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.”

Aug 04

July News: Mental Health Days and More

Another sampling of top mental health news from July:

I. Woman Takes Mental Health Day, the Internet Explodes (and Her Boss Had the Perfect 3-Sentence Response). Peter Economy, Inc.

Jena McGregor, Washington Post, called this “The Mental Health Email Shared ‘Round the World.”

A boss actually applauded an employee who informed colleagues she was taking some mental health days. Further explanation from McGregor:

Surveys by the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence show that less than half of Americans (44 percent) say they believe the climate in their organization supports well-being, and that nearly 20 percent of employees say the challenges of their jobs were harder to handle in the past month due to mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. For employers, says the center’s director, David Ballard, ‘the costs of untreated mental health issues, the lost productivity, is actually more costly than the treatment side because people are there at work but not functioning to full capacity.’

II. What We Finally Got Around to Learning at the Procrastination Research Conference. Heather Murphy, New York Times

A few of the things: numbers, a definition, and how to change.

One out of five people, researchers have found, fall into a category they call chronic procrastinators or procs (rhymes with crocs). The proc consistently procrastinates consistently in multiple areas of his or her life — work, personal, financial, social — in ways that attendees describe as wreaking havoc, undermining goals and producing perpetual shame….
It is more complicated than ‘if you do it X number of times a week you’re a proc.’ But if you procrastinate ‘almost every day, at least half of the time you have work tasks,’ that is a solid hint that you qualify, said Julia Elen Haferkamp, a psychologist at the University of Münster in Germany…
Asked to summarize their advice to the procs of the world, most attendees offered a version of the following: Accept that changing will require learning to manage your thoughts and emotions more than figuring out how to manage your time. If it is a severe problem, consider working with a professional who understands procrastination. And for those who have A.D.H.D., the cycle of procrastination may operate differently than for those who do not.

III. Don’t Believe in God? Maybe You’ll Try U.F.O.s. Clay Routledge, New York Times

On an apparent need for many to have something to believe in:

…People who do not frequently attend church are twice as likely to believe in ghosts as those who are regular churchgoers. The less religious people are, the more likely they are to endorse empirically unsupported ideas about U.F.O.s, intelligent aliens monitoring the lives of humans and related conspiracies about a government cover-up of these phenomena.
An emerging body of research supports the thesis that these interests in nontraditional supernatural and paranormal phenomena are driven by the same cognitive processes and motives that inspire religion.

IV. The life-changing science of photographing your clutter, CNN

A take-off on Marie Kondo‘s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, the title of this article has to do with our collective resistance to unloading stuff. “We have an average of at least 50 unused items in our homes, including clothing, electronic devices and toys.”

What might help:

…In studies conducted online and in person, we found that participants reported that they would experience less identity loss from donating a cherished item if they had photographed it or preserved the memory of it some other way.
Initially, in an online study, we let our subjects choose how to handle this. Nearly two out of three opted for photography, by far the most popular method. The other most common techniques included creating a scrapbook page or making a video about it — the approach taken by 22 percent of our participants — and writing a note or making a journal entry — selected by 13 percent.

V. Eating Too Much Sugar Is Linked to Depression in Men, Poor Things. Lisa Ryan, Science of Us

Brief excerpt:

Good news for women: While added sugar is arguably unhealthy for everyone, and puts your physical health at risk, it turns out women can at least consume it without getting depressed. Tiny victories! But unfortunately for men, that’s not the case; a new study found that ingesting high quantities of added sugar makes men more likely to become depressed.

Jul 24

“Scared Selfless”: Therapist’s Horrific Childhood Trauma

I was raped and tortured and prostituted to countless men. I was used in child pornography. As a result of this abuse, I grew mentally disturbed and was in danger of a wasted existence. But I made a decision not to give into despair. I vowed that, no matter what, I was going to fight for a good, decent, normal life. The journey to that good life wasn’t easy. It was fraught with pain and self-doubt and self-loathing. But I persevered and eventually found the help and love I needed to be happy. Psychologist Michelle Stevens, from her memoir Scared Selfless (2017)

Michelle Stevens, PhD, founder and director of Post-Traumatic Success, a nonprofit that provides education and support to victims of psychological trauma, is the author of Scared Selfless: My Journey from Abuse and Madness to Surviving and Thriving. Scared Selfless is based on her psychology dissertation, one that merited special distinction from her school, Saybrook University.

Stevens’s memoir presents a unique viewpoint: on the one hand, as a therapy client she’s addressed the severe mental health effects of her own horrific abuse; on the other, she’s now a therapist herself, able to offer her specialized expertise to clients who also have trauma histories.

In the brief video below, Stevens explains further:

 

Kirkus Reviews summarizes what happened to the author early in life:

Stevens was 8 years old when Gary Lundquist came into her life. A primary schoolteacher and toystore owner, his apparent interest was in the author’s impoverished, poorly educated mother. But shortly after the pair began dating, Lundquist declared his intention to develop a ‘special relationship’ with Stevens and took the child home with her mother’s consent. There, he began to ‘train’ her as a sex slave whom he also prostituted to other equally sadistic pedophiles. The abuse, which Stevens could not articulate to her mother, continued for six years.

The toll the trauma and forced silence took was enormous. As the book blurb states, “Michelle suffered from post‐traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression, and made multiple suicide attempts. She also developed multiple personalities.”

“In the end,” adds Kirkus, “it was the empathetic, nonjudgmental kindness of a dedicated therapist—who later became Stevens’ professional role model—that saved her life and gave her the courage to begin the journey toward psychological health.”

Selected Reviews

Sara Corbett, co-author of A House in the Sky“Michelle Stevens has written a fierce, honest account of her life that will stay with any reader long after the last page has turned. This book does more to explain what it feels like to live with the effects of trauma than anything I’ve ever read. It’s the rare book that’s both personal and clinical. It should be a resource and an inspiration not just to survivors but to those who love and seek to understand them.”

Dave Pelzer, author of A Child Called “It”: “a riveting memoir that takes readers on a roller coaster ride from the depths of hell to triumphant success. Michelle’s extraordinary life story and diligent, compassionate work as a therapist teaches us that, with true-grit determination, it’s possible to overcome the worst adversity. Scared Selfless offers courage, strength, and resilience to anyone who desires a better life.”

Joe Navarro, Special Agent (Ret.) and author of Dangerous Personalities“…This is a story about the psychological legacy of abuse, the struggle to survive a troubled mind, the challenges of finding elusive help and about finally and triumphantly finding redemption through the most unapologetic example of personal grit I’ve ever read…”