Women and Mental Health

May 1-7 has been Mental Health awareness week.

One in three Americans struggles with mental illness but the rate is much higher in women.  Research shows that women are 40% more likely to develop depression than men.  It is not clear why mental illness is more common among women but doctors have come up with a number of possibilities.

Discrimination, Trauma and stressful life experiences

Trauma is common among women with half of them experiencing some form of trauma in their lifetime.  One in four women have faced an attempted or a completed sexual assault.  Reportedly, one in three are abused by a domestic partner.  Gender discrimination, violence and mistreatment undermine a woman’s mental health.  Stress is a predictor of mental illness.  Women juggle housework, kids even while working fulltime.  They report that they have to work harder to get the same credit as men and worry about the gender wage gap.  They have to deal with sexual harassment and discrimination in workplaces where these are commonplace.  These challenges can significantly affect a woman’s ability to cope and her self-esteem.

Hormonal Issues

Women produce lower quantities of serotonin than men due to differences in hormone levels and this deficiency can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting

41% or women suffer from some form of postpartum depression.  Some of them are overwhelmed by the demands of parenting, especially in the early days.  I remember that there were times when I felt that I was drowning–in over my head.  Once I even cried out while I was holding my toddler.  Thankfully I had God and a very supportive partner.  It helped when he came home and I had an adult to talk to. Not all women are as blessed.  Research shows that women who don’t have supportive partners, experience traumatic births, live in poverty or a highly stressed will most likely develop postpartum depression.  

Gender bias is another problem women face.  Some research suggests that doctors tend to label women’s symptoms as emotional while taking the men’s symptoms more seriously.  So, a woman who reports that she is experiencing chronic pain to her doctor might be labeled as depressed.  This happens because we live in a world where gender discrimination exists and women are seen as more emotional and less rational.  

In many countries, the way health workers spoke to the women made it difficult for them to disclose their psychological and emotional distress.  And when they worked up the courage to disclose their problems, they were either over-treated or under treated by many of the health workers.

I read in an article in The Globe And Mail that women are getting the prescription that is available more often than the treatment they need.  They are getting medication to solve their problems even when science finds that treatments such as psychotherapy is equally or in some cases more effective without the side effects.  Bias in mental health care is a hindrance to women, preventing them from getting the proper help they need.  Not much effort goes into researching how drugs affect female patients.  While drug companies like to bombard women with their pills, most of their clinical trials have been dominated by men.  And the ironic thing is that the disorders most commonly diagnosed in women such as depression, anxiety and insomnia are the ones most likely to respond to therapy.  Most women are likely to prefer therapy over drugs.  

According to Dr. Marina Morrow, a Simon Fraser University psychologist who studies gender and mental health, “Women aren’t getting access to the range of care they need.”  She believes that an effective approach to this would be to include medication when necessary but in also offer therapy, peer support and pinpoint what social circumstances lead to the illness.

It has been argued that therapy is the safer, more effective and cheaper choice.  The authors of a 2015 study by Canadian and U.S. researchers concluded that, “There remains no sound justification to prescribe drugs without first trying therapy.  Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, scientific director of the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health, believes that “the way we fund therapies in Canada does not make sense right now.”  She wrote a letter to Quebec’s health minister to make the point that even if 20 per cent of seniors with insomnia received Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with is used to treat insomnia, the cost-savings to the system could be in the hundreds of millions, based on the potential falls that would be avoided.  Therapy saves on costly and debilitating falls and hip fractures.  

We live in a country where medication is favored over psychotherapy and women are more likely than men to be prescribed antidepressants and sedatives as seniors and as a result they are at a higher risk of suffering from adverse effects.  Hopefully more women and those in the medical profession will speak out against the bias that is prevalent in the mental health care.  Doctors and those in the health care system need to give women more choices when it comes to treatment.  It’s their health so they should have the right to determine how they want to proceed once they have been diagnosed.

depressed woman

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Alice Ball

Alice Ball was the pharmaceutical chemist who developed a medical treatment for Leprosy, giving hope to millions.  Leprosy is a dreaded disease.  It has been around since biblical times.  It is disfiguring and it filled its sufferers with hopelessness.  In the US people with Leprosy were forcibly removed from their homes and detained indefinitely in remote colonies.  Thanks to Alice’s treatment, many of them were released from the detention centres and allowed to go home to their families.

Alice was born in 1892 in Seattle, Washington to Laura and James P. Ball Jr.  She was the grand-daughter of J.P. Ball, the famous daguerreotype photographer.  Alice attended the University of Washington and graduated with two degrees in pharmaceutical chemistry in 1912 and pharmacy in 1914.  In the fall of 1914 she attended the College (later the University) of Hawaii as a graduate student in chemistry.  On June 1, 1915, she became the first African American and the first woman to graduate with a Master of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Hawaii.  She was also the first woman to teach chemistry at the institution.

Impressed with her chemistry work, US Public Health Officer, Dr. Harry Hollmann, an assistant surgeon at Kalihi Hospital in Hawaii asked Alice to help him to develop a method to isolate the active chemical compounds in chaulmoogra oil.   For centuries, Indian and Chinese health practitioners had limited success in using the oil to treat Leprosy.  The oil could be applied topically but it wouldn’t be able to penetrate deep enough into the body and as a result, people with the disease had some relief but the injections were difficult and patients described them as “burning like fire through the skin”.  Through her research, Alice found a successful treatment for those suffering from the disease.   She created the first water soluble injectable treatment, something that researchers had been unable to do.

Sadly, she didn’t live to see her treatment being used.  During her research, Alice had become ill.  When she returned to Seattle, she died at the age of 24.  The cause of her death is unknown although it is speculated that she inhaled chlorine gas during her teaching lab work.

Dr. Arthur L. Dean, the chairman of the Chemistry Department at the University of Hawaii continued the research, refining it and using it to successfully treat many patients at Kalaupapa, a special hospital for Hansen disease patients.  Dean published the findings without giving any credit to Ball, and renamed the technique the Dean Method, until Hollmann spoke out about this.  He went on record saying, “After a great amount of experimental work, Miss Ball solved the problem for me…(this preparation is known as)….the Ball Method.”

The “Ball Method” continued to be the most effective method of treatment for Leprosy until the 1940s when a cure for the disease was found.  Yet, as recent as 1999, a medical journal noted that the “Ball Method” was still being used to treat patients in remote areas.  In 2000, the University of Hawaii acknowledged Alice as one of its most distinguished graduates after researchers, notably Stanley Ali and Kathryn Takara.  They discovered in the archives the critical contribution Alice had made.   Alice was honoured with a Chaulmoogra tree planted on the campus and the Governor of Hawaii declaring February 29th Alice Ball Day.  She also received the University’s Medal of distinction.

Notes to Women is proud to celebrate and recognize Alice Ball whose research and ground-breaking scientific achievements went unnoticed by the University of Hawaii for almost a decade.  We honour this remarkable young woman who departed from the world too soon.  She left behind a legacy of hope for those who suffered from Leprosy by starting the fight against the disease and inspiring others to relentlessly hunt for more treatments until they found a cure.

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Alice Ball2

Sources:  Women Rock Science; Black Past; Wikipedia; Clutch Mag Online

Making History in Science

Notes to Women congratulate Victoria Kaspi for being the first woman to win the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal, Canada’s top Science award in its 25 year history.  This long overdue win is a reminder that gender inequality is prevalent in Canadian Academia.

Mario Pinto, President of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council who hands out the prize, acknowledged that this was a very important moment.  “It signals to girls and young women that Science is exciting and it’s possible to achieve the highest honour.”

It is unfortunate that it has taken this long for a woman to win this prestigious prize but Dr. Pinto believes that the reason for this is women account for only 14 per cent of the scientists who receive funding from the Research Council at the full professor level and only 9 per cent when the life sciences are excluded.

Dr. Kaspi was born in Austin Texas.  She spent her earliest years in the United States and Israel before the family moved to Montreal, her mother’s hometown.  Growing up, Dr. Kaspi did not have a particular interest in space or Astronomy.  She loved hockey and had an avid interest in logic and mathematical puzzles.  Her love for Science came when she was a teenager and took her first course.  She studied Physics at McGill and it was at Princeton University where she became interested in the work of Astrophysicist, Joe Taylor who would later win the Nobel Prize.  Dr. Kaspi worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before eventually returning to McGill and Montreal where she feels most at home.

Life is busy for Dr. Kaspi who is raising three children with her husband, cardiologist David Langleben which leaves her little time to do much else.  As a result, she has to work late into the night when she is better able to concentrate on her research.  It would be a tremendous weight off the shoulders of female faculty members if the universities would do more to support them so that they don’t have to choose between their professional success and family life.  When it comes to her research, Dr. Kaspi needs more flexibility. “Research is not a 9-to-5 job.  You get inspired, you have an idea, you’re dying to solve it, and within the confines of all these constraints that are imposed on you, it’s hard.”  At 48, she considers herself lucky that she was not a victim of the overt sexual harassment as a young researcher but is aware of the gender issues on campus.

We share the sentiments of Christine Wilson, a McMaster University Astronomer and President of the Canadian Astronomical Society who praised the selection of Dr. Kaspi as this year’s gold medal winner. “The fact that she is the first woman ever to receive the Herzberg Medal is the icing on the cake for me.”

Let us hope that it will not take another 25 years for another woman to achieve this honour.

 

 

Source:  The Globe and Mail

Broken Heart Syndrome

“You can die of a broken heart — it’s scientific fact — and my heart has been breaking since that very first day we met. I can feel it now, aching deep behind my rib cage the way it does every time we’re together, beating a desperate rhythm: Love me. Love me. Love me.”
Abby McDonald, Getting Over Garrett Delaney

I recently learned about broken heart syndrome when Dr. Marla Shapiro was talking about it on TV. She mentioned that it was first described in 1990 in Japan as Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy.  Takotsubo is a Japanese term for an octopus trap because of the ballooning shape of the heart during an attack. What is broken heart syndrome?  It is a temporary heart condition caused by an extremely stressful event.  It is a recently recognized heart problem and it can strike you even if you are healthy.

People with broken heart syndrome think that they are having a heart attack when they have a sudden chest pain.  In broken heart syndrome, there is a temporary disruption of the heart’s normal pumping function while the rest of the heart functions normally or with more forceful contractions.

There may be shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats (Arrhythmias) or cardiogenic shock can occur. Cardiogenic shock occurs when a suddenly weakened heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.  This can be fatal it it is not treated right away.  In fact, Cardiogenic shock is the most common cause of death among people who die from heart attacks.  Any time you experience chest pain, you should call 911 and get emergency medical care.  All chest pain should be checked by a doctor.

Women are more likely than men to have broken heart syndrome.  It can be brought on by the death of a loved one, divorce, a break-up, physical separation, betrayal or romantic rejection, a frightening medical diagnosis, domestic abuse, natural disasters, job loss, asthma attack, car accident or major surgery.  It can even occur after a good shock such as winning the lottery.  It is more commonly seen among post-menopausal women. Research is ongoing to find out what causes this disorder and how to diagnose and treat it.

As mentioned before the most common symptoms of broken heart syndrome are chest pain, shortness of breath and very rapid or irregular heartbeat.  WebMD mentions two other symptoms, arm pain and sweating.  It is usually treatable.  Most people who experience it have a full recovery within weeks and and the risk of it happening again is low although in some rare cases it can be fatal.  The only way you can be certain if you have broken heart syndrome is for you to have some tests.  These tests used include the following:

  • Medical history and physical exam
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Chest x-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • Blood tests
  • Coronary angiogram

If you have any questions about Broken Heart syndrome, please visit Seconds Count and download their PDF file.

A broken heart is a real condition.   In 2010 the Wall Street Journal wrote an article of a 63 year old woman named Dorothy Lee who lost her husband on night when they were driving home from a Bible Study group.  He had suffered from a heart attack.  At the hospital after she learned of his death, Dorothy began to experience sudden sharp pains in her chest, felt faint and went unconscious.  An X-ray angiogram revealed that she hadn’t suffered a heart attack.  There was no blood clot and her coronary arteries were completely clear. Dorothy had suffered from broken heart syndrome.  It was triggered by the sudden loss of her husband of 40 years.  She was literally heartbroken.  Thankfully, she was at the hospital when she had her symptoms and she didn’t die although the episode severely weakened her heart.  She required a special balloon pump to support her left ventricle during the first couple of days in the hospital.  Five days later she was discharged.  Despite being cautioned by doctors, she attended her husband’s funeral. She was able work through her grief positively and spiritually.   To date she has had no effects of the heart episode.

It is extremely important that if you or someone else experience any chest pain that you don’t ignore it or feel embarrassed to call for help.  At the first sign of symptoms, get help. This can save your life or someone else’s life and limit the damage to the heart.

A broken heart is not just something out of a romance novel.  It is a reality.

 

 

broken heart syndrome

 

Sources:  American Heart Association; Mayo Clinic; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; Wikipedia; Women Heart; WebMD; Uptodate

Barbra Streisand’s Women’s Health Center

Just recently when I watched Barbra Streisand on the Dr. Oz Show, I found out that she has a Women’s Heart Center and that she is an advocate for women’s heart health.

For women struggling with heart disease, the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute is leading the way in next-generation care. Our groundbreaking research and education have one goal: to wipe out the No. 1 killer of women.

Check out these two videos about the #1 killer of women.

Barbra’s interview with Dr. Oz got me seriously thinking about my heart and what I could do reduce my risk of heart disease. To find out more about how you can protect your heart and what is being done in the fight against this lady killer, visit: http://giving.cedars-sinai.edu/barbra-streisand-womens-heart-center  

We can no longer afford the misconception that heart disease is mostly a man’s problem. The need for more research into women’s heart disease is urgent.”Barbra Streisand

Take your heart’s health seriously.  The more you know the better your chances are.  It’s time to fight back.

Eleanor Gehrig

Just recently I watched the movie, Pride of the Yankees and was touched by the wonderful love story of baseball great Lou Gehrig and his wife Eleanor.

Lou and his wife were married for nine years.  They met in Chicago.  Eleanor was from a well to do family,  She met Lou in Comiskey Park and married him after a long-distance courtship.  They lived in New Rochelle and then later in Riverdale.  They travelled a lot but their life was centred on Yankee Stadium where Lou teamed with Babe Ruth, Lefty Gomez, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Dickey and later Joe DiMaggio.

The Gehrigs’ lives were turned upside down when Lou was forced to retire in 1939 with the disease that later came to be known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease”.  I remember the scene in the movie when Lou was in the locker room, untying his shoe laces and he toppled right over.  Eleanor Gehrig later said that she never told her husband that he was suffering from a fatal illness.  In the movie, he knew that it was fatal but he tried to hide the truth from his wife.

Eleanor cheered him up at home with gatherings, parties and impromptu performances. He died two years later at the young age of 37.  Eleanor said that she never intended to play the role of a professional widow to a celebrity although for years, she and Mrs. Ruth were greeted as “the great ladies” of the Yankees.

In the movie, Pride of the Yankees, I saw the love that these two people shared for each other just jump off the screen.  It was heartbreaking to see their happiness ripped away by a disease that claimed his life at such a young age.  My favourite scene was when Lou gave Eleanor a bracelet, which was among the items, Mrs. Gehrig had lent to be used in the film, to add realism.  And I liked how she kept a gigantic scrapbook of Lou.
Gehrig_wife_Eleanor

I felt that Gary Cooper was the perfect choice to play Lou Gehrig and it seemed like Eleanor felt the same.  Of Cooper, she remarked, “Gary studied every picture of Lou’s.  He had every one of his mannerisms down to a science and he is so like my husband in the picture that there were times when I felt I couldn’t bear it.”

Eleanor felt that Teresa Wright was too young to play her. Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Arthur or another actress with more experience would have been preferable.  Eleanor later said, “But now I know that no one could do better, or even as well as little Teresa. Of course she’s prettier and younger but then no woman could object to that, could they?”  Of course, the movie was a success and grossed over $3 million and was one of the top ten films of 1942.  It earned eleven Oscar nominations, including ones for Gary Cooper’s and Teresa Wright’s performances.

Eleanor sold war bonds during World War II, raising over $6 million by auctioning off Lou’s memorabilia.  She joined the local Red Cross, chauffeuring the disabled for which she received Presidential recognition.  She worked for the All American Football Conference as a secretary-treasurer and then was promoted to Vice President after she resigned due to the fact that she couldn’t even balance her own bank account.

Eleanor’s greatest achievement was her tireless efforts to promote ALS research.  She partnered with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, testifying before Congress to fund research in various debilitating paralytic diseases.  She eventually will most of her estate to the cause.

Sadly, Eleanor’s relationship with her in-laws never improved.  In the past, she never felt comfortable in their home.  They would converse in German which she didn’t understand.  And as portrayed in the movie, Lou’s mother, Christina was frequently clashing with Eleanor.   The elder Mrs. Gehrig’s relationship with her son was a bit overbearing, smothering.  She was one of those mothers who wouldn’t have approved of any woman her son showed an interest in.  Not surprisingly, she had broken up his previous relationships.  I remember in the movie, how she reacted when Lou first brought Eleanor home. Eleanor quickly picked up on her coldness toward her.  I resented her interference in their lives.  She tried to impose her decorating tastes on Eleanor, even going as far as putting up her own wall paper and moving in a chest of drawers much like the one Lou had in his old room.  Lou had to step in and make it clear to his mother that Eleanor was the mistress of their home, not her.

The Gehrigs never had children.  Eleanor may have had trouble conceiving.  They considered adoption but according to Lou, his mother, “wouldn’t have any of that. She said she didn’t want a grandson if it wasn’t a Gehrig.”

After Lou died, the relationship was forever marred when there was a dispute over the division of Lou’s estate.  He had left his entire assets to his wife but he bequeathed the interest he got from stock investments and monthly payments from a $20,000 life insurance to his parents. His parents believed that Eleanor was withholding these payments from them and they sued her.  The matter was privately settled but the discord between the two parties was never resolved.

Eleanor died on her eightieth birthday, leaving no survivors behind.  Surprisingly, the turnout to her funeral was not as large as the few mourners gathered expected.  Her body was cremated according to her wishes and her ashes placed with her husbands. According to George Steinbrenner, chief owner of the Yankees, Eleanor Gehrig was, “a great woman, and the Yankees have lost a dear friend.”

Notes to Women remembers this remarkable woman who loved her husband and stood by him and was a advocate for ALS, raising awareness and pushing for the funding of research.

I had the best of it.  I would not have traded two minutes of my life with that man for 40 years with another.

Sources:  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0311798/bio; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lou_Gehrig; http://www.nytimes.com/1984/03/08/obituaries/eleanor-gehrig-79-widow-of-yankee-hall-of-fame-star.html

Pregnant Women And Jogging

This evening I was watching a news story about pregnant women and jogging and was surprised to learn that one of the women featured was nine months pregnant.  I couldn’t imagine jogging so close to having a baby.  At nine months I was waddling and anxious to give birth.  The woman on TV looked fantastic.  She was in great shape.  This was her ninth pregnancy.  Another woman received nasty comments because of a picture of her jogging while pregnant.  She was called “selfish” and one person went as far as saying that child services should be called.

Is it safe for to run during pregnancy?   I read on the Baby Centre website that it depends. If you ran regularly before getting pregnant, it’s fine to continue — as long as you take some precautions and first check with your doctor or midwife.

But pregnancy isn’t the time to start a running routine, according to Julie Tupler, a registered nurse, certified personal trainer, and founder of Maternal Fitness, a fitness program for pregnant women and new moms in New York City.

Pregnancy’s also not the time to start training for a marathon, a triathlon, or any other race, cautions Tupler. “The first trimester is when the baby’s major organs are forming, and overheating’s a real issue. If a woman’s core temperature gets too high, it could cause problems with the baby, so why risk it? Instead, train for the marathon of labor by strengthening your abdominals and pelvic floor muscles,” she says.

Whether you’re pregnant or not, running can be hard on your knees. During pregnancy, your joints loosen, which makes you more prone to injury. So unless you’re an avid runner, you should probably steer clear of this form of workout at least until after your baby arrives. For now, focus on exercises that are safe for pregnancy.

What are the benefits of running during pregnancy?

According to Zara Watt, who specialises in training for pre- and postnatal fitness, “Research and statistics show that women who exercise during pregnancy avoid unnecessary health risks to themselves and their unborn babies, and experience less labour pain because exercise has strengthened their muscles. They also have lower fat content and, more importantly, achieve a faster recovery following the birth of their baby. I’ve worked with pregnant women who also believe that regular exercise during pregnancy helped them with muscular tension, aches and pains, posture and circulation.”

On the Baby Centre website, the benefits of running during pregnancy are:

– It is a quick and effective way to work your heart and body, giving you a mental and physical boost when you feel tired.

– It’s easy to fit into your schedule.

They offer the following tips for each trimester:

First trimester tips

Follow the usual precautions, such as drinking lots of water before, during, and after your run. Dehydration can decrease blood flow to the uterus and may even cause premature contractions.

Wear shoes that give your feet plenty of support, especially around the ankles and arches. Invest in a good sports bra to keep your growing breasts well supported.

Second trimester tips

Your center of gravity’s shifting as your belly grows, leaving you more vulnerable to slips and falls. For safety, stick to running on flat pavement.

If you lose your balance, do your best to fall correctly, says Tupler: Try to fall to your side or on your behind, to avoid trauma to the abdomen. Or put your hands out to break your fall before your abdomen hits the ground.

Consider running on a track as your pregnancy progresses. Not only is the track surface easier on your joints, but you may feel safer running somewhere where you won’t get stranded in case of an emergency.

Third trimester tips

Be as careful as you’ve been during the first two trimesters. And remember: If you feel too tired to go for a run, listen to your body and take a break. Being sedentary is unhealthy, but pushing yourself too hard is also harmful.

Most avid runners find that their jogging pace slows down considerably during the third trimester — a fast walk may be a better choice as your due date approaches.

Warning signs

Never run to the point of exhaustion or breathlessness. Pushing yourself to the limit forces your body to use up oxygen that should be going to your baby.

Stop running or jogging immediately and call your doctor or midwife if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • vaginal bleeding
  • difficulty breathing, especially when resting
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • chest pain
  • muscle weakness
  • calf pain or swelling
  • preterm labor (contractions)
  • decreased fetal movement
  • fluid leaking from your vagina

In the news story, a medical doctor warned that if you are panting too hard, that means that the baby is not getting enough oxygen.  I suggest that you check with your doctor before jogging or doing any kind of activity.   If you don’t think it’s a good idea to jog during pregnancy, that’s fine but don’t judge a woman who decides that it’s something she wants to do.  It doesn’t make her selfish or unfit to be a mother.  She is trying to stay in shape and would never knowingly endanger her unborn child.

If you are interested in learning more about jogging during pregnancy, check out this site for guidelines.