Almost every day the front page of newspapers have disturbing stories of mentally challenged people hurting themselves or others. Adam Lanza in Newtown, Oscar Pistorius in South Africa and now Country-Western star Mindy McCready are prime examples of very troubled minds. They are people who might have sought help or at least receive adequate treatment if the stigma of mental illness was not so prevalent in our society.
Despite amazing progress both in the science of the mind and unlocking the mystery of troubled minds, the stigma is still strong. Even more importantly the availability of compassionate and effective programs to help those who are in torment are rare. You can break a bone or have cancer and America is ready to provide you with every specialist possible but if you your mind is torn the choices are very limited - if you are even willing to seek help.
In my early 30's, I had a total nervous break down from the pressures of life. Fortunately for me, my dear friends made sure I got the best psychiatric care possible and stood by me as I healed my mind. Never will I forget the total fear, loneliness and helplessness that overtook me as my mind struggled to stay on an even course.
Nor will I forget the number of people who warned me against seeking the assistance of mental health professionals for fear that it would be a life long stigma. Politics still does not look kindly on those who have sought help for mental challenges.
The New York Times on Monday wrote about a new project being proposed by President Obama that will be as historic as the understanding of our DNA and genetics. The paper reports:
"The project, which the administration has been looking to unveil as early as March, will include federal agencies, private foundations and teams of neuroscientists and nanoscientists in a concerted effort to advance the knowledge of the brain’s billions of neurons and gain greater insights into perception, actions and, ultimately, consciousness.
Scientists with the highest hopes for the project also see it as a way to develop the technology essential to understanding diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as to find new therapies for a variety of mental illnesses.
Moreover, the project holds the potential of paving the way for advances in artificial intelligence.
The project, which could ultimately cost billions of dollars, is expected to be part of the president’s budget proposal next month. And, four scientists and representatives of research institutions said they had participated in planning for what is being called the Brain Activity Map project. "
As those with mental challenges continue to impact our society, their families and themselves it is important to not only look for solutions and healing but keep in touch with our compassion. A mind out of control is an unbelievable horror for the person suffering such an event.