Understanding Mental Health
Diagnosing and treating bipolar kids
Surprising mental health treatments
Why It Matters
When the Tantrums Won't Stop
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1/1010 Surprising Treatments

For centuries, Tibetan monks have known the benefits of meditation. Today, science is starting to catch up. For one thing, meditation increases serotonin production in the brain, and in some studies has been shown to be as effective as prescription antidepressants. But what’s fascinating is that the simple act of slowing down and focusing on your breath can also cause structural changes in the brain that can have a profound effect on mood. For instance, a recent article in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience showed that people who practiced mindful meditation showed decreased activity in the amygdala, an area of the brain that regulates anxiety and the “fight or flight” response.

2/1010 Surprising Treatments

The psychiatric world has known for decades that depression and low levels of folate often go hand in hand. Here’s why: Folate helps to regulate the production of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. But it’s not as simple as eating beans and legumes, which are natural sources of folate, or popping a folic acid pill. In recent years, we’ve also learned that a surprisingly large number of people have one or more faulty genes involved in “methylating” — or breaking down — folate so that the body can use it. That’s where methylfolate comes in. This already broken-down version of folate is being prescribed in conjunction with medication for a wide range of mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder. Ask your doctor about it or grab some over-the-counter methylfolate, which comes in lower doses.

3/1010 Surprising Treatments

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in our bodies, yet many experts believe we simply don’t get enough of it in our diet. And while it’s difficult to become seriously deficient in magnesium, supplementing it seems to help a wide range of health problems, including asthma, diabetes and, yes, even depression. A Norwegian study of 5,700 people indicates that those with lower magnesium intakes had higher rates of depression. And a study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology shows that depressed people have lower levels serum magnesium. Interestingly enough, every cup of coffee you drink packs a wallop of magnesium — so if you crave coffee, try magnesium and see what happens.

4/1010 Surprising Treatments
Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is associated with autoimmune and infectious diseases, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Is it any surprise that not getting enough of the “sunshine vitamin” is also associated with mental illness? Vitamin D is converted to a hormone in the liver and that hormone is used in various ways, including activating the cells that create dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Get your D however you can — as a pill or by basking in some rays — but definitely get it.

5/1010 Surprising Treatments

If you suffer from depression, leaving the house at all during a depression can be rough — forget exercise. But there’s a reason that it’s the No. 1 recommendation: It works. And it’s not just about endorphins, although those are fantastic, too. Exercise naturally increases the concentration of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. In fact, people who exercise regularly have lower levels of depression than people who don’t. And you don’t have to do much; about half an hour three times a week seems to do the trick.

6/1010 Surprising Treatments
Get outside

Don’t just get some exercise — get outside. Many experts think that as a society we and our children have become increasingly disconnected from nature, and they speculate that the dissociation is leading to higher levels of obesity and depression. The jury’s out on this, but many experts agree that we spend far too much time indoors staring at a screen. So take a walk outside and breathe some fresh air. It may not cure all that ails you, but it’ll clear your head.

7/1010 Surprising Treatments
Ditch sweet drinks

We all know that sugary drinks aren’t great for you, but it turns out that any sweetened drinks — regular or diet — are pretty bad for your mental health. The American Academy of Neurology released findings of a study that showed that people who drank more than four cups of soda or fruit punch each day were up to 38 percent more likely to experience depression. What’s surprising is that the diet drinkers fared even worse than those drinking sugar-sweetened beverages.

8/1010 Surprising Treatments
Get together with family

Depression often leads to isolation, which leads to more depression —it’s a vicious circle. Socializing may be the last thing you want to do, but getting out of the house and interacting with people can really help. Meet a friend for coffee. Go shopping with your sister. Join a book club. What you do doesn’t matter as much as getting some real human interaction. And no, Facebook doesn’t count.

9/1010 Surprising Treatments
Eat your yogurt

Practically every day, there’s new research about unexpected effects of probiotics. The last? Depression. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study in which rats fed a daily probiotic supplement displayed far less stress, anxiety and depression. When tested, they also showed lower levels of stress hormones.

10/1010 Surprising Treatments

A large percentage of mental disorders go hand-in-hand with sleep problems. Scientists long thought lack of sleep contributed to depression or vice versa — or, in the case of schizophrenia, blamed medication for insomnia. But now, a surprising finding sheds new light on the role of sleep. It turns out that many people with mental illness have altered circadian rhythms, leading to excessive wakefulness at night and greater fatigue — one of the hallmarks of depression — during the day. There is no consensus yet, but scientists wonder whether manipulating those altered circadian rhythms into “normality” might ameliorate some mental illnesses.

[gallery by Zia Munshi, MSN Causes]

    When a family member is mentally ill
    Expert Q&A
    by Chelsea Lowe, TakePart.com

    Mental health: 7 things to know

    We spoke with two prominent psychotherapists about mental illness -- which is believed to affect about 25 percent of the population and contribute to suffering, substance abuse and relationship, job and health difficulties. There's plenty of reason for hope, however, as these experts attest.

    Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. (aka "Dr. Romance"), is a psychotherapist and author of 13 books, including "Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage." She has appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "Larry King Live," ABC News and other programs, and is a frequent radio guest.

    Physician Jeffrey Rediger serves as medical director at Boston's McLean Hospital SouthEast, and is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. He also holds a master's degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and has published in the fields of medicine, psychiatry and spirituality.

    What causes mental illness?

    Tessina: There are many different factors and components of mental illness. It's a broad, general term. Some types seem to be genetic, some, the result of injury (such as head trauma or prolonged oxygen deprivation), some are the results of traumatic life experiences, and some are just dysfunctional thinking as a result of early childhood history.

    Do most mental illnesses have strong success rates with treatment?

    Rediger: Mental illnesses are treatable, and often more fixable than people realize. For a discipline that is not much more than one hundred years old, it's surprising how effective many treatments are, and how much better a person can feel when they have the professional assistance that helps them solve problems, decrease stress and feel supported.

    What are the best treatment options?

    Tessina: For anxiety and mild depression, cognitive behavioral therapy (which helps the patient change his or her mindset or habitual behaviors) seems to have the best results, perhaps in combination with medication. PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) requires desensitization and other work to process the trauma. For other mental illness, like schizophrenia, see a psychiatrist for diagnosis and drug prescriptions. Behavior modification therapy might (also) be indicated.

    What's the biggest obstacle people with mental illness face?

    Rediger: Seeing a psychiatric professional does not mean you're crazy. Life is stressful, and it's easy to feel isolated and alone, or as if we aren't good enough as we are.

    What's the biggest misconception the public has about mental illness?

    Rediger: That an illness involving the brain is any different than any other kind of illness. People too often still feel judged if they struggle with their mental health.

    Tessina: Only a very small percentage of mentally ill people pose a danger to others. Slightly more are dangerous to themselves (suicidal, neglecting health care and hygiene, manic, or apt to endanger themselves because they’re not attuned to their surroundings). Most mentally ill people are not as dramatic or visible as most people think.

    Is it true that people who suffer from more serious conditions, such as bipolar disorder, often are the least likely to believe they need help, or to follow treatment recommendations rigorously?

    Rediger: Unfortunately, yes. The more ill the person is, the more likely that the person may have difficulty seeing the situation for what it really is.

    Tessina: Some mental-illness medications, such as anti-hallucinatory drugs, can make patients feel fuzzy and partially sedated, so they're reluctant to take them. Manic-depressives sometimes enjoy their manic episodes, which feel like a "high," and don’t want (to lose those). Some antidepressants induce weight gain or repress sex drive, so people don’t want to take them. People in the grip of hallucinations or distorted thinking may just not be aware that there are drugs they’re supposed to take. Most people who need medication are compliant, despite the side effects, because they want to remain competent and capable at work and in the world.

    What hopeful message would you like to give?

    Tessina: Don't hesitate to get help for your issues, or for a loved one. Once a diagnosis is made, often a lot of help is available.

    Rediger: It's amazing how much better you can feel when you have the kind of help that enables you to experience what's right and important about who you are and what you bring into the world. There is nothing wrong with you that can't be fixed by what is right -- and wonderful -- about you.

    There's lots of good help out there. The recommended links to the left provide comprehensive information and resources.

    All American Brain

    Harrison Ford, Joe Pantoliano, and others, are trying to stomp out the stigma behind mental health.
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    All American Brain

    Harrison Ford, Joe Pantoliano, and others, are trying to stomp out the stigma behind mental health.
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      Two prominent psychotherapists share their guidance for mental health by recommending that you don't hesitate to get help for your issues, or for a loved one. http://on-msn.com/12sSvj5