MENTAL HEALTH WRAP UP PRESENTED BY
MARGUERITE SUZETTE SANDERS RODRIGUEZ
Blood is Thicker Than Crazy
by Marguerite Suzette Sanders Rodriguez
We’re a handsome family, good-looking with strong physical features, characteristics that indicate we are related. Chestnut eye color; lots of long, thick hair; dimples – physical markers that let the world know that we belong together, are part of one another, are a family. But, it is also what you don’t see that creates an undeniable bond among the members of our clan. There are also behaviors that tie us together.
When I studied genetics in college, I clearly remember learning about Gregor Mendel and his pea plants, demonstrating how physical characteristics are shared, passed from parents to offspring, transferred from one generation to the next. However, I don’t recall any discussion on how mental disorders can do the same, get passed from one generation to the next.
Then came the epiphany. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to compare notes with a close cousin about some common behaviors of our family members that I recognized the familiar patterns. Then there it was, staring me in the face, an uncomfortable truth – mental illness, and in particular bipolar disorder, runs in my family.
When giving medical history, the generic questions are expected. Do you or does anyone in your family suffer from…? A list of options are offered from which one can choose: cancer, diabetes, hypertension? Bipolar disorder and other diagnosable mental illnesses are never on that list. Never routine inquiries about disorders that can significantly alter the life of the person with the disorder as well as the lives of their family members, friends, and loved ones who are taken along for what can become a tumultuous, unsuspecting ride. Cancer, diabetes, and hypertension all run in my family, but it is our genetically shared mental health disorder that has the greatest and most significant impact on my life.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depressive illness) is a brain disorder characterized by depressive lows and manic highs. A condition that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Bipolar disorder tends to run in families and is caused by complex genetic and environmental factors. It is clear, genetic markers increase a person’s risk and propensity for the disorder.
Diabetes is a condition caused by chemical imbalances of the pancreas. Bipolar disorder is a condition rooted in chemical imbalances of the brain. No one has a problem discussing diabetes, but no one wants to talk about bipolar disorder and definitely not its genetic links. Unlike diabetes, cancer, or other diseases and disorders, we look to our genetic connections as predictors of susceptibility, but not with disorders of the brain. We don’t always consider how mental illness can run through a family just like any other genetic trait.
When your close family member (parent, sibling, cousin) suffers from bipolar disorder, you can’t help but consider the inheritability of the disorder. You’re constantly checking yourself for signs of crazy.
Annually, approximately 3 million people are diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the United States alone and of these diagnoses, more than 80% are severe cases. And for each person diagnosed, there are many who remain undiagnosed, suffering in silence and often trying to self-medicate, a practice that often can lead to problems with addiction and alcoholism.
Very importantly, we must remember each person with bipolar disorder is related to someone. They are someone’s beloved mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son, uncle, aunt, cousin. The stigma surrounding mental illness is alive and well, but we must take a different approach. A conversation must be had, it is imperative that a discourse resonate beyond whispers so that we can to educate ourselves, in order to help us show understanding and compassion to those who suffer. We are all connected in some way to someone with a mental health issue and we must remember that we are all just a genetic marker away.
On behalf of The Neighborhood at thepublicblogger.com, we hope you have enjoyed and learned from our Mental Health Awareness. Thank you for stopping in. You are appreciated and… you are not alone. – Kendall F. Person