Weekend Tunes: Lustmord - Subspace

The inside of my head is an absolute crap place for productivity. I tend to fixate on old horrors, recent regrets and small shames that swirl around the inside of my brain like greasy water bound down a drain. It makes for a lot of noise while I'm trying to write or focus on my day job--listening to music with lyrics or, on bad days, even a melody, can lead me to distraction. When I'm set up in a coffee shop or another noisy locale and need to churn out some words, I wind up getting nowhere.

Last year, a friend turned me on to Lustmord: it's the working name of Welsh musician, sound engineer and, as near as I can tell, dark wizard, Brian Williams. Wikipedia notes that Williams is often credited with inventing Dark Ambient Music. I credit him with giving me the space I need in my skull to get work done.

In turns, Lustmord's music has overwhelmed me with feelings of calm, dread and and well-being. Played late in the evening in concert with medicinal amounts of Jameson, it helps to distract me from the pain in my body and the dogs barking in my head.

Image via Wikipedia Commons Read the rest

The "ghost networks" of mental health professionals that US health insurers rely on to deny care to their patients

If you've decided to investigate treatment options for your mental health, your health insurer will cheerfully refer you to a list of hundreds of providers -- but as STAT's Jack Turban discovered, this "network" of providers is actually a "ghost network," filled with wrong numbers that ring in McDonald's restaurants and jewelers. If you happen to reach an actual mental health professional, they'll probably tell you they're not accepting new patients. Read the rest

Ketamine rebuilds connections between neurons lost during stress

Ketamine has been used as a horse tranquilizer, infant anesthetic, recreational drug, and most recently, a surprisingly effective treatment for depression (which the US Food and Drug Administration approved last month). Now researchers are starting to understand how ketamine works: by rebuilding connections between neurons lost during stress.

From Chemical and Engineering News:

In a new study, researchers took a close-up gander at neurons in live mice under chronic stress, a condition that models depression in rodents. They found that a dose of ketamine helped first restore electrical activity and then rebuild physical connections between neurons that were lost during stress (Science 2019, DOI: 10.1126/science.aat8078). The observations suggest ketamine has both immediate and more sustained effects on how neurons function in the brain.

Neuroscientist Conor Liston at Weill Cornell Medicine and his colleagues implanted a prism into the frontal region of the rodents’ brains that, combined with a specialized microscope that captures images at extremely high resolution, allowed them to observe branches of nerve cells called dendrites in great detail over several weeks. They could even see tiny nubbins on the dendrites called spines, which form the synapses connecting nerve cells.

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Brain-zapping implants that change mood and lift depression

Teams of researchers are developing sesame seed-size neuro-implants that detect brain activity that signals depression and then deliver targeted electrical zaps to elevate your mood. It's very early days in the science and technology but recent studies suggest that we're on the path. Links to scientific papers below. Fortunately, the goal is to develop tools and a methodology more precise than the horrifically blunt "shock therapy" of last century. From Science News:

DARPA, a Department of Defense research agency, is funding (Massachusetts General Hospital's research on new brain stimulation methods) plus work at UCLA on targeted brain stimulation. Now in its fifth and final year, the (DARPA) project, called SUBNETS, aims to help veterans with major depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety and other psychiatric problems. “It is extremely frustrating for patients to not know why they feel the way they do and to not be able to correct it,” Justin Sanchez, the director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, said in a Nov. 30 statement. “We owe them and their families better options.”

These next-generation systems, primarily being developed at UCSF and Massachusetts General Hospital, might ultimately deliver. After detecting altered brain activity that signals a looming problem, these devices, called closed-loop stimulators, would intervene electrically with what their inventors hope is surgical precision.

In contrast to the UCSF group, Widge, who is at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and his collaborators don’t focus explicitly on mood. The researchers want to avoid categorical diagnoses such as depression, which they argue can be imprecise.

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Instagram to blur self-harm images after Molly Russell's suicide

Molly Russell, 14, took her life in November 2017.

Uber's internal investigators 'overworked, underpaid, emotionally traumatized' with 1,200 cases a week: Report

"A single suicide by an Uber investigator who posts that they could not 'take' the job demands any longer will be fodder for the national if not international news media," the memo said.

Rigorous new scientific study: Link between kids screen time and their well-being is highly overstated

In a heavy-duty new scientific paper published this week, University of Oxford researchers argue that the association between adolescent well-being and digital technology use is tiny. Really tiny. From Scientific American:

(The paper by experimental psychologist Andrew Przybylski and grad student Amy Orben) reveals the pitfalls of the statistical methods scientists have employed and offers a more rigorous alternative. And, importantly, it uses data on more than 350,000 adolescents to show persuasively that, at a population level, technology use has a nearly negligible effect on adolescent psychological well-being, measured in a range of questions addressing depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, pro-social behavior, peer-relationship problems and the like. Technology use tilts the needle less than half a percent away from feeling emotionally sound. For context, eating potatoes is associated with nearly the same degree of effect and wearing glasses has a more negative impact on adolescent mental health...

“We’re trying to move from this mind-set of cherry-picking one result to a more holistic picture of the data set,” Przybylski says. “A key part of that is being able to put these extremely miniscule effects of screens on young people in real-world context.”

Not surprisingly though, your mileage may vary. Not surprisingly, it all depends on the kid and what they're actually doing on the screen.

In a previous paper, Przybylski and colleague Netta Weinstein demonstrated a “Goldilocks” effect showing moderate use of technology—about one to two hours per day on weekdays and slightly more on weekends—was “not intrinsically harmful,” but higher levels of indulgence could be.

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Quebec doctors can soon prescribe art museum visits

On November 1, select doctors will be able to prescribe a visit to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts under a new initiative. Physicians who are part of Montreal-based medical group Médecins francophones du Canada will be allowed to send patients -- up to 50 prescriptions a year -- to the MMFA for free. Entry is good for two adults and two children age 17 or under.

Montreal Gazette:

“There’s more and more scientific proof that art therapy is good for your physical health,” said Dr. Hélène Boyer, vice-president of Médecins francophones du Canada and the head of the family medicine group at the CLSC St-Louis-du-Parc. “It increases our level of cortisol and our level of serotonin. We secrete hormones when we visit a museum and these hormones are responsible for our well-being. People tend to think this is only good for mental-health issues. That it’s for people who’re depressed or who have psychological problems. But that’s not the case. It’s good for patients with diabetes, for patients in palliative care, for people with chronic illness. Since the ’80s we’ve been prescribing exercise for our patients because we know exercise increases exactly the same hormones. But when I have patients who’re over 80, it’s not obvious that I can prescribe exercise for them.”

According to the museum, this one-year pilot project is the first of its kind in the world.

image by Thomas Ledl - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 Read the rest

Yale's most popular course ever: Happiness

When Yale psych professor Laurie Santos offered a course in how to be happy -- based on the latest peer-reviewed science -- she hoped that a reasonable number of students would sign up (after all, the literature suggested that there is an epidemic of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation among US college students); the course was the most successful in Yale's history, with one in four students enrolling Read the rest

I owe Anthony Bourdain so much

I’ve always felt the urge to leave. Any place. No matter how beautiful. I want to go. When I was 18 and finished with high school, I attended my graduation ceremony, for the sake of my family, but I skipped my prom – Canada’s east coast was calling. I’d never been there before. I didn’t know what I’d find. But I was going. I made a life for myself out there, with university, work and music. I traveled up and down the coast. Cape Breton feels like a second home to me. I love the people of Maine. New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have a place in my heart.

But eventually, I left the east. Rage, the self-entitlement that sometimes comes from surviving a shitty childhood and a need for control left me very much out of control. I destroyed a fine long-term relationship looking for who I was. I burned bridges. I did terrible things to myself and others. It was time to move on. My travels took me back home to Ontario. My father was dying. I loved and hated him for who he was and what he had done to our family. Coming home was a terror.

Uneasily settled back into my hometown, I fought to push the dogs of my recent past down into the cellar of my soul where their bark did not seem so loud. I’d gone to university for journalism, but felt too shattered by life to write. I took on a job I despised and worked it for years. Read the rest

Teens are cyberbullying themselves as a form of self-harm

Child psychologists have observed an increasing trend in which teens cyberbully themselves, creating anonymous accounts in which they post vicious insults and slurs that seem to be directed to them by strangers. Read the rest

Wil Wheaton's frank, brave speech about his depression and anxiety

Wil Wheaton has publicly discussed his anxiety and depression before; I know several people whose lives were improved by reading what he had to say. Read the rest

I don't know about these new drugs, guys

Being medicated is the best and the absolute worst.

I take a cocktail of anti-anxiety and anti-depressive drugs on a daily basis to help me deal with the symptoms that come with my PTSD. Most of the time, I'm grateful for them: They've helped to numb me, just enough so that I can use the techniques I've learned in therapy to help ground myself during a flashback or panic attack. Now that I'm medicated – I refused treatment for years – I'm able to maintain a healthy relationship.

The rage and detachment I've experienced these past 20 years have been tamped down far enough that I can empathize, fully, with my wife, friends and colleagues. It's hard work, sometimes! But I feel healthier than I have in years. A lot of the time, I'm even able to sleep through the night. The paranoia I deal with and the thoughts that refuse to stop tumbling around in my head give way to slumber, most evenings. It's still a frequent thing for me to wake up, sweat-drenched and alert in the dead of night, but it feels manageable. Before, it was just exhausting and sad.

But then, on occasion, a doctor decides that maybe I should be on something new; something different. This happened two days ago. I'm not digging it.

I was warned: when starting on these new pills (no, I'm not going to tell you what they are) I'd experience more anxiety for the next few weeks as the old drugs leave my system and my new pharmaceutical hotness takes hold. Read the rest

Canada struggle to end solitary confinement is "justice deferred"

Until recently, under Canadian law, prison administrators could confine their charges to an indefinite period in solitary confinement. Thanks to a pair of high profile court rulings, this could change in a big way, provided the Federal government can get its shit together.

Last month, the Supreme Court in the Canadian province of British Columbia struck down a law that allowed prisoners to be kept indefinitely in solitary confinement. It was a huge win for prison inmates and society: long-term solitary confinement does nothing to rehabilitate or condition an individual to become a more productive member of society. Worse, as humans are social animals, being locked away from our peers for long periods of time can cause psychological trauma--that's not something you want to do to someone who'll eventually be released back into society. Human rights activists in BC applauded the court's decision. Unfortunately, a similar case, heard in a different region of Canada, is keeping the verdict from changing the country's confinement laws.

This past December, a Superior Court Judge in the province of Ontario handed down a verdict that found that solitary confinement lasting any longer than five days is absolute bullshit, according to the Canadian constitution. But, as the CBC details, the practice of doing so does not violate the constitutional rights of the individual being thrown into solitary.

Both verdicts have merit, but which has more weight?

It's a question that the Canadian government has decided can only be answered by another run through the legal system. Read the rest

British court rules that the inhumane conditions in American prisons mean UK hacking suspect can't be legally extradited

Lauri Love is a British man on the autism spectrum who also has depression and severe eczema, who was facing extradition to America on charges of hacking US military and private agencies. Read the rest

South Korea, gripped by suicide epidemic, criminalizes suicide-pacts

South Korea has one of the world's highest suicide rates -- it has steadily mounted since 2000, rising to 25.6 per 100,000. Read the rest

Social scientists have warned Zuck all along that the Facebook theory of interaction would make people angry and miserable

Since the earliest days of Facebook, social scientists have sent up warnings saying that the ability to maintain separate "contexts" (where you reveal different aspects of yourself to different people) was key to creating and maintaining meaningful relationships, but Mark Zuckerberg ignored this advice, insisting that everyone be identified only by their real names and present a single identity to everyone in their lives, because anything else was "two-faced." Read the rest

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