Wednesday, September 13, 2006

TO READ: Comparing bipolar disease to arteriosclerosis and diabetes
I recently attended the California conference of NAMI -- the National Alliance on Mental Illness -- the nation's largest mental health advocacy program. Between scientific sessions, legislative ones and peer support discussions, there were plenty of tables filled with brochures, information, advertising... and, of course, give-aways, including pens and post-it pads advertising your favorite psych drug.

One of the most interesting things I picked up was an information sheet put out by the California Psychiatric Association: Comparison of Three Chronic Diseases with a Clear Combination of Biology and Behavior. In three columns it contrasted bipolar disorder (a brain/central nervous system disease), arteriosclerosis (heart/circulatory system) and diabetes (pancreas/digestive system). I won't summarize all the results here, but several were especially interesting to me. "Yes," there is a clear genetic predisposition to all three. There are typical medications for all three, and all three also require behavioral changes, such as accepting the disorder and developing insight into it, exercise, compliance with medications, and appropriate therapy, such as psychotherapy or diet.

One of the most exciting part of the comparison for me was the medical treatment effectiveness: 85-90% for bipolar, 43% for arteriosclerosis, variable for diabetes. I hadn't realized that bipolar disorder was considered this treatable. Now, the details of just how stable or symptom-free one had to be for any of these illnesses was not spelled out. However, I found it encouraging.

Still, the most important point, I think, is that it is gradually becoming more obvious to more people that mental illnesses are real illnesses -- biologically based brain disorders -- and should be treated as such. This allows no room for stigma. Few physicians, lay people, insurance companies or patients themselves would discriminate against a person with heart disease or diabetes. Mental illnesses must be treated with equal levels of concern and compassion.

1 comment:

John said...

This was an encouraging note. Thanks