Archives for May, 2012
Do you think the creator of the game "Angry Birds" ever imagined that the game would be so popular? Long gone are the days of having to put quarters in a arcade machine to have some fun. Nearly every imaginable game is at our fingertips with all of the phone, iPad, computer and handheld gaming devices available today. For some people, the idea of a "gaming addiction" is a foreign one--unlike alcohol or drug abuse, or gambling, this isn't a problem that previous generations ever had because the technology didn't exist. But for people who are watching their relationships fall apart because their partners can't pry themselves away from playing games, this is a real problem. How do you know if your partner is addicted to gaming?
Brent T. Mausbach of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Diego at La Jolla recently conducted a study that examined the levels of depression and stress in 116 elderly caregivers. These caregivers were specifically caring for partners with Alzheimer's disease, but the findings likely are generalizable to anyone who cares for a loved one. Previous studies have shown a correlation between caregivers experiencing depression and an increased risk for heart disease. Not surprisingly, the study revealed that the caregivers who participated in leisure activities had lower levels of stress than those who did not. The study did not find a direct link between depression and heart disease risk, but it did show that increased stress can increase risk. Although more than one-third of the caregivers did exhibit clinical levels of depression, Mausbach believes it is the lack of leisure activity, perhaps resulting from the guilt associated with depression, that leads to negative mood and increased stress in the caregivers. As a caregiver, what can you do to lower your risk of depression and potentially other illnesses?
Awareness that eating disorders do not just affect teenaged, white females is growing. Your partner--male or female--may have struggled with an eating disorder as a young person, which puts them at risk for re-developing symptoms when faced with challenges as an adult. Or your partner may develop an eating disorder for the first time as an adult in an attempt to cope with something overwhelming, such as a traumatic event or a loss, whether that be of a person, job, ability, or something else that was significant for them. A new study from researchers at the University of Minnesota has shown that eating disorders can be triggered by lack of support following traumatic events such as bereavement, relationship problems, abuse and sexual assault. They identified six major events that commonly are associated with the development of eating disordered behaviors: school transition, relationship changes, death of a loved one, home or job transition, illness/hospitalization, and abuse/sexual assault/incest. What might this look like for your partner?
The saying, "One man's trash is another man's treasure," is applicable to those who struggle with hoarding, a type of anxiety disorder that some professionals believe is correlated with obsessive compulsive disorder. People who hoard are not lazy slobs who refuse to clean up after themselves, despite what it might seem like to others. To people who hoard, every item in their house (or car, or office, or other space) has a purpose and is needed. Hoarding is defined by three primary traits: the obsessive collection of objects that seem useless to almost everyone else, the inability to get rid of any of them and a resulting state of distress. How do you know the difference between "pack rat" and "hoarder"? A pack rat collects things as well, but when they run out of room, they will throw out something they no longer need. A hoarder will make room, even if it's in what anyone else would consider inappropriate space, such as in the bathtub or in bed.
If you have an anxious partner, you may find yourself repeating statements like the following: "It's fine...you can do this." "There's nothing to worry about." "Relax--everything will work out in the end." Or maybe you have given up on trying to reassure your partner that worrying is not helpful, and are now using statements such as: "Enough already! Stop obsessing!" "You are driving me crazy with your worries!" "How old are you? Grow up...it's just a [snake, spider, dog, etc.]" Depending on the approach you take, you may have figured out that anxiety can be a tenacious beast, and doesn't usually respond well to gentle encouragement or harsh criticism. Trying to find the right balance, though, can be tricky. So what can you do if you have an anxious partner?
I remember being somewhat perplexed the first time I met with a client who said they were in my office because of needing "anger management skills." Of course, I'd heard of something like that, but realized specific skills for handling anger was not something that was covered in grad school. Did my program have a gap in the curriculum? Was there some list somewhere of what exactly I should be teaching this client? I consulted with my supervisor, who told me that "anger management" is just another term for "emotion regulation." I realize that for people who are not therapists, "anger management" may actually seem like a clearer description, but from a clinician's perspective, what my supervisor was telling me was that clients who present with "anger management issues" really need help in identifying their feelings (which may be anger, but also may be something else) and deciding what the appropriate way to respond to those feelings is. The part about those feeling being "something other than anger" is also important. Humans feel a range of emotions, but in our society, not all of them are acceptable, especially in public. For example, it's generally a cultural expectation that men will not cry in public. That doesn't mean men don't feel the urge to cry, nor that men never cry in public, but it's not a common occurrence. As a result, many men channel that sadness into anger. A man yelling or displaying his physical strength in public is much more acceptable, even if it can be unpleasant.
It's no secret that health insurance is expensive, and paying for mental health services can be outrageous as well. When you and your partner have a large pile of bills to pay, it can make a difficult decision to forgo mental health appointments and psychiatric medications appear--on the surface--to be easier. No money = No care, no meds. Period. End of story. Right? Unfortunately, you and your partner may have already discovered what happens when mental health treatment is stopped abruptly. Or if you are considering this possibility, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise. The ramifications of not getting appropriate treatment go much further than just a depressed mood or anxious thoughts and feelings. It could result in an untimely death.
Postpartum Support International has declared May to be National Maternal Depression Awareness Month. Has your partner or other loved one struggled with depression, either during pregnancy and/or right after giving birth? Estimates are that 15-20% of women--that's 1 in 8--have depression either while pregnant or postpartum. Despite such high numbers, many women do not get treatment because they may feel guilty that they are not happy during what society says should be a joyful time. They may also not realize the symptoms they are experiencing are in fact depression, or may be waiting to see if they feel better after the baby is born, or once the baby has settled into a routine, etc. because what new mom (and dad!) isn't tired, cranky, and overwhelmed when caring for a newborn? The problem is, maternal depression is serious, and there is help out there that can make a tremendous difference quickly. Left untreated, your partner is at risk of developing severe depression or postpartum psychosis, which are mental health emergencies. As a supportive partner, what do you need to know and what can you do to help?
One in four Americans have an anxiety disorder, and your partner may be one of them. Anxiety symptoms show up in a lot of different ways, and for the person experiencing them, they can be really unpleasant, to put it nicely. Many people tolerate their anxiety for many years before something makes them decide enough is enough, and they make an appointment to see a doctor or therapist. Clients will sometimes present to their doctor's offices with what they describe as "panic attacks," but in reality, a better name for what they are experiencing would be "crazy worry." I am not trying to invalidate the real discomfort that comes along with these feelings, but panic disorder has specific criteria that must be met in order to get a diagnosis. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), panic disorder is defined as: People with panic disorder have sudden and repeated attacks of fear that last for several minutes. Sometimes symptoms may last longer. These are called panic attacks. Panic attacks are characterized by a fear of disaster or of losing control even when there is no real danger. A person may also have a strong physical reaction during a panic attack. It may feel like having a heart attack. Panic attacks can occur at any time, and many people with panic disorder worry about and dread the possibility of having another attack. A person with panic disorder may become discouraged and feel ashamed because he or she cannot carry out normal routines like going to the grocery store or driving. Having panic disorder can also interfere with school or work. Panic disorder often begins in the late teens or early adulthood. More women than men have panic disorder.