Discussions Regarding the World of Psychology (www.lapsych.com)

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probioticsWe all know that probiotics are great for our digestive health, but a new study has found that they may be doing more good than we thought! As reported in Science Daily, a study recently published in the journal, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, determined that taking probiotics every day for four weeks can significantly alter ones mood and thinking to be more positive and less focused on negative feelings and worries. The study consisted of 40 participants, of which 20 were given a placebo powder and 20 were given multi-species probiotics to take on a daily basis. The probiotic group demonstrated a significantly reduced incidence of ruminative thoughts involving their mood, as demonstrated by the completion of a questionnaire assessing their sensitivity to depression both at the beginning and at the end of the study. Although the group who took the placebo powder did not demonstrate a shift in their thought pattern/mood, the group who took the probiotics demonstrated a reduced level of negative thinking. This study can have huge implications in the field of mental health.

First and foremost, probiotics are known for being great for your health. However, if they come with the added benefit of improving your mood and thought pattern, then I see this as a win-win! During a consultation that I had with licensed acupuncturist, Kristine Parikian, I learned that the health of one’s gut is very important in the general health of one’s body. When the gut is balanced with healthy bacteria, it naturally improves the body’s immunity to various ailments. Knowing this, it makes perfect sense that the balance probiotics provide in the body would translate to improved mental health as well. When all parts of the body are functioning as intended and are well geared to fight the daily germs/viruses that exist, the brain is also able to function at it’s best and is not stressed with the need to manage pain and illness. This, in turn, leads to greater mental clarity and improved mood.

My hope for the implication of this study is that it will encourage clinicians and doctors to explore one additional avenue of treatment for patients who enter their office with mild symptoms of mood disorders. Probiotics may not be the solution for all cases of mood disorders, but they’re a good place to start. For individuals with major depression or other significant diagnoses, this option is not likely to be enough, but individual therapy along with medication management is the most validated approach. However, for the majority of people who are struggling with daily stress and feel like it’s hard to keep mental balance in light of all this stress, it may be worth giving probiotics a try!

Dr. Sheyda Melkonian


ImageAs students head back to school for the new academic year, there are naturally a new set of social changes and shifts in status that take place. Some kids/adolescents may attempt to highlight a different aspect of their personality during the new school year and change the label which may have been placed on them. Unfortunately, some of these individuals will choose the bullying route to achieve their personal goals: they will choose to take the route of belittling and tormenting others as a means of elevating this own status. In other words, they will bully others to elevate their own position in their social circle. This is a time when adults need to be hyper-vigilant and attuned to the experience of possible victims of bullying.

Some signs to watch for may be a change in the individual’s overall mood. Be aware of whether your child is suddenly more quiet, more angry, more irritable, etc. Also, pay attention to any physical changes that may be taking place such as wearing different types of clothing (i.e. covering up, dressing provocative, etc.). Another change that may need to be addressed is a sudden increase in the use of accessories such as stacking bracelets: this may be an attempt to cover up proof of self-harm.  Try to be aware of whether your child is quickly gaining or losing weight because this is usually a sign of some type of emotional turmoil. In addition, a change in your child’s usual routine may be an indicator that possible negative social changes may be taking places for him/her (i.e. she used to talk on the phone with her best friend for hours but suddenly has nobody to talk to). It is also important to take notice of any changes in your child’s use of social media and the internet. Is your child who used to be on the internet constantly, suddenly avoiding it?  Or vice versa?

It is important to note that neither one of these behavioral changes individually mean your child is being bullied but instead, it is usually any combination of these changes that should alert your sense of awareness as a parent. The underlying theme in all these possible signs of cyber-bullying is CHANGE in behavior. The most critical thing that a parent can do for his/her child who is being bullied is to first, notice the changes in your child’s behavior and the possible signs that your child may be in a state of depression, and second, to help them advocate for themselves or if need be, to step in and advocate on their behalf. The best thing that you can do for a child who is being cyber-bullied is to notice and to show that you care.

If you determine that your child is being bullied in any way, it is recommended that you add a psychologist to your team in helping your child process and make sense of the feelings and experiences that he/she has endured.

Dr. Sheyda Melkonian

ImageAlthough many women have certain plans regarding when and after which achievements they would like to establish a family, some are unfortunately faced with the realization that just because they are now ready to conceive, that doesn’t mean that their body will follow suit. Difficulty conceiving and/or having a viable pregnancy can be an extremely stressful experience for many women and couples. A new study published in the journal of Human Reproduction focuses on this issue by studying the various stress points that challenge women as they struggle to become pregnant.

The study examined 445 women, between ages 18 and 44 years, who were experiencing difficulties in conceiving. One third of these women stated that they felt some level of worry from the moment that they started trying to become pregnant. In addition, nearly half on this group reported that they felt ashamed and that they were a failure as a woman. Infertility often has many psychological side-effects on women including depression, anxiety, anger, and low self-esteem. These feelings are extremely difficult for a woman to process, especially if she tries to keep them to herself and does not have a strong support system. In these circumstances, it is imperative that she work with a psychologist on a regular basis to process the feelings associated to infertility and to better her coping mechanism to get through this difficult time in the best possible way.

In addition, it is important to note that dealing with infertility can be extremely taxing on the relationship between husband and wife. Many times, the individual who is the primary source of the difficulties feels that they are at fault and the other individual may not know the best way to show support. In addition, they may have different perspectives regarding the lengths that they are willing to go through to become pregnant and may not know how to address this issue with one another. It is very important for a couple going through this difficult time to communicate honestly and sensitively with one another. For many, couples therapy is an ideal way of doing this because they feel safe and comfortable knowing that they are in the presence of an unbiased individual who can facilitate the conversation. The decision of whether to begin fertility treatment can be very difficult one, but this study found that when women began fertility treatment, the majority (63%) reported feeling that they got closer to their partner and that their partner was supportive throughout the process.

As with any stressful time in one’s life, it is extremely important to acknowledge and express the feelings that the experience has caused for the woman and for the couple. Stresses such as infertility can be difficult and detrimental to an individual and a marriage if they are not addressed correctly; however, if one chooses to get help from a psychologist regarding their emotional struggles, they can use this difficult time in their life to become a stronger individual and a healthier couple.

-Dr. Sheyda Melkonian

I read about a study today that peaked my interest.  Professor Brashears from Cornell University recently conducted a study in which he discovered that Americans today have 1/3 fewer true friends or confidants as was the norm 25 years ago.  Studies done about 25 years ago noted that Americans, on average, had 3 friends that they would trust to turn to in times of emotional difficulty.  The study that he conducted recently has found that number has currently dropped to 2 friends.  In a world of social media and the ease of staying connected, one would think that we would all be closer to one another, but this does not appear to be the case.

Let’s look at reasons that this finding may be true.  First off, although it is nice to stay in touch with people on Facebook, the truth of the matter is that the majority of our Facebook friends would have been completely disconnected from us had social media not been an option.  Therefore, I wouldn’t really call them friends… they’re acquaintances if anything.  Therefore, the fact that someone may have 100+ Facebook friends does not have any connection to their true friendships.  On the other hand, I believe that the option of using social media such as Facebook makes us lazier in out true friendships.  Truth be told, it’s just so much easier to FB message someone or text them with what you actuallywant to say as opposed to picking up the phone to call them and having a drawn out conversation before getting to the point of why you were calling in the first place.

I’m conflicted about whether I like to have the ease of social media at my fingertips.  As much as we feel too tired to call a friend and talk about how we are doing and how they are doing, that conversation serves a strong purpose in maintaining and growing that relationship.  First off, it allows you to catch up regarding the details of one another’s lives.  Second, it helps preserve your sense of empathy because you can actually talk about how the other person is doing and not just focus on getting your needs met at that given moment.  Finally, it creates new opportunities to connect over topics that would have not come up over text messaging. 

However, another reason  we may have less real friends as a society may be due to the fact that we are more stressed out as a society.  Financial stress, longer work hours, more responsibilities at an early age, etc are all contributing factors to our need to focus on ourselves and slowly drift away from our friends.   These factors cause the majority of us to isolate and try to figure it out on our own, but as a result, we end up drifting away from the very people who may have been able to help us through those difficult times.  The lonelier we feel, the higher our rates of depression.  Therefore, it is important to share not only our good and happy moments with our friends, but to trust them in also sharing our difficult times with them.  Once this can be done, that is when that person can truly be call a ‘friend’.

If you know anyone who appears to be isolating and shutting down in sharing their emotions and experiences with you, try to have that conversation with them and be there for them.  If you feel that it is becoming a real problem, it may be helpful to encourage them to talk to a psychologist about the possibility and treatment of depression.

In conclusion, social media serves a great purpose in giving us the opportunity to stay connected with the extended people in our social circle.  However, it becomes dangerous when it is used as the primary means of communication with those that we actually love and trust.  In the end, if you genuinely care about someone, pick up the phone and call them.  Otherwise, in the long run, you may not have as much to talk about as you do now…

Dr. Sheyda Melkonian

Our kids are our first priority in life… we put their health and their happiness over our own in the hope that they will go further in life than we did and be able to turn their dreams (as well as our dreams for them…) into reality.  Whatever problems they have… we are ready to fix…. If they’re sick, we take them to the pediatrician, if they’re having trouble seeing, we take them to the optometrist, if they have a tooth-ache, we take them to the dentist… so if they are having trouble in school, why is it that we hesitate before going to a professional for help?

 Learning disabilities (LD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are neurological disorders which have significantly more successful outcomes if identified and addressed early in life.  LD and ADHD commonly occur together in children (30-50% of the time) and are primarily due to differences in the way a person’s brain is ‘wired’.  Children with these disabilities are equally smart or even smarter than their peers but have specific difficulties.  These difficulties may be in academic areas such as reading, writing, & math, or they may be in executive functioning skills (i.e. their ability to follow directions, manage & organize their time, impulsivity, etc), or in both.  In a real life scenario, this might be a child who is good at math and hands-on tasks, but has difficulty paying attention when required to read an assignment and answer questions and has to be reminded several times before getting started on tasks.  In most cases, parents get frustrated with these children because they have the ability and intelligence to succeed across certain domains, but in other areas, it appears as though they are not trying.  The truth, however, is that if a student has a Learning Disability or ADHD, they may be trying harder than all their peers to succeed, but that their biological make-up is preventing them from ever being able to excel in their area of weakness without the use of direct intervention. 

 LD and ADHD have social consequences in addition to the academic ones.  Many students who have difficulty staying focused in class, paying attention to the teacher, or understanding the material being presented turn to dysfunctional means of compensating for the low self-confidence their deficits have created in them.  Research has found that boys tend to divert attention off their disability by drawing attention to something they have control over… their behavior.  They tend to become the class clown and act out in classes as a means of masking the low self-confidence and getting their peers and teachers to think that they are purposely trying not to do well.  In girls, the low self-confidence tends to cause them to isolate and internalize their feelings.  As a result, they become quiet, shy, and unwilling to discuss their feelings which can lead to depression in the long-run.  As they grow up, these negative coping skills can lead both males and females with LD and ADHD into self-destructive patterns of drug use, violence, and oppositional behavior.

 There are many learning strategies and interventions which can be used to help students with LD and ADHD to function better both academically and in society.  However, the first step in getting help for your child is to have them undergo a psycho-educational evaluation to identify their strengths, weaknesses, and to diagnose the disability if necessary.  This can be done by a psychologist who will create a report with recommendations of what steps should be taken to help your child to succeed.  Some of these steps will likely be referrals to educational therapists and community resources to help rehabilitate the student in their area of weakness.  Behavioral tools can also be employed to better control impulsive behavior, etc. 

 In the end, it is important to understand that although it is difficult to accept that our children might have difficulties with learning and functioning in the academic environment, it does not always mean that they are deliberately behaving that way.  Once parents can accept this notion, it takes a load off both their shoulders as well as their child’s and opens the door to a path of various options and interventions to help them succeed.  Once Learning Disabilities and ADHD are identified for children, it not only validates their feelings but it can also give them hope in their ability to achieve in school and break the label of being the ‘bad student’ for the rest of their educational endeavors.  As for parents, it can once again give them hope in the future achievements of their children. 

Dr. Sheyda Melkonian

I recently read an article that will probably make most women say, ‘I KNEW IT!!!”.  In a recent study at USC, it was found that during times of acute stress, men’s brains demonstrate less activity in the region which is designated for the understanding and interpretation of other people’s feelings.   To read more about this article in detail, you can click on the following link:   http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/09/29/men-respond-to-stress-by-shutting-down/18890.html.

I am experiencing mixed feelings about this study.  A part of me is excited that this study actually validates the experience of most women when they report that their significant other does not seem to pick up on their facial cues.  It proves the fact that the female notion that sometimes, men just don’t get it, is actually true and not just in our heads.  It might also help women to be more sensitive to men’s lack of empathy toward the emotions displayed by our facial gestures.  This way, women may not take it personally that he didn’t notice that you were on the verge of crying.  Instead, we may be apt to tell them how we feel as opposed to hoping that they will notice it based on our non-verbal cues. 

On the other hand, I feel like the validation of this type of study may backfire and give men an excuse to be ‘unaware’ of certain things that they are actually capable of noticing.  This can easily turn into many scenarios of “But babe, it’s not that I don’t care to notice, but it’s just that my brain works differently than yours…”.  For this reason, it is important to keep in  mind that this study was done in situations where men were experiencing acute stress.  This does not necessarily justify every scenario in which a man may not notice that his girlfriend/wife is upset.  However, it is important to keep in the back of your mind that he might not intentionally be oblivious to your feelings…  he may have actually not noticed. 

The last part of this study that was interesting is that when women are in a state of acute stress, the area of the brain that is devoted to the recognition and interpretation of other people’s feelings was overactive.  This means that when women are overly stressed out, we are more sensitive to others’ facial and non-verbal cues than in times of normal stress.  This also explains why we are more irritable during times of extreme stress.   We may actually be over-interpreting and over-analysing what people’s actions and gestures indicate. 

It seems that men and women would communicate better if we tell one another how we are feeling as opposed to assuming that the other person should know based on how we are acting.  Lack of healthy communication can lead to an array of psychological disabilities, some of which are depression and anxiety ( http://www.lapsych.com/families-dev-disabilities.asp).  That way, there is no lack of interpretation on the part of men and no over-interpretation on the part of women.  The take away message of this post…. Let’s all cut each other some slack and tell each other when we are feeling upset.  The less you bottle up, the less the damage when you explode…

–  Dr. Sheyda Melkonian

We have all heard the term Postpartum Depression used here and there, but do we really know how common it is?  A new study that will be published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine in November found that 30 percent of mothers and 20 percent of fathers experienced depression after childbirth, with most occurring during the first year of their child’s life.  To read more about the above referenced article, please click the following link…   http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/09/08/parental-depression-after-childbirth/17822.html

This article/topic is interesting to me for a number of reasons.  For one thing, it points out just how COMMON feelings of depression can be after childbirth.  In addition, it brings up the point that fathers may be going through their own experience of depression during this transitional time in their life.   And finally, it opens a discussion as to the universal nature of these feelings since this study was conducted in the UK and their statistics are very similar to ours here in the US. 

Although many of us women want to pretend we are superheroes and that nothing can phase us, the truth of the matter is that childbirth is literally a life changing experience.  As grateful and happy that we are to have been given the opportunity to experience such a miracle, it can take a strong toll on us emotionally.  Although the hormonal changes have a big effect on these feelings, some of it is due to a certain realization that hits after the birth of a child… That moment in which for the first time you realize… ‘My life is never going to be the same again… I will never again be free to plan my day as I please… I will never again be able to let go of that guilty feeling when I leave my child with someone else… I will always be responsible for this new person that I created…’  For some women, these feelings can come and go where you still are able to function, but for others, it is more difficult to let go of these feelings.  It may push you away from your partner, you might isolate yourself from your friends because you feel like nobody can possibly understand how you feel, or you might even have feelings of hurting yourself or your baby.  This is when an individual would be considered to be clinically depressed and it is necessary to seek help from a psychologist.    You can read more about clinical depression at http://www.lapsych.com/families-dev-disabilities.asp

Another important topic which does not get enough attention is the father’s emotional journey during this transitional time.  For many fathers, this is also a time to reflect on how they are going to support and raise their baby in the years to come.  They question their abilities, their readiness, and the level of commitment that being a parent entails.  They also need to feel validated during this process.   The best possible solution is for a husband and wife to communicate with each other during this critical time in their lives.  Nobody is going to understand what it feels like to be the new parents of your baby better that you guys.  Although both parties in the marriage want to appear strong for the other, it would be more beneficial to share your honest feelings about the recent changes in your life.  It would probably surprise most people to hear that their partner is going through a similar experience but may just be showing it in a different way (i.e. working more, etc…).  Once the elephant in the room is discussed, it’s not as big a deal anymore and the couple can better understand each other and the reasons for their actions.

Although I can write about this topic  forever, I want to sum up by emphasizing the fact that postpartum feelings of depression are more common than most people think and that you are Not Alone if you are experiencing such feelings.   Although for most people these feelings will eventually pass on their own, it  is very helpful to have a professional talk you through this time of change, both individually and as a couple if the situation warrants.  Sometimes, it makes a world of difference to just have a place to talk about it where the person you are talking to is not going to judge you or think that you are a horrible parent, because ultimately, this is why most of us do not share these feelings with others…

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