The Epigenetic Legacy of Trauma

The evening of November 9th, 1938, began with typical fall solemnity for many Jews living across Germany: closing up their shops and businesses, returning home from school, and preparing family suppers. It would end with terror, as mobs ransacked storefronts, assaulted Jews on the street, and set fire to their homes. That terrible night would be known to history by the glittering debris of shattered windows lining the streets: “Kristallnacht.”

Kristallnacht, and the subsequent atrocities of Germany’s holocaust against the Jews, changed the world. Modernity had to forever acknowledge a surprising and abhorrent crime. Societies would undergo lasting changes, attempting to prevent such crimes, and the victims themselves, sadly, would suffer long-lasting impacts to their psyche.Continue reading

Mental Health is a Part of Health: A Conversation with Shekhar Saxena

In a recent presidential town hall, President Obama looked directly into the camera and made a powerful statement about mental health. “If something inside you feels like it’s wounded, it’s just like a physical injury. You’ve got to go get help,” said the leader of the free world.

Buried under the weight of a massive social stigma, seeking help or even acknowledging a mental illness can be an excruciating task. How, then, can we help ourselves and our loved ones achieve emotional and mental well-being?Continue reading

The Sum of All Fears Knowing Neurons

The Sum of All Fears… Includes Safety?

Identifying safe or dangerous situations are essential for survival.  A child may be fearful of crossing a road alone, but he will be completely relaxed while crossing the same road with his mom.  The inability to discriminate between dangerous and safe situations produces responses that may lead to anxiety disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder (Pitman et al., 2012).  The fear circuitry in the brain has been extensively mapped out with many studies focusing on the amygdala as the primary player in fear regulation (LeDoux, 2000).  In fact, many undergraduate students in psychology and physiology are taught that the amygdala is the “fear center” of the brain.  However, recent experiments demonstrate that the amygdala is responsible for regulating safety, too!Continue reading

Superhuman Fearlessness? Think Again.

There are a handful of things that make me really uneasy. The mere thought of getting onto a roller coaster, especially the kind that slowly ascends hundreds of feet before dropping uncontrollably at high speeds, makes me want to let out a childish high-pitched squeal. Even the “cool” elevators that glide on the outside of buildings, which might give you a beautiful panoramic view, only leave me feeling sick.Continue reading