Mood Disorders

/Mood Disorders

Overcoming Anxiety

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. But some people experience anxiety too much of the time, often for no real reason.

Anxiety invades their lives with distressing images, painful feelings, or thoughts of impending doom.  Most are fully aware of the unpleasant feelings resulting from their anxieties, but often the anxieties themselves are subconscious. Yet these anxieties could become recognizable if they could learn to stop and reflect on them when they experience these feelings.

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Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Cory, a veteran police officer, draws his gun just as a bullet whizzes through his hair, grazing his scalp.

Emma, a bank employee freezes when a gunman holds her hostage for several hours in the safe room.

Anthony, a military officer in Afghanistan, runs through crossfire to retrieve the corpses of his buddies.

 

These images are all too familiar to TV audiences, but nothing can simulate a near-death experience like the ones described by Cory, Emma and Anthony.

They all suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs after someone is exposed to a life-threatening traumatic event. Commonly this happens after coming back from a war zone, but it can happen after any traumatic or life-threatening event.

Although many people experience very disturbing things in war or security situations, not everyone will develop PTSD. Both the Canadian Department of National Defence, and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs that 11 to 24 percent of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have PTSD.

The prevalence of PTSD in the general population is about 7 to 8 per cent.

What are the signs?

Fight or flight is an instinctual human reaction in the face of extreme danger, when you have milliseconds to decide whether to run away to safety or to fight to defend yourself. After a traumatic event, this ”flight or fight” reaction in the body is damaged and the person freezes up when sensations, images, or feelings they had at that time recur in the here and now.

Physiological signs of fear, like rapid heartbeat and profuse sweating activate emotions of acute fear and strong normal responses to threatening situations often appear in PTSD sufferers in situations where there is no danger present.

PTSD usually develops within three months of the traumatic event, but can occur much later in life.

Flashbacks

Some of these symptoms are referred to as Re-experiencing symptoms. These include flashbacks of the event, which can bring extreme stress on not only the mind, but also the body in terms of sweating or a racing heart. Bad dreams and frightening thoughts are also typical. The traumas from the past become torturous again, in the present.

Avoiding Triggers

The next category is Avoidance symptoms. This is when the sufferer goes to extremes to avoid reminders of the traumatic event. This can cause people to change their clothing, hair, and even to quit their job to avoid things that trigger memories and to have deep feelings of shame or guilt.

Hyper-vigilance 

The last category of symptoms is called Hyper-arousal symptoms. This is when a PTSD sufferer becomes very easily stressed or fearful for their safety, such as checking that doors and windows are locked, feeling suspicious of parked cars, strangers and anything they used to consider benign.  This effect of being easily startled can also lead to angry outbursts, constant vigilance for possible signs of danger, and difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. These symptoms make people more vulnerable to overuse of drugs and alcohol.

Consequences

Unfortunately there is still a stigma surrounding PTSD. Because it can be such a terrifying and disruptive mental state, sufferers can be labeled as “crazy,” “dangerous,” or “violent.” Other stigmas are general beliefs that since in today’s wars people chose to go to combat, in a sense they brought it on themselves.

Many PTSD sufferers reported that they avoided early treatment because they did not want to be considered to have a mental illness. However, PTSD can be cured through different forms of therapy.

Group treatment programs for PSTD are delivered over 6 to 12 weeks, while individual therapy is customized to each person’s needs.

What happened to them?

Cory was in psychotherapy for 11 months, and eventually retired from the force  to work as an investment advisor. He sometimes remembers the trauma, but can now deal with stressful feelings realistically.

Emma was off work for six months before she was able to step foot in the bank again.  With the help of a psychologist, she eventually felt strong enough to return to her job.

Anthony was released from the military after intensive individual and group psychotherapy.  He still has survivor guilt. He works part-time as a security guard.     

A psychologist can help you learn more about PTSD and its effects, deal with explosive anger, and help you become aware of the signs leading to a recurrence.

If you or someone you know is struggling with post traumatic stress it would be a good idea to schedule an appointment with a registered psychologist.

 


Patients in this story are a fictional composite of people who have sought help for this issue. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

Dr. Eva Fisher is an Ottawa psychologist who has been providing psychotherapy for a variety of issues for over 20 years. Follow her on Twitter @drevafisherFacebook or Instagram @dr_evafisher. Blog writing assisted by freelance journalist Alyssa McMurtry.

Written by Dr. Eva Fisher C Psych
All rights reserved. Copyright protected.
Photo Credits: www.flickr.com/photos/copsadmirer/5141029384 Oscar in
the middle
http://www.flickr.com/photos/alancleaver/4446487398 Alan
Cleaver

Misplaced Memories

You walk into a room, determined to find something. You start rummaging around, opening some drawers, looking on desktops-only to realize you have no idea what you are actually looking for. You leave the room, shaking your head, maybe amused by your absent mindedness or perhaps a little worried. In a couple minutes, hours or even days, the memory floods back in and you remember exactly what it was you were searching for.

Of course, we’ve all been there- but do situations like this and other lapses in memory increase as you get older? Or, is it more likely that a 20-year old just shakes this off as something funny, whereas it might be cause for concern for a 50 year old?

Scientists say memory loss is perfectly normal. As you get older, you’ll notice parts of your body weakening and that isn’t limited to your biceps. Parts of the brain can also become weaker over time as a natural process of aging; however, virtually everyone deals with memory loss and can be proactive in trying to prevent it.

Here are some of the main memory problems that people of all ages deal with, according to the Harvard Review.

Transience– This is when you lose memories over time in order to make way for new ones. This isn’t necessarily bad as it clears your mind of the memories you don’t often use- kind of like throwing away the single sock you’ve had sitting at the back of a drawer for years. So, if you don’t want to forget something, think about it often.

Absentmindedness- this happens when you weren’t paying close enough attention to the task at hand. Much like the example in the opening paragraph, if your mind didn’t concentrate on something, you become more likely to forget. Absentmindedness causes people to lose things, get lost or be a little clumsy.

Blocking- Ahh, you know what it means, is it, umm something about not remembering words and, you just saw it, not transience, but something  with the letter t- right! Tongue! It’s when you have something on the tip of your tongue that you temporarily can’t recall but still know. Usually it’s due to a competing memory, which may be similar but not the one you were looking for.

Misattribution- You could have sworn your teacher told you about his trip to London but it was actually your friend’s dad. This is when you have partial recollection of an event but get a detail wrong, such as where you got the information from.

Suggestibility- Remember that time you and your friends went to a party where Peter did a black flip and broke the table? No, well not really, kind of, I guess. Even if you don’t really remember something, it is possible for the power of suggestion to create false memories. Scientists are still studying this phenomenon; here is an interesting article on it.

Bias- As hard as you may try to avoid it, memories are always tainted by past and present biases, moods and attitudes. When a memory is encoded your bias influences your memory of the event.

There are ways of preventing memory loss as you age. Harvard Health Publications offer seven ways to keep your mind sharp that you can start doing at any age. They recommend physical exercise, learning new skills, eating nutritious foods, sleeping well, and surrounding yourself with a good social support system.

These recommendations will not only improve your memory, but also help your overall physical and mental health.

Dr. Eva Fisher is an Ottawa psychologist who has been providing psychotherapy for a variety of issues for over 20 years. Follow her on Twitter @drevafisherFacebook or Instagram @dr_evafisher. Blog writing assisted by freelance journalist Alyssa McMurtry.

Written by Dr. Eva Fisher C Psych
All rights reserved. Copyright protected.

Cutting Remarks

It takes a lifetime to learn how to handle disappointment, and being a teenager doesn’t help much when things get rough. I was wondering what would cause a beautiful, smart 15 year old like Briana to get a pack of her dad’s razors and some disinfecting lotion from the medicine cabinet and deliberately carve small evenly spaced slices up and down her arms and legs.

It didn’t help when her mom walked into her room and freaked out either. She couldn’t know that her mom would bring her to see me, and that she’d land up having to talk about what happened which was why she was sitting in my office. She couldn’t tuck herself any more tightly into the corner of the sofa without disappearing completely, trying to avoid my eyes and smoothing the long sleeves of her shirt.

And looking at the floor, she whispered that all she wanted was to escape from the bad feelings when her friends at school had turned against her.

In 1921, Freud proposed the pleasure principle is the instinctual pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Maturity is learning to endure the pain of frustrated desires when reality requires it.

Self-Cutting

While many people abuse their bodies while indulging in smoking, drinking or recreational drugs, they can shrug it off the next day by remembering the fun and good times that went with their over-indulgence. With self-cutting, the pleasure principle – meaning, the avoidance of one kind of pain as a way of by-passing emotional pain however, results in bodily scarring and disfiguring while offering emotional relief.

Self-cutting is when the injury is intentional, as when as person makes small cuts with a sharp object that draw blood on the wrists, arms, legs, sexual organs or bellies. Unwanted and potentially dangerous side effects are infected wounds, scars, accidentally cutting too deep or uncontrollable urges that get in the way of daily activities.

Research shows that 90 per cent of people who engage in self harm begin during their teen and pre-adolescent years, however onset can occur at any age, including in elderly people.

In a survey by the Canadian Mental Health Association, approximately 13 per cent of adolescents said the engaged in self-harm activities. However, since this habit tends to be secretive, it is difficult to determine the exact percentage.

There is no single pattern or profile for self-injures, however the Canadian Mental Health Association shows that most are from the middle to upper-class, intelligent but suffer from low self-esteem. Almost all say they were discouraged from expressing emotions, especially anger and sadness.

Why do people self-cut?

There are many different reasons that people engage in self-cutting behaviour, but the primary reason is that it provides temporary relief to feelings of frustration, suffering and emotional pain. The flow chart below, shows two common patterns of why people injure themselves.

cuttingchart

Studies show that incidences of self-cutting are increasing. This may be due to cultural trends, where young people are told it is a normal way to express feelings of frustration, numbness or sadness. However, it is not new, in the 19th century some women in Europe became known as “needle girls” because they would cut themselves with sewing needles. Today, for example, there are many websites that give advice on how to go about cutting oneself. In order to fit in to a subculture, teens may try cutting themselves only to find that it is an addictive behaviour that can spiral out of control.

Contrary to the belief of some, self-cutting is not necessarily a ‘cry for help’ nor is it attempts at suicide. Cutting tends to become an impulsive, secret habit where the pain provides an illogical sense of temporary calm. Many self-cutters are ashamed of this habit and try to hide their scars.

Self-cutting is not a mental disorder but is usually a symptom of underlying emotional problems. There is a whole gambit of psychological problems that can be associated with it, anything from depression to borderline personality disorder to bipolar disorder.

If you or someone you know is self-cutting,  speaking to an experienced psychologist could help.


Patients in this story are a fictional composite of people who have sought help for this issue. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

Dr. Eva Fisher is an Ottawa psychologist who has been providing psychotherapy for a variety of issues for over 20 years. Follow her on Twitter @drevafisherFacebook or Instagram @dr_evafisher. Blog writing assisted by freelance journalist Alyssa McMurtry.

Written by Dr. Eva Fisher C Psych
All rights reserved. Copyright protected.

The anatomy of an upset

Eugene was having a bad day.  On the way to work, some idiot cut him off, then another stupid person slipped ahead into a prime parking spot, making him late for work, which he hated. 

If you could be a fly on the wall of Eugene’s mind, you might hear these thoughts buzzing through his head. His face showed that he was upset, but when I asked him if he was stressed about anything, he looked surprised.  There was nothing unusual about this morning, compared to an average day in his life.

We retraced the components of that morning’s events, beginning with the upset toward the driver who had cut him off.  The thought that the driver was an idiot triggered the feeling of rage and more angry thoughts.
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Teenage Depression

Under the stereotype of teenage angst, teenagers often claim to be misunderstood, but parents should be careful not to misinterpret signs of teenage depression as a bad mood that will pass with time.

Untreated depression can have severe negative consequences on a person’s life, so take time to investigate any serious and significant mood changes.

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Depression and Insomnia

Insomnia Cure and Success of Depression Treatment

WebMD News from HealthDay
One additional hour of shuteye reduced depressive

By Margaret Steel

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Nov. 19, 2013 (HealthDay News) — Treating persistent insomnia at the same time as depression could double the chances that the mood disorder will disappear, a new study shows.

Doctors have long reported a link between insomnia — the inability to sleep — and depression, but many thought that depression led to insomnia. Now, experts suspect sleep problems can sometimes precede depression.

If other ongoing studies confirm these results, it might lead to major changes in depression treatment, experts added. Such changes would represent the biggest advance in depression treatment since the antidepressant Prozac was introduced in 1987, The New York Times
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Depression in Children

For a long time it was assumed that children lacked the emotional maturity to experience depression, even though most children feel down at times. Today, children are the fastest growing group diagnosed with depression.

It is estimated that two percent of children under 12 struggle with depressive symptoms, and that Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) can occur in children as young as three.

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