Mental Health Disease More Common Than You Might Think

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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.,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.,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).

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!

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, bipolar disorder, 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.

Supportive programs have been added 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. 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 children understand about the value of nutrition and exercise. These classes teach about diseases, safe sex, and nutrition. But mental health education? In particular, discussions on mental health disorders? 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 one-fifth 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 and no longer suffer in silence.

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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