Mental Health Monday

May is Mental Health Month and in honor of the occasion, our executive director Stella Kalfas was on VOCAL OVERDRIVE of vocalo 89.5 FM Chicago, on May 2nd 2011- 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm.

She gave insights on how the Mental Health Association of Greater Chicago are seeking to raise awareness about mental health. She also spoke about how to spot depression in children and dispel some common misconceptions about mental health disorders and treatment.

The Dark Side of the Rainbow of Food Dyes Being Used to Color Your Food:

The bright colors of grocery store foods are often the result of artificial food dyes, which are now being applied not just to candies and snack foods, but also to products such as pickles, salad dressing and even oranges.

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Teen Girls' Body Burden of Hormone-Altering Cosmetics Chemicals

Laboratory tests reveal adolescent girls across America are chemicals commonly used in cosmetics and body care products. Environmental working group (EWG) detected 16 chemicals from 4 chemical families - phthalates, triclosan, parabens, and musks - in blood and urine samples from 20 girls aged 14-19. Studies link these chemicals to potential health effects including cancer and hormone disruption, also resulting in key changes to brain structure and function.

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The link between financial trouble and mental illness:

The recent surge in staggering mental illness statistics reflects two types of economic side effects. First, the rise in mental health disorders has increased as economic certainty has deteriorated: joblessness, crippling debt and home foreclosure. Second, the problem is only exacerbated when those with newly-developed or pre-existing illnesses can't seek treatment because they don't have health insurance due to unemployment.

Read more.

Dan Savage On Bullying:

Dan Savage has done it once again. He and his husband Terry Miller have filmed a truly inspirational YouTube video directed to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth. The main message: no matter how bad you think your life is going right now, hang in there and stay strong; it will get better.  Read more about the story and watch the video here

Digital Overload: Your Brain on Computers:

Is technology rewiring our brain? What does the digital age hold in store for adolescent brains?

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Matt Richtel reports for NPR on “information juggling,” in his series “Your Brain On Computers”


“...After 20 years of glorifying technology as if all computers were good and all use of it was good, science is beginning to embrace the idea that some technology is Twinkies and some technology is Brussels sprouts...

“...Heavy video game playing may release dopamine, which is thought to be involved with addictive behaviors. When you check your information, when you get a buzz in your pocket, when you get a ring — you get what they call a dopamine squirt. You get a little rush of adrenaline," he says. "Well, guess what happens in its absence? You feel bored. You're conditioned by a neurological response: 'Check me check me check me check me.' "

Check out the full article here.

Faith in New Brain Research:

The Chicago Tribune reports advancements in science technology and psychology are allowing bipolar disorder to be diagnosed earlier and treated more effectively. This is giving renewed hope to children who have a family history of bipolar disorder.

Excerpts from Chicago Tribune September 29, 2010 article:

"Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, affects an estimated 2 percent of the population, and can be one of the hardest mental illnesses to endure. A severe manic state can cause people to spend money wildly, throw themselves into high-risk sexual encounters or lose their grip on reality. When depression takes over, they can feel exhausted, inert, even suicidal…

"…Many scientists have come to believe that stress can trigger or exacerbate dormant mental illnesses, and as the girls approached adolescence they were hit by traumas…"

Read the full article here.

Further reading:

Youth Misdiagnosed: Bipolar v. Attention Deficit Disorder

On Antipsychotics: One Child's Tale

We Are What We Eat?

Soy products are marketed as a health food, but as Dr. Mercola shows, it is only the fermented soy products (tempeh, miso, soy sauce) that are good for you. Unfermented soy products (tofu, soy burgers, soy milk, soy yogurt, soy cheese) pose serious health risks, having been linked to breast cancer, brain damage, kidney stones, thyroid disorders, and more. Dr. Mercola shares the alternative view here.

Book Review: Crazy Like Us:

Ethan Watters describes his 2010 book Crazy Like Us: The Americanization of Mental Illness as "an intellectual travelogue," one that takes the reader around the world with Watters as he investigates cultural interpretations of mental illness and finds that "we may indeed be far along in homogenizing the way the world goes mad."

Read more

View video interview

What Makes Us Happy?

Joshua Wolf Shenk got an unprecedented look at the longitudinal study of America's "Best and Brightest." His resulting June 2009 article has become the most read article in the history of Here is an excerpt:

Most psychology preoccupies itself with mapping the heavens of health in sharp contrast to the underworld of illness. “Social anxiety disorder” is distinguished from shyness. Depression is defined as errors in cognition. Vaillant’s work, in contrast, creates a refreshing conversation about health and illness as weather patterns in a common space. “Much of what is labeled mental illness,” Vaillant writes, “simply reflects our ‘unwise’ deployment of defense mechanisms. If we use defenses well, we are deemed mentally healthy, conscientious, funny, creative, and altruistic. If we use them badly, the psychiatrist diagnoses us ill, our neighbors label us unpleasant, and society brands us immoral.”

Read the full article here.

Designing a Video Game on Depression:

Gambit, MIT's game research lab, is currently developing prototypes of Elude, a video game based on depression. For those who suffer from depression, the game is designed to elevate their mood. The game is also designed to give friends and family a window into what depression feels like. Furthermore, the researchers hope, the game will be compelling enough to be played by the video gaming public at large.

As if this isn't enough of a feat, the Gambit team is documenting the design process and posting the videos to their website. Episode Five, in which Researcher Doris Rusch explains her vision for Elude, is particularly compelling. Ruch begins with a refreshingly articulate description of depression.

View the video here.

Read more here.

Child Mental Health: 7 Myths Debunked

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Harold Koplewicz discusses 7 commonly held misperceptions about the mental health of children. Read the article here.