Addiction Anxiety Depression Mental Health Prevention

The Dangers of DMT and Psychedelic Experimentation

DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) is a short-acting, albeit powerful psychedelic drug in the tryptamine family. Additionally, the use of Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), an older class of anti-depressant drugs, has been found to increase the effects of DMT.  This chemical structure of DMT has the same or similar chemical structure as the natural neurotransmitter serotonin and the hormone melatonin found in the brain.  Our bodies actually produce DMT, but science hasn’t determined its purpose thus far. It is derived from the essential amino acid tryptophan and produced by the same enzyme INMT during the body’s normal metabolism. Some researches have postulated that brain’s production of DMT may be related to the organic cause of some mental illness.


Adolescents are naturally curious creatures. They want to know about the world that they live in and they want to understand why it is the way it is. Developmentally this leads to a natural curiosity about the nature of the world and spiritual matters. During the 1960s, well-respected researchers looked into the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat mental illness, including depression. The ’60s generation took this as a cue to experiment with their minds. What we have learned since then is such experimentation is potentially dangerous and harmful, especially for those with a latent tendency toward depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and other forms of mental illness.


Psychedelic drugs have a distinct effect on brain chemistry. Some of them have chemical structures similar to natural neurotransmitters and almost all of them are classified as alkaloid. Historically, psychedelic drugs have been used by ancient cultures for spiritual practice and ceremony. And science has used psychedelic drugs for research.


However, psychedelics are significantly abused.


One of the most dangerous components of psychedelic drugs is the potential negative effect on people already vulnerable to mental illness. The user is, in effect, playing with his or her brain chemistry without direct knowledge of any short- or long-term effects these drugs may have. And someone who has an undiagnosed or untreated mental illness can adversely affect his or her mental health with the use of psychedelic drugs, or any drugs for that matter. Drugs like DMT, though old, are no different. DMT works fast, it has an intense effect that lasts for 15 minutes but purportedly feels like several hours. This can be an overwhelming experience, especially in cases of untreated or undiagnosed mental illness.


The bottom like is this: Experimenting with your mind is dangerous. Curious or not, this type of psychological misadventure is not worth the risk and the potential fallout.


Depression Mental Health Recovery

Visions Remembers Robin Williams

It is with a heavy heart that I write this piece about comedic legend Robin Williams. He was someone that literally touched lives across generations. His comedic value was priceless, and he continued to break barriers throughout his career. Robin Williams also suffered deeply from substance abuse and mental illness, both of which were a common thread through his all-too-short life.


Here’s a touch of what Robin Williams taught me:

  • He taught me that being different was ok, if not downright cool.
  • He taught me to be who I am and to take risks.
  • He taught me to laugh in the face of adversity.
  • He reinvigorated my love of poetry.
  • He taught me that love is invaluable and that sometimes we have to do whatever we can to let it shine.

I only wish that the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse didn’t rest in his shadow. I wish he had time to see the outpouring of love and celebration for his genius. My hope is that we can SEE our loved ones who are suffering with kind and compassionate eyes, and that we can make efforts to normalize mental illness and substance abuse. Depression is serious business, it cannot be ignored or swept under the rug. Self-care is often low on the priority list in depression; it’s that thing often out of reach. It’s up to us to give depression and mental illness a voice.

We all have fond memories of Robin Williams, moments of his comedic genius (some of which are too rife with expletives to post  here), and moments of seriousness. Here are a few fine moments with Robin Williams that capture a mere smattering of his versatility and light:


His compassion in Patch:


Telling stories to heal in Fisher King:


His quirkiness in Mork and Mindy:


And a reminder of the innate value of poetry in Dead Poets Society:

Depression Feelings Mental Health Recovery

How Do You Overcome a Fear of Happiness?

Do you suffer from a fear of happiness?

Grumpy Cat (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

Now, that may seem like an odd question but it makes a lot of sense. Sometimes, we fear happiness because we don’t think we deserve it, or because we chalk it up to being something for those “other people”—the ones who “have it all” or so we think.  A fear of happiness may also be a residual effect of systemic trauma and abuse, which subversively sends us messages to say we don’t deserve happiness. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for someone to feel unworthy of love, joy, serenity, wellness, and safety when they enter recovery. It takes a community of consistent support, via clinicians, peers, and family to be able to transform the attachment to misery.


It’s easy to get stuck in what is familiar and therefore comfortable. Conversely, it’s incredibly difficult to confront that perceived comfort to ask yourself if you deserve better. According to a recent article in Scientific American, Paul Gilbert, a psychiatrist at Kingsway Hospital in England, and his colleagues found that “a fear of happiness correlates highly with depression—but that the dread manifests in numerous ways.” Paul Gilbert goes on to say, “Some people experience happiness as being relaxed or even lazy, as if happiness is frivolous and one must always be striving; others feel uncomfortable if they are not always worrying. It is not uncommon for people to fear that if they are happy about something, it will be taken away.” Research is showing that there is a correlation between a fear of happiness and a decline in mental health. Avoiding happiness can lead to depression. Findings have shown individuals with a major depressive disorder are apt to repress any emotions associated with positive or negative stimulus more than a healthy subject would.


Take the Quiz: Are  You Afraid of Happiness?


One of the interesting things I’m seeing in this research is the urging for clinicians and clients to work through the fear of happiness as they would any other fear. Much like anything else you are afraid of, overcoming that fear takes a process of taking consistent baby steps. In the case of happiness, learning how to experience glints of happiness and or moments of pleasant emotions is an essential component in finally discovering the ability to be happy.


I also want to acknowledge there are some who view happiness as a luxury—something for those who don’t have as much to suffer from. This is particularly the case when happiness is directly associated with “stuff,” ie., having a smart phone, a fancy car, that guy or that girl, the “right” clothes, or being part of the popular crowd.  When we attach happiness to things, what we may find instead is disappointment. Here, happiness isn’t so much feared as it is resented.  Working on that resentment is a different process and one that still requires unpeeling the resentment piece by piece to get to its core. The fact is, we all deserve to be happy.


How have you overcome a fear or resentment of happiness?



Depression Feelings Mental Health PTSD Recovery

Grief and Mental Health: Picking up the Pieces

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New trauma and despair is front and center in the US as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting unveiled the deaths of 20 children and 6 adults. The death of children is always shocking. The innocence and futures lost are rapidly exonerated from our grasp, leaving us breathless and frozen in grief. Families will begin to face the emptiness of their loss and the depth of their grief as the days continue. Additionally, the survivors, both children and adults, will potentially suffer from PTSD as a result of seeing and surviving such horrors. There will be deep sadness, depression, and self-doubt. There will be mental-health issues that need to be tended to, whether we like it or not.  Remember, grief is a staged process with no specific order or end date.


Mental health is once again in the headlines, screaming at us to pay attention and dive in to find a solution to a problem which is no longer able to sustain its place as the “elephant in the room.” The list of tragic and heinous events where someone possibly suffering from untreated mental health issues and acts out in egregious violence is getting longer and longer. We blame guns, we blame the parents, we blame the circumstances surrounding the events, but mental illness tends to be an afterthought or worse yet, an excuse. Parents who sit in denial of their child’s mental illness is a problem; poor circumstances and/or degenerative environments are a problem; and untreated mental illness is a problem. There are solutions to all of these problems, especially when we address them early on.


In the midst of our deep grief, it’s time to find a way to look at the causative factors that drives a human being to take the lives of innocent children. Our cultural denial and stigmatization of mental health is detrimental to the ultimate well being and healing of our society. In the 1980s, when the government closed several mental health facilities, placing many on the streets with their illnesses left untreated, we had a first glimpse of what mental health looks like when left out in the open: unaddressed and swept aside. This denial lends itself to putting our blinders on when it comes to the imbalances of our minds, pretending they’ll “work themselves out.” They usually don’t. The field of psychiatry has made great strides to discover and treat the varying mental illnesses that affect individuals, but the greatest barrier is typically the denial of the illness by families and the individuals themselves. We have to begin by asking for help. We must begin unraveling the stigma wrapped so tightly around mental illness and replacing it with treatment.

Some signs to watch for in your kids:

  • Often angry or worried
  • Feel grief for a long time after a death
  • Using alcohol or drugs
  • Sudden changes in weight
  • Withdrawal from favorite activities
  • Harming self or others
  • Recklessness
  • Destroying property: yours or others

The only stigma left is the stigma of denial.

SAMSHA also lists the following as types of people and places that will make a referral to, or provide, diagnostic and treatment services.

  • Family doctors
  • Mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or mental health counselors
  • Religious leaders/counselors
  • Health maintenance organizations
  • Community mental health centers
  • Hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient clinics
  • University- or medical school-affiliated programs
  • State hospital outpatient clinics
  • Social service agencies
  • Private clinics and facilities
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Local medical and/or psychiatric societies
Visions is just a phone call away. We are here to help!
Committed to the Family; Committed to the Future: 866-889-3665.
Depression Mental Health Self-Care

Ambient Light and Mental Health

Stop the presses, is this recent study from the Ohio State University Medical Center saying what I think they’re saying–that our moods and mental health would potentially improve if we unplugged at night and limited long periods of artificial, dim light? This study most definitely got my attention!

Last year, the American Medical Association (AMA) “evaluated the impact of artificial lighting on human health, primarily through disruption of circadian biological rhythms or sleep.”  They found that the natural, 24-hour progression of our body’s cycle of light to dark helped maintain our biological rhythms, was a Scientists “found that hamsters with chronic exposure to dim light at night showed signs of depression within just a few weeks.” Some of the symptoms included: reduced physical activity compared with hamsters living without dim light at night along with “changes in the brain’s hippocampus that are similar to brain changes seen in depressed people.”

This certainly doesn’t mean we need to go down with the sun, but it does mean that our mental health has the potentiality to improve with less screen time. Unplugging at night will help us get our bodies back to their natural light-dark schedule—the schedule we are born with and which we fight and alter as soon as we realize there are interesting things happening around us!

This is an opportunity to start a new path of self-care. If you watch TV at night, how about watching a little less? Does Facebook call to you after 9? Don’t answer for a night and see how you feel. We only think we are missing something. The truth is, things slow down after hours. This is a chance to redefine how we have fun while learning to take care of ourselves. Our mental health becomes an invaluable asset and one that should be nurtured.

Here’s a challenge. Unplug after 8 for a week and journal your feelings about it. I’d love to hear of any insights or discoveries you have! You can email me at or leave a comment here.

Addiction Depression Mental Health Recovery

Privilege Doesn’t Mean Easy

Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes, teen angst is obvious. It shows up as truancy, poor grades, and sullen or surly attitudes. But sometimes, it’s subtle, and easily missed by parents desperate to feel their child is doing all right. After reading this remarkable article by Dr. Madeline Levine, I was reminded about the elusive nature of teen angst and the parental actions taken to limit pain, sadness, fear, and frankly, some of the pertinent life experiences which are part and parcel to learning about the human condition. Dr. Levine noted how common this is amongst those more privileged when she states, “It would be a stretch to diagnose these kids as emotionally ill. They don’t have the frazzled, disheveled look of kids who know they are in serious trouble.” In these cases, it takes time to really unravel the problem because the outsides are masked so skillfully. Levine notes this as well, “After a few sessions, sometimes more, the extent of distress among these teenagers becomes apparent. Scratch the surface, and many of them are, in fact, depressed, anxious and angry.” She also notes the fact that it’s the kids requesting help, not always the parents recognizing there might be a problem.

Many parents will say,  “I just don’t want my child to feel pain or be sad, or get hurt.” While parents are providing tremendous resources and attention to these kids, there is still an internal sense of strife felt in many of them. This additional desire to protect and fix things with materialistic items is just a another way of muffling the reality of whatever it is we’re dealing with.  An iPod, or a new pair of Uggs won’t fix the emotional pain and loneliness of social anxiety or lift the spirits of the depressed. Sure, the thrill of getting something new may make us temporarily feel good, but those feel-good moments start to fade and we’re still left with the feelings we were trying to run away from in the first place.

This presents an interesting conundrum when it comes to asking for help. The suffering isn’t as obvious for these teens, and it becomes harder still to determine the root cause when the issues themselves are concealed. In this sense, the “privileged” may find it harder to reach out for help because their ability to acquire bigger and better things is easier, and their academic and social resources are more viable. In this case, the ability to stuff feelings comes at a higher price, both literally and figuratively.  And while some may view those who are more privileged as spoiled, I hesitate to think this is entirely the case. In fact, I would venture to say some of this is the manifestation of a larger issue: parental denial, a need to run from feelings and the financial ability to do it in bigger and more aggrandized ways.

Sometimes it’s harder to ask for help when it looks like you have it “together” from the outside. The assumption is that one is doing well because they may not have lost everything, or because they appear fine solely because their outsides are seemingly put together. Unfortunately, the outsides don’t always match the insides. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt low but was complimented on my appearance. It’s a trick we play to hide what’s really going on. That “trick,” however, leaves us lonely and sometimes isolated from the very people who can help us. Our kids need us to be there for them, but we can’t always intervene. In doing so, we teach helplessness, when what we really want to do is provide a safe foundation at home so our kids can develop the tools they need to experience life. As Hodding Carter once said, “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.”

Read the article in its entirety (I highly recommend this).

See here for more information about The Price of Privilege.

Anxiety Depression Mental Health Self-Harm Stress Suicide

New study: Self-harm in Teens

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Even as someone in recovery from self-harming behavior, the statistics regarding who and how many continue to self-harm still hits home. A recent study by Dr. Paul Moran at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Melbourne, found that “1 in 12 young people self-harm as adolescents, with the balance skewed toward girls.” Moran’s study followed a group of “young people from Victoria, Australia, from adolescence (14-15 years old) to young adulthood (28-29 years old) between 1992 and 2008.” According to the study, out of the 1802 participants responding to the adolescent phase, 149 (8%) reported self-harm. More girls (10%) than boys (6%) reported self-harm, which translates to a 60% increased risk of self-harm for girls compared to boys.1 Self-cutting/burning was the most common type of self-harming behavior seen in adolescents, but other forms of self-harm include self-battery, poisoning and overdose. Additional findings in Dr. Moran’s study show that self-harm was also associated with “antisocial behavior, high-risk alcohol use, cannabis use, and cigarette smoking,” but that “most adolescent self-harming behavior resolves itself spontaneously.”

Self-harming behaviors are often symptomatic of anxiety and depression, acting as a salve to those otherwise unable to feel or process their feelings in a more skillful way. It is, in many ways, an effort by the one self-harming to regulate their mood and can also act as a kind of emotional steam valve for difficult emotions or even as a means of self–punishment. Regardless, self-harming behaviors indicate mental-health issues that do need to be addressed. No one self-harms out of pride or because they’re happy about something. The truth is, there is a lot of shame associated with self-injurious behaviors.

Still, there continues to be a high risk for suicide completion in those who have a history of self-harming, particularly those who continue to do it into adulthood. When addressing this, we must remember that it’s not usually a self-aggrandizing act, but rather something one does in a poor attempt to feel better, or to simply feel something. The rate of suicide rates are sobering: according to this significant report from the World Health Organization, almost a million people die from suicide each year, giving a mortality rate of 16 per 100,000, or one death every 40 seconds. In the last 45 years, suicide rates have increased by 60 percent worldwide. And according to the CDC, “suicide rates are among the 10 leading causes of death in the US.”2

More often than not, you won’t see signs of self-harm, because typically, injuries are inflicted in places easily hidden by sleeves or other articles of clothing. Still, if you’re worried about your child, make an effort to show concern and get them some help. Keep in mind, if your parenting style has been of the lecturing or authoritarian type, or the particularly reactive type, this may be a good time to use a different tactic. Someone who’s suffering in this way will only shut down when faced with an impending firm, albeit worried, lecture. If your child shows signs of stress, anxiety, or begins isolating more than usual, it’s likely that trouble may be brewing. Worrying aside, your kids need to know you are there for them, no matter what.




For more information, see:


Canadian Medical Association

National Institute of Health

Depression Mental Health

Depression in Adolescence

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Depression affects teens as well as adults but is often missed partly because it can co-occur with the natural emotional ups and downs that are part and parcel to being a teenager. Simply put, growing up is a naturally stressful process, and that’s without any external conflicts acting as a contributing factor! The other organically occurring components fostering an environment for adolescent depression are things like hormones, and conflict with parents. When we include disturbing events like a breakup, death of a friend or relative, or difficulty at school, one’s susceptibility to depression increases.

Adolescence is a time for expressing independence, which sometimes means drawing a firm line in the sand with one’s parents in order to create autonomy. On occasion, those efforts can create a snag in parent/child communication. Puberty is inherent to the organic and experiential part of being human. It also means there is going to be infallibility and imperfection. Sometimes, as parents, we forget what it was like and spend too much time reacting and taking things personally and not enough time taking action. Think of it this way: if a teen is suffering from depression, they more than likely won’t tell you. In fact, they may be surreptitiously hoping that you take notice, because talking about it might be too scary or embarrassing.

According to the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A) via the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): “About 11% of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18. Girls are more likely than boys to experience depression. The risk for depression increased as a child gets older.” And according to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability among Americans age 15-44.” Further, the NIMH site notes that since childhood behaviors vary from one childhood stage to another, “it can be difficult to tell whether a child who shows changes in behavior is just going through a temporary ‘phase’ or is suffering from depression.

Since symptoms of adolescent depression differ slightly than those of an adult, it’s important to pay attention to any idiosyncrasies that may occur (sans getting over-analytical and paranoid). A child who’s depressed may complain of being sick, they may suddenly become excessively clingy, and they may often refuse to go to school; A teen, on the other hand, may sulk, get in trouble at school, be an overall grump, and feel a general sense of being misunderstood.

Symptoms of depression can include some or all of these factors:

  • Appetite changes (usually a loss of appetite but sometimes an increase)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Episodes of memory loss
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling upset, restless, and irritable
  • Feeling worthless, hopeless, sad, or self-hatred
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once fun
  • Thinking or talking about suicide or death
  • Trouble sleeping, too much sleeping, or daytime sleepiness

Sometimes a person’s behavior may change, or there may be problems at home or school without any symptoms of depression:

  • Acting-out behaviors (missing curfews, unusual defiance)
  • Criminal behavior (such as shoplifting)
  • Irresponsible behavior
  • Poor school performance, grades dropping
  • Pulling away from family and friends, spending more time alone
  • Use of alcohol or other illegal substances

If you notice any of these behaviors lasting for more than two weeks, it’s time to seek help, particularly if these behaviors are beyond the normative rollercoaster ride consistent with adolescence.

For additional information and for documentation of sources for this article:

Depression in Children and Adolescents (Fact Sheet)
Use of Mental Health Services and Treatment Among Children (
Adolescent Depression (
Adolescent Depression (PubMedHealth:
Adolescent Depression ( 

Addiction Anxiety Depression Mental Health Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) PTSD Recovery Therapy Treatment

MDMA: Is This Psychotropic Drug Helpful, Harmful, or Both?

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Last time I wrote about ecstasy, it was about the rise in ER visits and the inherent dangers of using a drug that inevitably depletes one’s levels of serotonin and has the potentiality of long-term brain damage. So, when I came across an article talking about using MDMA (ecstasy) to treat post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), my curiosity was sparked. Psychedelic drugs have been used to treat mental illness before, and with some success: In the 50s and 60s, psychology was in a Freudian phase, viewing psychological issues as conflicts between the conscious and unconscious minds. At that time, psychedelics were used to allow patients to face their unconscious minds while awake, which purportedly eliminated the variables of memory retrieval. Still, these methods of treatment weren’t without controversy.  With the influx of street use, and folks like Timothy Leary telling people to “”Turn on, tune in and drop out,” the use of psychedelia to treat mental illness was met with great discernment and fell to the wayside.

Currently, interest in using MDMA and other psychedelics to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and PTSD is gaining traction. MAPS is doing extended research on this subject, and states that MDMA isn’t the street drug we call ecstasy, noting that while ecstasy contains MDMA, it also may contain ketamine, caffeine, BZP, and other narcotics and stimulants. According the MAPS site they are “undertakinga 10-year, $10 million plan to make MDMA into an FDA-approved prescription medicine.” They are also “currently the only organization in the world funding clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. For-profit pharmaceutical companies are not interested in developing MDMA into a medicine because the patent for MDMA has expired. Companies also cannot profit from MDMA because it is only administered a limited number of times, unlike most medications for mental illnesses which are taken on a daily basis.”

The use of this drug has leaned so far from its psychotherapeutic roots, proving to be one of the most popular, highly sought-after street drugs around. Because of this, the useful aspect of this drug may easily be overlooked, forcing us to question how we can take something that has morphed into a social enigma and call it useful. I’m curious, will sufficient research place this drug at the discerning hands of medical professionals once again? And how do we, as a recovery community accept this when we have kids coming in suffering from the long-term, negative effects caused by this very drug?

Related articles:

MDMA May Help Relieve Posttraumatic Stress Disorder(

Ecstasy As Treatment for PTSD from Sexual Trauma and War? New Research Shows Very Promising Results (

Clinical Study of MDMA Confirms Benefits Noted by Therapists Before It Was Banned (

Neuroscience for Kids

Ecstasy Associated With Chronic Change in Brain Function


Anxiety Depression Mental Health Recovery Self-Harm

Cutting: Beyond YouTube

Cutting is back in the spotlight after a study by TheJournal of the American Academy of Pediatrics brought attention to the high numbers of YouTube videos showing teens and young adults exhibiting self-harming behaviors. By simply typing “self-harm” and “self-injury” into YouTube’s search engine, Dr. Steven P. Lewis, et al, discovered numerousvideos showing various levels of self-harming behavior.After extensive review and documentation, these were the findings:

“The top 100 videos analyzed were viewed over 2 million times, and most (80%) were accessible to a general audience. Viewers rated the videos positively (M = 4.61; SD: 0.61 out of 5.0) and selected videos as a favorite over 12 000 times. The videos’ tones were largely factual or educational (53%) or melancholic (51%). Explicit imagery of self-injury was common. Specifically, 90% of noncharacter videos had nonsuicidal self-injury photographs, whereas 28% of character videos had in-action nonsuicidal self-injury. For both, cutting was the most common method. Many videos (58%) do not warn about this content.”

Researchers worry that these videos might lead to a normative view of cutting and self-harming. As one who self-harmed for years (even into my sobriety), my concern isn’t whether or not this will be viewed as normal, but rather, is anyone taking action and listening to this loud cry for help?
It’s not fun to self-harm. It isn’t a source of pride. It’s not something you share with those around you. It’s not something you do to feel “a part of” or to be “cool.” For me, it was something I did to actually feel because I was so numbed out. In the flash of the adrenaline rush, I felt alive and present when I self-harmed. I felt like it was the only way to feel “real” in my otherwise surreal life. I also felt immediate and devastating shame. It was scary. It was embarrassing. Having to explain abhorent injuries to the curious when the perpetrator is you is nightmarish.
Getting help took an act of bravery on my part. I had to tell someone. I had to talk about it…openly. I had to face my shame and fear so I could transform it into something positive. I had to do some deep, spiritual work in order to learn how to turn self-harm into self-care. I continue to do this work, so I can  revel in self-care and be of service to others. I had to build a fellowship of support that would be there if I slipped back. I empathize for the kids on YouTube. I hope someone reaches out the hand of recovery and lets them know they don’t have to hurt like that anymore.

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