The suicide rate in Colorado has dropped 40% during COVID quarantine

From the Denver Post:

Colorado recorded a 40% decrease in suicides in March and April as social-distancing policies aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus kept residents home, according to provisional death-certificate data from the state health department.

The data helps paint a complex picture of the mental and emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. While suicides are down from 2019 levels, Colorado Crisis Services saw an almost 48% increase calls in March and April compared to last year, with most callers seeking help for anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.

Donald Trump (and all of his parrot pundits, by extension) have shamelessly exploited the threat of increased suicides as a reason to "re-open the economy" sooner. This rang hollow before, as it was an excuse often given by people who had never seemed overly concerned about suicide, addiction, or mental health beyond the generic self-serving platitudes that virtue-signal their bare-minimum humanity. Now, it seems like an even more disgusting excuse to profit on the back of human lives.

The Denver Post article does quote from a few experts, who share their possible theories on why this might be happening. Anxieties are, of course, running high, as evidenced by the jump in calls to crisis hotlines. But some people think that this unprecedented crisis may actually be helping to create a sense of community; seeing so many other people so visibly struggling might put things into perspective for some people. Another theory is that people at risk for suicide might be too overwhelmed by the adrenaline of day-to-day survival — figuring out the logistics of simply things like groceries — that it might be temporarily suppressing their emotional pain. Read the rest

The "psychobiome" is bacteria in your gut that affects how you think and act

An array of scientific evidence suggest that in some cases, the bacteria in your gut–your microbiome–could be tied to neurological and psychological disorders and differences, from anxiety and autism to Parkinson's and schizophrenia. The journal Science published a survey of the field and the Cambridge, Massachusetts start-up Holobiome that hopes to use insight into this "psychobiome" to develop treatments for depression, insomnia, and other conditions with a neurological side to them. From Science:

For example, many people with irritable bowel syndrome are also depressed, people on the autism spectrum tend to have digestive problems, and people with Parkinson’s are prone to constipation.

Researchers have also noticed an increase in depression in people taking antibiotics—but not antiviral or antifungal medications that leave gut bacteria unharmed. Last year, Jeroen Raes, a microbiologist at the Catholic University of Leuven, and colleagues analyzed the health records of two groups—one Belgian, one Dutch—of more then 1000 people participating in surveys of their types of gut bacteria. People with depression had deficits of the same two bacterial species, the authors reported in April 2019 in Nature Microbiology.

Researchers see ways in which gut microbes could influence the brain. Some may secrete messenger molecules that travel though the blood to the brain. Other bacteria may stimulate the vagus nerve, which runs from the base of the brain to the organs in the abdomen. Bacterial molecules might relay signals to the vagus through recently discovered “neuropod” cells that sit in the lining of the gut, sensing its biochemical milieu, including microbial compounds.

Read the rest

Listen to Daniel Johnston's tragically beautiful cover of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend"

In 1996, the wonderful outsider musician and artist Daniel Johnston, who died last year, recorded this lovely and moving cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend." Johnston's childhood friend Dale Dudgeon, drummer Dave Jungen, and the Butthole Surfers' Paul Leary played on the track, produced by Johnston's friend Brian Beattie. They recorded the song for If, a still-unreleased Johnston album.

According to a Vulture article from last year, Beattie said Johnston, who suffered from mental health issues and excessive fluid in the brain, "was an emotional wreck at the time and desperately wanted this reunion. A few days later, he was hospitalized."

(via r/ObscureMedia) Read the rest

Comedian Maria Bamford tried to get a restraining order against Donald Trump

In this clip from Late Night with Seth Myers, comedian Maria Bamford talks about how she tried to take out a restraining order against "the unregistered sex offender in the White House." She said she felt unsafe having such a person in the Oval Office.

She says she "went down to the local courthouse. Saw a judge within a half hour. He denied me. Ultimately a useless gesture that didn't further the conversation in any way and wasted the time of caring professionals."

There are some other funny and heartwarming moments during the interview. Like, Maria picks people on Twitter and then meets up with them at Dunkin' Donuts to workshop her comedy. She also talks about the comedy special she did in front of an audience of two: her parents. And she talks about her show "What's Your Ailment?," where she talks, mainly to celebrities and fellow comedians, about dealing with mental health issues, something that Maria has very openly and courageously struggled with.

Image: YouTube Read the rest

Why do new psychotherapies work, and then stop?

On Slate Star Codex, psychiatrist Scott Alexander offers a "book review of "All Therapy Books", which is a jumping-off point for asking how it is that psychotherapy is periodically rocked by new therapies that seem to perform incredibly well, but whose confirmed efficacy shelves off over time. Read the rest

Diet and depression: what you eat impacts your mood

For years a friend has been telling my diet was hurting my general demeanor. Read the rest

Gaming's #MeToo moment: male fragility versus women's fundamental rights

The latest turn in the Gamergate sage: Zoe Quinn (previously) outed their former partner, game dev Alec Holowka as a sexual and emotional abuser, which prompted others to come forward with their own stories of abuse at Holowka's hands, which led to Holowka being kicked out of his Night in the Woods game project -- and shortly thereafter, Holowka committed suicide. Read the rest

It's possible to be paralyzed by choice

Mental health problems are a pain in the ass. One of the more obnoxious coping mechanisms I used to use to deal with depression and anxiety was shopping.

Having nightmares again? Stressed out? But something new! You earned it, pal! Sometimes, the brief rush of endorphins I'd snag from spending a little dough was enough to allow me to slide through another day without addressing any of the problems I was suffering from. On other days, I'd buy something I knew damn well that I didn't need and feel almost instantly guilty. I'd want to return it, but the shame and embarrassment of walking back into a store and having to explain myself felt like too much to tolerate. I'd find ways around having to return stuff by buying non-returnable items, like digital downloads. Back when I was first confronting my addiction to this kind of rampant consumerism, I figured out that I had spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000 on iTunes downloads over a five-year period.

That's fucked up, by anyone's standard.

I thought that starting into a career as a tech journalist would help to cure me of my desire to buy stuff all of the time: if I get to play with all the latest gear for free, there's no need to invest any cash in it, right? Nah. I hoped that my exposure to new and fabulous things would allow me to tire of them after spending some time with them. Instead, I ended up having a better idea of what I wanted to buy and, as I already knew what a given product could do, was able to talk myself into it, guilt-free. Read the rest

To fight gun violence, Trump proposes detaining mentally ill Americans

The solution to gun violence is putting mentally ill people in those detention camps, too. Read the rest

My Life on the Road — Staying Still

I've been back in Canada since May and I am certain I am losing my mind. It's a certainty that takes hold of me, every year.

We come home because we have to. As Canadians, we can only stay in the Untied States for a maximum of six months at a time. This past year, we stayed just shy of five months in the United States and, another two, down in Mexico. We drove back across the Canadian border with a few days left to spare. This dates-in-da-States wiggle room is important as I sometimes have to head south for work. I'd rather not get into dutch with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Being back in Canada for half the year is , a must if we want to hold on to our sweet-ass socialized medical care (which we totally do.) and for my wife to return to work. While she's a certified dive instructor, she also loves the land-locked gig she works for half of the year. We also come home because we want to. I have few friends and work remotely. Disappointment and distrust have left me happy in the small company of my partner, our pooch and a few well-chosen friends that I seldom see. My missus? Not so much. Community is important to her. Her sister's family—now my family—means the world to her. Reacquainting herself with her people, each year, brings her a happiness that I try hard to understand. I love to see her light up around her friends. Read the rest

Oregon now excuses students for "mental health days"

Oregon governor Kate Brown signed a bill that excuses public school students for taking "mental health days" just as they are excused for other illnesses. The bill was spearheaded by youth activists. From the Associated Press:

(Eighteen-year-old Hailey) Hardcastle, who plans to attend the University of Oregon in the fall, said she and fellow youth leaders drafted the measure to respond to a mental health crisis in schools and to “encourage kids to admit when they’re struggling.”

Debbie Plotnik, vice president of the nonprofit advocacy group Mental Health America, said implementing the idea in schools was important step in challenging the way society approaches mental health issues.

“We need to say it’s just as OK to take care for mental health reasons as it is to care for a broken bone or a physical illness,” she said.

(Image: "Conceptual illustration of mental health" by Quince Media, (CC BY-SA 4.0)) Read the rest

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.

Image: Public Domain, Link Read the rest

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.

Read the rest

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.

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