Ben Simmons’s Mental Health Is Not a Joke

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headshot of ben simmons staring away from the camera

By , SI | NBA

New Nets guard Ben Simmons spoke publicly Tuesday for the first time in months after he was traded from the Sixers for James Harden and Paul Millsap, along with Andre Drummond, Seth Curry and two first-round picks. Simmons reported to the slumping team Monday after sitting out the start of the 2021–22 campaign, having cited mental health concerns. Not everyone took well to the positive development in Brooklyn this week.

“So much for Ben Simmons mental illness,” tweeted Philadelphia radio personality Howard Eskin. “Amazing how that was just fine once he got traded. Insulting to those that really suffer.”

“If Ben Simmons is suddenly ready to play for Brooklyn after weaponizing his mental health as an excuse to stay away from the Sixers, I’m going to have some thoughts,” tweeted Matt Mullin, a soon-to-be Philadelphia Inquirer editor. “Some very angry thoughts that will be hard to keep to myself.”

Simmons’s situation is somewhat of a test: How closely have we been paying attention to the underlying messages of athletes who speak out about their mental health? Did previous public discussion, particularly over the past year by Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles, not show us that sometimes people just need a break or a change of scenery? Not everyone—in sports or not—can afford those opportunities, but those who can should. And if those at the peak of their professions take a break, then maybe the rest of us can eventually follow their lead and work to set boundaries for ourselves, too.

“I feel physically pretty good,” Simmons told reporters in his introductory press conference. “Mentally, I’m getting there, so it’s an ongoing thing to stay on top of that. But I think I’m heading in the right direction.”

Simmons hasn’t played yet this year, citing mental health concerns after sitting out training camp and the regular season thus far. Some argued that tying this to his mental health—as his agent, Rich Paul, did—was a financial play, Simmons’s exploitation of a loophole so he could still earn money while hanging tight for a ticket out of town.

Simmons denied that perception Tuesday. “A bunch of things that were going on over the years, I wasn’t myself. Being happy, taking care of my well-being. It wasn’t about the basketball, it wasn’t about the money.”

Simmons was said to be receiving assistance with his mental health from outside the franchise, which started during the offseason. He reportedly turned down the Sixers’ internal help. (“Philadelphia does not have a mental health doctor on its staff with whom Simmons is comfortable,” The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported in early November.)

Many athletes have said, including to me, that they prefer seeing licensed mental health practitioners outside of team settings, where there’s less pressure to focus on performance and getting back to work immediately. Most workplaces don’t even have in-house doctors, for partially this reason. There’s also a greater sense of privacy in seeking out mental health care outside of the team. It’s a move that comes at the athlete’s own expense, which can be pricy, but it’s a trade-off well worth it for some.

It is easy to make jokes about Simmons. He’s a star NBA player who can’t seem to shoot a two at times, let alone a three. But his mental health, just like anyone else’s, is not a laughing matter, despite all the quips about a move to Brooklyn never improving a 20-something’s well-being.

Sure, the fit in Philly may not have been right for Simmons, but that doesn’t mean he was faking something like anxiety or depression just to get a trade. Who among us hasn’t had a workplace situation that weighed on our mood or even exacerbated a preexisting mental illness? A change of setting can’t fix everything, but it’s entirely possible that a new team, a new city and a new boss really are helping Simmons feel better.

We can’t selectively decide which athletes get the benefit of the doubt based on whose stories sound more credible to strangers. If you want to believe Osaka and Biles and all the rest, believe Simmons. If you’re having a hard time extending him the grace, remember that there’s not much to be gained by athletes who disclose mental health issues. While there is increasingly positive media coverage and good branding opportunities for athletes who speak up, for those inside the world of sports, disclosure mostly raises red flags, making them—especially Black men—look weak and vulnerable in the eyes of many on the court and off.

Click here to read the full article on SI | NBA.

7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change The Brain

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Animated photo of the human brain. meditation really does produce measurable changes in our most important organ.

By Alice G. Walton, Forbes

The meditation-and-the-brain research has been rolling in steadily for a number of years now, with new studies coming out just about every week to illustrate some new benefit of meditation. Or, rather, some ancient benefit that is just now being confirmed with fMRI or EEG. The practice appears to have an amazing variety of neurological benefits – from changes in grey matter volume to reduced activity in the “me” centers of the brain to enhanced connectivity between brain regions. Below are some of the most exciting studies to come out in the last few years and show that meditation really does produce measurable changes in our most important organ. Skeptics, of course, may ask what good are a few brain changes if the psychological effects aren’t simultaneously being illustrated? Luckily, there’s good evidence for those as well, with studies reporting that meditation helps relieve our subjective levels of anxiety and depression, and improve attention, concentration, and overall psychological well-being.

Meditation Helps Preserve the Aging Brain

Last week, a study from UCLA found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. Participants who’d been meditating for an average of 20 years had more grey matter volume throughout the brain — although older meditators still had some volume loss compared to younger meditators, it wasn’t as pronounced as the non-meditators. “We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,” said study author Florian Kurth. “Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”

Meditation Reduces Activity in the Brain’s “Me Center”

One of the most interesting studies in the last few years, carried out at Yale University, found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts – a.k.a., “monkey mind.” The DMN is “on” or active when we’re not thinking about anything in particular, when our minds are just wandering from thought to thought. Since mind-wandering is typically associated with being less happy, ruminating, and worrying about the past and future, it’s the goal for many people to dial it down. Several studies have shown that meditation, through its quieting effect on the DMN, appears to do just this. And even when the mind does start to wander, because of the new connections that form, meditators are better at snapping back out of it.

Its Effects Rival Antidepressants for Depression, Anxiety

A review study last year at Johns Hopkins looked at the relationship between mindfulness meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. Researcher Madhav Goyal and his team found that the effect size of meditation was moderate, at 0.3. If this sounds low, keep in mind that the effect size for antidepressants is also 0.3, which makes the effect of meditation sound pretty good. Meditation is, after all an active form of brain training. “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” says Goyal. “But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.” Meditation isn’t a magic bullet for depression, as no treatment is, but it’s one of the tools that may help manage symptoms.

Meditation May Lead to Volume Changes in Key Areas of the Brain

In 2011, Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain: Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress – and these changes matched the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it changes our subjective perception and feelings as well. In fact, a follow-up study by Lazar’s team found that after meditation training, changes in brain areas linked to mood and arousal were also linked to improvements in how participants said they felt — i.e., their psychological well-being. So for anyone who says that activated blobs in the brain don’t necessarily mean anything, our subjective experience – improved mood and well-being – does indeed seem to be shifted through meditation as well.

Just a Few Days of Training Improves Concentration and Attention

Having problems concentrating isn’t just a kid thing – it affects millions of grown-ups as well, with an ADD diagnosis or not. Interestingly but not surprisingly, one of the central benefits of meditation is that it improves attention and concentration: One recent study found that just a couple of weeks of meditation training helped people’s focus and memory during the verbal reasoning section of the GRE. In fact, the increase in score was equivalent to 16 percentile points, which is nothing to sneeze at. Since the strong focus of attention (on an object, idea, or activity) is one of the central aims of meditation, it’s not so surprising that meditation should help people’s cognitive skills on the job, too – but it’s nice to have science confirm it. And everyone can use a little extra assistance on standardized tests.

Meditation Reduces Anxiety — and Social Anxiety

A lot of people start meditating for its benefits in stress reduction, and there’s lots of good evidence to support this rationale. There’s a whole newer sub-genre of meditation, mentioned earlier, called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Mindfulness (now available all over the country), that aims to reduce a person’s stress level, physically and mentally. Studies have shown its benefits in reducing anxiety, even years after the initial 8-week course. Research has also shown that mindfulness meditation, in contrast to attending to the breath only, can reduce anxiety – and that these changes seem to be mediated through the brain regions associated with those self-referential (“me-centered”) thoughts. Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to help people with social anxiety disorder: a Stanford University team found that MBSR brought about changes in brain regions involved in attention, as well as relief from symptoms of social anxiety.

Click here to read the full article on Forbes.

FDA Approves Device To Help Detect Autism

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FDA sign in front of building

By Michelle Diament, Disability Scoop

Federal regulators authorized a first-of-its-kind device to help primary care doctors determine whether or not a child has autism, potentially allowing kids to be diagnosed far sooner by avoiding lengthy waits for specialists.

The Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to market the Cognoa ASD Diagnosis Aid this month, which will be branded Canvas Dx.

The machine learning-based software uses an algorithm to analyze data submitted by parents and health care providers in order to return a “positive for ASD” or “negative for ASD” response for a child.

To use the device, parents and caregivers answer questions about behavior and submit videos of the child through a mobile app while the health care provider answers questions through a special portal. The videos are reviewed by certified specialists and the algorithm makes a determination so long as there is sufficient information provided.

It is the first device authorized by the FDA to help primary care physicians diagnose autism, according to Cognoa, which makes the product.

Since autism symptoms vary, the condition can be difficult to diagnose, the FDA said. As a result, the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the median age for autism diagnosis is older than 4 even though the developmental disability can be reliably detected by age 2. Part of the problem is that families often encounter long waits in order to see a clinician skilled in evaluating children for autism.

The Cognoa aid is intended to help solve that problem by giving primary care physicians with less specialized training the tools to make a diagnosis themselves. That can happen with the device within a few weeks, the company said, as opposed to taking months or years, allowing children who are on the spectrum to start early intervention sooner.

“Autism spectrum disorder can delay a child’s physical, cognitive and social development, including motor skill development, learning, communication and interacting with others. The earlier ASD can be diagnosed, the more quickly intervention strategies and appropriate therapies can begin,” said Dr. Jeff Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “Today’s marketing authorization provides a new tool for helping diagnose children with ASD.”

In a study of the Cognoa ASD Diagnosis Aid that involved 425 children ages 18 months to 5 years, the device returned a result for about a third of the kids. Of those who were “positive for ASD,” a panel of clinical experts found that 81% were on the spectrum. The clinical panel agreed with the aid’s findings in 98% of the children who got a “negative for ASD” result.

The FDA has approved the device for use with children ages 18 months through 5 years who are considered to be at risk of developmental delay due to concerns raised by their parent, caregiver or health care provider. It is not meant to be a stand-alone diagnostic device, but should be used in addition to the traditional diagnostic process, regulators said.

Cognoa indicated that it expects to start making Canvas Dx available later this year.

Click here to read the full article on Disability Scoop.

Why Nike and its CEO are focusing on mental health

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John Donahoe, CEO of Nike wearing a gray hoodie while seated in an interview

By John Donahoe, Yahoo! News.

John Donahoe is the CEO of Nike. When I was 28 years old, I got some advice that changed my life. It was 1988, and I was a consultant at Bain. These were intense years-long hours, little sleep, lots of travel, constant work, and trying to balance family life with a spouse and two young children. I was glad to be learning as much as I was, but I also remember feeling like I was barely staying afloat.

One day, during a training program for young consultants, a speaker came to impart some wisdom. I was half-listening at first, my mind drifting back to the office, when he asked us a question: How many of us wanted to be world-class at what we did?

Naturally we all raised our hands. The speaker laughed and said, well, that’s the intelligence test.

Then he explained. He said he spent years studying world-class athletes. (I’d always looked up to athletes and my ears perked up at this.) And he said that these top athletes all shared a unique trait: They take care of themselves.

He said for every hour they’re on the playing field, they train for 20 hours. They work out, they sleep well, they eat right. They look inward to learn their own strengths and weaknesses. And importantly, they are not afraid to ask for help — in fact, they view asking for help as a sign of strength.

“Michael Jordan has a bench coach, a personal trainer, a chef, and a mental coach. He wants to get help so he can get better,” the speaker told us. “But you businesspeople don’t take care of yourselves. You think not getting sleep is a badge of honor! And you want to be world-class? You think asking for help is a sign of weakness, not strength. I don’t get it!”

‘I was sacrificing my mental health at the altar of my work’
I was rocked back. My eyes were opened. He was right. Like so many others, I was sacrificing my mental health at the altar of my work, simply because I thought that was the only way.

As my career continued, I took his advice to heart. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some high-impact, challenging jobs over the years. And despite these leadership positions, I have always tried to keep perspective by taking care of myself and by asking for help.

Click here to read the full article on Yahoo! News.

Diagnosing Mental Health Disorders Through AI Facial Expression Evaluation

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Researchers from Germany have developed a method for identifying mental disorders based on facial expressions interpreted by computer vision.

By , Unite

Researchers from Germany have developed a method for identifying mental disorders based on facial expressions interpreted by computer vision.

The new approach can not only distinguish between unaffected and affected subjects, but can also correctly distinguish depression from schizophrenia, as well as the degree to which the patient is currently affected by the disease.

The researchers have provided a composite image that represents the control group for their tests (on the left in the image below) and the patients who are suffering from mental disorders (right). The identities of multiple people are blended in the representations, and neither image depicts a particular individual:

Individuals with affective disorders tend to have raised eyebrows, leaden gazes, swollen faces and hang-dog mouth expressions. To protect patient privacy, these composite images are the only ones made available in support of the new work.

Until now, facial affect recognition has been primarily used as a potential tool for basic diagnosis. The new approach, instead, offers a possible method to evaluate patient progress throughout treatment, or else (potentially, though the paper does not suggest it) in their own domestic environment for outpatient monitoring.

The paper states*:

‘Going beyond machine diagnosis of depression in affective computing, which has been developed in previous studies, we show that the measurable affective state estimated by means of computer vision contains far more information than the pure categorical classification.’

The researchers have dubbed this technique Opto Electronic Encephalography (OEG), a completely passive method of inferring mental state by facial image analysis instead of topical sensors or ray-based medical imaging technologies.

The authors conclude that OEG could potentially be not just a mere secondary aide to diagnosis and treatment, but, in the long term, a potential replacement for certain evaluative parts of the treatment pipeline, and one that could cut down on the time necessary for patient monitoring and initial diagnosis. They note:

‘Overall, the results predicted by the machine show better correlations compared to the pure clinical observer rating based questionnaires and are also objective. The relatively short measurement period of a few minutes for the computer vision approaches is also noteworthy, whereas hours are sometimes required for the clinical interviews.’

However, the authors are keen to emphasize that patient care in this field is a multi-modal pursuit, with many other indicators of patient state to be considered than just their facial expressions, and that it is too early to consider that such a system could entirely substitute traditional approaches to mental disorders. Nonetheless, they consider OEG a promising adjunct technology, particularly as a method to grade the effects of pharmaceutical treatment in a patient’s prescribed regime.

The paper is titled The Face of Affective Disorders, and comes from eight researchers across a broad range of institutions from the private and public medical research sector.

Data

(The new paper deals mostly with the various theories and methods that are currently popular in patient diagnosis of mental disorders, with less attention than is usual to the actual technologies and processes used in the tests and various experiments)

Data-gathering took place at University Hospital at Aachen, with 100 gender-balanced patients and a control group of 50 non-affected people. The patients included 35 sufferers from schizophrenia and 65 people suffering from depression.

For the patient portion of the test group, initial measurements were taken at the time of first hospitalization, and the second prior to their discharge from hospital, spanning an average interval of 12 weeks. The control group participants were recruited arbitrarily from the local population, with their own induction and ‘discharge’ mirroring that of the actual patients.

In effect, the most important ‘ground truth’ for such an experiment must be diagnoses obtained by approved and standard methods, and this was the case for the OEG trials.

However, the data-gathering stage obtained additional data more suited for machine interpretation: interviews averaging 90 minutes were captured over three phases with a Logitech c270 consumer webcam running at 25fps.

The first session comprised of a standard Hamilton interview (based on research originated around 1960), such as would normally be given on admission. In the second phase, unusually, the patients (and their counterparts in the control group) were shown videos of a series of facial expressions, and asked to mimic each of these, while stating their own estimation of their mental condition at that time, including emotional state and intensity. This phase lasted around ten minutes.

In the third and final phase, the participants were shown 96 videos of actors, lasting just over ten seconds each, apparently recounting intense emotional experiences. The participants were then asked to evaluate the emotion and intensity represented in the videos, as well as their own corresponding feelings. This phase lasted around 15 minutes.

Click here to read the full article on Unite.

How ‘ghosting’ is linked to mental health

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A woman using her iphone

By Royette T. Dubar, The Washington Post

Check your phone. Are there any unanswered texts, snaps or direct messages that you’re ignoring? Should you reply? Or should you “ghost” the person who sent them?

Ghosting happens when someone cuts off all online communication with someone else without an explanation. Instead, like a ghost, they just vanish. The phenomenon is common on social media and dating sites, but with the isolation brought on by the pandemic — forcing more people together online — it happens now more than ever.

I am a professor of psychology who studies the role of technology use in interpersonal relationships and well-being. Given the negative psychological consequences of thwarted relationships — especially in the emerging adulthood years, ages 18 to 29 — I wanted to understand what leads college students to ghost others, and if ghosting had any perceived effects on one’s mental health.

To address these questions, my research team recruited 76 college students through social media and on-campus fliers, 70 percent of them female. Study participants signed up for one of 20 focus groups, ranging in size from two to five students. Group sessions lasted an average of 48 minutes each. Participants provided responses to questions asking them to reflect on their ghosting experiences. Here’s what we found.

The results
Some students admitted they ghosted because they lacked the necessary communication skills to have an open and honest conversation — whether that conversation happened face-to-face or via text or email.

From a 19-year-old woman: “I’m not good at communicating with people in person, so I definitely cannot do it through typing or anything like that.”

From a 22-year old: “I do not have the confidence to tell them that. Or I guess it could be because of social anxiety.”

In some instances, participants opted to ghost if they thought meeting with the person would stir up emotional or sexual feelings they were not ready to pursue: “People are afraid of something becoming too much … the fact that the relationship is somehow getting to the next level.”

Some ghosted because of safety concerns. Forty-five percent ghosted to remove themselves from a “toxic,” “unpleasant” or “unhealthy” situation. A 19-year-old woman put it this way: “It’s very easy to just chat with total strangers so [ghosting is] like a form of protection when a creepy guy is asking you to send nudes and stuff like that.”

One of the least-reported yet perhaps most interesting reasons for ghosting someone: protecting that person’s feelings. Better to ghost, the thinking goes, than cause the hurt feelings that come with overt rejection. An 18-year-old woman said ghosting was “a little bit politer way to reject someone than to directly say, ‘I do not want to chat with you.’ ”

That said, recent data suggests that U.S. adults generally perceive breaking up through email, text or social media as unacceptable, and prefer an in-person break-up conversation.

And then there’s ghosting after sex.

In the context of hookup culture, there’s an understanding that if the ghoster got what they were looking for — often, that’s sex — then that’s it, they no longer need to talk to that person. After all, more talk could be interpreted as wanting something more emotionally intimate.

According to one 19-year-old woman: “I think it’s rare for there to be open conversation about how you’re truly feeling [about] what you want out of a situation. … I think hookup culture is really toxic in fostering honest communication.”

But the most prevalent reason to ghost: a lack of interest in pursuing a relationship with that person. Remember the movie “He’s Just Not That Into You”? As one participant said: “Sometimes the conversation just gets boring.”

Click here to read the full article on The Washington Post.

Gamifying Fear: Vr Exposure Therapy Shown To Be Effective At Treating Severe Phobias

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Girl using virtual reality goggles watching spider. Photo: Donald Iain Smith/Gett Images

By Cassidy Ward, SyFy

In the 2007 horror film House of Fears (now streaming on Peacock!), a group of teenagers enters the titular haunted house the night before it is set to open. Once inside, they encounter a grisly set of horrors leaving some of them dead and others terrified. For many, haunted houses are a fun way to intentionally trigger a fear response. For others, fear is something they live with on a daily basis and it’s anything but fun.

Roughly 8% of adults report a severe fear of flying; between 3 and 15% endure a fear of spiders; and between 3 and 6% have a fear of heights. Taken together, along with folks who have a fear of needles, dogs, or any number of other life-altering phobias, there’s a good chance you know someone who is living with a fear serious enough to impact their lives. You might even have such a phobia yourself.

There are, thankfully, a number of treatments a person can undergo in order to cope with a debilitating phobia. However, those treatments often require traveling someplace else and having access to medical care, something which isn’t always available or possible. With that in mind, scientists from the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Otago have investigated the use of virtual reality to remotely treat severe phobias with digital exposure therapy. Their findings were published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.

Prior studies into the efficacy of virtual reality for the treatment of phobias were reliant on high-end VR rigs which can be expensive and difficult to acquire for the average patient. They also focused on specific phobias. The team at the University of Otago wanted something that could reach a higher number of patients, both in terms of content and access to equipment.

They used oVRcome, a widely available smartphone app anyone can download from their phone’s app store. The app has virtual reality content related to a number of common phobias in addition to the five listed above. Moreover, because it runs on your smartphone, it can be experienced using any number of affordable VR headsets which your phone slides into.

Participants enter in their phobias and their severity on a scale and are presented with a series of virtual experiences designed to gently and progressively expose the user to their fear. The study involved 129 people between the ages of 18 and 64, all of which reported all five of the target phobias. They used oVRcome over the course of six weeks with weekly emailed questionnaires measuring their progress. Participants also had access to a clinical psychologist in the event that they experienced any adverse effects from the study.

Participants were given a baseline score measuring the severity of their phobia and were measured again at a follow up 12 weeks after the start of the program. At baseline, participants averaged a score of 28 out of 40, indicating moderate to severe symptoms. By the end of the trial, the average score was down to 7, indicating minimal symptoms. Some participants even indicated they had overcome their phobia to the extent that they felt comfortable booking a flight, scheduling a medical procedure involving needles, or capturing and releasing a spider from their home, something they weren’t comfortable doing at the start.

Part of what makes the software so effective is the diversity of programming available and the ability for an individual to tailor their experiences based on their own unique experience. Additionally, exposure therapy is coupled with additional virtual modules including relaxation, mindfulness, cognitive techniques, and psychoeducation.

Click here to read the full article on SyFy.

Disability Advocate Chelsie Hill Has the *Best* Advice for Fending Off Fitness Class Intimidation

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Chelsie Hill seated on a wheel chair in front of a pool with yellow digital background surrounding her

By Zoe Weiner, Well + Good

When Chelsie Hill was in a car accident at age 17, her “whole world was flipped upside down,” she says. A spinal cord injury left her paralyzed from the waist down, but as a lifelong dancer, she refused to let the fact that she was in a wheelchair get in the way of her passion. So two years later, in 2012, she started a wheelchair dance team called “The Rollettes.”

Hill connected with a group of women through social media who, like her, were in wheelchairs and wanted to dance. “I wanted to meet girls like me and find friends… I wanted to just feel a sense of normalcy, and feel like I wasn’t the only person in my community or in the world who got in the car with a drunk driver or became paralyzed,” she says. “When you’re by yourself and you’re alone and you’re trying to figure out life, it can be very lonely—it can feel like you’re the only one. And for me, being around these girls helped me gain a sense of confidence that I never thought I would ever get.”

In the near-decade since the Rollettes conception, the group has performed all over the world, introduced the “Boundless Babes Society” mentorship program to connect women and girls living with a range of disabilities, and grown its platform to increase visibility for people with disabilities. “I have so many little ones who come to Rollettes Experience and they look on TV and they don’t see anybody like themselves,” says Hill. “And so for us, representation and education are the two biggest things that we’re very passionate about in every way.”

Hill’s role as the team choreographer has given her the opportunity to take the dance moves she loved when she was younger and make them accessible to people with differing abilities. “I love going to dance classes and adopting the choreography from an able-bodied choreographer to make it work for me,” she says. “That’s when I get the most creative, because I am forced to do moves that my body naturally wouldn’t know how to do… but I can translate them in a way that looks similar because my body is used to all of the moves from when I was a little girl. That’s kind of the advantage I have as a wheelchair dancer: I know how all these moves are as an [able-bodied person], so I just make them work for what my ability is now.”

Even with decades of experience under her belt, though, Hill is no stranger to the oh-so-relatable experience of entering a dance or workout class and immediately feeling intimidated—something many of us can relate to. “I was always so intimidated to go into any class, especially in Los Angeles with some of the top dancers in the industry, top choreographers and me and my wheelchair rolling in and people looking at me like, ‘What is she doing here? Does she know where she is?'” she says. “So I can totally empathize with that feeling of not feeling like you’re ready.”

Click here to read the full article on Well + Good.

Soccer Star Carson Pickett First USWNT Player With Limb Difference

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Pro soccer player Carson Pickett on the field in her uniform

By TMZ

Pro soccer player Carson Pickett made history on Tuesday … becoming the first player with a limb difference to hit the pitch for the United States women’s national team.

Pickett — who was born without a left hand and forearm — started for the USWNT in its 2-0 victory over Colombia … as the Red, White and Blue extended their home win streak to 69 games.

The 28-year-old defender — who plays for the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage — competed in the entire contest against Colombia.

Pickett’s coach, Vlatko Andonovski, spoke about her spot on the team … saying, “Carson did very well in training for us in last week and with the management of minutes for Emily Fox that we had, we felt like Carson would be a good replacement.”

“I’m happy that she was able to perform well for 90 minutes,” he added.

Pickett has been very open and transparent about her limb difference … acknowledging it publicly, but also embracing the reality of her situation.

In April — Limb Loss and Limb Difference Awareness month — Pickett spoke about it in an Instagram post, “While I know that I am confident and comfortable with showing my arm, I know there are so many people in the world who aren’t.”

She continued … “The feeling of being different and the anxiety of not fitting in is something that I have been through. Wearing sweatshirts in the dead heat of summer to hide my arm. This month is really really special, important, and should be celebrated.”

“I hope to encourage anyone who struggles with their limb difference to not be ashamed of who they are. I want to be an advocate for others like me, and for the longest time I didn’t use my platform well enough.”

Click here to read the full article on TMZ.

Mental Health Apps; do they actually work?

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Woman's Hands Working From Home on Computer while looking at her iPhone

By Samantha Kerrigan, CBS 12 News

Returning to the office is a reality a lot of us are getting used to, but after working from home for more than two years, that can be a little stressful.

These days there are tools to help you manage those feelings and they’re available right at your fingertips.

Mental health apps like Calm, Headspace, Moodfit and Simple Habit are becoming increasingly popular.

Sleep stories and guided meditations are just a couple of the resources most of these apps have in common. But do they actually help? According to licensed psychotherapist Kristen Bomas, the answer is yes.

“There’s more harm in not trying because the fear stays alive.”

Kristen says the anxiety many people are feeling about transitioning back to the office environment is normal and the first thing to do is accept those feelings.

“Life is vague. Work is structured and so that’s the difficulty, but if you can get used to that, you really do separate work and life,” Kristen says.

The starting point could be as easy as taking a deep breath because according to Kristen, we’re all forgetting to breathe.

“We are breathing so unconsciously and we’re just letting our body breathe as it has to, but conscious breathing when we become aware of our breath, it is by far the most healing modality,” Kristen explains.

Focusing on your breath is the first step to all the guided meditations offered on the apps.

“Some lead up to full mediation and some keep it short and sweet which a lot of people need,” Kristen says.

It might not be for everyone, but Kristen says meditation is proven to calm your mind.

Even just a one-minute meditation sitting at your desk can help clear out anxious thoughts.

“You start to think on your own which is important when we talk about fear, which is at the basis of stress and anxiety.”

Another way to clear your mind is to dump your thoughts into a journal.

Some of these apps have space for journaling, or you can just use old fashioned pen and paper.

You can even find a gratitude journal on Moodfit which is one of Kristen’s recommendations for starting your day right.

“I always tell people once you get rid of all the space taken up with all of this, you have space for more to come in and I tell them to fill it with gratitude,’ Kristen says.

And how you end your day is just as important to your mental health, so before you pick up the remote control at bedtime, think about this Kristen says the worst thing we can do if we’re having trouble sleeping is turn on the TV.

“Those apps with sound sometimes bridge that gap, so for them its giving them a sound that’s proven to match the neurological waves in your mind,” Kristen says. “That gets your mind in alignment with your body so that the mind is also falling asleep and getting restful as the body is,” she goes on.

While these apps are realistic for managing your stress anxiety long term, Kristen says they won’t be your sole healer.

Its key to remember that what works for one person, doesn’t work for everyone.

So, it’s important to find what feels right for you and then just take it one day at a time.

Click here to read the full article on CBS 12 News.

Psilocybin Spurs Brain Activity in Patients With Depression, Small Study Shows

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Psychedelic compounds like LSD, Ecstasy and psilocybin mushrooms have shown significant promise in treating a range of mental health disorders, with participants in clinical studies often describing tremendous progress taming the demons of post-traumatic stress disorder, or finding unexpected calm and clarity as they face a terminal illness.

But exactly how psychedelics might therapeutically rewire the mind remains an enigma.

A group of neuroscientists in London thought advanced neuroimaging technology that peered deep into the brain might provide some answers. They included 43 people with severe depression in a study sponsored by Imperial College London, and gave them either psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, or a conventional antidepressant; the participants were not told which one they would receive. Functional magnetic resonance imaging, which captures metabolic function, took two snapshots of their brain activity — the day before receiving the first dose and then roughly three weeks after the final one.

What they found, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine, was illuminating, both figuratively and literally. Over the course of three weeks, participants who had been given the antidepressant escitalopram reported mild improvement in their symptoms, and the scans continued to suggest the stubborn, telltale signs of a mind hobbled by major depressive disorder. Neural activity was constrained within certain regions of the brain, a reflection of the rigid thought patterns that can trap those with depression in a negative feedback loop of pessimism and despair.

By contrast, the participants given psilocybin therapy reported a rapid and sustained improvement in their depression, and the scans showed flourishes of neural activity across large swaths of the brain that persisted for the three weeks. That heightened connectivity, they said, resembled the cognitive agility of a healthy brain that, for example, can toggle between a morning bout of melancholia, a stressful day at work and an evening of unencumbered revelry with friends.

Although the authors acknowledged the limitations of the study, including its small size and short time frame, they said psilocybin appeared to have a “liberating” effect on the brains of people with severe depression.

“Psilocybin, it would seem, allows you to see things in an entirely new light, particularly when you have a psychotherapist who can help guide you through that experience,” said Richard Daws, a cognitive neuroscientist and a lead author of the study. “You can unpack difficult experiences that might define how you see the world, which is interesting because that’s exactly what traditional cognitive behavioral therapy is trying to do.”

Experts not involved with the study said that the results were not entirely surprising but that they provided a possible biologic explanation for the anecdotal accounts about therapeutic breakthroughs with psychedelic medicine.

Patrick M. Fisher, a neuroscientist at the Neurobiology Research Unit in Copenhagen who studies psilocybin’s effects on the brain, said the findings could help explain why study subjects in psychedelic research often report long-term relief from psychological ailments. “One or two doses of psychedelic drugs seem to impart lasting clinical benefits and changes in personality and mood, and that’s an unusual characteristic of drugs,” he said. “Although these brain imaging data are important for resolving the brain mechanisms that support these lasting changes, this study leaves prominent questions unanswered.”

Other researchers agreed, saying the results highlighted the need for further study. Dr. Stephen Ross, associate director of the N.Y.U. Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine, who has been studying the antidepressant effects of psilocybin on cancer patients, cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions given the relatively brief monitoring period of participants’ brain activity. “It’s a little bit like looking out into the universe with a telescope and seeing interesting things and then starting to build theories based on that,” he said. “This is an important contribution though I’m more interested in what happens in three months or six months.”

A separate, smaller experiment that was included in the Nature Medicine paper appeared to support the notion that psilocybin therapy could provide enduring benefits. In that trial, 16 patients were recruited with the knowledge that they would receive psilocybin for their treatment-resistant depression. Brain scans taken a day after the final doses were administered showed similar results to the other study. And when the researchers followed up six months later, many participants reported that the improvements to their depression had not subsided.

“These results are very promising, but obviously no one should go out and try and procure psychedelics without speaking to a doctor or a therapist,” Dr. Daws said.

The field of psychedelic medicine is still in its infancy following a decades-long gap in research, a direct result of antidrug policies that prevented most scientists in the United States from investigating mind-altering compounds. But as the stigma has faded and research funding has begun to flow more freely, a growing number of scientists have begun exploring whether such drugs can help patients suffering from a wide range of mental health conditions, including anorexia, substance abuse and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Along with psilocybin, MDMA, popularly known as Ecstasy, has been especially promising. A study last May in Nature Medicine found that the drug paired with talk therapy could significantly lessen or even eliminate symptoms of PTSD. Phase 3 clinical trials are now underway, and some experts believe the Food and Drug Administration could approve MDMA therapy for PTSD as soon as next year.

Depression remains one of most common and intractable mental health challenges in the United States, with an estimated 21 million adults reporting a major depressive episode in 2020, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Although Prozac and other antidepressants known as S.S.R.I.s have been effective for many, they have significant side effects and the drugs do not work for everyone.

Click here to read the full article on the New York Times.

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  1. City Career Fair
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    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
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