Silvia Pittman

@silvia-pittman | contributor
Silvia Pittman is a wife and new mom who is obsessed with all things digital. When she's not chasing after her toddler, she's writing and taking in the Gulf of Mexico views at the beach. She is a first generation immigrant committed to spreading awareness for issues that impact the Latinx community. She is always eager to tell new stories and believes in the unparalleled value of access to information.
Silvia Pittman

New Disney Channel Show Will Feature a Teen With Sickle Cell Disease

Disney Channel recently announced plans to shoot the pilot of a new series featuring a young teen with sickle cell disease. The series would be called “Saturdays,” and would center around a girl with a passion for roller skating who must overcome and fight through a flareup of the disease to keep leading her skate crew. The protagonist, Paris Johnson, will be played by Danielle Jalade and produced by “Black-Ish’s” Marsai Martin. “When we met with Marsai about this project, we couldn’t have been more impressed with her passion for diverse storytelling and commitment to female empowerment,” said Rafael Garcia, vice president, Development, Disney Branded Television. Sickle cell disease is a group of genetic disorders that affects red blood cells. The inherited condition causes cells to have a “c” shape instead of the typical round appearance. This causes the cells to get stuck and die early, causing a constant shortage in the body. According to the CDC, the disease affects about 100,000 Americans, and largely affects African-Americans. They say one in 365 African-American babies are born with the condition, while one in 13 carry the sickle-cell trait. Early signs and symptoms in babies can include fatigue, jaundice and swelling. As the disease progresses, patients can feel severe pain, delayed growth and heart problems. However, this is a lot of variety in symptoms and severity. Treatment typically consists of blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants. According to a press release, 13-year-old Paris will use determination and bravery throughout the “Saturdays” series to prove she can continue to skate and prove nay-sayers wrong. The potential Disney series will be written by Norman Vance Jr., who has previously worked on shows like “Moesha” and “Girlfriends.” You can learn more about sickle-cell disease and find resources through the Sickle Cell Foundation.

Silvia Pittman

What You Should Know About Perinatal Depression

Kandice Anderson, a blogger and boutique owner, said she first experienced depression after the birth of her eldest child. When she got pregnant with her second, she was surprised to see those telltale signs of depression begin to surface again. She said she felt “the same feelings of overwhelming sadness [and] thoughts of inadequacy.” Anderson isn’t alone. Pregnancy and motherhood are often portrayed as a blissful experience when you’re expected to be your happiest and “glowing.” But for some, creating a new life — before, during and after a baby’s birth — also marks the onset of depressive symptoms. If this sounds familiar, you may be experiencing perinatal depression. What Is Perinatal Depression? Perinatal depression refers to clinical depression that starts at any point beginning with your pregnancy until after giving birth. Most people are more familiar with depression that happens postpartum, but it’s important to understand that in many cases symptoms start before giving birth. According to Kristina Deligiannidis, MD, director of women’s behavioral health at Zucker Hillside Hospital/Northwell Health, the specific timing of perinatal depression post-birth varies. The World Health Organization (WHO), however, defines perinatal depression as occurring up to a year postpartum, or after giving birth. Perinatal depression affects up to 10% of expectant moms and 13% of those who just had a baby worldwide. Signs of perinatal depression are similar to other types of clinical depression and can include persistent sadness and “empty” mood, aches and pains unrelated to pregnancy, trouble forming an emotional bond with the baby, or thoughts of hurting oneself or the baby. Dr. Deligiannidis explained one additional sign that seems to separate depression associated with maternity from other major depressive episodes: Perinatal depression has a tendency to manifest with more anxiety, insomnia as well as more irritability. What Causes Perinatal Depression? But why do some women experience perinatal depression while others don’t? Deligiannidis said based on available research, there tends to be a strong genetic factor, more so than general depression. When you take a closer look, there are many additional factors that may predispose someone to perinatal depression. “We see it as all these risk factors from the environment — social support, family history, medical history, nutritional sleep, hormones,” said Deligiannidis. “When you have enough of these risks, then it takes you over the edge to develop clinical depression.” One common school of thought when it comes to perinatal depression is that it’s triggered by the sudden drop in pregnancy hormones like progesterone and estrogen. The Feinstein Institutes in New York was recently awarded a $4 million grant to study perinatal depression. That will include research to determine whether shifting hormones are truly a determining factor. “We’re trying to tease out, what’s the role of progesterone and estrogen and these other steroids?” explained Deligiannidis, adding: Why is it that some women develop [perinatal depression] in pregnancy when the hormones are high, versus some women develop it after they deliver? Because if the mechanisms are different, our treatments should be different as well. She added that further research could also help differentiate symptoms that could be pointing to a different condition like anxiety or insomnia and further improve the efficacy of treatment. How Is Perinatal Depression Treated? Women who think they might be dealing with perinatal depression (or other mental health concerns) should always reach out for help, even if you’re unsure. Deligiannidis explained some women think what they’re going through is just related to normal mood swings and changes from pregnancy. “They find reasons to explain their symptoms outside of depression, and so that leads them not to report symptoms to clinicians,” Deligiannidis said. Doctors have now begun screening women for depression during pregnancy in addition to the postpartum period as scientists gain a better understanding of perinatal depression. The treatment options for those diagnosed with perinatal depression are similar to the options you have with any depressive disorder. This may include evidence-backed psychotherapy, antidepressant medications or a combination of these depending on the severity of your symptoms. Are Antidepressants Safe During Pregnancy? For those worried about antidepressant use during pregnancy or while breast feeding, the risk appears to be low. Antidepressants overall have been well-studied, even more so than other medications prescribed during pregnancy like antibiotics. Based on everything we know, “in most cases, the benefits outweigh the risks for mom and baby,” Deligiannidis said. In 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first drug, brexanolone (brand name Zulresso), specifically for postpartum depression. Administered through IV treatment at a health care center, brexanolone works differently than the other common antidepressants already on the market. This may provide some people an additional medication treatment to try. What’s Next in Perinatal Depression Treatment? Additional research for perinatal depression treatment options is ongoing, including a clinical trial Deligiannidis is conducting using chronotherapy to regulate sleep. Chronotherapy incorporates bright light therapy plus what Deligiannidis described as a personalized sleep prescription for those experiencing perinatal depression. After collecting data about your sleep rhythms, doctors can determine the ideal time for you to wake up and go to sleep. By sticking with this bedtime routine and supplementing with bright light therapy to regulate your sleep-wake pattern, Deligiannidis said it may help reduce insomnia and lift depression symptoms. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression during or after your pregnancy, know you’re not alone and help is available. “We want women to come forward and seek treatment,” Deligiannidis said. The first step? Talk to your doctor and/or OB/GYN. If you’re interested in learning more about Deligiannidis’ research and to find out if you qualify to participate, you can contact her team via email.

Silvia Pittman

Film 'Full Picture' Experiments With Wheelchair First Impressions

A new short film is exploring the ways digital meetings amid the pandemic has changed the way we make and perceive first impressions about disability and wheelchair users. “Full Picture” embarks on a social experiment where actress and writer Santina Muha meets multiple people for the first time on a video call — but there’s something the people on the other end can’t see at first — Muha uses a wheelchair. Muha explained that since the pandemic took many of her interactions with others online, people don’t initially see she uses a wheelchair. “Full Picture” shows what Muha suspected would happen from the start — most people were surprised to learn Muha has a disability. “I had a fun conversation with a friend’s roommate and we just got along,” Muha told The Mighty. “Then a week later, he was watching a movie and I was in the movie. And he was like, ‘Wait a minute, is that the girl I was talking to?’ … He just couldn’t believe it.” Muha worked on the film with director Jacob Reed, as well as writers and producers Stephen Sanow and Elizabeth Reichelt. The inspiration for “Full Picture” was born when the team was given the prompt to make a documentary as part of a film challenge — something the group had never done before. “And we’re like, ‘Oh, OK. Well, how are we going to make this fun and funny?’” said Muha. She then suggested gathering a fresh group of people who had never met her before to see what kind of impression she made before learning she uses a wheelchair. Then, the filmmakers told each group of people about Muha’s disability and brought her back into the chat again. The experience of meeting Muha onscreen without seeing her wheelchair right away challenged people to confront their stereotypes about people with disabilities. And the film shows how people often changed their perceptions — but some more than others. Kids for example, didn’t have much to say about it. “Every time we talked to a kid, it didn’t faze them at all,” Reed told The Mighty. For Muha, she found that most people had a tendency to see her accomplishments as greater once they learned she had a disability. “It’s like, ‘Oh, you’re an actress in a wheelchair,'” she said. “Everything is filtered through that lens and it makes everything I do either seem more extraordinary or more inspirational or something.” But in the end, Muha learned a bit about her own biases too. She said all her life people have described her as strong and a go-getter — attributes she thought people only applied to her because she uses a wheelchair. The experiment taught her, however, those attributes were often the first impression people had of her without knowing about her disability. You can watch “Full Picture” at this year’s virtual Slamdance Film Festival through Feb. 25. For more information you can visit the festival’s website here and watch the trailer below.

Silvia Pittman

New Study Suggests Significant Rate of PTSD Among COVID-19 Survivors

The effects of severe COVID-19 infection may leave some survivors dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry looked at 381 patients who went to the emergency room for treatment, most of whom were then hospitalized.  The data showed that 30.2% of patients went on to develop PTSD while an additional 17.3% showed signs of a depressive episode and 7% had anxiety. The average age of patients in this study was 55. The results are in line with previous analyses into other coronavirus pandemics that found close to the same incidence of PTSD (32.2%). According to the published report, the rate of PTSD development was higher amongst women, people with a history of psychiatric disorders, and delirium during acute illness. Researchers also noted that those who had PTSD were more likely to report lasting COVID-19 symptoms after recovery. More than 110 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and many scientists have started to look at the potential mental health impacts of the pandemic. Previous studies have shown that up to one in five people who overcome COVID-19 develop psychiatric symptoms. As the pandemic unfolds, stringent lockdowns and lost connections have even increased anxiety and depression among those who have not been infected. Other serious or chronic illnesses and hospitalization can lead to increased rates of PTSD, though slightly lower than what the current study found for COVID-19. One paper, for example, found that anywhere from 12-25% of those who survive a medical event that’s perceived to be life-threatening with develop PTSD. Scientists said more research is needed to truly weigh the impact of the pandemic on both the general public and those who are infected. In this particular study, researchers explained potential limitations included a small sample size and the fact that PTSD symptoms may vary over time. You can learn more about the study here and the mental health impacts from the pandemic here.

Silvia Pittman

'The Manic Monologues' Takes You Inside Life With Mental Illness

A virtual theatre experience called “The Manic Monologues” will offer viewers a window into what it’s like to live with a mental illness. The online production was put together by the McCarter Theatre Center in association with Princeton University Health Services and other performing arts centers. It will consist of 21 monologues performed by actors sharing real stories in hopes of destigmatizing and shining a light on mental illness. “With this digital endeavor, McCarter hopes to reinforce its role as a cultural organization dedicated to innovative projects that spark timely dialogue and strengthen community,” said McCarter’s Resident Producer Debbie Bisno, adding: In pivoting to virtual creation in COVID, we’ve uncovered exciting ways of combining art and ideas. And, we are excited to make this work, and the conversation around mental health, accessible to a wider and more diverse audience than we would have in a traditional live staged-reading format. These are silver linings. The idea for the production came about when Stanford University student Zack Burton experienced his first psychotic break and was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2017. With the help of his then-girlfriend, Elisa Hofmeister, he navigated the new realities of his diagnosis. The two realized that our society lacks accurate narratives about living with mental illness. “The Manic Monologues” was born and was first performed at Stanford in 2019. The production will now take the virtual stage through an interactive website that is available for viewers to watch each of the 21 monologues at their own pace. The original plan was for actors to perform “The Manic Monologues” on the McCarter stage in 2020 but the reading was re-conceived for a digital platform due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual experience includes a resource guide with links to support, research, interviews and the script for the monologues. You can watch The Manic Monologues here and learn more about the McCarter Theatre Center here.

Silvia Pittman

LGB People Diagnosed More Often With Borderline Personality Disorder

New research shows some health care professionals may be showing bias when it comes to diagnosing lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD). The results of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan showed that BPD was diagnosed in 20% of LGB people in a survey compared to 11% of heterosexuals in the same sample. In a press release from the university, scientists explained that some behaviors health care professionals used to diagnose BPD in LGB people were likely misread. “LGB persons might change the way they present differently to other people for safety reasons, such as avoiding discrimination, bullying or even murder,” the researchers shared. “Such behaviors help manage the impressions that other people have and are relatively normative for LGB persons since they grow up and exist in stigmatizing environments.” This survey included a total of 36,000 participants aged 18 to 90 and showed that when certain factors were adjusted to identify BPD, both groups were diagnosed at similar rates. In particular, researchers said “when the diagnosis was made with specific attention to whether or not the symptoms of BPD cause significant distress or impairment, the prevalence was comparable.” “LGB persons are more likely to be given the diagnosis particularly when health care professionals are not paying attention to whether or not the behaviors observed among LGB persons cause any significant distress,” said Craig Rodriguez-Seijas, lead author of the study. Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental illness characterized by periods of emotional intensity, unstable sense of self, chronic feelings of emptiness, “splitting” and impulsive behaviors, among others. BPD is estimated to affect approximately 1.4% of the population. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, known risk factors for the condition include potential biological and genetic factors as well as environmental, cultural and social factors. This new research suggests that health care workers may not be fully understanding environmental stressors faced by LGB people and the difference between a typical response to hardship and one characteristic of a personality disorder. Because BPD often includes struggling with your identity, it can sometimes serve as another stumbling block to a proper assessment. “If health care professionals fail to ask the right questions to disentangle this protective way of managing one’s identity from pathological and impairing struggles with identity, they may not accurately diagnose the patients,” Rodriguez-Seijas said. Rodriguez-Seijas explained that these findings can also help to better serve LGB persons who do have borderline personality disorder by avoiding treatments and therapies that may re-stigmatize them.

Silvia Pittman

CDC Issues Guidelines for Getting Disabled Students in School

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many schools across the country to take learning online in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19. Due to school closures, many students with disabilities have found distance learning particularly difficult. Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Education have released new guidance suggesting that schools may reopen safely as long as proper protocol is followed. According to the CDC, “There is evidence to suggest that K-12 in-person school attendance is not a primary driver of community transmission.” The agencies point to COVID-19 mitigation strategies that center around contact tracing, widespread testing and vaccination of school personnel as soon as supply is available. The guidelines also offer direction on how students with disabilities can resume in-person learning while maintaining a safe environment. One handbook released by the Department of Education explained that typical guidelines for preventing the spread of the coronavirus may need to be adjusted for students with disabilities when it comes to mask-wearing and social distancing. The guidelines highlighted examples such as sighted guides and tactile interpreting for students who are blind or deaf and other modifications for students with intellectual disabilities. The document also acknowledged that it may be impossible for some students with disabilities to wear a mask, especially those with speech difficulties. The guidelines suggested a safe learning environment can be preserved as long as teachers and staff follow mitigation strategies including masking for those who are able to. The CDC emphasized that “safe in-person schooling can also offset the negative social, emotional and mental health impacts of prolonged virtual learning.” The guidelines highlighted that “low-resourced communities, English learners and students with disabilities may disproportionately experience learning loss due to limited access to remote learning technology and fewer learning support systems and services outside of schools.” For more information, you can see the Department of Education’s handbook here and the CDC’s guidance here.

Silvia Pittman

Study: People with Happy Childhoods Still Develop Mental Illness

A happy childhood doesn’t necessarily spare you from mental health troubles — that’s according to a new study from the University of South Australia that found even people who report a joyous upbringing can go on to develop a mental illness. “This research shows that mental health conditions are not solely determined by early life events, and that a child who is raised in a happy home could still grow up to have a mental health disorder,” said Bianca Kahl, a Ph.D. candidate who worked on the research. The study done in partnership with the University of Canberra looked at different factors that contribute to the development of certain mental health conditions in adulthood. This included documenting early childhood experiences and their relationship to developmental pathways. The study stated that in Australia, 50% of people will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. In the U.S, this figure stands at 46% while 1 in 5 have lived with a mental health condition over the past year. Researchers said the study suggested that the most important factor in preventing mental illness is the ability to adapt to unexpected and/or negative experiences in one’s life. Kahl explained, “We suspect that it’s our expectations about our environments and our ability to adapt to scenarios when our expectations are not being met, that may be influencing our experiences of distress.” The findings of this study are in line with what some researchers have said about developing PTSD. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event goes on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, with some genetic or situational factors increasing the risk. Mental illness is complicated and doesn’t have a single cause. According to Kahl, the findings of the research will now be tested in a new study to see if our ability to adapt is indeed associated with mental health outcomes. “If, as children, we learn how to adapt to change, and we learn how to cope when things do not go our way, we may be in a better position to respond to stress and other risk factors for poor mental health.”

Silvia Pittman

New Study Suggests Shellfish Allergies More Common in Black Children

A new study revealed that Black children are more likely to have a shellfish or finfish allergy than their white peers. According to the report, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, the increased allergy rates were also associated with a higher incidence of asthma. The findings, gathered across several hospitals, showed a significant divide when it came to how different races are affected by the burden of food allergies. They point to a need to better aid certain groups. “Food allergy is a common condition in the U.S.,” said researcher Mahboobeh Mahdavinia, M.D., Ph.D., in a press release. “We know from our previous research that there are important differences between Black and white children with food allergy, but there is so much we need to know to be able to help our patients from minority groups.” The study pointed to exposure to cockroaches as a potential risk factor in the development of shellfish or finfish allergies. Scientists explained that cockroaches share 80% of the amino acid sequencing with shellfish — cockroaches are also one of the most common household allergens along with dust mites. Dr. Mahdavinia explained, “Previous studies indicate that cockroach exposure may be an important mechanism by which children develop a shellfish allergy. The immune system can confuse certain proteins in seafood with similar proteins that are present in the muscles of cockroaches that commonly elicit an allergic response.” This is a significant finding when it comes to looking at how Black children may be especially at risk for the development of a shellfish/finfish allergy. One study found that cockroach allergens were detected in 85% of inner-city homes. Another study pointed to socioeconomic status as a risk factor for cockroach allergen exposure and sensitization in children with asthma. Low socioeconomic status, which due to years of racial discrimination disproportionally affects the Black community, puts you at a higher risk. Researchers in these novel findings explained that the results also indicated an interesting relationship between a shellfish allergy and asthma. “A major concern is that there is a higher prevalence of asthma in Black children with food allergies when compared with white children with food allergies. Approximately 70% of fatal food anaphylaxis is accompanied by asthma. Black children are at a two- to threefold risk of fatal anaphylaxis compared to white children,” Mahdavinia said. According to this study, the data could be beneficial in reducing Black children’s exposure to known allergen triggers and in turn, improving health outcomes. Mahdavinia added, “We need to conduct further research to identify food allergies and food sensitivities among all races and ethnicities so we can develop culturally-sensitive and effective educational programs to improve food allergy outcomes for all children.”

Silvia Pittman

Small Study Suggests Antidepressant Fluvoxamine Could Treat COVID-19

An antidepressant already on the market could pave the way toward more affordable and accessible treatment for people with a symptomatic COVID-19 infection. A new clinical trial using the psychiatric drug fluvoxamine (brand name Luvox) showed promise in a Washington University trial in reducing serious outcomes for people with the virus. Researchers compared the course of illness for those who took the drug compared to a placebo group. According to the study, there was no “clinical deterioration” out of 80 participants in the trial who took fluvoxamine compared to six out of 72 in the placebo group. Scientists said the difference of 8.3% between the two groups is clinically significant. For the purposes of the study, clinical deterioration was defined as “(1) shortness of breath or hospitalization for shortness of breath or pneumonia and (2) oxygen saturation less than 92% on room air or need for supplemental oxygen to achieve oxygen saturation of 92% or greater.” Although this trial focused on the outcomes of patients who took fluvoxamine, lead researcher Eric Lenze, M.D., said it could open the door to looking at how other mental health drugs could impact the course of COVID-19. “We think it would be very interesting if other drugs are effective as well — other antidepressants,” said Dr. Lenze. And there may be good reasons to explore this possibility. Previous studies have looked at the effects of antidepressants on the immune system and their anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers explain ed that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) used to treat depression can increase and change the activity of immune cells. In one study, scientists found that serotonin was passed easily between immune cells. A finding, they said, could restore healthy immune function for people with depression. But in the case of fluvoxamine, something sets it apart from other antidepressants — giving it the leading role in this research. Lenze explained scientists in this trial picked fluvoxamine because of its ability to bind easily with the sigma-1 receptor, increasing the potential for regulating inflammation. “Among anti-depressants it’s by far the most potently binding to and activating this receptor.” The sigma-1 receptor is a chaperone protein that has been shown to have the strongest tie to the immune system. An earlier study in October 2020 explored the connection between the sigma-1 receptor protein and COVID-19, identifying that drugs that interact with the receptor were effective at reducing the chances someone would end up on a ventilator.  The October study also identified interactions between COVID-19 and the protein PGES-2, which is targeted by the anti-inflammatory drug indomethacin. Dr. Francis Collins with the National Institute of Health explained that “these findings provide a remarkable demonstration of how basic molecular and structural biological findings can be combined with clinical data to yield valuable new clues for treating COVID-19 and other viral illnesses, perhaps by repurposing existing drugs.” Looking more closely at sigma-1 receptor, its ability to diminish the effects of the virus may have to do with the way COVID-19 attacks the body’s cells. To get technical, researcher José Miguel Vela explained how coronaviruses replicate in a membranous compartment of the endoplasmic reticulum — prompting stress and facilitating the host cell’s vulnerability to the virus’ needs. That’s where the protein comes in. “Sig-1R regulates key mechanisms of the adaptive host cell stress response and takes part in early steps of viral replication,” Vela wrote, adding: Targeting Sig-1R is not expected to reduce dramatically established viral replication, but it might interfere with early steps of virus-induced host cell reprogramming, aid to slow down the course of infection, prevent the aggravation of the disease and/or allow a time window to mature a protective immune response. Lenze’s fluvoxamine trial seems to provide early evidence that proves this theory. So what’s next? Researchers from Washington University are already recruiting more patients for a second, larger clinical trial testing the abilities of fluvoxamine to keep COVID-19 patients from getting very sick. An added benefit of this drug is that it’s already widely available and could be an affordable option for patients early in the course of the disease if results are confirmed. “Doctors could immediately prescribe it what’s called off-label for the early treatment of COVID,” said Lenze. But for researchers, finding participants for trials has been a hurdle to discovering adequate therapies for COVID-19 patients. “The reason we don’t have more treatments is that we haven’t had many successful clinical trials,” Lenze said. “If we confirm this finding in a larger study it would suggest that maybe particularly for people at high risk for developing serious COVID they could take [fluvoxamine] to prevent that from happening — stay out of the hospital, stay off a ventilator.” If you’re interested in participating in the next trial, you can visit the trial’s recruitment website here and check if you’re eligible. Lenze and his team are particularly looking for people who have current and recent COVID-19 symptoms. The trial is contact-free, can be done from your home — you will be asked to take fluvoxamine or a placebo while reporting your symptoms.