Mental Health Blog Day Update

Yesterday was APA’s Mental Health Blog Day.  They did a great job of rounding up some great bloggers to dedicate posts to mental health.  Some of the bloggers are health writers, some not – but either way there was some great information shared! Check it out:

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Some of my faves:

How clever are these blog titles? I just love discovering new, creative and entertaining bloggers.  For a full list of Mental Health Blog Day participants click here.

Oh! And you can see my contribution to the party here: Mental Health Isn’t All Sadness and Worry; Doom and Gloom

Mental Health Isn’t All Sadness and Worry; Doom and Gloom

I'm Blogging for Mental Health.

Today is Mental Health Blog Day over at the American Psychological Association (APA).  APA is rounding up lots of terrific blog posts and articles all about mental health.  This is a great place to learn more about diagnosis, treatment, resources, and what it is like to live with a mental illness.  All of this information is useful and necessary, but I think sometimes we forget that mental health can be fun – and funny – too.

For example, the blog Hyperbole and a Half has recently dealt with the issue of debilitating depression.  Yes, this is a serious topic.  And yes, it is tough to read the author’s description of her extremely low mood and long periods of helplessness and hopelessness.  But, the post is also pretty light-hearted and even funny in some sections.

Mental health and humor are two things that can be tough to combine, but there are places where the combination can be found: the TV show Monk, any of David Sedaris’ books, Chato Stewart’s mental health humor cartoons.

Creating mental health can be a good time – and it doesn’t always entail lying on a couch blaming your mother for your unhappy marriage, or taking a handful of pills everyday.  While therapy and psychiatric medication may be a piece of mental health care for some of us; many of us can find it on our own.  Gardening, baking, collecting gnomes, reading mysteries, brewing beer, playing chess in the park – these can all be ways to create and maintain good mental health.

How do you have fun while working on your mental health?







Helping Kids with ADHD…Without Giving Them Meds

This article was recently released by the American Psychological Association.  Reading it brought a smile to my face and relief to my brain.  Finally, a well-written, well-researched, easily-readable article about non-pharmacological treatments for ADHD.Screen shot 2013-02-26 at 8.56.56 AM

Don’t get me wrong,  I am not against psychiatric medication – in fact I often work collaboratively with psychiatrists, and understand and appreciate what they bring to mental health treatment.  However, my area of expertise is behavior change and family dynamics.  This article does a fantastic job outlining how those things can be used to help kids (and families!) struggling with attention issues and ADHD.

Here are a few highlights from the article:

  • Programs and education for parents and teachers can be highly effective in helping kids maintain better attention
  • Physical activity, including therapeutic recreation could be a treatment of choice for ADHD
  • Extra sleep can be helpful – in our fast-paced world it can be easy to overlook that some kids who exhibit hyperactivity may in fact be over-tired

If you or someone you know is affected by ADHD, hyperactivity, or trouble maintaining attention you might want to take a look at APA’s article.  ADHD is a complicated condition and there are surely no easy answers when it comes to treatment.  But addressing the basics (sleep, exercise, home environment) is a good place to start.

Helping Your Kids (And Yourself) in the Midst of a Tragedy

When will the madness end? That’s a question so many of us are asking ourselves today.  It is so hard to know how to cope with senseless violence of any kind, but especially when it involves so many kids in a place where they are supposed to feel safe.

As we struggle to cope with the tragedy in Connecticut today, I offer a couple of tips for families:

Talk about it.  Many of us find it useful to process and talk about tragedies – especially when they are as confusing and senseless as the one today.  This goes for grown-ups and kids alike.  Allow yourself and your family members (even the little ones) time to express feelings, fears, and worries over today’s events.  Talk about what you and your family do to keep each other safe, and take a moment to cherish each other – out loud.

Turn it off.  Just as it’s crucial to express our thoughts, it is just as important to put an end to the conversation at an appropriate point.  This can mean turning off news coverage, taking a break from Facebook, and providing our children (and ourselves) with other, safer things to do (watch a holiday movie, make cookies, play Wii, etc).  The details of the shooting in CT will be in the news for days and weeks to come.  You will not be missing anything by turning off the news reports, and in fact you will be doing a lot to maintain your mental health.

Need more ideas and resources about how to manage stress in the aftermath of a tragedy?

Helping Your Children Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting (APA)

SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline: 800-985-5990

Managing Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting (APA)

Tips for Talking with Kids and Youth After a Disaster or Traumatic Event (SAMHSA): A Guide for Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers




The Side Effects of Psychotherapy

The other day I posted a YouTube video by the American Psychological Association (APA) extolling the virtues of psychotherapy. Here’s another video with a similar message: namely that psychotherapy with a licensed psychologist is an effective and safe way to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.  The bonus is that it doesn’t have the side effects that medications do: no dry mouth, too-much-caffeine feelings, sexual problems, to name some of the most common.  Here’s the clip:

As I noted previously, I am a big fan of APA, but don’t totally agree with the assertion that there are no side effects of participating in psychotherapy other than a better, healthier life.  While I certainly believe that can be true, it is also true that some people notice that their mood goes down a bit before improving when starting psychotherapy.  The thought behind this is that sometimes unhappy, painful memories are discussed in the therapy session.  Sometimes “stirring the pot” of sad experiences, emotions, etc can have the “side effect” of causing a low mood.  Of course the hope is that new, healthier coping strategies will be learned and improved mood will soon follow.

Overall these videos are awesome – I love the message!  Just thought I would point out that while psychotherapy is an under-utilized and highly effective treatment option, it is not entirely without a downside.

How Do I Know If I Am Stressed?

The American Psychological Association released their annual Stress in America survey today.  Results suggest that we Americans are way too stressed out and that stress is having serious negative consequences.  Chronic, long term stress can affect every system of our bodies: digestive, cardiac, musculoskeletal, and of course brain health can be seriously jeopardized when we are subjected to stress over the long term.  To read more about APA’s Stress in America survey, including how your city rates in terms of stress, click here.

We all know stress is bad, but how do you know if your stress level is too high?  What are the signs and symptoms of stress?  Well, we all experience it differently, and some of the signs of excessive stress may surprise you.  Here are a few to watch out for:

Difficulty concentrating (i.e., trouble focusing on your favorite TV show or book due to worries and stressful thoughts)

Excessive worry (i.e., going overboard in the amount of time you spend worrying about things, assuming the worst about things)

Overeating/undereating (i.e., eating when you’re not hungry, or losing interest in food)

Trouble with sleep (i.e., sleeping too much OR too little)

Trouble managing anger (i.e., losing your cool more quickly than normal)

Irritability (i.e., snapping at your kids or partner more than usual)

Inability to enjoy things you used to (i.e., too stressed out to enjoy weekly manicure)

Isolation (i.e., stop returning friends’ phone calls because you’re “too stressed” or “too busy” to talk)

Other signs of stress can include: difficulty doing just one thing at a time, trouble staying “in the moment,” and an increase of physical ailments (headaches, stomachaches, etc).


Chronic Economic Stress

Several years ago when the economy went downhill (yes, an understatement, I know) psychologists like me were getting lots of questions about how to cope with the stress.  I was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, and the Philadelphia Inquirer – and every reporter had the same basic question: “How do we cope with financial strain and keep our mental health at the same time?”  Some of the tips I often gave were things like:

  • Turn off the TV/radio/computer so as not to be bombarded by the bad news
  • Take action by making small changes in your financial life
  • Don’t forget to keep up the healthy stress management strategies you already have in place (i.e., walking, talking with friends, going to church)

But here we are 3+ years down the road and things don’t seem to have gotten much better.  Sure the market may be up and interest rates may be down, but I still hear stories of layoffs, prolonged unemployment, and perpetual under-employment.  I’m not sure what the exact definition of “chronic” is when it comes to stress, but I am certain we are there.  The financial stressors we are facing have gone from acute to chronic – the difference may seem like semantics, but really it’s a whole different ballgame.

What makes chronic stress different than acute stress, particularly in regards to our economic lives?

Emotional health.  Most of us have the emotional and psychological resources to cope with stress on a short term basis (meaning several weeks to several months).  Prior to the onset of the acute stressor we were probably healthy, rested, and had at least one or two good coping strategies in place.  However, after an extended period of time (3 years, for example)  the chronic exposure to stress starts to take its toll on our emotional health.  What was once a few nights of poor sleep has become insomnia.  We’ve stopped engaging in healthy coping strategies (reading, praying, yoga) and taken on “easier,” less healthy habits (drinking too much, eating too little, watching more pornography).   Psychological health is a high maintenance thing – when we don’t care for it, it can deteriorate pretty quickly.  Increased anxiety, worsening mood, irritability – these can all be signs that our mental health is being negatively affected by chronic stress.

Physical health.  Did you know that chronic stress affects every system of the body?  Stomachaches, headaches, muscular pain, cardiovascular disease – chronic stress can play a part in all of these conditions.  Still not convinced?  Take a look at the American Psychological Association’s super cool mind/body health interactive tool and see for yourself just how destructive chronic stress can be.

Hopelessness/helplessness.  Researchers know that one of the most psychologically-damaging emotional states is when one feels hopeless and/or helpless about their situation in life.  It is no good when we feel as if we have no agency – or say – in our lives.  Unfortunately, that is exactly the feeling that this “financial downturn” has produced in many of us.  It’s not infrequent for me to hear people saying things like: “But I saved, and went to school, and spent money responsibly – how can it be that I am still broke and unemployed when I did all the right things?” or “It doesn’t seem to matter what I do or try, I can’t catch a break financially.”  I think it’s pretty obvious to see how this sort of thinking can be a precursor to depression.

A little bit of stress is OK, 3+ years of daily worry about money and employment can take its toll.  Check in tomorrow for some tips of how to manage chronic financial stress.