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May is Mental Health Month

The statistics may surprise you: According to the National Institutes of Health, one in four adults in the United States suffers from a mental illness—and one in 17 from a serious, debilitating one. Suicide now kills more Americans than car crashes.

Prevention efforts can work, but only if we overcome the stigma of mental illness, which could be possible if we know more about the causes. To help better understand mental illness, Johns Hopkins researchers are busy advancing the basic understanding of conditions including schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder.

Mental Illness in Kids

Mental illness can strike even the very young and researchers are studying various aspects of mental illness in kids and teens.

Drs. Hanna Jaaro-Peled and Minae Niwa

Stress: Can It Bring More Than Teen Angst?
The answer may be yes. Research in teenage mice and humans finds that there may be a link between stress and levels of a brain chemical involved in learning and mood. This link has caused researchers to focus on what schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorder may have in common.

Seeking the Right Child, the Right Time
The research of child psychiatrist Robert Findling, the new director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, specializes in pediatric bipolar illness, a condition often difficult to diagnose, especially in young children. Find out what he has to say about the importance of research in this area.

Trickle-Down Anxiety
Parents, do you worry that you’re passing your stress to your children? That may very well be the case. Johns Hopkins researchers have found that parents with social anxiety are more likely than those with other forms of anxiety to put their children at high risk for developing angst of their own.

For Tics: Flying Beneath the Radar
Tourette’s syndrome is characterized by uncontrolled outbursts, which in children can lead to isolation from friends and classmates, and disrupt a normal life. Comprehensive behavioral intervention is lasting and without side effects. Most importantly, it allows kids to fly under the radar and go to school like everyone else.

Understanding Causes

Schizophrenia affects an estimated 2.4 million people in the United States, typically emerging in young adults. Evidence is now mounting that genetics may play a role.

Two New Risk Factors for Schizophrenia
Researchers in psychiatry and neuroscience have joined efforts to uncover how two risk factors for schizophrenia, previously thought to be unrelated, are actually very closely tied. The more researchers understand these aspects of the disease, the closer we are to the development of better drugs for schizophrenia and possibly other mental illnesses.

Green Neuropns

Genetics and Stressful Early Infancy
Is it nature or nurture? Working with genetically engineered mice and studying the genomes of thousands of people with schizophrenia, researchers now better understand how a little bit of nature and nurture can affect one’s risks for schizophrenia.

One Family’s Rare Genetics and Mental Illness
By studying the genes of a single family—two parents and four adult children—researchers found that the mother, who has schizophrenia; her two children with schizophrenia; and her child with major depression all had the same mutated version of the same gene. While this doesn’t prove that this particular gene causes all cases of schizophrenia, it does uncover a bit more about how the brain works and reveals areas that need further research.

How Do Antidepressants Work?

Hundreds of millions of Americans are prescribed antidepressants each year, but scientists don’t fully understand how they work in the brain. Johns Hopkins researchers have now made inroads into this mystery.

Activating Stem Cells and Relieving Depression
Getting the right antidepressant and dosage often takes weeks to months of seemingly imprecise guesswork. Now, through a series of investigations in mice and humans, researchers have found that both antidepressant drugs and electroconvulsive therapy work by stimulating stem cells in the brain to grow and mature. The researchers say this raises the possibility of predicting an individual’s response to depression therapy and fine-tuning treatment accordingly.

Improving Quality of Life

With greater awareness and more and better treatments, many people with mental illness are thriving.

Serious Mental Illness No Barrier to Weight-Loss Success
People with serious mental illness often are overweight and once were thought to be unable to make substantial lifestyle changes to improve health. Using a program that teaches simple nutrition messages and involves both counseling and regular exercise classes, researchers at Johns Hopkins have proven they can successfully shed pounds.

If Your Illness Is Under Control, You Can Do a Lot More
People with schizophrenia are more likely to live longer if they take their antipsychotic drugs on schedule, avoid extremely high doses and also see a mental health professional regularly.


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