Here’s to Better Mental Health

Most of you have already been going strong with your New Year’s resolutions and while we are already halfway into January, it’s never to late to come up with some additional goals for the new year. After all, there are always ways in which we can improve ourselves.

It has been a little while since I have posted anything mental health related so, with the start of a new year,  I thought it was the perfect time to take a minute and talk about improving our mental health. More specifically, what can you do this year to improve your overall mental health? Well, I’m going to tell you…

With the commencement of 2014, it is a good time to step back and take a look at the past year and identify some areas of your life that you would like to improve over the next year. No matter if you are suffering from a pre-existing mental health condition or not, everyone can benefit from a resolution to improve one’s overall mental health. Many individuals think that New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time because most people will end up failing to keep them anyway. However, even if you were unable to keep them for the whole year you still made some sort of progress toward bettering yourself and that in itself should be praise worthy. Transition and reaching new goals isn’t going to happen overnight, but when you put your mind to it and keep a positive attitude it can be done.

Examples of resolutions for mental health

When you actually sit down to write your new year’s resolutions identify some specific goals you have about improving your overall mental health. This can be anything that is important to you, there are no resolutions that are better than others. In order to get you started here are some ideas that you could include in your 2015 New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Make a commitment to develop better sleeping patterns: When you don’t get enough sleep it can exacerbate many health problems, which includes mental health issues. Getting higher quality sleep will have a more positive effect on your mood.
  • Consider eliminating toxic people from your life: Surround yourself with good friends who are going to be supportive and not bring you down. Identify those who are beneficial to your happiness and are not going to bring about constant negativity or any type of physical or emotional harm.
  • Don’t sabotage yourself: We are the strongest cause for our own unhappiness due to our own thoughts and beliefs that we have about ourselves and the world around us. Changing the way in which you think about yourself and view the world can do wonders for your overall emotional well-being.
  • Identify ways to reduce stress: Daily life can bring about a lot of stress, which can exacerbate the symptoms of a mental health condition. Write down some ways that can help you relax and when you find yourself becoming overwhelmed take a break from the day to relieve some of that stress.
  • Make peace with the past: Many individuals have things in their past that are keeping them from living the happy life that you want to live. Make it a priority to move past those old issues so that they are not able to hold you back anymore. In some instances it may be a good idea to go see a therapist, if you don’t already, to help you work through any issues that may be getting in the way of achieve overall good mental health. A therapist can help you develop a plan that to work through all of these issues and to allow you to take on 2015 as a happier and healthier individual.

Remember that a new year is a chance to start over and to reach personal goals that we have set for ourselves. It is a time for personal growth where we can independently work on our overall well-being, it should not be a stressful time filled with guilt.

RIP Robin

With the death of Robin Williams I thought I would share a press release I wrote today about his battle with addiction and depression and how important it is for those who are struggling with mental health issues to get the help they need in order to prevent tragedies such as this one.

Robin Williams’s Apparent Suicide and its Relation to Depression & Addiction

Our hearts go out to one of the great comedians of the era

Aug. 12 – Yesterday, Robin Williams passed away of an apparent suicide. As we remember the many amazing ways in which he enriched media and culture with his comedy and acting, we should also take a look at what drove Robin’s actions to his untimely death.

Robin identified as an alcoholic early in life, all the way back to his days in his hometown. As he gained celebrity status, he also came to battle with cocaine addiction. His drug and alcohol abuse ran rampant until the death of John Belushi – also from drug addiction – in 1982, after which Robin said he remained sober for 20 years. In 2006, Robin entered rehab for drinking, and sought treatment again as recently as June of this year. Questions that come to mind to all of us:

Why did this happen, especially to someone who seems to have had everything? Alcoholism and drug addiction, as well as mood issues such as depression have genetic, physical, and environmental triggers. There is no one single cause. A core precept of alcohol recovery is that alcoholism is a disease; you are always in recovery, never cured.

Did no one see the kind of place Robin was in? He did go into treatment multiple times. This highlights the importance not only of communicating regularly and deeply with our loved ones, but being able to identify signs and symptoms that indicate the need for care. Related to this, it is critical to have a full continuum of care: from 24 / 7 help in inpatient or residential treatment environments for crises and acute situations and aftercare programs that offer ongoing support and maintain recovery.

How did the addiction and depression issues interrelate? There is concept in mental health treatment of “co-occurring disorders”. A person can have depression or anxiety issues from a young age, or develop them later in life as a result of a traumatic event. Some men and women then turn to drug abuse as a coping mechanism. That is why modern treatment focuses on addressing all elements of a person’s mental health, to get at the root of the original issues. Treating only the addiction without the mental health component leads to higher rates of relapse. Robin himself, in a 2009 interview, said he had previously failed to confront the core issues at the root of his addictions, contributing to his own return to rehab.

All mental health and addiction treatment programs offer free, confidential screenings that you should take advantage of if you feel even the slightest need, and will help you find the most appropriate care for yourself or your loved one. Inpatient programs also offer immediate services for those battling with suicidal ideations.

Our hearts go out to Robin’s family. This is a reminder to all of us to remember to communicate with our loved ones regularly, and seek professional care and support when it may be needed.

On a Serious Note: Blood Test for Suicide Risk?

Since it has been a little while since I have done a mental health post, I thought I would bring up a topic that has been receiving some media attention lately. Blood test that will be able to determine an individuals risk for suicide. Yep, you heard me right a Blood Test!

So here’s the deal:

There was a recent study done, which compared brain tissue samples from people who have died by suicide to those who have died from other causes. This test has identified a genetic mutation in the SKA2 gene, found to be common among those who died by suicide. Additionally, a chemical change, called an epigenetic change, was found on the same gene that was more common among people who committed suicide than those who died of other causes. Further research confirmed that these genetic changes correctly identified 80 percent to 96 percent of people who experienced suicidal thoughts or made suicide attempts. If these findings are confirmed, then it could lead to a test specifically designed to look for suicide risk.

The idea here is that with the possible development of this blood test it may be used to screen people in psychiatric emergency rooms or determine how closely an individual need to be monitored for suicide risk.

However, while this new approach sounds promising, it has me wondering if the test is going to add more value in being able to medically identify the risk of suicide versus using traditional mental health evaluations. I could be totally off here, but I have a few concerns.

Is this test really a good idea when dealing with an issue as serious as suicide? What if this test in unable to accurately predict everyone who is having thoughts of suicide? Will it prevent individuals from seeking therapeutic methods that are needed to address the underlying cause for suicidal thoughts and behaviors? Could it cause unnecessary worry and anxiety?

One concern I thought of is that, instead of seeking appropriate mental health interventions, individuals will go for the quickest fix and opt for medication. While medication is effective at reducing symptoms of mental health disorders that can lead to the development of suicidal ideation and behaviors, it does not fix the problem in the long run. Without taking the time to get at the underlying cause for why an individual has begun having suicidal thoughts, or has made suicide attempts, then an individual is not going to fully recover. This can lead to the return of suicidal thoughts further down the road.

Another concern that came to mind is whether or not the test can accurately predict the chance that an individual is going to be at an increased risk for suicide. To my knowledge this current study does not take into consideration if those individuals who died by suicide were born with this genetic mutation or if it developed as the result of something that happened in their life, such as exposure to trauma or substance use. This is an important factor because it would determine if this test only needs to be given once or if it needs to be periodically administered throughout a person’s life.

Finally, having the option to take this test can cause high amounts of stress in individuals who would otherwise have no reason to believe that the risk even exists. Additionally, testing positive for an increased risk of suicide does not mean that a suicide attempt is inevitable.

Like I said before I could be wrong, but it’s something to think about. Anyone else have any concerns or even positive things to say about this potential blood test?


Palco What?

My co-worker and I (messy hair and cigarettes) recently wrote a press release for our ob about this new product that is trying to get approval for distribution. I found this topic and product to be interesting, especially since it is creating such a stir so I thought I would share what we wrote:

Concerns Surrounding New Powdered Alcohol Product

Valdosta, GA: “Palcohol,” is a powered alcohol being produced by an Arizona based company Lipsmack LLC that has hopes of hitting the shelves in the near future. Recently this new product has been getting a lot of media attention; while it was initially approved, federal regulators have now rescinded that decision. Mark Phillips, the creator, designed this powdered substance for use in situations such as camping or traveling when carrying around large bottles would be difficult. With Palcohol all you need to do is mix the powder with a little water and you have a drink. However, with the development of this new substance many are worried about the consequences surrounding the misuse of powdered alcohol.

“As is true with the introduction of any new substance, there is always the risk of unanticipated negative consequences. People may look at powdered alcohol as being safer than drinking regular alcohol because it is being diluted in water. That fact, along with the ease in which the product allows people to take alcohol with them wherever they go, increases the likelihood that the substance will begin to become overly abused. Similarly, it is not unreasonable to hypothesize that the likelihood that the rate of alcohol addiction will be on the rise as well.”

Most of the current media buzz has been focused on the abuse potential of Palcohol. Since it is in powdered form many are concerned with the fact that it can be snorted. The reason behind this concern is that snorting this substance could possibly get you drunk instantly and potentially cause damage to the nasal passage. However, the company has stated that they have added volume to their product so that it would take more than half a cup of powder to get the equivalent of one drink up your nose. This however has not lessened the fear that some individuals will choose to abuse Palcohol in this manner.

Another concern is about the convenience of having alcohol in a powdered form. One packet of Palcohol only weighs an ounce making it more portable than a flask of liquor. Alcohol is already a problem at many sporting events or concerts, and Palcohol would make it that much easier to sneak alcohol into events. Additionally, the packets contain anywhere from 30% to 60% ethanol, which is almost twice the amount in a can of beer. This leads many to fear the outcome that would result from consuming more than one packet at a time.

“Using a substance like Palcohol can cause major health risks for individuals within our community. The results from alcohol poisoning are already well-known, so by adding in the fact that people may not be aware of just how much of the substance they are ingesting, people may actually be putting their lives in even greater danger. If this product becomes widespread, it would not be surprising to see an increase in the amount of alcohol poisoning incidents that result.”

Many parent groups and addiction experts are strongly opposed to the approval of powdered alcohol because they believe that the product can be easily obtained and abused by underage drinkers. Many hold the view that this is just one more thing for adolescents to get excited about and try because it is the newest trend on the market.

Sunday Guilt

Most Sundays you can find me curled up on the couch, watching mindless television shows, drifting in and out of sleep. I may get up long enough to order a pizza or walk my dog to the back courtyard, but then I head straight back to the couch.

I don’t do my laundry that has slowly piled up throughout the week. I don’t wash the small pile of dishes. I definitely don’t work out. I don’t socialize with anyone. And I usually have to eat out for lunch on Monday because I don’t make my lunch the night before.

Basically on Sundays, I do nothing…

While I honestly believe that everyone should have a lazy day to themselves I simply can’t shake the feeling that I should be doing something. I work all week, usually have things scheduled on Friday and Saturday, so why can’t I have one day to myself where I do nothing?

Why do I feel so guilty about not doing anything for a day?  Why I can’t let myself completely relax and just quiet my mind? Just when I am about to let myself go and allow myself to put my daily responsibilities to the back of my mind, the anxiety monster rears its ugly head. I try to ignore it and usually can remain lounging on the couch for the rest of the evening, but then it sets up for a difficult Monday. Since I did nothing the day before I sometimes wake up Monday morning feeling guilty and like I am the laziest person ever. My brain screams at me: Why did I just waste a whole day?

screaming brain

Why are you so lazy??!!