Seasonal Affective Disorder and the Healing Power of Sunlight

The effect of sunlight upon mental health has been obtruding into my consciousness of late.

To begin with, when I needed continuing education hours to renew my license, I took an online video course a couple of months ago focused on borderline personality disorder. In one segment of this class, the presenter stressed the importance of self-care for people who struggle with BPD. He discussed how sleep deprivation exacerbates their symptoms; he also talked about the role of alcohol and caffeine in aggravating insomnia. Regular exercise (especially cardio-vascular exercise) during the day helps people to sleep better at night. So does limiting exposure to blue light in the evening – the kind of light emitted by TV and computer screens. The presenter also talked about recent studies showing that exposure to bright sunlight helps to alleviate depressive symptoms in most people.

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My Idea of Friendship

FriendshipOne day many years ago, my friend Ann told me she had scheduled an appointment with a surgeon to discuss whether to undergo a hip replacement. She and her doctor would be evaluating the results of x-rays and a recent MRI. As a candidate for this type of surgery, Ann was young, in her late 30s, but she was in more-or-less constant pain as a result of a car accident many years earlier when her hip joint had been shattered. She walked with a limp. When she told me about the upcoming appointment, Ann seemed quite apprehensive. I knew she was preoccupied with her decision, whether or not to go under the knife.

I fixed the date of Ann’s appointment in my memory and recalled it from time to time as the day approached. Throughout the day itself, I kept her in mind then called that evening to find out the results. She had decided to have the surgery, she told me. We talked at length about what the surgeon had said, the nature of the operation, and how much relief she could expect. A few days later, she left a message on my answering machine: “Know who else called to ask about my surgery? No one.” Besides family members, not one of her other friends had reached out to her. She seemed grateful that I had kept her in mind.

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Benzodiazepines and Dementia

ValiumI haven’t written about my opposition to the widespread use of psychiatric medications in quite some time, mostly because I feel I’ve already said most of what I have to say on this issue. (See the collection of posts under the heading “The Medicalization of Mental Health,” to be found at the lower right of this page.) But a new study was recently released which demonstrates a link between the use of benzodiazepines and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. While this study says nothing about the long-term effects of SSRIs, the history of benzodiazepine usage offers a cautionary tale as to how little we truly understand about a drug’s side effects during the years immediately after psychiatrists and physicians begin prescribing it.

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The Up-Regulation of Joy

My client Ari got married this past weekend. Given his family background, and in light of a gloomy prognosis for his future made by a former therapist, it was a major and moving event. And yet, in our sessions leading up to the ceremony, Ari seemed “dispassionate,” as I expressed it to him. I found no evidence for the joy I expected him to feel. I tried to help him connect with his happiness, while suggesting some reasons why he might find it difficult to rejoice.

During the session, I felt moved on his behalf though at first I didn’t say so. Then, toward the end of the hour, Ari said, “Trying to help me connect with my joy is not the same thing as telling me you’re happy for me.” Words to that effect. I can’t remember exactly how we got to that point, why my feelings about him mattered at that moment, but it really caught my attention. He needed to feel my joy on his behalf.

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