Hartford Hospital Will Devote Annual Fundraiser to Mental Health

The call to action regarding mental health awareness and treatment, which intensified in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders a year ago, now has a strong local voice for the New Year.  Hartford Hospital is kicking off a campaign to end the stigma of mental illness at the annual Black & Red Gala on January 25, 2014 at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford. The goal is to obtain 5,000 pledges, spreading the message that changing attitudes can begin to change minds.

Proceeds raised at this year’s Black &Red will benefit the Institute of Living (IOL) at Hartford Hospital. The IOL will be better able to respond to this national call to action with improved access to mental health care for adolescents and young adults –a critical need not only in Connecticut, but throughout the nation. Support will help carry out critically needed research, offer increased shhMainLogoSubervices and treatments, and provide much needed education to those impacted by mental illness.

An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. In addition, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada. Many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a given time.

Mental health stigma can be divided into two distinct types, according to the Hartford Hospital website:

  • social stigma is characterized by prejudicial attitudes and discriminating behavior directed towards individuals with mental health problems as a result of the psychiatric label they have been given.
  • perceived stigma or self-stigma, is the internalizing by the mental health sufferer of their perceptions of discrimination and perceived stigma can significantly affect feelings of shame and lead to poorer treatment outcomes.StopTheStigma_WordsMatter

The annual gala – Hartford Hospital's lead fundraising event - will feature entertainment by Barenaked Ladies, winner of two American Billboard Music Awards and two Grammy nominations.

Individuals attending the event will be asked to sign a “pledge” to...

  • Show compassion by reaching out to those in need of help. I will not let anyone suffer in silence.
  • Have the courage to speak up and challenge stereotypes and attitudes. I will not tolerate or perpetuate stigma.
  • Teach by sharing my own experiences with mental illness and encouraging others to share their stories with me. I will learn in order to change.
  • Demand a change in how we view and address mental illness. I will help lead the way.

The pledge, and additional information about mental illness and the Hartford Hospital initiative, is now available on a new webpage on the Hospital’s website, at www.stopthestigma.org   Individuals do not need to attend the event in order to sign the pledge – that can be accomplished directly on the website.

 “We will be looking to our employees of Hartford Hospital and across the Hartford HealthCare system to take the pledge. As a healthcare leader in the community and the state, it is our duty to set the example and stop the stigma associated with mental illness. Together, we can do it,” said Stuart Markowitz, M.D., President Hartford Hospital and Hartford Region, Senior Vice President Hartford HealthCare.

Harold (Hank) Schwartz, M.D., Hartford HealthCare Regional Vice President, Psychiatrist in Chief, Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital, says for some people, a mental illness iol_logo_300x175may be a lifelong condition, like diabetes. “However, as with diabetes, proper treatment enables many people with a mental illness to lead fulfilling and productive lives. By helping combat the stigma associated with mental illness, we can help increase the number of people that seek treatment.”

Examples of common mental illnesses include bipolar disorder, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, OCD, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, ADD/ADHD, autism and Asperger’s.  CT by the Numbers has previously reported on research underway at the Institute of Living.

A year ago, over $1,000,000 in net proceeds was raised at the Black & Red gala for Hartford Hospital’s transplant services.

Hartford’s Institute of Living Plans Research into Schizophrenia and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Last month’s tragic killing of 20 children and 6 educators at a Newtown elementary school quickly generated speculation about possible links between mental illness and autism spectrum disorder, as questions about the gunman's medical history drew attention.  Although connections between the conditions were generally dismissed as media coverage proceeded, with distinctions being made by medical professionals and others,  a scientific research study into whether a relationship exists isRounds apparently set to get underway in Connecticut. Writing in the Autumn 2012 edition of Rounds, the quarterly magazine of Hartford Hospital, Michal Assaf, M.D., director of the Autism and Functional Mapping Laboratory at the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center at the Institute of Living, says that “traditionally considered separate diagnoses, both schizophrenia and an autism spectrum disorder involve core social and communication deficits.  Not much is known, however, about exactly how each neurodevelopmental disorder disrupts the brain or how much they may overlap.”

“Schizophrenia and ASD are thought of as separate entities based on clinical symptoms, age of onset and the course of the illness,” says Dr. Assaf, who also is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Yale University School of Medicine.   “Recent evidence suggests a potential overlap.”

“Looking beyond clinical symptoms to the biological and genetic basis of these apparently differAssafent illnesses may someday lead to new treatments,” Assaf suggested in the article published prior to the Newtown killings.

She recently received a $2.9 million research grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to study social cognition and brain function in schizophrenia and ASD.  The study will directly compare a matched group of schizophrenia and ASD patients using a battery of social assessment tools and several neuro-imaging tasks that assess different aspects of social cognition.

Noting the commonly recognized distinctions, Dr. Assaf said that “Schizophrenia is a psychotic illness that typically appears in early adulthood.  In contrast, children with ASD show core deficits in social and communication skills – typically without psychotic symptoms – before age three.”iol_logo_300x175

The Institute of Living has been seeking individuals to participate in the research study.  The Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center at the Institute of Living, part of Hartford Healthcare, was founded in 2001. The mission of the Center is to be at the forefront of research in psychiatric and psychological disorders, in particular schizophrenia.