Articles Posted in Mental Disability

mentalnyt-300x142Although Americans keep making progress toward ending the stigma associated with mental disorders, including trying to put public funding for the diseases’ treatment on a more even footing, patients with serious mental illness suffer unfairly and harshly still due to their conditions.

Dhruv Khullar, a doctor at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and a researcher at the Weill Cornell Department of Healthcare Policy and Research, has written a painful piece for the “Upshot,” an evidence-based column for the New York Times. His article, “The Largest Health Disparity We Don’t Talk About,” reports that:

Americans with depression, bipolar disorder or other serious mental illnesses die 15 to 30 years younger than those without mental illness — a disparity larger than for race, ethnicity, geography or socioeconomic status. It’s a gap, unlike many others, that has been growing, but it receives considerably less academic study or public attention. The extraordinary life expectancy gains of the past half-century [for most in this country] have left these patients behind, with the result that Americans with serious mental illness live shorter lives than those in many of the world’s poorest countries.

Kevin_Love-215x300DeMar_DeRozan_Nov_2016_cropped-163x300With all the excesses, abuses, and nonsense that pro athletes and pop stars can get into these days, it’s gotten rarer that commentators can point to positive actions these influential personalities can take. But a growing number of them deserve credit for publicly discussing their struggles with mental health issues, helping to reduce widespread stigma about them and to better the lives of their young fans.

The list of outspoken and helpful athletes and performers includes:  Olympic legend Michael Phelps, National Basketball Association All-Star DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors, and NBA Cleveland Cavaliers superstar Kevin Love, as well as five-time Grammy winner Mariah Carey and actresses Catherine Zeta-Jones and Demi Lovato, and the late Hollywood icon Carrie Fisher.

Phelps and DeRozan bravely have discussed their problems with depression, which affects an estimated 16 million Americans annually and may be one of the most common mental health disorders negatively affecting the nation.

alzheimers-300x168As many as five million Americans already have Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related conditions, and their resulting loss of cognitive capacity and personal control rank among the top causes for health dread among those 55 and older, polls show.  So it’s worth noting that new studies are showing that seniors 65 and older get on average a dozen years of good cognitive health ── and that span is expanding.

Further, the onset of problems typically may occur in relatively mild fashion, with the most serious cognitive decline occurring in a short but late period of 18 months or so, Judith Graham reported for the independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service.

In her story for the KHNS feature “Navigating Aging,” Graham looks at an array of the latest and reliable research on seniors and cognitive decline, finding glimmers of optimism in what has been increasingly gloomy, evidence-based studies on how huge a challenge may be posed for our fast-graying nation by dementia, Alzheimer’s and their care.

medbankruptcy-300x253Illness and accidents batter and beggar Americans worse than many of us realize. New studies show it’s not just the cost of medical services but also long-term care and loss of jobs staggering the lives and finances of too many.

Margot Sanger-Katz, writing in the data-driven New York Times column, “The Upshot,” reported that hospitalization can wreak havoc on Americans older than 50, with many suffering a significant loss in income from which they never recover. This is true, even if they have some financial protection through health insurance. That coverage may soften the blow of medical costs. It doesn’t help them if they can’t return to work, must spend long periods out of work, or must reduce their work hours so they are part-time or less, finds a new study, published in the American Economic Review.

As she wrote:

dexter-300x282All critters great and small may be adorable and adored, but some extreme and unsupported claims for the mental health benefits that pets bring may be launching a needed correction in how so-called emotional support animals get accommodated in public spaces.

It would be tough to make up this story, much less explain why a recent United Airlines passenger, a performance artist, thought it appropriate to try to fly with her pet peacock (he’s shown in a photo taken by his owner and posted on his public Instagram account). She claimed it was an emotional support animal, protected under disability law, and she said she had purchased a separate seat for the hefty bird.

United, which hasn’t endeared itself to the public with its customer service, said it thrice had told this passenger in advance that her peacock wasn’t getting on its jet.

As the science keeps getting deeper, the news keeps getting worse about the harms that can be inflicted by repeated blows to the head in sports — and in life.

The path-breaking medical scientists at Boston University and elsewhere, who have helped to establish how concussions, notably in football, may lead to the onset of the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, have told the Washington Post that their latest study may show that, “It’s really the hit that counts.”

Chronic_Traumatic_Encephalopathy-300x153Football players and fans, if they had doubts before, have taken yet another hit to their favorite sport, with a retrospective study of hundreds of pro players’ brains finding a damaging disorder in a startling percentage of the donated organs.

Experts reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that 110 of 111 brains of onetime players in the National Football League, examined by neuropathologists and other experts, showed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. It’s a degenerative disease that experts think is caused by repeated head blows. It has been linked with multiple symptoms, including memory loss, confusion, depression and dementia. The problems can crop up long after the head trauma stops.

Caution needs to be exercised with this research because the athlete-brain donors and their families were extremely self-selecting. They participated in the post-mortem study, some with guarantees of confidentiality about identities, because they had experienced or started to show likely CTE-related debilitation before their deaths.

Carrie_Fisher_memorial_star-225x300Although advocates ended 2016 cheered by new legislation that increased funding and raised the priority of mental health in the nation’s health policy, the year also closed with stark reminders of how far the United States has lagged in this vital area.

Two separate news investigations have painted dire portraits of how the lack of mental health care has led to criminal violence and killings, while another media probe found disturbing signs that a major hospital chain was too quick to question patients’ mental competency and then to hold them against their will. The deaths of two of Hollywood’s elites—a mother and daughter—also brought to fore the stigma that many still bear due to mental disorders.

Neglect’s huge toll

When the guidelines for taking statins were changed last year, it made lots of noise. The revision for the drugs, which are prescribed to control blood cholesterol and prevent heart disease, classified millions more people as candidates for daily use. The new recommendation, by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, ignored lifestyle changes that should be tried before drugs, which can always have side effects.

Now, a new study invites concern that among the potential side effects of statins, which include the well-known Lipitor, Crestor and Zocor, is a heightened risk of severe muscle pain and impaired thinking among older people.

The study was published last month in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The researchers expressed concern that the benefits of taking statins do not outweigh the risks for this group of patients.

Letters to the editor in the New York Times come with the provocative headline: “Can There Be Good Mental Asylums?” As the father of a 25-year-old son with severe autism, I think about this a lot.

Our son Brendan now lives in a group home which we helped set up in Silver Spring, Maryland. It seems to work for him, although for a parent, eternal vigilance is required. Brendan is out and about in the community every day: at his day program sheltered workshop, and with his “one-on-one” at weekend activities like Special Olympics, trips to museums, dinner at our house, and all sorts of good fun. That’s the ideal for any human being.

But look around you. Huddled in the doorway of an office building, sitting in a prison cell — lots of mentally disabled people have no real home.

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