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Judy Collins On Suicide, Mental Illness And The Story Her Voice Is Telling

Singer and songwriter Judy Collins at WBUR. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Singer and songwriter Judy Collins at WBUR. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

I thought I loved Judy Collins because her voice was ineffably crystalline, because her songs were the soundtrack of my youth, because her “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?” becomes ever more relevant as I get older.

But now that I’ve heard her converse with Here & Now host Robin Young, I understand something more: that infusing her inimitable voice were the pain and the power that come from a life that has included glory but also rock-bottom despair: alcoholism, depression and the 1992 suicide of her son, Clark.

Not that she has kept any of her travails secret. Now 77, she has written and spoken about them so publicly that this week she received the McLean Award from McLean Hospital for “her work to increase awareness about mental health through her many interviews, compelling memoirs and advocacy efforts.”

“She has courageously and very publicly shared her experience with depression, alcoholism and the struggles she faced following her son’s suicide, thus helping dispel the stigma of psychiatric disorders,” says the award’s text. “She has reached countless people with her message and is a true champion of mental wellness for all.”

Here’s some of her conversation on Here & Now, lightly edited:

RY: What was it like? You became sober, I’m sure still, in some part of your heart, mourning your father, the alcoholic, and then having to watch your son…

JC: The worst, the worst. He committed suicide in relapse. I don’t know how I got over it, really. You don’t get over it. I shouldn’t put it that way. You get through it, however. And people reached out to me — people were so kind. There was a kind of cluster of women — Mariette Hartley and Iris Bolton, Joan Rivers.

“This is not a big terrible dark secret.”

Joan called me one night from Las Vegas, while she was in the dressing room, getting dressed, and she said, “I know” — it was about four days after his death — she said, “I know you want to stop working.” I said, “You bet, I’ve already canceled everything for the next year.” I said, “Bury it. I don’t even want to look at it.” She said, “You can’t do that because you won’t recover unless you keep working.” And she knew that because she’d lost her husband to suicide. Continue reading

Yuck! The Weird Things Kids Swallow Or Stuff Go On Display At Boston Children’s

A variety of items ingested by children, from a sardine can key to a crucifix, are on display at Boston Children's Hospital. (Charles Krupa/AP)

A variety of items ingested by children, from a sardine can key to a crucifix, are on display at Boston Children’s Hospital. (Charles Krupa/AP)

A chicken claw. An FDR pin. A crucifix. A toy sheriff’s star.

Those are some of the weird items that have been removed from kids’ throats, nostrils and ears by doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital and are included in a macabre, yet important, display.

A visitor’s first reaction might be to laugh at the framed collection of dozens of items that dates to 1918 and hangs at the entrance to the hospital’s ear, nose and throat department, but it’s also a reminder to the parents who walk past it every day to remain vigilant. Continue reading

New England Governors Converge To Address Opioid Epidemic

Seated from left are Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Hassan, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. The governors met Tuesday in Boston to discuss strategies to deal with the opioid addiction problem in all their states. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Seated from left are Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Hassan, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. The governors met Tuesday in Boston to discuss strategies to deal with the opioid addiction problem in all their states. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Pressing for the same or nearly the same limits on opioid prescriptions is one of the ways New England’s Republican and Democratic governors are working together to address the drug epidemic.

The six regional governors gathered in Boston Tuesday for an opioid panel.

There are some signs that efforts to slow the surge of opioid overdoses are working, but the death toll is grim. Narcan, or naloxone, the drug that reverses the effects of many overdoses, is becoming more widely available — and that’s a good thing, says Gov. Charlie Baker.

“We lost 1,500 people in Massachusetts in 2015, but my own speculation, based on the data I’ve seen, makes me think the number without Narcan would have been north of 5,000,” he said. “And it has a ton of, still, negative momentum.”

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Birth Control’s Next Frontier? Health Center Aims For Quick And Easy IUDs And Implants

Family Health Center of Worcester. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Family Health Center of Worcester. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Come in to the Family Health Center of Worcester for just about any reason and, if you’re a woman of child-bearing age, you’re all but certain to be asked “the one key question.” In Portuguese, if that’s what you speak, or Albanian or Vietnamese — or English:

“Are you planning to become pregnant in the next year?”

If you’re not, that’s an opening for a conversation about birth control options. Vietnamese medical interpreter Annie Huynh says that after just a few months of those conversations, she’s already seeing a dramatic shift away from the many accidental pregnancies she was seeing a couple of years ago.

“Now, I hardly ever hear [it’s] an accident anymore,” she says. “It’s something either they plan for, or they don’t get pregnant anymore because of the education that I got that I’m able to pass on to them.”

That education includes training on how to talk about birth control, says Jennifer Averill Moffitt, the health center’s perinatal services manager.

“Whereas before, perhaps the counseling was, ‘Here are these 12 methods, choose which one is best for you,’ ” she says. “Now, we’re saying, ‘Here’s the most effective method, and here are some other choices. Choose what’s best for you.’ ”

The most effective method is long-acting birth control. That includes intrauterine devices, or IUDs, and the Nexplanon hormonal implant — a matchstick-sized rod that’s implanted in a woman’s arm and prevents pregnancy for three years. They’re not for everyone, but for typical users, both have failure rates of well under 1 percent, compared to an annual pregnancy rate of 9 percent for women who take the pill. (That’s due mainly to user error: Pills are easy to miss, while the long-acting methods are “set and forget.”)

The long-acting methods are on the rise nationwide — about 12 percent of women on birth control now use them — and they’re getting a lot of the credit for the recent drop in unintended pregnancies to a 30-year low. But the rate is still strikingly high: Forty-five percent of all American pregnancies are unplanned.

“If we had a stent that was 20 times more effective than another stent, it would be an outrage that we weren’t offering them.”

– Mark Edwards, co-founder of Upstream USA

So why aren’t even more women using IUDs and implants, especially now that Obamacare makes them much more likely to be covered?

For one thing, they’re not always easy and quick to get — particularly for low-income women, whose unplanned pregnancy rate can be five times the rate of high-income women.

Enter Upstream USA. It’s a nonprofit that aims to remove the health care system’s remaining barriers to long-acting birth control.

“There are many health centers we work with that are literally not offering IUDs and implants at all. Period. So literally zero percent of women are getting access to these methods,” says Mark Edwards, the Boston-based co-founder of Upstream USA.

“From our point of view, that’s unconscionable,” he adds. “This is a method of contraception which research studies have shown is actually 20 times more effective than the pill in terms of real-world use, and yet health centers are not making these methods available. In any other form of medicine it would just be an outrage. If we had a stent that was 20 times more effective than another stent, it would be an outrage that we weren’t offering them.”

Upstream goes into health clinics like the Family Health Center of Worcester and helps them up their birth-control game. That means training just about the entire staff on birth control counseling, from the medical assistants and interpreters to the schedulers. Continue reading

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Minimum Age For Buying Tobacco In Worcester Raised To 21

The new regulation would go into effect on Sept. 1. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

The new regulation would go into effect on Sept. 1. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

The Worcester Board of Health has unanimously voted to increase the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products in the city from 18 to 21.

The Telegram & Gazette reports that the new regulation, which goes into effect Sept. 1, was among several tobacco proposals the board had been discussing internally.

Local retailers opposing the measure say the new minimum likely won’t have much of a difference on teens who seek out tobacco products.

Chairwoman Abigail Averbach says it has long been a mission of the board to limit Worcester residents’ exposure to nicotine.

Dr. Lester Hartman, co-founder of the Tobacco 21 movement, says the new age restriction creates an important “social distancing” effect where young teens can no longer count on fellow students to buy them tobacco.

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Diagnosing CTE In The Living: Massive Study Of Degenerative Brain Disease To Begin

Robert Stern, director of Clinical Research at BU's Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center, and former New England Patriot safety Tim Fox. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Robert Stern, director of Clinical Research at BU’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center, and former New England Patriot safety Tim Fox. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

About 50 medical researchers from around the country converged on Boston Wednesday, as they prepare to launch a massive seven-year study into the brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in July.

CTE is a degenerative disease similar to Alzheimer’s. It’s only found in people who’ve played football, boxed or taken part in other contact sports.

The researchers are recruiting 180 former NFL and college football players in order to study their brains. The goal is to develop ways to diagnose CTE in people while they’re alive. The only way to diagnose it right now is by studying the brain after death.

One of the lead researchers is Robert Stern, Ph.D. He’s a Boston University School of Medicine professor of neurology and neurosurgery and director of clinical research at BU’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center.

Helping Stern champion the research is Tim Fox, a 62-year-old former NFL safety who played for the Patriots, Chargers and Rams. He thinks he has CTE.

Fox and Stern spoke with WBUR’s All Things Considered host Lisa Mullins about the disease. Stern says while much of the focus has been on concussions, CTE is caused by something that can seem more benign.

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Popping A Daily Baby Aspirin? Caution: New Guidelines, Amid Controversy

New recommendations from the USPSTF recommend aspirin for far fewer people. (M. Spencer Green/AP)

New recommendations from the USPSTF recommend aspirin for far fewer people. (M. Spencer Green/AP)

When an older woman arrived at a Cambridge medical clinic recently, Dr. Sarah Stoneking was surprised to learn that the patient was taking an aspirin every day.

The patient was nearly 80, and didn’t have a clear reason to take the medication. Aspirin in general, and especially in older patients, can have a lot of side effects, including serious bleeding.

Stoneking, an internist and also my colleague, suggested her patient stop taking the daily aspirin, but the woman refused. She thought aspirin “was a panacea,” Stoneking recalled, one that protected her from the strokes and heart disease that had affected most of her friends. “She took it religiously,” Stoneking said.

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When The Therapist Has A Fear Of Elevators

(Allen Lai/Flickr)

(Allen Lai/Flickr)

The cramped elevator in the office building where I practice psychotherapy makes me uneasy.

The carpet looks stained and worn, fraying in the corner. Faded yellow paint barely covers the walls. When the door slides open, a musty smell hits the nostrils of waiting passengers.

I rode this contraption for the first time nine years ago, the day I decided to rent my office. That first trip felt like a movie in slow motion. The machine noisily inched up its shaft, lurching and wheezing like a drunk asthmatic. The seconds dragged by. When the elevator reached the third floor, it grew oddly still. Nothing happened. While I waited for the door to spring to life, I felt my heart thumping in my chest. Silently, I willed that thick, motionless metal portal to move, imagining myself imprisoned in this tiny cell for hours, mouth parched and desperate for a sip of water.

Finally, the elevator car shuddered, and the door slid open. I bolted out, ran down the hall to my new office and tried to catch my breath.

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Exercise Addiction: How To Know If You’ve Crossed The Line Between Health And Obsession

Experts say it’s tricky to determine precisely how many people struggle with exercise addiction because it can masquerade behind socially acceptable intentions -- like getting fit at the gym. (Courtesy of Scott Webb/Unsplash)

Experts say it’s tricky to determine precisely how many people struggle with exercise addiction because it can masquerade behind socially acceptable intentions — like getting fit at the gym. (Courtesy of Scott Webb/Unsplash)

Lisa M. joined a gym as soon as she started college at Bridgewater State University, determined not to pack on an extra 15 pounds freshman year like her older sister.

“In my head there was that picture of my sister,” Lisa said in an interview. “I didn’t want that to happen to me.”

For the next six years, Lisa says, she never missed a day at the gym unless it was preplanned and she could make it up later. In order to fulfill her self-imposed exercise requirements, Lisa skipped Christmas Eve gatherings, birthdays, weddings and dates with someone she loved and “very likely lost” because of her illness, she says.

“Every aspect of my life was dictated by exercise and food and the need to control it all,” says Lisa, who asked that her last name not be used because she is still in treatment.

“Every aspect of my life was dictated by exercise and food and the need to control it all.”

– Lisa M.

The thought of missing even one daily workout triggered massive anxiety, she says. And as her exercise obsession deepened, she began restricting her food intake too, mostly to salads and vegetables. She had “fear foods” she’d avoid: no cake, brownies or cookies, of course, but also, no cheese or pasta. Thoughts about food and exercise consumed her: “Any extra energy I had would go to…thinking about my next meal, my next snack, what I’d be able to eat next. I’d plan meals a week ahead.”

Her weight dropped to 112 pounds on a 5-foot-6 frame. She hasn’t had a period in six years. Now, as a result, Lisa, who is 25, has osteoporosis in her lower spine and hip.

“I worked so hard to be healthy, but I’m not,” she says. “And I did this to myself.” Continue reading

Boston Medical Center Launches First Comprehensive Transgender Medical Center In Northeast

Dr. Joshua Safer speaks at a press briefing at Boston Medical Center as Kate Walsh, president and CEO of BMC, Dr. Gerard Doherty, chief of surgery, and Dr. Jaromir Slama, chief of plastic surgery, look on. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Dr. Joshua Safer speaks at a press briefing at Boston Medical Center as Kate Walsh, president and CEO of BMC, Dr. Gerard Doherty, chief of surgery, and Dr. Jaromir Slama, chief of plastic surgery, look on. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Boston Medical Center CEO Kate Walsh was in a meeting a few years ago when something about gender identity and health came up. She turned to Dr. Joshua Safer, who was treating many of the hospital’s transgender patients.

“I said, ‘So you really believe patients are born in the wrong bodies?’ ” Walsh recalls, looking at Safer across a conference room table as she tells the story. “You said, ‘Yes,’ and that’s how we started on this journey to help people live the lives they were meant to live.”

The journey lead to the creation of the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at BMC, the first such comprehensive service in the Northeast. It brings together services the hospital has been building out for several years: primary care, hormone therapy and mental health support, as well as chest and facial reconstruction procedures. Later this summer, as part of the comprehensive center, the hospital will begin genital surgery for men transitioning to women.

“This is very exciting for me to see us stepping up to do this,” said Safer, who will direct the center. “If you look across North America, there are only a handful of surgeons doing this sort of thing.”

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