Categories
Depression

The Wrath of Dementors: An Introduction to Depression

By Pavitra Srinivasan

The world of
Harry Potter is filled with mythical beasts and terrifying creatures, capable
of inflicting pain and punishment to anyone deemed worthy of the wrath.
Naturally, in a story of good vs. evil, it is not entirely surprising that
deviants are subjected to a form of rehabilitation and imprisonment. What does
give pause is the notion that those who guard the gates of these prisons are
dementors.

Dementors are
essentially hooded figures who are able to magically steal all happy memories
and cause their targets to simply remember and relive the darkest and painful
memories. Thus, they are given the monumental task of punishing the worst of
the criminals. Though an obvious choice, not even fire-breathing dragons are
given this consideration.

To say that the
dementors can be interpreted as a metaphor for depression is a valid argument.
In the Harry Potter series, a powerful spell that calls for the invocation of
pure happiness is enough to ward off the demons. However, in the real world, the
illness goes far deeper than just that.

The Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American
Psychiatric Association, has a variety of disorders that present with
conditions consistent with what the majority may acknowledge as depression.
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is perhaps the most well known of these, but
others include: dysthymic disorder, bipolar disorder, substance-induced mood
disorder, mood disorder due to a generic medical condition, adjustment disorder
with depressed mood, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders,
schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia, and personality disorders (Center
for Substance Abuse Treatment).

Regardless of
the disorder within which it appears, depression is an illness that goes far
beyond a sadness that lasts a few days, or simply “feeling blue”. The criteria
used to establish a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD) includes the
appearance of depressive episodes, which include at the very least five of the
following symptoms: depressed mood, anhedonia (or a lower interest in
activities, even those that previously brought pleasure), change in weight or
appetite, irregular sleeping patterns, change in activity, fatigue, guilt and
worthlessness, lower concentration, and suicidal ideation (American Psychiatric
Association).

Unfortunately, a
neurological model that explains depression has yet to be established. Even
further, a concrete cause is unlikely to provide the truth. There is no single
chemical that causes it. Rather, various brain regions are implicated in how
they are affected by depression, such as the amygdala, thalamaus and
hippocampus (Miller, 2011). The brain is a complex puzzle that is still waiting
to be solved, so any definitive answers are probably on the horizon, what with
the advent of neuro-imaging in the form of CAT scans and fMRI machines.

For something
that affects a significant portion of the population, there is a lot of
misconception about depression itself. Perhaps it is the lack of a tangible
culprit: no bacteria to blame, virus to vilify, or tumor to tongue-lash.
Perhaps it lies in our socio-cultural fabric, when threads of truth are
interwoven and hidden among what’s deemed acceptable. Or even perhaps, maybe
the reason society doesn’t acknowledge the problem is because the answer is far
beyond our understanding.

If
only we had magical wands and incantations.

American
Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental
disorders
 (4th ed.,
text rev.). doi:10.1176/appi.books.9780890423349

Center for
Substance Abuse Treatment. Managing Depressive Symptoms in Substance Abuse
Clients During Early Recovery. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration (US); 2008. (Treatment Improvement Protocol
(TIP) Series, No. 48.) Appendix D—DSM-IV-TR Mood Disorders. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64063/

Miller, M. C.
(2011). What causes depression?.Understanding
depression
, Retrieved from
http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/what-causes-depression.htm

Categories
Epilepsy

All American Stigma

By Neha Kinariwalla

I know we all like to think that wrong
perceptions of epilepsy are a thing of the past. But the 20th
century brought along a new form of cultural fascination. And while much has
been learned about the actual causes of epilepsy, there is something to be said
about the public idea of the disorder. We may not notice this at first but
think back to Walt Disney’s  Snow White
and the Seven Dwarfs,
featuring
a little dwarf named Dopey, had seizures at night.

Not all of the depictions of
epilepsy are quite as loveable however. Oliver Stone’s JFK shows a person with epilepsy implicated in the presidential
assassination and people with epilepsy are shown in practically all of the
television series we see today. Movie characters with epilepsy are often out of
their minds, and this contributes to stereotypes. You may think “So? It’s just
a movie, I can tell it’s exaggerated!” But there’s a grave problem in this.
Epilepsy is multifaceted and a layered disorder. The depth to which the
American public understands the disorder is quite shallow, and this leads us to
subconsciously link epilepsy to danger.

Maybe it’s because epilepsy looks a bit scary. It seems violent, and it’s the concept that
people lose control of their bodies- even if it’s for a split second. When we
think of the word seizure itself, it doesn’t have a particularly appealing
connotation. To take hold, to capture by force, to grab…

But the first step to overcoming these presumptions is through
understanding epilepsy.  Stigma and
unfamiliarity of epilepsy is still prominent in the USA. In a study conducted
by Austin J.K in 2002, 22% of American adolescents confessed they did not know
whether or not epilepsy is a contagious disorder (It’s not! For the record). By
bringing these issues to light, we’ll hopefully reduce this All-American
Stigma.

Categories
Autism Spectrum Disorder

So What’s the Buzz About?

Autism has increasingly been making headlines in recent years and has sometimes found itself in the center of hot debate. How can the mere mention of a disorder stir so much controversy? Well, it is reported that today one in 50 children, aged 6-17, has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (CDC, 2013)- that is an alarming rate, and the incidence seems to be increasing.

So with such a high prevalence, the next thing you are probably wondering is what the culprit is. And here lies the problem at the center of disputes- a single cause of autism has yet to be pinpointed. As of now, researchers believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors are at play. There is a plethora of ongoing  research into the causes and treatments of autism. It is the goal of this blog to keep you informed   as well as clear up common misconceptions as best as we can.

 To start, there is often a  misunderstanding in the public of what autism is and whom it affects. Autism  is actually a general term used to refer to a group of five Autism Spectrum  Disorders, or ASDs, which affect brain development. Individuals with ASDs
process sensory information differently than those with normal brain development. Autism spans all races, ethnicities, and social groups (Autism Science Foundation, 2013).

What are the different types of ASDs? Well a “spectrum  disorder” means that symptoms can range from mild to severe (American Autism
Association, 2013).

  • “Classic autism” is known as autistic disorder, in which a child may have delays in the development of language, have problems communicating, lack social ability, have intellectual disabilities, or have unusual behaviors and interests.
  • Asperger’s Syndrome presents itself with milder symptoms than autistic disorder and is characterized by unusual behaviors or interests as well as a lack of social skills. Those living with Asperger’s do not normally have intellectual deficits or communication issues.
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
    is when an individual shows some but not all of the symptoms of autistic disorder or Asperger’s Syndrome (American Autism Association, 2013). People with PDD-NOS may only lack social and communication skills.
  • Rett syndrome is a very rare and severe form of autism occurring only in girls. It is caused by a mutation on the X chromosome.
  • Child disintegrative disorder is another very rare and severe condition in which a child regresses in development after at least two years of completely normal development (Mayo Clinic, 2013).

At the heart of the attention towards ASDs is, of course, the people who live with them and endure the symptoms each and every day- and we want to keep it that way. There is no cure for ASDs, but there is an array of therapies available to help treat the symptoms. Treatments play a large role in allowing individuals to overcome certain symptoms and thrive in society. This blog hopes to be a source of valuable information and resources in an effort to shed light on the ongoing research. We all have a lot to learn about Autism Spectrum Disorders, so let’s use this space to learn together. 

References:

American Autism Association. (2013). “What is autism?”[Handout]. New York, NY. Autism Science
Foundation. (2013). “What is autism?” Retrieved fromhttp://www.autismsciencefoundation.org/what-is-autism

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). “Autism spectrum disorders.”  Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr065.pdf.

Mayo Clinic staff. (2013). “Childhood disintegrative disorder.” Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/childhood-disintegrative-disorder/DS00801