An interesting piece by Vaughan Bell of Mind Hacks. He notes that recent studies in medical genetics tend to undermine the foundations of some psychiatric diagnoses. At Mind Hacks he summarizes as follows:

The “mental illness is a genetic brain disease” folks find that their evidence of choice – molecular genetics – has undermined the validity of individual diagnoses, while the “mental illness is socially constructed” folks find that the best evidence for their claims comes from neurobiology studies.

And here’s a snippet from the Observer piece he wrote, well worth a read:

This new realisation rests on evidence that genetic factors initially associated with, for example, schizophrenia have now been recognised as equally important in raising the risk for several other problems including epilepsy, attention deficit disorder, autism and learning disability.

If you speak the language of science, there’s also a link to a British Journal of Psychiatry review article on the topic:

There is accumulating evidence for shared genetic as well as environmental risk between intellectual disability and other conditions with a neurodevelopmental basis such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, epilepsy and schizophrenia. These can be conceived as lying along a continuum of genetically and environmentally induced neurodevelopmental causality.

As usual, not suggesting diseases such as schizophrenia don’t exist — but our understanding of their causes is far from complete. And of course, DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is slated to come out this May 2013.



If you’re interested in mindfulness practices, such as meditation, you might find this article, from the New York Times, of interest.  Researchers had one group of subjects perform the fairly well known mindfulness practice lovingkindness, which encourages one to “develop more warmth and tenderness toward themselves and others.”

We discovered that the meditators not only felt more upbeat and socially connected; but they also altered a key part of their cardiovascular system called vagal tone. Scientists used to think vagal tone was largely stable, like your height in adulthood. Our data show that this part of you is plastic, too, and altered by your social habits.

The curious twist, is the writer suggests that lack of face-to-face interaction, as can sometimes happen with extensive smart phone use, might be problematic to our mental health. Some more on the health benefits:

To appreciate why this matters, here’s a quick anatomy lesson. Your brain is tied to your heart by your vagus nerve. Subtle variations in your heart rate reveal the strength of this brain-heart connection, and as such, heart-rate variability provides an index of your vagal tone.

By and large, the higher your vagal tone the better. It means your body is better able to regulate the internal systems that keep you healthy, like your cardiovascular, glucose and immune responses.

Beyond these health effects, the behavioral neuroscientist Stephen Porges has shown that vagal tone is central to things like facial expressivity and the ability to tune in to the frequency of the human voice. By increasing people’s vagal tone, we increase their capacity for connection, friendship and empathy.

In short, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa. This mutual influence also explains how a lack of positive social contact diminishes people. Your heart’s capacity for friendship also obeys the biological law of “use it or lose it.” If you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.

The article ends on a striking note: “Friends don’t let friends lose their capacity for humanity.”

I’m just passing this on, in case someone might find it useful. There’s nothing more irritating to a depressed person than being told you should just do blah blah blah. If you’ve never been depressed, the simplicity of some of the suggestions might shock you. Such as “Wash Up” or “Get Dressed” or “Go Outside”.

In any case, some food for thought at PsychCentral.

The Hurry to Heal

That’s the title of psychologist Paula Caplan’s article at the Psychology Today website.

But in dominant American culture, we want to race beyond the pain as fast as we can: Let’s get started right this minute on the coping and the healing. It is cruel to do so. Instead, Dr. Joanne Cacciatore of the Center for Grief and Trauma in her essay yesterday writes with her usual gentleness and sensitivity about what we can and ought to do instead. Rather than reprint her essay here, I urge everyone to read every word of it at http://drjoanne.blogspot.com/2012/12/no-words-for-such-tragedy.html It is meaningful and full of heart.

If you’re looking for some kind of reassurance or insight, the link might be helpful.

1.  11 Misconceptions About Mindfulness Meditation.  Touches upon some of the common misconceptions about mindfulness practices. Also includes a link to a recommended (and free) book about mindfulness.

2.  Mindfulness: How is it Relevant to Psychotherapy.  Why mindfulness can be relevant in psychotherapy — and what sorts of problems is it helpful with?

3.  Am I Meditating Correctly?  A nice quote from Norman Fischer, and a recommended link for beginners and the curious at Mindful.org.

4.  11 Definitions of Mindfulness.  A collection of definitions, many from scholarly and research literature. Also a couple of resources, including a link to a New York Times article: How Meditation May Change the Brain.

5.  Using Mindfulness Meditation for ADHD.  Touches upon some interesting points, including the one that “not all adults with ADHD benefit from medication.”

6.  Mapping the Mindful Brain.  For those that like a science mixed in with their meditation. Judson Brewer has done some fascinating research using fMRI scans that looks into the relationship between preoccupied thinking about oneself and happiness. Very interesting.

7.  Neurons That Fire Together Wire Together.  Video presentation by Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, includes some well laid out and interesting information on the negativity bias of the brain and how it contributes to stress. Well worth the view.

A little fluff I chanced upon over at the Mind Hacks website, regarding the “psychology of Tetris.” It even includes a link to a Psychology Today article about the possibility of using video games such as Tetris to prevent flashbacks in people suffering with PTSD. Here’s the quote from Mind Hacks:

The writer Jeffrey Goldsmith was so obsessed with Tetris that he wrote a famous article asking if the game’s creator Alexey Pajitnov had invented “a pharmatronic?” – a video game with the potency of an addictive drug. Some people say that after playing the game for hours they see falling blocks in their dreams or buildings move together in the street – a phenomenon known as the Tetris Effect. Such is its mental pull, there’s even been the suggestion that the game might be able to prevent flashbacks in people with PTSD.

The theory, as noted in the Psychology Today article, is that an “intensive mental task” might actually be able to “compete successfully” with the development of flashbacks. From that article, which you might find interesting:

In their experiment, volunteers were shown a brief video with traumatic scenes of violence and death, and half of them were then assigned to play Tetris for 10 minutes, the other half (the controls) were told to sit quietly, doing nothing. At followup a week later, the Tetris players had fewer flashbacks and lower scores on measures of trauma impact. Holmes concluded, “strategic, selective interference with the consolidation of recently triggered visual memories occurs via the demand on the player’s limited visuospatial working memory resources.”

This clip, from yesterday’s New York Times. The piece was sent my way, and I wanted to pass it on: “For Veterans, a Surge of New Treatments for Trauma.” It’s a rich article that covers a lot of ground in a short space. It might serve either as a primer on trauma or an update on recent treatments for the otherwise informed. It roams from the causes of trauma, to the rash of suicides the army is currently experiencing and their campaign to end the stigma of traumatic stress, to a recent wave of mind-body treatments now being successfully employed, and touches upon the prevalence of traumatic brain injury among those with traumatic stress, mentions the Center for Mind-Body Medicine — in other words, it’s a cornucopia of useful and interesting information.

Here’s a quote:

You name it, and it’s being used somewhere in the veterans’ health system: The National Intrepid Center in Washington is one of many places using acupuncture to treat stress-related anxiety and sleep disorders; it has been shown to be effective against PTSD. At the New Orleans V.A., the same clinicians who ran Trin’s group also did a small study using yoga. They found vets liked it and attendance was excellent. The yoga reduced the veterans’ hyperarousal and helped them sleep. There is even a group in the Puget Sound V.A. Hospital in Seattle that treats PTSD — including among Navy Seals — using the Buddhist practice of “loving kindness meditation.” (“We had a little bit of debate about changing the name,” said Dr. David Kearney, who led the group. “But we decided to keep it, and it worked out just fine.”)


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