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Did Abraham Lincoln Use Faith to Overcome Depression?

Abraham Lincoln is a powerful mental health hero for me. Whenever I doubt that I can do anything meaningful in this life with a defective brain (and entire nervous system, actually, as well as the hormonal one), I simply pull out Joshua Wolf Shenk's classic, "Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness." Or I read the CliffsNotes version: the poignant essay, "Lincoln's Great Depression" that appeared in "The Atlantic" in October of 2005.

Every time I pick up pages from either the article or the book, I come away with new insights. This time I was intrigued by Lincoln's faith -- and how he read the Book of Job when he needed redirection.

Following I have excerpted the paragraphs from The Atlantic article on Lincoln's faith, and how he used it to manage his melancholy.

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Daniel Carlat Interview on NPR’s Fresh Air

Perhaps you missed it, but psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Carlat released his first mainstream book in May criticizing the profession of psychiatry entitled, Unhinged. I've read it, enjoyed it, and would recommend it to anyone who wants to get a good understanding of how mainstream psychiatry is practiced throughout the U.S. today. Psychiatrists spend most of their time listening briefly to their patients, checking on how they're doing on their medications, and send patients on their way, typically after only 10 or 15 minutes every few weeks. Psychotherapy is mostly done by psychologists and other mental health professionals.

If you've followed the mental health profession for the past decade -- and especially with the nonstop disclosures of a number of company's unethical practices of ghostwriting and such over the past 5 years -- much of this is probably not new to you. But since most people don't have that great an interest in the details of a profession (and its dirty laundry -- keeping in mind all professions have dirty laundry), I think this book will be eye-opening for most people who pick it up.
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Brain and Behavior

Genetic Testing for Mental Disorders: Avoid 23andme, Navigenics, Others for Now

Genetic testing allows individuals to submit a genetic sample to a company, which then analyzes the genes for known anomalies or other problems. The idea is that by having that information, you may be able to be more aware of potential health problems down the road. Or even stave them off before they become a problem by changing your behaviors, diet, and exercise regimen. Companies like 23andme and Navigenics provide genetic DNA testing reports that purportedly tell you your risk factors for getting not only certain medical conditions, but also mental disorders, like bipolar or attention deficit disorder.

This may work fine for some very well-defined health issues, like heart disease (although a recent government investigation into these companies' abilities to provide even this information reliably suggests some problems). But it doesn't work at all for any mental disorder.

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Brain and Behavior

U.S. Mood Measured Through Twitter, 2006-2009

A group of researchers have published a simple word analysis of 300 million tweets (you know, those short, 140 character-maximum status updates from individuals) from Twitter and discovered something amazing -- people are happier on the weekends, and before and after work. Yes, that's right -- people are happier when they are not working!

It took three researchers from Northeastern University and two from Harvard Medical School to arrive at these stunning conclusions.

Now, since researchers didn't actually look at 300 million tweets individually, the mood of each tweet was inferred using the ANEW word list -- Affective Norms for English Words -- a word-rating system that gives normative emotional ratings for English language words. These kinds of analyses are indirect and rough measurements -- they can only note very large trends because they are not necessarily reliable.

Click through to watch the video and read more.

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Best of Our Blogs: July 23, 2010

It's weird writing the date on today's, "Best of Our Blogs." Why? Because July 23rd is my birthday. It's scary to think a whole year passed by. And what's worse is that in light of another year gone by, it's all too easy to ask those daunting, won't-get-you-anywhere type of questions. Things like, "What have I really accomplished in a year?" or, "Why haven't I reached all of my dreams yet?"

Ever since I was a kid, I would view birthdays as a rite of passage, a way to measure this year against the one before. And that would inevitably lead to disappointment. Weighing all the ups and downs in one's past is difficult, if not impossible to compare with the present. Somehow the past always seems more perfect. When you can see the end result, for example, of all the hard work you did before landing a job or to heal your bouts with anxiety, your life seems in order. In comparison, thinking about where you are now in the present, worrying about the unknown future and the endless possibilities both good and bad, the current year you're in feels less than. It's easy to get down on yourself about all the changes you still need to make. It's an uphill battle down a road not yet seen.

To change that this year, I've taken something I've read in a book called Shift by Peter Arnell. It's a book on business and marketing, but interwoven within the chapters is ways to subtly shift your life.
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Brain and Behavior

The Old Man and His Horse

A few people lately have reminded me of the Chinese parable "The Old Man and His Horse." You've probably heard it. I publish it here not to say that all your problems are actually blessings. But what can often seem like a misfortune can turn into a very good thing. I've seen this happen lately and it gives me hope that there's more lemonade ahead for me.

The Old Man and his Horse (a.k.a. Sai Weng Shi Ma)

Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. Even the king coveted his treasure. A horse like this had never been seen before -- such was its splendor, its majesty, its strength.

People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused. "This horse is not a horse to me," he would tell them. "It is a person. How could you sell a person? He is a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend." The man was poor and the temptation was great. But he never sold the horse.

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Wanted: Crisis Hotline Stories

Crisis and suicide hotlines are the backbone of most civilized nation's response to suicidal individuals and are often the "first line" of intervention and response. Surprisingly, very little large-scale research has been conducted on the effectiveness of suicide hotlines, whether they actually save people's lives, and what kind of followup they provide for individuals in crisis.

In one recent research study, Mishara et al. (2007) found that suicide hotline call center quality and the nature of their interventions varied considerably. The researchers also found that call centers tended to do little systematic quality assurance to ensure that volunteers who man the suicide hotlines are conducting interventions according to their initial training.

They also found that "Empathy and respect, [as well as a] supportive approach and good contact and collaborative problem solving were significantly related to positive outcomes" of people who called suicide hotlines.

That's what the data say, but we're interested in hearing your personal stories with a suicide or crisis hotline -- either as a caller, or as a volunteer who spends time answering the phone at one.

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4 Steps to Free Yourself from Limiting Beliefs

Psychologist and mental health blogger Elisha Goldstein quotes a favorite author of mine, Don Miguel Ruiz, in his post "4 Steps to Getting Free from Limiting Beliefs": "You see everything is about belief, whatever we believe rules our existence, rules our life."

I've been using Ruiz's book, "The Four Agreements," to help me process the beliefs of others, especially toward me (i.e. "people who struggle from depression are lazy"). But Elisha is right when he explains that the beliefs we hold about ourselves are just as disabling and disempowering as the ones other folks hold about us.
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Best of Our Blogs: July 20, 2010

Today, one door closed for me. Yet, last week another one flew wide open. Even with the happy news, this recent event could have put me on a one way street towards disappointment, pessimism and despair. And to be honest, it did for at least most of my morning. But something shifted in me. Maybe it's all of the inspiring articles I get to read here. Like this week's post on learning how to be mindful of all moments and accept them for what they are.

Still, it was difficult at first. Kind of like going to the dentist or grieving over a lost friendship, my impulse was to distract and detach. But I pressed on. Like you, I'm learning as I go along. Specifically, that life's not about rigidity and always getting what I want. And that this closed door could be a sign of something bigger (and no I'm not psychotic-you'll understand when you read this week's post below). Also, that a rejection or failure could be a good thing, a signal that you're going the wrong way and detracting from your true path. It's a reminder to stay hopeful, have faith and learn to be open to the possibility of what can be instead of what is. It's interesting that these are all things I would have missed had I not been fully present in the pain of losing something I thought I wanted, and accepting the situation for what it is.

On that note, I hope you'll also reap significant rewards for our top posts. And if you have, please let me know here.

Are You Spiritual or Psychotic?

(World of Psychology) - Hearing voices? Believe in signs? That doesn't necessarily mean you're psychotic. In fact, what's the difference between psychic and psychotic anyway? In this riveting post, Therese Borchard explores the fine line.

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Brain and Behavior

Kreitchman PET Center at Columbia University Cut Corners

In a little-noticed article over at The New York Times late last week, Benedict Carey noted how one of Columbia University's premier research centers -- the Kreitchman PET Center -- had to halt all of its research studies because researchers were caught cutting corners. Not just once, but over and over again.

We're not talking about flubbing up statistical data here. We're talking about creating and administering improper, impure drugs to research participants. Drugs that may not only harm patients, but could even impact the researcher's findings. (And researchers then wonder why it's so hard to get research subjects...)

What is the Kreitchman PET Center? It is (or was) the nation's leading research organization using positron emission tomography (PET) for psychiatric research. This is the cream of the crop when it comes to using PET scans in an effort to unlock the secrets of the brain to better understand it.

Worse yet, it wasn't just a matter of researchers having lax quality control and not correcting it because they didn't know about it -- they knew about it and continued administering drugs in an unethical and unsafe manner to patients. Then they worked to cover up their behavior.

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Introducing The Therapist Within

I'm pleased to introduce The Therapist Within, a blog about psychotherapy by Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar. Gabrielle is a psychotherapist who comes to us from Sydney, Australia, and I'm hoping her perspective from a different country and culture on psychotherapy will bring us new insights into the therapy process and the different ways it is practiced. But I'll let Gabrielle speak for herself:
A central part of my work as a therapist is a belief that everyone has...
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