Drugging the Family this Christmas

With sleigh bells ringing and festive joy sweeping the nation many people will have their minds firmly set on relaxing this Christmas. However, when we look into the physiological and psychological effects Christmas can have on the body, we may be interested to learn it can have an ever so slightly less than positive effect. Dissecting the most common of Christmas day activities and looking at them under the microscope, we uncover a cataclysmic cocktail of drugs coursing through the veins of our nearest and dearest. Prepare for the most depressing article you will ever read about Christmas…

Sleep Deprivation

Very tired man

Credit: Kevin Lawver
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Facebook addiction, thy name is Andrew Hirst.

This study just appeared in my inbox:

“For many people, there’s an automatic assumption that the Internet is bad. This is one of the first studies to show that there’s a psychological benefit of Facebook,” Hancock said.

In the study, 63 Cornell students were left alone in the university’s Social Media Lab; they were seated either at computers that showed their Facebook profiles or at computers that were turned off. Some of the off computers had mirror propped against the screen; others had no mirror.

Those on Facebook were allowed to spend three minutes on the page, exploring only their own profiles and associated tabs. They were then given a questionnaire designed to measure their self-esteem.

Those in the mirror and control groups were given the same questionnaire. While their reports showed no elevation in self-esteem, those who had used Facebook gave much more positive feedback about themselves. Those who had edited their Facebook profiles during the exercise had the highest self-esteem.

Interesting stuff. My first thought was to post it on Facebook, of course. Rather than doing that, however, I started thinking about the effect Facebook has on my life. I quickly decided that I’m probably a borderline/full-blown Facebook addict.  I spend an inordinate amount of time on the site, often at the expense of other work I could be doing. If I see something funny or interesting on the web my first thought is to post it on Facebook. When there’s a lull in conversation I get out my iPhone and check it (in fact I have been known to do this mid-conversation which is pretty rude of me). I use Facebook as my main source for news stories, despite the fact that I’m quite clearly missing out on a lot of stuff because of this; I used to use my iGoogle homepage (with its varied and comprehensive stock of RSS feeds) everyday for this but I’ve recently just focussed on Facebook.  In fact a couple of weeks ago I asked my girlfriend to change my password so I couldn’t go on it for an evening when I had some serious work to get done. It was an odd experience. Part of me kept getting frustrated that I couldn’t check Facebook, but another part of me was really glad… it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I was the most productive academically that I’ve been in quite some time. As soon as I’d finished the essay, however, I was straight back on Facebook.

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Mental illness or cognitive style?

I’ve had an interest in clinical psychology for some time, having studied abnormal psychology during A-level and having been diagnosed with depression and social anxiety disorder many years ago. I’m particularly interested in the definition of mental illness and how it is perceived by both the profession and the public. I guess my interest is primarily philosophical: does mental illness really exist? How is it to be differentiated from “normal” suffering? Can it legitimately be compared to other kinds of (much better understood) illness, such as influenza and cholera?

Mental illness ≠ “regular” illness

Long ago I came to the conclusion that mental illness could not exist in the way that influenza or cholera can. Firstly, both these illnesses can be demonstrated to have a specific cause (viral, bacterial) and their mechanisms of action are fully understood. Patients may display different symptoms, but a group of similar symptoms exist for every person who has the illness. Mental illness cannot be traced back to a specific identifiable source, their underlying neural mechanisms are not understood and symptoms may vary wildly between individuals with the same mental illness. Rarely does a patient display symptoms that make them a perfect fit for a diagnostic category.  Major depression, for example, is rarely displayed as just major depression – often various anxieties, phobias, or other disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder are also diagnosed.

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