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  1. Only one week left to share your story for hope! What is the one thing you turn to when feeling hopeless, anxious, depressed or stressed? Share on our HeroX platform where the top three videos will win prize money ($1,000, $500, and $250). Kicking things off with powerful submissions from Jack.org’s network of young leaders, the goal is to help inspire others to create, maintain, and sustain hope by sharing a 30-second video of what individuals do in their darkest hour to get through periods of hopelessness and work to get back to a hopeful state of mind. Suicide and depression among youth are growing at alarming rates, with 36 percent of girls in the US alone self-reporting depression prior to graduating high school. Suicide is now the leading cause of death for 15-19 year-old girls, even though depression and anxiety are treatable and suicide is preventable. A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health suggests that 1 in 9 kids attempt suicide prior to graduating high school, 40 percent of whom are in grade school. As hopelessness is the primary predictor of suicide, and number one symptom of depression, iFred focuses on teaching hope globally based on research it is a teachable skill. While sharing a message alone won’t create a hopeful mindset, the campaign aims to start the global conversation and bring awareness about the need to learn about the importance of hope. iFred has a full free global curriculum called Hopeful Minds comprised of 12 lessons for youth ages 8-12. The organization hopes to grow the curriculum across all ages and languages as the program gains momentum and funding. The Global Hope Challenge ends May 31st, and asks organizations, advocates, and individuals to enter and share the contest by submitting the video on the HeroX campaign page and then sharing using the hashtags #OneThing & #Hope. The contest is open to all, though individuals under the age of 18 need parental permission. The hashtags represent the power of having one thing you can turn to since everyone needs at least one thing for hope to help deal with any situation life may bring. Participants create and share a short video with their personal experience with depression, anxiety, and/or feeling hopeless (if they want), and also must identify one thing they do to create a hopeful state. Vote online June 1st to June 7th for your favorite, where all can vote on the messages, lifting up the ones they find most helpful and inspirational. Winners are to be announced and videos shared at Mental Health America’s meeting in DC in June, 2018. We hope you join the Global Hope Challenge today at www.herox.com/hope. View the full article
  2. Psychology Around the Net: May 19, 2018

    Happy Saturday, sweet readers! This week’s Psychology Around the Net covers how a parent’s mental health and parenting styles can affect the child’s ability to maintain friendships, reactions to the second season of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, why it’s important CEO’s share mental health challenges they faced climbing the success ladder, and more. (Oh, and maaaaaaaybe a little something about a certain couple’s wedding today!) Meghan Markle’s Mom Quits Job at Mental Health Clinic: OK, OK, OK, I admit it. This isn’t exactly mental health news, per se, but cut me some slack. I had to indulge in my guilty pleasure just a smidge today — the day of the royal wedding! Meghan Markle’s mother, a yoga teacher and social worker, has quit her job at a Los Angeles mental health clinic with talk of perusing a private practice career focusing on elderly patients. 13 Reasons Why: Season Two Is ‘Unnecessary’, Critics Say: Netflix released the second season of 13 Reasons Why yesterday (Friday, May 18, 2018), and it seems the second season is being met with even more criticism than the first. While the first season did have some praise for bringing awareness to bullying, rape, and self-harm, many viewers — regular folk and mental health professionals alike — felt it almost (if not out right) glamorized suicide. Now, some critics are saying the second season was not only unnecessary, but perhaps dangerous — at least the release timing. Says Helen Rayner of the Royal College of Psychiatrists: “It’s well known within children’s services that there’s an increase in completed suicides and suicide attempts during the exam season. This could cause an increase in suicide rates.” Why Does Mental Illness Arise? Clues Found in the Visual Brain: Researchers from Duke University have found that the risk of mental illness increases when the brain’s visual cortex can’t properly communicate with other brain networks, specifically the ones that help us make plans, focus on tasks, and think about ourselves. Handgrip Strength Predicts Cognitive Function in Bipolar Disorder, Major Depression: According to a new study in JAMA Psychiatry, your handgrip strength could reliably predict your cognitive impairment if you have bipolar disorder or major depression. Why CEOs Need to Talk About Mental Health: Forbes Contributor Macaela MacKenzie interviews Emma McIlroy, the CEO and cofounder of Wildfang, about why it’s important for CEOs to talk about their own mental health issues. “‘It would be so much easier for me to stand up and not be vulnerable—to just say, ‘It’s all great. I’m a big deal CEO […] But that doesn’t help the people coming behind you who are going through the same difficulties or those who want to become entrepreneurs.'” Parents’ Mental Health Issues May Spoil Children’s Friendships: The results of a new study out of Finland suggests parents’ mental health issues and parenting styles can play a role in a child’s ability to maintain friendships in elementary school. View the full article
  3. OCD and the Need for Perfectionism

    Is it a good thing to be a perfectionist? To answer this question, it’s important to understand the difference between adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. Adaptive, or healthy, perfectionism is characterized by very high standards — not only for yourself but others as well. Those who display adaptive perfectionism are persistent when faced with hardship or adversity and are extremely conscientious. Goal-directed behavior and good organizational skills are usually associated with this type of perfectionism, and those who possess adaptive perfectionism view it as a positive aspect of their lives, often helping them achieve much success. On the other hand, maladaptive, or unhealthy perfectionism, is comprised of excessive preoccupation with all mistakes – past, present, and possible future ones – with fear and doubt woven in. Those with this type of perfectionism worry continuously about making mistakes and are overly concerned about what others (such as employers, parents, peers) might think of them if they are not perfect. There is an unhealthy need for control as well. Those with maladaptive perfectionism often find this trait actually hinders their success. Hmm. Fear. Doubt. Control. All symptoms of maladaptive/unhealthy perfectionism. Sound familiar? It’s hard to have a conversation about obsessive-compulsive disorder without including those three words; they are the cornerstones of OCD. So it’s not surprising that many people who have OCD are also perfectionists. For the purpose of this discussion, the term perfectionist refers to maladaptive perfectionism. When my son Dan’s OCD was severe, mistakes were not allowed. Procrastinating with schoolwork became the norm and then morphed into him only being able to work at a specific time of day. He then became tied to the clock for all activities of daily living. Fear. Doubt. Control. Perfectionism and OCD rolled into one. So many compulsions in OCD are wrapped up in perfectionism. Some people need to reread paragraphs, sentences, or words over and over again to make sure they get it right. Shutting off the stove must be done properly, washing hands must be done just right, checking the door lock, or checking anything for that matter, are all compulsions that need to be done perfectly. And if a mistake is made, then the person with OCD has to start over. It is emotionally, and often physically, exhausting. Of course, the problem is perfection doesn’t exist, and so those struggling with OCD can never be certain they reread the paragraph correctly or performed any compulsion perfectly. Just as the need for control in OCD leads to a life that is out of control, the quest for perfection leads to an imperfect life – a life not lived to its greatest potential. I think most people would agree there is nothing wrong with wanting to excel and striving to be the best person you can be. That’s different from being perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal for all of us, as is certainty. A good therapist who knows how to treat OCD will also know how to deal with matters surrounding perfectionism. Those suffering from both issues can learn to accept the imperfection and uncertainty that surrounds us. Indeed, this is something we all need to do to live happy, fulfilling lives. View the full article
  4. OCD and Death Obsessions

    As some of us know, obsessive-compulsive disorder can take on many shapes and forms, limited only by the imagination of the person with OCD. In general, OCD likes to attack whatever it is we most value: our families, relationships, morals, accomplishments, etc. In short — our lives. So it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that some people with OCD are obsessed with death. What better way for OCD to attack what is most important to us than telling us our lives are all for naught as we’re just going to die anyway? It is not unusual for people to think about death. Personally, the thought comes into my mind often. At times it hits me like a ton of bricks that my time here on earth is limited, and this realization brings up various philosophical questions: What’s the meaning of life? Am I living my life the way I should, or want? Will it even matter that I was here? Is there life, or anything, after death? The list goes on. I don’t have OCD, so I’m usually able to let it all go after a few minutes. I realize the questions I have, for the most part, are unanswerable. I accept the uncertainty and go on with my life. For those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, however, obsessing about death can be torturous. People with OCD can easily spend hours upon hours a day obsessing over various aspects of death and dying, asking the same existential questions mentioned above, and then some. But they don’t stop there. They want answers to these questions and might analyze and research them — again for hours and hours. They might also seek reassurance, either from themselves, clergy, or anyone who will listen. It’s not hard to see that these obsessions and compulsions can literally take up an entire day and overtake lives. It is not uncommon to experience general anxiety as well as depression when dealing with OCD related to death. So how is this OCD treated? You guessed it — exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. While we can’t control our thoughts about death, we can learn how to better react to these thoughts. Exposures might include those with OCD deliberately subjecting themselves to the thoughts they fear, typically through the use of imaginal exposures, while response prevention involves not avoiding or trying to escape these fears, but rather embracing the possibility they will occur. No seeking reassurance. No analyzing, researching or questioning these thoughts — just acceptance of them. In short, ERP therapy consists of doing the opposite of what OCD demands. In time, these thoughts that previously had caused so much distress will not only lose their power, but also their hold on the person with OCD. Time and time again, we see how OCD tries to steal what is most important to us. Ironically, those caught in the vicious cycle of obsessions and compulsions related to death and dying are robbed of living their lives to the fullest. Thankfully, there is good treatment to help those with OCD learn to live in the present moment and work toward the lives they deserve. View the full article
  5. How Self-Compassion Can Fight Perfectionism

    “Be kind to one another.” You don’t need to be a die-hard Ellen DeGeneres fan to appreciate the value of that motto. And while we’re reminded how kindness goes a long way in our everyday interactions with others, we often forget to apply it to those who need it most: ourselves. Whether it’s setting a personal weight-loss goal, or believing that we can ace a final exam — all of us are familiar with the experience of setting high standards. We’re even more familiar with the inevitable let-down that comes from not living up to those very standards. Enter, the life of a perfectionist. But, importantly, not all perfectionists operate the same. There are different types that are associated with specific psychological outcomes. On the one hand, if you strive to attain your ambitious goals and prevent yourself from being overly self-critical, you might be a personal strivings perfectionist. This isn’t so bad. In fact, this type of perfectionism is more likely to lead to relatively higher levels of self-esteem and decreased levels of negative affect. On the other hand, if you constantly believe that you are not good enough, if you judge yourself by your shortcomings, and if you are constantly worried that other people won’t approve of you, then you might be more on the side of maladaptive perfectionism. This form of perfectionism has been linked to depressive symptoms in both adolescents and adults. It’s no wonder then that researchers are curious to know more about interventions that help buffer against this maladaptive perfectionism. In one recent study, researchers examined the possibility that self-compassion can protect us against the negative effects of maladaptive perfectionism. The question is, can self-directed kindness increase our chances of living a full, healthy life? Can it combat the depressive symptoms that come from this less ideal version of perfectionism? Understanding self-compassion You may ask, “What exactly is self-compassion? And is it something that can be cultivated by anyone, or is a skill that is only available to some of us?” To shed some light on these questions, researchers have broken down self-compassion into three main components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. While the first component is self-explanatory, the other two require careful consideration. When something terrible happens to us, often the initial reaction is to sit and wallow in our grief and self-pity. We convince ourselves that no one else is going through similar problems in their lives. But that is simply not true. Statistically speaking, it’s an erroneous judgment. In order to be more accepting of ourselves, we need to realize that we are never as alone and isolated as we think we are. This is at the heart of common humanity. At the same time, many of us are prone to over-analyzing painful experiences, or trying to avoid negative feelings altogether. Mindfulness then, is about acknowledging our thoughts, feelings, and emotions without judgement, and accepting them as part of the common human experience. Back to our study. Taking into account these three sub-components, the researchers in the present investigation set out to predict that self-compassion would weaken the relationship between perfectionism and depression in both adolescent and adult populations. The study 541 adolescents from grades 7 to 10 were recruited for the first study. Participants were asked to complete three online questionnaires during school hours, as part of a larger well-being intervention study. The questionnaires tapped into perfectionism, mood/feelings, self-worth and self-esteem, as well as reported self-compassion. As predicted, self-compassion was found to moderate, or weaken, the relationship between maladaptive perfectionism and depression in this sample of adolescents. Next, the researchers wanted to see if the results would hold for adults. Through online advertisements 515 adults from the general population were recruited. Again, participants were asked to complete the same questionnaires. Once again in line with the researchers’ predictions, self-compassion was found to weaken the relationship between perfectionism and depression in the adult sample. What was true for teens was also true for adults later on in life. Why it matters It seems that more than anything, today’s culture values perfection. Parents and teachers may push us towards excellence at school, our friends may judge us by how we dress and act in their company, and perhaps worst of all, our social media accounts constantly fool us into thinking that there are people out there who actually have perfect lives. Good news, bad news. The bad news is that we can’t completely eradicate perfectionistic thoughts. Good news is that we can try to change our relationship to those thoughts through self-compassion. If we learn to cultivate self-kindness, connection, and mindfulness as we strive toward achieving our goals, any setback we face along the way will be met with greater resilience and mental strength. As a result, we are less likely to fall victim to the debilitating effects of depression, and more likely to live a happy, balanced life. So, as Ellen DeGeneres reminds us, always be kind to others. But before you do, be sure to look after yourself first. In this case, it’s okay to be a little selfish. View the full article
  6. OCD and the Tortures of Scrupulosity

    Catholicism, OCD, and puberty often make a disturbing mix. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can lead to a pathological degree of moral fastidiousness, or scrupulosity, often based on the fear of committing a mortal sin. At the same time, the developmental stage known as puberty unleashes a storm of biological turmoil at odds with the concept of self-restraint. Stricken with the curse of OCD as a teenager, I also suffered from scrupulosity; in my case, it took the form of primitive self-control. Reared as a Catholic, I was taught to understand that it was a sin to enjoy impure thoughts; however, my rebellious body had secular ideas. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, impure thoughts are related to “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage…” Needless to say, the practice of masturbation was considered forbidden. I recall that one priest informed me (during a confessional visit) that “impure thoughts” could be forgiven, if rooted in reluctant habits or uncontrollable desires. But such liberal interpretations of scripture clashed with the Church’s official theological doctrine. Most of my Catechism and CCD teachers insisted that natural sex cravings, if willingly engaged in — were indeed shameful. Not surprisingly, tons of data can be found on the notorious relationship between scrupulosity and OCD; a frequent topic of the psychological literature. Stringent moral rectitude and ritualistic behavior can be heart-breaking in their mutual collision. My own solution, as it turned out, was to gradually break away from the faith entirely. Since the election of Pope Francis, there seems a growing semblance of gentler views on God’s eternal judgement. The Church has recently cushioned some of its harder decrees on Hell, reciting the parable of the Prodigal Son. The latter teaches that all sins can be forgiven on the basis of penitence — even “imperfect” penitence, rooted in the terror of eternal damnation. God is merciful. He doesn’t toss people willy-nilly into the Great Abyss; rather, it’s the human soul that chooses a deliberate path from God into darkness. My own treatment, during my acute teenage phase, was to postpone all fears of Hell until the next morning, so that I could tackle the issues of mortal sin in a more refreshed state. A good night’s sleep often calmed my preoccupations with the possibilities that sinful thoughts could threaten my position in a future afterlife. (Bedtime tranquilizers — prescribed in the eighth grade — also helped to shutter my mind in pursuit of this solution.) After a long period, the obsessions faded into the background of normal teenage noise. A personal brush with guilt-ridden obsessions at an early age can instill in the mind an “immune response” to the indoctrination of fear. The mental vaccination that results from needless hours of suffering — when followed by enlightenment — can lead to a greater sense of freedom and optimism. For the faith-seeker with OCD, the spiritual battle should not be a zero-sum game. The ultimate “cure” for scrupulosity shouldn’t lie in the renunciation of one’s religion, or in a personal doctrine of indifference. Such tactics represent a compromise solution. The condition of OCD, itself, must take on the lion’s share of the blame. But the risk of scrupulosity is amplified in a culture of religious shame. I believe it’s destructive to characterize a primal surge of life — the libido — as a reason for endless guilt or despair. In the face of such ecclesiastical mental intolerance, it makes sense to seek a better solution than a zero-sum compromise. Especially for those with OCD and scrupulosity. View the full article
  7. These tips will help the conversation go smoothly. With depression affecting approximately 9.5% of American adults in a given year, knowing how to help someone with depression is an important skill to have. But before you can help, you first need to the right way to talk with a friend or loved one whom you feel may be depressed. Because the very nature of depression causes people to shut down and withdraw emotionally, it may be especially important that you reach out to them to talk about their depression, as they may be unable to ask for help. First of all, there is nothing crazy, weak, bad, or wrong about experiencing depression. What some people don’t realize is that depression is one of nature’s primary ways of responding to stress. A few ways this happens include: Under pressure, our autonomic nervous system is designed to generate a survival response of fight, flight, or freeze. During times of famine, our metabolism is designed to slow down and not burn too many calories to increase the likelihood that we survive. When injured, we instinctively know to get to an isolated place to “lick our wounds,” which increases our safety and gives our bodies a better chance to heal. While our environments have changed, the wiring of our stress response has stayed the same. Being argumentative, withdrawing socially, staying in bed all day, overeating to ensure enough calories, are all subtle forms of the body’s instinct to fight, flee, or freeze in order to survive hardships, wounds, or pain. 5 Things My Therapist Didn’t Tell Me About Depression (That I Wish I Had Known) There is a field of science called psychoimmunoneurology, which says that stress in the mind has a direct impact on the body. A familiar example of this is ulcers which can be a direct result of stress. Similarly, prolonged anxiety releases increased amounts of adrenaline and cortisol which over time can interfere with the brain’s natural chemical balance. Stress can be caused by external factors like losing a job or losing a loved one. Stress can also be caused by internal factors like low self-esteem or fear of not being able to pay the bills. As people are increasingly under more and more pressure, it is natural that incidents of depression are increasing. The important thing to realize is there is a legitimate reason that people experience a state of depression even if the cause is unclear. Most often depression is situational and temporary; and there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Our mood and biochemistry often changes when the external or internal pressures change. If you have a loved one you think is depressed, here are five things to consider when preparing to talk with them about their depression. 1. Be Prepared to Listen Openly Without Judgment. Because depression tends to be a natural result of experiencing pressure, hardship or pain, it may take courage for the person to open up to you and they may feel extremely vulnerable. Do whatever you can to help them feel safe in sharing. Be gentle. Ask questions to draw them out and be prepared that you may not always like or agree with what you hear. No matter what, do not judge. Remember that feelings are not wrong and feelings are not right. Feelings just are. Listening to them and acknowledging them as valid is the first step in helping the person heal. 2. Honor the Person’s Right to Feel Their Emotions Whatever They Are. In trying to help, we may want to make negative feelings go away by dismissing them or telling the person they are wrong to feel as they do. Sometimes hearing another person’s distress may cause our own distress and it’s very natural to want to drive uncomfortable feelings away. However, if you inadvertently try to change someone’s feelings before they are ready to change, the person may simply argue their feelings that much stronger to try to make you understand them or clam up and stop talking because you’ve now proven that you don’t understand. When it comes to handling feelings, the best way out is through. A simple statement like, “I don’t blame you for feeling that way,” can keep the dialogue flowing and help the person find relief. 3. Be Supportive and Affirming. Because depression is the physiological response of how we interpret stress, it is important to recognize that the depressed person may have limited ability to use their full perspective. While the glass may be half full to you, the depressed person may only be able to see the part that is empty and what is obvious to you may be invisible to them. Depressed people are often ones who set unrealistically high expectations for themselves. They may have an unreasonably low self-image defining themselves as lazy, worthless, or a failure in experiencing hardships or for not performing at their best. Remind them that being depressed does not mean they are defective or broken. Point out whatever you can to affirm your faith in them and give them a renewed sense of self-confidence and hope. Quiz: Why Am I Feeling Depressed (& What Can I Do About It)? 4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Safety-Related Questions. Because depression runs a wide range from general low mood to suicide, it can be awkward to know what questions to ask and which ones to skip. The rule of thumb I use is, if it crosses your mind, ask about it. Remember depression is a form of the flight instinct. In order to get away from pain, people may employ a variety of dangerous tactics from excessively using drugs or alcohol, to cutting themselves, starving themselves, running away from home, or the most extreme form of flight, suicide. If you are concerned that someone you love may be doing things that risk their safety or are having thoughts of harming themselves, ask them directly. If so, assist them in getting professional help. Even if they don’t want the help, you just may save their life. 5. Ask Them What You Can Do to Help. People who are depressed often feel hopeless or feel inadequate for needing help, so they may not ask. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help them. Sometimes they may not know what they need but a large amount of the time they will. The needs of each person will be different but take seriously what they tell you and do what you can. While talking with a doctor or therapist is advisable and may be necessary, never underestimate the value of your own ability to also help another human being simply by listening, caring, and being willing to help them. Talking with a loved one who may be depressed may feel uncomfortable, but because depression is natural, it is something that most of us will experience sometime during our lives. Fortunately, much of the time depression is temporary and even in the event that it is chronic, there are medications that can help. Studies show that changing our associations through talking can also change brain chemistry, so talking with someone you care about might be the thing that makes all the difference. This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: How To Talk To Someone You Love When They Are Depressed (So You Can Offer Support). View the full article
  8. Does Social Media Cause Depression?

    Social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and more have become an icon of modern times alongside the internet itself, Facebook being the largest social media platform in the world with nearly a third of the world’s population having profiles on the website. As the popularity of the internet grew, depression and mood disorders among adolescents have steadily risen, becoming the most lethal affliction to young people in the developed world. Research on social media use has concluded over and over again that as social media use rises, so does the number of cases of depression and mood disorders. The correlation is clear, however the unanswered question remains: Why? Does excessive social media use cause depression, or do depressed people tend to use social media excessively? In order to attempt to answer these questions, we must look at how social media applications hijack human psychology. Almost every social media platform is in the business of keeping its users online as long as possible in order to deliver as many advertisements to individuals as possible. To achieve this goal, social media applications use addiction triggers to reward individuals for staying online longer. In the same way that dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of reward and pleasure, is released when gamblers gamble or when alcoholics drink, social media applications are littered with dopamine release triggers. One researcher had this to say about social media applications and how they trigger addiction responses in users: “The likes, comments, and notifications we receive on our mobile devices through social apps create positive feelings of acceptance… Our minds are being ‘brain hacked’ by these apps and social platforms;… research and development dollars are allocated to determining how technology can stimulate the release of dopamine during product use to make us feel good about ourselves. When we are not getting this dopamine release from our apps and smartphones, we feel fear, anxiety, and loneliness. The only remedy, for some, is to get back on the device for another pleasure release.” (Darmoc, 2018) Another way social media can tap into a user’s psychology is through a concept known as emotional contagion: The phenomena of emotional states being involuntarily transmitted between individuals. While emotional contagion is well-documented in face to face interactions, research has shown that happiness, anger, sadness, and everything in between can be passed to an individual through social media. In a study conducted by E. Ferrara and Z. Yang, 3,800 randomly selected social media users were tested on the contagiousness of the emotional tones of the content they viewed online. The study found that emotional states are easily manipulated through social media, and simply reading emotionally charged posts can transfer emotional states to the reader. In other words, when a social media user sees a sad post by a friend, the reader feels that sadness. This can be especially harmful when compounded with the issue of online culture bubbles. Social media applications utilize powerful algorithms to serve content to users that they are more likely to engage and interact with so users stay on the site longer. Social media users tend to engage with the same kind of content repeatedly, training the algorithms to serve them more and more of the same content, creating a “bubble” that the user rarely sees outside of. For example, a user who clicks on an article about a local shooting, or comments on a friend’s post about getting divorced will be served more negative content because it’s what they engage in. Combined with emotional contagion, these negative cultural bubbles could severely and adversely affect an individual’s emotional state. Indirectly, social media applications act as the catalyst for destructive behaviors like comparison, cyberbullying, and approval-seeking. A side-effect of the way in which social media applications are designed is that users tend to showcase a highlight reel of their lives; posting all the positive and important moments and leaving out the negative and mundane. When a user observes these highlight reels from other people, they compare these portrayals to the worst parts of themselves, causing feelings of shame, irrelevance, and inferiority. These feelings can lead users to engage in destructive approval-seeking behaviors. Social media applications are also conducive to cyberbullying, where users can hide behind anonymity and remove themselves from the consequences of harassment. This harassment can have fatal consequences, and social media only makes it easier to engage in. A UK study carried out by the Royal Society for Public Health tested the psychological impact of social media use on 1,500 adolescents and concluded that almost every major social media platform had a negative impact on the subjects’ psychological wellbeing, ranging from anxiety to self-esteem. The research is clear; cases of depression have been on the rise right alongside the growth of social media, and the more social media an individual engages with, the higher their chance of having mood disorders. What the data doesn’t yet show us is whether increased social media use causes depression, or whether depressed people tend to use social media excessively. In order to answer these questions, more diligent research must be done to control for this difference. However, if increased social media use does indeed cause psychological harm, the question will remain whether the responsibility for the rapid increase in cases of depression among adolescents lies with the users of social media, or with the social media companies themselves. References: Darmoc, S., (2018). Marketing addiction: the dark side of gaming and social media. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services. 56, 4:2 https://doi-org.ezproxy.ycp.edu:8443/10.3928/02793695-20180320-01 Ferrara, E., Yang, Z. (2015). Measuring Emotional Contagion in Social Media. PLoS ONE, 10, 1-14. View the full article
  9. Researchers have discovered that variations in the efficacy of psychological treatment for phobias are associated with the serotonin transporter gene. View the full article
  10. Many recent studies that have been done on volunteer work show how it’s connected to better health. Physical effects on the body, such as lowered blood pressure can be measured and impacted through helping others. Though some of us are introverts, humans need social connection in order to survive and thrive. Helping others not only makes you feel good about yourself, but your actions have lasting effects on those you serve, which can be just as rewarding as knowing you’re contributing to your own self-improvement. Here’s how volunteering can be beneficial for your health: Improved self-confidence: Feeling needed and appreciated for your work can boost your confidence. Volunteering on a regular basis can give you a sense of purpose, fulfillment and accomplishment. Helping improve the lives of others through direct action can help you see how valuable you are, and why community is so important. The reward of volunteering can make you feel better about yourself, and improve your self-confidence. Often, people can have trouble with social interaction, and volunteering is a great way of meeting new people and building meaningful connections. Lower stress: Stress and high blood pressure is inextricably related, so lowering your stress levels can also aid in lowering your blood pressure. A study from Carnegie Mellon University showed that those over the age of 50 who volunteered regularly on average had lower blood pressure than those who did not. Aside from the physical activity performed while volunteering, being a volunteer helps you find a newfound sense of purpose, which can help you cope with stress in your personal life. Shifting your focus from your life to others can even help you forget about your stress. Being able to focus on helping those in your community and escape the everyday hustle can also help lower stress levels. Shifting your perspective and moving your attention to another’s situation can put your own problems into perspective. Having the feeling of making a difference for someone else might also make you feel like you can make changes in your own life. Helps with depression: Studies show that people who feel less lonely have a lower propensity to become depressed. The empathetic response felt while spending time with others in a volunteer capacity was shown to increase happiness through the study. Volunteering with others who all work toward the same goal increases social interaction, thus diminishing the lonely feeling that so many face from living along — especially in old age. Surrounding yourself with people who share the same interests can help you build a support system, and having a strong support system has been shown to decrease depression, despite vulnerability as a result of genetic and environmental factors. By volunteering you also commit to being available to a person or an organization for a specific period of time. They count on you to show up at a certain time for a couple hours a week, making you accountable. When you have to get out of bed and show up knowing these people depend on you, it can be a great tool to cope with depression. Longevity: A study from 2012 shows the life expectancy of volunteers to be longer than those who don’t volunteer. It is believed that the main reason those who volunteer live longer than those who don’t is because of lowered feelings of loneliness, as well as lowered levels of stress, as mentioned before. However, the results of this study apply only to those who volunteer for genuine selfless reasons, rather than those who volunteer for their own self-interests, like resume building. In fact, the data show that people who volunteer to help themselves have the same mortality rate as those who don’t volunteer at all. Volunteering for the right reasons on a regular basis can reduce early mortality rates by 22%, according to a review of the health effects of volunteering. Once you start volunteering, you’ll know in your heart that the scientific evidence supports the positive outlook you have after leaving the soup kitchen, animal shelter or nursing home. Whatever reasons you start your volunteering journey, you will be surprised at the impact it has on your life forever. View the full article
  11. Suicide: From the Edge and Back Again

    About ten years ago, when I was teaching public speaking at a school in Canton, Ohio, I had a female student I’ll never forget. She was going through a deep depression and was suicidal. She told me that she’d attempted suicide twice by throwing herself under a bus. Both attempts had obviously failed. I advised her to see a psychologist as soon as possible. The memory of the 18-year-old girl was permanently etched into my mind because of the strangeness of her suicide attempts. Last week, I ran into the girl. I recognized her face, but did not connect her to those sad circumstances right away. “Hello,” I said. “Do I know you?” she asked. “I think you were one of my students.” “Where?” “In Canton.” “What’s your name?” she asked. I told her my name, and she remembered me. She told me her name, which I didn’t recall. Then, she said, “I was having some really hard times back then.” When she said that, it all came back to me. I realized she was the same student who had attempted suicide twice. “But I’m great now,” she said. Then, our reunion got even happier. She continued, “I’m buying some sundresses to wear at Disney World. I’m going to Florida tomorrow.” From deep depression to Disney World. “That’s how life works,” I said. “Yep,” she said. “The good with the bad.” Reader, I’m sharing this with you because it can never be stated often enough. If you’re suicidal, don’t do it. Your situation will change if you can just wait things out. My father died by suicide. He held on for many months, suffering from major depression, but on a cold day in March in 1982, he took his own life. If he could have refrained from taking his own life, his situation would have eventually changed for the better. I firmly believe this. He would have gotten on better medication. He would have found a new job. Maybe he would have taken up alcohol and become an alcoholic, but at least, he’d be alive. I’m reminded of Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here,” a song which narrates a long life of major ups and downs, but through it all, the singer reminds us that she’s still here. I’ve been truly suicidal twice in my life. The first time was when I was in my twenties, and I was dating an extremely controlling man. He had taken me out to a beautiful restaurant with delicious food and fancy tablecloths. There were even ice sculptures carved into the shapes of lovely swans. But I was so miserable because he had my future mapped out for me; we were going to marry, and I was going to have his children. I felt as if I was with a kidnapper, and there was no Stockholm syndrome going on. The second time was just after my first bout of cancer. My oncologist put me on a new anti-cancer med that had a possible side effect of making people suicidal. God, I just wanted to die. So I know what it feels like to want to take my life, but by the grace of God, I never have tried. I’ve had the wherewithal to get myself out of these situations. In the first case, I ditched the crazy guy, and in the second case, I stopped taking the meds. I held on until things changed. I also knew how terrible suicide is on families and friends due to the death of my father. He put us through horrible times, and I wouldn’t want to do that to my family and people I love. It’s an awful feeling to be abandoned by a parent. In many ways, you never get over it. So reader, if you’re feeling suicidal, hold on. Your situation will eventually change, and the sun will come out. Who knows? You might find yourself in a new outfit drinking a cocktail in Disney World. It could happen. View the full article
  12. Many people with depression feel an unbearable, knock-you-off-your-feet sadness, a debilitating despair. They feel like they’re drowning or suffocating. They feel a deep, all-over aching pain. Even breathing feels arduous. But many do not. In fact, many people with depression don’t feel anything except for numbness or emptiness. Dean Parker’s clients often describe a “thick feeling throughout their body.” Some describe feeling like they’re “covered in lead.” Others describe being “in a fog.” Still, others say things like: “I have no emotions,” “Nothing gives me pleasure,” “Nothing gives me joy.” Counseling psychologist Rosy Saenz-Sierzega, Ph.D, has worked with clients who initially feel a profound despair, which then turns into numbness. “Clients at times refer to this as an ‘emotional hangover’—having nothing left to give after having experienced such extreme emotional outpour.” Other clients tell Saenz-Sierzega that they’re unable to feel anything at all. Which isn’t a neutral state of mind; her clients tell her it’s terrifying and isolating. They start to feel helpless and hopeless and become “fearful that they will never again be able to feel.” They “feel as though there is a wall or barrier between them and other people—it’s very lonely behind that wall,” she said. Author Graeme Cowan, who struggled for five years with clinical depression, described having “terminal numbness.” “I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t think clearly. My head was in a black cloud and nothing in the outside world had any impact. The only relief that came was through sleep, and my biggest dread was waking up knowing that I had to get through another 15 hours before I could sleep again.” The Origin of Your Numbness There are various reasons why people feel numb during their depression. For some, it’s because they’re consciously pushing down their feelings or repressing them, an “unconscious process where strong emotions and/or trauma is ‘forgotten,’” said Parker, a Dix Hills, NY, psychologist who specializes in mood and anxiety disorders and relationship counseling. When his clients describe their depression, Parker encourages them to start their sentences with “I feel.” More often than not, this is when they start crying and become emotional. They start “talking about their deep, suppressed emotions.” Similarly, Saenz-Sierzega has found that many of her clients who experience numbness in their depression are unable to admit, acknowledge and process their emotions. Which, for them, stems from being emotionally neglected by their parents. Some were raised by parents who struggled with substance abuse, mental illness or bereavement. Others were raised by controlling parents who fought in front of them, “had strict rules, and portrayed perfection as a reality and a necessity,” said Saenz-Sierzega, who works with individuals, couples and families in Chandler, Ariz. These parents both relied on their children and placed their own needs above them. For instance, Saenz-Sierzega has heard these kinds of statements in session: “My dad would critique my basketball games and tell me all the mistakes I made.” “My mom would talk to me about all her boyfriends.” “When my dad died, I realized I lost my mom too — she was so obsessed with the loss of my father, I never had a mother again.” “My dad would just come home after work and drink out on the porch.” “My parents don’t even know me.” “My parents never talked about their feelings.” “I learned that conflict is to be avoided at all costs.” In therapy, Saenz-Sierzega helps her clients reconnect to their inner child in order to understand their emptiness and fill the void. “One’s younger self—the person you were as a child—holds a lot of the answers as to why we feel, think, and behave the way we do today.” Other people feel numb because of accompanying anxiety. Parker has found that when people describe being in a fog, they’re really talking about anxiety. Some experience anxiety and dread in the early morning or evening, he said. “It can be purely associated with an anxiety disorder, but often there’s a feeling of being trapped and underneath is a tremendous sense of hopelessness, helplessness and depression.” It’s also common in depression to lose interest in things you previously enjoyed, which can lead to numbness. Parker once worked with a man who was passionate about politics. However, after his depression descended, he lost all interest in the political scene. Others may become so overwhelmed by their circumstances that they can’t yet process what’s happening. Which is when numbness sets in, Saenz-Sierzega said. Self-Help Strategies When you have depression (or any illness), the best thing you can do is to seek treatment. There are also strategies you can try on your own. Parker and Saenz-Sierzega shared several below: Keep a journal. Parker suggested rating your mood from 1 to 10 on a daily basis, or several times a day if it changes (1 being “suicidal, hopeless, filled with dread, worst depression ever” and 10 being “joyful and filled with energy”). Next to your rating, write down the thoughts that coincide or produce these feelings, he said. Expand your feelings vocabulary. Saenz-Sierzega suggested finding a comprehensive “feelings list” to help you better express yourself (like this one). Find resources that resonate with you. Memoirs, for instance, can help you put words to what seems like indescribable feelings and experiences. Parker suggested reading William Styron’s book Darkness Visible. “It offers the best description I’ve read of the phenomenological experience of depression.” Here’s an excerpt: “The madness of depression is, generally speaking, the antithesis of violence. It is a storm indeed, but a storm of murk. Soon evident are the slowed-down responses, near paralysis, psychic energy throttled back close to zero. Ultimately, the body is affected and feels sapped, drained.” If you’ve experienced emotional neglect during your childhood, Saenz-Sierzega recommended reading books on the topic. Check out the book Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Also, the author Jonice Webb pens an excellent blog called “Childhood Emotional Neglect” here on Psych Central. Nurture yourself. In your journal, also write down your needs, and create a plan for nurturing yourself, Saenz-Sierzega said. “Treat your current self as that neglected child and attend to your needs.” She shared this example: One of your needs is to have a voice, so you commit to speaking up for yourself. When someone asks your opinion, you plan to offer it. When something happens that you don’t agree with, you will speak up. You will request a raise. You won’t justify your decisions to others. Depression can manifest in different ways—one of which is numbness, which may stem from various sources. Sometimes, as Parker noted, there’s no explanation. Either way, it’s vital to seek treatment for your depression, and to remind yourself that “despite how permanent it feels, [this] numbness is not permanent,” Saenz-Sierzega said. Remind yourself that you can, and you will get better. View the full article
  13. How Much News Should We Expose Ourselves To?

    Read today’s news and it’s easy to get depressed — one troubling story after another. An online survey taken about a year ago by the American Psychological Association (APA) reports that 57 percent of Americans say that the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress. How do we keep our balance when we’re buffeted by fierce social and political winds? We’re each challenged to find a path that works for us — and make adjustments along the way. Here are some survival strategies that may or may not have resonance for you. Limiting Exposure I watch less television news than I used to, although there are some informative news programs with interesting guests. I want to know the basics of what’s going on so that I don’t get blindsided by some stunning development. I read news captions and selective articles on the Internet and in newspapers at my gym. But everyone is different. The problem with chronic exposure to troubling events is that it can release a stress response in our body that can have damaging long-term effects. Any perceived threat, such as a dog charging us, a horrendous news story, or the latest political debacle can trigger an alarm that prompts our adrenal glands to flood our body with hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Our body is designed to be resilient enough to deal with passing stressors. But when we’re continually in the fight, flight, freeze mode, our stress response may get stuck in the “on” position. As described on the Mayo Clinic website, when the stress-response system is activated long term, cortisol and other stress hormones can interfere with other bodily processes, increasing the risk of heart disease, sleep problems, memory impairment, digestive problems, anxiety and depression. Each person needs to get a felt sense for what they can handle without feeling overwhelmed or traumatized, and weigh the risks of over-exposure with the risks (both to yourself and society) of remaining ignorant. Some people with sensitive nervous systems seek protection by exposing themselves to very little news, if any. Others may have sensitivity to lurking danger and stay glued to the news as a way to manage their anxiety. Others read or watch just enough to be informed, so they’re not oblivious and can vote wisely, but without being glued to the TV or computer screen, like a moth being drawn to a flame. Others find the news interesting or entertaining rather than distressing. The news media cranks out a dizzying amount of news every day. One part of self-care is to know our boundaries in relation to how much we can expose our psyches to without feeling paralyzed or besieged. Self-Care Practices We all know the importance of self-care, but in today’s turbulent times it’s especially essential. Meditation and mindfulness practices can help regulate our nervous system. Physical activity helps release stress from the body. I find yoga, meditation and exercise to be especially helpful, along with having a decent diet. Whatever resources help you discharge stress and maintain some inner balance, such as art, music, or nature walks (alone or with a friend), can be revitalizing. Most of us lead busy lives, so taking care of ourselves is easier said than done. We need to use our creativity to see how we might design a life that includes activities and practices that replenish us. Just do your best without stressing out about it or over-thinking it. Emotional Support It might surprise you to realize how many people feel the same way you do. Feeling alone and powerless is one of the greatest stressors. It’s not unusual to feel a reactive anxiety or sadness about our current political situation. In fact, it might mean that you care enough to be deeply affected by current events. Finding friends or a support group where you can share your feelings and concerns can be enormously reassuring and healing. You are not alone with your concerns. Talking with a therapist about your fears and feelings can also be very helpful, especially if you are finding yourself not sleeping or functioning well due to depression or anxiety. Giving emotional support to ourselves is also important. Can we find a way to be gentle with our feelings without concluding that something is wrong with us? A process such as Gendlin’s Focusing can be a helpful way to make room for our feelings without being debilitated by them. Contributing to Our World Being part of the solution instead of part of the problem can be empowering. As philosophers and psychologists have written, we have little control over what happens to us, but more control over how we relate to what happens. Perhaps you are already contributing to society through your work and lifestyle. Or maybe you want to consider joining causes that can make a difference. We’re not condemned to wallow in terminal powerlessness. Even a small effort to make the world better might help you feel better. Small acts of kindness can have rippling effects. I find some comfort in remembering that sometimes an individual — or a society — needs to hit bottom before finding their way forward. Hopefully there won’t be too many more bottoms. Whether there are or not, it may help to remember that we’re in this together and that the human spirit is very resilient. Take some deep breaths, remember who you are, join with like-hearted people, do your best to live in the moment, and allow yourself to abide in meaningful moments of joy and connectedness with others. View the full article
  14. The Truth about Building Self-Confidence

    What would you guess people are most stressed out about in their careers? One might assume that hating your job, or dealing with the frustration of finding a new one, would top the list. But according to the results of an annual survey that I send several thousand readers of my email newsletter, the most common problem people face is that they don’t feel confident. Readers said things like: I want to start a business, but I fear looking foolish. I feel I shouldn’t have been picked for the role I am in. I feel like a sham. I doubt myself and find it hard to ask for what I want. These responses are from smart, accomplished individuals. Most of them have advanced degrees. Some of them have earned high-ranking leadership positions at Fortune 500 companies that are household names. Why are they questioning their competence? Unfortunately, confidence is an elusive goal for many people. And that’s because we fundamentally misunderstand the way it works. We tend to think confidence is a personality trait, and treat it as a pre-requisite for action. So we put off signing up for a dating site because we feel insecure about our looks, or neglect to apply for jobs because we worry that we won’t be competitive. But the truth is that confidence isn’t an innate trait; it’s a quality gained through experience. We should take risks in order to build confidence — not the other way around. The misunderstood history of self-confidence Why are we so obsessed with the idea of self-confidence? Many cultures — particularly that of the US — –view extroversion, charisma, and social skills as highly desirable qualities. After all, if you’re going to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, you’ve got to believe in yourself. Research also shows we’re more attracted to people who are outgoing. We automatically equate outward displays of confidence with competence. Influenced by the rise of youth culture, wealth, and consumerism after World War II, confidence took on a powerful mystique in American culture, contributing to the self-esteem movement of the 1980s and 1990s. High self-esteem was suggested to be the key to success in life — –so powerful it could fix deeply complex issues like inner-city violence. This ushered in an age of supposed solutions to artificially force self-esteem — from participation awards and meaningless gold stars to showering children with praise, regardless of what they’d done. Entire cottage industries popped up selling superficial solutions to boost people’s confidence in 20 minutes or less by repeating positive affirmations to themselves. But as the movement hit a fever pitch in the 1990s, renowned psychologist Roy Baumeister grew concerned about the lack of hard evidence backing up claims that positive self-esteem could cure all ills. He undertook a sweeping review of research, which confirmed his skepticism. Out of 15,000 scholarly articles written about self-esteem over three decades, only 200 met rigorous research standards. A former advocate of the movement, he concluded that there was no proof that high self-esteem improved academic achievement, job success, or health outcomes. What the self-esteem movement showed is that it’s not enough to simply be told you’re special. Nor should we attempt to protect ourselves from struggle and negative feelings like uncertainty and fear. When we attempt to shield our children and ourselves from the normal range of human emotions that comes with seeking out new experiences, we are robbed of the chance to build authentic, healthy confidence. Earning confidence through trial and error The key to cracking the confidence may lie in tackling those uncomfortable emotions head on, as entrepreneur Steph Crowder did live on her podcast. She candidly shared how a recent bad review from a listener had blindsided her, ruining her day. But how she handled it made all the difference. A lot of people might be tempted to follow the conventional wisdom “fake it till you make it” and try to cover up her reaction with false positivity. However, research shows that keeping up appearances is stressful — and can actively undermine well-being. Instead, Steph took her listeners through the process of listening to bad feedback and learning from it. Studies show people who deal effectively with their emotions in this way, an active coping skill called emotional regulation, have higher resilience and greater self-esteem. Steph’s example illustrates the face that the only way to build self-worth is through behavior. You have to put yourself in difficult situations, so that you can learn how to survive them. Do the work We would all do better if we understood, as Mindy Kaling has put it, that confidence isn’t something that ought to come to us naturally. Rather, as she writes in her bookWhy Not Me?, “confidence is like respect: it’s something you have to earn.” Kaling recalls: “When I started at The Office, I had zero confidence. Whenever Greg Daniels came into the room to talk to our small group of writers, I was so nervous that I would raise and lower my chair involuntarily, like a tic. Finally, weeks in, writer Mike Schur put his hand on my arm and said, gently, ‘You have to stop.’ Years later I realized that the way I had felt during those first few months was correct. I didn’t deserve to be confident yet.” Over time, however, as she gained experience, Kaling became more confident. The same applies to all of us. We need to do things that we think are scary — not because we have blind faith that we’ll succeed, but simply because those things are worth doing. As research from Angela Duckworth suggests, struggling builds character. Failure breeds wisdom and maturity. We need to fail and experience discomfort, and over time, build a track record of demonstrated success. Once you’ve proven to yourself that you can perform in front of a crowd or run a marathon or ask a person out on a date, it’s a lot easier to have confidence the next time you face a big challenge. And so if you don’t feel confident in your life, don’t treat it as a personal flaw. Perhaps you simply need more practice. Let’s learn to view confidence not as a personality trait but as an acquired skill — one that’s available to all of us, if we’re willing to put in the work. © 2017 Melody Wilding, as first published in Quartz View the full article
  15. In some interesting research on obsessive-compulsive disorder, researchers at the University of California Los Angeles have developed an artificial intelligence system that predicts whether patients with OCD will benefit from Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). The February 2018 study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used a functional MRI machine, or fMRI, to scan the brains of 42 people with OCD before and after four weeks of intensive, daily cognitive behavioral therapy. Researchers specifically analyzed how different areas of the brain activate in sync with each other — a property called functional connectivity — during a period of rest. The researchers then fed the participants’ fMRI data and symptom scores into a computer and used machine learning (that’s where the artificial intelligence comes in) to predict which people would respond well to treatment. The machine-learning program demonstrated 70 percent accuracy. It also correctly predicted participants’ final scores on a symptoms assessment within a small margin of error, regardless of how they responded to the treatment. Dr. Jamie Feusner, a clinical neuroscientist and the study’s senior author, said: “This method opens a window into OCD patients’ brains to help us see how responsive they will be to treatment. The algorithm performed far better than our own predictions based on their symptoms and other clinical information.” Dr. Feusner goes on to say that if the study’s results are replicated, treatment for OCD could someday start with a brain scan. While I find this study fascinating, it also makes me a little uncomfortable. I will be the first to admit I have a limited understanding of neuroscience and artificial intelligence, but I shudder to think that CBT (specifically exposure and response prevention therapy which is the evidence-based treatment for OCD) would not even be offered to someone with OCD based on a preliminary scan of their brain. I see obsessive-compulsive disorder as so complicated. Could it really be that easy to predict who will or will not benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? There are already many known reasons why exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy doesn’t work for some people. You have to be totally committed to it, and there are various aspects of OCD and this therapy that can make that commitment difficult. The degree of family support and understanding of OCD as well as comorbid diagnoses are just two more examples of why exposure and response prevention therapy might not initially be successful. In addition, there are therapists out there who think they understand ERP therapy, only to make common mistakes during treatment that jeopardize their patients’ success. As I’ve said, OCD is complicated, so it is not surprising that treating it is often a complex undertaking best left to experts in obsessive-compulsive disorder. To me, it’s a bit of a paradox — the fact that an impersonal machine (artificial intelligence) might lead to more personalized treatment. I know this is the wave of the future, and of course I can imagine the possible benefits and discoveries that are likely to arise from cutting edge research involving the brain. I just hope that we don’t get so caught up in data and test results that we neglect to pay attention to the whole person and their individual circumstances. View the full article