This was originally published on Liberal America on August 14, 2016.
Our modern world is so fast-paced. We all have cell phones attached to our arms and are expected to constantly be available. In this country, we work longer hours than any other country. We put in longer work weeks and we don’t get or use very much vacation time.
We are always busy. We jam pack our schedules with activity, and get ourselvesstressed out in the process. This may sound cheesy, but the world is so much faster. We are always “connected” to work and everything else.
You may see this common phrase if you are looking for a job: “fast-paced environment.” They never say anything about the quality of the work, just that it is done quickly.
Since the 1950s, we have had many new technological advances that were supposed to make our lives easier. However, we don’t have more leisure time than we did during that period.
The stress we put on ourselves can cause physical symptoms as well. It cancause:
We weigh ourselves down with commitments. We have this thing called “work-life balance,” but we work so much more. Psychologist, Dr. Robert Brooks, said:
“But even if you don’t have much control over the hours you have to work, you can ask yourself: In what other ways am I bringing greater enjoyment into my life? Focus your time and attention on things you can control.”
Companies are realizing this, and they are doing things to make our lives easier. Many people work remotely, so they can keep their own schedule. Here are a fewtips for better work-life balance.
1. Schedule Some Downtime.We all have our entire schedules planned out on our phones. Pencil in some downtime for you. If you go out with your friends, plan another outing a couple weeks later. You need to take care of yourself first.
2. Drop Activities That Sap Your DowntimePsychologist, Dr. Marilyn Puder-York, said:
“Many people waste their time on activities or people that add no value — for example, spending too much time at work with a colleague who is constantly venting and gossiping.”
If you have activities that you hate doing, you don’t have to do them (unless it’s your job, then you might). There is no need to weigh yourself down with things you don’t like.
3. Rethink ErrandsIf you need help getting everything done, try and make things easier for yourself. Get your groceries online if you can. Hire a someone to mow your lawn.
4. ExerciseWhen you are scheduling time for yourself, include a little bit of exercise. Exercising can greatly improve your mood and relieve stress.
5. RelaxPencil in some time for something you enjoy. Take a long bath while reading a trashy novel. Pick up a new hobby. We all need to find ways to react sometimes. Learn to cook.
Bonus tip: Listening to music can really relax you.
Here is an inspirational song to empower you in your fight against stress:
For those of you who don't know. A visit to a psychiatrist is much like a visit to another doctor. There isn't an exam room that you have to sit in, though.
You go into the doctor's office and discuss your symptoms/medicine/side effects. Mostly, they don't provide in-depth talk therapy; you will need a psychotherapist/psychologist for that. The psychiatrist's main function is to monitor your medicine.
What about talking to a doctor on the phone or on video chat? This seems to be a growing trend. Medicare is even covering it. This is a great idea since we have a large shortage of psychiatrists. They can help people who are too afraid to leave their house. Some doctors are using it to treat prison inmates.
This is also a more discreet way to see your doctor if you are worried about privacy. Since there is no office to go to, no one can see you there. People shouldn't be ashamed of mental illness, but some people are or they just really want their privacy.
One doctor had this complaint about it:
“A caring touch or handing a patient a tissue can never be possible. I am unable to clearly see self-inflicted wounds or tears.”
In 2006, South Carolina faced a major shortage of hospital beds for psychiatric patients. They started a program to get the doctors to see patients in remote, rural areas online. It has saved the local hospitals a lot of money.
If you can't find a psychiatrist in your area, this is one way to get your treatment. I'm all for making treatment more accessible. This is such a great idea!
This was originally published on Liberal America on June 29, 2016.
A Cook County, Illinois, judge ruled that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) should be added to the list of conditions that qualify to receive medical marijuana. Judge Neil Cohen also said that the state engaged in a private investigation which was “constitutionally inappropriate.”
People can petition the government to get conditions added to the list. They were getting frustrated because Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration has denied all of these petitions to get PTSD on the list. There have been several lawsuits filed on the topic.
This lawsuit was filed by an Iraqi War veteran. Judge Cohen ordered that PTSD be added to the list within the next 30 days.
The advisory board voted unanimously to add PTSD to the list, but the Illinois Department of Public Health Director, Nirav Shah, conducted his own investigation, and rejected it because their “standard” of medical evidence said PTSD “appears nowhere in the Act or the Department’s rules.”
Judge Cohen said in the ruling:
“The Director’s legal duty was to review the evidence, review the advisory board’s recommendations based thereon and render a final decision accepting or denying the proposal,” the judge wrote. “Instead, Director Shah engaged in a private investigation, hidden from public view and more importantly, hidden from the parties, and arrived at his conclusion based thereon. This process was constitutionally inappropriate.”
The Judge requested a follow-up hearing to make sure they comply. The list currently contains over 40 conditions including cancer, arthritis, or Parkinson’s disease.
Gov. Rauner is not a big fan of the medical marijuana program, but he’s compromised, and the state now has a law for this. They extended the program until 2020.
Also, doctors will no longer have to recommend cannabis, they just have to certify that the patient has a qualifying condition that allows them to purchase it.
They are also changing the procedure to get new conditions added to the list, so hopefully it won’t be so difficult to do this anymore.
This was originally published on Liberal America on June 9, 2016.
Suicide has become the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. Every day, around 150 people are dying from suicide. An estimated 250,000 people a year become suicide survivors. We need to find a way to get these numbers down.
We need to spread awareness of mental illness and suicide.
Mental illness can strike at any time, but often starts in a person’s late teens or early twenties. Many people still don’t understand the nature of these diseases. People still say things like “Just lighten up,” or even “Get over it.” Many people see mental illness as a character flaw, or the result of bad parenting.
Those myths are false; mental illnesses are real brain diseases.
Trying to figure out who might attempt suicide as a result of mental illness is a difficult undertaking. Researchers are studying brain activity in MRIs and functional MRIs, also known as fMRIs. The tests look for high levels of stress hormones in the blood.
Researchers are creating complicated computer algorithms to see if there is some kind of pattern in the data that might predict who might attempt suicide. The National Institute of Mental Health launched a study using all of these risk markers to try to figure out a if there’s a pattern to people who might be suicidal.
For now, psychiatrists and therapists mostly rely on what the patient tells them. Patients often lie about their feelings and plans. The widely accepted risk markers (mental illness, stress at a job, being male) are not specific enough to predict who will actively attempt to end their lives in these patients.
Depression is usually associated with suicide, but it is not the most common illness among suicidal patients. Many people who attempt suicide or are suffering from suicidal ideations have anxiety disorders or addiction or other mood disorders.
Mental illnesses are often debilitating, and we need to be doing more to help those who are suffering. Last month, I wrote about Mental Health Awareness month. Every month should be used to spread awareness of these awful mental illnesses.
This was originally published on Liberal America on June 6, 2016.
First off, empathy is the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes and understand their feelings. This is different from sympathy, which is feeling pity or sadness over someone else’s bad situations. Empathy is a deeper feeling because it usually involves a deeper understanding of someone’s situation.
A new study has found that a popular pain-killer, used in brands such as Tylenol, causes a loss of empathy in many people: Acetaminophen.
Acetaminophen is found in over 600 medications. Dr. Dominik Mischkowski, one of the original authors of the study, had this to say about it:
“These findings suggest other people’s pain doesn’t seem as big of a deal to you when you’ve taken acetaminophen. Acetaminophen can reduce empathy as well as serve as a painkiller.”
Co-author, Dr. Baldwin Way, said empathy is important because:
“If you are having an argument with your spouse and you just took acetaminophen, this research suggests you might be less understanding of what you did to hurt your spouse’s feelings.”
The research was conducted with 80 college students. Half were given a 1,000mg dose of acetaminophen; the other half were given a placebo.
The researchers then read the participants some stories of people who had been hurt and asked them to rate the pain they felt. The people that had taken acetaminophen rated lower pain scores.
They waited an hour for the drug to take effect before giving the participants these stories. One story followed someone who experienced a knife wound that went down to the bone. Another story had a person dealing with the loss of a parent.
In another study, the participants were asked to listen to white noise at varying decibels. They were asked to rate how unpleasant the white noise was. The people on acetaminophen said it wasn’t that bad, so we know the drug kills the pain.
However, they were also asked how bad the white noise would be for someone else, and they said it wouldn’t be that bad for other people. There is the loss of empathy showing up again.
The scientists are not entirely sure what causes it. In a 2004 study, it was proven that the same part of the brain that registers pain is also activated when picturing someone else in pain.
Therefore, if acetaminophen kills pain in that part of the brain, then feelings for other people’s pain would also be affected.
This was originally published on Liberal America on March 2, 2016.
Scientists have discovered a gene that could cause schizophrenia. According to the Mayo Clinic, schizophrenia is a long-term brain disorder that causes the patient to interpret reality differently. Common symptoms include hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, and other disordered behaviour. It is estimated that schizophrenia affects 21 million people worldwide, with only half getting any treatment.
In the brain, thinking creates neural pathways; these are cells that connect different regions of the brain. They also relay signals to control sensation, movement, and many other functions. These pathways form as we grow and learn new things. There are cells that “declutter” your brain to get rid of unnecessary and redundant connections. This process is called “pruning.”
According to Scientific American, scientists believe that excessive pruning could lead to schizophrenia, and there is a certain gene associated with that. This does not mean that people with this gene will automatically develop the disease, but it definitely increases your likelihood of getting it. They used post-mortem brain samples to figure out how active the gene was in the deceased’s brain. They figured out that people that have a more active C4 gene were most at risk for developing schizophrenia. There are drugs in development that could target this gene.
This research could lead to better treatments for schizophrenia that target the actual cause of the disease. Treatments today just relieve symptoms. We are not anywhere near genetic therapy at the moment, but it is very exciting to think that we could have more focused treatment in the future. They have done some tests with mice to study brain development. The studies with mice show that the pruning occurred, but they could not see the process in action just yet. It will take more research and studies, but this is a promising development.
This was originally published on Liberal America on March 8, 2016.
Depression is a terrible disease. The hopelessness, the guilt, the apathy, or just the overwhelming sadness is brutal. Many people with depression also experience physical symptoms as well: headaches, muscle pain, chest pain, digestion problems, etc.
On top of that, depression still carries a stigma, along with other mental illnesses. Many people just don’t understand, and say things like “it’s all in your head.” There is also the common advice to “just lighten up.” This can often make people feel worse.
Stigma keeps sufferers from telling their friends. It could even keep them from getting the help they need. Many of them distance themselves from people because of how they’re feeling. This makes it harder to find support.
Now, we have new hope for promoting understanding and ending stigma.
New research, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, suggests that depression affects the body at a cellular level. The disease can decrease antioxidants that are needed to get rid of free radicals in the body.
Free radicals can be introduced by body processes or from outside sources (caffeine, air pollution, etc.). The process called oxidative stress is the accumulation of free radicals in the body without being able to detox.
Treatment for the illness was found to reduce oxidative stress and increase the needed antioxidants. The medicines, along with talk therapy, are a way to help treat depression. Some people handle it without medicine, but many cannot.
More than 10 million Americans are being treated for it. It is mostly handled on an outpatient basis, except when the person becomes suicidal. Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the country.
Hopefully this new avenue of research will help people dealing with depression to get the help they need.