All posts by Satu Woodland

Owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions and Talk and Walk in Boise, Idaho with an additional office in Meridian, ID.

“Immuno-neurology”: The future of mental health treatment?

The evidence has been building up for years: Inflammation and depression are linked, and treating inflammation can lead to improvement in depression symptoms.

It looks like scientists have gotten to the point where the connection is no longer a maybe.

Here’s what Cambridge’s head of Psychiatry said at a recent forum:

“In relation to mood, beyond reasonable doubt, there is a very robust association between inflammation and depressive symptoms. … The question is does the inflammation drive the depression or vice versa or is it just a coincidence? In experimental medicine studies if you treat a healthy individual with an inflammatory drug, like interferon, a substantial percentage of those people will become depressed. So we think there is good enough evidence for a causal effect.”

Inflammation is a symptom of an overactive immune system–hence the “immuno-neurology” Professor Bullmore believes is around the corner. When the immune system receives signals that indicate a threat, it triggers inflammation: It’s gathering blood cells and making other changes the body needs to heal a wound. These changes can lead to a depressed mood.

So scientists are planning formal trials using anti-inflammatory drugs to treat depression. Other tests have shown anti-inflammatory drugs work well as supplements to anti-depressants, but researchers are confident the anti-inflammatories will work well by themselves.

In the meantime, here are some tips for reducing inflammation from telegraph.co.uk:

  • Exercise — Depression can result from chronic ongoing stress and exercise acts like a biological insurance plan against the bodily effects of stress. 20 minutes, three times a week or more of anything that gets you sweaty is all that’s needed.
  • Diet — Eliminate processed foods, especially sugar and refined carbohydrates which may increase inflammation in the body. Eat plenty of natural foods including fruits and vegetables, pastured animal products and eggs and wild fish.
  • Meditate — Meditation stimulates the expression of genes that are powerfully anti-inflammatory. Just ten minutes a day of mindfulness, deep breathing or gratitude journaling can help mood.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

 

Brain region for “hearing voices” identified

Good news for schizophrenic people who hear voices: Scientists have found the region of the brain involved in the delusion. It’s a specific spot in the temporal lobe, where language originates.

Even better, targeting that area with magnetic pulses decreased the symptom for some patients.

The magnetic pulse success ratio was not overwhelming — in the recent study, 34.6 percent of people who received the magnetic treatment saw significant improvement, compared to 9.1 percent of people who didn’t have the treatment — but it’s still a good sign. It’s good to have options, especially for patients who don’t respond to medication.

Hearing voices, or Auditory Verbal Hallucination, is a common symptom of schizophrenia: About 70 percent of people suffering from the disorder will hear voices at some point.

Other symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • Visual hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Thought disorders (unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking)
  • Movement disorders (agitated body movements)
  • “Flat affect” (reduced expression of emotions via facial expression or voice tone)
  • Reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life
  • Difficulty beginning and sustaining activities
  • Reduced speaking
  • Poor “executive functioning” (the ability to understand information and use it to make decisions)
  • Trouble focusing or paying attention
  • Problems with “working memory” (the ability to use information immediately after learning it)

The term “schiz” comes from the Greek word for “split” — which is probably why a lot of people confuse schizophrenia with multiple personality disorder (now known as dissociative identity disorder). In reality, the two are distinct disorders. Schizophrenia is so named because of the disconnect (or split) from reality its sufferers often feel.

Most people develop symptoms of schizophrenia between the ages of 16 and 30.

If someone you love is showing signs of schizophrenia, encourage him or her to get treatment. There’s a lot we can do to help!

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

What you’ll find when you Google “depression”

Google has partnered up with an unexpected ally: the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Together, they’re rolling out a cool new feature to point depressed people toward help.

Starting this week, when you use a mobile device to search “depression” or something similar, here’s what you’ll see:

If you click on the link to check if you’re depressed, it will first bring up this screen:

and then will walk you through the nine questions of the PHQ-9 Questionnaire–the one medical professionals use to diagnose depression:

Select your answers for each question, and you’ll see your results:

I love that the new feature emphasizes that depression is common and treatable. Right now, only a fraction of people suffering from depression are receiving appropriate care. I hope as more people understand that the condition is treatable, the number of people seeking care will grow. The understanding of how common depression is should help, too, with reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness. If you know your condition is shared by millions of Americans, you’re less likely to be ashamed and more likely to acknowledge your problem enough to seek help.

Good move, Google and NAMI!

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Close friendships as a teen matter for later mental health

from mail.co.uk

A new study shows it’s not the popular teens who are setting themselves up for good mental health later in life; it’s the ones who form close friendships, however few they are.

A group of researchers followed 169 teenagers over 10 years. They questioned them every year about friendships and mental health. The teens with higher quality friendships tended to improve in mental health over time, while the popular teens without close friendships more often developed social anxiety after high school.

It’s not that those close high school friendships always last, the authors said, but the ability to develop close friendships tends to stay with you throughout your life. Furthermore, good friends help you feel good about yourself at an age when personal identity is being developed.

Here’s what the study’s coauthor had to say:

“Our study affirms that forming strong close friendships is likely one of the most critical pieces of the teenage social experience. Being well-liked by a large group of people cannot take the place of forging deep, supportive friendships. And these experiences stay with us, over and above what happens later. As technology makes it increasingly easy to build a social network of superficial friends, focusing time and attention on cultivating close connections with a few individuals should be a priority.”

Mental health challenges can make it harder to form friendships. If you’re a teen struggling to make the friendships that could serve you well throughout your life, here are some tips from the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

  • Identify things you enjoy and look for clubs, classes, or teams of people who enjoy the same thing (meetup.com is a great resource!)
  • Volunteer with an organization you care about.
  • Attend mental health support groups with people in your age range.
  • Don’t wait for people to reach out to you: send a text, post a message, initiate a conversation.
  • Be a good friend: listen, keep secrets, offer advice when appropriate.
  • Don’t give up if not all your attempts are successful! Every relationship teaches you something. Learn and grow.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Stop apologizing for your mental health

(Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

I read an opinion piece this week that was right on target. Its main point: We need to stop apologizing for our mental health.

The author recognizes how far we’ve come in reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness — those living with different conditions are posting about them on social media and even talking about them at work, while many athletes and other celebrities have addressed their own issues in public — but says the stigma will remain as long as we keep apologizing for the way mental health affects our lives.

If we stay in because we’re too depressed or anxious to go out — no need to apologize. If we are visibly hyper when having a manic episode — don’t say sorry. If we take medication for mental health in front of someone — no apology necessary.

Of course we need to apologize if we treat someone badly, but if we’re just acting oddly or showing symptoms of a mental illness, there’s no need to be embarrassed or regretful. Here’s how the column’s author puts it:

“It’s almost as if we’re just about comfortable enough to say, ‘yes, I have a mental illness’, but we’re not quite brave enough to do it without worrying about what other people might think, which leads us to apologising for every symptom that may come to light in front of other people.

“But I feel continuing to do so is just taking us two steps back from having complete and utter freedom to speak out about mental health issues.

“While I understand it can be an uncomfortable subject for many, especially if they don’t have any friends or family who themselves live with mental illness, I think we need to remember that it is just that: an illness.

“Much like a broken leg, the illness affects your way of life. It affects the way you think, the way you feel, the way you act, and the way you live your life.

“But as it’s an invisible illness, we’re so quick to forget this. The people around us forget this.

“And because of that, people who live with a mental illness go on to feel guilty about it, feeling as though the only way they can confidently talk about it is to apologise at the start of the conversation.

“But look at it this way. Would a person apologise to you before taking a paracetamol for a headache? Would they apologise to you because they broke a bone and can’t make it out that night? No, they wouldn’t.

“They would tell you they weren’t well, and they wouldn’t feel guilty about it – because there’s simply nothing they can do about it.”

The columnist has a lot more to say, too. It’s worth a read. Check it out here.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Conquering anxiety with exposure therapy

Recently I was talking to a family member about his struggles with anxiety, and I gave him this advice: Do one thing every day that makes you uncomfortable. 

Even the thought of doing that is distasteful, but the concept is the basis of something called Exposure Response Prevention (EPR), a therapy that works! I use it regularly with my patients suffering from OCD and anxiety, and I’ve seen great results.

The idea is that conquering these small uncomfortable tasks will lead you to taking on bigger anxiety-producing situations that are causing problems in your life. The anxiety will lessen as you regularly face it.

For example, let’s say you have social anxiety and it’s preventing you from having the romantic relationships you crave. In therapy, I would help you make a plan to do something every day that your anxiety would normally prohibit you from doing. You could start out by nodding to a stranger as you pass them on the street. Then you could move on to making a phone call and having a conversation with someone safe. You could talk to someone in line with you at the grocery store. As you do something like this every day, you’ll be emboldened to try a conversation with someone you find attractive, ask someone to dance, or invite someone on a date.

The important thing is to avoid “ritualizing” after the uncomfortable action. For someone with social anxiety, the ritual is often along the lines of obsessively rehashing the interaction in their head. Those with other anxieties or obsessions might google phrases related to their fear or wash their hands repeatedly, for example. Instead of indulging in the ritual, you should purposefully do something else after the experience.

It may be daunting to think of taking on the goal to do something every day that makes you uncomfortable, but it really works. An experienced therapist can help guide you through the process.

For people out there dealing with OCD, anxiety, and other mental disorders, there is hope! If you’re willing to accept help and set goals, you can come to lead the life you want to lead.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Use these for better sleep

Sleep is so important for your mental health, but 45 percent of Americans say lack of quality sleep regularly affects their daily activities.

A possible culprit these days, according to a recent study, is the blue light coming from the screens we all love. Blue light keeps us alert and regulates our internal clock. We get it naturally from the sun, but the light coming from our TVs, computers, and smart phones is stimulating our brains long past sunset.

The good news is there’s a simple solution. Either cut out screen time at night or start wearing special glasses for a few hours before bedtime.

In the study, participants wore blue light-blocking glasses for three hours before bedtime while continuing to use screens as usual. At the end of two weeks, their melatonin levels were up 58 percent — a huge increase. The participants fell asleep faster and slept better and longer than they had before using the glasses.

Just search “blue light blocking glasses” online and you’ll find plenty of retailers selling the product at various price points. Your newer devices may have a blue light-blocking setting that you could use for a similar effect.

If your mental health is not where you’d like it to be, come see me. We’ll talk about sleep and other lifestyle changes you can make to start feeling better.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

 

CEO’s A+ response to an employee’s mental health day

In a recent email to her colleagues, a Michigan software developer dealing with depression and anxiety wrote:

“I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%.”

from businessinsider.com

Her CEO’s response was perfect:

“I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health — I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can bring our whole selves to work.”

The employee, Madalyn Parker, tweeted about the interaction and it’s gone viral. More than 16,000 people have retweeted her original post.

Madalyn has written elsewhere about her experience being open about her mental health at work, and it sounds like her company is setting a high standard for caring about its employees on all levels. She says the company’s generally supportive and empathetic atmosphere gave her the courage to tell her bosses and coworkers about her struggles and how they affect her at work. In response, colleagues have learned how to recognize her dark episodes and how to help.

It’s wonderful to hear a story like this. Mental health has been so stigmatized for so many years, and it’s refreshing to see it coming out of the shadows. Mental health is health. As Madalyn’s CEO put it in a blog post, “When an athlete is injured they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.”

If you work in a supportive and positive environment, consider being honest about your mental health needs. The more we open up, the more mental illness emerges as a real illness that needs attention and treatment. Your honesty may encourage other colleagues to take the time they need to focus on their mental health and get back to a place where they can — most importantly — feel good, but also contribute more fully to the company.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Depression: Physiological differences in teenage boys and girls

By the time they hit 15, teenage girls are twice as likely as teenage boys to suffer from depression.

This could be because girls tend to think more negatively, dwelling on social and body image stressors. They’re also more likely to have experienced sexual abuse and other negative events. On a biological level, their hormones fluctuate more and they’re more vulnerable to inflammation.

A group of scientists from the U.K. and the U.S. wanted to understand what was happening in the brains of depressed teenage boys versus depressed teenage girls. They hooked up both depressed and non-depressed boys and girls to fMRI equipment and gave them a task: Press a button when you see a happy word. Don’t press it when you see a sad word. (Such an activity puts something called cognitive control to the test. Impaired cognitive control has been associated with depression.) Then they watched what happened in the subjects’ brains.

To keep it simple, they saw differences between the sexes, specifically in the brain’s supramarginal gyrus (an area thought to be involved in emotional responses) and posterior cingulate (an area associated with control, awareness, and memory). When faced with a cognitive control task, there’s a lot less activation going on for males with depression compared to healthy males–depressed and healthy female brains were relatively similar in that situation.

So what does this new knowledge do for the study of depression? It emphasizes that teenage boys and teenage girls suffering from depression have different things going on in their brains. The way we treat –and try to prevent –the disorder should, therefore, be different.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Probiotics to treat depression?

It’s not official yet, but a new study suggests taking probiotics could relieve symptoms of depression.

Remember several months ago, when I wrote about the relationship between your gut and your mental health? I recommended changing what you eat to develop a healthier gut. Well, this new study is along those same lines: Taking a probiotic to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS–a gut affliction) can also treat depression and anxiety.

It was just a small study with 44 participants. Each had both IBS and mild to moderate anxiety or depression. Half the participants took a probiotic (Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001, to be specific), while half took a placebo.

In the end, 14 of the 22 probiotic takers reported improvement in their depression symptoms, compared to half that number in the placebo group.

The researchers took it further and scanned the participants’ brains: Those whose depression symptoms had improved also showed changes in areas of the brain associated with mood control.

We need to see a larger version of this study before we start jumping on board, but given the established connection between the gut and the brain, I think it’s a promising area of research.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.