Hats off to Chicago Med

I just watched my 3rd episode of “Chicago Med”….yet another brilliant TV show created by Dick Wolf of “Law & Order” fame. My only regret was not discovering this show sooner! This show has a thoughtfully-written script and characters realistically portrayed by a great cast in a way that–much like “House” in its first season–draws you into each episode.  Oliver Platt plays the Chief of Psychiatry at Chicago Med, and I think he’s doing an awesome job!  The best part about “Chicago Med,” IMO,  is the fact that it’s the only show, as far I’m aware, that affords a weekly story line delving into the realm of mental health.  Yes, MENTAL HEALTH.  There are multiple story lines happening concurrently with the cast, but from I’ve seen from the 3 episodes I’ve watched, the focus of each week’s episode is primarily about a situation involving mental health.  Not just an occasional acknowledgment here and there during a whole television season that yes, there are health issues that aren’t entirely medical in nature (think Dr. House and his addiction to vicodin for his “pain”) but a FULL story line each and every week dedicated to at least one person struggling with a mental health issue.

Finally, prime time television is taking a serious stab at shedding light on mental health!  For that, I am grateful.  You know why? Because we need to talk more about mental health conditions.


Depression…..PTSD…….Suicide……Obsessive Compulsive Disorder…..Bipolar Disorder….Self Harm….Eating Disorders…..Postpartum Depression…..Sociopathy……Borderline Personality Disorder…..Schizophrenia……etc.


 

Every single person out there knows someone who has experienced one or more of these mental health issues.  You wouldn’t know that, though, because the tendency is for people to hide these things thanks to misconceptions spawned by the very little that we do know about them.

Thank you, “Chicago Med,” for shining a light on mental health.  I look forward to future episodes, and hope that more and more people will start watching the show.  My hope is that “Chicago Med” will prompt other show producers/directors to create more shows like this, realizing the need to make mental health a part of our daily discourse and encourage discussions and curiosity about these conditions and create a mentality that “Hey, a mental health condition deserves to be diagnosed and treated the same way as, say, diabetes or a heart condition.”

Keeping mental health conditions swept under a rug and a mystery from the public create a taboo mentality that mental health conditions don’t deserve to be treated and you should just “snap out of it” or stop imagining that you even have any kind of condition in the first place.  Part of the problem is that mental health conditions are, as quoted in the episode tonight, “invisible.” In tonight’s episode, Dr. Ethan Choi (played by Brian Tee) continues to battle the effects of his PTSD from serving in the military.  His girlfriend Vicki makes a reference to mental health conditions as being difficult to diagnose/treat because they don’t necessarily exhibit any physical symptoms and/or there doesn’t appear to be a medical explanation for those symptoms.  Modern medicine and technologies are making headway–albeit slowly- in assisting doctors and psychiatrists to confirm and/or make diagnoses via brain scans.  The patient under Dr. Choi’s care in tonight’s episode appeared to also be a victim of PTSD from being in combat, but it was through Dr. Choi’s keen observations that they ultimately determined the patient had excessive scar tissues near his heart that caused the sound of his heart beating to echo loudly in the poor guy’s head.  So, he wasn’t imagining things and he most certainly wasn’t suffering from PTSD like he was insisting from the beginning!  And of course, no one believed him!  This is where I applaud the writers for writing a script that shows that, even though someone may appear to be suffering from a mental health condition, you can’t assume that there isn’t a physical or medical explanation for what the person is experiencing until you take the time to determine the root cause for a patient’s experience.  Just like depression has a scientific explanation, like a hormonal and/or neurotransmitter imbalance, there is a biological explanation behind every mental health disorder. And it’s the task of research scientists to figure that all out, and I pray they hurry the heck up because we are losing too many people each year to mental illnesses!  But I digress…..

I end this blog post with a call for “Chicago Med” to include an episode or two on postpartum depression. We desperately need an episode that informs the public of the difference between postpartum depression and other postpartum conditions like postpartum OCD, postpartum psychosis and postpartum bipolar.  Please, please, please, Dick Wolf and team of writers: please reach out to Postpartum Support International today and collaborate together on a series of episodes on postpartum mood disorders.

If you look at the statistics, how can people NOT produce more shows on a topic that touches so many lives?

 

 

History in the Making for Maternal Mental Health Advocates

I’ve been super busy at work these days, sometimes having to work at night, which is why I haven’t blogged much lately. But I couldn’t let today go by without mentioning the announcement today about a major step in the right direction….finally!  First thing this morning, I received a text from a friend to check out an article in the NY Times about postpartum depression (PPD), followed immediately by an email from my husband with a link to the same article.

Mental health advocates are excited not just about the news that splashed the headlines of today’s New York Times and NPR about the importance of screening adults for depression.  It’s the acknowledgment–finally–that new and pregnant moms need screening because catching and treating PPD early is crucial to the wellbeing of both the mother and the baby, and to the family unit as a whole.  I’ve blogged in the past about how screening and seeing someone experienced in treating PPD could have prevented my painful experience.  Having the screening recommendation come from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is particularly meaningful, as its recommendations have far-reaching impact on things like healthcare (i.e., American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians) and health insurance in this country.  In fact, its recommendations appear in the current issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association).

This is a major milestone for maternal mental health advocates in this country.  And it’s about freaking time!  I attribute this milestone to the persistence, hard work, dedication and passion of many, many amazing people either independently acting or as part of organizations formed–too many to list here but foremost on the list is Postpartum Support International (of which I’ve been a member since 2006)–to spread awareness about an all too common condition suffered by mothers that even today people are not aware occurs in 1 out of 7 moms.  Seeing my friends’ names in these articles–Heidi Koss, a survivor/advocate/counselor and Wendy Davis, Executive Director of Postpartum Support International–mentioned makes them all the more meaningful to me.  They are passionate about what they do because they don’t want mothers and their families suffering unnecessarily.

You would think something like screening, which I’ve blogged about numerously in the past, would be mandated by all healthcare professionals who come in contact with expectant/new moms.  In one of my very first blog posts from back in June 2009, I included my suggestions for what screening would entail. Unfortunately, screening has not been embraced because, after all, where there is a positive, there is always a negative.  In this case, there are several negatives, with the biggest being none other than STIGMA, one of the 2 biggest barriers to progress for the battle against PPD.

Stigma–and the ignorance associated with it– comes from resistance to change and attitudes about what screening would mean (“Oh, once a mom is screened positively for PPD, then she will automatically be medicated”).  That, by the way, is totally false.  No one is deliberately trying to medicate every mother and give more business to the pharmaceutical companies.  Again, I have blogged plenty about this in the past, but medication is just one way to treat a perinatal mood disorder and in many cases critical to helping restore the neurochemical imbalance that childbirth has brought about.  Without medication, I might not have survived my PPD.  In most cases, it’s a combination of medication and therapy (like CBT) that is most effective.  In some, less serious cases of PPD, therapy or peer-to-peer support (with a PPD support group led by a survivor) and/or an alternative treatment like meditation or acupuncture is sufficient.

Speaking of which, there is another major barrier, which is what happens once an expectant or new mom screens positively for a perinatal mood disorder….can we find them immediate help?  Although there are more resources now than there were back when I suffered from PPD, we still have a very long way to go.  There is definitely a need for more help among the healthcare, mental healthcare, and peer-to-peer support communities who are experienced in treating perinatal mood disorders.  You’ll all too often hear that there is a long wait to see a psychiatrist (an MD who has the ability to prescribe meds), once you’ve found one that is near you that has experience treating perinatal mood disorders.  Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough mental healthcare practitioners who are experienced in treating perinatal mood disorders.  There aren’t enough mental healthcare practitioners, period.  And among general practitioners, not enough are experienced enough or even have adequate bedside manner to know how to treat/behave toward a mother struggling with a perinatal mood disorder.  I know, because I had seen one of those doctors, and it was a horrible, horrible experience for me.

These are the problems that we need to overcome if we want to truly be able to prevent any more mothers from falling through the cracks.  There are many steps to get where we need to be, but we have attained an important step in the right direction with the recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force!

Being Thankful for Freedom

I’ve never been able to come up with daily thanks for #30daysofthanks, but I do have a lot to be thankful for.  I don’t have a lot of time to write tonight because I have to go back to work after I put my daughter to bed.  Speaking of work, I am thankful for the job that I have, even though I have had to work ever night and every Saturday/Sunday for the past couple of weeks to wrap up a project by month end.   Work has been grueling since I started my new job in March, but I have learned a lot.  In general, it has been a great experience thus far.  I am exhausted.  But I am thankful.

First and foremost, I am thankful for FREEDOM.  Freedom that I would not have if it weren’t for so many of member of the US military sacrificing their lives, time that they would have spent with loved ones if they weren’t fighting for our FREEDOM.  In all too many cases these men and women may survive the wars they fight, but they come back home to find out they’ve lost everything they had–their homes, their families.  They even lost their mental health.  For the sake of our FREEDOM.   Well, you Senators out there claiming to have our people’s wellbeing at the heart of your legislation, you should show them you are thankful not just with lip service, but through actions.  Actions speak louder than words, right?  Well, then, develop mental health programs and make sure every veteran suffering from mental health issues gets the help he/she needs.  NOW!

In tonight’s episode of The Voice, Pharrell performed his song FREEDOM.  It was a performance that had a particularly special meaning, given what has been happening recently in Paris, in Mali, in Beirut, etc.  We in this country need to stop fighting among ourselves and realize what’s truly at stake here.  Our FREEDOM can be jeopardized if we don’t fight the real enemies TOGETHER.

Without freedom, I wouldn’t even be able to appreciate my and my family’s health.

Without freedom, I wouldn’t even be free to appreciate GORGEOUS SUNSETS like the one that many New Jerseyans were graced with last night.  I was standing in a local Michael’s and happened to look out the glass doors while standing on line to pay, when I saw the most gorgeous sky I have ever seen.  It was so gorgeous that everyone leaving the store was in awe and stopped to take pictures with their cell phones.  Sunset pictures from all over New Jersey appeared all over Twitter.

These are the shots I took with my cell phone.

ISL_sunset3_11_22_15

Photo: Ivy Shih Leung 11/22/15

Without FREEDOM, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate having the job that I have, working to help support my family, the ability to come home from a long day at work to watch my favorite program The Voice, and afterwards, blog about what I’m thankful about.

ISL_sunset_11_22_15

Photo: Ivy Shih Leung 11/22/15

 

I, for one, try to never take my FREEDOM and everything that matters to me for granted.  My family, my friends, my home, food, clothing, my job, being able to travel and see different cities, landmarks and scenery, taking in gorgeous sunset skies or rainbow skies or star-filled skies, music, dance, entertainment, and so on.

Be thankful that we are blessed to have the FREEDOM we have.

Honored to be Recognized as a Top Mental Health Blogger by Australia Counselling

With so many bloggers who write about and share their personal experiences with mental health issues to try to help others cope and who try to combat stigma by sharing information to increase awareness, I was stunned and thrilled to find out–by way of a tweet from Australia Counselling last week– that my blog was selected as one of the top 34 bloggers from around the world who advocate for mental health and wellness!  Knowing that my blog is recognized on the other side of the world — or as I fondly refer to as Down Under (as I have desired to live there ever since I first fell in love with the country in 1997…and I have been back there twice since, most recently this time last year and I think I even passed by the Australia Counselling location on Macquarie Street in Sydney then!) — means more to me than words can describe.

I have been blogging since February 2009 and though my posts are less frequent these days, I am determined to keep this blog going for an indefinite period of time because my mission is to try to make a positive difference and try to help others in a way that I would’ve liked to have received myself (but didn’t) during my scary battle with postpartum depression in 2005.  Since my own personal experience was 10 years ago, my story has since been shared numerous times via numerous venues.  But I will continue to make it a mission to get my thoughts out there via social media when I see ignorance rear its ugly head by way of untrue statements and preventable tragedies.

I also want to help motivate others to share their own experiences and chip away at stigma and show the world that depression and other mental health issues are serious issues that need treatment just like any other physical illness needs treatment.  Illnesses of the mind are not made up.  People should not avert their eyes in the face of mental illness.  People should not turn away from those who need help, like the instance in Edinburgh I blogged about last night.  We need more voices to stop being afraid to speak up.  We can succeed at de-stigmatizing mental illness….one survivor, one blogger, one social worker, one therapist at a time.  Since social media is such a powerful tool to help carry messages far and wide with just a few clicks, it is critical that we get even more people blogging about their personal experiences and spreading awareness and knowledge as possible.  Please click here to check out the other blogs on this top 34 list.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Australia Counselling, for the honor of being among one of your top 34 mental health bloggers.  I am most humbled and honored to receive such a wonderful recognition!

What Food Sensitivities Might Mean in the Grand Scheme of Things

This morning, I saw a post in my Facebook feed about yesterday’s article by Rachel Rabkin Peachman in Motherlode (NY Times) titled “Picky Eating in Children Linked to Anxiety, Depression and A.D.H.D.”  This was not the only article that was motivated by yesterday’s Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics article titled “Psychological and Psychosocial Impairment in Preschoolers With Selective Eating” in which Nancy Zucker, Ph.D., eating disorders specialist, and associate professor, psychology and neuroscience, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C. shares her findings.  There was also a Medline Plus article yesterday titled “Severe ‘Picky Eating’ May Point to Mental health Issues in Kids” and Wall Street Journal article by Sumanthi Reddy titled “What Picky Eating Might Mean for Children Later.” I know this isn’t about postpartum depression (PPD), but as I’ve said before, PPD has its roots earlier in life, which is why I choose to blog about and spread awareness about those roots.  I also want to tackle feelings of guilt and shame felt by mothers over things like picky eaters and food sensitivities. For example, a kid may have food sensitivities that are biological in nature, so there is absolutely zero reason for a mother to feel guilt/shame over the situation.  Sure, you should do what you can to introduce new foods slowly over time (remember, do all things in moderation and you can’t go wrong), but forcing a child to eat something when he is hell bent against it will not help matters one bit.  The approach of “If a child refuses to eat, don’t give him anything to eat and send him to his room; he’ll eat whatever you give him if he is hungry enough” is not the way to go at all, IMO. Dr. Zucker has also indicated that having kids eat processed foods (like chicken nuggets….either the frozen variety or the McDonald’s variety) should not alarm or cause parents to feel guilt/shame, since consistency in texture and taste is important to a child who might be tentative/uncertain overall and especially when it comes to eating.  Some experience sensory overload and become overwhelmed easily when it comes to taking in everything via their senses of smell, vision, hearing….and taste.   These kids have difficulty processing all the stimuli around them and go on sensory overload.  Chicken nuggets aren’t like broccoli.  They’re not bitter little tree lookalikes with little “leaves” and mushy in some cases, hard to chew in other cases, depending on how they are cooked or how fresh they are. In the Medline article, Dr. Zucker states:

They have a stronger sensitivity to the world outside and to how their body feels. That sets them up to have more vivid experiences — more intense food experiences, more intense emotional experiences. None of that is pathological, but it could be a vulnerability for later problems.

You may want to ask yourself whether you are a picky eater (and if so, whether you are also hypersensitive to smell, noise, visual cues and oral textures).  Here are the results of my self examination:

  • Picky eater?  check (for my daughter, not sure if I was once a picky eater, but I don’t believe I am that picky.  I won’t eat everything, and I think that’s absolutely normal)
  • Hypersensitive to smell? check for me (I can smell things that have caused people to liken me to a canine)
  • Hypersensitive to noise? check (I can hear things that have caused people to liken me to a canine; high-pitched grinding of subways to a halt, subtle background noises at work that all my co-workers don’t hear/tune out yet are highly distracting and irritating to me)
  • Hypersensitive to visual cues? check (for my daughter; whereas, I have extremely myopic vision, so I can’t say this applies to me; my sense of smell and hearing more than make up my lack of vision)
  • Hypersensitive to oral textures? check (for my daughter; I’m not sure if I was like this as a kid)

While a distaste for broccoli is not indicative of an issue since it’s fairly common for kids to refuse to eat it (it’s like beer and some other drinks and foods that take a few tries before you acquire a taste for it), when food aversions and smells becomes too overwhelming for a child as to prevent him from being able to tolerate eating out altogether, that’s when you know you have a case of extreme sensitivity for which parents should seek professional help (as the study has found a greater likelihood of depression or social anxiety later in life).  When a child has a limited number of foods he/she likes and can tolerate being exposed to other foods without any issues, that’s when there is a moderate sensitivity to food.  Moderately picky eaters usually broaden their palate over time, much like my daughter is doing slowly but surely, much to my relief!  Some children have a limited diet due to physical reasons such as acid reflux, which is not easy to figure out when a baby experiences this (from drinking milk and then after an intro to solid foods).  It’s not like the baby can tell you that she has acid reflux or feels sick drinking or eating certain things.  Hence, the trial and error and much anxiety and concern that ensue….not fun in the least! From the Motherlode article:

[Picky] eaters are not simply stubborn or tyrannical children whose parents have given in to their culinary whims. Rather, the research reveals that picky eaters have a heightened sensitivity to the world that is innate. “Their sensory experience is more intense in the areas of taste, texture and visual cues. And their internal experience may be more intense, so they have stronger feelings,” said Dr. Zucker, who is also director of the Duke Center for Eating Disorders. “They’re sensitive kids who may be anxious or a little depressed; so cutting up fruits into funny shapes is not going to do the trick for these kids.”

Also:

“It is a reminder that food is not a stand-alone issue and that it plays a role in the big picture of development,” said Dr. Laura Jana, pediatrician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and co-author of “Food Fights: Winning the nutritional challenges of parenthood armed with insight, humor, and a bottle of ketchup.” “How kids behave around food relates to how they interact with the world in general. It doesn’t surprise me that some kids who are really tentative around food might be really tentative in life.”

I am so glad the research was performed and results shared across major news outlets like the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, etc. and subsequently shared all over social media.  The information is very critical and can make a hugely beneficial impact to parents struggling with their kids’ tastes for food know when to get help versus when to chalk up as something kids will grow out of as their palates broaden and become “more sophisticated.”  Per the Motherlode article, approximately 20% of children are picky eaters, so you can see it’s a fairly common challenge faced by parents.  And per Dr. Zucker, there is a correlation between picky eating and mental health challenges down the road, like depression and/or anxiety.

The #1 Killer of Teen Girls Worldwide

I was motivated to write this blog post tonight due to a Telegraph article that appeared in my Facebook feed today written by Nisha Lilia Diu and titled: “Suicide is now the biggest killer of teenage girls worldwide. Here’s why.”

That headline shocked me.  And it is shocking a lot of people, even those firmly entrenched in the fields of global women’s rights.  This headline should shock everyone.  It should shock people into trying to do something to turn those statistics around.

Yes, suicide is now the #1 killer of girls/young women between the ages of 15 and 19.  Suicide has overtaken maternal mortality as the #1 killer of young women in the world….a statistic buried–yes, buried–in the latest World Health Organisation report.  This information does not deserve to be buried.  It needs to be written about, talked about and acted upon!  I am glad Nisha wrote this Telegraph article!  In the article, you’ll see the alarming numbers of suicides in girls ages 15-19 in the different regions of the world.

Teen girls ages 15-19 face, regardless of location:

  • hormone changes
  • emotional changes (e.g., increase in vulnerability and decline in self confidence)
  • behavior changes (e.g., attracting mate, sex drive, competition)
  • identity issues (e.g., acceptance among peers, desire to fit in, peer pressure)

Add to that the following disadvantages society places on women, including:

  • societal expectations
  • disempowerment
  • marginalization

Add to that the use of social media throughout much of the world.  I’ve blogged in the past about it, but I will sum up the basics of the detrimental impact social media can have on emotionally vulnerable teen girls.  The malicious words of a complete stranger, aka troll, that confirm an emotionally vulnerable teenager’s feelings (i.e., self hate, thoughts of suicide) by saying things like “Yeah, you’re ugly alright. Why don’t you just go kill yourself.”  These are the trolls I wish more than anything in the world–with the exception of the complete eradication of mental health stigma, terrorism, misogny and people killing each other–can be located and zapped from existence.  Like in a video game.  These haters are a danger to others and need to be stopped.

I need to mention the tragic story of 12 year old Izzy, which I learned about from this blog post last week.  While we do not know what exactly led to her being publicly shamed online by her father after he hacked her hair, and it is unlikely that the video alone led to her jumping out of a car and off a bridge to her death, what I do know is that ANY teen acting out (e.g., doing drugs, rebellious behavior, locking themselves in their rooms) needs help, NOT punishment or public shaming.  FULL STOP.

As in so many cases you will read about in the news of teens taking their own lives, there may have been no signs that they were distressed to the point that they felt they had to end their lives to escape the pain with which they are struggling.  Today, I came across this touching obituary written by the parents of Clay Shephard in North Carolina, whose son was smiling despite what was driving his drug addictions. There was no indication whatsoever that he was going to take his own life.  Included in the obituary were these words that sound very much like my post about a fellow alum’s son’s sudden tragic passing a few months ago:

To all parents, pay attention to your children and the world that revolves around them – even when the surface is calm, the water may be turbulent just beneath.

You may wonder how all this has anything to do with postpartum depression (PPD).  It’s important to remember that many cases of depression surface during the teenage years and follow you throughout life.  One of the primary risk factors of PPD is a history of depression. I delve into relevant statistics and risk factors in my book. And you may be interested in checking out my prior posts relating to teenage years.

It’s with knowledge that there is any hope of REDUCING STIGMA AND REDUCING DEPRESSION!

This Loss Could Be Any Parent’s Loss

I just posted the next paragraph on my Facebook timeline, but I wanted the post to reach more people, as this loss could have been any other parent’s loss.  Although it has nothing to do with postpartum depression (PPD), remember that I do occasionally post about teenage matters, including teen angst, self confidence and depression arising from a combination of environmental and biological factors.  How good or bad a teen’s experiences are, how well they are able to communicate about/share what they are thinking/feeling (with anyone, not just with our parents), and how well they are educated PRIOR TO adolescence on what to expect concerning our physical AND emotional changes that come with adolescence….these are all KEY in helping teens get through any challenges they face.  Here is where I want to quote an excerpt from my book: “Knowledge is power. That is one of my most favorite sayings, simply because it makes so much sense. Knowledge, which has a tremendous normalizing effect, is key in keeping fear at bay, since fear typically rules in the presence of the unknown.”

A fellow alum’s 8th grader, Cayman Naib, from the Philly area had gone missing last Wed night. I do not know his mother, but I have been having a very hard time processing this young boy’s sudden taking of his own life.  [And so here I am, blogging to let my feelings out]. It is so important to be alert and sensitive to our kids’ emotions, especially as they grow older and enter their teens. We’re all adults, we’ve been there. But I believe today is much different than when any of us grew up. It seems there is more pressure than ever before academically, athletically, socially, etc. Being a teen is a time that is filled with much turmoil that we may or may not even realize what our kids are actually thinking, as they may not understand their feelings and feel unable to share them with us. Impulse and emotional roller coasters reign. Such difficulty in controlling emotional impulses (with depression possibly mixed in) can cause a young individual who doesn’t know any better to feel like it won’t get better and they just want to end their pain the quickest way possible. So, please, talk to your children and make sure they understand what emotional changes may accompany physical ones once adolescence comes.

Like so many that have been following this story, I was praying for a different outcome.  My heart breaks not just because this is a loss suffered by a fellow alum.  My heart breaks knowing that this is a tragedy that would easily have happened to any parent with a young teen.  My heart breaks remembering how many times I myself had contemplated running away from my problems as a teenager because I didn’t know how to cope with them, I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to that would understand what I was going through, and I felt like I just wanted to end it all (but thankfully never did).  Tragedies like this make me want to dedicate the rest of my life to preventing other kids from wanting to (and succeeding at) taking their own lives.

If you are a teenager and reading this, please know that:

YOU MATTER
YOU WILL GET THROUGH THIS
YOUR LIFE IS FILLED WITH SO MUCH PROMISE
I DIDN’T FEEL THAT WAY AS A TEEN
BUT I’M TELLING YOU NOW THAT LIFE IS WORTH LIVING
PLEASE STAY STRONG