Mother Amygdala, Have Mercy Upon Us

Once upon a time I wanted to be a neurosurgeon. But I had this idiotic fear of science class -- it was in the water that they gave to girls in the 1950s. So I headed in another direction. Still I am fascinated by the brain, and will keep sharing the stuff that I learn about it. Today's topic is the amygdala.

Ah, the amygdala, the reptilian brain. It is among the oldest parts of the human brain, regulating memory, emotion and fear. The amygdala associates a strong emotional reaction with a piece of information to imprint that information in your memory. You remember best what you associate with strong emotion. If you walk under a tree in the tropics and a poisonous snake falls on top of you, it is highly beneficial from an evolutionary perspective to remember that tree where those poisonous snakes linger. That's when the amygdala is your friend.

OMG!!! That's What They Said! Relapse

"The goal of treatment was to maximize the number of patients achieving clinical remission because this would then render them eligible for the mood challenge." [italics added]

The winners of this month's Omgodthat'swhattheysaid Award are
Segal, Kennedy, Gemar, Hood, Pedersen, and Buis in "Cognitive Reactivity to Sad Mood Provocation and the Prediction of Depressive Relapse," Archives of General Psychiatry 63:7 July 2006.

They wanted to answer a question I asked in my last post, why does depression come back? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) says that automatic negative thoughts cause depression. CBT is designed to make people aware of these thoughts, to interrupt and reframe
them. It is often as effective as antidepressants in treating mild and moderate depression, and better in terms of relapse rate. Nevertheless, people treated with CBT do relapse. One explanation is that CBT addresses the cognitive processes that dominate during a depressive episode, but there are underlying and ingrained thought processes that persist even in remission. Give people a list of adjectives, ask them which apply to them, and those who have been depressed but are in remission will nonetheless pick out more negative words than those who have never been depressed.

Mental Health First Aid

We know how to do this.  A car hits a light pole -- somebody, maybe you will call 911.   Somebody is choking in a restaurant -- somebody else, maybe I will leap up to do the Heimlich Maneuver.

It doesn't have to be an emergency. If a friend has a persistent cough, or mentions a bruise that won't go away, or complains about chest pains, we urge them to see a doctor.   We have learned to recognize signs of cancer, heart disease, stroke.  We get involved, we even get on their case when the people we care about need help.

Most of the time we do.  Sometimes we turn away.   Last week I kept having the same two
conversations over and over.  The first was about a man who dangled by a chain from the end of a crane.  He reached out to catch a woman caught in the boil of a dam, to rescue her from drowning.   The second was with friends who just didn't know what to do -- about a cousin who is irrational, a daughter who doesn't get out of bed, a godson who can't keep a job, each of them diagnosable with a serious mental illness, none of them getting treatment.

What To Do When A Friend Has A Mental Illness

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