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Harvard Mental Health Letter: September 2011

Articles in this issue:

Beyond the "baby blues"

Postpartum depression is common and treatable.

Most mothers experience the "baby blues" during the first few weeks after giving birth. Telltale symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, and weepiness typically worsen by the fourth or fifth day after delivery and subside on their own within two weeks.

An unfortunate few develop postpartum psychosis. This rare but life-threatening disorder requires immediate treatment (see "Postpartum psychosis").

Postpartum depression lies somewhere in between these two states. This disorder affects about 10% to 15% of mothers, whose "baby blues" turn into something more persistent. A mother with postpartum depression may feel sad, worthless, or guilty. ...

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Protecting youths from online harassment


Cyberbullying and sexting are among the risks to be aware of.

It's no secret that children and teenagers are spending a tremendous amount of time online. Popular digital communities include social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter and virtual worlds and gaming sites such as Club Penguin and Second Life.

According to one poll, more than half of youths log on to some type of social media site at least once a day. Roughly one in four logs on to such sites at least 10 times a day.

Although digital communities enable youths to socialize with peers and ...

Educating and empowering families


The Family-to-Family program helps people cope better with a loved one's mental illness.

Mental health clinicians undergo rigorous training in their fields before treating patients with psychiatric disorders. Family members, on the other hand, may find themselves suddenly thrust into crisis situations with a loved one, struggling to understand an illness they know little about — all while dealing with their own powerful emotions.

The result, not surprisingly, is that families often do not know how to respond effectively when a loved one develops a mental illness. Anger, guilt, shame, and other negative emotions — reinforced by society's continuing ...

Becoming a better perfectionist


A first step is to turn self-criticism into problem solving.

People who are perfectionists set high standards for themselves. In itself, this is not such a bad personality trait to have — it helps some people become corporate leaders, skilled surgeons, or Olympic champions. But it is the dark side of perfectionism that gives this quality a bad name: a tendency toward endless self-criticism and focus on mistakes rather than on achievements.

Perfectionism is sometimes a manifestation of a psychiatric disorder. In people with eating disorders, for example, perfectionism may show up as excessive self-criticism about weight or appearance. ...

In Brief: Study suggests cognitive behavioral therapy may help with chronic fatigue syndrome but is no panacea

  A study comparing treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome found that cognitive behavioral therapy yielded the best results, but the benefit from any of the treatments was modest.  

In Brief: Secondhand smoke and the brain

Research on secondhand smoke found that its effects were the same on the brains of both smokers and nonsmokers.

Ask the doctor: Bath salts - a new way to get high?

Q. I heard a news story about people using bath salts to get high. How is that possible? My husband and I have two teenagers. Should we talk with them about this?

A. The "bath salts" you've heard about have nothing to do with the type that people add to water and use while soaking in a tub. These newer bath salts are designer drugs that circumvent the laws governing controlled or illegal substances, but can be used to get high.

The active chemicals in these salts — mephedrone, pyrovalerone, or methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) — all have stimulant properties. They are ...

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