Every month the Broward County, Florida chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, features a different speaker at an event that is free and open to the public. This month’s speaker was Elements Behavioral Health’s Dr. Ash Bhatt, who as chief medical officer of the company’s Florida region oversees medical treatment at The Recovery Place and Lucida Treatment Center. Sixty to eighty people, many of them families affected by mental illness, filled a room at Fort Lauderdale’s Silver Impact Center to hear Dr. Bhatt speak.
The presentation, titled “Building Blocks of the Addicted Mind: An Overview of Addiction and Mental Illness,” focuses on addiction and mental illness as diseases of the brain. Multiple factors, Dr. Bhatt says, can trigger the onset of addiction, be they genetic, environmental, psycho-social or a combination of these influences. Risk factors for addiction include the experience of a traumatic event, such as child abuse or violence; a medical or psychiatric illness; and the age of onset of drug abuse.
For families, addicts and others affected by mental illness and substance use disorders – many of whom are left asking why these conditions occur and are saddled with blame, shame and guilt – Dr. Bhatt hopes his presentation provides understanding about the nature of addiction and mental illness and the availability of effective treatment.
In attendance at the event was Chaplain Community Liaison with The Recovery Place Anthony Acampora. Acampora is also a board member of NAMI–Broward and the coordinator of NAMI’s FaithNet programs, connecting faith-based organizations, like churches, with addiction and mental health resources in their communities.
“This monthly event is a critical component of NAMI’s outreach to the community,” Acampora says. “It provides current information and educates the community about mental health. Having the opportunity to work with someone like Dr. Bhatt on a daily basis is truly a blessing. He is a dynamic speaker who addresses topics that most medical professionals do not speak about.”
In his talk, Dr. Bhatt also addressed the problem of misdiagnosis of addiction, aptly termed “conveyor belt psychiatry” in an article he recently wrote for the magazine Sober World. Because substance use disorder symptoms often mimic the signs of mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, for example, people with addictions and their families are often left to navigate incorrect diagnoses and corresponding treatments. Dr. Bhatt’s audience learned some ways to identify these potential misdiagnoses and seek appropriate assessment and treatment.
“Hopefully families of addicts and those suffering with mental illness can use this knowledge to help break down the negative stigma and prejudice often handcuffed to specific diagnoses, while gaining knowledge and tools to help identify maladaptive patterns of behaviors and thinking, in order to ultimately live healthy and happy lives,” Dr. Bhatt says.