"The fashion, beauty and cosmetics industries have no interest in improving women’s body image. Playing on women’s insecurities to create a buzz and push products is an old trick but there’s a cynical new trend in advertising that peddles distressing stereotypes with one hand and ways to combat that distress with the other. We’re not like all the rest, it whispers. We think you’re pretty just as you are. Now buy our skin grease and smile. The message, either way, is that before we can be happy, women have to feel “beautiful”, which preferably starts with being “beautiful”."
Alcohol misuse in young people causes significant changes in their brain function and structure. This and other findings were recently reviewed by Dr Daniel Hermens from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Research Institute in the journal Cortex.
“Young people are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of alcohol misuse,” said Dr Hermens.
Most people have their first alcoholic drink during adolescence and while they drink less frequently than adults, they tend to drink more on each occasion - binge drinking.
The early functional signs of brain damage from alcohol misuse are visual, learning, memory and executive function impairments. These functions are controlled by the hippocampus and frontal structures of the brain, which are not fully mature until around 25 years of age.
Structural signs of alcohol misuse include shrinking of the brain and significant changes to white matter.
In his review, Dr Hermens notes that changes in a young person’s brain caused by alcohol misuse could either represent a predisposition (genetic or environmental) to alcohol misuse, or a marker for future risk of ongoing misuse. Whichever it is, there is no doubt that the more frequent the alcohol misuse, the greater the damage and the less likely the brain is to recover from that damage.
“When the toxicity of alcohol stops your brain from laying down new memories, you experience a blackout,” said Dr Hermens. Young people who binge drink may only drink once a week, but on a massive night out they may have three to four blackouts, which begins to cause serious damage to their brain.
One of the best predictors of a person having problems with alcohol is their earliest age of first use. But changing the legal drinking age is not the answer. In Australia the legal drinking age is 18, three years earlier than in the US. Despite the difference in legal drinking age, the age of first use is the same between the two countries.
Another key factor affecting young people who drink is mental health, “poor mental health more than doubles a young person’s risk of alcohol and other substance misuse” says Dr Hermens.
The solution lies in education, treatment and prevention. Dr Hermens and his team have been working with NSW Health to prepare a set of guidelines for health carers to identify and respond to early stages of brain impairment in young people resulting from alcohol misuse. They are currently working on a set of educational charts that inform young people of the risks of irresponsible drinking.
It may be possible to use cognitive remediation to change the drinking habits of young drinkers and prevent relapse. At the same time, vitamin supplements or other medicines may effectively treat some of the structural changes, and it may be possible to develop protective agents that can prevent young brains from the damaging effects of alcohol.
“More work needs to be done in this area. Excessive alcohol use accounts for 4 percent of the global burden of disease. We would save a lot of money and improve the quality of life for millions of people if we could prevent the mental and physical problems associated with alcohol misuse” said Dr Hermens.
"To this end, we are calling on Facebook users to contact advertisers whose ads on Facebook appear next to content that targets women for violence, to ask these companies to withdraw from advertising on Facebook until you take the above actions to ban gender-based hate speech on your site.
Specifically, we are referring to groups, pages and images that explicitly condone or encourage rape or domestic violence or suggest that they are something to laugh or boast about. Pages currently appearing on Facebook include Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus, Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won’t make you a Sandwich, Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs, Raping your Girlfriend and many, many more. Images appearing on Facebook include photographs of women beaten, bruised, tied up, drugged, and bleeding, with captions such as “This bitch didn’t know when to shut up” and “Next time don’t get pregnant.”
These pages and images are approved by your moderators, while you regularly remove content such as pictures of women breastfeeding, women post-mastectomy and artistic representations of women’s bodies. In addition, women’s political speech, involving the use of their bodies in non-sexualized ways for protest, is regularly banned as pornographic, while pornographic content - prohibited by your own guidelines - remains. It appears that Facebook considers violence against women to be less offensive than non-violent images of women’s bodies, and that the only acceptable representation of women’s nudity are those in which women appear as sex objects or the victims of abuse. Your common practice of allowing this content by appending a [humor] disclaimer to said content literally treats violence targeting women as a joke."
"Imagine hearing that Judy, a homemaker, ”hit someone.” How aggressive is she? Was this ”hit” a light slap or a serious punch? people given this scenario tend to dismiss the incident as not being very aggressive because they imagine Judy spanking a child. When given the same information about Joe, a construction worker, perceivers are more likely to conclude that the ”hit” was a punch and a significant instance of aggression (Kunda & Sherman-Williams, 1993). Similarly, if you are told that a young man got into a car accident, you might infer that he was driving too fast, whereas you might assume that an old man was distracted. These examples illustrate how stereotypes bias the interpretation of information about individuals as a result of their group memberships. Because information is often ambiguous or unclear and can be construed in multiple ways, people use their stereotypes as an inferential guide. Whether or not these inferences are correct, the beliefs behind them remain intact."
Laurie A. Rudman and Peter Glick, The Social Psychology of Gender (via brute-reason)
"Picture yourself when you were five. In fact, dig out a photo of little you at that time and tape it to your mirror. How would you treat her, love her, feed her? How would you nurture her if you were the mother of little you? I bet you would protect her fiercely while giving her space to spread her itty-bitty wings. She’d get naps, healthy food, imagination time, and adventures into the wild. If playground bullies hurt her feelings, you’d hug her tears away and give her perspective. When tantrums or meltdowns turned her into a poltergeist, you’d demand a loving time-out in the naughty chair. From this day forward I want you to extend that same compassion to your adult self."
"On the other hand, a lot of anti-makeup sentiment– particularly anything that starts talking about how “frivolous” and “shallow” makeup is– is also misogynistic and femmephobic. Makeup is a form of visual art. If making your face beautiful is shallow, so is making a canvas beautiful or a block of marble or a hunk of plastic. If you understand why someone would feel satisfied and happy when they make a gorgeous print, you understand why someone would feel satisfied and happy when their makeup looks perfect. I do not think it is accidental that the form of visual art almost entirely practiced by women is the one that gets accused of frivolity and where the talent exhibited by many of the artists is ignored or denigrated."
As suicide rates climb steeply in the US a growing number of psychiatrists are arguing that suicidal behaviour should be considered as a disease in its own right, rather than as a behaviour resulting from a mood disorder.
They base their argument on mounting evidence showing that the brains of people who have committed suicide have striking similarities, quite distinct from what is seen in the brains of people who have similar mood disorders but who died of natural causes.
Suicide also tends to be more common in some families, suggesting there may be genetic and other biological factors in play. What’s more, most people with mood disorders never attempt to kill themselves, and about 10 per cent of suicides have no history of mental disease.
The idea of classifying suicidal tendencies as a disease is being taken seriously. The team behind the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Standards Manual (DSM-5) – the newest version of psychiatry’s “bible”, released at the American Psychiatric Association’s meeting in San Francisco this week – considered a proposal to have “suicide behaviour disorder” listed as a distinct diagnosis. It was ultimately put on probation: put into a list of topics deemed to require further research for possible inclusion in future DSM revisions.
Another argument for linking suicidal people together under a single diagnosis is that it could spur research into the neurological and genetic factors they have in common. This could allow psychiatrists to better predict someone’s suicide risk, and even lead to treatments that stop suicidal feelings.
Signs in the brain
Until the 1980s, the accepted view in psychiatry was that people who committed suicide were, by definition, depressed. But that view began to change when autopsies revealed distinctive features in the brains of people who had committed suicide, including structural changes in the prefrontal cortex – which controls high-level decision-making – and altered levels of the neurochemical serotonin. These characteristics appeared regardless of whether the people had suffered from depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or no disorder at all (Brain Research).
But there is no single neurological cause of suicide, says Gustavo Turecki of McGill University in Montreal. What is more likely, he says, is that environmental factors trigger a series of changes in the brains of people who are already genetically prone to suicide, contributing to a constellation of factors that ultimately increase risk. These factors include a history of abuse as a child, post-traumatic stress disorder, long periods of anxiety, or sleep deprivation.
The search for more of these factors is complicated by the rarity of brain samples from suicide victims and the lack of an animal model – humans are unique in their wilful ability to end their lives. But some studies are yielding insights. For example, when people with bipolar disorder who have previously attempted suicide begin taking lithium, they tend to stop attempting suicide even if the drug has no effect on their other symptoms. This suggests that the drug may be acting on neural pathways that specifically influence suicidal tendencies (Annual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology).
In the genes?
There is also growing evidence that genetics plays a role. For example, according to one study, identical twins share suicidal tendencies 15 per cent of the time, compared with 1 per cent in non-identical twins (Journal of Affective Disorders). And a study of adopted people who had committed suicide found that their biological relatives were six times more likely to commit suicide than members of the family that adopted them (American Journal of Medical Genetics).
A number of individual genes have been linked to suicide, such as those involved in the brain’s response to mood-lifting serotonin, and a signalling molecule called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which regulates the brain’s response to stress. Both tend to be suppressed in the brains of people who committed suicide, regardless of what mental disorder they had. Other studies of post-mortem brains have found that people who commit suicide after a bout of depression have different brain chemistry from depressed people who die of natural causes.
A study by Turecki, published this month, compared the brains of 46 people who had committed suicide with those of 16 people who died of natural causes. In the first group, 366 genes, mostly related to learning and memory, had a different set of epigenetic markers – chemical switches that turn genes on and off (American Journal of Psychiatry). The results are complicated by the fact that many of the people who committed suicide suffered from mental disorders, but Turecki says that suicide, rather than having a mental disorder, was the only significant predictor for these specific epigenetic changes.
No one yet knows the mechanism through which environmental factors would alter these genes, although stress hormones such as cortisol may be playing a role.
Ultimately, biological and genetic markers might allow psychiatrists to better predict which patients are most at risk of suicide. But David Brent of the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, cautions that even if we can one day use biomarkers to predict if someone will make a suicide attempt, they do not tell us when. “If clinicians are keeping an eye on a patient, they need to know if there’s imminent risk,” he says.
However, knowing someone’s long-term suicide risk may have important implications for how a doctor chooses to treat that person, says Jan Fawcett of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
For instance, a doctor may decide not to prescribe certain antidepressants to a patient with these biomarkers, as many drugs are thought to increase suicide risk. Another question would be whether to commit a person to a mental hospital – a major decision, he says, as people are most likely to commit suicide right after being released from hospital (Archives of General Psychiatry).
David Shaffer of Columbia University in New York, who was a member of the DSM-V working group, says that suicide behaviour disorder is “very much in the spirit” of the new Research Domain Criteria system that the US National Institute of Mental Health proposed as an alternative diagnosis standard to DSM-V. Rather than diagnosing people with depression or bipolar disorder, for example, the NIMH wants mental disorders to be diagnosed and treated more objectively using patients’ behaviour, genetics and neurobiology.
Ultimately, says Nader Perroud of the University of Geneva in Switzerland, if suicidal behaviour is considered as a disease in its own right, it will become possible to conduct more focused, evidence-based research on it and medications that treat it effectively. “We might be able to find a proper treatment for suicidal behaviour.”
Have a nice day