I love kindness, and we need it in these trying times. Sometimes I forget the power of being kind, and need a reminder. Love this picture, which reminds me of how many wonderful people there are, giving and making the world better.
The past year has been challenging for many of us. More than ever we need new ideas, hope and willingness to change. What would you do to make the world better? And what needs to change ?
Dr Matthew Whalley, clinical psychologist
Dr Hardeep Kaur
Our world is changing rapidly at the moment. Given some of the news coverage it is difficult not to worry about what it all means for yourself, and for those you love.
We have put together this free guide Living with worry and anxiety amidst global uncertainty.
We have included a mixture of psychoeducation about normal and excessive worry, lots of normalization, and a selection of practical exercises that you, your clients, or anyone can use to manage worry and maintain well-being in these uncertain times. Please feel free to share this widely.
Wishing you well,
Dr Matthew Whalley & Dr Hardeep Kaur
Download (UK English): Living with worry and anxiety amidst global uncertainty (UK English version)
Download (US English): Living with worry and anxiety amidst global uncertainty (US English version)
2020-03-22: We have had a number of kind offers to translate the guide. If you would like to contribute a version in your language please download the template below, and drop us a quick email (email@example.com) so that we can let you know if someone else has already begun a translation in your language (if they have, we can put you in touch so that the effort can be shared).
Download: Translation template
- German – proofing completed, waiting for final amends.
- Bulgarian – in progress.
- Russian – in progress.
- Spanish (South American) – in progress.
Norway is a world-leader in terms of engagement in voluntary work, with half the Norwegian population contributing in some way. These efforts benefit both individuals and society in general. It might seem strange that one of the riches countries in the world also has such high numbers when it comes to volunteering, but I find it logical. When you have met the most basic needs, for food, shelter and protection, first then you have the energy or possibility to devote time to other things. In Norway we have manageable working hours, earning enough to live a comfortable life. Off course we have poor people here to, but our social system protects those who cannot work for different reasons. Being a volunteer is good both for others, but also for yourself. I have been a volunteer several times myself, and there really is no feeling like doing something for others without expecting anything in return. Even if I help others in my job, that’s payed work, so It doesn’t always make me feel like I have contributed enough. Volunteering, on the other hand, I do at the cost of my own time that I could have used for recreation.
My son is soon one year, and I plan to take him with me doing volunteer work. In that way he will see the value of doing something for others and experience how that feels. We are so privileged to live here in Norway, so we should appreciate that and do what we can for those who need it.
Finally, after one hour of breastfeeding and singing, my son fell asleep. I was ready to do the same, but by now I was too awake to fall into the Land of dreaming myself. So, I put on an audiobook, as I often do when I have the opportunity and continued listening to a biography about Anne Grete Solberg. It is fascinating reading. Solberg was shot by her ex-husband and lost her arm and almost died. She was also shot in her hip, but did fortunately not loose her foot. At the beginning of her stay in hospital she felt terrible, like her life was over. But, she had worked as a couch for many years and decided to apply the principles to herself. She wanted to set a goal that would make sense to here, and landed on becoming the coolest woman in Norway with one hand.
This goal became her motivator and savior. Every time she felt sorry for herself, she remembered how a cool woman would handle the situation and got herself together. With that goal in sight she gradually built herself up again; She learned to eat with one hand, decided to eat healthy, took a shower as soon as possible, even if that meant wrapping herself in a ‘suit’ so that water wouldn’t touch her wounds, and started to exercise. Ultimately, she also decided to participate in a marathon, a goal that seemed impossible until she did it.
Solberg is an example of how far we can come, no matter our circumstances. She used her thoughts and visualization technique to cheer herself on, and allied herself with people who wanted to fight with her, to achieve her goals. She felt all kinds of emotions, but did not dwell on them until she became depressed, she acknowledged them but then moved on.
Trauma can happen to all of us. Life will throw challenges on us all, I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t suffered some loss. Building yourself up again is never easy, but it was good to listen to a story about somebody who did it.
There are a lot of good books about trauma, and this is one I really found helpful and interesting. I would recommend it for survivors and helpers, since everyone will find useful information and tips in it.
Video presentation of the book can be found here
“I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that paints such a complex and accurate landscape of what it is like to live with the legacy of trauma as this book does, while offering a comprehensive approach to healing.”
–from the foreword by Bessel van der Kolk
A pioneering researcher gives us a new understanding of stress and trauma, as well as the tools to heal and thrive
Stress is our internal response to an experience that our brain perceives as threatening or challenging. Trauma is our response to an experience in which we feel powerless or lacking agency. Until now, researchers have treated these conditions as different, but they actually lie along a continuum. Dr. Elizabeth Stanley explains the significance of this continuum, how it affects our resilience in the face of challenge, and why an event that’s stressful for one person can be traumatizing for another.
This groundbreaking book examines the cultural norms that impede resilience in America, especially our collective tendency to disconnect stress from its potentially extreme consequences and override our need to recover. It explains the science of how to direct our attention to perform under stress and recover from trauma.
With training, we can access agency, even in extreme-stress environments. In fact, any maladaptive behavior or response conditioned through stress or trauma can, with intentionality and understanding, be reconditioned and healed. The key is to use strategies that access not just the thinking brain but also the survival brain.
By directing our attention in particular ways, we can widen the window within which our thinking brain and survival brain work together cooperatively. When we use awareness to regulate our biology this way, we can access our best, uniquely human qualities: our compassion, courage, curiosity, creativity, and connection with others. By building our resilience, we can train ourselves to make wise decisions and access choice–even during times of incredible stress, uncertainty, and change.
With stories from men and women Dr. Stanley has trained in settings as varied as military bases, healthcare facilities, and Capitol Hill, as well as her own striking experiences with stress and trauma, she gives readers hands-on strategies they can use themselves, whether they want to perform under pressure or heal from traumatic experience, while at the same time pointing our understanding in a new direction.
” Widen the Window is a comprehensive overview of stress and trauma, responses to it, and tools for healing and thriving. It’s not only for those in high-intensity work, but for everyone.” –Mindful Magazine
“This high-octane book could give you back your life. When we experience dysregulation, we have to reclaim our core capacities and develop them to serve our health, performance, and quality of life. Liz Stanley expertly maps an inner adventure through training our attention and ability to stay grounded in highly stressful situations. Time to live the life that is yours to live, one hundred percent.”— Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., author of Full Catastrophe Living and creator of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
“Our ‘suck it up and drive on’ culture has seriously impaired both our country and ourselves. It is imperative that we find a way to heal so that we don’t just survive but thrive. Liz Stanley give us the tools we need to create a better way of being, both individually and collectively. This book is a must-read for everyone who cares about our future.” — Congressman Tim Ryan, author of Healing America
“Our frantic culture generates trauma and stress that limit our capacity to live full and healthy lives. Widen The Window is a clearly written guide into our shocked physiology and a time-tested, practical method of regaining power over it, through awareness and attention.” —Gabor Maté M.D., author of When The Body Says No: Exploring The Stress-Disease Connection and In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts
“Like all things in life, it is how we manage—not just cope—with the pressures that envelop us all. Dr. Stanley has written an exceptional book of understanding, relating to and controlling stress and trauma.” —Chuck Hagel, 24th Secretary of Defense
About the Author
Elizabeth A. Stanley, PhD, is an associate professor of security studies at Georgetown University. She is the creator of Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT)®, taught to thousands in civilian and military high-stress environments. MMFT® research has been featured on 60 Minutes, ABC Evening News, NPR, and inTime magazine and many other media outlets. An award-winning author and U.S. Army veteran with service in Asia and Europe, she holds degrees from Yale, Harvard, and MIT. She’s also is a certified practitioner of Somatic Experiencing, a body-based trauma therapy.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
In the summer of 2002, I worked incessantly to complete my Ph.D. dissertation on deadline. My faculty advisors at Harvard had already set my defense date so I could begin a prestigious fellowship starting in September. Everything seemed on track for a successful start to my academic career. Well, everything except for that one minor detail I’d neglected to share with my committee: Of the ten chapters and appendixes in my dissertation, I still needed to write seven of them.
In mid-June, I finally quit my full-time job to finish it. Early one August morning, after weeks of pushing myself to write sixteen hours a day without any days off, I carried my coffee mug into my study and turned on the computer. I opened my draft, reread the paragraph I’d finished late the night before, and started writing.
I was halfway through my first sentence when I puked all over the keyboard.
After running for paper towels to clean up my mess, it quickly became apparent that my vomit was permanently lodged under some of the keys. (The space bar was especially hard hit.) No amount of wiping it up could rectify the situation.
I brushed my teeth, washed my spew-speckled arms, and found my shoes and my wallet. Outside, I threw the keyboard into the trash can and climbed into the car. I drove to a shopping center and parked. It was seven fifty in the morning. When Staples opened at eight, I was the first one in the door.
New keyboard in hand, I was back at my computer finishing that first sentence of the morning by eight thirty.
SUCK IT UP AND DRIVE ON
To be clear, I didn’t have a stomach bug or food poisoning. Rather, I’d been living for years with relentless bouts of nausea and lack of appetite.
Here’s a snapshot of me-and my overscheduled, extremely compartmentalized, and rigorously well-organized life-circa 2002: I was compulsively driven to achieve. I was addicted to demanding workouts, to maintain my body’s physical prowess. I was incessantly cheerful at work, while experiencing radical mood swings and crying jags at home. My mind raced with thoughts about my never-ending to-do list and “what-if” worst-case scenarios. My body was hypervigilant and tense from projecting an external aura of self-confidence while internally bracing against when the other shoe would drop. I was severely claustrophobic and hypersensitive to crowds, traffic, loud noises, and bright lights. Between insomnia and terrible nightmares, I rarely slept.
In retrospect, I see that the message that my body transmitted to me that morning was clever, dramatic, and spot on: At that moment, I was literally sick of this (expletive here) project and I desperately needed a break.
However, I didn’t have the time to think about that right then. I had a dissertation to finish, and I was running out of time.
And so I overrode this rather extreme signal from my body and just kept writing.
I delivered my completed manuscript by deadline. I successfully defended my Ph.D. dissertation and started my fellowship on schedule that fall.
I was also an anxious, workaholic wreck.
So how did I get here? How did I end up literally puking out a Harvard Ph.D. dissertation? Why did my body present me with such an extreme signal that morning? And why was my (mostly unconscious) default response simply to ignore and override that signal and keep pushing?
In many ways, finding answers to these questions has motivated my work over the last fifteen years. Perhaps not surprising, since I’m a political scientist who teaches about international security, in 2002 I made sense of the Keyboard Incident as my body waging an insurgency against my mind’s drive to perform and succeed. Of course, inherent in this explanation is its own recommended cure: counterinsurgency. In other words, just dig in, access deep wells of willpower and determination, and power through. Otherwise, it’s just mental weakness and laziness, right?
For many decades, I considered my capacity to ignore and override my body and my emotions in this way to be a good thing-a sign of strength, self-discipline, and determination. And from one perspective, it was. But as I’ll explain in this book, from another perspective, this default strategy was actually undermining my performance and well-being.
Of course, I’m not alone in this conditioning. It’s a common way of relating to experience that many people call “suck it up and drive on” or “powering through.” Contemporary American culture in general-and warrior culture in particular-prizes this approach to life. We’ve all heard and perhaps even admire stories of people overcoming extreme adversity or simply pushing through challenges and setbacks with perseverance to succeed. And, as I’ll explain shortly, many conveniences of our modern world exist almost entirely to facilitate our suck-it-up-and-drive-on addictions. Nonetheless, although the self-determination to power through stressors in this way can be admirable-and during certain immediate life-or-death situations is absolutely critical for survival-this way of approaching life can have some dark consequences over the longer term.
In my life, my habitual reliance on suck it up and drive on not only allowed me to meet my dissertation deadline. To name just a few other examples, it also allowed me to achieve a top-5-percent ranking at a physically demanding military qualification course while still recovering from a massive injury to my Achilles tendon; run a marathon in just over four hours (in barely-above-freezing rain, of course!) seven days after accidentally impaling the claw end of a hammer one inch into my right heel; and attain basic proficiency in a new foreign language while working 120-hour weeks before my U.S. Army unit deployed to Bosnia after the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords.
At the same time, I lived for many years an awkward double life: the outward appearance of success (as our society usually defines it) and the inner sense that I was a failure, struggling secretly with symptoms and barely holding it together. As willful as I was, it would eventually take losing my eyesight and leaving a marriage to finally understand that there’s an easier way. This book is about how I healed that division in myself-and how you can do the same.
THE GOALS OF THIS BOOK
In the course of my personal quest to understand my self-described mind-body insurgency and the devastating effects it was having on my life, I detoured into a parallel professional quest to understand how life adversity, prolonged stress exposure, and trauma affect us-and influence our decision making and performance. Along the way, I created a resilience training program for people working in high-stress environments, called Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT), about which I’ll say much more later in the book. I also collaborated with neuroscientists and stress researchers to test MMFT’s efficacy among troops as they prepared to deploy to combat, through four research studies funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and other foundations. In addition to training and certifying others to teach MMFT, I’ve taught MMFT (pronounced “M-fit”) to hundreds of troops before their combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as many other military leaders, service-members, and veterans. I’ve also taught MMFT concepts and skills to thousands of individuals in other high-stress environments, including healthcare providers, intelligence agents, firefighters, police officers and other law enforcement agents, lawyers, diplomats, social workers, students, teachers and academics, inmates at a maximum-security prison, disaster relief workers, athletes, members of Congress, senior government officials, and corporate executives.
On my journey to wholeness, I engaged in many different tools and therapeutic techniques, including several kinds of therapy, yoga, meditation, and shamanic and mind training. Since late 2002, I’ve maintained a daily mindfulness practice. I’ve also completed many long, intensive periods of silent practice, including time as a Buddhist nun at a monastery in Burma. Finally, I sought several years of clinical training and supervision, culminating with certification as a Somatic Experiencing practitioner, perhaps the best known of the body-based trauma therapies.
Despite this wealth of experience, I often found that no one could explain to me, concisely and coherently, how or why particular techniques worked (or didn’t)-or why my responses to them often differed significantly from others’.
Thus, my original intention in creating MMFT-and the first goal of this book-is to share the road map that I discovered with you. I aim to share some of the core scientific and intellectual concepts that undergird MMFT. To be clear, however, this book is not the MMFT course-it covers additional topics not addressed directly in MMFT, but also by necessity it can’t replicate all of MMFT’s experiential practices. I’ll draw on recent scientific findings to explain how to train yourself to be more resilient before, during, and after stressful and traumatic events. My hope is that after finishing this book, you’ll understand your own neurobiology better and thereby make better decisions-without experiencing unnecessary anxiety and without criticizing your imperfections or choices along the way.
Part of why my journey took years is that there is no quick-fix way to achieve these transformations. Rewiring the brain and body to improve our performance and build resilience requires an integrated training regimen and consistent practice over time. Just as muscle growth and improved cardiovascular functioning require months of consistent physical exercise, the benefits that can result from mind fitness training require consistent practice over time, too. With consistent practice, we usually see some shifts relatively quickly, while others take longer to manifest. However, you can’t just achieve them from reading this book. Thus, I don’t want you to take my word for anything in this book-I want you to practice and observe these dynamics in your own life. Rewiring the brain and body is an embodied, experiential process. These are basic laws of nature; there are no shortcuts.
This book draws on a lot of evidence from high-stress occupations, such as the military, firefighters, police, medical personnel, and other first responders. That’s because much of the peer-reviewed empirical research about stress, resilience, performance, and decision making has been conducted with these groups. Likewise, at other points the book may seem a little heavy with clinical findings about people who’ve experienced abuse or trauma. Nonetheless, especially if you don’t work in a high-stress profession or don’t believe you have a history of trauma-and may not feel particularly connected to either category-I want to emphasize: If you are a human being living in today’s world, this book still pertains to you. Scientific evidence about how our minds and bodies work, and how we make decisions before, during, and after stress and trauma, applies to everyone.
However, I don’t just want this book to help you understand and manage your stress better. My second goal is to engage you in a wider reflection about the way that we, individually and collectively, approach stress and trauma. As I’ve noted, the mind-body insurgency I experienced in 2002 was an outgrowth of my conditioning-and thus, it embodied some deep familial, societal, and cultural beliefs, values, coping strategies, and habits. In this book, I hope to expose such underlying structures, which aggravate our stress and trauma and undermine our performance and well-being. These underlying structures not only affect the strategies we individually rely on to cope with our stress-or not. They also affect the way we interact in our families and relationships; nurture and educate our children; train, incentivize, and reward our employees; and organize our companies and public institutions. They even affect the way our nation interacts with the rest of the world.
Are these strategies aligned with and capable of delivering the desired results? Our culture seems to want it both ways: We want better performance, resilience, and even happiness, yet we don’t want to examine the wider blind spots that impede their development. Some of this wanting it both ways manifests in how many of us feel like we don’t have choice-that we’re powerless in the face of job stress, health problems, rapid technological change, or toxicity in the news. Yet it’s possible to change how we interact with these things, to relate to them from a more empowered stance. Ultimately, to feel like we have agency requires clear intentions, consistent practice of the skills that help us develop awareness and self-regulation, and deliberate choices about how we prioritize different aspects of our lives.
This is a reblog from reflectd
Human beings are social beings. The tendency to behave, talk and walk like others is what we call conformity, which has been documented in various studies. It is believed that sociality is a product of evolution, meaning that we have had better chances of survival in groups than we have had on our own.
We may react strongly to social exclusion because we are social beings. Indeed, research has shown that the brain reacts to social exclusion and physical pain in very similar ways. This means that conformity is a driving force. Have you ever wondered why some people follow other people who don’t stop for a red traffic light? They behave like the group, possibly by instinct. We know that conformity can result in both prosocial and antisocial behaviors. But does conformity only happen at the behavioral level? It seems not.
A study by Nook and colleagues (2016) finds that when people behave generously, other people begin to behave more generously and feel more empathy as well. In the study, people who observed generous charity donations donated more than those who observed stingy donations. Moreover, the prosocial behavior generalized across behaviors and situations. The people who observed generous donations wrote more supportive notes to others at a later time point.
This is an interesting post I found on the blog pointless overthinking. The post is not pointless however, and although I’m not sure if importance is the world I’d use myself (rather effect) I like the discussion and musings. What are your thoughts about it ?
If you don’t live somewhere alone, isolated from others, then you see people and you notice them and their behavior. The question is: how often do you judge them based on their behavior and how often do you seek and try to understand the reason behind that behavior?
One of my biggest beliefs is that noticing one’s behavior is not enough for drawing a conclusion, therefore I try to find out what made them behave in that certain way (and that’s what psychology tries to do since… forever).
The biggest struggle is to get past the behavior. Since the behavior is what we see, it’s so hard to consider that the person might had something else in mind, but he/she couldn’t behave the way that person wanted.
Let’s take shop-lifting as an example. From what I noticed, people don’t always do it because they need those things. There are times when people do it just because they love the adrenaline rush or because they have friends that do it and they just want to be part of the group. Or maybe they have a crush on the cute security guard and they want to be “inspected” by him/her.
Okay, now let’s get back to our question: which one is more important? The reason behind or the behavior? For me, the reason is always the important part because it says something about the inner universe of that person. The behavior itself only speaks about how one decides to do something, but the decision-making process is the important one (aaand that’s why Psychology exists).
Since this is important, what’s the best way to find the reason behind one’s behavior (take into consideration that most of the time people are not willing to reveal the real reasons)?
PS: If my writings mean something to you and if you feel you can learn anything from me, check out my book (Fighting the Inside Dragons) on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback format!
This is a reblog from another site.
It’s normal to struggle with stress from time to time, but what happens when that feeling of overwhelming misery becomes more of a near-constant battle than an occasional annoyance? Well, that’s what it’s like for the 15.7 million Americans who struggle with depression alone – and those staggering numbers don’t even include the myriads of other disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Bipolar Disorder.
If you struggle from any number of mood, anxiety or other mental disorders, you are certainly not alone. In fact, I myself suffer from GAD and Panic Disorder! More importantly, there’s no shame in seeking help for your mental health. Whether you’re suffering from a full-blown mental illness or just stressed out of your mind, the Internet can be an amazing resource for helping you take control of your mental health – if you know about the amazing websites that are out there.
So, here are just 8 of the best mental health resources available online today (as of September 2017) to help you feel happier, healthier and overall better about yourself and your life. And remember: this is NOT medical advice. If you’re in crisis, PLEASE call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for confidential help ASAP!
Ever find yourself needing to slow down and just BREATHE? Sometimes we forget to take that time for ourselves during the day, and find ourselves quickly becoming panicked and overwhelmed. Thankfully, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a resource called Safe Space on its website. Described as a “calming, de-stimulating environment,” the Safe Space encourages you to breathe in a minimal landscape until you find yourself calm, cool and collected once more. (Note: if you are in crisis, this is not a suitable alternative to calling the lifeline. Please call the hotline above or visit your nearest crisis center ASAP!)
A good support group won’t replace professional therapy for those who suffer from anxiety or depression – but itisa great supplement to help you connect with likeminded people and remember that you’re not alone in this struggle! The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has a free online support group through the site HealthUnlocked, which you can access via web or mobile app. Simply log into HealthUnlocked, follow the ADAA support group and start communicating almost instantly!
TalkSpace is an app that provides text and video chat therapy that you can access anytime, anywhere. Just shoot your therapist a message whenever you’re feeling low, or have got something on your mind you just can’t shake, and they’ll reply to you next time they’re online. The only downside to this app is that you have to pay for it – but if you don’t have insurance or have confidentiality obstacles, TalkSpace is a great, cheaper alternative to traditional talk therapy.
If you struggle from a mood or anxiety disorder, Pacifica is an awesome tool to help you track your moods, unravel your negative thinking patterns and calm down on the go. Once you create a free account, Pacifica can be accessed either via its website or the mobile app. Inside the app, you can enter your mood and Pacifica will recommend an appropriate activity for you to complete to help yourself feel better instantly. You can also listen to a guided meditation, add positive pictures to your Hope Board and write a journal entry to help you identify the thought patterns that might be hurting you.
Happify is another excellent tool for anyone suffering from a mental illness, at their wit’s end or simply looking to boost their mood in the long term. With Happify, you complete activities and games that are scientifically-designed to help you feel happier – and stay that way! First, you create an account and receive recommendations for “tracks” (i.e. mini courses) to choose. Then, you choose a track, view your recommended activities and complete them daily for a chance to win medals – and even monthly raffle entries!
Therachat is an anxiety self-help tool originally designed for therapists to help their clients track their mental health between sessions. However, anyone can use this app regardless of whether or not they have a therapist to guide them! With Therachat, you can customize a chat bot to guide you through journal entries and mood ratings with your preferred style and tone. The app even uses a therapist-approved approach called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of therapy that guides patients through the process of recognizing and altering their negative thought processes.
In case you haven’t heard, meditation and mindfulness are all the rage for helping you cope with negative emotions and mental illness. Luckily, Calm is a free resource to help you stay more mindful and connected to the present moment. With the Calm app, you can meditate along to guided audio or in silence – or simply enjoy the calming scenery and soundscape. You can access Calm online via their website, or download their mobile app for meditation on the go. Still craving more? You can pay to subscribe to Calm’s premium version, which provides you with even more guided meditations and ways to relax.
The MoodMission app will help you conquer negative feelings like stress, anxiety and depression by completing mini actions to boost your mood and make you happier. You begin by choosing whether you’re feeling depressed, anxious or neither, and the app will recommend a challenge accordingly. For example, when I’ve been feeling flat, drained and numb, MoodMission has told me to try the puppy yoga pose, scroll through my favorite websites or make a list of three things I’m grateful for. Once you accept the challenge, it’s up to you to complete it – and watch your mood rise when you do!
“Alcohol and other drugs can cause a range of health problems. Substance addiction also increases a person’s risk of facing other life-changing consequences. Overdose, disease and legal problems are among the top hazards for people with substance use disorders, but there’s another major risk that’s often overlooked.”
“‘A lot of times, suicide is not on the radar of drug and alcohol treatment providers or families because, for understandable reasons, they’re so focused on safety around substance use,’ Mark Ilgen, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, told DrugRehab.com. ‘Sometimes suicide risk goes unnoticed and doesn’t get the attention it needs.’”
This post is a reblog of a post by Candida Fink, MD.
I found it very interesting and hope you like it too! The post can be found on her blog: bipolar beat at psych central
Can the bacterial community that lives in your gut actually be related to psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder? Research on the human microbiome and its effects on health and illness has exploded into the worlds of medicine and research. It is increasingly clear that the microorganisms in the human intestinal tract, and the genes produced by all of these microscopic living things, play critical roles in an individual’s patterns of overall wellness — far beyond helping us digest food effectively.
Microbiota and Microbiome Defined
Microbiota is the ecological community of microorganisms (mostly bacteria, but also fungi, viruses, and so on) that live in a particular location, such as your gut. Microbiomerefers collectively to the genes harbored in these microorganisms. Researchers must understand the patterns of both the organisms and the genes to help clarify the roles these microscopic creatures play in the body’s health and function. So, if you read something about the microbiome that’s about only the bacteria and not the genes, you know it is an incomplete discussion. Also, while most of the discussions are about the gut microbiota and microbiome, humans actually have colonies of microorganisms living in other areas in and on their bodies, including their skin, reproductive tract, and the mouth and throat (which are technically part of the gut but sometimes are not thought of in that way).
A study in the journal Brain, Behavior, Immunology (May 2017), entitled “The microbiome, immunity, and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” summarizes some of the current research looking at the microbiome as it relates to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The article reports that many studies in animal models have shown that the gut microbiome could affect thinking and behavior through effects on the immune system. Some human studies have shown that people with psychiatric conditions took antibiotics more frequently than people without these disorders. Humans take antibiotics to kill off unwanted bacterial infections, but these medications also kill off some of the microbiota, changing the person’s microbiome. The question that comes up then is whether these microbiome changes were related to the development of the psychiatric conditions. This article also points to studies that found different microbiota in the mouths and throats (oro-pharyngeal microbiota) of people with schizophrenia compared to those without.
Babies are born with “sterile” guts; they don’t have any gut microbiota. But in the birth process, microorganisms colonize the baby’s mouth and intestine, starting off their process of building a microbiome that eventually looks like an adult’s. Many researchers are exploring how the developing microbiome might affect the developing brain and nervous system. While it seems clear that there are effects, the exact processes mediating the effects and what exactly gets changed or affected remains very unclear. While the immune system is thought to be one pathway, other mechanisms are also being investigated.
Many other areas of research show promising results when looking at the microbiota, microbiome, and illness. Autism researchers are looking at the “gut-microbiome-brain” connection, and there are strong indicators that the microbiota and microbiome have some relationship to autism. Obesity — not a mental illness but of concern to so many people living with mental illness — has been shown to have some very interesting connections to the microbiota in mouse studies. Changing the patterns of bacteria in mouse guts can transform the mouse from lean to obese and vice versa without changing diets. A study from China last month in the World Journal of Gastroenterologyreports a case of a 20-year-old with Crohn’s disease and seizures. They treated her with fecal microbiota transplantation — giving her the gut microbiota of a healthy person — and her gastrointestinal symptoms and seizures improved significantly.
The potential benefits to understanding how the microbiota and microbiome interact with the brain and central nervous system could be enormous. Understanding microorganism mechanisms that increase the likelihood of mental illness such as bipolar disorder or neurodevelopmental condition like autism would make room to build new interventions that target those mechanisms. The research in these areas is still in early stages, and there is much more to do, but this is an intriguing and promising story in the quest to understand and treat disorders of the brain.