TIME Diet/Nutrition

The Strange Link Between Junk Food and Depression

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Some—but not all—sugars were associated with depressive disorders

Of our many modern diseases, one of the biggest burdens on society is an unexpected one: depression, according to the World Health Organization. And what we eat may be contributing, finds a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

James E. Gangwisch, PhD, assistant professor at Columbia University in the department of psychiatry, wanted to find out whether foods with a higher glycemic index (GI)—a scale that ranks carbohydrate-containing foods by how much they raise your blood sugar—would be associated with greater odds of depression. “When I was a kid, I was almost like a candy junkie,” Gangwisch says. “I noticed for myself, if I eat a lot of sugar, it makes me feel down the next day.” Gangwisch says he stopped eating added sugar years ago but remained curious about whether a junk food diet could make people depressed.

He and a team of researchers looked at data from food questionnaires and a scale that measures symptoms of depressive disorders from postmenopausal women in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. The data came from roughly 70,000 women, none of whom suffered from depression at the study’s start, who had baseline measurements taken between 1994 and 1998, and then again after a three-year follow-up.

Diets higher on the glycemic index, including those rich in refined grains and added sugar, were associated with greater odds of depression, the researchers found. But some aspects of diet had protective effects against developing depression, including fiber, whole grains, whole fruits, vegetables and lactose, a sugar that comes from dairy products and milk that sits low on the glycemic index.

Added sugars—but not total sugars or total carbohydrates—were strongly associated with depression.

Though the authors couldn’t pinpoint a mechanism from this study—it was associative—they note that one possibility is that the overconsumption of sugars and refined starches is a risk factor for inflammation and cardiovascular disease, both of which have been linked to the development of depression.This kind of diet could also lead insulin resistance, which has been linked to cognitive deficits similar to those found in people with major depression.

Further research is needed, Gangwisch says, and it’s not yet known whether the results would translate to a broader group of people, including men and younger women. But even now, diet may be worth discussing with people who suffer from depression, Gangwisch says—even though doing so may be difficult. “It’s hard enough to get the general public to avoid those kinds of foods, but it’s even harder to get someone who suffers from depression to avoid them and give them up,” he says. “You don’t want people to feel guilty either…to say, ‘Your diet’s bad and you should change it,’ would take kind of a soft sell approach.” Still, he believes the effort is worth it. “I think it’s important and I think it has a big effect on your mood and how you feel and your energy level,” he says. “If it’s something that people can change, they really would benefit from it.”

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

You Asked: Do I Worry Too Much?

You Asked Do I Worry Too Much
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Frequent fretting is unproductive and not so hot for your health.

As human beings, our ability to predict trouble—and outwit it—is one of those cerebral superpowers that set us apart from birds and beasts. But nonstop worrying can be crippling to your life and your immune system.

“Just having a thought about some potential bad thing that might happen—everyone has those,” says Dr. Michelle Newman, director of the Laboratory for Anxiety and Depression Research at Pennsylvania State University. “But if you have difficulty stopping the worry once it starts, that’s one of the ways we define what’s called pathological worry.”

Newman, who is also editor of the journal Behavior Therapy, cites more characteristics of out-of-control worrying, like fixating on things over which you have no control—or which have a low probability of happening—and “catastrophizing” them. Worrying about a loved one who’s driving and picturing the horrible ramifications of an accident is one example; imagining a string of events that might lead to your losing your job and your home is another.

Anxiety is a related feeling that often goes hand in hand with worrying. While it can be a little tricky to separate the two, Newman says the technical difference is that worrying is “verbal-linguistic” while anxiety is “physical.” If you feel tense or on edge while thinking about your job security or your child’s long car trip, you’re experiencing both worry and anxiety. Feel those emotions “more days than not” for a period of six months, and you meet the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. Basically, you’re a chronic worrier.

“I like to say that chronic worry is a process looking for content,” Newman says. “You’ve gotten into the habit of looking for something to be concerned about, and you always find it.”

That’s bad news for several reasons. First and foremost, incessant worrying and anxiety can increase your blood pressure and heart rate and has been linked to an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease. “Anxiety can also over-activate your immune system,” says Dr. Wesley Moons, formerly of the University of California, Davis, and now CEO of his own consulting firm, Moons Analytics.

While at UC Davis, Moons and his graduate student Grant Shields found that people who reacted to stressful situations with anger experienced a smaller immune system response than those who reacted with anxiety. Shields says the sorts of immune system responses his research linked to anxiety could hurt the body’s ability to fight off infection or disease and have been tentatively linked to higher mortality rates.

“That’s not to say getting angry is a healthy reaction to stress,” Moons adds. “But in terms of your immune system, anxiety appears to trigger some different and potentially more detrimental responses.”

But isn’t there a benefit to lots of worrying? After all, if your mind is tackling contingencies and potential threats, you can act now to prevent them—right?

Unfortunately, Newman refutes this idea. “Mostly worrying becomes a process unto itself that doesn’t lead to problem solving or helping you in any way,” she says. If you’re worrying about something, she says, you’re not taking steps to address the source of your worry, if that’s even possible.

When you boil it down, worry is really a failure to live in the moment, Newman says. Activities that attempt to anchor your mind to the present—including yoga and meditation—may help combat incessant worrying. Exercise, massage and other things that alleviate physical tension are also helpful, she says.

Another great way to reign in your worrying is to set aside a specific time and place for it. Select a spot you can get to easily every day, but that isn’t a place where you normally spend time, Newman advises. (A quiet bench in your backyard, maybe, or a chair in your guest room.) Your goal is to give yourself 20 or 30 minutes a day in that space, devoted only to worrying. “The rest of the day, you tell yourself you aren’t going to worry because you will at that time and place,” Newman explains. “The idea is that by isolating your worry, you can control it.”

She says that focusing on a favorite relaxing setting—your “happy place”—also has proven worry-reducing benefits. “Close your eyes,” she says. “Try to vividly picture that place—the sights and smells and sounds you would feel and hear.” Hopefully the place that you see is worry-free.

TIME Careers & Workplace

The Remarkable Power of Doing Absolutely Nothing

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Sometimes you can accomplish more by doing less — far less

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When was the last time you took a moment to breathe? Can you recall the last time you felt well rested? Or had a day to do absolutely nothing?

Sadly, most people can’t.

Now, more than ever, people fill their schedules to the brim with tasks that feel so necessary in the moment but which, in reality, are so trivial. They make to-do lists that run miles long, packing them with reminders to get an important assignment done at work, call the hair salon for an appointment, buy some groceries on the way home, and so on.

You tell yourself that you constantly take on a plethora of activities in order to improve your life. It makes sense to take on a second job, to join another club at school, and to help out every family member on Saturday even if you haven’t had the time in your schedule to sleep eight full hours in months.

It’s much easier to do almost anything incessantly than to spend time doing nothing.

What people don’t realize is this: Doing nothing gives you the chance to grow. Being alone without obligation–without the nagging feeling that you’re doing less than you should–allows you to look inward. Without an activity to distract your mind, you must think about yourself.

The famous financier J.P. Morgan used to insist on taking two months off every year. “I can get done in 10 months what I could never do in 12,” he used to say.

It seems that the secret to success in business and in life is actually in finding the ability to be comfortable just being.

Many companies today–including Apple, Google, Nike, and AOL Time Warner–offer employees a variety of programs to help them find a healthy headspace, from meditation to yoga to stress reduction.

When you have the time to think about yourself, you will inevitably return to your obligations refreshed and work calmly and exponentially more productively.

Questioning your daily activities forces you to reevaluate where you are in life, and most important, why you do everything you do. If you have the time to remind yourself why you are passionate about your work, you will–without question–be able to improve your performance.

Take a step back from being overwhelmed, take a deep breath, and take the time to reach your full potential.

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com.

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TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Surprising Ways To Help Your Memory

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Here's how to get your brain blood flowing

A recent study alleviated fears that statins—taken by 1 in 4 adults over the age of 40—cause memory loss. But how do you strengthen recall in general? We asked Dr. Majid Fotuhi, chairman of the Memosyn Neurology Institute, to share the latest research-backed insights. “People don’t appreciate that such simple factors have an impact on your brain health, but they do,” he says. “They’re more powerful than any medicine you can take.”

1. Have a sense of purpose in life. In one study published earlier this year in the journal Stroke, scientists studied autopsied adult brains and found that the odds of having a stroke were reduced by half or older people who had a high sense of purpose, compared to people who reported a low sense of purpose.

2. Go dancing. It’s a brain-building triple threat, he says: physical activity protects the brain, learning lets it grow, and socialization helps it thrive. (Fotuhi recommends the tango.)

3. Learn something new. Pre-GPS, cabbies had to learn their cities’ streets and traffic patterns—a challenging mental exercise that over their career actually grew the part of the brain associated with spatial memory, one study found.

4. Take omega-3s fatty acids. The combo of DHA and EPA increase blood flow to the brain, reduce inflammation and help repair neurons, Fotuhi says. His research also suggests that DHA may slow cognitive decline.

5. Exercise. In a study published in the journal PNAS, people who exercised every day for a year had 2% growth in their hippocampus—a part of the brain that plays a role in short- and long-term memory—while people who merely stretched saw shrinkage. Increasing blood flow to the brain helps it grow, Fotuhi says. “You need to be physically fit below your neck in order to have a fit brain above your neck.”

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 Mental Health/Psychology

Why Taking Antidepressants During Pregnancy Might Not Be So Risky

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The warnings against using SSRIs during pregnancy may not be accurate, a new study suggests

The risk of taking antidepressants late in pregnancy may not be as high as previously suggested.

A new study published in JAMA shows that the risk for serious complications among infants whose mothers take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—key compounds in some antidepressants—is lower than previous studies have shown. Earlier, studies have suggested that taking SSRIs late in pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN): when an infant’s circulation system doesn’t correctly adapt to breathing outside the womb. PPHN can be fatal in 10 to 20% of infants and is linked to serious health problems in those that survive. In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a health advisory about the link.

“When making a decision whether to continue treatment with antidepressants during pregnancy, patients need to weigh all the potential risks with the benefits in terms of improved maternal health and well-being,” says study author Krista F. Huybrechts of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “In the past, an important consideration in this treatment decision has been the potentially large increase in the risk of PPHN, which is a severe and life-threatening condition.”

In the new study, Huybrechts and her co-authors looked at a group of 3,789,330 pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid from 2000-2010 to determine the risk of PPHN linked to use of SSRIs versus non-SSRI antidepressants. They found that while there was a higher risk of PPHN associated with SSRI use in late pregnancy, the overall risk was low.

Among the women studied, 3.4% used an antidepressant during the 90 days before they gave birth. Of those women, 2.7% were on an SSRI and 0.7% were on a non-SSRI. The results showed that 20.8 per 10,000 infants who had no antidepressant exposure had PPHN, compared to the 31 per 10,000 infants who also had PPHN and were exposed to an antidepressant. There was a higher risk among both babies exposed to SSRIs and non-SSRIs. The SSRIs contributed to a slightly higher risk.

The researchers conclude that women and their physicians have to balance the potential risks for complications with the benefits of taking antidepressants for mothers’ mental health. “Our findings should be reassuring for women who suffer from severe depression that doesn’t respond to non-pharmacological treatments, requiring them to stay on treatment during pregnancy,” Huybrechts says.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Why You Might Want to Pay Attention to Your Kid’s Nightmares

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Children who had nightmares at age 12 had about twice the odds of having psychotic experiences later on

Most kids have nightmares some of the time and mostly those dreams mean nothing, except that your kids had something different for dinner or watched a particularly vivid movie or they’re feeling anxious about something. But kids who have nightmares often are at increased risk for developing psychotic symptoms later in adolescence, suggests a new study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Researchers from the U.K. wanted to look at the link between sleepwalking, nightmares and night terrors—when a person wakes up screaming but can’t remember why—in childhood and having psychotic experiences later in adolescence. “The term ‘psychotic’ obviously has connotations for people,” says study author Andrew Thompson, MD, associate clinical professor in psychiatry at the University of Warwick in Coventry. (And they’re not good ones.) But psychotic experiences can include more commonplace occurrences like a child hearing their name being called when it’s not, getting paranoid or thinking that people were trying to hurt them. Kids with symptoms like these don’t necessarily have (or develop) a mental illness or disorder, and many times those experiences means nothing, Thompson says. But symptoms like these, especially on the more severe end of the spectrum, may be forerunners of psychotic illness like schizophrenia.

The team analyzed data from a group of more than 4,000 children in the U.K. who were born around the same time, from birth until age 18. Using reports from children and their mothers on children’s sleepwalking, nightmares and night terrors, the researchers found that people who had nightmares and night terrors at age 12 had about twice the odds of reporting psychotic experiences at age 18. (They found no association with sleepwalking.)

It’s important to note that the risk of these psychotic symptoms is only about 5%, Thompson says, so a doubling of risk isn’t an alarming number. But the results could prove helpful for identifying risk factors for mental illnesses early. Sleep problems are one of the most common complaints among people with schizophrenia—but not nightmares specifically. “That’s maybe because we haven’t asked them,” Thompson says. These nightmares might be triggered by stress, anxiety or trauma, but they might also be a sign of future psychosis, the findings suggest. “We’d like to look into that and see whether these things are particularly important.”

In most cases, Thompson wants to be clear, nightmares are perfectly normal. “What we don’t want to do is frighten the whole world of parents with kids who have nightmares and think it’s a really bad sign, because that’s not the case,” Thompson explains. “It’s the people who have the persistent nightmares, the ones that affect their ability to go to school or concentrate at college. That’s the end of the spectrum that I think that, at the moment, doesn’t get very good treatment.”

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TIME Culture

How Rappers Are Destigmatizing Mental Illness

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Rap has taken major strides simply by talking about it

There’s a lyric in Eminem’s “Rock Bottom”, off The Slim Shady LP, that sticks out: “Live half a life and throw the rest away.” You can read it as a description of depression and its impact, how a crushing vortex of internal negativity can prevent someone from living their best life. Depression manifests in many different ways, including feelings of worthlessness, loss of interest in normal activities, and even recurring suicidal thoughts. Though it often goes undiagnosed, it’s a mental health condition that plagues many, and it’s commonplace for depression to emerge as a major theme for musicians. One place it’s been creeping up more than usual is rap.

Rap has a complicated relationship with depression. For starters, it was born as an appendage of hip-hop and its young black men surging with machismo. Black masculinity has always been at odds with clinical depression, mostly because copping to it can be considered an admission of fragility. Emotional disorders carry a certain stigma that hangs over black communities like a fog, causing many to suffer in silence. This stigma has been covered by PBS, NPR, and Slate’s The Root, but lately it’s grown into more of a full-blown perception. One Yahoo Answers user posed the question “Can black people get depression?” a few years back. In an interview with U.S. News, author and therapist Terrie Williams, who herself has dealt with depression, addressed the stigma candidly: “Depression is a sign of weakness in the black community.”

On top of a sort of communal aversion to acknowledging depression, certain underlying conflicts challenge rappers specifically. Rap bravado doesn’t exactly lend itself to vulnerability or dejection; rappers are more often seen as fixtures of ruggedness or hedonism. To be an openly depressed rapper is to disassociate oneself with the image of an archetypical hip-hop star.

That isn’t to say that rap doesn’t allow its characters to be complex or that rappers have never expressed depression. But its primary ethos has always been pride, and as a result, rap hasn’t been subject to a deep psychological examination on a larger scale. A song like The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Suicidal Thoughts”, built around a concept heavily rooted in depression, grazes many of the symptoms, but Biggie writes from a position of perceived control, shutting himself off from any real internalized dialogue about why he’s feeling so empty. There’s no self-diagnosis or acknowledgment of the root illness itself.

Rap has struggled to communicate major depression, defined by the Mayo Clinic as causing a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest, through a personal lens. In 2015 alone, however, Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, Heems, and Future have already navigated that gap. Each has taken steps to personalize and verbalize his ongoing battles with depression.

On his debut solo album, Eat Pray Thug, Punjabi-Indian rapper Heems follows a similar cycle: a rough breakup leads to depression and prompts him to pursue drug use as an outlet. But unlike Future, he writes his lead-ins with far more cognizance: “I’ve been a mess since I met you/ I regret you/ You could say I love what’s regretful” and “Get low/ Now I’m f—ing sad again/ Bruh, need another drink or I be going mad again/ Mad about you when I’m on my Helen Hunt/ But I’m in the corner and I’m smoking on this blunt.” He’s direct about his lows and how they induce his intoxication. Both Heems and Future turn to drugs to avoid facing their depression head-on, but despite coping in similar ways, they acknowledge their problem through different channels. Future hides his concessions like Easter eggs for diligent listeners. Heems seems open but stays guarded.

Those methods explore facets of depression — Future dances around the fringes of woe and Heems engages on the surface — but rap can connect with the condition on an even more critical level. The more comprehensive appraisals of depression come from two MCs who have both a full understanding of their emotional whims and expert command of the English language. Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt possess the lyrical dexterity to transmit complex emotional responses into words. On top of that, they both use their recent music to communicate exactly how fame can play a role in pushing a person toward depression.

In an interview with MTV about his recent album To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick said bluntly, “My release therapy is writing the music.” He was speaking specifically about “u”, a gut-wrenching, self-evaluative song that is brutally honest about his depression and its causes. He critiques himself like he’s someone else: “I know your secrets/ Mood swings is frequent/ I know depression is restin’ on your heart for two reasons.” He speaks directly from that vortex of internal negativity: “You the reason why Momma and them leavin’/ No, you ain’t s—, you say you love them, I know you don’t mean it/ I know you’re irresponsible, selfish, in denial, can’t help it/ Your trials and tribulations a burden, everyone felt it.” If depression could audibly manifest itself, this is what it would sound like: angry, wretched, poking and prodding, telling you you’re worthless in your own voice.

Then there’s Earl. If the title of his album I Don’t Like S—, I Don’t Go Outside wasn’t a dead giveaway, Earl Sweatshirt’s prologue made it clear. On “Grief”, the album’s first single, he described his depression as “feeling like I’m stranded in a mob, scrambling for Xanax out the canister to pop.” He thinks like a psychoanalyst, studying exactly why he does things. His pleas feel like cries for help: “Step into the shadows, we could talk addiction/ When it’s harmful where you going and the part of you that know it don’t give a f—.” He writes about depression like it’s something that swallows you up. Earl has a special way with words, and his perspective comes across like he’s permanently standing under a dark cloud. It’s even how he paints in the details. On “Off Top” he raps, “I’m only happy when there’s static in the air/ ‘Cause the fair weather fake to me.” He relays his inner battle in what feels like real time. Even if you can’t relate, you sympathize.

These are the voices that can help listeners — including, especially, listeners of color — connect with depression as a real, tangible thing that may affect them and their loved ones. In the last few months alone, rap has taken major strides toward helping to destigmatize depression, both within the genre and within the black community, simply by talking about it. By opening up about mental health and discussing it on a more personalized level, rappers can help breach the dialogue about depression in their own communities. Music is a powerful medium that can help people acknowledge realities they otherwise might not have. It’s not too late for rappers to help alter the perception of mental illness. As Earl puts it, “I just want my time and my mind intact/ When they’re both gone, you can’t buy ‘em back.”

This article originally appeared on Consequence of Sound.

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TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Depression Can Double Risk for Stroke—Even When It’s Treated

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People with prolonged depression had 114% higher risk of stroke than those without symptoms

As if depression isn’t hard enough on the mind, the condition can also wreak havoc all over the body, increasing risk of health problems that at first don’t seem remotely connected to feeling low. Depressed people are at increased risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular death, and according to a new study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, they’re also at greatly increased risk for stroke. Adults over age 50 who report persistent symptoms of depression have double the risk for stroke, the study finds—and that increase lingers even after they report feeling better.

The researchers analyzed data from more than 16,000 middle-aged adults ages 50 and older. Every two years from 1998-2010, the people in the study were asked about their history of stroke, stroke risk factors and symptoms of depression.

People who reported high symptoms of depression—three or more symptoms from an eight-item depression scale—for four consecutive years had about 114% higher risk of stroke compared to those who did not have symptoms of depression at either interview.

It remains unclear exactly how prolonged depressive symptoms lead to an increased stroke risk, but the elevated risk appears to stick around for a long time, even after depression goes away. People whose depressive symptoms had subsided at the second interview still had a 66% higher risk of stroke than those without symptoms.

“We do not know if, had we been able to examine individuals who had been symptom free for a longer time, stroke risk would have declined more,” said study author Paola Gilsanz, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in an email. “To assess that, we really need a larger study.”

Just as stroke risk was slow to subside, it was slow to take hold, too. People who had just begun developing depressive symptoms weren’t at higher stroke risk than those without symptoms. “We were surprised to see that changes in depressive symptoms seem to take more than two years to influence risk of stroke,” Gilsanz said.

It’s difficult to say from this study whether treatment has mitigating effects, since the authors didn’t specifically look at why people’s symptoms went away. But even though the data suggest that getting rid of symptoms of depression might not immediately erase the increased risk for stroke, they emphasize the importance of early treatment.

“If our findings are replicated, they suggest depressive symptoms merit prompt attention soon after they begin, before they have time to substantially impact stroke risk,” Gilsanz says. “We also recommend that people with depression also focus on keeping their overall stroke risk profile as healthy as possible, as we all should.”

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

You Asked: Are My Devices Messing With My Brain?

You Asked: Are All My Devices Messing With My Brain?
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Yes—and you're probably suffering from phantom text syndrome, too.

First it was radio. Then it was television. Now doomsayers are offering scary predictions about the consequences of smartphones and all the other digital devices to which we’ve all grown so attached. So why should you pay any attention to the warnings this time?

Apart from portability, the big difference between something like a traditional TV and your tablet is the social component, says Dr. David Strayer, a professor of cognition and neural science at the University of Utah. “Through Twitter or Facebook or email, someone in your social network is contacting you in some way all the time,” Strayer says.

“We’re inherently social organisms,” adds Dr. Paul Atchley, a cognitive psychologist at Kansas University. There’s almost nothing more compelling than social information, he says, which activates part of your brain’s reward system. Your noodle is also hardwired to respond to novel sights or sounds. (For most of human history, a sudden noise might have signaled the presence of a predator.) “So something like a buzz or beep or flashing light is tapping into that threat detection system,” he explains.

Combine that sudden beep with the implicit promise of new social info, and you have a near-perfect, un-ignorable stimulus that will pull your focus away from whatever task your brain is working on. And while you may think you can quickly check a text or email and pick up that task where you left off, you really can’t.

“Every time you switch your focus from one thing to another, there’s something called a switch-cost,” says Dr. Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Your brain stumbles a bit, and it requires time to get back to where it was before it was distracted.”

While this isn’t a big deal if you’re doing something simple and rote—making an omelet, say, or folding clothes—it can be a very big deal if your brain is trying to sort out a complex problem, Miller says.

One recent study found it can take your brain 15 to 25 minutes to get back to where it was after stopping to check an email. And Miller’s own research shows you don’t get better at this sort of multitasking with practice. In fact, people who judged themselves to be expert digital multitaskers tended to be pretty bad at it, he says.

“You’re not able to think as deeply on something when you’re being distracted every few minutes,” Miller adds. “And thinking deeply is where real insights come from.”

There seems to be an easy solution to this: When you’re working on something complicated, switch off your phone or email.

That could work for some people. But there’s evidence that as your brain becomes accustomed to checking a device every few minutes, it will struggle to stay on task even at those times when it’s not interrupted by digital alerts. “There’s something called ‘phantom text syndrome,’ ” Atchley says. “You think you hear a text or alert, but there isn’t one.”

While phantom texts can afflict adults, Atchley says this phenomenon is pretty much universal among people under the age of 20—many of whom wouldn’t recognize a world that doesn’t include smartphones. Even if you don’t hear phantom alerts, you may still find yourself reflexively wanting to check your device every few minutes for updates, which disrupts your concentration regardless of whether you ignore that impulse.

Your ability to focus aside, a 2014 study appearing in the journal PLOS One found that people who spend a lot of time “media multitasking”—or juggling lots of different websites, apps, programs or other digital stimuli—tend to have less grey matter in a part of their brain involved with thought and emotion control. These same structural changes are associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety disorders, says that study’s first author, Kepkee Loh, who conducted his research at University College London.

Atchley says more research suggests lots of device use bombards your brain’s prefrontal cortex, which plays a big role in willpower and decision-making. “The prefrontal cortex prevents us from doing stupid things, whether it’s eating junk food or texting while driving,” he explains.

He says this part of the human brain isn’t “fully wired” until your early 20s—another issue that has him worried about how a lot of device use may be affecting children and adolescents.

So what’s the antidote? Spending time in nature may counteract the focus-draining effects of too much tech time, shows research Atchley and Strayer published in 2012. Meditation may also offer focus-strengthening benefits.

Strayer says putting your phone on silent and setting your email only to deliver new messages every 30 minutes are also ways to use your devices strategically and “not be a slave to them,” he adds.

Of course, there are plenty of benefits associated with the latest and greatest technologies. Ease and convenience of staying in touch with friends is a big one. But many open questions remain when it comes to the true cost of our digital distractions.

“Imagine Einstein trying to think about mathematics at a time when part of his brain was wondering what was going on with Twitter,” Atchley says. “People make incredible breakthroughs when they’re concentrating very hard on a specific task, and I wonder if our devices are taking away our ability to do that.”

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