By: Jennifer B. Wilcox, PsyD
Staff Psychologist, OCD and Anxiety Disorders Program

 

 

 

 

What is compulsive hoarding?

Hoarding Disorder is a psychiatric illness and is considered to be a subtype of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition (DSM-5) defines Hoarding Disorder (HD) as:

Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. This difficulty is due to a perceived need to save the items and to the distress associated with discarding them.

The difficulty of discarding possessions results in the accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromises their intended use.

The hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others).

The hoarding is not attributable to another medical condition and is not better explained by another mental disorder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How is compulsive hoarding different from normal clutter or collections?

It is not uncommon for people to acquire a few extra possessions from time to time, resulting in occasional clutter. However, while normal clutter or collecting doesn’t usually interfere with a person’s daily functioning, compulsive hoarding often does. Compulsive hoarding also differs from normal clutter or collecting as it tends to become unmanageable, overwhelming, and causes significant distress or family discord. Though collections usually bring people joy and fill them with pride, hoarding often comes with shame and embarrassment.

Why do people hoard things?

Compulsive hoarding is thought to result from a combination of factors including genetics, environmental factors, life experiences, and learned behaviors. The reason one person hoards may not be the same as the reason someone else hoards. Some people who hoard are compulsive shoppers and acquire more things than they need or have room to accommodate. Others may have difficulty categorizing or making decisions about what to do with particular items. Sometimes they can’t remember what they own or where it is, leading to the purchase of duplicate items. Other times people hold on to possessions for emotional or sentimental reasons or get anxious when they discard things. Some people believe that the hoarded items may be useful someday and keep the items despite not needing them currently. The level of insight a person has about their struggles in these areas can vary widely from completely absent insight to good insight.

What types of things do people hoard?

The types of items a person hoards vary based on factors such as the reason they are hoarding and how severe their hoarding issues have become. Some commonly hoarded items include books, newspapers, magazines, boxes, bottles, clothes, food, items purchased in bulk, collectibles or vintage items, furniture, animals, or digital media.

How many people suffer from Hoarding Disorder and who does it affect?

While the exact prevalence of people who suffer from Hoarding Disorder is not certain, it is estimated that it affects approximately 2.5% of the general population. Studies have shown that prevalence rates in men and women are nearly equal and appear to be consistent across developed countries. Most studies report onset between 15 and 19 years of age and show a chronic course over the lifespan.

What is the treatment for Hoarding Disorder?

Hoarding Disorder is treated using Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a type of therapy that allows someone to work with a therapist to shift their thinking patterns and change their behavioral patterns to healthier ones. Randomized controlled trials have shown this to be an effective treatment for hoarding. While the data on the efficacy of medication for Hoarding Disorder is limited, there is some evidence to support the use of medication in the treatment of this disorder. For those hoarders who have limited insight, a Motivational Interviewing (MI) approach can help to foster their motivation and confidence. Finally, working on skills that improve the hoarder’s ability to maintain attention and focus, categorize items, and decision-making can be beneficial in treating Hoarding Disorder.

What can I do to help a loved one who seems to have issues with compulsive hoarding?

It is generally not recommended for family and friends to discard hoarded items without the hoarder’s permission. This can be extremely distressing for a compulsive hoarder and tends to make them upset, anxious, or angry. Instead, it is recommended that friends and family talk to their loved ones about their concerns and help them to seek professional treatment. Additional resources are available at the International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation (IOCDF) and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

Resources:

American Psychiatric Association, 2013. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition. American Psychiatric Association Publishing, Arlington, VA.

Treatment of Hoarding Disorder

https://instituteofliving.org/programs-services/anxiety-disorders-center/what-we-treat-at-the-adc/compulsive-hoarding

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/hoarding-disorder/what-is-hoarding-disorder

Postlethwaite, A., Kellett, S., Mataix-Cols, D., 2019. Prevalence of Hoarding Disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders 256, 309-316.

by: Ronald Freudenberg, Jr., MA, LPCC-S
Outpatient Therapist, Lindner Center of HOPE

Anxiety can take many forms.  Anxiety is also one of the most common reasons one might seek out mental health treatment.  In this blog, we will explore some of the most frequently occurring anxiety disorders, as well as panic attacks, which can be part of a Panic Disorder (but do not have to be, as will be discussed later).  We will also look at effective strategies for preventing, treating, and managing anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety.

Regardless of how anxiety may present for one person, the various anxiety disorders all have at least one thing in common…fear.  Whether it is described as worry, nervousness, feeling “on edge,” or something else, the basic emotion of anxiety is fear.  We all experience some anxiety sometimes, and in fact, you may have heard that a little bit of anxiety can be a good thing from time to time.  It serves a protective purpose when it tells us to avoid people, things, or situations which could be dangerous.  Anxiety can also help us by keeping us on our toes and motivating us to perform well under pressure, such as when pulling an all-nighter before an exam, giving a big presentation at work, or playing in the championship game.  Yet, as with any negative emotion, anxiety can become problematic when it becomes too frequent, too intense, lasts for too long, or interferes with our lives and our ability to function well, as can happen in the context of the following types of anxiety disorders.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Adjustment Disorder

Sometimes, one may feel excessively stressed or anxious about a certain thing or things in one’s life.  People often describe this as “situational”, and the clinical term is an Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety.  (It can also present with depression, or other emotional/behavioral responses.)  An example might be if one would experience something stressful like the loss of a job.  Of course, most people would likely feel some anxiety about this.  However, an adjustment disorder is thought of as when one’s response is out of proportion with what may be typically expected.  With this type of anxiety, once the stressor has resolved, so will the anxiety.  So, when that same individual lands a new job, he/she/they will feel better, simply put.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is very much like it sounds.  This is when a person feels generally anxious, worried, and nervous much of the time (more than half of their days) about any number of different subjects.  In order to meet criteria for the diagnosis, one must experience this type of anxiety for at least six months, find it difficult to control the worry, and present with at least some of the following additional symptoms: restlessness, trouble concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, sleep difficulties, and/or trouble concentrating.  Although every person is unique, classically, a person with GAD may tend toward long-term anxiousness, worry excessively about many things (such as finances, family, work, health, world events, etc.), and lay awake in bed at night doing so.

Phobias

Specific Phobias are another type of anxiety disorder in which a person experiences strong fear and anxiety about a specific thing (object or situation), and actively avoids that thing or endures exposure to it with intense discomfort.  In this writer’s experience it is relatively rare for this to be a person’s main reason for seeking treatment, at least in outpatient settings.  Perhaps that may be because many anxiety-provoking subjects can be pretty easy to avoid.  (When was the last time you unexpectedly came across a snake?)

Social Anxiety Disorder

An exception to anxiety that is easily avoided, is Social Phobia, also known as Social Anxiety Disorder.  Social Phobia exists when the source of a person’s fear is social or performance situations in which one may feel subject to scrutiny or judgment by others.  Social anxiety may arise when one feels uncomfortable mingling with new people at a party, walking through halls of (seemingly) glaring eyes at school, or giving a speech.  From an evolutionary perspective, if anxiety helps us to avoid dangerous things which threaten our survival, being ostracized from one’s tribe and forced to try to survive alone in the wilderness is near the top of that list.  With this in mind, it is little wonder that public speaking is often cited as people’s number one fear.

 

 

 

 

 

Panic Attacks

Finally, let us explore the issue of panic.  So, what is a panic attack? Panic Attacks, according to the DSM-5, occur when a person experiences an “abrupt surge” of anxiety which reaches a peak within minutes and includes (at least four of) the following symptoms.

Symptoms of Panic Attacks

  • Racing/pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Choking sensations
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Numbness/tingling
  • Feeling of unreality or detachment from one’s self
  • Fear of losing control, “going crazy,” or dying

When one develops a fear of having additional panic attacks and exhibits maladaptive behaviors designed to avoid or limit the likelihood of them, this is called a Panic Disorder.  Further, if one’s fear and avoidance includes public situations away from home, open or enclosed crowded spaces from which it would be difficult to escape should panic-like symptoms arise, that is called Agoraphobia (which may, but does not have to, co-occur with Panic Disorder).  Also, according to the most recent edition of the DSM, panic attacks are now thought to be a feature which may occur in the context of a spectrum of other mental health disorders, substance use disorders, and some medical conditions.

Treatment of Anxiety, including Treatment for Panic Attacks

When it comes to treatment of anxiety, it is unrealistic for one to expect to live out the rest of their days, anxiety-free.  One can no more be “cured” from anxiety, than from happiness, sadness, or anger.  These are basic human emotions, and there are reasons why we have them.  However, the good news is that anxiety symptoms, whether mild or debilitating, can be effectively prevented, treated and managed, usually by a multi-faceted approach.

How to Manage Anxiety, including Managing Panic Attacks

Medications can often be a very helpful part of a person’s treatment plan.  Antidepressants, such as SSRIs, and some SNRIs, are commonly used to treat ongoing symptoms of anxiety, while benzodiazepines (such as Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, or Ativan) are sometimes used on a shorter-term or as-needed basis to alleviate acute anxiety or panic.  (Caution is usually advised with the latter due to their addictive potential.)  Some antihistamines, beta-blockers, and anticonvulsants have been shown to be helpful for anxiety as well.

Various forms of talk therapy can be beneficial by providing a safe, supportive experience in which a person can process fears and learn to implement rational coping thoughts to overcome them.  Therapy can also assist one to form new behaviors to mitigate symptoms of anxiety.  Regardless of the specific therapy used, a common element is learning to approach, rather than avoid, that which causes one’s anxiety.  Anxiety and fear lead to avoidance by definition, while summoning the courage to face and overcome our fears cuts them down to size (this is commonly referred to as “exposure”).  Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT, as well as Radically Open DBT), and mindfulness-based psychotherapies are common effective treatment approaches.  Mindfulness can help one learn to be in and accept the present, increasing one’s capacity to tolerate feelings of discomfort while reducing anxious thoughts about the future.

Treating and Managing Panic Attacks

In the case of panic attacks, it is advised to first rule-out any medical causes of the symptoms which can mimic other medical issues, specifically heart disease.  If another person is present during a panic attack, they provide support and reassurance, helping the person to talk through it or asking what they need that may be helpful.  In addition to medication, there are other helpful strategies for panic symptoms.

Strategies for Managing Symptoms of Panic Attacks

  • breathing or relaxation exercises
  • physical exercise
  • mindfulness/grounding exercises (such as a sensory check-in)

Coping Skills for Anxiety, including Panic Attacks

Therapy can also help a person develop effective coping skills for preventing and managing anxiety.  These may vary depending on personal preferences, but can include increasing social supports, problem-solving for stressors, journaling, exploring spirituality, exercise/movement, etc.  Practicing healthy self-care habits (such as getting regular exercise and restful sleep, managing health conditions, and minimizing/avoiding alcohol, caffeine and other drugs) and generally trying to live a balanced lifestyle can simultaneously help to reduce the stress one may experience in life, while increasing one’s ability to effectively cope with anxiety.

Summary:  Anxiety is a common human experience, but persistent and debilitating anxiety, is often what causes people to seek treatment. There are a variety of types of anxiety. Panic or Panic Attacks are among the types of anxiety. Learn what are panic attacks, symptoms and causes and treatments for panic attacks and other anxiety disorders.

Learn more about panic attacks and anxiety.

The Difference Between CBT and DBT (Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapies)

Stacey L. Spencer, Ed.D.
Clinical Neuropsychologist, Lindner Center of HOPE
EMDR Trained therapist
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience

 

There are many, many possible types of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is an optimal treatment method for mental illnesses.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) are among the most common psychotherapies.

CBT vs DBT

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

One that has been in the public sector for decades, and that you’ve likely heard of, is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). If you’ve ever gone to therapy, it’s very likely that the therapist you saw practiced CBT. This therapy, also called talk therapy, helps people better understand how thoughts influence our feelings. The goal of CBT is to talk through problems and help frame thoughts differently. CBT is typically time-limited and there are specific goals and homework provided. You might start out with a situation that troubles you, or one you may find troubling. With the guidance of the therapist, you identify the thoughts around the situation and work on finding alternatives and ultimately changing the behaviors in order to feel better. So, it’s thought-feeling-action-focused. Some mental flexibility is involved given that most of these thoughts are automatic and can become engrained.

Cognitive Distortions are often discussed in CBT.  CBT helps us to break up negative thought patterns or “thought traps” that can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression and cause us to avoid. A technique to help one move away from this type of thinking and often employed in CBT is “cognitive shifting”. With the help of awareness in what a person focuses on (in this case, often the negative cognition/thought/belief) the idea is that this helps us learn to shift our focus to something more helpful or innovative. There are many Cognitive Distortions under this umbrella. Examples of catastrophizing could be magnifying or minimizing. I read a good description once of this being a “billowing cloud of everything can go wrong” and believing it inevitably will.  Or in Minimizing when we downplay our successes.

A CBT-oriented therapist might give someone who tends to catastrophize events in their lives, leading to anxiety, for instance, a worksheet and walk through the process with them. This is hypothesized to have evolved as a way to help us survive during the immediate crisis. Now that we have developed higher-level reasoning skills, this can turn against us, as these negative thoughts can turn sticky.

One way to start is to help the client identify what they are currently most worried/anxious about. The client might start by specifying what they imagine will occur without using “what if” statements. Instead, the focus is on the client’s own predictions, e.g., “ I will fail the exam and get kicked out of school.” You ask the client to rate how much they believe this to be true from 0-100%. Next, the client is asked to take a step back and consider the likelihood of the catastrophe to occur. By helping the client to take a step back and assess the fear from a different perspective and re-interpret their concerns, this is called “reframing”.

Working on ways to cope with and manage these fears/anxieties by not diving into them is a strategy that CBT therapists employ. It takes practice and yet studies have shown that finding more balanced ways of managing these types of thoughts can lead to better mental and physical health outcomes. By helping the client to explore the underlying thoughts, emotions and beliefs and problematic thinking, they can work towards a more balanced view of themselves. The hope is that by helping the client change their perception to support more positive thinking, they will reduce distress and suffering and lead a more fulfilling life.

To recap, CBT features the following:

  • Treats emotional response
  • Is time-limited
  • Works best with solid therapist-patient relationship
  • Relies on the application of logic and reason
  • Employs structure to guide tailored treatment

What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) comes from dialectical theory and is actually a type of CBT.  DBT posits balance; not leaning too hard in one direction or another. This modality was originally created by Dr. Marsha Linehan in her work with people with chronic life-interfering behaviors, like self-harm and chronic suicidal thoughts. It has expanded to help with many other issues. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy techniques utilize individual therapy, group skills class and coaching. Groups emphasize learning specific DBT coping skills and there is homework given in-between to reinforce what was learned. Four pillars of DBT include:

Mindfulness

Emotion Regulation

Distress Tolerance

Interpersonal Effectiveness

DBT mindfulness involves living with intentional awareness of the present moment. This includes not trying to push away or reject the moment but to notice it and not attach ourselves to it. As Dr. Linehan describes, this is by “Attending to the experience of each new moment, rather than ignoring the present by clinging to the past or grabbing for the future.” This takes practice and patience and can take many forms. Some examples of mindfulness include meditation in the form of noticing by either opening or focusing the mind. Contemplative prayer (in any spiritual form) is another mindfulness practice along with mindful movement such as yoga, martial arts, hiking, tai chi.

Emotion Regulation involves understanding and naming one’s emotions. By helping to learn to identify emotions, one can hope to gain an understanding of what they do for us. Goals of this are to decrease the frequency of unwanted emotions, the vulnerability to them and decrease emotional suffering.

Distress Tolerance are skills for when involved in a crisis situation and the goal is to not make the crisis worse. By utilizing skills of Radical Acceptance, one can achieve freedom from suffering and being “stuck”. This can help by reducing acting on intense emotions and tolerating painful events. These are only utilized in a crisis situation, where the event or experience is highly stressful and short-term.

Lastly, Interpersonal Effectiveness skills are to help assist with either strengthening current relationships or end destructive ones, to learn to say yes/no effectively, resolve conflicts before they get overwhelming and create and maintain balance in relationships.

The Difference Between CBT vs DBT in Treating Certain Illnesses

Not all mental illnesses respond to treatment in the same way.  The difference between CBT and DBT must be taken into consideration when determining the optimal treatment method for an individual. CBT has been shown to be effective when treating depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. DBT was created to help people who might be easily dysregulated and tend benefit from learning ways to self-soothe, communicate more effectively with others and find ways to reduce significant distress.

The Difference Between CBT and DBT Treatment Methods

The difference between CBT and DBT are defined. CBT focuses on the connection between thoughts, feelings and behaviors and how they influence each other. DBT emphasizes regulating emotions, being mindful and tolerating the uncomfortable. CBT guides patients to recognize troubling thoughts and redirect them, while DBT helps patients accept themselves, feel safe and manage emotions to avoid harmful behaviors.

When comparing CBT vs DBT, both therapies have aspects of how our thinking influences our emotions and behaviors but are different in their approaches and structure of the therapeutic process. Both modalities are evidenced-based, that is, much research has gone into showing whether they are effective.  When choosing a therapist, as important as it is to find someone in-network or with openings, it’s equally so to know what treatments are most effective for the reasons you’re seeking therapy in the first place. Therefore, asking about CBT vs DBT and which one might work best for you, would be an important next step in this process.  This is the best way to determine if CBT vs DBT are right for you.

Knowing your diagnosis is key to determining what therapy will be most effective for you. However, many people have more than one diagnosis, and sometimes people use a blend of therapy elements to best manage symptoms.

It can be confusing to know what techniques will best help you. CBT and DBT are some of the more common therapy practices, and have been shown to help individuals suffering from a number of mental illnesses.

Choosing to take care of your mental health is just as important as your physical health and finding providers that utilize evidence-based practices will provide you with the best outcomes possible.

For more information about DBT skills group at Lindner Center of HOPE.

 

Danielle J. Johnson, MDDanielle Johnson, MD, FAPA
Lindner Center of HOPE/UC Health Psychiatrist
Lindner Center of HOPE Women’s Mental Health Program Director
University of Cincinnati College of Medicine Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

 

 

Psychiatric medications are prescribed to treat the symptoms of mental health disorders. They can stabilize symptoms and prevent relapse. They work by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain. Serotonin is involved in mood, appetite, sensory perception, and pain pathways. Norepinephrine is part of the fight-or-flight response and regulates blood pressure and calmness. Dopamine produces feelings of pleasure when released by the brain reward system.

One in ten Americans takes an antidepressant, including almost one in four women in their 40s and 50s. Women are twice as likely to develop depression as men.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors Side Effects

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase levels of serotonin. Fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), fluvoxamine (Luvox), citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram (Lexapro) treat depression, anxiety disorders, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, eating disorders, and hot flashes. Potential side effects include jitteriness, nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, sedation, headaches, weight gain, and sexual dysfunction.

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) increase levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. Venlafaxine (Effexor), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and desvenlafaxine (Pristiq) are used to treat depression, anxiety disorders, diabetic neuropathy, chronic pain, and fibromyalgia. Potential side effects include nausea, dry mouth, sweating, headache, decreased appetite, insomnia, increased blood pressure, and sexual dysfunction.

Tricyclic Antidepressants Side Effects

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) also increase serotonin and norepinephrine. Amitriptyline (Elavil), clomipramine (Anafranil), desipramine (Norpramin), nortriptyline (Pamelor), doxepin (Sinequan), trimipramine (Surmontil), protriptyline (Vivactil), and imipramine (Tofranil) are used to treat depression, anxiety disorders, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, and insomnia. Possible side effects include sedation, forgetfulness, dry mouth, dry skin, constipation, blurred vision, difficulty urinating, dizziness, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, increased seizure risk, and cardiac complications.

Other Antidepressants Side Effects

Bupropion (Wellbutrin) increases levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. It treats depression, seasonal affective disorder, ADHD, and can be used for smoking cessation. It can also augment other antidepressants. Potential side effects include anxiety, dry mouth, insomnia, and tremor. It can lower the seizure threshold. There are minimal to no sexual side effects or weight gain.

Trazodone (Desyrel, Oleptro) affects serotonin and mirtazapine (Remeron) affects serotonin and norepinephrine. They are both used for depression and sleep. Mirtazapine has minimal sexual side effects.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) increase serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Isocarboxazid (Marplan), phenelzine (Nardil), selegiline (Emsam), tranylcypromine (Parnate), and moclobemide are associated with more serious side effects than other antidepressants. There are dietary restrictions and numerous drug interactions. MAOIs are often used after other antidepressant classes have been tried. Other antidepressants need to be discontinued for a period of time prior to starting an MAOI.

Newer antidepressants include Viibryd (vilazodone) which affects serotonin, Fetzima (levomilnacipran) which affects serotonin and norepinephrine, and Brintellix (vortioxetine) which affects serotonin. Brintellix and Viibryd have mechanisms of action that make them unique from SSRIs. Viibryd is less likely to cause sexual side effects.

Excess serotonin can accumulate when antidepressants are used with other medications that effect serotonin (other antidepressants, triptans for migraines, certain muscle relaxers, certain pain medications, certain antinausea medications, dextromethorphan, St. John’s Wort, tryptophan, stimulants, LSD, cocaine, ecstasy, etc.) Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include anxiety, agitation, restlessness, easy startling, delirium, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased temperature, profuse sweating, shivering, vomiting, diarrhea, tremor, and muscle rigidity or twitching. Life threatening symptoms include high fever, seizures, irregular heartbeat, and unconsciousness.

Estrogen Levels With Antidepressants in Females

Varying estrogen levels during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, postpartum, perimenopause, and menopause raise issues with antidepressants and depression that are unique to women. Estrogen increases serotonin, so a decrease in estrogen at certain times in a woman’s reproductive life cycle can reduce serotonin levels and lead to symptoms of depression. Hormonal contraception and hormone replacement therapy can reduce or increase depressive symptoms; an increase in symptoms may be more likely in women who already had major depressive disorder. During pregnancy, antidepressants have a potential risk to the developing baby but there are also risks of untreated depression on the baby’s development. With breastfeeding, some antidepressants pass minimally into breast milk and may not affect the baby. The benefits of breastfeeding may outweigh the risks of taking these medications.   Antidepressant sexual side effects in women are vaginal dryness, decreased genital sensations, decreased libido, and difficulty achieving orgasm. Women should communicate with their psychiatrist and/or OB/GYN to discuss the risks and benefits of medication use vs. untreated illness during pregnancy and breastfeeding; the use of hormonal treatments to regulate symptoms associated with menses and menopause; and the treatment of sexual dysfunction caused by antidepressants.

By: Annie Ward, MSN, PMHNP-BC
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Lindner Center of HOPE

When we think of eating disorders, our society tends to think of individuals in emaciated bodies. Disordered eating is more common than not, and does not discriminate against body size, gender or race. The line between dieting and disordered eating is blurred in our society. There are narratives tightly woven into our culture which lead to disordered eating habits being encouraged, and unfortunately often praised. Sadly, they are only acknowledged as problematic when the physical manifestations become unignorable and when they can no longer be labeled under the guise of “healthy diets”.

One of the most common disordered eating patterns that I encounter in clients (whether they are seeking help for an eating disorder or not) is the binge-restrict cycle. This pattern can start with either binge eating or restricting. Essentially, when we restrict nutrition, our bodies increase our hunger cues as they search for sustenance, to alert you that your body needs food. This can often end up in a binge-eating episode which involves eating a large quantity of food while feeling out of control. Unfortunately, the feeling of lack of control often results in shame, which may then lead to subsequent restriction of nutrition. This may be due to feeling full after a binge or primarily due to shame, but unfortunately fuels the cycle of binge-eating and restricting.

It can be helpful to think about how this cycle was useful for our hunter and gatherer ancestors. They may have gone several days without food, and when they found it, the body wanted to obtain as much nutrition possible, because it didn’t know how long it would have to survive without food again. Their bodies pumped out hunger hormones to protect them and sustain them. Your body works the same way– it cannot identify why it is not getting food. I hope that you wouldn’t expect our ancestors to feel shameful for eating more when they found food- and hope this helps you understand why you should not feel shameful for eating more after a period of restrictive eating. Additionally, our bodies have natural weight settling points and when we restrict, to conserve the energy we have, we slow down our metabolism to conserve resources. This is one reason why diets are overwhelmingly unsuccessful.

In order to learn what your body needs and wants, one of the best things that you can do for yourself is structure regular nutrition throughout the day- regardless of what your eating looked like the day before. Our society certainly defaults to making us believe that we should eat less if we “overdid it” the day before, but this is simply not true. Your body needs and deserves consistent nutrition every day.

If you struggle with fatigue, poor concentration, mood swings, headaches or lightheadedness—these are a few of the ways that inadequate nutrition can present. They can present quickly after your body realizes it needs more fuel, and may not get better until your body can trust that you will consistently give it the nutrition it needs. I would encourage you to explore your relationship with nutrition and how it may be affecting you physically— and mentally.

What should we learn from this? 

  1. If you feel you ate too much of a meal or snack, you should forgive and forget. You deserve to eat all meals and snacks the next day. Returning to a consistent pattern of nutrition will help break the binge-restrict cycle.
  2. Our society promotes “health” but this often gets twisted into unhealthy recommendations which can lead to the binge-restrict cycle. This can then lead to guilt, shame, and eating disorders. Be wary of “healthy” diets.
  3. Consistent nutrition is self-care, and it is not helpful to use nutrition as a form or judgment of self-control

If you are struggling with this, reach out for help with an eating disorder specialist who is knowledgeable about Health at Every Size- you do not have to look a certain way to have an eating disorder or be “sick enough” to get help

By: Jessica Kraft, APRN, PMHNP-BC
Lindner Center of HOPE, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is more isolated to the changing of the seasons. It can happen in the spring and summer but occurs most commonly in the fall and winter months. We know that everyone is going to have a bad day from time to time, and it’s not uncommon for some to face more challenges in the winter months when the weather is colder and the days are shorter. But when does this become a problem that requires intervention?

What are some of the common symptoms of SAD? 

  • Feeling down or depressed for most of the day, almost every day
  • Less interest in hobbies, social activities, or things that have brought you joy in the past
  • Decreased concentration at home and at work
  • Fatigue, sluggishness, or low energy
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Changes in appetite (increased craving for carbohydrates) or changes in weight
  • A general feeling of hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

It is hard to estimate the number of people who have SAD, as many do not know they have it. It’s also thought that the number in recent years has been higher due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Women can be at higher risk for developing SAD as well as those who live further north. SAD most commonly develops in young adulthood, it often runs in families, and can often be co-morbid with other mental health conditions including depression, bipolar, anxiety, ADHD, and eating disorders.

It is not entirely understood what causes SAD, but research indicates that people with SAD may have reduced activity of serotonin, too much melatonin production, or even vitamin D deficiency. Changes in these areas may impact the body’s daily rhythm that is tied to the seasonal night-day cycle. Negative thoughts and feelings about the winter and its associated limitations and stresses are common among people with SAD, as well as others. It is unclear whether these are “causes” or “effects” of the mood disorder, but they can be a useful focus of treatment especially when seeking therapy.

If the above symptoms start to interfere with day-to-day life, it may be beneficial to seek out care for SAD. For some it may be ideal to start with their primary care provider in order to rule out other medical conditions that could be responsible for symptoms of SAD including alterations in thyroid hormones, low blood sugar, anemia, or viral infections like mono. If there is not an identifiable medical cause, seeking psychiatric help may be beneficial.

What are some of the common symptoms of SAD?

  • Light therapy – a common approach to SAD since the 1980s. The thought is that exposure of bright light every day can supplement the lack of natural sunlight/sun exposure in the winter months. Sitting in front of a light box of 10,000 lux daily during the winter months in the morning can be a helpful intervention.
  • Talk therapy – the most common type of talk therapy for SAD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Vitamin D supplementation – there is mixed research on how helpful supplementation of Vitamin D is for SAD but some find it helpful and a good option to try prior to trying a psychiatric medication.
  • Psychiatric medication – for those who haven’t seen much improvement with light therapy or CBT, psychiatric medication can be an option including SSRIs (Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, etc.) or Wellbutrin. It is important to keep in mind that treatment with one of these medications may take several weeks in order to be efficacious, for some up to 6-8 weeks.
  • When doing research on this topic I came across many anecdotal stories from those struggling with SAD and what interventions they tried and found helpful. Some examples included going outside more often, taking a trip, caring for something like a plant or a pet, finding a new hobby or interest, staying social, creating new rituals, consistent exercise, quality nutrition, good sleep, and maintaining a consistent schedule.

What are some of the common symptoms of SAD?

One of the helpful things about treating SAD is the predictability of when symptoms set in compared to other sub-types of depression that are much more variable. Unfortunately there is little research answering the question of whether or not this can be prevented or if there is a significant benefit to starting treatment early. Of the limited data available the medication Wellbutrin was found to be the most helpful intervention to start early.

Sources:

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml 

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder 

https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/covid-19-seasonal-affective-disorder-sad 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7302868/ 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2215036620303072 

https://forge.medium.com/advice-for-coping-with-seasonal-depression-from-9-people-who-have-it-a5c04fdfe996

By Tracy S. Cummings, MD, Associate Chief Medical Officer for Clinical Excellence and Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Lindner Center of HOPE

Medical school was an intense experience filled with mass information consumption regarding physiological health, followed by residency and fellowship focused on mental health care amounting to nine years of training to be a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist. So much knowledge was amassed over those years, and what topic do I find myself talking about most nearly each day at work? The use of electronics (phone, tablet, computer) by teens. Now, the irony is not lost on me that most readers will be viewing this article online. Ever-present digital media is a reality in our society, and the complicated relationship with it in our lives has become clearer in recent years. Particularly, concerns regarding the impact of the use of electronics on the lives of young people with developing brains have been raised in the literature, by treatment providers, in schools, by families, and even by teens themselves. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center report, “nearly all US teens (95%) say they have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are ‘almost constantly’ on the internet”. Taking the good with the bad, the need to recharge the proverbial battery in our youth has never been so necessary.

A 2020 estimate by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry noted 4-6 hours/day of screen time for 8-12-year-olds in the US and around 9 hours/day for teens. With a traditional school day lasting 7 hours, it seems the electronics are winning out on capturing the attention of our adolescents. While not all use is problematic, several studies have found associations between the amount of time spent online (and the number of social media platforms utilized) with symptoms of depression, anxiety, obesity, headaches, musculoskeletal pain, decreased levels of physical activity, and problems with sleep (delayed bedtime and/or decreased total sleep time). A growing number of teens sleep with the phone next to them and feel the need to check it multiple times a night with a sense of urgency to respond to any and all notifications immediately. It is striking how many families will report their child has sleep issues leading to irritability and trouble focusing, but often no type of boundary or limitation on phone use, particularly at night, exists. Nomophobia continues to rise globally (and this pertains to adults and youth alike).

Most tweens/teens use their devices to pass the time, and it has become the preferred method for many to interact with their peers. As fewer households have landlines, caregivers like the idea of their child being able to reach them if needed, therefore the age at which a child is receiving their own smartphone has decreased, with approximately 20% of 8-year-olds now having one. Considering the plethora of items one can stumble upon online, even as an adult, the use of the internet by children and adolescents carries significant risk. Frequently, caregivers are unaware of the viewing history on the device, and there is always the potential for exposure to violence, sexual content, substance use, cyberbullying, predators, diet culture, negative stereotypes, and misinformation.

Similar to other household rules, phone/electronic use needs to have parameters. As families consider how phone/internet use will be consumed in their homes, an AACAP Fact For Families Guideline on Screen Time suggests the following:

• For ages 6 and older, encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens
• Turn off all screens during family meals and outings
• Learn about and use parental controls
• Turn off screens and remove them from bedrooms 30-60min before bedtime

Healthy screen habits will need to include discussions about what is appropriate to view and share. Kids need to be taught about privacy and safety. Honest discussions about family expectations regarding accounts, passwords, and data usage is helpful (though not always liked by the teen). Looking up information and gaming together are ways to ensure valid resources and monitoring while online. The ability to use the electronic device as a tool to learn new things and connect positively with others can be encouraged and should ideally be modeled by the adults in the home. Consistency with setting this good example will establish a healthy foundation in the youth while holding the adult accountable at the same time. The Business Insider quotes analyst Ben Bajarin’s data about how iPhone users unlock their phones on average 80 times/day. For comparison, adults laugh about 15 times/day. This might be a good time for families to consider which one of those activities would bring us more joy so we can recharge together.

Nicole Jederlinic, DO
Lindner Center of HOPE Staff Psychiatrist and Medical Director for the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Acute Unit at Lindner Center of HOPE

As an inpatient and outpatient child / adolescent psychiatrist, I see children and teens, and, consequently, their families facing a wide range of mental health conditions. In the wake of the extensive remote learning related to the COVID-19 pandemic, these challenges have become increasingly common, and can range from social impairments to academic hardship to overt refusal to attend school.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, one in six children ages 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year. Nearly half of all mental health conditions begin by age 14. While schools play a critical role in helping to identify concerns in children, schools are often tremendously (and increasingly) overwhelmed and can only do so much. As such, parents and guardians can play an active role in helping to identify their children’s struggles. Unfortunately, most kids won’t directly tell you they are struggling, so here are some signs to look out for:

-Talking about school becomes off limits, particularly about subjects in which your child may be struggling.

-Your child exhibits a major attitude change toward school. Children and teens may complain of being “bored”, which could also mean they do not understand the material.

-Your child exhibits changes in sleeping or eating patterns. Especially, look out for this on school nights.

-Your child spends too much time on homework. A rough estimate is that a child may have about ten minutes per grade level of homework per night. It’s important to be familiar with the teacher’s homework policy.

-Your child’s teacher explicitly expresses concerns. They see the behavior in school, BUT even they miss things, especially if your child tends to hold things in and is not disruptive.

-Your child begins to misbehave at school.

-Your child receives low grades and these are a drastic change from grades they previously earned.

-Your child spends much of the school day at the nurse with vague physical complaints, missing critical class time and socialization. At an extreme, your child may attempt to avoid going to school altogether.

Now that you’ve identified the problem, what can you do? Have an open conversation with your child – let them know what you’ve noticed and give them a chance to respond themselves. Try and stay open and really listen to their concerns without trying to assume your own interpretations like “they are lazy” or “they are overdramatic”. Remember, they may be guarded, so it’s important to gather additional information. Connect with your child’s teachers to get their thoughts. If difficulties are in one specific class, you could try tutoring or extra help from the teacher;  if they are more pervasive you may need to be more aggressive in how you address things. Try and determine the nature of the difficulty: is it more social/emotional or cognitive/academic? The school may be able to help distinguish this, and it’s okay to ask for additional help from a pediatrician, therapist or psychiatrist.

At public schools, you may formally request that the school evaluate your child’s needs by submitting a written request. Remember to sign and date the request, have the school sign and date when they receive the request and get a copy upon their acceptance of the letter. They have 30 days to respond and either agree to start an evaluation OR provide parents with a “Prior Written Notice” explaining why they do not think evaluation is warranted. This does not mean families cannot purse additional testing /evaluation on their own, but sometimes this can be costly.

Overt refusal to attend school is not a diagnosis in the psychiatric manual, but can point to a variety of psychological conditions like anxiety, trauma or depression. Approximately 2-5% of school children may experience school refusal. It’s important to remember this is NEVER normal. The failure to attend school has significant short and long-term effects on children’s social, emotional, and educational development. That said, it is a complicated problem and requires a collaborative approach to treat. Parents SHOULD NOT feel they are in this alone! Other members of the team may include a pediatrician, psychiatrist, or therapist. At some extremes, children may even require treatment in an inpatient psychiatric hospital or partial hospitalization program. It’s important to build relationships with the school and possibly others to help develop and plan for getting and keeping a child in school.

Typically, remote learning is not the answer to any school difficulties. Even prior to the pandemic, studies indicated that students who did remote learning were at a disadvantage. In 2015, a study of 158 virtual schools compared with traditional schools indicated virtual students obtained lower results in reading and math. In 2021, an analysis of virtual learning during the pandemic indicated a loss of five to nine months of learning with multiple psycho-social consequences including anxiety, depression, concentration difficulties, social isolation and lower levels of physical activity. In summary, there is little evidence of benefit with complete remote learning. More schools are offering hybrid learning models for students floundering in mainstream programs.

School is central to a child’s development. Parents now should have some tools and resources for identifying signs of struggle in their children. Early intervention is important to foster academic and social development and promote psychological well-being.

References:

NAMI. Mental Health in Schools. https://www.nami.org/Advocacy/Policy-Priorities/Improving-Health/Mental-Health-in-Schools

Linnell-Olsen, Lisa. (2020, May 20). 7 Warning Signs Your Child is Struggling in School. Very Well Family. https://www.verywellfamily.com/warning-signs-your-child-is-struggling-in-school-2601436

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Inpatient Handouts. SPED Request for Families.

Kawsar, MD S., Yilanli, M and Marwaha, R. (2021, June 11). School Refusal. StatPearls (Internet). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK534195/

Bissonnette, S and Boyer, C. (2021, July 27). The Effects of Remote Learning on the Progress of Students Before and during the Pandemic. Inciativa Educacao. https://www.iniciativaeducacao.org/en/ed-on/ed-on-articles/the-effects-of-remote-learning-on-the-progress-of-students-before-and-during-the-pandemic

By: Angela Couch, RN, MSN, PMHNP-BC,
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

The research is in, and it’s clear. Exercise can help with depression, anxiety and cognitive decline, not to mention the physical benefits which we are all probably familiar with already. Physical inactivity can also be a risk factor for depression and anxiety.

What are the ways exercise can benefit us?

  1. Increases our energy and motivation levels
  2. Releases “feel good” endorphins, and endogenous cannabinoids that enhance our sense of well-being
  3. Reduces the inflammatory activities of immune cells that can harm us
  4. Has positive impacts on brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which can increase the growth of new neurons (cells) in the brain
  5. Enhances the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep
  6. Improves self-esteem
  7. In the immediate time frame, exercise helps reduce feelings of anxiety, drops our blood pressure, enhances alertness, and can help break the cycle of negative thoughts
  8. With time, exercise reduces feelings of depression, increases motivation, and helps with executive functioning
  9. With time, it reduces the risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia in older adults

But lifestyle changes are hard to begin with, right?  How do I do it when I’m feeling depressed or anxious, or otherwise unmotivated?

  1. Don’t wait to have the motivation. We can always find an excuse to do it another day, or wait for the “right” time when we feel “better”, and hours can become days, days can become weeks, you get the picture.  However, choosing to do it now is choosing to do something that might make us feel better. “I’ll go for a walk now to help me feel better” instead of “I’ll go for a walk when I feel better.” Motivation levels increase when we’re in a good routine of activity.
  2. Start small, and set reasonable goals. If the idea of “exercise” is too intimidating or unpleasant to consider, shoot for increasing physical activity to start.  Just getting off the couch and moving around is a great start.  Physical activity can include working in the yard or garden for a few minutes, doing some stretching, parking further away from the grocery or the office, vacuuming the house, or walking to the end of the street and back. Don’t think of exercise as another chore on the to-do list, but as a wellness activity and part of treatment.
  3. Make it easier. Set the time, date, and activity on the calendar.  Lay your clothing out the night before, or sleep in it when you’re shooting for activity first thing in the morning.  Set your sneakers by the door.  If you need help getting out of bed for a morning workout, set the alarm on the other side of the room so you cannot lay in bed and hit the snooze button.  If mornings aren’t your thing, choose the time of day when you feel the most energy, or tend to be in the brightest mood, for getting started.
  4. Use an app or a video if you’re not sure what to do, don’t want to pay for a gym membership, or don’t particularly want to be around people. You can get lots of ideas for things you can do at home, if the gym is not your thing, by looking on Pinterest, YouTube, or the internet.  There are often options for mild, short workouts for beginners available.  Make sure to start slow, don’t do anything that causes pain, make the duration short to start, and don’t expect to master the move right away. Consult with your primary care provider, especially if you have some physical limitations or challenges.
  5. Find activities you know you’ll enjoy, or try new things. We’re much more likely to follow through on activities we enjoy. If walking on a treadmill in the basement seems boring, go for a walk or bike ride outside, or hit the local mall and “window shop” while you walk. Take the dog to the local dog park with a tennis ball for play time.  Listen to fun music, or an interesting pod cast, to make the activity more enjoyable.
  6. Enlist help. Work with your therapist or provider to come up with a viable plan to get you moving.  Set up physical activities or exercise to do with a friend,  to make it more enjoyable and  increase the likelihood of follow through. Signing up for a fitness class, or for sessions with a personal trainer, may increase the likelihood of follow through because of sense of accountability.
  7. Be kind to yourself. Reward yourself sometimes for doing the hard thing. Track your victories, even ones you feel are small, and review them when you’re feeling low or discouraged.  Allow yourself to take a break when you need to.

Exercise and physical activity are two tools we can use to help improve our well-being, which can be cost-effective and don’t require a prescription.

Toups, M., Carmody, T., Greer, T., Rethorst, C., Grannemann, B., & Trivedi, M. H. (2017). Exercise is an effective treatment for positive valence symptoms in major depression. Journal of affective disorders209, 188–194. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2016.08.058

Kandola A, Vancampfort D, Herring M, et al. Moving to Beat Anxiety: Epidemiology and Therapeutic Issues with Physical Activity for Anxiety. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2018;20(8):63. Published 2018 Jul 24. doi:10.1007/s11920-018-0923-x

Stubbs B, Vancampfort D, Rosenbaum S, Firth J, Cosco T, Veronese N, Salum GA, Schuch FB. An examination of the anxiolytic effects of exercise for people with anxiety and stress-related disorders: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. 2017 Mar;249:102-108. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2016.12.020. Epub 2017 Jan 6. PMID: 28088704.

Cooney GM, Dwan K, Greig CA, et al. Exercise for depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;(9):CD004366. Published 2013 Sep 12. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004366.pub6

Tan ZS, Spartano NL, Beiser AS, et al. Physical Activity, Brain Volume, and Dementia Risk: The Framingham Study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2017;72(6):789-795. doi:10.1093/gerona/glw130

Nuzum H, Stickel A, Corona M, Zeller M, Melrose RJ, Wilkins SS. Potential Benefits of Physical Activity in MCI and Dementia. Behav Neurol. 2020;2020:7807856. Published 2020 Feb 12. doi:10.1155/2020/7807856

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition | 2018 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

 

By: Jen Milau, APRN, PMHNP-BC

When I started my career as a nurse practitioner in 2017, I couldn’t have guessed that I’d end up where I am today – a psychiatric provider treating children, adolescents, and adults with a largely misunderstood and relatively controversial diagnosis that causes severe neuropsychiatric symptoms due to a misdirected immune response.

Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS), considered by expert consortiums to be a type of Autoimmune Encephalitis (AE), is characterized by a dramatic onset of severe obsessive-compulsive symptoms or food restriction that presents along with two or more of the following which cause impairment to functioning:

  • Behavioral/developmental regression (immature play, “baby talk,” afraid of the dark, wanting to sleep in parents’ bed, etc)
  • Abnormal movements such as tics, jerking/involuntary muscle spasms, stereotyped movements
  • Severe mood swings and depression
  • Out of character rage, aggression, tantrums with or without self-injurious behavior or suicidal/homicidal ideation or gestures
  • Changes to executive functioning (poor memory, impaired concentration/focus, slowed processing speed)
  • Separation anxiety and panic attacks
  • Psychosis
  • Sensory amplification (aversion to certain textures, sensitivity to noise, lights, or repetitive sounds)
  • Insomnia or other sleep disturbance (nightmares/night terrors)
  • Changes to fine motor skills or muscle strength (for example, difficulty opening doors, using utensils or holding a pencil; changes to handwriting or drawing abilities)
  • Urinary changes (bedwetting, daytime accidents, urgency/frequency of urination)

So what causes this?

While originally believed to be an unusual response to a Group A Strep infection (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcus, or PANDAS), we now understand that in susceptible individuals, PANS can be triggered by anything that activates the immune response – this can include infection, allergies, certain cancers, inflammatory conditions or injuries, and exposure to toxins. Like other autoimmune diseases, PANS occurs when the immune system mistakes our own cells and healthy tissue as foreign pathogens that need to be eradicated. More commonly-identified autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, hashimoto’s thyroiditis, etc., present with primary physical symptoms that are associated with the type of cell that is mistakenly targeted by the inflammatory response. In the case of PANS/Autoimmune Encephalitis, however, it’s healthy tissue in certain areas of the brain that is the target of this autoimmune attack – the result being the array of severe neuropsychiatric symptoms described above.

Interestingly, since the start of the COVID19 pandemic, PANS/AE clinicians across the country have seen a significant increase in cases. In some instances, this is clearly related to infection with the COVID19 virus, itself; however, often the trigger is not straightforward, and while many theories currently center around the impact of extreme stress (which subsequently can increase inflammation and suppress the immune response which elevates the risk of reactivation of latent infection or acquiring illness from exposure), the overall etiology is not clear.

How is it diagnosed & treated?

PANS symptoms exist on a spectrum of severity that impacts the approach to a diagnostic work-up and treatment recommendations. For individuals with mild to moderate symptoms who are otherwise functioning fairly well overall, I often recommend “traditional” psychiatric treatment with the appropriate psychotherapy interventions along with low-dose medications to target their psychiatric symptoms, with the plan to keep PANS on my differential should their presentation abruptly change in the future.

Typically, however, the patients that I see have a much more severe and impairing set of neurological and psychiatric symptoms that warrants a diagnostic assessment to look for underlying infectious, inflammatory, or immunological abnormalities that might be impacting their clinical presentation. This typically consists of blood work and urine studies though can sometimes include imaging when clinically indicated. In rare and severe cases, a lumbar puncture might be considered. Collaboration with clinicians in other specialty areas such as immunology, rheumatology, and neurology, is necessary in more complex case presentations.

In general, the treatment of PANS entails a three-pronged approach:

  • Initiate appropriate psychiatric interventions including psychotherapy and medications to target specific symptoms (SSRIs/SNRIs, Non-stimulant ADHD medication, Antipsychotics).
  • Treat any underlying infection with appropriate antimicrobial medication, keeping in mind the importance of balancing this with pre/probiotics to ensure that gut flora is adequately maintained during therapy.
  • Treat immune system dysregulation with anti-inflammatory medication and/or immunomodulatory therapy if indicated.

Once someone has gotten through the most severe part of their flare-up, we often transition to a “maintenance” phase of treatment which includes lifestyle and dietary changes along with selective use of supplements to support immune health and manage systemic inflammation. Psychiatric treatment is also maintained for as long as clinically indicated. These efforts, along with quick identification and treatment of signs/symptoms of future flare-ups, help to minimize the frequency/intensity of subsequent flares and can ultimately improve long-term prognosis.

What makes this such a controversial diagnosis?

Our understanding of PANS and other neuroinflammatory conditions is still somewhat in its infancy. This means that much of the existing literature is based on empirical evidence gathered by expert consensus groups and clinicians with experience in assessing, diagnosing, and treating this special patient population. As with any emerging field of science or medicine, new research and expanded awareness of the disease have led to modifications to the original diagnostic criteria and theories associated with PANS/PANDAS – however, these updates (namely, that PANS/AE may not present as “acute” onset, but rather, as sub-acute or insidious; not limited to pediatrics – can also occur in adolescence and adulthood) are largely underrecognized, and as a result, the condition is prematurely “ruled out” in individuals who otherwise meet criteria based on their clinical presentation.

The complex and variable presentation of symptoms and potential triggers associated with PANS leads many clinicians to refute the connection between infection/immune dysfunction and psychiatric symptoms. Unfortunately, when seeking care, families often face judgment and experience repeated invalidation when they attempt to bring up their concerns for possible PANS/AE, as individual providers and occasionally even entire organizations maintain a firm stance against the assessment/diagnosis and treatment of PANS/PANDAS as a whole.

Final thoughts and resources:

PANS/AE can be a significant source of suffering not only for the individual impacted by the illness, but the entire family who is involved with their care. It’s important to strengthen your own support systems and build in time for self-care when faced with a loved one’s intense cognitive and behavioral manifestations of the disease.

Regardless of the underlying etiology, psychiatric treatment with psychotherapy and appropriate medication management is imperative for individuals with this diagnosis.

Below are a few of my favorite resources for patients, families, and clinicians who want to learn more about PANS/PANDAS/AE:

https://pandasnetwork.org/

https://www.pandasppn.org/

https://aspire.care/