A Bit About Suicide

Hey Everyone!

Hope you’re all doing well!

As many of you may have heard or read, a few weeks ago fashion designer Kate Spade committed suicide and then just a few days later famous TV chef and host Anthony Bourdain committed suicide.

In the aftermath of these two tragic suicides I came across some very disappointing statistics about suicide here in the United States:

  • According to the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) suicide rates have been rising in almost every state with nearly 45,000 Americans taking their own lives each and every year.
  • Of the top 10 causes of death suicide is only one of three that is rising and not falling.
  • According to the CDC more than half of the people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of their death. Life issues such as problematic relationships, substance abuse, financial despair, physical health problems or job stress likely played a key role in their suicide.

As if we did not already have enough reasons to ban or severely limit gun control here in the United States, it turns out guns are the most common method of suicide. The more people have access to guns the more chance of suicide because its easier for people to act impulsively.

When it comes to suicide the role of the mass media is also very important. As many of you may have noticed the mass media often over sensationalizes a suicide.

Often when the victim of a suicide is a well-known figure the media reports on the suicide in a very detailed manner and they keep developing and adding to the story as new details emerge.

This type of coverage can potentially be dangerous because studies show that the way a suicide is portrayed can influence other peoples’ behaviors. Suicide can actually become contagious through the spreading of thoughts and ideas.

 

For example, people are more likely to think about or even commit suicide if they can relate to the victim of suicide especially if the media portrays suicide as being that persons means for coping with their problems.

There are a number of different opinions on why the suicide rate has been consistently increasing. Some of the opinions include:

  • Our lifestyle has changed in a drastic way. We are no longer directly connected to people but instead we form and/or maintain most of our relationships digitally through social media.
  • Our life expectations differ greatly from those of our previous generations.
  • We have become less resilient.

Obviously, the exact reason of each persons’ suicide is different. I don’t want to make any generalizations but I feel that in todays’ society one really big problem is loneliness.

Without a doubt, in many ways, we are more connected to others than perhaps we have ever been. But I do agree that many of us are lacking real life human connections with others.

This is especially true for millennials. One particular research report found that millennials are more likely to experience chronic loneliness than any other age group.

I think that sometimes we take for granted the power of reaching out to others. In the aftermath of these two recent suicides one particular Instagram influencer posted a picture of herself and in the caption, she discussed her battle with depression and she mentioned that in the past she has had some suicidal thoughts.

Her advice to her followers was to simply reach out to a loved one or friend whom you feel is going through a tough time. She mentioned that often after a major suicide story people post the phone numbers of suicide prevention hotlines but they fail to realize that in many cases if a person is truly thinking about suicide they may have already made up their mind and they may not be willing to take the initiative to call a help hotline.

Understandably, often times it is difficult for us to detect the fact that our friend or loved one is going through a tough time.

Occasionally, a friend or loved one who is going through a tough time may reach out to us by just texting or calling us about something trivial and if we are busy and/or we are not aware of the fact that they are going through a tough time, we may simply just ignore their call or text.

I know personally that this has happened to me a number of times in which I was going through a tough time and I was feeling lonely and so I reached out to others by just texting them about something trivial and hoping that they would reply so that I could start a conversation but unfortunately, they never replied.

There is nothing that we can do that is guaranteed to prevent a loved one from committing suicide but in my humble opinion we can do our part to make sure that those around us are not feeling lonely or down because they feel they have no one to talk to.

I know that many of us live very busy and hectic lives but if we occasionally just take a few minutes to talk with a friend or loved one whom we usually don’t talk to, I think that this can go a long way into making that person feel valued and loved.

Please feel free to let me know your thoughts!

With Love,

Yasmin

 

 

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A Bit About Depression

Hey Everyone!

Hope you’re all doing well!

As someone who has studied psychology in college I have read and heard quite a lot about depression. I am a firm believer that antidepressants should not be the first option in treating depression. However, I hope that by the end of this quick post I can convince you that antidepressants should not be completely avoided either.

First of all, a person is diagnosed with major depression when they have been in a depressed mood for more than two weeks. Specific symptoms of major depression include some of the following:

  • loss of interest in activities they normally enjoy
  • weight loss/gain
  • trouble concentrating
  • guilt
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • worthlessness
  • suicidal ideation

Depression can impact a person’s social life, career, and/or performance in school. A family history of depression can slightly increase one’s risk of depression. However, there are a number of environmental  factors that can contribute to depression as well:

  • history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • major life events such as the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job
  • other mental illnesses or other physical ailments
  • history of, or current, substance abuse.

Of course, taking antidepressants is not the only effective treatment option for depression. Effective alternatives include physical exercise, psychotherapy, and in extreme case electroconvulsive therapy or ECT.

Physical exercise can increase endorphins, which can counteract the symptoms of depression. Research has shown that physical exercise can also improve overall brain health by promoting the birth of new neurons.

Psychotherapy, where the depressed person talks to a mental health professional, can help the depressed person change their negative thoughts and actions and replace them with positive ones. Psychotherapy can also help people find better ways to cope and solve their problems. Research has shown that psychotherapy can be just as effective as antidepressants for people with moderate to severe depression. Overall, psychotherapy is especially beneficial to people who experience depression due to the challenges or difficulties they’ve faced in the earlier days of their life.

In extreme cases where no other treatment option including antidepressants, has worked Electroconvulsive therapy or ECT can be used. During the ECT procedure, the patient is given general anesthesia and then a series of small electrons are passed through their brain and this purposefully triggers a seizure. ECT impacts the neurotransmitters in the brain to help relieve symptoms of depression. For many patients this is only a temporary option.

What some people may not know about depression is that aside from affecting our moods and behaviors it also negatively impacts the biology of our brain. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released by the body during times of physical and mental stress. However, in people with major depression excessive amounts of cortisol are released and sent to the brain.

In the long term excessively high levels of cortisol in the brain can lead to a wide range of problems. Some of these include:

  • slowing down the birth of new neurons
  • memory problems
  • shrinking the prefrontal cortex (which is responsible for regulating emotions and making decisions)
  • High cortisol levels also increase the size of the amygdala which is responsible for emotional responses. This can lead to sleep disturbances and it can cause the body to release irregular amounts of hormones and other chemicals.
  • High levels of cortisol also decrease the brains structural plasticity (which is the brains ability to adapt to different situations).

The reality is that for many people depression is not limited to constantly feeling sad. For some people depression is caused by biological changes in their brain and for many people if depression is left untreated, in the long-term it can cause potentially irreversible damage to the brain.

Unfortunately, physical exercise, psychotherapy and ECT cannot prevent or improve the biological causes and the long-term biological damage that is associated with untreated major depression.

Once again, if someone is diagnosed with depression they should most definitely try physical exercise, psychotherapy, or any other non-prescription remedy. However, after a certain period of time if these other remedies don’t work it might be time to try an antidepressant.

For those that are wondering about the effectiveness of antidepressants, the latest research has shown that compared to a placebo (in a scientific experiment a non-drug  sugar pill that is presented to the patient as an antidepressant) the actual antidepressant are significantly more effective in treating depression. Of course, some antidepressants are more effective than others and only a doctor can correctly prescribe the right medication for you.

Unfortunately, statistics show that most people with depression do not get the help and treatment that they need. In developed nations only one in six people receive treatment for depression and in the developing nations its only one in twenty-seven people. If you do suffer from depression, please make sure to reach out for help regardless of which treatment option you choose, never leave depression untreated.

I know that for many people this is much easier said than done because unfortunately,  here in the United States not everyone has access to a mental health professional and going to visit one can be very expensive. These are systemic problems that the government and those with power have the responsibility of fixing.

Aside from exercise here are some free mental health resources.

With Love,

Yasmin

 

Here are Three Things That Won’t Make You Happier

Hey Everyone!

Hope you’re all doing well!

I truly believe that deep down each and every one of us wants to be happy and I believe that ultimately we make many of the decisions in our lives with the hope that someday it will bring us some form of happiness.

Most of us have certain beliefs about what will make us happy. Some of the things that we believe will make us happy may indeed increase our happiness however, other things may not.

If you are in the search for happiness here are some of the things that research has shown that will not help you reach long term happiness.

Money

I know that this sounds cliche but money really cannot buy happiness. One research study showed that high income earners are not significantly happier than middle class income earners.

Obviously, we all need money to pay for shelter and our basic needs and then having some extra money can help us live a comfortable life. However, I think that one of the problems with money is that most people who start making lots of money never reach a point when they are satisfied with the amount of money they have. This is potentially dangerous because for some people the pursuit of money and riches becomes the purpose of their life.

I think most of us know that money by itself will not make us happy. But we feel that having lots of money helps us buy or gain the things that we want and this will make us happy. The reality is that material possessions only bring short term happiness. When we first buy something we may be excited and happy but after a while we get used to the item or something even better comes out and we often take the version of the item that we have previously bought for granted.

Material possessions may not bring lasting happiness but there is one way in which money can buy happiness. A research study has shown that after people have their basic needs met if they have extra money to spend on time saving services such as a housekeeper they will be happier. The reason is that they will have more freedom to spend their time as they wish.

Too Many Choices

This may be slightly shocking to some people but research has shown that when most people are given too many options or choices to choose from they often become exhausted and unhappy. Social Psychologists often refer to this phenomenon as tyranny of freedom or choice overload.

I know personally when I am shopping online I feel overwhelmed by all the choices that I see that I have to choose from. Even when I want to sit back, relax and watch a TV show I often feel overwhelmed by the amount of shows that are available. I don’t even have traditional cable so my TV viewing options are fairly limited but still there is just too much choice on Netflix!

On a more serious note though, we humans have a cognitive reserve that is limited and we can only make so many decisions until we run out of energy and we ideally stop for the day or we continue and risk making impaired decisions. The problem with choice overload is that we can easily deplete our cognitive reserve by making trivial decisions before we make the tougher decisions.

I think that this quote from former president Obama helps to explain this idea:“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits… I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Personally, what I like to do is every night before bed I choose my outfit for the next day and I basically get everything ready so that in the morning I don’t have to make any trivial decisions. Getting everything ready the night before really helps ease my morning routine and occasionally if I do wake up a little later I am less stressed than I would otherwise be.

Having More Friends or Followers on Social Media

I know this one is probably a pretty obvious one but having more friends or followers on social media will most likely not lead to you becoming any happier.

One particular study divided frequent Facebook users into two groups. One group continued to use Facebook as frequently as they usually did and another group was asked to take a one week break from a Facebook. The results showed that the group that took a one week break were happier and less stressed.

I think that the problem with social media is that we the social media users often tend to compare our lives with the lives of others and we often come to the conclusion that our lives are not as great as the lives of these other people. We become unappreciative of all that we do have. We often forget that most people only post the highlights or the best moments of their lives on social media.

I am a social media user myself and I would not go so far as to say that we should completely stop using social media. I believe that social media has many benefits as well. I have family that live all across the world and social media has helped us connect in a way that may not have been possible without it.

Also, social media has played a role in many positive movements across the world as well and I often see images and videos of people that are going through such difficult times and while these images are extremely hard to see I become aware of their struggles and I become immensely grateful for everything that I do have.

My humble piece of advice would be to first of all try to establish or strengthen relationships that you have in real life outside of social media because these are the people that are more likely going to come to your aid during difficult times.

Also, go through your social media accounts and simply unfollow accounts or people that make you feel bad about yourself or they just don’t add value to your life.

Always remember that social media is just a means of connecting and interacting with others but ideally it should not be the only way that we interact with each other.

A Final Note on Happiness

Life definitely consists of many ups and downs and it’s impossible to always feel content or happy. It turns out that accepting the fact that we are not always going to be happy is actually good for our overall well-being.

Research has shown that the pursuit of happiness does not lead to more joy. An Australian research study asked participants to what extent is being happy important to them. Then they were asked to keep a journal of all the stressful events that occur in their lives and and write how it made them feel.

The results showed that those who highly valued happiness felt more lonely during these stressful times.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the desire to feel happy and joyous however, if the desire for these positive feelings and emotions becomes obsessive then it will lead to more emotional pain rather than joy and happiness.

With Love,

Yasmin

Here’s How Music can Cure You

Hey Everyone!

Hope you’re all doing well!

When most of us think of music we think of it as a means of entertainment. However, the reality is that music can be so much more than entertaining, in fact, it can be used as a critical tool by medical professionals to help patients with a wide range of conditions.

Music therapy is basically the use of music to help patients with various physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs. Music therapy can be of benefit to people with dementia, brain injuries, respiratory problems, chronic pain and many other problems. 

Music therapy is not just given by random doctors and nurses there are professionals called music therapists who have rigorously studied this form of treatment. Music therapists work in a wide range settings including hospitals, community health centers, drug rehab centers, senior centers, nursing homes and schools. 

Here are just some of the ways that music therapy can help patients:

Regaining the Abillity to Move

Music therapy is very useful for patients who suffer from brain injuries such as car accidents, assaults, gun shot wounds, falls, stroke, lack of oxygen to the brain, etc. Often these patients are left with limited mobility. Rhythmic entertainment is used to help these patients gradually start to move again. 

Such patients are asked to listen to strong rhythmically accentuated music. Rhythmic entertainment works by locking the motor systems rhythm to an external auditory source. This works because there is actually a rich connection beteeen our auditory system and our motor system. We all have an “internal timekeeper” that helps us regulate our movements. When this “internal timekeeper” is damaged as a result of the injury the internal timing system can be retrained and the brain can gradually adjust itself and the patient can regain much of the lost ability. As an example the patient walks to the beat of the music starting off with slow tempo music and then gradually working their way up as their ability improves. 

Regaining the Abillity to Speak 

After certain types of brain injuries, some patients are no longer able to speak but music therapy can help them regain this vital ability. One prominent example of this is Gaby Giffords. As some of you may know Gaby Giffords was a member of the U.S. Congress who was tragically shot in the head in 2011. 

Due to damage to the language pathways in the left side of her brain Gaby Giffords was not able to speak after the injury. The good news for Gaby was that music, singing in particular, accesses language in a way that is different from talking.

Gaby started seeing a music therapist on a regular basis and she started being able to sing the words that she could not speak. After many regular sessions her brain started to reorganize and she gradually started to speak again!

Music therapy is a great tool for patients with damage to the left side of their brain because it helps the patient regain the abillity to speak by helping patients retrain their brain to use the right side of their brain to learn language. 

Reducing Effects of Dementia

Listening to music can help Dementia patients by bringing back memories and emotions. It can also reduce the stress of Dementia patients and it can help them more easily communicate with their healthcare staff. Listening to music can also help Dementia patients better interact with each other by discussing the memories and feelings evoked by the music.

With Dementia patients, songs from the patients young adult years (ages 18 to 25) are especially helpful because they’re most likely to evoke reactions and memories. However, unfamiliar music can also aid in relaxation and stress management.

Active participation in music can also be helpful for Dementia patients.  Studies have shown that Dementia patients who regularly sing have improved cognitive abillity and an increased life satisfaction. 

Easing Asthma Symptoms:

Active music therapy can be very helpful for children who suffer from asthma. One study compared the effects of asthmatic children singing to another group of asthmatic children who passively listened to music. The results showed that the group that sang had better breathing and overall more positive mood than the group that just passively listened to music. 

Playing a wind instrument can be especially helpful for asthma patients. Studies have shown that playing a wind instrument trains and improves the muscles involved in breathing. Playing a wind instrument can help asthma patients develop a relaxed breathing rhythm that can help them stay calm and focused during an asthma attack. Other studies have found that students who play wind instrument are more optimistic about their asthma and are less likely to have an athmaic episode. 

Helping Child Cancer Patients:

Studies show that music therapy music therapy has a positive effect on children who are hospitalized due to having cancer. Unfortunately, music therapy cannot cure cancer but it can improve the feelings of these young patients. Studies show that music therapy led students to have more positive feelings. Children who were more actively involved in music therapy (as judged by the music therapist) showed greater improvement. 

Basically music therapy can be effective in helping a young child cope with a tragic situation such as cancer. Some studies have shown that music therapy can improve the overall quality of life in these young cancer patients. 

Doctors and Music:

As a side note, in the healthcare field, patients are not the only ones who listen to music. A recent poll of 700 surgeons throughout the United States revealed that nearly 90 percent of them report that they listen to music in the operating room as it calms their nerves and helps increase the operating staffs morale. Of course, they do turn it down during the important parts of the operation.

It is amazing how much music therapy can truly help a wide range of patients without any of the negative side effects of some other treatments.

With Love,

Yasmin

The Power of Meaning 

Hey Everyone! 

Hope you’re all doing well!

I recently watched a very inspirational TED Talk titled: There’s is More to Life than Being Happy by Emily Esfahani Smith

Basically, the major point of her TED Talk is that those who are truly at peace with their lives are not the ones who chase after happiness rather they are the ones who find meaning in their lives.  She describes how the famous Psychologist Martin Seligman describes meaning as coming from, belonging to and serving something beyond ourselves, and from developing the best within ourselves. 

In her talk Esfahani Smith describes statistics about how, for many people in the U.S, the quality of life has improved by almost every standard, yet the suicide rate has reached an all time high. She attributes this to a lack of meaning and she also cites statistics that mention that those who do have meaning in their lives are more resilient, do better in school and in work and they even live longer. 

Esfahani Smith spent five years doing research about how we can find meaning in our lives and she came up with the following four pillars of meaning: (The following is a very brief description of the pillars)

Belonging: Being in relationships and having relationships in which you are valued intrinsically for who you are and you value others for who they are. True belonging comes from relationships that are based on love and they are based on your choice, you choose to cultivate belonging with others.

Purpose: Many people find their purpose through their work however, finding your  purpose is not exactly the same as finding a job that makes you happy. Purpose is less about what you want and more about what you give to others. The key to purpose is using your strength to help others. 

Transcendence: She describes transcendent states as being those rare moments in which we are lifted above the normal hustle and bustle of daily life. It is when our sense of self fades away and we feel connected to a higher reality.  In transcendent experiences you lose all sense of time and place and these experiences can change you to become a better person. For each person transcendence can come from a different source. Some people may experience it through their house of worship others can experience it through other means such as art, athletics, writing, etc. (To me personally transcendence sounds a lot like what psychologists refer to as flow). 

Story Telling: She describes this as the story that you tell yourself about yourself. We are authors of our own stories and we can change the way we tell them. She argues that our lives are not just a series of events but we can edit and interpret our stories even when we are constrained by the facts. The point of story telling is to help us reevaluate our lives and see ourselves and our lives from a more positive perspective. She gives the example of an injured football player who was left paralyzed as a result of his injury. In the aftermath of the injury, he described his life as being good before the injury and being pretty bad after the injury. After some time had passed he re-evaluated his story to describe his life before the injury as being a life in which he lack purpose and meaning and he was only concerned with himself. However, after the injury he has a greater appreciation for life and he has found his purpose in life which is to help others. 

This TED Talk was definitely an eye opener for me. Being a student of positive psychology I have read a lot of books and articles on the importance of attaining happiness and how we can be happier in fact I wrote a post a while ago about a book on happiness. I do still recommend that book and I will definitely continue to read positive psychology books and articles on happiness because I feel that there is a lot that we can learn and apply in our lives. Also, because positive psychology as a field is determined to study and understand happiness and wellbeing from a scientific perspective. 

However, it’s also really nice to know that there is something more long lasting that can help us deal with any stage or event in our lives. It is impossible for most of us to be happy all the time but having a sense of meaning, in my opinion, is much more powerful because it gives us something to rely on in moments of joy and sorrow. 

Click here to watch this TED Talk.
With love,

Yasmin

Top 6 Signs of Abnormal Behavior

Hey Everyone!

Hope you’re all doing well!

anxiety-1337383_640I think that due to a wider acceptance of psychology as an important field of study and of course, thanks to the internet, more and more people are becoming increasingly aware of some of the basic signs and/or symptoms of the major psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) etc.

While I think that this increasing awareness is great, one possible downside is that sometimes people use their limited knowledge to diagnose themselves or others as having certain mental disorders.

We all have certain quirky or peculiar habits and behaviors and we all go through different emotions however, this does not automatically mean that we have some sort of mental disorder.

Here are the 6 most common criterion that psychologists often use to determine if certain behaviors are abnormal and possibly a sign of an underlying mental disorder.

Unusualness:

One sign of possibly abnormal behavior is behavior that is unusual. One example would be going through extreme anxiety inside of a crowded elevator. One important thing to point out is that unusual should not be mistaken for uncommon. For example, there are many people who are very talented in one particular way and may be able to do things that the rest of us cannot do, however, this definitely does not mean that their behavior is abnormal.

Social Deviance:

As many of us know, every culture and society has its own set of norms and standards of appropriate and acceptable behaviors in any given situation. For example, in the U.S. and other Western societies giving eye contact to the person you’re talking to is an absolute necessity. However, there are some other cultures in which giving direct eye contact may be considered inappropriate or in extreme cases can be seen as a sign of disrespect.

Misinterpreting Reality:

An example of this would be hallucinating, where we see and hear things that are not present. Another example would be having the delusion that someone is out to get you. It is important to consider cultural norms. Hearing and seeing things that are not present is certainly considered abnormal in our culture, however, in certain other cultures, such as the Native American culture this may be seen as a perfectly normal or even as a spiritual experience.

Significant Personal Distress:

This is when an individual is always feeling  one or more  negative emotions such as fear and anxiety. Of course, we all go through our fair share of ups and downs and its totally normal to go through negative emotions. Having such emotions can be considered abnormal when these negative emotions are persistent for a very long period of time.

Maladaptive or Self-Defeating Behaviors

These are the types of behaviors that prevent an individual from properly fulfilling his or her roles and responsibilities. An example would be a person who consistently drinks too much alcohol and as a result is no longer able to function properly at work and/or in their interpersonal relationships. Also, any type of behavior that is a self-defeating behavior is considered abnormal. For example, there are people that have Agoraphobia which is basically a fear of going outside the house.

Dangerousness:  

I think this one is pretty obvious. Any type of behavior that is a danger to ourselves or others is abnormal. Of course, the social context is important. In times of war, soldiers or others who risk their lives for the greater good are rightfully praised. Unfortunately, certain actions that could potentially harm innocent civilians are also considered normal due to the wartime context. A slightly unrelated but important point to be made is that contrary to popular opinion the overwhelming majority of people with a mental disorder are not a danger to society.

I would just really like to emphasize that the six criteria mentioned above are just some of the many criterion  that mental health professionals use to judge whether a behavior is abnormal.

Meeting one or more of these criterion certainly does not mean that there is anything wrong with you. Only an experienced mental health professional can make a true and accurate judgment. This post is only for informational purposes.

With Love,

Yasmin