Later On

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Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

Introducing impulse control into our culture

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UPDATE: Good complementary reading: Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, by Antonio Damasio.

A massive amount of money is spent promoting (uncontrolled) impulsive actions—specifically, the action of buying something. Advertisers everywhere encourage you to act on the impulse to buy this or that, and money is spent in studies to learn how to augment the impulse—for example, those menus that show appealing photographs of the food (and I’m sure scratch-and-sniff menus are just around the corner). And yet we now know that impulse control contributes to a happy, prosperous, and productive life. David Desteno discusses in Pacific Standard on efforts to instill impulse control and suggests an alternative strategy that enlists rather than combats our emotions:

The children’s television show Sesame Street has always had a way of reflecting the zeitgeist in shades of Muppet fur. Consider, for instance, the evolution of Cookie Monster. For his first few decades on air, he was a simple character: blue, ravenous, cookie-fixated; a lovably unleashed id. A 1990 White House report dubbed him “the quintessential consumer.” But in the mid-2000s, as concern mounted over childhood obesity, Cookie Monster’s tastes became a problem. So he went from devouring cookies to guzzling bowls of fruit. Then, last year, he changed yet again, as the show’s curriculum designers saw in his voracious appetite a different kind of teaching opportunity.

For the show’s 44th season on the air, Cookie Monster was essentially repurposed into a full-time, walking, talking, googly-eyed vehicle for a set of intensely fashionable ideas about psychology and success. The blue Muppet was now, as an official Sesame Street website put it, a “poster child for someone needing to master self-regulation skills.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

15 September 2014 at 9:40 am

Should we add lithium to our drinking water where it’s now lacking?

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Very interesting article pointed out by The Younger Daughter. Anna Fels points out that the drinking water for some communities contains trace amounts of naturally occurring lithium, and it seems to do a power of good. From the article:

. . . Lithium is a naturally occurring element, not a molecule like most medications, and it is present in the United States, depending on the geographic area, at concentrations that can range widely, from undetectable to around .170 milligrams per liter. This amount is less than a thousandth of the minimum daily dose given for bipolar disorders and for depression that doesn’t respond to antidepressants. Although it seems strange that the microscopic amounts of lithium found in groundwater could have any substantial medical impact, the more scientists look for such effects, the more they seem to discover. Evidence is slowly accumulating that relatively tiny doses of lithium can have beneficial effects. They appear to decrease suicide rates significantly and may even promote brain health and improve mood.

Yet despite the studies demonstrating the benefits of relatively high natural lithium levels present in the drinking water of certain communities, few seem to be aware of its potential. Intermittently, stories appear in the scientific journals and media, but they seem to have little traction in the medical community or with the general public.

When I recently attended a psychopharmacology course in which these lithium studies were reviewed, virtually none of the psychiatrists present had been aware of them.

The scientific story of lithium’s role in normal development and health began unfolding in the 1970s. Studies at that time found that animals that consumed diets with minimal lithium had higher mortality rates, as well as abnormalities of reproduction and behavior.

Researchers began to ask whether low levels of lithium might correlate with poor behavioral outcomes in humans. In 1990, a study was published looking at 27 Texas counties with a variety of lithium levels in their water. The authors discovered that people whose water had the least amount of lithium had significantly greater levels of suicide, homicide and rape than the people whose water had the higher levels of lithium. The group whose water had the highest lithium level had nearly 40 percent fewer suicides than that with the lowest lithium level.

Almost 20 years later, a Japanese study that looked at 18 municipalities with more than a million inhabitants over a five-year period confirmed the earlier study’s finding: Suicide rates were inversely correlated with the lithium content in the local water supply.

More recently, there have been corroborating studies in Greece and Austria.

Not all the research has come to the same conclusion. . .

The article’s conclusion:

Some scientists have, in fact, proposed that lithium be recognized as an essential trace element nutrient. Who knows what the impact on our society would be if micro-dose lithium were again part of our standard nutritional fare? What if it were added back to soft drinks or popular vitamin brands or even put into the water supply? The research to date strongly suggests that suicide levels would be reduced, and even perhaps other violent acts. And maybe the dementia rate would decline. We don’t know because the research hasn’t been done.

For the public health issue of suicide prevention alone, it seems imperative that such studies be conducted. In 2011, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Research on a simple element like lithium that has been around as a medication for over half a century and as a drink for millenniums may not seem like a high priority, but it should be.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 September 2014 at 6:01 am

Shelter dogs and long-term prisoners: Mutual healing

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Patricia Fitzgerald has a heart-warming story in Huffington Post:

August 9, 2014, was one of the most memorable days of my life. On that day I entered a maximum-security prison in Lancaster, Calif. to witness an extraordinary event connecting the lives of some of its inmates with a pack of rescued shelter dogs. Just a few months ago, five lucky dogs — Shelby, Oreo, Rendell, Chuey and Eddie — beat the odds and were pulled from a high-kill shelter in Los Angeles and entered this Level 4 prison for a chance at a better life.

Prisoners with dogs

Earlier this year, Karma Rescue, a nonprofit that saves at-risk dogs from high-kill shelters across Southern California, partnered with the California State Prison Los Angeles County in Lancaster to create “Paws for Life,” a program that matches rescued dogs with inmates who train them to boost their odds of adoption. Programs that pair inmates with shelter dogs exist across the nation, but this is the first program in California to take place at a high-security prison with inmates serving life sentences.

Karma Rescue has saved the lives of over 2,000 dogs since their inception in 2003, placing them in loving “forever” homes. Education and outreach has always been part of their mission statement, so when officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation approached Karma with this unique opportunity, it seemed like a perfect match.

The inmates eligible for the program were part of the prison’s Progressive Programming Facility, a voluntary program through which prisoners commit to rehabilitation by upholding an environment free of violence, disruption and illegal drug use.

Prisoners with dogs 2

Inmates applied for the limited slots for Paws for Life by participating in interviews and writing essays, often laden with extraordinary reflections on their lives. Here are some excerpts:

It’s a pleasure to simply observe dogs and to be observed by them. Caring for them is an opportunity and a privilege to openly display caring and compassion, and at times let my inner child out when playing with the dogs; being mindful of the overall goal of training for adoption. I know that the best of me that I give will be the ensured success of the puppy/dog. It feels good to nurture and care!

I have no inhibitions about availing myself to any aspect of caring for the dogs …If I’ve learned nothing else in my life, it’s tolerance, patience, and caring for myself and others. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that the dogs might teach me something about myself. — Jack


I’ve been in prisons and jails … since the age of 12 and now I am 40. … One of a multitude of things I lost out on was raising my dog Tippy…He had an abundance of character and I loved him as one of my family members …he was my best friend.

If I were chosen to be part of this program, I hope I can help make a dog available for adoption so another family can have as much love and joy in their lives with their adopted dog as my family and I had.

I know some people in society may think that we as prisoners don’t have anything good left in ourselves or have redeemable qualities, or be allowed any goodness in our lives; however contrary to that thinking I know in my heart this to be the opposite. Having someone to even suggest that we as prisoners would be good candidates for the Karma Rescue (Paws for Life program) demonstrates my beliefs that we have much left yet to offer society even if we potentially will never again be a part of that society.

Once again, thank you so very much for this program and opportunity. And, hey, who could better identify with a locked up pound dog than us? :) :) — Christopher


My reason for wanting to be a part of Paws for Life is simple. For most of my life I lived a very selfish lifestyle which led me to prison. I see Paws for Life as a chance to save a dog’s life. I understand what it’s like to be caged up. Also I know this could be a life saving program for these dogs. Plus Paws for Life gives me the chance to give back, to do something for someone else, to give back to a society that I cheated … I do understand that a dog trained is a dog that’s ready to be adopted, and a dog adopted is a life saved, and changed! — Travielle


I have been locked up for over twenty two years…The biggest reason why I want to help care for, feed, train and love the dogs; I want to be a part of giving someone something that will always love them and be there for them always. A person can give as much money the he or she has to charity or person, but no amount of money can love a person or go fetch a child’s favorite toy or teddy bear. Please allow me to give a person more than words or money. — Oliver

Fourteen inmates were then selected to train five shelter dogs who stayed at the prison this summer for a 12-week program. From the very beginning, the program struck a chord with everyone involved. Karma Rescue’s founder Rande Levine wrote, “Men who had not seen an animal in decades were openly emotional at the sight of the beautiful creatures before them. Just petting our dogs brought many to happy tears. It was a day I will never, ever forget.”

Continue reading. Lots of photos. Worth clicking. I’m just saying…

Written by LeisureGuy

5 September 2014 at 10:37 am

6 things the happiest families all have in common

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Very interesting article in The Week magazine—and the subhead is already intriguing: “Research shows that the number one predictor of a child’s emotional well-being was whether they knew their family history.”


Written by LeisureGuy

4 September 2014 at 2:02 pm

Walking to support thinking

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Very interesting article by Ferris Jabr in the New Yorker. From the article:

. . . Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre. This is precisely the kind of mental state thatstudies have linked to innovative ideas and strokes of insight. Earlier this year, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz of Stanford published what is likely the first set of studies that directly measure the way walking changes creativity in the moment. They got the idea for the studies while on a walk. “My doctoral advisor had the habit of going for walks with his students to brainstorm,” Oppezzo says of Schwartz. “One day we got kind of meta.”

In a series of four experiments, Oppezzo and Schwartz asked a hundred and seventy-six college students to complete different tests of creative thinking while either sitting, walking on a treadmill, or sauntering through Stanford’s campus. In one test, for example, volunteers had to come up with atypical uses for everyday objects, such as a button or a tire. On average, the students thought of between four and six more novel uses for the objects while they were walking than when they were seated. Another experiment required volunteers to contemplate a metaphor, such as “a budding cocoon,” and generate a unique but equivalent metaphor, such as “an egg hatching.” Ninety-five per cent of students who went for a walk were able to do so, compared to only fifty per cent of those who never stood up. But walking actually worsened people’s performance on a different type of test, in which students had to find the one word that united a set of three, like “cheese” for “cottage, cream, and cake.” Oppezzo speculates that, by setting the mind adrift on a frothing sea of thought, walking is counterproductive to such laser-focussed thinking: “If you’re looking for a single correct answer to a question, you probably don’t want all of these different ideas bubbling up.”

Where we walk matters as well. In a study led by Marc Berman of the University of South Carolina, students who ambled through an arboretum improved their performance on a memory test more than students who walked along city streets. A small but growing collection of studies suggests that spending time in green spaces—gardens, parks, forests—can rejuvenate the mental resources than man-made environments deplete. Psychologists have learned that attention is a limited resource that continually drains throughout the day. A crowded intersection—rife with pedestrians, cars, and billboards—bats our attention around. In contrast, walking past a pond in a park allows our mind to drift casually from one sensory experience to another, from wrinkling water to rustling reeds.

Still, urban and pastoral walks likely offer unique advantages for the mind. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

4 September 2014 at 1:05 pm

Will putting protective netting on the Golden Gate bridge actually prevent suicides

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Simple answer: Yes, of course. That’s why they’re doing it. More complex answer: suicide is most often a passing impulse. If the impulse can be forestalled or interrupted, the suicide generally doesn’t happen. Keith Humphreys has an interesting article in the Washington Post on various findings regarding suicide prevention. From the article:

History’s most successful suicide barrier was, like penicillin, a serendipitous British discovery.   When the nation’s ovens were upgraded from carbon monoxide-producing coal to gas in the 1960s, the suicide rate fell by about one-third.   Use of other means of suicide rose slightly, but nowhere near enough to cancel out the beneficial effect of a readily accessible means of suicide by suffocation being removed from virtually every British home.

The oven conversion experience indicates that some suicide attempts are impulsive rather than planned and can therefore be prevented by erecting simple barriers. Further support for this concept came from a study of 515 individuals who were stopped from jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge by police or passers by.  In a long term follow-up study, only 6% of these individuals were found to have died by suicide.

As this lesson was implemented at a range of suicide hotspots around the world, it also became clear that some suicidal people have strong preferences about a particular place that they wish to end their lives.  The installation of a suicide prevention fence at the Duke Ellington Bridge in D.C. for example, did not result in thwarted jumpers moving to the adjacent Taft Bridge to take their lives.

Also from the article:

Statistically, a more reliable result would come from combining the findings across all prior studies.  When Dr. Jane Pirkis of the University of Melbourne led such a “meta-analysis” in 2013, she and her colleagues found that on average barriers reduce suicides by 86% at the barrier site, and that jumping suicides at other nearby sites rise by 44%.  The net benefit is a 28% decrease in suicides by jumping per year.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 September 2014 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Mental Health, Science

It was more—much more—than just a scifi novel that led to teacher’s removal

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I can well imagine that a four-page letter to public officials is long enough to contain some convincing evidence of mental problems—e.g., a complaint that aliens have taken over a particular corner gas station and are now beaming rays to control people’s minds. That sort of thing.

Here’s the local reporter backing off on the story.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 September 2014 at 9:42 pm


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