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.

Disabled people are ‘invisible by exclusion’ in politics, says Assemblymember running to be the first openly autistic member of Congress

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Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou

By , Business Insider

The halls of Congress have yet to see an openly autistic legislator, but New York Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou could change that.

Niou, who was diagnosed with autism at 22, said she was “surprised” to learn she could be the first openly autistic Congressmember but also said it showed a lack of representation of disabled communities in policy making.

“I think we hear a lot of the first and only sometimes,” Niou told Insider. “While it’s an amazing thing, I think that what’s more important is that there are people understanding that it’s also a really lonely thing. And I think that it really is important to have representation because you need that lens to talk about everything in policy.”

Niou, a progressive Democrat and Taiwanese immigrant who represents New York’s 65th district, announced her run for Congress this year in a high-profile race against Bill de Blasio and Rep. Mondaire Jones.

Niou’s diagnosis became well known after Refinery 29 published an article discussing it in 2020. After parents and kids reached out to her relating to her, she became aware of how talking openly about her autism helped to “drive away stigma.”

Among full-time politicians, disabled Americans are underrepresented. People with disabilities make up 6.3% of federal politicians, compared to 15.7% of all adults in America who are disabled, research from Rutgers shows.

“People with disabilities cannot achieve equality unless they are part of government decision-making,” said Lisa Schur in the 2019 Rutgers report.

The number of disabled Americans may have increased in the past two years. Estimates show that 1.2 million more people may have become disabled as a result of COVID-19.

Niou also said that she knows what it feels like to be shut out of the government process. In 2016, Niou became the first Asian to serve as Assemblymember in her district, a large Asian district that includes New York’s Chinatown.

Disabled people have been “invisible by exclusion from the policy-making process,” Niou said. Her disability status helps her bring perspective to a host of laws from transportation to housing, and she wants to make sure that neurodivergent people have more of a say in the legislative process.

“We’re not considering all the different diverse perspectives, especially when you’re talking about neurodivergent [issues] or when we’re talking about disability issues,” Niou said.

Disabled people are more likely to be incarcerated, are at a higher risk of homelessness, and more likely to face impoverishment.

Click here to read the full article on Business Insider.

Disability Inclusion Is Coming Soon to the Metaverse

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Disabled avatars from the metaverse in a wheelchair

By Christopher Reardon, PC Mag

When you think of futurism, you probably don’t think of the payroll company ADP—but that’s where Giselle Mota works as the company’s principal consultant on the “future of work.” Mota, who has given a Ted Talk(Opens in a new window) and has written(Opens in a new window) for Forbes, is committed to bringing more inclusion and access to the Web3 and metaverse spaces. She’s also been working on a side project called Unhidden, which will provide disabled people with accurate avatars, so they’ll have the option to remain themselves in the metaverse and across Web3.

To See and Be Seen
The goal of Unhidden is to encourage tech companies to be more inclusive, particularly of people with disabilities. The project has launched and already has a partnership with the Wanderland(Opens in a new window) app, which will feature Unhidden avatars through its mixed-reality(Opens in a new window) platform at the VivaTech Conference in Paris and the DisabilityIN Conference in Dallas. The first 12 avatars will come out this summer with Mota, Dr. Tiffany Jana, Brandon Farstein, Tiffany Yu, and other global figures representing disability inclusion.

The above array of individuals is known as the NFTY Collective(Opens in a new window). Its members hail from countries including America, the UK, and Australia, and the collective represents a spectrum of disabilities, ranging from the invisible type, such as bipolar and other forms of neurodiversity, to the more visible, including hypoplasia and dwarfism.

Hypoplasia causes the underdevelopment of an organ or tissue. For Isaac Harvey, the disease manifested by leaving him with no arms and short legs. Harvey uses a wheelchair and is the president of Wheels for Wheelchairs, along with being a video editor. He got involved with Unhidden after being approached by its co-creator along with Mota, Victoria Jenkins, who is an inclusive fashion designer.

Click here to read the full article on PC Mag.

For people with disabilities, AI can only go so far to make the web more accessible

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

By Kate Kaye, Protocol

“It’s a lot to listen to a robot all day long,” said Tina Pinedo, communications director at Disability Rights Oregon, a group that works to promote and defend the rights of people with disabilities.

But listening to a machine is exactly what many people with visual impairments do while using screen reading tools to accomplish everyday online tasks such as paying bills or ordering groceries from an ecommerce site.

“There are not enough web developers or people who actually take the time to listen to what their website sounds like to a blind person. It’s auditorily exhausting,” said Pinedo.

Whether struggling to comprehend a screen reader barking out dynamic updates to a website, trying to make sense of poorly written video captions or watching out for fast-moving imagery that could induce a seizure, the everyday obstacles blocking people with disabilities from a satisfying digital experience are immense.

Needless to say, technology companies have tried to step in, often promising more than they deliver to users and businesses hoping that automated tools can break down barriers to accessibility. Although automated tech used to check website designs for accessibility flaws have been around for some time, companies such as Evinced claim that sophisticated AI not only does a better job of automatically finding and helping correct accessibility problems, but can do it for large enterprises that need to manage thousands of website pages and app content.

Still, people with disabilities and those who regularly test for web accessibility problems say automated systems and AI can only go so far. “The big danger is thinking that some type of automation can replace a real person going through your website, and basically denying people of their experience on your website, and that’s a big problem,” Pinedo said.

Why Capital One is betting on accessibility AI
For a global corporation such as Capital One, relying on a manual process to catch accessibility issues is a losing battle.

“We test our entire digital footprint every month. That’s heavily reliant on automation as we’re testing almost 20,000 webpages,” said Mark Penicook, director of Accessibility at the banking and credit card company, whose digital accessibility team is responsible for all digital experiences across Capital One including websites, mobile apps and electronic messaging in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada.

Accessibility isn’t taught in computer science.
Even though Capital One has a team of people dedicated to the effort, Penicook said he has had to work to raise awareness about digital accessibility among the company’s web developers. “Accessibility isn’t taught in computer science,” Penicook told Protocol. “One of the first things that we do is start teaching them about accessibility.”

One way the company does that is by celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day each year, Penicook said. Held on Thursday, the annual worldwide event is intended to educate people about digital access and inclusion for those with disabilities and impairments.

Before Capital One gave Evinced’s software a try around 2018, its accessibility evaluations for new software releases or features relied on manual review and other tools. Using Evinced’s software, Penicook said the financial services company’s accessibility testing takes hours rather than weeks, and Capital One’s engineers and developers use the system throughout their internal software development testing process.

It was enough to convince Capital One to invest in Evinced through its venture arm, Capital One Ventures. Microsoft’s venture group, M12, also joined a $17 million funding round for Evinced last year.

Evinced’s software automatically scans webpages and other content, and then applies computer vision and visual analysis AI to detect problems. The software might discover a lack of contrast between font and background colors that make it difficult for people with vision impairments like color blindness to read. The system might find images that do not have alt text, the metadata that screen readers use to explain what’s in a photo or illustration. Rather than pointing out individual problems, the software uses machine learning to find patterns that indicate when the same type of problem is happening in several places and suggests a way to correct it.

“It automatically tells you, instead of a thousand issues, it’s actually one issue,” said Navin Thadani, co-founder and CEO of Evinced.

The software also takes context into account, factoring in the purpose of a site feature or considering the various operating systems or screen-reader technologies that people might use when visiting a webpage or other content. For instance, it identifies user design features that might be most accessible for a specific purpose, such as a button to enable a bill payment transaction rather than a link.

Some companies use tools typically referred to as “overlays” to check for accessibility problems. Many of those systems are web plug-ins that add a layer of automation on top of existing sites to enable modifications tailored to peoples’ specific requirements. One product that uses computer vision and machine learning, accessiBe, allows people with epilepsy to choose an option that automatically stops all animated images and videos on a site before they could pose a risk of seizure. The company raised $28 million in venture capital funding last year.

Another widget from TruAbilities offers an option that limits distracting page elements to allow people with neurodevelopmental disorders to focus on the most important components of a webpage.

Some overlay tools have been heavily criticized for adding new annoyances to the web experience and providing surface-level responses to problems that deserve more robust solutions. Some overlay tech providers have “pretty brazen guarantees,” said Chase Aucoin, chief architect at TPGi, a company that provides accessibility automation tools and consultation services to customers, including software development monitoring and product design assessments for web development teams.

“[Overlays] give a false sense of security from a risk perspective to the end user,” said Aucoin, who himself experiences motor impairment. “It’s just trying to slap a bunch of paint on top of the problem.”

In general, complicated site designs or interfaces that automatically hop to a new page section or open a new window can create a chaotic experience for people using screen readers, Aucoin said. “A big thing now is just cognitive; how hard is this thing for somebody to understand what’s going on?” he said.

Even more sophisticated AI-based accessibility technologies don’t address every disability issue. For instance, people with an array of disabilities either need or prefer to view videos with captions, rather than having sound enabled. However, although automated captions for videos have improved over the years, “captions that are computer-generated without human review can be really terrible,” said Karawynn Long, an autistic writer with central auditory processing disorder and hyperlexia, a hyperfocus on written language.

“I always appreciate when written transcripts are included as an option, but auto-generated ones fall woefully short, especially because they don’t include good indications of non-linguistic elements of the media,” Long said.

Click here to read the full article on Protocol.

A specialized video game could help children on the autism spectrum improve their social skills

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Child with Autism spectrum playing video games

By Emily Manis, PsyPost

Are video games the future of treatment for children on the autism spectrum? A study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders suggests they could be. Video game-based interventions may be a cheap, easy, and effective alternative to face-to-face treatment.

Many people on the autism spectrum have trouble with social skills, which can lead to adverse effects including isolation and social rejection. This can put them at a higher risk for anxiety and depression. Interventions often consist of building social skills, which can utilize a myriad of techniques. Previous research has experimented with using video games as a tool for this type of intervention but did not have a control group. This study seeks to address limitations of past research and expand the literature on this topic.

Renae Beaumont and colleagues utilized a sample of 7- to 12-year-old children in Queensland with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Participants had to refrain from other treatment during the duration of the study. Seventy children participated, including 60 boys and 10 girls. They were randomly assigned to either the social skills video game condition or the control condition, which was a similar video game without any social or emotional skill component. (The social skills video game is called Secret Agent Society.)

Parents were asked to rate their children on social skills, emotional regulation, behavior, anxiety, and also rate their satisfaction with the program. Participants completed 10 weeks of their program and completed post-trial measures. Six weeks later they completed follow-up measures.

Results showed that the social skills intervention was successful, with the children in that condition showing significantly larger improvements in their social and emotional skills. These positive results were maintained during follow-up a month and a half later. Parents of children in the control condition noted improvements as well, but not as much as in the experimental condition. This could be due to the increased time spent with the children. The results did not show any significant effects of the intervention on the children’s anxiety but did show a reduction in behavioral issues.

Though this study took strides into understanding if video game-based social and emotional treatment is effective, it also has limitations. Firstly, the parents were the raters and are susceptible to bias. This is shown by the improvements perceived by parents of children in the control group. Additionally, there was a very uneven gender split in the sample, which could lead to skewed results.

Click here to read the full article on PsyPost.

American Sign Language Xbox Channel on Twitch Is a Game Changer for Deaf Gamers: “We Can Finally Participate”

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Guests visit the booth of XBOX during the press day at the 2019 Gamescom gaming trade fair. LUKAS SCHULZE/GETTY IMAGES)

BY Trilby Beresford, The Hollywood Reporter

“To me, accessible gaming, and accessible content in general, means that everybody should have the same experience no matter their situation.”

These words come from Sean McIntyre, whose career in entertainment has included helping to produce live events such as the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) and serving as a producer on G4’s Attack of the Show. He’s now the accessibility lead for Xbox Marketing and distribution lead for programming and events. “They should be able to take away what the person next to them does regardless of vision, hearing or language,” McIntyre tells The Hollywood Reporter over email.

Toward one of these goals, Xbox recently partnered with Sorenson, a communications company with an expansive sign language interpreter base, to launch a dedicated channel on Twitch featuring American Sign Language interpretations, strategies and tips to help the community of Deaf and hard-of-hearing gamers actively participate in streams.

In addition to providing interpretations for approximately 25 hours of livestreams a week, the channel will include interviews with game developers, esports tournaments, event coverage, streamer takeovers and spotlights on independent games that never received captioning.

“At Xbox, we are committed to making gaming fun for the billions of people around the world that want to play and create,” Anita Mortaloni, director of accessibility at Xbox, tells THR. “This means continuing to identify barriers to play, making it easier for developers with disabilities to create and be part of the gaming community, and partnering with the disability community to bring their lived experiences into games and how they are built.”

Mortaloni got into accessibility through engineering and a particular interest in inclusive design. During the pandemic, she tells THR that she directly experienced the connection that gaming provided her family “and wanted to make that feasible for as many people as possible to do the same.” That prompted her to lead the accessibility effort at Xbox.

Such a task includes partnering with the disability community to create accessible and innovative experiences. One way that Xbox does this is through the Insiders League — anyone who self-identifies as a person with a disability, as well as allies of the community, can provide feedback directly to Xbox engineering and game development teams.

Another way is through Microsoft’s gaming accessibility testing service, where studios can seek feedback, guidance and support from members of the disability community during their development process. Xbox also offers learning resources for designing and validating the accessibility of a game, and an online course centered around the basics of gaming accessibility and best practices when it comes to hardware, software and assistive technology.

In creating the ASL channel, McIntyre explains that Xbox worked with a team of interpreters from Sorenson — gamers themselves, who understand the intricacies of gaming “lingo” and how its authenticity and accuracy is critical.

One of the features he is particularly excited about is the opportunity to dive into the archives of Xbox titles that predate when most titles started to receive captioning. “There are so many games that those who rely on interpretation have never gotten the chance to experience due to them being audio-only,” says McIntyre, “and it’s all the better that these titles are still fresh today due to so many being available via Xbox Game Pass.”

Game Pass is the brand’s subscription service, in which players can choose a certain plan and receive access to a vast number of studio and independent video game in genres ranging beyond the standard first-person shooters (DOOM Eternal) and racing titles (Forza Horizon 5) to include strategy games (Among Us) and story-driven puzzles (Unpacking), simulation (Stardew Valley), action role-playing (Death’s Door), cooperative cooking (Overcooked 2), seafaring epics (Sea of Thieves), episodic narratives (Tell Me Why), family-themed adventures (It Takes Two) all the way to a calming and charming mail delivery game called Lake.

“I’m really excited for the future and current gamers who are deaf,” Sorenson’s vp of brand marketing Ryan Commerson tells The Hollywood Reporter over Zoom, in a conversation conducted with the assistance of certified ASL interpreter Brad Holt, who serves as an exec at Sorenson. “Especially future generations, because I really know what this means. I understand the implication of something like this. This has huge implications, huge impact.”

Commerson was born into a hearing family, having only one distant cousin who is also deaf. He began learning ASL at 4 months old, with a mother who committed to teaching him and would emphasize the necessity of learning about the world directly through his eyes. “Whatever I saw, that was the information I got,” he recalls. “If it was not written down, if it was not signed to me, I didn’t know it. So, my mom would take time, put the effort in, sitting down and walking me through everything that was going on all the time so I could actually learn about human interaction, the rules of engagement, social cues, cultural norms, learn about pop culture.”

Video games were not a huge part of Commerson’s upbringing, which he partly attributes to the fact that few tools were available for him to communicate properly with other players. These days he’ll get online and play a few games with his young nieces and nephews, which he enjoys.

And he’s fully aware of the landscape: “Gaming in the ’80s and ’90s is not like gaming today,” says Commerson. Back then, he says, gamers were viewed as “weird people, social misfits maybe.” Today, he explains, it’s a way of life. “People learn social skills be playing games. They learn life lessons. They learn how money works. They learn how politics works. They learn the art of negotiating. All through gaming. Gaming is educational. And it’s a new way of educating the younger generations, babies as young as one or two years old. They pick up an iPad and start experiencing life through playing games.”

Click here to read the full article on The Hollywood Reporter.

A Voice in the Silence — Letter From the Editor

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Mandy Harvey Cover

It was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” In this issue, we celebrate those voices piercing the silence to challenge the status quo on accessibility and inclusion.

According to recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.1 percent of people in America living with disabilities were employed in 2021, as opposed to 63.7 percent of those not living with disabilities. Things needs to shift, now. It’s our goal and mission to continue being a part of and celebrating voices of change in our communities.

And this month’s cover story, Mandy Harvey, is a deaf singer who has used her voice to make a difference. Rising to star status after she wowed the country singing barefoot on the stage of America’s Got Talent, Harvey has dedicated her career to creating more inclusive spaces for artists and art lovers alike.

“There are so many ways to be more inclusive, but it has to be a thoughtful choice and not just wishing things were better,” said Harvey whose newest album, Paper Cuts, features ASL music videos and multilanguage captions for every song.

She travels to businesses and venues, bringing awareness to opportunities to create better accessibility while also visiting schools to talk to students about never giving up on their dreams and finding strength in their differences.

“More people are feeling like they have the ability to share their barriers with less fear of discrimination…we live in a world where we benefit immensely from diverse communities.” For more, read her story on page 72.

For the inclusivity-conscious employer, we encourage you to learn more about how you can implement safety and inclusion in your workspaces on page 66. If you’re wondering about the how’s, when’s, where’s and why to disclose your disability at work, take the opportunity to read our advice guide on page 26. Of course, we also took the time on page 44 to celebrate the diversity of the film CODA, which featured a primarily deaf cast and made history by shattering records this award season.

Remember, your voice can be the one that makes a difference and breaks the silence.

Tawanah Reeves-Ligon
Editor, DIVERSEability Magazine

Jo Whiley: What my disabled sister taught me about love and loyalty

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jo whiley sitting with disabled sister frances

By JO WHILEY, Express

Finally, in February 2021, the Government agreed the vulnerable should be fast-tracked, but it was too late for Frances. Following an outbreak in her Northamptonshire care home, she contracted the disease and almost died. In a touching, honest tribute to mark National Siblings Day, which raises awareness of the valuable role they play in the lives of their disabled brothers and sisters, Jo celebrates everything that Frances has given back to her.

The biggest thing I have learned from being Frances’s sister is that sharing how you feel is important
THE PHONE’S ringing again. How many times today? I’m not sure, maybe ten, maybe twenty, it’s easy to lose count. My sister, Frances, is being a pain again, and I couldn’t be happier. Every day she FaceTimes me at 30-minute intervals asking the same questions about my kids, my husband and the dogs: “Where’s Coco? Where’s Steve? Where’s Django?” Frances is 53 and has a rare chromosomal disorder called Cri du Chat syndrome, which means she has physical vulnerabilities and learning disabilities. She is loving, loud and a real live wire. No one forgets meeting Frances.

In January 2021 Frances caught Covid in her care home and was rushed to A&E. She didn’t understand why she was there and wouldn’t tolerate an oxygen mask. Her breathing deteriorated dangerously. We spent a terrifying 72 hours uncertain if she would survive.

So, now, when my sister FaceTimes to find out where everyone is, it’s a joy.

Frances is back in relatively good health. She eats more than you’d think is humanly possible and if she’s staying at Mum and Dad’s house, she’ll wait for me to arrive before getting out of bed so that I can shower her, just like I would when we were kids.

There are over half a million young people and at least 1.7 million adults in the UK with a disabled brother or sister. National Siblings Day, on Sunday, recognises the impact of that on their lives. This year’s theme is What I’ve Learned From Being A Sibling.

So, what have I learnt? I wouldn’t be who I am now without Frances. She has taught me -e g understanding, resilience, a strong sense of justice, compassion and a necessary dark sense of humour.

Being a sister is special. Being a sister to Frances has been life-changing. In a funny way, she’s even guided my career path. My earliest memory is of the two of us getting up early on Saturdays when she was small and listening to Junior Choice on the radio; her favourite song was Puff the Magic Dragon, which she still plays from an old jukebox in her bedroom.

Back then, I had a little cassette recorder, so I used to make radio shows for her. I’d record her voice and play it back to her. It was lovely, she would be so attentive. These were my first radio shows.

For a long while, I wasn’t aware there was anything different about Frances, she was just my little sister. I spent a fair amount of time with my grandparents because Mum and Dad were in hospital with Frances, but I loved that.

Click here to read the full article on Express.

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

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Person sad in their bedroom

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.

Selena Gomez Says Being Diagnosed As Bipolar Was ‘Freeing’

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Selena Gomez smiling at the camera at a red carpet event

By , The Cut

Since Selena Gomez revealed her bipolar diagnosis in 2020, she’s been selective about what she makes public and what she keeps to herself. In fact, she’s been much more selective with her press appearances in general. She even skipped the Grammys on Sunday, despite earning her very first nomination. But on Monday, April 4, Gomez spoke about being diagnosed as bipolar and how she’s been taking care of her mental health since. (Hint: It involves the World Wide Web and a brand-new company.)

Gomez gave a rare interview on Monday to announce the launch of Wondermind, her new multimedia company focused on mental health. “I really want people to be understood and seen and heard,” she told Good Morning America of her goals for the company. Co-founded by her mother, Mandy Teefey, and Daniella Pierson, the group aims to create an “inclusive, fun, and easy place where people can come together.” Wondermind is meant to provide people with tools to work on their “mental fitness,” which will include journaling exercises, podcasts, and resources. For the singer and actor, one of those tools has been stepping away from the spotlight a bit, which included taking a four-year break from the internet. “I haven’t been on the internet in four and a half years,” she admitted. (Shout out to her social-media people keeping her Instagram alive!) Another tool: knowing her diagnosis. “It was really freeing to have the information,” she said. “It made me really happy because I started to have a relationship with myself, and I think that’s the best part.”

The actor went public with her diagnosis after years of speaking out about her depression and anxiety. “After years of going through a lot of different things, I realized that I was bipolar,” she said during an appearance on Miley Cyrus’ former Instagram Live show, Bright Minded. One year later, she told Elle that finally receiving a diagnosis felt like “a huge weight lifted off me.” She explained, “I could take a deep breath and go, ‘Okay, that explains so much.’”

Click here to read the full article on The Cut.

Music Is Just as Powerful at Improving Mental Health as Exercise, Review Suggests

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Woman wearing a green top and orange blazer listening to music

By DAVID NIELD, Science Alert

The next time you’re not able to get out to the gym, maybe spin some records instead: new research suggests the positive impact on mental health from singing, playing, or listening to music is around the same impact experienced with exercise or weight loss.

That’s based on a meta-analysis covering 26 previous studies and a total of 779 people. The earlier research covered everything from using gospel music as a preventative measure against heart disease to how joining a choir can help people recovering from cancer.

A growing number of studies are finding links between music and wellbeing. However, the level of the potential boost and exactly why it works are areas that scientists are still looking into – and that’s where this particular piece of research can be helpful.

“Increasing evidence supports the ability of music to broadly promote wellbeing and health-related quality of life (HRQOL),” write the researchers in their published paper.

“However, the magnitude of music’s positive association with HRQOL is still unclear, particularly relative to established interventions, limiting inclusion of music interventions in health policy and care.”

All of the 26 studies included in the new research used the widely adopted and well regarded 36-Item Short Form Survey (SF-36) on physical and mental health, or the shorter alternative with 12 questions (SF-12), making it easier to collate and synthesize the data.

The results of the studies were then compared against other research looking at the benefits of “non-pharmaceutical and medical interventions (e.g., exercise, weight loss)” on wellbeing and against research where medical treatments for health issues didn’t include a music therapy component.

According to the study authors, the mental health boost from music is “within the range, albeit on the low end” of the same sort of impact seen in people who commit to physical exercise or weight loss programs.

“This meta-analysis of 26 studies of music interventions provided clear and quantitative moderate-quality evidence that music interventions are associated with clinically significant changes in mental HRQOL,” write the researchers.

“Additionally, a subset of 8 studies demonstrated that adding music interventions to usual treatment was associated with clinically significant changes to mental HRQOL in a range of conditions.”

At the same time, the researchers point out that there was substantial variation between individuals in the studies regarding how well the various musical interventions worked – even if the overall picture was a positive one. This isn’t necessarily something that’s going to work for everyone.

Click here to read the full article on Science Alert.

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  1. City Career Fair
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  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. Business Beyond Barriers Conference + Expo
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