Monthly Archives: June 2013

Despite mountains of books published about mental illness, there is really very little that we know for sure about mental illness.  Research tends to focus on how to manage symptoms rather than look for the mysterious causes of mental illness.  A new study by UC San Francisco (UCSF) scientists suggests that genes causing birth defects in the brain may a major cause of mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism.

The study was done on mice.  This is the one thing I don’t like.  The mice are bred to have defects and then killed and dissected to look for that defect.  There are alternatives to using expensive and space-consuming laboratory animals.  Then, there is also the argument that if you lived in a lab, you’d develop mental illness, too.  But anyway …

The specific gene under investigation is called Dact1.  If the gene “goes awry” while the mouse is an embryo, the resulting mouse baby is born with major physical defects.  The study (if I’m reading this right) genetically manipulated the Dact1 gene in adult mice.  Here’s what the article at UCSF says:

“In doing so, Cheyette, John Rubenstein, MD, PhD, and colleagues in UCSF’s Nina Ireland Laboratory of Developmental Neurobiology used a genetic technique in adult mice to selectively delete the Dact1 protein only in interneurons, a group of brain cells that regulates activity in the cerebral cortex, including cognitive and sensory processes. Poor function of interneurons has been implicated in a range of psychiatric conditions.”

There are many theories as to why some people get mental illnesses and some do not (even if they have the same parents.)  It could be that there are a wide variety of factors that have to come together is a “perfect storm” to trigger mental illness in an individual.  Certainly, some mental illnesses like dissociative personality disorder (which used to be called multiple personality disorder) are triggered by severe abuse during childhood.

But this is a promising study to help shine a light on at least one cause of some mental illnesses.


Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  I’ve been taking a mental vacation from writing this past week or  so.  I’ve been reading, eating and indulging a growing obsession with a television show called Hannibal.  It’s a re-imagining of the Dr. Hannibal Lector stories by Thomas Harris.  One of my favorite movies is The Silence of the Lambs (1991) so I thought this series might be a train wreck.  Out of curiosity, I watched the premier and now I’m hooked.

Perhaps one definition of sanity is that you have more than one obsession.  Yes, I’m still obsessed with reading, with animals and especially Peter Gabriel, but now I have a new obsession to tack onto the list.  I know my mental health isn’t so good when one of my obsessions takes over my life to the point where everything else just gets shoves into a corner of my mind.

So, how obsessed am I with Hannibal?  I downloaded Windows Movie Maker for the sole purpose of making a fan vid like you see on YouTube (and on the top of this blog post).  You know — videos of pop songs with a montage from a favorite show or movie that folks make all of the time.  I have absolutely no idea how they managed it.  I can’t get a damn thing to work with Movie Maker.  Specifically, I can’t save any videos.  It’s a little hard to make a fan vid of Hannibal if I can’t download any episodes from the Internet.  I even bought the first season from Amazon’s Instant Video service.  But saving these videos?  No dice.

It’s driving me nuts that I can’t figure out how to work Movie Maker while people half my age can throw dozens of videos up on YouTube.  I know I should be going back to writing and focusing on what my clients want me to write but I just can’t get the idea for a Hannibal fan video out of my freaking head.  Eventually, I’ll have to start writing again in order to pay the bills — and for these damn Hannibal episodes I bought from Amazon.

One big problem with treating people with depression is finding the right treatment for them.  Many patients have to try one medication after another in order to find just the right one.  Some patients cannot take medications but do well with therapy.  Finding the right treatment could take a depressingly long time.

But how about if there was a diagnostic test patients could take which tells them what medications would work best for them before actually trying the drugs? The test would be a brain imaging scan that looks for specific things called biomarkers.

This is the hope of a promising new study at Emory University funded by the National Institutes of Health.  Details of the study can be found at JAMA Psychiatry, June 12, 2013.

In case you let your subscription lapse, here’s a bit from the press release about the study from the NIH website:

Using a positron emission tomography (PET) scanner, they imaged pre-treatment resting brain activity in 63 depressed patients. PET pinpoints what parts of the brain are active at any given moment by tracing the destinations of a radioactively-tagged form of glucose, the sugar that fuels its metabolism.

They compared brain circuit activity of patients who achieved remission following treatment with those who did not improve.

No — I didn’t understand that, either.

Of course, a lot more testing would need to be done in order to make sure this test works as well as preliminary results suggest.  If it does, then would be a huge leap forward in treatment of mental illness.

When you are in the teeth of depression, it feels as if nothing can save you. You feel as if your case is completely hopeless, so why bother. Winston Churchill, who suffered from depression, called it “the black dog”. But a black dog (or any other color or species, for that matter) may be precisely what a person with depression needs. Pets help give people with depression a reason to move, triggers the release of relaxing transmitters and gives a sense of accomplishment…

Please read the rest of my article at Yahoo. Thanks!