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Date » 2009 » October

Omega-3 Is Not the Bullet

Oct 27 2009 | Comments 23

fish
A new study of heart patients suffering from depression is in itself depressing — at least if you were excited about the potential of omega-3 fatty acids to life your spirits. From the New York Times:

The patients were randomly assigned to a combination of sertraline, an anti-depressant, and either omega-3s or a corn oil placebo. After 10 weeks, there was “absolutely no difference” in depression remission rates between the 59 patients taking omega-3s and the 56 patients taking the placebo, said Robert M. Carney, lead author of the study, which appeared in the Oct. 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“It was very disappointing,” he said.

The trial was launched because patients with heart disease are at greater risk of dying if they are depressed, Dr. Carney said. Depressed patients are known to have low levels of omega-3s, which are a risk factor for heart disease, as well.

Now, with any study, there are multitudinous caveats. It’s a small sample. They had lower levels of omega-3s to begin with. Perhaps there were other factors (i.e., physical illness) that superseded the treatment of depression, yadda yadda.

And there has been other research to suggest omega-3s are useful for depression. USA Today broke down a different study in 2007:

The omega-3 fatty acid in some fish may be a “brain food” that helps ward off depression because it increases gray matter in three areas that tend to be smaller in people who have serious depression, a study suggests today.
The increase could help explain why past studies have found that the omega-3 acid DHA reduces symptoms of depression. The richest sources of DHA are fatty fish and fish-oil capsules.

Researchers gave magnetic resonance imaging tests to 55 adults. Participants also reported everything they ate for 24 hours on two randomly selected days, says study leader Sarah Conklin, a neuroscientist at University of Pittsburgh Medical School. She’ll report her findings at the American Psychosomatic Society meeting in Budapest.

The more DHA a person consumed, the more gray matter there was in three areas of the brain linked to mood: the amygdala, the hippocampus and the cingulate, Conklin says. Seriously depressed people tend to have less gray matter in these areas, she says.

For every yes in research, there’s a no. It’s really frustrating for people looking for answers. That’s why it’s best to just go with your gut: Try what feels right and if it works for you, great. If it doesn’t work for you, move on to something else. But remember: There is no magic bullet — oily or otherwise.


liz | 2:52 PM | alternative treatments, depression

My New Hero: Glenn Close

Oct 27 2009 | Comments 10

glenn
Not because she’s a phenomenal actor, which she is, but because she’s just initiated a new project to banish stigma. The project is highly personal, as she explains on Huffington Post:

As I’ve written and spoken about before, my sister suffers from a bipolar disorder and my nephew from schizoaffective disorder. There has, in fact, been a lot of depression and alcoholism in my family and, traditionally, no one ever spoke about it. It just wasn’t done. The stigma is toxic. And, like millions of others who live with mental illness in their families, I’ve seen what they endure: the struggle of just getting through the day, and the hurt caused every time someone casually describes someone as “crazy,” “nuts,” or “psycho”.

What’s remarkable is not her frankness about this personal history, but her motivation to act, which seems almost like a wholesale rethinking of her career and what it’s meant in popular culture. In Fatal Attraction, for example, she played a woman obsessed with Michael Douglas (those were the days, right Michael?). She loses control of the obsession and becomes terrifying. As Close writes, the movie was a great success, and audiences loved to hate her character.

Alex Forrest is considered by most people to be evil incarnate. People still come up to me saying how much she terrified them. Yet in my research into her behavior, I only ended up empathizing with her. She was a human being in great psychological pain who definitely needed meds. I consulted with several psychiatrists to better understand the “whys” of what she did and learned that she was far more dangerous to herself than to others.

The original ending of Fatal Attraction actually had Alex commit suicide. But that didn’t “test” well. Alex had terrified the audiences and they wanted her punished for it. A tortured and self-destructive Alex was too upsetting. She had to be blown away.

So, we went back and shot the now famous bathroom scene. A knife was put into Alex’s hand, making her a dangerous psychopath. When the wife shot her in self-defense, the audience was given catharsis through bloodshed — Alex’s blood. And everyone felt safe again.

The ending worked. It was thrilling and the movie was a big hit. But it sent a misleading message about the reality of mental illness.

This is a bold admission from a woman who derived so much success from this role, but there’s no escaping what she says. It has long bothered me — and, I suspect, other advocates — that the message there is one of terror and fear.

Not only does Close take on her role in that film, she assesses the entertainment industry as a whole:

Whether it is Norman Bates in Psycho, Jack Torrance in The Shining, or Kathy Bates’ portrayal of Annie Wilkes in Misery, scriptwriters invariably tell us that the mentally ill are dangerous threats who must be contained, if not destroyed. It makes for thrilling entertainment.

There are some notable exceptions, of course — Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, or Russell Crowe’s portrayal of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. But more often than not, the movie or TV version of someone suffering from a mental disorder is a sociopath who must be stopped.

I like to think that her speaking out will change this. As she so eloquently says, silence is the problem. Read more of her elegant prose here. It is well worth it. There you’ll find links to the initiative she’s promoting.

Thank you, Glenn, for speaking out against silence. You rock.


liz | 10:30 AM | SCHIZOPHRENIA, bipolar disorder, celebrities, depression, media, meds

Guess What Today Is?

Oct 20 2009 | Comments 7

First of all, the day I finally return to doing my blog. Second, it’s the day you should do something important. What follows was sent around by Joseph Rogers of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, where I now work.

Take 5 Minutes: Call Your Senators and Rep Now!
Tell them You are Counting on Them to Deliver

All five Congressional committees of jurisdiction have passed a
healthcare reform bill. Several provisions of interest to community mental health and addiction providers have been included thus far but now, it’s crunch time: negotiations are in progress that have a direct impact on whether these provisions will remain in the bills to be voted on by the House and Senate.

Today is National Call-In Day for Health Care Reform. Take 5 minutes to call your Senators and Representative to tell them that you are counting on them to vote YES on health care reform and deliver a bill that includes comprehensive mental health and addiction benefits. Don’t postpone until later in the day: CALL NOW!


liz | 11:46 AM | Uncategorized

Maia Campbell: Setting the Record Straight

Oct 1 2009 | Comments 18

There have been technical difficulties with this blog of late, so I haven’t been able to write about poor Maia Campbell, daughter of influential writer and mental health advocate Bebe Moore Campbell, who passed away a few years ago. I paid tribute to her here.

The deal with Maia is that, after years of erratic behavior, a new video of such behavior went viral in the beginning of September. And despite her mother’s work on mental health issues because of Maia’s illness, and despite former reports of Maia’s being in the hospital for the illness, the gossip media lay the whole thing at the feet of drug use. And not sympathetically, either. TheHollywoodGossip.com put it this way:

Remember Maia Campbell? Yeah, we didn’t either. But apparently years ago she was in Tyrese’s “Lately” and “Sweet Lady” videos, and starred on LL Cool J’s sitcom In The House. As one of the main characters! She was a solid C-lister! Maia Campbell was also featured in a regular role as Nicole in the short-lived FOX series South Central, playing Larenz Tate’s girlfriend, and was on Thea.

Then she just disappeared. Well, Maia Campbell is back today. Apparently as a foul-mouthed prostitute who will do anything for drugs. Crack in particular. … Whenever it was filmed, it certainly does not portray Maia in a very flattering light, as she appears to be under the influence of narcotics such as crack.

Interesting that the first assumption people make about her erratic behavior is that it’s related to crack. Is that because she’s African-American? I believe when Britney Spears started talking with a British accent and behaving strangely (and similarly), crack didn’t enter the picture as a hypothesis.

But I digress.

It’s unfortunate that the below video was leapt upon with such vitriol and assuredness of Maia’s situation, when no one really knew a thing about what was happening with her.

Okay, so you see the people laughing at her. Very nice. The comments on the video over at YouTube are awful. The attitude online on blogs and gossip sites was pretty nasty as well, at least at first. Andrew Belonsky from Defamer (of Gawker parentage) posted the video and other facts about her and said, “Shit, man: this girl’s spouting absolute nonsense. Even her companion’s stupefied” and then went on to chronicle her criminal record. Later, he wrote: “Meanwhile, earlier this year some fans saw her sleeping on a beach and smoking meth. They say she smelled like a bum. We would laugh and point fingers, but, c’mon, this is just sad.” Hmm. Why do I get the feeling he’s not that sad? Then again, can you expect empathy from someone who writes about a woman smelling like a bum? And: Do people even understand what it means when another human being has strong bodily odors? It means they haven’t had appropriate access to sanitation resources. Don’t take your white porcelain toilets and showers for granted; you know how quickly you’ll smell like a bum if you have to live without them? I give you about three, four days. And can you imagine the feeling of having urine run down your pants leg — the grave humiliation, the hopelessness of your situation — and then have people laugh at you: “Damn, she smells like a bum!”

But I digress.

After the hostility about her situation — as well as significant concern from some genuinely kind fans — Campbell’s father and grandmother wanted to clear all the confusion, and did so by posting this on Bebe Moore Campbell’s website:

As a family, we have been struggling with Maia in her illness for quite some time. We continue to hold fast to our faith and hope that some day she will realize that healing will begin when she decides to reach out and accept the help and treatment that have been offered to her. We all have challenges in life that we must face, but when compound problems such mental illness and substance abuse are prevalent, it can appear that there is no way out. However, our sustaining faith and trust in God compels us to believe differently. We strongly believe that Maia will be healed.

We also know that Maia”s mother, the late Bebe Moore Campbell, who devoted much of her later years in life to mental health awareness and education, along with her family members and friends would welcome your prayers and support for Maia”s sustained recovery. In addition, we urge your support for efforts to diagnose and treat mental illness in our community.

We ask that you not only pray for Maia”s wellness, but also commit to understanding this insidious disease, which is devastating our loved ones and community. Help erase the “stigma” of mental illness, which is a very serious barrier to treatment, so that we can help those with the disease to live wholesome lives. Call for more treatment options and prevention strategies, have compassion for those stricken with this illness, and help guide those who have been unable to find their way to appropriate treatment. Additionally, support those families who are struggling to cope with loved ones with the disease because mental illness affects the entire family.

Finally, we ask that you support Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, which was established by Congressional Resolution, H. Con. Res. 134, in April 2008 and is celebrated during the month of July each year. It was established to enhance public awareness of mental illness, especially within minority communities. Please join us in this effort to bring attention to this problem, to identify resources and to strengthen the focus on treatment along with research relative to minorities and mental illness. This is the work that we continue on behalf of Bebe Moore Campbell.

Pretty amazing, right? Very powerful message. Something good is coming from this, after all. And the best of all, at least for now, is from the Daily News‘ Dan Gross:

FINALLY, SOME good news in the ongoing saga of Maia Campbell, the long-troubled actress whose drug use and bipolar disorder have kept her off television and made her the subject of Internet ridicule.

Campbell, the daughter of late author Bebe Moore Campbell, has been placed in a treatment facility, according to an interview that her father, Ellis Gordon, Jr., and her grandmother Doris C. gave to Essence.com.

I hope this is the beginning of a new journey for her, but ridicule or no, the combined demons of drug addiction and mental illness can be incredibly hard to battle. For more truthful, solid information on what are called co-occurring disorders, try the below links:

Co-Occurring Disorders: Integrated Dual Disorders Treatment [SAMHSA]

Co-Occurring Disorders [about.com]

Diagnosis Dictionary: Co-Occurring Disorders [Psychology Today]


liz | 2:45 PM | Uncategorized