July 27, 2009

Congressional Update: House passes legislation with increased funding for Mental Illness research and services

On July 24, the House of Representatives approved legislation (HR 3293) that includes increased funding for mental illness research and services for FY 2010 HR 3293 is an Appropriations Bill which sets spending levels for the Labor-HHS- and Education Departments for FY2010 (which begins on Oct 1, 2009). The Senate takes up similar legislation next week. HR 3292 Hightlights include:

993 million increase for the Limitation on Administrative Expenses (LAE) budget which pays for administrative costs associated with implementing entitlement programs such as SSI and SSDI - This will help the Social Security Administration cope with an unprecedented backlog in disability claimant appeals
• $52 million increase for mental illness research at NIMH
• $17 million increase for the Childrens' Mental Health program.
• $8.4 million increase for the PATH program (outreach services for homeless individuals with serious mental illness)

Click here for more detailed information on this legislation.

Posted by Michael Lane at 11:54 AM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2009

Congressional Update: House passes legislation to increase funding for HUD Section 811 program

This week the House of Representatives cleared legislation making important improvements to the HUD Section 811 program, and in a separate move voted to increase funding for the program by $100 million.

By a vote of 376-51, the House of Representatives on July 22 passed legislation to reform and modernize the HUD Section 811 program - a critical affordable housing resource for non-elderly people with disabilities, including serious mental illness. The bill, known as the Frank Melville Supportive Housing Investment Act of 2009 (HR 1675), was introduced by Congressman Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Congresswoman Judy Biggert (R- IL).

HR 1675 is named in honor of the late Frank Melville, a longtime member of NAMI Connecticut, and the first board President of the Melville Charitable Trust - a leading force in promoting supportive housing for people with severe disabilities and ending chronic homelessness. The bill would reform Section 811 and spur the creation of thousands of new rental housing units by:

• Authorizing a new Section 811 Demonstration Program to promote more integrated housing opportunities, and

• Enacting long over-due reforms and improvements to the existing Section 811 production program essential for the program's long-term viability.

HR 1675 now moves on to the Senate. Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Mike Johanns (R-NE) have introduced a Senate companion bill (S 1481).

To learn more about HR 1675 & S 1481, read the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) fact sheet on HR 1675 or view CCD's letter of support for HR 1675.

Posted by Michael Lane at 10:45 PM | Comments (0)

July 8, 2009

2009 NAMI Conference: New online information technology introduced

NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania used the occasion of the 2009 NAMI conference to introduce an innovative website that provides information, education and support to mental health consumers, family members and the community. The new website utilizes a patented technology which simulates real-time conversations enabling users to ask specific questions and receive specific responses to questions about Mental Illness.

This interactive content, the result of a multi-year research & development effort, offers general advice about Mental Illness and includes links to NAMI fact sheets about bipolar disorder and other specific conditions. While a small portion of the content (less than 10%) provides specific advice to Southwestern Pennsylvania residents, over 90% of the content is useful as a general resource for mental health consumers and family members.

This project represents a substantial investment of time and money by the NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania which worked closely with MedRespond ,which has an exclusive license with Carnegie Mellon University to use the patented technology, to build the innovative website. This project is funded by a grant provided by Staunton Farm Foundation.

Posted by Michael Lane at 2:18 PM | Comments (2)

July 1, 2009

New study shows genetic similarities between bipolar and schizophrenia

Scientists have identified thousands of tiny genetic variations which together could account for more than a third of the inherited risk of schizophrenia. They also showed the condition is genetically similar to bipolar disorder also known as manic depression. The findings came from work by three separate teams, who analysed DNA from thousands of people. The studies - the biggest ever into the genetics of schizophrenia - appear in the August 6 edition of the journal Nature.

The findings suggest that schizophrenia is much more complex than previously thought, and can arise not only from rare genetic variants, but common ones as well. It is hoped the work could lead to new diagnostic tests and treatments for the condition. Schizophrenia is a common form of mental illness, affecting up to 1% of adults worldwide.

Research linking the condition to specific genes was published last year, but it is thought they accounted for only a few cases. Potentially, the findings of the latest studies could be much more significant. The researchers say that individually many of the genetic variations they have identified play only a tiny role in raising the risk of passing schizophrenia down the generations.

Cumulative effect

However, Dr Shaun Purcell, from Harvard University, who co-led one of the three teams, said: "Cumulatively, they play a major role, accounting for at least one-third - and probably much more - of disease risk." The researchers stress that more work is needed to establish exactly how the genetic variants translate into schizophrenia.
But researcher Dr Pamela Sklar, of Massachusetts General Hospital, said: "We fully expect that future work will assemble them into meaningful pathways that will teach us about the biology of schizophrenia."

All three studies highlight genes found on Chromosome 6 in area known as the Major Histocompatibility Complex, which plays a role in the immune system, and in controlling when other genes are switched on and off. The researchers believe this might help explain why environmental factors also seem to affect risk for schizophrenia.
For example, there is evidence that children whose mothers contract flu while pregnant have a higher risk.

Bipolar disorder

In total the researchers identified 30,000 tiny genetic variants more common in people with schizophrenia. A similar pattern was found in people with bipolar disorder - indicating a previously unrecognised overlap between the two conditions.

Dr Thomas Insel, of the US National Institute of Mental Health, said: "These new results recommend a fresh look at our diagnostic categories. "If some of the same genetic risks underlie schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, perhaps these disorders originate from some common vulnerability in brain development."

The three research teams, who shared their data, were the International Schizophrenia Consortium, the Molecular Genetics of Schizophrenia consortium and SGENE.
In total, they analysed genetic data from 8,014 people with schizophrenia, comparing them to samples from 19,090 people who did not have the condition.

Posted by Michael Lane at 1:22 PM | Comments (3)