It’s about time we changed mental health care with better communication and a more streamlined system of care that will save lives.
This past week, I was thrilled to learn about a new initiative at Stanford University. CS (ComputerScience) + Mental Health brings together teams of students with researchers to develop and deploy cutting-edge mental health care technology in ongoing clinical trials. Student teams will dive into the most perplexing and difficult problems in the diagnosis and management of mental disorders including:
1. Maternal Wellness — analyzing epigenetic data to discover risk factors for postpartum depression 2. Biomarkers in PTSD — identifying biological signs of PTSD in the brain 3. Project Wearable Psychiatry — diagnosing bipolar disorder using wearable devices 4. Project Childhood Anxiety Analysis — risk assessment of childhood anxiety through algorithmic analysis.
I’m a mental health advocate and a journalist who has studied mental health for more than a decade. I learned about this initiative because my daughter, Sophie will be among the handful of students exploring the complexities of diagnosing bipolar disorder.
It’s a subject that is painfully familiar to both of us — 10 years ago, Sophie’s dad took his own life after a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Mental health care lags behind traditional health care in its employment of standardized data, instant access to vital information about patients, and consistent care for people in crisis. The system is so fragmented and chaotic, Sophie’s dad was sent home from a traumatic six-week stay at the hospital with a bag full of prescriptions. There was no plan for follow-up or a system of care in place. One week after his death, his doctors were still unaware that he’d taken his own life the day after his release.
It’s no wonder my daughter is driven to improve a system that is woefully underfunded, where casualties are acceptable. There is virtually no accountability in the mental health care system, and no rating metrics for psychiatric doctors or hospitals.
As a 9-year-old, Sophie visited my husband in a psychiatric care center where nurses worked behind bulletproof glass, where heavy doses of pharmaceuticals rendered him catatonic, and where hope was in short supply. Even though he’d compensated for bipolar disorder most of his life, my husband was told he’d need to file for disability, give up his job and attend to his illness full time. It was as if the people who “knew best” made David believe his illness would define him forever.
All the technology in the world can’t counteract that kind of human mistake — giving up on the ability to heal and recover. Our brains are complicated organs. They get sick. They can get better. With the right combination of medication, therapy, personal support, nutrition, and sleep, we can improve mental health outcomes.
We must bring mental health care into the 21st century with better communication, more sophisticated technology, and a more streamlined system of care that will save lives.
Equally important — the power of doctors, neighbors and friends who say, “I believe in your ability to recover and I will be here until you do.”
Sheila Hamilton is a five-time Emmy award-winning journalist and the host of Portland, Oregon’s #1 rated morning show. Her book, All the Things We Never Knew is the story of her husband’s descent into mental illness and her advocacy for people with lived experience.
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