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?

 

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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??!!

 

 

On a Serious Note: Too Close to Home

I have had serious anxiety for years..

I over think everything, I worry when there is no reason too, and I like things to be a certain way. There are nights when I can’t sleep because my brain won’t turn off and I have panic attacks that leave me incapable of doing anything until they pass. However, as I have identified appropriate medication that works for me and met with a counselor, I am now able to manage my anxiety better than ever.

This being said I am no stranger to mental health disorders, but I was still not prepared for the news I received a few days ago.

My father is 65 years old and is my best friend. He has been there for me through everything, gave me everything he could, and I know would drop anything to come to my rescue should I need him. Lately he has been having some problems remembering little things, sometimes he would ask questions multiple times, and has been misplacing things more often. While I noticed this new behavior I shrugged it off as older age and daily stress. I know quite a bit about dementia from working in the field and from conducting numerous memory and executive functioning batteries, but I didn’t once think it was anything serious. Just to be safe my mom had him go see a neurologist who conducted many tests and brain scans. He was then sent home and told he would receive results within a few weeks.

Fast forward to a few days ago…

My dad called me early in the evening the day he went back to discuss his results with the neurologist. He paused for a moment and then said “Lauren, I have been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. They started me on this medication donepizel and that’s all I have for now.” 

My first reaction was to laugh, he tends to joke about losing his mind and so I thought he was joking, plus there was no way that he could actually have Alzheimer’s.

Unfortunately, he was serious.

I responded with “Ok, send me the information that the doctor gave you. I will talk to you later, love you.”

I hung up the phone and sat on the couch and just stared. I didn’t really react, I don’t know if it didn’t sink in or if I still just didn’t believe it. I know that Alzheimer’s is a slow disease and right now not much is going to be different, but I am having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that at some point my dad may no longer know who I am. True there are new medications and treatments available today, but this disease is not curable and the reality is he is going to get much worse over time.

The good news (you always have to try to find the good in a bad situation) is that it was caught early and he has started treatment. If you suspect that someone you love potentially has some form of dementia get them tested as soon as possible so that they are able to start a treatment regimen that will help them better manage their symptoms.

On a Serious Note: Introduction

While most of my blog is meant to be funny or just random thoughts on my daily life there are some topics that are meant to be taken seriously. One such topic is Mental Health.

Since I was young the field of psychology has always been of great interest to me and it was this that caused me to pursue a career in mental health. I received my masters in counseling in 2009,  have years of experience as a psychological researchers working on various projects, and have spent a few years in the field. I have worked at a women’s abuse shelter, a child’s day treatment program, ran substance abuse and addiction groups, studied recidivism rates in a mental health facility, observed executive and cognitive functioning after a ICU hospital stay at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and ran studies for an emotion and cognition lab.

What I have learned from all of these different experiences is that mental health disorders are very real and more prevalent than many people think. Additionally, there is still a lot of misunderstanding about what it means to be mentally ill and the various negative effects they have on the lives of those struggling with them.

It is estimated that one in four people suffer from a mental illness, which is why we need to work on awareness, understanding, and recognition of these illnesses in order to help those who are struggling. The more we talk we can help to end the stigma that surrounds mental illness and advocate for treatment and recovery.

Since this topic is one that is close to my heart, I have decided that I am also going to be incorporating mental health related posts on my blog. This way I will be doing my part for mental health awareness.

Brain Bombs

copinganxietybanner

From the moment I get out of bed in the morning, aka the point in which I have used up all of my allotted snooze button hits, I’m constantly on the move.

I put in a full day at the office, generally get in a work out, and then rush home to let my little guy out while I make something for dinner. Needless to say when it’s bedtime I am not one to complain. In fact I am usually happy to curl up under the covers and put in some much needed snuggle time with the fur baby, as I slowly drift off into dream land.

Lately though I am not having much luck in the sleep department…

As soon as my head hits the pillow it’s immediately filled with a thousand different thoughts, all demanding my attention at once. Unbeknownst to me, my brain has decided to go on an all night bender. “You think you’re going to get a full nights sleep? ha ha WRONG!

So then I just lay there while my brain and my body have an all out war. My body is so tired that it aches, meanwhile my stupid brain keeps dropping thought bombs on me.

“Did you pay those bills?”

“You haven’t talked to your friend Courtney in awhile. Maybe she is mad at you.”

“What in the hell are you doing with your life?”

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! They just keep bombarding me.

Now here is where it gets interesting. As I lay there willing my mind to hit pause for the night, the more things I think of the worse my anxiety gets. Not only is my mind racing, but now I am having all the classic anxiety symptoms. Shortness of breath, tightness in chest, dizziness, and sweating. So naturally once all this begins I come to the most obvious conclusion- I MUST BE DYING! 

Congratulations brain you have won! Once the anxiety gets started I am wide awake because I now have to pull up WedMD to find out what type of horrible illness I have. Naturally I determine from the online explanations that I am either having a heart attack or have some sort of tumor. (Why is that what always pops up on that website?) Who can sleep now?

This  is where I have been at the last few nights. The thing that gets me is that I have had anxiety and panic attacks for many many years now and even though I know the symptoms are just a result of my anxiety I still can’t stop myself from letting my thoughts spiral out of control. That is the thing about anxiety no matter how much you try there are times in which you are unable to get ahead of it. It is still scary and at times completely overwhelming. Especially when all you want to do is go to sleep, not ruminate about all the worries you’ve ever had.

Hopefully, this passes quickly so that I can get some sleep again.