Saturday, December 31, 2011

Teenage depression or ‘growing pains’?

By Health Xchange | Fit to Post Health – Fri, Dec 30, 2011

Not unlike adults, teenagers in Singapore are under a lot of pressure. Going through the hormonal changes of puberty, they need to deal with peer group influences, major exams and transition to more adult social roles.

Parents need to be aware that these demands can be overwhelming and precipitate depression in teenagers.

"Referral rates for psychiatric help in young persons with depression seem to be increasing over the years," says Associate Professor Leslie Lim, senior consultant at the Department of Psychiatry, Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

Lim adds that over 5 per cent of Singaporeans could be suffering from depression in their lifetime, and this condition is triggered by life events, and may involve biochemical changes in the brain.

Early warning signs of depression

Here are some warning signs that could indicate your teen is depressed:
•Social withdrawal, poor sleep and loss of appetite
•Drop in energy levels or lack of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
•School results start to fall, or a teacher mentions that the child now has conduct problems in class
•Recurring bodily complaints, such as headaches and tummy aches
•Aggressive or reckless behavior that marks a departure from the usual

Related article: How important is it to keep a positive mindset?

Depression is not an attitude problem

Teenage depression can be often mistaken by parents as "growing pains" or attitude problems. As such, the diagnosis could be missed, says Lim.

It is important to see a doctor or professional if you suspect that your child needs help.

"Early treatment offers the best chances of recovery. Antidepressant medications may protect against the effects of life stresses," adds Lim.

Causes of depression in the young

Depression may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Genetic factors, such as a family history of depression, could mean a person has a predisposition for depression. A key factor in resisting depression, resilience, is to some extent related to genetic makeup.

Environmental factors such as traumatic life experiences, stress, relationship problems, exams and studies could increase the risk of depression.

"Life's stresses can overwhelm young people's coping abilities. Learning to cope with stress and the availability of social support become very important buffers," says Lim.

Related article: All you need to know about depression

How can parents help their depressed teenager

These pointers may help parents who want to support their depressed teen:
•Try to remain patient and positive even when the teen shows disinterest and tearfulness. Don't blame him or her. These could be symptoms of depression.
•Encourage your child to see a doctor or counselor who can help map out strategies for recovery.
•If your teen takes antidepressant medication, make sure that he or she takes the right dose regularly.
•Watch for any mood changes for the worse. If your child talks about suicide, seek help immediately.

Related Q&A: Curious to know the issues people like you have regarding depression? Read Health Xchange's past Q&A session on the topic.

Treatments for depression

There are two main types of treatment for depression. The first one is psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy aims to help the person think more positively and deal with problems and relationships. It can take the form of family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy or supportive psychotherapy.

The second one is medication. Antidepressant drugs can correct biochemical imbalances in the brain which contribute to depressive episodes.

Lim points out that "a combination of medication and psychotherapy has been shown to be more effective than either taken individually. However, in the very young, psychosocial interventions are preferred."

This article was written by Fong Yuke Ching for Health Xchange, with expert input from the Department of Psychiatry at Singapore General Hospital.

Find more healthy living tips and articles on, Singapore's trusted health and lifestyle portal.

Health Xchange's articles are meant for informational purposes only and cannot replace professional surgical, medical or health advice, examination, diagnosis, or treatment.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Overexcited Brain Cells May Spur Symptoms of Autism, Stanford Study Finds

By Robert Langreth - Jul 27, 2011 10:00 AM PT

Stimulating brain cells with light can generate autism-like symptoms, Stanford University researchers reported in a mouse study that may provide clues on what causes the disease in people.

The scientists implanted light-sensitive proteins into parts of the brain linked to social behavior in normal mice, and then activated them with blue lasers routed into the brain using fiber-optic cables. Normally gregarious mice didn't socialize with other animals and developed a brain-wave pattern seen in some people with autism and schizophrenia. Their interest in exploring inanimate objects was normal, according to the results published online in the journal Nature.

The findings provide evidence for the theory that autism and brain disorders such as schizophrenia, where social behavior breaks down, may be caused by brain circuits oversensitive to stimulation, the researchers said.

“It definitely provides an insight into what might be wrong in autism, which is a huge step,” said Karl Deisseroth, a Stanford University psychiatrist and senior author, in a telephone interview. “It opens the door to a whole host” of treatment possibilities, including use of drugs or devices that calm or shield specific parts of the brain.

In a 2009 study, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about 1 in 110 American children have autism or other autism spectrum disorders. Symptoms, including impaired development of social and communication skills, appear by age three, according to the National Institutes of Health. While the disorder’s causes aren’t understood, genetics have been found to play a role.

Signaling Theory
Some neurons in the brain spur signaling between cells when excited, and others act to calm down the signaling. One theory is that the balance between the two between may be disrupted in autism, Deisseroth said. This idea is supported by the fact that some genes linked to rare forms of autism appear to promote excitation of brain cells, he said.

“If a cell is always on, it can’t communicate much information,” Deisseroth said. “As a result, the animals cannot handle the complexity of the social interaction.”

Mice normally are social creatures that would spend “many minutes” investigating, sniffing, and interacting with a new mouse of the same sex that is placed in the cage, Deisseroth said. This behavior disappeared in mice after the lasers were shined on certain cells.

Restored Behavior
When the researchers used the laser to activate different cells that inhibit brain activity, the social behavior was partly restored, Deisseroth said.

Until Deisseroth and colleagues at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany and Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel completed the research, the excitation theory had been “impossible to test because there is no way to reach into a functioning mammalian brain and selectively boost excitability,” he said. That’s now been overcome, he said.

The finding “has broad implications across many different therapeutic areas,” said Robert H. Ring, vice president of translational research at Autism Speaks, an advocacy group, and former head of autism research at Pfizer Inc. (PFE) “It opens up avenues of research that may ultimately allow us to be very specific on how we develop therapies” for autism and other brain disorders with deficits in social behavior.

Ring predicted Deisseroth’s laser method would be “revolutionary” in helping discover the causes of brain disorders on a molecular level, though therapies based on the technique are much farther off.

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Langreth in New York at

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Society of St. Vincent de Paul: Cut the Bureaucracy in the National Budget Without Putting Millions at Risk

Press Release Source: Society of St. Vincent de Paul On Thursday March 10, 2011, 8:10 am EST

ST. LOUIS, March 10, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Jon Sass, 55, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, but he has volunteered six days a week for more than three years at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) in San Antonio, Texas. He helps with cleaning and organizing, the delivery of food to the SVdP pantry, and pickups of in-kind donations.

"The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is the only family that I've ever known or cared about me," said Sass.

Before becoming involved with SVdP, Sass was homeless for 35 years, dealing with chronic mental illness, and in and out of shelters and mental institutions. The cuts currently proposed in the national budget will put him and millions like him at risk.

"When folks think of people like Jon, they sometimes have a misconception that they're somehow 'taking advantage' of the system," said Elizabeth Disco-Shearer, associate executive director of the SVdP's South Central regional office in Fort Worth. "But people like Jon give back as much as they get."

Federal support in 2010 enabled SVdP in San Antonio to assist 1.37 million people with everything from meals to help with utility and housing bills, and job training and placement. "We serve some 36,000 meals a month at St. Vinny's Bistro, our dining facility in San Antonio," said Disco-Shearer. "Without that federal funding, we simply couldn't do it, and there aren't enough private donations to make up the shortfall."

Like Sass, Andrew Guzman also will be at risk if the proposed budget cuts are approved. A former convicted felon who was homeless, Guzman went through an SVdP culinary training program. He passed certification, secured a job at St. Vinny's Bistro, and eventually obtained his own apartment.

In contrast, Amie Meyers in Cincinnati, married and the mother of two small children, never thought her family would need help. A nurse, Meyers had to quit her job to care for her husband as he battled cancer. After his death, she returned to work but lost her job when her company merged with another healthcare firm. Meyers had an emergency fund that sustained her through the first few months of unemployment, but she soon found herself short and couldn't pay her utilities. SVdP soon gave her the help she needed to pay that bill.

"Everyone falls," said Meyers. "I'm just getting back up."

"When people look at those who are homeless or living in poverty, they sometimes think it's their fault or that they don't deserve help," said Roger Playwin, SVdP's national executive director. "But it doesn't take much - maybe an illness or a job loss - to put any one of us in their situation."

Joe Flannigan, national president of SVdP, added: "Some studies show that as much as 40 cents of every dollar for federal assistance programs gets siphoned off by the bureaucracy instead of going to the people it's designed to help. Our hope is that legislators can find a way to reduce the waste without putting an additional burden on the weakest and most vulnerable of our neighbors."

One of the oldest and most effective charitable organizations in the world, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul ( is a Catholic lay organization of more than 690,000 men and women throughout the world who voluntarily join together to grow spiritually and offer person-to-person service to the needy and people living in poverty in 142 countries on five continents. With the U.S. headquarters in St. Louis, Mo., membership in the United States totals more than 146,000 in 4,600 communities. Programs include home visits, housing assistance, disaster relief, job training and placement, food pantries, dining halls, clothing, transportation and utility costs, care for the elderly and medicine. Providing more than $572 million in tangible and in-kind services, SVdP serves more than 14 million people in need each year, performs more than 644,000 visits to people in their homes, and delivers more than 7 million service hours to those in need.

For more information:

Charles B. Henderson

(314) 576-3993 (314) 576-3993, ext. 214 (office)

(314) 623-6505 (314) 623-6505 (mobile)


Even Tiny Tots May Develop Mental Health Problems

WEDNESDAY, March 2 (HealthDay News) -- Countering the belief that you have to be "older" to suffer from mental illness, a new report says there's actually no lowest-age limit.

Infants and toddlers can be affected, but they often go without treatment that could prevent them from suffering long-term problems, according to the researchers.

There's a "pervasive, but mistaken, impression that young children do not develop mental health problems and are immune to the effects of early adversity and trauma because they are inherently resilient and 'grow out of' behavioral problems and emotional difficulties," they wrote in the February issue of American Psychologist. The issue includes a series of articles about mental health in children under the age of 5.

In fact, infants can develop mental health problems as they deal with their goals and emotions, the authors of another article wrote.

"Infants make meaning about themselves and their relation to the world of people and things," they said, but that process can go wrong. "Some infants may come to make meaning of themselves as helpless and hopeless, and they may become apathetic, depressed and withdrawn. Others seem to feel threatened by the world and may become hyper-vigilant and anxious."

In a third article, researchers reported that insurance may not cover mental health treatments for kids younger than 3.

What to do? Researchers from Louisiana State University and the University of California, San Francisco advocate more early screening, better training and education of people who deal with children. They also urge better coverage by private insurers and Medicaid.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on children's mental health.