More Loose Screws Mental Health News

I’ve been kind of out of the mental health news bit for a while but I’m going to blog about what I can and forget the rest. I don’t have the unlimited time to devote to it like I used to and there are so many other blogs that are way ahead of me. Makes me wonder why I blog about some of this stuff sometimes.

Anyway, instead of dwelling on my pointlessness in cyberspace, I bring you more mental health news…

Pennsylvania becomes the latest state in Wal-mart’s new push to offer a 30-day’s supply of generic drugs at the low, low price of $4!  The average price of a generic drug, according to the Bucks County Times article is $28.92. D-Mac on Will Do names Paxil, as one of a host of anti-depressants that have generics to be offered for cheap. Wal-mart, as with everything they sell, buys so much of the generic drugs in bulk that they are able to sell them cheaply and still make a profit.  Don’t expect pharmacies like CVS or Eckerd’s to follow suit though. The article adds that those companies thrive on “convenience and location.” Meh, if your insurance is accepted at Wal-mart, go for it. I just feel sorry for the poor mom and pop pharmacy store on the corner.

Interesting: depressed people and alcoholics have asymmetrical brain activity.

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Loose Screws Mental Health News

President BushIn an interesting turn, a student at Southern Connecticut State University has discovered a correlation between voting for George W. Bush and mental illness. I’ll refrain from political comment.

The Nassau Guardian, a Bahamian news site, has an article on myths about mental illness and how people should deal with it. The myths come in the form of bad grammar, i.e., “Chile ain’t a thing I can do for no crazy people,” but the responses to the myths are in proper grammar and are actually quite informative.

In Massachusetts, more than 100,000 children who need treatment for mental illness aren’t receiving it:

“Out of nearly 1.5 million children in Massachusetts, 146,419 need mental health services and 102,493 don’t receive the treatment they need, the report estimated.”

Finally, the Clinical Psychiatry and Psychology blog I read occasionally has noted that paroxetine (Paxil and Seroxat) increases the risk of suicide attempts versus placebos. The blogger claims this is the case with most SSRIs. Is this evidence that people are better off on placebos than actual medication?

Martyr or terrorist?

Malachi RitscherI previously wrote about Malachi Ritscher, who lit himself on fire and died as an act of protest against the war in Iraq. The sad part is that no one has heard about it. Only time will tell whether the blogosphere takes his self-immolating act and runs with it on the heels of “martyrdom.” Richard Roeper, a Chicago Sun-Times columnist, calls his “last gesture on the planet” his “saddest and his most futile.” What’s disconcerting is that he wants to spread a message of peace and end the war in Iraq, however, he names his only regret as not killing Donald Rumsfeld at a supposed prime opportunity. In his mind, the trade-off was valuable: Murdering the former Secretary of Defense in exchange for somehow saving the lives of thousands of U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. (As much as I didn’t care for Mr. Rumsfeld, I’m keen enough to realize that killing him is not a solution to end the war in Iraq.) Which has prompted discussion on Ritscher’s mental state and his depiction as a supposed martyr. Personally, I think he definitely exhibited psychotic features in his actions, his words and unfortunately, his death. No doubt this man had a mental illness of some kind. The lesson that should be learned from his death is not awareness about the deaths from the war in Iraq but a renewed attempt  at understanding  mental illness with psychotic features.

Celebrity Sensitivity: Jamie-Lynn Sigler

Jamie-Lynn SiglerJamie-Lynn Sigler of Sopranos fame admitted that she struggled with suicidal thoughts while battling anorexia.

She says, “I really just said, ‘Why can’t I be normal? Why can’t I be happy? I have everything. I just don’t understand. I don’t want to live anymore.’ It got to the point where it was so overwhelming that suicide seriously crossed my mind.”

Latest mental health news

Bebe Moore CampbellMalachi RitscherBebe Moore Campbell, an African-American novelist who was involved in mental health issues, has passed away. The NYTimes has a write-up about her and Liz Spikol has written a post in her memory.

Also, an interesting article: Malachi Ritscher, an activist who was vehemently against the war in Iraq, committed suicide by lighting himself on fire on a bridge to make a statement. Debate surrounding his death rages as people attempt to determine whether this was a man who was seriously mentally ill or extremely passionate about the war. Apparently, he’s popular enough now to get his own entry in Wikipedia.

Quote of the Week

"When I hear somebody sigh, ‘Life is hard,’ I am always tempted to ask, ‘Compared to what?’ — Sydney J. Harris

Saturday Stats

"More than 80 percent of those who seeks treatment for clinical depression show improvement." – National Mental Health Association

Loose Screws Mental Health News: Suicide slide

Andre WatersLiz Spikol from The Trouble with Spikol wrote a beautiful “elegy for the living,” as she calls it. It’s sad and thought-provoking.

In a related story – actually she found it first – the AP reports that suicides are most commonly done by the elderly, especially older white men.

And finally, Andre Waters, a former Eagle defensive back, shot and killed himself. He was 44.

Quote of the Week

"Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul." — Emily Dickinson

Saturday Stats

"Several studies have found that many older adults who die by suicide – up to 75 percent – have visited a primary care physician within a month of their suicide." – National Institute of Mental Health

Bipolar disorder

“Avalanche is sullen and too thin / She starves herself to rid herself of sin / And the kick is so divine when she sees bones beneath her skin / And she says /Hey baby can you bleed like me? / C’mon baby can you bleed like me” ~ Garbage, “Bleed Like Me”

Medication bottlesI went to the psychiatrist Wednesday and received the oddest diagnosis of my life: he told me that I’ve got bipolar disorder and that I’m on the wrong medication.

For most of my life, I’ve been convinced that I’ve had major depressive disorder and nothing else. When I was a teenager, I thought I might have been bipolar (age 15-19) but my manic side gradually faded with puberty and I became much more of a depressive.

This is the first doctor or psychiatrist in the history of my life to ever tell me that I’m bipolar. At first, I thought he got his diagnosis wrong. “I can’t be bipolar, I’m not really manic. I don’t spend a lot of cash – well, not recently anyway – I don’t experience euphoric states quite often and I don’t have feelings of grandiosity. And I don’t engage in risky behaviors, you know. I don’t drink or do drugs. I’m a good girl. I can’t be bipolar.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Officials Clash Over Mentally Ill in Florida Jails

Officials Clash Over Mentally Ill in Florida Jails

Wow. You know something is a problem when the state judicial branch needs to enforce things.

prison bed“For years, circuit judges here have ordered state officials to obey Florida law and promptly transfer severely mentally ill inmates from jails to state hospitals. But with few hospital beds available, Gov. Jeb Bush’s administration began flouting those court orders in August.

Now, in a growing standoff between the government of Florida and its judges, the state is being threatened with steep daily fines if it does not comply. And at least one judge has raised the possibility that the secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families could go to jail for contempt of court.

State law requires that inmates found incompetent to stand trial be moved from county jails to psychiatric hospitals within 15 days of the state’s receiving the commitment orders. Florida has broken that law for years, provoking some public defenders to seek court orders forcing swift compliance.

With the state now rebuffing even those orders, a rising number of mentally ill inmates, now more than 300, have been left without treatment in crowded jails because the state’s 1,416 psychiatric beds are full.

Two mentally ill inmates in the Escambia County Jail in Pensacola died over the last year and a half after being subdued by guards, according to news reports. And in the Pinellas County Jail in Clearwater, a schizophrenic inmate gouged out his eye after waiting weeks for a hospital bed, his lawyer said.”

In the hospital

Originally written on October 13, 2006

“You strike me as a very outgoing, charismatic person. Someone that people would be attracted to.” — Nurse on my psych unit

Really? No kidding. To add to that, she says, “I wish you would see yourself as I do.”

Why, her opinion matter more than my husband’s, I don’t know; it shouldn’t. I’m tempted to ask, “Why do people say that to me all the time?” And then I have to answer myself, “Well, maybe what they’re saying is true!”

dramaI’ve only clung to one positive statement in my whole life. My theater teacher in high school once told me, “You have an amazing stage presence.” There was a ‘but’ that followed it but it’s the only negative ‘but’ I’ve ignored. (And it really wasn’t all that negative.) Armed with that statement, I’ve set out to act again. He was right — the ‘but’ was that I don’t seem to have a passion for it but according to others, I’m a natural. Veteran actors in my first play couldn’t tell I was a first-time actress. High praise, indeed.

I’m confident about my acting skills that I’m not passionate about but I lack confidence in most everything else — my writing, my singing, who I am, what I do… what sense do I make? I’m an anomaly.

So on my list of staving off the blues, I’ll add, “Recite a self-positive affirmation in the morning and meditate on it through the day.” My first 24 hours in the hospital and I’ve got a real and attainable goal for the next day. So far tomorrow, here is my positive affirmation:

“I am not worthless.”

My self-positive affirmations should directly combat any self-negative thoughts:

Negative thought Positive affirmation
1. I am unloved. 1. I am loved.
2. I am ugly. 2. I am pretty.
3. I am stupid. 3. I am smart.
4. I am incompetent. 4. I am competent.
5. I am worthless. 5. I am not worthless.

The pattern is to use truth to combat a lie. This is particularly difficult especially since it’s second nature for me to say negative things about myself. (In a moment of mistakes, I cry, “Oh, I’m such an idiot!”) This is a bad habit and it needs to stop. Those who suffer from depression don’t need to say this at all. Overly critical spirits need overly lenient spirits (because too lenient is never lenient enough when it comes to self). In the face of making a mistake, I need to say, “Dang it, I made another mistake! But mistakes happen and I need to learn what I can do to avoid this again.” (But don’t be so harsh on yourself if you’re having a random bad/klutzy day — laugh it off instead of getting frustrated.)

My challenge: Daily self-positive affirmations to combat negative thoughts.

Today’s mood: 7

Mood swings and caffeine

coffeeA thought — Could caffeine trigger mood swings so big enough in me that it would produce suicidal ideations? Possibly.

Mood System

“They have a chart and a graph/ Of my despondency/
They want to chart a path/ For self-recovery/ And want to know/
What I’m thinking / What motivates my mood” ~ Sara Groves, “Maybe There’s A Loving God”

Mood chart

October was a tumultuous month that will be reported about over the next couple of days. I ended up in a “behavioral” (see psychiatric) hospital for 7-8 days then on the 24th of October entered a day program (see intensive outpatient therapy) for 9 days. During the day program, I encountered a series of questions I had to answer each morning. The first and most important among them was rating our mood.

The mood system worked on a numerical system from 0-10. The system varied between individuals, but here’s the system that I worked out in my head (using the day program’s guidelines somewhat):

0 – Severely depressed, suicidal and/or homicidal, requires immediate inpatient treatment, unable to function (in daily activities)
1 – Severely depressed, potentially suicidal and/or homicidal, should be closely watched, inpatient treatment may be necessary, unable to function
2 – Severely depressed, somewhat suicidal and/or homicidal, should be occasionally monitored, no inpatient treatment necessary, unable to function
3 – Moderately depressed, possible thoughts of suicide and/or homicide, should be occasionally monitored, great difficulty functioning
4 – Mildly depressed, passing thoughts of suicide and/or homicide, monitoring recommended but not necessary, some difficulty functioning
5 – Not depressed but not joyful either, in a state of existence, “emotionally numb,” no suicidal and/or homicidal ideations, no monitoring necessary, some ability to function, borderline mood (potential for instant change to a 4 or 6)
6 – Mildly joyful, content, no suicidal and/or homicidal ideations, low functioning problems
7 – Moderately joyful, upbeat, little to no functioning problems
8 – Moderately joyful, happy, optimistic, positive, no functioning problems
9 – Extremely joyful, happy, optimistic, cheerful, positive, “in a good mood,” “feel great,” no functioning problems
10 – Extremely joyful, manic, happy, energetic, euphoric, optimistic, cheerful, self-confident, positive, excited, giddy, ability to function may vary (inability to no functioning problems)

I’ll rarely be found at a 10. Most of the time I bounce between 4 and 7. 10 isn’t necessarily a problem as long as it’s not a mood that lasts consistently. It’s not out of the ordinary to feel a 10 on a wedding day or at a graduation, but waking up in the middle of a normal routine as a 10 is out of the ordinary — especially if someone is known to struggle with depression.

So that’s my new mood system that will be now be found at the bottom of each entry. I hope it can help some people. I know it has certainly helped me and my husband.

Mood: 6

Update: This mood chart has been modified as of December 30, 2008.

What a Not-So Novel Idea!

Jotting down a few ideas:

Brain scanHow about a psychiatrist does a blood test on, oh say, 10 different people who seem to have depression… chart symptoms of the same kind, check to see if blood levels are the same or similar, low or high blood pressure, regular pulse, etc? Maybe perform an MRI of the brain and monitor brain activity as the brain is triggered by happy thoughts and then sad thoughts…? What would be the difference (if any)? How about a thyroid check? Why isn’t there a way to measure dopamine and serotonin levels? How can we accurately treat these different neurotransmitters in people if there isn’t a current way to test for those transmitter levels?

Really, I’m not thinking anything new. Hasn’t anyone already thought of/done this?

It also strikes me that when it comes to treating mental illness, neurologists and psychiatrists need to function as one unit.

Just Like Anyone

(Originally written October 10, 2006)

Just like anyone…
…or just like a statistic.

nooseI find myself crumbling under the weight of a variety of things: a full-time job (I swear, I don’t remember part-time jobs being this frustrating), a micromanaging manager, a job I constantly feel like I cannot get the hang of, computer programs that cause me nothing but frustration, and a therapy group that is dominated by one member. All of these things seem so small — so trite — but in my mind, they’ve accumulated to a point where I’m ready to collapse.

My thoughts have remained focused on suicide. I think about it often — passing thoughts during the day or serious plans several times a week. I can’t joke about suicide without a stern look from my husband followed by an explanation: “But the sample lotion DID look like it decided to jump off the cabinet ledge and plunge to its death in the sink! I can’t take this mundane life of being a sample lotion anymore! Aaaah!”

Well, I thought it was funny.

I have various detailed plans that have involved scarves, household items, knives, cars… you get the idea.

I don’t come from the “glass is half-full” mentality. Whenever I’m depressed/suicidal, I’ve heard over and over, “It won’t last” or “This too shall pass.” Last and pass, my foot. Like a dreary, rainy day, the clouds break to allow just a bit of sun — enough to give some hope — and then the clouds return and the grey, light drizzle continues.

Events in my life are “grey, light drizzles.” Pouring rain I can handle. I don’t like it but I can deal. Losing my dad several years ago hurt but I managed a brave face. Losing a parent doesn’t happen every day — it isn’t even occasional. It happens twice (biologically speaking here) and that’s it. Annoyances at a job, frustrations with people, and grievances with self are every day. Once the light drizzles last long enough, I’m pretty sure that the sun becomes out of the ordinary instead of the norm. Therefore, suicide is a pretty important topic for me and one that probably will be dealt with on an ongoing basis.

Although with my morbid thoughts, I can’t help but wonder: What would it be like to have been friends with me once I’ve succeeded at suicide? A song by Aimee Mann helps to entertain that thought:

So maybe I wasn’t that good a friend
But you were one of us
And I will wonder
Just like anyone
If there was something
Else I could have done

So maybe it’s true that
Your cry for help
Was oh so very faint
But still I heard and
Knew something was wrong
Just nothing you could
Put your finger on
And I will wonder
Just like anyone

Just like anyone

Yes, yes, I know. Suicide’s a selfish act and I’m a pretty selfish person, but I’m tired of being selfless and living for other people. It’s time I did something for myself.

Small admission: I’m actually quite afraid of succeeding but I’m not afraid of attempting. What an anomaly! Why attempt if you don’t hope to succeed? I don’t buy the “it’s a cry for help” excuse. As I observe my daily life, my natural instinct is to run away from danger — to get out of the way of a taxi. Those who succeed in committing suicide weren’t afraid of death and really WANTED to take away their lives.

But I’ve never had access to a gun. I’m sure if I did, I would have been long gone by now. You can’t screw up pulling a trigger. Or in my case, probably.

Listening to upbeat music

“She’s gonna step outside / Uncover her eyes / Who knew she could feel so
alive / Her M.O.’s changed / She don’t wanna behave / Ain’t it good to be a brave girl tonight?” — Britney Spears, “Brave New Girl”

Paris HiltonListen to upbeat music you like. Avoid depressing, moody lyrics, rhythms or melodies.

I have a confession to make: I bought Paris Hilton’s debut album.

In my opinion, it’s not the awful atrocity people claim it is. But that’s mostly because she had the money to buy some of the best producers in the music industry to mix and fix her average (not bad but not good) singing.

Her album is a mix of pop and R&B. Think Hilary Duff and Jennifer Lopez songs on the same album. And yeah, yeah, even through in some Puerto Rican Fat Joe.

While people would mock me for such an atrocious purchase (it was under $10 — I wasn’t willing to pay more), it made me happy. Paris’ music, while focusing on how sexy she is and how all the guys want her, make me kinda happy. The melodies and rhythm lift my spirts and make my less than happy moods a little bit brighter. Not to say that’s true of everyone — the music would provide sheer annoyance for my husband.

On the contrary, however, I choose my music to match my mood. Aimee Mann’s songs and lyrics tend to be a staple for my depression. When I’m depressed, the last thing I want to hear is about hope, joy, fun and how everything is so bright.

But these are the very words I need to hear during my dark days. Instead of having lyrics like “You don’t look like anyone that anyone would care about,” I should be listening to something more like “It’s all gonna be OK” or “Spread your wings and soar.”

This makes me wonder if pop music is my cure-all… or at least part of my experimental therapy… But I can’t get rid of my Nirvana Unplugged CD. It’s more nostalgia than holding onto depressing music. (I succeeded in giving away my very much coveted Nine Inch Nails Downward Spiral CD. That album DROVE me to pure suicide.)

P.S. I don’t particularly like most pop stars themselves — Paris Hilton included — but as an honest person, I’ll pay my dues to listen to something I like.

Quote of the Week

"It is never too late to be what you might have been." — George Eliot

Saturday Stats

"Of all people with major depression, 15 percent will end their lives by suicide." – Dr. Richard O’Connor, Undoing Depression

Be firm but kind

"Somehow I will impress them / I will be firm but kind"
— Maria from The Sound of Music

Be firm but kind.

This piggybacks on the heels of non-compliance, "be able to say no." When a person says no, he or she should not feel guilty or waver. Apologizing for your no means you don't have your own mind (THERE ARE TIMES when it is okay to do this, however). Changing a "no" to a "yes" means you're, well, compliant — you're eager to please (there are occasional exceptions to this as well). Being rude with a "no" shows a lack of control. (There are no exceptions that allow rudeness.)

"But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one." – Jesus from Matthew 5:37

Apologizing for your "no"
I struggle with this. Whenever I can't do something, I am always tempted to say "sorry" for no other reason than saying "sorry" is a bad habit.

Example: Your boss comes to you at 2 p.m. and asks you to stay past your normal 9-5 p.m. shift until 7 p.m. You already made plans for 7 p.m. so you can't do it. Most people say, "No, I'm sorry, I can't, but think about it: Are you really sorry? The appropriate response should be "No, I can't, I've already made plans for this evening." Bonus points for "If it's not urgent, I'll work on it tomorrow" only if you can fit it in your workload. If you can't (no bonus points here) DON'T DO IT.

Exceptions to this: When you are genuinely apologetic or are expressing sorrow. If you've taken on a task and realize that you cannot do it, offering an apology with a "no" any smooth ruffled feathers.

Changing "no" to "yes"
Don't do this often. Avoid it whenever possible. Changing a "no" to "yes" often shows that you have no backbone and are all too eager to please—which may be true, but you'd pay for it in the long run. People would take advantage of this knowing you'll change your mind because you always "come around." Don't fall into this trap and don't be fooled into always coming through at the last minute.

Example: Marie worked as a pharmacy technician at her local pharmacy. She was reliable, always on time and never said no when managers or coworkers asked her to accomplish a task. After two years of solid part-time work, she began getting calls at home on her day off to come into work at the last minute. Even though she had homework for college and studying to do, she would justify "coming through" at the last minute because she really needed the money and that they must really like her because she was the first person the manager called. Soon, Marie found herself working 6-7 days a week with a seemingly full-time status. Marie quickly became burned out and quit the pharmacy to focus on school. The pharmacy even called after she quit to rehire her (!) but Marie had all she could take – she was finally forced to quit and say "no." If Marie had learned her limit early on, she probably could have managed work and school easily.

Being rude
"No" does not need to be synonymous with nasty. Being firm and sticking to your guns is not mean at all. It shows that you've drawn your boundaries and there are limits to what you can (or will) do. "No" can be said politely, with a smile, firmly or even sternly. But turning a "no" into a "how could you even think of asking me that with my busy schedule" is unnecessary. Inevitably, feelings may get hurt with the word "no" but that's not being rude; what is rude is saying "yes" then not being able to come through as expected, i.e. dropping the ball. Save face by learning your limits early and saying "no" up front.

Updating on the regular

"Back to life, back to reality…"

I’ve been away from the blog for quite some time. At least three weeks, I’m sure. I have handwritten blog entries but nothing that I’ve been able to put up on a computer. I was hospitalized for about 7-8 days and then underwent intensive outpatient therapy for another 2 weeks. I still suffer from depression and occasional anxiety attacks. As of the past four days, I’ve had frequent migraines. In all honesty, however, I think my migraines are much more hormone-related right now than anything else.

So over the next couple of days, I’ll be post "back" entries – entries which should have been published weeks ago but haven’t. Mood updates will reflect a scale of 0-10 (more to be explained in another post).

I’m feeling very disorganized, very out-of-touch and very lost. I’ve also self-diagnosed myself as having "avoidant personality disorder." This probably contributes to my depression on such a wide scale like I can’t even imagine.

So I can’t promise all-new, consistent updates. But I’ll try to have meaningful posts up here with my thoughts and feelings. That’s all this blog is anyway – a compilation of all my thoughts and feelings. If you’re lucky, you get a glimpse of it.

Quote of the Week

"You don’t have to control your thoughts; you just have to stop letting them control you." — Dan Millman

Saturday Stats

"Estimates are that 6 million elderly persons suffer from some form of depresion, but that three-quarters of those cases are undiagnosed and untreated, despite regular routine medical care." – Dr. Richard O’Connor, Undoing Depression