Archive for the ‘News’ Category

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State-sanctioned suicide, Switzerland

June 13, 2007

I read this article today, from LifeSite, about how assisted suicide is a legal right in Switzerland, one that extends to people who have a chronic mental illness. My first thought about this is that it’s a pretty evolved perspective for a government and community to take: if die we must, why shouldn’t people have the right to determine when and how death comes to us? Many would praise a heroic sacrifice and at the same time condemn the assisted death of someone suffering from cancer, or an incurable depression; then advocate euthanasia for animals as a ‘humane’ practice. I’m not criticizing one way or the other – I have my own beliefs, based on my own experiences, and think everyone else is entitled to their own thoughts on the matter – I’m simply pointing out that just sorting out the seeming contradictions involved in something like this, let alone making a concrete determination on the morality of it, is a pretty complicated endeavor; and I find Switzerland’s position in the matter, essentially allowing this decision to rest with the individual rather than with the State, to be a bold measure.

The article I read pointed out something from the counter-perspective, though, that I feel is worth considering: the evaluation of <inserting my own label here> death-clients, determining whether or not the wish to die is a genuine wish from a lucid and balanced perspective, or a function of a depressed state, is something that should probably take longer than half a day’s time. The article cites cases where a death-client would show up to the clinic in the morning and be dead before dinner – I think that’s a bit hasty. At a going rate of €3500, this is also a potentially lucrative field … and that kind of money could easily motivate some to push the threshold of judgment in the evaluation process, or simply bypass it.

Societal pressures, and how these pressures might eventually encourage a person to end life as a matter of social convenience is also brought up in this article. In theory, I can see where this could come to pass, and I think it’s something that would have to be more closely legislated, along with the evaluation procedures, to protect those people whom society may deem inconvenient. In the end, though, this kind of pressure can exist without a state-sanctioned suicide and the result is teenagers committing suicide because they don’t look enough like what they see in movies, don’t live up to their own parents’ expectations, or because they <gasp> dare to be individuals: the real legislation needs to be applied to the mainstream approach to what the article refers to as ‘weaker’ or inconvenient people.

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Comorbidity and Brain Damage

June 8, 2007

Not exactly the most cheerful bits of news, but at least both indirectly offer some hope of increased understanding. The first article I stumbled across, titled “Study suggests bipolar disorder may cause progressive brain damage,” covers an older study from 2003. The study focused on the hippocampus, and an amino acid involved in neurogenesis and insulation of neurons in the brain; and found that not only did people with bipolar disorder tend to have less of this amino acid than the control group, but also that the people who had bipolar disorder longer tended to have even less, suggesting a link between decreased levels of the amino acid and duration of illness. Since the hippocampus is involved in memory, emotional regulation and spacial navigation, it’s a pretty important part of the brain to progressively lose function from. The hope offered by the study is that monitoring levels of this amino acid might help to physically determine the efficacy of treatments for bipolar disorder.

The second article comes to us from ScienceDaily, and is titled “Comorbidities Common In Bipolar Disorder May Have Genetic Link.” The article – though recent – isn’t itself all that informative; but does report that more research is being done on the genetic link to our comorbid conditions, rather than just bipolar disorder itself. Along with offering possible hope in better handling of these conditions in the future, through increased understanding of their origin, I think studies like this are important in showing that bipolar disorder is not just a ‘mental’ illness, but a physical disorder that can pack cancer, heart disease, and other ailments along with it.

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Brain Scanning

June 8, 2007

Today was not quite so good as yesterday – but I’ll gladly take it over the other days I had this week. One issue that came up today, and it’s come up a lot lately, is trying to judge whether or not an angry reaction is justified or not … for me, I’ve learned to wait a day or two and see if I’m still outraged by something. The problem with this is that it means I either risk reacting too quickly to something that I realize was nothing only a few days afterward – or I swallow my reactions down until it’s basically too late to react at all.

Anyway, I stumbled across this article today, from Psych Central News, about how new neuroimaging techniques may be used not only to pin down the underlying cause for bipolar disorder (and other psychiatric disorders); but also as a diagnostic tool, so doctors could more effectively screen for these disorders before the full onslaught of symptoms present themselves.  I see this as being something worth developing, although I can also see where something like this might open up a can of worms.

First, the good news is that if this technology might help to pin down the underlying causes of bipolar disorder, it might just help researchers move toward a cure. I understand something like that would be a long way away; but it could also lead to more effective treatments of symptoms along the way. I think it’s also good that such scans could be used in an almost proactive way, identifying the disorder in someone before the disorder has enough time to waste, ruin or end someone’s life. The other thing I’m keeping in mind is along the lines of the concluding remarks in a John McManamy article, titled “Brain Scans:”

“The next time you encounter a skeptic who tells you your illness is all in your head, you may want to download and print brain scans and keep them handy for future encounters. At the very least, these images eloquently portray in a way that words cannot that our illness is demonstrably real.” 

Such scans could help to combat the stigma surrounding bipolar disorder; but, in the wrong environment, such scans could also alienate people who are not yet experiencing symptoms. We live in an age now where credit checks are done for job candidates, or for people who wish to adopt a child – what if brain scans were also to become a legitimate part of the selection process? Psychological evaluations already exist, brain scans could take such evaluations to much higher levels, and preclude gifted and talented people from participating in jobs and activities, rather than include, before a single symptom were ever experienced.

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Shocker

June 7, 2007

After reading this article, from Psych Central News, questioning whether or not ECT should be implemented more often as a primary treatment (rather than last-ditch effort), I’m going to do a lot more looking into ECT (electroconvulsive therapy, or shock therapy). I’ve read in a few other places that ECT can work for stubborn depressions, and also for bipolar depressions (which I’m now starting to understand are a reason for why my depressive episodes have lasted so long and been otherwise immune to treatment). If that’s the case, if I could actually have relief from the depression (aka dark pits of fetid hell my mind sometimes falls into), I’d seriously consider it. The article also points out that the memory loss sometimes associated with ECT is only temporary: this has actually been a reason why I’ve avoided the issue of ECT, because I feel like I’ve already lost enough memories. The only problem I can see is that ECT sometimes requires up to a dozen treatments to get a good response, with ‘maintenance’ treatments afterward – it’s not designed to cure, but to bring depression into remission – which means I could be temporarily losing memories pretty often. Of course, if it’s memories of previous sessions that I’d be losing, I’d be in good shape :-)  I’m also curious as to whether or not the manic side of bipolar disorder responds to ECT.

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Interesting

June 5, 2007

According to this article, from Karen Barrow at Science Daily, some correlation has been found to exist between children with certain behavior problems, and sleep-related breathing disorders, such as can be fixed by removal of tonsils and adenoids (some meaning a ‘substantial minority‘ of children no longer met criteria for diagnosis of behavior problems after having sleep-related breathing disorders treated). Although the article doesn’t mention bipolar disorder, it does mention ADHD; which gets confused with BD at times. Considering that sleep disruption is a feature common to bipolar disorder, I find myself interested.

Like millions of Americans, I’m running around without tonsils and adenoids. I had them removed when I was a kid, at the age of five – one or two years after having ear tubes put in because of constant ear infections. My grandparents thought I wouldn’t live to see six, because I was sick so often. After the surgery, I seem to have perked up, health-wise, until moving to more humid climes, where it was discovered that I had allergy-induced asthma. So I would say sleep-related breathing issues have been a part of my life for a long while. Considering the success reported by other bipolar people, who use regulated sleep as part of their management strategy, I wonder if sleeping pills might some day be as important to us as lithium?

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Zap-away the blues

June 1, 2007

I just read an article in Discovery News, titled, “Brain Electrodes Zap Depression,” that I found interesting. Essentially, researchers have figured a way to give sufferers of major depression a way to self-medicate with electrical current, targeted to various regions of the deeper brain. I’m not one of the ones that holds on to the stigma surrounding ECT (which is how I see this new form of brain stimulation) – in fact, I rather appreciate the idea of re-booting the human brain (it shows that the gods outsourced at least some of our brain programming to Micro$oft). But I am frankly more comfortable with the idea of having ECT administered by professionals, in a clinical setting, than having magnets and electrodes implanted into my body and administering the voltage to my own self.

One issue the article talks about, for example, is the targeting of the nucleus accumbens, our brain’s reward center; and whether or not users of this self-medicating system might eventually become habituated to stimulating this part of the brain. I think it’s a valid point to consider, since this kind of habituation would be much harder to break, with stuff surgically implanted and wired up the way it is.