Sunday, September 23, 2012

Small Irish Poll Shows Depth of Stigma.

An article by Paul Gilligan (CEO, St Patrick's University Hospital) published in the Irish newspaper Sunday Independent has highlighted how bad stigma can be and that it is costing lives. The stigma surrounding mental illness makes people reluctant to discuss their problems and they often feel they cannot seek help.

A small poll of 300 people at St Patrick's University Hospital in Dublin produced some shocking results, even for those used to seeing how bad stigma can be. The poll showed that:

  • 20% of people believe that those suffering mental health problems are of below average intelligence.
  • Over 40% considered seeking help for mental health problems is a sign of personal failure.
  • Two-thirds expressed reluctance to hire someone with a history of mental illness, believing them to be unreliable.
  • Over 30% admitted they would not willingly accept someone with a mental illness as a close friend.

Considering that there is a probability that some participants in the research wouldn't want to admit to having a negative view, it is quite possible the true levels of stigma could be much higher.

Gilligan goes on to discuss factors that go into creating (and maintaining) the stigma. These include human factors such as fear and a lack of understanding/knowledge. Then there is denial, both by the sufferer refusing to believe they could have a mental illness, and those who don't even believe there is such a thing as mental illness.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Weathering The Weather: is it SAD?

Over the last few weeks we've been having some fantastic spring weather here on the east coast of Australia. Brilliant sunny days and crisp clear nights. It really has been wonderful. At the same time I've been feeling a little more alive, things seeming a little easier. I suppose that many people feel like this, with warm summer days making it easier to get going than cold, wet winter days.  But is it all a little SAD?

Seasonal affectiive disorder (SAD) is now widely recognised as a common disorder, despite initial skepticism. But what a lot of people don't realize is it is NOT a stand-alone diagnosis. In fact it is associated with a major depressive episode for people with major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder.

It is also commonly believed that the depressive feelings of SAD are associated only with winter, but in fact can occur at any time of the year, regardless of season. While winter is the most common season for the symptoms to show, all SAD really needs is repeated periods of depression at around the same time each year - winter, spring, summer or autumn, it doesn't matter which.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

UQ Law Students Raise Awareness of Mental Health Issues

The University of Queensland Law Student Society (UQLS) will delve into the reasons for a high rate of depression, stress and anxiety among law students at a mental health forum this month. 

UQ and law firm Allens will host ‘Mental Health in the Australian Legal Profession,' forum at the University on September 12. 

The program has a line-up of expert speakers including psychologist David Whittingham, Legal Services Commissioner (QLD) John Briton, Annette Bradfield, Deputy President of the Queensland Law Society and special guest Kate Carnell, CEO of Beyond Blue. 

The forum is part of The University of Queensland's Law Student Society's strategy to stem the unusually high rate of mental health issues among law students.

The full article and forum details are available on the University of Queensland website

The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sinéad O'Connor Concert For Mental Health

Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor is teaming up with Cork-based mental health campaign group Mad Pride Ireland to play a fundraising concert at the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork on October 19th. The concert is the first of a series of high-profile associations to promote more understanding of mental health in Ireland.

Mad Pride Ireland's chief executive David McCarthy said he hoped the concert would help highlight the issue of mental health and 'the need for the wider community to engage with the normality of madness'.

Mr McCarthy said the group believed that the best way to promote understanding of mental health was to engage the community through active participation in a fun environment.

O'Conner is to be supported at the concert by the Ger Wolfe Trio. Tickets are available at the Triskel or through their website

The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Cost of Mental Health: More Than Money

Sunday September 2nd is Fathers Day here in Australia and, as normal for me around special occasions, it has had me thinking about what my mental health problems have cost me over the years. Not in terms of money, but in other ways. My conclusion: it has cost me plenty.

Dealing with mental health costs everyone financially; sufferers, families, friends & the entire community. But for those dealing with the illnesses it usually costs far more in the way of family, friends & living standards. So much of our lives can be affected both directly & indirectly by the illness and its treatments - and the stigma that surrounds it.

Left untreated, mental illness can make life hell for everyone around the sufferer. Even when you get a diagnosis it can be just as hard. A lot of times it's hard to get a correct diagnosis and then it is usually a lot of trial & error to find a treatment plan that works or helps the patient. It can take years to get things anywhere near right.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dandelions and Bad Hair Days: Cover released.

Suzie Grogan, the driving force behind the upcoming release Dandelions and Bad Hair Days, has made public an image of the cover for the anthology. The cover artwork is by Ingrid Eva Creative and is a brilliant pictorial representation of the title.

The book is a collection of articles, stories & creative writing from sufferers of mental illness (including me!). Due out early October, all profits from the sale of Dandelions and Bad Hair Days will go to mental health charities such as SANE UK. A great book for a great cause.


The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Depression: The Global Problem

For a long time, due to cultural & religious differences, it has often been thought that depression & anxiety was mainly a Western problem with Eastern cultures being little affected. A recent study published by researchers from The University of Queensland seems to debunk this theory.

In the worlds most comprehensive study of anxiety & depression to date, researchers in two separate studies into anxiety disorders & major depression disorder (clinical depression) found that surveys of clinical anxiety & depression have been conducted across 91 countries involving more than 480,000 people.

These studies show that anxiety & depression are major problems across the globe, regardless of culture, race or religion.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Bipolar 1 & 2, What's the difference?

Bipolar Disorder (formerly called manic depression) is an illness that at times even the sufferer doesn't fully understand. Most people don't even realize there are couple of forms of bipolar, or if they do, they don't understand the differences. So here I will attempt to detail the differences between bipolar 1 & bipolar 2.

Both forms of the disorder have 2 things in common which helps with the initial diagnosis of bipolar. First, you must have suffered episodes of clinical depression, which is often the only thing you will be treated for initially. I found that getting a new diagnosis after being diagnosed & treated for depression (which didn't help at all) to be very difficult. Secondly, you must have had periods of feeling 'high' (mania). Everybody feels happy or sad at times, but bipolar sufferers feel these emotions far more deeply, and the swings between the highs & lows are usually extreme & can occur quite suddenly.

Coming Soon: Dandelions & Bad Hair Days

Back in March I did a guest post for Suzie Grogan, the author of No more wriggling out of writing...... Well, while I've been lazy over the last few months, Suzie has been very busy. She has been putting together everything required for the upcoming release of Dandelions & Bad Hair Days, a collection of poetry & prose dealing with mental health.

The book will include a selection of the guest post articles from her website as well as other material contributed by some quite talented & creative people. She has even taken the time to get a new blog going about Dandelions & Bad Hair Days. So if you want to find out more about the book (due out in October I believe), head over to Dandelions and Bad Hair Days and see what the fuss is about.

The book has been endorsed by SANE UK, with the forward written by Chief Executive Marjorie Wallace. All profits from this book will go to SANE & other nominated charities. So check it out - just maybe you may end up indirectly helping someone you know.


The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

I'm Back

Been quite sometime since my last post, sorry for that. My real life has been quite busy & I suppose I was feeling a little lazy & not wanting to write really. But I'm back with some more wind in my sails and some ideas for more posts in the future.

For myself, things haven't been too bad. Have managed to avoid any real lows or highs. Had a change in my medications during this time that I'm not sure if it's helping or not right now - though it doesn't seem to be doing anything bad. Just a case of wait & see I suppose.

That's it for right now but I will be back to posting again over the next few weeks.


The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A little bit up, a little bit down

Haven't really been writing much the last few weeks, probably because I have been having periods of feeling a little down & the energy/desire to write much has been seriously lacking. The past few weeks haven't been bad compared to the past but the lack of motivation & energy has been there. A lot of time all I've wanted to do is sleep with no drive to do anything else.

It hasn't been all bad, I've had periods where I've felt a little up, even if they are in the minority. The best thing about this, despite how up & down things have been, is that I feel that right now I can cope, rather than just giving in to the depression. It's a nice change from the past.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Guest Post: No more wriggling out of writing ……

Social networking sites can be a great place to meet people & find information about subjects that interest or have relevance to you. It was through Twitter that I met Suzie Grogan, the author of No more wriggling out of writing......, a site dedicated to writing, Keats, and, a little strangely perhaps, mental health issues. Suzie is a freelance professional researcher & writer on a diverse range of subjects.

Each month or so Suzie invites someone to do a guest post for the mental health section of her site & I was surprised & honored when she asked if I would be interested in doing this months. When she asked I had no idea what I would write about but what finally arrived was "One year on: a new life". This short article looks at the last year or so of my life and the amazing changes that have taken place.

So take a stroll over to Suzies great site and see what a difference a year can make once you start getting things right!

The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Going loony: the moon & mental illness

I frequently visit the forums at SANE UK and today there was a post about the moon. The original post was just a comment on how the moon looked but it wasn't long before the relationship between the moon & mental illness popped up. So the question is, does the moon have any effect on those with a mental illness?

The simple answer is no, there is no relationship at all. Hundreds of studies over the years have come up with absolutely no evidence that changes in moon phases has any effect on mental illness or any number of other issues like violence & the behavior of dogs.

Despite this, a study by the University of New Orleans has shown that up to 81% of mental health professionals believe there is a relationship between the moon & human behavior. Why, in the 21st century, would someone with years of training still accept a fallacy like this to be true?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Back to school - it's never too late

Returning to the halls of learning is something I've considered on & off for years but never followed through with. Over the years I've even signed on for a few courses but the steam quickly ran out and they fell by the wayside. It's pretty hard to keep going with depression continually pulling you down. I would get a lot done in the first few weeks while the energy was up, but when it was gone, nothing.

I think a lot of the problem was I was trying to do it all by distance education so I wouldn't have to face sitting in a classroom situation with a whole lot of strangers. The problem for me was that there was no structured learning. What I was doing was easy for me but I couldn't keep myself grounded with the need to get things completed & sent in for assessment. I also had no-one around to encourage & support me

So this time I'm biting the bullet & trying a return to the classroom if possible. In my mind I'm a lot better now than at any time I've tried studying previously and I also have some great support close at hand. I'm also hoping the more structured environment will assist in keeping me motivated, or at least to get things done for fear of failing!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Talk yourself up: Self Affirmation

A couple of weeks ago I posted Mind Over Matter, about a press release suggesting what a person thinks about an illness plays an important role in their health outcomes. With mental illness, could this be even more important? What is self affirmation and how can it be used by a sufferer to help improve their life?

Self affirmation is nothing new, it's been around for decades and is a major part of many self-help books. Dr Norman Vincent Peale called it 'The Power of Positive Thinking', one of the most famous books on the subject. It's not a complicated procedure & you don't really need a book to tell you how to do it. All that's involved is telling yourself, usually at least once a day (the more the better), something good & positive about yourself. It's something anyone can do.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Computers to identify the at risk?

The other day I posted an article about the possibility that a blood test could help identify those with depression, a great step forward. Now it looks like the researchers are getting computers involved in identifying those at risk of mental illness.

A press release by the Welcome Trust suggests that a computer programme may be able to identify those at risk of mood disorders & anxiety. According to research published in PLoS ONE, an open access journal, computers can be 'taught' to differentiate between brain scans of adolescents to identify those most at risk of psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety.

With most mental illnesses typically manifesting themselves during the adolescent years & early adulthood, the earlier that those at risk can be identified the better. Early intervention could result in a delay or even prevent the illness appearing in those at risk.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mental Illness: How Prepared is Your GP?

A tweet from Black Dog Tribe today led me to this video by Professor Lewis Wolpert where he mentions that he doesn't think most GP's are prepared enough to deal with patients with mental illness. Additionally, he voices something that I totally agree with - that unless you have experienced a mental illness you can never really understand what it's all about.

Friends, people I've worked with & even anonymous posters on a number of forums I frequent have all said the same thing. A lot complain about GP's who try & look at other causes, or don't have an understanding how bad it really is. Or those that give a prescription for some form of mild anti-depressant with absolutely no follow-up at a later date. Sadly a lot of people with mental illness find, after working up the courage to initially mention their problem, that doing anything more themselves is just too hard. They just won't go back and seek further assistance.

I know for myself it was talking to other sufferers that started making it easier for me to deal with my illness. Doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists & other mental health workers just didn't seem to understand just what it's like. No offence at all to those working in the mental health field, they do what their training & experience tells them to do. But sometimes this just isn't enough, and the sufferer feels let down by the system or just fall through the cracks.

My old family GP was a good doctor, I liked going to him & he was the first one I opened up to about my problem. He tried to help, arranged anti-depressants, got me to see a psychiatrist and try and get me going in the right direction. Only problem was that I really didn't enjoy my sessions with my psychiatrist (for some reason he thought going for a walk or getting a job to occupy my mind was the solution - for someone who couldn't leave the house!). Additionally, my initial (and incorrect) diagnosis of severe depression was the one that stuck for the next 11 years.

After I was diagnosed I did a lot of research on the subject and it wasn't long before I realised I wasn't just depressed, I was more likely bipolar. But no-one seemed to listen. Everything was directed at trying to fix my depression and it wasn't working. They seemed to go deaf when I mentioned my periods of mania - they were very short compared to my long periods of depression - and it just slipped by. And some of the medications I tried during this period are great for treating depression, but were some of the worst for treating bipolar, making things even drastic.

It was only after moving to another area a couple of years ago that anything really changed, and even that took a more than a year of seeing my new GP. But eventually I had a few things go badly wrong for me and early last year I went to my doctor hell bent on getting help. I booked a long appointment and we spent the time really going through everything & at last he really listened, He seemed to understand. My diagnosis was changed & added to, booked in with a new counsellor and, probably most importantly, was changed to more suitable medications.

The last 12 months have been totally different for me, after an initial period of switching meds and tweaking them to meet my needs. Probably still some changes to be made there, but it has been a much better year than I had experienced in a long time. Still a long way to go, just heading in the right direction. But it was my actions that brought about this change. I was still being treated as just suffering depression until the time I just about forced my GP to listen. I was lucky & he did really try to understand & for that I'm grateful. Sadly a lot of sufferers just can't bring themselves to make the sort of stand I did.

With up to 10% of the population suffering from a mental illness at some stage it is probably something that needs to be looked into. This feeling of not being listened to or understood by others is a big reason why only about 1 in 5 sufferers will seek professional help, and it's very likely there are many more who don't follow through after an initial treatment or two.

So what is your experience with GP's and mental health workers? Good? Bad? Indifferent? What can be done to improve the situation? I have no idea myself, though if I think about it during my next manic period I'm sure I'll find a solution, I just need to be able to hold onto it. ;)

Let me know your thoughts.


The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

Current Happenings: I'm Keeping it All Together

A few of you may have noticed that lately I've been posting mainly news & information rather than anything about what's been going on in my own world. Part of this is because of the new direction the blog has taken, almost on it's own, to report happenings from around the world in regards to mostly mental health issues & to help raise awareness of the subject, hoping to help ease the stigma surrounding mental illness.

The other reason is that I've been going through a really good period lately, including a short run of mania, that has made it hard to get my own thoughts in any real order. But right now things are quite good so hopefully I'll be able to get a bit more done. I have a few more articles of my own in the works, as well as doing a guest post on another blog in the near future - more on that later.

So while I haven't been overly active, emotionally I'm in a good place right now & have been interacting better with those in my life. Maybe it's the fact it's summer here & the extra sunlight is doing me good, or perhaps it's good things happening in my personal life that has me feeling this way. I don't really care what the cause is, I'm just going to ride this wave while it lasts. Everyone deserves some happiness in their lives so I will not be denying mine!

So here are my ratings which covers the last couple of weeks, it's looking good:

Emotional: 8.0
Interactions: 7.0
Activity: 5.0 (need more exercise, think I'm putting on weight again....)


The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

More than words

An interesting article about how to approach mental illness in a relationship fro the Time to Change website.

Time to Change blogger Shea and her partner
When I met my boyfriend, I had been diagnosed with bipolar for about four years, and in that four years, I had refused to date or even get close to anyone. I initially saw my bipolar as a death sentence, something that would repel everyone around me. So when I met A online, I was initially scared to get close to him. Luckily, we had many many miles between us, so I felt safe that I could be open with him, and if he rejected me (like I knew he would), it wouldn't hurt as much. I showed him my blog that had been charting my life with bipolar. I told him how bad it could be. I warned him, in no uncertain terms, what I could be like when my synapses weren't firing correctly. And weirdly, he was okay. He didn't run away. He asked questions. He tried to understand. He told me he accepted me for who I was, bad and good.

Read the full post:
The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

Concerns over use of Depakote by Children with Bipolar Disorder

 February 14, 2012

The Consumer Justice Foundation, a for-profit corporation whose staff of professional consumer advocates provide free online educational resources to the public regarding the potential dangers of using certain prescription medications, hereby alert the public of a recent study performed that reviewed the effectiveness of Depakote when compared to other common medications prescribed to treat bipolar disorder in children.
Specifically, this study, which was performed by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and that was published in the January 2012 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, reviewed the progress of 290 children who took part in the study for up to eight weeks. The children subjects were broken down into three groups, and each was given a certain medication: one group was given lithium, one was given risperidone, which is commonly referred to as Risperdal and one group was given divalproex sodium, which is commonly known as Depakote to measure the progress regarding their manic episodes.
Over the course of the eight-week study that was led by BarbaraGeller, M.D., 68.5 percent of the children taking risperidone showed improvements in their manic symptoms, compared with only 35.6 percent of the children taking lithium and 24 percent of those taking divalproexsodium. In addition, some of the subjects experienced Depakote side effects that included weight gain that averaged 3.7 pounds. Throughout the study, 26 percent of the children taking Depakote discontinued their participation.
This study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and was designed to provide an analysis of which prescription medications that were commonly prescribed would generally perform the best for children who were between the ages of 6 and 15 years old. The study concluded that those using Risperdal showed the most improvement with their symptoms.
About the Consumer Justice Foundation
The Consumer Justice Foundation, whose Web site is located at, is a public resource that's been built and maintained by a group of concerned professionals who want to provide general information for consumers regarding the potential dangers involved with the use of Depakote while pregnant. This resource is not to be considered as medical or legal advice, which should only be dispensed by a licensed medical doctor or a Depakote lawyer.
(Sorce: PRWeb)

The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

Asperger's Syndrome: Parents Blamed In Irish Article

An article by Dr Tony Humphreys, a clinical psychologist, appeared in the print edition of the Irish Examiner on the 3rd Feb 2012 where he suggests that Aspergers syndromean autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is NOT a neurological condition, but the result of 'cold parents' who are unable to give their children the love & attention they need. Since publication the Irish Examiner has been in damage control & Dr Humphreys forced on the defensive as a result of the backlash the article created.

As this article is yet to appear in the online version of the paper, I reproduce it here in full:

"A team of researchers at Cambridge University is currently exploring the connection between high-achieving parents, such as engineers, scientists and computer programmers and the development of their children. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, who is the director of the Autism Research Centre at the university, says there are indications that adults who have careers in areas of science and math are more likely to have autistic children.

In studies in 1997 and 2001 it was found that the children and grandchildren of engineers were more likely to be autistic and that mathematicians had higher rates of autism than other professions. What is shocking is that Dr Baron-Cohen and the team of researchers are one: assuming that autism is a scientific fact and, two: missing the glaringly obvious fact that if the adults they researched live predominanently in their heads and possess few or no heart qualities, their children will need to find some way of defending themselves against the absence of expressed love and affection and emotional receptivity.

After all, the deepest need of every child is to be unconditionally loved and the absence of it results in children shutting down emotionally themselves because to continue to spontaneously reach out for love would be far too painful.

Children's wellbeing mostly depends on emotional security - a daily diet of nurture, love, affection, patience, warmth, tenderness, kindness and calm responses to their expressed welfare and emergency feelings. To say that these children have a genetic and/or neurobiological disorder called autism or ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) only adds further to their misery and condemns them to a relationship history where their every thought and action is interpreted as arising from their autism.

It is frequently the case that it is when these children go to school that their emotional and social withdrawal of eccentricities are noticed, mainly by teachers, who themselves can struggle with how best to respond to these children. An unconscious collusion can emerge between parents and teachers to have these children psychiatrically assessed so that the spotlight is put on the children and not their adult carers' own emotional and social struggles. Regretfully, the relationship contexts of the childrens' lives are not examined and their mature development is often sacrificed on the fires of the unresolved emotiuonal defences of those adults who are responsible for their care.

It is important to hold to the fact that these carers do not consciously block their children's wellbeing, but the unconscious hope of children is that other adults (teachers, relatives, educational psychologists, care workers) that when they are emotionally and socially troubled, it is their adult carers who often need more help than they do.

Indeed, my experience in my own psychological practice is that when parents and teachers resolve their own fears and insecurities, children begin to express what they dare not express before their guardians resolved their own emotional turmoil.

A clear distinction needs to be made between the autism described by psychiatrist Leo Kanner in 1943 and the much more recently described ASD (autistic spectrum disorder, often referred to as Asperger's syndrome). The former 'condition' was an attempt to understand severely emotionally withdrawn children, the latter concept, which is being used in an alarmingly and rapidly increasing way, is an attempt to explain children's more moderate emotional and social difficulties. Curiously - and not at all explained by those health and educational professionals who believe that autism and ASD are genetic and/or neurobiological disorders - is the gender bias of being more diagnosed in boys (a ratio of four to one). This bias is also found with ADHD. Surely that gender phenomenon indicates the probability that boys are reared differently to girls and that due to social and cultural factors boys respond to the troubling behaviours of their adult carers in ways that are radically different to girls.

What is equally distressing is that, as for ADHD, a whole industry involving research, assessment, screening, education and treatment has been developed, despite the absence of any scientific basis or test for either the originally 'detected' autism or for the broader construct of ASD.

Sami Timimi, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and two colleagues rigorously examined over 5000 research articles on autism and ASD and found no scientific basis for what they now refer to as mythical disorders. They outline their findings in their book 'The Myth of Autism' (2011). The conclusion of their indepty studies is that "there is no such thing as autism and the label should be abolished".

The authors are not saying that the children are not emotionally and socially troubled. What they are saying is - and I concur with them - that focus needs to be on the relationship contexts of these children's livews, and to take each child for the individual he or she is and to examine closely the family and community narratives and discover creative possibilities for change and for more dynamic and hopeful stories to emerge for both the children and their carers.

Dr Tony Humphreys is a consultant clinical psychologist, author and national and international speaker. His book 'All About Children" is relevant to todays article." 
As expected, the response from both parents & other professionals was fast & furious, with the vast majority outraged by the article. The debate has moved from the Examiner to other print media, television, radio & of course, the internet. Here are just a few of the responses:

"WHAT Dr Tony Humphreys is describing is not a new theory. In fact, he is returning to an idea popular 70 years ago, known as the Refrigerator Mother theory. The problem with that theory is that it assumed parents were universally cold and unconnected with their children, and it was wrong.

It was wrong and it was abandoned in the face of overwhelming evidence collected by psychologists, neurologists, epidemiologists and academic researchers.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a clearly defined condition with a common set of symptoms that are differentiated by their severity. That’s why it is known as a "spectrum disorder" because it covers a spectrum of severity. (Dr Humphreys’ comment that "autistic spectrum disorder, often referred to as Asperger’s syndrome" is simply incorrect. Asperger’s syndrome is an autistic spectrum disorder, not a name for it.)

At least, that’s how our scientific advisers explain it to us. What we see is a little different.

We see children who are unconditionally loved by their parents. We see parents who are warm and caring, but whose emotional temperature rises whenever those children are threatened or dismissed.
We have seen them fight and cry and despair. And we have seen them get back up and keep going under pressures that would break most of us. We have seen them take on authority, ignorance, and prejudice — and triumph.
Slowly, we have seen our country catching up with what those parents know: That ASD is no emotional withdrawal. The Department of Health fully acknowledges the condition and a method of diagnosing it.
The EU is so concerned that it is funding research to determine how widespread the condition is. Irish Autism Action is part of that project and its initial figures show that roughly one in every 100 children born here has ASD.
It is true that the causes of ASD are unclear. There is clearly a strong genetic element, though how precisely it operates is not understood. There seem to be environmental elements though they are yet to be fully examined.
What people with autism and their parents need is more research that specifically addresses how the condition occurs — not the defrosting of an assumption over half a century old."
Kevin Whelan, Chief Executive, Irish Autism Action (Irish Examiner 07/02/2012)
"The article by Tony Humphreys claiming that autism is caused by "cold" or emotionally distant parents, displays such willful ignorance, lack of understanding and density of inaccurate and offensive statements that it is shocking that the Irish Examiner would publish it.
This kind of psycho-babble has been discredited for decades.
Autism is a biological, brain-based disorder. It is also a genetic disorder. The scientific evidence for these statements is overwhelming. We now know of more than 100 distinct genetic conditions that can result in autistic symptoms.
These conditions affect early development of the brain and researchers are making progress in understanding how that results in the specific symptoms seen in autism, which may range widely in severity.
In contrast, the claims by Mr Humphreys are a throwback to psycho-analytic theories that are completely unsupported by any evidence, as well as being actively damaging and hurtful.
In publishing this waffle, your paper does a disservice to responsible journalism and to all the patients, parents and teachers struggling to cope with the real disabilities caused by this condition."
 Kevin Mitchell PhD, Associate professor of genetics and neuroscience, Trinity College Dublin (Irish Examiner 07/02/2012) 

"It is at a minimum the responsibility of a newspaper editor to ensure that the content of the paper he edits provides balance and accuracy.

I was dismayed to read the offensive article published by the Irish Examiner written by Tony Humphreys (Feelgood, Feb 3), which demonstrated that neither balance nor accuracy were considered. The tone of the article dismisses the direct experiences of the parents and relatives of more than 30,000 Irish citizens who have an autistic spectrum disorder.
Here are the facts:

* Autism is a devastating neurodevelopmental disorder associated with significant burden of care on parents and relatives and the people affected.
* Brain development is atypical from an early age.
* Children with autism need an early diagnosis to ensure appropriate treatment and interventions.
* Early interventions have a demonstrable impact in limiting the impact of the disability. The only thing accurate that Mr Humphreys had to say was “children’s well-being mostly depends on emotional security” advocating for a nurturing style of parenting.
What Mr Humphreys fails to recognise or acknowledge is the extent with which the parents of the hundreds of children with autism that I have encountered manage their children’s challenges on a daily basis with love, humour, patience, nurturing and devotion.
They sacrifice careers and financial security to ensure that their children receive everything possible to realise their potential. A parent can simply do no more than this. Through this entirely one-sided representation of a 1950s hypothesis on the causes of autism, your paper has caused unnecessary distress to thousands of people in this country. It is simply unacceptable to state that the piece is an opinion piece.
It requires an immediate retraction and apology to all those affected by autism everywhere." 
Professor Louise Gallagher, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Trinity College, Dublin (Irish Examiner 08/02/2012)

"CLAIMS BY a prominent psychologist that parents were in some way responsible for their children’s autism by exhibiting a lack of love have been described as “outrageous” by Minister for Health and Children Dr James Reilly.Dr Reilly, who has a 25-year-old autistic son, said Dr Tony Humphreys’s remarks were a slur on parents with autistic children.

“It was utterly outrageous. The hurt that he caused people is absolutely astonishing,” he said.

Dr Humphreys drew an angry response from many parents of autistic children in a column in the Irish Examiner last week. He referred to a study purporting to show higher levels of autism in the children of parents involved in mathematics and science.

He said the researchers had missed the “glaringly obvious fact that if the adults they researched live predominantly in their heads and possess few or no heart qualities, their children will need to find some way of defending themselves against the absence of expressed love and affection and emotional receptivity”.

Dr Reilly said Dr Humphreys compounded his original offence by going on the Marian Finucane Show on RTÉ radio and stating that parents need not worry that autism had a genetic component.

“Another utter insult to parents. I say this to parents, let nobody set a limit on your child’s horizon,” the Minister said in an interview on TV3 News. “If one of your children has a problem with autism and the others don’t, it is not your parenting skills that are the issue.”

Dr Reilly’s son Jamie is now 25 and recently graduated from TCD with an honours degree in genetics. Both father and son spoke at a recent international conference on autism in Galway.

Dr Humphreys could not be contacted last night. He told TV3 that he regretted causing any offence, but did not regret speaking what he believed was the truth."
Dr James Reilly, Irish Minister for Health and Children ( 14/02/2012)

This is just a few replies from professionals, the responses from the general public are everywhere. A visit to the Autism in the Media page from the Irish Autism Action website will link you with many more responses if you want to read them, very few of them supporting Dr Humphreys position.

So what are your thoughts on the issue, are the parents to blame? Me, I don't think so. The environment surrounding a child may have some effect, but to dismiss Aspergers as totally the parents fault, as if they are emotional sink-holes is an insult to sufferers & their parents alike.

The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mental Illness & Violence

Last week I posted an article about the stigma of mental illness and a list of myths associated with the mentally ill. It appears someone took offence at the suggestion given in ONE of the listed myths that media helped fuel the myth that the mentally ill are dangerous. is a website that seems dedicated to proving that the mentally ill are more violent, more dangerous & more homicidal than society in general. They were even nice enough to send me a link on Twitter to a page on the site detailing studies on the links between mental illness & violent crime. Julian Hendy is a veteran documentary maker & investigative journalist who started investigating links between mental illness & violent crime after his father was killed by someone with a mental illness in 2007.

Hendy's site is built around his investigation that seems to show that in the UK, around 100 families a year will lose someone in a homicide committed by someone with a mental illness. He also produces scientific evidence that shows that the rate of mental illness among those convicted of homicide is higher than is found in the general public. I truly believe that Hendy has tried to be objective in his research & the presentation of the data, but has he succeeded? Is there other research into the subject that conflicts with his findings?

The answer is yes. Here a few other statistics to be considered:
(see the end of this article for links to more information)

  • Between 6% and 10% of the population aged 16 years & over will have a significant mental illness at any one time.

  • Out of 1,564 people convicted of homicide in England & Wales between April 1996 & April 1999, a total of 164 (around 10%) were found to show signs of mental illness at the time of the offence.
    (Department of Health 2001, Safety First,  Report of the National Confidential Inquiry (NCI) Into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness  – Annual report: England and Wales. Department of Health)
  • A later study of 5,189 homicides between January 1997 & December 2005 showed that the same percentage (510 or around 10%) were committed by people known to have had mental health problems at the time of the offence.
    (Large M, et al., 2008, ‘Homicide due to mental disorder in England in Wales over 50 years’,  British Journal of Psychiatry , vol. 193, pp. 130–133.)
  • 95% of homicides are committed by people who have not been diagnosed with a mental health problem.
    ( Kings College London, Institute of Psychiatry, 2006,  Risk of violence to other people)
  • 47% of violent crime victims believe their attacker was under the influence of alcohol and abut 17% believed they were under the influence of drugs.
    (Home Office, 2009, Crime in England and Wales 2008/09, Vol. 1, Findings from the British Crime Survey and police recorded crime, Statistical Bulletin, 11/09, vol. 1)
  • 30% of victims believed they were attacked BECAUSE the offender was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, compared to only 1% who attributed the attack to mental illness.
    (Coleman K, Hird C, Povey D. 2006, ‘Violent Crime Overview, Homicide and Gun Crime 2004/2005’,  Home Office Statistical Bulletin)
So what do these figures show us? Not much really, just that you are able to find statistics that can support either view. But I have to admit there is a lot more information available on studies showing the rate of mental illness varies little between those convicted of homicide & the general population. A simple web search will show that.

Personally I think anyone who commits homicide has to have some form of mental illness (it is far from what would be considered a 'normal' act) & adding substance abuse just makes things worse. Are we, the mentally ill, any more dangerous than anyone else? With proper treatment & support, no. The issue becomes undiagnosed/untreated mental illness & often substance abuse. Does this make the mentally ill any more dangerous. Possibly.

I do know that I was subject to violent mood swings & alcohol abuse before I was diagnosed. Could I have killed someone back then? Hmmmm, tough to answer but I do remember one incident from my late teens when I woke up one day and realised I could have killed my then girlfriend the night before if my anger hadn't been redirected at a wall - and that was almost 20 years before I was diagnosed. I actually spent a week in hospital after that, when I broke down at the thought - would have been nice if someone had talked to me about what was going on then. I live with the regrets those 20 years bring, it's cost me family & friends, the life I once dreamed of.

Now I'm treated, probably over medicated even, the world is different. So I can agree with Hendy on one point, one big point. We need to provide more services for those with mental illness, not continue cutting them. Making it easier for people to recognise mental illness within themselves & others then make it easier to get the help needed.

Sadly, despite changes in the mental health field & the amount of information & knowledge available, the media still seems to focus on the bad side of the problem - the violence and damage. This maintains the stigma, making it hard for those that need it to seek help. More needs to be made of the positives of correct treatment & open discussion of mental health issues. is a good idea, but because of the reason behind it's creation, it comes across as just another outlet focussing on the negative side of mental health issues, feeding the stigma surrounding those dealing with mental illness. Instead of focusing on what can be done to help sufferers, it is almost nothing but the most negative information that could be found. It would be nice if it could focus more on solutions than statistics that seem to confirm that the mentally ill are dangerous to society.

This in not a personal attack on Julian Hendy or an attack on the website. It is just the impression I get when I visit the site. It just seems to support the continuation of the stigma surrounding mental illness. Solutions are needed, not statistics.

Articles on the relationship between mental illness & violence:
Better Health Channel: Mental Illness & Violence
SANE Australia: Violence & Mental Illness
Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia: Understanding Mental Illness & Violence (pdf)
World Psychiatry: Violence & Mental Illness: An Overview
The New England Journal of Medicine: Violence & Mental Illness - How Strong Is The Link?
Response Ability: Mental Illness & Violence
Mind: Dangerousness & Mental Health: The Facts
The Guardian: Substance abuse, not mental illness, causes violent crime
Psych Central: Dispelling the Myth of Mental Illness & Violence

The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Blood test accurately distinguishes depressed patients from healthy controls

The initial assessment of a blood test to help diagnose major depressive disorder indicates it may become a useful clinical tool.  In a paper published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, a team including Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers reports that a test analyzing levels of nine biomarkers accurately distinguished patients diagnosed with depression from control participants without significant false-positive results.   

"Traditionally, diagnosis of major depression and other mental disorders has been made based on patients' reported symptoms, but the accuracy of that process varies a great deal, often depending on the experience and resources of the clinician conducting the assessment," says George Papakostas, MD, of the MGH Department of Psychiatry, lead and corresponding author of the report.  "Adding an objective biological test could improve diagnostic accuracy and may also help us track individual patients' response to treatment." 

The study authors note that previous efforts to develop tests based on a single blood or urinary biomarker did not produce results of sufficient sensitivity, the ability to detect the tested-for condition, or specificity, the ability to rule out that condition.  "The biology of depression suggests that a highly complex series of interactions exists between the brain and biomarkers in the peripheral circulation," says study co-author John Bilello, PhD, chief scientific officer of Ridge Diagnostics, which sponsored the current study.  "Given the complexity and variability of these types of disorders and the associated biomarkers in an individual, it is easy to understand why approaches measuring a single factor would not have sufficient clinical utility." 

The test developed by Ridge Diagnostics measures levels of nine biomarkers associated with factors such as inflammation, the development and maintenance of neurons, and the interaction between brain structures involved with stress response and other key functions.  Those measurements are combined using a specific formula to produce a figure called the MDDScore – a number from 1 to 100 indicating the percentage likelihood that the individual has major depression.  In clinical use the MDDScore would range from 1 to 10.   

The initial pilot phase of the study enrolled 36 adults who had been diagnosed with major depression at the MGH, Vanderbilt University or Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Mass., along with 43 control participants from St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Brighton, Mass.  MDDScores for 33 of the 36 patients indicated the presence of depression, while only 8 of the 43 controls had a positive test result.  The average score for patients was 85, while the average for controls was 33.  A second replication phase enrolled an additional 34 patients from the MGH and Vanderbilt, 31 of whom had a positive MDDScore result.  Combining both groups indicated that the test could accurately diagnose major depression with a sensitivity of about 90 percent and a specificity of 80 percent. 

"It can be difficult to convince patients of the need for treatment based on the sort of questionnaire now used to rank their reported symptoms," says Bilello.  "We expect that the biological basis of this test may provide patients with insight into their depression as a treatable disease rather than a source of self-doubt and stigma. As we accumulate additional data on the MDDScore and perform further studies, we hope it will be useful for predicting treatment response and helping to select the best therapies." 

Papakostas adds, "Determining the true utility of this test will require following this small research study with larger trials in clinical settings.  But these results are already providing us with intriguing new hints on how powerfully factors such as inflammation – which we are learning has a major role in many serious medical issues – contribute to depression."  Papakostas is an associate professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. 

Additional co-authors of the Molecular Psychiatry report are Brianna Bakow and Samuel Lipkin, MGH Psychiatry; Richard Shelton, MD, Vanderbilt University; Gustavo Kinrys, MD, Cambridge Health Alliance; Michael Henry, MD, St. Elizabeth's Medical Center; and Linda Thurmond, PhD, Ridge Diagnostics. 

Massachusetts General Hospital, founded in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $750 million and major research centers in AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, computational and integrative biology, cutaneous biology, human genetics, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, regenerative medicine, reproductive biology, systems biology, transplantation biology and photomedicine.

The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

Time To Change: Make a pledge!

Time To Change is an organisation dedicated to ending mental health discrimination & the stigma surrounding mental illness. They are currently running a Time to Talk campaign to encourage people from all walks of life to speak out on mental health issues.

I have made my pledge to discuss my experience with mental illness & encourage you to add your voice to the thousands already speaking out. Make a pledge today to help end the stigma & discrimination associated with mental illness!


The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.