Monday, October 17, 2016

The Big Election and Your Mental Health

Another big election, and it isn't pretty. Or easy to watch.

Democratic and Republican nominees bombard us with negative campaigns, fear-based rhetoric and constant press conferences. Nominee's speeches are generally scripted to persuade and influence - and are often peppered with an underlying message of danger... and that the only answer to ease your worry is to vote for them.

Other political groups find ways to shake up the electoral process by leaking videos or launching negative stories for their own interests. And then there's the news, broadcast television, social media and internet websites that perpetuate the negative campaigning atmosphere by telling sensational stories, challenging the opinion of others or poking at issues that challenge us as a country: unemployment, immigration, money, health, education. Before long, the general public splinters into polarizing groups. 

The negativity keeps rolling on and on - and research tells us that it not going to get any better anytime soon. You see, emotions win elections. Though positive campaigning can heighten your feelings on enthusiasm and hope, it's fear, anger and anxiety that gets you in the voting booth. You're more likely to make sure to get out and vote if you worry that you'll lose things in election times.

Why It's Stressful

The reason the general public's mental health is challenged is because negative campaigning heightens stress. And when your body is faced with stress, particularly fear-based stress, the adrenal glands secrete glucocorticoid hormones to help you cope. Specifically, your body launches cortisol to help you get away from danger, where your heart rate increases, blood flow goes to everything you need to run away or fight. This fight-flight response is meant for short term stress - and becomes wearisome if it's elongated. You'll eventually get irritable, anxious, and even depressed because you are in a prolonged "state of emergency." And during the long campaign season, that's exactly what happens.

Tips To Reduce Anxiety and Depression

I encourage my patients to follow these tips to help bolster mental well being, and I also practice what I preach. I do all of the following each and every year before the campaign season begins
Limiting your exposure to media. Turn off the television, power down from the internet. Give yourself a break from negative campaigning. I rarely watch broadcast news anymore, and when I do, I generally watch news shows that give an overview of the day's highlights. This way I can stay informed without getting overloaded by too much drama.
Choose print media: If you have to plug into election news, consider choosing print media rather than visual media. This can reduce the likelihood that you'll get exposed to emotionally laden material. You can always put down the paper or turn the page.
Take charge. Remember that you have the power to turn off the remote, link out of a website or change the radio station. Don't let yourself be passive when you feel negative campaigning is overwhelming you.
Know your limits. Other people will have a different tolerance for election issues than you. If you've reached a saturation point, where you don't want to talk about politics, make your feelings known, walk away or change the subject. Try to avoid getting into political debates or wasting your passion about issues to a person who doesn't share your beliefs. 
Feed your senses. Consider having an electronic-free day. Unplug from the phone, the computer and don't watch television or linger on social media. Let your senses take in the simpler things in life. Shift your focus to your loved ones, and invite pleasant experiences into your day. 
Vote early. Did you know that one out of three voters in the 2012 presidential election voted at home rather than at traditional polling places?  And did you know that research shows that those who vote at home experience significantly reduced stress? When campaign season rolls along, get your absentee ballot - or if your state has online voting, get registered. I've been voting early for years now, and I know it helps me feel grounded and empowered, instead of stressed with getting to the polls on election day.

Brader, T. "Striking a responsive chord: How political ads motivate and persuade voters by appealing to emotions." American Journal of Political Science 49.2 (2005): 388-405.

Neiman, J., et al. "Can the Stress of Voting Be Reduced? A Test within the Context of the 2012 US Presidential Election." APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper. 2013.

Waismel-Manor, I., et. al."When endocrinology and democracy collide: Emotions, cortisol and voting at national elections." European Neuropsychopharmacology 21.11 (2011): 789-795.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Mental Illness Awareness Week is October 2-8, 2016

Though mental illness has a long-standing history in the annals of human nature, it was only in the 1980’s when groups like the National Alliance on Mental IllnessThe American Psychological Association and The American Psychiatric Association were able to convince state and federal governments to publicly address the needs of those with mental illness. 
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan, along with the Congress passed Joint Resolution 322, designating the week of October 7, 1984 as Mental Illness Awareness Week. 
Luckily, this awareness campaign has continued on for decades both here in the United States and in Canada – as well as sparking similar awareness campaigns in countries all over the world.
Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) doesn’t just help educate the public about the truths and myths surrounding mental illness... or what the warning signs of suicide are... or how the cruel sting of stigma keeps many from getting treatment that can be life changing. 
MIAW also promotes resources for those who are struggling with mental illness or love someone with a disorder. Such outreach offers support, healing, information and empowerment. 
And perhaps more important is that during Mental Illness Awareness Week action programs are offered, like free mental health screenings.
Why Screenings are Useful
Screenings for mental health offer tremendous advantages. Here are just a few:
  • Screenings are fast and simple; taking only a few minutes to complete.
  • Screenings are a cost effective way to identify at-risk children and adults.
  • Screenings NOT ONLY identify those at risk, but children and adults who may already be experiencing significant symptoms.
  • Screenings can also highlight subclinical symptoms, enabling early intervention.
  • Screenings lead to lower disorder rates, reduced employer health care costs, reduced absenteeism, enhanced job and school satisfaction, and increased productivity.
  • Screenings results can provide accessible mental health services and supports to those in need.

To find a free confidential screening where you live, link here.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

World Suicide Prevention Day

Every 40 seconds someone dies by suicide. 

Every 41 seconds someone's left to make sense of it.

That's over 1 million people who die by suicide each year. And millions more who grieve and mourn the loss of their loved one.

Suicide is a the most preventable kind of death. Education, resources, intervention and outreach can help children and adults who struggle with staggering sadness, hopelessness and despair.

World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10th sponsored by The International Association for Suicide Prevention, The World Health Organization, The United Nations and many more grass root health organizations and agencies world-wide. This year's theme is "Connect, Communicate, Care" - three words that are at the heart of suicide prevention.

To learn about the warning signs for suicidal behavior go here 

For suicide resources in the USA use go here 

For global resources go here. 

And remember, there is always someone ready to talk to you any day, any time at 1 800 273 TALK

Monday, August 01, 2016

What If You Knew Depression as a Doctor AND as a Patient?

This TEDx talk highlights my unique perspective understanding depression personally, and knowing how to treat it professionally. I hope you'll find it meaningful.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Understanding Ambivalence

Ambivalence is a human experience where two contradictory emotions about a decision, a person or an object keep you from choosing one or the other.

The coexistence of both positive and negative feelings you have toward a person pulls you in - and then pushes you away. "I really like her, but she's too old for me." Ambivalence keeps you from finding out if this relationship could be meaningful, so you don't ask her out. 

Similarly, the simultaneous pull and tug you have with making a decision keeps you in the same holding pattern. Stuck between this or that. "I'd really like to take this new job, but I don't like the distance I'd have to travel." So this person stays in his current job, unhappy.

A simple decision about going out to dinner can become a circle of frustration. "I can't choose between Mexican or Greek food for dinner. " When a decision is made, you suddently feel the "other" might have been better.  And you second guess yourself. You just can't win. 

When you have two opposing feelings about a person, situation or decision, this rigid cycling pattern never moves you forward. You're constantly moving from one side of the fence to the other. Or you park yourself entirely on the fence. Stuck.

Ambivalent thinking has been linked to obsessive compulsive tendencies, to defensive styles like "splitting" (seeing things in an all or nothing way) or can be a result of underdeveloped styles of problem solving. 

If you're ambivalent, there are things you can do to break the holding pattern. 

1.  Acknowledge that your ambivalence may be a way to protect yourself from having a negative experience. 

2. Remind yourself that nothing is perfect, and that uncertainty and doubt are givens in life. By doing this, you give yourself permission not to make a "perfect" decision. 

3. Encourage yourself to live in the present. By doing so, a decision you make can be based on this moment in time. Right here, right now. This can loosen the rigid hold ambivalence can create.

4. Reframe negative thinking to more positive statements. Remember the examples above? Here's how they can crush ambivalence reframed with positivity. "How will I know if she's too old for me if I don't go out on a date?" "Yes, the commute will be more time, but the job will be more meaningful to me, so it'll be worth it." "I'm choosing Mexican tonight, and Greek will happen for another meal next time."  

5. Understand that ambivalence is a normal experience. Especially for children and teens, and adults who are faced with difficult decisions. But if you find yourself overwhelmed with daily decision making, or bewildered by taking care of your needs, a mental health professional can help you find your way. Sometimes depression, anxiety and trauma can cloud your ability to freely make decisions - and amplify ambivalence. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Good News vs. Bad News? Research Says Take the "Bad" First

When you have a choice of taking good news or bad news, research says to grab the bad news first. 

When both good and bad things happen, taking the hit of the painful "bad" first so you can recover from it and grabbing the pleasure of the "happy" afterwards, leads to greater happiness. The process here is about getting comfort after a painful event. So taking the bad first, then savoring the good thereafter leads to better well-being.
Studies in happiness then suggest to get connected to others to fend of sadness. Happy people stay resilient by creating meaningful connections with others, like meeting up with a close friend or talking with a cherished loved one after a bad experience. Depressed individuals, however, tend to use positive monetary events like shopping or gambling as buffers against negative events, rather than social ones, which aren't as effective at combating feelings of sadness. 

So, the take away here is:

1) Bad news first
2) Good news second
3) Remedy the bad with social connections.