Real stories of psychiatric support dogs, and the people who rely on them

Maggie Shannon for Hopes&Fears

Hopes&Fears has a beautiful feature up today on the lives of service dogs for people with psychiatric disabilities and mental illnesses.

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What mentally ill animals can teach humans

An increasing amount of scientific evidence suggests that animals, from chimpanzees to coyotes to parrots, can suffer from the same mental illnesses as humans. Understanding the biology behind animal depression, OCD, and PTSD could provide insight into why people suffer from mental illness and how these conditions evolved. From BBC Earth:

In a 2011 study, scientists found signs of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in chimpanzees that had been used in laboratory research, orphaned, trapped by snares, or been part of illegal trade.

Stressful events can even leave marks on animals' genes. In 2014, researchers found that African grey parrots that were housed alone suffered more genetic damage than parrots that were housed in pairs...

"All you can do with animals is to observe them," says (University of Mississippi neurogenetics researcher Eric) Vallender. "Imagine if you could study mental disorders in humans only by observing them. It would be really hard to tell what's going on in their brain."

Faced with these obstacles, scientists have begun looking at animals' genes.

"A lot of mental disorders can be quite different. But what we do know is that they have a very, very strong genetic component to them," says Jess Nithianantharajah of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Melbourne, Australia.

All mental disorders, from depression to schizophrenia, involve abnormal behaviours. Those behaviours are influenced by genes just like other behaviours.

So the idea is to identify genes that can cause abnormal behaviours in humans and other animals. By tracing the origins of these genes, we can trace the origins of mental disorders.

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Jail starves mentally ill man to death, Sheriff is "sorry"

Alternet reports that Farris "had no prior criminal record but had struggled with a history of mental illness."

The voices in your head are culturally specific

I'm utterly fascinated by the way culture affects the outcomes of mental illness — whether that's in terms of prevalence of specific disorders, how we interpret and treat those disorders, or even how seemingly innate symptoms express themselves in wildly different ways. Case in point: The voices that schizophrenics hear. In the US, those voices seem to talk a lot about violence — what a person should to do themselves, or to others. In Chennai, India, on the other hand, schizophrenic patients report that voices most commonly command them to do household chores. The disturbing content comes in the form of sexual comments or directions to drink from the toilet. Read the rest

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. Read the rest

Today's schizophrenics hallucinate different things than those of your grandparents' time

Thanks to that whole "mental" part, mental illnesses are often heavily influenced by the cultures and societies in which people live. Case in point: The way people with schizophrenia interpret their own hallucinations has changed over the course of the 20th century, keeping pace with changes in technology. Where people once believed that demons were speaking to them, they came to think of those voices as emanating from secret phonographs. Today, people with schizophrenia are likely to imagine hidden cameras taping them for a reality show. The paranoid delusions are always there, but the context changes. Read the rest

What it feels like to be schizophrenic

Quora asks "What does it feel like to have schizophrenia?" The answers are, by turns, haunting, heartbreaking, and thoroughly engrossing. They also provide a really unique opportunity to better understand how the human brain operates, and what happens when it turns in on itself. Definitely worth reading. Read the rest

Pregnant? Depressed? Read this

Some kinds of antidepressants might pose a risk to embryos and fetuses at certain stages in their development. But depression in the mother also puts fetuses at risk, so whether or not a pregnant woman should take antidepressants is still a really complicated question. The answer depends a lot of individual experience of depressive symptoms, which drugs are taken, and when. As with most things relating to pregnancy and health, there's not a solid one-size-fits-all answer and individuals still have to weigh risks and make hard choices alone. Read the rest

Exclusive: Where the inmates really do run the asylum

Video Link

In 2011 I set off with a camera to explore a mental asylum in Mexico run by its own patients. The place is just beyond the last junkyard on the curdled fringe of Juárez, the world’s most violent city. On one level these people shared common purpose in that they dressed each other, cleaned each other, fed each other. But then there were many other levels, many other worlds. The tragicomedy of Beckett was everywhere, I can’t go on, I’ll go on, while the infantile grotesqueness of Jarry’s Ubu Roi was never far away. The more I filmed, the less I understood and the more curious I became.

I met a man called Josué who was managing the asylum. Five years previously he’d lost his mind and the ability to walk but I found him in a reflective mood. He told me his dream. After two visits and many hours of material my editing was frustrated by a desire to present the mystery I’d encountered while needing a story to hang it on. Then Josué’s dream came true. His daughter in LA emailed me to ask what her father was doing in a mental asylum. She’d seen a trailer for the film I’d posted online. She hadn’t seen her father in 22 years and had been told he was dead. Two more visits and I managed to put Josué and his daughter together and filmed the reunion.

The film, titled Dead When I Got Here, is due to be finished later this year and we’ve launched a Kickstarter to help fund its completion. Read the rest

A suicide draws attention to the ethics of psychiatric drug testing

This is a really important long read that we all need to pay attention to. It concerns how we treat people with who are suffering from paranoid delusions — and how we treat people whose families worry that they are a threat to others. It concerns the relationships between doctors and the pharmaceutical industry. It concerns the ethics of clinical trials — the risks we run as we test potential treatments that could help many, or hurt a few, or both. If we want to reform mental health care, this needs to be part of the discussion.

In 2004, Dan Markingson committed suicide. The story behind that death is complicated and depressing. At the Molecules to Medicine blog, Judy Stone documents the whole thing in three must-read chapters. Many people find help in psychiatric drugs, and credit those drugs with making their lives better. (Full disclosure, I'm one of them. I have used Ritalin for several years. I am temporarily on an anti-depressant.) But we have to pay attention to how those drugs get to us. This isn't just about treating people. It's about the process that gets us there. Because, if that process is compromised, the treatments we get won't be as effective and lives will be lost along the way.

Markingson began to show signs of paranoia and delusions in 2003, believing that he needed to murder his mother. He was committed to Fairview Hospital involuntarily after being evaluated by Dr. Stephen Olson, of the University of Minnesota. He was subsequently enrolled on a clinical trial of antipsychotic drugs—despite protests from his mother.

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Physical, sexual abuse documented at FL facility for autistic and brain-injured

Investigative reports released under a court order to Bloomberg News show that caregivers at a Florida center for brain-injured and "non-neurotypical" adults physically and sexually abused patients, in a systematic and brutal manner. Caregivers "goaded them to fight each other and fondle female employees and in one instance laughed at complaints of mistreatment." At least five patients have died at the center in question, the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation, from alleged abuse or neglect there since 1998. Two patients died in just the last two years. (Bloomberg) Read the rest

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Controversial history

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit" is a series of posts aimed at giving BoingBoing readers a chance to show off their favorite exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. I'll be featuring posts in this series all week. Want to see them all? Check out the archive post. I'll update the full list there every morning.

Daniel Schneider wrote in to tell me about a series of exhibits at the Ohio Historical Society that force people to confront the uncomfortable bits of history.

The Ohio Historical Society had an exhibit titled "Controversy" last year. They included items form Ohio's past that were objects of controversy of one time or another. The exhibit included KKK robes and Ohio's electric chair & control panel. 2 of the stranger items were an 1860's condom (found in an accountants notebook?!!?) and a adult crib bed\prison from an asylum in Cincinnati. The are having a new Controversy exhibit this year.

It feels weird/wrong to say that exhibits like this are fascinating, but there's definitely a lot of value in bringing modern museum goers face-to-face with things we might prefer to collectively forget.

The condom, obviously, is pictured above. It's worth noting that, at this point in history, condoms were meant to be reusable. Daniel also sent me a photo of the "crib-bed", which is really more of a cage, but it is disturbing in a way the condom shot is not and I'm choosing to put it under a cut here. Read the rest