Cuddly company – Babyloid robot aids depressed elderly in Japan

16 Feb

Japan has developed a therapeutic robot baby designed to help ease depression among elderly people by keeping them company.

Masayoshi Kanoh, an associate professor at Chukyo University in Aichi prefecture, presented the latest version of ‘Babyloid’ at a robotics conference in November.

Babyloid’s round, silicon face has two black eyes and a small mouth that can produce a smile. LED lights in its cheeks turn red to signify contentment. Blue LED tears indicate that it is unhappy.

Kanoh reports that in experimental studies at a retirement home, users interacted with the robot for an average of seven to eight minutes per sitting and a total of 90 minutes each day.

See the baby robot in action here


Overtime and depression – The New York Times looks at the research

16 Feb

The New York Times reported recently on studies indicating that routinely working overtime is associated with a higher risk of depression.

For example, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki collected data on British civil servants for five years and found that those who routinely worked 11 hours a day or more had more than twice the risk of developing depression that those who generally worked eight hours or less.

The research will no doubt resonate with Irish workers, who, in addition to working on diminished teams due to redundancies and hiring freezes, will often feel under pressure to go that extra mile for their employer simply to hold onto their jobs.

Read about the research in The New York Times here

Short-lived impulses – Irish Times comments on US study on suicide

14 Feb

Reported in the Irish Times today, research by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US indicates that it is possible that in many cases of suicide the person who died had no intention of taking their life until a very short time before the event itself.

Almost 25 per cent of the 15-34 year olds studied said they decided to kill themselves less than five minutes before their ‘nearly lethal’ attempt. Only one in eight had made the decision a day or more before attempting suicide.

The study indicates that many attempted suicides are reactions to a temporary crisis.

Writing about the study, Padraig O’Morain, who is accredited as a counsellor by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, suggests that young people need to be educated on how to handle distress in non-lethal ways – before the impetus for an impulsive suicide attempt arises.

Read the article, which links to the US study, here

Valentine’s Night alone on the Eiffel Tower – support Aware’s lonesome heart

14 Feb

Black fabric with red roses
For the Valentine’s Day that’s in it… Sponsor the brave Íde to be stood up on the most romantic night of the year.

This 14 February, Íde is doing her third and final annual Valentine’s solo challenge. This year, she’s going up the Eiffel tower by herself. The more money she raises for Aware, the more she will subject herself to:

  • over €100: she’ll “wait” alone at the bottom for half an hour
  • over €200: she’ll wear red (including a béret) to stand out
  • over €300: she’ll carry a heart-shaped balloon
  • over €400: she’ll order a glass of pink champagne and wait in the bar at the top
  • over €500: she’ll ask for her photo to be taken at the top
  • over €600: she’ll keep “ringing” someone

Íde’s open to suggestions, so post your ideas and sponsor her on her Facebook page.

The Irish charity Aware aims to create a society in which those with depression and their families are understood and supported, are free from stigma and have access to a range of appropriate therapies to enable them to reach their full potential.

Aware – helping to defeat depression

Nutrition and mental health – feed your brain

13 Feb

Beans growing
Also speaking on Newstalk’s Global Village programme on Saturday night was naturopath and nutritionist Anne D’Arcy, who gave some fascinating insights into the influence of diet on mental health.

Anne made the obvious but often overlooked point that food is the raw material making up brain chemicals. It follows that not consuming the correct food and not being able to digest that food properly can lead to problems with brain chemicals and mental wellness.

Anne talked about the influence of such substances as zinc, vitamins B6 and C, iron and magnesium on serotonin levels and mood.

Caffeine, refined sugar, alcohol and processed foods are generally recognised as being bad for our mood, whereas foodstuffs such as Omega 3 oil-rich fish, some green vegetables, bananas and certain nuts and seeds, including Brazil nuts, which are rich in selenium, can be beneficial for some.

Protein-rich foods can keep our serotonin levels balanced. As our bodies cannot produce the essential amino acid tryptophan, which is converted in our bodies into serotonin, we need to obtain this through food. Protein and tryptophan-rich foods, which include turkey, tuna, beans and seeds, can be effective in this respect when eaten alongside slow-release carbohydrates.

Read more on the website of Food for the Brain, a non-profit educational charity that promotes the link between nutrition and mental health

An article in The Independent on beating depression through diet

“A spring in their step” – John Evoy of Irish Men’s Sheds on Newstalk

12 Feb

We spoke recently about Men’s Sheds in Ireland. The movement got some welcome coverage on Newstalk’s Global Village with Dil Wickremasinghe last night.

John Evoy, CEO and founder of the Irish Men’s Sheds Association, described Sheds as spaces in communities where “fellas who may have time on their hands can come together to use their skills and talents and energy and ideas to enrich their lives and also to contribute to the communities that they’re part of.”

The first Irish Men’s Shed was set up in Tipperary town in August 2009. There are now 40 in operation, with a further 40 in planning.  John’s organisation receives three or four queries a week.

John explained that inside a Shed, you might see men working on a woodwork project or renovating a chair, fixing an old bike, drinking tea or playing darts. Sheds aim to create a positive and healthy atmosphere for men and to encourage sharing of feelings and looking after each other. John explained that men are more open to sharing when working together on a project, as the focus is taken off them and instead put on the job at hand.

There are over 700 Sheds in Australia, where the concept of Men’s Sheds originated.

The Irish Men’s Sheds Association was a 2011 recipient of an Arthur Guinness Fund award.

Listen to John talk about Men’s Sheds here

Find your nearest Shed – or get involved in setting one up

Depressed – or just SAD? From guest blogger Aloysius

11 Feb


SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – is often downplayed. After all, those with normal mental health only experience it for a limited time – usually during the cold, dark days of Northern hemisphere Winters. Hence we give it a label – “the Winter blues”– and dismiss it as a mild form of low mood.

For me, it is more than that and a succession of SAD days can lead to more severe depression. Today typifies an average SAD day for me. Despite it being a bright, ‘early Spring’ morning and the fact that ordinarily I am a ‘morning person’ I could hardly wake up. My body felt as if it had not slept at all. I could not open my eyes. My stomach felt sick and my head nauseous. I was producing saliva and mucous in quantities I would normally associate with having a virus. If I did not know better I would have said I had the flu. All I wanted to do was sleep on, or more accurately to bury my head under the covers despite the news bulletins reminding me every half-hour that the day was passing. The thought of opening my eyes, swinging my legs out of bed, walking towards the bathroom was literally a step too far.

It’s not just a ‘have a lie in on Saturday’ feeling. When I did eventually get up it manifested itself in over eating, the craving for a big, high-carb breakfast, and later in the day some junk food – but without the expected energy burst. It turned to boredom, the inability to concentrate on anything or to completing normal tasks, even simple ones like washing up, reading or listening to the radio. I wanted to be left alone, to withdraw from my family, ignore my friends, and even a reluctance to undertake ordinary social activities like shopping. And after a few days of this it leads to pessimistic feelings of hopelessness, a lack of any pleasure and depression with its many side effects: heavy sleeps followed by insomnia, anxiety, irritation, stressed-out feelings.

So, how do I counteract it?

Wake up calls: I set myself deadlines for getting up – setting my alarm at different times each day. And I leave a note by the bed to remind me to not just wake up but get up! Saturday and Sundays the deadline is 9:00 am at latest, Monday is an 8:00 am deadline.

What then? I once heard a mental health expert say: “Eyes open, feet to the floor”. It sounds simple, but it works – not thinking, just doing! Getting on, with getting up.

Following the light: SAD is supposedly affected by natural light, so I track the sunrise and sunset during my SAD period – using a phone app that gives me lighting up, dawn, dusk times, etc. When things are really bad I set my alarm for a few minutes before first light, open the blinds and watch the sun – or even just the light – rise. I have tried ‘bright-light’ therapy but it does not work for me. Some respond to artificial bright light therapy, or simulated dawns – personally I have not found these effective.

Taking my vitamins: Vitamins C and D in the form of orange juice and oily fish help.

SSRIs: If the Autumn weather and light are particular bad I anticipate a bad winter. So if the early feelings of a mood disorder are persistent I consult with my GP and usually take a course of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – fluoxetine-based drugs – in order to increase my levels of serotonin. This takes forward planning as SSRIs can take 2-4 weeks to become effective. Above all, its about not allowing myself to be SAD.

Don’t worry, be happy!