Guest Commentary

Learn about the latest research during National Mental Illness Awareness Week

National Mental Illness Awareness Week--Oct. 5-11 this year--has always mattered to me. As a pastor for two decades, I always thought of myself as competent, caring and educated. I had parishioners who battled mental illnesses; I cared for them but never walked in their shoes.

That all changed for me at the age of 45. Before bipolar disorder took over, I was a pastor. In 2003, I was given what seemed to be the replacement label of "a mentally ill person." And that, I was: I found myself at times unable to finish sentences because my thoughts were racing so fast; my emotional high and lows were something to behold; my mind was clouded with irrational thoughts. My teenage children kept their distance as my 20-year marriage unraveled and came to a screeching end. I was placed on disability leave by my denomination.

I started out 2003 uneducated about my mental illness and uneducated about the medication journey I would begin. My denomination required me to see both a psychiatrist to prescribe medications to stabilize my mood swings, and a psychologist to help me sort out what had happened and how I could learn to face my future. It's been five years now, and it has been a rough ride for me--somewhat like being on a roller coaster. I'm better than I used to be, but not as good as I'd like to be. I learned that stability is a place that I, as a person with bipolar disorder, can visit, but I never actually live there long.

Another thing I learned is that there is thought to be a genetic component to bipolar disorder. Persons receive that component through the family gene pool, and there is a possibility of passing it on. My oldest son, now in his 20s, has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder as well. He tells me he worries that if he has children, they might have the bipolar gene.

As president of Tucson's chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), I've had the privilege of joining with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Arizona (NAMISA) to jointly offer a free talk at 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 9, by Dr. Francisco A. Moreno at the UA Medical Center, 1501 N. Campbell Ave. Dr. Moreno will be speaking in Duval Auditorium on "Genetic Influence in Vulnerability to Depression and Treatment Responses." There it is: a talk on exactly what many people with mental illnesses, including me, are interested in.

Dr. Moreno, an associate professor of psychiatry at the UA College of Medicine, has been conducting research into the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders, in an effort to improve our understanding of the brain's basis for mental illness and medication responses. He will also be discussing recent findings that inform us of the role of different genes, as well as the interactions with events in our lives, that can bring risk or protection from depressive disorders.

Dr. Moreno's talk will explore the interactions of genetics, life events and developmental experiences that provide the foundation for how we approach and experience our lives, as well as our vulnerability to illness and personality style.

Was it genetically determined that I would end up with bipolar disorder? Or was it the result of some experience earlier in my life? What role did my personality play in my diagnosis? If you're like me, these are questions you would like answered. These are the kinds of issues Dr. Moreno will be speaking on.

Come join me and others diagnosed with a mental illness, their support persons, family and friends, and others interested in learning more about the role of genetics and depression and how it can be treated. For more information, contact NAMISA at 622-5582.

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