FROM THE BOOK OF QUESTIONS #9

Another question from Gregory Stock’s book is this:

By controlling medical research funds, you are in the position to guarantee a cure will be found in 15 years for any disease you choose.  Unfortunately, no progress on any others would be made during that period.  Would you target one disease?

The best questions are those that require the most thought for answers.  And this is definitely one of the best questions in Gregory Stock’s book.

And after giving this much thought, my answer is yes.  So much progress has been made in the treatment of diseases we can see.  But what about those we can’t–diseases of the mind, mental illness?  Mental illness is physical illness, every bit as much as cancer and heart disease.  It is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and in most cases it is inherent.  Psychiatry is the last frontier of medicine.  So little is known about psychiatric illness, as compared to other forms of illness.  Shock treatment is still used, in many cases.  And none of the medications for mental illness cure it–they only give the patients some control over their lives.  Further, psychiatric medications have such unimaginably horrible side-effects that they’re barely worth taking at all.

I know this because I suffer from mental illness.  There are many types of mental illness, including schizophrenia, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, just to name a few.  My primary illness is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).  Both my parents have obsessive-compulsive disorder, though they’re too proud to admit it–and I clearly inherited from them.

However, though I had symptoms of OCD in my early childhood, my illness didn’t really surface until November, 1985, when I was nineteen.  And this is typical–often, a person with mental illness isn’t seriously affected until his or her teens or twenties.  But from then on, his or her life is hell.  Mental illness is a lifelong state of agony that cannot possibly be understood by those who don’t have it.  Of course, there are degrees of seriousness–my parents’ OCD isn’t nearly as serious as mine.  But it is still hell, for anyone who has it.  It interferes with a person’s life in such a way that it’s difficult to maintain a job, to form and maintain relationships with others, and even to be at peace with oneself.

In short, mental illness makes one’s life virtually unbearable.  Many are quick to judge suicide victims, but they have no right to do so.   In 1989, I attempted suicide and failed.  And to this day, I wish to God I had succeeded.  Hardly a day goes by that I don’t consider attempting suicide again.  But once you’ve tried it, and failed, it’s even more difficult to try it again.  Because no matter what method you use–it’s never sure.  Even a gunshot to the head can fail–leaving you brain-damaged, a fate worse than death.  So I know I’ll never attempt suicide again–because there are far worse experiences than death.

As to the question, I would target obsessive-compulsive disorder.  There is no mental illness worse than another, but I would naturally target the one from which I suffer most.  Yet in doing so, I would be opening a door for the end of all mental illness.  Because if a cure were found for obsessive-compulsive disorder in fifteen years, so much more would be learned about the brain itself–particularly the chemistry of the brain–that cures for other types of mental illness would soon follow.   

And since the brain (not the heart) really is the central organ of the body, advances toward cures for cancer, heart disease, and all other diseases we can see, would almost certainly be made, in the process.

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