Tag Archives: mental 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.

“Forest bathing” for your health

There’s a video going around social media about the Japanese practice of “forest bathing,” and it’s a concept I believe in and love.

What is Japanese “forest bathing” and how can it improve your …

Need a boost? This is the power of a walk among the trees. Read more: http://wef.ch/2nWtXUR

Posted by World Economic Forum on Tuesday, April 4, 2017

 

The Japanese phrase for “forest bathing” — or taking in the forest atmosphere — is “shinrin-yoku,” and the government has been promoting it since the 1980s.

Japanese researchers have spent a lot of time studying the effects of shinrin-yoku. They’ve found that time spent in forest environments reduces feelings of stress, anxiety, and anger and improves energy. On the physiological front, it promotes lower levels of stress hormone, lower pulse, and lower blood pressure. Researchers have even found that forest bathing increases the activity of “natural killer” cells in the immune system. These cells respond to viruses and tumors. The scientists attribute the change to phytoncides, or the oils trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects. As forest bathers inhale them, they’re inhaling better immune system health.

The concept behind forest bathing is one of the reasons I offer walking therapy sessions on the Boise greenbelt. Getting out in nature is good for the soul, and there’s science to prove it.

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.

 

The future of depression treatment is in your blood

I’ve written before about how prescribing medication for depression can be an imprecise science. Often it takes multiple tries before we find the right drug or combination of drugs to send your depression into remission.

A study from Dr. Madhukar Trivedi (front) demonstrated that measuring a depressed patient’s C-reactive protein level can help doctors prescribe an antidepressant that is more likely to work. (utsouthwestern.edu)

Scientists are working on that problem, though, and a new study shows promising results: Researchers found that a simple blood test can indicate which type of medication is most likely to work on a given patient.

In this study, researchers took finger pricks of patients’ blood and measured levels of a protein called C-reactive protein (CRP). They treated the patients with one of two medication options and found that people with low levels of the protein responded a lot better to one medication, while people with high levels of the protein responded a lot better to the other.

There is a lot more research to be done. More medications need to be tested alongside CRP measurements, and other markers need to be found to fill in the gaps where CRP isn’t enough of an indicator.

This is a promising start, though, and I’m excited to see where further research goes.

Go here to read more about the study.

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.

Mental health and your spirituality

I frequently get calls from people wondering how I involve spirituality with my patients. Some wonder if they have to be a certain religion to benefit from the spiritual aspect of my counseling.

The answer is no. In most cases, my practice is supportive of all types of spirituality that the client finds helpful. Whether it be prayer, spiritual literature, meditation, appreciation of nature, or recognition of some higher power, whether it be Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, unaffiliated, or something else, I respect my client’s preference and if appreciated, I encourage and support these religious or spiritual feelings.

We may explore what their spirituality means to them and whether there is conflict within them that may be contributing to difficulties. For some, we may do some meditative relaxation exercises.

Research shows spirituality contributes to good mental health, regardless of religion. That could be because spirituality encourages a broader, less selfish perspective. It promotes a sense of one-ness with a larger whole.

A 2014 study showed religion and spirituality actually showed up in brain scans: A particular brain cortex was thicker in patients who said religion or spirituality was important to them. Interestingly, that cortex is one that tends to be thinner in people who are at risk for depression.

There can be a downside to spirituality, though: Those who have negative spiritual beliefs–that bad things happen as punishment from a higher power, for example–have worse mental and physical health than those whose spiritual beliefs are only positive. These negative beliefs are something we can explore in therapy.

So whatever you believe, let’s talk about how we can make spirituality a part of your healing process.

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.

Facebook comparisons: Bad for mental health

If you find yourself looking at your friends’ Facebook posts and comparing your life to theirs in a negative way, Facebook is probably not for you.

I find myself giving this advice to so many of my patients that I was not surprised to see a study on the topic published last week. It evaluated the results of studies on social media and depression from 14 countries and found that these social media comparisons are more likely to lead to depression than the comparisons we make in real life.

The link was especially strong in people who post on Facebook frequently and in people who accept friend requests from their exes.

Facebook depression is a real thing: in 2011 the American Academy of Pediatrics described it as “depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.”

And in my experience, it’s real for some adults, too.

If you’re one of these people who feels depressed after being on Facebook, the solution is simple: Skip it! Uninstall Facebook from your phone! Stop visiting the site from your computer! You do not need that negativity in your life.

If browsing social media is your favorite way of relaxing, find a replacement. Go back to reading books. Find a cell phone game you like. Read the news. Look for DIY inspiration on Pinterest. Do crosswords or sudoku. Get a grown-up coloring book. There are lots of options!

Know yourself and what makes you happy, then choose that. In a lot of cases, it’s not Facebook.

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.

Your body under emotional stress: It’s not pretty

Let’s talk about stress. You know it’s bad for you emotionally, but did you know it’s dangerous physically, too?

It’s true. When you’re stressed out and you repress it, the stress can resurface as a physical illness. You may even find yourself in the emergency room with chest pains and shortness of breath — a panic attack masquerading as a  heart attack.

While panic attacks won’t kill you immediately, the long term effects of your anxiety can. We’re talking about blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Stress contributes to each of those.

In the short term, you could experience pain in your head, chest, stomach, or muscles. You might feel fatigued and have trouble sleeping. You could see changes in your sex drive. You might take longer than usual to recover from illness.

You also have to watch out for harmful behavior that could be addictive. Some people self harm or turn to drugs and alcohol to escape their anxiety. Others find an outlet in shopping, gambling, or sexual behavior they later regret.

So you need to find healthy ways to fight your stress. You probably know better than anyone what relaxes you: Is it exercise? Doing art or another hobby? Being with family or friends? Getting a massage? Being in nature? Meditation?

Therapy can be so helpful. Your therapist can help you identify sources of stress and strategies for relieving it. Even just having someone to listen in a non-judgmental way while you talk about your problems can be a big help.

So if you’re stressed, come on in. Let’s talk about it.

Promising new treatment for depression

Here’s some good news for people who have been having a hard time finding treatment that works for their depression: Scientists are on their way to developing a new and improved one.

The hippocampus.
The hippocampus.

Researchers recently figured out which pathway in the brain antidepressants affect. They call it the BMP signaling pathway, and it’s in the hippocampus. They learned that Prozac and other drugs interrupt this pathway, triggering the brain to produce more neurons — neurons that affect mood.

Armed with this new understanding, they turned to the lab mice. Researchers injected the mice with a brain protein already known to block the BMP pathway. They discovered the protein–called Noggin–does a better job blocking the pathway than traditional antidepressants do.  But more importantly, mice receiving this treatment showed strong signs of overcoming depression.

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I wasn’t sure what depression looked like in rats (or mice), but this study enlightened me on some symptoms: When you hang mice upside down by their tails, some will struggle for a long time to right themselves, and some will give up. Giving up is a sign of depression. Similarly, if you put mice in a complicated maze, some explore and some cower. Cowering is a sign of depression, too.

The mice who were receiving the Noggin injections struggled more and explored more than their counterparts who weren’t receiving treatment.

I’m always excited by new discoveries about how the brain works. With our growing understanding, medication for depression will only get better and 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.

Why do antidepressants take so long to kick in?

Quick review of some of the biology behind depression, as scientists understand it: Depressed people are short on a chemical messenger called serotonin. The most popular type of antidepressant (the SSRI) blocks serotonin from reabsorbing into brain cells, leaving more of it hanging around to do its job: boost your mood.

Minutes after you swallow your SSRI pill, the drug bonds to its
targets. But patients don’t see the expected mood boost until weeks or even months later.

Scientists have been trying to understand the delay for a long time, and this week I read some good news: There’s been a breakthrough.

The surprising thing is that it has nothing to do with serotonin. A team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have been studying a different signaling molecule called the G protein. In previous research they’ve found that in depressed people, these proteins tend to get stuck in a fatty part of the cell membrane called the lipid raft. While stranded there, the G proteins can’t signal. The researchers suggest this diminished signaling could explain the numb feeling people with depression experience.

The team took rat brain cells and bathed them in SSRIs. Over time, they saw the drug build up in the lipid raft area, and as that happened fewer G proteins stuck around. They escaped to areas where they could better do their signaling.

So that’s it, they concluded. That’s why antidepressants are taking so long to work: They’ve got to build up in the cell membrane enough to send the G proteins on their way.

Here’s the part you really care about: Understanding this should lead to better antidepressants. There’s more research to do, but eventually SSRIs will work to speed up that G protein migration, hopefully leading to quicker effects.

This is definitely a topic I’ll be keeping an eye on. I’ll keep you posted!

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.

Mindfulness: It’s good for your heart

Over the years, I’ve seen mindfulness meditation make a big difference for clients dealing with depression and anxiety. But today I learned that mindfulness is good for the heart not just metaphorically, but physically as well. 

A new study shows that people who are more mindful — in other words, they are better at focusing on “the now” instead of rehashing the past or worrying about the future — have healthier glucose levels. Two things that might help explain this connection, researchers found, are: 1. Mindful people are less likely to be obese, and 2. Mindful people have a stronger sense of control over their lives — they believe they can make important changes.

This is good news for everyone, not just the mindful among us, because mindfulness is a trait that can be learned and developed. Working with a therapist is helpful, but practicing mindful meditation on your own can be, too. You can even find apps for your smartphone that will walk you through various meditations, helping bring your mind back to what is going on inside and around you.

Eventually, we hope, doing these mindfulness exercises will help you cultivate the everyday mindfulness that will change how you behave and how you respond to stressful situations.

So let’s work to be more aware of the world around us! It’s good for our hearts!


Wondering where you fall on the mindfulness spectrum? Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do you find yourself running on autopilot frequently?
  • Do you forget names soon after you hear them?
  • Do you snack without being aware of what you’re eating?
  • Do you break or spill things out of carelessness?

Go here for the full questionnaire researchers use to measure mindfulness. 


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.

Critical parenting tied to persistent ADHD

I read an interesting study this week that showed a link between parental criticism and persistent ADHD.

It’s common for ADHD symptoms to decrease as children get older. That’s not true for all cases, though, and an important question for those developing treatment strategies and medications for ADHD is: What’s the difference?

This study identifies one difference. The researchers examined over 500 children–some with the attention disorder and some without–and their families for three years. They asked parents on two occasions to talk about their relationship with their child uninterrupted for five minutes.

In those families where parents used harsh, negative language when talking about the child, the child failed to show the usual improvement in ADHD symptoms over the three year period.

As with all studies, saying the connection shows a cause would be inaccurate. All they know right now is that there’s a link between parental criticism and persistent ADHD.

Here’s what one of the researchers says:

“We cannot say, from our data, that criticism is the cause of the sustained symptoms. Interventions to reduce parental criticism could lead to a reduction in ADHD symptoms, but other efforts to improve the severe symptoms of children with ADHD could also lead to a reduction in parental criticism, creating greater well-being in the family over time.”

ADHD is hard on families.  That’s one reason I recommend involving the whole family in therapy for this and many other disorders.

Go here to read more about the study and here to read more about ADHD.

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.