February 19, 2005
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MENTAL HEALTH News
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Gene Discovery Could Aid Schizophrenia Treatment
Australian scientists say the discovery of a new gene could
significantly improve the treatment of patients with schizophrenia
"It is a fundamentally important [discovery] because the way we've used medications until now has been trial and error," Professor Ross Young from Queensland University of Technology said.
Professor Young and Professor Bruce Lawford from the Royal Brisbane Hospital found patients with the gene had nearly twice the level of a particular hormone when taking their medications. Doctors say discovering the gene means they will be able to do a blood test or DNA swab and predict who will do better on certain medications. "By screening for genetic markers we can give lower doses of medication or give ones that have less side effects," Professor Young said.
Needless to say that the Mental Health groups around the country are most excited about this news as it will ease the process of finding the right medication and the correct dosage for each individuals. It is expected this finding will help consumers stay with their treatment and ultimately improve their quality of life.
Mental Health Courts Help Afflicted
AP Online; 2/18/2005; REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press Writer
Dateline: BOISE, Idaho
Except the help she really needed.
"I got busted, thank God. It's a good thing, because I was going to prison and didn't want to. The judge offered to let me go to mental health court instead," Reese said. "I would not be alive, would not be here, without the mental health court."
The Idaho court is the brain child of Judge Brent Moss. He was tired of seeing drug addicts sent to prison, without treatment, when many were trying to self-medicate to control a mental illness they did not understand.
"When I was doing drug court five years ago, we could immediately see that there are people who are failing. We couldn't get them through. Though they were getting clear of drugs, they didn't like the way it felt to be sober," Moss said.
The judge realized that mentally ill defendants were not getting the help they needed _ and he thought they were getting _ in prison.
"I was naive," Moss said.
Tom Beauclair, director of the state Department of Corrections, told lawmakers last month that prisons are not properly equipped to deal with the mentally ill.
"If I had to rank two issues that are very big problems for the Department of Corrections, it's drugs and mental health," Beauclair said.
Before her introduction to Moss, they were big problems for Reese as well.
Reese's 5-foot, 5-inch frame weighed just 85 pounds. But that frail body carried a heavy burden: an addiction to drugs and alcohol and a myriad of mental illnesses that Reese can recite like a litany.
"I'm bipolar, with obsessive compulsive disorder, schizoaffective with mood disorder and psychotic episodes, and I have disassociative disorder, which is basically multiple personality disorder with a new name," Reese said. "That's why I used so much drugs, and I've been doing them since I was 13. When I was 19 I was doing heroin. I was manufacturing methamphetamine."
Though they made her feel better, the drugs did not help her mental illness.
When she was ordered to prison for a methamphetamine conviction, the sentencing judge _ Moss _ offered her an alternative. If Reese would successfully complete mental health court, he said, she could avoid her prison sentence.
But graduating from mental health court was no easy task.
"The first 90 days, your life is absolutely scripted," Moss said.
Court volunteers and workers from other agencies check in with the defendant _ sometimes two or three times a day _ making sure they are taking medication, staying clean of illicit drugs and even paying rent and keeping their homes clean.
Participants must take part in therapy, classes about their illness and support groups.
Lance Hill, 40, who entered mental health court after a violent dispute with his girlfriend and a police officer, said the classes and therapy taught him to recognize the symptoms of his bipolar and schizoaffective disorder before they get out of hand.
"I would become agitated easier before. I do have a temper, I was very angry. Before it was just different, like I wasn't in control of myself, like some other force was driving me. But I learned about the illness, about how I respond and how I can change behaviors," Hill said.
"If you don't want to change when you go in there, you're not going to last very long. You'll go back to jail, back to an institution or die because you're not trying to help yourself or anything," Hill said.
Participants join Alcoholics Anonymous or other addict support groups. But Reese found that dealing with her mental illness reduced her craving for illegal drugs.
"But once they get you so you're on medication and compliant, and they check on you every night to make sure you're OK, it gets better. Now I'm not even drinking. I've been clean 19 months with no relapse, not even a thought of it," Reese said. "Isn't that incredible? You don't know what you're feeling, why you're feeling it until someone teaches you."
The success of the Rexburg court has prompted Kootenai County officials to start one. Soon, Moss hopes, mental health courts could spring up throughout Idaho.
"If you could see the before and after pictures of these people in two years, no one would recognize them. It just takes time, and once they graduate, it's almost like you're a father, you're so proud of them," Moss said.
Now graduates, Reese and Hill are believers in the program. They both take part in a support group for mental health court alumni. Reese said the court did more than heal her mind _ it healed her family as well.
"My daughter just called to tell me, 'I love you and have a nice day,'" Reese said, her voice heavy with emotion. "We've never had that kind of relationship before. I have a grandson, and I can remember him growing up now. With her childhood, it's kind of in and out because I was drugged. I have a life now."
Copyright 2005, AP News All Rights Reserved
PAIN FUELS DOCTOR'S SCHIZOPHRENIA RESEARCH
The Palm Beach Post; 2/16/2005; Carolyn Susman
At 76, Dr. James Watson has been recognized repeatedly for his brilliance and his life-altering discovery 50 years ago, along with a colleague, of the structure of DNA.
Remember that winding double-staircase known as the double helix that's recognized worldwide as DNA's model?
That was his discovery.
And that finding at age 25 led him to become a Nobel Prize winner.
This day, when we meet, he is being honored by the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression at a Palm Beach dinner. He sits with members of NARSAD - the president has a daughter with schizophrenia - and we begin talking about his research into devastating mental illness and his quest to find the genes that produce these disorders.
He has already found genes implicated in attention deficit disorder and Tourette's syndrome in children with autism.
And we begin to talk about diagnostic testing - when these genes are isolated. He thinks it's possible we could soon have a test, like that done for Down syndrome, for schizophrenia. Parents could find out when the child is still in utero if it was afflicted.
(The same test, known as a DNA biopsy, might also be used in adults and children with schizophrenia to find genes that are damaged and then select the best therapy for them, similar to the way Herceptin is used in breast cancer and Gleevec is used for leukemia.)
"We just have to spend the money . . . if you were at war, you'd work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but that's not the way science is done," he says. "We don't have the money. We have no grants in support of this."
He rambles on about famous families who have genetic defects - bipolar, dyslexia, for example. And how fortunate it would be if they donated money to his research.
"If you found the gene that caused it, you could finally rid this curse from the family," he says.
I ask him why he has chosen to concentrate now on schizophrenia.
"We have a son who's been hospitalized with it," he answers. There is a shocked silence. No one knew.
His son, now 35, hasn't responded to medication, he says.
I ask him about what seems the cosmic injustice: A man whose genius makes it possible for him to search out genetic causes for disorders to be a father to such a son.
"I just look at it as DNA can't be copied perfectly, and this has always been true, and it leads to a lot of inequality."
A speech given a few years ago enhances his views.
"Random throws of the genetic dice during the formation of sperm and egg take away from too many infants the opportunity to participate in a meaningful life. Those unfortunate individuals genetically programmed . . . represent unambiguous tragedies lacking in any compensatory side advantages. Common sense tells me that no one is seriously harmed by steps taken to prevent the birth of such children," he has said.
So he, a Nobel Prize winner, hasn't been spared the pain of dealing with what his own research may someday spare others from suffering. And that drives him, hard, every day.
(NARSAD can be reached at (800) 829-8289s or www.narsad.org).
On Health is a weekly column on health issues. If you have questions or comments, write Carolyn Susman at The Palm Beach Post, P.O. Box 24700, West Palm Beach, Fla. 33416, call 820-4433 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
KEYWORDS: MENTAL HEALTH RESEARCH FAMOUS SCIENCE MAN
Copyright © Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc., 2005