Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dads Get Postpartum Depression Too

By Gariane Phillips Gunter, M.D.

Over the past several years, with great help from Brooke Shields and others sharing their stories, postpartum depression in new moms has become well known. However, recent evidence suggests that new dads may be suffering too. A recent study in the May 19th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that “14% of American men develop depression, either during their partner’s pregnancies or in the first year after delivery”.

Unfortunately, dad’s depression may be overlooked as the symptoms may not present as sadness but as irritability, anger or isolation from their loved ones. Without identification and treatment of dad’s depression, negative outcomes for the new baby and family can occur.

New babies need secure, healthy attachments for their physical and emotional development and these attachments are strained when either parent is suffering from their own depression. If you are a new mom or dad and feel you may be suffering from depression, please talk to your doctor and ask for help.

Friday, May 14, 2010

For Mental Health Month, Join a Former First Lady In Bringing Down Barriers to Mental Health Treatment.

By Roberto Blanco, M.D.

I was seeing a very depressed patient the other day and we were discussing how far he had fallen in his functioning since he had gotten ill. He said, “I used to be strong. I used to be able to provide for my family.” And yes, there was no doubt that he was unable to provide for his family now. Despite being relatively healthy physically, mental illness had made it so that he could not work, had difficulty leaving the house, or finding enjoyment in anything.

I try not to read too much into simple statements. But the phrase “I used to be strong” resonated with me because I think that it had something to do with why he waited until it was almost too late to seek treatment. While I think that he was trying to express the depths of his feelings of helplessness and need, his statement implied that he was now weak. Fatigue, lack of energy, and poor sleep from depression could make anybody weak. However, I don’t think that this is what he meant.

I often hear people stigmatizing mental illnesses like depression by saying that it only happens to “the weak”. One thing that I’ve learned from my experience practicing psychiatry is that it can affect anyone from CEOs to valedictorians to world-class athletes. Just like this patient indicated, it doesn’t matter how strong you are or think you are, mental illness can affect you if life and genetic predisposition put you in the wrong circumstances.

One of my main concerns with the stigmatization of mental illness is that if it is seen as a weakness, then the solution is often seen as needing to “be stronger”, deny a physiologic problem, and not seek help. As many mental illnesses are quite treatable with medications, psychosocial interventions, and therapy, this can often have tragic and unintended consequences such as loss of close relationships, occupations and careers, or even death.

The other concern is that if mental illness is seen as a fault of character and not as a group of illnesses, then appropriate and necessary resources and medical services won’t be available. In North Carolina, where I work, acknowledging that you need help is not the biggest barrier to treatment. Actually, it is trying to find a provider or an inpatient bed.

With the demand for inpatient psychiatric services skyrocketing in North Carolina, the number of psychiatric beds available has decreased and the outpatient mental health system, which was once a model nationally, has crumbled. It’s hard to imagine that with greatly increasing rates of kidney disease in this country that dialysis clinics or transplant services would be closing down. However, this is exactly what is happening to psychiatric services in North Carolina. It is a complex issue but is due to the national trend of closing state psychiatric hospitals as well as to the privatization and decentralization of outpatient mental health services.

Some people are taking notice of this disturbing trend, including the former First Lady of the United States, Rosalynn Carter. She has written a book on the mental health crisis in the United States and is encouraging people to be vigilant in taking care of their mental health, to overcome challenges, and to get involved.

May is Mental Health Month. So, please take this opportunity to join our former First Lady in advocating for mental illness treatment. Go to your local legislatures or call your congressional representatives and ask that they support funding for mental health services.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Talking about Mental Health

By R. Scott Benson, M.D.

In May a few years ago I was asked to give a talk to the seniors who exercised at the mall in the early morning hours. The timing was right for a mental health talk, since May is Mental Health Month.

The focus of my talk was new understanding of the brain and changing thoughts on the cause and treatment of mental illness. The audience was attentive but asked few questions. But after the talk an elderly man approached to clarify some comments I had made about schizophrenia. He called his wife over and they shared the painful story of their adult son’s deterioration as he developed unmistakable signs of this tragic disease.

This couple had been told by the treatment team that their parenting had caused their son’s condition and they needed to leave him alone so that he could recover. And they had carried a burden of guilt for years, viewing themselves as somehow toxic. I was able to answer a few of their questions and then I was encouraged them to join other families involved with our local chapters of Mental Health America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The positive impact of these brave families sharing their stories was reinforced in a new survey from the American Psychiatric Association. And the results of this survey are a cause for celebration telling us how far we have come. More than a third said that stigma has declined, and openness about personal experiences by friends, family and public figures was influential.

The internet has become a valued source of information and was cited by 75% of those surveyed as at least moderately influential in reducing stigma associated with mental illness.

In addition to HealthyMinds, what are the reliable sources of information that have been useful to you? Where have you heard patient and family stories that have reduced stigma in your community?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"Green Exercise" 5 minutes a day for better mental health!

by Felicia K. Wong, M.D.

Researchers from the University of Essex found that as little as five minutes of a "green activity" can boost mood and self esteem. Jules Pretty and Jo Barton, who led this study, looked at data from 1,252 people of different ages, genders and mental health status taken from 10 existing studies in Britain.

They analyzed "green activities" such as walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding and farming. They found that the greatest health changes occurred in the young and the mentally ill, although people of all ages and social groups benefited.

All natural environments were beneficial, including parks in towns or cities, they said, but green areas with water appeared to have a more positive effect.

Dr. Wong enjoying a spring stroll through the Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden


May is Mental Health month and these are all great activities to do during May and throughout the year!