Another Great Recovery Story from Schizophrenia

28 09 2012

This time I wish to present the story of Erin Hawkes, a Neuroscientist that copes with Schizophrenia. Recently Erin wrote a book about her recovery journey entitled “When Quietness Came: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey With Schizophrenia

 

Here is an article about her story that was published at CBC books (Canada).

 

Erin Hawkes started hearing voices and music when she was a small child, voices that eventually turned nasty and led to a suicide attempt, a bout of electro-shock therapy, eight different medications, and 12 hospitalizations. But Hawkes was also a straight A student who earned a master’s degree in neuroscience. She has written a memoir about her struggle with mental illness and schizophrenia, called When Quietness Came, and she discussed the book and her experiences in a recent interview on North by Northwest.

For Hawkes, the voices started when she was very young and they were never alarming in her childhood. Indeed, Hawkes describes them as her “little friends.” She also heard music. “I would hear it when we were in the car and it mostly sounded like it was coming out of the trunk,” she told host Sheryl MacKay. “I’d ask my mom to turn up the volume because I couldn’t hear it very well and she’d say, ‘Erin, the radio’s not on.'”

As a child, she took the audio hallucinations for granted. “I never thought it was anything different. I thought everyone had their own little voices. Everyone says, ‘The little voice in my head said this’ and I just assumed it was the same thing,” she explained. “But around adolescence they started to get more persistent and meaner, talking about me as if behind my back or telling me what to do, what not to do, what I shouldn’t have done, what I should do.”

When the voices started to get nasty, Hawkes tried to avoid them by studying really hard. “I excelled at school and put all my effort into it. I had a few good friends, so I was relatively normal,” she said. “I kept the voices to myself. I thought everyone had them and there was no point in discussing them.”

Hawkes earned a master’s degree in neuroscience and excelled in school, earning high averages and multiple scholarships — even while dealing with the inner turmoil of hearing voices that urged her to commit suicide. “I think the studying was a coping mechanism,” she said. “The harder I studied, the more I could ignore the voices.”

Studying was also a way to reassure herself that she was in control of her mental health. “I had heard about schizophrenia, and some part of me wondered if that was me. But I heard the stereotype of schizophrenia — uneducated and stuff like that — and I thought, ‘Well, if I maintain an A-plus average there’s no way I could have schizophrenia,” Hawkes said. “And a doctor once told me, which I don’t agree with, but he said, ‘You’re too smart to have schizophrenia.'”

Hawkes is schizophrenic, but it took a long time to receive an accurate diagnosis. First she was told she had depression, borderline personality disorder, and was even given electroshock therapy, which is not usually used on schizophrenics. She often felt misunderstood, and lost in the system.

“One of the reasons I wrote the book, and put on the cover ‘Erin Hawkes, MSC,’ is that I really wanted to reach professionals,” she said. She thinks that many psychiatric professionals have a lot of learn about the experiences of their patients, and she hopes her book is viewed as not “just” another memoir by a schizophrenic and that she’ll be taken seriously. “I think my credentials should make it more acceptable to a professional.”

Hawkes also wants to reassure others with mental illnesses similar to hers. “There’s always hope…When you’re in the middle of it, it seems like it’ll never be normal again,” she said. “And in some ways it will never be ‘normal’ but it is very livable.”





Social Neuroscience by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

21 09 2012

Okay…. here is a great lecture about social neuroscience (especially among teenagers) by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore. Highly recommended!

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore studies the social brain — the network of brain regions involved in understanding other people — and how it develops in adolescents

 





Genetic Switch Involved in Depression (NIH news)

19 09 2012

The activity of a single gene sets in motion some of the brain changes seen in depression, according to a new study. The finding suggests a promising target for potential therapies.

People with major  depressive disorder, or major depression, have feelings of sadness, loss, anger  or frustration that interfere with daily life for weeks or longer. The symptoms  of depression also include memory loss and trouble thinking.

Past studies have found  that people with major depression have brains that are physically different  from those of non-depressed people. The depressed brain has a smaller  prefrontal cortex, a region at the front of the brain that handles emotion and  complicated thought. The area also has fewer and smaller neurons (nerve cells) in  the depressed brain.

To gain insight into  the neural mechanisms at work, a group led by Dr. Ronald Duman of Yale  University began with data collected in a previous study. They had done a comparison of postmortem brains from 15 depressed people and 15 non-depressed  people who were matched in age, ethnicity and gender. Using DNA  microarray chips to analyze the  activity of 20,000 genes, the researchers had found numerous genes that were  expressed (turned on and off) differently in the brains of depressed people.

For the new study,  the team focused specifically on genes related to synapses, the place where  signals pass from one neuron to another.  The work was funded in part by NIH’s National Institute  of Mental Health (NIMH) and National Center for Research Resources (NCRR). The  findings were published in the September 2012 issue of Nature Medicine.

Analysis revealed that about 30% of the genes with significantly lower expression in the depressed  brains related to some aspect of synapse function. Further experiments found  significantly reduced expression for 5 particular genes in the prefrontal cortex of depressed people.

The scientists searched for transcription factors—proteins  that bind to the DNA of other genes to turn them on or off—that were capable of  regulating the 5 genes. They found one  called GATA1 that is expressed significantly more in the brains of people with  major depressive disorder. Expression of the Gata1 gene in the prefrontal cortex was also higher in a  rat model of depression.

Raising expression  of Gata1 in cultured rat  neurons decreased the expression of synapse-related genes. It also decreased  the number of connections between neurons, supporting the idea that higher Gata1 expression can lead to the changes  seen in depressed brains.

The researchers next  tested the gene in rats and found that putting extra copies of Gata1 into their brains made them behave  as if they were depressed.

“We show that circuits normally involved in  emotion, as well as cognition, are disrupted when this single transcription  factor is activated,” Duman explains.

These findings may point toward a new target  for treatment. “We hope that by enhancing synaptic connections, either with  novel medications or behavioral interventions, we can develop more effective  antidepressant therapies,” says Duman.

— by Helen Fields





The Israeli Government has Ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities!

15 09 2012

Below please find the Statement and the speech of the Israeli commissioner at the UN headquarters.

Israel Ministry of Justice

Spokesperson’s Office

Sept. 11, 2012

PRESS RELEASE

The Israeli Government has Ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) was ratified by the Israeli Government on September 10th, 2012. The State of Israel signed the Convention in March 2007, and has now joined the majority of countries worldwide who have already ratified it. The Convention was ratified after an assessment was carried out to determine the compatibility of Israeli legislation with the requirements of the Convention. This assessment was carried out cooperatively by the Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and two other units at the Ministry of Justice: the Department for International Agreements, and the Counseling and Legislation Department.

The ratification of the Convention will influence the daily lives of some 1.6 million people with disabilities in Israel, their rights, and the policies of the relevant Government Ministries.

The Convention sets standards for equality, full participation, inclusion and integration into society, provision of accommodations, and autonomous decision making by the people themselves. Under the CRPD, these standards apply to the various areas of life: Education, community living, health and rehabilitation, accessibility, recognition of legal capacity, family and parenthood, access to justice, employment and more.

The CRPD was adopted on December 13th, 2006 at the United Nations Headquarters, following four years of intensive work by delegations from various countries, Disabled Peoples’ Organizations, and human rights activists. The Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Counseling and Legislation Department, the Foreign Ministry and the NGO “Bizchut” were involved in drafting the Convention and formulating the principles it includes. These are, among others, the right of every person to live in the community, the right to accessibility in general and to the legal system in particular, and the right to employment.

After all obstacles were removed, the Convention was ratified, and an Israeli delegation, headed by Mr. Ahiya Kamara, Commissioner for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, will participate in the Conference of States Parties to the CRPD.

To the translation of the CRPD into Hebrew:

http://www.justice.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/BC8B4E1F-1B6F-4575-9D6C-5C5B18830BF8/31830/HaamanaHebEng1.pdf

The Minister of Justice, Yaakov Neeman: “The ratification of the CRPD is a very important step indicating the centrality of people with disabilities within the priorities of the State of Israel. The Government of Israel and the Ministry of Justice in particular, are constantly working to achieve their full inclusion in the society of the State of Israel.”

Dr. Guy Rotkopf, Director General of the Ministry of Justice: “The ratification of the Convention shows the commitment of the State of Israel to work practically towards equality, inclusion and full participation of people with disabilities in Israeli society. The ratification of the Convention continues the endeavors of the Government of Israel in recent years to place the issue of people with disabilities at the head of the public agenda and to promote policies to ensure their full inclusion in all areas of life”.

Ahiya Kamara, Commissioner for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the Ministry of Justice: “The ratification of the CRPD is a meaningful step, in which Israel enters the respectable family of countries which have ratified the CRPD and are working to promote the rights and quality of life of people with disabilities. Israel has advanced legislation concerning the rights of people with disabilities, but faces the challenge of implementing it in practice. Ourtest as a society will be to make the vision of full inclusion of people with disabilities a reality”.

AND, here is the speech of the Israeli commissioner:

Statement for the Opening of the Fifth Conference of State Parties

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

 

By Ahiya Kamara

Israel Commissioner for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Ministry of Justice

 

14 September 2012

UN Headquarters, New York

————————–

Thank you Mr. Chairman,

I am delighted to announce that this week the Israeli government finally approved the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, marking the end of a lengthy process of discussions with all government offices, and the start of a new phase in the lives of people with disabilities in Israel. The process was long, because our legal system requires that our laws be fully compatible with the Convention before ratification.

The ratification signifies another milestone in the gradual advancement of disability rights agenda in Israel throughout the last decade, which started with the Israeli Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law enacted in 1998. The law put in place a “human rights” approach to disability, in addition to the “welfare” approach that underlies most of the extensive Israeli disability legislation. Together, they were intended to enable people with disabilities to achieve a better life and fuller social inclusion. The welfare legislation provides disabled people with an umbrella of eligibilities and services and the Equal Rights Law aims to prevent discrimination in all areas specifically in employment and mandates accessibility to all public buildings and services.

Yesterday in a side event we presented another example of an innovative Israeli law which requires specific procedural accommodations for interreges and witnesses with disabilities. In one recent case, for example a mentally disabled girl gave assisted testimony against a bus driver who sexually abused her. As a result, the abuser was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. This law can give a voice to people, and especially vulnerable women and children with disability who might otherwise be silenced, and provide them with access to justice.

Although we are progressing, our statistical data on the situation of disabled people in Israel shows that an elaborated legal system is not enough, and  much more needs to be done to promote the ideals set forth in the CRPD. Stigma and barriers still prevail, inequality of education levels and employment opportunities still exist, community living must be further developed, and legal capacity sought.

We foresee our specific commission for equal rights of persons with disabilities becoming the focal point for implementing the CRPD in Israel. The commission, which I head, was established to implement the Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law. Today we focus on implementing accessibility regulations by enforcement and education, providing legal assistance, promoting inclusive policies etc. To advance the implementation of the CRPD, we plan to build upon our wide partnership with government as well as civil society organizations to this common goal.

Mr. Chairman,

We look forward to continuing the process of advancing equal human rights for people with disabilities in Israel. In doing so we are inspired by Moses, a person with disability with a stutter, one of the greatest leaders in history who managed to lead the nation of Israel from slavery to freedom. We strive for a world in which all people with disability, will, like Moses, be able to realize their full human and leadership potential for the benefit of society.

Thank you for your attention.

Translation: Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities.





Lets Search Together

13 09 2012

Here is a very cool website entitled WeSearchTogether aimed to connecting mental health researchers and participants with mood disorders. The rationale of this website is that research and the participants involved are essential to increased knowledge of mood disorders, but researchers often experience barriers in engaging adequate numbers of participants in mood disorder research studies, causing many studies to experience delays in finding breakthroughs. This website is based on a partnership between the University of Michigan Depression Center and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Researchers, people with mood disorders, family members and other stakeholders are encouraged to visit this site.

 





Neuropsychoanalytic and Primal Consciousness Perspectives on the Interface Between Affective and Cognitive Neuroscience

12 09 2012

For those of you that haven’t read this paper yet, here is the very interesting review by Solms and Panksepp entitled “The “Id” Knows More than the “Ego” Admits: Neuropsychoanalytic and Primal Consciousness Perspectives on the Interface Between Affective and Cognitive Neuroscience”.

Abstract: It is commonly believed that consciousness is a higher brain function. Here we consider the likelihood, based on abundant neuroevolutionary data that lower brain affective phenomenal experiences provide the “energy” for the developmental construction of higher forms of cognitive consciousness. This view is concordant with many of the theoretical formulations of Sigmund Freud. In this reconceptualization, all of consciousness may be dependent on the original evolution of affective phenomenal experiences that coded survival values. These subcortical energies provided a foundation that could be used for the epigenetic construction of perceptual and other higher forms of consciousness. From this perspective, perceptual experiences were initially affective at the primary-process brainstem level, but capable of being elaborated by secondary learning and memory processes into tertiary-cognitive forms of consciousness. Within this view, although all individual neural activities are unconscious, perhaps along with secondary-process learning and memory mechanisms, the primal sub-neocortical networks of emotions and other primal affects may have served as the sentient scaffolding for the construction of resolved perceptual and higher mental activities within the neocortex. The data supporting this neuro-psycho-evolutionary vision of the emergence of mind is discussed in relation to classical psychoanalytical models.

FOR THE FULL ARTICLE CLICK HERE





World Suicide Prevention Day

10 09 2012

Today is the World Suicide Prevention Day. Not many people know but the rates of suicide in the world are enormous. In the US alone, over than 36,000 people die by suicide each year. In Israel more people are dying from suicide than from car accidents. Unfortunately, we still don’t understand enough the reasons for suicide and the ways to address this major public health phenomenon. By all means, though, the fact that suicide is very low prioritized among policy makers lead to a situation where the budget for research in this field is very low (in Israel almost ZIRO) and the services aimed to address it are poorly funded does not help the dire situation.  ANY THOUGHTS WHY SUCH A DIRE PHENOMENON GET SO LITTLE ATTENTION AND SUCH A POOR BUDGET???

Here is a short video by NIMH where NIMH director interviews NIMH research Dr. Jane Pearson. I hope that you will find it helpful.