According to a survey published by the Commonwealth Fund and Social Science Research Solutions, a third of Americans reported feelings of stress, anxiety, and sadness that difficult to manage on their own. Researchers posit that the lack of universal health care coverage, financial problems, and the government’s pandemic response has impacted the mental health of Americans in a negative manner.

The FDA has approved a nasal spray called Spravato to treat suicidal patients. The drug was approved for those with treatment-resistant depression last year, but has also shown promise to reduce symptoms in suicidal patients in conjunction with therapy and other antidepressants. The drug, while FDA approved, is only administered by a health care provider and is not approved for home use.

Suicides in Japan have decreased in light of the COVID-19 lockdown. According to The Guardian, “the suicide rate in Japan fell by 20% in April compared with the same time last year, the biggest drop in five years.” The stay-at-home mandates affected about 40% of suicide prevention organizations that shut down or reduced workers’ hours. Also seeming to contribute to this drop includes the lack of commuting vs many people working long hours in the office.

In May, The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, a bipartisan bill, passed in the US Senate to make the national suicide prevention hotline a 3-digit number. Currently, the hotline is only accessible by the usual 10-digit number 1-800-273-TALK (8255). (If we’re honest, is not that easy to remember.) Should the bill pass in the House and get signed by the president, the number would be 9-8-8, however, the 10-digit number would still be valid.

A study published in General Hospital Psychiatry found that use of antidepressants among patients hospitalized with heart failure (HF) is associated with “minor depression, history of major depression, younger age, unemployment, white race, nonischemic heart failure, polypharmacy, and functional incapacity.” The study, held from 2014-2016, had 400 patients with HF enrolled and found that there was no increase in the patients with major depression taking antidepressants compared with those who did not have depression.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the LAist reports that the mental health of frontline workers, such as health care workers and first responders, may be in jeopardy. The article cites Dr. Joshua Morganstein who alludes to possible “psychological disorders, like depression and anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.”


KARE-TV 11 in Minneapolis-St. Paul reported that police brutality of unarmed Black Americans affects the mental health of Black Americans as a whole. Research published 2 years ago shows trauma is an illness that can negatively impact mental health. In this case, police killings negatively affected the mental state of Black adults. Alexander Tsai, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said that the trauma can manifest as “depression, anxiety or irritability” in adults.


WJLA-TV/ABC7 interviewed Dr. Alban Gaultier, an associate professor of neuroscience at the University of Virginia, about the potential for an antidepressant drug, fluvoxamine, to be used in the fight against COVID-19. The drug shows promise by “preventing[ing] dangerous overreactions by the immune system” induced by COVID-19. A clinical trial is currently underway at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. A possible answer could emerge as soon as 2 months from now.

Welcome to Philadelphia: where our judges like to jail kids in return for money

This isn't mental health related but it's a story despicable enough that I had to put it here. As if the Philly area didn't have enough murders and stuff going on, we've got judges who would rather get rich than be concerned with children's welfare.

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – Two judges pleaded guilty on Thursday to
accepting more than $2.6 million from a private youth detention center
in Pennsylvania in return for giving hundreds of youths and teenagers
long sentences.

–snip–

When someone is sent to a detention center, the company running the
facility receives money from the county government to defray the cost
of incarceration. So as more children were sentenced to the detention
center, PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare received more money from
the government, prosecutors said.

–snip–

One 17-year-old boy was sentenced to three months' detention for being in the company of another minor caught shoplifting.

Others were given similar sentences for "simple assault" resulting
from a schoolyard scuffle that would normally draw a warning, a
spokeswoman for the Juvenile Law Center said.

The Constitution guarantees the right to legal representation in
U.S. courts. But many of the juveniles appeared before Ciavarella
without an attorney because they were told by the probation service
that their minor offenses didn't require one.

Read the entire article.

Loose Screws Mental Health News No More

For the past 2+ years, I've had a feature called Loose Screws Mental Health News (LSMHN) in which I compiled various news and events relating to mental health and provided my take on it. Since I'm working on a professional website where I hope to do something similar (under a different title, different name, and much less snarkiness), I'm discontinuing the publication of it here.

While I still intend to comment on some of these stories (like an upcoming post on how the FDA refutes the Singulair-suicide link), they'll likely be limited to one post at a time.

Update as of 2/16/09: It's a woman's prerogative to change her mind.

Mental illness trend on the rise among troops

soldierThe AP is reporting that nearly one in every five soldiers who have been part of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan now suffer from clinical depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The researchers said 18.5 percent of current and former service members contacted in a recent survey reported symptoms of depression or post-traumatic stress. Based on Pentagon data that more than 1.6 million have deployed to the two wars, the researchers calculated that about 300,000 are suffering mental health problems.

“There is a major health crisis facing those men and women who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Terri Tanielian, the project’s co-leader and a researcher at Rand. “Unless they receive appropriate and effective care for these mental health conditions, there will be long-term consequences for them and for the nation.”

The trend of mental illness on the rise among soldiers isn’t a new story. I’ve written about the problem several times here, here, and here. The real question now is how the problem is being addressed.

Veterans Affairs is responsible for care of service members after they have leave the military. The Defense Department covers active duty and reservist needs.

Col. Loree Sutton, who heads a new Pentagon center on brain injury, said the Rand study will add to the work defense officials are doing. That includes researching best practices used inside the military and out, improving and expanding training and prevention programs, adding mental health staff and trying to change a military culture in which many troops are afraid or embarrassed to get mental health treatment.
“We’ve got to get the word out that seeking help is a sign of strength,” Sutton said.

She said officials have been working to add thousands more mental health professionals to help the uniformed psychiatrists, psychologists and others struggling to meet the wartime demands of troops and their families. Across the services, officials are trying to hire over 1,000 additional staff. Also, companies providing health care by contract to the Pentagon have added over 3,000 in the past year, and the U.S. Public Health Service has provided some 200, she said. Veterans Affairs has added some 3,800 professionals in the past couple of years, officials there said.

It sounds like the VA is doing all they can with what they’ve got at the moment to address this problem. According to the article, the hesitation among troops to seek help is slowly and steadily on the decline. That’s a good sign. However, a few impediments that can block this progress:

  • they worried about the side effects of medication,
  • they believed family and friends could help them with the problem, or
  • they feared seeking care might damage their careers.

Again, I think many of these problems stem from psychological issues and should be heavily addressed by psychologists who are specifically trained help them work through these problems. This is one instance where I would downplay the use of psych drugs and focus primarily on talk (CBT/DBT/counseling) therapy.

Loose Screws Mental Health News

In Deutsches Arzteblatt International, a medical health online journal, two researchers contend that depression in children can be manifested through “weeping, irritability, or defiance.” Professor Claudia Mehler-Wex and Dr. Michael Kolch point out the ways to spot depression in children of various ages:

The signs of depression in infants are often screaming, restlessness, and weeping attacks for no clear reason. Preschool children may behave irritably and aggressively, while schoolchildren may be listless and apathetic. The symptoms in adolescents become similar to those in adults.

I’m no professor, doctor, researcher, scientist or expert but here’s what I can tell you: Much of this behavior is normal for children. Infants scream, become restless, and weep because they want attention. Preschoolers can be irritable and aggressive because they didn’t get their nap time. Schoolchildren may be “listless and apathetic” because they don’t like school or they don’t get to play as often. Adolescents are a bit trickier – they’re basically young adults at this point and it’s difficult to tell whether they’re enduring teenage angst or true depression.

But the point of the article is how depression in children is different than that of adults. It is estimated that nearly “3.5% of children and 9% of adolescents in industrial countries are depressive.” It’s scary to think that INFANTS are included in the 3.5% figure.


Golden Gate Bridge Phone: Out of ServiceA man jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge in a suicide attempt and survived. Apparently, the GGB is a popular place for people to commit suicide:

Last summer, Marin County Coroner Ken Holmes released findings from a 10-year study on suicide trends from the Golden Gate Bridge. In his report, Holmes found that 206 people plunged to their deaths from 1997 to 2007, including 59 San Francisco residents, a group that formed the largest percentage — 29.6 — of the jumpers.

Check out the photo to the left. I think it’s incredibly helpful how the government keeps things running these days.

(Image from SFist)

Politics

Politics is a dangerous territory to discuss. Especially since there’s much emotion and fervor regarding this presidential race. I don’t normally discuss politics on this blog but this is something that has been bugging me as of late. I’d like to share my view with my readers so people can get a black woman’s perspective on this issue. By the way, I said “black” intentionally.

At this time, Senator John McCain is (pretty much) the Republican nominee. The Democratic nomination could go to either Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator Barack Obama. (I personally think Obama will end up winning the Democratic nomination, but that’s beside my point.)

This post addresses the highly popularized contest for the Democratic nomination between Clinton and Obama. In recent news, Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to ever run for vice president, said the following:

“If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”

Here’s my brief disclaimer: If you are so passionate about politics that my opinion might cause you to stop reading this blog, I suggest you don’t read any further. I also don’t plan on engaging in long debates about politics either; it’s too much of a merry-go-round. But, since you’re human, you’re probably going to click the link below anyway.

Continue reading “Politics”

Depression: Theory or fact?

UPI has an article on a study which finds that the media presents depression's "chemical imbalance" as a fact instead of a theory. According to Jeffrey Lacasse and Jonathan Leo, the DSM says "the cause of depression and anxiety is unknown." Lacasse and Leo asked members of the media to submit evidence that supports chemical imbalance as a fact but no one did. This finding comes after the near-damning U of Hull study that asserts antidepressants don't work much better than a placebo on the majority of depressed patients. If the efficacy of antidepressants are this dubious, how much more are antipsychotics?

This article gets me thinking about the idea of media responsibility. I feel like what we call "news" has reverted to the days of yellow journalism. Sometimes, even worse than that. While the majority of publications strive to adhere to ethical practices and accuracy, many major publications will resort to printing anything that sells — even if it's libelous. But I'm getting off track here.

I can't wholly blame the media for sensationalism on certain topics like depression.  Most of them aren't scientists or research experts – they only report what they're told. Take NIMH's explanation of the way medication works for depression:

Antidepressants work to normalize naturally occurring brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, notably serotonin and norepinephrine. Other antidepressants work on the neurotransmitter dopamine. Scientists studying depression have found that these particular chemicals are involved in regulating mood, but they are unsure of the exact ways in which they work.

NIMH isn't presenting the way antidepressants work as a theory. It's an authoritative paragraph that sounds as though it's fact. If the chemical imbalance that causes depression is only theory then one must conclude the way antidepressants work as a theory as well, no? The NIMH has a section that explains what causes depression:

There is no single known cause of depression. Rather, it likely
results from a combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and
psychological factors.

"Likely results" leaves the door open to interpret the sentence as "maybe it's a combination of…" However, most people aren't scrutinizing words that carefully. Most people see this: "Rather, it results from a combination of…" Yes, I'm being nitpicky but the word "likely" still strikes me with a more authoritative connotation than maybe or perhaps. Here's a quote from a recent report from a local news station News 8 Austin:

Depression is more than just a negative state of mind. There are physical changes that occur in the brain that disrupt that natural balance of chemicals called neurotransmitters. (emphasis mine)

There is no single factor that causes depression. In fact, many experts believe most cases
[sic] of depression are a result of several sources. (emphasis mine)  

Again, I'm being nitpicky. "There are" is an authoritative phrase. People are unlikely to argue with a statement that includes the verb "are." Take for example, "There are people outside" or "There are five cats at the door." There's no question in the speaker's mind about whether people exist outside or the number of cats at the door. With subjects like depression that involve psychiatry and neuroscience, the majority of people aren't going to question these assertions either. I'm surprised that second paragraph didn't read, "many experts say …" Unless you're an expert yourself, you'd be unlikely to argue on what an expert says versus what the expert believes.

While I appreciate Lacasse and Leo's study on the inaccurate way depression is presented in the media, the "authoritative" sources on the issue would be loathe to correct it. Right now,  the big picture of raising awareness about depression is more important than to correct a trivial thing about the chemical imbalance being a theory. Pharmaceutical companies don't like correcting minor nuisances like theories.

To sum it up, I think the idea of a chemical imbalance causing depression is a theory. That's not a dubious statement. Unless it depends on your definition of what is is. 

Blogs vs. Mainstream Media

“Mr. [James B.] Gottstein, [a lawyer from Alaska, who was pursuing unrelated litigation for mentally ill patients in his state], sends [Dr. David Egilman, a consulting witness in ongoing litigation against Lilly] a subpoena for copies. Hell begins breaking loose.” – Tom Zeller, Jr. in The New York Times

I think Furious Seasons originally linked to this (I can’t remember the source of the post), but I read this on the NYT and had a few thoughts, regarding brick-and-mortar courts vs. “teh Internets.”

Warning: Rant ahead.

I can’t help but think back to the 2004 showdown between Dan Rather and CBS (endearingly named Rathergate) vs. political blogs regarding a memo about George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. From NewsMax:

“Added [Matthew] Sheffield [of RatherBiased.com]: A virtual think-tank was born… Forty-seven posts later, a person who called himself ‘Buckhead’ offered the proposition that he thought the documents were forgeries.’

Sheffield and his Web site jumped on the bandwagon, searching the Web for experts on 1970’s typewriters. Another blogger site, PowerlineBlog.com, raised the question of forgery. ‘Matt Drudge and his DrudgeReport.com then linked to the Powerline piece, and the story took off,’ recounted Sheffield.”

Someone please tell Drudge about Zyprexa, Risperdal, Cymbalta, Seroquel, Abilify, and blah blah blah, psych med, blah blah blah.

“Some media observers now contend the “Blogosphere” is rapidly replacing CBS and the rest of the mainstream media.

“You’ll note that several blogs rank higher than mid-size daily newspapers and some are pushing the sites of papers in the top 50 (by daily circulation). The data suggest that the question isn’t “When will blogs arrive?” but rather “Blogs HAVE arrived, what now?” [said Kevin Aylward of Wizbangblog.]”

I’ll probably have a string of quotes from the newsmax article, but I will eventually get to my point.

I quoted this previously, but it’s worth requoting:

“It’s great that [Philip] Dawdy [of Furious Seasons] has stepped up for a huge, mainly voiceless population, but on the other hand, it’s weird to see citizen journalists so responsible for watchdogging our mental health industry. When we hear newspapers complain about declining readership, we can’t help but think it’s mainly because — gosh, this is awkward — the shit they’re reporting on isn’t newsworthy. And this shit is.” – Seattlest

Continue reading “Blogs vs. Mainstream Media”