How Horses can help Mental Health issues through Equine Therapy: Guest post by Lyle Murphy

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(image: Unsplash.com)

Modern medicine continues to reveal new complementary treatment methods that enhance the health care solutions we rely on every day. Equine assisted therapy is one of the most exciting and versatile treatment methods available. Research published in medical journals support the use of equine assisted therapy as an essential part of holistic mental health treatment for conditions as varied as autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, and anorexia.

Despite longstanding success in using therapeutic horseback riding and other equine assisted therapy techniques in health care treatment, many people aren’t familiar with the benefits. This information is especially relevant for parents caring for children who have mental health problems. Read on to find out exactly how therapeutic riding can make a huge difference in a patient’s quality of life.

Understanding Equine Assisted Therapy 

Equine assisted therapy actually covers a wide range of activities and therapeutic techniques that leverage the unique dynamics between a patient and a horse. Treatment methods are supervised and directed by a medical professional, differentiated from recreational equine activity through a local ranch or social club.

Horseback riding has been shown to contribute to the development of improved coordination and balance, directly aiding the physical rehabilitation process. Additionally, activities like grooming and feeding can help to improve motor skills and problem solving. More advanced treatments may be performed under the direction of an equine therapy specialist.

Equine Assisted Therapy Treats Several Mental Health Issues 

This list is by no means an exhaustive account of all the medical conditions that can be treated with equine therapy. Instead, it provides a sense of the how broadly the treatment is already being utilized.

Across the country, equine therapy has already been incorporated into mental health treatment plans for adults dealing with:

       

  • Mood and behavioral disorders
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Trauma and grief
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Sex and gambling addictions

Holistic Mental Health Care Through Equine Therapy 

Successful engagement with a horse is a physical, social and emotional challenge. That’s why it’s such an ideal complementary treatment for patients dealing with mental health issues. By working through the demands of horsemanship under the guidance of an experience medical professional, patients are able to work to build better habits and develop strategies for managing their symptoms.

 

Identifying Emotional Triggers 

One of the most important benefits of equine assisted therapy is the relationship between a patient and their horse. Horses are extremely sensitive to human emotions, making it difficult to ride if a person’s emotions are running wild. The plus side is that this sensitivity can also be used to identify emotional triggers and help patients discover the root of their mental health issues.

Building Communication Skills 

Due to their sensitivity to emotion, herd animal social dynamics, and relatively high intelligence, horses are strong communicators. They can also be easily agitated, making it important for patients doing equine assisted therapy to practice keeping their emotions in check. These lessons in self-control help the patient build skills they will likely rely on for the rest of their lives.

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(image: Unsplash.com)

Overcoming Physical Challenges 


Even the act of getting into a saddle requires are certain level of coordination. Unrefined motor skills are a very common symptom of a wide range of mental health problems. As a result, equine assisted therapy puts a focus on refining physical skills.

Gaining Confidence Through Goal Setting 

Ultimately, becoming a good horseback rider requires individuals to master a long list of skills. The step-by-step process of learning to ride also naturally provides a set of goal posts for patients to reach for and overcome. The opportunity to set goals and achieve them is an important part of the emotional development process and a key perk of equine assisted therapy.

Explore More Equine Assisted Therapy Benefits 

Another advantage of equine assisted therapy is that it offers patients an alternative, promoting holistic care. There is a time and place for medication, but  I believe that the current cultural climate pushes for treating most conditions with pills and often fails to take a more holistic approach.

About the Author:
Lyle Murphy is the founder of Alternative to Meds Center, a holistic medication tapering and addiction treatment facility in Sedona, AZ. Lyle has dedicated his life to holistic mental health.

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Understanding PTSD by Gender: Guest blog by Dale Vernor

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(image: Kennington Osteopaths)

Post traumatic Stress Disorder, better known as PTSD can occur in a person who has experienced or been a witness to an event that is traumatic enough to affect their lives in a negative way. Witnessing a death, a serious accident, war, abuse, being a victim of a crime, natural disasters and childhood trauma can all be causes of PTSD. Many people only associate PTSD with war and veterans, but the truth is an estimated 3.5 percent of the US population suffers from PTSD.

Research has shown that there are differences in the brain when it comes to how men and women process and deal with PTSD. Science is admittedly behind on truly understanding the gender differences when it comes to PTSD and how it is expressed, but there have been some findings.

Men and women respond to stress differently. Men are more likely to respond with a fight-or-flight response in a stressful situation and women are more likely to use a more calming response known as tend-and-befriend.

This is an emotion-focused coping mechanism. It should be noted that there is so little data that stereotypes should not be formed, however, there is enough data to support differences in the genders.

PTSD in Men

Men are more likely to have PTSD due to combat trauma, trauma from natural disasters and disasters caused by human force, some sort of violence and accidents. Based on studies and research men actually suffer more traumatic life events than women on average, however, only 5-6% of men will experience lifetime PTSD. Lifetime PTSD is less prevalent in men than in women. Double the rate of women will experience lifetime PTSD at 10-12%.

PTSD in Women

Women are at a substantially higher risk for PTSD than men. Biology and psychology play a part in why those differences exist. Women are more likely to experience what is considered “high-impact trauma” at a younger age than men.

Women are more likely to experience sexual abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault that leads to their PTSD. It is sexual trauma that puts women at a higher risk for PTSD than men.

Women who suffer from PTSD will also tend to do so longer in comparison to men; on average 4 years to 1. When it comes to seeking help for PTSD women are more likely to seek support for their illness amongst a group. They tend to look for social support.

Symptoms of PTSD Same in Men and Women

The women and men who have this condition often express similar symptoms. Men may display their symptoms in a more aggressive expression where women have shown to retreat internally and avoid the outside world.

Some of the symptoms of someone suffering from PTSD are:

Re-experiencing nightmares, having flashbacks and frightening thoughts that appear real, avoiding people, places and things that may remind a person of the trauma and avoiding feelings and thoughts to cope with the trauma, signs of heighten anger and anxiety expressed physiologically, being hyper-vigilant against threats, difficulty sleeping, experiencing an onslaught of negative feelings, thoughts and judgments, unreasonable blaming of yourself, excessive guilt and a negative perception of yourself in the world, and disinterest in regular every-day activities.

PTSD and Substance Abuse

According to the U.S. National Library of medicine 50-66 % of people who have PTSD simultaneously suffer from addiction. What begins as a means to cope with the symptoms of PTSD, which are distressing, usually turns into a full-blown addiction.

Substances like drugs and alcohol can decrease anxiety in the moment, escape the pain , distract from negative emotions and increase pleasure in the short term. The coping mechanism of substance abuse affects both women and men. There are dual diagnosis treatment centers for people who are suffering from PTSD and substance abuse.

Post traumatic stress disorder, wherever you live in the world and whatever gender you are, can be hard to cope with. Please seek support if you need it and know you are not alone.

This post was written by Dale, a freelance writer specialising in mental health, based in the USA.  He can be found on Twitter https://twitter.com/DaleVernor

5 Tips for a Mental Health Emergency Plan: Guest blog by Emily Bartels

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(image: http://crmhfoundation.org/self-care/)

 

When it comes to emergency plans, usually we think in a more physical sense, but did you know that mental health emergency plans are important?

Mental health emergencies can be quite stressful, and if you’re in a mental health industry or have any personal concerns about your own health, providing the right help is important.  Here, we will outline important tips to help you create a mental health emergency plan that will suffice.

 

Have a Support system

If you tend to get overwhelmed when an emergency happens, a big way to help reduce the trauma from it is to have a support system. Whoever you are and whereever you work, your own personal triggers and issues are still there. If you’re having issues coping, find a support system- a friend, family member or therapist that can help.

You may want to come up with a plan to help your  responses to situations, especially when disaster strikes. If you do have anxiety and depression, do make sure that you have people that can help around you or reach out for help from a doctor or therapist.

 

Prepare For Emotional Reactions

Another big thing that emergency evacuation plan Melbourne  (in Australia) does point out, is you need to make sure that you have the right idea of what might happen.  You should know when you have chaotic reactions, and what you struggle with when disaster strikes.

Focus on what will help, what might happen when you do suffer from an incident, and make sure to communicate it to others.

Processing information is quite hard in a stressful situation, such as fear, anxiety, depression, or even a panic attack, and you should make sure that, with the group of people you trust or the medical profession, you do speak about what happens. It’s also important to make sure that you properly communicate to others.  While panic attacks and sad emotions do happen, you should know that you probably will be upset about whatever will transpire. But that its OK to feel this way.

 

Be Prepared to communicate

A large part of a mental health plan is to make sure that you communicate your needs. If you need to, make sure that you explain any mental health needs, such as medication you might need, in an emergency, with loved ones.  Its vital to your wellbeing  even when stressful to communicate. Letting others know can help them and you prepare for the worst and take action if needed. You aren’t alone.

 

Keep Contact information on hand

Pharmacies can help you get emergency medication, but making sure that you have the contact information for your provider, any diagnoses, and dosages of medication are important.  Make sure to let some people in your support system know, and also keep those phone numbers on hand in case if the emergency lines are overloaded.

 

Create a Recovery Bag

If you have extra medications, a comfort item, and anything that you can use to help in the case of an emergency or crisis, put it in a small emergency kit, which you can use if you need to attend hospital or appointments.  Remember, emergency kits aren’t just for physical health aspects, but also for mental health.  You need to make sure you’re prepared both physically and mentally for any issues that might transpire so that you’re not suffering.

Mental health during an emergency often isn’t focused on as much as say other aspects of your health. Depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts don’t always go away, and you need to be prepared for that, and reach out for help so you can recover well.

Creating a plan to try and prevent or reduce this from happening with your medical team will help if a mental health emergency comes about. From there, you can get the help that you need in order to stabilise yourself, look after yourself and recover again.

 

This blog was written by Emily Bartels, freelance writer with an interest in mental health and wellbeing.

How to Enjoy the Holidays after Addiction: Guest blog by Alek Sabin

 

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Socialising during your recovery always requires some effort, and life after rehab always takes some serious adjusting, but it can be especially difficult during the holiday season. The holidays are a time when you reunite with family and friends and spend time at seasonal social gatherings. You may encounter friends from your past times of using, people with whom you have impaired relationships, and social situations that tempt you to compromise your sobriety. In short, despite being one of the happiest times of the year, the holidays can also be stressful and dangerous for sobriety.

While the holiday season is a season of joy and giving that ought to be celebrated, it is important to be on your guard in order to protect your newfound sobriety. In case you find yourself or a loved one struggling to navigate recovery from addiction this season, here are some tips for protecting the sobriety you’ve worked so hard for during the holidays…

 

Know Your Triggers

Take an inventory of what your triggers for substance use are. In the past, did you use when you were hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? Was substance use an outlet for stress? Do you experience cravings most when you are bored or sad?

Whatever your triggers, be sure to take the necessary steps to keep those triggers at bay. If stress is a trigger for you, for example, practice regular stress relief techniques like meditation, even when you don’t feel particularly stressed. If you are tempted to relapse when you are bored, on the other hand, make it a point to plan out your days with wholesome activities and to have a go-to activity for those times when you truly do have nothing to do.

 

Use Your Support System

It is so crucial to set up a support system within your social circle during recovery, and the holidays are a perfect time to take advantage of that support system. Talk to members of your support system, especially family members and friends with whom you may be attending holiday gatherings. Tell them about what struggles you are facing and what you are worried about this season. This will help them remain mindful of you and allow them to help you at those times this season when you need it most.

 

Don’t Be Afraid to Call for Help

Your support system can carry you through the most difficult times of the holiday season. If you are worried about temptations to pick up alcohol during a particular holiday gathering, for example, a friend or family member can refrain from drinking with you or stay by your side throughout the evening to help hold you accountable. If you are worried that spending time with a particular group of people might tempt you to use again, make alternate plans with a friend or family member who understands your recovery.

 

Consider Whether an Event is Worth It

Holiday gatherings can be stressful for a variety of reasons. You have to answer questions about what you have been up to and what’s new in your life. You may encounter people with whom you used to use during times of addiction. You may find yourself around loved ones with whom you are still trying to repair harmed relationships. There are all kinds of reasons to be stress about attending a holiday season event, and for those occasions when you think the stress may be too much, it’s important to recognize when it may be better to miss an event.

 

Make a Plan for Parties

If you do feel that a holiday party will be low-risk enough for you to attend, be sure that you still come with a plan. Bring your own non-alcoholic party drink to sip on if you know alcoholic drinks will be present. Drive yourself so that you can duck out a bit early and have more control over when you leave. Plan out what you will say any time someone offers you a drink at parties. Try to envision which scenarios may arise so that you can be prepared for them.

 

Wear Your Sobriety on Your Sleeve

Finally, make the decision to own your sobriety this season. When someone asks you what is new in your life, go ahead and tell them about your sobriety (only if you feel comfortable doing so, of course.) Talk to them about your journey thus far, in as little or as much detail as you desire. Share what you are looking forward to as you continue your journey. When others see you talk enthusiastically about your recovery, they are sure to respond with similar enthusiasm, offering a shoulder of support and becoming advocates of your recovery.

Do I need Outpatient or Inpatient Treatment for Addiction? Guest post by Alek Sabin

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If you are struggling with addiction, or have a loved who deals with substance abuse, making the decision to seek treatment can be the most empowering decision you make in your life or theirs. Failing to do so can lead to lives and families being torn apart, and even runs the risk of an overdose. Of course, there are a variety of treatment options available, and many who are considering seeking treatment wonder whether outpatient or inpatient treatment is better suited for them. Here is a look at the key differences between outpatient and inpatient treatment.

Outpatient Treatment

This article here does a very good job at describing how well outpatient addiction recovery treatment works. Basically, outpatient treatment is an option that allows individuals to receive treatment that is less intensive than inpatient treatment. It is well suited for individuals who are seeking comprehensive treatment for alcohol or drug addiction, who need more support than weekly counseling but less support than inpatient treatment, and/or who have completed an inpatient programme and need continued support in recovery.

 

How Outpatient Works

Outpatient treatment typically draws on a variety of approaches in order to offer recovering addicts the healing they need. A comprehensive outpatient treatment might involve individual therapy, group therapy, education, and relapse prevention training. Recovering addicts will also explore a variety of therapy approaches, including cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and recreational therapy.

 

Benefits of Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment can offer several benefits. For starters, individuals can receive treatment while protecting certain aspects of their current lifestyle, such as a job, education, or family responsibilities. Outpatient treatment also tends to be more affordable than inpatient treatment since you are not paying for room and board. It can also grant you more access to your family and friends, who might serve as a valuable source of support as you navigate recovery.

 

Different Levels of Treatment

Every outpatient program is different, and there are various types of outpatient programs, each offering a specific level of support. Three of the most common types of outpatient treatment are partial hospitalisation (day treatment), intensive outpatient treatment, and general outpatient treatment.

Partial hospitalisation, or day treatment, is a more intensive form of outpatient treatment that allows individuals to meet for to five days a week for several hours each day in order to receive intensive treatment. Intensive outpatient treatment is somewhat less intensive, and it is primarily for individuals who need an organized treatment program but who can navigate recovery in the course of their everyday activities. General outpatient treatment, meanwhile, is for individuals who require moderate support in order to achieve sobriety.

 

Inpatient treatment

Inpatient treatment, also known as residential treatment, involves the same treatment techniques as outpatient treatment, but it is more intensive because you typically check into a facility and live there throughout the duration of your program.

 

How Inpatient Works

Inpatient treatment draws on the same individual therapy, group therapy, and educational approaches as outpatient treatment, but it can include some more intensive techniques as well. Many recovering addicts seeking inpatient treatment, for example, will first undergo a medically assisted detoxification process in order to manage withdrawal symptoms. Inpatient treatment also involves around-the-clock care, which may be necessary for individuals who are recovering from abuse, trauma, or a co-existing mental disorder.

 

Benefits of Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment can also offer several unique benefits. First, it gives recovering addicts the opportunity to focus on their recovery, without the distractions of everyday life. In addition, since individuals live within the care facility, there is no access to drugs or alcohol, reducing the chances of relapse significantly. Because it is a live-in facility, there may also be more specialized services available, such as a gym facility, yoga classes, acupuncture, or nutritional education.

 

One potential drawback to inpatient care is that it can limit your access to support from family and friends. For this reason, many inpatient programs include a specialized family program where family members can participate in the recovery of their loved ones—all while receiving the healing they need as well.

 

So What Is Right for You?

If you are seeking treatment for an alcohol or drug addiction, it’s important to consider not only the level of care that you need, but also those factors that might try to draw you away from your recovery. If you are living in an environment that is not conducive to a successful recovery, for example, then inpatient treatment may be the option for you, even if you think you may not require that level of care. When in doubt, you should always consult an addiction recovery facility. Many offer free assessments to help match you with the precise level of care that you need.

Please note: each country will have its own differing treatments and care. 

My story of recovery from Alcoholism and Mental illness: Guest blog by Allen

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(image: https://www.rehab-recovery.co.uk)

My name is Allen and this is my recovery journey from alcoholism and mental illness.

On 12th October 2005 I had my last drink of alcohol and the following morning I was admitted to a psychiatric unit.  On reflection I didn’t know what was happening and had no clue what was happening emotionally, physically or mentally just that I was going into hospital for a short stay to get better.

Better from what? Whats happening to me? When can I go home? It was like a constant conversation in my head and I couldn’t turn it off.  Little did I know that I had been admitted because I was a risk to myself and others and I was going to be detoxed from alcohol and drugs.

I was never the world’s greatest drinker but I loved everything about alcohol and now know that since my teenage years,  alcohol was a constant in my life at home, in pubs, on the train to work, in the park, in the toilet, in secret or in the open and it had been that way since teenage life.

So I stayed in that psychiatric unit for 6 ½ months and I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 (a mood disorder) and prescribed medication to deal with that.  Since that time, I have experienced two courses of electro convulsive therapy, Cognitive behavioural therapy, one to one counselling, 12 step programmes for drugs and alcohol,  taken anti-depressants and anti-psychotics and  read numerous self help books.

This week I will reach 13 years of sobriety- a great achievement considering I couldn’t go a day without alcohol. However,  2018 has seen me admitted into another psychiatric unit, following numerous suicide attempts and thoughts.

I received an additional diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder and a dawning realisation that I need to go way back to my early years to start to really understand me. Childhood / teenage trauma, bullying, substance and alcohol misuse, relationship problems, low self-esteem and lack of confidence, financial woes and debts mounted up.

The past 13 years have enabled me with the help of a twelve step programme to manage life, be as good a father as possible, to be a son, brother and uncle, and a friend.

I have been able to hold down a job and  study a degree in Psychology and Counselling,. I became a Mental health first aider and I suppose now I need to look at me and listen to others as to how I can manage my mental health and addiction. I can learn to be the best father I can be to my son and daughter, and focus on what I need to do to alter the cycle of mental illness that has plagued me for so long.  

Long term therapy seems to be the best option and I hopefully begin this process with an assessment very soon. I am so proud to be miles away from where I was in early 2018. Then, I asked a member of the Home Treatment Team (for crisis care) if I could go into hospital. I also shared for the first time that I have heard a voice for most of my life and the voice has made me harm myself.

I am now doing so much better and hope that therapy helps me to heal even more.

Allen is a writer, mental health first aider and mental health worker.

Mental health stigma and drug addiction Guest post by Bill Weiss

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(image: https://understandinginternationalmentalhealth.wordpress.com)

The stigma that some people see looming over drug addiction and drug abuse disorder will prevent thousands of people from getting the help they so desperately need and deserve. Viewing drug abuse as a disfigurement of one’s will and self-worth is very harmful and can leave people in active addiction.

The fear of admitting that they are struggling and the judgment that will face afterward can be catastrophic. It has been scientifically proven that drug abuse disorder and addiction is a disease of the mind and body. There should not be any negative views toward someone when they decide it is time to get help for this issue.

During active addiction, many users will take part in actions that the clean/sober them would never think about doing. From the outside looking in, these decisions and behaviors can seem unusual, most of the time they are.

Watching someone absolutely self-destruct is very difficult. You may just want to shake the person struggling and scream “WHY CAN’T YOU STOP?!”. If only it was that easy.

Drug abuse and addiction is a surface issue, it’s the problem the whole world can see, but over 80% of drug addicts struggle with underlying mental health issues.

 

Mental Health Issues and Drug Addiction  

Far too many of those currently in active addiction have never received proper care to help them with their mental health issues. Anxiety, depression, PTSD and bipolar are the most common underlying mental health issues that can easily influence drug abuse. When one does not receive proper therapy and/or medications to help them with these problems they may turn to drugs for relief. Self-medicating the problem provides temporary relief, but nothing is actually being done to resolve and work on the issues.

The longer someone uses the worse their mental health issues will become. Depressive episodes can turn into suicidal thoughts and ideations. Anxiety can turn into panic disorder. Drugs do not solve the problem, but for someone struggling with mental health issues will find a level of mental peace from the drugs. Even as their life spirals out of control, they may accept it and continue to get high.

This isn’t their fault. Long-term abuse of any narcotic substance will alter the way one’s brain reacts to and handles certain situations. The chemical balance has been thrown out of whack, the drugs now have near complete control.

Breaking free from the powerful grip of these drugs is not easy, especially if the person struggling believes they will be harshly judged as the stigma around addiction follows them.

 

Breaking the Drug Stigma

Accidental drug overdoses are now the number one cause of accidental death in the USA. We are facing a drug epidemic like never before, more US citizens passed away due to a drug overdose in 2017 than in the entire Vietnam War.

As a country we must help remove this stigma, it is literally a matter of life and death. Millions of people are currently struggling with drug addiction, tens of millions of families will be affected. How can you do your part of getting rid of the addiction stigma?

Educating yourself and others about drug addiction statistics and facts will help one truly understand the impact that drugs have had and will continue to have in this country. Drug addicts are not how they are commonly depicted in movies.

Addiction can affect anyone, any sex, religion and financial background can fall victim to substances and mental health issues. It is not just something that destroys the lives of the homeless and the poor. These are mothers & fathers, brothers & sisters, friends, aunts and uncles who are being destroyed by these terrible substances.

If someone you care about is currently struggling with drug abuse/addiction the best thing you can do for them is to let them know that you are there for them whenever they are ready to get help. While you may not 100% understand what they are going through, you know that they need help and that’s all that matters.

It is strongly suggested by most medical professional that anyone struggling with drug abuse or addiction issues gets professional help from a drug treatment center.

 

5 Ways to know your loved one may be secretly abusing drugs: Guest Post by Dr Nancy Irwin

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(image: inspirationalquotesmagazine.com)

Addiction has many consequences, both on the addicted person and their loved ones. Something I see very often is that family members don’t understand how they did not recognize it sooner. They regret that their loved one got to such a dark place before they could see there was even a problem.

But the reality is that people abusing drugs learn very quickly how to lie and manipulate. Because they are regularly involved in illicit activities, they become pros at distorting reality. And it’s easiest to trick those they love, considering that they know their loved ones’ soft spots.

This is not a judgment on them. On the contrary, they are not liars by nature, and often they are trying to protect their families.

Around 10% of the US population abuses drugs, and it is therefore more important than ever to learn to spot drug abuse as early as possible. The good news is that even if the individual at risk is good at lying, there are warning signs that are fairly universal.

The following five things could be signs that a loved one is abusing drugs.

 

  1. Physical Factors

Perhaps the most obvious signs are physical. Individuals who are using increasing volumes of drugs show physical changes which may be hard to account for. Look out for the following:

  • Bloodshot eyes and/or dilated pupils
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Extreme weight loss or weight gain
  • Deteriorating physical appearance
  • Sudden decrease in hygiene
  • Unusual smells
  • Tremors or slurred speech

Of course, all of these changes can have many alternative sources. However, if an individual exhibits many of them at once, and they tie in with some of the other signs on this list, drug abuse may be the most plausible explanation.

 

  1. Problems at Work

People who have started abusing drugs tend to struggle at work or at school. Their attendance drops, they neglect responsibilities and make mistakes, and cause trouble with colleagues or peers. They may even do something so self-sabotaging that it leads to them losing their job or being expelled.

Once again, drug abuse need not be the first conclusion you jump to. There could be many reasons why an individual starts struggling with work or school, including mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

This is especially true with adolescents. Assuming they are using drug abuse without further evidence can decay trust between you, when they might be acting out because they are not coping for whatever reason.

When alternative possibilities are exhausted, or they exhibit other signs on this list, drug abuse may become the most reasonable conclusion.

 

  1. Sudden Financial Problems

Drug abuse becomes increasingly expensive as the person addicted becomes more and more dependent. Their tolerance grows and they start needing higher quantities of the substance on a more frequent basis. They end up spending more and more of their money on drugs, leaving them unable to finance other responsibilities.

These financial issues can be easier to spot with adolescents who are not earning money. They may start stealing money from you or get caught stealing from peers or from their school. In this case, it may be possible to track their theft directly to their drug abuse.

But you don’t always need as clear a sign as theft. If a loved one who is financially independent suddenly stops paying their debit orders, gets behind on loan payments, or starts asking you and other friends and family for loans, this is a sign that something is wrong. Look into why they suddenly cannot afford their way of life. If there is no legitimate explanation, and they are exhibiting one or more of the other signs, drug abuse may be the most logical conclusion.

 

  1. Behavioral Changes

Gradual behavioral changes are a sure sign that something is wrong. Of course, they do not necessarily point to drug abuse.

Sometimes, mental illness can be the source of the problem. Alternatively, they may have gone through a trauma or be in some sort of trouble.

However, if a loved one shows changes in personality, starts getting into fights, becomes secretive, and has extreme mood swings, drug abuse may well be the cause. Other behavioral warning signs include a loss of motivation, paranoia, as well as unexplained hours of euphoria followed immediately by a drop in mood.

They may begin to fracture relationships that have, until now, been strong.

 

  1. Lifestyle Changes

Drug abuse often becomes the centrepoint of the individual’s life. They need to spend time, money, and effort sourcing and taking their drug of choice. They therefore start spending time with friends who are also abusing drugs, hang out at places where illicit drug use is possible, and lose interest in hobbies and activities that were once important to them.

If a loved one starts displaying any of these warning signs, do not panic. Look at the possible reasons for these changes. In isolation, some of these changes are easily explained. Depending on your relationship with the individual, you may be able to discuss the causes with them.

Once you’ve started noticing any one of these signs, it becomes easier to spot the others. If you feel that drug abuse is a likely cause, speak to a professional immediately for advice on how to investigate further and help the person at risk.

 

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Dr. Nancy Irwin is co-author of “Breaking Through, Stories of Hope and Recovery” and a Primary Therapist at Seasons in Malibu World Class Addiction and Mental Health Treatment Center.

A Guide to Mood Disorders: Guest blog By Ellie Willis

Mood disorders encompass many disorders of how you feel from day-to-day, whether that is abnormally elevated (mania) or depressed and in low mood. They can include depressive illness such as major depressive disorder, dysthymia, postnatal depression and the bipolar spectrum disorders. They also feature anxiety and panic disorders. These are often down to brain chemistry and sometimes environment.

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(image: Pinterest/ Healthyplace.com)

 

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depression is defined as a depressive illness where you experience a significantly lowered mood and a loss of interest in activities that you would normally enjoy. While it is normal to feel sadness and grief when your life significantly changes, such as when a loved one passes away, when it doesn’t go away or gets worse, it may evolve into major depression. Some of the symptoms of depression are:

• Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness • Feeling guilty over insignificant things • Withdrawing from family and friends • Drinking alcohol or taking drugs as a coping mechanism • Having problems with concentration • Being unproductive • Having a lack of confidence • Feeling irritated or frustrated • Having a lack of interest in sex.

While sometimes a depressive episode seems to come out of the blue, there are often things that can trigger them. These may include: Genetic risk factors • Alcohol or other substance abuse • Medical problems such as thyroid issues or chronic pain • Certain medications such as steroids • Sleeping problems • Stressful life events 

Studies have shown that there appears to be a genetic component to depression. That is, if one of your parents has a depressive illness, you may end up suffering from depression yourself.

Dysthymia is a chronic form of depression that occurs when you suffer from a mild to moderate depression for at least two years. Although dysthymia causes problems in everyday life, dysthymia is often not severe enough to warrant hospitalisation. The chronic nature of the disorder means that you may believe that you have always felt like this.

The good news is that there are a wide range of medications to treat major depressive disorder, such as antidepressants. There are many kinds of medications around, and you may have to try a few until you and your psychiatrist find the perfect one with little to no side effects.

As of the time of writing, the antidepressants most commonly used are SSRIs and SNRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). These refer to the types of neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain that affect mood, among other things) that they affect.

With antidepressants, it is extremely important not to stop medication all at once, unless there are serious side effects and even then, only under medical advice. This is because of discontinuation syndrome. Simply put, this means that your body gets used to the medication being in your system (different to addiction where you crave the drug) and you experience symptoms such as nausea, dizziness and insomnia, to name a few.

Another important way to treat depression is psychotherapy in one form or another. This can help you by learning coping skills to deal with depressive thoughts and negative thinking, as well as having someone to speak to with complete privacy. There are a few other ways for you to combat depression in adjunct to medications or therapy.

These are: • Maintaining good sleeping habits • Exercising more • Seeking out activities that bring you pleasure • Being around caring and supportive people

Postnatal Depression

Postnatal depression is a depressive illness where a new mother experiences depression in the first few months after giving birth to a child.

Some of the symptoms of postnatal depression include:

• Feeling sad or empty • Lowered self-esteem • Changing appetite (usually a decrease) • A loss of enjoyment in everyday activities • Changes in sleep patterns such as insomnia • Not being able to concentrate • Feeling cut off from the baby • A loss of interest in sex • Feeling ashamed, guilty or inadequate • Withdrawing from family and friends • Mood swings • Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby

There are a number of factors that make postnatal depression more likely. Some of these may include: • A history of depression, especially postnatal depression in the past • If the baby is sick or colicky • If you are in an abusive relationship • If you are suffering from stress • If you have little support from family and friends •

Treatment for postnatal depression is essentially similar to that for major depression, such as antidepressants and therapy and in some cases intervention from a psychiatrist or hospital team is required.

 

Bipolar Disorder Spectrum

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterised by periods of extreme mood states known as mania and depression. It is one of the most serious mental illnesses and is the sixth most disabling condition in the world at the time of writing. It is chronic and potentially life threatening. However, those with it can go on to recovery and live happy and fulfilled lives between episodes. 

According to some studies, one in fifty people may suffer from a form of bipolar disorder. In many cases, there is a family history.

Mania is one pole of bipolar disorder – an extremely elevated or depressed mood, sometimes accompanied by psychosis. You may have racing thoughts or speak so quickly it is difficult for others to understand. You may also have trouble getting to sleep at night or suffer from insomnia. There is a danger of reckless behaviour such as overspending, unsafe sexual activity or aggression. You may feel a sense of grandiosity, making unrealistic plans. Despite mania feeling great at the time, the consequences of mania can be destructive.

Some of the signs of depression include a lowered mood, self-esteem or interest in enjoyable activities, pessimism, reduced energy and changes in appetite. Suicidal thoughts are also possible and must be monitored closely. As bipolar disorder is a recurrent illness and there isn’t any known cure, you may need to take medications to maintain your mood at a normal level.

Hypomania is the hallmark of bipolar II where the patient might feel euphoria or agitation. Hypomanic episodes are similar to manic episodes except they are less severe and sometimes pleasurable to you. There is never psychosis in a hypomanic episode. Despite hypomania increasing productivity, or making you feel increased self-esteem, the consequences can be major, especially as your mood goes down to depression.

A mixed state is a combination of manic and depressed symptoms. In a mixed state you may feel very sad or hopeless while feeling extremely energised. These can be dangerous, because of the suicide risk from being depressed as well as impulsive. If you feel you are heading into a mixed state, you should contact your psychiatrist as soon as possible.

Bipolar disorder type I is characterised by at least one episode of full-blown mania as well as depressive episodes. There is also a chance of psychosis (delusions/ hallucinations)  accompanying a manic episode. Bipolar type II features only hypomania and never mania or psychosis. While these manias are less destructive, the depression tends to be worse, and there is often a high suicide risk.

Cyclothymia is a bipolar spectrum disorder where you may have long periods of minor depression lasting at least two years alternating with hypomania. These depressive periods tend to be irritable and agitated rather than melancholic and lacking in energy.

Bipolar NOS (not otherwise specified) simply refers to bipolar disorders that do not strictly meet the criteria of any of the previously mentioned types of bipolar disorder.

The treatment of bipolar disorder involves medications such as Lithium carbonate, lamotrigine, sodium valporate, and quetiapine, as well as psychotherapy to help overcome negative thoughts that exacerbate depression or after effects of mania. 

As bipolar disorder is a recurrent illness and there isn’t any known cure, you may need to take medications for life to maintain your mood at a normal level. Despite this, many patients continue to do well as long as they stay compliant with treatment and keep aware of their changing mood states.

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(image: MTVFORA: http://fora.mtv.ca/words-of-wisdom-celebrity-quotes-on-mental-wellness/)

 

Anxiety Disorders

The term anxiety disorder covers a wide range of illnesses from panic disorder to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Despite the wide range of diseases, many share similar treatment options. There is a stigma affecting some anxiety disorders due to stereotypes in the media.

 

Generalised Anxiety Disorder

It is normal for people to feel some anxiety over normal life events such as exams, work problems or family issues. However, when it causes problems in your everyday life or is particularly severe you may have an anxiety disorder. Generalised anxiety disorder involves having irrational fears, such as being afraid harm will come to you or your loved ones, financial issues, health, relationships and work.

Physical symptoms when experiencing anxiety may include: • Light-headedness • Becoming tired easily, or being unable to sleep properly • Feeling tense or restless, or losing your temper easily • Nausea • Shortness of breath • Headaches • Trembling • Muscle tension Treatment generally involves medications or therapy.

Psychological treatments may involve: • Learning relaxation techniques such as muscle relaxing exercises or meditation • Therapy to teach you how to solve problems that cause anxiety with anxiety disorders, psychological treatments are generally more effective than medication, however it can still be useful.

The most common treatments are antidepressants or benzodiazepines such as alprazolam or diazepam. Generally, benzodiazepines shouldn’t be taken long-term, as there is a risk of becoming dependent on them.

Anxiety disorders are relatively common in the population, with statistics that approximately 25% of the people suffer some kind of anxiety disorder that may warrant treatment in their lifetime. Anxiety is treatable, and therapy or medication may minimise the effects on your life and relationships.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a mental health condition where you experience a feeling known as a panic attack recurrently.

Some of the symptoms of a panic attack include: • Shortness of breath • Dizziness or light-headedness • Tightness or pain in the chest • Trembling or shaking • Dry mouth • Muscle tension • Difficulty gathering thoughts or speaking • Tingling fingers or feet • A choking or smothering feeling • Hot or cold flushes • Nausea or butterflies • Blurred vision • Fear of dying, losing control or going mad

When you have panic disorder, you may also worry about the implications of a panic attack such as humiliation or feeling of going crazy.

You may try and flee from the situation hoping the panic attack will stop. Panic disorder is generally treated via therapeutic methods rather than medications. This may involve your doctor teaching you about panic disorder, for example, that a panic attack is distinguishable from other mental illnesses such as other anxiety disorders or psychosis – this is known as psycho education.

A therapist may instruct you not to avoid any situations where a panic attack may occur. This may be unpleasant at first, but slowly you will not feel anxious in the situation. This will help prevent agoraphobia and the disability it causes.

A common treatment for anxiety disorders is CBT – but there are many types too including exposure therapy and talking therapies. They can be incredibly helpful for you to overcome feelings of anxiety.

This guest blog was written by Ellie Willis, an expert in mental health.

 

On Selfie Day: Is social media bad for our health? Guest post by AXA PPP Healthcare

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(image: https://www.designweek.co.uk)

Today’s world is dominated by social media and it seems to be playing an ever increasing role in our lives.

Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services at AXA PPP healthcare acknowledges that social media can give young adults a certain perception of life, that isn’t always reality.

 “Social media is a window where people choose what they want to present to the world – whether this real or altered – and in many ways it can be a ‘false reality’.

 It’s natural for an onlooker to make assumptions about others based on what they see online, but often those who are vulnerable cannot make this distinction, which can have a negative affect both on their mental health and their body image.” comments Dr Winwood.

For some, being online is their main source of social interaction and, over time, this can turn out to be an isolating and lonely experience. And, whilst the ‘rewards’ of communicating online are instantaneous, this isn’t necessarily a good thing” he says.

Social media website Instagram has been rated as having the worst effects on teenagers’ sleep, body image and fear of missing out.

 Ultimately with four of the five most popular forms of social media found to be harming young people’s mental health, it is important for young adults to realise that there is a world outside of the screen.

In 2016, seven young people who switched off from social media told the Guardian about the positive results they experienced. One said “I can live my life instead of trying to shape it into one that looks good online. I also have a lot more time now, and it’s easy enough to keep in touch with my friends in other ways.

If you decide to have a social media holiday, here are Dr Winwood’s observations:

 Suspend your accounts – suspending them for a week means you can take a break without the temptation to check for any new notifications.

Make an effort to meet up with friends face to face – you may find that cutting down on your social media time leaves a temporary void, so arrange to see friends and family personally and you’ll feel in touch when you’re off-line.

Enjoy the gift of renewed focus – think of all the occasions when your attention was split between checking social media and having a conversation or watching TV or walking along and just tune in to the moment of what you’re doing without the distraction.

Get an alarm clock – using your phone as an alarm can make it tempting to automatically check the online scene the minute you’re getting up. Having a separate alarm clock removes that temptation from arm’s reach.

If you find you crave social media try checking out apps designed to block certain sites at certain times of the day. This approach helps avoid that mindless checking and re-checking we all fall victim too.

This guest post was written by AXA PPP Healthcare.  If you think you might be addicted to social media, find more tips and advice at AXA PPP healthcare’s Mental Health Centre or speak to one of its help at hand nurses online.