Research & Education Fight Stigma to End Crisis

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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!

Why Physical Health Education, But Not Mental Health Education?

Before beginning this blog, I want to say a few things about our coalition’s work.  First, we are working very hard, advocating for far more funding for research into the biological causes for mental health diseases.  There have been many posts on studies to substantiate the roles of genetics and epigenetics in mental health (brain) diseases.  Please look back at the studies that we have blogged about as well as our petition. It’s gaining ground!

Now, I’m switching gears just a bit. In this blog I’ll be talking about the disturbing truth, that even in our schools, mental health is still not taken as seriously as physical health. Throughout the nation, state education systems have mandated that students learn about physical and nutritional health, but with the exception of beginning strides in only a few states, not about mental health.

Extra programs have been added to schools on social and emotional learning, but this is not the same as mandating mental health education to be a required part of the curriculum for elementary, middle, and high school students. Physical education is mandated, so why not mental health education? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting for one moment that physical education is not important. It is very important. But so is mental health education!

Physical education class is required to help teach children about the value of nutrition and exercise. We teach them about staying fit and eating healthy. Health classes teach about diseases, safe sex, and nutrition. But mental health education? Not there. Is there any question why stigma still surrounds mental health disorders?

This mental health gap in curriculum has a potentially huge impact on society for generations to come, especially when considering that it is estimated that approximately 20-25% of children are experiencing a mental health condition at any given time.

Schools need to be portraying mental health as equally important and crucial as physical health. That starts with making mental health education a required part of education across all schools from kindergarten into high school. When you educate young people about mental health conditions, the conversation is normalized. In doing so, stigma is lifted. And when stigma is lifted, these young people are far more likely to reach out for help.

Please look at what California is doing in the area of education.  No states’ mandates for mental health education are perfect, but we believe that the following is a great first start. 

Please help us to help our children!

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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.”

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.

“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)

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.

Suicide and non-fatal suicide attempts have substantial genetic etiology, which is partially shared and partially distinct from that of related psychiatric disorders.

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!”

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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!!!

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.

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 

Published: 6 May 2020



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