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“You can’t see it,” but what if you could? The game-changing effect of seeing mental illness

Talking about mental illness goes hand in hand with talking about stigma, that fear of being judged or having one’s symptoms blamed on bad behavior rather than a disease. Stigma keeps people from seeking the help they need for their mental illness, but what if patients and families could see their mental illness?

Dr. David Rosenberg, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Wayne State University, joined Stateside to talk about developing technology in brain imaging that can help doctors and patients objectively recognize and identify mental illness.


“We’ve come such a long way, but the stigma remains huge. Think about it. For any other type of medical illness there’s a natural empathy and sympathy, and I think in a lot of cases with mental illness, that’s the case, but there’s still this feeling that it’s under the power of a child or their family.”

“As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, by far, one of the hardest parts of my job is convincing good parents and good children that they’re not to blame for the illness.”

The difficulty of diagnosing mental illness

“When the diagnosis is made correctly, when the medicines are used correctly, they can be literally life-saving for children and their families. But what makes this more complicated is the fact that we still don’t have any objective markers of psychiatric illness.”

The capabilities of new brain-imaging technology

“We can measure precise physiology, how the brain functions, how the brain networks — talk to each other and communicate with each other — the brain’s chemistry, details about the structure, the size, the form.

The effect of being able to “see” psychiatric illness

“It’s a game changer. Pure and simple.”

“When they’re able to actually see a brain scan and see a clear abnormality, something that isn’t working properly in the brain, rather than being fearful, they finally feel validated.

“I remember one parent and child both exclaiming that, ‘You know, everyone’s always told us that this is all in your head, and it is all in my head, but I can see it.’

“Most exciting of all is with some of our more recent research is that we find that with appropriate treatment, those brain abnormalities can normalize with effective treatment.”

Minding Michigan is Stateside’s ongoing series that examines mental health issues in our state.

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