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!
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Current Implementation:Current treatments rely heavily on subjective feedback and outdated medications to hopefully manage symptoms.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
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.
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!
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 that we have been taught from an early age that our mental health is something we should always be able to control? 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!
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:
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. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness
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.
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 MentalHealthActionDay.org 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.
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!
In our blogs, I’ve been discussing the biological factors involved in mental health conditions; primarily, the genetic components. However, biology doesn’t paint the entire picture. In fact, if a person is genetically predisposed to a mental health condition, it does not mean this person will automatically develop the condition. It increases their likelihood, but there are many other factors involved, including environmental and psychological factors. For someone with a genetic predisposition for a mental disorder, interactions with certain environmental factors may serve as ‘triggers’ for the disorder. It’s important to understand that what may be a normal, everyday situation or minor inconvenience for one person may be triggering to someone living with a predisposition for a mental disorder.
I’d like to use an analogy. Imagine you are building a new home or remodeling an older home. You look at floor plans, siding options, etc., but most of all, you want to ensure that your structure is solid and strong. There are many different factors that contribute to the strength of your home, but ultimately, there are three major aspects that will determine how sturdy your home is. Those three factors are the foundation, walls, and roof.
All are essential for your new or remodeled home, but the foundation is the most important part as the strength and stability of the structure depends upon its foundation.
With this being said, even though the foundation is critical, and an issue with the foundation can pose a risk, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your house will collapse. You can live in a home with foundation issues, and many people do. They sometimes don’t even realize it because the underlying problems are not always obvious. Most issues take years to develop into a serious enough problem to pose a safety risk. However, you will be living with a heightened risk from such precipitating events (triggers) as water damage, invasive landscaping, plumbing problems, and seasonal changes resulting in cracking walls, sinking floors, etc. Even though many foundation problems can be bypassed or held at bay using alternate methods, there are some serious foundation issues that must be dealt with directly in order for your house to not be at risk of severe damage or collapsing.
So, in building a new home, why not make sure the foundation is solid to begin with? Or, in your renovation project, why not inspect your home’s foundation to see if it’s in need of repair – before problems magnify into a very costly and time-consuming project? Hopefully, you will resolve any issues as soon as possible!
You likely see where this analogy is taking us. Genetics in mental health is the equivalent to what the foundation is in a house. It’s not the only important factor, but it does serve as the support system for the entire structure. Environmental and psychological factors are the walls and roof in our mental health analogy. All parts need to work in harmony in order for you to have optimal mental health. But without a firm foundation (genetics), everyday stressors in our environment can serve as triggers and put our mental health structures at risk. Can your structure continue to weather the storms of these stressors? And if so, at what cost?
Some people would say, “Well, I’m seeing a therapist, and I’m taking medication prescribed by my psychiatrist. I’m better than I was before…”
Others will say, “I’ve tried so many medications and multiple types of therapy over the years, and I’m not really seeing any benefit. I’m ready to just stop trying.”
And then, there are those who suffer in silence.
What we have been doing for decades in mental health is treating our mental health conditions based on the ‘symptomatic’ factors without getting down to the foundation, the genetic component. It makes no sense to leave this most basic and important piece out of the equation. (Remember, this is the strength and stability of the structure.)
This is not to say that there’s no point in treating the symptoms. Far from it. Current treatments can be, and many times are, very helpful. But if you want to find a cure, you must treat the problem from its root cause (the foundation). This is ‘genetics’.
You may ask why we haven’t looked into this before. And the obvious answer is that we have. But we haven’t gone far enough. Increasing numbers of studies are showing genetic links to mental health disorders, but we are only at the tip of the iceberg. At this time, blood tests are being developed to see if a person is at risk for severe depression and bipolar disorder. Researchers say these tests can also assist in tailoring individual options for therapeutic interventions. https://neurosciencenews.com/depression-bipolar-blood-test-18197/
This is exciting news! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to, one day, have curative treatments specifically tailored to an individual’s needs? These studies are very promising, but so much more needs to be done.
We must truly invest in research, like we have with cancer, heart disease, and other diseases. Over 16 million lives have been saved due to the people’s outcry back in 1971 for a cure for cancer.But it took the people demanding that the legislators make funds available in order to carry the research through. These people are still demanding, to this day, and funds are still being appropriated for cancer research. This is great.
However, one in five Americans live with a diagnosable mental health disorder today, not to mention those who suffer in silence. How many of us, our loved ones, and our friends must continue to suffer at the hands of a mental health disease? The numbers are climbing at staggering rates.
Researching the brain is not a simple task as the brain is a very complex organ. (much more complex than a simple analogy can convey) However, if we commit to spending the necessary time and funds to follow through in this research, the return on our investment will be huge. It will be life-changing for many of us today and for future generations. Please speak out now and let your legislators know that you aredemandingthey spend the funds necessary to find cures. The following links give you a list of your own state legislators. Please write to them to let your voices be heard. Remember that you are their constituents, and they will listen to you.
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:
“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.