Thursday, July 31, 2014

Therapeutic Photography: A Mindfulness Process

Do you remember the first time you used a camera?

The other day we were having lunch with an associate and suddenly she said, "Wait, let's take a photo...oh, OK, a selfie!" We obliged and had a good laugh at our many attempts to make ourselves look young and gorgeous! Afterwards we got to talking about why people are so captivated by shooting and sharing photos. Do you remember the first time you used a camera? Every generation has enjoyed the latest camera invention. And for sure, when an adult hands a camera to a child to experience his or her taking that first photo it is always with a word of caution. "Be careful, don't drop the camera!"

Of course, in today's world, most people spend the day holding their hand held device or carrying it in their pocket, purse or backpack. Always being camera ready for stills or movies and sharing our productions via social media platforms is quite different than using a 35MM film camera and actually having to take the film to be developed. We have evolved!  Old photo scrapbooks have been replaced with digital images archived in desktop folders, software like "dropbox," DVDs, CDs, Instagram profiles, Google+ profiles, or FACEBOOK albums.  Photographs are an intricate part of our lives.

Broken Light: A Photography Collective

Late last week The New York Times published an interesting article in their Art and Health section: Photography as a Balm for Mental Illness. We couldn't resist sharing this with our readers.  The article introduces us to Danielle Hark who shares her story about her lifelong struggle with depression and how two years ago while taking photos on one of her worst days she suddenly found herself in the "present" and breathing normally.  Ms. Hark explains it this way:
"For me, it’s the act of shooting that helps. It doesn’t matter how the photos come out. It’s a mindfulness process that brings me into my body. I’m not worrying about the past or the future, just looking through the lens. Some people analyze their photos and use them to explore their lives. There are a lot of possibilities that are therapeutic.”

She created a website Broken Light Collective. It is an online gallery which now has contributors from 150 countries. Each contributor is also struggling with behavioral health problems like bipolar, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, PTSD, anxiety, or eating disorders.

The Mission Statement:
Broken Light Collective’s mission is to enhance the lives of people living with or affected by mental illness through the use of therapeutic photography; to provide opportunities to share photographic work in supportive environments both online and through live exhibition; and to raise awareness and fight stigma through art, education, advocacy, and outreach.

Learn more by watching Amazing Photos by People with Mental Illness

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here. 

The New York Times article is careful to point out: "Broken Light Collective makes no medical or treatment claims; Ms. Hark and many of the contributors to her site still keep the demons at bay with talk therapy and medication. But the site offers a support system free from the shame that often accompanies their diagnoses."  

If you are in New York City...

Tomorrow is August 1st.  Many people are still making summer trips, even business trips that may take them to New York City. The good news is that the photography of Broken Light: A Photography Collection is on exhibit at the Fountain Gallery in New York City. The show closes on August 13, 2014.

What an interesting way to start a conversation!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

FDA Safety Alert: Pure Powdered Caffeine

Fda (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

FDA issues safety alert on powdered pure caffeine

Summertime always seems to produce a number of safety alerts. These alerts can be severe weather alerts, shark alerts, flash flood alerts, foreign travel alerts, and health alerts. The sources for health alerts range from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now warning us about the Ebola virus, the acting Surgeon General this week cautioning us about the dangers of sunbathing and tanning booths, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issuing a formal safety alert on powdered pure caffeine.

The alert in more detail...

It could be that you have never heard of powdered pure caffeine, but it is being marketed to consumers and it is also sold over the internet. One teaspoon can be equal to the amount of caffeine in 25 cups of coffee. For as much as caffeine is a part of our daily routines, we often fail to remember that caffeine is a stimulant and it can be toxic resulting in overdose and death.  According to the FDA:
Symptoms of caffeine overdose can include rapid or dangerously erratic heartbeat, seizures and death. Vomiting, diarrhea, stupor and disorientation are also symptoms of caffeine toxicity. These symptoms are likely to be much more severe than those resulting from drinking too much coffee, tea or other caffeinated beverages.

NBC's East Tennessee affiliate WBIR reports pure caffeine powder

Experts from the University of Tennessee offered their best advice when it comes using pure caffeine powder.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

Meet Logan Stiner

Logan Stiner died on May 27, 2014. His death resulted from a lethal amount of caffeine. Logan was a good student, he was this year's prom king, he was on the wrestling team, he was all set to graduate from high school and go off to college with a full scholarship at the University of Toledo to study chemical engineering.

It was Logan's death that prompted the FDA to issue their safety alert on pure powdered caffeine. And now the FDA is asking for the public's assistance:

  • The FDA wants to know about adverse events associated with powdered pure caffeine and other highly caffeinated products. 
  • You or your health care provider can help by reporting these adverse events to FDA in the following ways: By phone at 240-402-2405 By email at

Some closing thoughts...

Most experts concur that it is most frequently teenagers and young adults that will experiment with the latest fad. It is so important for parents to be aware of what their children are involved with, as Logan Stiner's mother expressed to WBNS in Columbus, Ohio...she was unaware that her son used this product.

Here at Cottonwood Tucson we stress the importance of managing one's use of caffeine. Caffeine can become a crutch to the newly recovering addict/alcoholic. A stimulant, caffeine feels like fuel in the body, but this effect can lead to the skipping of meals and increased desire for more sugar. We teach patients that the use of caffeine in the morning can also result in a craving for more caffeine and the impulse to overeat later in the day. Our patients learn that eating often and including the right amounts of carbohydrates, proteins and fats will help the management of cravings, for both food and mood-altering chemicals.

Today, start the conversation and take a few minutes to share this safety alert about powdered pure caffeine. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Part 2: Binge Drinking News ~ Are Colleges Doing Enough?

Logo of the United States National Institute o...
Logo of the United States National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Part 2: College, binge drinking and more

What are the consequences of college drinking?

Depending on your own life experience, you may already be aware of the consequences of college drinking, or at least some of the consequences. Maybe you experienced first hand a negative effect, or maybe you were drawn into an event as a parent of a college student. Fortunately, we don't have to guess at how college drinking effects our lives, the National Institute of Health's (NIH) National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) collects data on this very important topic.

Quoting from their website, the consequences of college drinking include:
  • Death: 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries. 
  • Assault: More than 690,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking. 
  • Sexual Abuse: More than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. 
  • Injury: 599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 receive unintentional injuries while under the influence of alcohol. 
  • Academic Problems: About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall. 
  • Health Problems/Suicide Attempts: More than 150,000 students develop an alcohol-related health problem and between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of students indicate that they tried to commit suicide within the past year due to drinking or drug use.

What are colleges doing to combat college drinking?

A group of researchers asked the same question. The results of their study were published on-line last week in the journal Alcoholism Clinical & Experimental Research: College Law Enforcement and Security Department Responses to Alcohol-Related Incidents: A National Study.

The researchers were from the Department of Behavioral and Community Health, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Minneapolis, Minnesota and the University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, Minnesota. The principal investigator was Traci L. Toomey, a professor of public health at the University of Minnesota.

The researchers did a first of its kind nationwide study surveying directors of campus police/security at 343 college campuses. The survey asked specific questions as to the usual and customary practices carried out by campus police when serious, underage, and less serious alcohol incidents occurred both on and off campus.

According to USA Today, quoting Dr. Kenneth C. Winters, co-author of the study:
“Study results showed that it was rare for campus security or law enforcement officials to issue citations for students involved in an alcohol-related violation or incident. It was also not typical for these students to be referred to a campus health center to be evaluated for a possible alcohol problem. Rather, students were usually referred for discipline or sanctions to other university officials.”
Also, Dr. Traci L. Toomey told USA Today:
“There are probably few colleges that have a system in place that integrates strategies across departments. Campus security should be trained on what steps should be followed, including where to refer students following an incident.”  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Part 1: Binge Drinking News ~ How Cool Are Your Friends?

Just play it cool, boy... Real cool!    Stephen Sondheim

Part 1: College, binge drinking and more

Cool students on college campuses...and more

"Cool" is an interesting word. As a society we've used this word in a number of ways. Here is a great definition: calmly audacious or impudent! Every generation finds a way to latch on to the word "cool." Like our opening quote today from Stephen Sondheim's closing line to the song "Cool" from the 1957 Tony Award winning Broadway musical and 1961 Academy Award winning movie West Side Story.

Last month we learned about a new study that discussed how "cool" kids seem to struggle with adulthood.  Today we want to discuss how do college students and young adults try to be cool. How do young adults judge who is cool?

Drinking to reach the top...

The results of a new study will be published in the October 2013 issue of Addictive Behaviors, Drinking to reach the top: Young adults' drinking patterns as a predictor of status within natural drinking groups.  This study was led by Dr. Tara Dumas of the Social and Epidemiological Research Department, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, London, Ontario, Canada. Dr. Dumas and her colleagues wanted to examine the associations the drinking patterns of young adults and their social status. According to The Daily Beast article of July 16, 2014, Dumas hypothesized:
that more frequent drinking—consuming a larger number of drinks during one's episode—and engaging in more heavy drinking occasions in the past year, would be associated with higher peer group status.

Study's parameters

  • The researchers worked with 357 young adults in Ontario, Canada
  • All participants were naturally headed for local bars in the Ontario area
  • Drinking behavior was tracked over a period of two months, May through July 2012
  • Researchers tracked both the number and frequency of the drinks consumed
  • Men and women in the study were analyzed separately

Study's findings

  • For men, more frequent heavy drinking was related to higher peer-nominated status. 
  • For women, more drinking in general was related to higher peer-nominated status. 
  • More consumption during heaviest drinking occasion also predicted higher status. 

Some closing thoughts...

Reading the results of a study like this can be disheartening, particularly for parents and other family members who are concerned about their children and binge drinking. Of course, the negative effects of binge drinking can be felt immediately - DUIs, drunk driving accidents causing the death or injury of one or more, and sexual assault. Then there are the long term effects: alcoholism, job loss, incarceration, family loss, probation, parole, and long term health issues like heart disease, cirrhosis, cancer and strokes.

Again, Dr. Dumas offered to The Daily Beast:
"Our research further suggests that young people might be gaining social status benefits via their heavy drinking or that higher social status might encourage riskier drinking practices among young people. Instead of inspiring young people to drink, we hope that our findings encourage prevention programming that addresses young people’s status-related concerns around drinking and teaches them how to be socially integrated while also adopting responsible drinking practices."
Tomorrow check out Part 2 of this series. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Cinema: A Machine That Generates Empathy

Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert in 1970, donated by...
Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert in 1970, donated by Roger Ebert. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“I believe empathy is the most essential quality of civilization.”
Roger Ebert

Empathy vs. sympathy

Do you remember how old you were when you came to understand that there is a difference between empathy and sympathy? offers an illustrative explanation:
"Both empathy and sympathy are feelings concerning other people. Sympathy is literally 'feeling with' - compassion for or commiseration with another person. Empathy, by contrast, is literally 'feeling into' - the ability to project one's personality into another person and more fully understand that person. Sympathy derives from Latin and Greek words meaning 'having a fellow feeling'. The term empathy originated in psychology (translation of a German term, c. 1903) and has now come to mean the ability to imagine or project oneself into another person's position and experience all the sensations involved in that position. You feel empathy when you've "been there," and sympathy when you haven't. Examples: We felt sympathy for the team members who tried hard but were not appreciated. / We felt empathy for children with asthma because their parents won't remove pets from the household."
Today's post will be post number 501! Our blog went live on June 24, 2008, and over the course of these six years we have addressed the subject of empathy 11 times.

So why all this talk today about empathy

Life Itself opens nationwide this weekend...

You may remember that last year when award winning author, journalist and film critic Roger Ebert died we wrote about his life, his journey, and how he celebrated every aspect of his life including the road he traveled as a recovering alcoholic.  We also talked about his last book "Life Itself."

So this weekend why not check out the documentary "Life Itself" directed by Steve James? Not surprisingly it is receiving great reviews. For example:
  • Peter Travers from Rolling Stone says, "Don't miss it.'
  • Walter Addiego from the San Francisco Chronicle says: "It's fascinating stuff..."
  • Todd McCarthy from The Hollywood Report: "James has done a wonderful job of telling a colorful life story."
  • James Berardinelli from ReelViews says: "This is a uniquely powerful motion picture, the kind of open and honest portrayal I can't ever recall having seen about a celebrity."
  • Geoffrey O'Brien from The New York Times says: "'Life Itself' is a work of deftness and delicacy, by turns a film about illness and death, about writing, about cinema and, finally, and very movingly a film about love." 
  • Whitney Matheson from USA Today says:"Savor the bliss, learn from the pain."

Magnolia Pictures "Life Itself" - Official Trailer


If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

As you get ready for this summer weekend, think about taking a break and seeing life itself. As Mr. Ebert says so beautifully about cinema, "a machine that generates lets you understand hopes, aspirations, dreams, and fears..."

There is a good chance you will give this film "two thumbs up!"