Two Speakers Examine Mental Health

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Flying University is a speakeasy-style lecture series featuring storytellers, experts, professors, and comedians shining a light on ideas, people, science, and moments in history that have been erased or overlooked. On Tuesday night, the series presented “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” an intimate look at the people and mechanisms behind mental health diagnoses.

The program was held in conjunction with Brain Awareness Week at Caveat in Manhattan.  Suzanne Garrison, a licensed therapist and art therapist, explained how she evaluates patients, one of whom was the host, Chinisha S. The therapist explained that she analyzes a patient to find the healthy, well-functioning part of that person. She then nurtures that part, which leads to a better understanding of their repressed feelings and motivations. Garrison compared the mind to an iceberg: the small part above water is the part of our consciousness, but the larger chunk under water is the part of our subconscious. But the latter is what drives the whole iceberg. Like the two parts of the iceberg, her goal is to make the unconscious conscious and to help clients better know their feelings and free themselves from feelings of shame or guilt. Continue reading

Huntington’s Disease on the Mind

On the Mind” is a series that aims to demystify biological disorders and give a platform to patients; at last week’s event at New York’s Caveat, the focus was on Huntington’s disease (HD), a slowly progressive, hereditary neurodegenerative disorder that causes cognitive, psychiatric, and motor problems. The evening’s program had three parts: the scientific story of HD, dance performances inspired by HD, and the personal story of Justin Goldberg, whose father has HD and who is himself at risk for the disease.

Approximately 30,000 people in the US are living with HD and another 200,000 are at risk, with diagnosis usually occurring when a person reaches his or her early 40s and begins to exhibit motor symptoms, said Leora Fox, Ph.D., manager of mission and research programs at the Huntington’s Disease Society of America. Presently, there are no treatments that can slow or stop Huntington’s disease.

Leora Fox discusses brain cell loss in people with HD

Everyone has two copies of the huntingtin gene (one from each parent), she explained, and the existing hypothesis is that the disease is caused by a mutation on the gene that gives instructions to produce a toxic huntingtin protein (“DNA makes RNA makes protein”), which eventually leads to death of brain cells. The logical solution therefore seems to be: “Lower the amount of huntingtin in the brain,” she said.

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A Lot on the Mind: Autism

In the second event hosted by Caveat NYC of a three-part series dedicated to explaining the most misunderstood neurological disorders, the focus was on autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Of the many neurological disorders that affect the world, autism is one of the most familiar. Affecting 1 out of every 59 people, there are characteristics associated with the disorder that seem to be fairly consistent. However, a running theme at last week’s event, “A Lot on the Mind – Understanding Autism with braiNY and Spectrum Magazine,” was that if you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism. There is a huge range of behaviors that define the disorder and individuals with autism have their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

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Lisa Shulman, M.D., gives the audience background on autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

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