May is Mental Health Awareness Month!
That means we have the privilege to talk about the realities of mental and emotional well-being, and the psychiatric disorders that threaten it.
Even 20 years ago, our society was still so steeped in the stigma that people with depression and other psychiatric disorders were often overwhelmed with burdens of shame and ostracized at school, work, and even within families. We haven’t completely defeated the stigma, but let’s take a moment to appreciate how far we’ve come.
Mental Health Awareness Through Media
It was an exciting moment when we first saw the public service announcement showing Glenn Close talking about her sister’s disorder and her love for her 8 years ago. Score ONE Against Stigma.
Glenn Close, the actress, whose sister has bipolar disorder and whose nephew has schizoaffective disorder, began speaking out with her family in 2010.
She and her sister founded BringChange2Mind that year, and have broadcast public service announcements and interviews about life with psychiatric disorders.
Her sister, Jessie Close, writes blogs for the BringChange2Mind website. Jessie responds to those who write or call about their own difficulties or of those who love them.
And Glenn Close’s family is not the only one who has spoken out. A host of celebrities have stepped up to expose their own personal struggles with depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse disorder, and more. People like Mariah Carey, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Carrie Fisher, Ted Turner, and lots more have told their their stores and spoken openly about their struggles.
Neuroscience Breakthroughs Stamp Out Stigma
One of the most important ways we strike a blow to the stigma of psychiatric disorders is to talk openly about these illnesses, just as we do about illnesses of the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.
The more we make psychiatric disorders part of casual conversation, educating as we go, the further back we push the stigma associated with this suffering.
We also spread the word about everything neuroscience discovers related to the causes and treatments for mental health disorders.
And by the way, genetic links have been found for pretty much every major psychiatric disorder. Even 15-20 years ago there was enormous speculation among certain aspects of society about whether psychiatric disorders were even real…
But now, we have functional MRIs, genetic links and maps, and the pathophysiology of these disorders. Suffering patients are pushed into corners far less than they used to be, with demands to “prove” they’re ill.
But it’s not over.
Dance of the Genes
We need to keep learning, and keep shouting out the truths about psychiatric illness for the sake of those who suffer and need help. Always to drive away uninformed judgment, and stigma.
So let’s talk about some things that have been uncovered regarding the solid foundation of psychiatric illness. And the breakthroughs in treatment that are emerging. The treatments that can not just relieve, but conquer, these terrible illnesses. Let’s talk about the dance of the genes: activity patterns that link some mental health disorders and not others.
Researchers discovered certain arrangements of gene activity associated with specific psychiatric disorders in a recent study. Illnesses like depression, autism, alcohol use disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia show up as the result of these genes expressing themselves, according to the study published in Science in February 2018.
These researchers studied postmortem brain tissue from 700 identified patients with those disorders, and compared them with matched controls and with controls with a non-psychiatric inflammatory disorder. They were looking for patterns of genetic similarities and differences in the cerebral cortex — across large brain regions.
They found similar levels of certain molecules among people who suffered from autism, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
As they studied further, they found out that there are links between bipolar disorder and depression, which doesn’t seem that surprising. BUT … also between depression and autism. And between bipolar disorder and schizophrenia — and autism and schizophrenia.
Researchers have known that since 2013. But most of the rest of us haven’t.
What’s really news is that certain psychiatric disorders are more similar biologically than we’d ever thought if we’re just looking at the diagnoses themselves–the names we use. If we just dig deeper…
Astrocytes Activate to Signal Specific Conditions
There are star-shaped cells in the brain and spinal cord called astrocytes that provide support for those cells that make up the blood-brain barrier, among lots of other things. They supply nutrients for nerve tissue, and help with repair in the brain and spinal cord after serious injury.
So the genetic patterns or systems these researchers found actually affect how the brain cells communicate with each other.
Because the astrocytes activate with certain conditions. And many of the same astrocytes activate in conditions we wouldn’t have expected to be linked to each other.
These researchers see potential for identifying those patterns that genes express in astrocyte activation for each condition, which can eventually help us identify the underlying biologic vulnerabilities for these conditions.
As complicated as this sounds, this is a stigma buster! It’s not only “proof” for these disorders, as if anyone has anything to prove. But, it paves the road to improving the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders in the future — faster and with better accuracy, so treatment can be the RIGHT treatment for better outcomes.
Reach Out to Those Around You
While these possibilities are brewing, reach out with compassion to those in your world, in your circle, who clearly suffer. You see it in their “inappropriate behavior,” their inability to perform, and their despair.
Take a breath. Give them a moment of kindness. Of patience. Recognize that they didn’t ask for these limitations. But they carry them every day without relief.
Give to mental health research. Support organizations that offer respite and treatment.
Psychiatric illness isn’t elusive or ethereal. It can be identified in genes, in functional brain scans, in genetic patterns that write their own recipes for health and wellbeing… or disabling illness.
Environmental, biological, psychological, and genetic factors come together and spark most, if not all, psychiatric conditions. There is pretty much always a combination of factors behind each illness.
The fact remains that countless people suffer without help. They reach out on Facebook, on Twitter, and especially on Quora. So many people who have taken the medicines and aren’t any better.
Thankfully, there are also those who are better. Those fortunate ones who get better with antidepressants, anxiolytics, and mood stabilizers. But far too many don’t improve…and feel more desperate every day.
For you, we want you to know you’re not alone in this struggle. As you can see, neuroscientists press forward, as well as psychiatrists and neurologists, working to help people like you get better.
Studying to find improved treatments. And hope.
Innovative Psychiatry Specializes in Tough to Treat Illnesses
At Innovative Psychiatry, we’ve been specializing in helping those who couldn’t find effective treatment before for many years. We love a challenge. And we offer a variety of novel and advanced treatment options to help you get truly better.
Ketamine treatment is the most dramatically effective treatment we’ve seen in our lifetime. It doesn’t help everyone, but it does help most. Furthermore, its extraordinary antidepressant effects help our patients improve with such vigorous speed and depth that their lives begin anew.
Ketamine treatment relieves mental health disorders.
If you’ve been suffering from a psychiatric disorder that hasn’t improved from other treatments, call us. The right medicines given with the necessary expertise can change a life forever.
To the emerging of your very best self,
Lori Calabrese, M.D.