Let me share some of his story in the first person, as he has many times in the past:
As long as I can remember, I had been depressed. For me, depression was an exhausting fight against drowning.
Twenty years ago, when I was 24, my psychiatrist prescribed anti-depressants, and I continued trying different ones for nearly two decades. It didn’t seem to matter which ones I took, or how many, the affect was minimal, at best.
During this time I was also going to appointments for traditional talk therapy; it helped some, but, ultimately, it was like a donut filled with air; it just didn’t feel substantial.
Finally, two years ago, a relatively new psychiatrist of mine suggested I take a genetic test to help guide my treatment. The goal was to look at the genes that may affect my body’s ability to benefit from certain drugs and other treatments.
This testing finally offers some personalized, objective, biological markers that clinicians can use to understand what mechanisms may be going wrong in the brain to cause mental health conditions, and how to potentially correct them with drugs and other treatments. We have come to expect personalized medicine in many other areas of healthcare, such as in cancer, and now it is finally available for mental health as well.
The standard of care in psychiatry is and has been a trial-and-error process of prescribing drugs to lessen the symptoms of mental illness. It consists of trying one type of drug after another, and adjusting drug dosing until, hopefully, the patient feels better. This process can and often does take months or years, and many times the patient never reaches remission from his or her symptoms. Patients often lose hope and do not comply with their treatments. Sometimes, the drug side effects are so severe that patients totally abandon their regimen.
Genetic testing may serve to help reduce the stigma around mental illness, since it is an objective test that can assist in showing what may be physically going wrong to cause the condition. Hopefully this can help to further our effort to place mental health conditions in the same category as all other physical illnesses.
I’m happy to report that James recently got engaged. His story is one of thousands that show the potential that genetic testing holds as part of a successful treatment plan.
Patrick J. Kennedy has dedicated his life to improving the lives of people around the world who are experiencing mental illness, addiction, and other brain diseases.
Despite eight terms in Congress passing landmark legislation and his post-Congressional leadership on public policy, one of Patrick’s greatest achievements was sharing his own narrative in The New York Times bestseller, A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction.
Since leaving Congress in 2011 to develop a healthier lifestyle and start a family, Patrick has kept his promise to do everything in his power to fully enforce the Parity Law and to push for greater global investment in brain research, which he has called, “the next great frontier in medicine.”
As the founder of The Kennedy Forum, Patrick drives the national dialogue about transforming the mental health system in America. As the co-founder of One Mind, Patrick helped spark a global revolution in how scientists collaborate to study, diagnose, and treat brain diseases.
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