Posted by: menotmd | January 5, 2010

It’s been a while…

This is a hard one. Only because I won’t be offering good links, but hopefully meaty thoughts (yeah, it is hard for me to think).

I’ll start with a story from childhood. When I was little (oh I could hear the jokes now, whatever, stay with me here), my maternal grandmother came to live with my immediate family. She was our caretaker, while my moms and dads worked their jobs. I remember my grandmother fondly as she always had an apple for me and let me play with my blanket while she watched her novellas (spanish soap operas). We even counted out 100 pennies and went to the store with me so I could buy candy (to this day, I am grateful for her calmness when the store owner went nuts b/c the massive amt of change I dropped on his counter). However, it was difficult for me to understand the implications of my grandmother suffering from diabetes type 2 and arteriosclerosis.

See back in those days, cholesterol blocking drugs didn’t exist, and as a result, her carotid arteries (the big blood vessels that take blood to your brain) were severly blocked. She developed dementia, because the nutrients supplied by the blood wasn’t getting to her brain. I didn’t understand why she ripped my glow in the dark strawberry shortcake poster or why she locked my uncle and my sister out of the house. I just thought it was funny and proceeded to lock my uncle out of the house a number of times after that. When she died (I was 6, then), I asked my mom why she died, she said that abuela bled out of her ears. I didn’t understand until med school — as I didn’t understand mental illness until med school.

Which brings me to my point, let’s talk about mental illness.

Neurology/Psychiatry is one of the youngest sciences out there, because the brain is extremely fragile and complex. You talk to any first year medical student, and many will tell you that Neuroanatomy is probably one of the toughest courses. Identifying and understanding pathways, location of nuclei, lobes, central vs. peripheral, somatic vs. autonomic, receptors, neurotransmitters, feedback inhibition, and etc is difficult, but everyday we discover something new about our brains. For example, up until a few years ago, it was thought the neurons do not regenerate; however in recent years, we have discovered that our olfactory nerves (olfactory = smelling) regenerate every forty days. We’ve come a long way from phrenology.

I’ve had a couple of friends who have mental illnesses. It’s not the easily under control type either (although what mental illness is easily under control?). These mental illnesses require that they are under supervision by a guardian or a medical professional. The medication that they have to take makes them feel so bad that they have a hard time sticking to the regiment and hence, their symptoms continue to manifest and become more isolated from their support network.

I remember one of my friends who had a “breakdown” told me: “Look, if your body can get a cold or a disease, then why can’t your brain? Why is it that some diseases are more ‘acceptable’ than others?”
There’s a film called Out of Our Right Minds by Stacy Muhammad, that tackles some of the issues that I am having trouble articulating in this post.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness also has a fight the stigma page that is worth reading.



  1. Thank your for writing about mental illness. It’s important the we talk about it.

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