By Lei Chen, McDonnell Scholar from The Graduate School: DBBS-Human & Statistical Genetics (PhD)
When I was doing my undergraduate research on autism in China, I met many people with a misunderstanding of mental disorders. Rather than regarding it as a disease or illness, people tend to think that the patients have a personality flaw making them more vulnerable than “ordinary people.”
This leaves patients without much-needed care and understanding. The patients desperately need the support from the world — fighting against mental diseases is not merely an inner struggle for one individual, it can be a battle for a whole family, especially for two groups of patients, the young and the old.
Taking care of the elder patient group can be even more difficult: the patient can be suffering from the decline of organ functions as well as cognitive capabilities. Also, the family members who provide the care are usually much younger than the patient, which can be a challenge for empathy.
As a genomic researcher in the biomedical field, I usually think in a more “scientific” way, potentially overlooking the humanity part of the disease.
Through the knowledge shared in the Aging & Public Health session of the McDonnell International Scholars Academy Symposium, I started to think more about the daily impact of our research for family and society, an important motivation for me.
During the session, Prof. Harvey Whiteford from The University of Queensland talked about the global disease burden of mental and neurological disorders and revealed the fact that in the last few years the influence of those diseases has rapidly increased.
Researchers also spoke about substance use in aging population and anxiety in aging groups. I was most impressed by the talk given by Prof. Vivian Lou from the University of Hong Kong, who discussed the needs to supports family care of mental illness.
It’s a great pleasure for me to know that the significance of mental health has been getting more and more attention and people from all over the world have started to make attempts at solving this problem.