DISABILITY - PUBLIC HEALTH

Churchill’s black dog

Mental illness is an inevitable part of our of lives, in its many shapes, stages, and effects. The great British Prime Minister Winston Churchill certainly knew something about personal and national suffering. He had to deal with his own depression as well as run a country at war. He referred to his episodes as “the black dog” and one of his more famous quotes was: “When you are going through hell, keep going.” Churchill knew that sometimes the only way out was through. Life’s journey requires endurance and endure we must when mental illness sometimes overcomes us. Despite our cleverness and wonderful advances in science and technology, many secrets of the brain and this thing we call the mind remain obscure. We may never discover all there is to know, but if lives can be made better, more rewarding and meaningful for people living with mental illness, that is surely something to celebrate. 

At Meeting for Minds, we believe that the key to discovering these answers is through scientific research. Not only involving professional researchers and clinicians, but people who have themselves endured mental illness. It is evident to us that research has rarely tapped in to the vast knowledge of mental conditions in the minds of those who live with them. That is why our organization has worked to establish a number of international research projects that formally involve People with Lived Experience of mental illness, they have instead of a diagnosis a title, we call them PLEX. At the same time that research seeks new opportunities and direction, so too are attitudes changing in the medical profession. Most of us know how we have traditionally labelled and separated individual afflictions and targeted them with specialist treatment. But leading psychiatrists are now starting to see that this “silo” approach to tackling illness is not as effective as studying the brain, the mind, the body as one, and helping to broaden not only researcher’s but even clinical minds in the way advance in their field. This holistic approach is already showing positive results in clinical trials and treatment and is the focus of a number of significant research projects. 

One example involves the treatment of young people with serious mental illness. Among adolescents, a significant proportion do not respond to prescribed medication and as a result, they and their families continue to suffer with no relief. But in a number of specific cases, patients in this group were shown to have serious deficiencies in their immune systems and when this was corrected through treatment, they began to respond to medication for their psychaitic condition. It is hoped that further research will lead to the establishment of international treatment protocols that will recognize the effectiveness of this approach. Meeting for Minds sees these changes as significant starting points for new directions in mental health research and treatment, but also as extremely effective in recognising the true nature of mental illness and helping to break down some of the stigma and mistrust that to this day trails around after sufferers like Churchill’s black dog. Meeting for Minds strives for open minds, understanding, tolerance and goodwill in caring communities, these are a pathway’s to better lives for those living with mental illness and for those who love them. Indeed to the whole community we believe, as we all at some stage experience challenges and learning about us is both interesting and useful. 

Written collaboration between Chris Hunt and Maria Halphen