"Toward Understanding Our Total Health"
Tipper Gore, the wife of Vice President Al Gore, has long been involved in issues related to mental health, education, and homelessness. In 1990, she founded Tennessee Voices for Children, a coalition to promote the development of services for children and youth with serious behavioral, emotional, substance use, and other mental health problems. As Mental Health Policy Advisor to the President, Mrs. Gore is committed to eradicating the stigma associated with mental illness and educating Americans about the need for quality, affordable mental health care.
This conference highlights the important relationship between our reasoning and our emotion and reflects the extent to which scientific discoveries have advanced our understanding not only of what we feel, but of how we feel.
Thanks to the cutting-edge research of these conference participants and others, we are learning important lessons about the links between mental and physical health. This research also may give us the key to unlocking a new understanding of our total health, one that will open new doors of prevention and treatment.
During this Decade of the Brain, neuroscientific research will explain more about the complex relationship between the mind and brain in health and illness than has been known since the dawn of history. In the last three decades, the mysteries of the mind have been unveiled through advances in neuroanatomy, neurobiology, neuroimaging--and sheer human will. Mental health care professionals, working on the frontlines, are translating this virtual explosion of knowledge into ways to improve the lives of millions of Americans who suffer the symptoms of various mental illnesses.
Of those millions of Americans who experience symptoms of mental illnesses in any given year, only one-fourth will seek help. Their failure to obtain treatment has enormous implications: The 75 percent who do not get help lose the ability to contribute to their jobs, to their communities, and to their families. In an age when science can give us the means to deliver treatment--and perhaps, eventually, cures--this is not right and not fair.
The advances in neuroscience we are hearing about will do much to remove the stigma of mental illness, which is among the last disorders to be freed from fear and misunderstanding in the hearts and in the minds of so many. As new medications and psychotherapeutic treatments prove beneficial to people with mental illnesses, the chink in the walls of suspicion and fear and ignorance about mental illness gets larger. The walls are beginning to crumble.
What is the connection between the growing acceptance of mental illnesses as real and treatable diseases and the focus of this conference on the science of emotion? Researchers have found there is a profound relationship between the brain and the environment in the conduct of all aspects of our daily lives. We now know that our brains are wired biochemically and that this wiring, and those biochemicals, color our perceptions of our environment, shade our responses to events, and tint our future experiences.
Imagine for a moment what life might be like in the absence of emotion. Literature gives us some glimpses of such a life: In Brave New World, for example, all emotions were firmly controlled and love was strictly forbidden. In 1984, Big Brother decreed hate minutes during which only one emotion--hatred--could be expressed. The thought police controlled not only thought but also emotion.
Most of us find the idea of a world without emotion a chilling prospect. Indeed, William James observed that our individuality is founded in feeling. Why are emotions so terribly important to being human? Why do we have them in the first place, and what makes them so seemingly individual? And what is in the expression of emotions that distinguishes a healthy individual from someone who might be called unhealthy or ill?
Research soon may help us understand the distorted emotional signals in the brain that occur in mental illness, that bring on the mania found in bipolar disorders or the deep lows and emotional hopelessness of depression, or that give rise to the agitation and the hallucination of schizophrenia. With that understanding, we can make further advances not only in the treatment of those illnesses, but possibly in predicting and preventing them in the first place.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed, "We are intent on meteorology to find the law of the wind to the end that we may not get our hay wet. I also wish a Farmer's Almanac of the mental moods that I may farm my mind."
That almanac is being written as we speak, and I am convinced it will help lead to still further breakthroughs in treatments for citizens, not only of this nation, but throughout the world, whose lives are touched by mental illness.
If you have questions or comments on the LC/NIMH Decade of the Brain Project, please contact: [email protected].
Library of Congress Library of Congress Help Desk (01/03/2000)