Mental Health: Depression and boardgames, an unlikely friendship

Mental illness. Something that so many people deal with but something that is so scary to talk about. Statistics say that one in four, that’s right, one in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their life. That’s huge.

I try to speak up about the issues that I face but often feel like people will think less of me if I am open and honest about my mental health. However this must change, it has to. I want to create a space where anybody can come and talk about how they are feeling with no judgement and I want to talk a little bit about the many ways in which boardgames help me cope with depression and anxiety on a regular basis.

Having dealt with depression and social anxiety for as long as I can remember and often being unable to talk about it, I would like that to change. I’ve built my own little space on the internet which has helped my wellbeing and mental health in so many ways so if I’m able reassure or support even one person, then my work here is done. 

Discovering boardgames and the boardgaming community has had such a positive impact on my life. 

People often ask me why I play the kind of games that I do, what attracts me to them. One of the most simple answers I can find is that they provide an escape. A few hours away from the ‘real world’, a few hours where I am so immersed in a game that I can’t  afford to think about anything else other than what I’m doing in that moment. Planning my next move, working on a strategy, finding solutions to problems, something I often find overwhelming and exhausting in real life. It reassures me that I am able to come up with solutions, and see a way out of problems that I may face.

My brain is constantly in overdrive from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep, consumed by negative thoughts, dread, worry, stress, over analysing every situation that happens throughout the day and pure exhaustion. Heavy games allow me to escape those feelings. A positive, healthy escape.

I had spent many years trying to find an escape and often found myself doing so in unhealthy toxic ways, that actually made the battle with depression much worse. Im sure it can be said for any hobby, but putting myself out there, enjoying something again, feeling motivated and feeling a sense of achievement is something that helped save my life. 

Read more here…

Mental health matters every day of the year

Gaels rugby star comments on her struggle with mental health

It was the most important game of our season — the OUA semi-final.

Every season, we set our sights on making it to the U Sports national championship. And every year, we have the potential. But in order to get there, we had to win a critical game against the McMaster Marauders, a formidable force in the OUA.

Having lost to them in regular season play, the odds were against us, but we were determined to outwork our long-time rivals.

Before the match, the atmosphere in the team room was intense.

When I looked around at my teammates, I reflected on what could’ve been my last chance to make a national championship. I knew we were ready. We had just the right balance of pregame dance battles and a fierce focus that always produces our best performances.

We came out flying. Every hit, every ruck, every run was on point. Our unity was unbreakable, with every player executing their role with unmatched heart. I had the game of my life, scoring two tries to secure our ticket to nationals. When the final whistle blew, the score read 20-10 for Queen’s. Everyone was cheering and crying and bursting with excitement.

But I felt nothing.

In a moment where I would normally be overflowing with emotion — and embarrassingly drowning in a puddle of happy tears — I was numb. This is the most frustrating part about living with a mood disorder like depression.

Anhedonia is a fancy word for the inability to feel pleasure, even when doing the things you love. Rather inconveniently, these familiar symptoms of depression resurfaced at the outset of this season’s OUA playoffs. I had previously been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder while centralized with the Canadian national team, but this was the first major depressive episode I experienced since my return to Queen’s in 2016.

I’d like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at warding off the darkness — which at one point consumed me — but this was a not-so-gentle reminder that mental illness can strike even when we do everything right.

At the time, I was on top of my classes and feeling incredibly engaged in what I was learning. I got to spend every night playing the sport I love with my best friends, who I love more than anything else in the world. I was taking care of my mental wellbeing through mindfulness and self care, listening to what my body and my mind were telling me.

I was happy — until I really wasn’t.

Read more here…

How Addiction Affects Sleep

From The Sleep Help Institute

The quality of your sleep is affected by everything. From your habits and the food you eat, to the medications you take and drinks you ingest. So, it’s no surprise that if a person has developed an addiction—to an over-the-counter drug, alcohol, or other type of substance—that addiction could affect their sleep quality, too.

Sleep disorders and addiction have a bidirectional relationship: Each individual issue—alcohol dependence, insomnia, etc.—relate to and effect the other issue. The nature of this intricate relationship requires a person seek treatment for both issues to find a healthy, sustainable resolution.

Keep reading to discover how various forms of addiction affect sleep. This guide also will delve into various types of substance-induced sleep disorders, substances that can cause or lead to sleep disorders, and information concerning how an individual can recover from addiction.

The relationship between sleep and addiction
How do various substance addictions upset the body’s brain chemistry and disrupt the natural sleep rhythm? The answers vary. Each substance type has different characteristics, and affects an addicted person’s sleep in various ways.

Stimulants
Cocaine effects the brain’s limbic system. The system consists of interconnected regions that regulate motivation and pleasure. Cocaine’s short-term effects immediately cause a buildup of dopamine, which can cause euphoria. This euphoria can make a person want to take the drug again.

Because cocaine increases wakefulness, it can disrupt REM sleep. And cocaine withdrawal can lead to disturbed sleep and unpleasant dreams (also known as a parasomnia).

Amphetamines stimulate the central nervous system. Although amphetamines are used to treat multiple medical issues, such as depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), people can develop a psychological amphetamine dependence.

Use of amphetamines can decrease the amount of time a person spends in REM sleep periods.

Hallucinogens
Hallucinogens are a group of drugs that can alter a person’s perception, and cause sensations or create images that aren’t real. A few examples of hallucinations are as follows:

Ayahuasca
DMT
D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
Peyote (Mescaline)
4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (psilocybin)
In general, hallucinogens can interfere with serotonin. Serotonin regulates sleep and other major bodily functions. When a person takes a hallucinogen, they can experience short-term sleep problems. A study in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology also states LSD users often experience a loss of sleep.

Sleep loss, which sometimes presentats as insomnia, can either be chronic (difficulty falling or staying asleep at least three nights a week for three months or more) or short-term (lasts less tan three months, or presents when a person has trouble falling or staying asleep).

MDMA, also known as 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine or ecstasy, is a specific type hallucinogen and stimulant. It’s a synthetic drug. MDMA can make a person feel energized, and distort their perceptions and how they experience time.

People who use a lot of MDMA can experience persistent sleep disturbances. MDMA also can affect the human body’s monoamine neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters greatly affect sleep and daytime alertness (also known as hypersomnia).

Depressants
Marijuana dependence is similar to other substance abuse disorders. People who have issues with this substance face social, psychological, and physical impairments. Dependent users also have sleep problems.

A study that appeared in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews reports that people who smoke marijuana have a hard time falling asleep, and have strange dreams when they experience marijuana withdrawal.

Another study in the journal Addiction Science & Clinical Practice found that chronic cannabis use can negatively affect sleep during withdrawal. Insomnia, sleep withdrawal, and strange dreams were reported.

People often assume alcohol can help them sleep because it causes drowsiness. Although alcohol can help a person fall asleep, it causes disrupted sleep. Disturbances can occur during sleep stage transitions. These disturbances can worsen the effects of insomnia and cause sleep apnea.

The previously mentioned study in the journal Addiction Science & Clinical Practice also reports that alcohol users can experience:

A hard time falling asleep
Awakening during the night
Daytime sleepiness
Abnormal sleep quality
Also, insomnia is the most prevalent complaint from alcoholics after they quit drinking.

Opioids

Opioid drugs come in illegal and legal forms. Heroin, for example, is illegal, and other opioids, such as the synthetic drug fentanyl, and pain relievers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine, are available via prescription.

All opioids interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain. According to the U.S. government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, 21 to 29 percent of patients who are prescribed opioids misuse the drugs.

Although most prescription opioids are safe to take for a short period of time, long-term opioid use can cause addiction. Addiction can occur because these pain relieving drugs also can cause euphoria.

The longer a person takes an opioid, the greater the chance they could develop an addiction. Addiction to opioids also can arise from prescription misuse.

Sadly, opioid addiction can lead to death. The CDC searchable database, CDC Wonder, reports that 20,000 overdose deaths in 2016 were related to fentanyl and synthetic opioids.

Why opioids are addictive
Environmental and individual factors impact how a person reacts to opioid drug affects. In general, however, opioids affect a person when the drug enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain.

A study in the journal Science & Practice Perspectives found that proteins that opioids attach to, which are called mu opioid receptors, are located on brain cells. This chemical/receptor interaction triggers the same biochemical brain processes that give people pleasurable feelings via “brain circuits” in the mesolimbic (midbrain) reward system.

According to the article, this “system” creates signals in the brain’s ventral tegmental area (VTA). This “area” releases the chemical dopamine (DA) in another part of the brain, which is referred to as the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Dopamine creates “pleasurable” feelings.

Opioids and sleep

Opioids are a well-known sleep disrupter. A study in the journal Anesthesiology explains that opioids can block the human body’s access to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. These drugs also can block access to the deeper, restorative stages of non-REM sleep. A lack of sleep can actually make any pain a person may feel—for example, the pain they are taking opioids for—worse.

Opioids, withdrawal and sleep

When a person ceases using opioids, she can experience sleep issues. An article in the journal Psychiatry Research examined the quality of sleep in people who had “heroin use disorder” who were going through “early methadone maintenance therapy” (MMT). The study participants experienced less sleep and daytime sleepiness.

Another study in the journal Drug Alcohol Dependence also found that people in the early stages of methadone detox had issues getting enough sleep. Their sleep quality was poor, too.

When sleep deprivation leads to drug use

Although heavy drug use can lead to sleep issues, sleep issues, such an insomnia, can also lead to drug use.

A study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence found that lower levels of weekday sleep were related with substance use, specifically alcohol. An association also was found between alcohol and cigarette use and weekend oversleep, which is defined as “wake time on the weekends as compared to weekdays”. The study also posits that lower sleep times could also lower an individual’s inhibition, and their ability to regulate their emotions, which can lead to substance abuse.

Although the study examined youths’ relationship with the previously mentioned substances, the findings may relate to adults, as the study also discovered that after a follow-up, which occurred two years after the study, alcohol use was associated with weekend sleep delay (defined as a person’s time to bed on the weekends compared to weekdays). Alcohol use also was associated with greater weekend “oversleep”, too.

Read more here.

4 Ways You Can Help a Senior After the Death of Their Spouse

Watching someone you love grieve is heartbreaking in its own unique way. Many people experience this when one of their aging parents dies and leaves the other widowed. They find that the sadness they feel over losing their parent takes a backseat to the empathy they feel for their surviving parent, who they know is grieving more deeply and intimately than anyone else. When this happens, many people find solace in helping their surviving parent work through the after-death preparation and grieving process.

Here are four ways you can help your parent (or any senior) after the death of his or her spouse.

Assist with Funeral Arrangements

Nobody wants to think about a budget or paperwork when they are grieving, but financial limitations and bureaucracy are a reality in this day and age. A grieving spouse is often not the best person to make rational, wallet-based decisions, so offer your help in handling arrangements related to disposition of the body, burial site, and funeral or memorial services. If you need to cut costs, you can be the one to run numbers and find creative but respectful solutions, such as hosting an “open house” instead of a full funeral procession. Don’t let unscrupulous people upsell or take financial advantage of your loved one’s grief. Be their rational eyes and ears. That said, some grieving spouses prefer to take on a more active role in funeral planning than others, so don’t take on more responsibilities or tasks than your loved one is comfortable with.

 Contact Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and Authorities

 In the days, weeks, and months following a death, there is no shortage of people who need to be contacted. One way you can help a new widow is to handle the notification of death for them. Offer to be the person who calls close friends and family to tell them about funeral arrangements. Inform organizations like churches or social groups that the deceased was a part of. Likewise, the Social Security Administration and life insurance providers need to be notified so that the spouse can begin receiving the financial assistance he or she is entitled to. Open bank or credit accounts should be closed and all debt collectors informed. However, you’ll need the official death certificate before some of these notifications can be made.

Let Them Grieve

Remember that there is no definitive formula or timeframe for moving on after the death of your spouse. People grieve in their own ways, and it’s your job to respect that. Funeralwise suggests being available, being patient, referring to the deceased by their name, and avoiding unhelpful statements like “you have to be strong now” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Listen more than you speak. This is their pain to share, not yours to fix. For some, grief will come on strong and dissipate over time. For others, grief will be delayed. It’s important you recognize the signs of grief so you can address them when they do manifest. Signs of grief can include forgetfulness, disorganization, an inability to concentrate, and a lack of interest or motivation.

 Help Them Adjust Their Life

 For many people, the loss of a spouse necessitates many long-term legal, lifestyle and financial changes that might require some tough decisions. For example, if the recently departed spouse was the beneficiary of the new widow’s insurance policies or wills (and no secondary beneficiary is named), then those documents need to be adjusted to reflect the living’s desires for disbursement after death. Similarly, many aging seniors find that downsizing or moving homes after the death of their spouse is the most practical and economical. While it may not be advisable to address such issues immediately after a death, you would be responsible to make sure that a grieving senior does not let such decisions fall by the wayside indefinitely.

Although the death of a spouse if never easy, you can ease some of that pain by helping your loved one during this difficult process. However, remember to be respectful and pay close attention to their specific needs as they grieve.

Photo via Pixabay

Cannabis linked to depression, suicidal behaviour in teens: McGill study

From The Montreal Gazette

With young adults myself, this one worries me very, very much.

Teens and young adults who consume cannabis are at an increased risk of depression and suicidal behaviour, suggests a new analysis by a team of researchers at McGill University.

The study follows an awareness campaign by the Quebec government last week that highlighted the risks of smoking pot among young Quebecers. That campaign observed that the brain continues to develop until the age of 25, making teens and young adults more vulnerable to the effects of cannabis.

The McGill study suggests that smoking pot can be linked to depression in about seven per cent of Canadians and Americans between the ages of 18 and 32. That works out to about 25,000 young Canadians and 400,000 young Americans who suffer from depression because of earlier daily or occasional use of cannabis.

The study also warns of a significant increase in the risk of suicidal ideation in teens and young adults who are already susceptible to suicidal behaviour.

“Pre-adolescents and adolescents should avoid using cannabis as use is associated with a significant increased risk of developing depression or suicidality in young adulthood,” the study concludes. “These findings should inform public health policy and governments to apply preventive strategies to reduce the use of cannabis among youth.”

The results were published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry and are based on a review of nearly a dozen international studies comprising more than 23,000 individuals. The researchers, including colleagues at Oxford University and Rutgers University-Camden, did observe a weaker association between cannabis and anxiety.

A significant percentage of suicidal attempts are attributable to cannabis.”

“When we started this study, we expected depression to be a factor attributable to cannabis consumption, but we were quite surprised about suicide behaviour rates. Indeed, a significant percentage of suicidal attempts are attributable to cannabis,” Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, a psychiatrist at McGill and the lead author of the paper, said in a statement.

In an interview, Gobbi explained that “if you have some risk of suicidal ideation, cannabis increases your risk by 50 per cent.”

“Each person is different. If you have a risk of suicidal behaviour of three per cent, cannabis will increase that risk to maybe 4.5 per cent.”

Gobbi lauded Quebec for launching its awareness campaign.

Read more here…

 

Ingrained with hopelessness

I am without a doubt the addict of the hopeless variety. I was the guy who would show up to an AA meeting picking up yet another white chip. The guy who everyone thought was such a good guy, but just could never get his life together. The guy you felt bad for and cheered on no matter what.  I absolutely hated being that guy, there is something about the addict ego that does not want pity, at least pity from others. Ironically though, I loved to pity myself, it was something that kept me in the throes of addiction for years.

I remember so many times hearing about or seeing someone who was celebrating multiple years of sobriety and I had known them since their first month of sobriety, we had been on the journey together yet I always was the one who veered off while others did the right things and stayed sober. I let my hopelessness define me, which made me indifferent to anything in life for so long. I also believed in the stigma of addiction, that it made me much less than other people.

Indifference is scary, I made so many snap decisions that could of had major impact on the rest of my life without hesitation. My thought process literally was that I didn’t care about myself so who cares what happens. I relapsed so constantly I don’t even know if you could define them as relapses.

One thing I knew at that time was that relapse was quite prominent in those who enter recovery. While I had met the ‘one chip wonders’ before, I knew a lot of people who took quite a few years to fully grasp their recovery and the actions it takes. There was always, no matter how hopeless I was, a little voice in my head telling me, “This isn’t the end, you are on this planet for a greater reason.”

On March 17, 2015 my mom called me and informed me that my father had passed away, I was already at a low with depression and this devastated me. After the service I spent the next two months completely isolated, I didn’t talk to or see anyone for weeks at a time, and crying myself to sleep every night. I was so broken and defeated, just waiting for my life to end. My mom called me around the middle of May that year and asked if I wanted help, I said yes of course, but had very little hope of being able to gain any kind of productive life back.

Being in an institution was what I needed, I needed somewhere I was being watched over and where I not only felt safe, but felt I at least had a chance at life. A big problem I usually suffered from was that I thought I knew what was best for me, always. The writing was on the wall that I did not know what was best for me, it took a lot of pain and suffering to see that. I won’t necessarily talk about what it was that I had personally had to do , I just want to reiterate how important it was that I was ready to listen to someone else’s ideas on what I should do about my addiction and depression. Someone who had my best interest in mind, usually someone who had been what I had been through and gotten out of it. With the attitude of being teachable, and opening up to people I trusted, truly opened up, I began to notice a change and experience some genuine fulfillment. May 17,2015 was the first day I decided to do this, I have been sober ever since.

That is not to say life has been easy, I still experience periods of time where I am down on myself and feel like I am moving backwards, the most important thing I do about it is tell somebody. There is something about opening up how I really feel to someone that really gets me into gear to do something about whatever is setting me back. Isolation is my absolute worst enemy, I get a sick twisted kind of comfort from it but it produces nothing positive. Please, if you need help, you must ask for it yourself. Find someone you trust and let them know how much pain you are truly in, it’s the first step we all must take in order to get on that path to being happy. My life is better than it ever has been and I owe it to everyone who supports me as much as I owe it to myself.

Five self-care strategies to support your mental wellbeing

From McMaster

Mental illness can affect individuals of any age, including older adults. Common mental illnesses include depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety may stem from a stressful working environment or from loneliness or social isolation. These mental health issues affect physical health, emotional and social well-being, and overall quality of life. Supporting mental health is a critical consideration to the healthy aging process. The good news is, in addition to the treatments recommended by your doctor, the following self-care strategies may help:

1.     Stay active – Exercise can help to reduce the symptoms of depression

2.     Practice mindfulness – Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy helps to prevent relapses among people with recurring depression

3.     Share memories – Reminiscing in groups led by a trained program facilitator can help reduce feelings of loneliness and depression

4.     Companion animals and animal-assisted therapies – Companion animals and animal-assisted therapies can improve the physical and mental health of older adults, and animal-assisted therapies appear promising to alleviate loneliness among older adults

5.     Participate in the community – Community activities such as volunteering promote a sense of accomplishment, breaks isolation, improves physical and psychological health, and reduces some of the negative stereotypes associated with aging

Read more here…

Your Anxiety Loves Sugar. Eat These 3 Things Instead.

From Healthline

Is it time to ditch sugar?

It’s no secret that sugar can wreak havoc on your body if you’re indulging in a little too much of the sweet stuff. Still, 75 percent of Americans are eating too much of it.

The harmful effects it can have on your physical health are well-studied, which is why we talk so much about reducing sugar to lose weight and lower the risk of disease.

While ditching the sweet stuff can result in a physically healthier you, it’s the impact sugar has on our mental health that’s worth taking a second look at.

1. Sugar leads to highs and lows

If your idea of coping with stress involves a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, there’s a good chance you know exactly what a sugar rush is.

While most people can get through a rush and subsequent crash with minimal discomfort, there’s an entire group of people who pay a big price for eating too much sugar.

That’s because consuming a large amount of processed sugar can trigger feelings of worry, irritability, and sadness — which can be a double whammy if you also deal with depression or anxiety.

But why does sugar cause such a problem?

After eating too much sugar, your body releases insulin to help absorb the excess glucose in the bloodstream and stabilize blood sugar levels. That’s a good thing, right? Not necessarily.

Here’s why: A sugar rush makes your body work hard to get back to normal levels.

This roller coaster of ups and downs can leave you feeling nervous, foggy, irritable, jittery, and drained.

If you have anxiety or depression, those symptoms are likely ones you already deal with on a daily basis. Sugar will exacerbate them.

2. If it doesn’t cause anxiety, it sure makes it worse

If you deal with anxiety, then you know how disastrous it can be to binge on sugar.

The powerful high and subsequent crash can make you feel irritable, shaky, and tense — all side effects that can worsen your anxiety.

But that’s not all. Sugar can also weaken your body’s ability to respond to stress, which can trigger your anxiety and prevent you from dealing with the cause of the stress.

There’ve been a few studies that have looked at the connection between sugar and anxiety, but they were both done on rats. While the findings did show a definite link between sugar intake and anxiety, researchers would like to see more studies done on humans.

Read more here…