Monday, October 27, 2008

Suicide linked to brain changes

Posted today by BBC News:
The brains of people who commit suicide are chemically different to those who die from other causes, a Canadian study has suggested.
To read the entire article, click here.

Also see:

GABAA Receptor Promoter Hypermethylation in Suicide Brain: Implications for the Involvement of Epigenetic Processes

Study finds genomic changes in the brains of people who commit suicide

Suicide's genetic key discovered

Thanks go to John Devlin for bringing this article to my attention.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Life of Francis

From the October 23rd edition of The Weekly Albertan:
By Michelle Lindstrom

Earlier this month during Mental Illness Awareness Week, a group of about 15 people from Calgary's medical community and those affected by mental illness gathered to view A Map of the mind fields: Managing adolescent psychosis, and to discuss the stigma of mental illness.

Later, outside the group setting, Francis, a brown-haired artsy-looking girl with glasses, approaches and offers to tell her story to The Weekly Albertan.
To read the entire article, click here.

Photograph courtesy of The Weekly Albertan.

Schizophrenia: The Positive Perspective

Explorations at the Outer Reaches of Human Experience

By Peter K. Chadwick

For more information on this book, click here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Schizophrenia -- A Family's Experience

From ABC News:
After Growing Up With a Sister [Who Has Schizophrenia], Author Hopes for More Awareness


Oct. 10, 2008

It was hard to talk about my sister, Rebecca, when I was growing up. She had her first psychotic break as she was packing for college in 1969. She ran up the stairs screaming, "Help! There is something inside me."

My mother ran after her calling, "Rebecca ... Rebecca."

My parents whispered behind closed doors, made a phone call to a psychiatrist, and then took her to the local hospital where she stayed for a week. It was a chaotic time in our house. As I recall, no one knew what had just happened to my sister.

With Mental Illness Awareness Week coming to a close, it's important to remember one in four Americans suffers from a mental health issue and one in 17 has a serious and often life-threatening psychiatric disorder. At any given time, 2.2 million Americans suffer from schizophrenia.

Eventually, Rebecca was diagnosed with a mental disorder -- schizophrenia, and she is ranked at the top 10 percent of the most severely ill.

She sees and hears things that are not real. She has delusions of grandeur. Most people with the severity of her disorder take their own lives.

One day we were driving to a doctor's appointment and she covered her face with her hands and simply said, "I don't know who I am; I don't know where I am."

Most of my life I never wanted to read anything about schizophrenia because it frightened me. I was always reluctant to discuss my sister's illness because of the associated stigma, and I wondered if others would think there might be something wrong with me or my family.

Sadly, I think most families suffer in isolation. Isn't it a shame that there is still a stigma today? It shouldn't be, because everyone is affected in some way by people with mental problems. Although it may not be discussed, we all know a cousin, an aunt, a co-worker, a friend, or even a parent with depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorders and addictions. The severity of these problems varies widely.
To read the entire article, click here.

Mental health court long overdue

An editorial from the October 23rd edition of The Chronicle Herald:
IT’S BEEN a long time coming.

Ontario did it 10 years ago. New Brunswick followed suit five years ago.

The Nova Scotia government promised it a year ago in its throne speech, but it will be another six months before it’s up and running.

The good news, however, is that staff are being hired and facilities are being built to accommodate the province’s first mental health court, slated to open at the Dartmouth Justice Centre next April 1. It will be well worth the wait and the investment – about $1.8 million annually, plus $500,000 in additional start-up costs in Year 1.

It has been obvious for years now that the criminal justice system is ill-equipped to deal with offenders with mental health issues.

The goal of a mental health court, as outlined in the province’s crime prevention strategy released last year, is to hold mentally ill offenders "accountable for their behaviour in a way that is supportive and sensitive to their illness."

In other jurisdictions, defendants who end up in a mental health court have typically committed crimes punishable by less than two years’ imprisonment.

If they were to go through normal channels, they would serve out their time in a provincial jail if the sentence includes a period of incarceration. The trouble is that throughout the entire criminal justice process, little gets done to address the underlying issue: the offender’s mental health problems.

Mental health courts change that dynamic. While jail remains an option, offenders usually spend less time there and get more access to mental health services instead.

Mental health courts do not – contrary to some public perceptions – give offenders an opportunity to "plead insanity" and to get off scot-free. (Besides, one can suffer from any number of mental or behavioural disorders and remain perfectly sane.)

Indeed, under the mental health court model Nova Scotia is developing, the accused must first be determined fit to stand trial and show a willingness to take responsibility for their actions.

The emphasis under this system is on dealing with the offender through teamwork as much as it is on dealing with the offence.

This makes eminent sense. It is pointless to fill our jails with mentally ill individuals who are not criminals at heart. It’s intervention they need, not incarceration.

But addressing those needs also requires infrastructure. In future, let’s hope Nova Scotia also sees the wisdom of spending more than a measly four per cent of its health budget on mental health.

Click on the image to magnify it.

To download this April 2007 issue of The Society Record, click here (PDF).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mental health court to open for April 1

From today's edition of Metro Halifax:
By Paul McLeod

The courtroom is being built, the staff are set to be hired in the new year, and by April 1 Nova Scotia will have its own mental health court.

Calls for a specialized court for people with mental illness have grown louder in recent years after incidents such as the death last year of Howard Hyde, who suffered from schizophrenia.

Other provinces such as Ontario and New Brunswick already have such courts, which are tailored to deal with the intricacies of people with mental health in the justice system.

Yesterday Justice Minister Cecil Clarke said staff were set to be hired in January, with the goal of the court opening in April. Dartmouth provincial court is being renovated to create the new room.

“Quite simply, we want to make sure people do not find themselves behind bars, but in a proper housing setting and treatment program for their mental illness,” said Clarke.

The annual operating budget is projected at $1.8 million, but first year costs are expected to range up to $2.3 million Clark explained.
For more information on the illustrated book, click here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mental health care 'neglects youngsters'

From the October 18th edition of The Sydney Morning Herald:
Young psychotic illness sufferers are receiving inadequate and inappropriate care, a report released by mental health experts says.

That's leading to unacceptable delays in treatment and unnecessary deaths, the report, Back from the Brink, says.

Experts at Friday's Early Psychosis Reform Summit have called for urgent reform to a health system that is "seriously damaging" young Australians.

Professor Pat McGorry [pictured], one of the authors, said 25 specialist youth-specific mental health centres needed to be provided in the next five years to help address the crisis.

"It is a national disgrace that young Australian lives are being permanently damaged," Professor McGorry said.

"The current practice of treating them in the adult system is frightening, traumatic and ineffective."

An independent Access Economics report also launched on Friday showed more than $200 million a year could be saved by treating young Australians with psychosis sooner, and in tailored treatment services.

Rob Knowles, chairman of the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia, said that while Australia had previously led the way in early intervention for psychosis, knowledge had failed to translate into action.

"Our young people can simply not gain access to a user-friendly system and suffer lifelong consequences as a result," Mr Knowles said.

"The system provides too little, too late."

One in three young Australians will experience mental illness by their 25th birthday and a substantial minority will experience a psychotic episode.
Also see:

Mental health 'disgrace' a risk to young lives

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Schizophrenia sufferer loses himself in art

An article posted October 14th on

To view this article as it appeared in the newspaper, click here.
By Paula Levy

Richard Balser receives art instruction from Janet Knickle-Mason of Indian Path. The Lunenburg County Chapter of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia is raising funds to help pay for lessons.

In his small apartment on King Street in Bridgewater, Richard Balser's kitchen is often turned into a makeshift studio. During the day he confesses to spending hours with an easel and paintbrush perfecting the smallest of details in his art.

"I feel really happy when it does turn out well." He smiles when showing several pieces he is currently working on.

Mr. Balser, 52, has paranoid schizophrenia. In addition to his mental illness, Mr. Balser was blessed with the ability to paint.

"I like it better than a photograph," says Mr. Balser, calling attention to framed pieces in his living room. "It's an outlet because I don't think about my illness when I paint. … With my art it's so therapeutic because I can be ordinary and normal, like everybody else."

Few people have ever seen Mr. Balser's art. Up until recently his friends and family were really the only people who knew he was able to take a pallet of paints and transform them into beautiful canvas paintings.

Mr. Balser lacked the confidence in his abilities to publicly display his creations. His lack of self-assurance was a direct result of dealing with tormentors for most of his life.

"People are really cruel sometimes," he says, noting that on top of being made fun of, he was dealing with bouts of psychosis.

But with the help of Jan House and the Lunenburg County Chapter of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, his work is finally beginning to leave his apartment and he is slowly developing confidence in the gift he feels came from his mother.

Ms. House remembers how Mr. Balser volunteered to paint name tags for the chapter. When she saw the amazing creations, she knew that Mr. Baler's talents shouldn't go unnoticed.

"I couldn't believe it. He had painted the most gorgeous irises," says Ms. House.

Last year the charitable group held several events to raise money to help fund art lessons so that Mr. Balser's natural skills could be further developed. The group enrolled him in lessons with Janet Knickle-Mason of Indian Path.

This year Mr. Balser is ready to take advanced art lessons. To help pay for this year's classes, the chapter is holding a Wine Tasting and Silent Art Auction at the Fairview Inn on October 24 from 7 to 9 p.m.

It will be the first time that Mr. Balser will have a public showing of just his art and the paintings will be auctioned to pay for art lessons. Ms. House says each piece of art will be paired with a bottle of wine that will be labelled with a replica of Mr. Balser's work.

Ms. House notes that his art teacher is also encouraging Mr. Balser to finish paintings and to believe that his work is indeed good enough for and worthy of public viewing.

In fact, Ms. Knickle-Mason convinced Mr. Balser to allow her to take one of his paintings to an art sale. Mr. Balser sold that painting. It was the first piece he has ever sold.

"I am a professional artist," smiles Mr. Balser in disbelief. He is continuing to work on confidence in his abilities as an artist.

Richard Balser receives art instruction from Janet Knickle-Mason of Indian Path. The Lunenburg County Chapter of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia is raising funds to help pay for lessons.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Can childbirth make you lose touch with reality?

To read this article written by Jo Ciavaglia and published in the October 12th edition of the Bucks County Courier Times, click here.

What is postpartum psychosis?

Postpartum psychosis is a rare mental condition that typically develops within the first two weeks after delivery, but can appear within the first three months. Women with a personal or family history of psychosis, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are at an increased risk of developing postpartum psychosis.

Signs and symptoms of postpartum psychosis may include:
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Attempts to harm yourself or the baby
  • Rapidly shifting moods
  • Restlessness and insomnia

What is postpartum depression?

A serious mental condition whose symptoms can include mood swings, uncontrollable crying, fatigue or exhaustion, feelings of guilt, thoughts of harming yourself or the baby, inadequacy or worthlessness, lack of interest in the baby and other common signs. Women with postpartum depression rarely harm their baby.

Other environmental factors can aggravate symptoms such as the temperament of the baby, an unsupportive or absent partner or extreme stress. The symptoms can last for months and often require professional treatment.


Did you know?
  • Experts say fewer than 20 percent of postpartum psychosis sufferers will speak to their health care provider about their symptoms.
  • Women who have already experienced postpartum depression or psychosis have a 20-50 percent chance of it recurring after future births, according to research.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Idea of suicide ‘always there’

From today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
Laing House a safe haven for youth with mental illness. It’s where John Goodwin found health, hope

By Lois Legge, Features Writer

JOHN GOODWIN has thought about killing himself most of his life.

He wrote his first suicide note in elementary school. And lying in bed each night, he still imagines a bullet travelling toward his head.

"It’s kind of always been there," he says of the depression that’s plagued him since childhood.

It’s still there. But about four years ago, Goodwin found a little hope at a little-known house in downtown Halifax that’s trying to help him and others stay alive and thrive.

"I probably would have committed suicide" without it, he says on a recent day inside Laing House, an eight-year-old day-time support centre for youth with mental illness — most commonly anxiety, but depression, too, and bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and psychosis.

Youth is defined here as ages 16 to 30.

It used to be 17 to 24 but staff expanded the age range as membership grew. The three-storey house on Barrington Street — with meeting rooms and lounging areas; a painting room and full kitchen — now serves about 80 members who have often struggled with ostracism and poverty in addition to their conditions.

Goodwin’s been denied an apartment because of his mental illness and sees plenty of judgment elsewhere, a stigma he believes is intensified by media coverage or TV shows connecting mental illness with violent crime.

"Statistically we’re much more likely to be the receivers of a violent act; the receivers of trauma than we are . . . to cause a violent act," says the 26-year-old, who traces his own mental illness to a combination of genetics and being bullied repeatedly as a child.

But Laing House, he says, is a safe place, free of ridicule; a place that helps lift the "trance of unworthiness" he feels almost everywhere else.

"When you’re young and you’re struggling with an illness you feel so isolated and so alone," says executive director Shaleen Jones. "Everyone knows that if you’re a member here it’s because you have a mental illness so you don’t have to pretend anymore. When you’re here you can really be yourself . . . . So people form very fast relationships and really strong friendships here and that’s the core of what we do — creating opportunities for youth to connect with youth."

The centre also creates opportunities for education and employment and independent living, all often interrupted when mental illness takes hold.

The non-profit’s 14 staff work individually with members to help them find apartments or fill out resumes or apply for university. They’ve also organized things like cooking and painting classes or just been there to provide, as Jones puts it, "encouragement and cheerleading" — the kind of support founders Keith and Rosemary Hamilton envisioned when they set up the facility.

The Halifax couple — now retired and travelling around the world on their boat — created the centre after their son became mentally ill and they discovered how limited resources were for people like him. And they named the house after Rosemary Hamilton’s mother Nora Laing, a nurse who suffered from schizophrenia most of her life and left her family an unexpected inheritance when she died.

Stationed in Hong Kong during the Second World War, Laing had purchased shares in a bank there and forgotten about them for years. But when the Hamiltons inherited the shares, they used the money for Laing House, a place — Jones says — “where young people living with mental illness could go and be supported and en­couraged and take steps to rebuild their lives."

The members themselves have direct involvement in how the programs work and often help create them, which is cru­cial, Jones says, for people “who have had so many of their decisions taken away from them due to the fact that they’ve been ill."

Goodwin can’t remember ever not being mentally ill, although he’s tried to block out some of the early childhood experi­ences he thinks played a role in his chron­ic depression.

But he recalls being hit in the temple with a pool cue by a high school student who was trying to get into a gang. He re­members a girl trying to run him over with her car. And he remembers plenty of other confidence-destroying words and deeds he doesn’t want in print.

Even as early as pre-school, he says, “I can remember . . . sitting alone; that I was scared of the other kids."

“Around Grade 2 or Grade 3 I was writ­ing a suicide note at my babysitter’s, which is really early for most people be­cause usually it comes along at 16 or 17 . . . . (It said) just that I was worthless and . . . I didn’t deserve to live, stuff like that." By the time Goodwin reached high school, he thought about killing himself all the time.

“I felt worthless and I felt I wasn’t worth being around and I was quite frankly a piece of shit and that I didn’t deserve regu­lar things . . . .
“I spent . . . at least half a year that I just dropped out of school completely . . . in the late ’90s . . . 2000, something like that. I would have been in high school. I sat in my room all day. Well, I’d sleep all day and I’d stay up all night because then I didn’t have to deal with people . . . I’d just play on the computer for probably six months straight. I’d leave the room to eat and use the washroom but other than that I stayed in my room all the time."

Goodwin eventually went back, gradu­ated and started university, studying at Mount Saint Vincent. But he dropped out and is now — thanks to three different medications and support from Laing House —in the process of trying to start a public relations degree through distance education.

He’d just finished day treatment at the Abbie J. Lane Memorial hospital when he first came to Laing House (www.laing­ four years ago. And he says the timing saved his life. He’d been in a major car accident (a car hit him while he was riding a bike) and broken both wrists. He didn’t have any friends. But the people he met here, including his now ex-girlfriend who is still a friend, helped him with ev­erything from eating to opening doors.

“If I hadn’t had those people then that depression would have continued, that de­pression would have got worse . . . and I would have fallen back . . . and I would have probably committed suicide."

Goodwin still has dark thoughts. But these days he gets some of them out on canvas, painting brilliantly-coloured mo­saics that everyone tells him they love (al­though he wonders if they’re just being nice); and speaking to school and univer­sity students about mental illness — which Jones says affects one in five young Canadians.

“The earlier mental illness can be dealt with, the less likely it is to have a debilitat­ing effect (and) of those five kids, only one of those five kids is going to get the help they need."

But 80 per cent of those who do receive support, she says, go on to live productive lives.

Goodwin hopes speaking publicly about his struggles will encourage others to get past the stigma and get the support they need.

In the meantime it’s helping him feel things he’s never felt before.

“I personally have spoken to about 4,000 students . . . . It’s a kind of a confidence builder because people are hanging on your every word while you’re telling your story, and for someone who at one point . . . had failed classes because I had to get up and speak . . . it’s kind of empowering."

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Research chair named

From the today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
A psychiatrist now working at Dalhousie University hopes his work will lead to earlier diagnosis and better treatment for people living with psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.

Dr. Philip Tibbo [pictured], who previously worked at the University of Alberta, was named Tuesday to the Dr. Paul Janssen Chair in Psychotic Disorders.

The position is funded by a $1-million contribution from drug-maker Janssen-Ortho Inc. and $500,000 from the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia.

Speaking at Wednesday’s announcement of new transitional housing for people recovering from mental illness, Dr. Nick Delva of Dal’s department of psychiatry called Dr. Tibbo an experienced and capable researcher as well as an excellent doctor and teacher.

Photograph courtesy of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Site Selection, Financial Contribution Boost Community-Focused Living Residences

Today's news release from the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia:

Nova Scotians recovering from mental illness received a tremendous boost today as Health Minister Chris d'Entremont announced the site selection for new community-focused living residences and RBC contributed $150,000 towards their construction.

Simpson Hall, the former nurses' residence at the Nova Scotia Hospital site, will be removed to make way for four 10-bedroom residential-style bungalows for patients who need support to help them make the transition back into the community.

"A new model of mental health care is emerging; it is one that moves away from costly hospital and institutional-based care and towards community-based care that supports self-determination and integration," said Minister d'Entremont. "When services are provided in the community, support to mental health patients increases and recovery and reintegration accelerate."

The community-focused living residences are an expansion of government's commitment to improving access to appropriate mental health services across the province, and particularly for people in the Capital Health district.

The cost of supporting someone with serious mental illness in the hospital is $170,000 a year, compared to the $35,000 it costs to support that same person in the community.

The Province of Nova Scotia is funding 75 per cent of the $6.7 million cost for construction of the community-focused living residences - with the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia raising the other 25 per cent.

The Foundation's $2 million fundraising efforts towards the residences received a boost today when RBC announced its financial contribution.

"RBC is pleased to support this new model of health care and to announce a lead contribution to the construction of the residences," said David McKay, RBC's Group Head of Canadian Banking. "Our donation of $150,000 will help to build the community-focused living residences that will play such an important role in this new model of mental health care."

Financial support from the Province, RBC and other corporate donors will help to narrow the gap between the acute care offered to mental health patients in a hospital setting and the support they receive once they are discharged.

"For many, the transition from receiving treatment in a hospital to living independently in the community can be overwhelming," said Robert Hunt, chair of the Foundation's board of directors. "The Mental Health Foundation is pleased to partner with the provincial government and the corporate community so that together, we can improve, enhance and change the lives of Nova Scotians with mental illness."

The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is a registered charitable foundation that was established in 1987 to create a higher level of awareness of mental health and to support organizations to deliver the highest level of mental health care in every community in Nova Scotia. Through major fundraising efforts, and with the support of our donors and volunteers, the Foundation is changing the way people think about mental health.

For more information call 464-6000 or visit

Photograph courtesy of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia.

Face mental illness: a 10-step plan

From today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
By Stan Kutcher and David Venn

What does the face of a person with mental illness look like?

That question is at the heart of this year’s national anti-stigma campaign "Face Mental Illness," which is the theme of Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 5-11). In Canada, one in five people is living with a mental illness. Mental disorders are some of the most disabling medical conditions, with about 70 per cent of them onsetting prior to age 25. They exact a huge negative impact on health, society and our economy. Yet a strong and persistent stigma prevents thousands of adults and youth from accessing and receiving the help they need to get well and say well.

While the scientific understanding and treatment of mental disorders and the awareness of the importance of mental health in all aspects of life have advanced considerably in the past decade, the public perception of people with mental illness has been much slower to change. A recent national survey conducted by the Canadian Medical Association found extremely high rates of stigma against those who suffer from mental disorders, permeating all aspects of Canadian society. This stigma is largely present in our social structures and institutions – including our health, social services, education and justice sectors.

Stigma is essentially the polite word for discrimination. There is no room in our caring society for discrimination against those living with mental illness. There is no reason for those living with mental illnesses to be denied adequate housing or equitable health care or to spend their lives in the shadows.

The recently established Mental Health Commission of Canada has announced that it will be addressing stigma against the mentally ill through a national strategy. However, Nova Scotians should not need to wait until a national strategy is unveiled to begin to address the complex issues that need our attention. We could start with these 10 steps to immediately begin to improve mental health and the care for those who suffer from mental disorders in this province:
  • Establish a consensus that promotion of mental health and recovery from mental disorders should be the framework for the development and delivery of mental health care across the province.
  • Establish a child and youth policy and plan that commit to providing equity in health access to all young people suffering from mental disorders.
  • Enhance funding for treatment of those with mental disorders, basing all interventions on best available scientific evidence.
  • Address youth needs as the cornerstone of mental health promotion and prevention activities. Focus these activities in schools and community organizations and link these to enhanced community based mental health care capacity for young people.
  • Support the creation and distribution of mental health literacy programs to enhance knowledge for the public, professionals and policy-makers alike.
  • Allocate a specific portion of the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation funding for mental health research – especially in areas traditionally receiving little research support.
  • Establish innovative community-based and supported housing that meets the needs of the mentally ill – and link this to the development and delivery of peer support training for those who wish to obtain it.
  • Establish novel competency training programs to upgrade the mental health treatment skills of all health providers – so people with mental disorders can get their care from the same people who look after their diabetes, cancers and heart disease.
  • Establish youth engagement and intervention programs that will prevent young people from ending up in jails, and establish mental health courts for all offenders who are currently rotating through the legal system.
  • Accelerate the process of de-institutionalization of those who have mental disorders and ensure that sufficient acute and long-term care resources are available in usual health care locations instead of stand-alone mental health facilities – thus decreasing the stigma of receiving mental health care.
Societies are judged by how they treat their most vulnerable citizens. Nova Scotians are too good a people to continue ignoring the needs of our brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, friends and neighbours because they live with mental illness. It’s time we faced the issue and did ourselves proud.

Dr. Stan Kutcher holds the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health. David Venn is project co-ordinator on the Sun Life Chair’s Knowledge Translation Team.

Photograph of Dr. Stan Kutcher courtesy of the IWK Health Centre.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Newsletter: World Fellowship for Schizophrenia and Allied Disorders

To read the World Fellowship for Schizophrenia and Allied Disorders' 2008
Third Quarter Newsletter
, click here.

NIH Scientists Identify Link Between Brain Systems Implicated in Schizophrenia

An October 6th news release from the National Institutes of Health:
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have deciphered the complex relationship between three distinct brain circuits implicated in schizophrenia. The researchers determined that one brain circuit acts through an intermediary brain circuit. The intermediary circuit acts like a volume control knob, turning up the electrical activity of still another brain circuit, or turning it down.

The finding suggests that schizophrenia could result from a malfunction anywhere in the link between these three brain circuits.

"This discovery lays the groundwork for studies that may lead to more effective treatments for schizophrenia," said Duane Alexander, M.D., director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the NIH institute where the research was undertaken. "Theoretically, each of these interrelated brain mechanisms could be the focus of drug therapy."

The study was published online in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences." The research was conducted by Andres Buonanno, Ph.D., and his colleagues in the Section on Molecular Neurobiology in NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Other authors of the paper were: Oh Bin Kwon, Daniel Paredes, Carmen M. Gonzalez, Joerg Neddens, and Detlef Vullhorst; all of the NICHD; and Luis Hernandez, of the Universidad de los Andes, Merida, Venezuela.
To read the entire news release, click here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Congress passes mental health coverage boost

An article posted by Reuters on October 3rd:
By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A measure boosting insurance coverage for mental illness and treatment of drug and alcohol addiction secured final U.S. congressional passage on Friday as part of financial industry bailout legislation.

The bailout bill that the House of Representatives passed 263-171 was tacked onto a bipartisan measure requiring health insurers to give the same level of coverage for mental illness and substance abuse treatment as other ailments.

President George W. Bush quickly signed it into law. The Senate had passed it on Wednesday.

The bill will not force health plan providers to give mental health coverage but will make those that offer benefits for mental illness and substance addiction treatment to do so on the same terms as medical and surgical care.

The legislation, known as mental health parity, becomes law after a decade-long quest by advocates for the mentally ill who say insurers often shortchange people with mental conditions ranging from depression to schizophrenia.
To read the entire article, click here.

Recovery is possible

An article posted October 3rd on

The hidden face of mental illness

Tony Legere [pictured] doesn’t mince words when he describes his life as a young man. “Parts of it were hell,” he says.

Legere, 47, has battled schizophrenia, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder for much of his life. His illness manifested as early as age 14, when he started to pull away from his friends, began hallucinating and hearing voices.

For the next 25 years he shuffled between hospitals, psychiatric wards and the family home. To make matters worse, he began abusing drugs and alcohol. Relationships and job opportunities passed him by in his battle against addiction, lethargy, anxiety and debilitating depression.

“I knew there was something very wrong, but nothing I tried seemed to fix it,” he says. But even during his darkest moments – Legere attempted suicide several times – he held onto a kernel of hope. “I always had this burning feeling that someday things would get better.”

Mental health experts figure that as many as one in five Canadians suffer from a mental illness. With early diagnosis and proper treatment, thousands of Canadians have recovered from disorders such as schizophrenia and gone on to live successful, productive lives.

“There have been huge advances in the treatment of mental illness in the last 10 years,” says Dr. John Campbell, Director of Mental Health and Addiction Services at Annapolis Valley Health.

Unfortunately, widespread stereotypes about mental illness can be a barrier to getting help. “It is an absolute myth that all people with a mental illness are violent and dangerous,” says Pat MacLean of the Schizophrenia Society. “The tragedy is that on those very rare occasions when something terrible does happen, it’s often because that person wasn’t receiving treatment.”

Strong support system is important

That’s where a strong support system comes in. “My mother fought for me tooth and nail, even when I couldn’t fight for myself,” Legere remembers. By providing him with a place to live, encouraging him to seek treatment and supporting him through his relapses, Legere says his family played a huge role in his recovery.

So too did supports like The Beacon Program at the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre, as well as organizations like the Canadian Mental Health Association, whose training and job placement programs help people with mental illnesses get their lives back. Nearly a quarter of Canadians aged 35-49 who have a mental illness are unemployed. “Getting people back into society where they can contribute is essential,” says Ron Peori, chair of CMHA, Kings County branch.

For every bad news story covered in the press, there are hundreds of examples of people who are managing their mental illness and living successfully, says Valerie Davis, manager of Community Support and Rehabilitation in AVH. “The irony is the stigma of mental illness means that the success stories are the ones we don’t hear about,” she says.

Thanks to accessing proper services and treatment, Legere is now in control of his mental illness and his addictions. He is married, has a job, and lives in a beautiful four-bedroom home.

He’s also giving back. He writes about mental illness for print and online publications, and speaks to community groups and schools. He appreciates initiatives such as Mental Illness Awareness Week, Oct. 5-11, for helping to bring mental illness out of the shadows.

“My purpose in life is to get the word out there that recovery from mental illness is possible,” he says. “Look at me; I’m now living the life I used to dream about.”

- Annapolis Valley Health

Photograph courtesy of Tony Legere.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

New Clues to Schizophrenia Genetics

An article posted by Virginia Hughes (pictured, right) on her weblog today:
A specific gene in the chromosomal region 22q11 is important for normal brain connectivity and synapse formation, and its absence may lead to schizophrenia, researchers are reporting today in Nature Neuroscience. The same team first linked a deletion in the chromosomal region to the disorder 13 years ago.

This approach of honing in on an individual gene’s effect on the mouse brain, experts predict, will become more common as scientists identify more copy number variations (CNVs) — duplications or deletions of a stretch of DNA — relevant to schizophrenia and autism.

To read the entire article, click here.

Neurons from the 22q11 mouse model (right) have fewer spines than normal mouse (left).

Saturday, October 4, 2008

How to look after your mental health

From The Mental Health Foundation (U.K.):
Mental health is about the way you think and feel and your ability to deal with ups and downs.

It's important to take care of yourself and get the most from life. We have put together 10 practical ways to look after your mental health.

Making simple changes to how you live doesn't need to cost a fortune or take up loads of time. Anyone can follow our advice.
To download How to look after your Mental Health, click here (PDF).

Mental Illness – An Election Issue!

By Sheila Morrison, Freelance writer, Mental Health Advocate

Mental Illness Awareness Week is October 6-11. What does it mean to you? Chances are extremely high that either you, or someone in your family, has suffered not only with the frightening symptoms of illness, but the effects of any of the following: discrimination, social stigma, poverty, fear, loneliness, hunger, loss of work, criminalization, being locked up, homelessness, rejection, wrong treatments, no treatment, unaffordable treatment, and the bureaucratic restrictions on accessing a reasonable life.

Without a doubt there is some excellent work being done. For example, this week a handbook, written by Capital Health staff and family members, is being launched by Capital Health for families to answer their questions on how to access care for their family member who is experiencing a mental health problem. By the end of this year Capital Health will have launched a very user-friendly website for the public that will also direct you to resources and offer information. There are also many non-profit groups doing their share: The Mental Health Coalition of Nova Scotia, The Healthy Minds Cooperative, The Consumer Initiative Centre, The Empowerment Connection, Veith Street Gallery and Studio, Elizabeth Fry Society, Canadian Mental Health Association, The Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, Caregivers Nova Scotia, and dozens of others.

Money is an issue for all of them. Less than 4% of our provincial health budget goes to mental health and spending is declining. Nationally, mental [illness] drains our economy of 51 billion dollars annually. If you are sick and receive good care, the recovery rate is 80%. Yes, people do recover and lead productive lives. But only one fifth of those needing treatment receive adequate care. Heartbreaking.

When the federal candidates come to your door, ask them why are we the only G8 country without a mental health strategy and what will you do about it? Ask the provincial candidates what they will do to put in place the many recommendations from the many reports to improve mental health care in Nova Scotia. Ask your municipal candidates what happened to the Community Health Boards recommendations?

If you know someone who is ill, sit with them. Listen. Offer to go to an appointment with them. Invite them for dinner. Hug. Accept them for who they are and don’t offer advice you are unqualified to give. Don’t judge them. Above all remember that it is not that person’s fault. Tomorrow it could be you or your child or parent.

Mental illness is just that, an illness. The right to good care is a human rights issue that ultimately affects every one of us.

Also see:

Everyone Affected