Mental Health

More than sad: Depression affects your ability to think

James Cartreine, PhD
James Cartreine, PhD, Contributing Editor

We often think of depression as making someone feel “down,” but it can sometimes show up as cognitive symptoms — for example, trouble with adapting to new information or thinking through a solution to a problem. Researchers recently determined that several common depression medications are not effective at relieving cognitive symptoms. But there are several things people with depression can try to help return themselves to their usual level of cognitive functioning.

Mind over back pain

Ronald D. Siegel, Psy.D.
Ronald D. Siegel, Psy.D., Contributing Editor

If you’re suffering from chronic back pain, it’s only natural to assume you have an injury. But recent research has suggested that our feelings, emotions, and behaviors may have much more to do with chronic back pain than any detectable problem with the spine — and this has just been confirmed by a study in JAMA. Here, we’ve listed what really works to help combat chronic back pain — and what you can do today to rid yourself of it.

Back to school: Learning a new skill can slow cognitive aging

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

You probably know that it’s important to stay physically active as you get older. But it’s just as important to “exercise” your brain. Taking a class is a particularly good way to do this, as learning new skills in a group setting helps keep multiple cognitive skills sharp. We’ve listed tips to help you get started, plus a few resources to help you locate a class near you.

Could lack of sleep trigger a food “addiction”?

Stuart Quan, MD
Stuart Quan, MD, Contributing Editor

Many people cite a lack of “motivation” or “willpower” as the reason that overweight people can’t control their eating habits. But a wealth of evidence has come to light that obesity is linked to insufficient sleep. Most recently, an experimental study has found that restricted sleep can increase the levels of brain chemicals that make eating pleasurable. Could it be that insufficient sleep makes the brain addicted to the act of eating?

A monthly shot for opioid addiction: An option for some

Wynne Armand, MD
Wynne Armand, MD, Contributing Editor

Several long-term treatments can help people overcome opioid addiction. One of them, naltrexone, may help people who have trouble sticking with taking a pill every day. Naltrexone can be offered as a monthly injection called Vivitrol, which has been shown to help more people stay on treatment as compared to the pill form. However, it’s not for everyone, and like all treatments for opioid addiction, it must be used very carefully.

How simply moving benefits your mental health

Srini Pillay, MD
Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor

The connection between your brain and your body is a two-way street. This means that how you feel affects how you move — and that the opposite is true, too. Here, we’ve assembled plenty of evidence that movement — whether it’s aerobic exercise in a gym or a simple meditative walk — is incredibly effective not only for boosting your mood, but for reducing symptoms of many common mental disorders, too.

A twist on the genetic link between Alzheimer’s and heart disease

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Although the two conditions seem unrelated, Alzheimer’s and heart disease actually share a genetic link. People who have a certain gene variant have both a somewhat elevated heart disease risk and a significantly elevated Alzheimer’s risk. Fortunately, a recent study has suggested that when people know they have this variant, they’re more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices that benefit their heart — and what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

Would you know if your teen was depressed?

Nandini Mani, MD
Nandini Mani, MD, Contributing Editor

Recently, the USPSTF updated their guidelines for screening teenagers for depression. This update gives pediatricians — and all family care doctors — a framework for addressing this disorder. There are plenty of good reasons to screen teens for depression: it’s common among teenagers, it can look very different from depression in adults, and it can be dangerous to a teenager’s current — and future — health and happiness. Fortunately, there are a number of effective treatments available.

Can a heartburn drug cause cognitive problems?

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Many older adults take PPIs to treat heartburn, GERD, or stomach ulcers. Recently, a new study identified a link between chronic PPI use and an increased risk for dementia. If you take a PPI, check in with your doctor — you may be able to take it only when you have symptoms, not continuously (and this kind of usage was not associated with a dramatically increased dementia risk in the study).

People who exercise more also tend to drink more (alcohol)

Michael Bierer, MD
Michael Bierer, MD, Contributor

A recent study that tracked healthy volunteers’ exercise and drinking habits found that they tended to drink more on days when they exercised more. But this study might have had drastically different results if conducted with different groups. For example, what results might we see if the volunteers were sedentary people looking to exercise more — or people with unhealthy drinking patterns who were working to cut back?