We're a little crazy, about science!

Mental health

On the prefrontal cortex and abuse

Adulthood is often thought of as the point where you’re done developing. Most states for example don’t allow anyone under 21 to drink because that was where we drew the line, but we allow people as young as 18 (here in the US) to join the military, vote, etc. You may think that this would be roughly where we stop developing and that would explain the somewhat artificial line we’ve drawn. The truth is much stranger than that and when it comes to the brain you don’t develop evenly.

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Mental health and time management

I don’t make the rules. As much as I like to think I’m in charge of my body and that I can will it to do what I want, I’m more of a passenger here. Sure I can make plans, that doesn’t mean my body will agree or that my brain will let me do all the things. It’s a very tense arrangement, I have life stuff to do because I have basic human needs and my body/brain tells me exactly where I can shove all that. Somehow I’ve managed and I figure why not share how I’ve developed work arounds for some of this, maybe it will help someone else in the same boat.

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Not so alone

Of all the odd twists and random occurrences that have happened in my life, I think yesterday was probably in the top ten, if not top five in my most unexpected events list. For those who don’t follow me on Twitter (you totally should FYI), I’ll explain and if you already know what I’m talking about then maybe just skip to the middle/end of the post because that would be for you specifically.

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When the exhaustion hits

Woke up this morning feeling less than stellar. This happens pretty regularly when I push myself for long periods of time. It’s not ideal, since I still have a bunch of stuff to do, but thankfully after living with my limits for so long I have a few back up strategies to help me get through it all. Ideally the school would offer accommodations to people like me, but to get them there is a lot of hoop jumping, enough that it doesn’t make it worth the effort. I suspect that’s the point.

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Mental health in academia

Five years, that’s the average time it takes to finish your PhD. Depending on who you are and how you think, that may be a blink of an eye or forever. I signed away four years of my life early on so five years and frankly the commitments leading up to it didn’t feel like that long at all. In a lot of ways getting a PhD is a lifetime of work and not long at all. I’ve hit the half way point roughly and I can see why so many people drop out of the program. It’s a lot.

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Cracks in the support system

Family, friends, relationships, these are just a few things that provide people with a safety net. How many people, if they lost their job, would be able to rely on family for support? Surely not everyone, but a good portion of people have others to help them if they were in need. Hell, here in the US we’ve made it almost necessary to rely on the kindness of others to crowd fund for healthcare needs. Like it or not, people need people, well most do anyway…

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On failure

Maybe it’s the hangover from yesterday’s news about my fellowship, but I feel like I got backed over repeatedly by a truck. Maybe it’s the uncertainty of the future, or all the work I still need to get done for tomorrow, maybe it’s a lot of things. Somedays I wish I could just pause, but I don’t think I’ve ever been able to stop and don’t really know what I would do with myself if I did. Actually I do know, since I can recall at least one time in my life where I hit the pause button and it didn’t end well.

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Great expectations

What did you want to be when you grew up? Sometimes the question ends in hilarity, a dinosaur, a unicorn, or maybe some other type of animal. Sometimes it leads to dreams of a sci-fi future, deep space traveller, Mars colonist, maybe a superhero. Whatever the answer is, they all have something in common. No one dreams of being average, but the average exists because so many people fall into it. Most of us have our dreams die as the reality of our existence becomes clear. I say fuck that, dream big until your last breath, why not?

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The tightrope of mental health

My mental health is like walking on a tightrope, one slip and I’m done. Getting back up could take years for someone like me. The truth is, things are hard on the best of days. Getting out of bed, shaving, cutting my hair at regular intervals, things that would come easy to some require sheer force of will to accomplish. All the small choices through the day eat away at what little energy I have until I’m drained before breakfast. Yet here I am, pushing forward. It’s days like today remind me that for all the progress I’ve made, it’s still just a tightrope I walk.

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Not cool Robert Frost!

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…” starts Frost in a poem that most people are at least familiar with, but typically is misnamed. The poem is typically identified as, “The Road Less Traveled”. This makes sense because the poem talks about the thought process behind why he chose the road less traveled and that it was worth it. That’s not the name of the poem though.

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Book chapter update

It feels like it’s been a while since we talked explicitly about the book chapter I am writing. A lot has happened since that first post, mostly edits and what not. Since the second round of edits was due yesterday (and I hit that goal, thank you!) it won’t hurt to do a bit of a refresh and remind everyone why I took on yet another thing on my long list of to-do tasks.

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Time management as a student

AHHHHH! There’s so much going on right now my head feels like it’s going to explode. Still, I am hopeful that today is the day that I check a few of those things off my list. Let me just say, the more I have to remember the more stressed out I get, mostly because I’m afraid I’ll forget something. The solution is simple, don’t try to remember anything, but that is problematic… right?

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Overloading in education

Get your PhD they said! It will be worth it they said. You’ll have a good time they said! They certainly say a lot don’t they? Well I say things shouldn’t be so freaking hard. I get that getting your PhD requires work and frankly, it should require work, I mean it’s a freaking PhD! That said, it shouldn’t be a four to six year gauntlet of torture to see how many times you break down mentally and physically. It doesn’t build character, or better PhD’s, but it is the system we work in.

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How do I relax?

Yes, once again I am trying to force myself to do nothing useful. Or rather to do useful things for myself instead of for others. My mental health has run ragged since the pandemic hit and it only got worse as the year progressed. Since winter time is particularly difficult for me to deal, I plan on some decompression time. I’ve talked about it before, but what’s the point of blogging daily if I can’t talk about it again?

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A Video Game Christmas

Twas the day before Christmas and all through the house, the computer could be heard along with the clicking of a mouse. Sure it’s a cheesy way to start today’s post, but have you seen the rest of the blog? Without all the traditional holiday festivities due to COVID, I’m making a moderately sized dinner tomorrow. Since I don’t need to do a whole lot of prep, I’m free to find other activities for the day.

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The art of doing nothing!

That’s right kids, it’s time to let my hair down and relax! Time to change out of my fancy sweatpants into the causal ones. We’re going all out and I’m moving from the computer next to the couch to the dammmmn couch! I’m going from bare foot to bare foot, I’m talking comfy shirt to pajama shirt, the whole works! Okay so maybe the comfy lifestyle in a pandemic makes taking a break a little less obvious, but it’s still worth it!

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Day 23: I was lucky…

IMG_20130704_221101_377 (2)

This was home, for a while anyway.

Okay, so not every post has to be strictly academic. If my twitter feed is any indication yesterday was world suicide prevention day. So with a heavy heart I have not one, but two very personal stories regarding suicide. Obviously this is a content warning for those wanting to go further, we will be dealing with suicide, death, and suicidal ideation.

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Mental illness genetically linked to drug use and misuse

anxiety depression

anxiety depression

There are many reports of drug use leading to mental health problems, and we all know of someone having a few too many drinks to cope with a bad day. Many people who are diagnosed with a mental health disorder indulge in drugs, and vice versa. As severity of both increase, problems arise and they become more difficult to treat. But why substance involvement and psychiatric disorders often co-occur is not well understood.

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Scientists find new path in brain to ease depression

peter pan come rescue me

peter pan come rescue me

Scientists have discovered a new pathway in the brain that can be manipulated to alleviate depression. The pathway offers a promising new target for developing a drug that could be effective in individuals for whom other antidepressants have failed. New antidepressant options are important because a significant number of patients don’t adequately improve with currently available antidepressant drugs.

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Why do more men than women commit suicide?

Depression

Depression

Why do more men die when they attempt suicide than women? The answer could lie in four traits, finds scientists. There are over 6,000 British lives lost to suicide each year, and nearly 75 per cent of those are male. However, research has found women are more likely to suffer from depression, and to attempt to take their own life.

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Learning to turn down your amygdala can modify your emotions

amygdala depression

amygdala depression

Training the brain to treat itself is a promising therapy for traumatic stress. The training uses an auditory or visual signal that corresponds to the activity of a particular brain region, called neurofeedback, which can guide people to regulate their own brain activity. However, treating stress-related disorders requires accessing the brain’s emotional hub, the amygdala, which is located deep in the brain and difficult to reach with typical neurofeedback methods.

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A microRNA plays role in major depression

mental health

mental health

A tiny RNA appears to play a role in producing major depression, the mental disorder that affects as many as 250 million people a year worldwide. Major depression, formally known as major depressive disorder, or MDD, brings increased risk of suicide and is reported to cause the second-most years of disability after low-back pain.

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Social connectedness can increase suicide risk

social media

social media

Community characteristics play an important role in perpetuating teen suicide clusters and thwarting prevention efforts, according to a new study by sociologists who examined clusters in a single town. The study illustrates how the homogeneous culture and high degree of social connectedness of a community can increase suicide risk, particularly among teenagers.

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Trauma’s epigenetic fingerprint observed in children of Holocaust survivors

I swear I didn't kill anyone

I swear I didn't kill anyone

Image credit goes to the one and only — very talented — Lora Zombie

The children of traumatized people have long been known to be at increased risk for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and mood and anxiety disorders. However, there are very few opportunities to examine biologic alterations in the context of a watershed trauma in exposed people and their adult children born after the event.

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The relationship between low physical activity and psychotic symptoms

mental health exercise

mental health exercise

Physical activity can help reduce cardiovascular disease and premature mortality in people with psychological problems. However, there is limited data on exercise in people with serious mental disorders, especially from low- and middle-income countries. This study explored whether complying with the World Health Organization recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous exercise per week is related to psychotic symptoms or the diagnosis of a psychosis.

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Too much activity in certain areas of the brain is bad for memory and attention

attention span of human

attention span of human

Neurons in the brain interact by sending each other chemical messages, so-called neurotransmitters. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the most common inhibitory neurotransmitter, which is important to restrain neural activity, preventing neurons from getting too trigger-happy and from firing too much or responding to irrelevant stimuli.

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Exercise can tackle symptoms of schizophrenia

schizophrenia advertisement

schizophrenia advertisement

Aerobic exercise can significantly help people coping with the long-term mental health condition schizophrenia, according to a new study. Through combining data from 10 independent clinical trials with a total of 385 patients with schizophrenia, Joseph Firth found that around 12 weeks of aerobic exercise training can significant improve patients’ brain functioning.

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Targeting the gut-brain connection can impact immunity

gut brain connection

gut brain connection

There’s a reason it’s called a gut feeling. The brain and the gut are connected by intricate neural networks that signal hunger and satiety, love and fear, even safety and danger. These networks employ myriad chemical signals that include dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter most famous for its role in reward and addiction.

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Is depression in parents, grandparents linked to grandchildren’s depression?

depression

depression

If you read my blog often, it’s no surprise I suffer from PTSD, depression, and anxiety issues. Maybe it’s from my military service, but maybe it’s my father’s, or his father’s, maybe it’s an insidious family legacy that was just never noticed. This is because having both parents and grandparents with major depressive disorder (MDD) was associated with higher risk of MDD for grandchildren, which could help identify those who may benefit from early intervention.

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Why do antidepressants take so long to work?

depression

depression

Medication roulette, if you have ever had to deal with depression or other types of mental illness you know what I’m talking about. You take a pill that could help or could cause all sorts of horrid side effects. You cross your fingers as you take that first pill and in the 4-6 weeks it takes to start working you cross your fingers, hope, wish and probably even dread the outcome. But why does it take so long for antidepressants to start working in the first place and what could be done to change that?

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Common brain changes found in children with autism, ADHD and OCD

neurodiversity

neurodiversity

A team of Toronto scientists has found similarities in brain impairments in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The study involved brain imaging of white matter in 200 children with autism, ADHD, OCD or no diagnosis.

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Researchers temporarily turn off brain area to better understand function

parts of the brain

parts of the brain

Capitalizing on experimental genetic techniques, researchers have demonstrated that temporarily turning off an area of the brain changes patterns of activity across much of the remaining brain. The research suggests that alterations in the functional connectivity of the brain in humans may be used to determine the sites of pathology in complex disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.

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Specialized neurons in emotional memory play important role in fear

Lora zombie PTSD

Lora zombie PTSD

Image credit goes to: The incredibly talented Lora Zombie.

Fear memory encoding, the process responsible for persistent reactions to trauma-associated cues, is influenced by a sparse but potent population of inhibitory cells called parvalbumin-interneurons (PV-INs) in the amygdala, according to a new study.

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Genetic repeats suggest role for DNA instability in schizophrenia

schizophrenia

My friend has a glass eye and unless you knew the story you might not think anything of it. His older brother did it. You read that correctly, in a schizophrenic induced confusion he tried to killed him. He never held what happened against his older brother, he was sick, how could he? The courts say, he cannot visit his brother while he’s in prison. This could’ve been avoided with early detection and now international researchers have used a new technique to identify significantly more DNA sequence repeats in patients with schizophrenia than in control individuals.

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Fear factor: A new genetic candidate for treating PTSD

I swear I didn't kill anyone

I swear I didn't kill anyone

Image credit goes to the very talented: Lora Zombie

Researchers have identified a new genetic candidate for testing therapies that might affect fear learning in people with PTSD or other conditions. Individuals with trauma- and stress-related disorders can manifest symptoms of these conditions in a variety of ways. Genetic risk factors for these and other psychiatric disorders have been established but do not explain the diversity of symptoms seen in the clinic – why are some individuals affected more severely than others and why do some respond better than others to the same treatment?

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Postpartum depression least severe form of depression in mothers

Postpartum depression

Postpartum depression

Postpartum depression–a household term since actress Brooke Shields went public in 2005 about her struggle with it–is indeed serious. But depression that begins before or during pregnancy is often more severe because it lasts longer and usually goes undetected until the doctor screens for it after the birth of the baby.

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Even when help is just a click away, stigma is still a roadblock

depression

depression

Stigma is a major barrier preventing people with mental health issues from getting the help they need. Even in a private and anonymous setting online, someone with greater self-stigma is less likely to take that first step to get information about mental health concerns and counseling.

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