Monday, December 31, 2007

New Beginnings and a Happy New Years

Wow, this has been quite a busy year with much personal happenings in my and my family's life and this is why my blogging has been sporatic and light. But now we face a new year with new beginnings. Happy New Years!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Confronting the Stigma of Mental Health Issues

I found this informative article on the myths surrounding mental illness through a message board I'm a member of:

Top 10 Myths About Mental Illness Based on Nationwide Survey

(Great Neck, NY- September 05, 2007) — Misconceptions about mental illness are pervasive, and the lack of understanding can have serious consequences for millions of people who have a psychiatric illness, according to the NARSAD. The largest not-for-profit organization raising and distributing funds for psychiatric research, NARSAD surveyed mental health professionals nationwide to determine the most common myths about mental illness. NARSAD received 102 responses from the experts, who included members of NARSAD's Scientific Council and psychiatrists around the country.

"Misconceptions about mental illness contribute to the stigma, which leads many people to be ashamed and prevents them from seeking help," said Constance Lieber, President Emeritus. "Dispelling these myths is a powerful step toward eradicating the stigma and allaying the fears surrounding brain disorders."

Top Ten Myths about Mental Illness

Myth #1: Psychiatric disorders are not true medical illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. People who have a mental illness are just "crazy."

Fact: Brain disorders, like heart disease and diabetes, are legitimate medical illnesses. Research shows there are genetic and biological causes for psychiatric disorders, and they can be treated effectively.

Myth #2: People with a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia, are usually dangerous and violent.

Fact: Statistics show that the incidence of violence in people who have a brain disorder is not much higher than it is in the general population. Those suffering from a psychosis such as schizophrenia are more often frightened, confused and despairing than violent.

Myth #3: Mental illness is the result of bad parenting.

Fact: Most experts agree that a genetic susceptibility, combined with other risk factors, leads to a psychiatric disorder. In other words, mental illnesses have a physical cause.

Myth #4: Depression results from a personality weakness or character flaw, and people who are depressed could just snap out of it if they tried hard enough.

Fact: Depression has nothing to do with being lazy or weak. It results from changes in brain chemistry or brain function, and medication and/or psychotherapy often help people to recover.

Myth #5: Schizophrenia means split personality, and there is no way to control it.

Fact: Schizophrenia is often confused with multiple personality disorder. Actually, schizophrenia is a brain disorder that robs people of their ability to think clearly and logically. The estimated 2.5 million Americans with schizophrenia have symptoms ranging from social withdrawal to hallucinations and delusions. Medication has helped many of these individuals to lead fulfilling, productive lives.

Myth #6: Depression is a normal part of the aging process.

Fact: It is not normal for older adults to be depressed. Signs of depression in older people
include a loss of interest in activities, sleep disturbances and lethargy. Depression in the elderly is often undiagnosed, and it is important for seniors and their family members to recognize the problem and seek professional help.

Myth #7: Depression and other illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, do not affect children or adolescents. Any problems they have are just a part of growing up.

Fact: Children and adolescents can develop severe mental illnesses. In the United States, one in ten children and adolescents has a mental disorder severe enough to cause impairment. However, only about 20 percent of these children receive needed treatment. Left untreated, these problems can get worse. Anyone talking about suicide should be taken very seriously.

Myth #8: If you have a mental illness, you can will it away. Being treated for a psychiatric disorder means an individual has in some way "failed" or is weak.

Fact: A serious mental illness cannot be willed away. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away, either. It takes courage to seek professional help.

Myth #9: Addiction is a lifestyle choice and shows a lack of willpower. People with a substance abuse problem are morally weak or "bad".

Fact: Addiction is a disease that generally results from changes in brain chemistry. It has nothing to do with being a "bad" person.

Myth #10: Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), formerly known as "shock treatment," is painful and barbaric.

Fact: ECT has given a new lease on life to many people who suffer from severe and debilitating depression. It is used when other treatments such as psychotherapy or medication fail or cannot be used. Patients who receive ECT are asleep and under anesthesia, so they do not feel anything.

"These misconceptions can do irreparable harm to people with legitimate illnesses who should and can be treated," said Herbert Pardes, M.D., President of NARSAD's Scientific Council.

"Research in brain disorders is flourishing, and we expect to see new and better treatments that will have the power to change lives and bring hope to many," said Lieber.

The Toll of Mental Illness
One in five Americans suffers from a diagnosable mental illness in a given year. But statistics show that only one-third of these individuals seek treatment.

Four of the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide are mental disorders. Among developed nations, including the United States, major depression is the leading cause of disability. Also near the top of these rankings are bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The direct cost of mental health services, which includes spending for treatment and rehabilitation, is over $69 billion in the United States. Indirect costs, which refer to lost productivity at the workplace, school, and home, are estimated at almost $80 billion.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Loosing a Loved One to Cancer

My Grandmother, at age 71, was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma multiforme (a stage 4 malignant astrocytoma brain tumor) in the right hemosphere of her brain in February of this year. Despite immediate surgery to remove the most of tumor and chemo/radiation treatment, she sucombed to the tumor at the end of May. She was a wonderful caring women and was loved by her family and losing her to the cancer was difficult.
Pictures of our beloved "Granny" can be found in my Myspace Photo Album

Another family has shared similiar trials and tribulations. Little Mila was just 2yrs old when on September 6, 2006 she was diagnosed with a terminal glioma astrocytoma. The tumor was located on her brain stem and because of her age, the tumor was inoperable and she was unable to undergo treatment. Mila's mother and their friend, Gavin Booth share the joys of having Mila in their lives as well as their challenges in the following videos:
Andi & Mila: In the Arms of the Angel
Advetures In Mila-Land Parts 1-5
Mila Forever
Sadly, I just found out Mila succombed to the tumor this afternoon. May she rest in peace among the angels. My thoughts are with their family.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Star Wars Short Films & Parodies

In honor of the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars Trilogy, I've found some view-worthy Star Wars parodies or otherwise different short Star Wars videos to share with you.
Star Wars Episode III: A Lost Hope
Anakin finally knocks up Padme and is drawn over to the dark side in this Star Wars parody trailer.

Star Wars: Troops
A parody of the television show, Cops. While Stormtroopers from the infamous Black Sheep Squadron are being filmed for the hit Imperial TV show TROOPS, they run into some very familiar characters on Tatooine.

"Starwars: Battle for Hoth"
Now onto a more serious note. Inspired by the great Ken Burns series, The Civil War, this film takes an in-depth historical view of the Battle for Hoth, complete with historic quotes, pictures, interviews with "experts" on the subject, and writings from participants on both sides. Despite the comedic and parody intent of the authors, the video is an accurate depiction of events that took place in the film.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Brick
The humorous Lego version of "Starwars:Revenge of the Sith"

At the end of the short Lego Star Wars film, "Revenge of the Brick", a clonetrooper orchestra led by Darth Vader plays the short version of  "The Imperial March" (w/out credits rolling).

Friday, April 27, 2007

Morning-After Pill Blues

Bangkok Post
Morning-after blues
June 10, 2002,

Excessive and incorrect use of an oral contraceptive designed for emergency use only is resulting in unwanted pregnancies and worse

It was first sold over the counter in Thailand some 15 years ago and became instantly popular."

Married and in their 30s, Noi (not her real name) and her husband are not prepared to expand their family. Condoms are out of the question, they say, and taking an oral contraceptive daily is inconvenient.

College student Wilai (not her real name) has a boyfriend who refuses to use condoms; she wants a quick and effective way to prevent pregnancy.

Not surprisingly, Noi, Wilai and many other sexually active Thai women have opted for the morning-after pill: Take two pills after sex and leave all pregnancy worries behind - or so they think. This attitude fits well with the modern, urban lifestyle where casual sex is no longer uncommon but pregnancy is often a no-no for social, economic or career reasons.

But a disturbing number of people who have recourse to the morning-after pill are totally in the dark about the dangers of this oral contraceptive containing a high dose of the steroid hormone progesterone. This ignorance has resulted in many Thai women taking the morning-after pill on a regular basis. But high doses of this powerful substance can cause side effects, health problems and, ironically, increase the risk of pregnancy.

"The drug is not 100 percent pregnancy proof,'' said Nattaya Boonpakdee, programme assistant at the Population Council, an NGO working in the field of women's reproductive health.

"There are also health risks for the woman. Most importantly, both men and women are putting themselves at greater risk of contracting AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.''

In recent years, regular users of the morning-after pill have been reporting unwanted pregnancies. One family-planning clinic in Bangkok sees four to five such cases a month. Nattaya has concluded that these failures stem from misunderstanding the nature and correct usage of the drug. Widespread misconceptions about the efficacy of the morning-after pill she attributes partly to the fact that it goes under a variety of colloquial names; it is also commonly termed a post-coital pill, a spermicide and a "temporary contraceptive''. While ``morning after'' and "post-coital'' suggest that it be taken the morning after sex, describing it as a "spermicide'' indicates nothing more than its ability to kill sperm. And while there is a grain of truth in all these common terms, she pointed out that the confusion caused can easily lead to excessive use of this drug.

To avoid any misinterpretation, Nattaya thinks that it should henceforth be called the "emergency pill''.

"If we drop the other names and just stick to the term 'emergency pill', I believe that that will suggest its true purpose to the user _ that it is to be used only in an emergency and not on a regular basis as is often the case now,'' Nattaya said.

"Many women take three pills in a single week. Obviously, those can't all be emergencies.''

And what is most alarming is that such instances of excessive use are not exceptional _ as evidenced by the records of various family-planning clinics around town. According to clinic worker Waranya Pitaktepsombat, it was not uncommon for women to take more than 10 pills a month despite the fact that the maximum recommended monthly dose is four tablets (two occasions of unprotected sex). Use of this pill, she insisted, should be limited to cases of sexual assaults, unplanned and unprotected sex, if a condom splits during intercourse or the woman has omitted to take an ordinary contraceptive for more than three days.

Designed to deter fertilised eggs from being implanted in the uterine wall, the morning-after pill can reduce the chance of pregnancy by only 75 to 85 percent while ordinary, low-dose oral contraceptives and condoms (if used properly) can diminish the risk by 99 percent.

According to Dr Niyada Kiatying-Angsulee from the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Chulalongkorn University, the "emergency pill" available locally contains 0.75 microgrammes [mg] of the hormone*, 50 times more than the ordinary oral contraceptive taken in 21-, 28- or 35-day courses. As a result, she said, many women who regularly take the morning-after pill report feeling ill _ unsettled stomachs, vomiting and dizziness _ almost immediately afterwards. Other possible side effects include delay in menstruation, occasional breakthrough bleeding, headaches and tiredness.

Symptoms such as chest pain, a persistent cough, migraine, numbness, blurred vision and difficulty in breathing may be signs of pregnancy, Niyada added. And women who take the morning-after pill unaware that they are already pregnant risk causing deformities in their babies, particularly to the reproductive organs.

Although no conclusive research has been conducted into the long-term effects of the morning-after pill, Dr Niyada said that some studies showed links between constant high levels of progesterone, due to extended use of the pill, and breast, ovarian and uterine cancer plus ectopic pregnancies.

Unfortunately, while many sexually active people abuse the morning-after pill, others who are in real need of it either have never heard of it or have no access to it. Nattaya from Population Control said she knew of many cases where doctors did not prescribe the pill to rape victims, forcing them to run the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. "Many women in real need of the emergency pill are not aware of its existence when they have unplanned or unprotected sex. They have to let nature take its course and then if they get pregnant, they often resort to abortion, which is pretty unnecessary if they'd had the right information in the first place.''

Pregnancies also result because women use the morning-after pill incorrectly.

It was first sold over the counter in Thailand some 15 years ago and became instantly popular. Going on advice from friends, many women would take a tablet one hour after sex but then omit to take the necessary second tablet. To remedy this widespread misuse, the Population Council and the Drug Study Group urged the FDA a few years ago to amend the instructions on the bottle to read: "the first dose may be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse, with a second dose taken 12 hours later''.

The FDA agreed. Unfortunately, many users do not read the new instructions, carrying on with their old pattern of behaviour. And some pharmacists fail to emphasise the correct dose at the time of purchase.

Nor is the morning-after pill suitable for everyone. According to Dr Niyada, women with a history of jaundice, liver and gall bladder disease, and clogged arteries need to take especial care. "Normally, it is advised that first-time contraceptive users consult a physician to have a check-up for allergies and get their medical history looked into. Taking any sort of contraceptive, like any type of drug, involves risks. There are side effects which can affect each individual differently; some are mild, others very severe.''

Of all the possible health risks, one of the worst scenarios is contracting Aids or another sexually transmitted disease."A woman taking the emergency pill is probably not insisting on the use of a condom and this practice is likely to be more common now among youngsters and married couples. This inevitably puts them at high risk of contracting sexual transmitted diseases. And, as statistics show, a high percentage of AIDS victims contracted the virus from their [long-term] partners. Oral contraceptives cannot prevent diseases, but condoms can.''

Sadly, women continue to have little say in whether or not their partner wears a condom. And several random studies have shown that men are the most frequent buyers of morning-after pills and that many learn about it from adverts in men's magazines.

"They buy the pills for their girlfriends or wives,'' said Nattaya, "so that they don't have to wear condoms and feel they're at no risk of becoming a father afterwards. Some women I've spoken to said that they didn't even know what they were taking; that the guy just said it was a health supplement.''

Although many feminists believe that the morning-after pill gives them more control over their own bodies, it would seem, judging from the few studies conducted so far, that it is actually being used by men to exploit women.

"It is much easier for men to wear condoms," Dr Niyada concluded. "Not only are they safer, they also help a lot in preventing pregnancy if used properly. Forcing women to use oral contraceptives on a regular basis, especially these highly concentrated morning-after pills, is likely to put women's health at risk."

Original article an be found at the Bangkok Post

American Life League also has a reprint of the article

H/T Annie at After Abortion

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Looking Beyond the Politics of Abortion for Healing

Oftentimes, on pregnancy message boards and chatrooms, and in debates, arises the question 'Is there such thing as "Post-Abortion Syndrome?" '  This is an in-depth look at research and listening to women's stories.
Post-abortion grief is contraversial with some studies, such as these indicating post-abortion depression and a group of syptoms, while pro-choice groups, such as Planned Parenthood are quck to deny any negative associations with abortion.

Yet many pro-choicers legitimately fear admitting there may be conflicting or negative feelings associated with abortion will be giving fuel to their political opponents, anti-abortion activists. But among the political debate, where are the voices of women who've experienced abortion?

Recognizing PASS is should not be about opposing abortion,  nor should opposition it be about politics and "stealing ground from the fundies", but rather it should be about listening to the voices of  women and respecting their inner beliefs, expriences, and feelings surrounding their abortion experience. It should be recognized as a medical issue, like PMDD or PPD so they can receive adequite counseling and treatment.

While I can't say if Post Abortion Syndrome is a real thing or not, I do believe in Post-Partum Depression (which this may be similiar to) and know that some women can and do feel affected by their abortion in negative ways. It has been my experience, as well anyone who's counseled a woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, there are a number and varying emotional reactions to having an abortion. While some women have no regret or negative feelings about their abortions and many feel sad about it but feel they made a good decision; there are also women who experience a more profound loss and grief and/or depression.

These are the women seeking counselling from organizations such as Project Rachel and Jilly's PASS Site. National Office for Project Rachel deals with 5,000 cases a year and knows of twenty-five other counselling programs. Jilly's site has 12 pages (with about 9 stories on each page) and 16,000 members on the message board of men and women who are working through post-abortion issues. Also, the pro-choice post-abortion hotline, "Exhale" exists to allow women to work through their emotions and feelings after their abortion. And other post-abortion message boards exist, each one filled with numerous men and women emotionally struggling with a past abortion. For example, the "Post Abortion Healing Support" board at Voy Forums and the "Post-Abortion Syndrome" forum at Safe Haven Ministries (links can be provided if requested). These women exist, we can't ignore their presence or needs for support/counseling as well.

While I definatly think hormones play a part in post-abortion depression, just as in post-partum depression, also her grief may be tied to more than that: the circumstances surrounding the decision, a physically painful and/or traumatic experience, her inner beliefs and feelings, coercion or pressure to have an abortion, and her support system (or therefore lack of).

If PAS is "real", I don't think it's significant whether all women suffer from it or not - just as skin cancer is no less "real" because not all people who use tanning beds get cancer. Acknowledging that SOME women suffer from this syndrome does not automatically translate to ALL women will suffer from this syndrome any more than claiming that NONE suffer from it will make that true.What I do know is what I think most of us know who read this journal, have experienced various pregnancy outcomes, or in some way have dealt with pregnant and post-abortive women - that some women experience various mild to severe negative emotional reactions following an abortion. I just don't want to forget those women. I've personally known several of them, and it is absolutely heartbreaking what they go through. It is a blessing that not every woman who aborts goes through that kind of anguish.

While having an abortion may not cause all women grief, what of the women who do experience some form of grief or loss or even serious depression after their abortion? They are often belittled, shamed, and dismissed by abortion providers and pro-choice activists.

While those who doesn't feel any sadness or regret are entitled to their feelings, she should also be entitled to acknowledge and work through her own feelings. Women who have a stillbirth or miscarriage are permitted to grieve their loss, so why shouldn't women who feel sad or loss after their abortion? Some feelings aren't right or wrong, they just are. She may be looking to speak about her experience and work through her pain and get beyond it. But she may encounter hostilities and burdens to healing from both sides of the abortion debate. From the pro-choice side she may be met with statements such as:
"Respected psychological studies have shown that the vast majority of women do not suffer psychological or emotional problems following an abortion, and for those few who do, the emotional problems existed prior to the abortion."
"The majority of women only feel relief"
 "It is not the abortion, but, instead, the negative social and political climate surrounding abortion that is harmful to a woman and her family's well-being." There may be some truth in that stigma may contribute as a barrier to emotional closure after an abortion, however it is often used in a political context  to point fingers at political opponents rather than to directly address the need to explore complex issues (socio-economic, emotions, inner, beliefs, etc) which contribute to poor post abortion coping.
She is faced with an enormous amount of pressure to be "ok" with her abortion and I think in seeking to normalize abortion, abortion rights activists have lost sight of the importance of listening to women.
Various recent studies on post-abortion grief have been researched by two post-abortion ladies here:
Also, of two letters sent to and published by the Canadian Medical Association in response to their May 13 (2006) article relating abortion to increased risks of psychiatric hospitalization, one was by Celia Ryan, a social worker and specialized grief counselor.
This part of her letter really spoke to me:
"I am not a researcher, and the hurting men and women who come to my office for counseling, or to my groups, are not interested in statistics or expectable outcomes. They are interested in having a language, structure and a framework for their abortion experience and an opportunity to use that information in a helfpul and healing way. They are grateful and relieved to finally be able to name and explore an issue that society says does not exist. They are no longer disenfranchised from their appropriate grief."

From my experiences, I'm motivated to acknowledge a woman's feelings - whatever they are - after her abortion. I'm motivated to give my support and love to women who experience PAS symptoms. I'm motivated to contribute towards creating a society that is supportive of pregnant and parenting women - especially in our education system and in our workforce - so that women truly have the freedom choice. It's been said many times before, and it's very true - the woman at highest risk of responding negatively to an abortion is the woman who feels forced into it either by lack of options or lack of support. Create a society that is supportive of pregnancy and parenting, and I'm willing to bet you will see a massive decrease in the number of women needing abortions and the number of women regretting their abortions, and a lot more satisfied, successful, happy women. We need to make society truly woman-friendly and only then will women have any meaningful freedom of choice.
I don't think it should be so much a political issue as a medical/mental health issue. Just my two cents.