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

Trials confirm the use of psilocybin for depression without the "dulling" effects of traditional antidepressants

The prohibition on psychedelics was memorably described as "the worst case of scientific censorship since the Catholic Church banned the works of Copernicus and Galileo" by former UK Drugs Czar David Nutt, and despite the ban, there has been a consistent, determined, very promising (sometimes surprising) drumbeat of scientific papers about the use of psilocybin ("magic mushrooms") and other psychedelics in treating a range of chronic illnesses, including mental illnesses. Read the rest

Watch this interesting description of what it's like to be bipolar

In the film The Mess, Ellice Stevens presents a compelling look at what it's like to live with a bipolar diagnosis: the dizzying highs and the staggering lows. Read the rest

How technology's built in "engagement maximization" destroys mental health in the Trump age, and what to do about it

We live in a weaponized news-cycle, a political moment in which a cadre of ruthless looters are destroying the world, magnified by technology's design ethic that uses experimental methodologies to maximize "engagement" (that is, how much attention you give to a tool or application), without any regard to whether your "engagement" is driven by pleasure or anxiety.

Algorithms analyze brain scans to identify people with suicidal thoughts

In a small-scale study, researchers have shown that algorithms can analyze brain scans to determine whether an individual has suicidal thoughts. During the study, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University scientists mentioned words like "death," "trouble," and "carefree" to individuals undergoing fMRI scans of their brains. Apparently those kinds of words spur different brain activity in people who have suicidal thoughts compared to those who don't. The hope is that a better understanding of brain function in suicidal people could lead to better tests to assess risk of suicide and improved psychotherapy. From IEEE Spectrum:

For the study, the researchers recruited 34 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 30—half of them at risk, and the other half not at risk, of suicide. They showed the participants a series of words related to positive and negative facets of life, or words related to suicide, and asked them to think about those words.

Then the researchers recorded, with fMRI, the cerebral blood flow in the volunteers as they thought about those words, and fed the data to the algorithms, indicating which volunteers were at risk of suicide and which weren’t. The algorithms then learned what the neural signatures in the brain of a suicidal person tend to look like.

Then they tested the algorithms by giving them new neural signatures to see how well they could predict, based on learning from other subjects, whether someone was suicidal or not. The classifier did it with 91% accuracy. Separately, the classifier was able to identify, with 94% accuracy, which volunteers had actually made an attempt at suicide, versus having only thought about it.

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Some thoughts on whether intelligence is linked to anxiety and depression

In High intelligence: A risk factor for psychological and physiological overexcitabilities, a group of academic and industry neuroscientists survey a self-selected group of 3,715 MENSA members about their mental health history and find a correlation between high IQ and clinical anxiety and depression disorders, an effect they attribute to "overexitabilities" -- "the same heightened awareness that inspires an intellectually gifted artist to create can also potentially drive that same individual to withdraw into a deep depression." Read the rest

Hoarder Barbie trashes her Dream House

Carrie Becker's Barbie Trashes Her Dreamhouse is a detailed 1:16 scale model of a hoarder house, inside a Barbie Dream House, beautifully and hauntingly photographed. I know hoarders (and am related to a couple) and it's not a joke -- and neither is this amazing work of art. (via Waxy) Read the rest

Dissociative psychedelic Ketamine may help suicidal children

Ketamine is a short-acting dissociative anesthetic commonly used on animals and sometimes people. Of course it's also beloved by many psychonauts for its unusual dreamlike or "out of body" psychedelic effects. While Ketamine has been shown for years to help treat depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder in adults, researchers at Yale School of Medicine now report that it has great promise as a fast-acting intervention for children in crisis. From Scientific American:

It was less dramatic to watch than I expected, but the kids were definitely high. There was a lot of giggling involved, and they often said that they felt like time was changing and that their bodies felt ‘funny’ and sometimes numb. Nicole, (a suicidal 14-year-old,) admitted, “I’m not gonna lie. I like the feeling of it.”

Perhaps more dramatic than the trips themselves, which happened in a carefully controlled procedure room with a psychiatrist and anesthesiologist ready to intervene if needed, were the interviews that came after. I could see the weight of depression lifted from these patients within hours. Adolescents who were previously ready to end their own lives became bright and hopeful. Psychiatry has never seen a drug intervention so powerful and fast acting. While most anti-depressants take weeks to work and offer modest improvement, ketamine offers dramatic improvement in less than a day...

Dr. Michael Bloch, Yale child psychiatrist and principal investigator of several controlled trials for ketamine for adolescents, points out that the drug is only used for select patients who have severe mental health problems that have not responded to other medications.

Read the rest

Text to Save Lives - Crisis Text Line Needs YOU!

Twice in my life I tried seeking help when I was feeling suicidal: once from an in-person counselor, and once from a phone based hotline. Both services failed to provide the support I needed, and I left the experience feeling just as bad, if not worse. Thanks to mobile technology and one great idea, we now have another option — Crisis Text Line — and they need volunteers who can text, particularly late at night, since peak crisis hours are between 8pm and 4am. Read the rest

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