Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sex and Marriage : An Expert

Esther Perel is a renown Belgian sex therapist with a passion for understanding sexuality and long term, committed relationships.

In her TED talk, Perel speaks of the the difference between love and desire, and the conflict we have as human beings between being safe, secure and needed by a partner, versus the mystery, attraction and freedom that fuels passion.

 It is a perfect message for Valentine's Day. Enjoy.



Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Losing Our Religion: The Growth Of The 'Nones' : NPR

"...and so I think the single most important reason for the rise of the Unknowns is that combination of the younger people moving to the left on social issues and the most visible religious leaders moving to the right on that same issue."

Great intro into the new series on NPR on the growing numbers of people with "no religious affiliation"

Losing Our Religion: The Growth Of The 'Nones' : The Two-Way : NPR

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mass Murder & Mental Illness

As the roar of reaction begins to quiet following the horror in Newtown, many media comments I have read express a demand for better "access to mental health services."

I'm not sure what that means in this case.

The biggest gap in mental health care in our country, as I have come to know it, is in in-patient hospital care. After Congress passed laws in the 1980's that down-sized state hospitals, hundreds of people were released from care. States and communities were expected to provide needed services, but in many places, such care never materialized. The numbers of homeless, mentally ill and/or addicted persons swelled, and state and federal dollars for the seriously and/or persistently mentally ill dwindled and has stayed low.

We have now have a chronic shortage of psychiatric hospital beds, and an even more critical shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists. The cost of in-patient care is close to $1000 a day in some cities like Minneapolis. We have a shortage of psychiatrists because our medical system is controlled by the third party payer system of insurance companies, and they don't pay psychiatrists commensurate to their 10 year + post-college medical training. Fewer medical students want a job with longer training and lower pay.

If the shooter in Connecticut wanted mental health care, there are plenty of master and doctorate level out-patient counselor/therapists in Fairfield County. Family physicians are often the first level of care for mental health, and would have been able to offer referrals for counselors and medication if needed. If anyone feared for his life or someone else, state laws around the country commonly allow for persons to be held in a locked hospital ward for up to 72 hours for evaluation.

But that is all for those whose mental health is clearly disturbed and dangerous. We'd like to believe that we can see the most dangerous among us coming from a mile away. The plain truth is that we often can't.

Contemporary research into the minds of mass killers in America has shown that the majority are men who have had difficult lives and blame their pain on everyone else. They don't have a sense of their own responsibility for their lives, and when pressed even harder by some large stressor like the loss of a job or an important relationship, plan a sweet revenge upon their oppressors. These are usually men with personality disorders, people whose characters have little concern for the well-being of others. These folks make up about 10% of the population and don't seek mental health care. Or when they do, can fake their way through and get released without any improvement.

Stalin. Hitler. Mussolini. Pol Pot. Idi Amin. These men are mass murderers too. Do you think more mental health care would have solved the problem of human evil in them? No. We will always need to build a world that takes human sin seriously. That does what it can to control for access to weapons that kill quickly. That knows that evil doesn't come at us through normal channels. That remembers that evil seeks power, and that power can overtake governments, too.

We weep with those whose lives have been shattered by evil in the form of a silent 20 year old killer. For their young lives lost. But also for all who, throughout human history, have died at the hands of evil persons. Evil does exist, and it exists not outside of us, in some kind of satanic underworld of the devil. Every evil I know of is born of a bent human mind, and the continuous will to wreck vengeance, power and control of others.

We can't medicate, hospitalize, or counsel our way around human evil. Looking for relief from the mental health system is looking in the wrong direction.

Friday, November 23, 2012

ProBiotics Could Help Your Brain

I know that eating helpful gut bacteria (acidophilus, for example, found in active yogurt cultures) helps our digestion work at its best, and can improve our immune function, but little did I know that scientists are studying the effect of healthy gut bacteria on emotional resilience and mood. It turns out that good gut bacteria seem to work with the function of the Vagas Nerve, the nerve that links the brain to the digestive tract, to stimulate positive emotional function. (Check out a brief intro to this amazing nervous system giant here: Vagas Nerve.) 

In mice, this connection made mice more resilient in the face of stress and able to persist in difficult circumstances far beyond their "normal" peers. There is more than some suggestion that human emotions and mental health could be lifted by additions of pro-biotics into the daily diet. Jamie Lee Curtis (Activia!) may be absolutely right: adding yogurt or other pro-biotic supplements can make you a happier, healthier person overall.

If you struggle with mood, energy, and lethargy, it may be worth your while to give daily yogurt or a pro-biotic supplement a try.

If you'd like to hear more about this research, listen to this episode of the science radio program, RadioLab,  entitled, "Guts."  (The research about the mice is around the halfway mark if you'd like to cut to the chase.) The whole program is amazing.