Genes Linked to Creativity Could Increase Risk of Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia

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Credit to flickr.com user John Morgan. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Genes linked to creativity could increase the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, according to new research done by scientists at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London.

 

Creativity and mental illnesses have long been suspected to go hand in hand, with several famous artists suffering from psychiatric illnesses–such as Vincent Van Gogh. Prior studies have shown that bipolar disorder in particular is often found in families with many members who are part of creative professions. But it wasn’t until the IoPPN study that scientists were able to definitively say genetics played a part, as opposed to environmental factors.

Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder both affect thought patterns and emotions, which includes creativity. Creativity is difficult to define in a scientific context, but the IoPPN study looked at 86,292 individuals from Iceland, pinpointing the trait in the artists, dancers, and song writers, and linking their genes to the risk mental illnesses.

The findings suggest that creative individuals are predisposed to thinking differently, which may contribute to psychiatric disorders. By understanding the thought processes behind healthy behaviors, such as creativity, and how that trait links to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, scientists hope that they can understand how the brain goes wrong.

This should lead to better treatments for mentally ill people, always good news!

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Bipolar Disorder Increases Risk of Early Death From Natural Causes

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Wow, what a headline! After reviewing 17 studies involving more than 331,000 patients, University of Washington (UW) researchers have linked bipolar disorder to a risk of early death from natural causes, such as medical illness. The risk of premature death is from 35 to 200 percent more than people without bipolar disorder, and is the same between men and women. The most common conditions leading to death were heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

 

Before this study, the higher rate of death linked to bipolar disorder was attributed to suicides and accidents. While patients who suffer from mental illnesses do have a higher chance of accidents and suicides, the new evidence points to medical illnesses as the primary cause of premature deaths.

According to the UW report published in the journal Psychiatric Services, there are many reasons behind the poor health among bipolar disorder sufferers. Reasons such as unhealthy diet, added stress, lack of exercise, substance abuse, and biases among health professionals towards people with mental illnesses.

In addition to those reasons, bipolar disorder can also stress the immune system and the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, a system which handles many processes in the body. Mental illnesses also trigger the flight-or-fight response to stress.

Even more troubling, psychiatric medications that help treat bipolar disorders tend to cause weight gain, leading to obesity and other complications.

But there are attempts to try to reduce the risk of death in people with mental illnesses, such as providing guidelines to mental health professionals to monitor their patients’ physical health. Psychiatrists are also encouraged to teach their patients about how to quit smoking, how to exercise, and about healthy diets.

This study is a step forward in preventing premature deaths, despite its gloomy nature.

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How to Handle Intrusive Thoughts

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Trigger Warning: Suicidal ideation.

“Intrusive thoughts are my best friends!” -My mother

Intrusive thoughts are part of the human condition. They are thoughts that everyone has that are inappropriate, bothersome, or downright dangerous, that feel out of your control. Surveys given to healthy college students revealed that they had all thought about harming people close to them or engaging in sexual violence. Suicidal thoughts are also common.

This does not mean that those college students wanted to hurt anyone, even themselves! Quite the opposite. These thoughts are not impulses, they’re just thoughts, and they’re usually easy to dismiss for most neurotypical people. But for people who suffer from mental illnesses, these thoughts can become an obsession.

These sorts of thoughts dramatically affect my day to day life. I often have–and dismiss–thoughts about driving into oncoming traffic, or what would happen if I fell down the stairs. Another thought I suffered a severe amount of anxiety from was due to the fact that I had to take a rectal temperature from my febrile infant. My intrusive fear was that the thermometer tip would break off inside of her. Dread clenched my belly and my heart turned to ice; I was unable to take the temperature in that manner.

I’d like to stress that these thoughts happen to everyone. Sometimes they can create a negative feedback loop in anxious individuals, by feeding into their fears and causing more.

There are a few ways to deal with intrusive thoughts:

  • Recognize that you are in control of your impulses
  • Know that these thoughts are automatic and ignorable
  • Accept the thought. Don’t try to push it away, as that only makes the obsession worse. These thoughts will go away on their own
  • Breathe deeply until your anxiety leaves

This can all be very difficult, but after a few weeks of trying, you can see improvement. I hope that these tips will help you conquer your intrusive thoughts the next time they strike!

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What Does High Functioning Depression Look Like?

Individuals with high functioning depression suffer greatly–and their pain is often undetected. The people at BetterHelp.com have put together the following infographic to explain what high functioning depression looks like, and have chosen to share the picture with The Bipolar Parent. Enjoy!

High-Functioning-Depression

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Which Mental Health Professional Should You Use?

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Mental health professionals come in all types. When making the decision as to which doctor to start a treatment plan with, keep in mind that you can try several–as many as you can afford, that is. Your primary care physician can refer you to one or many of these mental health professionals.

 

Psychiatrist

A doctor trained in the medical field of psychiatry, including the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of mental and emotional illnesses. The most important job of a psychiatrist is to prescribe medication for you. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists are medical doctors. You will likely be referred to a psychiatrist at least once in your mental healthcare journey.

Child/Adolescent Psychiatrist

Just like it says on the tin, a child/adolescent psychiatrist is a medical doctor specifically trained to treat mental illnesses or behavioral problems in children. These professionals can and will prescribe medication.

Psychologist

A psychologist is a mental health professional with a doctoral degree in psychology who can diagnose and treat mental illnesses with courses of therapy. Unlike psychiatrists, psychologists do not prescribe medication. There are two forms of psychology: applied psychology, which includes “practitioners,” and research-oriented psychology, which includes “scientists.” Psychologists are trained as researchers and practitioners.

Clinical Social Worker

A clinical social worker is a counselor with a master’s degree in social work who provides individual and group counseling. The social workers have three years or more of supervised experience. They do not prescribe medication.

Licensed Professional Counselor

A licensed professional counselor (LPC) is a counselor with a master’s degree in psychology and several years of supervised experience who offers individual and group counseling. In the U.S., the title varies by state, but the most common next to LPC is licensed mental health counselor (LMHC). The counselors do not prescribe medication.

Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor

A certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor is a mental health professional with specific training in substance abuse treatment. The counselor can provide individual and group counseling. The counselor does not prescribe medication.

Marital and Family Therapist

Marital and family therapists are professionals specializing in relationships between families, or couples. The therapists emphasize familial relationships as important to consider for your mental health. The counselors have master’s degrees in psychology and related fields, and do not prescribe medication.

Several types of mental health professionals are available to help you. These are just a few of them. A lot of the counselors seem interchangeable, but they all have different approaches, tailored to you.

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The History of the Treatment of Mental Illness

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Skull drills. Exorcisms. Isolation. Lobotomies. “Happy pills.” These are all treatments which have been applied–often forcibly–to people who suffer from mental illness.

 

The first apparent “cure” for mental illness was trephining (also referred to as trepanning). People in Neolithic times would chip holes–or trephines–in each others’ skulls with stone pieces, which was thought to release evil spirits from the head. This also happened to release pressure from brain inflammation. Some people actually survived this practice, as there have been skulls found with holes in them that showed signs of healing. This practice lasted for centuries, with more sophisticated equipment being invented, such as skull saws and drills.

To ancient peoples such as the Hebrews and the Persians, mental illnesses were attributed to supernatural forces, like demons and upset deities. Practices such as exorcisms and prayer were common in the ancient world. Egyptians appeared to be the most advanced civilization when it came to treatment of mental illnesses, recommending activities such as painting and attending concerts.

The Greek physician Hippocrates introduced the four humors–blood, bile, phlegm, and black bile–theory, which said that the combination of these fluids made up personalities. In the Middle Ages, mental illness was said to stem from an imbalance of the four humors. To bring the body back into balance, vomiting was induced, people were given laxatives, and leeches were applied. Sufferers of mental illness were also told to avoid red meat and wines. Beatings were also routinely applied to the mentally ill.

The first mental hospital was established in 792 AD, in Baghdad, followed by those in Aleppo and Damascus. However, at this time, the mentally ill were left to be cared by their families, and were often subject to abuse, concealment, or abandonment. Clergy-run facilities were soon established, which promised humane care. However, these could not handle the treatment of the entire population of the mentally ill.

Asylums were the next step, set up worldwide around the 1500s. The first in Europe is thought to be the Valencia mental hospital in Spain, 1406 AD, and though not much is known about this particular asylum, many treated their patients deplorably. Asylums, up until the mid-1800s, were places where the mentally ill slept shackled to the walls in their own waste. “Cures” ranged from bloodletting to dousing in hot and cold water to shock the system back to rationality. Physical restraints, threats, and straightjackets were common, implemented to get the sufferer to “choose” sanity. In Saint Mary of Bethlehem asylum in London, visitors could pay a penny to see violent patients in a freak show.

This all changed, starting in 1792 with a man named Philippe Pinel, in Paris. He took over La Bicentre asylum to test his hypothesis that compassion would cure the mentally ill. Patients were unchained and given clean, sunny rooms, and were no longer treated like animals. This humanitarian approach spread, kicking off a brief period of “moral management,” where patients were encouraged to perform manual labor and make moral choices.

Medical advances ended moral management. By 1939, Sigmund Freud had published twenty-four volumes of work in psychoanalysis, changing the world forever.  Freud tried hypnosis, free association, and dream interpretation. Although Freud’s work provoked criticism, psychoanalysis was popular until the mid-1900s.

During this time, psychopharmacology, surgeries, and electro-convulsive shock therapy (ECT) were common. The latter treatment was used to abuse patients in some mental hospitals, however. Because ECT is scary, patients were frequently intimidated and threatened with the practice. Some people were shocked over a hundred times. However, with reforms, this practice is still used today.

Egas Moniz performed the first lobotomy in 1935, first shocking the patient into a coma, and then hammering an instrument similar to an icepick through the top of each eye socket. This practice severs the emotional centers of the brain from the frontal lobes, producing a calm and immature patient that is unable to control their impulses or feel anything. Lobotomies were cheap, easy, and popular around the world for twenty years–until doctors started noticing the undesirable side effects.

With the introduction of the psychotropic drug Lithium in 1949, Australian psychiatrist J.F.J. Cade kicked off a wave of successful anti-psychotic medicines which effectively managed symptoms. Unfortunately, this also kicked off a wave of deinstitutionalization in the 1960s, as mental illnesses were thought to be managed entirely by medication. Thousands of the mentally ill discharged from mental wards ended up homeless. In the 1980s, over a third of all homeless individuals were severely mentally ill in America. Over 100,000 individuals who suffered from severe mental illness were imprisoned, and over a fourth of that population were held without charges as they waited for beds at one of the nation’s sole remaining mental hospitals.

Despite advancements made in therapies, many mentally ill people rely solely on psychotropic medications to avoid the shame of stigma. Mental health care is grossly underfunded in many countries around the world even today, and is widely stigmatized. The treatment of mental illness has come a long way, but we still have so much further to g

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Can Bipolar Disorder Symptoms Contribute to Hoarding?

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Can bipolar disorder symptoms contribute to compulsive hoarding? In my case and many others’, the answer is a definite yes.

People with bipolar disorder may have difficulties cleaning the house in either a depressive or manic episode. When depressed, low energy can contribute to a hoarding problem. People suffering from a depressive episode may also purchase items to make themselves feel better. When suffering from a manic episode, the inability to focus is the largest contributor to a messy house, and, in some cases, compulsive hoarding. Anxiety around throwing items away may also occur in either episode, but especially mania.

My story is no different. I fell pregnant when I was a twenty-two year old newlywed, which kicked off my bipolar disorder and a nine-month long manic episode. Given that I was unemployed, and that my husband and I had recently moved three thousand miles away from home and had no family or friends in the area, I was left alone in my apartment to stew.

I became obsessed with providing for my baby on mine and my husband’s limited budget. I dove through the complex’s dumpsters, searching for baby items, and found enough to stuff a room full. Even if the stuff was broken and mismatched, I shoved them into the baby’s room until we could no longer close the door.

At this time, I was also obsessed with feeding my family. When I was small, there was rarely enough food to go around, so I was determined not to let that happen to my new family. I found a job working a daycare within walking distance, and used the giant cans they would throw away from making lunches to grow carrots from seed on my apartment’s balcony. I bought soil at a farm for pennies on the dollar. I also bought food, enough that my husband I could not possibly eat it all. The fruits and vegetables I stuffed our refrigerator with rotted, and all the bread molded.

I also hoarded craft supplies, including old clothes I’d intended to sew into baby or doll clothes later. I had dozens of needles, reams of colored paper, and several balls of yarn–and I couldn’t knit.

The only way to treat the hoarding was to treat my bipolar disorder. Thankfully, with medication and therapy, I stopped hoarding all together. My mother threw out everything in the baby’s room that I had dug up from dumpsters, and helped me start from scratch. My carrots never grew past shriveled, little things, so I threw the garden out as well, and grew flowers instead. And I’ve pared down my craft hoard significantly.

There is hope for bipolar-disorder-induced hoarding. Treating the symptoms of one mental illness will help with the other.

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Bipolar? You Can Survive This Holiday Season, part II

Here’s part two of how to survive the holidays when suffering from bipolar disorder! Many apologies for missing yesterday’s post; the holidays caught up with me.

The Bipolar Parent

This is part two of a two-part series.
Part I | Part II

In the first post in this series, I covered a little bit about how to survive the holiday series when you’re manic. To recap: avoid alcohol, don’t take on too many projects, and try to relax. Now we’ll take a look at…

What to Do if You’re Depressed

Take care of yourself. That’s the core of all the advice I can give on this topic, but it’s the hardest to follow when you’re drowning. But amidst all this merriment, the temptation to give in to your loneliness and hide away from the world will be powerful indeed.

So if you’re invited to parties, prepare to go to at least one. Eat one of your favorite foods beforehand. Shower. Drink a glass of water. Once there, avoid alcohol, especially if you’re on medications. If you’re intimidated, play with your…

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Bipolar? You Can Survive This Holiday Season, part I

Here’s a blast from the past. It’s a little close to Christmas, but the information contained in the post is still applicable. Happy holidays!

The Bipolar Parent

This is part one of a two-part series.
Part I | Part II

I’m a little late for Thanksgiving, but I wanted to address what to do before Christmas and Kwanzaa sweep the land. For some, the holiday season is filled with joy and light, sweet treats, and time off. But for others, hasty decisions and loneliness reign supreme.

What to Do if You’re Manic

Credited to flickr user derekskey.  Used with permission. Credited to flickr user derekskey. Used with permission.

When at get-togethers, try to steer clear of the alcohol, especially if you’re taking medication. If you’re partying with someone you trust, ask them to give you a signal if your behavior is out of control, but don’t let them be responsible for checking in on you for the entire gathering. Set a timer on your watch, and step outside–alone–every twenty minutes to regroup. Breathe. Have a glass of water. Take stock of what you’ve…

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New Research Pinpoints Bipolar Disorder Gene

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A new study published in the Molecular Psychiatry journal reports that researchers have found a mutation in a gene that causes bipolar disorder in as many as ten percent of cases. This is fantastic news! Finally, the causes of bipolar disorder are starting to be pinpointed.

The gene, G protein receptorkinase 3 (GRK3), regulates neurotransmitters such as dopamine. The mutation happens in a section of the gene called the promoter, which turns GRK3 on and off. Scientists at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine hypothesize that what causes bipolar disorder is that the mutation makes the gene hypersensitive to dopamine.

The study took place over a year, and screened DNA samples from more than 400 families with bipolar disorder. The researchers found six mutations in the promoter region of GRK3. Most notable was that the P-5 mutation happened three times more frequently in people who suffer from bipolar disorder than those who don’t.

Research has long pointed to several genes being the causes of bipolar disorder. But this is the first time a single gene has been determined as a cause. Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme highs and lows. Few therapies work to treat the mental illness, and those that do work aren’t effective for all people who suffer from it. The scientists involved in this study hope that specific therapies that target genes on a molecular level will be developed.

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