Feb 20

“Lost Connections”: Johann Hari on Depression & Anxiety

Through a breath-taking journey across the world, Johann Hari exposes us to extraordinary people and concepts that will change the way we see depression forever. It is a brave, moving, brilliant, simple and earth-shattering book that must be read by everyone and anyone who is longing for a life of meaning and connection. Eve Ensler, on Lost Connections by Johann Hari

In journalist Johann Hari’s Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, he tells readers his own long-term depression has been blamed on a chemical imbalance in the brain. However, at some point in his therapeutic process “…he began to investigate whether this was true – and he learned that almost everything we have been told about depression and anxiety is wrong.”

Hari’s research led him to this basic conclusion (HuffPost): “I learned that there are in fact nine major causes of depression and anxiety that are unfolding all around us. Two are biological, and seven are out in here in the world, rather than sealed away inside our skulls in the way my doctor told me…I was even more startled to discover this isn’t some fringe position – the World Health Organization has been warning for years that we need to start dealing with the deeper causes of depression in this way.”

According to Fiona Sturges, The Guardian, the factors cited by Hari that contribute to reactive depression “include hardship, trauma, loneliness, lack of fulfilment, absence of status and disconnection from nature.”

Particularly salient is what Hari gleaned about one of these from physician and researcher Vincent Felitti‘s work (HuffPost): “Childhood trauma caused the risk of adult depression to explode. If you had seven categories of traumatic event as a child, you were 3,100 percent more likely to attempt to commit suicide as an adult, and more than 4,000 percent more likely to be an injecting drug user.”

Felitti, in fact, is “co-principal investigator of the internationally recognized Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, a long-term, in-depth, analysis of over 17,000 adults…(T)he ACE study shows that humans convert childhood traumatic emotional experiences into organic disease later in life” (Big Think).

Hari, furthermore, makes this helpful point:

One day, one of Dr. Vincent Felitti’s colleagues, Dr. Robert Anda, told me something I have been thinking about ever since.
When people are behaving in apparently self-destructive ways, ‘it’s time to stop asking what’s wrong with them,’ he said, ‘and time to start asking what happened to them.’

In the case of more endogenous depression, or the biologically based type, Hari now believes Big Pharma and prescribers take advantage of the popularized but not necessarily accurate notion of the brain having a chemical imbalance. There is a significant body of research that disputes both this theory and the efficacy of the prevailing remedy, antidepressant medications.

Take the brief depression quiz on his website and be prepared to learn some other things that may be surprising.

If meds aren’t always effective, what other kinds of solutions to depression/anxiety did Hari find and thus present in Lost Connections? Kirkus Reviews reports the author’s view that there are “immense (natural) antidepressive benefits of meaningful work, social interaction, and selflessness.”

For further details we have to read the book.

Dec 01

Mental Health News Straight Out of November

Mental health news from November touched on interesting statistics, men’s barriers to seeking mental health treatment, postpartum depression in men, holiday stress, and charitable giving.

I. Annual State of Mental Health Report (by Mental Health America

For the fourth year in a row, Mental Health America (MHA) released its annual State of Mental Health Report, which ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on several mental health and access measures. This year, Massachusetts came out on top overall with Nevada coming in 51st…

For the full report click on the link above. Of perhaps the highest current concern is what’s happening to kids. An excerpt from MHA’s summary:

‘I wish I could say the mental health of our children is improving. Our report shows the opposite,’ said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO, Mental Health America. ‘Far too many young people are suffering –often in silence. They are not receiving the treatment they need to live healthy and productive lives – and too many simply don’t see a way out.’

II. Men Don’t Go To Therapy Nearly As Much As Women, & Researchers Are Trying To Figure Out Why. Brandi Neal, Bustle

Some of the barriers mentioned:

  • Therapy was originally created for women to get treated by men
  • Higher stigma against men seeking help
  • Lack of a specific approach geared to treating men’s issues
  • Lack of understanding the ways in which men respond optimally to therapy
  • Difficulty finding good therapist matches
  • Additional obstacles experienced by men of color

III.  ‘I’m Not a Good Enough Dad.’ Men Get Postpartum Depression Too. Amanda MacMillan, Time

An excerpt:

The new study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, cites a 2016 meta-analysis that identified just over 8% of men as suffering from postpartum depression within the first year of a child’s birth. Rates for women have been estimated at 13 to 19%, but according to the American Psychological Association, experts suspect the disease is still vastly underdiagnosed…

IV. How to keep holiday-induced stress under control. Wendy Rose Gould, NBC News

Holiday-related stress often shows up via such symptoms as irritability, withdrawal, disrupted sleep, lack of ability to focus, and/or various signs of physical distress.

Suggested measures include the following:

  • practicing mindfulness
  • having a “game plan” for your specific priorities
  • “savor(ing) the little moments”
  • keeping track of the positive things that happen leading up to the holidays
  • it may be time to “make new traditions”

Ultimately, finding joy in the holidays boils down to mindfully cherishing time spent with family and friends, only committing to the things that are most important to you and managing self-imposed expectations. By doing this, you’ll be on your way to overcoming the pressure of creating a ‘perfect holiday,’ and you may even learn to cherish the inevitable imperfections along the way.

V. Six Reasons Why People Give Their Money Away, or Not. Sara Konrath, PhD, Psychology Today 

In a study detailed in an article soon to be published in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, we recruited 819 Americans who reported that they had given to charity in the past. They filled out a detailed online survey that included 54 statements about many different reasons that people give…

From most important to least, the top reasons were “altruism, trust, social, (financial) constraints, egoism, and taxes.”

Oct 02

Recent Headlines You May Have Missed

Recent headlines in mental health you may have missed. Click on headline links for full scoops.

I. Want to Live Longer? Find Your Ikigai. Hector Garcia, The Guardian

“Ikigai can be translated as ‘a reason for being’ – the thing that gets you out of bed each morning. Finding your ikigai is felt to be crucial to longevity and a life full of meaning. The people of Japan keep doing what they love, what they are good at, and what the world needs even after they have left the office for the last time.”

II. Relationship Problems? Try Getting More Sleep. Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times

One more reason to work on improving your sleep.

An excerpt: “’When people have slept less, it’s a little like looking at the world through dark glasses,’ said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a longtime relationship scientist and director of the Ohio State Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research. ‘Their moods are poorer. We’re grumpier. Lack of sleep hurts the relationship’.”

III. AI can tell Republicans from Democrats – but can you? Take our quiz. Adam Gabbatt and Sam Morris, The Guardian

Researchers say artificial intelligence will soon be able to detect a person’s political allegiance – just by looking at photos of their face.

We’ve put together a quiz to see if you can beat the algorithms and work out, from someone’s face, their political allegiance. We’ve chosen 15 pictures of city councillors from Bristol, Connecticut and San Diego – eight Democrats, seven Republicans. Can you figure out which is which?

IV. Gaydar Goes AI and Populism Comes to Science. Robert D. Mather, PhD, Psychology Today

An upcoming study entitled “Deep Neural Networks Are More Accurate than Humans at Detecting Sexual Orientation from Facial Images,” authored by Yilun Wang and Michal Kosinski, has raised a great deal of controversy…

The main findings of their series of studies was that the computer program could correctly classify between gay and heterosexual men at a higher rate of accuracy than humans could, and that key indicators were facial morphology, expression, and grooming styles…

V. How often do you lie? Personality quiz. Ben Ambridge, The Guardian

Do you ever lie? No? Liar! Even if we tend to avoid black lies, most of us tell white lies, either the altruistic or Pareto kind (the former are good for the hearer, the latter are good for both the liar and the hearer). But who lies most, and what type of lies do they tell? There’s only one way to find out. Answer these simple questions.

1) Are you male or female?
2) How much formal education do you have? (a) High school/GCSEs only (b) A levels or equivalent (c) university degree.
3) How old are you? (a) under 30 (b) 31-60 or (c) 61+

Read the article for the findings relevant to your responses.

VI. Teddy Blanks and Ray from ‘Girls’ made a film series about psychotherapy. Tyler Woods, Technical.ly

“Shrink,” the series of brief videos that includes Sarah Silverman, Natasha Lyonne, Lena Dunham, and others offering therapy testimonials, can be seen here.

Sep 01

Mental Health News You’ll Use: August 2017

From August, mental health news you’ll use:

I. Most Parents Would Support Teen Switching Gender. Randy Dotinga, Web MD

As in, based on an online survey, “more than half.” More specifically, “Women, college graduates and Northeast residents were slightly more likely than others to support kids who made this choice, according to the Harris Poll survey.”

II. New Research Confirms 9 Ways to Help Beat Dementia. Susan McQuillan, Psychology Today

“A report published in July 2017 by the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care reveals nine specific things you can do, right now, and even for your children, to help lower the risk or even help those who are already showing signs of dementia.” In brief:

  • Pursue education, especially in early years…
  • Participate in some sort of physical activity on a regular basis…
  • Maintain social contact as you age. Avoid isolation and loneliness…
  • Treat hearing loss. Even low levels of hearing loss have been found to contribute to cognitive decline.
  • Control hypertension. High blood pressure is a vascular risk factor associated with lower cognitive ability.
  • Avoid obesity, which can lead to diabetes and vascular disorders, which in turn lead to impaired cognition.
  • Quit smoking, if necessary. Smoking is linked to vascular heart disease, which can contribute to dementia, but cigarette smoke also contains neurotoxins, chemicals that can poison brain cells.
  • Resolve depression. Although there is debate as to whether depression is a symptom or a cause of dementia, there is evidence showing higher rates of dementia in those who experience depression in the ten years leading up to a diagnosis of dementia.
  • Maintain strict control of diabetes, if necessary. Problems with insulin delivery in the body may cause the brain to produce less insulin, which would interfere with the natural removal of amyloid, a sticky protein that can build up and become toxic to brain cells. Diabetes also causes inflammation and high blood glucose levels, both of which may contribute to decreased cognition.

III. It’s in the Deeds: What We Do Shapes Who We Are. Brian R. Little, The Guardian

There are personality traits that we “have,” says Professor Brian Little, and there are personality “doings” or projects.

A project is not a momentary act but typically a sequence of actions. In contrast with the stable traits that are freeze-frame shots of your personality, personal projects are moving pictures; their full meaning is not apparent until the entire sequence comes into view.
The greatest value in thinking of personality as ‘doing projects’ rather than ‘having traits’ is in three powerful words: potential for change. We can consciously choose and adapt our projects in ways that we cannot change our traits.

IV. Most People Are Ambivalent About Breaking Up Right Before They Do It. Cinnamon Janzer, The Cut

New research: “Most people…wanted to stick with their partner even as they wanted to cut ties at the same time.”

V. 10 Podcasts About Mental Health. Rachel Orr, The Lily

Most of the recommended podcast hosts mentioned below deal with their own mental health issues and care about yours:

  1. Crybabies with Susan Thyre and Susan Orlean (“things that make us cry”)
  2. Mentally Yours with Yvette Caster and Ellen Scott (“the weird thoughts in our minds”)
  3. The Dark Place with Joel Kutz (“depression, anxiety, trauma and mental illness”)
  4. The Struggle Bus with Katharine Heller and Sally Tamarkin (“candid advice to listener-submitted questions about family, friends, work, mental health and literally everything else”)
  5. Another Round with Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu (friends who “frequently talk about anxiety, depression and the tough aspects of going to therapy…”)
  6. Sounds Good with Branden Harvey (“inspiring conversations with optimists and world-changers about happiness, overcoming struggles and living a life of intentionality”)
  7. Talking in Circles with Laura Miller (“what the voices in [people’s] heads are like”)
  8. The Heart with Kaitlin Prest (“audio art project about intimacy and humanity”)
  9. The Hilarious World of Depression with John Moe (“fellow comedians who are willing to talk about depression”)
  10. The Mental Illness Happy Hour with Paul Gilmartin (“interviews fellow comedians, artists, friends and the occasional doctor about mental illness, trauma, addiction and negative thinking”)
Aug 14

Four Secrets in Plain Sight (About Mental Health)

The “secrets” I believe that are there for all of us to see and apply are: 1) Behavior serves a purpose, 2) The power of attachment, 3) As a rule, less is more, and 4) Chronic stress is the enemy. Psychiatrist Lloyd I. Sederer, HuffPost, author of Improving Mental Health: Four Secrets in Plain Sight

When Lloyd I. Sederer, MD, wrote last year’s Improving Mental Health: Four Secrets in Plain Sight, he “was inspired by a (short) book by the Pulitzer winning Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Laws of Medicine: Field Notes from an Uncertain Science, about nature, medicine and three rather counter-intuitive laws.”

Intended for both patients and practitioners and only 109 pages, some with photos, Sederer’s book is indeed, as he describes it on author Pete Earley’s website, “mercifully short.”

Also in the above-cited post are the “secrets” Sederer has gleaned from decades in the psychiatry field:

  • Behavior serves a purpose. The search for meaning and the identification and communication value of a behavior are too often overlooked aspects of mental health care and a lost opportunity with and for clinicians, patients and their families.
  • The power of attachment. The force of attachment as a human need and drive must be harnessed if we are to change painful and problem behaviors. Relationships are the ‘royal road’ to remedying human suffering—both individual and collective.
  • As a rule, less is more. Mental health treatments, both medical and psychosocial, have too often been aggressive, from high doses of drugs to intensive sessions and psychic confrontation in individual and group psychotherapy. Unfortunately, these usually well intended but high risk efforts infrequently provide help. And they can have unwanted and problematic effects. Primum non nocere—first, do no harm—is the first law of medicine. 
  • Chronic stress is the enemy. From adverse childhood experiences to post-traumatic stress, chronic stress can be an underlying factor in the development of many mental and physical disorders. Chronic stress shortens our lives and fosters a host of physical illnesses. However, chronic stress can be understood and contained, thereby reducing its damage.

Notes On Each “Secret” By Two Reviewers

Secret #I: Annette L. Hanson, MD, Psychiatric Times, highlights “Sederer’s observation that understanding these behaviors ‘replaces darkness with light, distortion with reason, blame with tolerance, dismissal with discussion, and powerlessness with problem-solving’.”

Secret #2: Hanson says the book’s second chapter “presents a historical overview of attachment and object relations theory from Klein and Freud to Henry Harlow. This is followed by a discussion of attachment styles and an explanation of how disruption of attachments in early life creates adult dysfunction. An excellent discussion of the therapeutic alliance explains how a stable and mature attachment can overcome childhood neglect and trauma.”

Secret #3: Not only about medication but also therapy. “This chapter,” states Hanson, “is a cogent reminder that the wrong psychotherapy, or even an established therapy given for the wrong purpose, can be harmful.”

Secret #4: ACES, or adverse childhood experiences, are addressed in Sederer’s discussion of chronic stress, says psychiatrist Carol W. Berman, HuffPost. “He wisely associates multiple ACEs as risk factors for addictions, depression, heart, lung, and liver disease, STD’s, intimate partner violence, smoking, suicide attempts, and unintended pregnancies.”