Dubious facial hair alert – it’s Movember!

It’s the 1st of November, and summer is well and truly upon us here in the far South. Being November, of course it also means this is Movember – the one month men around the world become heroes for sporting facial hair that would, during any other month, raise serious questions about their state of mind.

Floppy, curly, twisty, bushy, or perfectly groomed, Movember is the month for crafting your own unique moustache – as individual as your fingerprints.

According to the Movember rules, you start the month clean shaven, so herewith the month’s famous last big shave.
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The reason of growing a ‘mo’ during Movember is to help raise awareness about men’s health,  specifically prostate cancer and depression. As stated on the Movember site, “Mo Bros effectively become walking, talking billboards for the 30 days of November and through their actions and words raise awareness by prompting private and public conversation around the often ignored issue of men’s health.”

Movember started in Australia (good on ya, mate!), and has since grown into a truly global movement, with almost 2 million participants in a wide range of countries, including Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada, the UK, South Africa, Ireland, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Belgium and the Czech Republic. Movember aims to “change established habits and attitudes men have about their health, to educate men about the health risks they face, and to act on that knowledge, thereby increasing the chances of early detection, diagnosis and effective treatment.”

In New Zealand, funds raised through the Movember initiative go specifically to the Cancer Society of New Zealand and the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.

You can get involved informally, simply by not shaving your moustache for a month. However, to really go the whole nine yards, why not register through your national Movember website/forum, where you can formally commit to the challenge, and update your progress throughout the month. Different countries have their own unique sites, typically http://<your country code>.movember.com/ (simply going to www.movember.com should also redirect to your local site). Committing on such a public forum not only helps to keep you honest (to keep you from shaving your mo for that special date or meeting halfway through the month) but it also means that you officially become part of the Movember fundraising initiative. And, most importantly, you become a registered Mo Bro, part of the global Mo Brotherhood.

Of course it’s not just for men – women are also encouraged to register as ‘Mo Sistas’, in support of the men in their lives.

Day 1 – clean shaven (well, almost), and slightly worried about what this picture is going to look like in 30 days…
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To visit me, Mo Bro Gerry, drop by my Mo Space Page – I will try to update the space every so often and will also be posting updates on this blog, so let this serve as an early dubious facial hair alert.

Let the growing begin… Ready, steady, Mo! 🙂

World Mental Health Day and the global crisis of depression

Today, 10 October, is World Mental Health Day. This day, sanctioned by the World Health Organisation, raises public awareness about mental health issues. The aim is to stimulate open discussion of mental disorders and to promote investment into treatment and prevention services.

The theme for 2012 is “Depression: A Global Crisis”. In support of this, the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) has compiled a highly informative PDF document on World Mental Health Day and on depression in particular – well worth a read.

Depression – a mental disorder that involves depressed mood, loss of interest, decreased energy, feelings of guilt and reduced self-esteem, disturbed sleep, suppressed appetite, reduced concentration and heightened anxiety – is indeed a crisis of global proportions, with a reported number of 350 million people worldwide suffering from some form of depression. That’s almost 1 in 20 people worldwide.

While various forms of treatment exist – including basic psychosocial support combined with antidepressant medication or psychotherapy such as cognitive behaviour therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy or problem-solving treatment – depression is often not correctly diagnosed and access to treatment remains a problem, especially in the developing world. It is estimated that in some areas less than 10% of depression sufferers receive treatment.

Bipolar affective disorder, a severe form of depression, involves disruptive mood swings between frenzied manic states and episodes of deep depression.
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In a way we are faced with polar opposite problems in the developed and developing world when it comes to treating depression. In the developing world, the disease is often not correctly diagnosed, and the necessary medication is not available, or there aren’t suitably trained caregivers to assist with the required therapy.  In the developed world, on the other hand, I personally think we tend to ‘grab the pills’ way to quickly. While antidepressant medication is a key component in the treatment of severe depression, what is worrying is the extent to which it is willy-nilly dished out to anyone and everyone who feels a bit down. Almost like the injudicious prescription of antibiotics for anything from a mild flu, when all that’s needed is some rest and recovery time, we are becoming a population popping ‘happy pills’ when the problem could be solved successfully, and with less side-effects, through therapy and even self-help approaches including regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, relaxation techniques, a regular sleeping routine, creating a stable daily routine, etc. As reported by the WFMH, “Innovative approaches involving self-help books or internet-based self-help programs have been shown to help reduce or treat depression in numerous studies in Western countries.”

While antidepressant medication is an important component in the treatment of moderate to severe depression, milder forms of the disease can be effectively treated through self-help treatments including regular exercise and healthy eating.
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On this day, spare a thought for the millions of people suffering from depression, and do what you can to be there and to support those needing our help.  If you feel you may be suffering from the disease, don’t hesitate to seek help – it can be treated. And make sure to get an informed opinion before necessarily opting for medication – there are many potentially less harmful alternative treatments out there.

To quote the WFMH, “On an individual, community, and national level, it is time to educate ourselves about depression and support those who are suffering from this mental disorder.”

Today is SCUD Day! What day!? Read on…

According to numerous holiday and celebration sources, today is the day to ‘SCUD’, that is, to Savour the Comic and Unplug the Drama. Still a bit confused? So was I.

The basic idea behind the day is to remind people to focus on the bright side of life, and to stop being such drama queens and kings. Have some fun, take life a little less seriously, laugh more. And given the health benefits such a turn of attitude can bring, it’s certainly a day (and a sentiment) worth celebrating.

Don’t worry, be happy!
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It has long been suggested that, just like we tend to smile when we’re in a good mood, the arrow also points the other way – our mood may improve when we smile (the “facial feedback” hypothesis). This is nothing new – Charles Darwin already suggested in 1872 that “the free expression of outward signs of an emotion intensifies it”.

The problem is that scientifically proving this relationship is quite difficult, with various factors potentially affecting the results. it is possible that, aside from the action of smiling, the instruction to smile may also create an emotional response (positive or negative – try telling a teenager to smile and watch the reaction!). Furthermore, sitting in a room full of smiling people is likely to raise your mood, whether you’re smiling or not.

Various research projects have been reported where these problems have been innovatively addressed, for example, by asking recipients to hold a pencil either between their teeth (which mimicks a smiling action) or between their lips (which does not), or by using more neutral smiling instructions, such as “Move your lips to expose your teeth while keeping your mouth closed, and pull the corners of your lips outward”.

Once participants were made to simulate a smiling expression, their responses to various positive and negative stimuli were measured, and compared to non-smiling control groups. In general it has been found that the smiling action intensified the participants’ reaction to positive stimuli, but seems to have less impact in response to negative stimuli.

For example, looking at a funny cartoon will lift your mood more when you’re smiling than when you’re not. On the other hand, reading a list of your monthly debts is depressing, and smiling while reading it is unlikely to leave you notably less depressed.

[Strack (1988), Soussignan (2002)]

So, your assignment on SCUD Day is to think happy thoughts and to expose yourself to positive stimuli. At the same time, pack out a big smile, and you will double the positive impact. Oh, and while you’re at it, surround yourself by others doing the same thing – the positive reinforcement of seeing others happily smiling back at you will lift your mood even more.

Come on, Savour the Comic, Unplug the Drama!

Celebration of the Senses Day – taste, smell, hear, see, touch (and more)

Today is Celebration of the Senses Day – a day to remind yourself of your body’s amazing sensory abilities.

Given that, at any moment in time, we are bombarded by such a diverse combination of sensory experiences, our appreciation of the individual senses can become somewhat muddled. Our taste experience is affected by the smell, texture and temperature of our food. Similarly, our hearing is said to decrease after overeating, and our sight is affected by noises around us. Sight can also be hampered after eating fatty foods.

On Celebration of the Senses Day, how about conducting a couple of in-house experiments to give your senses a shake up?  Have a blindfolded smell-a-thon of items in the fridge. Listen to a piece of music in a pitch dark room. While you’re at it, dance around in the dark! Mix up your food experience by mashing, freezing or colouring different foods to create new and surprising sensory variations. Look at things around you through a looking glass. In short, utilise your senses to experience the world anew.

Here’s another interesting snippet – if a sad, depressed person tells you their world is dull and grey, and flowers have lost their smell, they’re not just speaking metaphorically. Research shows that sensory perception can actually be diminished in depressed individuals.

So focussing on a renewed appreciation of your senses can actually even help you to get out of that emotional rut you’re in.

Focusing on your sensory experiences can help make you a happier person.
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Five senses? Try ten!
The categorisation of our five primary senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch) is attributed to Aristotle. While this categorisation is still valid, humans have a number of additional ‘sensory abilities’ not covered by the above. These secondary senses include:

  • Sense of balance and acceleration – the ability to sense body movement, direction and acceleration, and to maintain balance and equilibrium.
  • Temperature sense – the ability to sense heat and the absence of heat (cold).
  • Kinesthetic sense – the ability of the brain to be aware of the relative positions of various parts of the body without sensing these via the ‘normal’ senses (like being able to touch your nose with your finger, with your eyes closed).
  • Sense of Pain – the sense of pain was previously believed to be an overloading of pressure receptors, but it has since been identified as a distinct phenomenon that intertwines with the other senses, including touch.
  • Sense of Time – the ability to perceive the passage of time, both short passages as well as longer time cycles.
    (Source: Wikipedia)

Cool, isn’t it?  Even more senses to experiment with on Celebration of the Senses Day… Have fun!