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In late June, I attended NAMI’s National Convention in Seattle. As usual, the national convention featured excellent seminars and workshops and the difficulty was in deciding which session to attend! The theme was Think, Learn and Life: Wellness, Resiliency and Recovery and focussed on developing effective programs and resources to increase resiliency and advance recovery. One of the things I wanted to share with you was the recurring theme that research is hope, and indeed some speakers revealed the very interesting research that is being done at organizations like the National Institute of Mental Health, One Mind for Research, and the Allen Institute for Brain Research. During a special session, Dr. Thomas Insell, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said that mental illness continues to be the largest source of disability and a big driver of health care costs (more than diabetes, chronic respiratory illness and cancer combined). Treatment continues to be trial and error, there is no cure or vaccine, there are no markers to identify the illness and professionals are still diagnosing mental illness by observation. There are health disparities between people with mental illness and people with other physical illnesses in life expectancy and quality of health care. One of the reasons he cited for the poor outcomes of people with a mental illness is the simple fact that professionals don’t know enough. Dr. Insell said that our knowledge about mental illness is today at the level that it was for cancer 35 years ago and heart disease 50 years ago. What makes this information even more distressing is the fact that there has been a massive reduction in research funding. Another speaker explained that pharmaceutical companies are funding less research due to the costs. Another reason cited was the lack of tissue available for research and, in fact, one person said that medical professionals were even discouraged from studying mental illness and encouraged to study other illnesses like Alzheimer’s or Huntington where there was more tissue samples. Clearly, this is a call for us to advocate for more research funding, and for all of us to sign a donation card to donate our brains upon death. They are looking for the brains of people with and without mental illness in their family. Let’s each do what we can and together we will make a difference.
Another interesting topic was the session on Project Borderline, a non-profit organization founded by Brandon Marshall to raise awareness for Borderline Personality Disorder and to help others gain access to the resources that they need to recover. For those of you who do not know him, Brandon Marshall is a wide receiver for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League. He was recently diagnosed with and is pursuing treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder. To learn more about Brandon’s experience and this organization, please visit the following website at: http://projectborderline.com/Official_Site/About_Us.html. One of the things that Brandon said was that the book "Difficult Conversations – How to Discuss What Matters Most" was so helpful that he bought 80 copies for his family, friends and teammates. He said that learning to communicate effectively with others was critical for him to form and maintain good relationships.
In the near future, I’ll be speaking more about these topics and other sessions I attended at the NAMI Convention. In the meantime, NAMI has made available the presentations and other materials from the Convention to everyone. You can check some of these out at: www.nami.org (2012 National Convention).
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