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By Dr. Damaso Oliva, Jr.

We are always wondering what people are thinking and feeling.  Understanding this is difficult under any circumstances, but with the addition of a mental disorder the level of difficulty in reaching basic understanding is greatly exacerbated.  In medicine, the mind is the last frontier.  Much research is still needed in this area to understand and treat mental disorders as mental disorders cannot be seen by the untrained eye. While there are many categories and subcategories of mental disorders, there are three disorders which a psychiatrist deals with most often: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression.

Schizophrenia occurs in approximately 1% of the population and is a disorder with which a person is born.  It is categorized as a thought disorder.  There are two categories of symptoms used to help diagnose schizophrenia: positive and negative symptoms.  The positive symptoms are disorganized speech, hallucinations, and delusions (false but fixed belief).  The negative symptoms are: flattened or blunted affect (decreased expression and gestures), poverty of speech, and reduced social drive. 

Bipolar disorder has a lifetime prevalence of between 0.4 to 1.6 %.  Bipolar is a mood disorder.  Symptoms used to diagnose bipolar disorder are: depression and mania.  Mania is characterized by changes in mood, both elevated and irritable, heightened energy level and heightened self-esteem, a change in sleep pattern, rapid and pressured speech, and racing thoughts. 

Major depression has a lifetime prevalence of 16% and is one of the most common mental disorders.  It is also a mood disorder.  Major depression causes a persistent feeling of sadness, including tearfulness, emptiness and hopelessness.  People suffering from major depression often lose interest in activities they once enjoyed and have a decreased ability to find pleasure.  Sleep is disturbed, either with an increase in sleep or decrease in sleep.  Major depression lessens a person’s energy level resulting in making even simple tasks seem difficult.  Often there are unexplained physical problems.  Thinking is slowed as are body movements.  Anxiety and agitation are heightened.  Frequent and recurring thoughts of death and suicide are prevalent. 15% of patients suffering from major depression die as a result of the disorder. 

Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression are considered the “Big 3” of psychiatry.  They are invisible disorders which do not have conclusive physical medical tests by which a doctor can diagnose.  It is through interaction with and observation of patients that doctors are able to diagnose these disorders.  Clinical Trials of Texas, Inc. (CTT) is currently undertaking various studies about these disorders to try to increase our understanding and to better the treatment of patients who suffer from these disorders.  These disorders affect many people, their lives, the lives of their families and affect our society as a whole.  Awareness must be raised about the prevalence and impact of these disorders in the world today. Participation in a clinical study at CTT can be a treatment option.  Call 210-949-0122 for more information or view studies online. 

Damaso, Oliva, Jr., MD is an investigator for Clinical Trials of Texas, Inc. (CTT) and is a local psychiatrist.