Insanity in focus

BenettonAnaisPortrait.jpgThis is one I missed when it first appeared – the United Colors of Benetton magazine Colors had an issue focusing on mental illness and its treatment around the world.

Despite the flash-heavy website, there’s some beautiful photography in there, including some self-portraits taken by patients (like the one on the right).

The issue features patients from Cuba, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Belgium and Los Angeles, and shows the striking inequalities in mental health treatment throughout both the developed and developing world.

The photographs from Cuba are also currently part of an exhibition at London’s Institute of Psychiatry, where they are contrasted with photographs of patients resident in the Bethlem Royal Hospital during Victorian times.

Many of these Victorian-era photographs from the Bethlem are reproduced in a thought-provoking book called Presumed Curable (reviewed here).

Link to issue of Colors on madness.
Link to details of Institute of Psychiatry exhibition.
Link to review of Presumed Curable.

Last chance to win Mind Performance Hacks

If you’ve caught my posts the last few Mondays, you’ll know that I read and commented on Mind Performance Hacks, a new book from Ron Hale-Evans and O’Reilly (with some of the regulars of this blog contributing a hack or two) some weeks ago and we’ve been running free draws since. If you want to know more about that book, the sample hacks are worth a read, as is the support site if you want to dig deeper.

Now, at the time we managed to get hold of just a few copies to give away, and there have been 6 lucky winners so far. This week is our 4th and final book draw. You know the drill by now:

If you’d like a chance of winning one of 2 copies of Mind Performance Hacks, send an email to mphdraw4 at mindhacks dot com. If you don’t win this time, you’ll have to buy it. Good luck!

And here’s the usual blurb: Next Sunday evening, UK time, I’ll choose 2 emails randomly and, if you’re a winner, I’ll be in touch to get your address. Please include your name in the email; if my email to you bounces I’ll choose a different one; cheaters will be excluded; organiser’s decision is final; void where prohibited; etc. You don’t have to be in the UK, and emails are deleted if you’re not a winner (if you entered last week and didn’t win, you’re welcome to enter again). Please note that the email address is different from last time.

Six impossible things

SixImpossibleThingsCover.jpgSeveral recent reviews have tackled biologist Lewis Wolpert’s new book on the biology of belief Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast (ISBN 0571209203).

In his book, Wolpert tackles religious belief in some detail, joining the fray with Daniel Dennett who has recently been promoting his own book on religion Breaking the Spell (see previously).

John Gray’s review in the New Statesman is most skeptical about both Dennett and Wolpert, arguing that they’re “of interest chiefly to anxious humanists seeking to boost their sagging faith”.

The review in Time Magazine tackles the scientific arguments in more detail, as does the review in The Times, and are both more positive in their appraisal – with The Times going as far as saying it has “beautiful and sometimes breathtaking clarity”.

Link to review in the New Statesman.
Link to review in Time Magazine.
Link to review in The Times.

Anarchic hand

PsychologistOct2005Cover.gifAn article from The Psychologist has just been made available on the ‘anarchic hand syndrome’ – the brain injury-related condition where the hand performs actions against a person’s will.

One evening we took our patient, Mrs GP, to dinner with her family. We were discussing the implication of her medical condition for her and her relatives, when, out of the blue and much to her dismay, her left hand took some leftover fish-bones and put them into her mouth (Della Sala et al., 1994). A little later, while she was begging it not to embarrass her any more, her mischievous hand grabbed the ice-cream that her brother was licking. Her right hand immediately intervened to put things in place and as a result of the fighting the dessert dropped on the floor. She apologised profusely for this behaviour that she attributed to her hand’s disobedience. Indeed she claimed that her hand had a mind of its own and often did whatever ‘pleased it’. This condition is known as anarchic hand: people experience a conflict between their declared will and the action of one of their hands.

The article is by neurologist Sergio Della Sala who has been researching anarchic hand syndrome for many years.

It discusses the possible causes of the condition, and what these disruptions to human ‘free will’ tell us about how the brain generates the conscious control of actions.

Link to article.

Week 3, book draw winners

Hello folks, it’s time to pick out the 2 winners for this week’s Mind Performance Hacks free book draw (I’ll do it the same way as a couple of weeks ago)… Congratulations to Mark Atwood and Monique Milgrom! Well done, and I’ll email you soon to get your postal addresses. Everyone else, bad luck but don’t worry–we’re kicking off the last of our draws tomorrow. Look out for it!

Would like to meet…

MarilynMonroe.jpgAdmittedly, it’s a fairly transparent marketing ploy for the BBC Doctor Who magazine, but the top five people in a poll to determine a historical person readers would most like to meet include four people who would likely be diagnosed with mental illness.

The top five are Winston Churchill, Elvis Presley, Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe and Martin Luther King.

It is likely that only Martin Luther King would be without a diagnosis. Churchill, Presley and Monroe all had significant periods of mental distress and Einstein reputedly had Asperger syndrome – although whether ‘illness’ is the best word to describe his unique way of looking at the world is another matter.

All great and fascinating people. Sadly, however, two of the four (Presley and Monroe) died in tragic circumstances.

Hopefully, both a wider recognition that mental distress and giftedness can go hand in hand, and continuing developments in mental health care will mean fewer great lives (whether famous or not!) will end in tragedy.

Link to ‘Churchill tops time travel list’ from BBC News.

Deep brain stimulation for depression

dbs_diagram.jpgThere’s a piece in The Guardian discussing recent investigations into treating severe depression using deep brain stimulation – a technique that uses a permanently implanted electrode to stimulate a specific brain area.

This technique has been used to successfully treat some of the movement symptoms in Parkinson’s disease and is now being researched to see if it can be applied more widely.

Preliminary research by neuroscientists in Canada and the Netherlands has already suggested that the treatment could prove effective. Last year, Helen Mayberg, a neurologist at Emory University’s school of medicine in Atlanta, published the results of a decade of research which pinpointed a 2.5cm-wide part of the brain called the subgenual cingulate region (SCR) as playing a major role in dealing with affective information. The SCR is the lowest part of a deep band of tissue running along the central part of the brain. Dr Mayberg had noticed that this region was overactive in depressed people and that its activity correlated with their changing symptoms. When they were treated with antidepressant drugs, the activity went down.

Link to article from The Guardian
Link to Wikipedia article on DBS.
Link to previous post on Mind Hacks on ‘Modern-day psychosurgery’.