Federal brain mapping initiative could help millions with mental illnesses

Initiative could identify cause, cures for psychiatric, psychological disorders

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - One in five people in this country suffers from mental illness and now a major new research effort is underway to better understand the human brain.

The goal is to find better treatments and even a cure.

Tragedies like the mass murders in Aurora and Sandy Hook shine the light on the mysteries of mental illness, showing us how little we understand the human brain.

The new $100 million federal initiative announced by the White House is seen as a major step forward in diagnosis and treatment.

The Menninger Clinic opened its doors in southeast Houston a year ago and since then, the 50-acre, 110-bed facility has been at capacity.

"Well, we do have wait lists on almost all of our programs here," said Chief of Staff Dr. John Oldham.

It's a sign of the tremendous need for mental health services not just in Harris County, but across the nation.

"Unfortunately, sometimes what happens is that people end up getting the best help they can in the wrong place," said Oldham. "It's often said that the Harris County jail is one of the places where a lot of people are receiving mental health treatment."

President Obama's "Brain Initiative" could potentially identify the cause and cures for psychiatric and psychological disorders which take a heavy financial and social toll.

The most pressing: Depression, which costs society $83 billion in treatment and lost productivity.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) costs upwards of $36 billion and managing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in our veterans is about $2 billion.

Mapping the live brain down to the tiniest particle might help uncover some key clues.

"As humans we can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than an atom, but we still haven't unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears," President Obama said in a news conference.

"These conditions many times are very treatable," said Oldham. "People can get relief from suffering if they just walk through the door."

If you or someone you know suffers from a mental illness, you're urged to seek help.

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