Page 26-27 - NeuRA 2013 in Review

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Mental illness is responsible for one of the largest disease
burdens in Australia.
Your Mental Health | 25
The statistics for mental illness are striking: every
year some form of mental disorder affects around
one in five adults; and the major psychiatric
disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, each
affect about 1% of the population.
When facing such large numbers, our best
hope at combating mental illnesses effectively is to
develop prevention and intervention strategies. For
some of these disorders, early warning signs can be
found in childhood or adolescence, and researchers
are looking at early intervention strategies.
Our experts in brain imaging and genetics
are researching biological features, such as those
in the brain or in our genes, of schizophrenia,
bipolar, conduct disorder and autism. Establishing
knowledge of the early warning signs by neuro-
imaging or by changes in gene expression will
help develop tests to identify those at high risk of
developing these debilitating mental illnesses.
Research into biological features will also
identify the sub-types of the illnesses. The root
cause is not always the same. Patients may respond
differently to signals such as sex hormones,
inflammation, or adrenalin. We need to understand
these different cases in order to tailor treatments to
individuals. And we go one step further, to trial new
intervention therapies and existing medications.
Some therapies can even result in underlying
changes in neural function, reversing the cognitive
impairments in those with these mental illnesses.
Main image:
Dr Leonora Long
studies causes of schizophrenia.
Inset:
(above) Mental illnesses
are sometimes conceptualised
as disorders of brain circuits;
(opposite) Dr Dipesh Joshi looks
at genetic sequences.
‘‘
Our best hope of combating mental illness effectively
is to develop prevention and intervention strategies.
’’
your