Former football players suffering the effects of too many concussions ... returning soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome ... drug addicts ... alcoholics ... people suffering from depression.
What do they all have in common? More than you might think.
To many in the scientific community, the answer is clear and getting clearer every day: Identifiable, biological abnormalities in the brain.
Others outside the scientific community, however, reject that disease model for many mental-health issues: Addicts and alcoholics don't have a disease, they say. They are just weak. The soldiers and football players are just "shaken up."
But Patrick Kennedy, a former member of Congress from Rhode Island, the son of the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy - and a new resident of South Jersey - believes it is time for the nation to move beyond the dark ages regarding mental illness. It is time, he says, to recognize that the brain is an organ, and the diseases of that organ should not carry any more stigma than the diseases of any other organ in the body. And he's right.
Before leaving Congress in January, Kennedy sponsored the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act, which essentially requires that health insurers provide the some coverage rules for diseases of the brain as they provide for other diseases. That was a major step forward.
He also has had his own well-publicized battles with addiction and depression. But Kennedy is bravely using his own struggles as a platform to launch what he is calling the One Mind for Research campaign.
Today in Boston, the One Mind for Research initiative wraps up a three-day forum. The goal was to bring together researchers from all over the country to begin the process of unifying research into the anatomy of brain disorders. This day - May 25 - is the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's call to send a man to the moon. Patrick Kennedy calls his initiative a "moonshot to inner space."
We wish him success. For too long, those suffering from mental disorders have been stigmatized in ways those suffering from diseases of other organs are not stigmatized. Kennedy is asking "Why?" The One Mind for Research campaign hopes to raise $5 billion to develop the research that can, once and for all, bury the misguided notions underlying that stigma - and, ultimately, lead to new treatments.
The One Mind for Research initiative is a brave and ambitious agenda. Kennedy deserves praise for putting his clout behind it - and for putting his own struggles into the limelight to make it happen.