Dr. Charles Nemeroff Addresses Florida’s First Mental Health Science Summit

Although there is much certainty in the science behind mental health and addiction disorders, many people still need to be educated or reminded that both are diseases that often can be effectively treated.

That’s part of the mission of the first Mental Health and Addiction Disorders Science Summit, which the Miller School’s Charles Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., Leonard M. Miller Professor, Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, director of the Center on Aging, and a nationally known expert in the field, was invited to address.

Held February 15 at the Florida State Conference Center in Tallahassee, the summit was designed to acquaint legislators, state executives, community providers, other stakeholders and the media about the medical underpinnings of mental illness and substance abuse.

“Major psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress, as well as drug and alcohol abuse are diseases of the brain and it is imperative that we continue to educate people that this is the case,” said Nemeroff, who presented “Depression is a Brain Disease.”

“That remains important because many people still believe that patients affected by these disorders just need to pull themselves up by their boot straps,’’ he said. “But the fact is they are suffering from a disease and need treatment. A large component of the risk for these disorders is genetic, and we can’t choose our parents.”

The meeting was held in Florida’s capital at the same time Florida lawmakers convened to set budgets for issues affecting the state, including mental health.

“Florida is No. 15 of the 50 states in suicide rates and some might suggest that part of the reason is that we have a higher elderly population and suicide rates are higher in the elderly, but there is something to be said about the need for additional resources for mental treatment,” Nemeroff said.

Other featured speakers at the summit included David Shern, Ph.D., president and CEO of Mental Health America; Scott A. Teitelbaum, M.D., vice chair and associate professor in the departments of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Florida; and Gail P. Hutchings, M.P.A., president and CEO of Behavioral Health Policy Collaborative.

Sponsoring institutions included the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, Florida Council for Community Mental Health, Florida Partners in Crisis, Florida Psychiatric Society, Disabilities Rights Florida, and National Alliance on Mental Illness, Florida.

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