Anxiety and Depression

Compassionate veteran care: Embracing respect for the individual

Sigmund Hough, PhD, ABPP/rp
Sigmund Hough, PhD, ABPP/rp, Contributing Editor

The need to support injured soldiers dates back to our country’s earliest days. That mission remains essential today. Those who may be eligible for VA benefits and services — veterans and their family or survivors — make up a quarter of the United States’ population. Individuals seeking care through the Department of Veterans Affairs deserve a thoughtful and compassionate evaluation to not only compensate them for their service, but connect them with the care they need.

Can depression worsen RA symptoms or make treatment less effective?

Bonnie Bermas, MD
Bonnie Bermas, MD, Contributing Editor

Depression is fairly common among people suffering with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Recent research suggests that depression may worsen RA symptoms and even make medications less effective. To date, the studies that indicate a connection between the severity of RA symptoms and depression have not been conclusive, so more research is needed. In the meantime, if you have RA and notice signs of depression, be sure to talk with your doctor.

If you think you’re depressed, don’t wait — find out

Michael Craig Miller, M.D.
Michael Craig Miller, M.D., Senior Editor, Mental Health Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

October 8, 2015 is National Depression Screening Day, which is the embodiment of Dr. Douglas Jacobs’s belief that screening for mental disorders should be no different than screening for other physical illnesses. If you think that you may be suffering from depression, take the first step and find out. Treatment can improve your mood, help you feel more connected, and feel more like yourself again.

Germanwings Flight 9525 shows the limits of predicting human violence

Michael Craig Miller, M.D.
Michael Craig Miller, M.D., Senior Editor, Mental Health Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

The tragic story of copilot Andreas Lubitz, the man who apparently crashed Germanwings flight 9525 into the Alps in an act of suicide and murder, demonstrates the opaqueness of mental illness. It is difficult to know when a person is struggling with private psychological and emotional pain that might lead to dangerous or destructive behavior. All of us tend to keep our thoughts, especially our most disturbing ones, to ourselves. Even when encouraged to speak those thoughts aloud — to a mental health professional, for example — it is very difficult to do so. This tragedy will likely spark calls for increased scrutiny of pilots. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it could lead to the unintended and undesirable consequence that pilots will become even more wary of seeking help. To honor the lives lost will require policies that protect the public while not being punitive to pilots.

Editorial calls for more research on link between football and brain damage

Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Is brain damage an inevitable consequence of American football, an avoidable risk of it, or neither? An editorial published yesterday in the medical journal BMJ poses those provocative questions. Chad Asplund, director of sports medicine at Georgia Regents University, and Thomas Best, professor and chair of sports medicine at Ohio State University, offer an overview of the unresolved connection between playing football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a type of gradually worsening brain damage caused by repeated mild brain injuries or concussions. The big question is whether playing football causes chronic traumatic encephalopathy or whether some people who play football already at higher risk for developing it. The Football Players Health Study at Harvard University hopes to provide a solid answer to that and other health issues that affect professional football players.

Suicide survivors face grief, questions, challenges

Harvard Women's Health Watch

Nearly 40,000 people a year die by suicide in the United States alone. Each of these deaths leaves an estimated six or more “suicide survivors” — people who’ve lost someone they care about deeply and are left grieving and struggling to understand. The grief process is always difficult. But a loss through suicide is like no other, and grieving can be especially complex and traumatic. People coping with this kind of loss often need more support than others, but may get less. Why? Survivors may be reluctant to confide that the death was self-inflicted. And when others know the circumstances of the death, they may feel uncertain about how to offer help.

Antidepressants cause minimal weight gain

Howard LeWine, M.D.
Howard LeWine, M.D., Chief Medical Editor, Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

Antidepressant medications have helped millions of people cut through the dark fog of depression. Many others try these medications but stop taking them, often because of side effects such as weight gain. A new Harvard-based study, one of the largest and longest studies of the connection between antidepressant use and weight so far, shows that the amount gained is usually small, and that it differs little from one antidepressant to another. Using citalopram as a reference, because earlier studies suggested that it is “average” when it comes to weight gain, bupropion was associated with the least amount of weight gain, close to none. Two others that also appeared to have relatively less weight gain were amitriptyline and nortriptyline. At the other end of the spectrum, citalopram caused the most weight gain. Even so, the differences between the drugs was small. The results of the study were published online this week in JAMA Psychiatry.

Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Many people practice meditation in hopes of staving off stress and stress-related health problems, even though the evidence for doing so is spotty. A new study that analyzed the results of nearly 50 solid clinical trials of meditation shows that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain. One way it does this is by training you to experience anxious thoughts or stresses in completely different and less emotionally disturbing ways. Mindfulness-based stress reduction training, developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MA, is now widely available in cities throughout the United States. You can also learn it yourself from books or online recordings. Or try this short meditation, from the Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.”

Nighttime overeating can throw weight and health out of sync

Michael Craig Miller, M.D.
Michael Craig Miller, M.D., Senior Editor, Mental Health Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

For many people, a late-night “snack” is a daily habit. There are two types of nighttime eating disorders. Sleep-related eating disorder is a highly-publicized though uncommon malady. People with this problem eat while sleepwalking or while in a twilight state between sleep and wakefulness. A better-documented problem is night eating syndrome, in which people do the majority of their eating late at night. It may affect 1 or 2 out of 100 people in the general population. Sleeping and eating are almost certainly connected, given the link between lack of sleep and weight gain. So getting plenty of sleep may be a helpful substitute for nighttime trips to the refrigerator. Being mindful of the problem and trying to identify its triggers, or stress-reduction techniques, may help avert trips to the refrigerator. Some people benefit from talk therapy.

Infection, autoimmune disease linked to depression

Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health problems arise when something goes wrong with brain function. What causes that malfunction is an open question. A new study from Denmark suggests that a serious infection or autoimmune disease could trigger a mood disorder. How might an infection or autoimmune disorder lead to a mood or other mental health disorder? Infection causes localized and body-wide inflammation. Inflammation generates substances called cytokines that have been shown to change how brain cells communicate. In autoimmune diseases, the body’s defense system attacks healthy tissues rather than threatening invaders. It’s possible that in some cases the wayward immune reaction could target brain cells and other nerve cells throughout the body.