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!

“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. 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




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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 very good news:

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.


What Motivates You?

Enough is enough. Enough has cost people their livelihoods, their family relationships, and in many cases, their very own lives.
What is it going to take to get people to wake up?   More suicides?  More mental disabilities resulting in our government spending more and more for work loss productivity?  More over-crowding of prisons?  More homelessness?  More substance abuse? More physical conditions – such as heart disease, obesity, asthma – where stress can be a contributing factor?

The list goes on and on, yet our funding for research into mental health diseases and suicide continues to lag way behind that of other diseases and conditions. My question has been, Why?  Also, why do so many people seem to be hesitant about finding the biological factors involved in mental health disease, in particular, the genetic component? 

Many of us still want to bury our heads in the sand, as if to say, “Oh,  my family doesn’t have any mental health issues.  And I certainly don’t.”  Well, in many of these cases, this is simply not the truth. So why wouldn’t we want to find the answers?

It occurred to me one day that while the stigma attached to mental health conditions is a reason, it’s not the only one.
Don’t get me wrong.  Stigma is a huge problem. 

However, another motivator occurred to me; one that is far more powerful than even stigma. 
This is fear.  Fear that when/if we find that biological reasons (including genetics) are indeed a major component of our mental health disorders, we’ll have to admit that we, our loved ones, and most of all, our children may be genetically predisposed.  This is frightening.  It’s much easier to tell ourselves that mental health disorders are not really brain diseases, but disorders based on only environmental causes.  We have a recipe for dealing with this – our current medications and therapies.  This recipe is far from perfect, but a recipe nonetheless.

I’ll have to admit that it is pretty scary, being that we don’t have all of the answers at this time to treat these diseases.  However, with our current research, we are in far better shape than we were even five years ago. And through research, we are getting closer to finding the answers to genetic predispositions and, in turn, finding effective treatments and cures.

Instead of being frightened of how genetics plays into the mental health equation, I think we should welcome it with open arms. This takes courage.

Just imagine if we could have blood tests to determine the predisposition of mental health conditions. We could target them at an early age and treat them before they are able to advance to serious levels. And while continuing our research for possible cures, we could educate those who are predisposed to these conditions in effective coping strategies. This knowledge is empowering. This knowledge gives hope.

We can’t go back and change the precious time that has been lost for this much needed research, but we can do something now.  Please join forces with our group to advocate for funding into genetic research, and to finally end this war on mental health disease.  We, and our loved ones, are worth it.

*** Please use our ‘Contact’ form to get in touch with us to join our movement in whatever capacity you are able.
Also, we need your input. ***

*** Please look at the ‘What You Can Do’ tab for a sample letter to write to your legislators. ***

So, what motivates You? We need your input. Together, we can help to end the war on mental health disease!

Researchers Discover Genetic Risk Factors for Childhood OCD

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a well-known mental health condition, but for many years it has been one that’s easily misunderstood. This is partly due to the way it is often portrayed in media and partly due to a lack of knowledge. Fortunately, we now understand that OCD is an actual mental disorder. However, much is still unknown as to its causes. Over the years, blame has been placed on environmental factors such as stress and parenting styles. But no research has ever shown that stress or the way a person interacted with his or her parents during childhood causes OCD.  Stress can, however, be a factor in triggering OCD in someone who is predisposed to it, and OCD symptoms can worsen in times of severe stress.

In speaking of this predisposition, researchers have recently discovered genetic risk factors for OCD that could help pave the way for earlier diagnosis and improved treatment for children and youth. Dr. Paul Arnold, professor and director of The Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education at the Cumming School of Medicine in Toronto, stated the following:

Our group made the first finding of a genome-wide significant risk gene relevant to childhood OCD. We’ve known that OCD runs in families, but we hadn’t identified and validated specific genetic risks of OCD symptoms in children and youth until now.”

After looking across millions of genetic variants from the saliva samples, the team identified that children and youth with a genetic variant in the gene PTPRD had a greater risk for more obsessive-compulsive traits. The findings are published in Translational Psychiatry.

Dr. Christie Burton, PhD, lead author and research associate in the Neurosciences & Mental Health program at SickKids (partnering in this study), stated that discovering the genes involved in OCD is critical to help improve patients’ lives. “This type of research is still in the early stages, but the hope is these findings will lead us to understand the causes of OCD, which in turn could help identify people with OCD sooner and develop better treatments.”

Included in this article is an account of a young man, going by the name of Sam. Sam has OCD, and seems to be doing well with his current therapy and medication. However, our current treatments don’t have the same effects on all patients with OCD. In fact, few patients experience complete remission of symptoms despite available treatments. There is an urgent need for conceptually novel pharmacological strategies to improve treatment outcomes for those patients who demonstrate only a partial response to therapy or prove to be highly treatment resistant. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2993523/

In speaking about Sam, he is 17 years old, and lives with OCD. With therapy and medication, he says he has been able to face his obsessions and compulsions, ride out the anxiety and control his actions. Looking back at his childhood, Sam says he had some OCD tendencies as early as elementary school, but neither he nor his family realized he had a mental health condition. The researchers hope that by understanding the genetics of OCD they can develop better treatments, improve outcomes and diagnose young people like Sam earlier.

In Sam’s words, “At first I wasn’t sure what to do with the diagnosis, it was very foreign, I didn’t want to perceive myself as having a mental health issue. But, knowing I have OCD helped me overcome the challenges. With therapy and medication, I’ve stopped OCD from overtaking my life and taken back control.”

Sam is a real teenager, but Sam isn’t his real name. He says due to the stigma around OCD he would prefer to remain anonymous.

I find this real story of a young man living with OCD to be very revealing in regard to the state of affairs of our mental health crisis as it speaks to a major roadblock; stigma. Sam is helping by offering his story, but still feels he needs to remain anonymous. This is a major roadblock. If the public was made aware of the the genetic role involved in OCD and other mental health diseases, more people may willingly come forward to tell their stories without feeling ashamed and stigmatized Why? Because mental health conditions would be treated as brain diseases, which they are, and not personality weaknesses or character flaws. And, in response, the fight for genetic research would be strengthened. Then, we can really make changes to help those suffering.


Connection Between Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

For decades, research scientists have been attempting to tackle a fundamental question. “What are the roots of mental illness?” Throughout their search for finding an answer, they have collected a vast amount of data through genetic studies, brain activity and neuroanatomy. They have also researched the subject of comorbidity in mental health conditions.  Simply put, this is when there is more than one mental health condition or disorder occurring simultaneously in the same person.

Comorbidity within mental disorders is common.  For instance, if a person is diagnosed with both Social Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder,  they are said to have co-existing, or comorbid, anxiety and depressive disorders.

A large, cross-sectional, national epidemiological study of comorbid conditions in mental health in Spain showed that among a sample of 7936 adult patients, about half had more than one psychiatric disorder.4 In addition, looking at the U.S. National Comorbidity Survey, 51% of patients with a diagnosis of major depression also had at least one anxiety disorder. Only 26% of them had no other mental health condition. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-comorbidity-3024480

The following blog is in regard to three disorders that are now among the most studied in mental health.  They are anxiety, depression, and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).  Before understanding how OCD, anxiety, and depression interact, we need to look at each.  Throughout the blog, when looking at causation, please notice the amount of times you see the word ‘genetic’ appear.

Major Depressive Disorder:

The American Psychiatric Association defines depression (Major Depressive Disorder, MDD) as a mood disorder that causes a substantial decrease in well-being, in regard to several different areas of life.

On an emotional level, depression brings feelings of sadness, loneliness, emptiness, a lack of pleasure or energy, and hopelessness.

On a cognitive level, depression causes detrimental beliefs that bad (negative) experiences are the person’s own fault, and that the world around them is a lonely, scary place, where things will never improve.

On an interpersonal level, depression is marked by actions and responses to others that destabilize their relationships and create problems between the person suffering from depression and those around them.

It can severely hinder their sense of self-worth, place in society, and day-to-day functioning.

Depression Demographics:   

Depression is a prevalent mental health disorder, affecting about one in 15 adults (or 6.7%) of the adult population. In the US, 17.3 million adults (7.1%) have reportedly experienced one or more depressive episodes during their lifetime.

Several risk factors have been shown to increase the chance of developing MDD. These include genetics, childhood environment, personality and temperament, later life events, and the existence of additional mental and physical disorders.


Anxiety is defined as an extreme, adverse and disproportionate concern over a possible threat. Unlike fear, which is seen as an intensely unpleasant emotion in response to perceiving or recognizing a danger or threat, anxiety is characterized by excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with either compulsive behavior or panic attacks.

Anxiety is a family of disorders, with a large number of individuals facing them. In the United States 19.1% of the population are diagnosed with at least one anxiety disorder, with 31.1% of US adults having dealt with an anxiety disorder sometime during their life. 

Both anxiety and depression have been associated with experiencing distress when facing the unknown, with depression related to a vague sense of mourning, and anxiety growing out of the thought of a future threat whose likelihood remains unclear.

While depression is defined by a lack of energy, anxiety is perceived as more of a system overload, and tied to excessive concern over the possibility of coming to harm.

Within the anxiety family, there are the following disorders:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: Excessive worry over one or more major life domains (work, home, family, etc.).
  • Separation anxiety disorder: Increased distress over separating from an attachment figure (excluding relevant childhood developmental stages).
  • Panic disorder: Severe and unexpected attacks of distress, eventually fearing the onset of the next attack.
  • Social anxiety disorder: Distress over social situations that may involve scrutiny.
  • Specific phobia: Fearing certain stimuli, objects, or scenarios.
  • Selective mutism: Inability to speak in public.
  • Agoraphobia: Fear of open or enclosed spaces, using public transport, being in a crowd or outside and alone during specific situations.
  • Substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder: Symptoms of anxiety developed following use of medication or substance abuse.

Causes of Anxiety Disorder: https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/anxiety-disorders

  • Genetics.
  • Brain chemistry.
  • Environmental stress.
  • Drug withdrawal or misuse.
  • Medical conditions.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder:

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a mental disorder defined as a combination of anxiety-inducing mental processes and physical actions. OCD can be very time-consuming, creating significant distress, and impairing function in major life areas.

OCD is an overactive defense mechanism that repeatedly introduces anxiety into the individual’s mental health system. It consists of intrusive, obsessive thoughts that the person has very little or no control over, and then, compulsive behaviors that a person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession. Fulfilling the compulsive behaviors usually reduces a person’s distress related to an obsession.

Obsessive Thoughts: OCD-related thoughts tend to focus on one or more themes that cause the individual extreme distress. Such thoughts are intrusive, unwanted, and tend to repeat themselves in a ruminative fashion.

Compulsive Behavior: Individuals battling OCD often feel as if they are assaulted by their own mind, due to their adverse, repetitive thought patterns. As a result, many develop rituals of repeated behavior in an effort to suppress their feeling of anxiety they experience. However, while these behaviors can temporarily bring about relief, they eventually become compulsive, and in the long run, contribute to the individual’s rising levels of stress.

OCD Demographics:

2.3% of US adults and 1%-2.3% of US children and adolescents face OCD. While this disorder can start at any age, OCD symptoms usually appear between the age of ten and early adulthood. It is very hard to diagnose OCD, and is often explained away as a person’s little ‘quirks’ or peculiar behaviors.

OCD has been linked to a number of risk factors. These include genetics, environmental factors, temperament, and life events.

A Range of OCD-Related Disorders

OCD is part of a range of what is referred to in the DSM-V as OCD-related disorders. The conditions in this group involve obsessive thought patterns and unwanted actions or ceremonies meant to alleviate feelings of anxiety. They include hoarding, trichotillomania (hair-pulling), excoriation (skin picking), hoarding, and body dysmorphic disorder (a preoccupation with a perceived physical defect).  It’s important to understand the person suffering from OCD is very aware that their behaviors are not rational, but are unable to stop obsessive thoughts due to the feeling of a possible catastrophe or impending doom. 

How MDD, OCD, and Anxiety Relate to One Another:

Each of these conditions has a connection with the other two conditions ; however, in slightly different ways.

Linking OCD and Anxiety

Connecting OCD and anxiety is straightforward because anxiety is the central symptom of OCD.  It’s also the reason why OCD was, at one time, considered part of the anxiety family of disorders.

However, several crucial developments in the field of OCD research have shown that OCD needs to be separated into its own category.

One reason is that scientific discoveries have now been able to actually map out the neural pathways and structures that play a part in the development OCD.

Second, therapists in the field have noticed that specific treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, are able to offer individuals with OCD some benefit with .

Third, OCD-focused genetic research has uncovered genetic commonalities for OCD and OCD-related disorders, separating them further from other anxiety-based disorders.

How OCD and Anxiety Relate to Depression

Linking OCD to anxiety disorders is understandable because they stem from the same core symptom – anxiety. But how do either anxiety or OCD relate to depression?

One rather intuitive link between both of these anxiety-centered categories and depression is based on causation.  An individual who suffers from either OCD or anxiety may find themselves feeling hopeless, saddened or unable to enjoy life—all symptoms of depression. Facing either of these disorders for long can eventually cause them to develop depression as well.

Second, all three disorder families often appear together. Depression, anxiety, and OCD all show a high level of comorbidity with one another, with the probability of developing two or more of them together being significantly higher than chance.

Unfortunately for those facing several of these conditions at once, comorbidity decreases the chances of a symptom-free recovery when compared to those battling singular disorders.

Last, Genetics seem to shape the relationship between these three conditions. The connection appears to pass through neuroticism, which is a trait causing negative emotions. Having this personality trait may cause a person to have intense, adverse reactions to internal and external stressors, resulting in feelings of sadness, guilt and anger. Since neuroticism has been found to be both highly hereditary and a risk factor for anxiety, depression, and OCD, researchers of this characteristic have hypothesized that it acts as a mediator between all three of these conditions. 

Finally, neural structures also appear to play a part in the co-morbid development of anxiety, OCD and depression. Specifically, the amygdala portion of the brain, and its role in processing emotions, has been shown to be associated with the development of these three disorders. Damage to the amygdala has been shown to affect how we process and perceive threatening stimuli and expressions of happiness, which can result in the appearance of depression, anxiety and OCD-related symptoms. 

In conclusion, with the advent of current genetic research, we are finding studies showing that genetics and epigenetics play a role in the development of depression, anxiety, and OCD, and that there are links between each.

Other serious mental health conditions are also showing findings of a genetic role, as well as having over-lapping links to other mental health conditions.

As always, for our loved ones, we need to support mental health genetic research so we can help to end the suffering for so many.  It’s way past time for action.


Familial Risk and Heritability of Diagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder is something I began reading about decades ago when working on my counseling degree. Unfortunately, there was no real scientific research on BPD at the time.  Everything I read in the DSM about the possible causes of BPD was based on the belief that those who suffered with BPD had caregivers who abandoned, abused, or neglected them in some way during childhood. 

Now, decades later, genetic research has come into play, and has given us some promising data that there is a genetic component to Borderline Personality Disorder.  Other research has suggested that there is a neurological basis for some of the symptoms, that brain chemicals helping regulate mood may not function properly in individuals diagnosed with BPD. Environmental factors, such as traumatic life events – physical or sexual abuse during childhood, neglect, and separation from parents—are at increased risk of developing BPD. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Borderline-Personality-Disorder

For those who may not have heard of Borderline Personality Disorder, it is a mental health disorder that impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life. It includes self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions and behavior, and a pattern of unstable relationships. A person with BPD may have an intense fear of abandonment or instability, and may have difficulty tolerating being alone. However, inappropriate anger, impulsiveness and frequent mood swings may push others away, even though those with the disorder want to have loving and lasting relationships.  https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/borderline-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20370237

A clinical trial, published in June, 2019 (issued in March, 2021), gives us the first ‘total-population’ study of familial aggregation (occurrence of a trait shared by family members) and heritability of clinically diagnosed BPD. The study followed 1,851,755 individuals born between 1973–1993, in linked Swedish national registries.

This study concluded that the familial aggregation and heritability of Borderline Personality Disorder was estimated at 46%, with the remaining variance explained by non-shared environmental factors. Further studies are necessary in order to learn more about genetic factors and BPD. The time is ripe for identifying genetic variants associated with BPD through large scale genome-wide studies.  This will aide in helping to identify environmental risk factors, and how these may correlate or interact to increase the risk of BPD.  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41380-019-0442-0