Depression in mothers can lead to lower IQs in children

If you’re a depressed mom, you might not be giving your children everything they need to develop to their full potential. That doesn’t mean you can’t; it just means you’ve got to be aware of the potential pitfalls.

A new study followed Chilean mothers and children from ages one to 16. They found that mothers who showed signs of depression tended to raise children with significantly lower IQ scores (7.3 versus 7.8).

Researchers cite less affection along with less attention to providing appropriate learning materials (like books and toys) as reasons for the disparity.

The good news is there’s help for depressed moms. Health care providers need to be paying attention and looking out for symptoms, but if you’re a friend or a spouse, you can help too. If you think a mom in your life might be depressed, encourage her to seek help. Therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes can make a huge difference — not only for the mom, but for the whole family.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Can smoking pot lead to schizophrenia?

The simple answer is maybe. There are a number of studies that link marijuana and schizophrenia, but researchers don’t go so far as to say one leads to the other.

The most recent study was published at the end of last year. It followed 6,788 people who experienced a psychotic episode induced by substances like alcohol and marijuana between 1994 and 2014. In 2014, they counted the number of those subjects who had developed either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder: There were 2,186 (32 percent).

Those who experienced a psychotic episode while or after using cannabis were the most likely to develop schizophrenia (a whopping 41 percent).

It could be that people on the verge of developing schizophrenia are just more likely to use weed, it could be that some people have a gene that activates schizophrenia when they use weed, or it could be that pot can cause a change that leads to schizophrenia in anyone. We don’t know.

We do know that your risk of developing schizophrenia is higher if you use pot at a young age and if you use it in high doses.

One big takeaway from this research is to take substance induced psychotic episodes seriously. If you experience one, you should head to the hospital for help and then follow up regularly with a doctor to make sure your mental health is okay.

Another takeaway is to make sure the young people in your life are aware of the effects marijuana can have on the developing brain. It’s not something to mess around with!

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

College and mental health

I read an article this week about college students’ declining mental health and how their schools are responding, and it reinforced my belief that parents and others can do a much better job preparing their kids for the mental and emotional challenges of adulthood.

Here are some stats from the article:

  • Anxiety and depression are the top concern for students seeking counseling services.
  • Self-harm has increased for the seventh year in a row.
  • 57 percent of directors of college counseling services said the severity of student mental health concerns increased between 2015 and 2016.
  • 9.1 percent of college students reported being diagnosed in the last year with a psychiatric condition.
  • 24 percent of students reported that anxiety affected their academic performance, leading to a lower grade on an exam or project or for the entire course, or receiving an incomplete or dropping the course completely.
  • Just 64 percent of colleges offer on-campus psychiatric services (though that number is increasing).
  • The majority of campuses don’t have enough psychiatric services to meet students’ needs.
  • Only 50 percent of students who consider seeking professional help for mental health issues follow through.

The experts in the article cite social media use and overprotective parenting as two significant contributors to the problem.

Social media can make it appear that no one else is having a hard time, making those who are struggling feel isolated and lonely. There’s pressure, too, to make it look like you’re living an ideal life.

And parents are setting kids up for a difficult transition by protecting them from real-world consequences to an unhealthy degree. The article talks about a lack of resilience in today’s college students, with kids unable to cope with disappointment, manage stress, or deal with change.

Here are some things parents can do at any stage to set kids up for better mental health in college:

  • Teach them they should get help with mental health if they need it.
  • Let them struggle and fail throughout their growing up years!
  • Help them feel like they have worth independent of their successes and failures.
  • Encourage life-long healthy habits like good sleep, healthy eating, and exercise.
  • Teach them problem solving strategies.
  • Teach them healthy ways to deal with stress, like meditation, gratitude, volunteer service, and perspective.
  • Model resiliency by acknowledging your own mistakes and talking about how you are going to be better.
  • Focus more on encouraging their efforts than on praising their successes.

It’s natural to want to swoop in and fix things for our kids when something hard is happening, but our kids will be much better off if we hold strong and let them learn. More support and services in higher education are crucial, but so is stronger parenting.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Healthy coping strategies for OCD

When you’re stressed, you can respond in helpful ways or unhelpful ways. Learning early to respond in those helpful ways (“adaptive coping”) can lead to much better mental health down the road.

A new study found that obsessive-compulsive disorder sufferers tend to be lacking in these healthy coping skills. Instead, they tend to use “maladaptive” skills that temporarily relieve stressed feelings but do nothing to improve the stressful situation.

Examples of adaptive skills include problem solving, meditation, acceptance, and writing in a journal.

Maladaptive responses include getting drunk, avoiding situations, suppressing feelings, and obsessive compulsive rituals.

The study authors point out it’s important to teach all children how to deal with stress in healthy ways:

“Coping skills are important for many aspects of daily life beyond mental health. Teaching children skills such as how to cope with bullying at school, poor performance or problems with their parents, for example, in the framework of general cognitive preventative treatment and resilience training in school, may help children to better deal with emotional turmoil and challenging situations during adolescence. It may also prevent the progression of a vulnerability to later obsessive-compulsive disorder or depression as well as other disorders.”

A basic framework for solving problems can be applied across most stressful situations. The Cognitive Behavioral Research Group at the University of Florida recommends using the acronym CHARGE to remember the best way to cope with social stressors:

Check – See If You’re Angry
Hold on – Calm Down & Think
Analyze – Figure Out the Cause
Reflect – On Possible Solutions
Go for it – Pick a Solution
Evaluate – See What Happened

People suffering from OCD most likely need more than an acronym to deal with their obsessions and compulsions. Learning to choose adaptive over maladaptive coping skills can make life a lot better.  Therapy – especially Exposure Response Prevention – and medication can help!

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Biggest risk factor for dementia: Heavy drinking

Photo: Phil Ashley/Getty Images

Dementia is a terrible thing to watch, and an even more terrible condition to experience. It is defined as a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.

There are things you can do now to prevent later dementia, and a new study suggests that the most important is to take a look at how much alcohol you drink. If you’re a heavy drinker, you’re at increased risk for the condition, including the early onset type.

The study examined 57,000 cases of early onset dementia and found 57 percent of them were tied to heavy drinking (4-5 drinks a day for men and 3 drinks a day for women.)

Once dementia has set in, it’s hard to backpedal. We need to catch and treat problem drinking early.

If your alcohol consumption can be classified as heavy, consider reducing it. Not only can it contribute to dementia, it’s bad for mental health in general. If you’re addicted, seek help. Mental health practitioners can play a role in your recovery. Go here to read more about how we can help!

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Watch for depression in girls who mature early

from news.cornell.edu

The younger a girl is when she gets her period, the more likely she is to show symptoms of depression and antisocial behavior. That association lingers into adulthood, a new study finds, with grown women who started their periods early staying more depressed than their peers.

Parents and health care providers, be vigilant. If your daughter or patient seems moody or down on herself, don’t write it off as normal for her age. Here’s what the study lead had to say:

“It can be very easy for people to dismiss the emotional challenges that come along with growing up as a girl, and say, ‘Oh, it’s just that age; it’s what everyone goes through. But not everyone goes through it, and it’s not just ‘that age.’ And it’s not trivial. It puts these girls on a path from which it is hard to deviate.”

If your daughter goes through puberty early — and these days a third of girls have entered puberty by the age of 8 — watch her especially closely. Talk to her about how she’s feeling. Listen well. Help her to feel safe talking to you. Make sure her primary care provider screens her for depression at her annual check up.

Signs of depression to watch for include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or irritable a lot of the time
  • Not wanting to do or enjoy doing fun things
  • Changes in eating patterns – eating a lot more or a lot less than usual
  • Changes in sleep patterns – sleeping a lot more or a lot less than normal
  • Changes in energy – being tired and sluggish or tense and restless a lot of the time
  • Having a hard time paying attention
  • Feeling worthless, useless, or guilty
  • Self-injury and self-destructive behavior

Our children shouldn’t have to deal with depression alone. Professionals can help. We don’t just throw pills at any sign of a problem, either. There are so many ways to take care of mental health, and we use all of them thoughtfully.

If you think your child might be struggling with depression, reach out for help. You will set them up for a better life.

Go here to read more about the connection between early puberty and psychological problems.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with me, please call 208-918-0958.

Self-compassion and your mental health

It’s probably no surprise to you to hear that perfectionism — ever-unattainable — is bad for your mental health. People who expect perfection are often overly critical of mistakes, which can lead to depression.

I read about a study this week that showed choosing to view yourself in a compassionate light dampens the link between perfectionism and depression. Check out this graph:

That dot on the upper right shows that perfectionists who demonstrate low levels of compassion to themselves are high on the depression scale. The dot on the lower right represents perfectionists who show high levels of compassion to themselves: Much less depressed.

Even if you’re not a perfectionist (like the people represented by the dots on the left side of the graph), self-compassion makes a difference in your mental health.

Let’s talk about ways to develop more kindness toward yourself. Here are some suggestions summarized from Psychology Today:

  1. Treat yourself how you would treat a small child or good friend in a similar situation. If the child or friend made a mistake, would you berate and think less of that person or would you try to comfort and introduce some perspective?
  2. Practice mindfulness. When you find yourself being self-critical, take a moment to just be aware of those criticisms without judging them. Then remember how that voice has protected or motivated you in the past. Understanding helps you avoid rumination, which can lead to depression.
  3. Remember you’re not alone. Everyone messes up. You might think you’re uniquely broken, but we’re all struggling and doing things wrong.
  4. Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Note your mistakes or faults and tell yourself it’s okay; you still have worth and potential.
  5. Work with a professional. A mental health specialist can listen to your self-criticism non-judgmentally and introduce some perspective. He or she will help you and cheer you on as you strive to develop the skills that allow you to see yourself with more compassion.

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.

Gift of love: Reducing your partner’s stress through good listening

With Valentines Day this week, displays of romance have been all around us. Flowers, chocolates, and jewelry are nice, but a more meaningful gift you can give anyone you love is the gift of listening.

This week I read about a study where the researchers measured cortisol (stress hormone) levels in subjects’ spit before and after talking with their significant others about a problem. They pinpointed the best things partners can do in these conversations to reduce stress levels.

  • Acknowledge the person is feeling stress, even if the situation doesn’t seem that stressful to you. Dismissing the problem doesn’t help.
  • Communicate both verbally (e.g. asking questions) and nonverbally (e.g. making eye contact, nodding, and touching). All these things can make cortisol levels go down, and the person is likely to reevaluate the problem in a less-stressed light.
  •  Listen and understand. Don’t offer advice unless the person asks for it; simply legitimize his or her feelings. This can help subdue strong emotional reactions.

High levels of cortisol can lead to sleep problems, headaches, and poor concentration. High cortisol levels gradually wear the body down and contribute to poor health in general.

Your loving support for a loved one, if done correctly, can help him or her have better quality of life. It’s a gift you can keep giving all year long.

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.

Emerging research on the mental health risks associated with cannabis consumption

Rates of cannabis usage have more than doubled in the past decade. Medical marijuana is now legal in half of the United States and is increasing in accessibility to current and future users. Cannabis is now the most widely used illicit substance in the US, more popular than alcohol and cigarettes. Frequent use of cannabis is now twice as common among young people in the 16-24 year old age range. In spite of government and media warnings about health risks, many people believe cannabis to be a harmless substance that helps people to relax and, unlike, alcohol and cigarettes, might even be good for you. Although it is controversial, I believe cannabis should be avoided by the mental health patient and anyone who wants to prevent possible brain dysfunction that can significantly impact basic functioning.

Here are some facts to consider before reaching for cannabis:

What is the chemical makeup of cannabis?  

There are about 400 chemical compounds in an average cannabis plant. The four main ones are delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9-THC), cannabidiol (CBD), delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabinol. All but the CBD are psychoactive (known to affect brain function).

What about stronger varieties?

In herbal cannabis, the concentration of the main psychoactive ingredient, THC, varies hugely — from 1% to 15%. The newer strains can have up to 20%. The newer varieties on the whole are 2-3 times stronger than those available 30 years ago.  Some users may even use these stronger varieties as substitutes for Ecstasy or LSD.

Immediate pleasant effects:

A “high” — a sense of relaxation, happiness, sleepiness. Colors appear more intense, music sounds better.

Unpleasant effects:

Even though THC can produce relaxation in many people, that isn’t the case with all people, particularly those who have a family history of mental illness.  In some people, it can have the opposite effect and may cause unpleasant experiences including confusion, hallucinations, anxiety, and paranoia, depending on mood and circumstances. Some people may experience psychotic symptoms with hallucinations and delusions lasting a few hours. Even though these unpleasant effects typically don’t last long, the drug can stay in the system for weeks and have longer lasting effects than users realize. In some genetically predisposed people, it may trigger the onset of Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder. This is a bigger risk for people who started using cannabis in childhood or adolescence and into the mid twenties, critical brain development stages.

Long term risks:

Over time, cannabis can have a depressant effect and reduce motivation and the abilities to concentrate, organize information, and use information. A recent review of the literature on cannabis’s effect on pilots showed that those who used cannabis made far more mistakes, both major and minor. The worst were in the first four hours after use, though mistakes persisted for at least 24 hours when the pilot had no sense of “feeling high.”  Recent research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that cannabis users have noticeable deficiencies of blood flow in the brain. Notably, the research showed diminished blood flow in the right hippocampus, the area of the brain that helps with memory formation and learning. This is the area severely affected in those that have Alzheimer’s Disease. Other smaller studies of perfusion imaging in marijuana users show lower amounts of frontal, temporal, and occipital lobe blood flow.

Is cannabis addictive?

Yes, it can be. Current evidence now suggests that it can be, particularly if used regularly. Cannabis has the same features of other addictive drugs, such as the development of:

Tolerance: Tolerance means having to take more and more to get the same effect. Heavy users can experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, cravings, decreased appetite, sleep difficulty, weight loss, aggression, irritability, restlessness, and strange dreams. For regular long-term users, 3 out of 4 experience cravings, half become irritable, and 7 out of 10 switch to tobacco in an attempt to stay off cannabis.  The irritability, anxiety, and insomnia usually appear 10 hours after the last joint and peak around one week after last usage.

Compulsive use: Eventually, many regular users become more compulsive in their usage. The user feels they have to have it and spends much of their life seeking, buying, and using cannabis. They cannot stop even when other important parts of their life such as family, friends, school, and work suffer.

How to know if you have a dependency and/or addiction:

Cannabis can become a significant problem for some people. Marijuana-anonymous.org says people have realized they have an addiction when “cannabis controls our lives and our thinking, and … our desires center around marijuana — scoring it, dealing it, and finding ways to stay high so that we lose interest in all else.”

Cannabis is similar to alcohol addiction.  Here are some questions to ask oneself to see if cannabis is a problem. Yes to any of these questions indicates a problem:

  1. Has smoking pot stopped being fun?
  2. Do you ever get high alone?
  3. Is it hard to imagine a life without marijuana?
  4. Do you choose or lose friends based on your marijuana usage?
  5. Do you smoke marijuana to avoid dealing with your problems?
  6. Do you smoke pot to cope with your feelings?
  7. Does your marijuana use let you live in a privately defined world?
  8. Have you ever failed to keep promises you made about cutting back or controlling your pot smoking?
  9. Has marijuana caused problems with memory, concentration, or motivation?
  10. When your stash is nearly empty, do you feel anxious or worried about how to get more?
  11. Do you plan your life around your marijuana use?
  12. Have friends or relatives ever complained that your pot smoking is damaging your relationship with them?

Other reasons not to use cannabis (even if you are not addicted):

Besides the reasons mentioned above, street cannabis may be laced with other more dangerous drugs that could be deadly.  Additionally, there are drug-drug interactions that may make  it unsafe to use with other types of medications. As cannabis over time tends to have a depressant effect and may even increase anxiety, it can counteract any medication your provider prescribes for you. Your provider may ask or even require that you drastically cut down or discontinue your pot use (along with other drugs and alcohol).  Additionally, as it affects motivation, it interferes with the ability to eat healthy, exercise, do psychotherapy, and practice other healthy habits that contribute to mental health.

In conclusion, although cannabis may show short-term alleviation of anxiety symptoms, I believe in the long run it has more risks than benefits and do not recommend mental health patients use cannabis or medical marijuana.

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.

Post-traumatic growth: The silver lining to the stress

We often hear that personal growth comes from the challenges we face, but this week I read about some researchers who have documented that concept.

In the most recent study, scientists interviewed hundreds of survivors of the tornado that rocked Joplin, Missouri, in 2011. The disaster took 161 lives, injured over 1,000 people, and destroyed about a third of the city’s homes.

As is common in situations like this, survivors are dealing with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues. But, according to the interviews, they’re also experiencing post-traumatic personal growth.

Survivors described things like:

  • greater appreciation for life,
  • better ability to relate to others,
  • increased personal strength,
  • access to new possibilities, and
  • spiritual growth.

The interviews included questions about how much survivors had discussed the tornado with friends, family, and neighbors, and researchers found that the more they talked, the more they grew.

Previous studies have measured post traumatic growth in groups like war veterans and breast cancer patients. Take a look at those studies. It’s inspiring to see the goodness people are able to take out of terrible situations!

Study Offers Hope, Sheds Light on How Vets Respond to Trauma

New Study Shows Positive Personal Growth Following Breast Cancer Diagnosis

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.