Why Can’t We Do The Same For Brain Disease?

The War on CancerOver 50 Years Ago

In 1970, the American people made clear their desire for a cure for the second-leading cause of death in the United States. President Nixon responded during his January 1971 State of the Union address: “I will also ask for an appropriation of an extra $100 million to launch an intensive campaign to find a cure for cancer, and I will ask later for whatever additional funds can effectively be used. The time has come in America when the same kind of concentrated effort that split the atom and took man to the moon should be turned toward conquering this dread disease. Let us make a total national commitment to achieve this goal.”

“On December 23, 1971, President Nixon followed through on his promise as he signed the National Cancer Act into law, declaring, “I hope in the years ahead we will look back on this action today as the most significant action taken during my Administration.” https://dtp.cancer.gov/timeline/flash/milestones/M4_Nixon.htm

Just think of the progress we have made in the War on Cancer because “the people” made it clear that it was their desire; it was important to them. Again, the desire of “the people”.

Why can’t we do the same for brain diseases?  The answer is that we can. But we must speak up and let our representatives know that it is important to us, that we are relying on them to allocate far more funding to go into research for the biological causes of mental health diseases – “Brain Diseases”.

Please contact your legislators to let them know that you are relying on them to help end the mental health crisis that we have been in for so long. Together, our voices can be heard.

Find your representatives, and write to them. Remember, they work for you.

https://www.house.gov/representatives

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

“Moonshot for Mental Health”

What Are Your Thoughts?

We have a question for you. One of our Cure Brain Disease coalition members is scheduled to interview an expert in the field of mental health disorders who has conducted, and continues to conduct, many studies on the root causes of mental health conditions. We would like your input as to what you think. What are your thoughts on the biggest causes of mental health problems? Your input will give us valuable input into an area of questions to be asked.

Although there is no single cause for mental health conditions, here is a list of a number of factors that are thought to contribute to the risk of developing mental disorders. (life experiences, biological factors such as chemical imbalances in the brain, traumatic brain injuries, exposure to environmental factors such as toxic chemicals while in utero, serious medical conditions such as cancer, alcohol and drug use, genetics and family history, feeling isolated) https://medlineplus.gov/mentaldisorders.html

Thank you all. We will make sure we post information from the interview after it takes place. (YOUR NAME WILL NOT BE SHARED.) This is your chance to express your opinions and have them heard!

  • Please do the following.
    • 1 . Follow our site for follow-ups to the interview (below right).
    • 2. Fill out the Contact Us bar on our site to give us your input.

Where Science and Stigma Must Meet

By now, those who follow us know we are advocating for more research into the biological causes for mental health conditions and suicide. I am now wanting to add a very important point to the conversation. This is that we must make a change in how we are talking to our young people about mental health.  I believe that if the public was made aware that there is in fact a genetic component involved in serious mental health conditions and suicide, this in and of itself, would remove much of the stigma surrounding these topics. 

All major psychiatric disorders have a familial and heritable component. Twin studies have documented significant heritability across the spectrum of psychopathology, with estimates ranging from 20% to 45% for anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and major depressive disorder; from 50% to 60% for alcohol dependence and anorexia nervosa; and from 75% upward for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.19060643

Suicide and non-fatal suicide attempts have substantial genetic etiology, which is partially shared and partially distinct from that of related psychiatric disorders. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006322321015705

Of course, genetics isn’t the only factor. However, in many cases, it does account for the predisposition to serious mental health disorders and suicide.  Maybe, young people would be more open to reaching out for help if they knew, based on these statistics, that their conditions quite possibly have a biological basis, a “scientific” foundation.  As it stands, far too many still suffer in silence due to the stigma of (pardon me for the very stigmatized phrase),  ’It’s all in your head’

Do researchers have all of the answers to the causes of these genetic predispositions, and better yet, effective treatments and curative therapies?  No, sadly, not yet.  What we need is far more research and far more funding for this research.  

However, while we wait for science to catch up, we need to take advantage of the help we do have at this time, and that is in working with qualified mental health professionals. Our young people will know that there is a ‘scientific’ reason behind their mental health conditions, and that these conditions are ‘real’, all the while learning valuable coping strategies. I believe people (of all ages) will feel more comfortable in taking that first step forward to reach out for help if they feel they have a real biological condition, and not just something that’s ‘all in your head’, so to speak.

So what am I saying?  We must advocate for biological and genetic research, and we must reduce mental health stigma.  

But, which comes first???

That’s a good question.  I think both need to work simultaneously.  In order to reduce stigma, we must have far more research into the biological causes for these brain diseases.  On the other hand, in order to gain support for research into the biological causes, we must reduce the stigma surrounding them.  Each goes hand in hand. 

We all need to work together – scientists, educators, parents, community leaders, and Congress.  We must all come together to end our mental health crisis!  This is not only for today, but for generations to come. Please join us.

“Moonshot for Mental Health!”

Please follow us (below right) for updates on how you can help or become a part of our coalition!

Why Didn’t God Make My Brain Smart?

I wonder how many children think that something is wrong with them, that it’s only them, and that they are just simply not smart enough. I heard of a little boy who asked his Mom, “Why didn’t God make my brain smart?” Can you imagine the heartbreak for that mother and her son?” Well, imagine it because it happened, and it happens every day. Little children, and then, young adults, wonder, “What is wrong with me? Why didn’t God make my brain smart?”

Interestingly, this little boy was found to be very smart. He just needed to process the information differently than some of his classmates. Children who live with learning differences are some of the brightest, most talented, and creative of us all. Research shows that there are underlying biological causes for the way we receive and process information, and this has nothing to do with intellectual ability.

What I would like to say to these beautiful children is that God Did make your brain smart. There are many scientific reasons that you (and others) might need to be taught in a different way than some of your friends, which has absolutely nothing to do with your intelligence.

I would continue to say that scientists are working on finding out what causes some people to learn in different ways, and that one day, we should have the answers. “We won’t stop until we do.”

Then, I would say, “In the meantime, while we wait for scientists to catch up, there are many good strategies to help you learn in the best way to learn for your brain. If you are struggling, talk to someone about it so that they can get you the right type of teaching that’s available right now. There are many good things that you can do while we wait for discoveries to catch up!” “You are smart!”

That’s what I would like to say.

“A Simple, but Life Changing Request” – Please Sign!

Hello to everyone who is concerned about our mental health crisis, and who wants to truly be a part of making a change. The following is a very simple request!

I’m attaching a link (directly below the blog) where you may sign a petition. This petition will go to the Appropriations Committee, requesting for more funding for research into the biological causes for mental health disease. I ask that you please sign this petition so we will have a strong, united voice. If you sign, and I hope you do, please do not donate any money. That is not what this is about. This is about coming together as a united voice for a real ‘Moonshot for Mental Health’. United, we can make a difference. Thank you!!!

https://www.change.org/MoonshotforMentalHealth

Change The Forecast for 2030!

By the year 2030, ‘Depression’ is Projected to Be The Biggest Burden on Health in the World!

*** Note: Please make sure to click on the link at the bottom of this blog to see how you can help! ***

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression will be the single biggest burden on health in the world by 2030.  People with depression normally have several of the following: a loss of energy; a change in appetite; sleeping more or less; anxiety; reduced concentration; indecisiveness; restlessness; feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness; and thoughts of self-harm or suicide. 

WHO has identified that depression has strong links to other disorders and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and raises the risk for substance abuse. Depression is also an important risk factor for suicide, which claims hundreds of thousands of lives a year. More than 800,000 people die by suicide a year. It is the leading cause of death in the 15 -19 year-old age group, and the second leading cause of death in the 20-34 year-old age group.

On December 7th, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a new Surgeon General’s Advisory to highlight the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health challenges were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people, with up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. having a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder. Additionally, from 2009 to 2019, the number of high school students who reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40%, to more than 1 in 3 students. Suicidal behaviors among high school students also increased during the decade preceding COVID, with 19% seriously considering attempting suicide, a 36% increase from 2009 to 2019, and about 16% having made a suicide plan in the prior year, a 44% increase from 2009 to 2019. Between 2007 and 2018, suicide rates among youth ages 10-24 in the U.S. increased by 57%, – PDF and early estimates show more than 6,600 suicide deaths – PDF among this age group in 2020. The pandemic added to the pre-existing challenges that America’s youth faced. This Fall, a coalition of the nation’s leading experts in pediatric health declared a national emergency. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2021/12/07/us-surgeon-general-issues-advisory-on-youth-mental-health-crisis-further-exposed-by-covid-19-pandemic.html

What Can We Do to Help?

With this information, you might ask, “What can I do?”  The good news is that you can actually do a great deal. The answer is to let your legislators know we must have a “Moonshot for Mental Health”, just like we did for cancer research 50 years ago! We need far more funding for mental health research so that we can get to the biological root causes of mental health diseases. In this way, we can develop new effective treatments and cures with the aim of treating people who are predisposed to mental health conditions early on so that these conditions don’t advance to serious levels. Just think of the advances we’ve made with cancer. Can’t we do the same with the most important organ in our body, our brain?

Funding for mental health research is far below funding for other conditions. This must change.

We CAN make a difference.  In fact, WE are the only ones who can.  Let’s change the forecast for 2030. “Moonshot for Mental Health!”

**** Please take a few minutes to write to your legislators.  If you wish, a sample letter is provided for your use, as well as contact information for your state legislators.  Please click on the following link for the letter and contact information for your legislators. ****

Thank you!

Please click this link.

New Study Linking Genes to Mental Health Disorders

We now have a new piece in the puzzle linking genes to a range of mental health disorders:

New research shows our genes influence the way our brains are ‘wired up’ in childhood making us more vulnerable to a range of mental health conditions in later life.

Scientists have long recognised that genes are a significant factor in most mental illnesses. But the mechanisms at play remain largely mysterious.

However, research from the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) sheds new light on the link between genetics and mental health. A new study has revealed a common pattern of connections in the brains of people whose genes predispose them to mental health problems.

The findings show that brains ‘wired up’ in this way are associated with not just one but a whole range of mental health conditions – a list including schizophrenia, autism, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

Dubbed a ‘vulnerability network’, this pattern of connections may help us to understand why different mental health conditions seem to run in the same families and explain what makes a patient with one psychiatric disorder more likely to be diagnosed with another.

Psychiatric illnesses tend to have a lot in common and many share symptoms and genetic risk factors. The discovery of the ‘vulnerability network’ is another piece in the puzzle of how they relate to one another.  Dr Max Taquet who has lead the research explains ‘what’s really exciting about this research is that it gives us a better understanding of the way mental health conditions emerge’.

The research team studied the brain scans of a group of nearly 700 healthy children. By using data from a young and healthy population they aimed to limit the impact on their findings from pre-existing illness or treatment and from environmental factors.

They went on to show that, as well as predisposing people to a number of mental health disorders, the same vulnerability network is associated with behaviours that make people more vulnerable to mental health problems, such as  marijuana and alcohol misuse and impulsive behaviour.

Looking to the future, Dr Taquet is optimistic about the study’s implications for patients “we hope that this discovery holds the potential to inform the development of better interventions to treat and prevent psychiatric disorders.”

The research published in Molecular Psychiatry is available here https://www.nature.com/articles/s41380-020-0723-7 

Published: 6 May 2020

https://www.oxfordhealth.nhs.uk/news/new-piece-in-the-puzzle-linking-genes-and-mental-illness/

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What’s Going On In My Mind and Body?

Have you ever experienced an unexplained, life-altering, mystery condition that didn’t go away in spite of searching for answers from numerous physicians and specialists? Did it remain a mystery that became more than a mere inconvenience? So much so that it became a debilitating or life-threatening condition? If so, you are not alone. These are sometimes known as “medically unexplained symptoms” when they last for more than a few weeks, but doctors can’t find a problem with the body that may be the cause. Not understanding the cause can make them even more distressing and difficult to cope with.

Now, let’s look at mental health conditions in the same context as these “medically unexplained symptoms”. I would like to give you an example of a “possible scenario” for someone who is experiencing a mental health disorder.

You may find yourself suddenly becoming forgetful, unable to produce simple words, you may become anxious, paranoid, and deeply depressed, and you may have embarrassing physical symptoms such as sudden jerking movements in your body. People laugh at you, and you are humiliated. You spend years trying to figure out what’s actually going on and how to cure this mystery disease of the mind. However, there is no cure because you are told that at this time, there is no definitive diagnosable disease, and your symptoms are, just ‘all in your head’. The advice you are given? “Go home, eat well, get plenty of exercise, plenty of rest, and think positive thoughts”.

The scenario continues, and by now, due to the supposed ‘all in your head’ symptoms, you may find that you need to look for other employment or go on permanent disability. Finally, you begin to isolate yourself, friendships begin to fade, and you think it would just be better if you weren’t here at all. After all, you feel that you are indeed a misfit, and that the whole world is continuing on in its normal way, only without you.

I’ve just described to you the types of struggles that many people with mental conditions go through. Due to lack of knowledge, as well as stigma, many begin to feel hopeless.

You may say, “Oh, but we’ve come a long way in the way we look at mental illness.” But have we? Would you be willing to tell a group of people or a prospective boss that you have a mental disorder? Better yet, someone you were romantically interested in? Would you?

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine today about the possibility of speaking to a group about the role genetics plays in mental health conditions. I feel it helps to de-stigmatize mental health conditions when one understands the biological components behind these mystery diseases. I firmly feel that when someone knows that there is a real scientific basis for our mental health conditions, and that we are searching for cures, it will ease their minds. The reasons? One, they won’t feel completely alone. Two, there is hope. And three, for the first time in their lives, they might actually feel like they can breathe. There is a scientific reason, there is hope, and they are not alone. This is very powerful information.

I’m not going to pretend that we have all of the answers as of yet. We are far from it. But we are finally looking in the right direction; and that is in our genetic make-up, in our brain chemistry, and in our environment.

There is much evidence from recent studies that genetics and epigenetics contribute to many mental health disorders – and in some disorders, to a great degree. However, we still have a long way to go in discovering the complex interplay between genetic predisposition, environment, and situational factors.

While we wait for scientific research to give us more definitive answers, let’s help our children, young adults, and those of all ages know that what many are going through is real (not just in their heads), and that each day, we are learning more and more about the biological causes of mental health conditions. Let’s let those who suffer know that they are not alone. Let’ s let them know there is hope.

Bipartisan Legislation to Help Diagnose and Treat Genetic Disorders Like Cancer and RARE Diseases, Particularly in Children

Here is some possibly very good news on the forefront.

Today,Representatives Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Scott Peters (D-CA), and Tom Emmer (R-MN) introduced bipartisan legislation to better diagnose and treat genetic disorders like cancer and rare diseases, particularly in children. This legislation was included in Representatives DeGette and Upton’s CURES 2.0, legislation that was introduced today, which would improve how drug treatments and therapies are delivered to patients. Bipartisan legislation will help diagnose and treat genetic disorders like cancer and RARE diseases, particularly in children. This is extremely good news being that nearly 80% of rare diseases are genetic and 70% begin in childhood. 

“This much-needed legislation will help provide hope and relief to millions of children living with a mysterious and rare disease,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell.”

Although a significant number of rare diseases are genetic, they have a varied etiology:  infectious, autoimmune, nutritional, and environmental diseases and cancers. Regardless of etiology, living with a rare disease can have a detrimental effect on mental well-being. While this could be said of any disease or chronic condition, the mental impact can be amplified in the case of rare diseases. Anxiety, stress, low mood, emotional exhaustion, and suicidal thoughts, have all been identified in the rare disease population. https://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/home/topics/general-psychiatry/rare-diseases-a-psychiatric-concern/

“Genetic and genomic testing technology is improving every day, and this bill provides a critical step forward for making these tests more accessible to pediatric patients.”“Genetic and genomic testing options are the future of medicine. Offering this service will help us understand the individual needs of patients and ensure we can provide answers for millions of families with children struggling with unknown illnesses. Making these tests more accessible will save lives, revolutionize our health care industry, and ease the burden on our system through prevention instead of treatment,” said Rep. Tom Emmer.

https://swalwell.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/swalwell-peters-emmer-introduce-bill-make-genetic-and-genomic-testing