This month’s edition of Discovery’s Edge, Mayo Clinic’s Online Research Magazine, features an article entitled “The Genomics of Bipolar Disorder.” The article looks at biobanking – a practice in which research centers store a lot of information on thousands of people with certain disorders, in this case bipolar. Mayo Clinic, in conjunction with several other research centers, is collecting blood samples and clinical information from 2,000 patients. This information is stored anonymously, and researchers can use this high volume of data to look at specific questions about bipolar disorder.
The primary focus of this work is related to genomics – looking at genetic associations to bipolar disorder. The work is not just about which genes and genetic variations contribute to causing bipolar disorder, but also examines subtypes of bipolar disorder and patterns of medication response. Partly due to genetic differences, people experience different benefits and side effects to the same medications.
Whenever I attend a mental health support group meeting, I’m reminded of how important it is to talk about what we’re dealing with. I’m also reminded of how difficult the subject of mental illness can be to discuss in our usual social circles, sometimes even with close friends and family members. Stigma-induced fear and shame often silence us, causing us to suffer needlessly in isolation. In a support group, you can open up, release some of that emotional pressure, and lighten your load.
Perhaps more importantly, support groups enable you to tap the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of others to solve problems and avoid common pitfalls. Outsiders can offer a different perspective. They’re less emotionally involved and can think more clearly and objectively about a situation than those who are entangled in the chaos. They may even have had the same or a similar problem and can offer just the solution you need.
A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry entitled “Are Mood Disorders and Obesity Related? A Review for the Mental Health Professional” (McElroy, Susan L.; Kotwal, Renu; Malhotra, Shishuka; Nelson, Erik B.; Keck, Paul E., Jr.; Nemeroff, Charles B.) reveals a possible connection between obesity and mood disorders including major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder.
The study found that:
By Shamash Alidina, author of Mindfulness For Dummies
Mindfulness is a meditation therapy that uses self-control techniques to overcome negative thoughts and emotions and achieve a calmer, more focused state of mind – a moment-to-moment awareness with qualities of kindness, curiosity, and acceptance.
Mindfulness was originally an ancient eastern approach to wellbeing that has been found, through recent psychological research, to be a powerful way of managing a range of mental health conditions.
The great thing about mindfulness is that it’s not only a technique you practice now or then, but a way of living your whole life, moment by moment. People who practice mindfulness regularly find they are more focused, calm, and better able to cope with the challenges of life.
In mindfulness, you learn to see thoughts as just thoughts rather than as facts or situations you must react to. Thoughts commonly come and go in the mind, and if you treat all thoughts as true and assign them all the same level of importance, you’re more prone to feel down in the midst of negative or self-judgmental thoughts and highly elated in the midst of positive thoughts. This rollercoaster ride of emotions and energy often seems to trace the same path as bipolar disorder’s ups and downs.
If brain chemistry can affect thoughts and behaviors, can thoughts and behaviors affect brain chemistry and perhaps even rewire the brain?
An accumulating body of evidence supports the notion that non-medical interventions – especially mindfulness – can create changes in the body and brain that help reduce distress and improve brain function in a variety of ways.
MindfulnessA mental state of heightened awareness, free of distraction, and more conducive to deliberate thought and action.
I recently attended a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) support group meeting that’s run as a problem-solving workshop. All attendees are sworn to confidentiality, so I won’t go into details, but as one of the attendees described her situation, I felt overwhelmed by what she perceived to be the problem. It was total chaos. What she described as one problem was actually a problem pileup – numerous problems all jammed together.
Problem pileups are common in bipolar disorder. Problems tend to come in waves making you feel confused and overwhelmed. When you’re in the midst of it, you may have trouble seeing what’s actually going on. As a first step, NAMI advises making a list.
This past weekend, I participated in NAMI’s Family-to-Family training program to become a facilitator (presenter) for the course. My goal is to work with others to start a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) affiliate and one or more mental health support groups in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and offer the Family-to-Family course to people in the area who have a loved one living with a “persistent and serious mental illness” – bipolar disorder (manic depression), schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, panic and other anxiety disorders including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or borderline personality disorder (BPD).
Family-to-Family is a unique 12-week course (2.5 hours per class), taught by people who have loved ones who are living with one of the serious mental illnesses mentioned previously. The course is designed to lead family members through the three stages of emotional responses: