A step ahead of mental illness


To the editor:

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time set aside for further reflection on mental illness and the things that might be done to improve the lives of those so afflicted. 

It’s been said before. The brain is an incredibly complex organ — one we still know so little about. Just as things can go wrong with the thyroid gland or the pancreas or the liver, the human brain is periodically subject to any number of different ailments. 

The situation may be complicated by a variety of behavioral or social factors. The underlying reality, however, remains true: Things can go wrong with the human brain.

We can only be thankful that in 2023, much is known about how to treat such forms of illness. A broad range of effective prescription drugs is now available. Yes, there is a lot money in it, but it is for this reason that the improvements continue. These medications are there to be helpful. 

One of the first, and perhaps most influential, was lithium carbonate, used to treat bipolar disorder — or, as it was then known, manic-depression. This was the very same clay found in the European springs where the suffering regularly went to “take the waters.”

The clay was packaged for easier use. This natural substance was no less effective in that form.

Certainly, all forms of psychiatric medication must be treated with the highest degree of respect. Increasing or decreasing the dosage amounts without the assistance of a trained professional is the highest form of recklessness. 

Still, help does exist. 

The case can also be made that our own human emotions carry a corresponding power to alter our own brain chemistry. Fits of anger or worry or blame or fear can alter the chemical makeup of the human brain.

Here, too, however, psychiatry is making great advances. With hard work and commitment — and the assistance of a psychotherapist — it is possible to maintain a more hopeful and humorous outlook, day by day.

We don’t have all the answers. Still, many good men and women are working to improve our understanding of this most human form of affliction, and to find help for those in need. If the rest of us can set aside our unnecessary prejudices and open ourselves to the help already available, we can all come out ahead.

Josh Greenfield

Josh Greenfield, mental health, awareness, psychiatry