Depression Often Misdiagnosed, and Untreated

The New York Times had an interesting article about how depression is often misdiagnosed in the US, and how most people who actually have depression don’t get treatment.  They reference a research study just published in the JAMA Internal Medicine.

This research study performed by Mark Olfson, Carlos Blanco, and Steven C. Marcus, looked at responses from 46,417 people on the Patient Health Questionnaire-2 (PHQ-2) which is a brief screening tool for depression. A score of over 3 indicates depression on this scale.

What did they find? They found that approximately 8.4% of all adults studied had depression, but only 28.7% had received any depression treatment in the previous year! That means 71.3% of the people who suffer depression got no treatment for this depression.

Of those who were being treated for depression, about 30% actually had depression based on the screening, and another 22% had serious psychological distress. That means that of the people in the study who were being treated for depression roughly 48% neither suffered depression nor did they suffer serious psychological distress, indicating inaccurate diagnoses by the treating professionals.

There were some interesting correlates of depression. About eighteen percent of those in the lowest income group suffered depression, while only 3.7% of those in the highest income group suffered depression. It pays to be rich!

Depression was more common in those who were separated, divorced, widowed, or who had less than a high school education. None of this is terribly surprising.

How did depression break down by age?

In the 18 to 34-year-old group 6.6% suffered depression. In the 35 to 49-year-old group 8.8% suffered depression. Ten percent of the 50 to 64-year-old group suffered depression. Of those over 65, only 8.3% suffered depression. So at least in this sample the 50 to 64-year-old group was slightly more likely to suffer depression, and contrary to what many people think, the youngest adults were somewhat less likely to suffer depression.

Of those who were married only 6.3% suffered depression. Of those who were separated, divorced, or widowed, 13.3% suffered depression. Divorce is bad for mental health, with almost a doubling of rates of depression.

Most of the patients who were treated for depression were treated by general practitioners (73%), with roughly 24% receiving treatment by psychiatrists and 13% receiving treatment by other mental health specialists. (There was some overlap, that’s why the numbers add up to more than 100%.)  This may explain the rather poor diagnosis and treatment of depression because general practitioners although competent and intelligent, are very busy and typically only have a few minutes to spend with each patient, not enough to do a good job diagnosing and treating depression.

CONCLUSIONS

What can we conclude from this research?

  1. Almost 10% of the adult population suffers from depression. Of those people who have depression less than 30% of them will get any treatment for depression.
  1. You are more likely to suffer depression if you are in the lowest income group, divorced, separated or widowed, or have no high school education. If you are married you have half the probability of being depressed.
  1. Many adults receive depression treatment even though they don’t really meet the criteria for depression. In this study, almost half of the people receiving treatment for depression were neither depressed nor were they even particularly distressed.
  1. Rates of depression by age groups were relatively equal, with the youngest age group having the least depression and the middle-aged group (50 to 64) suffering somewhat more depression. Married people are suffer half as much depression as divorced, separated, or widowed people.
  1. Most people received depression treatment from their general practitioner or internal medicine doctor, with a smaller number receiving treatment from a psychiatrist, and even a smaller number receiving treatment from psychologists. This also meant that most people who receive depression treatment were treated using medication, and very few people received psychotherapy, even though most studies comparing medication to cognitive behavioral therapy for depression have shown that therapy performs at least as well as medication and probably better over the long term, with less relapse.

Reading between the lines of this study, it suggests that many people who feel depressed would benefit from receiving an accurate diagnosis from a clinical psychologist, and might very well also benefit from receiving cognitive behavioral therapy for depression rather than medication. Even if medication is indicated, a psychologist could recommend it to the patient’s general practitioner, and then monitor more closely the results.

The study also suggests that many people receive antidepressant medication who actually are not depressed, which needlessly exposes them to side effects and also fails to provide the correct treatment for what troubles them.

And finally, since only about 30% of those who suffer depression received any treatment for it, if you feel depressed, be sure to pursue treatment for depression.. Get an accurate diagnosis and then get treatment, ideally with a psychologist or therapist who practices cognitive behavioral therapy.

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Forgiveness and Happiness Researcher Fred Luskin Says Turn Off Your Smartphone If You Want to be Happy

Earlier this year I had the good fortune to spend several morning hours listening to Stanford professor and researcher Fred Luskin talk about happiness. Dr. Luskin is a psychologist who has done groundbreaking research on forgiveness over many years. He’s the author of many books, and frequently lectures about forgiveness. I often recommend his book Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness to clients suffering from anger and hurt.

But this morning he was discussing happiness. He came into the room with no pretense. His hair was wild and curly, partly dark and partly gray. He was wearing a puffy black down jacket, a T-shirt, running tights, and sneakers. Clearly a man comfortable with himself, and not trying to impress.

He started off by doing something quite outrageous. He asked the audience of 30 people to turn off their cell phones. Not to lower the volume, or turn off the ringers, but to actually shut down their cell phones. This clearly caused some discomfort among the audience. He explained that the reason he wanted people to turn off their cell phones is so that they would truly focus on the present and to listening to him. He cited a statistic that people check email on average 79 times a day. Each time they check their email they get a burst of adrenaline and stress. Clearly this is not conducive to genuine happiness.

He pointed out that you can’t really be happy unless you can sit still and relax. “We are all descended from anxious monkeys,” he said, and clearly most of us do not know how to sit still and relax. “Happiness is the state of ‘enough’ “, he said, “and is not consistent with wanting more.”

He pointed out that wanting what you have equals being happy. And that wanting something else than what you have equals stress.

He talked about the beginnings of his career, when clinical psychology was focused on unhappiness and problems. There was no science of happiness. Now there is a huge area of research and writing on happiness called Positive Psychology.

He shared some simple techniques for enhancing happiness. One simple technique revolved around food. When you’re eating don’t multitask. Give thanks for the food, and really focus on tasting and savoring that food. One technique I have often used is to close my eyes while I savor food, which greatly intensifies the taste.

Another simple practice is whenever you are outside, take a few moments to feel the wind or sun on your skin.

He also talked about phones and how we use them. We are completely addicted to the little bursts of dopamine and adrenaline that we get each time we check our email or we get a text. And rather than be present in most situations, we simply look at our phones. Go to any outdoor cafe and look at people who are sitting alone. Most of them are looking at their phones rather than experiencing the surroundings or interacting with other people. Even sadder, look at people who are with others, either at a cafe, or a restaurant. Much of the time they too are lost in their smartphones.

He discussed how happiness is not correlated with achievement. Nor is it correlated with money once you have an adequate amount to cover basic needs. What happiness seems to be most correlated with is relationships. If you like yourself and connect with other people you will tend to be happy.

He reviewed  the relationship between impatience, anger, frustration, judgment and happiness. He pointed out that whenever we are impatient or in a hurry all of our worst emotions tend to come out. When someone drives slowly in front of us we get annoyed. When someone takes too much time in the checkout line ahead of us, we get angry.

I really liked his discussion of grocery stores. He pointed out what an incredible miracle a modern American grocery store really is. The variety of delicious foods that we can buy for a relatively small amount of money is truly staggering. But instead of appreciating this, we focus on the slow person in the line ahead of us, or the person who has 16 items in the 15 item express line. What a shame!

He pointed out we have a choice of what we focus on, and this choice greatly influences our happiness. We all have a choice to focus on what’s wrong with our lives, or what’s right with our lives. And we have a choice of whether to focus on how other people have treated us poorly, or how other people have treated us well. These choices of focus will determine how we feel.

We also have the choice of focusing on what we already have, or focusing on what we do not have and aspire to have. For instance, let’s imagine that you are currently living in a rental apartment. The apartment is quite nice, although there are things that could be better. The kitchen could be bigger, and the tile in the bathroom could be prettier.

Perhaps you imagine owning a house, and you feel badly about renting an apartment. Rarely do we appreciate what we have. Having a place to live is clearly infinitely better than being homeless. And even a flawed apartment is still home.

All of us need to work on learning to emphasize generosity, awe, and gratitude in our lives if we want to be happy. Generosity means kindness and acceptance in contrast to anger and judgment. Awe is the ability to be astounded by the wonder and beauty in the world. Gratitude is appreciation for all the good things in your own life and in the world.

He cited one interesting study where researchers observed a traffic crosswalk. They found that the more expensive cars were less likely to stop for people in the crosswalks. Thus wealth often correlates with a lack of generosity and a higher level of hostility. Other data shows that there is very little correlation between wealth and charitable giving, with much of the charitable giving in the USA coming from those of modest means.

He also talked about secular changes in our society. He quoted a statistic that empathy is down 40% since the 1970’s. At the same time narcissism has increased by roughly 40%. This has a huge negative impact on relationships.

I was impressed by this simple but profound message of Dr. Luskin’s talk. Slow down, smell the roses, turn off your phone, focus on relationships, appreciate what you have, and become happier.

It’s a simple message, but hard to actually do.

I’m off to go for a hike in the hills, without my phone!

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Good News! You May Be Getting More Sleep Than You Think, Especially If You Suffer Insomnia!

The Wall Street Journal today had a very interesting article about how people with insomnia tend to greatly underestimate how much sleep they get and overestimate how long it takes them to fall asleep. They also overestimate how often they wake up at night.

Roughly 30% of adults have some insomnia each year. About 10% of people have chronic insomnia which means that you have trouble sleeping three times a week or more. According to the Journal article, 42% of insomniacs who actually slept the normal amount (6 hours or more) underestimated how much they slept by more than an hour. I looked up the research article which was published in Psychosomatic Medicine. According to this research, insomniacs who slept six hours or more typically showed a profile of high depression and anxiety and low coping skills according to psychological testing.

What’s also interesting is that even though insomniacs may be sleeping six or more hours a night, there does appear to be some real differences in their brainwave activity compared to good sleepers. Even though they are asleep, their brains are more active, which may account for why they perceive their sleep to be less than it really is.

Another interesting factoid was that normal people tend to overestimate how much sleep they get. Most people when asked how much sleep they get will answer between seven and eight hours, but they are actually getting six hours. That’s why people tend to be so sleep deprived. For most people six hours is not enough sleep to feel really good.

So what’s the answer to this sleep estimating dilemma? It turns out there is a very simple answer. The two gold standards for measuring sleep are brainwave measurements and activity measurements. While brainwave measurements are difficult to come by in the home, activity measurements are very easy and inexpensive to obtain. Many of the current fitness tracker’s have a sleep tracking function. For instance, according to my Xiaomi Mi Band, which cost me the grand sum of $15, last night I was in bed for seven hours and 58 minutes, and got three hours 20 minutes of deep sleep and four hours and 38 minutes of light sleep. I was awake for one minute. (Yes, I know, please don’t hate me all you insomniacs!)

For insomniacs who worry about how much sleep they are getting, I recommend buying a fitness tracker and wearing it every night. The best ones automatically track sleep without having the requirement that you push a button to activate sleep mode. This is pretty important as most people forget to press the button. I have been pretty happy with my Xiaomi Mi Band, which you can buy directly from the company  but I’m sure there are other brands of fitness trackers which offer similar features.

Also, as I’ve written about previously here and here, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) may also improve the quality of sleep as well as the quantity. Some studies show that CBT-I improves people’s ability to accurately estimate their sleep time, and it also may calm  the over-activity of the brain that occurs when insomniacs sleep.

So here’s the executive summary for all of you sleep-deprived folks:

1. If you are an insomniac who is anxious and depressed, then you are probably getting more sleep than you think. Buy a fitness tracker with a good sleep tracking function, and you will see how much sleep you are actually getting.

2. If you want to improve the quality of your sleep, either practice meditation or see a CBT psychologist for CBT-I, as both of these interventions seem to lower the activity of the brain during sleep, which will improve your perception of your own sleep.

3. If you consistently feel anxious or depressed, consider getting some cognitive behavioral therapy for these problems, as they may contribute to sleep difficulties.

I’m off to bed now and hope I don’t have insomnia now that I’ve written about it!

 

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

How to Forgive: A Cognitive Behavioral Model for Forgiveness and Letting Go of Anger and Frustration

What is forgiveness?

Here’s what it is not. It is not for anyone else, only for you. It doesn’t imply reconciliation with the person who hurt you nor does it imply that you approve of their actions. It does not mean forgetting what happened.

What is forgiveness?

It is only for you, in order to help you feel better. As one well-known researcher said, “failing to forgive is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

Forgiveness means understanding what is causing your current distress. It is not what offended you or hurt you years ago or even a few minutes ago. The primary cause of your suffering is from your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations in response to your thoughts about the event.

This is a subtle concept. Most of us believe the reason we are angry is because someone has done us wrong. And it’s true, that if we could erase the event, we would stop being angry. But none of us own a time machine so we can not erase the events.

What makes us suffer is each moment that we think about the offending person or event. And how we think about these events. It is as if you own a DVD collection of movies of different events in your life. If you were to choose to only watch the upsetting movies, your overall level of happiness would greatly diminish. Choosing to forgive is choosing the DVDs of your life that are positive and full of joy.

There is another component of how people think about grudges. We often have a magical belief that our anger at someone else causes them to suffer. We imagine them feeling guilty about their behavior and suffering even when we are not present. We think of ways to hurt them in return – the silent treatment, constant criticism, reminding them of their offenses. But the reality is that most people are very good at blocking out guilt and punishment. Whenever they’re not around us they tend to think about other things. And they develop good ways of avoiding our punishment. So really the one who suffers is the person who’s angry and who fails to forgive, not the offender. And if the person we take out our anger on is someone we are still in relationship with, it damages the relationship and makes it even less likely we will get what we want.

Another trigger for resentment and anger is holding onto what the anger and forgiveness researchers call “unenforceable rules”. These are what most cognitive behavioral therapists call “Shoulds”. They are the demands we make on the world and on people around us. You can’t force anyone to do something they don’t choose to do, and you can’t require people to give you things they choose not to.

For instance, you might want fidelity in your romantic partner. You certainly have every right to want that. But you can’t demand or enforce fidelity. If your partner chooses to go outside the relationship, you can’t really change it. The only options you have are how to react to this. You have choices to make about the relationship and about your future relationships.

The research on forgiveness is very interesting. It reduces blood pressure, stress, anger, depression and hurt while increasing optimism and hope. The primary researcher on forgiveness, Dr. Fred Luskin at Stanford, has even done forgiveness research with women in Northern Ireland whose husbands were murdered. Even with these extreme cases people have found the forgiveness model very helpful at easing the pain.

I’ve written about how to conquer anger using the S A P model. In this model you change your shoulds into preferences rather than demands, you place into perspective the events that have caused your anger, and you shift out of the blame model and depersonalize most events.

Forgiveness is about being happy. Living your life to its fullest is the best revenge you can take on someone who has offended you. Instead of focusing on the hurt or betrayal, focus your energy on getting what you want in your life in a different way other than through the person who has hurt or betrayed you. Take responsibility for your own happiness rather than placing it onto other people and then being disappointed when they don’t provide happiness.

Change your story. Too often we have what is called a grievance story. We tend to tell this story to many people. It always ends with us feeling stuck and angry. Change your story. Change the ending so that it ends with a powerful and strong choice to forgive.

 
So to summarize, here’s how to forgive:

1. Let yourself first feel the pain. Share the experience with a few close and trusted friends.

2. Recognize that your anger is a result of your choices about what thoughts to experience about an event. Decide to forgive so that you can move forward and feel better.

3. Recognize that you probably won’t be able to get rid of your hurt and anger by punishing the other person. All you will accomplish is to damage the relationship or make the other person suffer while you continue to suffer.

4. Recognize the role that your “unenforceable rules” or Shoulds plays in your continued hurt and anger. Change or eliminate these rules.

5. Figure out what you want in your life and how to succeed in achieving those goals even if the other person doesn’t provide the answers. Remember that happiness is the best revenge.

6. Use the S A P model to change your shoulds, eliminate exaggerated awfulizing thinking, and take away blame.

7. Rewrite your script. Tell the new story where you were hurt but recovered and forgave and moved forward. You are a hero!

 

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

The Treatment of Tinnitus using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Tinnitus is condition where the person hears a ringing in their ears or other sounds when none of these sounds are present. It is a very common problem, especially as people age. According to studies, up to 20% of people over the age of 55 report symptoms.

What causes tinnitus? There can be many causes. The most common cause is noise-induced hearing loss. Other causes include medication side effects, as well as withdrawal from benzodiazepines. In many cases no apparent cause can be found.

For many, tinnitus is a relatively minor problem that they tend to ignore. Almost everyone has momentary tinnitus symptoms. But for other people tinnitus creates a tremendous amount of psychological distress. This includes anxiety and depression. The person fears the loss of their hearing, and tends to focus intensely on their symptoms. They begin to avoid situations where their symptoms are more noticeable. This typically means avoiding quiet locations where there is no sound to mask the tinnitus sounds. Or it may involve avoiding situations where there are loud noises such as movie theaters due to the fear of further hearing loss.

Similar to some forms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), the person may begin to engage in frequent checking behavior. This means that they consciously check the presence and volume of the ringing in their ears. They may also frequently check their hearing.

The person also suffers from constant thinking about causes of the tinnitus. They often blame themselves for exposure to loud noises in earlier life. They think about the music concerts they attended where they didn’t wear earplugs, or even recreational listening to music. They have strong feelings of regret that can blend into depressive symptoms.

Unfortunately there are no terribly effective physical treatments for tinnitus. This leaves psychological treatment as the primary modality for successful reduction of distress.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) conceptualizes tinnitus much like it conceptualizes the experience of chronic pain. Chronic pain consists of two components. The first component is the physical sensations. The second component is the bother or suffering caused by these physical sensations.

Tinnitus can be conceptualized in the same way. The subjective experience of sounds in the ears is the physical sensation. The interpretations of these sensations lead to the emotional reactions; suffering and bother.

Although CBT cannot directly change the physical sensations of tinnitus, it can change the reactions to these sensations. And changing the reactions can actually lead to a subjective experience of diminishing symptoms.

What are the components of the CBT treatment for tinnitus?

1. Psychoeducation. The first step is to educate the client about how tinnitus works. The model used is that the loss of certain frequencies in the hearing range leads the brain to fill in those frequencies with sounds. It is very much like phantom limb pain, where an amputee may experience pain in the removed extremity.

The nature of hearing loss is explained, and psychoeducation regarding tinnitus and the risk of further hearing loss is discussed. If needed, results of hearing tests can be discussed relative to the actual severity of hearing loss. Although in some cases of tinnitus hearing loss is quite significant and may actually impair functioning, in many cases the hearing loss is relatively minor and does not impair functioning in any way.

2. Cognitive therapy. Here the therapist helps the patient to identify the negative thoughts that are leading to anxiety and/or depression. Typical thoughts for anxiety are: “I can’t live my life anymore with this condition. I will lose my hearing entirely. The sounds will drive me crazy. I’m out of control. If I go into _____ situation I will be troubled by these sounds so I must avoid it. I need to constantly check my hearing to make sure it’s not diminishing. I need to constantly check the tinnitus sounds to make sure they are not getting worse. They are getting worse! They will get worse and worse until they drive me crazy.”

Typical thoughts for depression are: “Life has no meaning if I have these sounds in my ears. I can’t enjoy my life anymore. It’s hopeless. There’s nothing I can do about it. Doctors can’t help me. It will get worse and worse and slowly drive me crazy. I won’t be able to function.”

Once these thoughts are identified then the skills of challenging them and changing them are taught to the client. The client learns how to alter these thoughts to more healthy thoughts. This produces a large reduction in anxiety and depression.

3. Attentional strategies. Because much of the subjective perceived loudness of tinnitus is based on attention, with higher levels of attention leading to higher levels of perceived loudness, developing different attentional strategies will help very much. In this part of the treatment mindfulness training and attentional training is used to help the client learn how to shift their attention away from the tinnitus sounds onto other sounds or other sensations. Often a paradoxical strategy is first used, where the patient is asked to intensely focus only on their tinnitus sensations. This teaches them that attention to tinnitus symptoms increases the perceived severity, and helps motivate them to learn attentional strategies.

Another aspect of attentional retraining is to stop the constant checking of symptoms and hearing. Helpful techniques include thought stopping where the client may snap a rubber band against their wrist each time they notice themselves checking.

4. Behavioral strategies. Tinnitus sufferers typically develop an elaborate pattern of avoidance in their lives. They avoid situations where they perceive tinnitus sounds more loudly. This can include avoiding many quiet situations, including being in quiet natural places such as the woods, or even avoiding going to quiet classical music concerts. They also tend to avoid situations where they might be exposed to any loud noise. This includes movie theaters, concerts, and even noisy office situations.

The behavioral component of CBT encourages an exposure-based treatment whereby the client begins to deliberately go back into all of the avoided situations. In situations where there is actual loud noise exposure at a level potentially damaging to hearing, they are encouraged to use protective earplugs.

The purpose of the behavioral component is to help the person return to their normal life.

5. Emotional strategies. Sometimes it is necessary to help the client go through a short period of grieving for their normal hearing. This allows them to move forward and to accept the fact that they have hearing loss and tinnitus. Acceptance is a key factor in recovering psychologically. This often also includes forgiving themselves for any prior excessive loudness exposures.

Changing the thoughts about the tinnitus symptoms also produces emotional change and a reduction in anxiety and depression.

In summary, cognitive behavioral therapy of tinnitus seeks to reduce the psychological suffering caused by the sensations of tinnitus. Cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and attentional strategies are taught to the client to empower them to no longer suffer psychologically from their tinnitus symptoms. Successful treatment not only reduces the psychological suffering, but because it also changes the attentional focus and lowers the checking of symptoms, people who complete CBT for tinnitus often report that their perceived symptoms have reduced significantly.

Tips:

1. Traditional psychotherapy is typically NOT helpful for tinnitus.

2. Find a practitioner, typically a psychologist, with extensive training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. If they have experience treating tinnitus that is even better.

3. Give treatment a little time. You will have to work hard to learn new ways of thinking and reacting, and this won’t happen overnight. You should be doing therapy homework between sessions.

4. Medication treatment such as anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication is typically not very helpful, and in the case of anti-anxiety medications can actually worsen tinnitus especially during withdrawal. First line treatment should be CBT.

5. Get help. Although the actual symptoms of tinnitus have no easy fix, the suffering can be treated and alleviated. Especially if you are experiencing depression symptoms, is is important to seek therapy with a CBT expert.

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Gallup Survey Shows Stay-At-Home Moms Suffer More Depression

Are stay-at-home moms more depressed than working mothers? In a Gallup poll released last week, stay-at-home moms showed a 28% depression rate compared to 17% of working mothers and 17% of working women without children.

Stay-at-home mothers reported more anger, stress, sadness, and worry. They were more likely to report themselves as struggling and suffering!

This is very important data. According to Gallup, stay-at-home moms make up 37% of mothers with kids living at home.

So who are these stay-at-home moms? Contrary to the mythical model of the rich stay-at-home mom who bounces between yoga class, tennis, pilates, and home to the nanny, the reality of stay-at-home moms is much grimmer. They tend to be poorer on average, younger, Latina, less likely to have graduated from high school or college, and more likely to have been foreign-born.

Here’s some more data directly from the Gallup report, which explored the well-being of 60,000 U.S. women in 2012.

In terms of worry 41% of stay-at-home moms reported worry, compared to 34% of employed moms and 31% of employed women without children.

In terms of sadness 26% of the stay-at-home moms reported it, compared to 16% of employed moms and 16% of employed women without children.

In terms of depression, almost a third of the stay-at-home moms (28%) reported depression, while only 17% of employed moms and 17% of employed women without children reported depression.

The only negative emotion that didn’t vary very much was stress. 50% of stay-at-home moms reported stress, but 48% of employed moms and 45% of employed women without children also reported stress. So apparently stress is pretty much the same across the board for women.

In terms of anger, 19% of stay-at-home moms reported it, while 14% of employed moms and only 12% of employed women without children reported anger.

What about positive emotions? Even though Gallup makes much of the lower ratings of positive emotions for stay-at-home moms, the numbers don’t reflect very large differences. 42% of stay-at-home moms reported themselves as struggling, while 36% of employed moms and 38% of employed women without children reported themselves as struggling. Not a very large difference and probably not statistically significant. What’s interesting about this data is that so many women, regardless of their parenting status, report themselves as struggling. This is quite troubling. I’d be very curious to see comparative data on men.

This is interesting research and completely consistent with some other research that was conducted by Daniel Kahneman and associates on women’s experienced happiness performing various activities. He looked at the percentage of time that women spent in unhappy mood states. Parenting activities showed a 24% on happiness ratio as compared to 18% for housework, 12% for socializing, 12% for TV watching, and 5% for sex! Even though children are delightful, parenting is hard work, and there are many negative emotions associated with it. Working outside the home has negative emotions also, with a 27% unhappy emotion ratio, but it also has rewards and recognition that the lonely job of parenting does not have.

So what should we make of all this research? What wasn’t investigated by Gallup is the relative advantages versus disadvantages for the children of stay-at-home moms versus working moms. So we don’t know if there are significant benefits to the children, which might compensate for the higher levels of suffering reported by stay-at-home moms. I may come back to this issue in a future blog post.

In any case, it suggests that stay-at-home moms need much better support systems from our society, and that we also need to develop better ways for women split time at home and work. Currently there are few options for women who wish to work part-time at satisfying jobs. Because child care in the United States is so expensive, it is difficult for poorer women to stay in the workforce. This may lead to higher levels of depression and suffering in women.

From a clinical perspective, psychotherapists need to be alerted to be extra careful to screen stay-at-home moms for depression and anxiety disorders. I have a quick depression screening test on my website which stay-at-home moms can use to identify if they are suffering depression. If so, call someone for help. Don’t suffer in silence.

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Changing Thoughts May Be Better Than Changing Behavior in the Early Stage of Psychotherapy for Severe Depression

A recent study took a close look at what predicts improvement in depression in the first five sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy. They looked at the degree to which the therapists used either cognitive therapy methods, practiced structuring the sessions clearly, and how much they used behavioral methods/homework. They also examined whether the patients cooperated with these parts of cognitive behavioral therapy. They also measured the strength of the therapeutic alliance.

Sixty patients with major depression participated in the study. Their sessions were videotaped and trained raters rated how much the therapists used cognitive versus behavioral methods.

What they found was only two aspects of therapist behavior predicted improvement between sessions. Depression was measured after every session, and these measurements showed that patients felt better when therapists used cognitive techniques, but didn’t improve when the therapists focused on behavioral techniques.

Patients also showed greater improvement when they adhered to suggestions made by the therapist, which is not surprising.

The behavioral methods used were techniques such as having patients schedule their activities to become more active, and tracking how they actually spent their time. This is called behavioral activation, and previous studies have suggested it is an effective approach to treating depression. The behavioral activation model is that depressed patients tend to do very little, and this leads to further depression. Patients are encouraged to schedule activities that are fun, or activities that provide a sense of mastery or success. This leads to a lessening of depressive feelings.

The cognitive methods were techniques such as writing down what your thoughts are, and using cognitive therapy to challenge or modify distorted thinking.

So how to interpret the results of this study?

It’s only one small study and I would be cautious about taking too much from it. It does suggest that at least in the early sessions of therapy, cognitive methods may be superior to behavioral methods. This makes sense to me because early in therapy depressed patients feel a lot of pain and lethargy, and getting them to suddenly increase their activity can be very challenging and perhaps too difficult. This may lead to a sense of failure which increases depression rather than reducing it. On the other hand, using cognitive methods may lead to more immediate sense of control and relief, which would tend to reduce depression levels.

My sense is that later in therapy behavioral activation techniques are very useful. But typically in order to get patients to cooperate with these techniques there needs to be a strong alliance with the therapist. This takes some time to build.

It would have been interesting if they had continued the study beyond the first five sessions, and looked at whether over time the relative importance of the cognitive versus behavioral techniques would have shifted.

The study shows that therapist behavior in sessions does matter. This is one of my pet peeves. Many psychotherapists claim to use cognitive behavioral therapy, yet fail to actually use any cognitive behavioral techniques on a regular basis in sessions. This study shows that therapist adherence to structuring sessions and using cognitive techniques matters.

So from a consumer point of view there are a few take-home lessons.

1. If you are seeking cognitive behavioral therapy, make sure your therapist actually does cognitive behavioral therapy during sessions. This means they should structure the sessions clearly, as opposed to simply letting you talk about whatever is on your mind. It also means they should be asking you to track your self talk in written form, during sessions go over those thoughts, helping you learn to identify and correct distortions in the thoughts. If they don’t do these behaviors, and therapy feels free-form, then you’re probably not getting cognitive behavioral therapy, and you might want to look elsewhere. If you don’t regularly get homework to do between tasks, you aren’t receiving cognitive behavioral therapy.

2. At least in the early part of therapy pure cognitive therapy techniques may be more effective than behavioral techniques. You may want to focus your own homework more on identifying and changing your inner thoughts, rather than trying to increase positive behaviors. This probably will yield more relief of depression.

3. The study also confirmed that when clients cooperate and are more involved using cognitive therapy techniques, they improve faster. So even if you’re feeling skeptical, try to fully participate during sessions and in between sessions, as that provides you the best chance of more rapid relief.

Your off to analyze his thoughts psychologist,

Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2010 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Holy Cow, Psychology Lounge Got Holy Kawed!

Check it out on Alltop.com!

http://holykaw.alltop.com/depressing-effectiveness-of-anti-depressants

Copyright © 2010 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

New Study Shows Antidepressant Medication Fails to Help Most Depressed Patients

A very interesting study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) demonstrated very clearly that when it comes to antidepressant medication, the Emperor is wearing few if any clothes! The researchers did what is called a meta-study or meta-analysis. They searched the research literature for all studies that were placebo-controlled studies of antidepressants when used for depression. That means the studies had to include random assignment to either a medication group or a placebo (sugar pill) group. They eliminated some studies which use a placebo washout condition. (This means the studies first gave patients a placebo, and then eliminated all patients who had a 20% or greater improvement while taking placebo.) When they eliminated all studies that didn’t meet their criteria, they were left with 6 studies of 738 people.

Based on scores on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS), the researchers divided the patients into mild to moderately depressed, severely depressed, and very severely depressed. This is a 17 item scale that is filled out by a psychologist or psychiatrist, and measures various aspects of depression. It is used in most studies of depression. They then analyzed the response to antidepressant medication based on how severe the initial depression was.

The two antidepressants studied were imipramine and paroxetine (Paxil). Imipramine is an older, tricyclic antidepressant, and Paxil is a more modern SSRI antidepressant.

What did they find? They were looking at the size of the difference between the medication groups and the placebo groups. Rather than do the typical thing of just looking at statistical significance, which is simply a measure of whether the difference could be explained by chance, they looked at clinical significance. They used the definition used by NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence in England), which was an effect size of 0.50 or a difference of 3 points on the HDRS. This is defined as a medium effect size.

What they found was very disheartening to those who use antidepressant medications in their practices. They divided the patients into three groups based on their initial HDRS scores: mild to moderate depression (HDRS 18 or less), severe depression (HDRS 19 to 22), and very severe depression (HDRS 23 or greater).

For the mild to moderately depressed patients, the effect size was d=0.11, and for severely depressed patients the effect size was d = 0.17. Both of these effect sizes are below the standard description of a small effect which is 0.20. For the patients in the very severe group, the effect size was 0.47 which is just below the accepted value of 0.50 for a medium effect size.

When they did further statistical analysis, they found that in order to meet the NICE criteria of effect size of a 3 points difference, patients had to have an initial HDRS score of 25 or above.  To meet the criteria of an effect size of .50, or medium effect size, they had to have a score of 25 or above, and to have a large effect size, 27 or above.

What does this all mean for patient care? It means that for the vast majority of clinically depressed patients who fall below the very severely depressed range, antidepressant medications most likely won’t help. The sadder news is that even for the very severely depressed, medications have a very modest effect. Looking at the scoring of the HDRS, the normal, undepressed range is 0 to 7. The very severely depressed patients had scores of 25 or above, and a medium effect size was a drop in scores of 3 or more points compared to placebo patients. Looking at the one graph in the paper that show the actual drops in HDRS scores, the medication group had a mean drop of 12 points when their initial score was 25. That means they went from 25 to 13, which is still in the depressed range, although only mildly depressed. Patients who initially were at 38 dropped by roughly 20 points, ending at 18, which is still pretty depressed. And the placebo group had only slightly worse results.

One interesting thing is how strong the placebo effects are in these studies. It seems that for depressions less serious than very severe, placebo pills work as well as antidepressant medication.  Is this because antidepressants don’t work very well, or because placebos work too well? It’s hard to know. Maybe doctors should give their patients sugar pills, and call the new drug Eliftimood!

So in summary, here are the main observations I make from this study.

  • If you are very severely depressed, antidepressants may help, and are worth trying.
  • If you are mildly, moderately, or even severely depressed, there is little evidence that antidepressants will help better than a placebo. You would be better off with CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), which has a proven track record with less severe depressions, and which has no side effects.
  • Interestingly, CBT is less effective for the most severe depressions, so for these kinds of depressions medication treatment makes a lot of sense.
  • If you are taking antidepressants and having good results, don’t change what you are doing. You may be wired in such a way that you are a good responder to antidepressants.
  • If you have been taking antidepressants for mild to severe (but not very severe) depression, and not getting very good results, this is consistent with the research, and you might want to discuss alternative treatments such as CBT with your doctor. Don’t just stop the medications, as this can produce withdrawal symptoms, work with your doctor to taper off them.
  • Even in very severely depressed patients, for whom antidepressants have some effects, they may only get the patient to a state of moderate depression, but not to “cure”. To get to an undepressed, normal state, behavioral therapy may be necessary in addition to medications.
  • How do you find out how depressed you are? Unfortunately there is no online version of the HDRS for direct comparison. You may want to see a professional psychologist or psychiatrist if you think you might be depressed, and ask them to administer the HDRS to you.  There are also online depression tests, such as here and here. If you score in the highest ranges you might want to consider trying antidepressant medications, if you score lower you might want to first try CBT.
  • The most important thing is not to ignore depression, as it tends to get worse over time. Get some help, talk to a professional.

I’m off to take my Obecalp pills now, as it’s been raining here in Northern California for more than a week, and I need a boost in my mood. (Hint: what does Obecalp spell backwards?)

Copyright © 2010 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Why do Most Psychologists Ignore Science Based Therapy? Evidence Based Psychotherapy and the Failure of Practicioners

A new article in Newsweek magazine titled Ignoring the Evidence documents how most psychologists ignore scientific evidence about treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy which have been proven to be effective.

A two-year study which is going to be published in November in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, found that most psychologists “give more weight to their personal experiences then to science.”

The Newsweek article has a wonderful quote,

“Thanks to clinical trials as rigorous as those for, say, cardiology, we now know that cognitive and cognitive-behavior therapy (teaching patients to think about their thoughts in new, healthier ways and to act on those new ways of thinking) are effective against depression, panic disorder, bulimia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and -posttraumatic-stress disorder, with multiple trials showing that these treatments-the tools of psychology-bring more durable benefits with lower relapse rates than drugs, which non-M.D. psychologists cannot prescribe. Studies have also shown that behavioral couples therapy helps alcoholics stay on the wagon, and that family therapy can help schizophrenics function. “


The article documents how most psychologists fail to provide empirically proven treatment approaches and instead use methods which are often ineffective. The truth is there is very little evidence for most of the types of therapy commonly performed in private practices by psychologists and by Masters level therapists. If you are shopping for the most effective types of therapy you need to find a practitioner who is skilled at cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is one of the few psychotherapy approaches that has been proven to work on a variety of problems.

Another interesting article in Newsweek about evidence-based treatment discussed bulimia. Here’s the summary:

“On bulimia (which affects about 1 percent of women) and binge eating disorders (2 to 5 percent), the verdict is more optimistic: psychological treatment can help a lot, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective talk therapy. That’s based on 48 studies with 3,054 participants. CBT (typically, 15 to 20 sessions over five months) helps patients understand their patterns of binge eating and purging, recognize and anticipate the triggers for it, and summon the strength to resist them; it stops bingeing in just over one third of patients. Interpersonal therapy produced comparable results, but took months longer; other therapies helped no more than 22 percent of patients. If you or someone you love seeks treatment for bulimia, and is offered something other than CBT first, it’s not unreasonable to ask why. Cynthia Bulik, director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, summarized it this way: “Bulimia nervosa is treatable; some treatment is better than no treatment; CBT is associated with the best outcome.”

So the bottom line is this:

1. Most psychologists who don’t practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are just winging it, using treatments that haven’t been shown to work by scientific studies. It’s as if you went to a regular physician and got treatment with leaches!

2. Many psychologists claim to use CBT but haven’t really trained in the use of CBT, or have taken a weekend workshop. Unless they prescribe weekly homework that involves writing down thoughts, and learning skills to analyze and change your thoughts, then they aren’t really doing CBT, and I recommend you find someone else.

3. If you have an anxiety disorder, depression, bulimia, or obsessive compulsive disorder, and haven’t been offered CBT, then you are not receiving state of the art treatment.

Copyright © 2009 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Which Anti-depressant Should You Take? Now We Know

Accepted wisdom for a number of years has been that all modern anti-depressants work equally well, and that drug selection depends more on the side effect profile desired. Thus a lethargic patient might benefit from an activating antidepressant like Prozac, and an anxious patient would be better off with Paxil. Often prescribing practices are based on individual doctors’ preferences and biases. But a newly published study suggests that this may be wrong. There may be antidepressants that not only work better, but are easier for patients to tolerate.

A terrific new study was recently published in the Lancet medical journal. A team of international researchers, led by Andrea Cipriani at the University of Verona in Italy, reviewed 117 studies of antidepressants which included 25928 patients, two-thirds of whom were women. These studies, done all around the world, compared various antidepressants to either placebo or other antidepressants.

The researcher compared the results of 12 new generation antidepressants in terms of efficacy and acceptabiltiy. They defined efficacy as the proportion of patients who improved at least 50% on a depression rating scale by 8 weeks of treatment. They defined acceptability as the proportion of patients who did not drop out of the study. They made an attempt to adjust for dosages, and did very sophisticated statistical analyses to compare all of the drugs. They used fluoxetine (Prozac) as the common comparison drug, since it has been on the market for the longest time.

What were the results? The winners in terms of short term effectiveness were: (drum roll) mirtazapine (Remeron), escitalopram (Lexapro), venlafaxine (Effexor), and sertraline (Zoloft). The winners in terms of acceptability were: escitalopram (Lexapro), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), and bupropion (Wellbutrin) were better tolerated than other new-generation antidepressants. Note that the overall winners for effectiveness combined with tolerability were escitalopram (Lexapro) and sertraline (Zoloft). Two of the best drugs in terms of effectiveness (mirtazapine (Remeron) and venlafaxine (Effexor)) were not among the best tolerated medicines.

The losers in terms of both effectiveness and tolerability were reboxetine (Edronax), fluvoxamine (Luvox), paroxetine (Paxil), and duloxetine (Cymbalta). The worst drug of all was reboxetine (Edronax).

So what about cost? I’ve developed a spreadsheet of all of the drugs’ costs based on a 30 day supply, paying full retail price at Costco pharmacy, and using generic equivalents when available. Of the winners in terms of effectiveness and tolerability, the clear cost winner was sertraline (Zoloft), at $12 a month. The other winner, escitalopram (Lexapro), was a loser in terms of cost at $88 a month! The other winners in terms of effectiveness were quite cost effective too, with mirtazapine (Remeron) at $14 a month, and venlafaxine (Effexor) at $28 a month.

So what should doctors and patients do? For patients, the two best drugs appear to be escitalopram (Lexapro) and sertraline (Zoloft), with sertraline the clear winner if you pay much for prescription drugs. Doctors might want to consider costs as well, as this can help with overall health care inflation. If you can tolerate the side effects, consider trying mirtazapine (Remeron), or venlafaxine (Effexor).

Now there are of course a few caveats about this study. It is possible that another meta-analysis could find different results. One criticism was that the study only looked at effectiveness over 8 weeks of treatment. It is possible that some drugs work more slowly, and at 12 or 16 weeks might have different results. But most patients want results in two months or less, so this is not a major criticism.

Another issue is funding bias. Although none of the authors of this study were paid by drug companies, many of the studies they analyzed were funded by drug companies, and may have reflected some bias. But for now, this is the best information we have in terms of effectiveness and toleration of antidepressant medications.

So who’s the winner? Sertraline (Zoloft) was the clear winner by effectiveness, tolerability, and cost!

Should you change medications if you are not on one of the winners? No, of course not. If your medication is working, don’t change it. But if it’s not working, then talk with your doctor about switching.

And no, I don’t receive any funding or sponsorship from any drug companies…

 

Here’s the table of drug price comparisons.
Comparison of Antidepressant Costs for 30 Day Supply (Costco Pharmacy, Generic Equivalents if possible)
Bolded Drugs were most effective

Drug            Generic Name         Cost          Dose(mg)

Celexa             citalopram                   $3                 40
Prozac             fluoxetine                    $6                  20
Zoloft             sertraline                       $12             100
Remeron     mirtazapine                    $14               30
Luvox              fluvoxamine               $24             100
Effexor         venlafaxine                    $28                75
Welbutrin      bupropion                   $74             200
Lexapro       escitalopram                 $88                10
Paxil                paroxetine                   $91             37.5
Cymbalta       duloxetine                   $128              60

 

Copyright © 2009 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Does TV Watching Increase the Risk of Depression in Teenagers?

A study published in the February 2009 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry found that those teenagers who watched more than 9 hours a day of television where more likely to become depressed as young adults.

The researchers used data from a larger study of 4,142 adolescents who were initially not depressed. After seven years of followup, more than 7 percent had symptoms of depression.

But only 6 percent of the children who watched less than three hours a day of TV became depressed, while more than 17 percent of those who watched 9 or more hours a day became depressed.

Interestingly, there was no association with playing video games, or listening to music, or watching videos. The association of TV and depression was stronger for boys than girls, and was constant after the researchers adjusted for age, race, wealth, and educational level.

So what does this mean? First of all, it’s important to put this into context. Nine hours of TV watching is a lot!!!! It means that these kids came home from school at 3pm, and turned on the TV, and kept it on until midnight! Or it means that they spent the entire weekend watching television. So these findings are not so surprising. Basically television was their entire life, and that means that they had no hobbies, no friends, and no sports or extra-curricular activities. All these are a prescription for depression. The kids who watched less than 3 hours of television a day had lives, which is probably why fewer of them got depressed.

So the moral of the story is make sure your children have balanced lives, and limit screen time (which includes video gaming) to 2 or 3 hours a day, or less. One good way to control television time is not to have television sets in children’s bedrooms. Have a main television in the living room, and that allows you to know when and what your children are watching.

Okay, now I am off to watch no more than two hours of my favorite television shows…

Copyright © 2009 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

How to Deal with Teenage Depression: A New Study of Adolescent Depression and its Treatment

A new study reported in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found some interesting results of a study of teenage depression and its treatment.

This study of 439 teenage children with major depression, done at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas tested anti-depressant medication (fluoxetine or Prozac), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and a combination of both (COMB). They found that only 23% of the patients had their depression cured by 12 weeks of therapy. But 9 months of therapy was much more effective, with 60 percent going into remission.

The bad news though is that this means that almost half of the teenagers (40%) were still depressed after 9 months of therapy.

The good news is in terms of relapse. Of those who responded quickly to treatment, two-thirds retained the benefits of treatment over 9 months. The same was true of those who took longer to respond.

Which treatment was better? That is an interesting picture.

It depends at which time point you are looking at. At 12 weeks, the results for percentage fully remitted (cured) of depression were: combined drug and CBT therapy (37%), drug therapy only (23%), and CBT therapy only (16%). The combined therapy was significantly better than the other therapies. But note that overall, only 23% of the teenagers had recovered at 12 weeks, which means that 77% were still suffering!

But at nine months the outcomes look quite different. The combination therapy is still the best, but by less of a margin. The results for remission at at 9 months were: combination, 60%; drug, 55%; cognitive-behavioral therapy, 64%; and overall, 60%. By 24 weeks all the treatments were working well. But a full 40% of the teenagers were still depressed.

So the right answer to the question of which treatment works better is neither. Both drugs and cognitive behavioral therapy were equally effective, over the long term. But the combination of both was worked more quickly. As the researchers said, “choosing just one therapy might delay many teenagers’ recovery by 2 or 3 months.” As the saying goes, candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker, and we might conclude that drugs or CBT are dandy, but combined therapy is quicker.

So what does this mean to parents of depressed teenagers? Here are my takeaway messages:

  1. Don’t expect treatment for depression to work quickly. It may take more than 9 months of weekly treatment before your teenager responds to therapy. This means at least 40 sessions of therapy.
  2. Be patient, and set reasonable expectations for both yourself and for your child. Tell them that therapy will help, but it may take a while. Let support networks such as school counselors or trusted teachers know to be patient.
  3. Although medications and cognitive behavioral therapy were equally effective in the long run, the combination of both tended to work much more quickly. So if you can afford it, and have access to good practitioners who do cognitive behavioral therapy, use both.
  4. Be aware that in other studies, the relapse rate for medication treatment of depression was significantly higher than for cognitive behavioral therapy, once the medications are discontinued. So choosing medications only may increase the risk that your teenager will relapse into depression.
  5. Be aware that much teenage depression can be a reaction to social environments. This includes the family, the school, and peers. Be sure that your teen’s therapist is attuned to family, school, and peer issues. They should meet with the whole family at least several times.
  6. Take teenage depression seriously. It’s not just a phase. Teenage depression, when serious, can greatly increase the risk of suicide. All suspected depression should be evaluated by a professional and treated if present.

Copyright © 2009 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

SOURCE: Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, February 2009 . And December 2006 issue too .

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Should the Golden Gate Bridge Have a Suicide Barrier? (Is Suicide an Act of Impulse or an Act of Premeditation?)

One of the consistent and most fascinating facts that arises out of any serious study of psychology research is how much we are influenced by external factors.  So much of our behavior is influenced by seemingly small external factors.  We eat more when served bigger portions.  We spend more when sales are in effect.  Red cars are more likely to get speeding tickets.  We are more likely to marry someone who lives or works nearby.

But what about the truly profound and serious decisions of life?  What about something as serious as suicide?  Can it be that even such a grave decision is affected by seemingly small external factors?

The New York Times Magazine recently published a fascinating article “The Urge to End It All“, which addressed this very issue.  I highly recommend you read the entire article.

First, some numbers.  (I love numbers).  The current suicide rate is 11 victims per 100,000 people, the same as it was in 1965.  In 2005, about 32,000 Americans committed suicide, which is two times the numbers who were killed by homicide.

For many years the traditional view of suicide was that it reflects mental illness — depression, bipolar illness, psychosis, schizophrenia, or other mental illnesses.  This view assumed that the method of suicide was not important; it was the underlying mental illness that mattered.

But something happened in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s that set this model on its head.  It’s called the “British Coal Gas Story” and it goes like this:

For many years people in Britain heated their homes and stoves with coal gas.  This was very cheap, but the unburned gas had very high levels of carbon monoxide, and a leak or an opened valve could kill people in just a few minutes in a closed space.  This made it a popular method of suicide — “sticking one’s head in the oven” killed 2500 Britons a year by the late 1950s — half of all suicides in Britain!

Then the government phased out the use of coal gas, replacing it with natural gas, so that by the early 1970s almost no coal gas was used.  During this time Britain’s suicide rate dropped by a third, and has remained at that level since.

How can we understand this?  If suicide is the act of an ill mind, why didn’t those who could no longer use coal gas find another means? Why did the suicide rate in Britain drop by a third when the option of coal gas was no longer available?
The answer turns conventional wisdom about suicide on its head. Conventional wisdom is that people plan out suicides carefully, and so convenience of method shouldn’t matter. But actually it appears that often suicide is an impulsive act, and when you make it less convenient, people are less likely to complete the act.

Another example of this is found in the Golden Gate Bridge.  For years this gorgeous bridge has been a popular suicide point, where nearly 2000 people have ended their lives.  There have been many debates about erecting suicide barriers on the bridge, but most opponents say “they will just find another way.”

But Richard Seiden, professor at University of California Berkeley, collected data that addresses this issue.  What he did was to get a list of all potential jumpers who were stopped from committing suicide between 1937 in 1971, 515 people in all.  He then pulled their death certificate records to see how many had gone on to kill themselves later.  What would you guess was the percentage of these people who tried to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and who later killed themselves?  50%?  75%?  25%?

Actually it was only 6%!  Even allowing that some accidents might have been suicides, the number only went up to 10%.  Although higher than the general population, it still means that for 90% of these would-be jumpers, they got past whatever was bothering them, and went on to live full lives.

Richard Seiden got some great stories out of this study.  One of the things he found was that would-be suicides tend to get very fixated on a particular method.  They tend to only have a Plan A, with no Plan B. As he says, “At the risk of stating the obvious,” Seiden said, “people who attempt suicide aren’t thinking clearly. They might have a Plan A, but there’s no Plan B. They get fixated. They don’t say, ‘Well, I can’t jump, so now I’m going to go shoot myself.”

One example he cites was a man who was grabbed on the east side of the bridge after pedestrians noticed him looking upset.  The problem was that he had picked out a spot on the west side of the bridge that he wanted to jump from, but there were six lanes of traffic between the two sides, and he was afraid of getting hit by a car on his way over!

As Seiden said, “Crazy, huh? But he recognized it.  When he told me the story, we both laughed about it.”

Another great example is from two bridges in Northwest Washington.  The Ellington Bridge and the Taft Bridge both span Rock Creek, and both have about a 125 foot drop into the gorge below.  For some reason the Ellington has always been famous as Washington’s “suicide bridge”.  About four people on average jumped from the Ellington Bridge each year as compared to slightly less than two people from the Taft.

In 1985, after a rash of suicides from the Ellington, a suicide barrier was erected on the Ellington Bridge, but not the Taft Bridge.  Opponents countered with the same argument, that if stopped from jumping from the Ellington, people would simply jump from the Taft.

But they were wrong.  Five years after the Ellington suicide barrier went up a study showed that while all suicides were eliminated from the Ellington, the rate at the Taft barely changed, inching up from 1.7 to 2.0 deaths per year.  What’s even more interesting is that the total number of jumping suicides in Washington dropped by 50%, or the exact percentage the Ellington had previously accounted for. So people stopped from jumping from the Ellington did not jump from other locations.

Coming back to our model that small external factors can have large influences on behavior, you might wonder why the Ellington was the suicide bridge instead of the Taft.  It turns out that the height of the railing was what made the difference. The concrete railing on the Taft was chest high, while the concrete railing on the Ellington (before the barrier) was just above the belt line.  One required a bit more effort and a bit more time to get over and this tended to reduce the impulsive action of jumping.

Which brings us to guns. Although guns account for less than 1% of all American suicide attempts, because they are so lethal, they account for 54% of successful suicides.  In 2005 that meant 17,000 deaths.  It turns out there when you compare states with high rates of gun ownership to states with low rates of gun ownership; you find that there is a direct correlation between the rate of gun ownership and the rate of gun suicide.  This is not surprising.

What is more surprising is that in the states with low gun ownership, the rates of non-gun suicide are the same as those states with high gun ownership.  So the lack of availability of guns does not encourage people to find other means of harming themselves.  Studies show that the total suicide rate in high gun ownership states is double that of in low gun ownership states.  So the Supreme Court, in their recent ruling regarding Washington, D.C.’s ban on handguns, may have missed the more important data when they focused on homicide rates.  From these studies scientists conclude that a 10% reduction in firearm ownership would result in a 2.5% reduction in the overall suicide rate.

I am not anti-gun. I like shooting, and if I were a hunter, would probably own a rifle.  But this is why I don’t own a gun, and this is why I don’t recommend that most people own a gun.  All of us are potentially subject to dark moments of the soul, and the research detailed in this New York Times article suggests that the more barriers and impediments there are to impulsively harming ourselves, the less likely we are to try.  If you do own guns, at least try to create barriers and delays such as keeping the guns locked up in a gun safe, keeping ammunition separate from the guns, or even not keeping ammunition in the home where guns reside.  Not only does this protect you from those dark moments of the soul but it may also protect someone you love, your spouse, or your child.

Again, I highly recommend a careful reading of the original article, as it has much other information that is useful and interesting.

In answering the question of the title, I have to say that reading this article convinced me that we should build a suicide barrier for the Golden Gate Bridge. Yes, it would lower the beauty of this gorgeous bridge, at least for pedestrians, but I have to believe that saving another 2000 lives trumps a pretty walk across the Bay.

Copyright © 2008 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

All Rights reserved (Any web links must credit this site, and must include a link back to this site.)

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Protecting Your Brain (and Your Heart) With Fish Oil

Protecting Your Brain (and Your Heart) With Fish Oil

A fascinating idea is how to protect your brain using simple nutrients. Can we protect our brains from depression, Alzheimer’s, even stroke using simple nutrients or over the counter supplements?

The Wall Street Journal just published an interesting article about using fish oil to treat or prevent a variety of illnesses. They even summarize the findings with recommended doses of fish oil. For instance, to prevent heart disease, they recommend one gram of EPA or more per day. For optimum brain health, take one half gram of DHA or more. Even Rheumatoid arthritis may respond to 2 grams or more of fish oil.

Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, of which there are two main ones; EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Repeat after me if you want to really impress your physician: “eye-coh-sah-pent-ah-eh-no-ick  acid” and “doh-coh-sah-hex-ah-eh-no-ick acid”. Now you see why articles always say EPA and DHA!

There is a very interesting tie in with DHA and Alzheimer’s disease, as explained by an article on medicinenet.com.  It turns out that people with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) tend to have low levels of a brain protein called LR11, and about 15% of those with AD have a gene mutation that reduces LR11. LR11 works to clear the brain of amyloid proteins, which are implicated in the production of beta-amyloid plaque that clogs the neurons of those with AD.  Scientists tested DHA in rodents and in cultures of brain cells, and found that DHA causes higher production of LR11.

So should you be taking fish oil capsules, and how many, and which brand? I’d say if you eat oily fish like salmon 3 times a week or more, don’t worry about it. But for the rest of us (all of us?) it may make sense to add fish oil capsules to our vitamin regimen. A 1999 Italian study found that adding 3 capsules a day reduces the incidence of sudden cardiac death by 45%! The subjects in this study mostly also took baby aspirin, which may work to increase the effects of fish oil.

I’d certainly talk to your doctor about it. Be sure to print out the Wall Street Journal article, which demonstrates that there were few if any side effects. Some doctors think taking fish oil will make you bleed more easily, but studies of very high doses haven’t found this. In fact, the main side effect is belching fish smells, but I have found this is dependent on the brand and type of capsules you take.

Here’s a quick rundown on what to look for in fish oil capsules. First of all, they vary as to how much of the essential ingredients they contain. Most capsules contain 1 gram of oil, but much less Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Some contain as little as 200mg. of the Omega-3’s, which means you have to eat  a LOT of capsules to get much EPA or DHA. Often the bottles will mislead you by citing the amount per serving, and when you look more carefully you will see that one serving is 3 or 4 capsules!

So you want as high a concentration of EPA and DHA as possible. You also want fish oil that has been molecularly distilled to remove any possible contaminants such as pesticides, dioxin, etc.

Although I rarely make product recommendations, I heartily recommend Trader Joe’s Fish Oil capsules. Priced at $7.99 for a bottle of 100 capsules, these capsules are molecularly distilled, and contain 300 mg. of EPA, and 200 mg. of DHA per capsule. That means that 2 capsules make up 1 gram of Omega-3’s.  So it is easy to take 1 or 2 grams of Omega-3’s per day, at an affordable cost. These compare favorably with much more expensive brands of omega-3 capsules.  Another trick is to store these in the refrigerator, so the oil doesn’t turn, and occasionally break open a capsule and smell it. Although it may have a slightly fishy smell, it should smell rancid or strong.

So there you have it, a simple way to reduce heart disease, autoimmune disease and inflammation, and improve brain health. Cost? About $0.16  per day for 2 capsules.

As always, as I am not a physician, and certainly not your physician, talk to your doctor and do your own research before consuming more than a capsule a day of fish oil.

Copyright 2008 The Psychology Lounge/ TPL Productions 

All Rights reserved (Any web links must credit this site, and must include a link back to this site)

 

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Sadder but Not Necessarily Wiser (and not quite as sad as expected)

Here is some more evidence that we poorly predict happiness and unhappiness.

A recent article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology again shows how poor we are at predicting our future states of happiness or unhappiness. As I wrote about in previous posts on happiness, we seem to be quite poor at predicting how we will feel in the future.

Eli Finkel and Paul Eastwick at Northwestern University studied young lovers to see if their predictions of unhappiness after a breakup matched their actual suffering when the breakup occurred.

They looked at college students who had been dating for at least two months and had them fill out multiple questionnaires. Twenty six of the students broke up during the first six months of the study and these students predictions of distress were examined. The students at rated how painful a breakup would be on average two weeks before the breakup.

On average people overestimated the pain of a breakup. There was some correlation between how much people were in love and how much pain they suffered after the breakup, but everyone recovered more quickly than they had predicted. Looking at the actual study it appears that people were able to predict somewhat accurately their suffering in the first two weeks after the breakup. The correlation between their prediction and the actual distress was about 0.60 which means that they were able to predict about 36% of their suffering. But between weeks six and 10, the correlations dropped to about 0.30, which means that they were only able to predict about 10% of the variation in their suffering.

This is interesting in terms of the habituation process that I wrote about earlier. We habituate to both good and bad events. And we underestimate our ability to adapt to both types of events.

Now we shouldn’t make too much of this study. Remember this is a study of college students who had been dating for at least two months. This isn’t exactly a study of deep connection and commitment. It would be interesting, but much more difficult, to look at the same data for married couples who later break up.

Copyright 2007 The Psychology Lounge ™ /TPL Productions , All Rights Reserved

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Shyness Plus Rejection Plus Anger = School Shooters? News from APA Conference

Ah the joy of summer conferences! American Psychological Association had their annual conference in my lovely city of San Francisco this weekend, and one of the more interesting studies discussed was a study of kids who shoot other kids in school in mass murder attacks. They looked at eight teen shooters and rated them on what they call “cynical shyness.” Cynical shyness is a subset of normal shyness that involves anger and hostility towards others, especially when they are rejected.

Bernardo Carducci, lead author of the study and director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany explained:

“In addition to feelings of anxiety about social situations, cynically shy people, who are a small subclass of shy people, also have feelings of anger and hostility toward others and that comes from this sense of disconnect. Shyness has more in common with extroversion than with introversion. Shy people truly want to be with others, so they make the effort, but when they are rejected or ostracized, they disconnect. Once you disconnect, it’s very easy to start being angry and hate other people. It’s you against them, and they become what I call a cult of one. Once you start thinking ‘it’s me versus them,’ then it becomes easy to start hurting these people.”

Rating the eight teen shooters, they found that four of them had scores of 10 (on a 10 point scale) of cynical shyness, three had scores of 8, and one had a score of 6. Both of the Columbine shooters had scores of 10.

Now it should be pointed out that shyness per se is not dangerous. It is only this angry, cynical form of shyness, mainly found in teenage boys, that may be associated with dangerousness. And one weakness of the study is that they only looked at shooters. There may be many teens who score high on cynical shyness that do not escalate into violence. In fact this would be a good study, to identify what allows other cynically shy students NOT to become dangerous.

But shyness in pre-teens and adolescents is a serious disorder, as it can create intense misery in young people. Shy people desperately want to connect, they just don’t know how. Classes and workshops and group therapy approaches may be helpful in helping teens overcome this serious disorder.

Copyright 2007  The Psychology Lounge ™, All rights reserved

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

More Evidence That Psychiatrists Take “Payments” From Drug Companies

Two new articles from the New York Times confirm my earlier article about psychiatrists taking large amounts of money from drug companies, which tends to influence how they prescribe medicines. The first article documents how psychiatrists in Vermont received more money than any other medical profession. Each psychiatrist received an average of $45,692 in drug company bribes payments. Does this influence how psychiatrists prescribe? You bet! As the Times said, “For instance, the more psychiatrists have earned from drug makers, the more they have prescribed a new class of powerful medicines known as atypical antipsychotics to children, for whom the drugs are especially risky and mostly unapproved.”

Another article, also in the Times, documents that the federal government is starting to look at these practices. The Senate had hearing where they quizzed drug company execs about their practices. My favorite moment in the hearings came when Senator Claire McCaskill was talking about the Senate barring senators from accepting meals from lobbyists. And there should be full disclosure of any gifts or payments to senators. Then she said, “And if it’s good for Congress, it’s good for the medical profession in terms of cleaning up all this lobbying — because that’s what it is.”

You know doctors are in ethical trouble when the closest comparison is the Senate!

Once again, how should we deal with this? First, write to or call your legislators, both state and federal, and ask them to pass legislation to bar the practice of doctors taking money from drug companies. Any payments much be fully and publicly disclosed, and should be limited to a token amount like $100 per year.

Second, ask any psychiatrist you see if they receive money from drug companies and if yes, ask them how much and from what companies. If they refuse to disclose this, consider another psychiatrist. Once you know which companies they took money from, then you can evaluate whether it seems to influence their prescribing practices.

There are many psychiatrists who don’t take money from drug companies, and we should favor these doctors.

Copyright 2007 The Psychology Lounge/TPL  Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

The Physiological Mechanism for How Stress Affects the Brain


For those readers curious about the mechanisms by which emotional stress affects brain function, I found an interesting piece of research about the physical mechanisms for how chronic stress can induce brain changes that could lead to cognitive impairment.

Scientists at Salk Institute for Biological Studies subjected mice to mild chronic stress for two weeks. What they found was fascinating. First some background on the physiology of Alzheimer’s disease. As the article explains:

“Alzheimer’s disease is defined by the accumulation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. While plaques accumulate outside of brain cells, tangles litter the inside of neurons. They consist of a modified form of the tau protein, which–in its unmodified form–helps to stabilize the intracellular network of microtubules. In Alzheimer’s disease, as well as various other neurodegenerative conditions, phosphate groups are attached to tau. As a result, tau looses its grip on the microtubules, and starts to collapse into insoluble protein fibers, which ultimately cause cell death.”

So basically, when phosphate attaches the the tau molecules, it causes them to change from helpful molecules to damaging the neurons.

The mice research found that the brain-damaging effects of negative emotions are relayed through the two known corticotropin-releasing factor receptors, CRFR1 and CRFR2, which are part of the body’s central stress mediation system.

So what does this all mean? It suggests that we have to protect our brains from stress, particularly chronic stress. Occasional stress doesn’t cause problems, but daily chronic stress does. The mice only showed permanent brain changes after 2 weeks of daily stress.

So stress management through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other means is not just a nice comfort option, but may be essential if you want your brain to last. Emotional pain doesn’t just cause emotional damage, it also damages the brain.

Perhaps scientists will be able to develop drugs that change CRF1 and CRF2 levels, but in the meantime, better take up that yoga, meditation, relaxation exercise, or CBT stress management program!

Copyright 2007 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Your Brain Wants You to Be Mellow: New Evidence Shows Chronic Emotional Stress Can Increase the Risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment in Later Life

So you’ve been putting off getting therapy, even though most of the time you feel anxious and upset? Well, a new study suggests that you may be putting your brain in danger.

Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, followed more than 1200 men and women who were 65 and older, average age of about 76. At the beginning of the study they made sure that none of them had mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and measured their emotional distress using a simple 6 item scale of neuroticism. Items such as 1) “Are you the type of person whose feelings are easily hurt?”; 2) “Are you the type of person who is rather nervous?”; and 3) “Are you the type of person who is a worrier?” make up this scale.

At the beginning of the study the average score was about 15 on this emotional distress scale. Patients were followed up for up to 12 years. About 38% developed MCI during the study. Those in the top 10% of emotional distress at the beginning of the study were about 40% more likely to develop MCI.

What is interesting is this relationship held even after researchers statistically removed the effects of depressive symptoms at the beginning of the study. So the results were from emotional distress, not from depression. The risk for MCI increased by 2% for every 1 point increase on the distress scale. This is a pretty strong correlation.

So what does this mean? I think what it means is that chronic emotional upset is hard on the brain. It makes sense, since emotional stress raises stress hormones such as cortisol, which we know can damage the brain, especially the hippocampus, which controls memory. What we don’t know is whether this study was picking up some early brain changes in the elderly, changes which correlate with both emotional distress AND a tendency to develop MCI. A better study would look at younger people, and see if emotional distress in those aged 40 or 50 leads to the development of MCI in later life.

Since about a third of those with MCI will develop Alzheimer’s Disease, any reductions in the prevalence of MCI would be tremendously beneficial to society. Perhaps psychotherapy should be mandatory for all those over 65!

What can you do to lower your brain risk? First of all, honestly evaluate whether you suffer chronic emotional stress. Ask yourself if most of the time you feel calm and happy, or upset and worried and stressed. Also ask your close friends and/or family what they think. If you are someone who suffers chronic stress, then get help. A cognitive behavioral psychologist can teach you good stress management skills, and may help break lifelong patterns of emotional stress. Another good option is to learn mindfulness meditation and yoga and practice them daily. These are known to reduce psychological distress.

Whatever you do, don’t take it lightly if you are in long term distress. Your brain wants you to be mellow!

Copyright 2007 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Is Your Shrink Being Paid to Give You Drugs? The Secret Link Between Psychiatrists and the Drug Industry

Regular readers of this blog will remember my earlier article on Rebecca Riley, the young girl whose overtreatment with powerful psychiatric drugs may have led to her death.

Now it turns out that some psychiatrists may actually be getting paid by the drug industry to give kids powerful drugs! And this is in spite of an almost complete lack of evidence that these drugs work or are safe for children.

The New York Times has an article called Psychiatrists, Children, and Drug Industry’s Role, and this scary article documents the secretive practice of paying psychiatrists to prescribe certain drugs.

The article documents that more than half a million children are now receiving atypical antipsychotics such as Risperdal, Seroquel, Zyprexa, Abilify, and Geodon. These drugs have never been tested on or approved for use in children!

In Minnesota alone, the only state that requires such reporting, from 2000 to 2005 payments from pharmaceutical companies to psychiatrists soared by six times, to $1.6 million, and the rates of prescribing antipsychotics to children went up by nine times.

And the Times found that the money worked. Those psychiatrists who received more than $5000 from the drug companies wrote 3 times as many prescriptions for atypical antipsychotics than those doctors who got less or no money. Other interesting figures are that the average payment to psychiatrists was $1750, with a maximum of $689,000. (Nice work if you can get it!)

I should point out that atypical antipsychotics are not benign drugs. Side effects can include rapid weight gain that leads to diabetes, and movement disorders such as tics and dystonia, which can lead to a lifelong muscle disorder.

The Times describes one unfortunate girl, Anya Bailey, who was given Risperdal for an eating disorder by her psychiatrist George Realmuto, who had received more than $7000 from Johnson and Johnson, the maker of Risperdal.

Although the drug helped her gain weight, she also developed a painful and permanent dystonia in her neck that now causes her chronic pain and a movement disorder, even after stopping the drug.

And she was never given any counseling for her problems, only drugs!

So what can we learn from this article? First of all, the practice of paying psychiatrists to prescribe certain medications is widespread, but only Minnesota requires full disclosure. We should pressure our legislatures to mandate full disclosure in every state. Write to your state and federal congress and senate and ask them to either ban this practice or to require full disclosure, on the web, by name of doctors, of how much money is given by each drug company.

Secondly, when you take your child to a psychiatrist, you should ask them for a full written disclosure of any money they received in the last few years from drug companies for speaking, or for research. Payments to psychiatrists (and other M.D.’s) are disguised as speaking honorariums or research payments, but when a doctor receives $5000 for giving one or two talks, it is safe to say that they are being paid for something else. If the psychiatrist admits to receiving money, then you should probably find another psychiatrist, as this creates a bias to prescribe that I do not think can be overcome.

Third, you should be dubious about any suggestion to give your child an antipsychotic medication for any diagnosis other than true psychosis. This means that unless your child is actively hallucinating, and delusional, i.e. “crazy” there is no evidence that antipsychotics will help them. For instance, there was only one well controlled study of the use of atypical antipsychotics in bipolar illness in children, and it found little or no difference between using the antipsychotic and not using it. And most of the children in the group receiving the antipsychotic dropped out of the study due to side effects. A second study by the same researchers found no advantage to using antipsychotics.

Fourth, consider taking your child to a psychologist or counselor rather than a psychiatrist. Psychologists don’t receive money to influence their treatment decisions, and use behavioral approaches that don’t have side effects. And there is much more research evidence that supports the use of these behavioral approaches in childhood disorders. Dangerous medications should be reserved as second or third line treatments only. Remember the old saying that to a young boy with a hammer everything becomes a nail, similarly to a doctor whose specialty is giving drugs, all problems become biochemical.

Finally, let’s put pressure on our legislators to outlaw this thinly disguised bribery, which threatens the health of children and adults. Shame on the pharmaceutical industry! And even more shame on psychiatrists, who of all people should be trustworthy and not willing to accept such bribes. I make the perhaps radical suggestion that patients boycott psychiatrists who accept money from drug manufacturers. If doctors can’t earn a decent living without taking payments from drug companies that often have the appearance of bribes, then perhaps they need a new profession. I realize that there are decent, honest psychiatrists who either don’t take drug company money or don’t let it influence them, but I suggest that it may be hard to tell the difference, unless psychiatrists employ full disclosure.


Copyright 2007 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

The Mind-Body Connection: Depression and Its Effects On Physical Health

I will return to the theme of happiness in a few more days, but today we will continue with our series about depression, based on Peter Cramer’s book Against Depression, which I heartily recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about depression.

Depression is not just a psychological disease. It impacts the whole body, and especially impacts the cardiovascular system. Depression is one of the strongest predictors of cardiac disease. Even minor depression increase the risk of cardiac disease by 50 percent. Major depression increases risk by 3 to 4 times. For those with pre-existing coronary artery disease, risk is increased 5 times!

You might be thinking that this is no surprise. Perhaps depressed people smoke more, exercise less, eat more bacon, etc. What is surprising is that the numbers in the preceding paragraph are after adjusting for lifestyle and behavior! The raw numbers are even higher!

Why is this? What is the mechanism by which depression reeks havoc with the cardiovascular system?

There are several possible mechanisms. One is through the impact on blood clotting.

Blood clotting is controlled by cells in the blood called platelets. The stickier the platelets are, the more likely you are to develop blood clots, which can lead to stroke or heart attack. Depressed patients have stickier platelets.

Another mechanism is stress. Depressed patients are under constant physiological stress, with excess stress chemicals circulating in their blood. This may raise blood pressure and cause other changes that affect the cardiovascular system.

So what happens if you treat depression? Does this reduce risk of cardiovascular disease?

Studies of antidepressants given after heart attack show a 30 to 40 percent reduction in subsequent heart attacks and deaths.

Antidepressants improve the outcomes after stroke as well. When stroke patients were given either antidepressants or placebo, 66 percent of the antidepressant group survived 2 years, but only 35 percent of placebo group.

Other physical triggers like treatment with interferon for hepatic C and melanoma can also cause depression. In fact, 50 percent of patients who receive interferon will get seriously depressed. Depression in these cases is serious because it can cause the person to stop taking a potentially life-saving treatment.

Antidepressants help even in these cases of drug induced depression. One study found that treatment with Paxil, an antidepressant, reduced depression from 45 percent to 11 percent.

What are the implications of these finding?

  1. All patients who have had a heart attack or a stroke should probably take an antidepressant.
  2. All patients taking long-term interferon treatment should begin taking an antidepressant several weeks before starting the interferon.
  3. Probably most seriously ill cancer patients should take an antidepressant as well.
  4. Counseling that focuses on evaluating and treating depression should be part of any seriously ill medical patient’s treatment regimen.

Copyright 2007 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

All Rights Reserved


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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Forbes Magazine Endorses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy! In a Faceoff between Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Antidepressant drugs, Therapy Wins!


As regular readers know, your editor is a big fan of a type of psychotherapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Cognitive therapy is a modern non-drug therapy that teaches clients new ways of thinking and feeling. The basic concept is that it is our distorted thinking that creates psychological problems of anxiety, depression, panic, etc. The cognitive therapist combines teaching cognitive skills with behavioral techniques that allow the client to overcome their difficulties.

And much to his surprise, this week Forbes Magazine put CBT on their cover! The Forbes article about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was very positive. They summarize 30 years of research, including studies that show that CBT works well for insomnia, hypochondria, anxiety, depression, bulimia, obsessive compulsive disorder, preventing suicide, and even matches surgery for low back pain. Here is a video demonstration of exposure treatment for an elevator phobia.

They also compare the effectiveness of CBT to antidepressant medication. Although both work, in the long run CBT is more cost effective, and leads to less relapse. In one study comparing Paxil to CBT, only 31% of the CBT group relapsed within one year of completing treatment, compared to 76% of the Paxil group! This is a very big difference. The skills that clients learn seem to have a lasting impact on preventing future depressions.

Even in terms of cost, CBT beats antidepressant medications, at least with the assumptions the Forbes editors made. After three months of treatment, they estimate the costs of cognitive therapy at $1200 and the costs of medication treatment with Effexor at $502, which includes one psychiatrist visit at $200, and $302 in drug costs. At one year, they estimate the costs of cognitive therapy at $2000, and drug treatment at $2009, which includes $800 for four psychiatrist visits at $200 each, and $1209 for the Effexor.

As much as I like the comparison, it is based on faulty assumptions. First of all, it’s not clear how many sessions of cognitive therapy they are estimating. The $2000 would pay for 20 sessions at $100, but only 13 at $150. It’s probably optimistic to believe that a good outcome would come out of only 13 sessions. And because the primary group of professionals who perform cognitive therapy are psychologists, who typically charge more than masters level therapists, $100 is probably too low.

So let’s fix the numbers. Let’s assume 25 sessions of cognitive therapy, at $150 per session, which comes out to $3750. That’s probably a fairer assumption.

Now let’s look at the other assumptions. Effexor is an expensive, non-generic anti-depressant, which costs $100 a month, or even more. But the generic version of Prozac, called fluoxetine, can cost as little as $10 a month. And four psychiatrist visits in a year is also too optimistic. In my experience, patients need every two week visits initially to get the medication adjusted, and after 6 or 8 weeks, can graduate to once a month, and after another 3 visits, can be seen every three months. Also, psychiatrists typically charge at least $300 for the initial evaluation, and less than $200 for the follow-up visits which tend to be shorter visits.

So by these assumptions, the psychiatrist visits would cost $1380 at least. This brings the total cost of one year of treatment with Effexor to $2589. Of course, if fluoxetine was substituted then the total costs would only come to $1500!

So drug treatment costs less than cognitive therapy, right? It either costs a lot less ($1500 compared to $3750) or somewhat less ($2589 compared to $3750).

But there is still a glitch in the assumptions. We are only looking at the first year costs. Remember the statistics mentioned above, that up to 76% of patients who stop taking antidepressants relapse back into depression. Those are pretty bad odds. If a patient stayed on Effexor for 5 more years, their total cost of treatment would skyrocket to $6756, assuming psychiatrist visits 4 times a year. Compared to this cognitive therapy looks good!

There is another, unmentioned advantage to cognitive therapy, which is incredibly important, and which too often is left out of this debate. Here’s the dirty little secret the drug companies don’t want you to know—most antidepressants ruin your sex life! With really just a few exceptions (Wellbutrin, and Emsam) almost all of the major antidepressants make it much harder to have an orgasm for both men and women, and for men may make it difficult or impossible to get or maintain an erection. Antidepressants should really be called anti-sex drugs! (Caveat: not everyone will have the sexual side effects, but most will.) Here is a good article about the sexual side effects of antidepressants.

And this leaves out all of the other side effects of antidepressants. Here’s a link to common side effects of antidepressant medication Dry mouth, dry eyes, blurred vision, nausea, insomnia, headaches, the list goes on and on. How do you place a value on the costs of side effects?

Cognitive therapy obviously has no sexual side effects, or any other side effects. So for this reason, and for the advantage in preventing relapse, I believe cognitive therapy should be the first choice therapy for those patients suffering depression, providing they can afford therapy or have good insurance coverage for therapy. If not, then having your regular doctor prescribe and monitor a generic antidepressant such as fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), or bupropion (Wellbutrin) is the best option, with the downside being that you will most likely need to take the medications long-term to avoid relapse, and that you will most likely have physical side effects. Thus it may be worth taking a loan from your credit card in the form of a cash advance, or simply using a credit card to pay for cognitive therapy. After all, that’s how most people pay for their next car, or flat screen television set.

So here’s the executive summary. Cognitive therapy works for a large variety of common psychological problems, and even a few physical problems. Although initially it costs a little more, the effects are longer lasting than medication treatment. And in the long run, it can end up saving money. Best of all, other than working a little bit on therapy homework, there are no side effects of therapy! Conclusion: If you are depressed, anxious, having insomnia, obsessive compulsive disorder, hypochondriasis, phobias, or relationship problems, your first move should be to find a psychologist who specializes in cognitive therapy. Borrow the money if you don’t have it, or put it onto your credit card, but don’t miss out on this effective treatment out of some false sense of economizing.

Copyright 2007 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Cheer Up! It Gets Worse, Then Better (Depending On Your Age)

 

This week I am starting a series of articles on that magical quality we call happiness. I’ve been studying the scientific literature on happiness for a while now, and it’s not all just common sense. There is some gold in the ore. In fact, much of what science has discovered about happiness goes against what we commonly believe. For instance, it turns out that money does buy happiness, but only if you have almost no money. Once you acquire the basics, food, shelter, a car, more money has relatively little impact on happiness. Or take having children. Everyone assumes that having children brings joy. But the research doesn’t support this very strongly. Marriages suffer when children enter the scene, and parenting is rated relatively low in the grand scheme of activities. In fact, what the science of happiness suggests is that we are remarkably bad at predicting what will make us happy. Hence the high rates of job change, house selling and rebuying, and of course, divorce.

But I will write more on these matters later. For today I want to talk about an interesting new study that looks at happiness over the course of a lifetime. This latest study, performed by economists David Blanchflower of Dartmouth and Andrew Oswald of Warwick, looks at how happiness changes as people age. Using data from about 45,000 Americans, and 400,000 Europeans, they looked at the average ratings of happiness by age.

What they discovered is very interesting. Basically happiness is high when people are young adults, early in their 20s. This is not surprising, as the early 20s are that magical point where one is freed from parental constraints, but doesn’t have a lot of other new constraints. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there. Happiness sinks gradually over the next 20 something years, and reaches in nadir on average around age 45. Depressing news for young people, eh?

But the news gets better. After age 45, happiness increases steadily on into old age. Wow! This isn’t what we’d expect at all. Elderly people happier than people in their 30s!

The European and American data were fairly similar, except that the Europeans reached their lowest happiness levels a few years earlier than the Americans.

So happiness is a U-shaped curve. Why? The research doesn’t answer the question. But they did rule out one explanation, the generational one. People born earlier still show the U-shaped happiness pattern.

The authors also looked at the influence of income on happiness. This data is fascinating! They found that the wealthier you are the happier you are on average, which is not surprising. But the decline is happiness from young adulthood to middle age is the equivalent to a 50% reduction in income, and the increase in happiness from age 45 to old age is equivalent to a doubling of income!

Finally, the authors found over the last hundred years, Americans have gotten much less happy. The difference in happiness between the generations born in the 1960s and the 1920s is the same as a tenfold change in income. So someone born in 1962 would need 10 times the income to be equally as happy as their grandfather who was born in 1922. This is a disturbing finding. Why are we so unhappy? I have some ideas, but I will come back to them in a future article.

One clue may exist in the differences in the European data. The generations that were born in Europe since 1950 have gotten steadily happier. Shorter work weeks, longer vacations, more social welfare and security, all may be part of the mystery, especially when compared to the opposite trends in the United States.

So cheer up. Adulthood brings with it a steady decline in happiness, but just when it’s looking pretty grim, things improve. And even though we all are going to get old and infirm, we can at least look forward to getting steadily happier.

Copyright 2007 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Let’s Not Kill Any More Rebecca Riley’s! Debate Over the Use of Psychiatric Drugs for Young Children

 

The New York Times reported that Rebecca Riley, a four year old girl from near Boston, was found dead on the morning of December 13, a victim of an apparent overdose of the psychiatric drugs Seroquel, an antipsychotic drug; Depakote, a powerful anti-seizure medicine used for mood control, and Clonidine, a blood pressure drug often prescribed to calm children. Rebecca had been diagnosed at having bipolar disorder at the age of two! So some overzealous psychiatrist had diagnosed her as been manic depressive at age 2.

Now this is pretty crazy. A child at two is a work in progress, and if is virtually impossible to diagnose anything at that age. The only exceptions are the developmental disorders, such as autism. Probably Rebecca was a difficult child, prone to moodiness and maybe even tantrums. So her parents, with a willing psychiatrist, gave her mind-numbing drugs to calm her, rather than learning better parenting skills. From the article: “A relative of her mother, Carolyn Riley, 32, told the police that Rebecca seemed “sleepy and drugged” most days, according to the charging documents. One preschool teacher said that at about 2 p.m. every day the girl came to life, “as if the medication Rebecca was on was wearing off,” according to the documents.”

This is more than sad, it is pitiful. How many other, nondrug interventions were tried before using medication? Was there parenting training? Was there a home visit, to see how Rebecca and her parents were interacting? The article does not say, but I’m guessing that none of these things were done. There’s an old saying, “Give a young boy a hammer, and everything becomes a nail.” In much the same way, bringing a child to a psychiatrist means that they are likely to get drugs. That’s why the first stop for children, especially young children, should be to a child psychologist, a psychologist who specializes in treating children and their families.

It should also be noted that most psychiatric medications are not and have never been approved for use in young children. There are no studies of using these drugs on toddlers. Although it might be occasionally reasonable to use drugs meant for adults on older teenagers, who are at least biologically similar to adults, it is irresponsible at best to use these drugs with young children.

The problem is that giving kids drugs is too easy. From the New York Times article, “Paraphrasing H. L. Mencken, Dr. Carlson added, ‘Every serious problem has an easy solution that is usually wrong.’” Behavioral problems in children can be very serious, and the behavioral interventions take time and commitment. Learning good parenting techniques, such as the proper use of time-outs and other interventions, takes dedication and a competent psychologist’s help.

As with adults, medications should always be reserved for after all other interventions have failed. And with children, only medications that have been tested on children, and used for years should be tried. If psychiatrists want to prescribe these medications for children, let them first run the research trials required by the FDA to test safety and effectiveness. Let’s not kill anymore Rebecca Riley’s!

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Copyright 2007 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Mild Depression, A Mild Problem?

 

More from Peter Cramer’s book Against Depression, which I heartily recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about depression.

We talked about the full blown diagnosis of depression. For a diagnosis of major depression you need 5 or more symptoms for at least 2 weeks. What if a patient has only 2 or 3 symptoms for 2 weeks? Is that a problem?

First of all these mild depressions can be the precursor or follow-up to major depression. So they are important for that reason.

But even if there is no major depression, mild depression looks like major depression. Mild depression runs in families where major depression is prevalent. Low level depression causes disability, absenteeism, more medical visits.

Another type of mild depression is dysthymia. Dysthymia means being sad at least 50% of the time, for 2 years or more. And dysthymia is not the same as unhappiness. Dysthymics suffer the same relentless internal stress, the hopelessness, sadness, and low self-esteem of the depressed. The fact that they may function well, or eat and sleep well, is of small comfort to them.

The problem with dysthymia and mild depression is that medications may be less effective with these conditions, and some types of psychotherapy, more effective. Although no one exactly knows, the general consensus is that dysthymia is less responsive to antidepressants than is major depression. But it may be more responsive to cognitive behavioral therapy.

In summary, even mild depression has serious impacts on people. Mild depression can be effectively treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, and responds well to it.


Copyright 2006 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

The Natural History of Depression

I’m still reading Peter Cramer’s book Against Depression, which is his follow-up to Listening to Prozac, his groundbreaking book about depression and Prozac. This is a fascinating book, as good as Listening to Prozac. I continue to be impressed by his scholarship and ability to pull interesting research together. If you have any interest at all in learning more about depression, I would strongly recommend this book, which is a philosophical and scientific exploration of depression.

What is the natural history of depression? That is, what happens later in life if you get depressed now? Do you recover, or do you have more depressions?

We have good data on this issue from some studies funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. These studies followed depressed patients over many years. The findings are astounding, at least to me.

They show that if you are diagnosed as being depressed today, there is a 20 percent chance you will still be depressed 2 years later, and a 7 percent chance you will still be depressed ten years later, and a 6 percent chance you will be depressed 15 years later!

Even if you recovered, your probability of relapse is high. In these studies, most patients had subsequent depressions: 40 percent at two years, 60 percent at five years, 75 percent at ten years, and 87 percent at 15 years.

And with each episode of depression the prognosis worsens. After the second episode of depression, the 2 year recurrence rate soars to 75 percent!

One likely explanation for this effect is called kindling. The kindling model was first developed to explain how epilepsy works. In epilepsy, each seizure you have makes you more likely to have more seizures. This is because the seizure damages the brain.

We now think that each major depression may alter the brain as well. Particularly it may cause a shrinking of cells in several important areas of the brain. One of these is the hippocampus, which governs the formation of short term memory. Another is the prefrontal cortex, which has many functions in reasoning.

And how many patients got treatment? Only 3 percent of the patients who were diagnosed with depression had ever received even a single one month trial of anti-depressant medication! This is shameful in a country that claims to have good health care.

So what do we learn from these studies?

  1. Depression is a chronic disease, and relapse is very high.
  2. Each relapse makes you more susceptible to future depressions. Each depression erodes the resilience of the brain.
  3. A small but substantial percentage of depressed patients remain depressed for years on end.
  4. Prevention of initial depressions, early treatment of major depression, and prevention of future depressions can change the natural history of depression, and prevent a lifetime of depression.


The other important thing to realize about these studies is that they only looked at major depression. That is, at depression with many serious symptoms. Later studies that have looked at milder versions of depression have found that even mild depressions predict future major depressions. A future post will talk about minor depression, or dysthymia.

Copyright 2006 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Depression: No Big Problem? Right? Wrong!

Here is some more good stuff from Peter Cramer’s book Against Depression, which is his follow-up to Listening to Prozac, his groundbreaking book about depression and Prozac. This is a fascinating book, as good as Listening to Prozac. If you have any interest at all in learning more about depression, I would strongly recommend this book, which is a philosophical and scientific exploration of depression. Much of what follows is inspired by this book.

How big a problem is depression compared to other illnesses? Other health problems such as AIDS, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are much bigger problems, right?

Wrong. If you look at the impact of depression on disability, very interesting facts emerge. Let me explain how these figures are calculated. Imagine a 20 year old woman develops chronic depression that causes her to be 1/3 disabled for the next 60 years. That means she loses the equivalent of 20 years of life, which is the same as if a healthy woman died at age 60 instead of the normal lifespan of 80.

When disability from depression is calculated this way, the figures are astounding. The World Health Organization looked at this data from around the world. They found that by the year 2020 depression will be the largest cause of disability with the sole exception of heart disease. Even in 1990, depression was already the number one cause of disability within the major chronic diseases of midlife. Major depression accounted for almost 20 percent of disability-adjusted life years lost for women in the developed countries. This was more than three times the amount caused by the next illness.

Other studies looked at the impact of depression in the workplace. In the United States this cost is estimated at over 40 billion dollars, which is almost 3% of the total economy. Being depressed on the job is estimated as the equivalent of calling in sick half a day per week.

Just how common is depression? There are many studies and they often disagree, but the best studies suggest that about 16 percent of Americans will suffer a major depression over their lifetime. That is almost 1 in 6 Americans. Look around at your friends and family and co-workers, 1 in 6 of them will suffer a major depression. In any given year, between 6-7 percent suffer major depression.

And depression has major health implications. Studies that look at elderly people find that depression increases the risk of death very significantly, independent of suicide. One study found that elderly people who were depressed were 40 percent more likely to die than those who were undepressed. When they analyzed the data to see what the cause was, they found that even when you controlled for all other health behaviors and other factors, depression still accounted for 24 percent increase in deaths. This was the equivalent of high blood pressure, smoking, stroke, or congestive heart failure.

So depression is no big deal? Not unless you consider major disability, huge workplace effects, and shortened life a big deal. In reality, depression is one of the most devastating diseases that human beings suffer.

Copyright 2006 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Depression in Middle Age and Beyond

Here is some more fascinating stuff from Peter Cramer’s book Against Depression, which is his follow-up to Listening to Prozac, his groundbreaking book about depression and Prozac. This is a fascinating book, as good or better than Listening to Prozac. I continue to be impressed by his scholarship and ability to pull interesting research together. If you have any interest at all in learning more about depression, I would strongly recommend this book, which is a philosophical and scientific exploration of depression.

What about those people who have their first depression later in life? Are they similar or different to those who get depressed earlier in life?

What is interesting is that there may be a type of depression in older adults that is physically triggered. Let me tell you a story about how this was discovered.

Much of this research was conducted by K. Ranga Ram Krishnan and his group at Duke University. In the 1980’s they got their first MRI machines. These machines let you take detailed pictures of the brain without using radiation (they use magnetic resonance imagery instead.)

His group didn’t really know what to do with these new machines. So they decided to take a look at the brains of elderly depressed patients. What they found was fascinating. In 70% of the patients who had suffered late in life depressions, they found small white patches in various areas of the brain. When they autopsied some of the these patients who later died, they found that these were lesions in the brain that ranged from tiny pinpoint lesions up to rather large (2 inches in diameter) lesions. These were where silent strokes had occurred, killing the brain tissue.

Silent strokes are those strokes that happen in a part of the brain that does not control sensation or motion, so you often are unaware you even had the stroke.

This led to the realization that these people were suffering from vascular depression, that is, depression caused by damage to the brain from a silent stroke.

The main area of the brain where Krishnan found these lesions was the prefrontal cortex, or more specifically the orbitofrontal cortex, right behind the eyes.

These depressions were very similar to regular depression, with the main difference being that this group generally hadn’t suffered depression earlier in life.

The good news is that these depressions respond well to antidepressant medications, and the patients tend to get well just like regular depressions.

In summary, if you or a relative suffers a sudden depression later in life, suspect a vascular depression. And get treatment. (Also, if your elderly relative suffers a vascular depression, they may also show pseudo-dementia, which is a type of cognitive impairment which is caused by serious depression. It can look like they have suddenly developed Alzheimer’s or some other dementing disorder, but it actually is a side effect of the depression. Treating the depression will often resolve the pseudo-dementia. )

Most important, if a doctor or psychologist tells you that your older relative is depressed because they are old and sick, don’t accept this. There is no reason for the elderly to be more depressed, in spite of age or infirmity.

Copyright 2006 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

New Research into the Causes of Depression

 

Lately I’ve been reading Peter Cramer’s book Against Depression, which is his follow-up to Listening to Prozac, his groundbreaking book about depression and Prozac. This is a fascinating book, as good as Listening to Prozac. If you have any interest at all in learning more about depression, I would strongly recommend this book, which is a philosophical and scientific exploration of depression. Much of what follows is inspired by this book.

Today I want to talk about the new and exciting research on depression done by Kenneth Kendler at the Virginia Commonwealth University.

Dr. Kendler has looked at the causes of major depression. His research finds that there are three pathways to depression. That means there are a number of different triggers that cause people to become depressed.

The first is what he calls the internal pathway. This includes two variables that predict depression–childhood onset anxiety disorders (before age 18) and neuroticism (a general trait of psychological disorder). This means that if you have an anxiety disorder as a child, or if you are generally neurotic, you are more likely to become depressed later in life.

The second is the external pathway. This path includes two variables: conduct disorder and substance abuse. (Conduct disorder means getting into trouble with the law.) So if you abused alcohol as a teenager, and got arrested, you are more likely to get depressed later in life.

The third path is not surprisingly, through adversity in life. And this pathway is the most complex. It starts in childhood with a disturbed family environment, childhood sexual abuse, and the loss of a parent. It continues with low educational achievement, lifetime trauma, low social support, and the likelihood of divorce. Finally, it ends with current stressors such as marital problems, life difficulties, and stressful events in the last year before depression starts. Kendler believes that much of the adversity that people experience are actually interpersonal difficulties.

What is worse is that the factors are related to one another. If you have adversity in childhood, you are more likely to develop conduct disorder and substance abuse, and these disorders make it more likely you will get into a bad marriage, lose your job, etc.

This complex model was able to account for 52 percent of the likelihood of depression in a one year period.

So far none of this is really that surprising or interesting. After all, most people would predict that a lousy childhood, getting into trouble, and being anxious might lead to depression.

The really interesting part of his research is how these factors influence one another, and how the genetic component influences all of them. Genetic factors influence all three of the major factors. If you are genetically prone to depression, you are more likely to have a lousy childhood, get into trouble and abuse substances, and be anxious and neurotic! How does this work?

Kendler isn’t sure, but suspects that if you are prone to depression, your parents might have been also, and this impaired their ability to parent well. Or perhaps, it is harder to parent an anxious, depressed, neurotic child. Or perhaps both are true; depressed parents have a harder time parenting, and their children tend to be moodier and harder to deal with. The genetic propensity to depression may also be connected to substance abuse directly or as an attempt to self-medicate the depression.

Other findings from his research. He found that if you have an anxiety disorder before age 18, this is a strong and independent predictor of depression.

So what can we learn from this research?

There appears to be a tragic path to depression. The depressed person is born with a genetic tendency to depression which in turn is correlated with the likelihood of a bad childhood. Then they do worse in school, get in trouble more, turn to substance abuse, and then aas adults pick bad relationships, have more conflict in jobs and family, and are more likely to be traumatized. Basically their whole life goes poorly. Chaos and conflict and loss and low social support leads to depression. A single depression leads to future depressions.

It is all pretty depressing! But what it shows is also the pathway to healing. For instance, therapy in childhood may help prevent some of this. Treating early anxiety disorders or substance abuse may prevent some of the later chaos.

It also shows why therapy is so important in the treatment of adult depression. Although anti-depressant medications may help with the biological problems in depression, therapy is necessary to help clients learn new ways to relate to people and how to make better interpersonal decisions. A supportive therapist may also help buffer the effects of adversity and loss and make depression a less likely outcome.

This research also suggests that depression is not just a mood state, but is an illness that affects many aspects of a person’s life (and in a negative direction.) We need to be aggressive in treating this serious and debilitating illness.

Copyright 2006 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

What is Depression? Is It the Same as Being Sad?

What is depression, anyway? Is it the same as feeling sad? No. Depression is not just feeling down for a day or two. The diagnosis of depression is based on having certain symptoms.

Two key symptoms are depressed mood, which is feeling sad or blue, and difficulty experiencing pleasure or joy, which is sometimes called anhedonia.

Other symptoms of depression are problems sleeping, changes in appetite (more or less), feelings of worthlessness or guilt, problems concentrating, fatigue or low energy, mental/physical agitation or chronic worry or slowing, and having thoughts about suicide.

To have major depression, you need to have at least five of these symptoms, including one of the first two, depressed mood and anhedonia. And the symptoms have to last at least two weeks, and cause you some discomfort and impairment in your functioning.

The exception is mourning or bereavement, which can cause the same symptoms, but doesn’t count as depression. So if your mother has died and you have these symptoms, don’t worry.

Depression Screening Checklist

Instructions: Check any symptoms that you have been troubled by and that has lasted for the past two weeks.

Category A

___ I have felt sad or blue or depressed

___ I have had a hard time feeling joy or pleasure, even while doing activities that typically bring me joy or pleasure. I feel “flat”.

Category B

___I have had a hard time concentrating.

___I have felt tired or low energy.

___I have had difficulty sleeping (sleeping too little or too much)

___I have had changes in my appetite (eating too little, or too much).

___I have felt mental/physical agitation or slowing down.

___ I have felt worthless or guilty or lowered self-esteem.

___I have had thoughts about death or suicide or hurting myself.

Scoring:

Count the number of checks in Category A. Write that here:____

Count the number of checks in Category B. Write that here: ____.

Add up the number of checks in Category A and Category B, and write that here: _____.

If A is 1 or 2, and the sum of A and B is 5 or more, you have major depression, and should seek help from your doctor or from a psychologist. If A is 1 or 2, and the sum of A and B is 3 or 4, you may have mild depression, and should probably seek help as well.

IMPORTANT: If you are having any thoughts about hurting yourself or killing yourself, you should seek help immediately, calling your local suicide prevention line (listed in the front of your phonebook), or calling 911, or seeing your doctor or a psychologist right away.

Copyright 2006 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.