Mind & Mood
Your mood and your mental health affect every aspect of your life, from how you feel about yourself to your relationships with others and your physical health. There's a strong link between good mental health and good physical health, and vice versa. In the other direction, depression and other mental health issues can contribute to digestive disorders, trouble sleeping, lack of energy, heart disease, and other health issues.
There are many ways to keep your mind and mood in optimal shape. Exercise, healthy eating, and stress reduction techniques like meditation or mindfulness can keep your brain — and your body — in tip-top shape.
When mood and mental health slip, doing something about it as early as possible can keep the change from getting worse or becoming permanent. Treating conditions like depression and anxiety improve quality of life. Learning to manage stress makes for more satisfying and productive days.
Mind & Mood Articles
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a rare, fatal brain disorder caused by prions. Prions are normal proteins that have changed their shape. Healthy proteins have a healthy shape, which allows them to function normally. The misshapen prion protein is unhealthy. Worse, the prion causes disease by making other proteins nearby change their healthy shape to the prion's unhealthy shape. In this way a prion makes more prions: it slowly turns healthy proteins into prions, too.
When symptoms eventually appear, CJD causes rapidly progressive dementia (mental decline) and involuntary jerking muscle movements called myoclonus. About 90% of people with CJD die within 1 year of diagnosis.
About 85-95% of cases of CJD are from sporadic mutations. The DNA in a brain cell is changed by the mutation, and makes an unhealthy prion protein. Less often, the mutation is hereditary (passed down from parent to child). Jewish people born in Czechoslovakia, Chile and Libya have a higher-than-average number of inherited cases of CJD. Inherited CJD does not cause symptoms until adulthood.
Prions also can be passed from an animal to a person, or from one person to another. Fortunately, it is hard to catch prion diseases. A type of CJD called "variant CJD" shows somewhat slower progression of brain injury and more psychiatric symptoms, and it tends to affect younger people. This type of CJD has been linked to eating beef from cattle with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also called "mad cow disease." BSE is caused by prions.
In the 1990's, a small outbreak of variant CJD was described in the United Kingdom. It was caused by people eating beef infected with prions. Since then, changes in beef farming and processing practices have helped to limit the number of new cases.
It is extremely uncommon for CJD to spread from one person to another. However, in very rare cases CJD has been transmitted by a blood transfusion, by a medical procedure (because of contaminated equipment), by contaminated tissue (such as corneas that are used for transplant) or by injections of hormones extracted from human tissues.
Epilepsy is a nervous system condition. It causes repeated, sudden, brief changes in the brain's electrical activity. These changes cause various types of symptoms.
Epileptic episodes are called seizures or convulsions. During a seizure, brain cells fire uncontrollably at up to four times their normal rate. Seizures temporarily affect the way a person behaves, moves, thinks or feels.
There are two main types of seizures:
A primary generalized seizure involves the entire brain.
A partial seizure begins in one brain area. It affects only part of the brain. However, a partial seizure can turn into a generalized seizure.
Many conditions can affect the brain and trigger epilepsy. These include:
Brain injury, either before or after birth
Infections, especially meningitis and encephalitis
Abnormal blood vessels in the brain
Huntington's disease causes nerve cells in the brain to stop working properly. It leads to mental deterioration and loss of control over major muscle movements.
Huntington's disease worsens over time. It is an inherited (genetic) disease. Each child of a parent with Huntington's disease has a 50% chance of inheriting the illness.
Huntington's disease is relatively uncommon. It affects people from all ethnic groups. The disease affects males and females equally.
A fever is an increase in body temperature above the normal range. However, body temperature varies between people, with different levels of activity and at different times of the day. Medical textbooks differ in their definition of the highest normal body temperature. Fever generally can be defined as an early morning temperature higher than 99 degrees Fahrenheit or a temperature higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit at any time of the day.
The brain's nerve cells (neurons) communicate by firing tiny electric signals. During a seizure (convulsion), the firing pattern of these electric signals suddenly changes. It becomes unusually intense and abnormal.
A seizure can affect a small area of the brain. Or it can affect the entire brain. If the whole brain is involved, it is called a generalized seizure.
In obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a person is troubled by intrusive, distressing thoughts (obsessions) and feels the pressure to carry out repetitive behaviors (compulsions).
Neuroscientists believe that the brain pathways involved with judgment, planning and body movement are altered in OCD. Environmental influences, such as family relationships or stressful events, can trigger or worsen OCD symptoms.
OCD affects an estimated 2% to 3% of people in the United States. The percentage is about the same in Canada, Korea, New Zealand and parts of Europe. About two-thirds of people with OCD have the first symptoms before they are 25 years old. Only 15% develop their first symptoms after age 35. There is strong evidence that the illness has a genetic (inherited) basis, since about 35% of people with OCD have a close relative who also has the condition. Although 50% to 70% of patients first develop OCD after a stressful life event – such as a pregnancy, a job loss or a death in the family – experts still do not understand exactly how stress triggers the symptoms of this illness.
Sometimes people with OCD manage their obsessions without giving any external sign that they are suffering. Usually, however, they try to relieve their obsessions by performing some type of compulsion: a repeated ritual that is aimed at soothing their fears. For example, a woman who has the obsession that her hands are dirty may develop the compulsion to wash them 50 times a day. A man who fears that his front door is unlocked may feel compelled to check the lock 10 or 20 times each night.
In post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), distressing symptoms occur after a frightening incident. For the most part, a person with this disorder must have experienced the event him or herself, or witnessed the event in person. The person may also have learned about violence to a close loved one. The event must have involved serious physical injury or the threat of serious injury or death.
Exposure to violence through media (news reports or electronic images) is usually not considered a traumatic incident for the purposes of this diagnosis, unless it is part of a person's work (for example, police officers or first responders to a violent event).
Some examples of traumas include:
Military combat (PTSD was first diagnosed in soldiers and was known as shell shock or war neurosis)
Serious motor vehicle accidents, plane crashes and boating accidents
Natural disasters (tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions)
Robberies, muggings and shootings
Rape, incest and child abuse
Hostage-taking and kidnappings
Imprisonment in a concentration camp
In the United States, physical assault and rape are the most common stressors causing PTSD in women, and military combat is the most common PTSD stressor in men.
Stress of this severity does not automatically cause PTSD. In fact, most people who are exposed to terrible trauma do not develop this particular illness. The severity of the stressor does not necessarily match the severity of symptoms. Responses to trauma vary widely. Many people develop mental disorders other than PTSD.
Acute Stress Disorder is the term used when symptoms develop within the first month after a traumatic event. The term PTSD with delayed onset (or delayed expression) is used when symptoms surface six months or more after the traumatic event.
It is not clear what makes some people more likely to develop PTSD. Certain people may have a higher risk of PTSD because of a genetic (inherited) predisposition toward a more intense reaction to stress. Another way to put this is that some people have greater inborn resilience in response to trauma. A person's personality or temperament may affect the outcome after a trauma. Lifetime experience of other traumas (especially in childhood) and current social support (having loving and concerned friends and relatives) also may influence whether or not a person develops symptoms of PTSD.
People with PTSD are more likely to have a personality disorder. They also are more likely to have depression and to abuse substances.
Up to 3% or so of all people in the United States have full-fledged PTSD in any given year. Up to 10% of women and 5% of men have PTSD at some point in their lifetime. Although PTSD can develop at any time in life, the disorder occurs more frequently in young adults than in any other group. This may be because young adults are more frequently exposed to the types of traumas that can cause PTSD. The risk of developing PTSD is also higher than average in people who are poor, unmarried or socially isolated, perhaps because they have fewer supports and resources helping them to cope.
Schizophrenia is a chronic (long-lasting) brain disorder that is easily misunderstood. Although symptoms may vary widely, people with schizophrenia frequently have a hard time recognizing reality, thinking logically and behaving naturally in social situations. Schizophrenia is surprisingly common, affecting 1 in every 100 people worldwide.
Experts believe schizophrenia results from a combination of genetic and environmental causes. The chance of having schizophrenia is 10% if an immediate family member (a parent or sibling) has the illness. The risk is as high as 65% for those who have an identical twin with schizophrenia.
Scientists have identified several genes that increase the risk of getting this illness. In fact, so many problem genes have been investigated that schizophrenia can be seen as several illnesses rather than one. These genes probably affect the way the brain develops and how nerve cells communicate with one another. In a vulnerable person, a stress (such as a toxin, an infection or a nutritional deficiency) may trigger the illness during critical periods of brain development.
Schizophrenia may start as early as childhood and last throughout life. People with this illness periodically have difficulty with their thoughts and their perceptions. They may withdraw from social contacts. Without treatment, symptoms get worse.
Schizophrenia is one of several "psychotic" disorders. Psychosis can be defined as the inability to recognize reality. It may include such symptoms as delusions (false beliefs), hallucinations (false perceptions), and disorganized speech or behavior. Psychosis is a symptom of many mental disorders. In other words, having a psychotic symptom does not necessarily mean a person has schizophrenia.
Symptoms in schizophrenia are described as either "positive" or "negative." Positive symptoms are psychotic symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations and disorganized behavior. Negative symptoms are the tendency toward restricted emotions, flat affect (diminished emotional expressiveness), and the inability to start or continue productive activity.
In addition to positive and negative symptoms, many people with schizophrenia also have cognitive symptoms (problems with their intellectual functioning). They may have trouble with "working memory." That is, they have trouble keeping information in mind in order to use it, for example, remembering a phone number that they have just heard. These problems can be very subtle, but in many cases may account for why a person with schizophrenia has such a hard time managing day-to-day life.
Schizophrenia can be marked by a steady deterioration of logical thinking, social skills and behavior. These problems can interfere with personal relationships or functioning at work. Self-care can also suffer.
As people with schizophrenia realize what it means to have the disease, they may become depressed. People with schizophrenia are therefore at greater than average risk of committing suicide. Family members and health care professionals need to stay alert to this possibility.
People with schizophrenia are also at more risk for developing substance abuse problems. People who drink and use substances have a harder time adhering to treatment. People with schizophrenia smoke more than people in the general population. The smoking leads to more health problems.
Anyone with serious and chronic mental illness is at greater risk for developing metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors that increase risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The risk factors include obesity, high blood pressure and abnormal lipid levels in the bloodstream.
Schizophrenia has historically been divided into several subtypes, but researchers in the last several years have determined that these divisions are probably not clinically useful.
A person with somatization disorder is chronically preoccupied with numerous "somatic" (physical) symptoms over many years. These symptoms, however, cannot be explained fully by a non-psychiatric diagnosis. Nonetheless, the symptoms cause significant distress or impair the person's ability to function.
The person is not "faking." Somatization disorder is a medical problem. The disorder, however, is probably related to brain functioning or emotional regulation rather than the area of the body that has become the focus of the patient's attention. The symptoms are real and are not under the person's conscious control.
People with somatization disorder report multiple medical problems over many years, involving several different areas of the body. For example, the same person might have back pain, headaches, chest discomfort, and stomach or urinary distress. Women often report irregular periods. Men may report erectile dysfunction (impotence). The person may:
Describe symptoms in dramatic and emotional terms
Seek care from more than one physician at the same time
Describe symptoms in vague terms
Lack signs of defined medical illness
Have complaints that medical tests fail to support
People with somatization disorder do get diagnosable medical illnesses, too, so doctors must be careful not to dismiss symptoms too easily.
A person with somatization disorder also may have symptoms of anxiety and depression. He or she may begin to feel hopeless and attempt suicide, or may have trouble adapting to the stresses of life. The person may abuse alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications.
Spouses and other family members may become distressed because the person's symptoms continue for long periods of time and no medical treatment seems to help.
Symptoms of somatization disorder vary by culture, sometimes depending on how illness or "sick roles" are viewed in a given culture. Cultural factors also affect the proportions of men and women with the disorder.
Female relatives of people with somatization disorder are more likely to develop the disorder. Male relatives are more likely to develop alcoholism and personality disorder.
Scientists do not know the cause of the symptoms reported by people with somatization disorder, but researchers have some theories. It is possible, for example, that people with this disorder perceive bodily sensations in an unusual way. Or they may describe feelings in physical (rather than mental or emotional) terms. Trauma or stress may cause a person's physical sensations to change.
Biofeedback tries to teach you to control automatic body functions such as heart rate, muscle tension, breathing, perspiration, skin temperature, blood pressure and even brain waves. By learning to control these functions, you may be able to improve your medical condition, relieve chronic pain, reduce stress, or improve your physical or mental performance (sometimes called peak performance training).
During biofeedback training, sensors attached to your body detect changes in your pulse, skin temperature, muscle tone, brain-wave pattern or some other physiological function. These changes trigger a signal a sound, a flashing light, a change in pattern on a video screen that tells you that the physiological change has occurred. Gradually, with the help of your biofeedback therapist, you can learn to alter the signal by taking conscious control of your body's automatic body functions.