Helping those who fight for you

“Freedom isn’t free.” This is one of the truest clichés of all time, yet why do we so quickly ignore or forget the weight it holds? The irony is that we have the freedom to forget about our soldiers because they sacrifice it all to give us that opportunity. While I know war can be a polarizing political issue, one thing that shouldn’t be is the way we treat our soldiers. Despite your views those who have served deserve better treatment than they get. While this could open a whole discussion into the broken system of the Veteran Affairs, I want to focus in on the main mental health issue soldiers fall prey to, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The reason I want to pick them out specifically is because while their PTSD is not different from civilian PTSD, but because they are not given help from the Veterans Administration along with the fact that they are greatly misunderstood.

PTSD is hard to deal with for veterans and their loved ones. Where many wounds on the battlefield are physically received, PTSD is one that is unseen. Many veterans will come home and think they are fine and others will believe it, then PTSD will slowly become present. Other times veterans can come back and seem fine to the world but they know something is off, whether or not they know its PTSD is the hard part. The mental wound of PTSD is hard because it can misdiagnosed or ignored.

In order to better understand PTSD with veterans let’s look at some statistics from the Veterans Affairs. *A quick disclaimer, while the VA has been treating our veterans in an atrocious manner their statistics are still valid and credible.*:

  • The number of Veterans with PTSD varies by service era:
    • Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF): About 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans (or between 11-20%) who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in a given year.
    • Gulf War (Desert Storm): About 12 out of every 100 Gulf War Veterans (or 12%) have PTSD in a given year.
    • Vietnam War: About 15 out of every 100 Vietnam Veterans (or 15%) were currently diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS). It is estimated that about 30 out of every 100 (or 30%) of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.
  • In the past year alone the number of diagnosed cases in the military jumped 50% and that’s only the reported and diagnosed cases.

These statistics are staggering and heartbreaking. The thing is that this is not an issue that is just a harmless one that affects one person. Suicide rates from veterans are on the rise. Marriages and families are falling apart. That is why as a community we need to raise awareness and help our veterans. That starts with education on PTSD and how to spot it. Check out my previous blog post, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, for symptoms and treatments.

Outside of getting professional help for you or a loved one there are a few more things you can do. If you are experiencing a crisis feel free to call the confidential and toll-free hotline: Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1) or Text to 838255. There is will be support 24/7 all year long. If you are not experiencing a crisis but would like to talk to someone with shared experience check out the site Make the Connection. Make the Connection is a website that looks to find and match veterans together to talk. You can find fellow veterans based on gender, war/era, branch, and combat.

Overall PTSD is a hard issue to tackle. It is unseen, stigmatized, and an issue that is plagued with miss information. If you or a loved one is experiencing PTSD make sure to tell someone and get professional help. Healing is possible you only need to take a step in the right direction.

~Be mindful of the mind

Myths about PTSD

Hey everyone! I hope you learned something form my post on PTSD. As I was learning more about it I found this great Myths and Facts section about PTSD on PsychCentral by Sara Staggs (LICSW, MSW, MPH) and I wanted to share it. Here is what I found:

EXPOSURE MYTHS:

  • MYTH: Everyone who experiences a life-threatening even will develop PTSD.
    • FALSE. Most people who experience a qualifying event will not get PTSD and will gradually/naturally see a decrease in symptoms.
  • MYTH: People who are weak get PTSD.
    • FALSE: There are so many factors involving PTSD and none of it is personal strength. The factors can range from the triggering, gender, how one is raised, to their social support but personal strength is not one of them.

 

SYMPTOMS AND COPING MYTHS:

  • MYTH: After some time I should be alright from my traumatic experience.
    • FALSE: Sometimes you can have forgot about a traumatic experiencing and something can trigger and bring up the memory.
  • MYTH: I can’t seek any healing because the trauma I experienced happened too long ago.
    • FALSE: It is never too late to seek help. While it is great to get help and talk with people about your experience, you can still receive help many years after the trauma.
  • MYTH: I should be able to handle this myself.
    • FALSE: If you broke you are you wouldn’t sit around the house waiting for it to heal on its home, you would go to a doctor. The same way you would go to a doctor, seeking help is always beneficial. Statistically the group that has the hardest time seeking help is men.

 

PTSD THERAPY MYTHS:

  • MYTH: Once I get it done with and talk about this trauma I will be fine.
    • FALSE: While discussing the trauma helps it is not the entire solution. Seeking help can range anywhere from a few sessions to a year or more. The goal is not to rush through therapy but to get the help you need to be free of PTSD.
  • MYTH: If I can’t remember the abuse, I won’t be able to process and heal from the trauma.
    • FALSE: While memory can help process trauma it is not the only way. There are new forms of therapy that focus on the emotions the body feels in regards to the trauma that have proven to be successful.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

For tPTSD 2he next two blogs I want to talk about Posttraumatic Stress Disorder because I want to tackle something that is in the news a lot and affects a lot of people. When you hear PTSD more likely than not you will think of the soldiers coming back from the Middle East. While PTSD came to general awareness because of soldiers it can affect anyone. In fact PTSD can occur whenever any person regardless of gender, age, race, etc because it is defined by Mayo Clinic as “mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event – either by experiencing it or witnessing it.”

Due to the nature of PTSD occurring from uncontrollable events it is impossible to prevent. As expressed above war is one of the most common causes but outside of active combat there are many other causes. Some examples that Psych Central list include “kidnapping, serious accidents such as car or train wrecks, natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes, violent attacks such as a mugging, rape, or torture, or being held captive.” The common factor in PTSD triggers is that it normally is caused by something/someone threatening a person’s life or an others life.

A practical example of this happening on a large scale is the 9/11 attacks. Many people in New York and Washington, D.C. did and are suffering from PTSD. According to the New York Times, “one measure of the psychological impact of 9/11 is this: At least 10,000 firefighters, police officers and civilians exposed to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center have been found to have post-traumatic stress disorder.” This example shows how people actively involved, onlookers, and people who had loved ones in the situation were affected.

Unfortunately because PTSD affects people’s emotions it can manifest itself differently in everyone but there are common symptoms. These symptoms are categorized into four groups: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, or changes in emotional reactions.

  • Intrusive memories symptoms:
    • Unwanted reoccurring memories that cause stress.
    • Flashbacks
    • Upsetting dreams
    • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event
  • Avoidance:
    • Avoiding talking, and thinking about the event as well as avoiding places, activities, and people that remind you of the event.
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood:
    • Negative feelings about yourself or other people
    • Hopelessness about the future
    • Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
    • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Changes in emotional reactions:
    • Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
    • Always being on guard for danger
    • Trouble concentrating
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Being easily startled or frightened

While these are common symptoms it is important to remember that these are not the only ones one may experience if they have PTSD. Feeling distraught or confused after a traumatic situation is normal. However, make sure to reach out for help if you or a loved one has symptoms for more than a month or if suicidal thoughts are present.

As much as PTSD can be hard to live with there have been successful advancements in the treatment for it. There are two main forms of treatment – psychotherapy and medications. Psychotherapy is common for almost any person suffering from PTSD. These are commonly carried out through cognitive-behavioral therapy or group therapy. As for medications, they are normally taken with psychotherapy. While they do not take away PTSD they can help alleviate symptoms so one can learn to manage and fight PTSD.

While there is no clear cut solution to PTSD it is possible to find ways to beat it. With the help from professionals, friends, and family it can be overcome. The first step is to not be afraid to talk about it. The stigmas and a pride can make it hard but it is the first step. With education and open dialogue we can conquer PTSD.

~Be mindful of the mind

Postpartum Depression

Despite being one of the three main forms of depression, postpartum depression is underestimated leaving many women unprepared and uneducated for something that affects the majority of women. According to Postpartum Progress, Postpartum depression is so prevalent that the CDC reported that 950,000 women suffered from it. The real catch with this statistic is that it is self-reported. That excludes all the women who were ashamed, confused, or unaware of what they were going through had a name. When comparing this issue to other major diseases for women in America each year approximately 800,000 women will get diabetes, about 300,000 women will suffer a stroke, and about 230,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. With such a high number of those who will be touched by postpartum depression there is a need to raise awareness and education.

The first step is to understand what is postpartum depression. According to Mayo Clinic, postpartum depression is a form of depression that may occur after childbirth. Just like other forms of depression postpartum depression is different than a momentary spell of feeling down. Postpartum depression can occur anywhere between the first few days after birth to sixth months after birth. If it does occur it can last anywhere between a few weeks to a few months.

At this point you may be wondering why postpartum depression is even a thing, after all childbirth is a normal human occurrence. Well the answer can be found when looking at the impact it has physically and emotionally. Physically after one gives birth there is a large change in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Where a mother was producing hormones for two there is suddenly one body and it takes time physically for the mother’s body to switch processes. Emotionally becoming a parent is taxing. It can be a daunting task to suddenly have another human being rely on you for its livelihood. Now while there is no single cause of postpartum depression, either of these issues combined with various external factors can be the causes.

Now in order to identify postpartum depression or help someone through it you have to be able to spot it. According to Psych Central some symptoms of postpartum depression can look like this:

  • Depressed mood or severe mood swings
  • Excessive crying
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Fear that your not a good mother
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Problems with appetite and/or sleep
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Reduced interest
  • Thought of death or suicide

It is important to remember that while this gives a list of common symptoms of postpartum depression symptoms these are not the finite list. It is possible for you or a loved one to experience symptoms that are not on the list

Postpartum depression is a hard thing for someone to experience and deserves to be treated like any other illness. If you or someone you know seems like you may have postpartum depression do not wait for it to pass. Please tell someone and seek help. Just like the other forms of depression it can be treated with medication or psychotherapy.

Lastly it is important to remember that postpartum depression isn’t a sign of character flaw or a weakness. Sometimes it can be a complication of giving birth. If you find yourself experiencing any of these signs get help as soon as possible in order to get back on your feet and love your newborn.

~Be mindful of the mind

 

The Winter Blues

Have you ever gotten sad or down on a cold winter day? Believe it or not this is actually a common experience. This As discussed in the previous blog post, depression is a large mental health issue. The Winter Blues or more commonly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a branch of the mental illness depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that is directly related to changes in seasons. According to Mayo Clinic, “SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year.” SAD typically begins in late fall and carries into the winter months, and in more rare cases it occurs in the spring or early summer. While the time of year plays a big role in SAD so does geographic location. SAD normally affects people in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

During these times of experiencing SAD most people experience depression like symptoms and sadness. These symptoms include depression, anxiety, mood changes, low energy, and losing interest in activities and people. As it says in its name SAD is a seasonal depression and should be treated as such. Any depressions symptoms may occur while experiencing SAD.

Now while many of us would love to be able to go to the tropics during the winter months that’s not always possible. So the questions is how can you fight SAD? Unlike other forms of depression SAD is easier counter and luckily you can do a lot of it yourself. The first and most important is get as much natural light as possible. According to Psychology Today people with a higher exposure to natural light report a higher quality of life. Other than natural light you can buy artificial lights that emits light on the broad spectrum of light that is similar to natural light. If light exposure does not do the trick there are also the standard depression treatments that include medication and psychotherapist.

So if you find yourself getting blue this winter tell someone and see a doctor to see if you are experiencing SAD. Also remember to keep moving and get as much natural light as possible. The sun is always shining you just have to find it.

~Be mindful of the mind

 

“I am good, just a little blue today.”

“I am Good, just a little blue today” is a phrase we have all probably heard from other or said ourselves. We all feel blue from time to time. It is a perfectly normal emotion and there is no need for shame. The issue is when it becomes a constant in everyday life. While this may seem cut and dry, the difference between a bout of sadness and clinical depression is a common point of confusion. Expressions of sadness are often followed by “I promise I will be better tomorrow.” What happens if tomorrow comes and you are still feeling down?

Clarity begins by considering the definition of depression. Mayo Clinic describes it as such: “Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living.” The key part of this definition is “persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” Those not prone to depression may struggle to understand how one can feel down for such a long period of time, but it is actually quiet normal. In fact, 6.9% of Americans live with some form of major clinical depression. With more than 3 million cases a year, clinical depression is no trivial matter.

With such a large number of people affected by a variety of forms of depression, the first question is “why do people get depression?” The honest answer is there is no one cause. Depression can be caused by inherited traits from family members or a combination of, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. The breadth of causes makes it hard to proactively diagnose or prevent depression.

The societal stigma associated with depression also contributes to the difficulty of diagnosis. Many people are ashamed of feeling depression and therefore hide it from friends and family. Mental health professionals at the Mayo Clinic have compiled a list of symptoms to help others see through the attempts to cloak depression:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness.
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports.
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much.
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort.
  • Changes in appetite — often reduced appetite and weight loss, but increased cravings for food and weight gain in some people.
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness.
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that aren’t your responsibility.
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things.
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide.

Keep in mind while these are general symptoms and not everyone will exhibit one or more as described. Many find it hard to express how they feel while suffering from depression. Vincent van Gogh once described depression through this metaphor: “One feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless” (Brain Picks).

When dealing with someone who may have depression, it is important not compare their situation to times you have been sad. Chances are you may have experienced similar things on paper, but in reality the way someone feels and internalizes different experiences are uniquely their own. The best choice is to let them talk about their experience and ask questions to help them process their emotions.

Now that we have a good understanding of depression, it is time to consider courses of treatment:

  • Depression can be treated through medicine and psychotherapy and there is a large market of antidepressants available to physicians to prescribe. It is always important to remember that all medicines do not work for everyone and that there is always a potential for side affects.
  • Depression can be treated with psychotherapy. A psychotherapist can help patients address their feelings through open discussion and by developing personal strategies to combat depression.
  • Depression can be treated through Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). This treatment has greatly improved over years and is nothing like the immediate images that are brought to mind. The patient is administered anesthesia and is asleep through the minor electrical pulses. Patients do not have memory of the treatment, and it has proven effective in many cases.

Depression is a complicated mental condition that carries some unfortunate stigmas. Regardless, there is no need to let depression rob you of a happy life because there are effective courses of treatment. If you even believe you may be experiencing depression, seek the support from friends and family to face the issue head on. If you know a someone that you may suspect is experiencing depression, ask them about it and let them know you care. Starting the dialogue is the first, critical step.

One last note. Depression in the most extreme cases can lead to thoughts of suicide. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255. The hotline is is open 24/7 or you can visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

 

Anxiety

Anxiety… A word that we have all heard. It is one that is often used without much thought without considering the weight of what it means. In all reality anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). It is so prominent that it affects 40 million adults in the U.S. in the age 18 or older, which turns out to be 18% of the population. With 18% of the population affected it is over double the next most prominent disorder is depression which 6.9% of American adults have. While there is such a high occurrence of anxiety it is highly treatable, however only one-third of those with anxiety receive help. A lot of this has to do with a misunderstanding of treatments, stigmas, and lack of education on anxiety.

Like most things in the medical field anxiety is a broad term that actually encompasses many forms of anxiety. While many organizations have their own lists the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) recognizes three main types of anxiety disorders: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia). While these three types all fall under anxiety that have certain aspects that make them unique:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder is the most common. It normally is seen by having anxiety that is more intense than a situation warrants. People who have GAD tend to have a harder time sleeping, relaxing, concentrating, and can be startled easily. While most people with GAD can carry out normal day activities, those with severe GAD can find it very difficult.
  • Panic Disorder affects about 6 million American adults and is twice as prominent in women than men. Panic attacks can occur at any time and usually reach their max intensity within 10 minutes. Where as some attacks occur once some people may experience reoccurring attacks. This can make going about a daily routine hard especially if one has to encounter the panic attack trigger everyday. An example of this could be having to change apartments because of elevators causing panic attacks.
  • Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder) is an anxiety disorder that most people have experienced with speech anxiety on a small scale. It is normally manifested through being anxious to being with and engaging with people. People with Social Phobia will be self conscious and are very afraid people will judge them.

While there has been leaps in understanding anxiety many researchers have had trouble narrowing down a singular cause. Instead, many researchers have narrowed down two main causes. The first is that it is possible that it runs in the family. There has been a strong connection between parents experiencing anxiety and their children experiencing it as well. When that isn’t the case researchers believe that it can be caused by several parts of the brain, which can come through chemical imbalances.

Despite not knowing the exact cause researchers have progressively gotten better at creating treatments for anxiety. Two main treatments involve medicine or a psychotherapist, both of which have been proven to be extremely effective in helping individuals. Sometimes both of these are needed in tandem, and in extreme cases sometimes people will choose to be committed to a hospital to remove the stimulus that causes anxiety. Regardless of the cause there are many treatments available that have been proven to help those who suffer from anxiety.

Overall anxiety disorders are one of the more common mental health issues. Despite being so common there is a horrible stigma around anxiety. This stigma has created a standard of shame in our society that prevents people from getting the help they need. If you or a loved one suffer from anxiety there are a few things you can do. The first thing is know that you are not alone and that what you or they are experiencing is normal. The next step is tell a loved one and get help. Now with getting help the important thing to remember is that it takes time and that not everything will work. Sometimes it will take different medicines or different psychological approaches to find the one that works. Lastly, don’t be discouraged. Anxiety can be controlled, sometimes it will take more effort than other times but with help and determination it will be conquered.

Be mindful of the mind.

The Mindful Mind

As a country and a global community we have accomplished a lot of good. We have cured diseases, put people on the moon, and strived for gender and racial equality but the one area we have failed to make a difference in is mental health issues. Mental health is an area that is plagued by stigmas and lack of education. The very phrase “mental health” causes people to jump to conclusions. They either think of a loved one, a bad experience, or a stigma they have formed. My goal through this blog is to alter this first thought. My goal is to educate and create an open discussion that will change the way our American and global society views and treats those affected by mental health issues.

First off before I go any further I want to define what are mental health issues. The World Health Organization(WHO) defines mental health as a “state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” When one has mental health issues their ability to reach that state of well-being that is jeopardized by genes, biology, environment, or lifestyle (Mental Health America).

Another aspect of mental health that I will cover in this blog is developmental disorders. This categorizing aspect of developmental disorders is widely debated because some organizations and government agencies accept as being under mental health while others do not. For the sake of this blog I will consider it under the umbrella term mental health because I believe it is also a topic the general public is widely uneducated on and that it holds a stigma as well.

I hope that you enjoy reading about this blog as much as I will enjoy writing this. If you have any questions feel free to reach out or comment. Also I will be researching all my claims but if you notice any mistake or have a suggestion let me know. One thing is for sure and that is that I am excited to take a step in advocating for change in an area that affects one in four adults (WHO).