Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Is Your Mental Illness a Product of the Weather?

Yesterday in my neighborhood it felt like summer for the first time all year. It was as hot inside as outside. It was as hot in the shade as in the sun. I was dogged by lethargy and depression, and I thought, Oh, no - here we go again.

Of all the weather that I dread, summer is the worst. The heat and relentless glare bring out the worst in my bipolar condition. It generates high irritability, which is how mania expresses in me, leading sometimes to the irrational rages that fractured my relationships all through my 20s. Either that, or the heat oppresses me and makes me feel like there is no reason to move or act, ever again. I will spend most of the next few months pretty much a prisoner under my own roof, scuttling out occasionally for as few minutes as possible under a hat and heavy sunglasses.

Years ago, I read a book on Bipolar Disorder which claimed that hospital admissions go up in summertime, and I thought that made perfect sense. Heat makes people grumpy and touchy, emotions are too near the surface, and those of us with too many emotions to begin with fall over the edge, I theorized. After all, any cop can tell you that violence and homicide rates spike during a heat wave.

But it seems I am in the minority. A study has been published which shows that Google searches for mental illness information increase substantially across all major categories in winter, not summer. The study was published in the May issue of American Journal of Preventative Medicine, and extended to the United States and Australia for the period 2006 to 2010. It covered eating disorders, ADHD, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and suicide. Searches dropped in summer from a modest dip of 7% (anxiety) to a whopping decrease of  42% (eating disorders). While we have known for awhile now about Seasonal Affective Disorder and the bad effect the holidays can have, this winter increase is news to the world at large. Some hope that eventually it will give us clues to across the board treatments - such as, for instance, the use of vitamin D, which is a metabolite of sun exposure. But at this point any conclusions are many years and many more studies away.

This data may not mean what it appears to mean on the surface. My harebrained theory is that we are cooped up together more in winter, and we can’t help noticing any problem behavior that comes up. Then in summer we all run outside to play, where we get overheated, explode, and are booked into the hospital. Okay, maybe not. It sounded better in my head than it does on paper! But I just can’t help trying to fit in my personal experience, and that long-ago statistic about psychiatric admissions in summer.

What’s your theory?

Deborah is the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness, available at Amazon and other major vendors. Visit her web page at www.lafruche.net, or see her catalog at www.lastlaughproductions.net.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Good Use of Our Money

When I was 13, I became bipolar with psychotic features. Nobody knew. No bells or whistles went off. My father had the same condition, but we dismissed his scary irrational rages as “Daddy has a bad temper.” Just so, my endless misery and dramatic oversensitivity was dismissed as “Debbie’s a difficult teenager.” Never mind that I wanted to die, made strange scenes, and thought God was talking to me sometimes.

Decades later, my parents admitted to me that they suspected I had a serious condition. But they decided that if I saw a psychologist, it might interfere with their carefully inculcated Fundamentalist religion. So they did nothing.I was 26 before I was diagnosed, and it was another 8 years beyond that before I could be stabilized. That is 21 years of agony that can never be returned to me.

What would my story be like if somebody in charge had recognized the truth? What if I had been treated in time, before I wrecked my teens and twenties and lost all my childhood friends? I’ll never know.

But somebody is about to do something. President Obama’s latest budget includes $130 million to train teachers and other authorities to identify signs of mental illness in students and provide them with access to services. Another $50 million will go to training people at the Master’s level, to augment the shortage of mental health professionals. You can see more details of his plan in a Washington Post article, here: http://wapo.st/12MlAvJ.

It is vital that our students are reached and treated early in the onset of their disease. Early treatment makes an enormous difference in outcomes, particularly for schizophrenia. This is a budget appropriation that all the mentally ill and those who love them should be solidly behind. Because I expect there will be lots of lawmakers who do not want to spend this kind of money.

Lawmakers love to talk about improvements, but when it comes time to write the checks, the mentally ill are often the very last in line. Unfortunately, there are people out there who believe that the answer to tragedies like Newtown is merely to register us all like criminals and make sure we can’t buy guns - not take the time to recognize our problems and treat us.

I’d like to urge all of you to keep a watch on this part of the budget, whatever you may think of President Obama on other issues. This is going to come up for argument, and we need to be ready to write letters and make phone calls to support this use of our tax dollars. Nobody has to have a story like mine. In the land of the free, nobody should.

Deborah is the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness, available at Amazon and other major vendors. Visit her web page at www.lafruche.net, or see her catalog at www.lastlaughproductions.net.