Now Viewing: Behavioral/mental health

A Survivor’s Take on Depression: We are the Sad Ones Try to Understand Us

Aug 15, 2014, 11:22 AM

Depression Painting to go with blog post Painted in the hospital after suicide attempt

(This post was written by a member of the RWJF family who has asked to remain anonymous.)

Every day I worry that I will be caught. It could happen any time, any place, and by any one person that looks past my smile and into my eyes and knows immediately that I am not like him nor her. He or she will not see the color of my eyes, but rather that I am hiding something.

I have been in and out of therapy since the age of 9, and on and off antidepressants of every color and brand for more than 20 years. Yet I stand here today with the same diagnosis that I had when I was a child, despite the “help” and the “work” that I have devoted to my illness ever since I can remember. I have clinical depression.

I will never be “okay” by conventional standards without medication. I have finally come to realize that this is not my fault, but rather a product of my DNA. Nonetheless, I hide in shame. No one knows of my diagnosis, or the medicines that I take to help control it, or the acting that I perform daily to hide it.

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Preventing Suicide: If You See Something, Say Something

Aug 13, 2014, 9:16 AM, Posted by Brent Thompson

Dave and Brent Dave and Brent

The second week of August is one of the worst weeks of the year for me. At least it has been since 2008.

Six years ago this week, my friend Dave decided he had enough of the daily struggles of this world and took his own life on a trailhead in the desert near Tucson, Ariz.

He was 31 years old and left behind a fiancé, family, and scores of friends who loved him deeply.

Dave was one of the most incredible people I’ve ever known: a generous soul, full of humor, creativity, compassion, and love. He had more friends than anyone I know. Dave elevated everyone who knew him, inspiring them to find joy, open their minds, chase dreams, and see beauty in the world. It is impossible to count the lives Dave changed for the better, including my own.

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An Ounce of Prevention, Even for Serious Mental Illness

Aug 7, 2014, 1:30 AM, Posted by Jane Isaacs Lowe

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As we work to build a Culture of Health for all Americans, it is time to end the stigmatizing distinctions between mental and physical health. After all, the brain and the body are in constant contact, and affect the well-being of each other in too many ways to count. A true Culture of Health recognizes the interdependence of mental and physical health, and places a premium on prevention and early detection of illness, regardless of type.

We commonly provide preemptive treatment or suggest early lifestyle changes for people at risk for diabetes before the condition evolves into full-blown disease. Yet, we typically don’t approach care for serious mental illness in the same way. It’s time for that to change.

The results from a recently released national study of the Early Detection and Intervention for the Prevention of Psychosis Program (EDIPPP), a project RWJF funded between 2006 and 2013, demonstrate that early intervention to prevent the onset or progression of psychosis in teenagers and young adults improves health and well-being. By helping family members, pediatricians, teachers, young people, and other community members identify young people experiencing early symptoms of serious mental health problems, EDIPPP was able to engage and treat these young people early. That early intervention in turn helped them stay in school, remain employed, and maintain vital connections to family and friends. These benefits mitigated the effects of mental illness, and allowed these teens and young adults to lead healthier and more productive lives.

This study should shift our thinking about how we best treat young people at high risk of serious mental illness. It should also remind us to look at good health and good health practices through a much broader lens, because building a Culture of Health means finding and sharing solutions, and celebrating signs of progress.

Read a Washington Post article on the program

Read a first-person post about depression and the best way to support those who are suffering with it

Read a post by Brent Thompson on bipolar disorder and the death of a friend

Let’s Help Each Other Cope With Stress

Jul 11, 2014, 12:04 PM, Posted by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

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Just about everybody experiences stress, to a greater or lesser degree. The bad news: Too many of us fall into the "greater" category.

All of that stress has consequences not just for our mental health, but for our overall wellbeing, says Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, Writing in the professional social networking site LinkedIn.

Lavizzo-Mourey cites the results of a recent NPR/RWJF/Harvard School of Public Health poll, which shows:

  • One in four said they experienced a great deal of stress in the previous month.
  • Almost half reported a major stressful event or experience within the past year.
  • Seventy-four percent said stress affected their health.
  • Forty-three percent said that a health concern is a leading cause of their stress.
  • Eighty percent of people in poor health reported that their health problems raised their level of stress.

If we are to make progress in building a Culture of Health, we need to acknowledge the deleterious role of stress in Americans' lives and health—and everybody needs to be at the table.

"This is clearly an area where health care providers, communities, and employers can help," Lavizzo-Mourey writes.

Read Lavizzo-Mourey's blog post on LinkedIn

Carrying the Burden of Stress

Jul 7, 2014, 11:36 AM, Posted by Jeff Meade

Forum at Harvard School of Public Health: The Health Burden of Stress, and What We Can Do About It. Presented in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and NPR. (July 9, 2014)

Nearly half of us suffer through one major stressful event every year, and the weight of that stress can be heavy indeed. Take, for example, trouble at work, problems in a personal relationship, or the death of someone close to you.

At the top of the list: health issues—either yours, or those of a loved one. In fact, a health concern is the leading cause of stress for 43 percent of us. And all of that emotional turmoil can have a ripple effect, extending out into the realm of our overall well-being.

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Filling in the Cracks: The Fight for Mental Health

Jun 11, 2014, 3:11 PM, Posted by Beth Toner

In December 2009, I found myself in a narrow, cramped waiting room that looked, via one small window, into the locked psychiatric unit of a suburban Pennsylvania community hospital. On the other side was my oldest son, just a week shy of his 17th birthday. He was clad only in a thin hospital gown, perched in a wheelchair that was outfitted for restraints—although he wasn’t restrained. He looked tired, frightened, and overwhelmed. My husband, his stepfather, sat next to me as we waited for answers. Tears sprang to my eyes. Could my son—and our family—find our way back?

That moment was the culmination of six months of escalating anxiety and mood swings in my son’s life. He had always been, from a very young age, an intense child: bright, intensely focused, and articulate—which occasionally manifested itself in stubbornness and a reluctance to back down from an argument. But the fall of his junior year of high school had proved to be something very different. Suddenly, his occasional anxiety multiplied exponentially, completely out of proportion to the stressors in his life. Ten-point assignments in an advanced placement bio class turned into all-night crying and screaming sessions that ended with him sitting in a corner sobbing—and us all exhausted and at wit’s end. We tried therapy, with minimal effect. His school guidance counselor, not really understanding the depth of Wesley’s despair, encouraged him to “tough it out.”

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Head Start Program Uses Brain Science to Help Kids Heal

Mar 20, 2014, 3:40 PM, Posted by Jane Isaacs Lowe

In the late 1990s, a major study of adverse childhood experiences by Kaiser Permanente in California found that people who had been exposed to traumatic events such as violence or abuse during childhood were much more likely to have serious health problems as adults. Over the next decade, advances in neuroscience explained how childhood trauma can harm brain development and change the way kids feel and act in response to even normal events in their lives.

So, what to do? How do you protect or heal vulnerable children? An article on an innovative pre-school program in the Fixes column of yesterday's New York Times is an example of some solutions that are starting to emerge.

In 2010, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) partnered with local funders and Crittenton Children's Center in Kansas City, Mo. to pilot a new kind of Head Start program that would provide caring support to pre-schoolers exposed to traumatic events—homelessness, abuse, the loss of a parent, for example. The idea was to create a web of support among all of the adults who would interact with kids throughout their day, including parents, teachers, administrators, even the school bus driver. The school would also give kids specific tools to help them deal with their emotions in a healthy way and build resilience.

Head Start Trauma Smart wanted to ensure that the children would master the skills they need by the time they start kindergarten, because kids who are already falling behind in kindergarten have a much harder time succeeding in school and living a healthy life. The results of the pilot were so promising that in 2013 RWJF gave Crittenton Children's Center a $2.3 million grant to expand the Head Start Trauma Smart model throughout the state of Missouri. 

Watch a new video documenting how Head Start Trauma Smart works. Hear some of the stories of kids who have been exposed to traumatic events that are almost unimaginable and of the caring adults who are helping them heal. 

The parents and school staff are trailblazers, doing inspired and inspiring work to help bring out the best in each and every child. And while there is nothing that they are doing in Missouri’s Head Start programs that couldn’t be done in every community, it’s not easy to get systems of care to adopt this kind of change.

New York Times columnist David Bornstein explains why this program is so significant. “Trauma interventions can be highly effective but the challenge today is extending them from therapeutic settings—which are limited and expensive—into the broad systems that serve larger numbers of children.”

Here at RWJF we think a lot about what it takes to build a culture of health in America. There are few better examples than the Head Start Trauma Smart pre-school, where every child has the chance to thrive, and every adult who crosses their path has an opportunity to be a positive influence. And where great ideas that improve health spread to more communities where they can help more families in need.

Shielding Young Brains from the Effects of Toxic Stress

Nov 13, 2013, 3:45 PM, Posted by Kristin Schubert

Child First

Before the science on addiction was developed, we blamed smoking on bad choices. Once we understood how the brain worked, we were able to devise strategies to change behavior, and smoking plummeted. 

As David Bornstein points out in two outstanding recent New York Times columns, the science of toxic stress is setting the stage for another health revolution that is just as far-reaching. It is forcing us to rethink the way communities deliver services─health care, education, and more─to our most vulnerable.

Read the first column

Read the second column

Every day, there are young children who are abused. Who witness violence in their homes or neighborhoods. Who are malnourished. Or who have parents who struggle with drug or alcohol use. We now know that those adverse experiences change the way their young brains develop, and affect their mental and physical well-being later in life. These children are more likely to have heart disease, cancer, and hypertension as adults. They are more likely to use drugs, suffer from depression, and commit suicide. They are more likely to drop out of school, spend time in prison, and be homeless. 

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Alzheimer's: Let's Search for Better Care Models as Well as a Cure

Jul 9, 2013, 2:00 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

An elderly disabled man walks with a stick on a path in a garden.

The New Yorker recently ran an excellent article by Jerome Groopman MD, Before Night Falls, about efforts to find a drug that can delay or even stop the onset of Alzheimer’s. What struck me most about this thorough piece of reporting, however, is that it covers much the same ground as a feature I wrote for Businessweek—in 2007. Despite the huge amount of money and other resources devoted to Alzheimer’s research, the quest for an effective treatment has moved forward by mere fractions in the past six years.

Almost every drug I wrote about in 2007 has since failed, which means it will be at least a decade, and probably far longer, before an effective treatment wins regulatory approval. Meanwhile, the Alzheimer’s Association recently reported that one in three seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia in the U.S. this year, and 5.2 million people are currently living with Alzheimer’s. By 2025, the number of people living with the disease will likely reach 7.1 million. So while we’re waiting for a cure, the medical community should also be developing better methods for caring for the millions of patients who are suffering right now.

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