Friday, July 3, 2015

Breaking Down The Stigma of Mental Illness

Despite mental illness affecting millions of Americans, there is a lot of stigma surrounding the disease. While we have come a long way with breaking down the stigma that accompanies mental illness, there are still plenty of misconceptions that people have about conditions such as bipolar disorder and depression.

It is quite difficult for people not living with a mental illness to understand what it is like; and it is almost harder for someone with a mental health disorder to explain how they feel. However, it is important for an open conversation about mental illness to take place. Project UROK (pronounced Project You Are OK), is a nonprofit group whose goal is to dismantle the stigma of mental illness, UpWorthy reports. The nonprofit has released a series of videos discussing what it is like living with mental illness and the benefits of treatment

"Project UROK is the resource I wish I'd had as a teenager when I was feeling isolated due to my severe anxiety, OCD, and depression," said Jenny Jaffe, Project UROK founder, in an email to UpWorthy. "We're creating a platform where all kinds of people can tell all kinds of stories related to mental illness in a way that's friendly, fun, inclusive, and non-judgmental. My ultimate goal is a world where we think of mental healthcare not as a luxury, but as a basic human right. We can only do so if we stop being afraid to talk about what mental illness really is and what it actually looks like." 

"Until we can talk about mental illness as an illness that, like anything else, requires professional treatment and care, we will continue to think of mental illness as something to be kept a secret," says Jaffe. 

In the latest video, Wil Wheaton talks about his experience with mental illness. Wheaton is an actor, writer, and producer - he has worked on a number of highly acclaimed projects such as “The Big Bang Theory.” Please take a moment to watch.

If you are having trouble watching the video please click here.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Initiative to Address Eating Disorders on College Campuses

Our society puts a lot of pressure on how we are expected to look, and for some people that pressure can lead to unhealthy practices - especially among teenage girls and young women. Attempting to achieve a particular weight or body type can lead to eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia. On college campuses in the United States, a new study suggests that eating disorders have become an endemic problem, The Fix reports. The study was conducted by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa & Associated Disorders (ANAD) and the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).

The research indicates that that 25 percent of college women are bulimic, the act of binging and purging to manage weight. ANAD conducted a survey of 185 female students, which findings showed that:
  • 83 percent dieted for weight loss.
  • 58 percent felt pressure to be a certain weight.
  • Of the 83 percent who dieted, 44 percent were of normal weight.
NEDA is launching the national initiative, Proud2Bme on Campus, whose aim is to address the growing concerns about eating disorders, according to the article. Proud2Bme will give young women the tools to talk about their problem and ask for help. The initiative's goal is to promote healthy self-esteem and body confidence.

“Students talk about how difficult it is not to be affected, even in a small way, by the picture-perfect body ideals and body snarking that is pervasive in our culture," said Professor Bobbie Eisenstock of California State University, Northridge. "Proud2Bme on Campus is a unique opportunity for college students to help educate, engage, and empower their peers with critical thinking strategies to counteract these messages and promote self-acceptance and healthy lifestyle choices.” 

Proud2Bme on Campus joined forces with New York University and California State University, Northridge faculty, working directly with student advocates.

“College students care about eating disorders awareness because they see firsthand how prevalent these illnesses are on their campuses,” said Sara Weekly, MD, instructor of NYU’s Advanced Seminar on Eating Disorders. “With more resources and opportunities to step up, they can be powerful advocates for positive change.”

Friday, June 26, 2015

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget

Whether you are recovering from an alcohol use disorder, or actively in the grips of alcoholism, it is unlikely that you are a stranger to the term “blackout.” Nights of heavy drinking are commonly accompanied by mornings of confusion, often requiring the help of others to fill in the blanks of the night before. This side effect of heavy drinking is the result of one’s blood alcohol content becoming so elevated that the area of your brain responsible for long-term memory, the hippocampus - turns off.

In recovery, a large part of the journey involves sharing one’s story with others. It’s a way to relate with everyone else on the same path, and allows the addict to hear the insanity of their own disease. While everyone’s story is completely personal, elements of each person's story can be found in the experiences of others.

From time to time, those in recovery find the courage to publish their story, allowing their voice to cross oceans. A new book, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola, is a first person account of her struggle with alcoholism. Naturally, blackouts are the main focus of Hepola’s book.

"The nights I can't remember are the nights I can never forget." - Sarah Hepola 

Just as telling one’s story at a 12-step meeting involves three phases, so too does Hepola’s memoir.
  • What it was like?
  • What happened?
  • What it is like now?
Here are some excerpts from Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget:

“A blackout is the untangling of a mystery. It's detective work on your own life. A blackout is: What happened last night?”

“It's such a savage thing to lose your memory, but the crazy thing is, it doesn't hurt one bit. A blackout doesn't sting, or stab, or leave a scar when it robs you. Close your eyes and open them again. That's what a blackout feels like.”

"I finally understood alcohol was not a cure for pain; it was merely a postponement."

Summer is just starting, why not add Hepola’s book to your summer reading list. If you have a teenage or young adult daughter you may think about sharing the book with them.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Hawaii Raises Legal Smoking Age to 21

While the legal age to purchase and consume cigarettes is 18 years old, there are many that argue that the brain is not fully developed at that age. Science indicates that the use of tobacco products has a greater effect on the developing brain and can lead to medical conditions down the road.

Last Friday, the Governor of Hawaii signed a bill that will raise the legal smoking age to 21 statewide, Reuters reports. The passing of the law will make Hawaii the first state to raise the legal age to consume tobacco. The law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

“Hawaii continues to be a leader in tobacco prevention and control,” said Director of Health Dr. Virginia Pressler in a statement. “Partners statewide have come together to support this monumental legislation that once again puts Hawaii at the cutting edge of public health policy and protecting the health of our youth.”

The new law will also apply to the use of e-cigarettes. When the law is in effect you must be 21 or older to purchase or use e-cigarettes.

“Raising the minimum age as part of our comprehensive tobacco control efforts will help reduce tobacco use among our youth and increase the likelihood that our keiki (children) will grow up to be tobacco-free,” said Governor David Ige.

Hawaii’s efforts to raise the legal age may be the beginning of a chain reaction, resulting in similar laws being passed in the other 49 states. In recent months, lawmakers in California and Washington state have made efforts to raise the legal smoking age to 21, according to the article. Currently, there are four states which have raised the legal age to 19, including:
  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • New Jersey
  • Utah
Going forward Hawaii's legislation and the implementation of this law will be an interesting case study. For example, how will those who are age 18-21 and have already started smoking deal with this change in the law? Also, will the state provide new smoking cessation programs?

We will stay tuned! 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Pilot Project: Pregnancy Tests in Bar Bathrooms

The science is irrefutable; consuming alcohol during pregnancy can lead to serious, lifelong health problems for a child. While most women are aware of this, every year a significant number of babies are born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), more commonly referred to as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Unfortunately, many women are unaware of a pregnancy, sometimes for several weeks after conception, and continue to drink.

A new pilot project is being conducted by the University of Alaska Anchorage, in which researchers are attempting to determine whether providing pregnancy test dispensers in bar bathrooms is effective at preventing FAS, NPR reports. A few bars in Alaska have begun placing free pregnancy tests in women's bathrooms as part of the two-year, state-funded project.

"A lot of women now understand that they shouldn't drink [while pregnant]," says Deb Evensen, an Alaska-based expert in fetal alcohol syndrome prevention. "But a lot of people are still drinking in early pregnancy and before they know they're pregnant—and that can cause a lot of damage." 

In many bars across the country, female restrooms already display FAS warning posters. Providing free pregnancy tests next to the already displayed posters may be more effective than the poster by itself.

"We're always looking for ways to try and improve our ability to provide information," says David Driscoll, director of the university's Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies. 

Alaska is an ideal state to conduct a pilot project of this nature. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that Alaska has one of the highest rates of binge drinking among women, according to the article. Alaska state officials estimate that more than 120 children are born each year suffering from symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome, which in 2012 represented in excess of 1% of all live births.