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The Best Support and Practices For Your Mental Health

A psychologist shares tips on how to find and maintain the mental health support you need.

Mental health struggles can affect anyone. Even high-profile celebrities put on a brave public face to hide their struggles, and no one (not even Anthony Bourdain or Kate Spade, who both died by suicide in June 2018) is immune.

But the reality is many people living with mental health issues and other invisible conditions still sweep internal despair under the rug instead of opening the curtain of their own psyche to find answers. This has largely to do with the continued stigma of seeking out mental health support. Sheryl Blum, a Montreal-based psychologist, says the reason many hesitate to get help is due to “discomfort in having to admit there’s a problem and needing outside assistance; shame; and being scared about what they’ll uncover if they come to therapy.”

If you need help, know you are not alone; research has shown that one in five Canadians experience a mental health problem in any given year. Overcoming the long-held stigma against talking to a mental health professional by seeking therapy isn’t an admission of fault—it’s an admission of the desire to be happier, less anxious and more at ease.

Here are a few tips to help you determine if seeking mental health support is right for you, and if so, the next steps you can take.

1. LOOK FOR WARNING SIGNS
Everyone experiences periods of sadness, stress, anger and confusion, but when certain feelings start to take over your life and debilitate you, those are warning signs to get help.  Blum recommends looking for significant changes in behaviour. “One of the things I do when someone first comes to see me is what I call ‘back to basics,’” says Blum. “I ask: How are you sleeping? How are you eating? Are you doing exercise? Are you seeing friends? Are you doing work? I look for the balance, and if there’s an upset in the balance, that’s where I want to start. Those are important signs to look for.”

So how do you know if there’s an imbalance before you talk to a professional? Trust your gut. “If your gut is telling you, I just don’t feel right, something is off—even if you can’t pinpoint what exactly it is—that merits watching, documenting, and noticing if it’s affecting your sleep and your appetite,” says Blum. She also recommends being mindful of an unusual drop in your functioning at school, work and social activities.

2. ENGAGE WITH THE MENTAL HEALTH COMMUNITY ON SOCIAL MEDIA
There have been many campaigns, like #EndtheStigma and Canada’s very own #BellLetsTalk and #OneBraveNight, that have fought head-on to bring the topic of mental illness to the forefront and provide courage to the public to take care of themselves.

Yes, social media has gotten a bad rap over the years, and there are definitely negative aspects—just as with almost everything in life, there can be cons—however, the creation of mental health initiatives through social hashtags promotes open discussions and enables individuals from all over to bring personal journeys into the public domain. This, in turn, helps normalize the conversation, lets people connect with others struggling, and can act as a medium for discovering recovery resources and support.

3. CONSIDER CHECKING IN WITH YOUR FAMILY DOCTOR FIRST
A primary care doctor can play a critical role in one’s mental health journey. “I think they are the first step,” says Blum. “If somebody comes to me and they have not gone for a physical checkup, I actually will request they do.” She further explains that many medical issues can cause psychological issues. “For example, a thyroid imbalance can cause anxiety or depression, so maybe you need something to regulate your thyroid instead of spending a year in therapy.” And unlike a psychologist, a family physician is able to prescribe and monitor medication if needed. “I think they’re hugely important so that you can rule out anything medical.”

 

mental health tips

4. CONSIDER YOUR OPTIONS
With over a half-dozen different professions that provide services that focus on helping a person overcome a concern (like psychologists, psychiatrists, licensed counsellors, and clinical social workers), choosing the right therapist to connect with can seem like an overwhelming hurdle to surmount. Blum describes the process much like dating; you may have to meet a few different ones before you find your perfect match.

Knowing where to look for a mental health professional is a helpful start. Blum recommends online resource Psychology Today, which has an extensive directory of therapists, treatment centres, and support groups. Visitors are able to filter their search by location, insurance, faith, sexuality, age, treatment approach and desired language. Opening up to supportive friends and family about what’s going on is also good. Not only are you allowing them to be part of your support team, but it’s also possible they can share recommendations or experts that have worked for them personally.

5. DO AN INTERVIEW
Once you’ve narrowed your search down to a few therapists who look promising, opt for a quick consultation call before committing. “I’ll always chat with people for 15 to 20 minutes, no charge,” says Blum. “You can get a feel for what the [therapist] is like, and it also helps me because maybe there’s a problem [somebody] tells me about that’s not my specialty. I wouldn’t want to waste their time, and then I can refer them to a colleague or somewhere else.”

6. MEET THE THERAPIST OR PSYCHOLOGIST BEFORE FIRMLY DECIDING
“You want to try the person out,” says Blum. “Somebody can look really good on paper, but I don’t think reading someone’s bio necessarily gives you a sense of what’s going on.” By going in and actually sitting with and talking to someone, you can get a better feel for whether it will work for you. Then you can ask yourself: “Do I feel comfortable with this person? Do I think that I might be able to trust them as the sessions move on? Do they appear confident? Are they reviewing things like consent? Are they telling me what to expect? Are they answering my questions? Do they have a diploma on the wall? Do I feel safe and comfortable on their couch or in their chair?”

7. TALK IT OUT
Finding the right therapist is one thing, but often an even bigger hurdle is trying to decide which type of support you should receive. It really depends on what your mental health struggles are, and “you might not know what your problem is until you go for help,” says Blum. Her advice? Just begin. If upon talking to a therapist, you both decide that there is another professional better suited to address your mental health concerns, your therapist will be able to refer you to the appropriate person.

Choosing a therapy type, from psychoanalytic therapy to behavioural and cognitive therapy, also comes down to a personal call. “You’ll know,” says Blum. “If nothing is changing or things are getting worse, then it’s the wrong approach.”

MOST IMPORTANTLY, TALK TO SOMEONE YOU CAN CONNECT WITH
At the end of the day, the most important aspect of therapy is the relationship you have with your therapist, despite the treatment approach. “There’s nothing that replaces what we call the therapeutic alliance, which is the connection between the therapist and the client,” says Blum. “That alliance is where the magic happens and is the biggest predictor of someone making an improvement.”

It’s often spoken about in hushed tones, but seeing a therapist can make a world of difference for anyone who struggles with mental health issues.

This article is featured on:Mental health in Canada
BY: NATASHA BRUNO


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The Everyday Foods Linked To Good Mental Health

The foods can offset the impact of major life events, like divorce and unemployment.

Eating more fruits and vegetables is linked to a lower risk of depression new research concludes.

An extra four portions of fruit and vegetables per day can offset the impact of major life events, like divorce and unemployment.

The boost from more fruit and vegetables could counteract half the pain of getting divorced or one-quarter that of being unemployed.

The effect on mental well-being of eating 8 portions per day compared with none is even more dramatic.

These benefits come on top of the well-known protective effect against cancer and heart disease.

The conclusions come from an Australian survey of 7,108 people carried out every year since 2001.

All were asked about their diet and lifestyle.

The results showed that the more fruit and vegetables people ate, the less likely they were to be diagnosed with mental health problems later on.

fruits-veggies

Dr Redzo Mujcic, the study’s first author, said:

“If people eat around seven or eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day the boost in mental well-being is as strong as divorce pushing people the other way, to a depressed state.
We found being made unemployed had a very bad and significant effect on people’s mental health, greatly increasing the risk of depression and anxiety.
But eating seven or eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day can reduce that by half.
And the effect is a lot quicker than the physical improvements you see from a healthy diet.
The mental gains occur within 24 months, whereas physical gains don’t occur until you are in your 60s.”

One possible mechanism by which fruit and vegetables affect happiness is through antioxidants.

There is a suggested connection between antioxidants and optimism.

Dr Mujcic said:

“If people increase their daily intake of fruit and vegetables from zero to eight they are 3.2 percentage points less likely to suffer depression or anxiety in the next two years.
That might not sound much in absolute terms, but the effect is comparable to parts of major life events, like being made unemployed or divorced.
We tested for reverse-causality—ie whether it might be that depression or anxiety leads to people eating less fruit and vegetables—but we found no strong statistical evidence of this.”

About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. 
He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
The study was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine (Mujcic & Oswald, 2019).

 


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Does Living Alone Increase Mental Health Risk?

A new study has concluded that living alone is linked to common mental disorders. The authors have also identified the main driver of this worrying relationship.

Some common mental disorders (CMDs) include mood disorders, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

According to some studies, almost one-third of people will experience a CMD in their lifetime.

These conditions can have a significant impact on the individual, of course, but due to their high prevalence, they also affect society at large.

Due to the widespread influence of CMDs, scientists are keen to understand the full range of risk factors that feed into mental health.

In recent years, scientists have investigated whether living alone might be one such risk factor.

A new study, the results of which now appear in the journal PLOS ONE, takes a fresh look at this question. The study authors conclude that there is a link between living alone and CMDs. They also find that it affects all age groups and sexes, and that primarily, loneliness is the driver.

Living alone

The number of people living alone is steadily growing throughout much of the Western world; this is due to a number of reasons, including the aging population, people tending to get married at an older age, and increased divorce rates.

Researchers have already looked at the relationship between CMDs and living alone, but most have focused on older adults, so their findings may not apply to other age groups.

Also, earlier studies generally focused on just one mental condition: depression. This might not provide the full picture.

Previous work has also not quantified how other factors influence this relationship; for instance, people who live alone are more likely to be overweight, smoke, use drugs, and lack social support. So which of these, if any, is the main driver of CMDs?

The authors of the new study aimed to fill in some of these gaps. They looked for links between living alone and CMDs in general, and they investigated which factors seemed to be influencing the relationship.

 

Looking at the data

To investigate, scientists from the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in France analyzed data from 20,503 adults, ages 16–74, living in England. The data came from three National Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys that experts conducted in 1993, 2000, and 2007.

Participants completed Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised questionnaires, which assessed whether they had experienced neurotic symptoms during the previous week.

The surveys also collated data on a range of variables, including height and weight, level of education, employment status, alcohol and drug use, social support, and feelings of loneliness.

As expected, the authors found that the number of people living alone has steadily grown. In 1993, 8.8% lived alone. This is compared with 9.8% in 2000 and 10.7% in 2007.

Their analysis also showed that across all age groups and sexes, there was a significant association between living alone and having a CMD. The size of this relationship was fairly similar across the three surveys.

CMDs were more common in those living alone than those not living alone:

1993: 19.9% vs. 13.6%
2000: 23.2% vs. 15.5%
2007: 24.7% vs. 15.4%

The trouble with loneliness

When the scientists delved deeper into the relationship between CMDs and living alone, they found that loneliness explained 84% of the association.
Earlier studies had shown that loneliness is linked with depression and anxiety. Others still had investigated whether loneliness might increase mortality risk.
During what some experts call a “loneliness epidemic,” this finding is particularly important. Similarly, because ill mental health is a growing concern, understanding the risk factors associated with CMDs might help turn the tide.
Of course, not everyone who lives alone is lonely. However, for those who are, interventions to tackle loneliness are available. These may include talking therapies, social care provisions, and animal-based interventions.
The next and most challenging step is to find ways to ensure that people in need get access to these tools.
The researchers acknowledge certain limitations to the study. For instance, this was a cross-sectional study, meaning that it looked at a snapshot of people at one point in time. The authors call for longitudinal studies to ascertain how this relationship might play out over time.
As with any study of this nature, assessing cause and effect is not possible: Did a person develop a CMD because they lived alone, or did they develop a CMD and then decide to live alone?
Or, perhaps, someone with a predisposition for CMDs is more likely to want to live alone. As ever, scientists will need to carry out more work to fill in the gaps.
Earlier findings back up these results, but the new findings also go a few steps further; they show that the relationship between mental health and living alone is stable across time, that the link is not restricted to older adults, and that loneliness plays a pivotal role.
Thursday 2 May 2019       By Tim Newman Fact checked by Jasmin Collier


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Positive Self-Talk: 7 Things Mentally Healthy People Tell Themselves

The messages we give to ourselves every day have enormous power. Anything that is repeated and repeated and repeated can become “truth” — even when it isn’t. Any coach will tell you that practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect but it certainly does make permanent.

Repeating negative messages can wear down our sense of self as surely as a constant stream of water will wear down even the hardest stone. Repeating positive messages, on the other hand, is more like creating a pearl in an oyster. With each additional positive message, our confidence and competence grows.

Positive psychologists have studied this extensively. As long ago as the 1950s, Abraham Maslow said that a self-actualized person is someone who focuses on her talents and strengths. Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center Dr. Martin Seligman, who has been called the father of positive psychology, has found that when people identify and use their top strengths regularly, they can be more productive and can experience a high level of self-esteem. (If you’d like to identify your top strengths, you can take Dr. Seligman’s free quiz).

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has concluded that positivity helps “broaden our ideas about possible actions, opening our awareness to a wider range of thoughts and actions than is typical.”

What all this means on a practical level is that deciding to emphasize the positive is the key to a happy and productive life. Yes, deciding. Where we put our attention is a decision. It can seem like dark clouds cover every silver lining. But that silver lining is still there if we look for it.

Feeling good (or at least better) will not happen if we tell ourselves over and over that we are helpless and the situation is hopeless. To strengthen or improve our mental health, we all need to think the way mentally healthy people think: Shifting our focus from all that is wrong to whatever we can find that is good, positive and possible in ourselves, other people and in our situation is the key to thriving.

7 Things Mentally Healthy People Tell Themselves

“I am a lovable.” No child is born who is not lovable. Look at any newborn. That button nose and those tiny fingers and toes are meant to engage adult’s protective and loving feelings. You were no different. The adults around you when you were small may have been too wounded, too ill or to overwhelmed to love you but that is on them. You were and are — just by the fact of your existence — a lovable person.

“I am capable.” From the time they take their first breath, humans are wired to learn, to adapt, and to grow. You have been learning and growing every minute. You may not have been taught all you need to know to manage your feelings or to take care of yourself. You may have learned unusual behaviors or in order to survive. But you are never too old to learn new skills. Anything you’ve learned that is not helpful or healthy can be unlearned.

“Most other people are lovable and capable, too.” It’s crucial not to let negative or painful experiences with a few negative or toxic individuals color our opinion of everyone. The majority of people in the world do mean well and are doing the best they can. Once we’re adults, we can choose who we want to surround ourselves with. We can seek out the people who are living lives that are decent, warm and contributing good to the world.

“Success comes from doing.” It’s been proven over and over again by researchers: Feeling good comes from doing good things. Positive self-esteem is the outcome, not the prerequisite, for being successful in relationships, school, work, sports, hobbies —  just about anything. We all have a choice whether we wait to feel better or we do the things that we know will help us become better.

“Challenges are opportunities.” Life isn’t always easy or fair. How we meet challenges and obstacles is a choice. Healthy people find ways to engage with a problem and look for ways to solve it. They refuse to let their fears keep them from trying something new, even if it is difficult. Stretching ourselves outside of our comfort zones is what helps us grow. Mentally healthy people also recognize that sometimes the opportunity hidden inside a challenge is the opportunity to say “no.” Not all problems are worth solving. Not all problems can be “solved” as they are defined.

“It is only human to make mistakes”: Mentally healthy people know that a mistake is not the reason to give up. It is an opportunity to learn and try again. Willingness to acknowledge and fix our errors is a mark of strength. Cultivating the courage to be imperfect is central to being willing to try again.

“I have what it takes to cope with change — and to make changes.” Change is inevitable in life. Mentally healthy people believe in their ability to cope and to adapt to changes. They aren’t unrealistic. They don’t deny the seriousness of a problem. They do acknowledge when a situation is very difficult. They don’t criticize themselves for not wanting to deal with whatever it is they have to deal with. But they have a deep seated belief that if they do tackle the problem, they will eventually find a solution or a way around it.

 

By Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.     8 Jul 2018


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Why Suicide Is More Than A Mental Health Issue

Suicide prevention efforts shift towards improving mental health of everyone

Renowned chef Anthony Bourdain has been found dead in France while working on CNN program. He’s part of an age cohort with rising suicide rates in the U.S. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)
The deaths this week of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade come at at a time when new numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show suicide is on the rise.

The CDC said suicide rates in the U.S. increased more than 30 per cent between 1999 and 2016. The reasons for the rise are complicated and multidimensional.

“Suicide is more than a mental health issue,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, told reporters on Thursday.

“We don’t think we can just leave this to the mental health system to manage.”

Multiple circumstances

Bourdain took his own life, CNN said Friday. New York City’s chief medical examiner ruled that Spade’s death earlier this week was also a suicide.

Spade’s husband and business partner, Andy Spade, said she suffered from depression and anxiety for many years, but was seeing a doctor regularly and taking medication.

In its Vital Signs report, the CDC said that nearly 45,000 Americans died by their own hand in 2016. The latest U.S. data suggests in 54 per cent of completed suicides, there were no known mental health conditions.

In a sampling of 27 states, relationship problems were considered a contributing factor in 42 per cent of all suicides in 2015. “Problematic substance use” was listed in 28 per cent of cases.

Even so, the CDC acknowledges that poor mental health isn’t always easy to detect. The agency said there could be a number of reasons why the reported level of mental illness could underestimate its actual effect, including:

  • Not all illnesses are formally diagnosed.
  • Stigma still surrounds a diagnosis.
  • Loved ones might not have been aware of a mental health condition.

 

‘Disturbing’ age findings

Bourdain and Spade died at 61 and 55, respectively — an age cohort with strikingly high suicide rates in the U.S., according to the CDC.

“Middle-aged adults had the largest number of suicides and a particularly high increase in suicide rates. These findings are disturbing,” said Schuchat.

Patrick Smith, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association in Toronto, said he isn’t aware of a similar increase among that age group in Canada. But he said Bourdain and Spade’s deaths show that high-profile status is no bulwark against depression and other mental illnesses.

“Someone doesn’t say, ‘Wow, they had everything. I can’t believe they got cancer.’ But we still say that about suicide or depression,” said Smith.

“That’s really the societal challenge — to try to understand that depression and other mental illnesses can be found in every postal code and every income bracket.”

In the U.S., middle-aged adults also have higher rates of drug overdoses, Schuchat said. She pointed to emerging social science research suggesting increases in suicide correlate with “deaths of despair” among middle-age populations who may be harder hit by economic downturns.

suicide

 

The need for intervention

Suicide ranked as the ninth-leading cause of death in Canada in 2009, the last year for which numbers are available, and is the 10th-leading cause of death overall in the U.S.

In both countries, suicide prevention efforts are shifting toward meeting people’s needs before they reach crisis. Just as doctors don’t wait until cancer reaches stage 4 to intervene, Smith said experience in the U.K. shows that after community-based programs to provide support to people in workplaces and schools were introduced, prison populations were reduced and there was a dramatic drop in emergency room visits.

In countries with more community support, rates of feeling suicidal will be similar, Smith said, but there’s a better chance of having lower suicide rates.

Everyone has to take care of their mental health and the goal is to normalize conversations to improve and enhance it, Smith said.

Bourdain spoke to CBC last year about some of the psychological challenges he faced separating from his second wife and missing his daughter while travelling the globe for his show Parts Unknown. He’d also talked about his struggles with mental health and a history of drug use.

The CDC recommends teaching children, teens and adults coping and problem-solving skills, building social connections and maintaining dialogue. The agency also encourages safe storage of pills and guns.

Where to get help:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service

Toll-free 1-833-456-4566

Text: 45645

Chat: crisisservicescanada.ca

In French: Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

Kids Help Phone:  1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre

If you’re worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them about it, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Here are some warning signs:

    • Suicidal thoughts.
    • Substance abuse.
    • Purposelessness.
    • Anxiety.
    • Feeling trapped.
    • Hopelessness and helplessness.
    • Withdrawal.
    • Anger.
    • Recklessness.
    • Mood changes.
CBC News      Jun 08, 2018
With files from CBC’s Amina Zafar and Associated Press
source: www.cbc.ca
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Connecting the Dots Between Physical and Emotional Health

There’s a link between your emotional health and your physical well-being, so take time to nurture both.

To be completely healthy, you should take care not only of your physical health, but your emotional health, too. If one is neglected, the other will suffer.

What’s the Connection Between Emotional and Physical Health?

There’s a physical connection between what the mind is thinking and those parts of the brain that control bodily functions. According to Charles Goodstein, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine in New York City, the brain is intimately connected to our endocrine system, which secretes hormones that can have a powerful influence on your emotional health. “Thoughts and feelings as they are generated within the mind [can influence] the outpouring of hormones from the endocrine system, which in effect control much of what goes on within the body,” says Dr. Goodstein.

“As a matter of fact, it’s very probable that many patients who go to their physician’s office with physical complaints have underlying depression,” he says. People who visit their doctors reporting symptoms of headache, lethargy, weakness, or vague abdominal symptoms often end up being diagnosed with depression, even though they do not report feelings of depression to their doctors, says Goodstein.

While unhappy or stressed-out thoughts may not directly cause poor physical health, they may be a contributing factor and may explain why one person is suffering physically while someone else is not, Goodstein adds.

stronger

 

How Exactly Does the Mind Affect the Body?

There are many ways in which the mind has a significant impact on the body. Here are a few:

  • Chronic illness and depression Depression has been shown to increase the risk for chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes, according to an article published in 2013 in the Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders. A review of studies on diabetes and depression, published in August 2015 in the Canadian Journal of Diabetes, found that depression put people at a 41 percent higher risk for the condition. Researchers aren’t yet clear on how mental health influences physical health, but according to a study published in September 2017 in the journal Psychiatria Danubina, it may be that depression affects the immune system, and that habits associated with depression, such as poor diet or lack of physical activity, may create conditions for illness to occur.
  • Depression and longevity According to a review published in June 2014 in World Psychiatry, many major mental illnesses are associated with higher rates of death. Another study, published in October 2017 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suggests that those with depression may have life spans from about 7 to 18 years shorter than the general population.
  • Physical symptoms of emotional health distress People who are clinically depressed often have physical symptoms, such as constipation, lack of appetite, insomnia, or lethargy, among others.
  • White-coat syndrome This is a condition in which a person’s blood pressure increases the minute they step into a doctor’s office. In white-coat syndrome, anxiety is directly related to physical function — blood pressure. “If you extrapolate from that, you can say, what other kinds of anxieties are these people having that are producing jumps in blood pressure? What is the consequence of repeated stress?” asks Goodstein.

And on the other hand: “Those individuals who have achieved a level of mental health where they can manage better the inevitable conflicts of human life are more likely to prevail in certain kinds of physical illness,” says Goodstein.

How Should You Care for Your Emotional and Physical Well-Being?

It’s hard to do, but slowing down and simplifying routines can go a long way to strengthening your mental and physical health.

  • Eat right. A healthy, regular diet is good for the body and mind.
  • Go to bed on time. Losing sleep is hard on your heart, may increase weight, and definitely cranks up the crankiness meter.
  • If you fall down, get back up. Resilience in the face of adversity is a gift that will keep on giving both mentally and physically.
  • Go out and play. Strike a balance between work and play. Yes, work is a good thing: It pays the bills. However, taking time out for relaxation and socializing is good for your emotional health and your physical health.
  • Exercise. A study published in October 2017 in Reviews in the Neurosciences shows that exercise improves your mood and has comprehensive benefits for your physical health.
  • See the right doctor, regularly. Going to the right doctor can make all the difference in your overall health, especially if you have a complicated condition that requires a specialist. But if your emotions are suffering, be open to seeing a mental health professional, too.

Total health depends on a healthy mind and body. Take time to nurture both.

By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Kathryn Keegan, MD
11/14/2017