Monday, April 25, 2011

Facebook Now a Concern as Cause for Depression

CHICAGO, Ill., - Every one remembers their high school days and trying to fit in and become popular. Kids who didn’t feel popular could leave that behind once the left school grounds.

But as mass social networks like MySpace, Twitter and Facebook grow, there seems no escaping social hierarchy. A recent study done by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows being de-friended, or being shunned by Facebook friends is actually more harmful to a child than the friends they have in real life.

In this study, Gwenn O' Keefe, AAP head researcher and pediatrician has said that social media “interferes with homework, sleep and physical activity among the young.”

Najiba Helmi, a mother of a 13-year-old avid Facebook user, “My daughter is constantly on Facebook, and there is always drama in her classroom about cyber bullying. Kids were always capable of being cruel, but bullying someone in the public eye is just plain brutal.”

“If someone removes me from as a friend, I would say it would bother me. I know that when people post things about other students in my class, their feelings get really hurt. Even at school you can tell that they're sad,” say's Helmi's daughter Kathleen.

Keefe wants parents to understand how to use the popular social network to be able to monitor their children's pages to prevent children attaining low self-esteem.This suggests that parents should take more initiative to control how much facebook is use, before the use becomes an obsession, causing a child to constantly reflect on their social status and where they stand on the social hierarchy.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Suicide Hotlines Spread Hope

Tulsa, Okla. – The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL), or 1-800-273-TALK, opened its’ 150th crisis center this year with Family & Children’s Services in Tulsa, Okla., giving the hotline a presence in 49 states and further hope for those considering suicide.
     The NSPL is a free, 24-hour hotline for anyone with serious emotional distress or suicidal thoughts. The new hotline at Family & Children’s Services will be answering calls from the Tulsa County area and help address the 30,000 suicides that take place in the United States every year.
     “Being a crisis line worker is about reaching out to those who feel they can’t keep going. Our goal is to let people know they aren’t alone and that there are people out there that care about their well-being,” explained Michelle Vos, volunteer coordinator at the National Runaway Switchboard who works in collaboration with NSPL and other crisis hotlines across the country.
      Because suicide rates have tripled in the last 50 years, the role of crisis workers has become more prevalent and prominent. As suicide awareness spreads, via National Suicide Prevention Week or through popular websites like PostSecret that advocates sharing mental health secrets to reduce the stigma attached to them, suicide hotlines and online services will continue to meet the needs of the growing population choosing to seek help.
     Now more than ever we can have conversations that weren’t possible before; we can hear the unheard voices and the untold stories,” said Frank Warren, creator of PostSecret and advocate of another suicide hotline, Hopeline, at a Depaul Univeristy PostSecret event.
   The NSPL network welcomes the continued addition of other crisis centers to help address suicide. If your organization is interested, please e-mail the Director of Network Development for the NSPL, Lidia Bernik, at

Larissa Rymko

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Alzheimer’s Drug May Benefit Patients with Frontotemporal Dementia

In a partnership with University of California—San Francisco (UCSF), Northwestern University is conducting a study to determine if Namenda, a drug used to treat Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), can double as a treatment for Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD).

Namenda (memantine) is used to decrease abnormal activity in the brain of patients suffering from AD. According to the Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, Namenda may reduce damage done to brain cells of those suffering from FTD, Alzheimer’s lesser-known cousin.

Both AD and FTD are forms of dementia. While AD is more likely to occur in men and women over age 60 and works its way into different parts of the brain, FTD generally appears earlier, between ages 40-60, and affects the frontal temporal lobe in the brain.

Both diseases devastate parts of the brain involving memory, language, behavior and motor functions. These behavior changes are not only embarrassing and hugely debilitating for those who suffer from FTD, but also for their caregivers.

While there is no cure for FTD, Namenda may stall the behavioral decline characteristic of FTD patients. Robert Nicholson, the research coordinator for the eight-month study, said he could not comment on the efficacy of the medication because the study is ongoing.

The UCSF-sponsored study will take place at Northwestern’s clinic. Volunteers, who must be already diagnosed with FTD, will undergo extensive memory testing, thinking skill evaluations, and physical and neurological exams. Volunteers will also take Namenda or a placebo pill twice a day.

Kristine Lipowski, the study’s coordinator, said Northwestern is looking to enroll eight more subjects by this summer. There will be 14 total. “We should have the results by April or May of next year,” she said.

-Kate Midden

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Synesthesia is cool.

The American Synesthesia Association announced that the Ninth Annual National Conference will be held at the University of California San Diego on October 14 - 16, 2011.

Synesthesia is a rare disorder where two senses interact with one another simultaneously. For example, Tori Amos, one of the more famous synesthetes, sees color when she hears music. Letters can also be seen as color and vice versa. Synesthesia is believed to be hereditary and caused by a cross-activation of regions of the brain that control sound and sight.

The idea of Synesthesia has been around since antiquity when ancient Romans wondered if sound could be interpreted corporeally. A few thousand years later, thanks to the advent of the internet, Synesthesia organizations have been popping up around the world. Not just in America, but the UK, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands all have organizations.

These organizations are comprised of different types of synesthetes working together under a commonality. Specifically, the American Synesthesia Association is a not-for-profit organization that provides information to synesthetes and furthers research on synesthesia. The ASS’s mission is to promote the education and advancement the phenomena of synesthesia. The ASA provides information to scientists, health professionals, academicians, researchers, artists, writers, musicians, and people with or without synesthesia.

Some other more well-known synesthetes are: Duke Ellington (Jazz Musician), Billy Joel (Rock Musician), Franz Liszt (Classical Composer), Patrick Stump (Rock Musician), Pharrell Williams (Rap Musician), Stevie Wonder (R&B/Jazz Musician).

Tackling Mental Illness Through Teamwork

For over 20 years, Richard O’Donnell has been constantly reminded of his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam. He would have difficulty leaving the house, whether from being exhausted by his nightmares or feelings of social anxiety.
Like many war veterans, O’Donnell suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Individuals with PTSD experience a multitude of symptoms ranging from nightmares to depression. Feelings of social anxiety and difficulty reacclimating to civilian society often exacerbate the effects, with veterans struggling to maintain relationships with family and friends.

O'Donnell and Smokee

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Soul Work: Depression Amongst African American Women

While most students joined fraternities and sororities, established friendships and enjoyed the college life at Tennessee State University, Veronica Grayson*, 22, of Chicago, felt alone. Grayson’s friends transferred schools at the conclusion of freshman year. With a fear of not being accepted, Grayson found it difficult to make new friends and she felt alone.

Junior year, Grayson returned home, transferring to the University of Illinois-Chicago. Being home brought comfort, but her troubles didn’t cease. With a lack of black student organizations on campus, Grayson felt sorority life was the only way to make friends, but fear of acceptance, again, worried her.

“I’m the new girl, everyone has friends, and I’m trying to make friends,” Grayson states. “I was scared of having to put myself in situations where people had to decide if they liked me, so I decided to be alone.”
Isolating herself from her peers, Grayson became overwhelmed with loneliness and began to care less about her life. She abandoned her friends and withdrew from her environment, two signs of clinical depression.

Nearly 20 million Americans suffer from depression each year. African-American women are affected more than any other group in the U.S. In 2009, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that only 12 percent of African-American women receive treatment for their depression, the number one cause of suicides in this country. So why aren’t more African-American women receiving treatment? Some aren’t knowledgeable of depression’s symptoms, but for those who are and acknowledge that they’re depressed, a stigma within the African-American community prevents them from seeking treatment. This same stigma is responsible for the scarce research and lack of formal statistics on depression amongst African-American women, as many are unwilling to participate in research studies.

“When I first began my practice, I wondered who would come talk to me,” says Lasonda Wilkins-Hines, 40, of Chicago. Wilkins-Hines is an African-American licensed social worker specializing in depression and runs a private practice, Soul Work, in the Bronzeville neighborhood. “We come from a culture where we need to be strong as African-American women and it’s been passed down for generations that you suck it up or you talk to the pastor.”

The African-American community, women in particular, associates weakness with those in need of mental health treatment. “Black women tend to present themselves to society as strong, resilient human beings,” says Texas-based psychologist Dr. Yolanda Brooks in the Women Enews October 2001 article Lives of Women of Color Create Risk of Depression. In my opinion, you can trace this dynamic back to slavery, when a woman had to pretend she was okay when she was actually suffering inside.” This stereotype has been perpetuated in many books and movies, such as Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls and Gloria Naylor’s Women of Brewster Place, and has rooted itself in the African-American community.

As a psychology student, Grayson’s studies have taught her to recognize the signs of her depression. Still, Grayson didn’t receive treatment right away in fear of being stigmatized. “Once you reveal that you deviate from the norm, you no longer can go back to that,” says Grayson. “No one is going to look at you as the healthy person you are now, they’re going to remember that you were mentally ill.”

Grayson’s depression began as a sophomore at TSU and carried on with her after transferring to UIC in January of 2010. She recalls her lowest point in mid March where she felt her life didn’t matter. “Because I was so isolated,” she recalls, “I felt that if I lock myself in this room, because I don’t have any friends, no ones going to come looking for me because no one cares. So what am I doing here?” it was Grayson’s wakeup call.

“I don’t believe in suicide and it was getting to where that was the only thing that could come next. So in order to prevent something like that from happening, I decided it was time to go talk to somebody.”

Wilkins-Hines identifies the number one reason for seeking treatment with depression is because it can lead to suicide. “Sometimes our hormonal levels get so low that we start to rationalize suicide, like it’s our only way out. It gives us a sense of peace.”

Grayson scheduled an appointment with the school’s psychologist and immediately began treatment. “A lot of times we’re stuck with the burden of situations and trying to overcome them on our own because that’s how we were reared,” says Wilkins-Hines. “You have to be crazy to see a therapist. They [African American women] don’t understand that everyday people struggling with everyday issues seek therapy as well.”
Receiving treatment can combat other issues brought on by depression, such as its interference in our daily lives. “We aren’t able to get up and go to work and be productive, we aren’t able to be as involved with our children and we aren’t able to be as attentive to our husbands because we’re in a state where we want to be isolative and alone,” explains Wilkins-Hines. She also emphasizes that no one has to live this way. “It’s not acceptable to walk around unhappy and miserable and to feel like you have this weight on your shoulders not knowing what to do about it,” she adds.

Indeed, seeking treatment helped to lift a great burden off Grayson’s shoulders. Through the use of talk therapy and a number of activities, Grayson addressed what was going on in her life and how to change it. “She gave me a course of actions to get myself back on track such as and really helped a lot,” says Grayson of her psychologist. “I was able to get my grades back together before the end of the school year and I was able to keep my problems under wraps because I had better control over them.”

A number of campaigns address depression and many resources are made available to treat the mental disorder. “I get more middle class professionals that come to therapy,” says Wilkins-Hines. “White people have therapists like they have a hair dresser. They aren’t ashamed of it because they understand that emotional health is as important as physical health where as we think its taboo.”

Until the stigma affecting the African-American community is overcome and eliminated, it will continue to jeopardize the mental health of African-American women across the country. “We need to educate and normalize it,” suggests Wilkins-Hines. “We need to make people aware that depression is something everyone may experience in their lifetime. I myself have experienced it.”

Today Grayson describes her depression as being in remission and is actively involved on campus, most recently lending her fashion expertise to style participants of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated’s Miss Black and Gold Scholarship Pageant. She’ll be graduating this fall with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and nursing with plans to be a nurse practitioner. Grayson’s favorite pastime however is visiting various boutiques around the city and blogging about the latest fashion trend. “I broke the idea that you have to be ashamed of seeing a doctor,” Grayson says. “There are black women that don’t get help and I did.” Hopefully more African-American women will choose to the same as the awareness of depression is spread into the black community.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Food Addictions Similar to Brain Addictions

How many times have you heard the phrase "I have a bit of a sweet tooth." The fact is that dentition has nothing to do with craving sugary snacks and a recent study shows it's all in your head. Previous studies showed that indulging in both narcotics and food release certain levels of dopamine (the happy chemical) into the brain. The new study was able to map the release of the dopamine in a persons brain when showed images of food. The result? Identical patterns of dopamine release in both drug addicts and food cravers. When first shown the images of a food, levels of activity in the 'anticipatory regions of the brain spiked. However, when given the tasty treat the 'reward areas' of the brain showed far less activity. This is similar to a pattern of chasing a high. Indulging does not satisfy the anticipation, so the user consumes more and more. It's a viscous cycle.

Yoga Proven Effective to Combat Depression

attribution: Benjamin Thomas

We all know the basic elements towards battling depression: eating right, exercise, and a good night's sleep. According to the article published by the Huffington Post, 121 Million people worldwide suffer from Depression. Author Amy Weintraub wrote about her personal battle against depression, "I suffered from severe depression for years myself, and it really was yoga that helped me overcome depression and get off antidepressants...And the more I wrote about it, the more people became interested, and I discovered that many, many people experienced the same benefits as I did."

But what makes yoga so different from regular exercise? Weintraub says this, " There's the Pranayama breathing. There are the cues to really be attentive to the sensations in your body. When you're running or walking, for example, you're not necessarily paying attention to all the sensations in your body. But if you're paying attention to the sensations in your body when you're moving in yoga, it becomes like a meditation. You're cultivating the witness, the observing mind." Weintraub also goes on to say that in Yoga class, the students usually find themselves quickly changing into different positions without any smooth transitions. She compares this to the struggles and challenges of every day life. She says that in life, there will always be sad moments, we will always be betrayed, and we will always hit rock bottom, but that does not mean that we "lose our balance".

Simple solutions are sometimes the best ways to battle depression. Of course, if the depression is too extreme, then seek help from a medical professional, and accept the medications they prescribe. But if someone finds themselves slowly going down hill, its best to change their lifestyle. This sounds all too strange for Americans, who are used to the everyday battles of work, monetary stress and on-the-go dinners.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Newsflash: Addicts need help!

     Attribution: Alexandre Chang

WebMD published an article surrounding a new study that came out explaining that Americans with an alcohol dependency don't realize they need help and don't think that any treatment would help. Out of the 7.4 million adults between ages 21 and 64 who have untreated alcohol abuse disorder, 1.2% believe they could benefit from treatment. And only 7.8% recognize that they need treatment.

Even though this article is informative, it seemed a bit redundant. Of course those with an alcohol dependency do not think they need help or feel that they have a problem.

I also didn't understand how they could determine a person with an alcohol dependency even though they were untreated or undiagnosed.

If anything, this article taught me that there needs to be more awareness about alcohol dependency. People are willing to admit that they occasionally abuse alcohol, but no one admits that they are dependent. The awareness regarding alcohol addiction would serve those around those who are addicts. If a person reads an article with a list of signs pointing out someone who is alcohol dependent, then they would seek help for that individual. I'm surprised there are 7.4 million people in America who are alcohol dependent, yet untreated. This number needs to go down and the way to do that is to appeal to those who surround them.

-Lena Asfour

To read the original article, click here!

Yet another reason not to smoke.

Attribution: Justin Shearer

When I was living in the rural America my father and I had a Saturday morning tradition. We would get up, go outside to our porch, stare at the endless corn fields and smoke a cigarette together. This tradition began when I was 16. My father and mother have been off again on again smokers my entire life. I’ve seen my parents go years without a cigarette just to follow it up with smoking a pack a day (me and my family are like that; we’re all or nothing types of people). So it would kill me to show them this study.

One recent study, done by Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, shows that there are chemicals in cigarettes that can affect a child’s mental development. There is a chemical in human blood called cotinine. High concentrations of cotinine correlate with both adolescent exposure to second hand smoke and mental issues such as depression and ADHD.

I’ve been diagnosed with both disorders. ADHD when I was 5 and Major depression when I was 14. I remember countless smoke-filled “grown-up” parties when I was a child. If my parents had seen this study when I was younger, and given my family hereditary, would they have still smoked?

The answer is no, but not without some grievance.

Yet, this is only one study that I’m skeptical of. For one it doesn’t address first-hand smokers nor does it mention how many kids they pooled. The children tested from 8-15 were all non-smokers, but what about kids that age who are smoking? How are they affected mentally by cigarette use. Also, cotinine isn’t explained thoroughly. The study just says cigarettes increase the levels in your blood, but what else can increase cotinine levels? It can’t just be cigarettes. I believe there are many factors that are not addressed and that should be addressed before this study is seen as scientifically legitimate.

-M. Harriett-

Immigration and Depression

Attribution: SEIU International

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of California-Davis found that Mexican immigrants between the ages of 18-25 are more prone to feelings of depression and anxiety disorders than migrants who remain in Mexico. According to the researchers, this study "provides the first direct evidence that experiences as a migrant might lead to the onset of clinically significant mental health problems in this population." The study showed that immigrants had feelings of social phobia, panic disorder, and PTSD. While the number of individuals surveyed for the study is minimal in comparison with the immigrant population, I personally feel that the results are accurate. I feel that in regards to mental illness, issues of race, gender and class are often overlooked. Considering the intensity of rhetoric surrounding the immigration and welfare debate, it does not seem to far-fetched to assert that these things would have an effect. Sadly, it is often these marginalized peoples who are not only more susceptible to institutional violence but lack access to affordable, quality treatment.