BY DEBBIE ALMOCERA
A friend of mine once told me that when she got depressed, her mother told her to “find a husband”, and she would feel better. Two husbands and two divorces later, she finds herself in the same predicament. She finally sought professional help, and reported feeling better. She is living a single life, with a great career, and a disappointed mother.
The field of mental health not only introduced me to diverse tools in psychotherapy in treating depression and anxiety, but it also broadened my understanding of the impact of psychopharmacology on these disorders. I have become a strong advocate of psychiatric medications, and have consistently encouraged medication compliance among my clients. Explaining to clients that mental illness is not a mythical issue, nor a punitive consequence of one’s perceived degree of “sinfulness”, is quite a challenging task at times. It never ceases to amaze me when people ask me if they are depressed because they are “weak in spirit”, flawed in character, and/or being “punished” for their “sins”. These views not only reflect the antiquated stigma of mental illness that is still prevalent in our times, no matter how many “iPods” and state-of-the-art cell phones we have in our possession, they also reflect our lack of understanding of the organ that primarily dictates how we see ourselves and the world around us –the brain.
This 3-lb mushy mass, inside our skulls has 100 billion neurons that could each fire an average of 200 impulses per second. Each electrochemical impulse, also known as a neurotransmitter, fired by a neural axon and received by another neuron through its dendrites carries a “message” transmitted from our senses to the brain. These neural connections establish the brains ability to process and interpret information. A “breakdown” in these connections could trigger “misinformation”, and mood disturbances, among others. Just like any other vital organ, the brain is not infallible and can malfunction for various reasons, affecting how we feel, think and act. Although capable of seemingly-endless phenomenal things, when afflicted by mental illness, the brain needs help.
The good old-fashioned belief, that mental illness can be addressed by simply telling the individual to “straighten up your act and buck up”, is reinforcing the stigma of mental illness. We can only truly achieve a significant milestone in medical history when we start to correct our own misconception of mental health and mental illness, and take care of our brains by addressing issues of mental illness as medical problems. As I always tell my clients, if they have problems with their hearts, they would be first in line to see a heart doctor. However, when they have problems with mood and thought distortions, they hesitate to seek help for fear of social alienation.
Spit It Out or Pop It In
Talk your problems out with your therapist, or your doctor. In view of the biochemical nature of mental illness, talking may not cut it. Ask your doctor for a possible medication regimen, and stay compliant. Don’t stop taking your medications as soon as you feel better, for this could have dire consequences.
I practice and utilize cognitive and behavioral approaches to therapy. Cognitive approaches examine one’s own personal belief systems that could be contributing to one’s dysfunction and misery. Erroneous personal belief systems trigger depression and anxiety, and frequently lead to conflict in our relationships. When left unchallenged, they become our reality and we believe them to be true.
Behavioral approaches are simply what I refer to as “movement approaches”. As you move your body, your senses move with you. The more your senses are activated, the more the brain is stimulated. Chances are you will start to feel better as you keep moving. So get your gluteus maximus off the couch, and start walking, jogging, or dancing. Practice a healthy and an active lifestyle and make it a habit.
A recent article by Dr. Ambardar, cited by the Mental Health Association of Eastern Missouri, (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sheenie-ambardar-md/emotional-health_b_1542521.html), talked about addressing depression and anxiety without medications. I found this article very amusing but couldn’t help but agree with the good doctor. Being a Psychiatrist, she does prescribe psychotropic medications. First on the list to manage symptoms of depression and anxiety is to SPEND LESS TIME ON FACEBOOK. To quote:
When Facebook is used as a casual tool to keep in touch with friends or stay in the social loop, it can be a useful distraction. However, when Facebook is used to keep constant tabs on others or to promote a certain self-image, it can lead to an unconscious need to compare ourselves to everyone in our social network. This frequently leads to jealousy, insecurity, misplaced feelings of superiority or alternatively, feelings of inadequacy. Limiting time on ubiquitous social media sites like Facebook may be hard at first, but it may be one of the best things you do for your mental health.”
How’s that for treatment!
Debbie Almocera is a licensed therapist working in the behavioral medicine department of one of the largest hospitals in St. Louis, Missouri. For her, there has not been a more fulfilling and rewarding career than the one she has now. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org