Is Ritalin the new “Mother’s little helper”?

5 05 2013

pills

IN the 1960s and 1970s, Valium (and associated benzodiazepines – benzos) were known as “Mother’s Little Helper”- a drug prescribed to stay at home mothers to help them deal with their lives – fundamentally, a way of sedating them so they would accept a life they were unhappy or bored with.

What a drag it is getting old
Kids are different today,
I hear ev’ry mother say
Mother needs something today to calm her down
And though she’s not really ill
Theres a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day

(Mother’s Little Helper, Rolling Stones)

By all accounts, it was an epidemic of medico-sanctioned drug abuse. A generation of women rendered passive, incapable of dealing with their dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Stepford wives.

Fast forward to the 1990s and 2000s. the drug de jour is Ritalin and other uppers to deal with ADD. ADHD, adult ADHD, etc.

Now I am not saying these syndromes do not exist. Nor that the drugs don’t work for some people. But then the Valium worked pretty well for women in the 1960s and 1970s.

But the explosion of diagnoses, and of prescriptions makes me suspicious. Are we waiting for someone to write a song about how we medicated our difficult children? What cost will they pay in their adult lives, when they haven’t learned to deal with their concentration, focus and behaviour without medication? What physiological effect will the drugs have one them?

And whose “illness” are we medicating?

For the full Rolling Stones Song, click here: Rolling Stones: Mother’s Little Helper

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Memories……

1 04 2013

Memory is a funny thing. What one person remembers can be quite different from another person. Some of it is perspective, some of it might be personal views on the important aspects of an event. Apparently what language you speak and hence what words you have at your disposal also affects what you understand and remember about events. Presumably NLP works differently in different languages.

Most people seem to have their first memories around 4 or 5, although if you try to remember your earliest memory it is difficult to separate what you remember from what you have been told and photographs you have seen. My mother in particular seems to have taken advantage of this and denies events that I specifically remember in an attempt I allege is a rewriting of history. Her brother, meanwhile, used to allege that he could remember being born. Clearly we are a family for whom the truth has been a malleable concept.

But while our memories are already somewhat fallible tools, imagine if, like Star Trek, you had a holo-deck, and could create completely fictional events. You could people your events with real colleagues, friends and acquaintances. And while to you, they would seem to be real experiential memories, the other people would have absolutely no knowledge of the events you created.

PS Stumbleupon just showed me a Wikipedia page on parataxic distortion which expands on this concept.





Thirteen quick things to change your life today

19 08 2012

If our lives are the sum of things we do, then changing what we do can change our lives, one moment at a time. Here are thirteen things that can be easily achieved.

1. Exercise. If you are currently doing nothing, then ten minutes exercise will make a difference. If you are already exercising, make it an extra ten minutes.

2. Wear sunblock. Australians have the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, so as a red-head growing up in Australia, I know what I am talking about! Sun block is not only the one thing most guaranteed to keep you looking young, it may also save your life.

3. Eat some vegetables. Preferably green and leafy ones. A variety of fresh vegetables will keep you healthier and help with weight control.

4. Do the hard thing first. There is probably something you have been putting off, some emotionally challenging thing. Do it. Delaying doesn’t make it any better (in fact it usually makes it worse), and having it dragging around your neck doesn’t help your enjoyment of life now.

5. Act As If. A psychological principle whereby you can trick your brain into believing you are what you want to be. Smile, and your brain will think you are happy, and studies say you will start to feel happier. Michelangelo decided he was the world’s best artist years before he achieved it, but having this image meant he accepted the big projects (Sistine Chapel) that made his dream a reality.

6. Get organised. But don’t be overwhelmed. If your house is a mess, try scheduling fifteen minutes a day to do one room each day. Fifteen minutes is achievable and not overwhelming.

7. Stand up! Studies show that the more you sit down during the day, the earlier you die. It is now possible to get a desk to work at standing up.

8. Make time for a friend. Our lives can become very isolated a we get busier. Make time to enjoy others.

9. Have some downtime. Meditation is ideal, but even if you don’t know how to, have some quiet thinking time in a peaceful place. It doesn’t matter if you all asleep.

10. Get enough sleep. While we don’t really know he purpose of sleep, we o know it is necessary. Regular, sufficient sleep rejuvenated the body and mind, helps us think straight, manage our emotions, and have enough physical energy to exercise, dal with cravings and look after ourselves.

11. Give up one bad habit now. One less cigarette, one less biscuit, one less alcoholic drink – one less s a good thing. Then build on it.

12. Drink water. Water helps flush toxins from the body, helps control hunger, helps develop healthy skin and organs, and can help resolve headaches (some headaches are related to dehydration).

13. Live your life one moment at a time. (thanks to Maggie for this one). If losing weight, getting fit, finishing your study, tidying your house etc is too much, don’t think of he big goal. Just make he best decision for now. Faced with a range of lunch options, pick the healthy one now. How will you spend the next ten minutes?





Vale Stephen Covey

21 07 2012

Management guru Stephen Covey, best known for his worldwide best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, died on June 16 2012 from injuries sustained in a bike crash. He was 79 years old.

I read this book quite a few years ago. At the time I was in a bit of a self-help jag and while the idea of seven principles was very appealing, the content was not so very much different from a number of other self-help / management books at the time. Perhaps better organised.

But when I heard of his death it took me to a place when, as a teenager, I discovered Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, possibly the first of the great self-help books. I suspect that those a few years younger than me probably felt that Covey’s tome was the light for them, the way Positive Thinking was for me.

The self-help books were the start of a journey. They told me that anything was possible, that if I tried, I could make my life what I wanted. They gave real-life-stories of people who changed their lives (and I am still a sucker for a good “I-turned-my-life-around” story. And as I move into mid-life crisis territory, the idea of infinite possibilities appeals even more.)

I had the advantage of good health, reasonable intelligence, good education, a supportive family and being born into a western society in a period of peace and prosperity. If anything, my “problem” was too much comfort. There was no burning platform to make me strive to save myself from a life of misery and starvation. Unlike Stephen Covey, who grew up on an egg farm and as a teenager suffered a severe illness that turned him from athletics to academia, my life was comparatively easy and straight forward. If I studied, I got good marks. If I didn’t then the results were variable. I didn’t have to do physical labour and I didn’t have to worry where the next meal came from.

Since my teenage years I read a lot of self-help books until I got to the stage when they all seemed to say the same thing. When I started buying books for their titles and not reading them, I knew I’d done enough. I have listened to tapes, done courses, abseiled and walked on fire (yes really and no it doesn’t hurt). I like to think I have integrated most of what the books had to teach me and discarded the rest (it has to be said some of them are/were a little too new-agey airy-fairy for me. Take what works, discard the rest. It’s not a religion, you can pick and choose.)

There is a body of work now that says that the positive thinking, “I can overcome in any circumstances” attitude has not been a wholly positive thing for society. The would-be lover who will not take no for an answer becomes a stalker. The terminal cancer patient who refuses to accept that they are dying spends their last days struggling and suffering, losing the opportunity to say goodbye and to enjoy the last part of their life.

The underlying assumption is the Great American Dream – that if you work hard enough, or clever enough, you can be wealthy beyond you wildest dreams, a captain of industry, 100% delirously happy all the time, or whatever your dream is. This assumes that we all start with an even playing field – equality of opportunity. And this is plainly not the case. Those born without health, without access to food, safety, education, are not starting on the same playing field. This does not mean that they cannot also succeed or change their lives but their journey will be much harder. And it ignores the intervention of random events – the car-crashes of life, the luck, the lack of luck. Yes your attitude determines your life – but to use the technical language, sometimes shit happens.

The assumption that the life you lead is a direct result of your own efforts leads to a blame-the-victim mentality. If you can’t support yourself and your family, if you haven’t got the health and wealth you need to survive, then it must be your fault. Therefore you do not deserve compassion, or financial support. No unemployment benefits, no single parent benefits (blame the mother, bad luck to the children), no public health care, no decent public education.

And then we become an uncaring society. Society suffers – all of us. Desperate people do desperate things. Don’t make them desperate.

****

This blog took an unexpected turn in the middle. I don’t intend it to be a commentary on Dr Covey’s works per se, more an exposition and exploration of the assumptions and results of the self-help industry which was so very prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s when I was in my teenage years and early twenties.

I personally feel I got a lot out of various authors but I recognise that there is a debate to be had on the effects of self-help philosophies at a societal level.

For those wanting a quick refresher on the Covey 7 Habits, here they are:

Habit No. 1: Be proactive. Know yourself, be responsible for yourself and your own actions and effects. If you want to achieve something, do something about it.

Habit No. 2 Begin with the end in mind. Often used as the basis of visualisation, but more literally, just know your goal when you start out.

Habit No. 3: Put first things first. This habit is about time management.

Habit No. 4: Think win/win. “seek mutual benefit in all human interactions”.

Habit No. 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This one is about being focussed outwards.

Habit No. 6: Synergise. where the whole is more than the sum of the parts (for example, some teams achieve more because they “bounce” off each other than the sum of all their individual efforts).

Habit No. 7: Sharpen the saw. Keep yourself fit, educated, seek new information.

Not rocket science, but it was pretty good at the time.

If you would like to see Dr Covey in action, have a look on YouTube.





Outside the Herd

3 06 2012

Herd of walrus – photo courtesy John Sarvis, US Fish and Wildlife Service


So you think you are an individual? A free-thinker, unfettered by peer-pressure, doing what you want, going where you want, thinking original and uninfluenced thoughts? Dream on.

Humans, like many other animals, travel in herds – physically, intellectually, emotionally and, dare I say it, spiritually. We might like to think we are individuals, but in practice we don’t like to be too far from the norm. So what is the evolutionary benefit of herding?

The theory used to be that animals hung around in herds because they liked the company. WRONG!

Herding turns out to be a rather unfriendly thing to do…. Animals hang around in herds in the hope that their friends will be eaten instead of them. So long as you can be towards the middle of the herd and not on the outside, your chances of survival increase dramatically. Predators might pick off the old, the weak and the young…..but they also pick them off from the outskirts of the herd. If you are going to dash through crocodile-infested waters, best to be one of hundreds splashing about rather than the only one attempting the crossing.

Herd behaviour, as a theory, looks at how groups of individuals act together in a cohesive and seeming planned way, although each individual thinks they are behaving in their own personal interest and without influence. While each individual thinks they are making their own decisions, in an inter-related world (or market-place) where the decisions of one affects the outcomes for others, we take heed of the decisions of others when making our own decisions. And hence the herd seems to make a collective decision and act in concert.

Most obvious examples:
stockmarket fluctuations, bubbles, panics and crashes. No-one wants to be the last person holding the stock in a panic-selling situation.

fashion. We each think we are buying what we like and what suits us but somehow we seem to end up looking somewhat similar. Of course the additional outside influence here is what is offered for sale.

panicked mobs. Crowds trying to exit from a dangerous situation through a narrow exit behave increasingly irrationally, blocking exits rather than allowing each to exit safely.

rioting mobs. Herding behaviour is one of several theories about how a generally orderly society can occasionally break out into mob violence, with individuals doing violent and criminal acts that they would never normally contemplate. The current environment is factored into decision-making and in a riot, people behave like rioters.

Or as my grandmother would have it, Monkey see, Monkey do.


Want more? Try What is the psychology behind rioting





Social media virus – recovery mode

26 02 2012

You may remember the particularly bizarre version of alleged mass hysteria allegedly being spread via social media in a New York High School. A group of about 12 teenage girls and one female adult had come down with a bizarre Tourette’s-like illness characterised by ticks, twitching and uncontrolled verbal outbursts. The girls had been posting videos of themselves on Youtube and authorities were concerned that this was a form of transmission for what they believed to be a conversion disorder. To be clear – this doesn’t mean that they are faking the symptoms, only that the symptoms are psychological in origin. We humans are suggestible beings.

Well, it appears that as mysteriously as it began, victims are recovering. But just as the cause was the subject of speculation and disagreement, so is the treatment. Nothing like a mysterious epidemic affecting teenage girls to bring out the feeding frenzy – medical and media.

Some girls are recovering after behavioural modification, psychological help and medication for anti-anxiety, depression and headaches by Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, medical director at DENT Neurologic Institute in western New York. Others have been treated with antibiotics after being diagnosed with PANDAS – Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections by Dr. Rosario Trifiletti, a child neurologist from New Jersey. And as with all good stories, it is not clear how many girls are being treated in each treatment group, or the recovery rates for each group. Both groups claim success.

Well-known environmental campaigner Erin Brokovich has also been on the case investigating whether cyanide and trichloroethylene (TCE) that was spilled a few miles from the school following a train wreck in December 1970. Parents invited Ms Brokovich to investigate environmental options after disputing psychological causes. The State Health Department had done soil testing and testing on the building, as well as considering illegal drugs and infectious diseases when the symptoms first emerged and announced negative results. I guess given her well-publicised background, Ms Brokovich probably doesn’t want to take that at face value. Her team will continue testing samples from around the school after being denied permission to take samples on school grounds.

(TCE exposure does have recognised psychological side-effects although they do not closely correlate with the reported symptoms of the girls. TCE affects the central nervous system and can cause drowsiness, difficulty moving and headaches. Psychological effects of cyanide include sluggishness, convulsions, coma. No information was found in my brief search regarding the combination of TCE and Cyanide on the nervous system.)

However, the question has to be asked – if it is due to environmental toxins from the train wreck, why now 41 years later, why only a few girls at the high school (not boys, not even all the girls, not the whole school, not teachers who may have taught there for many years and would presumably have had a much greater exposure to any environmental toxins). And if it is PANDAS – why is this surely quite rare side effect of strep throat suddenly showing up in a larger than usual number of cases?

If, as it seems from reading about this case and from my non-clinical standpoint, the diagnosis of mass hysteria turns out to be correct, despite the unpalatableness of a psychological cause to some students and parents, the up-side is that it is recoverable. So while it is important to ensure there is nothing more sinister going on and there are no toxins or other disease mechanisms causing this illness, a treatable psychological diagnosis would be the best outcome for those affected. And a level of anonymity that has perhaps not been happening so far with the posting of You-tube videos and the media attention.





The “It must be Friday” Social Media round-up

24 02 2012

A few interesting articles crossing my desk this morning. It must not be a full moon because the loony stories aren’t out there, but here are a few interesting tidbits to whet your appetite….

1. Following on from recent postings about tracking down fugitives via social media, and the impact of social media on the jury-system, comes a new one: the serving of legal papers via social media. Normally papers are served in person, in hard copy or faxed (thereby setting a precedent for electronic forms of transmittal, I presume). The story is that when lawyers had difficulty tracking and confirming a residential address and email address for someone they wanted to serve with a subpoena, UK High Court judge Nigel Teare authorised serving via the individual’s active social media page on Facebook. Apparently while this is a first for Facebook in the UK, it is not a total-first. Previous papers have been served via Twitter in 2009 (UK) and Facebook (Australia and Canada), and via text message to the Occupy London protesters in December 2011. Another reason to keep your social media account privacy settings high? And of course, if you name is John Smith or Jane Smith, there may be issues regarding identification.

2. So moving from one profession to another: do you want your surgeon tweeting during your open heart surgery? Personally I’d prefer s/he concentrate on one thing at a time – this is not the time for multi-tasking! On February 21, 2012, Cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, Dr. Michael P. Macris, performed the first live twittercast of a double-bypass open heart surgery in the United States.

Now I admit, reading the Twitter feed, it does appear that it was not the surgeon who actually did the tweeting, since he is referred to in the third person, and the information, although necessarily brief, is interesting, and is accompanied by a fairly graphic slideshow with embedded video.

So – novelty value or a new effective form of education?

3. Anyone who has any exposure to social media knows that *some* people post pretty inappropriate things. But what if you got sued – and got fined and home detention for it? A Spanish woman has been fined 1000 Euros and had 8 days house arrest for posting a photograph of a novelty t-shirt on her Facebook site. The offending caption? “Mi exmarido es Gilipollas” which roughly translates as “My ex-husband is an asshole”. The ex-husband in question sued for the damage to his reputation, and the Provincial Court found in his favour.

And now the case has had international attention, and we all know what sort of person he is (the sort of person who sues over a t-shirt). And his ex-wife has hopefully learned to keep her privacy settings high, be careful who she “friends” on Facebook, and be careful what she posts. I doubt it has changed her opinion of him! And everyone else who bought this sort of commercially-available t-shirt as a joke…….be careful!

4. OK, this may not really be social media, but its bizarre, so I include it here to entertain and encourage you to keep reading. It would seem that Fox Business News has awoken to the evil cultural cancer that is Dr Suess. With Hollywood set to film the Lorax, Fox News is alerting the “right-thinking” world (wording deliberate) to the evil plot being perpetrated by Dr Suess and the left-wing Hollywood types to destroy your children’s brains! (For those of you who can’t remember the story of the Lorax, he is pro-trees and anti-logging). And while we’re at it, how coincidental is it that The Muppets resurface during the US pre-pre-election campaign, featuring an evil oil baron? Those naughty Hollywood commies.

So for those of you who need a decoding manual to understand the true “horror” of the Dr Suess conspiracy, the following image is presented for your education:

image from George Takei's Facebook page

(As an interesting aside, I have been told that The Lorax was in fact banned in some states of the US at one stage. I’d be keen to heard more information on this, if you have any.)

5. This one is in the category of “public information warning”. Scam artists and other criminals are increasingly using social media as ways of targeting victims – and dating sites are apparently rich pickings because of the personal information people are willing to share and because, by definition, people on the dating sites are open to making relationships with people they have not previously met. The full article is here, but basically it suggests that the owners / proprietors of sites need to be vigilant against scam, spam and other misuse, install security measures, and harness your members to continually monitor and feed back suspicious activity. And remember, the criminals are constantly working at ways to get around any security measure, so security has to be a constant work-in-progress.

6. World of Warcraft may have a new target market. It seems this game can increase your cognitive abilities in a fairly short period of time. A study by Dr. Anne McLaughlin, an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University used World of Warcraft required participants aged between 60 and 77 to play WoW 14 hours over two weeks. Compared with baseline data and a control group, participants demonstrated improved cognitive abilities in the areas of spatial ability and focus, but not in memory. WoW was chosen as the representative game because it was considered to be “a cognitively challenging game in a socially interactive environment that presents users with novel situations.” The paper will be published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour. No news on whether playing 24/7 has an effect on your cognitive processing – although it certainly can have an effect on your social life, sleep, and potentially hygiene and nutrition.

7. A new study shows that parents rarely know the extent of cyber-bullying because it often happens in private chat rooms, on messaging and via mobile phone. Even if you are your child’s Facebook friend, you won’t necessarily see any of it. And children don’t tell their parents, and parents often don’t know to ask. Unless you have your child’s passwords and can log in and check the messaging, you are unlikely to know what is really going on. Scary.

8. Continuing the phishing pun (and I do love a pun), there is now another more targeted and dangerous threat to be concerned about – spear phishing. This is similar to the phishing emails that try to get you to click on links or provide confidential information such as banking details or computer passwords, but these are targeted at companies. And they are tailored to be more likely to hook someone – any employee – in. Large companies such as Google and RSA have reportedly lost intellectual property in the last year due to effective spear phishing campaigns that started with one employee falling for it. And it only takes one.

9. Tumblr has changed its content policies to address the growing issue of “thinspiration”, self-harm and mutilation blogs on its site. The company has put out the following guidelines in its policy:

Don’t post content that actively promotes or glorifies self-injury or self-harm. This includes content that urges or encourages readers to cut or mutilate themselves; embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders; or commit suicide rather than, e.g., seek counseling or treatment for depression or other disorders. Online dialogue about these acts and conditions is incredibly important; this prohibition is intended to reach only those blogs that cross the line into active promotion or glorification. For example, joking that you need to starve yourself after Thanksgiving or that you wanted to kill yourself after a humiliating date is fine, but recommending techniques for self-starvation or self-mutilation is not.

Of course,the devil is in the detail, and it is not clear how they will be able to police this, but this does at least give them a framework for removal of any offending content, should they come to its attention. Tumblr states that it will give the blog owner a grace period to remove offending content, then shut down the blog if it is not removed. It will also display public health announcements next to any search terms referring to these types of activities.

Hurrah for Tumblr!

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