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Part 2

Brain statesIn part one of this series, I discussed how former drug users might benefit physically by taking up a regular meditation program. I also touched on how former drug users are at an advantage when it comes to “finding the Self”, as the mind-altering action of some drugs approximates the deeper states of meditation. In this piece, I will address a few mental and inspirational elements that regular meditators enjoy, which will also help former drug users find what we are all ultimately looking for—a deeper connection to our true Selves—all while keeping them off dangerous drugs.

The Way I Cope

Drugs not only make the body feel good, they make the mind feel invincible. Amphetamines were given to World War II pilots as a way to keep them awake and alert on numerous sorties throughout the war. Even today, speed-like drugs are given to ADD-labeled children and adults to help them concentrate. Drugs do, in fact, enhance our mental capacities in the short-term. Whether talking stimulants for alertness and concentration, or the mind-expanding quality of hallucinogenics: the primary use of many recreational drugs is for altering mind-states.

Stress copingGoing within via meditation also alters consciousness states. As we deepen our meditative practices, we pass through states of consciousness that simulate dream states or even deep sleep (albeit consciously). It is for this reason that former drug users have a hand up on most non-users—they know what it feels like to pass through these varying stages of consciousness. When meditating, the former drug user will recognize and feel a sense of calm, ease and comfort passing through these stages. Call it an acquired skill to feel comfortable as one makes it through these transitions. The average person often must take several passes through a consciousness state to feel comfortable enough to allow it to happen on its own without a mental disruption or dispersion of the state.

From a mind perspective, meditation has also been shown to decrease anxiety—a godsend to anybody who uses, or has used, drugs at one time or another “to cope.” Studies have shown meditation increases stress adaptability as well. Or plainly, regular meditators handle stress better—one reason some people turn to drugs to begin with. Further, meditators have been found to feel less lonely. It is well known that loneliness is associated with increased incidence of illness and death. A regular meditation practice, then, goes a long way to preserve the psychological, emotional and physical wellbeing.

Finally, regular meditators have been found to have increased brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for executive function, while simultaneously decreasing activity in the amygdala, the area of emotional reaction. Executive function encompasses a number of mental processes, but put simply, this region is responsible for inhibiting emotional outbursts or impulsive behaviors. The amygdala, on the other hand, is the area where memory, decision-making and emotion work together to elicit quick responses. These two regions are regularly at odds with one another, balancing how we wish to act—venomous anger for example—with how we contain ourselves. The amygdala in teens, for instance, develops much more rapidly than the prefrontal cortex, leading to more reactionary decisions and impulsive behavior (one reason teens are at higher risk for accidents). But by meditating regularly, executive function is enhanced while reactionary amygdala function is depressed, and thus the practitioner becomes more poised and disciplined, thinking things through rather than exploding in unrestrained emotion.

The Voice I Hear

Woodstock-1969Some people have had spiritual experiences on drugs, as attendees at Woodstock or today’s raves might attest. This is because chemical substances acting on the brain can open doors to insights, compassion and even a feeling of “oneness,” things we ultimately all crave as human beings. For this reason, many habitual drug users return again and again to drugs to relive a temporary experience which we intuitively feel should be more permanent.

Users who have spiritual experiences are correct in their intuition—feelings of oneness are our birthright, and they should persist beyond the temporary high felt from drugs. The only way to tap into this eternal unity is by going within and awakening to the Self. While the term Self is actually interchangeable with many others—God, the absolute, the final reality, etc—it is incomplete and incapable of fully describing what yogis would call the source of all things. No matter which name you give it, this source is what we all truly want: reconnecting with the Self is the inner drive which underlies all human desire. And it is exactly this which is the basis for people turning to drugs.

When we uncover our true Selves, however, we concurrently uncover the bliss inherent in our source of being. Through this uncovering we come to realize that we exist in this material dimension (our form) for a purpose, and the deeper we go within, the stronger our realization of our life’s purpose becomes. But interestingly for the former drug user is that this realization also brings to light the purpose of the chosen path of substance abuse. Most people enter professions where they wish to make a difference, either in an area which they perceive themselves to have failed in the past, or in an area which they themselves have been helped. It is not surprising then that many former drug users, myself included, look to make a difference in the world of recovery—helping other addicts shake the illusions of the high drugs provide, and in finding the truth inherent in uncovering the Self.

Helping Drug AddictsRegular meditators have also been found to cultivate greater compassion—for themselves and others. Why is this important? Because it is so easy to beat oneself up for perceived mistakes one has made, and every other shame and guilt that comes along with drug addiction. Having compassion for one’s choices comes from a deep understanding that one receives as a result of going within. By understanding the greater purpose of our choices, we can open up to a world of gratitude for the life we have lived, and how it has lead us down our current inspired path. The highest service in life comes through giving from a place of compassion—the I-have-been-there-before state of empathy. Nobody can relate to this more than former drug users who have dedicated their lives to helping others, and this compassion is enhanced by a regular meditation practice.

Meditation has also been found to improve a person’s skill at introspection—the ability to reflect on one’s life and oneself mentally and emotionally. People who have a strong ability for introspection come to know themselves better, make better choices, and experience greater growth spurts emotionally and spiritually. As a consequence, meditation also opens the floodgates to inspiration, so creativity is enhanced as one quiets the mind of its incessant chatter and allows the Self to reflect unimpeded. Most creative geniuses have a way of tapping in—meditation is one surefire way to unleash our inherent potential and express creative genius. Start today to take advantage of this power we all possess.

OnenessPeople typically return to drugs to recreate an experience that brought them close to feeling the bliss of oneness with all things. That is because drugs open doors to states of consciousness which simulate stages we pass through along the path to union—the known deeper states of meditation. Drug-induced altered states of consciousness, however, are short-lived and they come with many unwanted side effects, most treacherously death. But what drug users are searching for is what all people ultimately search for: the bliss that comes from awakening to our true Selves. While many paths to the Self exist, meditation is time-tested and proven; its effects are long-term, and its many changes are permanent. Drugs will never bring the seeker what he or she is looking for, because like all external experiences, they are transitory and illusory by nature. Only by going within and uncovering the true Self will an individual find what he instinctively seeks: union with the entire universe. Meditation is a tool available to all of us—rich, poor, young, old, male or female—to bring us in-touch with our true essence, while enhancing our lives in body, mind and spirit. But even more astoundingly, former drug users may be at an advantage as they have experience in passing through various altered states in which the average, non-drug user is not so immediately comfortable. These reasons seem overwhelmingly encouraging for those in recovery to take on a meditation practice. Turn on and tune in, if you will, and you will find exactly what you have always been looking for.

Part 1

Cocaine BlissDrug addiction is a form of seeking. The high we get from drugs is the closest thing to the altered states of consciousness that are the hallmark of deeper states of meditation, including samadhi, and thus drug users—most unconsciously—are seeking what we all are: the internal source of bliss. Bliss can only be achieved from within, whether it be inspiration, fulfillment, joy or any other state of being; it is an inside job. Drug addiction, then, is like any other attachment to the external world—it is our seeking fulfillment from things outside of us.

The quest for bliss, or a something other than what we experience in the purely physical world, is a real and ubiquitous drive—a universal human yearning. We bounce from experience to experience, desire to desire, and even relationship to relationship—what the yogis would call gaining knowledge—seeking this bliss. And all these quests for the outer are necessary to lead us to the reality of the inner. Drugs and chemical highs are no exception. In fact, former drug users may even be at an advantage on this quest, as the altered states so familiar to substance abusers most closely approximates the different states the meditator passes through on his or her way to Self-realization.

Learning the Self is the most rewarding experience we can have, as it lasts a lifetime. While every former drug user has learned invaluable lessons about herself, only through conscious awareness and awakening can true Knowledge—and all it affords—be had. In seeking the Self the greatest of all fulfillments is ours—the bliss we are never able to find in outer experiences. By taking on this quest, the former drug user has the greatest probability of remaining clean, because what is a temporary high when compared to bliss?

russell brand meditatingThe quest to “find” the Self can be carried out by a number of paths. One such path is meditation. Meditation, the art of silencing the mind and going within, is a profound practice, one which has a number of short and long term benefits for the former drug user. The benefits range from the physical, like a decreased risk of debilitating cardiac events, to the mental (increased emotional control), to the spiritual, like greater creative inspiration. In the following paragraphs, I will touch upon these benefits of body, mind and spirit to encourage former users to take up the habit of going within. I am certain that when I am finished you will see that the enormous advantages the practice of meditation affords are far greater than any momentary highs we get from drugs.

The Way I Feel

Dopamine system

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Drugs feel good—we can thank the dopamine system for that. But the physiological sensations resulting from drug actions are temporary and come with the risks of tolerance, withdrawal and potential overdose. Going within, on the other hand, particularly via the path of meditation, provides physiological changes which are longer lasting, and many even permanent. These physical changes can feel good too, but they are subtle and come on gradually, so there is really no high with true meditation.

Meditation has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiac events—like heart attack and stroke—by one half. At risk African American men and women were given either a meditation program, muscle relaxation exercises or conventional health education courses. Those participants who meditated had nearly half the risk of suffering a cardiac event. These findings are particularly valuable for recovering methamphetamine and cocaine users, as stimulants can stress the cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels). Further, the practice of pranayama (breath control) works to slow the metabolism, bringing down heart rate, respiration and blood pressure. These physiological changes are imperative for any person who has been artificially speeding up their cardiovascular system with drugs.

Meditation also has been shown to reduce pain, fatigue and depression. Many people who suffer from chronic illness turn to drugs to alleviate pain. A 2010 study showed that an eight-week course of mindfulness training reduced all three symptoms above, and improved health-related quality of life for people suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). As any long-term drug user will tell you: part of the package that comes with substance abuse is pain, fatigue and ultimately depression. Here we now have evidence of the power of going within for alleviating these overloading sensations which often plague chronic drug users.

healingFinally meditation may lead to improved healing—something every drug user needs, as repeated use of chemicals can and does lead to breakdown of the body. Both inflammation and immunity are altered by meditation. Inflammatory processes have been observed to diminish, while immune function has been found to increase in regular meditators. As self-healing, self-regulating organisms, we need our innate powers to function unimpeded. While drug use hinders our healing abilities, quieting the mind and going within enhances them instead. Choose meditation and watch your miraculous regenerative powers operate in full force as your body and mind return to their most optimal functioning states.


depressed-pregnant-woman-300x200Here’s the $64,000 question: When it comes to the alarming increase in children born with autism over the last decade, what seems a more likely factor—a mother’s depression, or taking antidepressant medication while pregnant? Think about that for a minute. Well as coincidence has it, a recent study has just shown a link between a mother’s use of antidepressants during her second and third trimester pregnancy and an increase in the risk of her child developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The disturbing rise in autism has almost doubled over the last ten years, and everything from vaccinations to exposure to flame retardants have been suspected as being the cause of this increase. But a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics (online) this week showed that mothers who had one or more prescription for antidepressants filled during the second or third trimester of the pregnancy had an 87 percent increase having a child with ASD, compared with women who did not take the medications while expecting. And women who took selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a particular class of antidepressants, which includes Zoloft, Prozac and Celexa, had a more than double the risk of having a child with autism. Finally, women who were prescribed more than one class of antidepressant during the final six months of pregnancy had greater than four times the risk of having a child with autism.

understanding-about-autism-spectrum-disorder (Copy)ASD is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects a person’s ability to communicate, interact and behave appropriately with others in social situations; it includes autism, Asperger syndrome or other pervasive developmental disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 45 children in the United States has autism, and the condition is about five times more common in boys than in girls. The most recent controversy surrounding autism has been fears that the disorder is caused by routine childhood vaccinations, particularly the measles-mumps-rubella vaccination, but recent evidence has shown there to be no association.

In the study, researchers analyzed data collected from all 145,500 pregnancies that occurred in the Canadian province of Quebec over a 20-year period from January 1998 to December 2009, in which mothers had a full-term pregnancy and gave birth to only one baby. They followed up with the children until age ten; 1,054 of the children were diagnosed with ASD. The researchers looked at whether the women in the study had filled a prescription for antidepressants at any time during their pregnancy, or one month before conception.

t1larg.antidepressants.pregnancy.gi (Copy)The analysis found that about 4,700 infants, or 3.2 percent of babies, were exposed to antidepressants at some point during their mothers’ pregnancies. Among these babies, 46 developed autism. But only a mother’s use of antidepressants during the second or third trimester was associated with a greater risk of autism in children (31 exposed infants developed autism). The risk was persistent even after taking into account maternal history of depression. However, there was no increase in ASD risk linked to using antidepressants during early pregnancy.

Antidepressants are not only some of the most prescribed medications within the general population but extending into maternity as well. In fact, 7 to 13 percent of American women are estimated to be taking them while pregnant, according to one study. While previous studies have sought to determine a link between antidepressant use during pregnancy and autism, there have been mixed results. This latest study, however, is the largest of its kind.

“This study is the first to quantify autism risk based on the class of antidepressants used by a woman during pregnancy, and the first to find an increased risk with SSRIs mostly,” said study author Anick Bérard, a professor of pharmacy at the University of Montreal, who specializes in drug use during pregnancy.

fncel-07-00212-g001 (Copy)

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These results have got some in the psychiatric profession up in arms, and why wouldn’t they be? As some of the most (over)prescribed meds today, antidepressants are the go-to for medical professionals in general, and psychiatrists specifically. Some doctors are going as far as downplaying the findings. Despite the second and third trimesters being critical for fetal brain development, and that serotonin is essential for this process, and also that previous research in animals has hinted at SSRIs altering certain aspects of fetal neurodevelopment, some in the neurosciences think the points are moot. Says Lars Henning Pedersen, Adjunct Associate Professor at Aarhus University in Denmark, these results can largely be explained by other factors, such as the severity of a mother’s depression.

According to Bérard, depression severity is indeed a possible explanation, and  for which the research group is now conducting studies to look at it, She does point out that her recent work shows an association between antidepressant use and autism only, and is not proof of causation. However, to further recommend antidepressants, particularly SSRIs, during pregnancy is dangerous. Says Bérard,

“The common belief that depression can only be treated with antidepressants is false. I would always be very cautious about saying that anything is ‘safe’ during pregnancy. We have to remember that thalidomide was labeled as ‘safe’ for use during pregnancy.”

drugwatch-antidepressants (Copy)

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The “critical flaw” in the new research, says Roy Perlis, a psychiatric geneticist at Harvard University, is that it doesn’t fully account for the fact that women suffering from psychiatric illnesses already have a greater risk of having children with ASD. Although the authors controlled for maternal depression, “they don’t really have reliable measures of severity,” he says. As a result, there’s no way to tell whether the children were at higher risk because their mothers were taking more drugs or because the women had more severe depression.

But Bérard states that her group’s study shows that the link between antidepressants and autism is above and beyond its increase in risk associated with maternal depression alone. The results showed mother’s depression to be associated with only 20 percent greater autism risk. Bérard’s opinion is that, “Given the mounting evidence showing increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcome with antidepressant use during pregnancy, our study shows that depression should be treated with other options (other than antidepressants) during this critical period.”

So what do you think? Is severity of depression more likely a potential cause of the near doubling of ASD over last decade? Or is it the increased use of antidepressants among pregnant women? Maybe it is neither; maybe it is just changing guidelines and better diagnosis and recognition. Heck it may even be that antidepressants actually help the fetus of a depressed mother, at least this possibility has been posed by psychiatrist Jay Gingrich at Columbia University. What do you think? You better think about it seriously,  folks, especially if you are planning to have family. Informed decisions bring the greatest certainty – exactly what you want with every decision possible when having a baby. A good pregnancy is a calm pregnancy, and that’s the best you can ask for.

I’m not afraid of dying. I don’t know how it’ll feel at the moment, but I’m prepared for death because I don’t believe in it. I think it’s just getting out of one car and getting into another.  ~ John Lennon

Robin Williams suicideIt has been several weeks since the world was shocked by the news of Robin Williams’ suicide, and the impact is still reverberating in me and many others, as we have such a hard time understanding why a man of Williams’ stature would take such an extreme measure. Then news this weekend of another public figure’s suicide—this one the hanging death of girl group singer Simone Battle—along with the death of an acquaintance of mine, of which I learned about via Facebook, it brought to light a number of factors I believe are worth discussing.

I was asked to “reach out” to the public regarding the subject of depression following Williams’ death, although I think that the decision to take one’s life goes well beyond that. It might be too easy to transfer our own perceptions on the one making the decision to end one’s life, as if we know or presume we can understand, or relate to, the origins of the psychological battle. And then by using these misperceptions we presume that we can then stop others from making the decision in the future. I think the notion is both false and a dishonoring of the free will of individuals. To assume that a person who makes such a decision is necessarily acting irrationally or irresponsibly is to impose one’s own morals onto another human being. And I think that those who take the most self righteous position regarding suicide have not yet felt the degree of pain and hopelessness that one must feel, to do what is likely the most difficult and counter-instinctive act any living being could carry out.

reincarnationI have heard it said that we all have a death wish at times—that is, the feeling that perhaps it would be better if we were just dead; to end the misery that we all face at one time or another. However, we also all have a life wish—that sense that life is the greatest gift we could ever have bestowed upon us. Both are one-sided illusions. The belief that we are born and we die, while ubiquitous and persistent, has no real truth outside of what happens to our material bodies. Science cannot unequivocally prove it, and spiritual teachers throughout the ages have insisted on it not being so, and they have rather compelling arguments to back up their claims. True, via our material senses, all we can surmise is a singular and solitary life cycle, but I would not bank everything on this idea, simply because our limited minds in their limited consciousness can only perceive one “reality” today. And even if it turns out to be the one reality, who is to say for anyone else whether that person’s life is worth living? We can only take such a moral position if we believe that life is the end-all-be-all, a position usually grounded in some antiquated religious belief or another. From a spiritual standpoint it makes no sense for a number of reasons (which is an article unto itself, so I won’t go into it here), and from a secular standpoint it really makes no sense. Yet that things will be better, easier, or simply ended by death is no less an illusion. From a philosophical standpoint there is no difference between life and death to the true Self. Only the Self alone exists, and it is eternal—all else is illusion.

Okay why my insistence on this philosophical argument? Because, as I see it, the only ones needing to reconcile another’s suicide are the living—those persons who continue their consciousness on the material plane. So for us the question remains: How do we deal with someone’s decision to end life? I believe that we have to look at one’s individual circumstances to understand how and why one might make that decision, and more importantly, how they can actually carry it out, since survival is a hard-wired instinct, making suicide all the more remarkable a decision, and thus likely pushed by some very deep feelings.

extreme emotional painFrom a personal standpoint, I can understand why somebody would feel as if suicide is the only option. I have had the degree of pain that might push a person to take the leap—believe me, like you, I have thought about it. Who hasn’t? Of course, the level of pain, fear and hopelessness will vary from person to person, from life situation to life situation, but as I have said, I have felt a pain that intense. My understanding is that Robin Williams had a history of extreme fluctuations in emotional states, he had some underlying health issues that would scare the bravest of us, and sources have disclosed that he had gargantuan financial troubles, one of which was over $30 million paid in alimony to his ex-wives. It would be so easy and misguided to take the position that even problems of that magnitude could not warrant suicide, but let’s throw in drugs, alcohol, aging, and misperceptions about professional career and future, and I think it’s easier to understand, for me anyway, why checking out seemed like the best option. Again, you’d have to have been in that kind of hopeless state at one time or another to understand the mind which has to process such affairs.

So am I writing this to advocate suicide? No! I neither advocate nor reject suicide. I think it is a personal choice based on many factors, but in the end, I support the right for people to exercise their free will. Yes suicide is an enormous ethical issue, because if we become too lax within society on it there is a heightened risk for foul play (disguised homicides and such). However, I don’t knock Robin William’s decision. On the contrary, I think on a human level we can be grateful for the lessons attached to it, because it is a striking reminder that no matter how much fame, money or success one has, one can only feel fulfillment from the inside. An all too common misperception among us is that “if only” we had more money, or a better career, or a better marriage, or whatever else we fool ourselves into thinking brings perpetual happiness, or peace, or fulfillment, then our lives will be better. This, too, is an illusion. I will admit that my initial reaction to Robin Williams’ suicide was shock that a mega celebrity, an Oscar winner, and clearly a vastly wealthy man would take such an action, as he could not possibly have the mundane problems that the rest of us have. But thank you Mr. Williams for reminding me that we are all just people. It’s the human mind alone that creates the fantasy that there might be “something better.”

grass greener

I do believe, however, that no matter how tough life gets, there is an alternative to suicide, and it lies in being in-tune with one’s dharma. Yes having a purpose—something that drives our existence—is the only way to overcome the harshest of life’s circumstances. Because when driven by purpose, human beings will endure the lowest of lows, the most extreme circumstances that one could undergo. We press forward when the drive on the inside is bigger than the storm on the outside—and this is only possible through divine purpose. Think George Washington, Harriet Tubman, Nelson Mandela and the countless others who have braved extreme life circumstances—I can assure you that each was driven by a purpose greater than him or herself. Saying that, however, I will not discount the potential spiritual dharma of Robin Williams, because who is to say that his destiny was not tied into reminding us all that the grass is NOT necessarily greener in pastures that many of us only fantasize about.

The End...for nowI also believe that our spiritual or philosophical perspectives can divert the call of suicide; not in the moralistic sense that we are committing some crime against God, but that if we can perceive life and death as simply two sides of the same coin—a temporary state of the eternal Self—then we may not be so quick to jump from one side to the other. Because if true, if we really are experiencing a temporary state of consciousness leading us on a path of self-awakening and awareness, then we cannot escape the challenges we must inevitably face for our eventual self-realization, no matter how many lifetimes it will take. Either way, I honor Robin Williams’, Simone Battle’s and every other person’s decision to end this chapter of their existence. It’s free will, something many of us argue for and champion under most circumstances; but when it comes to suicide, our fears and moralistic imprints tend to guide our perceptions, leading us to suffering when somebody commits the act. But for the one who has made the decision to check out…honor his or her right to exercise free will.

Got pain?  Try some Obecalp.  A strong placebo, Obecalp can help people that suffer from things like chronic pain, chronic fatigue and depression.  The use of placebo (fake pills, often made of sugar) to treat any condition, however, is highly controversial.  German doctors are considering it as a viable treatment option anyway, so let the debate begin:The German Medical Association (GMA) has recently conducted a major study on placebos and they conclude: fake pills sometimes work better than real medicines!  No chit!  They even go as far as recommending that doctors give placebos out more often.  Now that’s something…

But not so fast–we have an ethical dilemma.  American and British authorities believe that any use of placebo without the patient’s consent is unethical.  What?!?!  Yes, Ted Kaptchuk, associate professor of medicine at Harvard University, says, “That’s what I call lying. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it would be unacceptable in the U.S.”  Uh huh…American medicine never lies…

The GMA point out that placebos don’t come with any nasty side effects and could be the last hope for patients with hard-to-treat ailments where no good medicines exist.

Placebos work by causing physiological changes in response to the idea or belief that the patient is receiving a beneficial treatment.  It’s true mind-body healing, as the mind creates the physiologic responses necessary for healing (and I would argue that this component exists in all healing!).  So what’s the problem?

The American Medical Association warns that doctors who use placebos without telling their patients may undermine their trust and cause harm.  Further, opponents state that in health care, at least in the U.S. anyway, “we have a commitment to transparency.”  But they also admit that using more placebos might wean people off drugs that haven’t proven to be very helpful and could also save health care systems millions of dollars.

So what do you think?  Are the use of placebos to treat conditions unethical?  Should people only be given substances shown to cause physiological effects on their own through studies and trials?  Should we study the effects of the mind on the body with regard to healing even deeper, including the benefits and disadvantages of placebo?  And how about Obecalp–willing to try some for your chronic fibromyalgidepression?  Let me know.

Here is a great video showing the visceral effects caused by the mind alone:

mother_child_baby 4 17 09More on the mental health front today as new research shows breastfeeding may be linked to better mental health for kids. I’ll say, it’s always worked for me.

An Australian study showed that children who are breastfed for longer than six months could be at lower risk of mental health problems later in life. Breastfeeding could help babies cope better with stress, and may also signal a stronger mother-child attachment, benefits which may last, say researchers at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in West Perth.

The study looked at over 2,300 children, each undergoing a mental health assessment at 2, 5, 8, 10, and 14 years of age. Eleven percent were never breastfed, 38 percent were breastfed for less than six months, and just over half were breastfed for six months or longer.

Mothers who breastfed for less than six months were younger, less educated, poorer, and more stressed, and were also more likely to be smokers, than the moms who breastfed for longer. They were also more likely to suffer from postpartum depression, and their babies were more likely to have growth problems.

The children who were breastfed for the shortest amount of time had the worst behavior. This was qualified as internalizing behavior, in which negativity is directed inwards, for example depression; and in externalizing behaviors, such as aggression.

Behavior improved successively for every additional month of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding for six months or longer had the most positive behavioral results with regard to mental health and well-being of children and adolescents. The results were adjusted for social, economic and psychological factors as well as early life events.

I like this study as I am a huge advocate for breastfeeding. My eldest daughter was breastfed for two years, and my 15-month-old is still on the breast. And I’m certain of the many health benefits attached to the practice. It doesn’t surprise me that breastfed children feel more secure, I mean, think about it: The suckling/oxytocin response is as much security blanket as it is food cart. It allows baby to know that there is a nurturing protector there when they need support. And it’s instinctual. Deny that to Junior and I’d expect him or her to be…well…unsure.

No guilt trip on moms who have opted out early, really. It’s just that breastfeeding provides one more benefit to those who choose it for their young, that’s all. However, if you are a mom to be and on the fence about it–just know that mental well-being and self-assuredness later in life is one more thing you can help provide your kid with a year at the boob.


Are life’s modern-day challenges harder to tackle than those of yesteryear? That’s the question mental health experts are asking, as a recent study shows that five times more high school and college students are dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues than youth of the same age decades ago.

The study did a comparative analysis of a popular psychological questionnaire used as far back as 1938 and found that more students today struggle with the stresses of school and life in general. Researchers at five universities analyzed the responses of 77,576 high school and college students who, from 1938 through 2007, took the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). Overall, an average of five times as many students in 2007 surpassed thresholds in one or more mental health categories, compared with those who did so in 1938. Some of the increases were even higher in some categories:

  • hypomania,” a measure of anxiety and unrealistic optimism (from 5 percent of students in 1938 to 31 percent in 2007)
  • depression (from 1 percent to 6 percent)
  • and “psychopathic deviation,” which is loosely related to psychopathic behavior and is defined as having trouble with authority and feeling as though the rules don’t apply to you (from 5 percent in 1938 to 24 percent in 2007).

Lead author of the study, Jean Twenge, who wrote a book on the influence of pop culture on the mental health of young people titled, “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before,” believes that the growing interest in being rich amongst the nation’s youth has a big part to play in the study’s findings.

Experts say that such high expectations only lead to disappointments. They also note that some well-meaning but overprotective parents have left their children with few real-world coping skills, like handling emotional challenges or even balancing their checkbooks. Says Dr. Elizabeth Alderman, an adolescent medicine specialist at Motefiore Medical Center in New York City, “If you don’t have these skills, then it’s very normal to become anxious.”

Students themselves put the blame on everything from pressure to succeed–self-imposed and otherwise–to keeping up with technology as the causes of increased mental stress. Sarah Ann Slater, a 21-year-old junior at the University of Miami stated, “The unrealistic feelings that are ingrained in us from a young age–that we need to have massive amounts of money to be considered a success–not only lead us to a higher likelihood of feeling inadequate, anxious or depressed, but also make us think that the only value in getting an education is to make a lot of money.”

A New Jersey mother whose daughter is being treated for depression said, “I don’t remember it being this hard. We all wanted to be popular, but there wasn’t this emphasis on being perfect and being super skinny.”

The study’s findings, however, do not prove any correlation between pop culture pressures and mental stress. And it is not without its critics, either: Richard Shadick, a psychologist who directs the counseling center at Pace University in New York states that the sample data weren’t necessarily representative of all college students (Many who answered the MMPI questionnaire were students in introductory psychology courses at four-year institutions). Also, the increased numbers may simply reflect a heightened awareness of mental health services and treatments–like pharmaceuticals–available.

I believe that today’s youth are facing challenges that earlier generations didn’t have to contend with. That’s certainly no surprise to me. Young people of the 1950s were dealing with very different–and I’m certain perceptively greater–challenges than the youth of 1776. Things change, the world changes, and it happens faster every generation. It seems only natural, then, that the faster things evolve, the harder it will be for everyone to deal with these rapid changes. I’m not trying to minimize things here–I just think that it sounds fairly logical that new generations will have their hands full with the world of their era. Whether or not these challenges lead to increased mental health stresses over previous generations is debatable, especially since the mental health field has evolved along with everything else.

What it really says to me is two things. One, mental health is as important as it always will be, since our minds are integral to every aspect of our being. If we don’t have our perceptions in balance, havoc will wreak on our health and our lives. Therefore, obtaining mental balance is critical. If you or your child are having trouble finding this balance, contact me, I can help.

And two, it really brings up the point of having realistic goals and expectations. College does not ensure financial success. Nor does what you see on T.V. constitute reality (despite the moniker as such). If you can’t explain to your kids that success–financial or otherwise–requires a marketable product or service and super-hard work, not a four day work week, not six weeks vacation, not a French-style social system (go ahead, ask your French friends their opportunity for financial freedom and wealth), then, really, it’s your burden to bear when they can’t hack the pressure.

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