Depression, anxiety, depersonalization, cognitive issues — Red Bank psychiatrist Robert Bransfield has seen all of these symptoms in patients who had been treated inadequately for Lyme disease, or were mistakenly undiagnosed in the first place.

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For some individuals, he said, hospitalization was a must because the likelihood of suicide was extreme.

"Lyme, when missed early, can go on to quite serious conditions," Bransfield told New Jersey 101.5. "A lot of symptoms develop that increase suicidal risk."

Bransfield, who recently performed a statistical analysis on the topic, said a "very high percentage" of late-stage Lyme patients feel suicidal, and a portion of that group acts on their morbid thoughts. The way the tick-borne disease provokes the immune system, he said, changes the biochemistry in the brain, but takes a number of years before prompting the most serious symptoms.

Bransfield said 1,200 suicides per year in the U.S. could be linked to Lyme disease. New Jersey's incidence of Lyme disease (confirmed cases per 100,000 population) is sixth-highest in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Early symptoms of Lyme — within a month of a tick bite — include fever, chills, fatigue, muscle aches and a rash, the CDC said, but the illness could lead to brain and nervous system issues down the line if untreated.

"It's a problem we need to pay attention to," Bransfield said, suggesting the two-tiered screening protocol currently recommended for medical practitioners is flawed and doesn't go far enough to truly rule out or discover the presence of Lyme.

"If there's better diagnosis, better treatment, we'd have less suicides," he said.

Bransfield is scheduled to speak on the topic during a two-day conference in Clinton, Sept. 29 and 30. The Educational Summit on Neurological Tick Infections, Mental Illness & Suicide Prevention has been organized by an activist with Our Lyme Nation, which focuses on the link between insect-vectored infectious diseases and mental illness leading to suicide.

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