December 31, 2008

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

During the hustle and bustle of this busy time of year most of us are spending a significant amount of time with our family over the holidays. Now, the season is not complete without a customary family fight, but has anyone ever stopped to ask themselves why arguments can get so easily heated with our family members?

Researchers, Steven Platek and Shelly Kemp have recently raised this very question. The study is the first to compare brain activity associated with seeing relatives with that linked to seeing friends and strangers. It suggests our feelings about biological relatives are at least somewhat primal. Their research analyzed MRI brain scans while subjects viewed images of relatives, family, friends, themselves and morphed images. Results showed that our brain tends to rank people socially and our family takes first place. These findings may help to explain the phenomena that our relatives get under our skin more easily than others. Also, brain scans demonstrated that images of our relatives are processed in parts of the brain related to self-reference, which suggests that we may take things more personally due to a resemblance to family members. While we may tolerate a friend's loud laughter or snoring, for example, we may have less patience with a relative because we judge them similarly to how we judge ourselves.

Consequently, this is something to bear in mind the next time you might feel your blood pressure rising in response to your family. Although this research is informative, I’m still interested to identify the point at which a stranger becomes a friend or a friend becomes a relative in terms of brain activity?

Visiting family warps your brain, study says


November 29, 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008
The Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet (KI) published a doctoral thesis that links Alzheimer’s disease with high levels of fast food intake. In the study, Susanne Akterin observed mice that were fed diets rich in fat, sugar and cholesterol. After only nine months, the rats had developed what looked like the preliminary stages Alzheimer’s disease. More specifically, the irregularities found in the brain had greatly resembled those of early Alzheimer’s.

Although the exact causes of Alzheimer’s disease remains unknown, there are many identified risk factors, such as “a variant of a certain gene that governs the production of apolipoprotein E, one of the functions of which is to transport cholesterol”. This study sought to demonstrate the link between this risk factor and diet in mice.

Basically, the brains of these rats were modified to mimic the effects of the apoE4 gene variant by ingesting a diet similar to fast food for nine months. The results showed a chemical change in the brain comparable to that found in Alzheimer’s patients.
The change in question was an increase in phosphate groups attached to tau, a substance that forms the neurofibrillary tangles observed in Alzheimer’s patients. These tangles prevent the cells from functioning normally, which eventually leads to their death. Ms Akterin and her team also noted indications that cholesterol in food reduced levels of another brain substance, Arc, a protein involved in memory storage.

In short, the results of this study suggest that a diet high in fat/cholesterol combined with genetics can potentially contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Although, there has been no direct causal link identified, the study has provided yet another reason to lay off the burgers and fries.

Fast Food A Potential Risk Factor For Alzheimer’s


November 24, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008
As newly-engaged couples begin to plan their weddings, more are realizing they also need to be planning their marriages. These are not the same thing, nor are they mutually exclusive.

In all the hoopla and pageantry of a wedding, the idea that you really will be in a life-long commitment when you're done can get lost in the shuffle. Increasingly, couples are enlisting the aid of professional counselors to talk about their problems and concerns before they walk down the aisle.

Myth 1: People who need counseling before they even get married shouldn't be getting married.

Fact: Otherwise, happy couples who seek ways to better communicate and understand one another will have a far greater chance at long-term happiness, with far more coping strategies to deal with crises than those who assume there isn't value to premarital counseling.

Myth 2: I already know everything about my fiancée. We know how we fight, what makes us happy and what makes us angry. We don't need a therapist telling us how to live.

Fact: Few of us know our betrothed well enough to say we really and truly know everything about them, but if that's the situation you're in, that's great. Most of us keep some things bottled up to avoid hurting our loved ones.
In therapy the "gloves come off" and we're more likely to be honest and achieve real communication and bring about change in how we talk to one another.

Myth 3: We should solve our own problems without bringing in an outsider.

Fact: This dated view of counseling keeps many people from looking for answers. Therapists aren't outsiders and can be trusted to remain objective and keep confidences.

This is not always the case if you choose to talk to a family member or close friend about what's bothering you. And, you may not be fighting fair or really listening to what the other person has to say. If you don't change that behavior, it'll be destructive. Without the aid of an "outsider," you'll never know.

There are no hard and fast rules to follow that will guarantee a marriage is going to work. But, with a divorce rate that continues to hover around 50%, there's no reason premarital counseling shouldn't at least be considered for most couples—even (perhaps especially) the happy ones.


This post was contributed by Kelly Kilpatrick, who writes on the subject of distance learning degrees. She invites your feedback at kellykilpatrick24 at gmail dot com


November 16, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

“For the first time, researchers from the Institut de physiologie et biologie cellulaire (CNRS/Université de Poitiers) have shown that positive and stimulating environmental conditions make it easier to treat cocaine addiction”.

In particular, Marcello Solinas and Mohamed Jaber exposed cocaine addicted mice to an enriched environment during cocaine withdrawal. The environment consisted of small houses, a running wheel, tunnels and many other stimulating items in a large cage.

The researchers observed three measures of typical addictive behaviour:

    1. Behavioural Sensitization: the progressive augmentation of behavioural responses to cocaine that develops during repeated administration.

    2. Location Preference: the ability of the context to induce drug-seeking behaviour and strengthen the contextual association with drug use.

    3. Probability of Relapse: “cocaine's ability to lead to a relapse after a period of withdrawal.”

Results showed that all three of these typical behaviours disappeared after the mice had endured 30 days of the enriched environment. In the brain, this disappearance was seen by a decrease in activity in the specific areas associated with dopamine transmission and relapse.

Does this seem like news to anyone? Of course rehab won’t work for individuals who are thrust right back into the same environmental circumstances. The rehabilitation process should definitely include changes to living conditions. Availability of cocaine will clearly hinder the probability of relapse. The same basic routine will allow an addict to easily slide back into old habits.

Besides pointing out the obvious, this “new” research does provide a bit of insight. Addiction treatment centres may want to consider adding housing support workers to the therapeutic process. The social, physical and mental stimulation seem to be key factors in maintaining sobriety; therefore it might be beneficial to include exercise regimens and educational programs as well. The ideal solution does not seem to be spending 30 days discussing the reason you became an addict only to settle right back into the same old routine after successful completion of a program. Evidently, the emotional aspect is a necessary step in the process, but if anything, this research proves that there is more to treating cocaine addiction. It’s a complete lifestyle overhaul.

Drug Addiction: Environmental Conditions Play Major Role In Effective Treatment And Preventing Relapses, Animal Study Shows


November 2, 2008

Sunday, November 02, 2008
"For more than two decades, researchers have been studying the chemical--a protein called alpha-CaM kinase II--for its role in learning and memory consolidation. To better understand the protein, a few years ago, Joe Tsien, a neurobiologist at the Medical College of Georgia, in Athens, created a mouse in which he could activate or inhibit sensitivity to alpha-CaM kinase II."

Tsien’s research showed that specific memories were erased when mice recalled long-term memories during a period when the brain over-expressed alpha-CaM kinase II.

How exactly was this established? Mice were placed in a chamber. In this chamber, a tone sounded, which followed a mild shock. The mice then learned to associate the chamber and tone with the shock. In other words, the tone signalled that a shock would ensue. The mice were placed in another chamber a month later, which provided sufficient time for the memory to become long-term. The researchers then over-expressed the alpha-CaM kinase II protein and again, sounded the tone. Amazingly, the mice showed no fearful reaction to the tone as they had done so previously. However, when placed in the initial chamber, the mice demonstrated the same fearful response they had a month prior. “Tsien had, in effect, erased one part of the memory (the one associated with the tone recall) while leaving the other intact.”

Imagine the possibilities! Imagine a drug that could manipulate the brain’s sensitivity to this protein enough to erase parts of our long-term memories and completely alter our current state of mind.

The idea could mean a huge relief for those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It could also prove to be very useful in treating a variety of phobias. In addition, it could be used to reform criminals, strengthen relationships, and alleviate pain and suffering. Practically any irrational behaviour that is being caused by a 'bad' memory could be repaired and replaced by rational behaviour with hardly any effort. The time and money saved from long-term therapy could be very substantial.

But, unethically, we are toying with the very intricate details that define our own unique make-up. Despite this immorality, could the discovery really be more useful or harmful?

Selectively Deleting Memories


October 19, 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008
While reading As economy sinks, officials fear violent solutions, which discusses the recent economic crisis taking place in the United States, it became overwhelming to discover the number of related deaths due to an inability to manage and cope with financial difficulties.

An out-of-work money manager in California loses a fortune and wipes out his family in a murder-suicide.

A 90-year-old Ohio widow shoots herself in the chest as authorities arrive to evict her from the modest house she called home for 38 years.

In Massachusetts, a housewife who had hidden her family's mounting financial crisis from her husband sends a note to the mortgage company warning: "By the time you foreclose on my house, I'll be dead." Then Carlene Balderrama shot herself to death, leaving an insurance policy and a suicide note on a table.

In Los Angeles, California, last week, a former money manager fatally shot his wife, three sons and his mother-in-law before killing himself.

In Tennessee, a woman fatally shot herself last week as sheriff's deputies went to evict her from her foreclosed home.

In Ocala, Florida, Roland Gore shot his wife and dog in March and then set fire to the couple's home, which had been in foreclosure, before killing himself.

In Akron, Ohio, the 90-year-old widow who shot herself on Oct. 1 is recovering. A congressman told Addie Polk's story on the House floor before lawmakers voted to approve a $700 billion financial rescue package. Mortgage finance company Fannie Mae dropped the foreclosure, forgave her mortgage and said she could remain in the home.

Granted these are difficult situations which often call for desperate measures, but death should not be an option. Surely the government will introduce some funding for programs aimed at reducing these numbers and not simply increase funding for programs that seek to turn the economy around. If the financial crisis cannot be avoided, at the very least, social programs should be put into place to help individuals deal with such tough times more appropriately.

There is an obvious need for financial counselling and money management training. It also couldn’t hurt to develop more combined approaches that focus on housing, stress management and marriage counselling as many of these issues become interrelated. In addition, there should be a more significant focus on awareness. Many resources already exist, but many people may not know where to turn. There is an abundance of local, national and even international crisis hotlines in existence. Some of these resources include, but are not limited to:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a network of crisis centers serving the entire country. Calls originating from anywhere in the country will be routed, 24 hours a day, to the nearest available crisis centers. This call routing is based on crisis center call capacity and availability.

Befrienders Worldwide
"We work worldwide to provide emotional support, and reduce suicide. We listen to people who are in distress. We don't judge them or tell them what to do - we listen."

National Hopeline Network

If there is an immediate need for help, make sure to call 911 for emergency services or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.


October 14, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Research suggests that voters are likely to make their way to the polls when they have a dislike for one of the candidates. One would assume the opposite to be true, however, research over a 24 year period led by professor Jon A. Krosnick of Ohio State University shows that “people are more motivated by the threat of something bad than the opportunity for something good”. Even more intriguing is that voters actually seek to like these disliked candidates.

Conversely, if voters have a strong dislike for all candidates, they will not be very apt to vote. Similarly, if we have no real preference for any particular candidate, voters are equally likely to opt not to vote. Basically, voters are most likely to cast their vote when a strong like or dislike exists for a candidate.

Oddly enough, the research suggests that negative advertising actually works. Who would imagine that all the tactful mud slinging that goes on during an electoral campaign could actually entice us to vote one way or the other?

In addition, voters tend to approach candidates in which they know little about in the same way people tend to approach strangers. That is, by hoping that the experience will be a pleasant one. First impression appears to be the key to a successful campaign. This is important for politicians to know because the study implies that people rarely change their opinions after that first impression. This knowledge would really help their campaign strategy. Starting out with a bang seems to have a bigger impact than going out with one.

All in all, the most efficient way of swaying voters is to make a villain of the opponent. It seems that, for voters, it is easiest to cross a candidate off the ballot than to place an 'X' beside the most qualified.

The Psychology of Voting

The results are in and the voter behaviours of Mental Health Blog readers are as follows:

CPC: 25%
Liberal: 50%
NDP: 25%
BQ: 0%
Green: 0%
Independent: 0%


September 30, 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Have you ever found yourself going in circles and unable to find your way in a familiar environment, such as driving through your own neighbourhood? A recently discovered disorder called Selective Developmental Topographical Disorientation explains this phenomenon. “It's like somebody picks up the whole world and sets it back down at a 90-degree angle,” says Sharon Roseman, who has a type of topographical disorder. "Finding our way" is a kind of task that requires the skills of memory, attention, perception, and decision-making. Specifically, the ability to complete such tasks involves two separate types of memory; procedural and spatial.

Procedural memory is implicit and long term. It consists of our "how to" knowledge; basically our knowledge of the task's procedure. In this particular case, procedural memory would consist of landmarks, distances, and specific movements required for completion of some procedure (i.e. finding our way home). Spatial memory, on the other hand, is a cognitive map or mental picture of your entire trek. This map is formed through sensory information gathered from one’s surroundings. One must be capable of creating and reading such mental layouts in order to navigate our way home.

“Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute recently documented the first case of a patient who, without apparent brain damage or cognitive impairment, is unable to orient within any environment.”

It is already known that damage to the brain can cause problems in terms of orientation and navigation, however in this study, no malformations or lesions were detected in the brains of the subjects. The researchers of this study, led by Giuseppe Laria of UBC Faculty of Medicine, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and behavioural tests to study the disorder among subjects who reportedly get lost in their own neighbourhoods. Findings concluded that the patients were unable to form cognitive maps.

Not only will these findings create awareness, the research and discovery of this first case of Selective Developmental Topographical Disorientation will lead to more research on treatment and help for many who may not even be aware of their own disorder. Also, newer techniques like virtual reality could prove to be very useful in terms of therapy for this new type of disorder.

For more information on this disorder visit:

Getting Lost: A Newly Discovered Developmental Brain Disorder
Lost in your neighbourhood? Could be a genetic disorder


September 26, 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

Truls Thorstensen (EFS Consulting Vienna), Karl Grammer (Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Urban Ethology) and other researchers at the University of Vienna have discovered that people attribute certain personality traits or emotions to the front of a car. Humans are able to collect information on people's sex, age, emotions, and intentions based on the look of the face. In theory, if humans have this ability to perceive traits and emotion on the human face, could they not attribute the same types of perceptions on inanimate objects that possess face-like qualities?

To investigate this theory, "the researchers therefore asked people to report the characteristics, emotions, personality traits, and attitudes that they ascribed to car fronts and then used geometric morphometrics to calculate the corresponding shape information."

Ninety percent of cars possessed human or animal-like faces according to about a third of the subjects. Of course, the headlights were seen as eyes, the grill as a mouth and about 50% of cars had some part representing a nose. Interestingly, most subjects agreed on the personality traits of certain cars. Subjects tended to prefer cars with either a wide stance, narrow windshield or narrow, but widely spaced headlights. In addition, the more the subject liked a type of car, the more they could perceive a characteristic of power. This suggests that the subjects prefer mature, dominant, masculine, arrogant, angry-looking cars.

There is no doubt that this kind of research will benefit car manufacturers, but what does it say about human nature? There will be an influx in dominant angry-looking cars in the automobile industry. Not only will elaborate designs become distracting, but if humans actually perceive personality traits and emotions from car fronts, it would be safe to assume that incidents of road rage and bullying behaviour might actually increase. Although, this research is interesting and useful, it is likely that it will be used solely to generate more wealth instead of being used to improve the safety of our roads.



September 23, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Researchers have recently discovered that subjects report having more emotionally pleasant dreams when they smell the scent of roses while dreaming. Conversely, subjects who experienced the scent of rotten eggs while dreaming reported more negatively charged dreams. Actually, subjects tended to rate their dreams more positively when the aroma was pleasant.

Each subject was tested with three different odours; roses, rotten eggs, and no odour at all. Oddly, "there was hardly any kind of a dream dealing with smelling and tasting". And, it seemed that the more impacted your mood is by a smell while awake, the more so it affects you in dreamland.

Tubes were attached to the nostrils of 15 healthy women in their twenties where an olfactometer pumped constant streams of air into their noses and a ten second shot of a specific odour during REM periods.

How exactly does the brain smell?

Essentially, smell enters the nose and confronts the cell body dendrites of some 10,000 sensory neurons. The odour molecules bind to receptors on a few different classes of neurons, which are, in effect, randomly located in the nose. The binding of the scent alters the electrical properties of these neurons down their axons, which extend to the olfactory bulb. The axons from these activated neurons synapse to a few glomeruli (globular tangle of axons and dendrites) in the olfactory bulb. The synapsing of the activated axons at these glomeruli sends signals, which are transmitted to the brain areas such as the olfactory cortex, hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus in the limbic system, which is involved with emotional behaviour and memory.

The following is an interesting article that explains the olfactory system in greater depth: How the olfactory system makes sense of scents

A few questions come to mind after reading about this new research. I wonder how this new information might differ for people with brain injuries to areas of the brain associated with smell or even those with nasal problems. Also, could this really mean that we could all sleep better with scented air fresheners in our bedrooms?



September 22, 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008
"Service Nova Scotia now requires people renewing their licences to indicate on an application form if they’ve had a 'psychiatric or psychological condition'". If the answer to that question is yes, Nova Scotians' are required to provide more in depth information including medical information that is usually kept in strict confidentiality. This medical information is reviewed by provincial government staff and, if necessary, cases can be referred to a committee of specialists to make recommendations on whether the individual is mentally capable of driving. The application also inquires about any history of lung, heart, eye or neurological diseases. Obviously, doctors can charge a fee for this application and without it people run a risk of losing their licence.

Thankfully, Service Nova Scotia has withdrawn this new form, for now, claiming that the "department failed to check the appropriateness of the wording before putting the new forms into use." Instead, Dulcie McCallum, Nova Scotia's freedom of information and protection of privacy review officer, states that "it would be more appropriate to ask if people were taking any prescription medication that could affect their driving". "That doesn’t connect it to any particular illness or disability or historically disadvantaged group and it may be a bona fide question", she continues. Now, this does not sound like the idea has been completely rejected. In fact, the renewal process still asks whether one has a mental or physical disability that may prevent them from properly operating a motor vehicle and depending on one's response, more detailed information could be requested.

Typically, people come to the realisation that they are no longer able to drive on their own; however Nova Scotia has decided that the government must decide when an individual is no longer mentally fit for driving. Paul Arsenault of the provincial registrar of motor vehicles insists that this is important for public safety.

Granted, prescription medication is being prescribed in record doses, but as far as I know, doctors still have a legal obligation to report whether someone is no longer capable of operating a motor vehicle? Or do they? Apparently, Nova Scotia's doctors are not bound by law to report such cases. Should this not be a more appropriate angle, especially since doctors already have the power to prescribe and have total access to a medical history? It seems more than ridiculous to expect government bureaucrats to police the province’s drivers. What’s next? Are government employees going to start patrolling for drunk drivers too?

David Simpson, an Ontario rights advocate of the Mental Health Police Records Coalition explains that "what you always have to be worried about in situations like this is if there is some sort of systemic bias in place or covert discrimination, that they believe because you have a mental illness you’re going to use your vehicle as a weapon to injure people or injure yourself." What about people busy texting, eating, chatting on their cell phone, fiddling with their blackberry, or operating their GPS?

Furthermore, how long would it be before people with high blood pressure and risk of heart attack or stroke lose their licence as well? We can only hope this line of
thinking doesn’t make its way into Ontario.

Government cancels form asking drivers about mental health
Critics: Don’t tie driver’s licence renewal to psychiatric history


Should one's mental health be considered when issuing a driver's licence?

38% - YES

61% - NO


September 16, 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Rick Green, a producer, director and comedian, along with Patrick McKenna, an anchor comedian, from Canadian television were both in to interview Thom Hartmann during his radio program for their upcoming documentary, ADD and Loving It. The show will air on Global TV's Global Currents, which hosts weekly one-hour, independently-produced documentaries. The following is the entire interview:

Both Patrick and Rick are well known for their roles in The Red Green Show. Patrick, known to many as Harold, lives quite successfully with ADD. Their documentary will seek to observe how people are coping and surviving with ADD.

It seems they chose Hartmann because of all the work he has done in this area. Hartmann has written several books on the topic of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and adult attention-deficit disorder (AADD). He also proposed the well-known hunter vs. farmer theory. His theory stipulates that ADD is an expected evolutionary adaptation to hunting lifestyles. He suggests that these types of individuals have a unique ability to rapidly shift their focus and external attention and to hold multiple trains of thought. This type of person has greater difficulties in "farming" cultures since behaviours are more planned, predicted, organized and repetitive. Interestingly, Hartmann has also established specialized schools for children with ADHD, such as The Hunter School where they can flourish in the proper environment.


September 11, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008
The Journal of Urban Health has published a study by New York City’s health department and the federal Centers for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. It estimated that as many as 70,000 people in New York could be suffering from PTSD because of the attacks on the World Trade Centre seven years ago today. Health officials have determined that more than 400,000 people were exposed to the tragedy on September 11, 2001. Recent data suggests that, of those who experienced the atrocity, 35,000 to 70,000 may have developed PTSD and 3,800 to 12,600 may have developed asthma. There are 71,437 people on the health registry who agreed to be monitored for up to 20 years since the disaster. "Half of those surveyed said they were in the dust cloud left by the collapsing towers, 70 per cent witnessed a traumatic sight – such as a plane hitting a tower or falling bodies – and 13 per cent were injured that day". Of the endless list of rescue and recovery workers, commuters, area workers, Lower Manhattan residents, and passersby, PTSD was highest among those who had sustained injuries (35%), followed by those with low-income (31%), and Hispanic (30%) respondents.

What is PTSD? - (The Ottawa Anxiety and Trauma Clinic)
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that occurs as a result of exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor involving the threat of death or serious injury. The threat may be experienced directly or may involve witnessing others at risk for death or injury.

DSM-IV-TR criteria for PTSD - (National Center for PTSD)
Diagnostic criteria for PTSD include a history of exposure to a traumatic event meeting two criteria and symptoms from each of three symptom clusters: intrusive recollections, avoidant/numbing symptoms, and hyper-arousal symptoms. A fifth criterion concerns duration of symptoms and a sixth assesses functioning.

Criterion A: stressor - The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following have been present:

1. The person has experienced, witnessed, or been confronted with an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others.

2. The person's response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Note: in children, it may be expressed instead by disorganized or agitated behavior.

Criterion B: intrusive recollection - The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in at least one of the following ways:

1. Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions. Note: in young children, repetitive play may occur in which themes or aspects of the trauma are expressed.

2. Recurrent distressing dreams of the event. Note: in children, there may be frightening dreams without recognizable content

3. Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring (includes a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations, and dissociative flashback episodes, including those that occur upon awakening or when intoxicated). Note: in children, trauma-specific re-enactment may occur.

4. Intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.

5. Physiologic reactivity upon exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event

Criterion C: avoidant/numbing - Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the trauma), as indicated by at least three of the following:

1. Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma

2. Efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that arouse recollections of the trauma

3. Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma

4. Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities

5. Feeling of detachment or estrangement from others

6. Restricted range of affect (e.g., unable to have loving feelings)

7. Sense of foreshortened future (e.g., does not expect to have a career, marriage, children, or a normal life span)

Criterion D: hyper-arousal - Persistent symptoms of increasing arousal (not present before the trauma), indicated by at least two of the following:

1. Difficulty falling or staying asleep

2. Irritability or outbursts of anger

3. Difficulty concentrating

4. Hyper-vigilance

5. Exaggerated startle response

Criterion E: duration - Duration of the disturbance (symptoms in B, C, and D) is more than one month.

Criterion F: functional significance - The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

In addition, depression, alcohol/substance abuse, panic disorder, and other anxiety disorders commonly occur with PTSD.

Therapeutic Approaches Commonly Used to Treat PTSD - (Veterans Affairs Canada)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): involves working with cognitions to change emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

Exposure therapy: is one form of CBT that is unique to trauma treatment typically by flooding or gradually desensitizing the patient in a safe context until the trauma is no longer stressful.

Pharmacotherapy: use of medication to reduce anxiety, depression, and insomnia. It also facilitates successful participation in other forms of therapy.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): involves elements of exposure therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy combined with techniques (eye movements, hand taps, sounds) that create an alternation of attention back and forth across the person's midline.

Group treatment: trauma survivors share traumatic material within the safety, cohesion, and empathy provided by other survivors.

Brief psychodynamic psychotherapy: focuses on the emotional conflicts caused by the traumatic event, particularly as they relate to early life experiences.

Post-traumatic stress disorder may affect up to 70,000 New Yorkers: Sept. 11 study


September 9, 2008

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Can one actually become dependent on tanning? Is it really possible to become addicted to using tanning beds? Tanorexia gets its name from similar characteristic pathologies such as those seen in other mental illnesses like substance abuse and body image disorders.

A study performed by Fox Chase Cancer Center examined this phenomena and discovered that "25% of those surveyed reported symptoms of tanning dependence, including symptoms similar to alcohol and drug-addicted individuals". This finding was revealed by using a modified version of a traditional substance abuse and dependence questionnaire that was administered to 400 students and other volunteers at Virginia Commonwealth University. The survey measured such items as tolerance to tanning, withdrawal symptoms, difficulty controlling tanning behaviour in spite of the knowledge of its negative consequences. Some of the questions included:
  • Do you think you need to spend more and more time in the sun to maintain your perfect tan?

  • Do you continue tanning so your tan will not fade?

  • Does this [your belief that tanning can cause skin cancer] keep you from spending time in the sun or going to tanning beds?

The study investigated the participants’ level of intentional and incidental sun exposure, tanning booth use, and chemical sunless tanner usage as well as other health related habits like smoking and exercise.

Research confirmed that 27% of those studied were classified as dependent on tanning, 40% had used tanning booths and the mean age of onset for tanning booth use was only 17 years old. In addition, sun tanners and indoor tanners during the winter were found to be more closely linked to tanorexia than those who are solely indoor tanners. Most intriguing is that those found to be dependent on tanning were more likely to be either thin or smokers, suggesting probable links to risk taking behaviours. This discovery provides a new avenue for further research and development. It also confirms the wideheld belief that tanorexia really is an addiction.

Some Startling facts about skin cancer:
  • According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer.

  • Skin cancer accounts for half of all types of cancers.

  • Over 1 million new cases are diagnosed yearly in the U.S.

  • 90% of all skin cancers are associated with ultraviolet radiation

  • Using a tanning bed once a month or more can increase your risk of skin cancer by more than half.

Addicted To Tanning Beds? 'Tanorexia' Common Among University Students
Tanorexics - Ellie Harrison


September 1, 2008

Monday, September 01, 2008

In recent news, a 60 year old grandfather of Stoke, England, awoke from a 10 week coma when he heard the sound of "I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)" by the Rolling Stones pumping through his headphones.

Sam Carter slipped into a coma after developing severe anaemia. Doctors were not very hopeful about his recovery. In fact, his survival rate was a mere 30%. His wife was reluctant to use a 'music therapy' approach, but all else was failing.

After many weeks of silence, Sam said:
I can't remember much from being in a coma, but I do remember that when that song came on it took me right back to when I was a youngster. I could remember how excited I was to get it down at the record shop. I suddenly had a burst of energy and knew I had a lot more life left in me and that's when I woke up - to the sound of the first song I ever bought.

When I heard about this miracle, it reminded me of how music therapy is sometimes used in cases of acquired brain injury, autism, emotional traumas, geriatric care, hearing impairments, speech and language impairments, substance abuse, and many other areas of mental health. This form of therapy does not seem to get the attention and credit it might deserve. Music therapy uses music and musical elements to treat physical, emotional, cognitive and social problems. The music can facilitate contact, interaction, self-awareness, learning, self-expression, communication, and personal development.

Many questions come to mind regarding the efficiency of music therapy. How does it work and does it work in the same way for everyone? What type of music works best? What sort of brain injuries respond better to this form of therapy? When is it the best treatment option? Who should perform this type of therapy and is there a certified body governing its use? Are success rates linked to age, severity of damage etc?

Unfortunately, the answers to most of these questions are rarely black or white. In terms of an exact methodology; none seems to exist. There is no step by step approach. Instead, many differing methods are used to develop communication, language and intellectual development, assist in the grieving process, relieve stress, motivate rehabilitation, aid memory and imagination etc. Music therapy works by keeping the patient's attention, structuring time, providing an enjoyable method of repetition, helping memory, encouraging movement, and tapping into memories and emotions. Many studies attest to these findings, such as, a Finland study suggesting that listening to music shortly after a stroke can facilitate cognitive and emotional recovery.

But, how exactly does music affect the brain? Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center demonstrated that
one brain system, based in the temporal lobes, helps humans memorize information in both language and music— for example, words and meanings in language and familiar melodies in music. The other system, based in the frontal lobes, helps us unconsciously learn and use the rules that underlie both language and music, such as the rules of syntax in sentences, and the rules of harmony in music.

Still, it is not easy to identify when this alternative treatment is most appropriate. It appears to be used most often when all else has failed, as was the case with Sam Carter, however since it doesn’t cause any harm it might be best not to leave this option as a last resort.

I have also discovered that the Canadian Association for Music Therapy (CAMT) is a national body that lists accredited University educated music therapists for anyone seeking this form of therapy.

Some interesting facts:

The information most adults consistently recall from childhood is songs and rhymes.

Emotional engagement is the key to effective learning. Music therapy engages the emotions; thus unlocking the brain and preparing it for learning.

People have at least seven distinct intelligences. One of these intelligence areas is the musical area. Often people with special needs learn best through music because that part of the brain is an older part of the brain and less likely to be damaged from birth defects, accidents, etc.

Research studies have shown that 80 - 90% of individuals with autism respond positively to music as a motivator.

Research has shown that music is a valued tool for stimulating the right side of the brain; and also is helpful in encouraging bilateral activity between the brain hemispheres.

The area of the brain that responds to music is located in a different area than the speech and language area.

The following video depicts how music therapy can help to develop new ways of communicating and teach new skills to children with severe disabilities:


Riverbend Down Syndrome Parent Support Group
Music Therapy - Getting Cured Through Melody
Listening To Music Improves Stroke Patients' Recovery, Study Shows
Rolling Stones classic wakes grandfather from coma
Music And Language Are Processed By The Same Brain Systems
Canadian Association for Music Therapy


August 24, 2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"New research supports a growing body of literature that attributes maternal exposure to severe stress during the early months of pregnancy to an increased susceptibility to schizophrenia in the offspring". - source

The researchers, Dolores Malaspina, Anita Steckler, and Joseph Steckler are referring to extreme stressors such as that experienced during natural disasters, terrorist attacks, war, sudden death etc.

The discovery came about after reviewing a collection of data gathered from 88,829 people born in Jerusalem between the years 1964 to 1976. A correlation existed among a higher risk of developing schizophrenia among the offspring of mothers who were in their second month of pregnancy during the Arab-Israeli "Six Day War". In addition, the correlation was even greater among females. In fact, females were 4.3 times more likely to develop schizophrenia, as opposed to males who were merely 1.2 times more likely to develop the disorder.

The theory is that stress hormones are amplified during such times of great distress and the placenta is very sensitivity to these hormones.

This research does not provide proof or a causal link, but it does support the existing research that suggests similar results. Malaspina makes sure to note that some exposure to maternal stress hormones are necessary, but extreme stress should be addressed in order to avoid any sort of impact on the fetus.


August 17, 2008

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Researchers at Linköping University and the German Cancer Research Center DKFZ have discovered the possibility of preventing relapse among cocaine addicts.

Because dopamine-producing nerve cells; part of the brain’s reward system in the midbrain, become more excited with drug use, blocking their glutamate receptors could remove the risk of relapse entirely. They discovered this finding by using a mouse model of cocaine dependence.

"When you take cocaine, the number of glutamate receptors increases, rendering the cell more excitable. When we block this process, we prevent relapses into addiction. This is interesting clinically since that is the phase when we get hold of patients" says the study’s lead author and neurobiologist, David Engblom.

Dopamine becomes more concentrated in the midbrain with the use or abuse of dependence-inducing drugs, such as cocaine, which has a very rapid effect on dopamine levels in the brain. The increased concentration of dopamine produces physical and mental reactions characteristic of a "high".

To terminate this process, patients could be injected with a vaccine that would block glutamate receptors and thus prevent a relapse. It seems like a rather simplistic solution and the research is clearly in its early stages of development, however any research at all that seeks to advance the treatment of addiction is well worth mentioning and investigating further.


July 9, 2008

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

It is being called the climate change delusion as noted by Joshua Wolf and Robert Salo in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. The previously unreported phenomenon has finally found its first victim, a 17 year old Australian man. After eight months of depression and visions of apocalyptic events, the young man was referred to the inpatient psychiatric unit at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital. In addition, "the patient had also developed the belief that, due to climate change, his own water consumption could lead within days to the deaths of millions of people through exhaustion of water supplies." (source) His belief was strong enough to convince the man to quit drinking water, our lifeblood.

Could this just be another paranoid delusion characteristic of some other mental illness or a purposeful introduction of a new mental health disorder as a political stunt to instil yet more fear of global warming into the nation?

A more frightening thought is the idea that many politicians in positions of great power are likely suffering from this so-called climate change delusion.

And, at what point are those who insist on walking, biking, or taking a city bus to work considered to be at risk of developing this new mental illness?


June 23, 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008

Finally, there exists a causal link between serotonin and impulsivity. The neurotransmitter serotonin is a chemical messenger in the brain that regulates emotions and it has often been associated with social decision-making.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have shed more light on the ‘myth’ that people tend to become aggressive when they are hungry. Our serotonin levels decline when we do not eat because the essential amino acid used to create serotonin can be found in food, such as tryptophan rich products like poultry and chocolate.

The researchers of the study, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, manipulated the subjects’ diet in order to reduce serotonin levels. They then used the ‘Ultimatum game’ to study the subjects’ reactions to unfair behaviours. In this game, a player suggests a manner in which to divide a sum of money into two portions, one for themselves and another for the other player. If the other player agrees on the split they each keep their agreed-upon portion. If the other player disagrees with the split then no one gets paid. Typically, people tend to reject 50% of offers that are less than 20-30% of the total stake. However, with lowered serotonin, rates of rejection increased to over 80%. As per Molly Crockett, PhD student at Cambridge Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute:
"Our results suggest that serotonin plays a critical role in social decision-making by normally keeping aggressive social responses in check. Changes in diet and stress cause our serotonin levels to fluctuate naturally, so it’s important to understand how this might affect our every day decision-making" - Article

Now that proof exists that serotonin, which is manufactured through diet, affects the impulsivity of decision-making, it would be interesting to examine how this might apply to other situations involving choices, such as how much impact serotonin levels have on decision-making among users of cocaine, a known appetite suppressant.


June 16, 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008

Dr. Gaby Badre, of Sahlgren’s Academy in Gothenberg, Sweden presented to the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS) that there is a relationship between excessive cell phone use and sleeping problems, such as disrupted sleep, restlessness, stress and fatigue, among youth 14 to 20 years of age.

The study consisted of two groups; those who made less than 5 calls and/or text messages per day (control group) and those who made more than 15 calls and/or text messages per day (experimental group).

The results showed that youth in the experimental group had "increased restlessness with more careless lifestyles, more consumption of stimulating beverages, difficulty in falling asleep and disrupted sleep, more susceptibility to stress and fatigue". Furthermore, there seems to be a connection between excessive cell phone use and a tendency toward unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking among youth.

The study suggests that youth are delaying their biological clocks in order to remain in constant connection with the world. The impact on mental health and cognition could be detrimental if youth continue to disrupt their sleep patterns at a period in life where sleep is so critical. It makes me wonder if this trend will hinder the potential of today's youth.


May 27, 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New research suggests that religious leaders may have been sitting on a potential treatment for depression all along. Even hippies seem to have caught on to the healing powers of incense long before the academic world.

A team of researchers from John Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem studied the psychoactive effects of burning incense. Researcher, Raphael Mechoulam "found that incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested in mice lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior". Specifically, this constituent activates the TRPV3 protein in areas of the brain that are associated with emotions and nerves. These areas are the same as those already being activated by current medication in use for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Evidently, mice bred without this protein were not affected by the incense.

Although, the idea seems rather harmless in comparison to many of the medications on the market at this time, I have to wonder whether or not this might be a better alternative to medication. I am not convinced that this treatment holds much weight when considering the possible health risks associated with daily doses of incense inhalation in order to sufficiently reduce anxiety and depression.


April 20, 2008

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Researchers of the Layton Aging & Alzheimer's Disease Center at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland have discovered that brain volume is linked to mental decline in people with Alzheimer's.

This linkage was discovered while performing autopsies on deceased elderly patients. The entire brain was found to be larger in patients who had not experienced any cognitive impairment. In particular, the hippocampus, a part of the forebrain in the medial temporal lobe that plays a major role in long term memory, has been discovered to be larger in size for those patients with no cognitive impairments. Most surprising, those in both categories had plaques and tangles in the brain as found in typical Alzheimer patients.

The study consisted of 12 patients who did not have Alzheimer's symptoms before death and 24 who had experienced symptoms of the disease. As per Dr. Deniz Erten-Lyons, the brains of those without symptoms of Alzheimer’s were found to be on average 10% larger.

Dr Jeffrey Kaye, director of the Layton Aging and Alzheimer's Disease Center and a professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine stated: "We are hopeful that this research will help us further understand the structural and genetic ties to Alzheimer's disease and perhaps offer clues that may help us develop new drugs or therapies."

This study could help lead the way to developing better tools for earlier detection rather than relying heavily on evaluations of thought process through mental tests. All studies seem completely worthwhile when up against a degenerative and terminal disease that has no cure and affects millions worldwide every year.



April 13, 2008

Sunday, April 13, 2008
The British Journal of Psychiatry presented a study conducted by Yale School of Medicine regarding the tendency to extract a meaningful message from meaningless noise. The study implies that, over time, this ability could produce a 'matrix of unreality' that triggers the initial psychotic phase of schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. The study implies that this ability could be an early sign of schizophrenia.

The study consisted of a measly 43 participants who had already been diagnosed with prodromal symptoms such as social withdrawal, mild perceptual alterations or misinterpretation of social cues.

A medication called olanzapine was used in this study. It is also known as zyprexa, an atypical antipsychotic used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Participants were assessed for up to two years after being randomly assigned to either this medication or a placebo.

The participants listened to a reading of a text through headphones, but this text was read by six different people at the same time. The overlap of the words made comprehension virtually impossible. The only words detected with any kind of consistency were increase, children, A-OK, and Republican.

"Eighty percent of the participants who 'heard' phrases of four or more words in length went on to develop a schizophrenia-related illness during times that they were not taking olanzapine, said the lead author, Ralph Hoffman, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry. In contrast, only six percent of those in the study converted to schizophrenia-related illness if the phrases 'heard' were less than three words in length." – Article

Clearly this is not sufficient research to conclusively report the effectiveness of this type of screening tool, but it’s an interesting attempt. How long could it be until we are using simple white noise to render a diagnosis.

Detect anything meaningful?


April 11, 2008

Friday, April 11, 2008
As promised, here are some brief excerpts from my paper regarding the treatment of trichotillomania. This is simply a follow-up to the previous post: Assessment of Trichotillomania.

"Trichotillomania typically presents many challenges to effective treatment. The extant literature suggests that a minority of patients respond to a single intervention, for example, habit reversal or a specific pharmacological agent" (Christenson, Hollander & Stein, 1999, p. 93). Following careful investigation of data pertaining to treatment, findings point toward a high need for long-term controlled studies in order to determine the most appropriate methods for treating trichotillomania. The current research implies that there is no explicit procedure designed to be effective in all cases, rather because individuals have responded differently to various treatments and since studies have produced varied results, the ideal treatment could be some combination of techniques dependent on the individual. Because of this lack in concrete evidence to support the most successful method; this paper will explore the most effective treatment modalities currently in place. Accordingly, the existing appropriate methods are behavioural and pharmacotherapy or some combination of the two. There have been numerous techniques employed over the years; therefore a short review of these other methods will also be presented. [...]

Basically, in some form or another, HRT models consist of the following components: competing reaction training, awareness training, identifying response precursors, identifying habit prone situations, relaxation training, prevention training, habit interruption, positive attention (overcorrection), competing reaction, self-recording, display of improvement, social support and annoyance review (Christenson et al., 1999, p. 156). "Habit reversal training remains the most widely accepted treatment with the most convincing documentation of its efficacy" (Christenson et al., 1999, p. 161). [...]

Similar to behavioural treatment, pharmacotherapy has very little research to confidently support the most useful medications (Christenson et al., 1999, p. 171). Consequently, there has been a great deal of disagreement regarding the most effective medication to treat trichotillomania (Kelly et al., 2004, p. 5). That being said, there have been a multitude of medications prescribed over the years in an attempt to uncover the most effective drug. There is significant variability among medications due to the wide range of the disorder’s symptoms and the lack of long-term studies (Christenson et al., 1999, p. 96). [...]

"Treatment studies are plagued with conflicting results, a lack of large-scale controlled treatment trials, and limited long-term follow-up of patients" (Baer et al., 1998, p. 561). Because of this deficiency in terms of concrete support for the most effective method to treat trichotillomania; this paper has focused on exploring the most successful modalities presently in place. Therefore, behavioural and pharmacotherapy or some combination of the two have been considered as the most appropriate methods of treatment. Specifically, habit reversal treatment has proven to be the most successful form of behavioural treatment, while anti-depressants have been considered the most reliable medications currently being prescribed. In summary, thorough investigation has revealed a critical need for additional research of treatment modalities in order to ensure that the most effective methods are being applied in treating trichotillomania.


April 1, 2008

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A new study reveals that sex doesn’t have to last hours to be satisfactory. In fact, according to a recent survey, sexual intercourse need only last somewhere along a reasonable continuum of 3 to 13 minutes.

The survey was conducted by researchers Eric Corty and Jenay Guardiani of Penn State Erie. Fifty full members of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research offered their input regarding sexual intercourse satisfaction. Sixty-eight percent of the group responded to the survey. These members consisted of psychologists, physicians, social workers, marriage/family therapists and nurses.

The respondents established adequate sexual intercourse as lasting somewhere between 3 and 7 minutes and desirable intercourse lasted about 7 to 13 minutes. Sexual intercourse was seen as too short when it lasted from 1 to 2 minutes and 10 to 30 minutes was determined to be too long.

Previous research suggests that both men and women perceive sexual satisfaction as long-lasting sex sessions. Therefore, when sex lasts less time than anticipated each party suffers a let down. If only we could re-train our brains to believe that the best sex lasts only a short period of time, we might actually allow ourselves to feel more satisfied with our sex lives.



March 25, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

New research at Brigham Young University reveals a link between happily married adults and lower blood pressure. Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad discovered that men and women from happy marriages scored 4 points lower on 24 hour blood pressure monitoring than single adults. Furthermore, singles or unhappily married adults with good social supports did not show any improvement in ratings. The group with the highest blood pressure scores were those involved in unhappy marriages. Basically, the study implies that a happy marriage can provide health benefits.

The study observed 204 married and 99 single adults. Each wore blood pressure monitors for a 24 hour period. The monitors recorded roughly 72 times at random intervals including during sleep. Single adults completed questionnaires regarding their relationships with friends while married adults completed questionnaires regarding the relationship with their spouse.

Observations were noted regarding the drop in blood pressure during the night. "Research has shown that people whose blood pressure remains high throughout the night are at much greater risk of cardiovascular problems than people whose blood pressure dips."

A happy marriage will help to reduce stress and other negative factors impacting our health. The marriage bond acts as a continuous emotional support system. Caring spouses also encourage healthy habits.

The study’s results seem obvious in comparison to unhappy marriages, but it seems to be greatly lacking in information regarding other variables to assert that more positive health benefits result from a happy marriage than a happy single life.

The study did not give much detail regarding other aspects impacting on blood pressure scores, such as exercise habits, diet, smoking, employment type, financial status, presence of children, social life etc. Some of these could seriously impact the results.

It seems overzealous to suggest that a happy marriage is healthier than a social single life based on blood pressure results. The study doesn’t seem to have done much more than point out the obvious.

It would’ve been interesting to observe the differences in blood pressure levels over time for couples in counselling. Holt-Lunstad suggests that this could come next.


March 11, 2008

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Critics have long argued against the effects of video gaming. There is the typical claim that the prolonged use of video games reinforces violent behaviours among children. And, there’s the usual assertion that video gaming discourages exercise and physical activity.

With the advent of interactive video games some of these claims lose their strength. It seems that more and more benefits are being discovered through the use of the popular video game console, the Nintendo Wii. Some of these benefits include engaging seniors in social and/or physical activity, connecting stroke and spinal cord injury patients in a new form of rehab, also known as Wiihab, as well as assisting surgeons to sharpen their skills.

To add to that list, recently, the Nintendo Wii has been used for psychological experimentation. "By integrating the Nintendo Wiimote with a laboratory computer, psychologist Rick Dale and his student collaborators were able to extract rich information about a person’s reaching movements while they performed a learning task." This research provides further evidence to support the deep connection between body and mind.

Overuse of the Wii has proven to produce physical ailments similar to those acquired from real life sports, but like anything else, too much can be too much. If the Wii can increase the physical and mental alertness and strength of individuals in seniors’ residences and rehab centres or enhance surgical abilities and advance research; I’m game.

A few noteworthy articles:
Nintendo Wii With A New Mission: Wiimote As An Interface Bridging Mind and Body
Doctors use Wii games for rehab therapy after strokes, surgery
Wii gives seniors a virtual workout
Surgeons Hone Skills on Nintendo Wii


February 29, 2008

Friday, February 29, 2008
Finally, there’s more research suggesting the need to reduce the over-medicating of mental illness, specifically depression. The study conducted by Irving Kirsch of the University of Hull discovered that the benefits of anti-depressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac), venlafaxine (Effexor), nefazodone (Serzone), and paroxetine (Seroxat / Paxil), are dependent upon the severity of the mental illness.

The study used a meta-analysis of data retrieved from trials supplied by the US Food and Drug Administration. “When the data from all of these trials had been put together, the improvement in depression amongst patients receiving the trial drug, as compared to those receiving placebo (dummy tablets), was not clinically significant in mildly depressed patients or even in most patients who suffer from very severe depression” – Article

It comes as no surprise that only a small group of participants actually benefited from their medications, and these patients tended to be those who suffered from severe depression to begin with. The severely depressed reaped fewer benefits from the placebo and more benefits from the actual medication than those less depressed. This not only suggests that anti-depressants serve their purpose for those who are really suffering, but it clearly demonstrates that not everyone needs to be medicated to function. Over-medicating is a serious problem within our society because it does seem easier to slap on a Band-Aid as opposed to working through months or even years of therapy. Unfortunately, the social and monetary cost of clinical therapy does not seem plausible for everyone in our society, however it hardly seems ethical or even productive to convert the depressed into addicts.

In my opinion, medication should always be the last resort when alternative measures are more proficient in treating mental illness.


February 28, 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008
In recent news, Ottawa’s police Chief, Vern White has made some absurd statements with respect to drug dealing and welfare fraud. His force has decided to report a little over 100 drug dealers to welfare officials for fraud investigations in hopes of having them cut off social assistance. His views are portrayed in a manner that support the greater good of society by saying: “Our focus here, first of all, is to stop people from dealing drugs but secondly to ensure social assistance is provided to people for the right reasons and not for those people who continue to sell drugs and lie about their income”.

On the surface, this act appears to be appealing to the so-called tax payer, however if you glance beneath it seems that there is an ulterior motive. What impact would these sorts of headlines have? Is it really to scare the fraud out of other abusers? Is it to encourage the low-level dealers, who are likely barely surviving at the poverty level with their monthly social assistance cheque to cease taking in that extra cash under the table? Of course, fraud is never legal, but who in their right mind would report income from drug dealing. Some of these dealers may even be dealing to support a drug habit, a poverty stricken family, or even to cover a necessary medication not covered through a drug plan. Whatever the reason may be, threatening to cut their Ontario Works cheque is hardly fighting the war on drugs. Petty dealers are a dime a dozen.

The Chief may have an interesting strategy, but I hardly think he’s aiming at saving tax payer dollars. It seems that the real reason for this announcement is to coerce drug dealers into snitching on their suppliers. The president of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa, Mark Ertel, makes an interesting assumption: “You can either become an informant for the Ottawa police or you can be reported for committing welfare fraud”. Article

Granted this might have some impact on the drug epidemic, but the means is through blackmail. Drug dealers may not be the most upstanding citizens; however this type of strategy leaves no room for assistance for these individuals who may be suffering from addiction. Additionally, these addicts who are reported for fraud may stop milking the system, but they may begin committing other crimes to make up for that lost money.

The money these dealers make from committing welfare fraud certainly pale in comparison to the money that flows through the hands of those controlling the drug trade.



February 18, 2008

Monday, February 18, 2008

Today is Ontario’s first statutory holiday which celebrates the family. Our Premier Dalton McGuinty officially introduced this holiday after some 20 years of anticipating another day off. In our society work consumes a large majority of our time and energy.

In a time of constant change and the advent of newer technology which supposedly makes our lives easier, one would think that there would be much more time for family, however this is not the case at all. There is a huge pressure on workers to climb the corporate ladder and earn more money not only to survive but to make sure our family survives well. In 2005, Statistics Canada found that 40% of stressed out men and women attributed their strain to work pressures and the next 10% attributed their source of stress to money struggles.

Although, the province of Alberta has been profiting from this holiday for nearly 20 years now, many people, especially those who aren’t able to benefit from the time off, disagree with the introduction of this new holiday. A single day off means a few hours of work lost, however this doesn’t have to imply a loss in productivity. This leave allows workers the time to revitalize and de-stress in order to better cope with tomorrow. In actuality, the break may not only sustain productivity, but manage to improve it. This day represents a long overdue concern for our society’s mental health and if we’re fortunate enough we can even spend it with family.


February 14, 2008

Thursday, February 14, 2008
The following is a snippet of a recent paper that I have written regarding a disorder that seriously lacks attention:

“Late at night, I sit at the end of the sofa, pull the shade off the lamp and allow the bright light to expose hundreds of beautiful hairs. My focus is intense and with great concentration, I locate very fine hairs and pluck them. This gives me great pleasure and the sharp pain relaxes me. The concentration takes me away. I love releasing the once buried little hairs and pulling them. With great luck, I find the thick hairs, some with their black sac still attached. I save those hairs like trophies carefully laying them along the arm of the sofa, black against white. […] now I go to bed exhausted but satisfied.” (Penzel, 2003, p. 10)

This scenario depicts the experience of some sufferers of trichotillomania. The term can be traced back to 1889 when it was first defined by French physician Halipeau (Long, Miltenberger & Rapp, 2006, p. 133). The term itself is Greek in origin; trich refers to hair, tillo refers to pull, and mania refers to madness (Penzel, 2003, p. 2). There is a tendency for this disorder to be more common among females and to develop in childhood or early adolescence (Long et al., 2006, p. 137). Trichotillomania is also commonly associated with other disorders such as mood or anxiety (Long et al., 2006, p. 138). Common areas of pulling are the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, face, limbs, and pubic area (Penzel, 2003, p. 8). The physical and emotional costs of this disorder can be debilitating. A number of physical consequences may include calluses on finger tips, strain injuries such as in the neck and back, infections such as on the eyelids and pubic area, and the development of gastrointestinal problems from the swallowing of hair or what is called trichophagy (Penzel, 2003, p. 4). Subsequently, “feelings of shame, helplessness, isolation, and frustration can take a tremendous toll on sufferers” (Penzel, 2003, p. 5). Although, it is estimated to affect roughly 2.5 million people in the United States, the actual rate of occurrence is often inaccurate due to misdiagnoses and extraordinary attempts at disguising or concealing the disorder (Kelly, McCormick & White Kress, 2004, p. 2). The fourth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders currently groups trichotillomania with other Axis I impulse control disorders such as pyromania and kleptomania and is defined by the following criterion:

A. Recurrent pulling out of one’s hair resulting in noticeable hair loss.
B. Feeling of tension immediately before pulling hair out or when attempting to pull hair out.
C. Sense of pleasure, gratification, or relief when pulling out hair.
D. Hair pulling is not better explained by the presence of some other disorder.
E. Hair pulling causes significant distress and an impairment of the ability to function in an important area of one’s life. (Penzel, 2003, p. 2)

The assessment of trichotillomania is conducted through several non-standard and standard measures. The initial interview establishes the baseline and allows the clinician to gather a complete picture of the presenting behaviour and its effect on the individual’s life. Standardized tests help to assess the severity of the disorder; however there is an obvious deficiency in strong assessment measures and Breckenridge et al. (1999) suggest that this is in part due to the scales’ context (p. 168). Results from various studies suggest that a multi-method approach is most effective when assessing trichotillomania. “An ideal TM measure would include homogeneous subscales that measure situational variables, affective states, and sensory stimuli associated with hair pulling behaviour in addition to frequency, duration, and interference of symptoms” (Breckenridge et al., 1999, p. 168). To date, trichotillomania lacks answers to such questions as whether the disorder is conceptually related to OCD or more similar to other disorders such as skin picking (Penzel, 2000, p. 1). The controversy with respect to etiology has an extensive impact on assessment methods and tools. Inevitably, assessment influences treatment and treatment affects outcome, so this begs the question: are trichotillomaniacs obtaining appropriate benefits from current methods?


February 8, 2008

Friday, February 08, 2008
There already exists much evidence of low birth weights and pre-maturity among newborns of mothers that suffer stressful life events during pregnancy. "Chemicals released by the mother’s brain in response to stress may have an effect on the fetus’ developing brain. These effects may be strongest in early pregnancy, when protective barriers between the mother and fetus are not fully constructed."

Schizophrenia is believed to commence during early brain development; however environmental factors during a pregnancy may influence the risk of developing schizophrenia.

A study conducted by Ali S. Khashan of the University of Manchester suggests a likelihood of developing schizophrenia when a child’s mother experiences a stressful event during the first trimester of pregnancy.

The subjects in this study consisted of 1.38 million Danish births occurring between 1973 and 1995. A national registry was used to verify relatives of the mothers that either passed away or received a diagnosis of cancer, heart attack or stroke during the course of their pregnancy. Khashan found that during their pregnancies, the mothers of 21,987 children were exposed to the death of a relative, mothers of 14, 206 children were exposed to a relative receiving a diagnosis of cancer, heart attack or stroke, and most striking, 7,331 children observed had eventually developed schizophrenia.

Results illustrated a 67% greater risk of developing schizophrenia or other disorders when exposed to the death of a relative during the first trimester. Six months prior to pregnancy or any other time during the pregnancy held no significance in the development of schizophrenia. As well, the significance appeared only in those without a family history of mental illness.

Although, the study only assesses risk and is not suggesting any concrete findings, it would have been more informative to have knowledge the schizophrenics’ age at the end of the study in order to rule out any possible association with societal changes or social upheavals. Also, research on a more global perspective would certainly have supported the validity of the study. Overall however, this does provide a decent starting point for future research.



February 3, 2008

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The period of non-REM sleep essentially consists of the other four sleep stages and lasts between 90 and 120 minutes, while each individual stage lasts anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes in length.

A recent study by Matthew A. Tucker, PhD, of the Center for Sleep and cognition and the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has discovered that a short 45 minute non-REM nap during the afternoon can have important benefits for an individual’s declarative memory performance.

Declarative memory consists of accessible conscious memory, such as semantic memory which refers to factual knowledge and episodic memory which refers to theoretical knowledge.

The study demonstrated that compared to those with equivalent periods of wakefulness, a nap facilitated declarative memory performance for all who mastered the memory tasks during training.

"These results suggest that there is a threshold acquisition level that has to be obtained for sleep to optimally process the memory," said Dr. Tucker. The study suggests that a nap can help one to retain well-learned material.

Ironically, the study made no suggestions regarding sleep habits facilitating the acquiring of new information.


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