Am I Depressed? Just Tired? Something More Serious? Diagnosing Mental Illness

Diagnosing mental illness is difficult.  There are no blood tests for depression; no urine tests for panic attacks; no cheek swabs for schizophrenia.  And sadly, online questionnaires aren’t accurate diagnostic tools either.

I recently got to be a part of an article over at Psych Central about conditions and illnesses that mimic mental health disorders.  It’s an interesting topic because at its core, it means that we – as health care providers – need to be extremely careful and thorough when making diagnoses.  Here’s a quote from the article:

Having the correct diagnosis is vital.  It leads to a more precise, effective treatment plan…If we don’t know what we’re dealing with at the beginning of treatment, our interventions can be like shooting arrows in the dark; not very accurate and possibly dangerous.

Another point is:

Depression is a condition almost everyone is familiar with, so it can easily become a catch-all phrase or diagnosis.  But there are literally hundreds of other mental health disorders, one of which may better capture the symptoms you are experiencing.

To read the full article, check it out over all Psych Central:

Psych Central: The Many Conditions That Mimic Depression

Psych Central: The Many Conditions That Mimic Depression

Secrets From The Couch

I recently ran across this article on BuzzFeed: 29 Things No One Ever Tells You About Being In Therapy.  I pretty much love the articles BuzzFeed writes on mental health because they’re clever, helpful and fun.  And let’s face it: most of us mental health professionals wouldn’t be described as “fun.”  Sad, but true.

Anyway, this article was particularly great because the 29 Things were provided by readers.  Here are a couple of my faves:

#3: It might take a sec to find the right therapist

and

#4: Even when you do, it might take some time to connect

I also liked:

#13: Sometimes your therapist will piss you off

…I might add that if your therapist doesn’t piss you off (or bug you, or something something that doesn’t sit right with you) then you probably aren’t getting as much out of therapy as you could.  Change is uncomfortable.

I also really liked the last one:

#29: Needing to go back to therapy – or stay in it for a while – isn’t failing

This is so true.  Not many people know that going back to therapy after taking a break can be hugely beneficial.  I have lots of folks in my practice who come for a while; take a break for a while; come back for a while to work on something else, and so on.

To see all 29, check out the full article here.

 

How To Make Changes That Last

Ugh…changing our behavior is so hard.  Honestly I think it’s made even harder by all the voices telling us what to change and how to change.

Eat kale!

Turn off electronics!

Exercise!

Save your money!

Tidy your house!

Drive less!

All great tips, but how can we actually make changes to our lifestyles that last more than a couple of days?

I recently wrote an article over at Produce for Kids that discusses this very thing! My favorite tip?

Make personally-meaningful goals. We can’t all care about everything. It’s not realistic to expect ourselves to be: never-cheater eaters, marathon runners, ultra-savers, perfect parents, top-notch employees, garden club honorees, award-winning volunteers, Pinterest stars…you get the picture. Instead of trying to be everything everyone else tells you that you should be, focus on being what you want to be. Not only will your goals be more meaningful, you will be more likely to meet them.

Here’s the full article with all the life-changing tips included:

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How To Become A Morning Person

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I’m not a real Coloradoan.  I don’t like to ski (too expensive and cold) and I don’t like to camp (too uncomfortable).  So imagine my surprise when I got a call from Backpacker Magazine a few months ago to offer some tips for an article they were working on.  Here’s how the interview started out:

Writer: “What tips do you have for folks who struggle to get going in the morning while camping?”

Me: “Ummmm…stay home?”

Yes, that was my expert tip: Don’t go camping.

Luckily, I was able to pull myself together and offer some (I think) useful advice on how to make mornings a little easier after waking up on a mountain top.  And actually, I think these tips can be used in the comfort of your own (warm, clean, not scary) home as well.  Check it out:

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Here’s my favorite tip:

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I don’t know what a “bear bag” is, but other than that I think the tip is useful no matter where you are.  Happy trails, campers!

How To Have A Conversation With Your Family That’s Actually Interesting

OK, here’s what conversations often sound like in my house:

“Did you write a check for the mortgage”

“No! I forgot, can you do it!?”

and

“Did you practice piano yet?”

“Kind of.”

and

“Do we really have to go to your cousin’s sister’s daughter’s birthday party this weekend?”

“Yes, because she came to our party last year.”

and my favorite:

“How was your day, honey?”

“Fine.”

None of these “conversations” are particularly interesting or stimulating – and they certainly don’t do anything to help the participants feel closer to each other.  Instead, they simply allow us to continue the business of running our household and nothing else.  We are all guilty of this – surface, business-like conversations with those in our family (whether that family has two members or ten) – instead of meaningful, engaging exchanges.

When we first got to know our partners, we talked for hours about all kinds of interesting things.  I would bet none of our first date conversations included topics like bills, carpools and trash day.  And when our kids are young, they ask about a million questions everyday on all kinds of unique topics.  But, by the time our relationships have seasoned and our kids are into things like friends and electronics, conversation can easily fall to the wayside.

I recently wrote an article over on Produce for Kids about how to jump start dinner conversation.  The article was mostly focused on families with children at home, but I think the ideas can be used in any kind of family.  Check it out:

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What If You Knew Depression As A Doctor And A Patient?

One of my favorite psychologists is Dr. Deborah Serani.  She is quite the mover and shaker in the field of psychology.  She’s a professor, a clinician, an author – and she has also struggled with depression since childhood.  Dr. Serani recently gave a TedX Talk at Adelphi University.  Check it out:

Dr. Serani’s talk is incredibly moving. She gives a touching description of what it’s like to be depressed as a child. And also a very detailed account of her suicide attempt as a very young woman. Dr. Serani offers expertise on how to best manage mental illness, including “consistency, consistency, consistency” when it comes to psychotherapy and medication. I also appreciated the way she describes how self-care plays a part in managing her mental illness, including vigorously guarding her sleep, and being selective in who and what she lets into her life.

Dr. Serani concludes her powerful talk by offering words of encouragement to those suffering (and treating) mental illness:
“There is hope, there is healing.”

The Case For Summer Camp

Camp in Colorado? Sign me up!

Camp in Colorado? Sign me up!

As a kid, my favorite part of summertime was overnight camp.  In fact, some of my very favorite memories come from my weeks spent on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay at a sailing camp.

Now as a parent, I want my kids to have their own wonderful camp experiences.  Why? Because a lot can be learned from spending a few nights away from home.  Being a camper can teach kids a lot:

Let the fun begin!

Let the fun begin!

How to navigate social situations on their own.  Admit it, most of us can be helicopter parents at times – even thought we know it’s not in the best interest of our kids.  At camp, kids are able to make friends and social decisions on their own, out from the watchful eye of mom and dad.  Doing this, and being successful encourages self-esteem and confidence.  What could be better?

How to have fun without technology and social media.  It’s hard for all of us to put down our phones and tablets – and no one struggles more than kids.  They’ve never known life without them! Summer camp is the perfect time to learn that a million awesome things can happen without electronics (hiking, swimming, canoeing, kickball, crafts).  What’s more, they’re still awesome even if they aren’t shared on Instagram!

How to move past your comfort zone.  Whether it’s taking on the high ropes course, eating freshly caught fish, sleeping under the stars, or making friends with someone from a different culture or background, summer camp is chock full of opportunities to stretch and challenge kids in ways they never are at home.

It’s also important to note that summer camp holds some important lessons for parents, too.  Namely, how to start letting go of our precious babes.  I have to admit that it was harder to say goodbye to my kids when I dropped them off at camp than I thought it would be.  I’m making it through, but definitely counting down the days until I see them again.

 

Packing for camp with StickerKid

Packing for camp with StickerKid

Check out these cute stickers and labels, perfect for school and camp:

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This post sponsored by StickerKid.

 

Celebrating 10 Years On Briggs Street

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I am so excited to be celebrating 10 years in my office on Briggs Street in Erie.  Erie has grown a lot since I arrived here, and the little downtown (where my office is located) has really blossomed in the last year.  The local Farmer’s Market, town festivals,  and the Homecoming parade all happen right outside my front door.  There are also a bunch of local restaurants, cafes and brewpubs on my block.  I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years bring!

Standing With the Citizens of Orlando

Photo Credit

Photo Credit

I am joining the voices of so many others in the last few days in offering my thoughts, prayers and condolences to folks in Orlando and beyond.

If you’re looking for resources on coping with distress after the events in Florida, check out some of my past posts:

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And here are a couple of resources from the American Psychological Association:

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Lastly, check out this thoughtful and useful article over at Huff Post about How to Help Orlando Shooting Victims and Their Families.

#OrlandoUnited