Gooden Center
A residential drug treatment center for men located in Pasadena, CA. The Gooden Center is a proud member of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP).

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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Google’s Depression Assessment Tool

Posted on: September 17th, 2017 by The Gooden Center No Comments

Google Depression Tool

When you type in the word “depression” on Google, you might find resources explaining the disorder and its symptoms but soon you will also be prompted with a self-assessment tool. Google is partnering with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to make depression screening a part of searches on the subject. Google announced that when you search for “clinical depression” you will have the option to tap a button saying “check if you’re clinically depressed” which will bring you to page with a questionnaire.

Although the health screening questionnaire is clinically validated to test a person’s likely level of depression, the assessment tool has already caused some controversy. Some mental health experts are worried that the tool will lead to overdiagnosis of depression and possibly over-prescription of antidepressant medications. One professor claimed that the Google tool was actually funded by the major drug company Pfizer which profits from sales of antidepressants.

The goal of Google’s assessment test is not necessarily to provide a diagnosis but to encourage people to take the results to a psychiatrist for a proper assessment. The search company asserts that they worked closely with NAMI to ensure that the questionnaire is accurate and useful. In a NAMI news release it was noted that 1 in every 5 Americans will experience an episode of depression in their lifetime while only half of them actually seek treatment.

NAMI’s intention in partnering with Google for the tool was to help people become more aware of depression and seek treatment instead of allowing the symptoms of their mental illness to worse over time. According to the organization, people wait an average of 6 to 8 years before getting professional treatment for symptoms of depression. The intention is to motivate people to get help if the quiz indicates that they might have some mental health issues that need to be addressed.

Mixed Response from Mental Health Experts

Some experts are on board with the assessment tool and others are concerned about the possible effects of people scoring high for depression on the questionnaire. While NAMI’s claim that the tool could help people take the extra step into getting the necessary help is promising for many experts hoping to reduce depression numbers, others worry that may lead to over-treatment. The test results include links to materials and phone helplines for people with higher scores to set up with treatment immediately.

Experts who believe the tool can be helpful emphasize the fact that it is not meant to be an actual diagnosis. People with high depression scores will only receive treatment if they are get a professional diagnosis from an actual psychiatrist. They believe people taking the quiz will simply be more informed and empowered to get the help they need.

Others in the field of mental health are concerned that unregulated screening could be ineffective and end up causing more harm than good. Some believe that Pfizer was involved in funding the tool and that data generated from the quiz could be used to market antidepressants. Google says that the questionnaire will not threaten privacy because it does not store or log any results.

Aside from privacy issues, some experts are concerned that people will take the quiz and mistake temporary psychological distress that they are experiencing in that moment with a more pervasive clinical disorder. Google has received some criticism from experts for bypassing the usual checks and balances that are in place for screening tools in order to prevent the risk of overdiagnosis. Certain clinicians even believe that this type of unregulated screening tool will cause harm rather than improve people’s health.

One of the criticisms of the questionnaire itself is that it uses outdated ways of thinking about mental health in assessing depression. It focuses on physiological and biomedical symptoms, placing an emphasis on dysfunction and framing distress from the outset as an illness. If someone is distressed following a certain event, they may score high on the quiz even though their symptoms may not be connected to an actual disorder.

Screening for Depression

Google and NAMI assert that their intentions for their screening tool are to get more people the help that they need for depression. Some experts argue that this type of screening is generally inaccurate and could lead to a lot of false positives. Others such as the US Preventative Services Task Force have found evidence that screening improves the accurate identification of patients with depression.

The tool is meant to educate users and prompt informed conversations with clinical professionals so that patients can get an accurate diagnosis. If people use the Google tool as a starting point for treatment that they really need then it could be helpful in preventing gaps in depression recovery. To prevent overdiagnosis and over-prescription of antidepressants people should follow up the test with an accurate clinical assessment from a professional.

Age Of Technology or Age of Anxiety

Posted on: August 20th, 2017 by The Gooden Center No Comments

Technology And Anxiety

Our modern age has made us seemingly more connected than ever but what is the real impact of technology? People have become dependent on smartphones and internet access in order to communicate but they don’t always realize how the experience is affecting them. There are some aspects of the use of mobile phones and social media sites that have been proven to increase anxiety and loneliness in spite of their intention to help people connect.

Although for most people using a smart phone will not cause any mental health problems, the tendency to compulsively check your phone can worsen existing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that the average person aged 18-54 checks their phone 34 times a day and that these checks often occur within 10 minutes of each other. This compulsive checking is an unconscious behavior that causes people to become dependent on and even in some cases addicted to technology.

People who tend to have very addictive styles of cell phone use also generally score higher on depression and anxiety scales. In some cases however, the motivation for going online can influence the effect that technology has on mental health. One study showed that people who use their phone out of boredom rather than a compulsive need to keep checking had no issues with mental health problems as a result.

Dependence and Withdrawal from Smartphones

A common problem associated with the use of smartphones is an intense separation anxiety that occurs when people lose or don’t have access to their phones. It casually referred to as “nomophobia” or the fear of having no mobile phone. People experience a kind of withdrawal when they are not able to use their phone because they are broken, out of battery or have no connection.

Studies have revealed the extent to which smartphones become comfort items to individuals who prefer to always have their phone. In one experiment researchers exposed participants to a stressful situation either with or without access to their phone. Those who were allowed to keep their phone during the stressful event were less negatively affected than those who did not have their phones.

Smartphone access can ease anxiety for some people because they are dependent on their phones. The feeling of being disconnected from technology can be stressful because people worry that they are missing out on something important and wonder what is going on without their knowledge. Studies show that 70 percent of women and 61 percent of men have cell phone related separation anxiety.

Technology Addiction and Anxiety

It is not surprising that people become dependent and essentially addicted to technology as many aspects of apps and social media sites are intentionally designed to keep people coming back compulsively. A former Google employee Tristan Harris has spoken out about the practices of smartphone app designers who often seek out ways to exploit our psychological vulnerabilities.

These company designers use the concept of variable intermittent rewards which basically means the notifications you receive on your phone will unpredictably vary between meaningless and important messages. The more variable the rate the reward, the more addictive the app becomes. This is the idea behind slot machines which are the form of gambling that most quickly leads to problematic behavior.

Harris, a design ethicist, believes that these design features are harmful because of their addictive nature and companies like Apple and Google have a responsibility to reduce efforts to include variable intermittent rewards. Smartphone apps can cause symptoms of addiction, withdrawal and anxiety in many cases making them unethical in design.

Avoiding Smartphone Stress

Even though technology can cause compulsive behavior and dependence, it does not guarantee mental health problems in all cases. It remains unclear whether symptoms of anxiety cause excessive smartphone use or vice versa but there seems to be a connection between the two. For individuals with existing mental health problems they might seek out excessive use of their social media apps to evade negative feelings or seek out social interactions.

People who don’t necessarily have a compulsive motivation to use their phone and simply use it to escape boredom are less likely to experience mental health problems like anxiety or depression. Minimizing the use of smartphones as much as possible and increasing face to face interaction can help to diminish the stress caused by technology. People use certain apps as a kind of social reward, so meeting up with friends or having a conversation with someone can be a better option.

Addiction to technology can cause an increase in anxiety as any type of addiction would. Thinking about your motivation behind smartphone use and whether your habits are compulsive can help you start to make changes. Any efforts toward moderating cell phone usage can be beneficial for improving your social connections and your overall mental health.

How Connected are Football Concussions and Mental Health Issues?

Posted on: August 18th, 2017 by The Gooden Center No Comments

Concussions And Mental Health Problems

Football may be a favorite national pastime for most Americans but professional NFL players often have to deal with the physical toll that the sport can take on them. Football players usually experience repeated traumatic injuries that can affect their body and brain. Recently researchers have discovered that concussions and brain trauma which are common in the game can actually lead to severe mental health issues as players age.

There have been instances of mental health problems in former football players that made headlines. Junior Seau, a former player for the San Diego Chargers, committed suicide in 2012 and his autopsy revealed a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It is a progressive, degenerative brain disease that has been found in a large number of former NFL players and boxers.

CTE is caused by repetitive brain trauma including concussions which begin to trigger progressive degeneration of brain tissue. The disease often leads to symptoms such as:

– memory loss

– confusion

– impaired judgement

– aggression

– depression

– suicidality

– dementia

Unfortunately, because of the effects of CTE Seau’s suicide could have been directly related to the concussions he experienced while playing football.

Seau’s depression is not an isolated incident; former Philadelphia Eagles Star Andre Waters committed suicide in 2006 at the age of only 44. His autopsy revealed that his brain had so much damage it resembled an 85 year old man with alzheimer’s disease. Waters’ head injuries throughout his career most likely contributed to his depression and severe brain damage.

Clinical Depression and Brain Trauma

A study in 2007 by the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes surveyed former NFL players who received multiple concussions throughout their career. Those with three or more concussions were three times as likely to develop clinical depression than those who had never received concussions. There were also five times more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment.

Concussions occur when a sudden impact jostles the brain causing it to hit the surrounding skull or rotate unnaturally. Short term effects of a concussion include memory loss, unconsciousness, nausea and slurred speech. A person may be able to recover easily from a single concussion but repeated concussions which are common for football players can lead to severe neurological damage.

Many former NFL players who suffer from depression are found to have noticeable abnormalities in their brain’s white matter. Inside the brain, white matter is critical for transmitting signals and concussions can cause some of the connections within it to tear. Studies have shown a strong correlation between players with depression and white matter damage.

Former NFL Players and their Mental Health

Although there seems to be an increased risk for brain damage and depression among NFL players, it is not always the case that concussions cause these issues. There are a number of retired players who have had no problems with mental health such as Troy Aikman of the Dallas Cowboys who suffered an astonishing total of 10 concussions over 12 seasons. In spite of these extensive injuries, Aikman is often in front of the camera and has not suffered any mental health issues related to his brain trauma.

The statistics however, generally seem to confirm that there is a strong connection between repeated brain trauma and mental health issue in former players. About 22 percent of players who have received multiple concussions have experienced a bout of depression compared to only 6 to 7 percent among those with no concussions. Depression related to concussions tends to occur in older retired players as they reach their 50s and 60s.

Injuries and Recovery

Any time a player experiences a concussion it is best to keep them out of play until it has fully healed to avoid issues like second impact syndrome. This is an illness that develops when a second concussion occurs before the first one is properly healed. Second impact syndrome can be a life-threatening condition so it important for players to be cleared by a physician before they return to the game.

It can also be helpful for football players to receive testing following every concussion they receive to determine if there has been any damage. A neurocognitive test such as the imPACT test prior to the season can serve as a baseline test of an athlete’s neurocognitive abilities. If players receive a concussion they can be removed from play and tested for any damage or changes in their abilities.

New helmet technology currently in the works could eventually help to reduce the number of concussions that occur in the games. Studies in the field of concussion rehabilitation could also help treat these injuries more effectively to prevent long term damage. A better understanding of how concussions happen in the sport and the best methods for treating them could help improve the outlook for NFL players in the future.

Taking A Mental Health Day

Posted on: August 14th, 2017 by The Gooden Center No Comments

Taking A Mental Health Day

In a culture that often promotes workaholism and a strict adherence to the 40 hour week, a growing trend of the “mental health day” is helping Americans learn to take time off for self-care. A story recently went viral on twitter about a web developer who emailed her colleagues to tell them that she would be taking a couple days off to focus on her mental health.

Her boss praised her for her honesty and for cutting through “the stigma of mental health”.

Sharing her CEO’s response in a tweet, she created a discussion about workplace mental health that went viral across major media. Hard-working employees, worried about the stability of their jobs often don’t give themselves the space they need to care for their mental health. Just as you would stay home for a day or two with the flu to recover, sometimes issues like anxiety or depression should also require a break from work for your own well-being.

People often consider physical health ailments a higher priority and expect people with feelings of sadness or stress to simply power through the work day. Going to work while dealing with mental health issues can mean that you do not perform at your best and could lead to more problems later on. If your proactively take care of your mental health it will be better for you in the long run.

Signs that You Need a Break

If you are struggling with some mental health issues that are affecting your ability to work then you might consider taking a few days off. These are some of the problems that could mean that you need a mental health day.=

  • Feeling distracted at work or having trouble focusing – If there’s something going on in your life such as a personal problem or just a build-up of stress and you can’t focus at work then give yourself a break. You might just need a day off to address whatever is troubling you and then come back to work with renewed energy.
  • You haven’t had time to yourself – If you have been neglecting your personal time because of work and family obligations then you might want to take a day off just to recharge. Everyone needs some alone time to sort through their thoughts and feelings so that they can reduce anxiety and be more emotionally available for others.
  • Making a healthcare appointment- When you would really benefit from a session with your therapist or you need to go to the doctor to get your medication adjusted then don’t postpone it for work. Take a day off if necessary to get your situation taken care of so that you can get back on track. Putting off mental health care appointments because you have to work will only make matters worse in the long run.

The important thing about taking a mental health day is using the time to address specifically what you are dealing with. While it might be tempting to use the day to binge watch hours of movies or TV you will benefit more from really focusing on resolving the issue.

If you have been physically and mentally stressed try meditating, getting a massage or going to a yoga class. Or if you have been putting off work around the house or bills you need to pay then take the time to get back in control and feel more organized.

Benefits Of Taking A Mental Health Day

For people with more serious mental health issues, such as a diagnosed disorder, you might need to take more mental health days than the average person. In this case you can talk to your boss about what you are dealing with and make sure they are okay with you taking more than a few days off. For some situations you might need to take a leave of absence if you need to attend a treatment center or focus on recovering from symptoms.

In some cases such as someone with an anxiety disorder, taking a day off can be a symptom of avoidance. If something at work is giving you anxiety and your inclination is to stay away then it might be more beneficial for you to face the problem head on. People with anxiety often try to disappear from difficult situations as a coping mechanism so taking the day off might not be the right solution.

If for any reason you cannot take a mental health day then try to focus on reducing stress in other ways such as short 15 minute meditations either before work or when you have a break on the job. Exercising regularly can help reduce stress and attending therapy sessions on a weekly basis can help you care for your mental health. A mental health day can help temporarily but daily self-care can go a long way to improving well-being.

Dieting And Depression

Posted on: August 11th, 2017 by The Gooden Center No Comments

Dieting and Depression

There is no doubt that dieting can be challenging and stressful on your body as you struggle to fight cravings and old habits. Anyone who has been through a strict diet knows how hard it can be to avoid the food you love and cope with hunger pangs. However, scientists believe that dieting can actually make you more at risk for depression and it is best to be cautious and mindful of your mental health when cutting calories.

While most dieting ads depict people who become happier as a result of their weight loss, some research indicates that the opposite may be the case for many dieters. One study found that overweight people who successfully slimmed down were twice as likely to feel lonely, sad and lethargic compared to those who stayed the same weight.

Although weight loss can have tremendous physical benefits, it can be a stressful and life-changing event that can cause symptoms of depression in some individuals. All of the self-control and willpower involved in dieting can be emotionally draining and while they might be healthier, dieters may not feel happier at least in the short term.

Losing weight can be a powerful way to improve your health as long as you are careful about your methods and avoid crash diets which can cause symptoms of depression. Dieting and depression unfortunately are often linked.

Previous Mental Health Issues

Even though dieting is difficult there may be other factors that can contribute to a person experiencing depression during or after their diet. In many cases they may have pre-existing issues with mental health that they have been self-medicating through food.

For people that are overweight, food becomes a source of comfort in times of stress. Without access to their favorite foods they may have nothing to fall back on to ease their depression. In this case it is important to find other coping mechanisms aside from eating that can help resolve emotional problems.

Many people may begin a diet believing that it will solve their issues and make them feel better only to find that their problems are still there following the weight loss. Without food as their drug they must face their depression either through treatment or private therapy.

Chemical Changes and Withdrawal

Another reason that people experience depression while dieting is due to some of the chemical changes in the brain that can occur when changing eating habits. A study with mice showed that after being fed sugary and fatty foods, the animals experienced withdrawal symptoms after the food was switched to healthier substitutes.

A similar reaction occurs for people who have been eating a diet full of sugary and fatty foods for many years. When they immediately remove all of these items from their diet they can experience withdrawal symptoms that are almost similar to quitting an addiction.

Higher fat diets tend to activate dopamine in the brain which is a chemical change that can also occur with drug use. Dopamine is a “feel good” chemical that causes pleasurable feelings. Suddenly taking away the dopamine produced by fatty foods can cause people to lose that pleasure and experience depression.

People going through dieting withdrawal can also experience symptoms such as

-headaches

-mood swings

-dizziness

-insomnia

-irritability

Those quitting sugar can even have symptoms of anxiety, muscle aches and nausea. All of these symptoms are very similar to more mild drug withdrawal which tends to cause painful physical reactions and depression.

Dieting Responsibly

The biggest danger of depression usually occurs with “crash diets” that involve overhauling your food intake and completely abstaining from any and all high fat, high sugar foods. Drastically cutting calories and making rapid changes to your diet can make you more at risk for depression especially if you are addicted to certain types of foods.

The best option for dieting is to make gradual changes that are sustainable and won’t lead to serious withdrawal symptoms. Instead of changing your diet overnight you can slowly add in more healthy foods that contain important nutrients and vitamins that may have been missing from your previous eating routine. Over a long period you can begin to eliminate sugary and fatty foods a little at a time to avoid dramatically lowering dopamine levels.

The good news is that a more nutritious diet can ultimately improve symptoms of depression over time and ease anxiety as well. The important thing to keep in mind is that shifting your eating habits is more difficult when you do it too quickly. Adding in foods packed with vitamins and minerals can help you adjust to new habits as you improve your health and gradually eat less junk food over a long period of time.

If you have had issues with depression in the past, consult with a professional therapist so that you avoid exacerbating your mental health issues by changing your diet.