Mental illness IS damaging and real – by PHILIP ISSA AND FUAD ISSA, M.D., F.A.P.A.

Mental illness IS damaging and real – by PHILIP ISSA AND FUAD ISSA, M.D., F.A.P.A. April 5, 2007 Mental illness is no different from any other illness of the human body. The worst mental illnesses are as damaging as the most insufferable physiological illnesses and remain equally incurable.

Along the same vein, however, psychiatric treatment and cognitive behavioral therapy can be considered just as effective for treating mental illnesses as physical therapy, surgery and medication are for treating physiological illnesses.

Treatment methods and medical research show that mental illnesses and physiological illnesses are analogous in their development and are caused by identical phenomena acting on different organs.

Advances in molecular biology have shown us that diseases affecting different organs of the body are more similar than they are different. Consider sulfonylureas, an oral medication that is used for the treatment of diabetes that stimulates the production of insulin by activating a gene that encodes for it in the pancreas. Is this any different from antidepressants that activate a gene that encodes for Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), thus reversing some of the devastating effects of depression?

As far as the body is concerned, there is no difference between gene activation in the pancreas versus in the brain. The brain is an organ just as any other bodily organ; recognizing this was the first step to effective medical research. The distinction of the brain from the rest of the body is artificial and has no basis in nature. Furthermore, both of the aforementioned treatments have proven themselves to be effective — far more effective than having the patient will away their diabetes or depression.

Indeed, it is difficult to conjecture why one would choose to attempt suicide, to lose their interest in sex, to feel guilty, worthless and helpless, to have insomnia and to have persistent headaches, digestive disorders and chronic disorders that do not respond to treatment. Depression is in fact reflected in the chemistry and neurological activity of the brain, just as AIDS is reflected in the composition of the immune system.

It is important to note that mental illness does not serve to advance human progress. Harvard University, the WHO and the World Bank have jointly published the findings of a massive Global Burden of Disease study that shows that mental illness accounts for 15 percent of the burden of disease in market economies — not even cancer accounts for such a significant burden.

In light of such a significant burden imposed by mental illness upon our society, it is imperative that we explore new and novel ways of treating them. Consider the news that researchers at NYU have been able to make rats forget single, specific memories and the significance of this research for Americans.

According to the National Institute of Medical Health (NIMH,, 3.5 percent of adult Americans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in a given year; the symptoms include becoming emotionally numb, increased irritability and aggressiveness, propensity for violence, recurrent nightmares and flashbacks (these may be the “anxiety attacks” that Josh Cohen referred to in his column last week). Some can recover within six months, while others may suffer chronically. It is not hard to see why those who suffer from PTSD, such as rape victims and veterans, will welcome the news that researchers are closer to a method for erasing those terrible memories that dominate their flashbacks, nightmares and daily thoughts.

In light of overwhelming empirical evidence, we urge everyone to recognize the very real costs of mental illness on our society, our families and our friends and to appreciate the brilliant research that has allowed us to minimize these costs.

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