THE SAFE HARBOR
Safe Harbor was founded in 1998 in the wake of growing public dissatisfaction with the unwanted effects of orthodox psychiatric treatments such as medication and shock therapy. Seeking to satisfy the desire for safer, more effective treatments, the Project is dedicated to educating the public, the medical profession, and government officials on research and treatments that, minimally, do no harm and, optimally, cure the causes of severe mental symptoms. Our primary thrust is education on the medical causes of severe mental symptoms.
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This month’s lead story covers the remarkable work being done by Duke University researchers.
In the last few years, Duke U. has taken bold moves, looking into areas that are uncommon and, perhaps, uncomfortable for the psychiatric community.
Last month’s Alternative Mental Health News covered Duke’s research showing that stimulants were being grossly overprescribed to thousands of children. (Only one in three children prescribed stimulants even fit the criteria for ADD.)
Now Duke is pushing forward with more research on the value of exercise in treating depression.
Exercise. It’s free. It requires no prescription, no doctor’s visits, no expert opinion or advice.
All it does it help people.
Duke U., we applaud you.
NEWS FLASH!! KING COUNTY PASSES LANDMARK MENTAL HEALTH LAW
On Oct. 16, 2000, King County, Washington, passed the nation’s first ordinance requiring assessments of public mental health facilities to determine what percentage of patients are “getting well.”
The law was originated, in part, by actress Margot Kidder of Lois Lane fame in the film Superman. Kidder experienced many years of psychiatric treatment for “manic depression,” culminating in a highly public collapse reported widely in the media. Kidder was then treated with nutritional methods and her lifelong battle with mental troubles ended.
After personally experiencing the benefit of being cured or “getting well,” Kidder felt the need to urge King County council members to consider adopting this standard for all King County residents. The council concurred.
Assessment of the current treatment outcomes in King County revealed that last year only 5% of treated mental health patients could be classified as “well.”
The ordinance puts tremendous pressure on King County Mental Health officials to adopt treatments that cure or directly treat, rather than mask, severe mental symptoms. According to Merrily Manthy, who helped write the ordinance, “Present treatments for the mentally ill have generally disappointing results and are characterized as high cost Band-Aids.”
The ordinance defines “well” and “wellness.” Being “well” means, by definition, a client who is free of disability, employable, connected with friends and family; and has a generally positive outlook on life. If the person is taking medications or nutritional supplements, then the client must also be free of adverse side effects.
If the person is in the age range of 21-59 years, “wellness” includes being engaged in volunteer work, pursuing educational or vocational degrees, or contributing to family support. A client in that same age range lives independently or has chosen other living arrangements to facilitate the client’s activities with respect to volunteerism, education, work or family. Being “well” means that an adult client is not receiving publicly funded mental treatment except for occasional recommended periodic checkups, and has been discharged from the county’s mental health system.
LATEST RESEARCH: EXERCISE OUTPERFORMS ANTIDEPRESSANTS
In 1999 Duke University researchers made world headlines when they found, much to their surprise, that patients who took brisk 30-minute walks or jogs three times a week recovered from major depression almost as well as those on medication (60% vs. 64%).
A follow-up study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, has shown that when the original patients were tested again 6 months later, only 8% of the exercising patients (who continued their exercise) had a return of symptoms. The drug-taking group had a relapse rate of 38%. Thus the overall rate of improvement was significantly higher among the exercise group.
Even more startling was the finding that, among those who both exercised and took antidepressants, the relapse rate was 31%, thus implying that the medication actually detracted from the benefit of the exercise.
“We had assumed that exercise and medication together would have had an additive effect,” said the lead researcher Dr. James Blumenthal, “but this turned out not to be the case.
“We found there was an inverse relationship between exercise and the risk of relapsing – the more one exercised, the less likely one would see their depressive symptoms return.”
Blumenthal added that for each 50-minute increment of exercise there was an accompanying 50 percent reduction in relapse risk.
The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Heath.
RELIGIOUS BELIEFS EFFECTIVE AGAINST DEPRESSION
According to researchers at Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago, religious beliefs lead to a lower level of depression and also have a positive effect on the feeling of hopelessness.
The investigation examined 271 religious and non-religious participants (196 females and 75 males). All participants had been diagnosed with clinical depression and ranged from moderately to severely depressed. They completed a questionnaire about their religious beliefs and how frequently they prayed. They were also asked questions that helped measure their level of hopelessness and depression.
On average, participants attended worship once every few months and participated in private religious services about once a week. The average hopelessness score was 10.8. Scores of nine or greater have been shown to be a predictor of suicide. For the purpose of this study, the definition of a religious person is someone with a strong sense of a positive belief in God.
A strong religious commitment has been shown to protect people from depression in a number of other studies. One study of 4,000 initially healthy older adults undertaken by the National Institute on Aging found that over time persons who attended church weekly or more had only half the depression rates of those who attended church less often or not at all. This protective effect of going to church remained even after controlling for other factors like physical health, social ties, and age.
Another study of 850 men hospitalized for acute illness (H.G. Koenig, American Journal of Psychiatry 1992; 149(1): 693-700) found that those who used their religious faith to cope were significantly less depressed, even taking into account the relative severity of their physical illness.
FURTHER STUDY URGED ON ACCUTANE, POSSIBLE PSYCHIATRIC EFFECTS
A federal advisory panel last month recommended further study to shed light on whether some psychiatric problems may be linked to Roche Holding Ltd.’s prescription acne drug Accutane.
Accutane may be connected to cases of depression, mood disorders or suicide, panel members said. Some suggested a plain-English pamphlet attached to Accutane bottles explaining signs of depression or other problems.
A large number of patients taking Accutane are teenagers, a group already commonly affected by depression.
Since 1998, Accutane has come with a warning that users have reported depression, suicidal thoughts or mood disorders. But the label notes that the link is uncertain.
Accutane, made by Roche unit Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., has been sold in the United States for nearly two decades and is widely known to cause birth defects. The advisory panel also urged health officials to limit prescriptions for Accutane in order to minimize pregnancies among women treated with the drug.
POLLUTANTS LINKED TO HEALTH, BEHAVIORAL DISORDERS
Chronic, low-level exposure to pollutants in food, water and air may be responsible for a sharp rise in childhood behavioral problems, as well as asthma and cancers, according to a recent Canadian Institute of Child Health (CICH) Profile.
The report says that the large increase in hyperactivity disorder and other learning disabilities among children may be in part due to pollutants such as lead, mercury and industrial chemicals which can reduce intelligence and slow central nervous system development in fetuses. While standards exist for many environmental contaminants, they are based on testing done in adults and do not necessarily reflect children’s vulnerability to pollution, according to the report.
In particular, infants and toddlers can be more vulnerable to environmental contaminants, since relative to their weight, they eat more food, drink more water and breathe more air and are more likely to play outside.
Sandra Schwartz, director of environmental programs at CICH, says that government standards must be re-examined through a child’s lens and new regulations should be based on testing children. She is asking the Canadian government to take a more precautionary approach to setting environmental pollutants standards.
“The environment is a key determinant of children’s health,” Schwartz said. “We may not know everything about this area, but we must be cautious in our approach. Until we learn more, these pollutants have to be treated as guilty until proven innocent.”
VITAMIN B12 DEFICIENCY LINKED TO DEPRESSION IN WOMEN
Older women who have a vitamin B12 deficiency may be at risk for severe depression, a recent study has found.
Researchers from the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Maryland, discovered that disabled women over age 65 who had a vitamin B12 deficiency had a risk of depression that was more than twice as high as women who were not deficient in the vitamin. The study looked at women who were living in the community, and did not include women in nursing homes or psychiatric institutions.
Past research in patients institutionalized for depression have had similar findings, according to Penninx, lead author of the report published in the May, 2000 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.
It is not clear if low levels of vitamin B12 were a cause or the result of depression, because depressed people tend to not eat as well as happier individuals, Penninx told Reuters Health. “We need to do more research.”
While it is too early to tell if giving depressed people vitamin B12 will help relieve the depression, Penninx advises physicians and the public to consider that the elderly in particular may be prone to a deficiency of this vitamin. “I certainly suggest it is something we should screen for,” she said.
“PANIC ATTACK” AND THE CAFFEINE FACTOR
When 26 female and 4 male subjects (mean age of 38 years) who fulfilled the criteria for panic disorder and 30 controls were evaluated (J.P. Boulenger, Psychopharmacological Bulletin, 18, 53-57), results showed that patients with panic anxiety disorder had levels of anxiety and depression that correlated with their degree of caffeine consumption. Patients with panic disorder had an increased sensitivity to the effects of 1 cup of coffee. More patients with panic disorder reported the need to discontinue coffee intake due to the side effects compared with controls.
It has long been known that severe anxiety can be due to an active medical condition from which the individual suffers. For example, some endocrine conditions can increase certain blood hormone levels (e.g. thyroid hormone, cortisol) to very high levels, producing severe anxiety and even panic attacks. In other cases the anxiety symptoms are related to the repeated ingestion of a substance or drug such as caffeine,
amphetamines, diet pills, cocaine or due to the withdrawal of other substances such as alcohol or tranquilizers.
Caffeine is thought to produce its effects by blocking the action of a brain chemical known as adenosine, a naturally occurring sedative. At low levels the result is a pleasurable sense of energy and focus. Drink more coffee than you’re accustomed to, however, and that same stimulant can cause nervousness. And in people predisposed to anxiety disorders,
caffeine can trigger a spiral of sensations — sweaty palms, a pounding heart, ringing in the ears — that leads to a full-blown panic attack.
Anxiety may be also triggered by over-the-counter and prescription medications that contain caffeine, including stimulants such as Vivarin and No-Doz, diet pills, and pain relievers such as Anacin or Excedrin.
After age 60, as little as one cup of coffee can trigger severe anxiety in some people. That’s because the brain becomes more caffeine-sensitive as it ages. In fact, caffeine-the active ingredient in coffee, teas, and some sodas-may be the single worst substance that an anxious older person can consume, according to the National Center for the Treatment of Phobias, Anxiety, and Depression in Washington, D.C. Seniors are advised to limit their caffeinated beverage consumption to one cup per day. If even one cup seems to spark anxiety, a complete switch to decaffeinated beverages may be in order.
AlternativeMentalHealth.com is the world’s largest web site devoted exclusively to alternative mental health treatments. It includes a directory of over 150 physicians, nutritionists, experts, organizations, and facilities around the U.S. that offer or promote safe, alternative treatments for severe mental symptoms.
Many of the physicians listed do in-depth examinations to find the physical causes behind mental problems. Also included are an array of articles on topics ranging from the medical causes of schizophrenia to the effects of toxic metals on mental health.
A bookstore page lists top books that cover many areas of alternative treatments with titles like Natural Healing for Schizophrenia and Other Common Mental Disorders and No More Ritalin.
AlternativeMentalHealth.com has been created to educate the public,practitioners, and government officials on the medical conditions that create “mental illness” and the many safe resources available for addressing and often curing severe mental symptoms.