Genetics & Environment Both Factors In Causing Mental Illnesses


Artist’s conception of a network of brain cells. Researchers have found similar signs of disrupted neuronal communication in five psychiatric disorders. 


(2-10-18) While I dislike simply reprinting articles, this Washington Post article is worth posting. Once again, scientists have found evidence that mental illnesses are brain disorders with a genetic link that also is impacted by the environment. Major mental illnesses are not a “social construct,” as many anti-psychiatry groups have argued for years. No surprise to any of us who have a loved one with a serious mental illness.

Five major psychiatric diseases have overlapping patterns of genetic activity, new study show


Certain patterns of genetic activity appear to be common among five distinct psychiatric disorders — autismschizophreniabipolar disorder, depression and alcoholism — according to a new study. The paper, appearing in the journal Science, was released Thursday.

Scientists analyzed data from 700 human brains, all donated either from patients who suffered one of these major psychiatric disorders or from people who had not been diagnosed with mental illness. The scientists found similar levels of particular molecules in the brains of people with autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; other commonalities between bipolar and major depression; and other matches between major depression and alcoholism.

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“Severe mental illnesses demand immediate and targeted attention – not being swept under the rug.” John Snook responds to “worried well” blog

(2-9-18) A recent blog by Dr. Dinah Miller, co-author of the book, Committed: The Battle Over Involuntary Psychiatric Care, elicited this response from John Snook, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center.  John serves with me on the Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness and Serious Emotional Disturbance committee, that advises Congress on the state of mental health care in the nation. I consider both John and Dinah friends and fellow advocates. Clearly, they have much different opinions.

Dear Pete,

I must admit I read Dr. Miller’s piece regarding the “worried well” with some amazement. She completely misses the point — a point that doctors like her have willfully ignored for the last twenty years: severe mental illnesses demand immediate and targeted attention.

Across the nation, rates of homelessness, incarceration, substance abuse and suicide that occur when the seriously mentally ill are left untreated are beyond crisis levels. Needed treatment beds are so decimated that mental health officials increasingly provide care only under threat of their own arrest.

Dr. Miller appears to want to sweep these many failures of the mental health system she represents under the rug as ancient history. Her piece is an impressive attempt at gaslighting – in her world, mental health providers have always considered the needs of the most severely ill. Those suffering with untreated severe mental illness and their families who suffer with them know better.

Let’s put this discussion in perspective.

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I’m Interviewed by Psych Central Hosts: Continuing Controversy About What Defines Serious Mental Illnesses. How I Cried About My Son.

(2-8-18) I was fortunate enough to be interviewed for a podcast by Psych Central hosts, Gabe Howard and Vincent M. Wales, that was posted today. Our conversation has been broken into two segments. The second podcast will be available February 15th.

During today’s podcast, we talk about arguments inside the mental health community about the “worried well” versus  “serious mental illnesses.” We discuss how difficult it was for me as a father to spend ten months inside the Miami Dade County jail as a reporter following seriously mentally ill prisoners out into the community for my book, and the importance of parents and those with lived experiences to tell their personal stories. (Tomorrow, I will post a blog by John Snook, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, rebutting an earlier blog on my page by Dr. Dinah Miller, about differentiating the “worried well” from the seriously mentally ill, a controversial subject of great concern to my readers, many of whom are parents of adult children with untreated serious mental illnesses who do not accept their illness, have not recovered and are homeless or incarcerated.)

Thanks for having me as a guest.  You can listen to a recent acceptance speech by Gabe here  where he speaks briefly about his illness.

Podcast: Candid Conversation With Pulitzer Finalist Pete Earley

Hosted by Gabe Howard and Vincent M. Wales, The Psych Central Show is a weekly podcast that offers an interesting, in-depth look into all things mental health and psychology. Mr. Howard is an award-winning writer, mental health activist, and sought-after speaker and educator who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. Mr. Wales is an award-winning novelist and former suicide prevention crisis counselor who lives with persistent depressive disorder. Episodes of The Psych Central Show are typically around 20 minutes in length and frequently feature guests. If you enjoy The Psych Central Show, please let Gabe and Vincent know!

Help Stop Seriously Mentally Ill Virginia Inmates From Being Locked In Solitary Confinement

(2-5-18) Want to reduce the suffering of individuals with serious mental illnesses held in Virginia jails and prisons?

Send an email or call state Senator Ryan T. McDougle  (R) – Senate District 4), at [email protected]  (804) 698-7504 and urge him to support Senate Bill No. 801 currently in his Rules Committee.

Introduced by Virginia state Senator Barbara Favola, the legislation would require the Virginia Department of Corrections and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to study and devise plans to reduce the use of solitary confinement for prisoners who suffer from serious mental illnesses.

The two state agencies would also be tasked to develop strategies ensuring “that prisoners with serious mental illness (SMIs) receive necessary and appropriate treatment delivered with a focus on the patient.”

Inmates are typically held in 80-square-foot cells for 23 hours a day, seven days a week. They are supposed to receive one hour a day of recreation five times a week, but those exercises are done inside a 96-square-foot, fenced area – basically a large cage. Inmates eat alone in their cells and, by design, have little, if any, interaction with others.

You can imagine how those conditions compound problems for someone with a serious mental illness. (Please share your personal stories on my Facebook page if you or a loved one has been held in such conditions.)

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“Suffering is suffering – it all hurts” – Psychiatrist Questions Use Of “Worried Well,” Says Real Gatekeepers To Care Are Insurance Companies


(1-31-18) Baltimore psychiatrist Dinah Miller, M.D., co-author of COMMITTED:  The Battle Over Involuntary Psychiatric Care, has reacted to my blog about HHS Assistant Secretary Dr. McCance-Katz’s decision to put a hold on a government operated website that identifies “evidence based practices.” COMMITTED, written with her co-author Annette Hanson, M.D., recently won the Carol Davis Ethics Award  given by the American Psychiatric Association each year for the best book published about ethics by psychiatrists.

Please Stop Using the term: ‘Worried Well’

Dear Pete,

Let me start by saying that after 25+ years as a psychiatrist, I’ve never heard of the NREPP website, which identifies “evidence based practices,” so I’m not certain whether closing it is a good thing or a bad thing. Instead, I’d like to respond to some of the things that were said in the course of your blog post.

You used the term “worried well.”  Please don’t use that term, ever.

It implies there are people with legitimate suffering because they have “real” mental illnesses, and those whose suffering is trivial because they don’t have “serious” mental illness.

Suffering is suffering– it all hurts, and sometimes those with no obvious signs of mental illness surprise us all when something suddenly goes horribly wrong.

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Fairfax County’s Diversion First Program Cites Major Successes, Further Pinpoints Need For Supportive Housing

Photo: Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid awards highest sheriff’s honor to CIT Lt. Redic Morris for his heroic service to individuals with mental illnesses/addictions.

(1-31-18)  What can be accomplished in two years when law enforcement, court officials, mental health providers, community leaders and mental health advocates work together to stop the inappropriate incarceration of persons with mental illnesses and addictions?

Nothing short of a miracle here in Fairfax County, Virginia, where I live.

The county issued a report this week about its Diversion First program and the results were so impressive that representatives from several national organizations attended a public meeting to learn about the county’s accomplishments.*

For more than a decade, I was critical and frustrated by a lack of interest in Fairfax in jail diversion, but after the tragic death of Natasha McKenna in 2015 in our jail, Fairfax Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid made diversion a priority, recruited allies and doggedly pushed the county forward. The result: a series of impressive changes.

Let’s begin with Crisis Intervention Team training, a crucial step in the jail diversion/sequential intercept model.

After my book, CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, was published in 2006, Patti and I donated $500 per year to our local NAMI chapter to fund an award to be given to a CIT Officer of the Year. We felt it important to encourage CIT. But we stopped in 2010 after budget cuts in 2008 virtually eliminated what scant CIT training was being done.

No longer.

Thanks to Fairfax Chief of Police Col. Edwin C. Roessler Jr., CIT training for police has become a priority, just as it has inside the jail because of Sheriff Kincaid. Their CIT and Diversion First efforts have been supported politically and financially by Board of Supervisor Chair Sharon Bulova, Supervisor John C. Cook, and Deputy County Executive David Rohrer.


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