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What is a mental health problem?

A mental health problem is any illness or difficulty that affects how people think and feel. There are hundreds of different kinds of mental health problems (see the links for info on a few of them). Here are some facts about all mental health problems:

* They are nobody’s fault. Although you can’t catch it off someone, a mental health problem is an illness – it needs help from experts to get better. The person in your family with the mental health problem did not get it because of you or anything you did or said. You can’t solve the problem for someone on your own.
* People with mental health problems are not "mad" or "crazy" – they have an illness that can be treated by doctors and therapists. People are scared of mental health problems, but very few people with mental health problems hurt other people.
* Mental health problems can make people do or say strange things. They may be happy one moment and sad the next. This is not because of anything you have done, it is a part of the illness. They may say things that they do not mean or will not even remember when they are feeling better. If the things someone in your family says or does frighten you it is important to get help quickly. You can call 911 if it is an emergency and tell the operator what is happening. If no one is in danger, there are lots of other people
who can help you.

Huntington Disease Survey

Dear Parent of a teen in an Huntington Disease family,

Many important research studies are being conducted to find better ways to manage or prevent Huntington Disease. We would like your teen to consider participating in a study to help us understand how to help teens in families where there are persons with Huntington Disease. The purpose of this Huntington Disease Family study is to identify the types and frequency of health concerns teens have about the person with Huntington Disease, personal health concerns that the teen has about him/herself, and what strategies the teen age family member uses to attempt to resolve these problems.

I, Dr. Janet Williams, am a Registered Nurse who has worked with people with Huntington Disease and their families, am a Professor of Nursing at The University of Iowa, and am the Principal Investigator of this NIH funded research. Dr. Joan Laing will mail the surveys to family members participating in this study. 

In the first part of this study, the research team conducted focus groups with teen age Huntington Disease family members in several cities in the US and in Canada. We developed a survey from the topics from these focus groups.

We are now in the process of recruiting participants for the survey study. To be eligible to participate, the teen must be 1) a teen family member of a person with Huntington Disease or a family member of a person who has had a positive Huntington Disease test, 2) be between 14-18 years old, and 3) be able to read English. The surveys ask your teen to provide information about him/herself and the person with Huntington Disease or a positive Huntington Disease test, to indicate health concerns about the person with Huntington Disease, to indicate personal health concerns the teen has about him/herself, and to indicate what strategies he/she uses to try to solve these problems. It may take between 30-60 minutes to complete the survey.

If your teen family members would like to participate in this study, you can receive further information, or receive the survey by contacting Dr. Joan Laing at The University of Iowa. She will ask you how many teens in your family would like to receive a copy of the survey. Each teen who returns the survey will receive either a $25.00 iTunes gift certificate, or a $25.00 Radio Shack gift certificate as a token of our appreciation.

The survey will ask your teen about him/herself, and about the person in your family with Huntington Disease. It is possible that your teen may experience emotional distress when reading questions on the survey. He/she should feel free to skip any questions that cause distress, or that they do not want to answer. Some of the surveys that your teen will complete ask about his/her outlook of the future and their mood.  If our research team is concerned about the health or distress of the survey respondent we will recommend to you and to your teen that your teen seek help to address the concerns. If you or your teen feel at any time that your teen could benefit from treatment or support, you can contact Dr. Williams to be referred to a specialist. Finally, you should understand that we are not prevented from taking steps, including reporting to authorities, to prevent serious harm to your teen. Your teen will not benefit personally from completing the surveys.  However we hope that other teens in Huntington Disease families may benefit in the future from what we learn as a result of this study.

If you have questions about the rights of research subjects, please contact the Human Subjects Office, 300 College of Medicine Administration Building, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, 319-335-6564, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

If teens in your family who are 14-18 years old would like to receive a survey, please  contact Dr. Joan Laing at 319-353-5414, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; or by returning the response form located here.

Thank you for considering participating in this opportunity to help families as well as people who have Huntington Disease.

Janet K. Williams, Ph.D., RN, FAAN
Kelting Professor of Nursing
Director of Postdoctoral Training in Clinical Genetics Research
338 Nursing Building
The University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA 52242
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Joan Laing, PhD
Study Coordinator
The University of Iowa
College of Nursing
Iowa City, IA 52242
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

What is a disability?

A disability occurs when something affects a person's performance of some or all of the tasks of daily life functions.

How do people get a disability?

* People can be born disabled and this is called a developmental birth defect.
* People can develop a disability from genetic diseases that run in families.
* People can become disabled instantly if they get injured in an accident.
* People can become disabled slowly over a lifetime from aging or an illness.

Every disability is different with each person because every human being is an individual. Even disabilities with the same name can affect each person differently. Many disabilities cannot be seen just by looking at a person. Some disabilities have no physical, outer symptoms but can affect the brain or insides of the body.

What do people with various types of disabilities have in common?

* They may feel challenged in everyday life tasks.
* They may find that a task may take them a longer time to complete than someone without a disability.
* They may experience some type of pain.
* They are likely to develop amazing strength and courage along life's journey and be an inspiration for others.
* They may need extra personal and medical attention.

Disabilities often make people not able to do things like everyone else and may stop a person from participating in a particular activity. Special equipment may be needed to help people with a disability move around or to take part in everyday life activities.

Can you always tell if a person is disabled?

No! People with disabilities can do most things as well as or even better than people who have no disabilities! Most people with disabilities have normal, happy and long lives. Remember, each of us is entitled to personal privacy. A person with a disability does not have to tell anyone if they don't want to. There is nothing that a person with a disability is ashamed of, it is just that their disability is their business and not yours. You cannot always tell just by looking at people if they are disabled. If there is a reason to tell you, they will.
How should I treat a person who has a disability?

If you can see that someone has a disability, go ahead and look them in the eyes and say 'hello" or nod your head with a smile. Treat them as you would any other person! They are no different than you!. Many people with disabilities do not think of themselves as 'disabled'. They are normal people, just like you. If you want to offer help to a person with a disability, ask first if they would like your help. And, as we are sure you already know, it is never okay to make fun of anyone with any kind of disability.

For more information on disabilities, click the topics on the sidebar.

What is Cancer?

We are made from millions of tiny cells. As we grow, cells keep on dividing and increasing in number. Most of our cells stop dividing when we stop growing. Some cells keep on dividing for the whole of our lives, so that things get replaced when they are worn out.

Cancer is caused by cells in our bodies continuing to divide when they should have stopped. The dividing cells create a lump that is called a tumor. There are two types of tumors. A benign tumor is harmless and does not spread. A malignant tumor is cancerous and can grow into body parts nearby so that it can be difficult and sometimes impossible to remove. It can also spread because bits can break off and grow in different parts of the body. Sometimes a cancer is not a lump, but faulty cells in the bone marrow or lymph nodes.


Drugs and Alcohol

Lots of people drink alcohol or mis-use illegal drugs or medicines to change the way they feel. Some people have a problem with drink or drugs which means

* They can’t stop using drink or drugs.
* They act in a strange or scary way when they have used alcohol or drugs.
* They need looking after when they use alcohol or drugs.

If you live in a home where drinking or drug-use is a secret from people outside the home, it can feel like:

* You are not sure what’s going on.
* You  don’t know who to trust.
* You have lots of different feelings about what’s happening.

Your family can feel that way because:

* Adults and children can be scared about what will happen if they look for help.
* People in the family don’t always keep their promises or do what they say they will do.

There are so many difficult feelings about the drinking or drug-use that it seems easier to pretend everything is okay.

Alzheimer's and the Brain

Just like the rest of our bodies, our brains change as we age. Most of us notice some slowed thinking and occasional problems remembering certain things. However, serious memory loss, confusion and other major changes in the way our minds work are not a normal part of aging. They may be a sign that brain cells are failing.

The brain has 100 billion nerve cells (neurons). Each nerve cell communicates with many others to form networks. Nerve cell networks have special jobs. Some are involved in thinking, learning and remembering. Others help us see, hear and smell. Still others tell our muscles when to move.

To do their work, brain cells operate like tiny factories. They take in supplies, generate energy, construct equipment and get rid of waste. Cells also process and store information. Keeping everything running requires coordination as well as large amounts of fuel and oxygen.

In Alzheimer’s disease, parts of the cell’s factory stop running well. Scientists are not sure exactly where the trouble starts. But just like a real factory, backups and breakdowns in one system cause problems in other areas. As damage spreads, cells lose their ability to do their jobs well. Eventually, they die.

What is Diabetes?

A car needs fuel in order to work. Our body also needs fuel to work properly. Some fuel comes from sugars and starches. Our body makes insulin to process the sugar in the foods that we eat so that they can become usable fuel. Insulin is a hormone that helps our body transform food and sugar to help us grow and to have energy.

A person has diabetes when the body does not make enough insulin. When this happens, the sugar in our blood increases and creates a hardship on the body's engine. When a person's blood sugar becomes high, he or she becomes very thirsty, may not be able to see well or think clearly and may feel very hungry or tired.

Once a person learns that he or she has diabetes, they need to monitor their blood sugar throughout their life. Usually they use a small machine that measures the blood sugar level from a drop of blood from their finger. If they find the level of blood sugar is high, they may need to take extra insulin to return the level to normal.

Some people who have diabetes may be able to take a pill that helps the body produce more insulin. Other people may not have that ability and then need to inject insulin. Our body's digestive juices and enzymes destroy insulin, so when a person needs more insulin, it has to enter the body through a needle with an injection. Some people with diabetes give themselves insulin shots at least once every day. Others have devices that are inserted or implanted under their skin and dispense insulin on a certain schedule. The goal is to keep the blood sugar or glucose at a stable level as close to normal as possible.

All people, and especially those who have diabetes, need to eat high fiber foods such as vegetables, grains, and fruits. They need to avoid eating foods high in fat, sugar and salt. It is also important for diabetics to exercise and maintain a normal weight.

Resources to Help:


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