Stories tagged mental health

May
11
2009

This isn't where I got my kava: But, yes, the secret ingredient in kava is the server's hands.
This isn't where I got my kava: But, yes, the secret ingredient in kava is the server's hands.Courtesy Kanaka's Paradise Life
Remember how I went on vacation to Hawaii recently? It’s okay if you don’t. It was my trip, after all, and I, at least, sort of remember it.

Being in Hawaii, I naturally spent plenty of time drinking out of coconuts. This is an old Hawaiian tradition, like getting sunburned and swimming in hotel pools. Granted, for the first part of my trip, most of what I drank from coconut shells consisted of brackish water.

(OMG! Did I not tell you about that? Right outside the airport I fell into a very large hole, and got trapped under my backpack! I was there for days, surviving on the rainwater that seeped into the pit. Fortunately, I was eventually found by “a warrior for good” named Larry, who dragged me—and my backpack—out of that hole with a rope and a quad-bike. Larry didn’t really understand how I could get trapped in a 3-foot-deep hole, but whatever. It had been a long flight and I was tired.)

Anyway, I eventually did try some beverages other than rainwater. Wanting to make friends with some of the town hippies, I tried a local favorite: Kava. (Or kawa, or ava, or awa, depending on how seriously you take yourself.) Kava is a plant native to Polynesia, and its roots are used to make a beverage that is said to have a relaxing effect on the drinker. (Or more than relaxing, I guess, depending on how much is consumed.) So, yes, figuring “When have hippies ever done anything unhealthy?” I went to the kava and fudge bar and got some kava and fudge. The kava came in a coconut shell. (The fudge came on wax paper, unfortunately. I had been hoping for another coconut.)

The fudge was decent. On a deliciousness scale, however, it turns out that kava rates a little ways below rainwater that has seeped into a muddy pit. It’s sort of a light, browny color (light brown, you might say), slightly chalky in the mouth, and it tastes like… like… the pounded root of a plant that grows in an island swamp. So… swampy. Also, it leaves your mouth feeling a little numb. In my experience, though, sometimes a thing tastes a lot less foul when you drink lots of it. I thought it would maybe be a good idea to try that out with the kava.

It didn’t work. Four or five coconuts later, the kava tasted as bad as ever. And while I did suddenly feel as if I had delivered four or five large coconut shells full of swamp mud into my tummy, I was not feeling noticeably more relaxed.

I’m going to credit this towards the fact that Gordon anxiety is made of pretty stern stuff. (Like diamonds. Diamonds and titanium.) Because, according to a new study in the journal Psychopharmacology (reported on here), that kava should have been a “safe and effective” way to reduce my anxiety.

Researchers gave participants in the study five tablets of kava extract daily, or five tablets of a placebo. The group receiving the real kava demonstrated “dramatically decreased anxiety levels,” as well as reduced depression levels. The members of the control group, I guess, remained anxious and depressed.

There had been concern in recent years over a connection between kava marketed in Europe and liver toxicity, leading kava to be banned in the UK, Europe and Canada. But the researchers observed no major health concerns in the participants of the study. While more research is needed to confirm kava’s safety, it is thought that the toxicity in some kava products actually came from improper processing of the plant; traditionally, only the kava root is used, and it is processed with water, but some producers were using ethanol and acetone to obtain kava extract from the leaves and stem of the plant.

Again, except for the possible toxicity, all this was contrary to my experience. On the other hand, the kava dispenser informed me that there are many varieties of kava, each with their own properties. The one served there, he assured me, was sort of “the thinking man’s” kava. I’m not much of a thinking man, though, and therein may lie the problem..

Still, this is probably good news for those of you following the development of anti-anxiety drugs. Or drug alternatives. Or horrible-tasting beverages.

Jul
19
2007

All you do to me is talk talk: A new study finds that too much sharing can actually be a bad thing. Photo by Steffe from flickr.com
All you do to me is talk talk: A new study finds that too much sharing can actually be a bad thing. Photo by Steffe from flickr.com

No surprise there. Every parent of a teen could tell you that. But now, thanks to a study at the University of Missouri-Columbia, science has confirmed what we already knew.

The study found that girls who talk to their friends extensively about their problems are unlikely to resolve those problems, but instead are more likely to become anxious and depressed.

This reminds me of a study I read about years ago (sorry, no link) about the different communication styles used by men and women. That long-ago study found that when a man asks a question, he is generally seeking information. But often when a woman asks a question, she is seeking validation. (These are just broad trends – obviously, this does not hold true for all people or for all questions.) Women are more likely to use questions as a form of social bonding, and making sure everyone is in agreement.

Connecting these two studies, I would postulate that when the girls talk about their problems with friends, the friends confirm and validate each other's feelings, making the problems seem more real and more important.

Keeping your feelings bottled up inside is the route to mental health. Stoicism rules!

(I also have a theory as to why men never ask for directions, if anyone is interested.)

Jun
25
2007

Gaming trouble?: Can video games become addictive like alcohol or drugs? It's a question doctors and psychiatrists are looking into now as they're seeing more cases of over use of video gaming having a negative impact in some patient's lives. (Photo by cicmai09)
Gaming trouble?: Can video games become addictive like alcohol or drugs? It's a question doctors and psychiatrists are looking into now as they're seeing more cases of over use of video gaming having a negative impact in some patient's lives. (Photo by cicmai09)
I’m dating myself here, but I have to admit it, I don’t get video games.

The kids of my friends and even some of the younger people I work with rave about the latest games and the fun they have with them, but it blows right by me. I can’t see why people camp out overnight to get the latest playing systems or the hottest new games.

Now, people in the medial/psychiatric fields are taking a harder look at video games. Can excessive playing be an addiction?

Meeting over the weekend, the American Medical Association passed on making a judgment call on the situation. It’s asking the American Psychiatric Association to study the issue over the next several years to see where video gaming fits on the addiction horizon.

To tell you the truth, I haven’t got any opinion on this. I guess you could say this is a drink I’ve never drunk, a drug I’ve never tried. But some of the information I’ve read makes me see that video gaming can be a serious problem for some people.

Some counselors report increased amounts of patients coming to them with tales of excessive video gaming at the expense of other daily life activities: a mother playing games for hours ignores her baby’s cry, a university student flunking out because of too much gaming, a spouse’s vast game-playing time leading to divorce.

With some addictions, the medicine and science are obvious. Consuming alcohol or drugs alters the body’s chemistry with a short-term good feeling, but a long-term addiction. Other currently accepted addictions like gambling or sexual activity have been shown produce a chemical reaction inside the “users” body that can work like ingested chemicals.

So what about video gaming? As one person asked out in an article I saw on the issue, is compulsive playing of the games addictive to someone or is that simply a sign of another problem – boredom, depression, loneliness – that has a deeper root in the person.

The verdict reached by the medical and psychiatric groups will have a big bearing. If video gaming is ruled to be an addiction like alcoholism, drug use or gambling, insurance companies could be made liable to cover treatment programs for those diagnosed with the addiction. Work places would be made to make provisions to get people dealing with the addiction help.

So what do you think? Could excessive gaming be an addiction? Is it something less than that? Is it no big deal? Share your thoughts with other readers hear at Science Buzz.