The recent attention locally at the Wyoming State Legislature and nationally on the extreme behavior of some gun owners left me scratching my head and wondering about their far-out behavior. On researching the questions raised by their behavior, I found some partial answers that I want to share with you.
I found that many of these bad behaving gun owners are suffering from a compulsive obsession with the gun hoarding. One of the symptoms of compulsive-obsession disorder is obsession hoarding. In this context, the hoarding of guns explains the passions and strong feelings of some gun owners. For example, hoarders, compelled by obsessive-compulsive behavior, treat what they hoard as having the same rights as living human beings. They often believe these inanimate objects have the same value as a human life. This kind of obsession also features a preoccupation, or paranoia, that someone “out there” will harm either them or the people or things they care about. The president of the United States could be, to many of these hoarders, the threatening menace.
Some hoarders perform rituals to mitigate the anxiety that stems from their particularly obsessive thoughts. These rituals, for a gun hoarder include buying more guns. The gun hoarder feels that, by doing this, it will somehow prevent a dreaded event from happening, like “Obama is coming for their guns.” The compulsive gun hoarders know that their thoughts and behaviors are not rational, but they feel bound to comply with them to fend off feelings of panic or dread.
Compulsive gun owners are not particularly delusional in other matters in their lives, but are unable to realize which dreaded events are reasonably possible and which are not. When the representatives of the gun industry, like the NRA, declare that “Obama is coming for your guns,” it boosts gun sales to unbelievable heights. These declarations work time and again and set off a maelstrom of irrational gun sales. Because obsessive gun hoarders are unable to rationally evaluate the gun industry’s representative’s claims, they fall for this marketing ploy over and over again.
This rush to buy more guns has led to some side effects that I have personally witnessed. Gun hoarders, compelled to buy guns, have an effect on their families, financially. I know one of these hoarders who, several times over, has rushed out to buy more guns, and has filled two gun safes with his acquisitions. At the same, he jeopardized his credit rating because of late payments and repossessed vehicles. These problems were greatly exacerbated by his uncontrolled gun purchases. There have to be many families who are financially stressed because of compulsive gun buying. His problems were not helped by his hanging out with other gun hoarders who reinforced each other’s obsessions.
Reflecting on the nature of obsessive-compulsive behavior, has explained a lot of the extreme attitudes of some gun owners. By the way, I have been a gun owner all my life and possess a Wyoming concealed weapon permit.
Anxiety is the most common psychiatric complaint, and has its causes in a malfunctioning of our prehistoric fight-or-flight response. Daniel Smith has written a book about the anxiety epidemic, after suffering for decades with a complaint that’s cruellest effect is shutting down our ability to love, writes Lynne Malcolm.
New Yorker Daniel Smith has lived with chronic anxiety for most of his life—well, at least since he was 16, after he lost his virginity to two older women.
Yes—some young men may not think that was so bad, but it launched Mr Smith into his first period of acute, constant, ‘seize-you-by-the-shirt-lapels’ anxiety. The truth is, as Mr Smith writes in his book Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety, anxiety disorders can be triggered by just about anything.
Anxiety is by far the most common psychiatric complaint—with double the sufferers of depression. An anxiety disorder involves a degree of distress caused by unjustified, persistent worry: obsessive compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety, hypochondria and panic attacks.
‘It feels when anxiety is really acute as if anything around you is a terrible threat to you, catastrophe is about to befall you,’ Mr Smith says.
‘Anxiety is a state of nervous vigilance. You look around for the source of it; it could be anything. It could be the sandwich you’re eating for lunch, it could be the person that you’re living with, it could be the job that you’re in the middle of trying to do.’
Some level of anxiety is normal in humans, Mr Smith says. ‘[I]f we hadn’t been anxious when we were evolving on the African plains lions would have eaten us. And if we weren’t anxious now we would get burned by the hot stove more often than we do, or get hit by cars more often than we do.’
But it’s important to distinguish between normal day-to-day worry and an anxiety disorder, in the same way that we distinguish between a diagnosis of depression and just feeling a bit down. When anxiety starts to control your thoughts rather than you controlling them, it’s a good idea to get help.
Dr Paul Morgan from Sane Australia says that for patients with anxiety disorders it’s often the case that chemical messengers associated with the flight-or-fight mechanism have gone haywire.
‘It’s as though there’s a big red button inside your brain that says “Panic, get the heck out of here,” and this button has somehow got stuck down when you have an anxiety disorder and your brain is going: “It’s an emergency!”’ Dr Morgan says. ‘It’s an emergency but it isn’t.’
Environmental stresses—including the pressures of everyday life—also play a role. And while our modern standard of living is better than ever, it can be argued that the super-abundance of choice in modern life is particularly anxiety inducing, Mr Smith says.
‘It seems comic, but we are met with so many choices now. The internet has broken this wide open; there are so many options and the result is very often a sense of paralysis and a kind of extended adolescence. If I choose one thing I am closing off a thousand other lives and that can be very terrifying.’
Even so, he doesn’t think we live in ‘The Age of Anxiety’.
‘I did a little reading up on the fourteenth century, which was a period in which people’s uneasiness spiked terribly for very good reason: there were roving hordes of mercenaries in the countryside; there was the black plague, which wiped out nearly 50 per cent of the population of Europe; there was a traumatic schism in the church; there were all sorts of terrifying things going on—war, famine. Now that produces anxiety.’
Mr Smith says that the worst thing about an anxiety disorder is the inability to love—the sense of being locked into oneself. Very often people experiencing anxiety are so distressed that they look for someone to blame, and that person is usually a family member or loved one.
‘People often ask me, “What can I do for my brother, my wife, my husband, my child who is anxious?” And it pains me to have to say nothing. It’s that person’s responsibility or it’s up to that person to learn new ways.’
Dr Morgan has also had personal experience of an anxiety disorder. He says he’s always been a bit of a perfectionist and slightly obsessive from childhood—but he developed chronic anxiety many years ago, when he was working very hard on a project and put himself under a lot of pressure. He began to obsessively worry about anything and everything and felt strangely guilty for no rational reason. Eventually he realised he needed help and got a referral from a GP for some therapy. He says it changed his life.
Dr Morgan says that sometimes anti-anxiety medications, which are called anxiolytics, are prescribed if the person is so severely affected by anxiety that it causes them extreme distress, but caution should be taken because of potential side effects and the risk of developing a dependency. He says they should only be prescribed for short-term use and that psychotherapy is by far the best long-term treatment.
Despite having ‘as many therapists as King Henry VIII had wives,’ Mr Smith was finally able to find a therapist who helped him manage his anxiety: a practitioner of cognitive behavioural therapy, which teaches techniques to change unhelpful and destructive thought processes.
‘[W]hat you have to do is find a way—find a discipline—to change that pathway, to carve out a new pathway, and to keep doing that practice probably—for someone like me—forever,’ Mr Smith says.
And when that fails, he falls back on the advice from his brother, who made a chance suggestion a few years ago which Mr Smith was at first sceptical about.
It was to listen to the soundtrack of the beautiful Hollywood romance Singin’ in the Rain with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds.
Listen to more on anxiety and its neurological and environmental causes with Lynne Malcolm on All In The Mind.
I have been having a lot of sex lately. I go out often, and when I do, I have sex with different partners. My friends and roommates are concerned with my behavior, and one of them called me a nymphomaniac, which really hurt my feelings. I do not feel like I need to have sex, I just really enjoy it. Am I a sex addict?
—Girl Just Wants to Have Fun
Many individual factors, personal feelings and choices go into deciding how much sex is “enough” or “too much.” You need to consider your own values, priorities and what you consider “too much” sex. Unless your sexual behavior is interfering with your daily life or harming yourself or others (Do you always use condoms, dental dams, or other forms of barrier protection? Are you regularly tested for STIs? Do you communicate honestly with all of your partners?), you may be comfortable with your life as it is.
That said, some people do experience compulsive sexual behavior, sometimes referred to as hypersexuality or hypersexual disorder. This disorder is defined as an obsession with sexual thoughts, behaviors or feelings that can have a detrimental effect on multiple aspects of one’s life, such as health, occupation, and relationships. Symptoms of compulsive sexual behavior are varied and often case-specific. Many researchers argue that hypersexuality is not really about sex itself. In these cases, frequent and potentially risky sexual behavior is not simply driven by a craving for sex, but often by an underlying issue. Stress, anxiety, depression and shame are all internal psychological issues that can be externalized through sexual behaviors. Such behaviors become an issue when they result in an obsession that is disruptive or harmful not only to the addict but also to those who surround them. Compulsive sex behavior may also be caused by physical health issues including an imbalance of natural mood-regulating brain chemicals, unusually high levels of androgens (sex hormones that play an important role in generating feelings of sexual desire), or other diseases and health conditions that affect the brain.
If you feel as though you have lost control of your sexual behavior or if you feel like you want to clarify your values around sex, you can speak with a counselor at UHS’s Counseing and Psychological Services office in McCosh. Even if you simply want to discuss your relationships with your friends and roommates, I recommend visiting a counselor. You should seek immediate treatment if you have a history of bipolar disorder or of problems with impulse control, or if you feel as though you are losing control of your sexual behavior.
While your friends clearly care about you, you need to decide for yourself how much sex you want to have and with whom. There are many resources available to you on campus and many people willing to listen confidentially, starting with University Health Services, so you don’t have to make these decisions alone.
Information regarding Compulsive Sexual Behavior provided by The Mayo Clinic.
Interested in Sexual Health? The Sexpert is always looking for members of the community to join the team of sexual health educators who, along with fact-checking from University health professionals, help write these columns. Email email@example.com for more information and questions about sexual health. Don’t be shy!
Exhaustion weighs her down until she gets out of bed. Trudging to the shower and going down the grocery store aisles feel like a long slog through dark molasses.
By the numbers
Who are the mentally ill? They are our neighbors, friends, family — and us. Put five people in a room and one has suffered from a mental illness in the past year.One in five adults (46 million Americans) experiences mental illness each year. One in 17 suffers serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. One in 10 children lives with a serious mental or emotional disorder. The rate of mental illness is more than twice as high among those aged 18 to 25 (29.9 percent) than among those 50 and older. Less than one-third of adults and half of children with a diagnosable mental disorder receives mental health care in a given year. Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begins by age 14, three-quarters by 24. More than 50 percent of students 14 and older with a mental disorder drop out of high school — the highest dropout rate of any disability group. 24 percent of state prisoners and 21 percent of local jail prisoners have a recent history of mental illness. 70 percent of children in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental disorder. The annual economic, indirect cost of mental illness in the U.S. is about $79 billion, mostly in lost productivity. Adults living with serious mental illness die 25 years earlier than other Americans, largely due to treatable medical conditions. An estimated 8.7 million American adults had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year. Of them, 2.5 million made suicide plans, and 1.1 million attempted suicide. Sources: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Institute of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice
The heaviness caused by major depression has come and gone throughout Lisa Livingston Baker’s life. And when her husband died in 2008, she could not even lift her body from her bed.
Major mental illnesses
Mental illness refers to a wide range of disorders that affect mood, thinking and behavior. More common ones include:Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: Characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Strong scientific evidence indicates ADHD is a biologically based disorder. Research also suggests a strong genetic basis. Bipolar disorder (formerly known as “manic-depressive disorder”): A major mood disorder in which a person experiences episodes of depression and mania (extreme irritability or euphoria). Likely caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters or hormones. Trauma and major loss may play roles. Major depression (known as clinical depression): A combination of depressed mood, poor concentration, insomnia, fatigue, appetite disturbances, excessive guilt and suicidal thoughts. Depression is twice as common in women for reasons not fully understood. Likely caused by biological differences in the brain along with trauma or major loss. Post-traumatic stress disorder: Severe or repeated exposure to trauma can affect the brain in a way that makes a person feel like the event is happening again and again. Can induce anxiety, sleeplessness, anger or substance abuse. PTSD can affect everyone from survivors of sexual trauma and natural disasters to emergency and rescue personnel and military veterans. Generalized anxiety disorder: A severe, chronic, exaggerated worrying about everyday events. Likely caused by genetics, brain chemistry and environmental stresses. Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Obsessions are intrusive, irrational thoughts or impulses that repeatedly well up in a person’s mind. Compulsions are repetitive rituals such as handwashing, counting, checking, hoarding or arranging. Evidence suggests that OCD is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. People whose brains are injured also can develop OCD. Panic disorder: Feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly with no warning. Symptoms include sweating, chest pain and irregular heartbeats. More common in women. Brain abnormalities, family history, major life stress and abuse of drugs and alcohol may play roles. Schizophrenia: A group of severe brain disorders in which people interpret reality abnormally. May result in hallucinations, delusions and disordered thinking and behavior. Likely caused by differences in the brain, genetic vulnerability and environmental factors that occur during a person’s development. Personality disorders Borderline personality disorder: Characterized by unstable moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image and behavior. Antisocial personality disorder: A person’s thinking and relating to others are abnormal and destructive, such as disregard for right and wrong, lying and behaving violently. Narcissistic personality disorder: Characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance and a deep need for admiration. Personality disorders are thought to be caused by genetic and environmental factors. Sources: National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mayo Clinic, WebMD
She blamed herself.
First in a series
The mentally ill are under pressure and scrutiny like never before. Mental health budgets have been slashed. State inpatient beds are at historic lows. Emergency rooms and jails are the new front lines of care. In the wake of mass shootings — and would-be school shooters such as Alice Boland — some want registration of the severely ill.But there is promise for change. State funding may increase. Research is showing these illnesses are based in flawed physiology, not character flaws. And many who suffer are challenging the stereotypes that affect them. The Post and Courier is examining these issues in a series of stories over the next few months. We start with the stigma and its undercurrent of shame.
Join the discussion about this story and other mental health issues at Jennifer Berry Hawes’ Facebook group.
The master’s-educated teacher struggled to raise her three girls as she took medications and entered therapy. Books and tapes about coping amassed beneath her bed.
“I’ve done it all,” the Summerville mom sighed. “And how many more Lisas are out there?”
Millions. One in four adults experiences mental illness in a given year. One in 17 suffers serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
And at perhaps no other time have they received more public attention than today.
Megachurch Pastor Rick Warren’s son committed suicide a week ago after a long battle with major depression.
Lawmakers are debating mental health care funding, gun control and registries of the mentally ill. And last week, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson voiced doubt that the state can fully rehabilitate the violent mentally ill.
What does all this attention mean for the average person with a mental illness, suffering amid a public that stigmatizes them?
Baker can’t count how often she’s heard:
Buck up. Get over it. Just cheer up!
“People make you feel bad about yourself — and you make you feel bad about yourself,” Baker said. “I’m not a bad person. I’m not lazy or weak. I’m a good person. I’m trying.”
She recently joined a clinical trial at the Medical University of South Carolina that administers a brain stimulation treatment based on researchers’ improving knowledge of the brain as a highly complex electro-chemical organ, one that can malfunction just like any body part.
After receiving most of her treatments, Baker can laugh again. She even tackled her taxes.
And it’s not just the relief. The boost proves to her that the depression is caused not by personal failure, as stigma insinuates, but rather by malfunctioning brain circuitry.
It’s proof that the illness isn’t her fault.
Dr. Mark George trained in psychiatry and neurology. He doesn’t see a distinction between the two.
Both deal with disorders caused by dysfunctional brain circuitry. So why are neurological disorders — Parkinson’s disease, for instance — viewed without the stigma that clouds others like depression and bipolar disorder?
“Stigma is really hard for me to deal with. I’ve trained across these disciplines, and to me it’s all the same,” said George, director of MUSC’s Center for Advanced Imaging Research and its Brain Stimulation Laboratory.
Stigma stems from historical misunderstandings, such as when people thought the mentally ill were inherently weak-minded or evil, or when George’s medical school professors taught that the brain was a fixed organ, incapable of changing and repairing itself.
Modern imaging technology is allowing researchers to track the brain’s activity and to examine its wiring, structures and tissue micro-architecture to see exactly what is going on inside a living, thinking organ.
It has revolutionized knowledge of psychiatric disorders.
“The brain is really the last frontier in medicine,” George said.
What is now clear to researchers is that malfunctioning brain circuitry, and its interplay with genetics, trauma and environmental stress, plays a major role in many illnesses, including depression, anxiety and addictions. A new mantra rising among medical professionals calls mental illnesses “brain disorders.”
“We have these powerful imaging tools so we can see all of these things,” George said. “This new understanding should make people wake up to stigma.”
For instance, when imaging showed differences in the brains of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, it indicated that the problem wasn’t bad parenting or a lack of discipline. It was based in physiology.
“That was huge. Imaging can add that legitimacy,” said Joseph A. Helpern, professor and vice chairman for research in radiology and endowed chair in brain imaging at MUSC.
Today, MUSC psychiatry is the largest research department in its College of Medicine, and is especially known for research of addictions and imaging techniques. And just this month President Barack Obama announced his BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative to map the brain’s activity in unprecedented detail.
So much research promises better understanding of this final frontier, and new treatments for when its circuits malfunction.
“In mental illness and addiction, the brain is different,” said Rhonda Faughender, clinical director for adult services at Palmetto Behavioral Health System. “But we can retrain our brains.”
Which means there is hope for people like Baker.
Biology of change
Baker sits in a small room in the Institute of Psychiatry lying on what resembles a dentist’s chair.
Dr. Baron Short, clinical director of MUSC’s Brain Stimulation Services, positions a plastic block containing an electromagnetic coil onto the upper left area of Baker’s forehead. She wears neon yellow earplugs to block out the rapid and fairly loud tapping of electrical pulses that penetrate her scalp and skull.
Brain tissue lacks pain receptors, so she can’t feel where the pulses penetrate into her prefrontal cortex, the upper front area of the brain.
Coils pulse for four seconds, then quiet for 20. The sensation on her skin is irritating but not painful, Baker said, like getting snapped by a rubber band.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, recently approved by the FDA for the treatment of depression, aims to rouse the prefrontal cortex. It is considered the brain’s CEO, responsible for abstract thinking and regulating behavior and emotions, and it tends to be underactive in people with depression.
This underactivity, in turn, appears to affect the brain’s limbic system, a primitive area often called the “feeling and reacting brain” that is important in memory formation. This area tends to be overly active in people with depression.
“We’re helping the brain re-regulate itself,” Short explained.
Brain stimulation may hold promise in treating other illnesses, including addiction, which imaging indicates is another form of brain disorder. This also could change societal views of addiction — after all, when it comes to stigma, few disorders carry more shame than drug addiction, George said.
Yet it appears that some people are predisposed to addiction due to overly active brain regions that control craving and desire, while impulse-control areas are not as active. Researchers are testing ways to correct this circuitry just as they are with depression and other illnesses.
On Monday, George and a team of researchers will publish a study in the journal Biological Psychiatry that showed high-frequency TMS significantly reduced nicotine craving even in heavy smokers.
“People still think it’s about bad behavior and not an illness,” George said. “But it’s not you. It is a part of the brain that needs to exercise differently.”
Today, when someone is released from a psychiatric hospital, there are no sympathy cards in the mail, no meals provided by friends, no flowers or well-wishers eager to visit.
Often, there is only the suffocating silence of fear and rejection.
“We as a people don’t look at mental illness as an illness. If we just pull up our bootstraps and go, we can go. And it’s so untrue. It’s an illness just like heart disease or cancer,” said Wanda Brockmeyer, emergency services director for Roper St. Francis Healthcare.
When Baker turned 50 recently, she cried.
“This isn’t where I wanted to be,” she said. Then she reminded herself: I’m not a loser.
She wonders if others see her that way.
“Imagine if you said to a person, ‘If you had only been stronger, you wouldn’t have gotten cancer,’” Baker said.
She agreed to share her story here to challenge the stigma, to remind people that those with mental illness are parents, children, neighbors. And that their illnesses aren’t their fault.
Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563, follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes or subscribe to her at facebook.com/jennifer.b.hawes.
Beyond OCD Co-Sponsors National Stress Out Day
Chicago, IL (PRWEB) April 12, 2013
Jeanne Ettelson, president of Beyond OCD, announced that Beyond OCD is co-sponsoring National Stress Øut Day, along with Active Minds and Anxiety and Depression Association of America, with support from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Next week college students on over 200 campuses across the country are participating in the 8th annual National Stress Øut Day—a nationwide effort to provide pre-finals stress relief and to educate students about the difference between everyday anxiety and anxiety disorders or other mental illness. This year National Stress Øut Day is being held during the week of April 14-20, 2013.
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems on college campuses. Forty million U.S. adults suffer from an anxiety disorder, and 75% of them experience their first episode of anxiety before age 22, according to Active Minds. A recent national survey by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA found first-year college students’ self-ratings of their emotional health dropped to record lows in 2010. And a 2009 survey by the American College Health Association found that 46% of college students said they felt “things were hopeless” at least once in the previous 12 months, and nearly a third of college students had been so depressed that it was difficult to function.
During National Stress Øut Day, Active Minds chapters will invite students to participate in stress relieving activities like water balloon fights, petting zoos, and yoga. They will also be educated about mental health issues and made aware of the mental health resources available to them. National Stress Øut Day aims to shed light on anxiety disorders while promoting a healthy dialogue around all mental health issues.
Founded in 1994, Beyond OCD works to increase public and professional awareness of OCD, educate and support people with OCD and their families, and to encourage research into new treatments and a cure. Beyond OCD is dedicated to improving the lives of people who suffer with OCD—a resource for individuals, families, mental health professionals, educators, clergy and the media across the country.
OCD is a neurobiological anxiety disorder characterized by obsessions and compulsions that take up an excessive amount of time (typically an hour or more each day), cause significant distress and significantly interfere with normal life. Obsessions are uncontrollable, persistent worries, doubts, or fears, and compulsions are the repetitive activities that the person with OCD feels compelled to engage in to relieve the anxiety caused by the obsessions.
For more information on Beyond OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, visit http://www.BeyondOCD.org. On its web site, the organization offers detailed facts about OCD, resources, expert perspectives, personal stories from individuals with OCD, and free, downloadable OCD Guides in English and Spanish such as Overcoming OCD: A Guide for College Students.
For specific information on OCD in school, parents and educators may visit http://www.OCDeducationstation.org. People can also call Beyond OCD at 773-661-9530 to speak with someone knowledgeable about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
2300 Lincoln Park West, Suite 206B
Chicago Il 60614
Ellen Sawyer, Executive Director
A new study using the patterns of Google search queries suggests that mental illnesses flourish in winter and decline in summer.
In both the United States and Australia, researchers found distinct seasonal patterns, high in winter and low in summer, in searches pertaining to anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, depression, suicide, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and schizophrenia. The study appears in the May issue of The American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Searches related to eating disorders varied the most — 37 percent higher in winter than summer in the United States and 42 percent higher in Australia. The smallest variations were in searches related to anxiety: 7 percent and 15 percent more common in winter than summer in the United States and Australia, respectively. The variations persisted after he researchers controlled for seasonal differences in Internet use, mentions of the diseases in news articles and other factors.
Why this happens, and whether it is connected to increased incidence, is unclear, but it is known that varying hours of daylight, variations in physical activity and seasonal changes in blood levels of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids can affect mood.
“We have new kinds of data with which we can start to think about seasonality,” said the lead author, John W. Ayers, a research professor at San Diego State University. “This is just the beginning of a new research agenda.”
Online searches for all major mental illnesses tend to follow seasonal patterns, according to a new study — suggesting that mental illnesses may be more strongly linked with seasonal patterns than previously thought.
Monitoring population mental illness trends has been an historic challenge for scientists and clinicians alike. Telephone surveys have been the primary method to determine the prevalence of mental issues, but this approach is limited because respondents may be reluctant to honestly discuss their mental health.
This approach also has high material costs and a low return rate. As a result, investigators have not had the data they need.
In the study to be published in the May issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers now believe the Internet, and specifically Google, can provide an accurate barometer of mental health trends.
“The Internet is a game changer,” said lead investigator John W. Ayers, Ph.D. “By passively monitoring how individuals search online we can figuratively look inside the heads of searchers to understand population mental health patterns.”
Using Google’s public database of queries, the study team identified and monitored mental health queries in the United States and Australia for 2006 through 2010.
All queries relating to mental health were captured and then grouped by type of mental illness, including ADHD (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder), anxiety, bipolar, depression, eating disorders (including anorexia or bulimia), OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), schizophrenia, and suicide.
Using advanced mathematical methods to identify trends, the authors found all mental health queries in both countries were consistently higher in winter than summer.
The research showed eating disorder searches were down 37 percent in summers versus winters in the U.S., and 42 percent in summers in Australia. Schizophrenia searches decreased 37 percent during U.S. summers and by 36 percent in Australia.
Bipolar searches were down 16 percent during U.S. summers and 17 percent during Australian summers; ADHD searches decreased by 28 percent in the U.S. and 31 percent in Australia during summertime. OCD searches were down 18 percent and 15 percent, and bipolar searches decreased by 18 percent and 16 percent, in the U.S. and Australia respectively.
Searches for suicide declined 24 and 29 percent during U.S. and Australian summers and anxiety searches had the smallest seasonal change – down 7 percent during U.S. summers and 15 percent during Australian summers.
Researchers said they were startled by the discovery of apparent seasonal trends for mental illness.
While some conditions, such as seasonal affective disorder, are known to be associated with seasonal weather patterns, the connections between seasons and a number of major disorders were surprising.
“We didn’t expect to find similar winter peaks and summer troughs for queries involving every specific mental illness or problem we studied,” said co-author James Niels Rosenquist, M.D., Ph.D. “However, the results consistently showed seasonal effects across all conditions – even after adjusting for media trends.”
“It is very exciting to ponder the potential for a universal mental health emollient, like Vitamin D (a metabolite of sun exposure). But it will be years before our findings are linked to serious mental illness and then linked to mechanisms that may be included in treatment and prevention programs,” said Ayers.
“Is it biologic, environmental, or social mechanisms explaining universal patterns in mental health information seeking? We don’t know.”
“Our findings can help researchers across the field of mental health generate additional new hypotheses while exploring other trends inexpensively in real-time,” said Benjamin Althouse, a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and researcher on the study.
“For instance, moving forward, we can explore daily patterns in mental health information seeking … maybe even finding a ‘Monday effect.’ The potential is limitless.”
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At a time when over 35 percent of American adults are considered overweight — according to a statistic from the Center for Disease Control — and obesity has been implicated in heart disease, stroke and certain cancers, the current trend in American public health has been to promote weight loss.
It’s this inclination that UCSD professor and clinical therapist Danielle Beck-Ellsworth, who teaches a class on the psychology of eating disorders, says that diseases at the other end of the spectrum — anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating — have escaped the limelight.
Collectively, however, these diseases have the highest mortality rates out of any mental illness, according to statistics released by the national eating disorders association.
“It’s something that hasn’t really been on the radar,” Beck-Ellsworth said. “On a social level, we’re not really obsessed about eating disorders the way we are about obesity. But ironically, the more we stress weight loss, the more we may be encouraging unhealthy eating habits. Instead of focusing on weight, we need to be promoting a healthy lifestyle.”
Beck-Ellsworth warns individuals about drawing conclusions from eating disorder statistics, sufferers tend to share a number of personality traits. Individuals struggling with an eating disorder is often very rigid and motivated and have a very reward-dependent mindset.
Studies have also shown that eating disorders can be triggered by traumatic events. But likely the most talked about cause of eating disorders as of late is the cultural pressure created by the concept of equating skinny with pretty.
Co-founder of the Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program in Sacramento Jennifer Lombardi, a survivor of anorexia nervosa, said that more research on the subject has revealed a number of trends emerging amongst college-aged sufferers of eating disorders. Lombardi said that college students may be put at particular risk because of the stress of a new environment and the cultural expectations associated with coming to college.
“Going to college is a very exciting time,” Lombardi said. “There’s a lot of emphasis put on having a wonderful time and becoming more independent, but rarely do we talk about how stressful that change may be. For someone with the acknowledged personality traits associated with eating disorders — the anxiety, in part caused by the myth of the Freshman 15 … may be enough to cause individuals to turn to that kind of behavior.”
Characteristic of a number of psychological diseases, eating disorders are difficult to both diagnose and treat, because they’re caused by an array of issues — biological, social and cultural.
From an anatomical standpoint, the excess or lack of specific chemical messengers, known as neurotransmitters, in the brain have been implicated. For this reason, individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder often also suffer from either obsessive-compulsive disorder or depression. A treatment option may include the prescription of antidepressants.
“There are a lot of contributing factors in the development of an eating disorder,” Lombardi said. “Biological risk factors, psychological predisposition, a family history of anxiety or obsessive-compulsive traits and temperament all sort of co-mingle.”
Lombardi regularly deals with sufferers of the disorder at her treatment center. She corroborated a study on “drunkorexia” published in 2011 by the University of Missouri. The authors of the study coined the term “drunkorexia” to describe individuals who forgo food in order to consume calories in the form of alcohol. According to the online questionnaire that they used to survey undergraduates at the University of Missouri, approximately 30 percent of female students reported restricting calories to “save them” for alcohol consumption.
Though the conclusions from the original study did not consider the psychological effects of the “Freshman 15,” Lombardi said that the phenomenon may be a backlash to the publicity of Freshman 15, which gained traction up to a decade ago in the popular media. However, a 2011 paper published by researchers at Ohio State University found that college freshman only gain an average of 2.4 pounds for women and 3.4 pounds for men.
Both Lombardi and Beck-Ellsworth agree that the profile for individuals with eating disorders is not nearly as narrow as formerly believed.
“It’s not just young, Caucasian girls that are affected by eating disorders,” Beck-Ellsworth said. “It can affect anyone.”
Surprisingly, studies have shown one demographic of college-aged individuals in particular to be heavily impacted by eating disorders. In 1999, a study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that in a pool of 1,445 student athletes, 9.2 percent of women were diagnosed with bulimia and 10.85 percent were seen to engage in binge eating on a weekly basis. Although there is no hard and fast rule requiring it, the weight of female athletes are not listed on any NCAA roster across any sport.
Recently, eating disorders have received more attention from the medical and academic communities. But both Beck-Ellsworth and Lombardi agree that more needs to be done. Beck-Ellsworth noted that in spite of a 10 percent mortality rate amongst the diagnosed, medical professionals still don’t have formal training in handling eating disorders.
“I think the biggest thing that needs to change is an increase in awareness,” Beck-Ellsworth said. “People need to be aware that this is something that can affect everybody. It’s important not to just immediately rule someone out because of their appearance.”
University of Colorado-Denver psychiatrist Dr. Lynne Fenton told a campus police officer about her concerns June 12, the day after she met with Holmes for their only session. Her fears were revealed Thursday when the new judge presiding over the case unsealed a host of search warrants and arrest documents.
Fenton also told Lynn Whitten, a campus police officer, that after she stopped seeing Holmes he “threatened and harassed her via email/text messages,” the documents said.
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Whitten deactivated Holmes’ ID so he could not get into university classrooms and laboratories, the documents say. That appeared to contradict what university officials have said: that Holmes was not banned from the university because of a threat but because his ID was deactivated as part of the normal student withdrawal process.
It was unclear whether Aurora police knew of Holmes’ threats before they interviewed Whitten on July 21, the day after the mass shooting. Holmes, now 25, is accused of opening fire during a premiere of the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.”
The once-promising neuroscience doctoral student at the university is charged with 166 counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons charges. He had flunked an oral exam in early June, began withdrawing from the university June 10 and met with Fenton on June 11.
Details about the case have been tightly sealed from the earliest days of the investigation. Yet on Thursday, District Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. reversed previous rulings on public access and made public the arrest affidavit and 12 search warrants.
Samour took over from Chief Judge William Sylvester on Monday after Dist. Atty. George Brauchler of Colorado’s 18th Judicial District announced he would seek the death penalty.
Sylvester withdrew because of the time constraints that come with a capital punishment trial, which would leave him little time for administrative duties. Holmes’ trial, initially scheduled to begin Aug. 5, has been pushed back to February at the earliest.
Holmes’ attorneys are widely expected to use an insanity defense. They had offered a guilty plea in return for a life sentence without possibility of parole.
The newly unsealed documents give glimpses not only into the early hours of the investigation but into Holmes himself. A search warrant for his apartment — which had been booby-trapped, presumably to kill anyone who entered — revealed a student’s life that seemed at once mundane and bent on destruction.
Along with chemicals used for explosives, rounds of ammunition, pistol cases and paper targets, police seized movie posters, video games, apartment lease papers, numerous computers, 48 containers of beer and other liquor and stacks of school textbooks. They found prescription medication for sertraline, a generic version of Zoloft used to treat depression, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder; and Clonazepam, usually prescribed to treat anxiety and panic attacks.
And they found a Batman mask, the documents say.
Much of the information in the documents had come out at Holmes’ preliminary hearing in January. Moviegoers at the Aurora theater on July 20 told police they saw a man who fit Holmes’ description sit in the first row but then leave through the emergency exit before the movie started. At 12:38 a.m., an assailant burst through the emergency door, threw a canister of tear gas and began shooting.
Police have said records show Holmes went on a shopping spree that started in May, amassing semiautomatic weapons, large quantities of ammunition, military-style gear, chemicals that could be used for explosives and tear gas canisters.
The documents also shed some light on a notebook that Holmes mailed to Fenton, which was found in a university mail room after the shooting. The notebook was described in search warrants as brown with a placard on the cover that said “James Holmes.” Also written on the outside of the notebook were the words, “My Life.”
Police said “it appeared to be a journal,” but the writings were “unknown.” Tucked into the notebook were twenty $20 bills that had been burned. There was a sticky note on the outside with an infinity symbol on it.
The notebook, which is still sealed, has been a bitterly contested issue. The prosecution says it should be admitted into evidence, but the defense says it is part of doctor-patient privileged communication.
Next week the judge will continue to hear arguments on whether a FoxNews.com reporter will have to divulge her law enforcement sources who told her about the contents of the notebook despite a gag order.
Houston Rockets rookie Royce White is a star in more ways than one. White says he is like everyone else. He enjoys going to the movies and listening to music. He was the No. 16 pick in the 2012 NBA draft, and that is extraordinary. He also suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and some phobias (fear of heights and fear of flying).
A few months ago, he was under scrutiny for standing up to the Rockets’ lawyers and officials. He requested that his anxiety issues be treated the way other players’ physical illnesses and injuries are treated. For instance, NBA players are expected to fly frequently to cities where their games are played. White’s anxiety disorders makes it so that sometimes he is unable to do so. He requested to be able to travel by bus, and if he is delayed he doesn’t want to be fined the same amount as players who miss practice because they overslept.
Both parties struggled to reach a resolution, but after many discussions and meetings, the Rockets and White were able to reach a compromise in some areas. He was reassigned to the Houston Rockets’ D-league team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
White’s story is of interest to many who are afflicted by mental illness. He is not in denial of his challenges, but he is not being quiet about it either. He has taken on the cause to help decrease the stigma society continues to place on mental health issues.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that there are “40 million American adults who suffer from anxiety disorders and only one-third of those suffering from an anxiety disorder receive treatment.” Anxiety itself has found its way into everyday language by many who experience stress. Yet, there are still many people who have no idea that anxiety disorders can be paralyzing and should not be trivialized.
Many individuals are embarrassed about their illness because they fear discrimination or that it’ll be a stumbling block in their careers or jobs. White has taken the risk and has decided that his basketball career is important, but becoming a “poster child” to decrease the stigma is more significant.
If you personally are struggling with mental illness or have a loved one who is, how are you handling it?
- Acknowledge it.
Mental illness does not discriminate against race, gender, age, religion, or economic status. However, many sufferers may be in denial because they believe that asking for help, taking medication, or seeking therapy is a sign of weakness and irresponsibility. They don’t want to admit they have a problem and will only accept help when their normal functioning has deteriorated significantly, and they can no longer afford to suffer alone.People in prominent positions may be embarrassed to admit they have a mental illness. I’m not necessarily talking about movie stars or other celebrities. I am referring to individuals who have been able to succeed in life despite their mental adversities. They need to speak up to help normalize the disrespect many still receive due to their mental ailments.
- Speak up.
When people share their struggles, others will become aware and even be surprised that their friend, boss, best friend’s daughter or spouse also is experiencing emotional and mental pain. Successful men and women with a mental illness can be an example to society and can contribute to the idea that a mental disorder does not define the person. The media seem to highlight the negative situations and many sufferers feel embarrassed and despondent. Thus, they choose to continue their silence.
- Connect with others.
A dear friend has found that when he shares the challenge of having a son with mental health struggles, others connect emotionally with him. They trust him and are able to share their own journey with him. Your story of having been there may make a difference to someone who is feeling hopeless.
Society needs to understand that a person can be “normal” and still have mental health challenges.
Royce White is a hero. We need more heroes to stand up and speak up for mental health. Depression and ADHD are becoming more accepted as those in the limelight continue to talk about their experiences. Even people not in the public eye can tell our stories and help someone.
Will you be a hero for someone else? Take a stand. It will be worth it!
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Apr 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.