mental illness issues

Will ECT Work for Me? – Predictors of ECT Efficacy

→ May 12, 2010 - 2 Comments

It would be nice to know ahead of time if a treatment would work. Unfortunately, no one cal tell the future: not for cancer treatment and not for mental illness treatment like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) either.

Will Electroconvulsive Therapy Work for Me?

But very smart people try to figure out what might predict the outcome of treatments. Especially treatments like ECT, a hotly debated, and much maligned treatment. That’s the good news. And the bad news.

In a retrospective chart review of depressive and bipolar patients in a Netherlands hospital, of those who received  ECT, 65.8% met the standards for remission. The only predictor of response found was duration of index series.

The good part here is that medication failure did not predict response; so theoretically, no matter how many medications you have failed you have an equal chance of response to ECT.

The bad part is that the more times you get ECT in your initial series, the more likely you are to respond. I say this is bad because the more times you do ECT the more chances are you’re going to suffer more and worsening cognitive side effects too.

It’s something to consider when thinking about starting or stopping ECT treatment.

Image by rolffimages / 123RF Stock Photo.

People Who Attempt Suicide Don’t Want To Die

→ May 7, 2010 - 276 Comments

There are frequent reports that of the people who survive suicide attempts, they realized sometime after the pills, or the gun, or the jump, they didn’t want to die. This is obvious. No one wants to die. People who attempt suicide don’t want to die.  They want to be out of pain.

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How to Make the World Better for the Mentally Ill

→ May 2, 2010 - 3 Comments

It’s understandable that people who love those of us with a mental illness tend to feel powerless. But here are some ways you can help make the world better for the mentally ill.

Six Ways to Help People with Mental Illnesses

Bipolar is one of the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric conditions among teens and twenty-somethings, but there has been little written about it from a younger person’s perspective and few people know how to approach the topic. In her new book, Welcome to the Jungle: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bipolar but Were Too Freaked Out to Ask (Conari Press, May 2010), Hilary Smith fills in the gap with an upfront and empowering approach to the challenges of being diagnosed with bipolar. Here she shares with us six tips for making the world a better place for people with mental illnesses.

  1. Meet a person with a mental illness. – The best way to learn about mental illness is from a person who lives with one. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a new program called In Our Own Voices in which people living with serious mental illnesses give presentations in their communities. These free presentations are a great way to learn about what day-to-day life with a mental illness is like, and presenters (who live with conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia) are more than happy to answer questions from the audience.
  2. Believe passionately in recovery. – The next time you’re walking down the street and you see a homeless person with schizophrenia, try to picture what his life would be like if he was getting adequate care for his symptoms. With proper treatment, the same man might be at home throwing a baseball with his young son, or growing prize tomatoes at his apartment. Severe mental illness does not have to equal homelessness, but until we learn to see people with severe mental illnesses as capable of recovery, their plight will all too often be seen as inevitable.
  3. Talk openly about your own experience with mental illness. – Even if you’ve never struggled with a serious disorder like bipolar or schizophrenia, you’ve probably had a friend or relative who has.
  4. Support legislation that helps people with mental illnesses. – Campaign for health care reform banning health insurance companies from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions. Vote yes on bills for affordable housing and increased funding for mental health programs. Support campaigns to keep people with mental illnesses out of prisons and receiving the treatment they need.
  5. Teach your children about mental illness. – Children often absorb their parents’ attitudes towards people who are different. Explain to your children what it means when they see people with mental illnesses acting or speaking in unusual ways. Emphasize the need for compassion and tolerance, and always put the person first, not their disorder. Teach your children not to see a “crazy lady,” but a woman struggling with a disease.
  6. Support community organizations that help people with mental illnesses. – Give time or money to an organization in your community that provides outreach, shelter, job training, counseling, or health care services to people with mental illnesses. Mental illness affects millions of Americans every year. One day, the person most in need of these services might be a friend, relative, co-worker–or even you.

Dimensional Diagnosis of Mental Illness

→ April 23, 2010 - 9 Comments

There is a recognition among many of us crazies, as well as the professionals that treat us, that most of us do not simple fall into one camp – we’re bipolar with a hint of ADD; we have a borderline personality disorder with depressive and psychotic features; we suffer from schizoaffective disorder with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction mixed in. Humans are complex, and their brains even more so.

My Depression Isn’t Your Depression

And what’s more, my depression isn’t like your depression. In fact, so much so, that using the same word is almost nonsensical. I sleep 15 hours a day, but you only sleep 3. I have a successful job, but no family or friends. You have neither but participate in online support groups 10 hours a day. I think about killing myself every day but you actually plan for it once a week. You never cry but I cry all the time. Are we the same? Am I more depressed than you, or less?

And things get more complicated when you compare personality disorders and bipolar and ADD and PTSD combined with comorbid conditions like addiction. And yet somehow we’re supposed to suss this all out, find a label, and a treatment that goes with it. That’s pretty tough.

Mental Illness Doesn’t Fit in a Box

The medical community recognizes that mental illnesses frequently occur together and that each person has unique symptoms. More at Bipolar Burble blog.So some doctors would like not to put people in boxes, but to place them on continuums. You would become a multi-dimensional person, probably with severity ratings attached. So, I might be 80% bipolar, with a severity of 7/10, 10% anxiety, severity 3/10, and 10% PTSD, severity 2/10. (The scales used here are coming out of my head, not from any published source.)

And if you know mentally ill people, and you’re educated about disorders, you can see that continuums really do fit more people than boxes do. Boxes are, naturally, self-limiting.

But there are some problems here. Well, too many to count, really. First off, how would you measure how depressed a person is? Or how schizophrenic? Or how bipolar? There are many scales that have been developed for this but there is no standard as none have been proven to be wholly accurate. The scales we do have are more effective at measuring change over time, to tell if you’re getting better or worse, than objectively coming up with a score indicating how much you are of something.

Mental Illness Severity

And severity. Severity is a personal thing. If I can’t work because of a disorder, then naturally that is severe, but it can be just as severe to have nothing in your life but work. Doctors feel that planning your suicide is worse than thinking about suicide but if all you do is think about your death all day long, is that not severe? What if you cut yourself but never really suffer any grave injury, is that severe or not?

It’s personal. Severe to me probably isn’t the same as it is to you. And it probably isn’t the same from doctor to doctor either, so coming up with a measurement is rather difficult.

Mental Illness Definition

But even if we could measure how much of an illness you had, and how severe it was, and we could assign you a magic number that represented all of that, what good would it do? It doesn’t change the treatments we have available. It still doesn’t change the drugs, or the therapies, or the electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), or the vagus nerve stimulator (VNS). All that remains. And as it stands now a doctor might prescribe any medication for any disorder anyway so what’s the point in being so numerically specific? Whether you’re 100% bipolar or 75% with some PTSD doctors are going to try lithium, mood-stabilizers and antipsychotics anyway. It really doesn’t matter.

I applaud a system working to recognize that we’re all different and that through standard diagnoses we almost always get it a little bit wrong, but at this point I just don’t see a way around it. Mental illness isn’t like a burn where you can measure the percentage of skin affected and burn depth. It just isn’t that simple. And maybe one day we’ll know more and we’ll be able to attach numbers to the illness of a brain but unfortunately we’re just not there yet. I suspect until we really have a biological way of identifying issues: 25% excess serotonin, not enough dopamine and so on, we’ll be stuck with the muddy mess of trying to categorize seemingly infinite variations on the human brain. Broad strokes are really the best we can do until not just something better, but something more useful, comes along.

Psychiatric Disorders in Children – Diagnosed and Medicated

→ April 20, 2010 - 13 Comments

I have bipolar-disorder-type-II-ultradian-cycling. I diagnosed myself when I was 20 years old, and once I finally agreed to see a doctor, he agreed sometime thereafter. My diagnosis was fairly easy for me. I’m very self-aware and I could pick out discrete moods and swings. But as a 20-year-old, in university, using research, and having a fairly high IQ, this is not terribly surprising. If I were five-years-old, the picture would have been a little different.

Epidemic of Children Diagnosed with Mental Illness

There is an epidemic of children, as young as two, being diagnosed with psychiatric disorders in North American right now. It’s made the cover of Time magazine and countless articles have been written on the phenomenon.

So, Antipsychotics are Now Approved for Children

It was once thought that disorders like bipolar did not occur before adulthood, but thoughts on this seem to be changing as diagnoses go up and more drugs are approved for treatment of children.

Antipsychotics FDA-approved for use in children (under 18) is:

And so on. And of course, doctors are free to prescribe any medication off label to children just like adults.

Antipsychotics Can Fuck You Up

I have been on all three of those antipsychotics and all three have fucked me up. Specifically seen has been weight gain, blood pressure changes, twitching, extreme fatigue, incurable hunger, and in the case of Geodon, psychosis. Among other things.

What Do Antipsychotics Do?

Antipsychotics turn down the dopamine in your brain. That’s what’s the do. They also turn down serotonin. These are two of the “feel good” chemicals in your brain, and you are turning these down. This seems to help with certain disorders like schizophrenia, but dopamine in integral for motivation, reinforcement, learning, and memory. If, for example, your five-year-old eats his peas, and you praise him, he feels good because a shot of dopamine is released. This then reinforces the pea-eating behavior, so that next time, he will again eat his peas. If you take away dopamine, he may not be able to make this link. And if you take away dopamine from a child’s (naturally developing) brain for a long period of time, no one has any idea what would happen.

I cannot, in any world, imagine giving these drugs to a child.

We Don’t Know How to Diagnose Bipolar In a Child

The truth is, no one knows what bipolar looks like in a child, or if it even exists. There is no diagnostic criteria in the DSM. Psychiatrists are using relaxed versions of symptoms seen in adults for diagnoses. This is patently ridiculous.

Children are Naturally Crazy

Kids blur the line between fantasy and reality. Kids act out. Kids throw tantrums. Kids ignore you. Kids break rules. Kids often don’t show a great regard for their safety or the safety of others. Kids throw broccoli across the kitchen table. Kids do, the darndest things. They’re kids. It’s what they do. None of this makes them crazy.

Recently a friend of mine was talking about a girl who hallucinated a dead robot baby. Moreover, this same girl spent her recent birthday having an elaborate funeral for a bird found dead in her back yard. Sound crazy? Not for a seven-year-old. It might be a bit unusual, but to me this speaks of intelligence creativity and compassion, not a mental disorder.

And let’s face it, some kids are very challenging to handle. Some are overly aggressive, or sad, or obstinate. They hit their sister, break a vase, or refuse to stay in their room for a time-out. This still doesn’t make them crazy, this just makes them challenging. Parents don’t get a pass just because their job is harder than they thought it was going to be.

Kids Can Be Crazy and Still Perfectly Normal

Basically, kids can have almost any pattern of behavior and still be pretty darn normal. And that doesn’t take into account all of the environment factors that are effecting kid’s behaviors. I’ve never seen great parents with a kid with huge behavioral problems. Yes, I’m sure it happens, but generally, kids are a reflection of their home lives. And kids with bad home lives don’t need or deserve drugs. They deserve better home lives.

And on top of all of this, if a child really is having behavioral problems there are specialists who can help with that, they’re called child psychologists. They help children and parents all day long. And they don’t cause weight gain and high blood pressure.

And don’t get me started on how idiotic it is to diagnose a two-year-old with a mental disorder. Two? Really? It can take an adult two years for an adult to get a diagnosis of bipolar. That sounds like a parent disorder if ever I heard of it.

Children on Antipsychotics and Other Psych Medication Seem Like Lab Rats

It feels to me like these children are being treated as lab subjects, and not real people. I am highly suspicious of any doctor that would medicate a child. Could it possibly be a reasonable thing to do? Well, maybe. But you’d be hard pressed to convince me.

Mental Illness as Self-Fullfillment

And in addition to whatever drugs are being fed to these children, they are also being saddled with a diagnosis – for the rest of their lives. As an adult it can be extremely detrimental to be labeled “crazy”, but as a child I can only imagine it would be infinitely worse. These children don’t even have a chance to find an identity before they’re told they’re crazy. How can that label not result in self-fulfillment?

Victims of Fad Diagnoses

When the movie Cybil based on a woman with “multiple personality disorder,” came out, the diagnosis of this disorder exploded across the US. A disorder that had virtually never been seen was suddenly everywhere. But over the decades that followed, medical professionals were able to determine that these were not genuine cases. In fact, some doctors feel that there has never been a documented case of “multiple personality disorder” as featured in the film. There are other disorders with similar features, but the giant outbreak seen after the film, just didn’t exist.

Is Childhood Bipolar a Fad Diagnosis?

And one has to wonder if we’re seeing something similar here. If more adults are being diagnosed as bipolar, then naturally, we are looking for markers of it at younger ages, and in their genes. We want this information to help people, to help treat the disease, but it can just as easily be used to further label people before we even know how to do it properly. Multiple personality disorder looked like a correct diagnosis until we figured out it wasn’t.

And if someone as young as a toddler gets diagnosed with some behavioral disorder, don’t these children deserve time to correct this issue via safer methods than drugs? It seems that out of an eight year life, it’s impossible that enough other treatments have been tried to warrant drugs.

Now, it’s true, I’m not a doctor, or a parent. And I do have a strongly held belief that doctors and their patients should be able to choose treatments without judgment from the outside world. But I also think any doctor worth seeing is going to try the least harmful treatment first, especially in a population that has been radically understudied. True, behavioral therapy might not work, but it’s unlikely to cause debilitating side-effects. And what about waiting for a child to grow out of behavioral issues? I hear that was a thing that used to happen. Before we got all diagnos-y.

I’m not suggesting that no one under 18 is sick, or that no one under 18 should be treated with medication. What I am suggesting is that diagnosis and treatment of children needs to be handled with extreme care and caution. I’m an adult and I give informed consent to fuck with my brain; children do not have that ability, and yet, they will be the ones that have to live with the results. They deserve every possible solution that avoids nasty, unknown side effects. Parents need to be held to a higher standard of decision-making and not pick what is easiest for them, but what is best for their child. Doctors need to be held to a higher standard to care with children, ideally with third party monitoring of underage drug-treatment. This is not something to be taken lightly on any front.

Someone needs to sanity-check the parents. Kids need to be able to act crazy, without getting labeled crazy.

Who Do You Trust for Mental Illness Medication Information?

→ April 11, 2010 - 3 Comments

As you might have noticed, I’ve been writing about bipolar and mental illness for a really long time. Seven years in internet time is a lifetime or so.

I Write About and Research Mental Illness

Trusting Mental Health SourcesAnd in all that time, in addition to the writing, I’ve been reading, or more commonly, researching, mental illness. I’ve been looking up information on mental disorders, psychiatric medications, mental illness treatments, supplements and everything else of which you can think. This is because I like to be educated about my bipolar disorder, healthcare and treatments. I often share researched information with my readers because I think others should be educated about mental illness too. I strive to make anything I write accurate and provide links to reputable information sources.

Who Do You Trust for Mental Illness Information?

But what information should you trust? Who should you trust for mental health information? Should you trust me, a random blogger? People on discussion groups? Information sites? Drug company sites? Doctor sites?

Almost always, no.

Here are a few ideas about trusting information online:

  1. Do not make any decisions about your mental health or treatment without talking to a real, live doctor in person. Period. You can take all the self-assessment questionnaires you want, but you can’t pick a mental illness treatment or a diagnosis without the help of a professional. These tools can help you bring information to your doctor, but nothing is a substitution for a real professional.
  2. If you can’t check out a person’s credentials, don’t trust them. Anyone can claim to be a psychiatrist, nurse or have a Phd, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t actually a teenage, mosquito trainer practicing pirouettes in a tent in rural Lesotho (although they’re probably not). If someone is offering you professional health advice, they should have no problem supplying their credentials. One of the reasons I love Jim Phelps’ site is the fact he is forthright about who he is, and how he’s funded.
  3. Check how a healthcare site is funded. If a site doesn’t tell you who’s supporting it, who’s funding it and where the information comes from don’t trust them. As a general rule, sites funded by drug companies or special interest groups should be treated with extreme suspicion. Special interest groups can include religious groups and even some charities. While they may have good intentions it’s likely their information is slanted and partial.
  4. If there are no links to actual data or research studies approach with extreme caution. I could be a doctor making the claim carrots cure depression, and that might be a very appealing claim to a lot of people as anyone can buy carrots. I can even say, “I’ve seen it work over and over,” but if I can’t back that up with real scientific data, then the claim holds no water. (That being said, there’s no harm in asking your real-life doctor about even questionable mental health treatments, if you’re interested. That’s what they’re paid for.)
  5. Any referenced study must be published in a reputable journal. Psychology Today is a magazine not a journal, the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology is a reputable journal. Real studies are listed here and are published in peer-reviewed journals. Also, in reputable studies any conflicts of interest must be disclosed. Implications from research can be confusing so print out the study and ask your doctor about it. Some groups are really good at making information look authentic but if it wasn’t published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal, it’s not to be trusted.
  6. HONcode accreditation.’s Nancy Schimelpfening suggests that HONcode accreditation is also a good thing for which to look.

I have to stress, there are many medical sites out there that are trying to sell you a product or idea. Please keep in mind there are some groups that are very anti-psychiatry and anti-medication and try to push that agenda. They masquerade as self-help sites, discussion groups, individuals on discussion groups, and drug rehabilitation/addiction sites. There are people pushing products that use the same techniques.

Be Skeptical About Mental Health Information Sources

Be skeptical. If the information doesn’t sound right, ask a professional. Please don’t let random online weirdo’s make choices for you or influence how you feel about yourself and your mental disorder. You’re better than that.

[And just for the record, I don’t portend to be anyone other than a mouthy bipolar writer with a lot of tears, screams and things to say. I’m pretty smart and try to help people, but that’s about it. Oh, and I’m essentially funded by no one. Just ask my landlord.]

Mental Illness Resources I Trust

Curious about who I trust for mental illness information? See my resources list here.

Update: I just found this open-access peer-reviewed journal online. Interesting.

Anticonvulsants as Calcium Antagonists in Mood Stabilization

→ March 20, 2010 - 2 Comments

This is a paper I wrote for a psychology course I am taking so the level of discourse is quite high, sorry about that. I promise though, it is comprehensible. What I’m basically talking about is calcium-channel blockers and other calcium antagonists (they turn calcium down). This refers to calcium in your brain and not calcium in your blood.

Mood Stabilizers and Bipolar Disorder

Because inadequate response, poor compliance, chronic recurring symptoms, and functional disability are constant challenges is the treatment of bipolar disorder, (Gitlin, 2006) efforts have been made to search out new mood stabilizing medication and determine new methods of action. There has been an effort to treat bipolar disorder with a class of medication termed “mood stabilizers”, most notably consisting of some anticonvulsants (also known as antiepileptics) in addition to the traditional lithium.[1] [push]I will show that these anticonvulsants, stabilize mood in bipolar disorder, at least partially, through their ability to act as calcium antagonists.[/push]

While anticonvulsants are widely used in the treatment of mood disorders, their method of action in mood stabilization is mostly unknown.[2] Recent research has indicated that disrupted calcium homeostasis is present in bipolar disorder, and that anticonvulsants and lithium effect calcium channels and concentration in the brain (Amann, 2005). The mood-stabilizing effects of calcium channel blockers like Nimodipine (Levy, 2000) further add to the evidence that calcium antagonism is useful in the treatment of bipolar disorder. I will show that these “mood stabilizers”, anticonvulsants, stabilize mood in bipolar disorder, at least partially, through their ability to act as calcium antagonists.

Bipolar Disorder and Calcium Levels

A review of hypercalcemia and hypocalcemia shows links from calcium blood levels to depression, irritability, delirium, and psychosis – symptoms that are similar to a bipolar disorder. Additional to calcium’s powerful abilities in the blood, it also plays a vital role both as primary and secondary messengers in the brain and according to Gargus (2009), is known to regulate “physiological systems at every level from membrane potential and ion transporters to kinases and transcription factors”. Calcium also plays a role in long-term changes to the architecture of a neuron (Amann, 2005). Disruption of intracellular calcium homeostasis is now thought to underlie many diseases such as Autism, Migraine, Seizures, and psychological disorders like bipolar (Gargus, 2009). Additionally, atrophy and glial death now found in mood disorders may be avoided by increasing cellular plasticity, accomplished through reducing intracellular calcium concentrations (Landmark, 2008).[pull]Atrophy and glial death now found in mood disorders may be avoided by increasing cellular plasticity, accomplished through reducing intracellular calcium concentrations.[/pull]

In some studies, the bipolar population has been found to have abnormally elevated intracellular calcium, elevated basal platelet and lymphocyte calcium concentrations, and elevated B-lymphoblast calcium (Silverstone, 2005). Found more consistently the bipolar population, both in the manic and depressed phase, is an enhanced calcium response to agonist stimulation (Silverstone, 2005). This may partially be explained by the enhanced platelet intracellular calcium mobilization found after stimulation by serotonin in bipolar disorder (Suzuki, 2003). This research suggests that not only are calcium levels elevated, and calcium activities dysregulated, but this may become worse if the patient is treated with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which is often the case.

Lithium and Calcium

Lithium has long been the standard therapy for bipolar disorder both for acute and maintenance treatment due to its quality and quantity of supporting evidence (Gitlin, 2006), (Levy, 2000). Part of lithium’s biological effects is to both inhibit the entry of calcium intracellularly acting as a calcium antagonist, and to block calcium channels directly. This, in turn, inhibits other cellular responses of subtypes adrenergic, serotonergic, and cholinergic (Levy, 2000). Moreover, adding Verapamil, a calcium channel blocker, to unresponsive lithium treatment, improves outcomes, (Mallinger, 2008) suggesting that both calcium itself and calcium channels benefit from antagonists.[3]

Calcium Channel Blockers as Mood Stabilizers

A number of calcium channel antagonists have been studied with varied results likely resulting from their specific affinities to different calcium channel subtypes and their individual ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. Verapamil, one of the most studied calcium channel blockers, is not the most lipophilic and is likely not as effective as other calcium channel blockers like nimodipine (Gitlin, 2006), although Verapamil has been shown effective in some studies and does work on calcium ions in a way similar to lithium (Levy, 2000).[pull]Nimodipine is not only a calcium channel blocker but has also been shown to have anticonvulsant properties and has shown great potential as a mood-stabilizer particularly for cycling forms of bipolar disorder.[/pull]

Nimodipine is not only a calcium channel blocker but has also been shown to have anticonvulsant properties and has shown great potential as a mood-stabilizer particularly for cycling forms of bipolar disorder (Goodnick, 2000). While its efficacy needs further study, there have been positive results shown for bipolars in manic, depressed, and rapid cycling states.

Anticonvulsants spawn a broad range of medication and methods of action. Useful actions for treatment of psychiatric disorders are thought to be: increases in GABAurgic transmissions, decreases in glutamate, inhibition of voltage-gates sodium and calcium channels, and interference with intracellular modulators (Landmark, 2008). For the treatment of bipolar disorder, specifically mood stabilization, carbamazepine and Lamotrigine, have been identified, and accepted as treatments through their inhibition of voltage-gated sodium and calcium channels (Landmark, 2008).[push]Anticonvulsants that work on calcium channel blockers are also known to be helpful in the treatment of neuropathic pain, which some researchers believe is closely tied to psychological pain, here in the form of bipolar disorder.[/push]

Carbamezapine and Lamotrigine have also been seen to positively affect mood while GABAurgic transmitting anticonvulsants have not. The general decreased excitability found with Carbamezapine and Lamotrigine may also be responsible for their role in preventing affective episodes (Landmark, 2008). Valproate is also considered an accepted treatment although likely functions more from the combined actions mentioned above, making it an anti-mania treatment as well as possibly useful for mood stabilization (Landmark, 2008). The effects of anticonvulsants are compared to the therapeutic effects of lithium on calcium, calcium channel blockers, and inositol concentrations, another secondary messenger indirectly acting on calcium signals (Berridge, 1993). Anticonvulsants that work on calcium channel blockers are also known to be helpful in the treatment of neuropathic pain (Landmark, 2008), which some researchers believe is closely tied to psychological pain, here in the form of bipolar disorder.

Lithium acts in the body as a complex agent, making it difficult for scientists to specify exactly how it stabilizes mood in the bipolar population, in spite of its being used for decades. It is clear; however, that part of its biological action is to antagonize calcium concentrations as well as calcium channels. This action is shown to have positive mood stabilizing effects as proven by successful treatments with calcium blocking agents like Verapamil and Nimodipine. These same mood stabilizing effects are seen with some anticonvulsants which also act as calcium antagonists. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that part of the reason why some anticonvulsants stabilize mood is because of their ability to work on calcium, calcium channel blockers, and inositol, as seen in Lithium and calcium channel blockers.


[1] There are several antipsychotics also in this list but are outside the scope of this paper.
[2] Treatment of bipolar disorder and mood stabilization in this paper will refer to non-acute treatment, although some of the drugs mentioned can be used in acute treatment also. No distinction will be made between types of bipolar.
[3] It should be noted that Mallinger (2009) posited that the positive effects of combining Lithium and Verapamil may also be due to the inhibition of protein kinase C (PKC) activity provided by the Verapamil.


(I apologize for the departure from APA style, blog formatting issues.)

Amann, B., & Grunze, H. (2005). Neurochemical Underpinnings in Bipolar Disorder and Epilepsy. Epilepsia (Series 4), 4626-30.
Retrieved from EbscoHost Mar. 14, 2010 AN = 17118993

Berridge, M. J. (1993). Inositol Trisphosphate and Calcium Signaling. Nature 361, 315-325.
Available online:

Farooq, M., Moore, P., Bhatt, A., Aburashed, R., & Kassab, M. (2008). Therapeutic Role of Zonisamide in Neuropsychiatric Disorders. Mini Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry, 8(10), 968-975.
Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.
Retrieved from EbscoHost Mar. 15, 2010 AN = 34436130

Gargus, J. (2009). Genetic Calcium Signaling Abnormalities in the Central Nervous System: Seizures, Migraine, and Autism. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1151133-156.
Retrieved from EbscoHost Mar. 14, 2010 AN = 35830926

Gitlin, M. (2006). Treatment-resistant bipolar disorder. Molecular Psychiatry, 11(3), 227-240.
Retrieved from EbscoHost Mar. 14, 2010 AN = 19892243

Goodnick, P. (2000). The use of nimodipine in the treatment of mood disorders. Bipolar Disorders, 2(3), 165.
Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.
Retrieved from EbscoHost Mar. 15, 2010 AN = 6500123

Landmark, C. (2008). Antiepileptic Drugs in Non-Epilepsy Disorders. CNS Drugs, 22(1), 27-47.
Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.
Retrieved from EbscoHost Mar. 15, 2010 AN = 28088990

Levy, N., & Janicak, P. (2000). Calcium channel antagonists for the treatment of bipolar disorder. Bipolar Disorders, 2(2), 108-119.
Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.
Retrieved from EbscoHost Mar. 14, 2010 AN = 5788405

Mallinger, A., Thase, M., Haskett, R., Buttenfield, J., Luckenbaugh, D., Frank, E., et al. (2008). Verapamil augmentation of lithium treatment improves outcome in mania unresponsive to lithium alone: preliminary findings and a discussion of therapeutic mechanisms. Bipolar Disorders, 10(8), 856-866.
Retrieved from EbscoHost Mar. 14, 2010 AN = 35323933

Silverstone, P., McGrath, B., Wessels, P., Bell, E., & Ulrich, M. (2005). Current Pathophysiological Findings in Bipolar Disorder and in its Subtypes. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 1(1), 75-101.
Retrieved from EbscoHost Mar. 14, 2010 AN = 18882320

Suzuki, K., Kusumi, I., Akimoto, T., Sasaki, Y., & Koyama, T. (2003). Altered 5-HT-Induced Calcium Response in the Presence of Staurosporine in Blood Platelets from Bipolar Disorder Patients. Neuropsychopharmacology, 28(6), 1210-1214.
Retrieved from EbscoHost Mar. 15, 2010 AN = 22436847

Can’t Not Talk About Shock Therapy (Electroconvulsive Therapy, ECT)

→ March 10, 2010 - 6 Comments

I hadn’t planned on discussing my electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) experience with many people. I found it terrible, scarring, not to mention futile and immensely embarrassing; those aren’t generally feelings I like to talk about. I still find the idea of shock therapy, well, shocking. Incomprehensible. Absolutely impossible.

[Note: I am running a survey on real patients’ experiences with, and perspectives on, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). If you’ve had ECT and want your voice heard, please take the survey here. More detailed information on the ECT survey can be found here.]

Write About What You Know — I Know ECT

The problem with being a writer is that you write what you know, and you’re driven to write what plagues you most. At least I am. I can’t write about fluffy bunnies and sparkling rainbows, because these aren’t the things that occupy my conscious mind. But ECT. Ironically it erased pieces of my brain only to seemingly permanently occupy others. I’m acutely aware of its happening and yet find it completely unbelievable.

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Caffeine and Mental Illness and Caffeine Disorders

→ February 21, 2010 - 13 Comments

Caffeine and Mental Illness and Caffeine Disorders

Caffeine is the world’s most popular psychoactive substance. So many of us love it a la Starbucks, Tim Hortons or just out or our home coffee machine. Me, I love coffee and I’m a fan of caffeine too. Coffee’s the nectar of the gods and nothing will convince me otherwise.

It seems though, caffeine can actually hurt you. I know, I never thought my beloved coffee could harm me, but I suppose anything that you abuse, will abuse you back. So, here is everything you ever needed to know about caffeine, caffeine disorders and caffeine and mental illness but were afraid to ask.

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Physiological Causes of Depression – Surgeon’s General Report

→ July 6, 2009 - 2 Comments

I like to think I know almost all there is to know about mood disorders, but I was pretty shocked when I read this:

The Surgeon’s General Report

Differential Diagnosis
Mood disorders are sometimes caused by general medical conditions or medications. Classic examples include the depressive syndromes associated with dominant hemispheric strokes, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and pancreatic cancer (DSM-IV). Among medications associated with depression, antihypertensives and oral contraceptives are the most frequent examples. Transient depressive syndromes are also common during withdrawal from alcohol and various other drugs of abuse. Mania is not uncommon during high-dose systemic therapy with glucocorticoids and has been associated with intoxication by stimulant and sympathomimetic drugs and with central nervous system (CNS) lupus, CNS human immunodeficiency viral (HIV) infections, and nondominant hemispheric strokes or tumors. Together, mood disorders due to known physiological or medical causes may account for as many as 5 to 15 percent of all treated cases (Quitkin et al., 1993b). They often go unrecognized until after standard therapies have failed.

(bold mine)

I’m shocked. No one ever mentioned anything about birth control pills to me and I’ve been on them for years. YEARS. This is yet another reason why doctors so often get on my bad side.

This quote was taken from the Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. The whole report is a good read, but very long. It’s everything you wanted to know but didn’t know you needed to ask.

I’m disgusted.

Mood Charting Depression, Anxiety, Mania, Irritation

→ August 16, 2008 - 4 Comments

I’m a geek. If you know me, I deny this, but it’s actually true. Not the Star Wars-watching, video-game drenched, mother-basement living, socially awkward,virgin type, but a geek nonetheless. I do, after all, make software for a living, understand math, and make logical arguments.

A Mood Chart

So, in the vein supportive numbers, I have been charting my mood for a while. I chart depression (obviously) along with mania, anxiety, and irritation. I’ve also added trend lines for anxiety and depression (the dotted ones):

The headline is the depression is dropping while the anxiety is increasing. Looking a bit closer, you can see that Jul. 16 when I added the Zyprexa/Celexa combo, the depression dropped substantially. It’s probably the best I have felt for over a year. I don’t have the numbers to prove it, but trust me, it’s true. (I’m scared to even write that because I feel like it will be taken away from me. I feel like a higher power will reach down into my life and destroy it. I suppose a higher power will reach into my brain and start squishing it like squishing whole tomatoes for a marinara sauce. Brain sauce. Yum.)

Mood charting has two main benefits.

One, you have objective record for what is happening to you. Your doctor is going to ask you “how are you feeling?” (which is the dumbest question ever) and you have to be able to answer it. It’s harder than it sounds. Are you more anxious, or less? What side effects have you noticed? How long have they been happening? What kind of pain? How depressed are you compared to last time? Irritation? Mania? Energy level? And it would be handy if you could answer all of that in 2 minutes or less.

Seriously? Yes, seriously. You only have a few minutes with your doctor. You don’t have time to “think about it”. Mood charting can help you maintain an objective view of what is really going on. Generally, I can remember all these things because I have been doing this forever, but you may not be so “experienced”.

Two, you’ll have historic record so when you switch doctors, you know what to tell the new guy. Think your new doc will sift through the records of the old one? Well, maybe, but maybe not. It’s so much better if YOU can answer their questions and be the record for them. Then you know it’s actually accurate and right. And trust me, you won’t remember 17 drugs from now what happened with THIS antidepressant and THIS mood stabilizer combination. You just won’t. At this point, all the goddamned drugs sound the same to me. Alprozylepin. Meh. Whatever.

Try charting the numbers with drug names, dosages, side-effects, and “other pertinent info”. If every time you eat an ice cream sundae you feel super, maybe note that. Or your menstrual cycle, or whatever makes sense for you. Generally I haven’t bothered doing this because I’m so depressingly constant. I know how I am, I’m depressed. Screw off already. It just so happens that something has changed. Unbelievably. Miraculously.

See, I have the numbers to prove it.

(Child says to God, “how do I know you’re God? Show me a miracle.” God points to a tree. The child says, “that’s not a miracle, that’s a tree!”, to which God says, “let’s see you make one”.

God should have pointed to me. Let’s see you fix her.)

Marijuana Makes Depression Better and Worse?

→ April 30, 2008 - 1 Comment

‘Roud these parts lots of people are smoking lots of stuff that might not entirely be legal. Very common. Good climate for that sort of thing.

I though, have always been of the opinion that marijuana makes depression worse and so stay away from the stuff. Really, if you’re crazy and on psychotropic drugs, adding extra, less predictable, street psychotropic drugs doesn’t seem like a good idea. Anecdotally, do stoners strike you as obscenely happy people? They strike me as just slow, tired, munchie-craving people. That’s not going to help me feel better. (More logically, THC from the marijuana coats the outside of your brain cells, further impeding neurotransmitters, which is bad if you already have a serotonin deficiency.)

But the nice folks at McGill university weren’t about to answer the question with conjecture, which is why I like science so much. And I was surprised. Turns out that small amount of marijuana might actually help you, but large amounts can actually increase depression and maybe cause psychosis. I copied the article below for your convenience.

MONTREAL, Oct. 24 (UPI) — A synthetic form of the active ingredient of marijuana acts as an antidepressant in low doses but in higher doses can worsen depression, a Canadian study said.

First author Dr. Gabriella Gobbi of McGill University said it has been long known that depletion of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain leads to depression, so antidepressants like Prozac and Celexa work by enhancing the available concentration of serotonin in the brain.

This study offers the first evidence that marijuana can also increase serotonin, at least at lower doses, but at higher doses the serotonin in the rats’ brains dropped below the level of those in the control group.

The study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, finds excessive marijuana use in people with depression poses high risk of psychosis.

The antidepressant and intoxicating effects of marijuana are due to its chemical similarity to natural substances in the brain known as “endo-cannabinoids,” which are released under conditions of high stress or pain, Gobbi said.

Don’t rush to dial-a-dealer just yet though, because amounts are unclear, and the study was on rats. Unless you’re a rat. Then, go for it.

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