Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Neural Development and Mental Illness

Today was like Monday to me, since I did not have class yesterday. I was unsure of what today's class was going to be on, but Cassie told us as we all arrived that today would be spent doing a lecture on neural development, and then for the second half of the day, we would work some more on our results and discussion. Before we started our lecture though, we went over our second quiz of the course. I did better on this one than on the first quiz. I got an A, so that's good, but there is still one more quiz to study for. Since there are only three more days of class and on Friday we will be celebrating our last day and presenting our projects. That means that the quiz is either tomorrow or Thursday. Cassie said that the class improved as a whole which is good. She offered a fourth quiz so that each quiz would be worth less, but I chose to stick with just the three quizzes.

After going over the quiz, we began our lecture on neural development. It was different from most lectures because it was more about biology and scientific. Usually we learn more about theories and ideas, not concrete facts. We went over the neuron, dendrites, axons, and other details. What always surprises me when I hear it, even though I have heard it numerous times is the fact that a neuron, a single cell, can go down a portion of the length of your spine. She said that when she studied giant squids, they had neurons the length of a table going down their tentacles. It is strange to think about because when one usually thinks of cells, they think of the smallest building block of life, something completely unseen by the naked eye.

 Then we learned about white matter, or glia. Glia makes up the myelin sheath. This is what covers the axon and allows for electrical signals to be sent much quicker. When something goes wrong with the myelin sheath, serious problems will result. For example, multiple sclerosis, or MS, occurs when the myelin sheath is attacked by the immune system. Usually the cells that attack the myelin sheath do not even enter the brain, but when something goes wrong and they do, the myelin sheath can be attacked. Schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder, have also been found to have connections with what is happening to the myelin sheath.  

We also learned about a device called the TMS, or Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. Basically what this device does is it sends strong magnetic waves into someone’s brain, and messes with the electrical connections happening in the brain. We saw a short clip of someone with a TMS on a certain part of their brain, and all of a sudden not being able to pronounce anything. They knew what they were trying to say, but it was very difficult to understand them. As soon as the TMS was taken away, they were able to speak normally again. There was a case where the TMS was used as a therapy for severe depression as a last resort. The people that used the TMS had already gone to therapists and taken medications, which all did not work. After multiple weeks of this TMS therapy, about one third of the people getting the therapy showed big signs of improvement. While we discussed this in class, many, including myself, were worried about how safe the TMS is. Could this have any dangerous side effects? It is temporarily changing the electricity in your brain, so could this have long term changes too? There is no concrete evidence, but Cassie said that in the depression case, the benefits were probably worth more than unknown consequences. She did say earlier though, that if she were given the chance to participate in a study involving the TMS she would decline because of not knowing what the side effects could be. 

 We went over the different lobes of the brain, synaptogenesis, neurogenesis, synaptic pruning, and myelination. It was a lot of vocabulary and I have a feeling that this material will be on the next quiz. After a dense lecture, we broke for lunch at about 11:30, giving us a little extra time if we were to be back at one o’clock. 

 I was getting a little tired of the dining hall food, so I went to a small café in the basement of the theology building. It was called Grounds of Being. What is cool about this café is that they have lunch options for not too expensive from all of the nearby restaurants. The first time I went there I got yellow curry. Today I god a roasted eggplant sandwich and a lavender flavored sparkling water. After I ate and read for about an hour, I went back to my class, which was only about a five minute walk.

 I got there early so I just started working on my results and discussion, which is what we were going to do for the rest of class anyway. Writing the discussion part was definitely a challenge because everything you write you have to be able to back up with your data. I couldn’t even make the simplest assumptions about the participants emotions, without my discussion becoming too opinion based. I got through it, and before I knew it, it was three o’clock and we were free to return to the dorms.

When I went back to the dorms, I worked some more on my results and discussions before turning them in for Cassie’s revisions. By that time it was about six, and I went to dinner with Oyin, where we saw Victoria and Jimmy. Later Dani stopped by too, but she was in a rush because she had a project to complete. After dinner, I went back to my room so I could start on my reading for tomorrow’s class.

The reading was an article from the New York Times called the Americanization of Mental Illness. This was the first reading in the class that I could stay very engaged in, and I think it is because although it dealt with the subject of psychology, it was not using psych terms that I did not understand and it was written for a more general population. It discussed how before globalization, different cultures over different time periods used to have different mental ailments. It describes how mental illness all over the world has become westernized and how now it is thought of as diseases and illnesses in biological terms rather than spiritual problems. An interesting story it told was about how in Hong Kong, anorexia was described by some girls who had it as they did not eat and they felt their stomachs were always bloated. There was almost never anything said about the fear of being fat, which more how anorexia is thought of in western cultures.  After a girl died from anorexia and the media got to it, they took the western definition of anorexia, and so because of the exposure, the definition shifted, and a doctor reported seeing more cases of anorexia, and more often a phobia of being fat being described. It was very interesting to read about how different cultures looked at mental illnesses, and how that is changing now because of Americanization and globalization. 

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