Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

February 27, 2012

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, designed to bring attention to the seriousness of eating disorders, to raise awareness about biological and environmental triggers, and to fight the attitudes and expectations that contribute to these disorders.

This year’s theme is “Everybody Knows Somebody.” From the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA):

This year the National Eating Disorders Association is stressing that we all need to be educated about the contributing factors, signs and symptoms of eating disorders in order to ensure early detection and intervention. We live in a culture saturated with unrealistic body-image messages and almost all of us know somebody struggling with an eating disorder. Because this is true, we urge you to do just one thing during NEDAwareness Week to 1) raise awareness that eating disorders are serious illnesses, not lifestyle choices; 2) provide accurate information to medical, educational and/or business communities, and 3) direct people to information and resources about eating disorders.

I think in part because eating disorders are often associated with girls, negative stereotypes lead people to think that eating disorders are just another bad thing girls are choosing to do, letting larger social forces off the hook for their contributions, and glossing over the need for real treatment. As NEDA explains:

Eating disorders are complex conditions that arise from a combination of long-standing behavioral, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, biological and social factors. As our natural body size and shape is largely determined by genetics, fighting our natural size and shape can lead to unhealthy dieting practices, poor body image and decreased self-esteem. While eating disorders may begin with preoccupations with food and weight, they are about much more than food. Recent research has shown that genetic factors create vulnerabilities that place individuals at risk for acting on cultural pressures and messages and triggering behaviors such as dieting or obsessive exercise.

Events are being held in various cities to educate the public and promote solutions. The NEDA website also has extensive information and resources on eating disorders. NEDA’s latest project is Proud2Bme, a website geared toward teens that features great content on developing a positive body image and healthy relationships. Check it out!


May 3, 2010

A Beacon of Light: Katherine Stone

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Deborah Forhan Rimmler
Nominee:
Katherine Stone, peer advocate for women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders

Katherine Stone was a beacon of light during the darkest time of my life. I suffered from postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (that is a postpartum mood disorder where you get terrible, scary thoughts that won’t go away) that began after the birth of my son Henry a year ago.

I was lucky to get professional help early due to the support system I had in my life, yet I still suffered tremendously. Not even the best psychiatrist in the world can help you heal totally from the horror of having had awful thoughts that sometimes involve images of hurting your own child.

One night in despair I stumbled upon Katherine’s blog, Postpartum Progress. Finding Katherine and the amazing community of postpartum mood disorder survivors she has created helped me find peace. I felt for the first time since my son was born (and not just from my therapist telling me) that I was not alone on my occasional forays to the dark side of this disease; in fact, I’m in the company of some pretty amazing women!

Unfortunately, not all women have the support network I had to get professional help to stop their suffering. Those tragic stories we hear on the news of women taking their own lives or harming their children are the result of a general lack of education about the many forms of this disease and its successful treatment.

Postpartum depression and perinatal mood disorders will affect over 800,000 women this year in the United States alone, and Katherine Stone is a full-time peer advocate for these women through her blog and her other activist work, such as being a contributing blogger for PBS’ “This Emotional Life” site, and guest editor on postpartum depression for BlogHer, a popular community for and guide to blogs by women. Katherine currently serves on the board of directors of Postpartum Support International and the advisory board of the Perinatal Depression Information Network.

Some studies show that one in eight women suffer from postpartum mood disorders, and a majority of them go undiagnosed. Clearly many women are scared to admit to their family, friends or doctors what is happening to them, but many will turn to the privacy of the internet. And this is why I know in my heart that Katherine has created a forum to help new mothers like me find our way back to the joy of our families and even, for some of us, to save our lives.

Her website provides not just a comprehensive resource on the topic of these illnesses, but a personal sharing of her experiences and process of recovery; Katherine suffered postpartum OCD herself after the birth of her first child. The feelings of fear, isolation and shame she experienced inspired her to take create this blog, which is now the most widely-read blog in the United States on mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. And it was this fearless intimacy about one of the most shameful diseases that gave me the courage to truly stand up to it and that I’m sure has helped other woman to do the same, including getting the professional help and support from their families they desperately need.

Postpartum Progress now has more than 10,000 unique visitors each week from all over the world, and Katherine personally responds to the emails she receives daily from women who suffer, as well as from clinicians. She uses her voice every day, through writing and speaking, to ensure the voices of all mothers with postpartum depression are represented and to help eliminate stigma.

Postpartum Progress has a Surviving & Thriving Mothers Photo Album, the only public photo album displaying pictures of moms who have survived perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. This album combats the negative images of postpartum depression and psychosis shown in the media, and is a symbol of hope for recovery. I know when I’m feeling down about what happened to me that I will always feel inspired by logging on and viewing these beautiful families.

Katherine also leads the charge in speaking out assertively against unbalanced or misleading medical coverage of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. In 2009, she wrote a letter and gathered the endorsements of nearly 50 clinicians, survivors, authors and advocates in response to a misleading article in Time magazine about postpartum depression screening. Time chose it as one of its 2009 Letters of the Year.

I am nominating Katherine Stone as my Women’s Health Hero as she is bringing light and truth to one of women’s oldest and most closeted diseases, and love and hope to those of us affected by it.


December 6, 2008

Double Dose: Lesbians in the Funny Pages; Future of Reproductive Health and Rights; Certified Organic Male?; You Know the Healthcare System is Broken When …

Lesbians Star in the Funny Pages: In case you missed it, Alison Bechdel’s “The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For” got a fab review in The New York Times. Dwight Garner not only heaps tons of praise, but he writes like a genuine fan, and the review is very enjoyable to read.

Even Bechdel is impressed. She wrote on her blog: ”Lemme tell you whippersnappers. I can remember when the Times wouldn’t even print the word ‘dyke.’ In fact, somewhere in my vast archives I have a tiny clipping from 1983 or so … maybe even later … containing the first instance of the Times using the word ‘gay,’ as opposed to ‘homosexual.’ I’m just saying.”

Here’s a sampler from the book.

What Will the Future (of Reproductive Health and Rights) Look Like?: RH Reality Check is sponsoring a live chat Wednesday, Dec. 17, at 1 p.m. on reproductive health issues in the Obama administration. Join experts Marilyn Keefe, National Partnership for Women & Families; William Smith, SIECUS; Heather Boonstra, Guttmacher Institute; Cristina Page, BirthControlWatch.org; and Kay Steiger, RH Reality Check. Learn more or submit questions in advance here.

Healthcare Overhaul Remains a Priority: “Former Sen. Tom Daschle, who is slated to oversee health-care policy in the Obama administration, is kicking off the effort to pass a comprehensive health-care plan,” reports the Wall Street Journal. And that effort includes you:

Mr. Daschle, who Obama transition officials say will be nominated secretary of Health and Human Services, will suggest that Americans hold holiday-season house parties to brainstorm over how best to overhaul the U.S. health-care system. He will promise to drop by one such party himself, and to take the ideas generated to President-elect Barack Obama.

The parties are part of an effort by the new administration to apply organizing tools from the presidential campaign to the more-complex task of governing. “What’s next for our Health Care Team? You are,” Mr. Daschle will say at the 2008 Colorado Health Care Summit, an event organized by Sen. Ken Salazar (D., Colo.).

Plus: Sign the petition to make breastfeeding a priority for the new administration. Via the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee.

What Women Want: YWCA USA recently released a national survey (PDF) of American women and their priorities for the new administration, including opinions on the financial crisis, healthcare reform and racial justice. Here’s a summary of the key findings. The survey was released in conjunction with the YWCA’s 150th anniversary.

You Know the Health Care System is Broken When …: A company sells you insurance to protect your right to buy health insurance. Read more.

Dream Big in 2009: This 2009 Dreams for Women Calendar features 12 postcards designed by people around the world in response to the question: What is your dream for women?

Funds raised from the sale of the calendar go to the Antigone Foundation, which encourages political and civic engagement for young women. The calendars are also available to women’s organizations to use as part of their own fundraising efforts.

Recommended Reading: And a Doula, Too recommends a number of books and online resources about pregnancy and birth, including OBOS’ own new book on the subject. When it comes to baby books, she offers this sage advice:

Be warned that every baby book I’ve ever seen or heard about has an agenda about how you should raise your child, and friends (and indeed strangers) will probably go nuts telling you they “swear by” such-and-such a book or method that probably isn’t a perfect fit for your family (especially when it comes to the touchy and highly individual subject of “sleep solutions”). I worry that we’re setting ourselves up for failure if we do anything other than learn a lot, trust ourselves, and find a pediatrician who shares and understands our values and ideas about pediatric care.

This concern extends to apparently objective books like the big American Academy of Pediatrics one (Caring for Your Baby and Young Child); it’s not that it’s bad to have or anything, but I’m glad that my partner and I feel confident enough to do our own research and disregard any book’s advice when appropriate for our own situation.

Birthing Practices in Bolivia: From Women’s eNews: Jean Friedman-Rudovsky reports that Bolivia has stemmed maternal and infant death rates by providing free medical care during pregnancy and childbirth. But many women prefer to labor at home rather than take free care at hospitals that comes packaged with birthing horror stories.

Certified Organic Male?: Alan Greene, a pediatrician in California, has performed an experiment of sorts on himself — all the food he’s eaten for the past three years has been organic. I loved this part:

The biggest surprise of the whole experience, he says, was that many people still don’t know what “organic” means.

“It’s surprising to me how few people know that organic means without pesticides, antibiotics or hormones,” he said. “In stores or restaurants around the country, I would ask, ‘Do you have anything organic?’ Half the time they would say, ‘Do you mean vegetarian?’”

Skin Deep: Nanophobia: “It sounds like a plot straight out of a science-fiction novel by Michael Crichton. Toiletry companies formulate new cutting-edge creams and lotions that contain tiny components designed to work more effectively. But those minuscule building blocks have an unexpected drawback: the ability to penetrate the skin, swarm through the body and overwhelm organs like the liver,” reports The New York Times. Um, yeah.

Don’t Worry – It’s Contagious: A study published in the British journal BMJ found that happiness really can be passed on to others. Here’s a related commentary and editorial, plus more from the AP. Cheers to you this weekend!


November 11, 2008

Challenges Facing Female Veterans

On this Veterans Day, we take a look at the services available to female veterans, who face high rates of sexual assault, and the increased dangers of domestic violence among military personnel:

- “Shedding light on the challenges facing women in the military, a new study shows that more than one in seven female Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking VA medical care reported experiencing sexual trauma during their service,” HealthDay News reported in October.

The study was conducted by the VA Palo Alto Health Care System’s National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in California.

A previous study from 2007 found that 22 percent of female veterans and 1 percent of male veterans — serving in all areas, not just Afghanistan and Iraq — reported sexual trauma in health-care surveys conducted by the Veterans Administration in 2003.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has set up this page to explain the counseling and treatment services it offered to personnel.

Earlier this year, Rep. Jane Harman (D-California), described the rate of sexual assault in the military as “an epidemic.”

“Women serving in the U.S. military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq,” said Harman.

- Sharkfu remembers Pvt. LaVena Johnson, who was murdered in Iraq in 2005, just eight weeks after her deployment and days before her 20th birthday. The Army insists her death was a suicide. Read more at Our Weekly.

- In a recent editorial, the Fayetteville Observer called on the Army to redouble its efforts to provide programs and services to prevent domestic violence. Fort Bragg was the recent site of protest against domestic violence — four female service members were slain in North Carolina this year, all allegedly murdered by their husbands or boyfriends, also service personnel.

- Writing at AlterNet, author Penny Coleman notes that when “Barack Obama decides who he will appoint to head the Department of Veterans Affairs in his administration, he should consider appointing someone who also understands how important it is that women’s bodies, souls, dignity and health be taken seriously.”

Tammy Duckworth, who is reported to be at the top of his list, certainly has had personal experience with a health care delivery system she has called “a little bit arcane.”

Duckworth is now director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, but in 2004, she was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in Iraq and lost both of her legs in a crash. She describes the care she received at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as “excellent,” but adds, “the comfort package I received contained men’s Jockey shorts, and the local VA hospital carried Viagra but not my birth control.”

There are currently about 1.7 million female veterans in the United States, and the Department of Defense estimates that there are about 200,000 women, 15 percent of the military, on active duty. Thirty-nine percent of those women return from Iraq or Afghanistan with mental health issues, and, for more than a third who seek VA health care, the precipitating trauma was a sexual assault.

Every VA center now screens both men and women for sexual trauma. That is an improvement. Still, Duckworth says, “I don’t think the VA mental health care system is ready for (female veterans).” It would be encouraging to see a VA director who has some understanding of how important that is to fix.


November 6, 2008

What Are You Doing Now That the Election is Over?

Now that the election is over, are you feeling a little blue (and not just because of the passage of California’s Proposition 8)?

After months of obsessing over tracking polls and following up-to-the-second campaign news round the clock, much of the nation seems to be going through a withdrawal of sorts. New York Times health writer Tara Parker-Pope points to several news stories about our collective crash, some of which include suggestions from psychologists on how to bounce back and re-focus.

Of course, there are still many important issues that demand our attention. Elissa Epel, an associate professor in the psychiatry department at UCSF, tells the San Francisco Chronicle that we are likely to continue intense discussions, though perhaps on different terms: “People will be less plugged into the political pundits each day. They will start to pay attention to neglected longer-term issues – how to survive the recession, how to take of their family and health better. We may notice we are in one of the most stressful eras in recent history.”

Over at Slate, Farhad Manjoo offers suggestions for new topics to obsess over if you’re still glued to your computer screen. The list also includes social networks to join and cool games to play, if you’re looking to take a vacation from the news.


September 26, 2008

Double Dose: Sex Trafficking Doesn’t Make Discussion Cut; Sarah Palin and the Rape Kits; Congress Approves Mental Health Parity Legislation; Why Don’t the Candidates Speak Out on HIV?; A Finanical Incentive to Keep Poor Women from Having Children …

Slavery Overlooked: “World leaders are parading through New York this week for a United Nations General Assembly reviewing their (lack of) progress in fighting global poverty. That’s urgent and necessary, but what they aren’t talking enough about is one of the grimmest of all manifestations of poverty — sex trafficking,” writes columnist Nicholas Kristof, who had doggedly stayed on this issue (view related columns here).

“This is widely acknowledged to be the 21st-century version of slavery, but governments accept it partly because it seems to defy solution,” Kristof continues. “Prostitution is said to be the oldest profession. It exists in all countries, and if some teenage girls are imprisoned in brothels until they die of AIDS, that is seen as tragic but inevitable.”

Kristof goes on to detail the work of Somaly Mam, a survivor of the Cambodian brothels who now leads the Somaly Mam Foundation.

Plus: “For the U.S. to be a significant part of the solution that elevates the status of women and all that such progress entails, our foreign policy has to start dealing with the realities of women’s lives instead of attempting to legislate morality,” writes Anika Rahman at RH Reality Check.

Sarah Palin and the Rape Kits: We’ve been writing for weeks about how Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin approved cutting funding from the Wasilla police budget when she was mayor, leaving sexual assault victims holding the bill for their own forensic exams. Well, Dorothy Samuels of The New York Times is now also outraged.

“Ms. Palin owes voters an explanation. What was the thinking behind cutting the measly few thousand dollars needed to cover the yearly cost of swabs, specimen containers and medical tests?” asks Samuels. Wouldn’t we all love to know.

Congress Approves Mental Health Parity: Congress approved legislation this week requiring private insurers to provide the same level of benefits for mental illness as they do for physical maladies, reports the Washington Post. But we’re not home yet, as Lindsey Layton explains:

The measure has received strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate and has the backing of business, insurance companies, health advocates, the medical community and the White House. But its passage into law was not ensured last night.

The remaining obstacle appeared to be ironing out differences in how to pay the cost to the federal government — estimated at $3.4 billion over 10 years, in the form of forgone tax revenue. Lawmakers also needed to resolve whether the final bill should be a standalone measure or part of a larger package of legislation.

The House approved the language in a standalone bill, while the Senate wrapped it into a $150 billion package of popular tax cuts, including a one-year patch for the alternative minimum tax, and extensions of expiring tax provisions including tuition credits and state and local sales tax deductions (for states that do not have an income tax), as well as research and development tax credits.

It is unclear whether a joint agreement can be reached in the few days remaining before Congress recesses.

Plus: Read how David Wellstone has been lobbying for the mental health parity bill, which would be his father’s legacy. The Wellstone-Dominici legislation is named after the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and retiring Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).

D.C. to Publicize HIV-AIDS Epidemic: Washington, D.C. has one of the highest rates of people living with AIDS among major U.S. cities and the highest rate of new reports of AIDS. Now the city is stepping up with a large-scale “social marketing” campaign to publicize these facts, according to the Washington Post.

Almost 12,500 people in the District were known to have HIV or AIDS in 2006, the most recent year of statistics available. HIV was spread through heterosexual contact in 37 percent of the cases, compared with 25 percent of the cases attributed to men having sex with men — the most common mode of transmission nationally.

New reports of AIDS in the District were coming in at the rate of 128 per 100,000, in contrast to 14 cases per 100,000 nationally. One in 50 residents is thought to have the disease.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the District has the highest rate of AIDS among African Americans in the country: 277.5 for every 100,000 people. It also has the highest rate of new cases reported among Hispanics: 109.2 for every 100,000 people.

This week the DC Appleseed Center released its fourth “report card” that grades the progress of the D.C. government in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Why Don’t the Candidates Speak Out on HIV?: “When news hit that another Wall Street financial institution was on the verge of collapse, the response from rivals Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama was swift.  Both candidates issued statements touting their respective economic plans.  What kind of impact could our presidential candidates make if they responded as quickly to the domestic and global HIV/AIDS crisis?” writes Pamea Merritt at RH Reality Check.

Merritt looks at how presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCain have (and have not) addressed the global and domestic HIV/AIDS crisis …

Forward Thinking from Louisiana State Rep: “Worried that welfare costs are rising as the number of taxpayers declines, state Rep. John LaBruzzo, R-Metairie, said Tuesday he is studying a plan to pay poor women $1,000 to have their Fallopian tubes tied,” reports The Times-Picayune.

And it gets even better. He wants to give tax-incentives to women with higher incomes to have more children.

LaBruzzo said he worries that people receiving government aid such as food stamps and publicly subsidized housing are reproducing at a faster rate than more affluent, better-educated people who presumably pay more tax revenue to the government. He said he is gathering statistics now.

“What I’m really studying is any and all possibilities that we can reduce the number of people that are going from generational welfare to generational welfare, ” he said.

He said his program would be voluntary. It could involve tubal ligation, encouraging other forms of birth control or, to avoid charges of gender discrimination, vasectomies for men.

It also could include tax incentives for college-educated, higher-income people to have more children, he said.

Plus: Feministing has more.

Drug Makers to Report Fees Paid to Doctors: “Amid a national debate over the influence of industry money on medical research and practice, two pharmaceutical giants say they will begin publicly reporting payments they make to outside doctors,” reports The New York Times. Benedict Carey writes:

John C. Lechleiter, chief executive of Eli Lilly & Company, announced on Wednesday that starting next year it intended to post in an online database all its payments to doctors for speaking and consulting services. The postings will “likely include” the names of the doctors, or will provide some other identifying information about them, along with the reason for the payments, the company said.

In the wake of Lilly’s announcement, Merck & Company said later Wednesday that it would disclose speaking fees it pays to doctors, also beginning in 2009.

Members of Congress have been pushing for a national registry of such payments. In the last year and a half, Senate investigations have found that prominent researchers at several institutions, including Harvard and the University of Cincinnati, failed to report millions of dollars in outside income from drug makers, contrary to the institutions’ reporting requirements.

Wait to See Doctors Grows in Mass.: “The wait to see primary care doctors in Massachusetts has grown to as long as 100 days, while the number of practices accepting new patients has dipped in the past four years, with care the scarcest in some rural areas,” writes Liz Kowalczyk in the Boston Globe.

“Now, as the state’s health insurance mandate threatens to make a chronic doctor shortage worse, the Legislature has approved an unprecedented set of financial incentives for young physicians, and other programs to attract primary care doctors. But healthcare leaders fear the new measures will take several years to ease the shortage.”

Play Addresses Birth Control & Other Taboos: I haven’t listened to today’s “Talk of the Nation” yet, but I will — check out the description of the 17-minute segment:

Famous for his work on the first oral contraceptive in 1951, chemist Carl Djerassi has published a number of novels and plays over the last 20 years. His latest play, Taboos, grapples with the questions of sex divorced from reproduction.

Plus: “All Things Considered” had a good report today (text available) on the proposed HHS rule on “physician conscience.” The report notes that the “Bush administration this week received tens of thousands of comments on a controversial rule that demonstrates that even it its waning days, the administration continues to have a major impact on policy.” Comments are now closed.


August 16, 2008

Double Dose: FDA Finds No Risk From BPA; “I Do” For Health Insurance; Female Condoms Needs Funding, Support; APA Report on Abortion and Mental Health; What’s in a Midwife’s Black Bag? …

FDA Report Says No Risk From BPA: I’ve written before about the dangers associated with bisphenol A, or BPA, a chemical used in hard, clear plastics, such as Nalgene and baby bottles, as well as in the linings of food cans and baby formula.

The chemical, which mimics a human hormone, has been linked to hormonal changes in animal studies. Canada recently banned polycarbonate infant bottles, and the U.S. National Toxicology Program earlier this year acknowledged “some concern” that BPA may affect neural and behavioral development “in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures.”

But according to a draft assessment released by the Food and Drug Administration yesterday, BPA does not pose a health hazard when used in food containers. From the Washington Post:

The report stands in contrast to more than 100 studies performed by government scientists and university laboratories that have found health concerns associated with bisphenol A (BPA). Some studies have linked the chemical to prostate and breast cancers, diabetes, behavioral disorders such as hyperactivity and reproductive problems in laboratory animals.

Exposure to the small amounts of BPA that migrate from the containers into the food they hold are not dangerous to infants or adults, the draft said.

Here’s the kicker:

The chemical industry and the agencies that regulate the use of BPA, the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency, have deemed the chemical safe, largely on the strength of two industry-funded studies that found no problems. The American Chemistry Council welcomed the findings of the new report.

“Clearly, their effort was to minimize people being concerned about this,” Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, told the Post. “It just seems that whenever there is an opportunity to look at a new, important issue, they just seem to be siding with industry’s point of view.”

Wal-Mart and Toys R Us aren’t waiting around for the government to take action — as of January, both businesses will stop selling any childrens’ products made with BPA.

Marrying, or Divorcing, for Health Insurance: “In a country where insurance is out of reach for many, it is not uncommon for couples to marry, or even to divorce, at least partly so one spouse can obtain or maintain health coverage,” reports The New York Times. “There is no way to know how often it happens, but lawyers and patient advocacy groups say they see cases regularly.”

Here’s more on the Kaiser Family Foundation study mentioned in the story.

Report: “Failing Women, Withholding Protection”: The female condom first made its debut 15 years ago, but a lack of investment and marketing on the part of policymakers has limited the condom’s availability and marginalized its role in protecting women from HIV-infection and other sexually transmitted diseases, according to a new report issued by Oxfam International and the World Population Foundation. The report was presented at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. The full text is available here.

“This is a 15-year scandal born of ignorance and inertia. It has been made doubly worse as the HIV epidemic is now affecting women at a higher rate than men, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. We now know that millions of women might have been spared HIV, unwanted pregnancies, and empowered themselves in the process, if they had access to this simple method,” said Oxfam spokeswoman Farah Karimi.

“The female condom is the only method that women have to protect themselves. It has been embraced in many countries and cultures, it works and it is cost-effective,” added Karimi. “Political leadership and funding are needed now. No more excuses.”

Plus: Here are some facts about the female condom from “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” and our previous coverage on the condom’s redesign and how U.S. global policy affects condom promotion.

APA Report: Abortion Not a Threat to Mental Health: “The best scientific evidence published indicates that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver that pregnancy.”

That’s one of the conclusions put forth by the American Psychological Association Task Force on Abortion and Mental Health, which just issued this comprehensive report (PDF), an evaluation of all English-language studies published in peer-reviewed journals post-1989 comparing the mental health of women who had an induced abortion to the mental health of comparison groups of women.

Plus: For a closer look, read Lynn Harris’ good analysis at Broadsheet.

Coming Out as an Abortion Provider: Nell, who also blogs at Abortion Clinic Days, writes at the new Feministing Community site about her experience meeting her partner’s Republican grandparents and explaining what she does. Yes, there’s a happy ending.

Obesity Study Looks Thin: That’s the word from “The Numbers Guy,” aka Carl Bialik, who has a different take on a recently published study that projects 100 percent of American adults could be overweight by 2048.

What’s in a Midwife’s Bag?: Writing at Offsprung, Diane Dawson, a homebirth midwife, opens up her big black bag to reveal what she brings with her to deliver a baby. “I think that most people still think I show up with a smile and rabbit’s foot for luck. And maybe an herb or two in my purse. For the vast majority of pregnancies, this may well be enough, but I like to be a bit more prepared. …”

New State Law Calls for GPS Tracking on Abusers: “Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a measure to create a new early warning system by allowing satellite tracking of people who violate orders of protection,” reports the Chicago Tribune. “Opponents of domestic violence and prosecutors say the Cindy Bischof Law will add teeth to the orders, which some deride as mere pieces of paper ineffective in protecting people from stalkers or abusers. Bischof was among at least four women in the Chicago area killed this year by men with orders of protection against them.”


April 29, 2008

Mini-Double Dose: Art, Pain and Illness; Genes and Race Disparity; Through Sickness, Health and Sex Change

There are a number of interesting stories in The New York Times, so let’s do a mini-double dose …

Pain as an Art Form: Well’s Tara Parker-Pope does a nice job describing how art is used to communicate physical pain, from some of Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits (now on exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) to a new online gallery called the Pain Exhibit.

The gallery is the brainchild of Mark Collen, 47, a former insurance salesman who struggled to explain his chronic back pain to a new doctor.

“It was only when I started doing art about pain, and physicians saw the art, that they understood what I was going through,” Collen said. “Words are limiting, but art elicits an emotional response.”

Taking it a step further, Collen started soliciting art from pain patients around the world. He teamed up with James Gregory, a 21-year-old college student who suffers from chronic pain following a car accident, and together they created the Pain Exhibit.

Parker-Pope writes:

Finding ways to communicate pain is essential to patients who are suffering, many of whom don’t receive adequate treatment from doctors. In January, Virtual Mentor, the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, reported that certain groups are less likely to receive adequate pain care. Hispanics are half as likely as whites to receive pain medications in emergency rooms for the same injuries; older women of color have the highest likelihood of being undertreated for cancer pain; and being uneducated is a risk factor for poor pain care in AIDS patients, the journal reported.

Some of the images from the Pain Exhibit, like “Broken People” by Robert S. Beal of Tulsa, Okla., depict the physical side of pain. Others, such as “Against the Barrier to Life,” convey the emotional challenges of chronic pain. “I feel like I am constantly fighting against a tidal wave of pain in order to achieve some quality of life,” wrote the work’s creator, Judith Ann Seabrook of Happy Valley in South Australia. “I am in danger of losing the fight and giving up.”

The art is connecting with medical professionals. The journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain features an image from the exhibit on the cover of its November issue, which focuses on women and pain.

Quieting the Demons and Giving Art a Voice: Like sculpture and painting, writing is also a form of expression and release. This review looks at “Madness: A Bipolar Life,” a new memoir by Marya Hornbacher, whom writer Abigail Zuger, MD, describes as “a virtuoso writer: humorous, articulate and self-aware. She is also, as she has now documented in two books, incurably mentally ill.”

Zuger continues:

For scientists trying to parse the mystery of brain and mind, she is one more case of the possible link between mental illness and artistic creativity. With all our scans and neurotransmitters, we are not much closer to figuring out that relationship than was Lord Byron, who announced that poets are “all crazy” and left it at that. But effective drugs make the question more urgent now: would Virginia Woolf, medicated, have survived to write her final masterpiece, or would she have spent her extra years happily shopping?

Ms. Hornbacher brings to the discussion more than the usual pairing of disturbed brain and talented mind. Her talent has created a third self, an appealing, rueful narrator who can look back on three decades of manic-depressive illness, much of it untreated, and spin a story that is almost impossible to put down.

Zuger also considers “Poets on Prozac: Mental Illness, Treatment and the Creative Process,” edited by Richard M. Berlin, M.D. Essays were solicited from published poets with psychiatric illness.

“Most of the 16 contributors are decades older than Ms. Hornbacher, but while they may lack her vivid prose style, they do supply a long-term perspective on the terrain,” writes Zuger.

Genes Explain Race Disparity in Response to a Heart Drug: This is a fascinating story. Researchers at Washington University and the University of Maryland found that patients who are non-responsive to a beta-blockers used in the treatment of heart failure may be making what amounts to their version of the drug, all the time, due to a gene variant.

What’s also surprising is that as many as 40 percent of blacks have this altered gene, compared to 2 percent of whites. The website of the journal Nature Medicine published a paper explaining the study.

“Something that occurs with a 40 percent frequency is not something that was a blip on the radar screen,” said Dr. Gerald W. Dorn, a cardiologist at Washington University and principal investigator for the study. “It must have given a survival advantage.” — Though what that advantage is is still the big unknown.

Gina Kolata writes:

The discovery raises questions about whom to treat with beta blockers and how to decide, researchers say. But, they add, its implications go beyond heart failure.

For example, the gene variant may help explain why some healthy people cannot exercise vigorously — they may be making chemicals that act like beta blockers, making their hearts beat less forcefully. And variations in other genes might explain why some people with different conditions, like depression, do not respond to drugs used to treat it. It is possible that those people are already making their own versions of antidepressant drugs, and that adding more may not help.

But researchers say that people who make their own beta blockers are not protected from developing heart failure. That is because beta blockers are helpful only after the disease is established. And beta blockers can slow the disease’s progress but not cure it.

Through Sickness, Health and Sex Change: Finally, here’s a story from the Sunday paper about a married couple in New Jersey who are concerned about the legal status of their relationship, since the male partner underwent a sex change in 2005. The couple, who have three children, are still very much committed to each other. Tina Kelley writes:

Massachusetts is the only state to have legalized same-sex marriage, and the Brunners are two women married to each other in New Jersey. As this state (along with Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire) confronts challenges over whether its civil unions fulfill the mandate of providing same-sex couples equal rights and benefits, the Brunners offer themselves as Exhibit A on how the nation’s dizzying patchwork of marriage laws, which include the domestic partnerships of California and other states, may be out of step with people’s lives.

And here’s another mind-blowing breakdown of the complexities state by state:

The Brunners were already married when Donald became Denise. Transsexuals who marry after surgery pose a different set of questions, and there have been a number of custody, probate and other cases with decisions all over the legal map.

Urging the United States Supreme Court to tackle the issue in 2000, lawyers for Christie Lee Littleton, a Texas male-to-female transsexual suing her husband’s doctors for wrongful death, noted the confused landscape: “Taking this situation to its logical conclusion, Mrs. Littleton, while in San Antonio, Texas, is a male and has a void marriage; as she travels to Houston, Texas, and enters federal property, she is female and a widow; upon traveling to Kentucky she is female and a widow; but, upon entering Ohio, she is once again male and prohibited from marriage; entering Connecticut, she is again female and may marry; if her travel takes her north to Vermont, she is male and may marry a female; if instead she travels south to New Jersey, she may marry a male.”

The Supreme Court declined to take the case.


April 27, 2008

Double Dose: Illinois Court Rules on Sterilization; Choosy Mothers Choose … Well, Not This C-Section Story; Fundamentalism Comes Under Public Health Scrutiny; Botox, Body Image and Aging; Coming of Age on Antidepressants; and More

Court Denies Bid to Sterilize Mentally Disabled Woman: “Disability rights advocates and medical ethicists praised a precedent-setting ruling Friday by the Illinois Appellate Court denying a bid to sterilize a mentally disabled woman against her will,” reports the Chicago Tribune.

The woman’s guardian had sought a tubal ligation, but a three-judge panel ruled unanimously that the guardian did not prove sterilization was in the woman’s best interest. There are “less intrusive and less psychologically harmful [birth-control] alternatives,” read the opinion.

“It’s extraordinarily significant” because it guarantees the disabled a court hearing, said Katie Watson, a Northwestern University professor who wrote a friend-of-the-court brief in the case on behalf of about two dozen medical ethicists.

“In the past, this was a decision that could be made between a guardian and a doctor,” she said. “The decision must be moved into the light.”

Choosy Mothers Choose … Well, Not This C-Section Story: Time magazine’s “Choosy Mothers Choose Caesareans” is problematic on multiple levels — but mainly for overplaying the role of women requesting elective c-sections as the reason being the skyrocketing caesarean rate, and downplaying the risks involved. Lucinda Marshall rocks with a great response.

Plus: For more information, read “Maternal Request for Cesarean Delivery: Myth or Reality?” — a summary of the latest research and articles compiled by Our Bodies Ourselves.

Fundamentalism Comes Under Public Health Scrutiny: From Women’s eNews: “Amid the growing influence of fundamentalism around the world, Asian researchers say women in almost any affected religion — Christian, Muslim or Hindu — pay the price in eroded health and safety.” Read the story by Swapna Majumdar, a journalist based in New Delhi.

Take Two on Time Off: “This year marks the 15th anniversary of the landmark Family and Medical Leave Act, which made it possible for many workers to take unpaid job-protected time off to care for their newborn children or sick relatives,” writes Nancy Trejos at the Washington Post. “But instead of celebrating, workers’ rights advocates and the Bush administration are battling over what would be the most sweeping revisions ever to the law.”

Trejos notes that a “fierce debate” has been sparked by some proposed changes, which have yielded more than 4,000 public comments:

Under proposals being considered by the Labor Department, workers would have to tell their bosses in advance when they take nonemergency leave, instead of being able to wait until two days after they left. They would have to undergo “fitness-for-duty” evaluations if they took intermittent leave for medical reasons and wanted to return to physically demanding jobs. To prove that they had a “serious health condition,” they would have to visit a health-care provider at least twice within a month of falling ill. What’s more, employers would have the right to contact health-care providers who authorized leave.

Botox and Disrespect of Aging: “The 2,775,176 Botox treatments in 2007, at a cost of more than $1 billion dollars neatly expresses the desperation some people feel about physical signs of aging,” writes Ronni Bennett, before going on to discuss recent studies on the potential dangers of Botox and the FDA’s make-your-own-personal-judgment advice to consumers.

Coming of Age on Antidepressants: Writing in The New York Times, Richard A. Friedman, MD, reflects on the remarks of a 31-year-old patient who has been treated for depression since she was a teen: “I’ve grown up on medication,” she said. “I don’t have a sense of who I really am without it.”

The patient credited the medication with saving her life, “but now she was raising an equally fundamental question: how the drugs might have affected her psychological development and core identity.” Friedman continues:

Her experience is far from unique. Since their emergence in the late 1980s, serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac and Zoloft have become some of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world, for depressed teenagers as well as adults. Because depression is often a chronic, recurring illness, there are certain to be many young people, like Julie, who are coming of age on these newer antidepressants.

We know a lot about the course of untreated depression, probably more than we do about very long-term antidepressant use in this population.

Plus: Friedman and Norman Rosenthal, MD, were both guests on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” on Thursday, discussing the physical and psychological effects of taking antidepressants long-term.

Ireland Releases Study on Menopause: Ireland’s Minister for Health, Mary Harney, published “Menopause and Me,” hailed as the largest ever study in Ireland on awareness, attitudes and experiences of menopause, according to The Irish Times. Ireland’s Women’s Health Council carried out the study, which is available online here.

Performance Artist Killed on Peace Trip: An Italian performance artist, Pippa Bacca, 33, was raped and killed by a driver who offered her a ride just three weeks into a hitchhiking trip from Italy to the Balkans to the Middle East. Bacca and her friend, Silvia Moro, 37, both wore wedding dresses as part of their “Brides on Tour” project, created to send a message of peace and “marriage between different peoples and nations.” Elisabetta Povoledo writes in The New York Times:

The performance piece, a trip through nearly a dozen countries in the Balkans and the Middle East, many of them ravaged by war recently, was meant to underscore that “by overcoming differences and lowering the level of conflict,” individuals and cultures could come together, Ms. Moro said in a telephone interview. “Meeting people was the key.”

Accepting rides with strangers was crucial to the art performance’s success, Ms. Moro said. The artists’ statement at their Web site, bridesontour.fotoup.net, says, “Hitchhiking is choosing to have faith in other human beings, and man, like a small god, rewards those who have faith in him.”

Ms. Moro explained: “It’s a poor way of traveling, and we wanted to underscore that you can’t foster love between people if you’re holed up in business class. You can’t go to, say, Mauritius, and eat pasta. You won’t understand people until you break bread with them, because it’s in the small diversities that you find similarities.”


February 29, 2008

Double Dose: Hormone Therapy Affects Mammogram Results; UN Meetings on Status of Women; African Lesbians Demand End to Criminalization of Homosexuality; A Dose of “Slow Medicine”

Planned Parenthood Stands to Lose State Funding: “The Virginia Senate voted Wednesday to cut off state funding to Planned Parenthood of Virginia because it offers abortions, an action that could endanger hundreds of thousands of dollars in state aid for women’s health-care program,” reports the Washington Post.

“The irony is, Planned Parenthood probably prevents more abortions than any other organization in the country,” said Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax).

Online Rally for Paid Sick Days: Join in at EveryoneGetsSick.org a project of the National Partnership for Women & Families and the Healthy Families Act Coalition.

EveryoneGetsSick.org supports the Healthy Families Act, proposed federal legislation that would guarantee workers up to seven paid sick days per year to recover from an illness or care for a sick family member. (Radical stuff, eh?) Via Half-Changed World, which has more good links.

Hormone Therapy Impedes Cancer Tests: “Women who take hormones to ease the symptoms of menopause are more likely to have abnormal mammogram results – and, therefore, more breast biopsies – than women who don’t take the therapy, researchers found,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle, which also notes that “the tools used to diagnose breast cancer are less likely to catch malignant tumors in women taking hormone replacement therapy, despite the fact that they have a slightly increased risk of cancer.”

The findings were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The Wrong Target: “Society (and thus law enforcement) needs to view any adult who sexually exploits a child as a villain, and the exploited child as a victim of that villainy,” writes New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. “If a 35-year-old pimp puts a 16-year-old girl on the street and a 30-year-old john pays to have sex with her, how is it reasonable that the girl is most often the point in that triangle that is targeted by law enforcement?”

Mark the Calendar: March is Women’s History Month and March 8 is International Women’s Day. And Feminist Peace Network is the go-site for information and events related to both.

UN Meetings on Status of Women: The 52nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women is meeting in New York from Feb. 25 – March 7. Here’s a look at all the panels (PDF).

Zohra Moosa and Jane Gabriel are live blogging the sessions. Check out their reports at Open Democracy. Developments will also be posted at PeaceWomen, the website for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Plus: “[N]ot one presidential candidate has chosen to highlight the profound threat that gender inequality is posing to the development, economic stability and future peace of our world,” writes Kavita Nandini Ramdas, president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women, in The Nation.

Africa’s Lesbians Demand Change: BBC News reports on efforts by the Coalition of African Lesbians to highlight discrimination across Africa and to get governments to stop treating homosexuality as a criminal offense. The Coalition organized a conference in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, that was attended by 75 activists. According to the International Gay and Lesbian Association, homosexuality is outlawed in 38 African countries and is legal (or unmentioned in the statute book) in at least 13.

Postpartum Depression: A University of Iowa survey of 4,332 new mothers from four Iowa counties found that 40 percent of Iowa mothers with a household income less than $20,000 suffered from clinically significant postpartum depression. In contrast, only 13 percent of new mothers with a household income of $80,000 or more were considered clinically depressed, according to this release.

A second UI study on race and postpartum emotions found that African-American mothers are more likely than white mothers to experience depressed moods immediately after giving birth, while Latina mothers are less likely to experience depressed moods. The study’s authors are now working to help mothers suffering from postpartum depression by teaching caseworkers and nurses how to screen for depression and by implementing a new intervention program involving “listening visits.”

A Dose of Slow Medicine: “For the very elderly … most agree the usual tough love of modern medicine in all its hospital-based, medication-obsessed, high-tech impersonality may hurt more than it helps,” writes Abigail Zuber, M.D., in this look at “slow medicine” — described as “a family-centered, less expensive” alternative to modern, impersonal treatments — and review of the new book “My Mother, Your Mother: Embracing ‘Slow Medicine,’ the Compassionate Approach to Caring for Your Aging Loved Ones,” by Dennis McCullough, M.D.


February 9, 2008

Double Dose: The Big Push for Midwives; Seasonal Affective Disorder; Same-Sex Marriage Ruling; Health Cuts Trigger Crisis in Chicago; HIV Studies Discussed at Boston Conference

The Big Push for Midwives: Great post by Amy G. about the campaign for the regulation and licensure of certified professional midwives. Amy mentions a number of blog posts on the issue, including ours.

Metabolic Syndrome Is Tied to Diet Soda: “This is interesting,” said Lyn M. Steffen, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota and a co-author of the paper, which was posted online in the journal Circulation on Jan. 22. “Why is it happening? Is it some kind of chemical in the diet soda, or something about the behavior of diet soda drinkers?”

I don’t know, but it makes me see red ….

Feeling Bad?: Those susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder, take note: Chicago had 11 — count ‘em — 11 minutes of sunshine during the first eight days of February. Chicago Tribune health columnist Julie Deardorff writes that she is going to try a sauna that that “uses infrared energy to warm the body and release toxins.” Readers, if you have suggestions for coping with a long gray winter, please leave them in the comments.

Why I am an Abortion Doctor: “I can take an anxious woman, who is in the biggest trouble she has ever experiences in her life, and by performing a five-minute operation, in comfort and dignity, I can give her back her life.” — Canadian abortion doctor Garson Romalis, who has survived being shot and stabbed because of his work.

NYT Op-Ed on Same-Sex Marriage Ruling: “In a decision at once common-sensical and profound, a New York State appeals court ruled Friday that same-sex marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions are entitled to recognition in New York. It was common sense because it simply accorded same-sex marriages the same legal status as other marriages. It was profound because of the way it could transform the lives of gay people.” Continue reading …

A Health Law With Holes: “This idea of an individual mandate absent comprehensive reform – how to say this politely? – is nuts. It makes a social failure the problem of the individual,” writes Robert Kuttner in an op-ed published in the Boston Globe about health care in Massachusetts.

Health Cuts Trigger Crisis in Chicago: In a front-page story on Friday, the Chicago Tribune reported on what doctors are calling “an emerging health crisis” in the city, with “hundreds of women with abnormal Pap smears, unusual bleeding, pelvic masses and other worrisome symptoms are waiting for weeks or months to see gynecologists in the Cook County health system.”

“The longer women wait for care, gynecological experts warn, the more likely it is that untreated medical problems could worsen, exposing the women to severe pain, cancers that are harder to treat or even life-threatening emergencies.”

Breastfeeding and HIV-Infected Mothers: “An antiretroviral drug already in widespread use in the developing world to prevent the transmission of HIV from infected mothers to their newborns during childbirth has also been found to substantially cut the risk of subsequent HIV transmission during breast-feeding,” according to this release from the John Hopkins Center for Clinical Global Health Education. Approximately 150,000 infants are infected through breastfeeding each year.

The findings were made public during the 15th Conference on Retroviruses and and Opportunistic Infections held in Boston this past week.

Another study presented at the conference found that the risk of HIV transmission decreased by 90 percent within couples in which one person is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative — if the HIV-positive person took antiretrovirals, which drive down the level of HIV in the blood.

“Getting an early diagnosis, and getting treatment to drive down viral load, is going to be good for prevention,” said Dr. Rebecca Bunnell, a researcher for the CDC in Kampala, Uganda, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

SF Chronicle writer Sabin Russel described the study as “one of the few rays of hope” to come out of the conference, “a meeting that has been dominated by discussions of setbacks, such as the failure of a major AIDS vaccine trial that was abruptly ended in September.”

And The New York Times reports on yet another study that was discussed, one that showed that male circumcision did not result in a lower risk of transmission for female partners. “Although the findings did not reach statistical significance, they still underscore the need for more effective education among men who undergo circumcision and their female partners, the authors of the study said,” reports the Times.