Mental Health Issues

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition which occurs after a person has experienced a traumatic event such as childhood abuse, rape, war, natural disaster, or witnessing a violent crime. The primary characteristic of PTSD is that the event is persistently re-experienced through flashbacks, recurrent dreams and nightmares, and intense distress when exposed to situations or symbols which are reminiscent of the traumatic experience. People who suffer from PTSD often try to avoid the feelings associated with the trauma through psychic numbing, avoidance of situations which bring up memories of the event, and detaching from others. They may successfully avoid the feelings at times, but they suffer from a sense of isolation from themselves and others, and the constant fear of losing control or being re-traumatized.

What causes PTSD? Research has shown a complex interrelationship between experience and neurobiology. In PTSD, what one sees, smells, and hears, apparently translates into long-term changes in stress neurochemical and neuropeptide systems. “Bad memories” may lead to long term changes in brain regions involved in memory. These changes may permanently affect the way an individual responds to new challenges, and even modify genetic material.

Healing from PTSD, then, holds the promise of releasing an individual from the torment of painful memories and symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as changing the physiology of the neurological system that perpetuates the experience of trauma. Treatment approaches are diverse, and may involve traditional psychotherapy, medication, hypnosis, stress management and relaxation training, as well as the newer “power” therapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Thought Field Therapy, and neurotherapy.

If you experience symptoms like difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, or chronic anxiety and exaggerated startle response, you may be suffering from PTSD. Know that you are not alone. Having suffered trauma is enough. You need not let it rob you of the health and wholeness that everyone deserves.


Depression

Depression is a debilitating disease that can wreak havoc in the life of individuals and families. Everyone has the “blues” now and then, but true depression depletes energy, erodes hope, impedes relationships, and clouds reality for millions of sufferers.

If you have at least two of the following symptoms, chances are that you are suffering from depression:

  1. poor appetite or overeating
  2. insomnia or desire to sleep too much
  3. low energy or fatigue
  4. poor concentration or difficulty making decisions
  5. feelings of hopelessness
  6. suicidal feeling
  7. crying spells
  8. inability to enjoy things that have previously given you pleasure

What causes depression? Who is at risk? Although we don’t know a true cause, it depression physically involves an imbalance of the chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain. Experts have identified several risk factors:

Genetics

If you have relatives with depression or substance abuse problems, you are twice as likely as the average person to become seriously depressed at some point in your life.

Age

The Baby Boom generation is at greatest risk for depression, but depression among the elderly is common–and treatable. Teenagers, struggling with hormonal mood swings, peer pressure, and the losses and adjustments associated with growing up, are also at significant risk. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 15-19.

Chronic illness

If you have been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, it is understandable to have feelings of sadness, low energy, anxiety, or grief. Depression often goes untreated among the chronically ill because doctors don’t spot it. “Of course she’s depressed–she has cancer” is a common misconception. But treatment for depression often improves response to medical treatment, general outlook, and quality of life. Call your doctor or find a psychotherapist you can trust.

Drug and alcohol abuse

If you abuse drugs or alcohol–including prescription medications–you are suffering from a double whammy. First, people who are depressed who try to get relief by using drugs or alcohol deprive themselves of appropriate treatment. Second, most chemicals that are used to self-medicate in this way are depressants themselves, triggering increased stress on the body and lower and lower moods and energy.

Depression is a mean disease, but it highly treatable. People who suffer from depression are often sensitive, creative, and highly intuitive individuals. Symptoms are often an invitation to step into health and claim these gifts.


Anxiety

Anxiety is a pretty awful feeling, but it is normal to experience it from time to time. A certain measure of anxiety can even be helpful. Butterflies in the stomach can help us to perform with a particular sparkle when we are speaking in front of groups, and most performing artists report that a small dose of stage fright can heighten their senses and add passion
to a presentation.

Anxiety disorders, however, are agonizing and debilitating. You feel isolated, paralyzed with fear, obsessively apprehensive, and possessed by worry. The focus of the anxiety may be one of a number of things–money, job or school failure, test anxiety, or social phobias (fear of interacting with other people). You may have panic attacks, episodes in which your heart races, your senses are distorted, and you are terrified for no apparent reason. Such feelings may make you feel weird or crazy–but anxiety disorders are real, and they respond well to therapy.

Some common treatment approaches include hypnotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation training, and medication. The newer “power therapies” such as Thought Field Therapy (TFT), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) are particularly useful in gaining relief from symptoms of anxiety, and experiential therapy such as psychodrama can help release the feelings and broaden your repertoire of responses to life in a way that increases your confidence, competence, and creativity.

The past few years have brought tremendous advances in the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders, but far too many people still suffer in silence and isolation. Seek help through a crisis line, clergy member, or mental health professional, but before you settle on a therapist, consider asking some questions:

  1. Ask the therapist if he or she is trained to treat anxiety disorders, and if so which particular approaches s/he uses. (Ideally, you want to find a therapist who is skilled in a number of different methods in order to choose the best treatment for you). Ask how many people he or she has treated effectively, and what you might expect from a successful course of treatment. Ask how long your therapy is likely to take.
  2. Educate yourself about your particular problem. Once diagnosed, you can seek information from books, videos, tapes and the Internet.
  3. Work closely with your therapist, and be as honest as you can about your experience. Many people hold back because they feel ashamed, embarrassed, or unconvinced that the therapist will be able to be helpful. Above all, trust yourself. If you feel you cannot develop an open working relationship with the therapist, keep looking until you find the right one for you.

ADHD: Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Every woman has the kinds of feelings or problems characteristic of ADHD. The important question is: do you have them more severely than the average person? have they been present for most of your life? Do you feel these particular symptoms are the major reason you may be having difficulty in your achievement level, your self-esteem, your relationships, and your mood?

If you feel that you or someone you care about might have ADHD, please consider seeking professional services or email me for a consultation:daphne@daphnestevens.com


Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a serious brain disease that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning. It affects approximately 2.3 million adult Americans—about one percent of the population. Manic-depressive illness typically shows up in adolescence or early adulthood, and continues to flare up over the course of a lifetime, disrupting or destroying work, school, family and social life.

The bedrock of successful treatment of bipolar disorder is proper medication, which requires both regular visits with the psychiatrist and periodic lab work to check to see that blood levels are appropriate. People with bipolar disorder also require regular sleep and eating routines. Sleep deprivation often triggers a manic episode, in which the patient is irritable, explosive, grandiose, or engages in high-risk behaviors like overspending, promiscuity, or substance abuse. Under-eating causes fluctuations in blood sugar that can trigger depression, manifested by weight loss, persistent sad mood, physical slowing or agitation, loss of energy, and feelings of worthlessness or guilt.  Psychotherapy, along with medication, can often provide additional benefit, and family therapy can be helpful in educating the whole family about the disease and helping to heal some of the damage done by past onslaughts.

The good news is that this disease is highly treatable. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (www.nami.org)  has wonderful support programs throughout the country. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed, or if you suspect that bipolar disorder is a problem, seek the help of a trusted psychiatrist and work with him or her as closely as you can.  Keep yourself as de-stressed as possible—and make sure your children are carefully screened, too. The disease has a heavy genetic component, and early diagnosis and treatment is often the best medicine.


SAD:  Seasonal Affective Disorder

Do you slow down in the winter?  Do you get depressed, binge on sweet, over-sleep, and lose your spark?  You might be experiencing SAD.

“Seasonal persons” are identified by mental health professionals at those who become clinically depressed during the winter months.  Lots of reasons are given—holiday pressure, cold weather, cabin fever—but experts agree that light deprivation is a primary cause.

Most of us notice that our spirits are better on sunshiny days.  When our eyes are exposed to bright light, the production of melatonin—the “hormone of darkness”—is blocked in the brain.  As night falls, the nervous system releases the melatonin, allowing us to fall asleep.  As dawn awakens us from out nightly hibernation, melatonin converts into serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone that energizes us during the day.

Ancient healers knew something about the relationship between health and the cycles of nature.  As A. Cornelius Celsus, a first century physician advised, “ Live in rooms of light. Avoid heavy food. Be moderate in the drinking of wine. Take massage, baths, exercise, and gymnastics. Fight insomnia with gentle rocking or the sound of running water. Change surroundings and take long journeys. Strictly avoid frightening ideas. Indulge in cheerful conversation and amusements Listen to music.

Sounds like a perfect prescription for mental health in general, and an antidote for winter doldrums, doesn’t it?  But it can be a tall order for some of us.  If you have trouble shaking winter blues, take measures to increase your well being:

Be aware of your level of sensory stimulation.  Like many people prone to depression, those with SAD tend to be highly sensitive.  We lack the psychic filter to screen out images of violence or despair.  To “strictly avoid frightening ideas” might mean taking a break from the nightly news, reading poetry instead of weighty novels, or making conscious choices to turn away from problems that, for the moment, are unsolvable.  (Scarlett O’Hara might have been vain and shallow, but her comment, “I only want to think happy thoughts today.  I’ll think about that tomorrow.”  Holds a world of wisdom for us winter worriers.)

Light therapy has proven to be effective in easing winter malaise.  Consider a light box.  Resources are readily available online at a variety of prices.

Consider psychotherapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps challenge core beliefs that fuel depression and despair.  And depth psychology—the study of dreams, images, archetypes and myths—can be particularly rich during the dark winter months.  Talk to your doctor about the possibility of antidepressant medication on a short-term basis.  Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) are proving to be effecting in easing “seasonal people” through the winter, and can usually be discontinued as the days lengthen toward summer.

For more information, contact daphne@daphnestevens.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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