Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mental health experts help volunteers in Haiti

Mental health experts help volunteers in Haiti

However, relief agency workers can suffer the same psychological trauma as the people they are helping. And they often ignore these feelings in the face of the work at hand.(CNN) -- For people in the business of coming to the rescue, it's easy to lose sight of their own mental health as they work around the clock to help those desperately in need. The intensity of being dispatched to a mass emergency can cause volunteers to develop problems that include sleep disorders, social withdrawal, substance abuse, anxiety and difficulty trusting people. They may try to lose themselves in their work, even if that work is what's stressing them. Aid organizations in Haiti know about this phenomenon, called vicarious trauma, and they're preparing for it. After the first week on the ground, volunteers for CARE are showing signs of the trauma, said Wills Moore, director of human resources business partnerships for CARE. He has been getting reports from people who are either really unemotional or really emotional all the time, which could be signs of vicarious trauma.

"People might either shut down emotionally or get very sensitive emotionally and cry at the drop of a hat," said Laurie Anne Pearlman, former president of the Trauma Research, Education, and Training Institute Inc. and author of several books about vicarious trauma. "The hallmark of both direct and indirect or vicarious trauma is disrupted spirituality, a loss of meaning or hope."
Many people on the staff at CARE are going through trauma, and some have lost relatives, said Rigo Giron, associate vice president for strategic initiatives at CARE.
"It's a hard place for them because they are committed to provide relief, but at the same time they need to recover from the trauma they face. They're very stressed," he said. "They're very traumatized. It's hard for them to overcome that."
Mental health specialists with the American Red Cross are primarily in Haiti to work with earthquake victims, but are also looking out for fellow volunteers, said Jonathan Aiken, spokesman for the Red Cross.
The University of Miami's Project Medishare also is coordinating the travel of mental health professionals to Haiti beginning next week to help quake victims, but also to assist other aid workers if needed, a representative said.
Disaster and emergency workers often get an adrenaline rush that powers them to work without rest. That, combined with a strict ethic of working as much as possible, is "a recipe for trouble" for both the helpers and the people they're serving, Pearlman said.
"After we're overworked for a certain amount of time, as we all know, our brains don't work as well, and we're not making such good judgments, we're not making such good decisions, and then pretty soon you're on the list of people who need to be taken care of, rather than the list of people who can help," she said.
It helps to have people encouraging volunteers to take breaks now and then, although it's also hard for the workers amid the disaster relief to heed that message, she said.
This is the kind of advice that Moore said he received before his departure for Haiti on Wednesday. A staff psychologist told him to try to make himself take breaks while doing earthquake relief -- for instance, exercising, reading or otherwise getting away from the situation briefly. Journaling and communicating with family and friends are also "good, almost cathartic ways" of coping, Moore said.
Aid workers and volunteers who have psychiatric histories, major life stresses or traumas of their own are more vulnerable to trauma in Haiti, and may need more help, Pearlman said. A personal trauma history in itself is not a bad thing -- and people in the trauma field are more likely to have one -- but it's a problem when they haven't worked through it, she said.
There are ways relief agencies can help: If an organization has policies restricting the number of hours before a break, or before leaving the disaster site altogether, that can help, she said.
"It's hard to say, 'Well, look, everybody, I see that you folks don't have food or water, but I need to go rest for a few hours,' " she said. "But it's very important to do it."

Nigerians in Diaspora, brain-power for development, says Maduekwe

Chief Ojo Maduekwe, minister of foreign affairs has said that Nigerians living abrode would become the brain-power for rapid and social transformation in the 21st century.
Maduekwe made the statement at the Diaspora Celebration Day in London on Wednesday.
He said that since the restoration of democracy in Nigeria, the challenges before successive governments had been how to effectively leverage the skills, expertise and huge potential of Nigerians.
``In doing this, however, we must not seek to diminish their continued contributions to growth and development of their host countries.
``Among the Nigerian Diaspora are highly qualified doctors, engineers, solicitors, advocates and sundry professionals.
``They are making tremendous contribution to the economic and social development of the United Kingdom, statistics do tell the story,’’ he said.
Maduekwe noted that often times, host countries had unfairly treated Nigerians in spite, of tremendous boost to the economic and social development in those countries.
``In as much as Nigerians abroad make great contributions to host countries, they can make even greater contribution to their home country.
``Already the contribution of Nigerians to the investment funds through strategic remittance is well acknowledged by the government and the World Bank.
``In 2007, Nigerians abrode contributed about $251 billion to developing economies worldwide.
``Also the Managing director Of the World Bank, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has estimated that Nigerians can add about N40 billion dollars to the Nigerian economy through remittances,’’ he said.
Maduekwe noted that those who were migrating to foreign countries were those who had the incentives and ability to challenge the institutional deterioration in their countries of domicile.
``Remittance alone cannot compensate for your absence from Nigeria; we need to engage your intelligence and political energy to build a better country.
``Given your share numbers there is obvious need to be engaging in the democratic process, including voting.
``I believe we can do a lot more to tap into the immense resources of Nigerians, especially your talented and skilled Diaspora in the United Kingdom.
``For this to be effective however, we need to redesign and fine tune the structure of this engagement back at home and determine how strategic partners and friends such as the United kingdom can assist in making this possible,’’he added. 

Ideology and the Human Brain

Upon reading this BBC report...
US researchers found they could predict how well an amateur player might perform on a game by measuring the volume of key sections of the brain.

Writing in the journal Cerebral Cortex, they suggest their findings could have wider implications for understanding the differences in learning rates.
There is broad acceptance of a link between brain size and intelligence.

...Upon reading this report, I thought of Boskop Man. Who can such a person be? To begin with, he is extinct—he no longer walks the earth. But he once did, and today his remains are either controversial or obscure. Everyone knows about Mr. Neanderthal; few know of this Mr. Boskop. Why? One, Boskop came from black Africa; two, he had an unusually huge brain; and three, the first two (black Africa/big brain) are not supposed to go together.

It's easy for humans to deal with hominids (Neanderthals and others along those lines) that had smaller brains than us, but it is difficult to accept the fact that the world has seen hominids—particular African hominids—who had more brains than we do. From Big Brain, a book by Gary Lynch and Richard Granger:
In the autumn of 1913, two farmers were arguing about hominid skull fragments they had uncovered while digging a drainage ditch. The location was Boskop, a small town about 200 miles inland from the east coast of South Africa.

These Afrikaner farmers, to their lasting credit, had the presence of mind to notice that there was something distinctly odd about the bones. They brought the find to Frederick W. FitzĂ‚ Simons, director of the Port Elizabeth Museum, in a small town at the tip of South Africa. The scientific community of South Africa was small, and before long the skull came to the attention of S. H. Haughton, one of the country’s few formally trained paleontologists. He reported his findings at a 1915 meeting of the Royal Society of South Africa. “The cranial capacity must have been very large,” he said, and “calculation by the method of Broca gives a minimum figure of 1,832 cc [cubic centimeters].” The Boskop skull, it would seem, housed a brain perhaps 25 percent or more larger than our own.
The idea that giant-brained people were not so long ago walking the dusty plains of South Africa was sufficiently shocking to draw in the luminaries back in England.

Later in the book:
[P]eople do not easily escape from the idea of progress. We’re drawn to the idea that we are the end point, the pinnacle not only of the hominids but of all animal life.

Boskops argue otherwise. They say that humans with big brains, and perhaps great intelligence, occupied a substantial piece of southern Africa in the not very distant past, and that they eventually gave way to smaller-brained, possibly less advanced Homo sapiens—that is, ourselves.

Lynch and Granger speculate that the enormous Boskop brain ("[Their] brain size is about 30 percent larger than our own—that is, a 1,750-cc brain to our average of 1,350 cc... that leads to an increase in the prefrontal cortex of a staggering 53 percent") gave them a deeper, dreamier, and wider experience of the world.
While your own prefrontal area might link a sequence of visual material to form an episodic memory, the Boskop may have added additional material from sounds, smells, and so on. Where your memory of a walk down a Parisian street may include the mental visual image of the street vendor, the bistro, and the charming little church, the Boskop may also have had the music coming from the bistro, the conversations from other strollers, and the peculiar window over the door of the church. Alas, if only the Boskop had had the chance to stroll a Parisian boulevard!
And that is the problem. They had no civilization to express/exploit their dreams and imaginings. They lived around 10,000 years ago, but the only civilization suitable for their gifts of memory and processing (Greece) did not appear until 2000 years ago. But imagine if in our world (our information age) there was race of people who could do this with their minds:
We internally activate many thoughts at once, but we can retrieve only one at a time. Could the Boskop brain have achieved the ability to retrieve one memory while effortlessly processing others in the background, a split-screen effect enabling far more power of attention?
A brain with a split-screen affect!
Boskop’s greater brains and extended internal representations may have made it easier for them to accurately predict and interpret the world, to match their internal representations with real external events.

Perhaps, though, it also made the Boskops excessively internal and self-reflective. With their perhaps astonishing insights, they may have become a species of dreamers with an internal mental life literally beyond anything we can imagine.
The beautiful ones have already been born.

Big Brain Better For Gaming

It’s Medical Friday here on TSA with our report that video games give you rickets and now we find that the size of your brain may determine exactly how good you are at Burn Zombie Burn. Here comes the science bit:
A team from the University of Illinois, the University of Pittsburgh and Massachusetts Institute of Technology ran a test on 10 men, 29 women who had spent less than three hours each week playing video games in the previous two years. For the test they had to play two versions of a game, one version required them to reach an exclusive goal; the second version had shifting priorities and multiple tasks.
The volunteers all had MRI scans which showed that those with a larger nucleus accumbens outperformed the others in the first few hours of the test. The nucleus accumbens is the brains ‘award centre’ so they suggest this group performed well to starts due to the “sense of achievement and the emotional reward” – on other words, they were trophy whores. Those plays who performed best overall had larger sections of caudate and putamen.
“This makes sense, because these areas have been linked to learning procedures and new skills, as well as adapting to changing environments. These people could do a number of things at once. Think of it like driving a car, as well as looking at the road, you’re tampering with your GPS, and talking to your passengers,” says Prof Arthur Kramer of the University of Illinois.
“The great thing about using a video game rather than methodical cognitive tests is that it brings us a step closer to the real world and the challenges people face.”
The team calculated that those with the larger brains were around a quarter better at games than their small craniumed friends. Well done to all scientist involved for discovering that those people with more ‘thinking stuff’ in the head can ‘think better’. Coming next on Medical Friday @ TSA, a report from Sweden where scientist have discovered that blind people are not going to benefit from 3D gaming.

Running Boosts Brainpower

Going for a Jog Builds Brain Cells, Study Finds
Jan. 19, 2010 -- Running may do more than improve your cardiovascular fitness and overall physique. It might actually make you smarter.
Scientists reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences say that running has a profound impact on the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Adult mice that voluntarily used running wheels increased their number of brain cells and performed better at spatial learning tests than non-exercising mice, they discovered.
Spatial learning refers to the ability to navigate through or discriminate between the unfamiliar -- such as telling the difference between two patterns, or finding your way around a new city. Spatial memory refers to how you remember the location or layout of the objects in the space around you. You record spatial memories after processing key sensory information, such as what you see and hear. Animals use spatial memory to remember where their food bowl is located. Mice, for example, learn this by scrambling through a maze to find the food at the end.
In the latest spatial learning experiment, researchers learned that the running mice were better able to tell the difference between the locations of two adjacent identical stimuli. This ability was closely linked to an increase in new brain cell growth in the hippocampus. Ongoing mice experiments have repeatedly shown that running boosts the number of new brain cells in this area. Until the late 1990s, neuroscientists believed that we did not grow new brain cells after birth.
Today, mounting evidence continues to reveal that exercise triggers significant physiological and structural changes in the brain that are beneficial to cognitive function.
SOURCES: Creer, D.J. PNAS Early Edition.

News release, PNAS News Office.