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What People in Utah Should Know about Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia, also known as psychotic disorder, is a mental illness characterized by delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, disorganized thoughts, erratic speech, agitation, lack of facial expression and/or extreme apathy. Beyond the definition and a list of symptoms, however, there are several things to know about this disorder that can help you better respond to the symptoms and behaviors associated with schizophrenia in Utah.

Biological and Evolutionary Factors

Most people are at least vaguely familiar with the idea that there’s a genetic component to schizophrenia, and family history is, indeed, a risk factor. But there’s also a further line of thought that suggests psychosis has been a part of the human race ever since there’s been a human race. What’s the evidence? Well, one thing particular to psychotic disorder is the stability of the prevalence rates. Ever since researchers have described, categorized, and measured the disorder, this prevalence has consistently hovered around an average of just under 1%.

And while animals have behavioral issues that mimic a wide range of mental disorders, language and social barriers make it difficult to even conceptualize what a clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia would look like in a dog or cat. Moreover, there are huge changes throughout the schizophrenic brain—including enlarged fluid-filled ventricles and glutamate receptor disruption—that suggest our unique brain development and social-linguistic capacities may be directly connected to the underlying causes of this mental illness. Some researchers have even begun to identify the specific genes that increase risk of schizophrenia.

It’s a cruel irony that the underlying nature and rates of schizophrenia may be a side effect of human’s unique capacity for language, while the subjective experience of the disorder disrupts the individual’s sense of social belonging. But it’s also something worth remembering when we feel tempted to condemn the individual who has little, if any, control over their thought patterns and sensory experience.

Environmental and Developmental Factors

There are many causes of schizophrenia, and genes alone do not determine the emergence of psychotic disorder. Especially when it occurs during childhood development, the presence of some exacerbating factor (virus, malnutrition, substance use, head injury, trauma) is thought to activate the potential for schizophrenia. Epigenetics—the interplay between genes and environment—still allows for a large amount of pure chance. So, while basic caregiving is enormously important in a child’s development, parents should avoid irrationally blaming themselves. Often, parents can “do everything right” and still have a child that develops psychosis.

Local, Cultural Factors in Utah

Even apart from these genetic and environmental factors, the schizophrenic mind is still, in some ways, a product of its culture. It’s one thing to know that psychotic disorder involves paranoia, delusions, and/or hallucinations. But these symptoms are also filled with content pulled from one’s everyday experience. Both LDS and non-LDS folk recognize the state’s unique religious, political, and cultural heritage. It’s not uncommon for someone’s paranoia to be fueled by some of Utah’s more extreme mistrust of civil authorities.

Alternately, one’s delusions and hallucinations that take on a religious symbolism that is particularly agonizing for the person and his or her loved ones. Schizophrenia can present with a range of symptoms. But for some, the experience is not unlike living out one’s dreams and nightmares in real life. And so, while an afflicted person may behave in ways that are extremely odd and/or offensive, we should imagine being judged by the content of our own dreams and nightmares before we start casting aspersions in return.

Think Someone in Utah has Schizophrenia?

Often, the early symptoms of schizophrenia—disorganized thoughts, erratic speech, anxiety and paranoia—may be difficult to distinguish from other mental disorders. Only a qualified mental health professional can make a clinical diagnosis. Yet, if you or someone you know is experiencing any of these disturbing and/or disruptive symptoms, it’s important to talk to a mental health provider as soon as possible.

Exploring Natural Remedies for Anxiety

Natural remedies for anxiety are actually a collection of very different therapies and treatment philosophies. And it’s not one-size-fits-all. People who are highly susceptible to hypnosis may have a natural remedy for anxiety that is uniquely effective for them. Desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) is most commonly used to treat anxiety associated with trauma and abuse. Or it could be something as simple as acupuncture working for one individual and not the next.

But there is also a lot of variance even within the same type of anxiety disorder. It’s easy to think someone with social anxiety wouldn’t do well with yoga classes—and many don’t—but it could also be that there’s something about yoga that doesn’t create the same pressure as other social settings to perform and interact with other people. Meanwhile, the body therapy and guided meditation offer a great salve for the toll social anxiety can take on the mind and body.

Body Therapies as a Natural Remedy for Anxiety

Body therapies are exactly what they sound like: Therapeutic techniques applied with or to the body to alleviate anxiety. And while these therapies tend to “only treat the symptoms,” removing some of the toll these symptoms take on the body can provide an important measure of optimism. This optimism can help the individual engage in cognitive therapies and, thus, make a more lasting change to their mood and mental health. Popular body therapies include yoga, acupuncture, therapeutic massage, and chiropractic services. Moreover, maintaining a regular exercise routine and improved diet can be its own type of natural remedy for anxiety.

Cognitive Therapies as a Natural Remedy for Anxiety

Cognitive therapy is its own comprehensive theory of psychotherapy that emphasizes recognizing and changing distorted thinking, problematic behaviors, and maladaptive emotional responses. But there are also several mind-based techniques that may employed by a therapist of almost any therapy orientation:

  • Meditation: Rather than trying to “just calm down,” many people find they can successfully alleviate or cope with their symptoms by learning to focus on and live in the present moment.
  • Mindfulness: This, too, involves being in the present moment, but rather than a candle, it’s your own thoughts that serve as the focusing stimulus. (In this way, meditation can serve as a stepstool for the practice of mindfulness.) Rather than judging or analyzing each thought, the goal is to simply observe each thought as it enters your mind.
  • Hypnotherapy: For those who are susceptible to hypnosis, this can be a uniquely effective treatment, but it’s no miracle cure. Often, the big question for this anxiety treatment is: Do you visit a hypnotherapy practice or a licensed mental health therapist who is also a certified hypnotherapist? Regardless, it usually takes several sessions to see a big change in mood.

Other Natural Remedies for Anxiety

  • Neurofeedback: This process involves showing the individual a visual or auditory representation of their brain activity as a way of controlling the activity. It may be weird to think of a therapy that involves attaching sensors to your scalp as a natural remedy for anxiety, but it is non-invasive. Plus, although neurofeedback isn’t a miracle cure, it’s cool to think that you can play a video game that’s designed to teach your brain to be less anxious.
  • Herbal Treatments: Through a number of online resources, you can find a handful of popular and commonly cited herbal treatments used for anxiety, as well as a longer list of herbal and nutritional supplements that are being actively studied. It’s more difficult than you might imagine, figuring out what works and what doesn’t. In general, we’re learning that some of these supplements likely produce some positive benefit, albeit a small one for most people.
  • Cannabis Therapy: Smoking marijuana with your buddies to take the edge off the workweek is not the same thing as cannabis therapy for anxiety. To get the best results, you should consult with a doctor in a state that permits cannabis treatment, determine which types of cannabis make sense for you, and closely adhere to a cannabis schedule and daily dosage. Moreover, because cannabis can potentially cause paranoia and elevated heart rate, among other side effects, there are still big risks associated with using the drug as an anxiety medication. And long-term, cannabinoids also have their own potential for withdrawal syndrome and rebound effects. Nevertheless, an increasing number of people are considering cannabis therapy for anxiety as a more “natural”—or at least less dangerous—choice than benzos and other anxiety medications.

Seek Guidance from a Mental Health Therapist

Even after doing your own research, there’s a good chance that choosing a treatment feels like throwing darts at a dart board. Whether you don’t know where to begin or you’ve already been through several failed attempts, it’s a great idea to talk to a therapist in Utah who has experience treating anxiety. In addition to lending an empathetic ear, these mental health providers can offer personalized tips for your natural anxiety remedies. They can also serve as a guide that helps coordinate and measure the effectiveness of various treatments.

Popular Types of Yoga for Mental Health

It’s nice to have at least a basic understanding of the types of yoga that you might come across. The right yoga experience can deliver invaluable mental health benefits for a range of disorders, while a person who’s unprepared for an advanced-level hot yoga class may actually hinder their efforts toward better physical and mental health. In addition to classes in various yoga disciplines, most studios in Utah advertise beginner, intermediate, and advanced level classes.

Again, be sure you know what you’re signing up for. Any instructor worth their salt is going to clearly communicate the general skill level of the class, as well as ways to modify individual poses for those who are being pushed outside their comfort zone. Still, it can be frustrating to show up and then have to pass on a yoga class because it wasn’t what you were expecting. Likewise, for those who already strength, flexibility, and/or some yoga experience, a more challenging class may be necessary to see a positive change to their mental health and overall fitness level.

Popular Types of Yoga

Know that not every yoga class can be pigeon-holed into a single discipline. Customized, hybrid classes have become increasingly common in recent years. But by learning which types of yoga are most appealing to you in general, there’s a better chance that you can make a substantial, or even dramatic change, to your mental health. You can find a more comprehensive list here, but the following categories capture most of the classes you’ll find at the yoga studios in Utah.

  • Hatha Yoga
  • Ashtanga/Power Yoga
  • Bikram/Hot Yoga
  • Restorative Yoga
  • Integral Yoga
  • Iyengar Yoga
  • Yin Yoga

Types of Yoga for Mental Health

There are specific yoga disciplines, but there are also various types of yoga experience that will speak to different people and different mental health goals.

Personalized Classes and Instructors: This is one of the most popular and straightforward ways to find a yoga class. First, identify those things that are most important to you. Finding the right skill level applies to just about everybody. Otherwise, it’s a hodge-podge of personal priorities. For some people, finding affordable classes is most important. Part of this priority, too, can be looking for a local option that doesn’t take any additional travel time or gas money. A lot of people are looking for an individual instructor they can connect with. For others, choosing a larger studio with several instructors and classes provides the flexibility to maintain regular attendance even with a floating work schedule.

Yoga Events and Workshops: If you’re looking to meet new people, a social yoga experience can be just the thing to introduce you to the value of yoga therapy. On one level, yoga is a solitary practice, but there is a strong element of community with most yoga studios and groups. There are free beginner classes offered at many studios. For those who already have some yoga experience, we recommend seeking out events, workshops, and retreats. One great example is Glow Yoga at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center from One Love Yoga.

City Centered Yoga at the intersection of 9th and 9th between Sugarhouse and downtown Salt Lake.

Now, a class that offers a more continuous focus and flow on yogic transitions make show more long-term benefit in terms of physical fitness. On the other hand, this is two hours of fun-filled yoga and can be a great way to improve your mental health or simply kick off a relaxing, rejuvenating weekend.

Private Yoga: Private yoga includes both individual and small group instruction. Whether it’s physical limitations or specific mental health goals, individual sessions can help you overcome barriers and maximize yoga’s mental health benefits. Many businesses and organizations also look to private yoga as a way to improve the culture and team morale, both inside and outside the workplace. The obvious downside for individuals is the cost of one-on-one yoga instruction. On the other hand, one-on-one sessions that empower the individual to partake in regular yoga classes may be well worth the price tag. Katie Schiffgen Yoga is one of our favorite outlets for private yoga instruction.

DIY Yoga: Likewise, many people can benefit from collaborating with a private yoga instructor on building a personalized yoga program that you can do on your own. Many types of yoga, including Yin and Iyengur Yoga, recommend poses that are held longer and sessions that can last longer than normal. Alternately, many people can only find limited time windows in their schedule that are best filled with short DIY yoga programming.

Becoming a Yogi: Yoga is not a religion, but there are plenty of devoted enthusiasts, most commonly known as yogis. At times, it can feel very cliquey, but we can assure you there are no secret handshakes or initiation rituals required to be in the club. Put another way, there are plenty of advanced skills, hybrid styles, and personal goals that can help people take that next step toward greater resilience and mental health. Don’t let an uneasiness about the idea of joining yogi culture hold back your individual passion for, and exploration of, yoga.

Depression and Anxiety: How Different Mood Disorders Interact

Depression and anxiety are correlated: If you’re depressed, you’re more likely to feel anxious, and vice versa. But relatively few people stop to think about this connection and how odd it is. You see, these moods are, in many ways, on the opposite end of the spectrum. When we feel anxious, our minds race and our bodies are flooded with fight-or-flight hormones. When we feel depressed, our minds and bodies slow and we feel drained of energy.

That said, you don’t have to experience bipolar disorder to understand that moods can change quickly. And when we consider the context in which these moods occur, the link becomes easier to explain. What’s more, understanding this link can be a crucial insight to seeking treatment and avoiding the worst outcomes associated with these mood disorders.

What Depression with Anxiety Looks Like

Clinical depression can feel like its own world, a prison in which purpose and happiness have been banished. Things can look colorless and sound like they’re on mute. Yet, as much as depressed mood can cover the world with dark and heavy drapes, our minds still know on a rational level that the world is the same. It’s our experience of it that is so qualitatively different. Slowness of cognition, speech, and behavior can make us ill-suited to respond to threats. When the prison door of depression opens, it doesn’t lead to our escape. Instead, it’s more likely to let in our latent fears and anxieties.

Moreover, some people who struggle with depression have regular bouts with this type of depression-driven anxiety. It’s can also be described as agitated depression or depression with features of anxiety. Beyond talking with a mental health therapist about ways to alleviate these symptoms, there’s a diagnostic benefit in being as honest as you can about the timing and nature of your moods. Specifically, agitated depression and bipolar disorder will be harder to differentiate if you only give part of the story to a primary care physician who already has less experience than other mental health professionals with mood disorder subtypes.

What Anxiety with Depression Looks Like

Generally speaking, people are more familiar with the acute symptoms of anxiety disorder—the panic of smothered breath, the terror of feeling like you’re going to die at any moment. But often, it’s the chronic symptoms of long-standing anxiety that does the most lasting damage to one’s mental health. It’s all-too-easy for constant and excessive worry to become a filter in which one’s perspective turns deeply pessimistic. Inevitably, this pessimism is internalized. It’s seemingly never just worry about what will happen, but also worry that we won’t succeed, that we won’t measure up, that we won’t be worthy.

Moreover, living in a state of heightened awareness throughout the day tends to leave one feeling drained at the end of the day. And when we feel drained, we feel even less able to cope with the perceived threats that triggered the anxiety in the first place. This fatigue and pessimism can create a perfect storm of depressive pressures. There are no easy answers, but again, insight into this cycle of depression and anxiety may provide a buffer against the idea that one’s life isn’t worth living.

Suicide, Depression and Anxiety

With an age-adjusted suicide rate that is 50% higher than the national average, Utah has one of the highest rates of suicide in the country. And mood disorders are the biggest psychological risk factor for suicide. But how these risks manifest themselves are not always obvious, even to the person suffering through them. Often, it’s only when anxiety descends into depressive features that the anxious person begins to experience serious suicide ideation. Alternately, it’s only when the depressed individual experiences a bout of anxiety or panic that they find the energy necessary to go through with suicide.

A similar phenomenon can be seen in individuals with bipolar disorder: One might think that these individuals are more likely to commit suicide when they feel depressed. In fact, it’s the fear of depression and the late energy of a dwindling manic episode that’s usually the most dangerous time for these individuals.

Substance Abuse, Depression and Anxiety

Utah residents consume less alcohol on average than most states, but we also take and abuse more prescription drugs on average. Over the last decade, Utah has ranked among the top ten states for rates of fatal drug overdoses. Beyond the fact that many anxious and depressed people use drugs to self-medicate, there’s also a substance abuse metaphor that speaks to anxiety and depression: An addict may use many different substances, but most have one drug in particular that hits them harder than the rest, a drug of choice. And this substance tends to serve as something of an epicenter for their overall pattern of addiction. In a similar fashion, a mood disorder—anxiety, depression, or bipolar—may be the “core issue” that led to the substance abuse. Once identified, this disorder can then become the focus of mental health treatment and lasting improvement.

Get Help by Learning More about Depression and Anxiety

No matter what pattern of depression and anxiety you’re struggling with, we recommend you talk to a mental health therapist in Utah about your lousy mood. More than a brief summary, a therapist can help you explore, understand, and better regulate your mood. Don’t underestimate the difference that can be made by a knowledgeable, trained, and empathic mental health professional.

Improve Your Living Space to Improve Your Mental Health

Mental health is a tricky, elusive thing that must be continually sought after with imperfect results. Often, it takes hard work and a soft heart, but there are also subtle yet powerful environmental cues that impact your mental health. Taking a look at your living space and habits can point to changes that stand to improve your mental health. These small changes may seem gimmicky, but study after study shows there are benefits to be had. Let’s take a look at some of the most common and reliable ways to improve your living space and improve your mental health in the process.

Décor and Organization

A well-organized home may can help feel more organized with the rest of our lives. Whether they are personally meaningful or you just like how they look, adding simple decorative touches can help you feel more at home and more at ease. Rage cleaning can help us process and purge some of our negative emotions, but it’s not a cure-all. Obsessively cleaning and beautifying a living space may be its own source of stress and failure. More than fixing a problem, rage cleaning can sometimes help us identify how pervasive an emotional problem has become in our lives.

For some, disorganization can feed their creative spirit, but don’t assume these benefits don’t apply to you just because you like things messy. You may be able to borrow from the best of both worlds. Leave your creative workspace disorganized, but allocate a different area of your home as a meditation space and consider the benefits of keeping this space tidy.

Sleep, Eat, and Exercise Spaces

Along with a dedicated place for meditation, look at the spaces where you sleep, eat, and exercise. There are many things you can do to your bedroom to improve your sleep. Reduce ambient illumination with blackout curtains. Keep the space clutter-free and make the bed on a regular basis. Charge your phone away from your bed to resist the temptation right before bed and first thing in the morning.

Much of the same advice applies to your dining room and healthy eating spacesv. Keep the area clutter-free. Eat the majority of your meals at the dining room table, not the couch in the living room. Use smaller plates and leave the food in the kitchen to help with portion control.

Even if you have a gym membership or a favorite yoga studio, it’s often wise to have an area of your home where you can get some exercise. This is a tricky one for staying power, but it doesn’t have to be a fancy home gym. Exercise bikes are a popular choice.

Pets and Plants

Pets are powerfully adorable distractions. Dwelling in negative emotions is not the same as processing your feelings. Often, the best coping mechanism to deal with unproductive stress and anxiety is a distraction that causes a shift in your immediate perspective. In other words, it’s hard to be angry when faced with an adorable, beloved pet. More than just pets, other types of animal bonds can improve our mental health. In fact, there’s an entire organization, the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, dedicated to studying the health effects of the relationship between humans and animals.

Houseplants offer a powerful combination of home decorating and a connection to a living thing. Nurturing something that then flourishes also helps nurture one’s self. People who cultivate houseplants tend to get a boost to their self-esteem. Of course, it helps if the plant is happy and healthy. Use a houseplant finder tool to know where and how to care for your plants.

Find a Balance

Try not to bite off more than you can chew at once. If you have the DIY bug, that’s one thing, but you shouldn’t need to spend a ton of time and money to improve your living space. Overcoming obstacles builds resilience, but going twenty rounds with a piece of IKEA furniture isn’t necessarily a boon to your mental health. A high-maintenance dog may not be the right choice if you also love to travel. If getting out of the house helps motivate your exercise routine, a home gym may end up as wasted space.

Find a balance but also look for the changes that are most likely to speak to you and your mental health journey. It’s almost certain that there are things you can do to your living space that will improve your well-being.

Developmental Trauma Disorder: A Modified Approach to Attachment Disorders

For going on a decade now, a large segment of mental health professionals have advocated for a switch from “attachment disorder” to “developmental trauma disorder” in the psychiatric manual of mental disorders. What’s the difference, you ask? Right now, reactive attachment disorder and disinhibited disorder are the only two classifications of childhood-based trauma disorder. (This isn’t to say that children can’t suffer from PTSD or acute stress disorder.) These two categories represent the two poles that occur when attachment goes wrong—either the child has trouble feeling safe around anyone (reactive attachment) or the child freely attaches (disinhibited) to almost any adult sometimes with disastrous consequences.

What the Professionals Think

Now, there’s nothing wrong with these categories. Psychologists and therapists who work with children witness this pattern of reactive attachment over and over again. The objection, rather, is that the two categories are woefully incomplete to describe the range of behaviors and psychological effects that can result from childhood trauma.

Put another way, hardly any mental health professional wants to do away with reactive attachment disorder altogether. Instead, they see reactive attachment disorder as one subtype of developmental trauma. In fact, some mental health researchers have even come with a proposal of what the diagnostic criteria might look like for developmental trauma disorder. Other researchers have pointed out that the clinical research isn’t robust enough to establish this criteria, but they also point out that a similarly descriptive approach to childhood trauma would be beneficial in creating “improved sensitization to trauma outcomes and more tailor-made treatment options.”

A Brief Look at Childhood Attachment

There are several crucial ways that we learn to attach to our caregivers as infants. The most obvious one is touch, but skin-to-skin attachment is far from the only type of childhood attachment. We’re also born with the instinct to seek out and recognize the faces of others, for example. Our cute baby faces have evolved to lure adults into loving us and, in turn, to love babies’ faces ourselves. In profound ways that we’re still struggling to fully understand, we learn to feel by looking at the faces of our primary caregivers.

Another part of healthy attachment is the infant learning to prefer their primary caregivers over other adults. The orphanage system has largely become a relic because, as imperfect as the foster care system is, studies consistently show that infants do not respond well when passed around among too many adult caregivers.

The point here is that if you talk to the mental health professionals who assess and treat these children, they’ll tell you that children tend to respond in distinct ways to different types of trauma. In this light, developmental trauma disorder is a way of approaching these children in which the nature of the trauma—rather than attachment theory—is the primary guide for diagnosis and treatment.

A Better Understanding of Developmental Trauma Disorder for Your Child

It’s also easy to think of developmental trauma disorder as a simpler, clearer approach to childhood trauma. But that’s letting ourselves off the hook. Even as we recognize that prevention is the most effective type of intervention overall, we must continue to look for more nuanced ways to treat the different types of trauma that play out in the mind and body of our children.

With this in mind, here’s a practical piece of advice for those foster, adoptive, and biological parents who are tasked with raising a child with developmental trauma: Talk to a qualified professional in the beginning about how to modify your parenting for the needs of the child. But then also keep a sharp eye and take notes about the behaviors you witness including dates. Along with ongoing consultation with a mental health professional, this can help you continue to customize the home environment and parenting strategies in the years ahead.

Traumatized Individuals and Communities

Why does the distinction between attachment disorder and developmental trauma disorder matter to people in Utah? It matters because just like anywhere else, we have a lot of different kinds of trauma. Substance addiction is a huge source of developmental trauma in pretty much every state. Likewise, no matter you live, you’re bound to hear heart-wrenching stories of adults who, beyond all understanding, don’t seem to get it that very young children are to be protected and cared for. (You’d think if anywhere could root out this type of behavior it would be Utah’s family-first culture.)

And yet—from the prescription-pills-to-street-drugs addiction pipeline to the abuse suffered in fundamentalist communities—many of the personal histories of children with developmental trauma disorder are unique to Utah. The upside is that mainstream Utah culture knows how to bring the volunteerism and childcare services, like very few social groups can.

Experienced Treatment Providers in Utah

The different approaches to developmental trauma and attachment disorder can also help families choose a therapy provider. Maybe there’s something about your child’s behavior that is especially relevant to attachment theory, but for most families, we recommend placing slightly more emphasis on a clinician’s experience with clients with similar trauma histories, rather than their familiarity with the literature on attachment theory. That said, know that any mental health professional worth their salt is going to be well-versed in attachment theory, while also carefully considering the client’s personal history. If you’re able to make a connection and feel comfortable with a therapist you talk to, this isn’t something to dismiss lightly.

Again, whether you’re just now recognizing a developmental trauma or you’ve talked to a mental health professional in the past, it’s a great idea to check in with an experienced therapist who can help your family make things better.

What You Should Know about Autism and Air Pollution in Utah

A lot of people in Utah have questions about autism and air pollution. For good reason, too. Due in part to the unique contours of our valleys, most Utah population centers struggle with air pollution. And next to New Jersey—another state not known for clean air—Utah has the highest rates of autism in the country. What’s more, while the evidence is still not conclusive, there is a growing body of research that suggests air pollution is a risk factor for autism.

Now, it’s important to note that nobody is saying air pollution causes autism. Like many other mental disorders, autism is associated with a tapestry of genetic and environmental factors none of which are the actual biological cause of autism. Hopefully when the day comes that we do understand what causes autism, it will lead to a medical revolution that rivals the polio vaccine. For now, people who study autism rates are more likely to talk about the “risk factors of autism,” not the causes, and this represents a more accurate way to think about the issue.

Take Action, Keep Perspective

The research suggests that air pollution may double the risk of autism. But there are a couple different ways to cite this statistic. Instead of a one percent chance of autism, there’s a two percent chance. So even parents who live in an area with high air pollution have only a small chance of having a child with autism. On the other hand, doubling the risk of autism also equates to approximately 500 more Utah children each year who will receive an autism diagnosis. Thus, it’s a public health issue worthy of the attention it’s getting.

But what can you do for your own family? Uprooting the household and “moving into the mountains” for nine months because “air pollution causes autism” is an overreaction. Yet, we do recommend following the extra precautions given to young children and pregnant women about being outside during times of peak pollution. An air purifier for the home may be a sound investment, too. And not just for autism: Air pollution is a risk factor for a number of different health hazards, including suicide. But for those who are prone to anxiety, the most important thing at the end of the day may simply be to manage, as much as possible, how much you worry.

Compassion, Understanding, and Help for Families

While it may be a good idea to take simple, preventative measures that stand to improve the odds of a child’s healthy development, dumb luck may still be the biggest factor. Just as there are a ton of parents who never bother with air purifiers or staying indoors and have completely healthy children, there are plenty of parents who “do everything right” and still have a child with autism. Assigning blame for individual cases of autism is flawed and unconstructive.

It’s also worth remembering that autism is actually autism spectrum disorder. And, as the name implies, the disorder has a range of potential symptoms and severity levels. There is plenty of support and insight to be gained from other parents, but there is no single face of autism, no one story that fits every child or family. This is also why the best possible outcomes generally come from a collaboration between parents, school, and health officials in determining ABA therapy and other support services in Utah. A parent can provide the intimate knowledge of the everyday experience with the child, while a mental health professional can perform a clinical assessment. A more detailed picture of the child’s development then emerges followed by a personalized treatment plan that can improve this development and quality of life.

The Good Side of the Story for Utah

Given the diagnostic rates and research about autism and air pollution, it would be easy to cast dispersions on the state of Utah. But, here, too, the picture is not very clear. More recently, autism rates in Utah seem to be leveling off, while other states are catching up. A lot of the perceived increase in autism rates—it’s not an epidemic—is more likely improved diagnostic criteria and intervention services, while the actual rates of autism has been largely stable over the last few decades.

To this point, Utah has the lowest rate of autism cases being identified solely a child’s teacher, a sign that Utah parents and pediatricians may be more adept at recognizing the early symptoms of autism. And the state’s strengths don’t stop with early diagnosis. Utah is also a leader in autism research and treatment programs nationwide.

What Cosmology and the Utah Sky can Teach us about Mental Health

More so than most states, Utah is defined by the city and the wilderness. Despite all the positives that come with diverse neighborhoods and a thriving metropolitan area, many Salt Lake and Utah County residents love the occasional jaunt into the wilderness. Be it skiing, rock-climbing, camping, backpacking, or hiking, there are any number of mountains, canyons, and buttes that lure us from our population centers.

Whether it’s the brilliance of the night sky on the edges of the state or the Clark Planetarium in downtown Salt Lake City, many people in Utah have strong, if opposing, reactions when it comes to cosmology and star-gazing:

  1. Some have a profound sense of smallness and insignificance. All that distance and space compared to this little spec of place and time we inhabit.
  2. Others have a deep sense of meaning and connection. Across the expanse of so many years of light travel, photons shot from the ancient past reach our eye in this moment, in this place.
  3. And some people just see small dots of twinkling light and think: what’s the big deal?

In one sense, this is a good reminder that people may have wildly different reactions to the same stimulus and that we have a tendency to insert our self-perception into seemingly neutral stimuli. In fact, in some ways, it’s the neutral, or ambiguous, stimuli that most require us to insert ourselves. For each reaction is a truthful one, and each approach holds opportunity and limitations. By looking at the stars, a change in perspective can help lift our mood and give us insight to deal with future challenges, but when our sense of self becomes too deflated—or too inflated—our mental health can suffer.

Apart from personal faith, it can be difficult to provide an objective justification for the meaning of life. Yet, depression can lead to its own kind of beauty and creativity. There’s also a serious debate about what seems to be an increasingly fine line between acceptance and glorification of mental illness, especially in online communities.

Cosmology, Choice, and Consequences

It’s not just the really big and really far, either. What we know about very small particles is that individual particles can act in unexpected and unexplainable ways, but the behavior of large groups of particles create predictable results based on the laws of physics. Our complex brains and the complex world in which we inhabit means that it may be impossible to know why someone does or does not get better from a depressive episode. But by studying large populations of people who have been treated for depression, we can say you’re more likely to be better off if you talk to a therapist, while marshalling other resources at your disposal.

Moreover, we may have the freedom to choose individual behaviors, but a pattern of behavior will, over time, tend to create predictable results. I can go to the gym today or not. I can have a cigarette today or not. But if I don’t go to the gym for six months and start smoking on a regular basis, I can’t simply choose to wish away the nicotine cravings while also running a marathon. And while we may, indeed, have freedom of choice, our behaviors still have real-world consequences.

Getting Down-to-Earth Help for Your Mental Health

Feeling overwhelmed by an unshakeable sense that you don’t matter? Do you recognize that sometimes your ego gets so big it’s like you’re no longer in control of your own actions? Have you spent so much time traveling one path and making so many wrong choices that you can no longer find your way back? Do you react to ordinary things in such extremely odd ways that you think something must be wrong with you? Talk to someone in confidence about what you’re going through. Talk to someone who’s qualified to help you understand, get through, and prevent the things that threaten your mental health. Whether or not you find a link in your own life between cosmology and mental health, we can help you find the right professional to talk to.

How to Meditate to Improve Your Mental Health

If you’ve never tried to meditate, it doesn’t take long to give it a go. Along with a step by step introduction to meditation, here a few basic things to know about how to meditate to improve your mental health.

How to Meditate

  1. Create Time and Space: This might include informing your family that you wish to be left undisturbed for a certain period of time. It could be making a commitment to finding time in your schedule each day—even if it’s only 5 or 10 minutes—to meditate. You could make your first attempt during your next trip into the mountains. You might find it helpful to set a timer, so you don’t have to worry about the duration of the session while you’re meditating. Smartphone apps for meditation provide several useful aids, including the ability to take your meditation space with you wherever you go. You may also want to think about ways you can create a meditation space in your home.
  2. Pick a Technique: There are many ways to meditate. You can follow a guided meditation. You can choose a short mantra to say silently and focus your attention. You can focus on your breathing. You can gaze at a candle. You can listen to your thoughts. If you just don’t know where to start, breathing meditation is one of the most common techniques for both beginners and experts. But there’s no need to overthink it: You can always try different techniques later on.
  3. Establish Posture: You want to be as comfortable as possible without slouching or lounging. Meditation is not the same thing as taking a nap. Sluggishness is not the same as calm. Ideal posture and comfort level may not be possible for some, and that’s okay. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions may cause aches, pains, and general discomfort. Posture meditation is its own treatment for depression, while the physical discomfort may subside during the meditative session.
  4. Give it a Try: Without trying to control it, begin to notice your breath, or other chosen subject. Notice your mind wander and run into the same thoughts that nag you throughout the day. Then bring your focus back to the present moment. Expect this to happen several times. Try to focus on the process rather than whether or not “you’re getting it.” The idea is to achieve a quiet mind, but it’s not uncommon to feel like your mind is more active at the beginning of a session. Instead of dislodging the chaotic thoughts of your everyday mind, the meditation may, at first, simply add its voice to the mix. Eventually, the present awareness will begin to assert itself and the other thoughts will begin to recede.
  5. Patience and Perseverance: If you feel overwhelming emotional or psychological distress, it may be time to consult a licensed mental health professional. But know that there is no need to feel ashamed. You can’t go back and unthink thoughts, so just let them go. Your very first try you may spend the entire session struggling to stay in the present and let your mind wander without running into these thoughts. And, for many, here’s the biggest surprise about meditation: It ain’t easy! Or, at least, it isn’t easy to get really good at. So give it some time, and give it some practice. And while many people notice a difference right away, even the best meditation is unlikely to show dramatic results from a single session.

The Biological Causes of Depression

A combination of poor mood, self-doubt, and physical pain, depression can be an agonizing experience. The good news is that most people can find at least partial, if not complete, relief from their symptoms. To better understand your symptoms and how depression therapies work, it can be helpful to learn about the various causes of depression.

We don’t know yet which of the following factors are necessary or sufficient to cause a clinical course of depression. Given the proliferation of research data and partially compelling arguments, many Utah researchers and clinicians now believe that there are at least a couple different ways in which individuals may be vulnerable to a persistently depressed mood.

With this in mind, if you’re just starting to learn about depression in Utah, we recommend that you also read our summary of the psychosocial causes of depression. Here, we stick to a synopsis of the biological explanations, which are pretty much the same no matter where you live.

Biological Causes of Depression

Monoamine Neurotransmitters: Here’s the three-sentence summary for all the information out there about “chemical imbalances in the brain.” Monoamine oxidase is a family of enzymes that serve as the catalyst for the oxidation and inactivation of monoamine neurotransmitters in the brain, including pretty much every chemical you’ve heard associated with depression (serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, etc.). Thus, it’s when the oxidation-inactivation-reabsorption mechanism goes haywire that depression is likely to occur. In this context, it also becomes easier to understand the class of antidepressant drugs known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

Neurogenesis: Once thought impossible, neurogenesis refers to the creation and distribution of new neurons in the brain. New evidence instead suggests that the hippocampus benefits from neurogenesis and that this disruption is part of many depressive disorders. In depressed individuals, the hippocampus may actually shrink about 10 percent. It’s also worth pointing out that this lack of neurogenesis may not be the primary cause of depression, but rather a sign of the toll that depression can take over time. The relative level of neurogenesis has also been offered as a partial explanation of why some people but not others respond to antidepressants. More information about the connection between neurogenesis and depression can be found here.

Hereditary & Genetic Causes: There is a strong link between genetic factors and depressive disorders. Most studies suggest heritability is 40-50 percent, lending credence to the notion that—while individual cases may skew heavily toward either hereditary or social causes—depression overall has roughly equal parts of nature and nurture. Aside from the fact that we’re pretty sure depression isn’t a single-gene disorder, we know little about the combination of genes that may contribute to a higher risk profile.

Infectious Disease: One of the potential causes of depression is infectious disease. The evidence put forth by this researcher includes inflammatory biomarkers in those with depression, the propensity for infectious agents to affect key systems of the brain, and immuno-hereditary factors.