UNI hosts the 8th annual conference of the Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association today (Friday). Keynote speaker for the event is University of Iowa Doctor Peggy Nopoulos, who’s a professor of neurology. She says she’ll touch on the past, present and future of psychiatry. In particular she’ll talk on the advances we’ve made in neuro-science — imaging the human brain to study it both structurally and functionally, how genes may play a role in behavior and mental illness, and what it all might mean for the future. Dr. Nopoulos says our knowledge about our own brains is long overdue. Nopoulos says there’s an “epidemic of ignorance” about the brain, behavior and mental illness and she charges that the stigma of mental illness has affected insurance companies, and the way they pare out certain diseases and don’t pay for treatment the way they do for “medical” illnesses. Nopoulos applauds the bill passed and signed this session to make insurance companies in Iowa pay for treating mental illness. The doctor says the “elephant in the living room” that everyone ignores is that mental illnesses are much more common than we think, and cause “morbidity’ or sickness worldwide. She says they should be considered like any other illness that can be treated, and that insurance should pay for. Several decades ago there was a move to close mental hospitals that were bad, but the doctor says patients who were “de-institutionalized” still didn’t get treatment and often ended up homeless or in prison. And Nopoulos says modern technology’s helped us learn important things like how long our brain keeps on growing.Knowing the brain takes a long time to develop and some of its big changes happen during adolescence, between age 12 and 18, is important. She says that growth and change probably doesn’t end till around the age of 25. The more things like that we learn, the better she says we can understand ourselves, our kids, and our behavior. Nopoulos is a specialist in neuro-imaging and genetics in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.