naomi Judd was one such person who stood bravely and took action. In October of 2018, she, along with physician Daniel R. Weinberger, M.D., penned an open letter addressing the suicide epidemic.

*** Please note Cure Brain Disease is sharing the following letter as it was originally written. Since 2018, when the letter was written, many individuals and organizations, including Cure Brain Disease, have shifted from the term ‘committed suicide’ to the more accurate term, ‘died by suicide’. We also wish to point out that the the use of the term ‘aggressive traits’ is most likely in reference to ‘reactive aggressive traits’ defined as an impulsive response to a perceived threat or provocation.***

The open letter said, in part:

For everyone mourning the death of someone who committed suicide, an inevitable question arises: Why did this happen? Unfortunately, we don’t have very good answers. We do know that suicidal behavior accompanies many behavioral brain disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. Suicide is actually one of the leading causes of preventable death among these mental illnesses. Addiction is another common brain disorder in people who commit suicide …

Currently a disproportionate amount of research focuses on suicide as a sociological and psychological phenomenon, but the latest studies may give us better answers…

It is also clear from many studies that suicide runs in families and has some genetic roots. In fact, studies of twins show that 43 percent of the likelihood of committing suicide is determined by one’s genes. While it remains unclear as to which specific genes contribute to risk of suicidal behavior, family studies have consistently found that suicidal behavior is partially explained by transmission within families of impulsive and aggressive traits
. Relatives of suicide completers have been found to have elevated levels of impulsive-aggressive traits and are themselves more likely to have histories of suicidal behavior.

To understand this issue better, we have to bring the study of suicide into mainstream neuroscience and treat the condition like every other brain disorder. People who commit suicide are experiencing problems with mood, impulse control and aggression, all of which involve discrete circuits in the brain that regulate these aspects of human experience, but we still don’t understand how these circuits go haywire in the brains of suicide victims.

Most likely the propensity for specific malfunctions in the relevant brain circuitry began to form early in development, perhaps even inside the womb. With other brain disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression, we have an increasingly rich landscape of research delving into the biology and genetics of these diseases, but nothing yet at this level for suicide. We do know, for example, that lithium seems to reduce the likelihood of suicide attempts, but we do not understand the biological mechanism for why this is so.

Refocusing suicide research necessitates public and private collaborations. Right now about six times as many people in the United States die by taking their own lives as do from HIV/AIDS or heart disease, but the money to study suicide is lacking. In a recent column for the New York Times, Dr. Richard Friedman highlighted this funding disparity, noting that heart disease researchers receive 29 times the amount of federal funds than suicide and suicide prevention scientists. In fact, the federal government spent more money last year to study dietary supplements than to understand why Americans decide to take their own lives.

It’s about time we do better.

Naomi Judd Was Open About Mental Illness, Thoughts of Suicide

Cure Brain Disease is urging you to demand more from our government. We need to pick up Naomi Judd’s torch and fight for a real end to our mental health crisis. Please stand together with us. If you wish to contact our coalition, please fill out our contact page and we will quickly get back to you. And remember to check out our helpful links page. We must all work together for a much better tomorrow!

Our Mental Health Foundation

In our blogs, I’ve  been discussing the biological factors involved in mental health conditions; primarily, the genetic components.  However, biology doesn’t paint the entire  picture.  In fact, if a person is genetically predisposed to a mental health condition, it does not mean this person will automatically develop the condition.  It increases their likelihood, but there are many other factors involved, including environmental and psychological factors.  For someone with a genetic predisposition for a mental disorder, interactions with certain environmental factors may serve as ‘triggers’ for the disorder. It’s important to understand that what may be a normal, everyday situation or minor inconvenience for one person may be triggering to someone living with a predisposition for a mental disorder.

I’d like to use an analogy.  Imagine you are building  a new home or remodeling an older home.  You look at floor plans, siding options, etc., but most of all, you want to ensure that your structure is solid and strong.  There are many different factors that contribute to the strength of your home, but ultimately, there are three major aspects that will determine how sturdy your home is. Those three factors are the foundation, walls, and roof.  

All are essential for your new or remodeled home, but the foundation is the most important part as the strength and stability of the structure depends upon its foundation. 

With this being said, even though the foundation is critical, and an issue with the foundation can pose a risk, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your house will collapse. You can live in a home with foundation issues, and many people do. They sometimes don’t even realize it because the underlying problems are not always obvious. Most issues take years to develop into a serious enough problem to pose a safety risk.  However, you will be living with a heightened risk from such precipitating events (triggers) as water damage, invasive landscaping, plumbing problems, and seasonal changes resulting in cracking walls, sinking floors, etc. Even though many foundation problems can be bypassed or held at bay using alternate methods, there are some serious foundation issues that must be dealt with directly in order for your house to not be at risk of severe damage or collapsing.

So, in building a new home, why not make sure the foundation is solid to begin with?  Or, in your renovation project, why not inspect your home’s foundation to see if it’s in need of repair – before problems magnify into a very costly and time-consuming project?  Hopefully, you will resolve any issues as soon as possible!

You likely see where this analogy is taking us.  Genetics in mental health is the equivalent to what the foundation is in a house.  It’s not the only important factor, but it does serve as the support system for the entire structure.  Environmental and psychological factors are the walls and roof in our mental health analogy.  All parts need to work in harmony in order for you to have optimal mental health. But without a firm foundation (genetics), everyday stressors in our environment can serve as triggers and put our mental health structures at risk.  Can your structure continue to weather the storms of these stressors?  And if so, at what cost?

Some people would say, “Well, I’m seeing a therapist, and I’m taking medication prescribed by my psychiatrist. I’m better than I was before…”    

Others will say, “I’ve tried so many medications and multiple types of therapy over the years, and I’m not really seeing any benefit.  I’m ready to just stop trying.”  

And then, there are those who suffer in silence.

What we have been doing for decades in mental health is treating our mental health conditions based on the ‘symptomatic’ factors without getting down to the foundation, the genetic component. It makes no sense to leave this most basic and important piece out of the equation. (Remember, this is the strength and stability of the structure.) 

This is not to say that there’s no point in treating the symptoms. Far from it.  Current treatments can be, and many times are, very helpful.  But if you want to find a cure, you must treat the problem from its root cause (the foundation).  This is ‘genetics’.

You may ask why we haven’t looked into this before.  And the obvious answer is that we have.  But we haven’t gone far enough.  Increasing numbers of studies are showing genetic links to mental health disorders, but we are only at the tip of the iceberg.  At this time, blood tests are being developed to see if a person is at risk for severe depression and bipolar disorder. Researchers say these tests can also assist in tailoring individual options for therapeutic interventions. https://neurosciencenews.com/depression-bipolar-blood-test-18197/

This is exciting news!  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to, one day, have curative treatments specifically tailored to an individual’s needs?  These studies are very promising, but so much more needs to be done.  

We must truly invest in research, like we have with cancer, heart disease, and other diseases.  Over 16 million lives have been saved due to the people’s outcry back in 1971 for a cure for cancer. But it took the people demanding that the legislators make funds available in order to carry the research through.  These people are still demanding, to this day, and funds are still being appropriated for cancer research.  This is great.

However, one in five Americans live with a diagnosable mental health disorder today, not to mention those who suffer in silence.  How many of us, our loved ones, and our friends must continue to suffer at the hands of a mental health disease?  The numbers are climbing at staggering rates.

Researching the brain is not a simple task as the brain is a very complex organ. (much more complex than a simple analogy can convey) However, if we commit to spending the necessary time and funds to follow through in this research, the return on our investment will be huge. It will be life-changing for many of us today and for future generations.
Please speak out now and let your legislators know that you are demanding they spend the funds necessary to find cures.  The following links give you a list of your own state legislators.  Please write to them to let your voices be heard.  Remember that you are their constituents, and they will listen to you.

https://www.house.gov/representatives

https://www.senate.gov/senators/senators-contact.htm

If you would like to learn more about our coalition, or would like to join us, please see our ‘contact us’ page.

Largest Genetic Map of Psychiatric Disorders So Far

Approximately 20% of the world population is affected by some type of psychiatric disease that can alter intellectual ability, behavior, emotions, and social relations. (Update on most current statistics according to NIMH) https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness

Stop and just think about that for a minute.  20%, one fifth of our world’s population, is affected by a a mental health disorder.  Even if you are not the one out of every five, odds are you either have a family member or close friend who is that one out of five. So, 1 in every 5 at your office function, church dinner, or neighborhood block party.  The scenarios go on and on. You get the picture. 

In this blog, I’m going to share an article on the largest genetic map of psychiatric disorders we have so far.  I encourage you to read the article, in its entirety.  The link is at the end of this blog.  Summing up:

In the largest international study published so far on the genetics of psychiatric disorders, which has been promoted by the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, researchers analyzed the genetic base shared by eight psychiatric disorders:

  • anorexia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and Tourette Syndrome

The study further defines three groups from within these eight disorders that are highly genetically related to each other. They are:

  • Compulsive Behaviors                   (anorexia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder)
  • Mood and Psychotic Disorders      (bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia
  • Early-Onset Neurodevelopmental Disorders   (autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, Tourette Syndrome)

“This study, consisting of 230,000 patients and 500,000 controls, does not put emphasis on the genes shared by members of a particular group.  Rather, on the genes shared by the highest number of disorders”, notes Bru Cormand, professor at the Department of Genetics, Microbiology and Statistics and head of the Neurogenetics Research Group at the UB.  “That is, those factors that would somehow give way to a ‘sensitive’ brain, more likely to suffer from a psychiatric disorder. And the fact that this could be one or another disorder would depend on specific genetic factors, not forgetting about the environmental factors”.

Many psychiatric disorders show co-morbidities, they tend to co-occur, sometimes in a sequential manner. Therefore, it is quite likely for a patient to show more than one disorder over their life.

The results indicated that a gene related to the development of the nervous system – DCC – is a risk factor for all eight disorders, and RBFOX1 is involved in seven out of the eight disorders.  Further findings included that ADHD and depression share 44% of those genetic risk factors that are common in the general population. Regarding schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, these figures reach 70%. According to the expert Antoni Ramos-Quiroga, “these results help people with ADHD so they can understand the disorder and also why they can suffer from depression more frequently. Furthermore, this is new scientific evidence that ADHD can persist over life, and be present in adults. We hope this helps to reduce the social stigma regarding ADHD and the other mental illnesses”.

The study further looks into the expression of risk factors in psychiatric disorders. One of the most relevant findings of the study reveals that those genes that are risk factors for more than one disorder –genes with pleiotropic effects- are usually active during the second trimester of pregnancy, coinciding with a crucial stage in the development of the nervous system.  However, it’s important to note that some genetic variations can act as risk factors in a certain disorder, but have a protective effect in other cases.

As for hereditary genetics versus environmental factors, psychiatric disorders have a multifactorial origin.  For instance, ADHD has a 75% genetic load, and the remaining 25% would be explained by environmental factors.  This data was derived from twin studies.  Other psychiatric disorders in the study could be viewed in the same way because the contribution of genetics is generally over 50%.

In the future, one of the priorities of the Consortium will be to complete the genetic landscape of mental disorders through the analysis of other genetic variations. From an epigenetic perspective –in particular the methylation of DNA- the Consortium wants to analyze the interactions between genes and environment, which could be decisive in psychiatry.

“It will be important to understand how genetic alterations are translated to the actual disorders (phenotypes), and this involves studying the function of every single gene identified in the genomic studies. Bru Cormand and Raquel Rabionet note, “The objective is to use genetics to improve and customize the diagnosis, prognosis and therapy of these pathologies which may be highly disabling for the affected people.”

https://www.technologynetworks.com/genomics/news/largest-genetic-map-of-psychiatric-disorders-so-far-331851

Please let your voice be heard in order to increase funding for much needed genetic research. Contact your legislators. See our ‘Contact Your Legislators’ page for help in contacting your own particular representatives and senators. Thank you!

Remember to support our “Moonshot for Mental Health” initiative.

https://www.change.org/MoonshotforMentalHealth

988 Crisis Response System

Our blog site is a place where we usually share information on genetic research in the area of serious mental health conditions and advocate for increased funding to expand this research so that our future generations might not have to face a mental health crisis ever again. We also talk about much needed mandates for mental health education in our schools. These are still our primary goals.

At this time, I have another urgent plea. This is to write to your legislators and ask that they increase funding for the 988 crisis line which is to go into effect July 16, 2022. There are not enough people at this time to man the phones, so please reach out if you feel that you can help. Also, funding is inadequate to support all of the staff at the call centers at this time. So please let your legislators know you want them to vote for an increase in funding.

To find out more about how you can help, please contact your local AFSP, NAMI or Mental Health America chapters. Help is desperately needed!

As always, please share our Moonshot for Mental Health!

https://www.change.org/p/moonshot-for-mental-health

President Biden’s Strategy to Address Mental Health Crisis

It is very encouraging to see President Biden making our mental health crisis a top priority.  It is certainly a bold move on his part. It includes major funding in mental health training, launching the 988 mental health crisis line, expanding and strengthening parity, and expanding early childhood and school-based intervention services and supports.  And these are just to name a few. 

One would rightfully think that this sounds wonderful.  I want to be very clear in saying that I agree. It is wonderful. But, it’s not enough.  

None of these strides will effect change in our long-term outlook on finding better treatments and possible cures for serious mental health conditions.  And because of this, we are missing out on a golden opportunity to help our future generations.

There is absolutely no mention of genetic research, when it is clear that genetics and epigenetics play a major role in serious mental health conditions. Yes, there is a mention of research in President Biden’s plan.  This would be the $5 million in research on new practice models.  But genetic research?  Nowhere.

So, let’s just look at where we are today.  Currently, federal funding of mental health clinical research is insufficient to allow for major advances in the diagnosis, treatment, and reduction in deaths due to mental health conditions in the United States.  The National Institutes of Mental Health  requested $1.54 billion in research funding for Fiscal Year 2022.  In 2018, The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s, National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) data found that 19.1 percent of adults ages 18 and older had any mental illness in the past year (47.6 million) and 4.6 percent (11.4 million) of adults had “serious mental illness”.   This funding equals about $32 for each adult with a mental health condition in the United States in the past year.

U.S. federal medical research funding is important for early-stage clinical research, according to a 2015 Special Communication from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network.   Medical research in the United States totaled $117B in 2012, 58% of which was funded by private industry.

To put this in perspective, the United States federal government has been funding Cancer Research since the enactment of the National Cancer Act of 1937 , and it has continued to increase funding over several decades.  The latest funding increase, through the 21st Century Cures Act, signed into law in December 2016, was dubbed a “Cancer Moonshot” that added an additional $1.8B over a seven-year period for cancer research.  Federal funding for the National Cancer Institute in 2019 totaled $6.1B, to treat an estimated  5.1 million people who were diagnosed with cancer from January 2013 to January 2017 according to the U.S.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.   That research funding is equal to $1,196 per person diagnosed with cancer over a five year period. The research funded has made a difference in the lives of those cancer patients.  According to the American Cancer Society:

“The death rate from cancer in the US declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop ever recorded.”

Now, let’s compare funding for cancer research to that of mental health conditions. Heads up. The results are dismal, to say the least. According to the National Institute of Mental Illness, in 2020, there were an estimated 52.9 million adults (21% of all U.S. adults) aged 18 or older in the United States who reported Any Mental Illness (AMI).   This was an increase from 2018, when 19.1 percent reported AMI.  An estimated 14.2 million adults reported having Serious Mental Illness in 2020, 5.6% of all U.S. adults, also an increase from 2018.  

Clearly, more funds need to be appropriated for medical research into the causes and treatment of serious mental health conditions.  As most of our readers know,  Cure Brain Disease Coalition  has started a Change.org  Moonshot for Mental Health Petition,  Moonshot for Mental Health Petition,  to ask for additional federal funding for research into the biological, genetic, and epigenetic causes that might predispose people to mental illness.  The purpose of this basic research would be to identify biomarkers to aid in diagnosis of serious mental conditions, prognosis and prediction and to provide information leading to novel targeted treatments and curative therapies for serious mental conditions. 

The time is now for equitable distribution of medical research funding.  Thank you so much for reading this urgent message.  Hopefully, our country can come together to end our mental health crisis once and for all.  Please let Congress know that we must have a Moonshot for Mental Health!  https://medium.com/p/2c63d095f009

Please sign our petition:   https://www.change.org/MoonshotforMentalHealth

To find your state legislators’ contact information, please click the links below. They are only an email away.

https://www.house.gov/representatives

https://www.senate.gov/senators/senators-contact.htm

School Mental Health Report Cards – How Did Your State Do?

Report cards are now out on mental health in our schools. The Hopeful Futures Campaign has assembled a first-ever national report card that scores every state on policies that support school mental health, with recommendations for how to improve.  17 organizations joined together to form the Hopeful Futures Campaign. They believe that every child, in every school, should get the mental health services they need so they can thrive.

I encourage each of you to look to see how your state scored, and read the sections on ‘The Strategy’ and ‘The Solutions’. Under ‘The Solutions’, please look at the eight policy areas that contribute to a comprehensive school mental health system.

Even though all policy areas are extremely important, I want to call attention to Category 8 – Mental Health Education. Unfortunately, this has not been mentioned as part of our administration’s strategy to address our national mental health crisis. However, as a recently retired school counselor of thirty years, I see the need for mandates to be put in place to actually educate the students on mental health, including teaching about mental health conditions, from kindergarten through high school.

We mandate physical health through required PE and health classes in elementary school, continuing into high school. However, mental health is not treated with the same importance as physical health. As a result, many of our children and young adults are suffering. This must change. We must change from being ‘reactive’ to being ‘proactive’. Teach the children about mental health disorders so they can understand what they or a classmate may be going through.

How are children going to be able to recognize they may have a ‘medical’ condition that effects their emotions unless they are taught about these conditions? Without learning about what to look out for, many will continue to suffer in silence, thinking that they are abnormal or have a character flaw. This lack of education leads to shame and isolation. In turn, many do not reach out for help.

Mandates must be put into place if we truly want to effect change and help our children and young adults. This will not happen overnight, but it can be done. Again, we must teach the children.

Fortunately, some states are in the beginning stages of making changes. Please read about the following three states.

  • New York deserves continued praise for its widely lauded mental health education law, which requires that all schools’ health education programs include mental health.
  • Several states, including Virginia, have followed suit, recognizing the importance of intentionally integrating mental health into health education.
  • Florida’s statute requires mental health education only in middle and high school, but is commendable for its final rule, effective July 2021, that specifies a minimum of five hours annually of instruction on mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention.

To see how your own state scored in the various areas, click the link “Home” below; then click onto your state. And please join the Hopeful Futures Campaign to advocate for increased support for mental health education in our schools!

In the News

Our CureBrainDisease Coalition is truly gaining ground. Several of our members were recently interviewed about our mental health moonshot initiative for The GreenvilleJournal – Greenville, SC. The article is only about a five minute read, and speaks straight to the heart of our mental health crisis which is now growing to epidemic proportions. Please take the time to read this important message.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, please sign and share our petition (below). Thank you all for helping to make a brighter future for generations to come!

https://greenvillejournal.com/community/walts-waltz-founder-says-time-is-right-to-fund-mental-health-moonshot/

Please sign and share our Moonshot for Mental Health Petition!

https://www.change.org/MoonshotforMentalHealth

Genetic Testing in Neurodevelopmental Disorders

The following blog highlights the article, “Genetic Testing for Those with Neurodevelopmental Disorders”.  The reason I say ‘highlights’ is because the article contains a great deal of information that I won’t be addressing in this blog.  I would ask that you please read the article as it is extremely informative. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), refers to Neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD) as group of conditions that present during a child’s early developmental period and are characterized by developmental deficits that may create challenges in the child’s personal, social, academic, or occupational functioning.  With a combined prevalence of approximately 17% of children ages 3-17 years old in the United States, NDD are the most prevalent chronic medical conditions encountered in pediatric primary care. 

NDD include intellectual disabilities (ID), global developmental delays (GDD), communication disorders (language disorder, speech sound disorder, childhood onset fluency disorders, and social/pragmatic communication disorder), autism spectrum disorders (ASD), attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), specific learning disorders (involving reading, written expression, and/or mathematics), and motor disorders (developmental coordination disorder, stereotypic movement disorder, and tic disorders).

Other conditions, outside of the DSM-5, are also considered as neurodevelopmemtal disorders.  These conditions include cerebral palsy (CP) and epilepsy, and neuropsychiatric disorders where there is strong clinical and biological evidence of developmental origins, such as schizophrenia.

As I mentioned, NDD are the most prevalent conditions encountered in the pediatric setting.  In fact, these disorders are considered to be common, and a significant proportion can be identified by genetic testing. In the last two decades, rapid advances in the development of genetic testing have revolutionized our ability to make specific genetic diagnoses in patients presenting with identification of neurodevelopmental disorders. New genes are being implicated in neurodevelopment at a rapid pace.

So, what do family members want to know?  The answer is that in addition to wanting to know their child’s clinical diagnosis and prognosis, they want to know the cause of their child’s developmental disability. With the development of genetic testing in identifying genetic causes for NDD, physicians can provide information on causes to families, along with a more accurate prognosis for their patients.  This identification can also be used to find, treat and possibly prevent medical comorbidities. 

At this time, genetic testing is considered the standard of care for children and adolescents with Intellectual Disabilities, Global Developmental Delays, and/or Autism Spectrum Disorders, and the future of testing will almost certainly be broadened to include other neurodevelopmental disorders. (Standard of care refers to the attention and care a patient should reasonably be provided.)

It is important that physicians and other medical personnel who provide healthcare to children and adolescents with neurodevelopmental disorders, gain an understanding of these common tests and their role in providing the best medical care for patients.  It is also important for these clinicians to support and facilitate genetic etiologic evaluations (genetic testing showing cause) for these patients by ordering genetic testing or partnering with genetic providers. Article cited: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fped.2021.526779/full?fbclid=IwAR1o3CcN1xdG_bc08LQzJzW1eSaJkFWIFH8m7pkFpGVYcXd16vneSZT3JbY

To follow up, we think the main point from this article is that conditions which were once believed not to be genetic and/or caused by biological factors are now considered to be diseases with well defined genetic factors. We need to promote science so we can someday understand the genetic and epigenetic causes of serious mental health conditions well beyond schizophrenia and better understand how NDD could be related to mental health conditions. Please support our petition for a Moonshot for Mental Health so that we may have the much needed funding to continue this type of life changing research!

https://www.change.org/MoonshotforMentalHealth

                                   

Mental Health Disease More Common Than You Might Think

Photo by Cameron Casey on Pexels.com

It seems that any time I speak with someone today about mental health disorders, there is a common theme.  In almost every conversation, each person reluctantly says that either they, a family member(s) or both, suffer or have suffered from a mental health disorder.  I usually bring up the topic because of my work with Cure Brain Disease.  After talking about our coalition’s work, they say something like, “Well …… I have (some type of mental health disorder) , and am on medication for it.”  Then they tell me about other members of their family who have struggled with a mental health disorder.  Some mention that a family member died by suicide.  Even though not all suicides are considered to be the result a mental health condition, many of those who have died by suicide were experiencing some type of mental health condition, such as major depressive disorder or  anxiety. 

The reason I mentioned that those I’ve spoken with ‘reluctantly’ admitted to having a mental health condition of their own, or that of a family member, is because this says to me that we still have so far to go in the area of stigma.  Despite the many celebrities speaking out about their own mental health struggles, there is still an enormous amount of stigma surrounding mental health disease.  This has to stop. 

According to The American Psychiatric Association, stigma and discrimination can contribute to worsening symptoms and reduced likelihood of getting treatment. A recent extensive review of research found that self-stigma leads to negative effects on recovery among people diagnosed with severe mental illnesses, including reduced hope.

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/stigma-and-discrimination#:~:text=Stigma%20and%20discrimination%20can%20contribute,reduced%20hope

Something else I notice in speaking with people about mental health are the number of times they mention that their family members also struggle with mental health disorders.  This speaks to the heritability of so many of the serious conditions which we view as brain diseases.

According to NIH, scientists have long recognized that many psychiatric disorders tend to run in families, suggesting potential genetic roots. Such disorders include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia.

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/common-genetic-factors-found-5-mental-disorders#:~:text=Scientists%20have%20long%20recognized%20that,disorder%2C%20major%20depression%20and%20schizophrenia.

And according to NCBI, Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and major depressive disorder (MDD) are highly comorbid. A possible explanation is that they share four symptoms, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition – Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3629816/

So now.  Let’s just think about all of this for a minute.  Almost everyone I come into contact with, when speaking of mental health, tells me they have, and at least one family member has a mental health disorder which they are taking medication for.  That’s a lot of people suffering from mental health disorders!

But remember, they are hesitant to mention this, meaning that there is still a great deal of stigma surrounding mental health conditions.  I find myself wondering, just how many people do have some type of mental health condition, and of those, how many suffer in silence due to stigma?

We must all stand up and do something about this.  Advocate for research.  Educate the children so mental health conditions will become a part of normalized conversations.  And break the stigma.  Talk about your mental health like you would about your physical health.  It’s way past the hour we do this. 

Also, please support our Moonshot for Mental Health petition to Congress, and share with as many people as you can!  Be well!

https://www.change.org/MoonshotforMentalHealth

Research & Education Fight Stigma to End Crisis

Photo by Vanessa Loring on Pexels.com

A while back, I blogged about where Science and Stigma must meet.  Now, I am adding where research and education must meet to fight stigma and end our mental health crisis.

In this blog, I will share some personal snapshots. I’ll begin by telling you what started me down this path in working with several others to create our advocacy group.

My son passed away while he was in graduate school studying to become a school psychologist. I have never known a kinder person in my entire life than my son, and I can say this regardless of the fact that I have had, and still have, the great honor of being called his mother.

I had no idea that school psychologists did anything other than test students to see if they had a learning or emotional disability, and then meet as a team to make plans for these students. I didn’t know they could specialize in a particular field.  Well, my son wanted to specialize in the areas of emotional challenges for children and suicide prevention for adolescents.  We found this out after he passed away.

If you can only imagine for an instant the impact of the loss of your child, you would know, without a doubt, that you would want to carry on their desire.  In this instance, it is a wonderful cause.  My son wanted to help young people who suffered with emotional difficulties.  So, of course, now I want to to do the same.

The only difference is that I originally wanted to go about helping in a different way. This way was by advocating for research into mental health conditions, so that we could find the root causes for disorders, develop curative therapies, and cut them off at the pass – so to speak.  In forming a coalition of like-minded individuals, I soon found out what an arduous task this would be.  We formed the ‘Cure Brain Disease Coalition’, and have been advocating for more funding for research in the area of serious mental health conditions, which we deem as Brain Diseases.

I am still focused on this task.  We must find the root causes in order to find curative therapies.

However, the question of education looms overhead.  It seems my son was onto something equally as important as advocating for research.  And this is educating our children.

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I remember as a young girl, in the late 1960’s, going through what I now know was a deep depression. I didn’t know what was happening with me, but I dreaded each day with an ominous feeling, and this increased as each morning wore into late afternoons.  Late in the afternoons were especially bad for me. I developed phobias, and my OCD increased with each passing day.  Of course, no one knew what OCD was at the time, nor had they heard of anorexia, which I developed at age 11.  The only thing that saved my diminishing body was that I was at an age where my parents still had a certain amount of control over me and forced me to eat. Later, we would learn of this eating disorder. 

Between my depression, my phobias, OCD, and anorexia, I can only remember thinking ‘how unusual’ I felt that I was. It seemed that no one else had “my issues”. I had no idea, at the time, that we had a history in my family of major depressive disorder and OCD. Not that it would have ‘cured’ me, but I believe that understanding there may be a genetic “predisposition” for my feelings, as well as knowing I wasn’t alone, would have helped me tremendously.

(Please understand that if you are ‘genetically predisposed’ to a condition, it does not mean you will automatically develop a disorder.)

So, this is where education comes into the picture. Many children and adolescents are going through mental health conditions, but they feel helpless, hopeless, and alone.  Why would they not reach out for help?  One reason is they may feel that they are abnormal, and are, therefore, ashamed of reaching out for help. Another reason is they do not realize they may have a ‘real’ medical disorder affecting their brains. This is because they have never been taught about these mental health conditions. So, they continue to suffer in silence. There are a host of reasons, but it all comes back to the central theme of lack of knowledge which feeds stigma.

My son wanted to help these children.  He wanted to help these adolescents.  Now, upon reflection of my own past, and because of his desire, so do I.  But how do we do it? 

The answer is pretty basic.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, we must have a mental health curriculum, from Kindergarten – 12th grade which is mandated. Teach the children about the signs and symptoms of depression, OCD, anxiety, ADHD, addiction, mania, schizophrenia and other serious mental disorders (on age appropriate levels) – just like we do with physical health diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, cystic fibrosis, and the list goes on and on.

And in the meantime, tell our young people that there are, indeed, possible genetic links for many of these conditions. We can’t pretend that genetics don’t play a part. They don’t paint the whole picture, but certain genetic links predispose some to a mental disorder. And there is no blame or shame in this.

With more funding, we will continue our research into the causes, and will, hopefully, find cures in the not so distant future. You may ask, ‘But what about now?’ And the answer is, that while we wait for research to catch up, there are many specialists who can, indeed, help.  The simple fact of knowing there might be a cause, and knowing you’re not alone is very empowering.  I know this would have helped me.

Please remember to sign our petition!

https://www.change.org/p/moonshot-for-mental-health