NAMI Up-Beat: When the Body Attacks the Mind


by NAMI Yolo

Ground-breaking research is finding that autoimmune disorders can cause mental symptoms such as delusions. Our understanding of changes in the brain is evolving in unexpected ways. Recent studies suggest that some diseases have effects on the brain causing unusual behavior.

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. This volunteer based organization works on policy and combating stigma at the national level and focuses on education and support for those living with mental illness and those who care about them. The NAMI Yolo chapter provides free classes for families as well as peer-run support groups.

This month, the Atlantic magazine published an article “When the Body Attacks the Mind”, by Moises Velasquez-Manoff. It reveals very recent studies in biological causes of behavior categorized as delusion or dementia based on observations over time that autoimmune diseases like encephalitis can cause patients to appear very disoriented. This led to further examination of possible failing connections in the brain. Doctors have now cured what looked like the rapid onset of severe mental illnesses with specific therapies that target the immune system.

“It’s a breakthrough…we can make them better…it’s unbelievably rewarding.” According to Heather Van Mater, a pediatric rheumatologist at Duke University. These successes have led to an expanding field of autoimmune neurology and ways of examining debilitating brain diseases which can destroy a person’s life or cause premature death.

NAMI Yolo members learn about cutting edge theories like this in the 10 week long education program NAMI Family to Family, offered free to family caregivers of individuals living with severe mental illnesses. On First Wednesdays, NAMI Yolo also invites the whole community to hear expert speakers offering mental health education for the general public September-June. This event is usually at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church Community Room, 640 Hawthorn Ln., Davis. Hosted introductions begin at 6:30 PM and the program runs 7:00-8:30 PM. To learn about local support and classes and events, visit

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Al Jebra

    As the father of a severely mentally ill child, who is now in her 3o’s, I find information like this interesting, and possibly hopeful, but not too helpful.  What IS helpful is the support provided by NAMI Yolo to parents and relatives who are confronting mental illness for possibly the first time.  The first break in an otherwise normal and intelligent child is heartbreaking and extremely disorienting.  NAMI is there to help, and has helped us a lot in understanding, even if our child’s prognosis has not improved much in almost 20 years.

    An aside on autoimmune diseases:  Both my wife and myself had one of them at an early age.  Both had the potential to kill us; mine almost did, at age 11.  They are not to be taken lightly.  Fortunately, both of us survived with our minds intact…I think.


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