When we hear the word bacteria many of us instinctively think yuck, dirty, bad.
But actually, the 1.5 – 2 kilos – about three to five pounds – of microbiota (bacteria and other microorganisms) living in our gut and all over us, are good and vital for us.
Our gut’s “inhabitants” are responsible for supporting the digestion of what we eat, for helping with the production of some vitamins, for warding off dangerous, intrusive microorganisms (the “bad” bacteria) that can cause serious illness, and they are connected to obesity and skin conditions, just to name a few of their functions.
A newborn’s digestive system, which is sterile before birth, is quickly colonized by microorganisms from the mother (vaginal, faecal, skin, breast, etc.), the environment, the air etc. From the third day, the composition of baby’s intestinal microbiota is dependent on its food.
And here is the hottest stuff about our gut bugs, the gut-brain connection:
++ There is increasing evidence that intestinal bacteria play a major role in brain chemistry and mental health, in influencing our mood and our feelings, and they have even found to be connected to hyperactivity and autism;
++ The intake of probiotic foods or supplements has shown to improve mood and may even be effective in treating anxiety and depression;
++ FMT – fecal microbiota transplantation (yes, the transplantation of poop!), which is currently used to treat life threatening infections, may also prove to be an effective treatment for emotional and mental disorders.
I have just completed one year of psychotherapy* with an amazing clinical social worker, accompanied by psychiatric/psychological follow-up. Today, at 54, I am as mentally and emotionally strong as maybe never before in my life.
Until less than a year ago my life was a mess. And that of my son even more. Our home was a mess, and I am not even going to begin detailing.
After another psychiatric hospitalization of several months, my 26-year-old son (who is struggling with psychotic OCD) has been living in supervised housing for the past 6 months and he is learning to live an independent and socially healthy life.
I have moved to a new apartment with my cat and have begun studying psychology and working with children with special needs.
The love of my life (who is also coping with emotional-mental complexity) has evolved into my best friend.
Things are far from perfect, but they are steadily improving.
AND, most days are sunny and warm in this country.
“In an award-winning acting career spanning decades, Glenn Close has managed to keep her private life out of the public eye.
But she comes to Toronto on Monday with her sister, Jessie, to talk about their family’s struggles and triumphs with mental health problems, as part of the Unique Lives & Experiences lecture series, sponsored in part by the Star. Jessie has bipolar disorder and her son, Calen, has schizoaffective disorder.
Deciding to confront the mental health stigma head on, the sisters created an organization Bring Change 2 Mind, where Jessie writes a candid blog and anyone can share their story.”
US prisons hold 10 times more mentally ill people than state hospitals
“‘We’ve basically gone back to where we were 170 years ago,’ Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center, told Kaiser Health News. ‘We are doing an abysmal job of treating people with serious mental illnesses in this country. It is both inhumane and shocking the way we have dumped them into the state prisons and the local jails.’
The report found 44 states and the District of Columbia have at least one jail that holds more people coping with a mental illness than the largest state psychiatric hospital in the US does.
As states have drastically cut funding for mental health services in the last several years, the number of available beds in psychiatric hospitals has plunged to the lowest level since 1850.
Thus, many of these patients are shuffled into the prison system simply because there is nowhere else for them to go. The US prison population has steadily increased as mental health funding has decreased, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has found.
Prisoners with mental health issues are often put in solitary confinement for long periods of time, stay incarcerated longer than other prisoners, and are disproportionately abused, beaten, and raped by other inmates, the new report noted. Without treatment, the condition of ill inmates often worsens.
Since 1970, the percentage of prisoners with mental illnesses in each state has risen an average of about 5 to 20 percent, the report found.”
Penn Medicine researchers show how lost sleep leads to lost neurons
“No one really thought that the brain could be irreversibly injured from sleep loss. It’s now clear that it can be.”
“Most people appreciate that not getting enough sleep impairs cognitive performance. For the chronically sleep-deprived such as shift workers, students, or truckers, a common strategy is simply to catch up on missed slumber on the weekends. According to common wisdom, catch up sleep repays one’s “sleep debt,” with no lasting effects. But a new Penn Medicine study shows disturbing evidence that chronic sleep loss may be more serious than previously thought and may even lead to irreversible physical damage to and loss of brain cells. The research is published today in The Journal of Neuroscience. “
A feeling of togetherness with people sharing similar problems;
Learning from the experience of others and from the way they cope;
Learning to overcome your fear of talking openly about yourself (which can be extremely relieving);
Experiencing that you too have something positive to give to others;
Receiving feedback from others, including the group leader (in all the groups I participated in, this was either a social worker or a psychologist), which can help you grow, strengthen your self-confidence and your ability to cope;
Improving social and interpersonal skills as a result from the interaction with the group members. This can include having to deal with people you don’t sympathize with and with being exposed to criticism (whether that is based on valid evidence, or on a personal issue of the critic – either way you can learn from it, especially if the other group members voice their opinion).
Receiving additional information about treatments, relevant events & activities, etc.
Two support groups helped me function and stay sane during the bitter times of my son D.’s involuntary hospitalization, and the subsequent phase of his drug abuse. Divorced, having to work full-time, and without family in the country – I had to cope with my only son suffering from schizophrenia and smoking synthetic marijuana – a toxic drug with psychoactive effects: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/spice-synthetic-marijuana
As if someone suffering from schizophrenia needed more madness!
This hellish substance completely detached D. from reality and messed up his senses: He would smoke in his bed and stub out the cigarettes on the bed sheet; he probably wouldn’t even have noticed the first flames if the bed had caught fire. (We still have souvenirs from that glorious time: shirts, sweatshirts, and bed sheets decorated with brown framed holes.) He would vomit a lot, didn’t shower, and his room was a pig sty. Speaking to him was pointless, the words didn’t reach him – it was like there was nobody home in his brain.
One stormy wet night D. left the house at around eight in the evening and didn’t return. Worried sick, I called the police after a few hours and asked them to search for him. They did a thorough job, but could not find him. Despite the tranquilizers I had taken I could not sleep. I pictured my son lying somewhere outside, wet and shivering, unconscious and dying of an overdose. (Just remembering this brings back the feeling of then…)
At five in the morning D. finally turned up, soaked from head to toe and water dripping from his clothes. His eyes were red and small, open but as if asleep. He was hardly able to utter an understandable word. Totally stoned, he had wandered around for about eight (8!!) hours, not able to find his home!
But those times are history. D. has returned to being his intelligent, philosophic, and very sensitive self, fighting his illness (and sometimes me as well – it’s not easy) with all his might.
And I’m in a new group, a therapy group (Free of charge – Hey, who says the Israeli healthcare system is all bad? [Israelis!]).
The group is great, but much to my chagrin, one rule is that the group members are not allowed to have private contact with one another outside the sessions. I don’t see the benefits of this rule and neither do most of the other participants. On the contrary, I think (therapy, support or other) groups can be an excellent place to meet new people and build meaningful relationships (as I have done with people from previous groups), because within this special framework you get to know the other very closely, with his problems, which is an ideal basis for any kind of deeper relationship. What do you think?