TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Your Phone Knows If You’re Depressed

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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Phone data could predict with 87% accuracy whether someone had depressive symptoms

Most of us are pretty attached to our phones, and researchers are starting to figure out what that connection can tell us about our health, including our mood. In fact, your phone may be able to tell if you’re depressed even better than a self-assessment of your own depression can, according to a small new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

“We found that the more time people spend on their phones, the more likely they are to be more depressed,” says David Mohr, one of the authors of the study and director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The researchers also found that spending lots of time at home was linked to depression—and that phone data like this could predict with 87% accuracy whether someone had symptoms of depression.

Northwestern researchers recruited 28 people ages 19-58 from Craigslist and souped up their smartphones with location-and-usage monitoring software. At the start of the study, they took a standardized questionnaire that measures depressive symptoms; half of the subjects had symptoms of depression, and half did not. For two weeks, the phones tracked GPS location information every five minutes and pinged the users with questions about their mood several times a day.

The phone data the researchers collected were rich: how many places the participants visited each day, how much time they spent in each of those places and how frequently they used their phones, says Sohrob Saeb, one of the study’s authors and a postdoctoral fellow and computer scientist in preventive medicine at Feinberg. The researchers then correlated this objective data with their depression test scores.

What they hoped to find was a connection between the objective markers of behavior—such as where the people were and how often they changed locations—and their depression test results. That way, the data derived from phones could become a useful way to track depression without the user having to report how they were feeling, which is often a barrier to depression treatment, says Mohr, who has studied depression for about 20 years. “One of the things that we find over and over again is that people don’t answer questions,” he says. “In apps, they’ll respond to questions for a few days and then get tired of it.”

Mohr and his team indeed found a strong correlation between these objective markers and depression. Phone data were even better than the daily questions the users answered to predict depression test results. “People who tend to spend more time in just one or two places—like people who stay at home or go to work and go back home—are more likely to have higher depression scores,” says Mohr. When a person moved around was important, too; people who stuck to a regular pattern of movement tended to be less depressed, they found. “This fits into a larger body of clinical research showing that people with mental health problems in general, their circadian rhythms get thrown off,” Mohr says. “Usually it’s looked at with sleep and activity, but here we’re seeing it also in terms of their movement through geographic space.” When people get depressed, he says, their mood may pull them off their routine.

Depressed people, too, spent an average of 68 minutes using their phones each day, while people without depression only spent about 17 minutes on their phones. The software didn’t track what people did on their phones—just whether or not they were using it. But the authors have some ideas about why they saw phone activity rise with depression. “One of the things we see when people are depressed is that people tend to start avoiding tasks or things they have to do, particularly when they’re uncomfortable,” Mohr explains. “Using the phone, going in and using an app, is kind of a distraction.”

It’s preliminary research, but Mohr hopes to add to the number of smartphone sensors and use these to subtly help manage depression and spot it more quickly, without requiring any work on behalf of the user. “Being able to get people timely treatment for depression is a critical failure point in public health right now,” Mohr says. An app that people download on their phones—without having to answer any questions—may help pinpoint their depressive states more effectively and help them get treatment.

TIME psychology

Get Better Sleep: 5 Powerful New Tips From Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Ever have trouble getting to sleep? Or staying asleep? Or you get plenty of shut-eye but you’re not refreshed? Everyone wants to get better sleep. But sleep trouble is incredibly common.

And feeling tired the next day isn’t the half of it. By not getting enough sleep you’re reducing your IQ.

Via Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School:

Take an A student used to scoring in the top 10 percent of virtually anything she does. One study showed that if she gets just under seven hours of sleep on weekdays, and about 40 minutes more on weekends, she will begin to score in the bottom 9 percent of non-sleep-deprived individuals.

And losing “beauty sleep” really does make you less attractive. Seriously.

Want to be miserable? Being tired actually makes it harder to be happy.

Via NurtureShock:

The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.

And if that’s not enough, lack of sleep could contribute to an early death.

Via Night School:

The results, published in 2007, revealed that participants who obtained two hours less sleep a night than they required nearly doubled their risk of death.

We need answers before sundown. So I figured I’d call somebody who has them.

Richard Wiseman is professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and the bestselling author of many books including: Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep.

On his YouTube channel he has a number of great videos including this one on sleep tips.

Richard is going to tell you the #1 mistake you make when it comes to sleep, how to take awesome naps, how to get more quality sleep and the surprising secret to why you wake up in the middle of the night. And much more.

If you’re not too tired to keep reading, let’s get to it…

 

The #1 Mistake That’s Screwing Up Your Sleep

If you’re already exhausted, here’s the main takeaway you need from this interview:

Your smartphone is the devil. Your iPad is Lucifer. Your TV cackles with glee when you have insomnia.

They all give off blue light that your brain mistakes for sunshine. And that tells your grey blob it’s time to wake up, not go to bed.

Stay away from them during the hour before you try to nod off. Here’s Richard:

Ten minutes of a smartphone in front of your nose is about the equivalent of an hour long walk in bright daylight. Imagine going for an hour long walk in bright daylight and then thinking, “Now I’ll get some sleep.” It ain’t going to happen. In the middle of the night you wake up and think, “Aw, I’ll just check Twitter, email or Facebook,” and, of course, you’re being flooded with that blue light. You’re not going to be getting back to sleep very easily for the next hour or so.

So your smartphone is the devil? Okay, not really. In fact, sometimes it can be the best friend your sleep schedule has. Huh?

When you’re dealing with jet lag, I encourage you to indulge in all the blue light device bliss you so urgently crave.

They can help shift your circadian rhythm forward. Awesome, right? Your phone has a new feature you didn’t even know about. Here’s Richard:

You can use that blue light to your advantage, because when you’re bathed in blue light you become more alert. To get your circadian rhythm where it needs to be in the new time zone you can stimulate yourself with the blue light from smartphones and iPads.

(To learn the 4 things astronauts can teach you about a good night’s sleep, click here.)

Okay, modern technology is a double-edged sword. What else are you doing wrong?

 

A Good Nightly Routine Is Key

Just like a good morning routine is incredibly powerful, one before bed is a game changer as well. First step?

No booze. It seems like it helps but it’s actually a big no-no. Here’s Richard:

Drinking alcohol an hour or two before you go to bed is not a good idea. You’ll fall asleep quicker, but it keeps you out of deep sleep. In the morning you wake up feeling pretty terrible.

Richard says thinking positive thoughts before you go to bed is helpful and can promote good dreams. One of the biggest things that causes insomnia is thatanxiety about getting to bed.

When those awful thoughts start running through your head at night, try this little game. Here’s Richard:

Just think about a country or a vegetable or a fruit for each letter of the alphabet. You just slowly work your way through and that can take your mind off negative thoughts.

Worrying keeping you awake? Richard says to keep a pad and pen by the bed and write those thoughts down to dismiss them. Mindfulness training can help with this too so give meditation a try. (Here’s how.)

Still can’t sleep? Get up. Don’t accidentally make a Pavlov-style association between your bed and *not* sleeping. Here’s Richard:

The issue is often they’re staying in bed awake for ten minutes or more and they start to associate bed with being awake instead of being asleep. Get up, do something which is not stimulating, and then get back to bed.

(For more science-backed tips on a nightly routine that will bring you amazing sleep, click here.)

So your winding down ritual is in order. What about naps? (Yes, I know they’re amazing.) How can you and I make them *more* amazing?

 

How To Nap Like A Pro

Don’t go down for more than an hour. 20-30 minutes is great — but even five minutes can give you a big boost. Here’s Richard:

Anything over an hour is probably not a great idea, but twenty or thirty minutes of napping is incredibly good for creativity and focus. Naps can make a massive, massive difference. Even five minutes increases reaction time and focus.

NASA found pilots who take a 25 minute nap are 35% more alert and twice as focused.

Via Night School:

Research by NASA revealed that pilots who take a twenty-five-minute nap in the cockpit – hopefully with a co-pilot taking over the controls – are subsequently 35 per cent more alert, and twice as focused, than their non-napping colleagues.

NASA found that naps made you smarter — even in the absence of a good night’s sleep.

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep:

If you can’t get in a full night’s sleep, you can still improve the ability of your brain to synthesize new information by taking a nap. In a study funded by NASA, David Dinges, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a team of researchers found that letting astronauts sleep for as little as fifteen minutes markedly improved their cognitive performance, even when the nap didn’t lead to an increase in alertness or the ability to pay more attention to a boring task.

Worried you won’t wake up in time for something important? Richard recommends drinking a cup of coffee immediately before laying down. The caffeine will kick in after about 25 minutes.

(To learn the 5 scientific secrets to naps that will make you smarter and happier, click here.)

All this is great for getting some sleep… but what about when you can’t stay asleep? Not a problem. Literally.

 

Waking Up In The Middle Of The Night Is Natural

Research shows we evolved to sleep in two distinct phases. So don’t worry. Do something for a little while and then head back to bed for round 2. Here’s Richard:

We’ve evolved to have what’s called segregated sleeping. If you wake up in the middle of the night that’s perfectly natural. Before electric light people would talk about “first sleep” and “second sleep.” In between they’d go and visit their friends or play games. So if you do wake up in the middle of the night, that’s fine. Get out of bed for twenty minutes and do something. Don’t lay there feeling anxious.

Is this fragmented sleep bad? Far from it. Bloodwork showed that the time between the two sleeping periods was incredibly relaxing and blissful.

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep:

The results showed that the hour humans once spent awake in the middle of the night was probably the most relaxing block of time in their lives. Chemically, the body was in a state equivalent to what you might feel after spending a day at a spa…

(For more on the science of why we sleep in two chunks, click here.)

But here’s a problem everyone has had: ever sleep for over eight hours and you still feel groggy and awful? Here’s why.

 

Want To Get Better Sleep? Remember “The 90 Minute Rule”

Your body goes through sleep cycles of 90 minutes. Wake up in the middle of one and you’ll feel lousy no matter how long you’ve been in bed. So plan your sleep schedule in increments of an hour and a half. Here’s Richard:

Sleep scientists all use the “90-minute rule” which is basically a sleep cycle which is moving from light sleep, to deep sleep to dreaming and repeating that again and again. That cycle is roughly ninety minutes. You’re best off waking up at the end of a cycle. Plan your sleep in ninety minute blocks to tell you the best time to be falling asleep. Then you go to bed about ten, twelve minutes before that because that’s how long it should be taking you to fall asleep.

(For more on how to have the best night’s sleep of your life, click here.)

I could use a nap now, frankly. But before any of us nod off, let’s round up what Richard had to say so tonight is a restful one. (And we’ll get one more tip that can help make sure your nighttime habits don’t backfire.)

 

Sum Up

Here’s what Richard had to say about getting more quality zzzzzzzz’s:

  • Avoid smartphones and devices at night. But they’re great when you’re dealing with jet lag.
  • A good nightly routine is key. No alcohol before bed, think positive thoughts and play the alphabet game.
  • Naps are awesome. Just keep them under 30 minutes. Drink a cup of coffee before you lay down.
  • Sleeping in two chunks is natural. Get up and do something for a little while and then go back to bed.
  • Remember the “90 minute rule.” Think about when you need to be up and count back in increments of 90 minutes so you wake up sharp.

Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. We stay up surfing the net or watching Netflix. How can we behave better?

John Durant offers a piece of advice I follow: forget the morning alarm clock; set an alarm to remind you when to go to bed.

Via The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health:

A useful technique is setting an alarm clock—not to wake up, but to get ready for bed. Set an alarm for an hour before bedtime. When it goes off, finish up any work on the computer, turn off the TV, turn off any unnecessary lights, and start to wind down for the day.

I wish you great sleep and blissful dreams.

And as Anthony Burgess once said:

Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.

Join over 190,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Related posts:

5 Scientific Secrets To Naps That Will Make You Happier And Smarter

4 Things Astronauts Can Teach You About A Good Night’s Sleep

These Six Things Will Bring You A Great Night’s Sleep

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME mental health

Postpartum Depression Can Arise Months After Screenings

A new study shows that women who seem healthy after giving birth can develop symptoms of depression months later

Screening women for symptoms of postpartum depression shortly after they give birth may not be a sufficient, a new study found. Many women show signs of depression months after having a baby, and those who initially appeared the least likely to develop depression were later found to be at the highest risk, a study published in the Annals of Family Medicine found.

Researchers analyzed data from 1,432 women across the U.S., about a third of whom were first-time mothers. The women were asked to rate from 0 (none) to 3 (daily) their feelings of sadness, lack of appetite, thoughts of self-harm and other symptoms. Those with total scores of 10 or higher were identified as at-risk.

All of the women scored below 10 in their first screening, conducted four to 12 weeks after giving birth. Six months after giving birth, 10.9% of the women scored 10 or higher, and a year in, 16.9% of women did.

Though the American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Nurse Midwives have advocated for regular screenings of postpartum depression during primary care visits, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force has said they worry about the repercussions of possible misdiagnoses on women and children.

About 15% of American women experience postpartum depression within a year of giving birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity, domestic violence and several other factors contribute to the likelihood of experiencing depression symptoms. The researchers at the Olmstead Medical Center in Rochester did not have access to data about the women’s personal lives.

TIME justice

HBO Documentary Highlights Gun Violence

Filmmakers Shari Cookson and Nick Doob attend the HBO screening of 'Requiem For The Dead' at HBO Theater on June 15, 2015 in New York City.
Stephen Lovekin—2015 Getty Images Filmmakers Shari Cookson and Nick Doob attend the HBO screening of 'Requiem For The Dead' at HBO Theater on June 15, 2015 in New York City.

A new HBO documentary about gun violence will air Monday, just days after a deadly massacre at a Charleston, South Carolina, church.

Requiem for the Dead uses documentary material such as Facebook status updates, 911 calls, news reports and police investigations to tell the stories of some of the estimated 8,000 people who died from gunfire between March and June of 2014.

“People now document themselves in these very intimate ways,” co-director Shari Cookson tells TIME. “It was like reading a diary.”

“Every story,” her filmmaking partner Nick Doob adds, “is a kind of Greek tragedy.”

In one example, a 12-year-old boy confesses to police that he killed his 11-year-old friend while showing off his father’s loaded handgun.

Another example, about a 12-year-old who shot his sister eight times before turning the gun on himself, is accompanied by a montage of photographs of his belongings, including the Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto videogames, a Hunter Education certificate and a picture of him beaming, one hand clutching a rifle and another caressing an antler.

While the directors say they emphasized character portraits over a political agenda, many of the examples in the documentary seem to highlight incidents that could have been prevented by proper gun storage or better mental health treatment.

“Of course,” Doob admits, “we want to foster dialogue. We want the film to open people to talk so that even NRA people can look at this.”

TIME Healthcare

5 Sleep Problems Nobody Talks About

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From teeth grinding to jittery legs

You drift off at night like a newborn baby, yet can’t recall the last time you woke up truly refreshed. It may not seem that weird: “People tend to assume that because our modern lives are so hectic, nobody feels rested,” says Meir Kryger, MD, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine. But the reality is, you might have a sleep disorder and not even know it. There are a handful of problems that can cheat you out of quality slumber, leaving you more tired in the morning than you were when you went to bed. Find out what could be going on between your sheets and how to catch more restorative z’s, starting tonight.

Sleep Problem No. 1: You snore like a saw

Those snuffle-snorts mean that your slack tongue and throat muscles are narrowing your airway, possibly due to the shape of your soft palate or any extra weight you’re carrying.

Although you’re likely to wake up if you get short of breath, it may not be for long enough to remember. Some people wake dozens or even hundreds of times a night—a disorder known as sleep apnea that increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and possibly osteoporosis, according to a new study in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. “Those repeated awakenings are as disruptive as someone pinching you every two minutes all night long,” says Safwan Badr, MD, chief of the division of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit.

Sleep aid: If you rarely wake up feeling bright-eyed, see a specialist to get checked for sleep apnea.(Three to 9 percent of women between the ages of 30 and 70 suffer from it.) If you have the condition, a CPAP machine and mask can help by keeping your pharynx open with a steady stream of air.

To quiet your snore, avoid rolling onto your back—a position that makes your airway more likely to collapse. Rachel Salas, MD, associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, suggests this little trick: Sew a tennis ball into the pocket of a sweatshirt and wear it backward to bed.

Sleep Problem No. 2: You grind your teeth

Do you wake up with a sore jaw or get chronic headaches? If so, you may be gnashing your ivories overnight. All that clenching can cause enough pain to interfere with your shut-eye (not to mention wear down your enamel). Experts believe that teeth grinding, which about 16 percent of us do, is associated with anxiety—though an abnormal bite and antidepressants can also play a role.

Sleep aid: A dentist will fit you with a mouth guard. If you’re clamping down because you’re overwhelmed and overloaded, find a healthier way to manage stress, urges Michael A. Grandner, PhD, an instructor in psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s also crucial to spend plenty of time winding down before bed so you drift off in a calm, relaxed state,” he adds.

Sleep Problem No. 3: Your body clock is off

Not even drowsy until the wee hours? Delayed sleep-phase syndrome (DSPS) is the technical term for this disorder, which afflicts 10 percent of people who seek help for insomnia. It involves a biological glitch that prevents your body from making melatonin (the sleep hormone) until 12 a.m. or later. A prime sign you’ve got DSPS: You’ve been a night owl since high school. The syndrome is common among teenagers and sometimes persists into adulthood. If you’re not squeezing in at least seven hours of z’s a night, you’re at greater risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. What’s more, a recent study published in Cognitive Therapy and Research found that people who nod off late (and get less sleep as a result) tend to experience more negative thoughts.

Sleep aid: Begin by improving your sleep hygiene. Cut back on caffeine. Avoid tech and television starting 90 minutes before bedtime. Create a soothing wind-down routine. And get some sun first thing in the morning to help reset your body’s 24-hour rhythm. “In 80 percent of cases, these strategies lead people to conk out earlier,” Dr. Badr says. If they don’t do the trick, a specialist may prescribe synthetic melatonin, as well as light therapy with a medical lamp to use in the morning.

Sleep Problem No. 4: Your legs feel jittery at night

That creepy-crawly feeling—aptly called Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)—troubles as many as 1 in 10 people and is thought to be linked to a dysfunction in the way the brain processes the neurotransmitter dopamine. However, in some cases it suggests a nutritional deficiency, Dr. Kryger notes: “With people who have low iron, there seems to be overactivity in parts of the brain that results in an urge to move the legs.”

Sleep aid: Ice packs, warm packs, massages, a bath—any of these remedies might help, says David N. Neubauer, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine: “Different things seem to work for different people.”

Also, talk to a sleep doc about trying an RLS drug. Be sure to mention your current prescriptions because some meds (including certain antidepressants) reduce dopamine activity. Get your iron levels checked, too, Dr. Gardner advises: “Sometimes a supplement is the only treatment necessary.”

Sleep Problem No. 5: You sleepwalk—and even sleep eat

For reasons that aren’t completely understood, somnambulists are partially aroused in the night—often from the deepest stage of slumber (called slow-wave)—and proceed to wander around the house. The behavior, which may affect up to 4 percent of the population, appears to run in families and is more likely to occur with sleep deprivation. Another trigger: taking zolpidem (one of the most popular sedatives), according to Robert S. Rosenberg, DO, author of Sleep Soundly Every Night; Feel Fantastic Every Day.

Additionally, 1 to 3 percent of people who experience such a zombie-like state actually raid the kitchen. Called sleep-related eating disorder, this condition often strikes women on a diet, who go to bed hungry.

Sleep aid: Benzodiazepines (aka tranquilizers) can sometimes help, and so does getting more sleep. As long as your nocturnal adventures don’t involve anything risky (like, for example, baking cookies), you may not need medication, Rosenberg says: “Just make sure you safety-proof your home by clearing out clutter and stowing away sharp objects.” If you’re a nighttime roamer, let your partner know that the ideal approach is to gently lead you back to bed.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Careers

These Jobs Are Most Likely To Be Taken by a Computer

SPAIN-TECHNOLOGY-ROBOT
Gerard Julien—AFP/Getty Images A man moves his finger toward SVH (Servo Electric 5 Finger Gripping Hand) automated hand made by Schunk during the 2014 IEEE-RAS International Conference on Humanoid Robots in Madrid on November 19, 2014.

Great news, dentists!

Telemarketers’ jobs have the highest chance of being automated, according to recent report. Other positions with huge potential for being overtaken by robots? Cashiers, tellers and drivers, among others, according to this new NPR interactive.

While telemarketers have a 99% chance of one day being totally replaced by technology (it’s already happening), cashiers, tellers and drivers all have over a 97% chance at being automated. Many positions within the “production” category put together by NPR, including packaging and assembly jobs, tend to rank highly as well.

The job with the lowest shot at being overtaken by technology in the future? Mental health and substance abuse social workers. They have a 0.3% chance, according to the data. Occupational therapists also rank at 0.3%, while dentists, surgeons and nutritionists appear pretty safe at just 0.4%.

Per NPR:

The researchers admit that these estimates are rough and likely to be wrong. But consider this a snapshot of what some smart people think the future might look like. If it says your job will likely be replaced by a machine, you’ve been warned.

To play around with the complete data, check here. But beware, it’s pretty addicting.

TIME Research

FAA Will Study Pilots’ Mental Health

A committee will provide recommendations within six months

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Wednesday it would study the mental and emotional health of pilots, a move that comes more than two months after investigators say a German pilot flew a commercial jet into the French Alps, killing all 150 people aboard.

While pilots are required to undergo medical screenings with agency-approved physicians once or twice a year, the study was recommended in the wake of tragedies like the crash Germanwings Flight 9525 in March and the early 2014 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean.

The FAA said in a statement that the Pilot Fitness Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC)—to be comprised of government members and aviation experts, as well as medical professionals whose specialty is aerospace medicine—will look into awareness and reporting practices for emotional and mental issues among pilots. The committee, which will also probe the procedures used to evaluate mental health issues and any barriers to reporting them, will provide the FAA with recommendations within six months.

“Based on the group’s recommendations,” according to the statement, “the FAA may consider changes to medical methods, aircraft design, policies and procedures, pilot training and testing, training for Aerospace Medical Examiners, or potential actions that may be taken by professional, airline, or union groups.”

Read next: German Privacy Laws Let Pilot ‘Hide’ His Illness From Employers

TIME Appreciation

Ron Howard: The Beauty of John Nash

The Academy Award-winning director of A Beautiful Mind reflects on genius, madness and profound courage

From the moment I heard about John and Alicia Nash’s tragic accident on the New Jersey Turnpike, I immediately flashed to that first remarkable day I met them. I had committed to directing A Beautiful Mind, which was based on Sylvia Nasar’s biography. My longtime partner at Imagine Entertainment, producer Brian Grazer, was already passionate about the project and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman had written a remarkable adaptation of Nasar’s book. Now it was time for me to begin my own research, with a morning meeting at Professor Nash’s office on the Princeton campus and then a lunch with him and his wife nearby.

My purpose that day was to learn—and learn I did. In fact, my entire approach to the project shifted radically in those few hours, all based on first impressions that proved accurate and will echo with me forever.

First, I was surprised and fascinated by John Forbes Nash and his enduring passion for his subject, theoretical math. I’d been told that math geniuses were assumed to be beyond their prime in their late twenties, but the 70-something year-old I was encountering, while willing to patiently explain the concepts behind his Nobel Prize-winning work to this math simpleton, was thrilled when he saw I was also willing to hear about the new challenge he was currently tackling.

I couldn’t understand much about the Nash Equilibrium or anything else he was explaining that day, but I could recognize a spark of creative energy and vision that I could recognize and relate to. That day I began to see John as an artist.

A couple of weeks later, mathematician Sylvain Cappell of New York University explained John to me in a way I’d like to share. He posited that each generation offers a small group of true geniuses who commit their lives to pushing the boundaries of what is illuminated by knowledge into the darkness of what is yet-be-known—and there are three types of people doing the toiling on that boundary.

One is the scientist who mines the edges, finding nuggets, polishing them into proofs with little care as to their application. They toss them over their shoulders to the next group of innovators who immediately take the breakthroughs and find ingenious ways to use them.

Nash, Cappell said, belongs to a third group.

“Think of them as paratroopers,” he said, “dropped behind the lines, into the darkness with orders to fight their way back into the light and share what they had learned. Not all of them could survive intact. Nash was one of these courageous geniuses. Fearless and willing to risk everything to hurl himself into the unknown in search of elegant new discoveries.”

At my lunch with John and Alicia, I came to understand another very important component of our screenplay of this story: their story. It was a love story about two extraordinary individuals. It was unique, with a history both idealistically romantic and painfully harsh—a love tested and forged by the hellish adversity that is acute mental illness, and a love story to be therefore respected.

Our movie, of course, could convey but a fraction of the events of their entire lives as individuals and as a couple, but it was that truly remarkable relationship that I will always remember them by above all.

TIME Innovation

How the Food We Waste Could Feed Millions

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. The food we waste could feed millions.

By Lizzie Dearden in the Independent

2. How a genetically-modified herpes virus ‘cures’ skin cancer.

By Sarah Knapton in the Telegraph

3. Who provides most of America’s mental health care? Our prisons.

By Newt Gingrich and Van Jones in CNN

4. This ‘smart apartment’ will monitor the activity, mobility and even blood pressure of its residents.

By Traci Peterson in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

5. Movies make the best journalism.

By Richard Gehr in the Columbia Journalism Review

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

To the Freshman Class of 2015: It’s OK If ‘Everything’s Great’ Is a Lie

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James Keane is a student at Northwestern University

Emotional challenges in college are natural and normal

In November of 2012, I came home to East Grand Rapids, Michigan after the first few months of my freshman year at Northwestern. In doing so, I came home from the worst months of my life thus far.

As a self-proclaimed premed, I received a D on my first Chemistry 101 midterm and dropped out of the premed track. Having sung in my high school’s acclaimed a cappella choir for two years, I auditioned for seven Northwestern a cappella groups and received zero callbacks. For weeks, I was rejected from every one of the countless student groups to which I applied and interviewed, including NU Dance Marathon, which accepted over 100 students.

I met hundreds of students through various orientation programs, but I still felt socially isolated and misunderstood. I was pressed to name individuals who I could truly call “friends.” I struggled to match the fiercely cutthroat pace of Northwestern’s quarter system. And, surrounded by thousands of students equally intelligent, motivated, and Type-A as me, my most distinguishing personal characteristics were suddenly no longer unique. I felt one-dimensional and virtually void of a personal identity.

So to Michigan I returned, feeling like a failure in every major facet of my new life. I didn’t face diagnosable mental health issues, but I was in a dark place.

Yet, when asked “how I was liking Northwestern,” I would force a bright smile and say, “I love it.” I would dig my heels into the ground, pushing my back against a brimming closet of skeletons, and smile through gritted teeth. When people smiled back in response, I felt misunderstood by the only people who I had ever felt understood me.

As someone who my hometown expected to be successful, there was no room for me to come home as a failure.

So to my friends — especially those in EGR — who always thought I was “loving” college, I present to you my skeletons. After having stood among the “Top Ten” students with the highest GPAs at high school graduation, I talked with my parents about whether it was worth staying at Northwestern with such an alarmingly low GPA. After being voted by my high school peers onto Homecoming Court, I came home struggling to answer the prompt, “Tell me about your friends at Northwestern.” On the surface I may have seemed to have my life together, but in reality I was caught in a soul-crushing inferiority complex, feeling inadequate in every part of my collegiate life.

I write these things at risk of sounding presumptuous that my failures are shocking, and of sounding like I am pathetically enjoying the emphasis of my high school successes. That is absolutely not my intent. I also write these things with awareness that the “darkness” I faced in my freshman year of college could radiate like the sun in the face of darknesses others confront in their lives. Thus far, I have lived an incredibly easy, privileged, and charmed life.

But if my past issues can be dwarfed by those of others, then why don’t others feel empowered enough, comfortable enough, or welcomed enough to talk about their issues?

I am writing this to break what once felt to me like an impenetrable silence: the fact that as someone who others assumed would be “okay,” I was not doing okay. Life was not all good. Things were not going well. When my family assured me “things would get better,” I didn’t believe them. I was struggling. And now after talking with high school and college friends about their college experiences, I know that many of them also struggled. Some of them are currently struggling.

To high school seniors who will be freshmen in fall 2015, and to current college students — please know that facing emotionally crippling challenges in college is natural and normal. This notion may sound unhelpfully obvious and even hackneyed, but to me, it seemed like everyone around me was making friends, getting good grades, and excelling, while in reality, many of them were struggling in their own ways.

People in East Grand Rapids periodically manicure the truth for sake of saving face and protecting personal brands. I myself have done so. “Everything is great,” and “I/she/he love(s) (insert school name).” (Insert forced smile.)

And at Northwestern, given that students face similar levels of academic and social stress from the quarter system, a culture of compassion is difficult to cultivate. You may have two midterms tomorrow, but so do I, so you aren’t getting any sympathy from me. Layer a pervasive culture of competition on top of this, and it’s easy to find yourself living in a merciless pressure cooker.

In life, there isn’t always room or invitation to discuss what isn’t going well.

And that is simply not okay. While immense personal growth can arise from facing life’s challenges, and while self-sufficiency is important, emotional support, compassion, and understanding from others is crucial for one’s emotional and psychological health.

Today as a junior, I am lucky to be in a place where I feel absolutely embraced by my peers at Northwestern, where my academics are good, and where I am excelling in my own “distinguished” ways. Today, I can tell the truth when I say that I am loving my college experience.

But I didn’t always love it. And that’s okay. Struggling is a natural, healthy, and universal part of life. So let’s talk about it.

This article originally appeared on Medium.

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