Is Evolution of the Human Brain to Blame for Some Mental Disorders?

THURSDAY, Aug. 9, 2018 — Evolutionary changes in the human brain may be responsible for psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, new research suggests.

The researchers identified long, noncoding stretches of DNA (called “repeat arrays”) in a gene that governs calcium transport in the brain. Their findings were published Aug. 9 in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

“Changes in the structure and sequence of these nucleotide arrays likely contributed to changes in CACNA1C function during human evolution and may modulate neuropsychiatric disease risk in modern human populations,” senior author David Kingsley said in a journal news release. Kingsley is a professor of developmental biology at Stanford University in California.

The study authors suggested that the findings could lead to improved treatment for patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which affect about 3 percent of people worldwide.

Classifying patients based on their repeat arrays may help identify those most likely to respond to current calcium channel drugs, which so far have produced mixed results, Kingsley said.

He added that more research is needed to determine whether patients with a genetic variation of CACNA1C have too much or too little calcium channel activity.

The repeat arrays in the CACNA1C gene occur only in humans. Kingsley said that suggests the arrays may have given humans an evolutionary advantage, even if they increased the risk of conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on schizophrenia.

Posted: August 2018

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Khloe Kardashian Talks Motherhood, Mental Health, and Her Changing Body Shape

We were lucky enough to attend the launch of Good American’s new activewear line today, and it was seriously fierce (check out our Facebook Live video below). To kick off the event, there was a step dance performance (the dancers were clad in the newest pieces from the collection, which made us covet everything). But the icing on the cake was the opportunity to hear Good American co-founder Khloe Kardashian open up about her own body image, how she’s been staying on top of her workouts post-pregnancy, and what it’s like to be a new mother.

Khloé Kardashian is launching her Good American activewear today and we’re here LIVE with her taking a first look!

Kardashian told the panel that from a young age, she’s always had an athletic body type. “I always had to go to a different part of the department store,” she recalled. “I was at a size, like, 14 or 16 at my biggest, and that wasn’t where my sisters were shopping. I always felt really embarrassed shopping with my sisters and girlfriends.”

She added that there’s an unfair misconception that women “of shape” are weak, unhealthy, and have little endurance, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Good American’s mission is to be inclusive and to embrace women of all shapes, sizes, and walks of life, she adds. “Not everyone wants to be a size 6, and that’s something I love about Good American,” Kardashian said.

Since giving birth to baby True a few months ago, Kardashian has been working on getting back into her own fitness routine. She told us that to motivate herself to power through a workout, she sets small, attainable goals so as to not discourage herself if she doesn’t see results right away.

She was excited to get clearance from her doctor to start working out, but getting back into her groove was a little brutal. “The first day I could not do the most simple things,” she confessed. “I was out of breath, it was just different. I kind of felt like really defeated, like ‘oh man I don’t know if I can do this.” It wasn’t until about three weeks into her workout routine that she felt more confident and like herself. She added that working out is not necessarily about looking good, but more about her sanity, which is why she is happy to be back at it. 

What we really wanted to know, though, was how baby True is doing. The glowing mom didn’t disappoint, and dished to the panel about her 3-month-old daughter. “No matter how tired you are after work or whatever, it melts your heart,” Kardashian gushed about coming home to her baby girl. “You just love every minute of it.” The new mom added that she’s currently working on getting her little one to giggle, although True is having none of it. Instead, True saves her laughs for dad Tristan Thompson, which drives Kardashian crazy, she joked.

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Please stop merchandising mental illness

I was seeing a guy from London, and he told me Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were his favorite couple. He was charming, exciting and "got" me. His choice sounded so romantic, so like him.

The 1986 movie "Betty Blue" turned men on to a concept of women with mental illness as impossibly chic.

The 1986 movie “Betty Blue” turned men on to a concept of women with mental illness as impossibly chic.

I lay in bed and Googled eagerly. Was this the kind of great love he envisioned for us? Zelda Fitzgerald was intensely glamorous and hauntingly beautiful. Scott called her the original flapper. Oh, and they had a turbulent relationship racked with infidelity and excessive drinking: a love affair that ended with her dying after a fire broke out in the mental institution where she was a patient. She was schizophrenic and spent the last of her years hospitalised.

Is this how he saw me? I had clinical depression, not schizophrenia.

The Guardian wrote that Scott Fitzgerald's "troubled wife" was a "beautiful and damned" socialite, per the title of his second novel, who would be played by Scarlett Johansson in an upcoming drama. The romanticism was bothersome to me.

Elsewhere, on Facebook, an ad for a sale at Skinnydip, a brand, popped up. It included a cute miniature backpack, emblazoned with the words "I've got issues" and embroidered pink roses.

Looking further, I found gold nameplate necklaces that spell "Anxiety" and "Depression" in a trendy bold italic font, available at for $48. Their manufacturer claims the pendants will "open a dialogue". They're sold out.

The problem with the prettification of mental illness is just how out-of-kilter it is with reality. It's almost suggested as a desirable character trait for women to have.

Don't expect an honest depiction from television and the movies, either. The 1986 movie Betty Blue turned men on to a concept of women with mental illness as impossibly chic, French and sexually insatiable. At least Lena Dunham's character Hannah Horvath, suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder on Girls, presented mental illness in an unvarnished way. Still, when Hannah calls her boyfriend (Adam Driver) to tell him she's "unravelling," he runs the streets of New York to be with her. His topless chiselled torso is slightly dampened and glistens under the beam of streetlights. Upon arriving at her apartment, he boots down the door and scoops her up into his safe muscular arms. Really?

Seeing or experiencing illness makes any glamorisation of it entirely ridiculous. Depression is not an effective way of ensnaring a man. Nor is it a love song to bop along with, a fashionable illness, or a fad for bloggers to wear for a few weeks, post about on Instagram, favourite and then disregard.

New York Times

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4 in 5 adolescent girls have a mental health disorder following sexual assault

Eighty percent of young women were found to have a mental health disorder and 55 percent had two or more mental health disorders four to five months after sexual assault, according to a study led by UCL and The Havens, London’s specialist sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) hosted by King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

For the study, published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, researchers recruited 134 females, aged between 13 and 17 years between April 2013 and April 2015, interviewing them shortly after sexual assault and four to five months later.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, other anxiety disorders and depression were the most common disorders seen. Researchers also found that nearly three in four young women who attended a SARC following a sexual assault came from the most deprived backgrounds and one in five had had a statement of special educational needs.

More than one in two had had previous involvement with Social Services and half had sought mental health help in the 12 months prior to their assault.

“Although poverty and social vulnerability are well-recognised risk factors for sexual assault, few studies have examined this among adolescents, or looked at the impact of vulnerability on mental health outcomes following sexual assault,” said Dr. Sophie Khadr (UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and the Havens).

“The study findings emphasise the ‘double disadvantage’ of young women who experience sexual assault. Their social vulnerability places them at higher risk of assault, with one in 12 reporting a further assault within four to five months.”

“Our study found that many of these vulnerability factors are also risk factors for mental health disorders following assault. Personal characteristics such as a history of self-harm, mental health help or social services involvement were more important than the type of assault as predictors of a later mental health diagnosis.”

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How Trying to 'Have It All' Impacts Your Mental Health

As children, some people wanted to be movie stars and queens of the universe, to have pet unicorns and cloaks of invisibility — we could have it all because all we needed was the power of our imaginations. Now that we’re older, having it all looks a lot different. We balance the spinning plates of work, work and more work; elderly parents and/or children; pets; partners or the lack thereof. All this while holding our breath waiting for something to fall. 

This perpetual tension of keeping everything upright and moving isn’t just stressful in that harried Everymom sorta way the advertisements for everything from paper towels to grocery home delivery companies would have us believe — it can have significant consequences for our mental health. 

Why does this happen?

“When someone is trying to ‘have it all’ — which could mean the biggest house on the block, the corner office, the nicest car in the neighborhood and so on — it can impact their mental health because they are playing this perpetual game of chasing things,” Dr. Prakash Masand, a psychiatrist and founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence, tells SheKnows. 

Masand sees this perpetual pursuit of the better, bigger, bolder life as physically and emotionally destructive. “Once [someone] achieves whatever they were after, they soon want more and start chasing other things,” he adds. “This can lead to stress, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, constant worry, digestive problems and [other ailments].” He advises people to stop trying to keep up with the Joneses and be grateful for what they have. 

How can we deal with this?

Needless to say, putting this much pressure on yourself can lead to some serious anxiety.

Sara Stanizai, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Prospect Therapy, works to help high achievers deal with their anxiety issues. “’Having it all’ is [a] personal definition for many people,” she tells SheKnows. “The truth is people can have as much as they want; they just need to prioritize. When people fail to be realistic about their bandwidth (which can happen for a number of reasons), that’s when ‘having it all’ feels impossible.” 

Some of the root causes of a more destructive have-it-all mentality in the high achievers can stem from internalizing the expectations of an overly demanding or perfectionist partner, parent or friend; personal feelings of inadequacy; or not having their needs met in childhood or in early, formative relationships, Stanizai explains. This creates a sense that they and they alone are responsible for meeting all their needs (and other people’s as well). 

What does this mean for women?

Women can be particularly vulnerable to “have-it-all-itis” because our cultural expectations for gender roles haven’t evolved as much as we’d like to believe. Koorosh Rassekh, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Evo Health and Wellness, sees an explicitly gendered component to this problem. 

“Women now have access to opportunities that were not available in the past — and that’s a good thing … [however], the world we live in makes it common for men not to step up and support them,” he tells SheKnows. 

Rassekh sees this inequity, in which women are taking on more responsibilities and men’s roles have largely not changed, contributing to stress for women. He notes that stress can manifest in many ways in the body, including by causing anxiety, which can lead to addiction as well as dissatisfaction in relationships and illness and can even exacerbate existing health conditions. Rassekh suggests women look for the broader systemic issues that keep them locked in the cycle of competitiveness and build resilience against shame. 

“Sometimes, trying to have it all leaves you with too little of everything,” Dr. Matthew Goldenberg, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, tells SheKnows. Goldenberg says he has observed more burnout in women health care providers than in male health care providers, largely because of the internal tug-of-war between work and home. 

“Many of my female professional patients come from relatively progressive and modern families where both partners work,” he says. “However, if the baby is up in the middle of the night or the kiddo is sick at school, they often want Mom. Mom might be in the middle of a surgical case or seeing 30 patients. That pull to be in two places at once, to be a good mother, a good wife, a good friend and good to oneself, I believe hits women much more strongly.” 

Goldenberg advises that women try to assess what is truly important to them and give themselves permission to de-prioritize everything else. 

That house in the best school district or the promotion that comes with a fancy title and whole lot of zeroes might be a lot more attainable than a unicorn (even if they’re a lot less cool), but that doesn’t mean that we should forfeit our mental and physical health and well-being to obtain them. 

We should look at what we need to be happy and comfortable in life and realize that we’ll never live up to the Superwoman who leaps tall buildings inside our minds. We should figure out what the small stuff is and like the trite-but-true slogan says, “Don’t sweat it.”  

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WHO recognises ‘compulsive sexual behaviour’ as mental disorder

The World Health Organization has recognised “compulsive sexual behaviour” as a mental disorder, but said Saturday it remained unclear if it was an addiction on a par with gambling or drug abuse.

The contentious term “sex addiction” has been around for decades but experts disagree over whether the condition exists.

In the latest update of its catalogue of diseases and injuries around the world, the WHO takes a step towards legitimising the concept, by acknowledging “compulsive sexual behaviour disorder”, or CSBD, as a mental illness.

But the UN health body stops short of lumping the condition together with addictive behaviours like substance abuse or gambling, insisting more research is needed before describing the disorder as an addiction.

“Conservatively speaking, we don’t feel that the evidence is there yet… that the process is equivalent to the process with alcohol or heroin,” WHO expert Geoffrey Reed told AFP Saturday.

In the update of its International Classification of Diseases (ICD), published last month, WHO said CSBD was “characterised by persistent failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges… that cause marked distress or impairment”.

But it said the scientific debate was still ongoing as to “whether or not the compulsive sexual behaviour disorder constitutes the manifestation of a behavioural addiction”.

Reed said it was important that the ICD register, which is widely used as a benchmark for diagnosis and health insurers, includes a concise definition of compulsive sexual behaviour disorder to ensure those affected can get help.

“There is a population of people who feel out of control with regards to their own sexual behaviour and who suffer because of that,” he said pointing out that their sexual behaviour sometimes had “very severe consequences.”

“This is a genuine clinical population of people who have a legitimate health condition and who can be provided services in a legitimate way,” he said.

It remains unclear how many people suffer from the disorder, but Reed said the ICD listing would likely prompt more research into the condition and its prevalence, as well as into determining the most effective treatments.

“Maybe eventually we will say, yeah, it is an addiction, but that is just not where we are at this point,” Reed said.

But even without the addiction label, he said he believed the new categorisation would be “reassuring”, since it lets people know they have “a genuine condition” and can seek treatment.

No excuse for rape

Claims of “sex addiction” have increasingly been in the headlines in step with the #MeToo movement, which has seen people around the world coming forward with allegations sexual mistreatment.

The uprising has led to the downfall of powerful men across industries, including disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who has reportedly spent months in treatment for sex addiction.

Reed said he did not believe there was reason to worry that the new CSBD listing could be used by people like Weinstein to excuse alleged criminal behaviours.

“It doesn’t excuse sexual abuse or raping someone … any more than being an alcoholic excuses you from driving a car when you are drunk. You have still made a decision to act,” he said.

While it did not recognise sex addiction in the first update of its ICD catalogue since the 1990s, WHO did for the first time recognise video gaming as an addiction, listing it alongside addictions to gambling and drugs like cocaine.

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