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By Christy Wilson, Executive Director, RSF Foundation

Scientists and medical professionals are constantly learning new information about the human brain and how our body and brain work together. Scientific advances in imagery, medical treatments, and genetics are revealing new insights into how our brains process information and how we can keep our brain healthy and functioning well into old age.

On Wednesday, May 9, nearly 140 people gathered at The Village Church to learn more about the human brain from three local experts: Dr. Thomas Flanagan, Dr. Dee Silver and Muffy Walker. This Viewpoints event was co-presented by The Village Church and the RSF Foundation. The topic was chosen because May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. However, all of our speakers would agree that every day we must be aware of the prevalence of mental illness around us. For those who were unable to join us, each of the speakers was asked to provide several take-aways from their presentations.

Dr. Tom Flanagan, medical director of Aurora Behavioral Health Care and Associate Clinical Professor at UCSD, has been practicing neuro-psychiatry for the past 41 years.

•Stress is a fact of life. The human response to stress has protected our ancient ancestors from predators and other dangers.

•This “fight-or-flight” response prepares our brains and bodies to confront or flee from life-threatening danger. It is characterized by increased blood pressure, rapid pulse, rapid respirations, increased vigilance due to the release of neuro-hormones and cortisol. If this response is prolonged it has deleterious effects.

•Twenty-first century humans experience the same “fight-or-flight” reaction when afflicted by the various anxiety disorders such as General Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.)

•Understanding the neuro-psychiatric mechanism of this stress response provides an important basis for pharmacologic treatments such as antidepressants and anxiolytics and psychologic treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Dr. Dee silver is has been a staff neurologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital for 39 years and is president of Coastal Neurological Medical Group. He has spent the last 44 years understanding the causes, prevention and management of neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis. Dr. Silver also has an interest in improving the quality of life and reducing the anxiety, depression, fatigue, apathy and frailty in these patients.

•Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease are progressive neurodegenerative diseases that in some part can be avoided or modified.

•These two diseases can be treated with drugs that improve their symptoms but do not delay the progression.

•Healthy lifestyle and regular exercise may well delay the disability and delay the progression.

•A person’s genetics, life style, age and chance will be a great influence on one’s quality of life and health status as they age and risk significant medical illnesses that most of us will acquire.

•A key to a better aging life is to avoid accumulating medical deficits such as obesity, nicotine addiction, alcoholism, diabetes hypertension, stroke and heart disease.

•The more fragile one’s health is mentally and physically, the more likely a person will experience anxiety, depression, apathy, fatigue and reduced activities of daily living.

•Learn to change a detrimental lifestyle early in life by being an advocate for your future well being.

Muffy Walker, the co-founder and president of the International Bipolar Foundation, has worked in the mental health field for over 25 years beginning her career as a clinical specialist in psychiatric nursing.

•1 in 4 persons will have a diagnosable mental illness during the course of their life time

•4/10 disabilities worldwide are mental illnesses with depression being #1

•In San Diego there are 750,000 people with mental illness. Suicide is the #1 cause of non-natural death amongst our youth

•Stigma is a huge barrier to treatment as well as damaging to self, family and community

•Mood disorders, (in particular) are biochemical brain illnesses not due to character flaws, laziness, weakness or bad parenting

•Treatment including medication, talk therapy, healthy diet and sleep hygiene can yield a healthy and productive life

•If you, or someone you know, is suffering, don’t remain silent — reach out to family, friend, clergy and doctor or call the suicide hotline

Please watch for the next Village Viewpoints program in early fall by going to