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Hyperbole and a Half book delivers

Back in October, I predicted that I would love the long-awaited Hyperbole and a Half book, adapted from Allie Brosh's absolute treasure of a webcomic. One of the highlights of my winter holiday so far has been gobbling up this book as quick as I could cram it into my eyeballs, a task complicated by being frequently convulsed with laughter -- at least when my heart wasn't being torn out.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened

The history of lobotomy in the VA

A couple years ago, I read Jack El-Hai's brilliant book about lobotomy popularizer Walter Freeman — the man who lobotomized Rosemary Kennedy and traveled the country lobotomizing thousands of Americans with an ice pick. Now, at the Wall Street Journal, Michael Phillips has a big feature about Freeman and the influence he had on mental healthcare in the Veterans Administration. It's a chilling and important long read. Maggie 22

Delusions that could be real, but they're not

Last year, Joshua Brady of Matoaca, Virgina convinced a man named Herson Torres to rob banks in the Washington, DC area. Brady said that he was a CIA agent and this was part of an undercover operation to audit bank security. Brady wasn't actually a CIA agent though. He just thought he was. And as George Costanza once said, "It's not a lie if you believe it." BB pal Jon Ronson tells Brady's story for This American Life. In this terrific piece, Jon delves into delusional disorder, a rare psychiatric condition usually characterized by delusions that are within the realm of possibility. It's like something from a Philip K. Dick novel where reality is in the eye and mind of the beholder, until it isn't.

"You Can't Handle The Truth" (This American Life)

Ronson learned about Brady's bizarre tale from Tom Schoenberg's excellent Businessweek article, "In Virginia's Fairfax County, Robbing Banks for the CIA"

Three things to know about postpartum depression as you read about Miriam Carey and the Capitol car chase


On the Today Show this morning, a psychologist said "postpartum depression has led mothers to kill their children." This is not true.

Yesterday, Miriam Carey died after being shot by police following a car chase between the White House and the US Capitol building. Carey is reported to have tried to ram through barricades at the White House, hitting at least one officer as well as a squad car. She then drove her vehicle into barriers in front of the Hart Senate Building before being fatally shot by law enforcement officers. She was unarmed. A child identified as her daughter — a little more than one year old — was in the car the whole time.

Today, news outlets are reporting that Carey had a history of traumatic brain injury and postpartum depression, the latter of which may have been severe enough to send her to the hospital at some point in the past year. Nobody knows what, if any, effect this may have had on what happened yesterday. But it's led to plenty of speculation, and the spread of bad information that stigmatizes women suffering from an incredibly common mental illness.

For instance, on NBC's Today Show this morning, psychologist Jennifer Hartstein declared that "postpartum depression has led mothers to kill their children" — a statement that conflates PPD with a different disorder AND overstates the risk that other disorder poses to kids.

Over the next few days, we're all likely to hear a lot of discussion about postpartum depression. As you absorb that news, keep the following facts in mind:

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Gut microbes may control your brain

At The Verge, Carrie Arnold writes about a scientist who thinks that our intestinal bacteria could have an influence on mental health. It's not proven, but it's not a totally crazy idea, either, and there's some good evidence supporting the connection. The catch: Even if what's happening in your gut affects what is happening in your head, there might not be much we can do change the mental health outcomes. Maggie 7

Dolphins on acid (and other bad ideas)

How dosing dolphins with LSD (and giving dolphins hand jobs) helped shape our modern pop culture beliefs about dolphins as sources of healing — beliefs that, according to neuroscientist Lori Marino, can endanger both dolphins and the humans who come to them for help. Maggie

The Verizon order, the NSA, and what call records might reveal about psychiatric patients

"Dissent," an anonymous-pseudonymous blogger who is a mental health care practitioner, has an interesting post about one tangential consequence of the announcement that Verizon and other communications providers have been ordered to turn over records to the NSA.  
I started thinking about what those records and metadata could reveal.  Because my phone is used mainly for calls to and from patients and clients, can the NSA figure out who my patients are?  And could they, with just a query or bit of analysis, figure out when my patients were going into crisis or periods of symptom worsening?  I suspect that they can. And because I am nationally and internationally known as an expert on a particular disorder, could the government also deduce the diagnosis or diagnoses of my patients or their family members? Probably.

"Dissent" hopes someone will "come up with some point-and-click instructions for doctors and lawyers to use to protect our calls and e-mails better so that the identity of those calling or e-mailing us has better protection." Tor and burner phones for shrinks!

Read more: The Verizon order, the NSA, and what call records might reveal about psychiatric patients [PHIprivacy.net]

High on life (and that third cup of coffee)

The new DSM 5 (and the old DSM-IV, for that matter) includes caffeine intoxication as a valid mental health diagnosis. The new version has also upped the ante, adding "caffeine withdrawal" and "caffeine use disorder" to the list. It's worth noting, though, that the diagnosis criteria is based on a key point — do these behaviors significantly impact the patient's ability to function in daily life. That's, apparently, what makes a difference between everybody in America — sans Mormons — being a caffeine freak, and a few people having a problem. Of course, that distinction is also pretty subjective. Maggie

Can you trust a sociopath's memoir?

I have never killed anyone, but I have certainly wanted to. I may have a disorder, but I am not crazy. In a world filled with gloomy, mediocre nothings populating a go-nowhere rat race, people are attracted to my exceptionalism like moths to a flame. This is my story.

That's the beginning of an essay about sociopathy written from the perspective of a sociopath. The author, M.E. Thomas, recently published a book about her experience being a sociopath. The name is a pseudonym and it's not totally clear how much of this story you can trust. For instance, whether Thomas' sociopathy is actually professionally diagnosed or not seemed unclear to me. Another example: At one point in the essay, she says she wasn't an abused child — then goes on to describe a childhood with a father who once beat apart a bathroom door to get at her and a mother who nearly let her die from appendicitis to avoid the medical bills ... and then blamed Thomas for her own illness. It's all a little weird.

That said, there's value in the "interesting, if true" sort of read that this is. At the very least, I've never seen an actual sociopath describe their own condition before. So, if that's what's actually going on here, it's a tour of a very different way of thinking. I'm not sure whether the fact that it all comes across as very manipulative is evidence in favor of, or against, the purported origins of the narrative.

Read the full essay "Confessions of a Sociopath"

Read a review of M.E. Thomas' book by Boston Globe writer Julia Klein, who has some of the same reservations that I do.

Depressed Cake Shop: a pop-up shop selling grey cakes to raise money for mental health charities


Miss Cakehead writes, "The Depressed Cake Shop will be like nothing ever seen before as it will sell ONLY grey coloured cakes. Raising money for mental health charities, it will also provide a platform for discussion of the illness. The pop up is based in the UK but with other events starting to be planned around the globe."

The Depressed Cake Shop

Mind-controlled man makes 100+ calls to 911 in a month

Jimmy Shao of Sacramento, CA was arrested for calling 911 more than 100 times in one month. Shao says he won't stop until Congress investigates the shadow government who use satellites to control his mind and body.

“My brain, I can feel it starting. I’m blasted by the signals, every couple of minutes,” Shao told CBS Sacramento. “I yell and I scream, ‘Stop it, I don’t need this,’ but they never listen.”

According to the news report, police promise to arrest Shao again if he continues to call 911, and that they "may look for some counseling to get him some help."

Yeah, um, the latter.

More evidence that your mom's illnesses can affect your mental health

You've probably heard before that people with schizophrenia are more likely to have been born in winter than other seasons — and that this weird fact could be linked to their mothers coming down with the flu, or suffering from Vitamin D deficiency. A new study has now found that people with bipolar disorder had a greater likelihood of being born to women who had had the flu while pregnant. It's a strange connection, and might just be correlation. So far, doctor's don't really understand why a virus-infected mama would lead to her child developing mental illness later in life. Maggie

Scanxiety, or how waiting for cancer tests makes you crazy

Photo: Me in an MRI, by Tara Brown

I had a rough week, this week. I came back from a transformative, restorative trip to Hawaii, where I did lots of creative work for Boing Boing and for personal projects. The morning after my flight home, I dove in to a week of medical tests. My primary treatment for breast cancer is complete (chemo/surgery/radiation), but that doesn't mean cancer's over. I have to take a drug for 5 years (or more, who knows), and there is at least one more surgery ahead that I know of.

But there is also much monitoring ahead. I have to get various blood tests and exams and scans every 90 days, 6 months, and annually. Scanning my body for any new cancer, scanning the horizon for bad news, and hoping it never arrives.

The big thing this week was tumor marker blood tests, which are used to see if your blood shows signs that cancer is returning and progressing. The tests are very much imperfect, a blunt and controversial tool. What they tell us is a matter of debate. Some oncologists don't even use them. Mine does, and I do respect why, and I comply.

When I received my tumor marker results, I flipped out, even though my oncologist's office told me they were "fine." The numbers showed a slight increase in my tumor markers. How the fuck can that be fine?

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Robotic rat terrorizes rats into depression

PopSci: "In order to create a workable model of a human mental disorder like depression, anxiety or schizophrenia, rats are often genetically manipulated or have their nerve system surgically altered. Sometimes they are forced to swim for long periods of time. Now, researchers at Waseda University in Tokyo have created a new method: Let a robotic rat terrorize the rats into depression."

(Via Neatorama)

ADHD diagnoses up 24% in CA study hey look a squirrel

A large-scale study of patients belonging to the Kaiser Permanente health care system has found "a significant increase in the number of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)." The study involved about 850,000 patients ages five to 11, and showed a 24 percent jump in diagnoses from 2001 to 2010. It is possible that the increase in part or in whole due to "better diagnosis." (KPCC) Xeni