Too Frightened to Parent

For decades, experts have been advising new mothers on what they need to do in order to raise healthy and happy children so they may blossom into mentally sound and successful adults.  Young moms have been showered with many types of advice to choose from.  From the days of Dr. Benjamin Spock, advising parents to be more relaxed and flexible with their children, to Dr. James Dobson’s stance that parents need to be more no-nonsense and authoritative with their children, it’s easy to see how moms can become confused.

Most moms enter this new, exciting chapter of their life unprepared; no fault of their own.  How would they know how to be a mom?  They’ve never been a mom before. Yet, the expectation is there. These new mothers, and fathers, want the very best for their child, and they envision the numerous possibilities that lie ahead.  

Quickly, they realize that parenting is quite complex.  In turn, they reach out to parenting experts for advice, but unfortunately, receive a barrage of contradicting messages. These messages also change over time, based on the ‘current trends’ on how to be a good parent.  Whether reading the latest “how to” parenting books, or searching online through an endless supply of expert advice, new parents have their work cut out for them.  

Here are just a few examples of this contradicting advice:


Confusing? Absolutely. And these are just a few examples of the conflicting messages parents must sift through on a daily basis.  The end result?  Very anxious parents, in particular moms, who are now faced with making parenting decisions under an ever-increasing amount of stress and self-doubt.  And to make matters worse, these same parents are now being told that their own anxiety can harm their child’s emotional well-being, increasing the chance of long-term damage to the child’s mental health.  So now, we’ve added a layer of guilt onto the shoulders of these already frazzled parents.

As a parent and former school counselor of 30 years, I’m all for helping to guide parents in areas of need.  But it seems as if we’ve come to a dangerous divide, one which I see to be harmful to both parent and child.  This divide is causing parents, in particular moms, to become “too frightened to parent” for fear of making a mistake.

So what do we do?  First, we need to let moms and dads know that there is no ‘one right way’ to parent.  They need to understand that outside of such extremes as abuse and neglect, they should parent in the way that seems to work best for their family.  Advice can be good, but attaching scare tactics for the future is not only anxiety-inducing, but is unfounded.

Next, we must look at what our evidence-based research is telling us. We now have numerous scientific studies indicating that our genes and inherited traits have enormous influence on who our children are today and who they will become as adults. These studies include the effects of genetics on temperament, personality traits, and certain mental health conditions.  (It’s important to understand that we are not saying that DNA is destiny. On the contrary, knowing our genetic predispositions can lead us to take preventive measures for healthier outcomes.),attributable%20to%20differences%20in%20genetic.,various%20lifetime%20outcomes%2C%20including%20psychopathology.

Peers, culture, and chance events in the environment also have a huge influence, but parenting styles inside the home, apart from extreme cases like abuse or neglect, have very little long-term influence on a person’s personality or their success in life.

Does this mean that parenting doesn’t matter?  Well, of course parenting matters, but not in the way we think.  Dr. Robert Plomin, author of Blueprint, (how DNA makes us who we are) shares his findings that the major force making us who we are as individuals is our inherited DNA differences.  He says, “Parents have much less control over their children’s outcomes than they think they have.”   He continues, “In my view, the far-reaching effect of genetics is the single most important fact that parents need to know about parenting.”  Dr Plomin continues,  “The genetics message can liberate parents from the “do’s and don’ts”  message in that parents should relax and enjoy their relationship with their children. Parents should do things for their children because they love them and want to make life good for them, not because they want to change them.” 

Likewise, Dr. Steven Pinker, author of The Blank Slate, states that how parents treat their child matters greatly as it effects the quality of their relationship. Further, parents have an enormous influence on the child’s happiness and wellbeing, or whether they are miserable. He adds, “It’s never okay to abuse, belittle, or neglect a child because child-rearing is, above all, a moral responsibility.”  “So, it’s important that parents be loving to their children for many reasons.” However, he believes that, beyond genetics, parents don’t have much influence on their children’s personalities, intelligence, or life outcomes.

Dr. Pinker then, provides an analogy, using a spouse to spouse relationship, which I will paraphrase.   “No one is surprised that they can’t change the personality of their spouse. So, does this mean it doesn’t matter how you treat your spouse?  Of course it matters how you treat your spouse. How you treat your spouse affects the quality of your relationship. In the same way, it matters greatly how you treat your children.

So, moms and dads, there is no doubt that parents are important.  However, whether your child succeeds as an adult has to do with many factors;  genetics, friendships, illnesses, environment, and a lot of chance. I hope this will help you to enjoy being with your child for the wonderful relationship you can have.  Relax, and don’t be too frightened to parent.  Enjoy each and every moment of time with your child.  It’s worth every second.

(The information in this blog provides educational benefits for teachers, counselors, administrators, and parents in working together as a team. For more information on our educational initiative, please see “Following Daniel’s Lead”.)

ARPA-H Dash Update!

Hi Guys!

We would like to thank all of you who voted for us in the ARPA-H Dash competition! We are very happy to have made it into the Final 4. While out of the 484 proposals, we didn’t progress to the Finals, we are extremely happy to have made to the Final 4!!

ARPA-H (The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health), proposed by President Biden, was created to improve the U.S. government’s ability to speed biomedical and health research.

By making it this far, we will now have an opportunity for follow-up technical workshops with ARPA-H Program Managers to further vet and build out our idea – Mental Health Moonshot! – for potential future research and development. This is a huge step for mental health research!

Thank you all again!

Please Vote!


I have an urgent request for moving mental health research forward. Cure Brain Disease has submitted a proposal to “ARPA-H Dash to Accelerate Health Outcomes” which is an online competition to identify revolutionary ideas to transform health. We have made it to the third round of the judging competition, and have entered into the fourth round. This is the public voting round, and we really need your vote!

The round closes on this Thursday, May 4th, so please vote.

Here is the link to register to sign up so you can place your vote.

There are 4 focus areas, and we are in “Resilient Systems”. The title of our proposal is “Mental Health Moonshot!” You’ll need to click on VOTE in the upper center of the screen, and scroll through by clicking ‘Skip’ for each head to head pairing until you come to our pairing entry. Please click ‘Select’ for Mental Health Moonshot!, and then make sure to click, ‘Vote’. We’d love it if you go to our page and click Good Evidence.

If you would, please share with anyone you would like. So you’ll know before going on, I’ve included a copy of our proposal. (below)



Title: Mental Health Moonshot!

Proposed Health Transformation:We propose serious mental disorders be researched and treated as individually distinct diseases utilizing genetic/epigenetic studies with the goal of developing novel, targeted treatments and cures.

Current Implementation:Current treatments rely heavily on subjective feedback and outdated medications to hopefully manage symptoms. This leaves no prospect of finding cures based on the molecular causes of brain disorders

What’s New: Serious mental disorders share common genetic roots, yet each disorder presents differently per individual. Aim – Identify biomarkers of shared disorder populations, followed by epigenetic studies.

Evidence Statement: Major mental disorders such as schizophrenia bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder share common genetic roots but each disorder presents differently in each individual.

Evidence Citation: Distinctness of mental disorders traced to differences in gene readouts individual%2C%E2%80%9D%20said%20Francis%20J.

Genes: The Sheet Music of Human Behavior

This very short – four minute – video gives the best analogy I’ve ever seen on how our genes work together with our environment to produce human behavior. It speaks to the importance of continued research, and at the same time, offers hope to all. Please just take four minutes of your time to see ‘Why’ we are the way we are.



Please Take a Look

We normally steer clear of using stigmatizing words and phrases. However, this upcoming film, “Nobody Cares About Crazy People”, raises awareness on just how stigmatizing those words can be. It also gives you a peak into the everyday lives of real people and their families who are afflicted with serious mental health disease. Please take a look at the preview trailer below, and share with others. We must push for change in our broken mental health system, and make our voices heard!

You Can Create The Change!

          Our coalition, Cure Brain Disease, has grown much stronger over these last two years, and we are optimistic that our initiatives are gaining ground.  We have remained steadfast in our mission to increase research funding in order to discover the root causes of serious mental health conditions so that we may develop effective treatments and cures.  By using cutting edge genetic and epigenetic research, we feel this is well within our reach. 
            Recent advances in science provide clear evidence that genetics and epigenetics play a key role in serious mental health conditions. In other words, some people are born with a genetic predisposition (an increased likelihood of developing) a mental health disorder, and this is based on their inherited genetic make-up.  In combination with environmental risk factors, the possibility for developing a serious mental health disorder can be elevated.

           Traditionally, our mental health treatments have relied heavily on psychological therapies, and less on searching for the biological causes.  These therapies have been found beneficial for  some people in symptom management.  However, many find no benefit at all.  This is not to suggest that psychological therapy is unimportant. It can be very helpful, but we need to do more than hope to manage symptoms. We must get to the root causes for mental disorders in order to find truly effective, long-term treatments and cures.
            So, here is the question.  What if we could detect serious mental health conditions early on through the use of  simple blood tests?  What if we could treat these conditions before they have a chance to advance to debilitating or life-threatening levels?  Again, this is within our reach.  But many of us will need to change our way of thinking first.
            In order to change our way of thinking, we must answer a few more questions.  Why have we, as a society, been so averse to searching for the genetic causes to brain disorders?  Is it possible we have all been engrained with the myth that we are able to control our mental health?  Mind over matter, so to speak?  Is there continued stigma surrounding the genetic component to mental health disorders?  If so, why? 
            20% of us are living with some type of mental health condition in any given year.  And many of us die due to them.  Isn’t it time to wake up and speak out?  According to AFSP,  studies show that a mental health condition is present in 90% of suicide deaths.  Furthermore, studies show that those having serious mental disorders are at an increased risk of dying from diabetes, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and certain cancers.  And other studies show a clear connection between mental disorders and fatal opioid overdoses.

           With this being said, there is no mention of these underlying and precipitating mental health factors when looking at the mortality rates of the conditions just mentioned. Therefore, mental health disease plays a much larger role than the numbers indicate.
            The good news is that the world may be finally understanding that mental disorders are real biological conditions and that we must search for answers. Mental health is brain health, and brain health is physical health.

            Therefore, Mental Health = Physical Health. 
            Our coalition has been very involved in contacting and meeting with our home states'  US representatives and senators. We've also met with key members of national non-profit organizations. All are very supportive of more research, but they need to hear from you.  It takes all of us to make a change.  
             If you care about the mental well-being of a loved one, or if you have a concern for your own mental health, please write to any representative you see from your home state to let them know you want increased funding to go into genetic/epiginetic research for serious mental health conditions.  It’s a simple letter, but means so much.  Contact information is provided below.  Also, if you have any helpful ideas for us in getting our message out, please fill out our 'Join Us' page.  Your comments will not be made public.
            Thank you all.  One thing I’ve learned on this journey is that it truly takes the voices of all of the people to create change.  Please help us to create the change!
                                                                                                                                                     US House of Representatives:

US Senate Members:

Suicide Prevention Month

This is suicide prevention month, and in honor of all whose lives have been touched by and forever changed by suicide, please read the following excerpt. It was written by a mother who lives each and every day with a loss so incomprehensible that it cannot adequately be expressed. Her daughter passed away to suicide in 2015 at the age of 21. As written in her other messages, she feels her beautiful daughter’s presence with her, and looks to a day that they will one day be reunited. From a member of the Alliance of Hope:

Hiding in Plain Sight – Must Watch!

Here is an urgent request asking for as many people as possible to watch the PBS documentary, ”Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth  Mental Illness”. It will air on PBS June 27th and 28th at 9 PM Eastern time. This film shines a light onto what it’s like for our young people suffering from mental health conditions. It will also focus on what it’s like for the parents, teachers, friends, and healthcare professionals who are trying to help.

According to the NIMH data from 2020, an estimated 49.5 % of adolescents (ages 13-18) has had a mental health disorder at some point in their lives, with 22.2% of these youth having had a severe mental impairment. This is not taking into account our children under the age of 13 or our adults over the age of 18.

Many of our young people suffer in silence due to factors such as continuing stigma and lack of education. This needs to stop. How are children ever going to understand that what they are going through is real, with a ‘medical’ name, unless we teach them about these conditions? How are they ever going to know that they are not alone, and do not have a character flaw, without knowing there is a scientific reason for the way they feel? We must educate our young people about the science behind mental health conditions. Knowledge is powerful, and can bring much relief, in addition to reducing stigma. And for many, this may be what it takes for them to reach out for help.

With this being said, we still need far more genetic research if we are to ever find cures for mental health disorders. In the meantime, there are various therapies that have been found beneficial in dealing with certain symptoms. But this is only true if our young people reach out for help.

Our society needs to step up to the plate for mental health. Just as society has rallied around people with cancer, demanding research to find cures, (resulting in millions of lives saved) it is way past time we rally around those suffering from mental health disorders. It’s time we all realize this is our common struggle, not just someone else’s problem.

Please watch this important film! The following is a preview.

A Letter from Naomi Judd

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

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

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

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

The open letter said, in part:

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s about time we do better.

Naomi Judd Was Open About Mental Illness, Thoughts of Suicide

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

Largest Genetic Map of Psychiatric Disorders So Far

Approximately 20% of the world population is affected by some type of psychiatric disease that can alter intellectual ability, behavior, emotions, and social relations. (Update on most current statistics according to NIMH)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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