Can the COVID-19 Vaccine Improve Your Mental Health?
Thirteen months ago, the world was experiencing the onset of a shared trauma … a pandemic was sweeping over the globe. The actions that were taken to keep people safe included community shut downs, stay at home orders and mandated isolation. Lindner Center of HOPE, like mental health providers around the world, began to see spikes in mental illness and addiction. Individuals who were already struggling with mental illness or a pre-disposition, saw exacerbated symptoms and an increase in severity of illness. People who were managing, saw new onset at higher levels of acuity. As time has passed since the beginning of the pandemic, the trauma has been sustained with higher percentages of people still struggling with mental illnesses and addictions. Additionally, data shows people who have experienced COVID-19 infection are also suffering with co-occurring psychiatric symptoms.
Fortunately, vaccines have been released to protect the population from the physical health threats of COVID-19. However, Lindner Center of HOPE’s President and Chief Operating Officer, Paul R. Crosby, MD, states the vaccine also offers mental health benefits as well.
“The first mental health benefit of the vaccine is simple,” Dr. Crosby said, “since the risk of COVID-19 infection diminishes significantly with vaccination, receiving the vaccine would also protect individuals from co-occurring mental illness that has proven to manifest with COVID-19 infection.”
“The second mental health benefit of the vaccine is the reduction in overall anxiety and stress, as risk and fear of infection is reduced. Vaccinated individuals can lift their isolation from other vaccinated individuals, can begin to see a return to other activities that improve mental health, like more exercise, improved sleep, new experiences through travel and more. A return to these healthier activities can hopefully also lead to a reduction in substance use, overeating or lack of participation in other things that bring joy.”
“The COVID-19 vaccine has significant potential in improving your mental health.”
For individuals experiencing symptoms of mental illness, it is critical to access help. Mental illnesses are common and treatable and no one should struggle alone.
Lindner Center of HOPE in Mason is a comprehensive mental health center providing excellent, patient-centered, scientifically-advanced care for individuals suffering with mental illness. A state-of-the-science, mental health center and charter member of the National Network of Depression Centers, the Center provides psychiatric hospitalization and partial hospitalization for individuals age 12-years-old and older, outpatient services for all ages, diagnostic services for all ages and short-term residential services for adults, and research. The Center is enhanced by its partnership with UC Health as its clinicians are ranked among the best providers locally, nationally and internationally. Together Lindner Center of HOPE and UC Health offer a true system of mental health care in the Greater Cincinnati area and across the country. The Center is also affiliated with the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine.
Mental Health and the Environment of Connection
By Chris J. Tuell, EdD, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS
Lindner Center of HOPE, Clinical Director of Addiction Services; Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience
University of Cincinnati College of Medicine
At the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, 1 out of 5 soldiers (20%), returning to the United States from Southeast Asia, was addicted to heroin. It was estimated that approximately 100,000 American soldiers would be returning home, addicted to this destructive drug. Experts projected a drug epidemic, which would destroy countless lives and communities. It never happened.
Once soldiers returned home to families, friends and communities, the destructive nature of a hardcore drug, like heroin, failed to materialize. In fact, 95% of the soldiers who were once addicted to heroin, stopped using the drug almost immediately once they returned home.
For many years, our understanding of addiction was based on early research conducted in the first half of the 20th century. These studies involved rats and consisted of placing a rat in a solitary cage, providing the rat with a choice of water: plain water or water laced with cocaine or heroin. The study found that all the rats preferred the drug-laced water to the plain water. All the rats overdosed on the drug. The majority of the rats died in the study. This became our model of addiction for many years. The accepted belief became, if you are exposed to a drug, you will become addicted, and you may overdose and die.
Several years later, this original study was replicated, but with a significant difference. Researcher Bruce Alexander from the University of Vancouver, created, what was referred to as: a “rat park.” This park consisted of tunnels, multiple levels, toys, and other rat companions. Similar to the original study, all rats were given the same choice of water: plain water or water laced with heroin or cocaine. In Alexander’s study, rats preferred the plain water. Rates of overdose and death to the rats were significantly lower when compared to the initial study. How do we explain this difference in results? Perhaps, it is about the cage. Perhaps, it is about the environment.
Upon their return home, the soldiers from Vietnam who were struggling with a heroin addiction were able to re-connect with loved ones and community. A change in environment allowed for a change in connection, resulting in health, wellness and sobriety. Likewise, the environment of the rat in a solitary cage, as compared to the environment of the rat park, provided the rat with a “connection” with other rats, an environment which allowed the rat…to be a rat.
Individuals, who experience issues of mental illness and/or substance use disorders, have a natural tendency to withdraw and isolate from others. Depression, anxiety and addiction, greatly affect an individual’s ability to connect with others, let alone with one’s environment. This past year we have seen the devastating impact of COVID-19. We know that in order to maintain health and wellness, we need to maintain social distance and disconnect from one another. For now, this has and continues to be, what we need to do. It remains challenging for many of us to continue to avoid contact with loved ones and friends. We are separated from the very individuals who love us, support us, and are our sources of connection.
We have seen the rise of mental health issues during the past year. Nearly 20 percent of COVID-19 patients have developed a mental health issue (i.e., depression, anxiety) within three months of their diagnosis. During the past year, 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. Within the general population, rates of mental health issues and substance use have significantly increased across the board. In addition, the disconnection that we have witnessed has fragmented our society in general by harboring increased levels of fear, anger and animosity towards one another.
Hope on the horizon
Once “herd immunity” is achieved, the importance of re-connecting with one another becomes vital and essential to our health and mental wellness. We are social beings and need connection with one another. History has shown that the mental health impact of disasters outlasts the physical impact, suggesting today’s elevated mental health needs will continue well beyond the coronavirus outbreak. Like the moth that needs to struggle out of the cocoon in order to develop the strength that it needs to survive in the world, we too are developing the strength that we need from the struggles we have endured. Re-connecting with one another is an answer. It gives us strength and it gives us hope.
Dangers of Dieting: Why Dieting Can Be Harmful
BY: Anna Guerdjikova, PhD, LISW, CCRC, Lindner Center of HOPE, Director of Administrative Services, Harold C. Schott Foundation Eating Disorders Program University of Cincinnati, Department of Psychiatry, Research Assistant Professor
An estimated 45 million Americans diet each year and spend $33 billion annually on weight loss products. WebMD lists over 100 different diets, starting with the African Mango diet, moving on to the South Beach and Mediterranean diets and ending up with the Zone. Most diets, regardless of their particular nature, result in short-term weight loss that is not sustainable. Weight cycling or recurrent weight loss through dieting and subsequent weight gain (yo-yo effect) can be harmful for mental and physical health for both healthy weight and overweight individuals. Furthermore, weight fluctuations have been related to increased risk of development of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
What is Dieting
The word “diet” originates from the Greek word “diaita”, literally meaning “manner of living”. In the contemporary language, dieting is synonymous with a quick fix solution for an overwhelming obesity epidemic. Dieting implies restriction, limitation of pleasurable foods and drinks, and despite of having no benefits, the omnipresent dieting mentality remains to be the norm.
Most diets fail most of the time. Repeated diet failure is a negative predictor for successful long term weight loss. Chronic dieters consistently report guilt and self-blame, irritability, anxiety and depression, difficulty concentrating and fatigue. Their self-esteem is decreased by continuous feelings of failure related to “messing my diet up again”, leading to feelings of lack of control over one’s food choices and further … life in general. Dieting can be particularly problematic in adolescents and it remains a major precursor to disordered eating, with moderate dieters being five times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who do not diet at all.
Diets imply restriction. Psychologically, dietary restraint can lead to greater reactivity to food cues, increased cravings and disinhibition, and overeating and binge eating. Biologically, dieting can lead to unhealthy changes in body composition, hormonal changes, reduced bone density, menstrual disturbances, and lower resting energy expenditure.
The Potential Harmful Effects of Dieting
Aggressive dieting lowers the base metabolic rate, meaning one burns less energy when resting, resulting in significantly lower daily needs in order to sustain achieved weight after the diet is over. Returning to normalized eating habits at this lower base metabolic rate results in commonly seen post dieting weight gain. Biologically, dieting is perceived as harmful and physiology readjusts trying to get back to initial weight even after years since the initial rapid weight loss. Recent data examining 14 participants in the “Biggest Loser” contest showed they lost on average 128 pounds and their baseline resting metabolic rates dropped from 2,607 +/-649 kilocalories/ day to 1,996 +/- 358 kcal/day at the end of the 30 weeks contest. Those that lost the most weight saw the biggest drops in their metabolic rate. Six years after the show, only one of the 14 contestants weighed less than they did after the competition; five contestants regained almost all of or more than the weight they lost, but despite the weight gain, their metabolic rates stayed low, with a mean of 1,903 +/- 466 kcal/day. Proportional to their individual weights the contestants were burning a mean of ~500 fewer kilocalories a day than would be expected of people their sizes leading to steady weight gain over the years. Metabolic adaptation related to rapid weight loss thus persisted over time suggesting a proportional, but incomplete, response to contemporaneous efforts to reduce body weight from its defined “set point”.
Dieting emphasizes food as “good” or “bad”, as a reward or punishment, and increases food obsessions. It does not teach healthy eating habits and rarely focuses on the nutritional value of foods and the benefit of regulated eating. Unsatisfied hunger increases mood swings and risk of overeating. Restricting food, despite drinking enough fluids, can leads to dehydration and further complications, like constipation. Dieting and chronic hunger tend to exacerbate dysfunctional behaviors like smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol.
Complex entities like health and wellness cannot be reduced to the one isolated number of what we weigh or to what body mass index (BMI) is. Purpose and worth cannot be measured in weight. Dieting mentality tempts us into “If I am thin- I will be happy” or “If I am not thin-I am a failure” way of thinking but only provides a short term fictitious solution with long term harmful physical and mental consequences. Focusing on sustainable long term strategies for implementing regulated eating habits with a variety of food choices without unnecessary restrictions will make a comprehensive diet and maintaining healthy weight a true part of our “manner of living”.
Reference: Obesity (Silver Spring). 2016 May ;Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition.; Fothergill E, Guo J, Howard L, Kerns JC, Knuth ND, Brychta R, Chen KY, Skarulis MC, Walter M, Walter PJ, Hall KD.
When To Seek Treatment For Anxiety
By Angela Couch, RN, MSN, PMHNP-BC
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Lindner Center of HOPE
Anxiety is a common symptom. Anxiety is a part of everyone’s lives, we have all experienced it to one degree or another. Believe it not, anxiety serves some useful purposes. Anxiety can help give you the drive to make a change, or complete task on time.Anxiety can activate the fight or flight instinct, in a “potentially” dangerous situation, giving you the drive to get out of there, or do something to prevent harm. Anxiety can occur when you are enduring multiple stressors, or there is uncertainty, and it’s not entirely unexpected.
For instance, say you hear layoffs are coming in the company, and you’re not sure if your department will be affected. You may experience physical symptoms of anxiety (which could include racing heart, nervous stomach, sweating, tremor, nausea, shortness of breath, and more), and you might also experience worry. COVID-19…yup, that can cause some anxiety, or worry, too! Situational anxiety is a part of life, and often can be managed by rational self-talk, problem-solving, and various positive self-care strategies. (For more on that, see some of our other recent blog articles, for lots of helpful ideas!) So how do we know when the anxiety is more than just “normal” or to be expected, and when to seek help?
According to the National Comorbidity Study Replication, about 19.1% of U.S. adults will have had an anxiety disorder in the past year, and 31.1% experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. In other words, it’s pretty common! There are various types of anxiety disorders, and most have an underlying common thread– difficulty in accepting uncertainty in some form. So how do you know if you may need to seek further assessment or help for anxiety, if it’s really so common? If everyone gets it, is it really a problem that requires treatment? The answer is yes, it might. Some symptoms that may indicate problematic anxiety include:
* Feeling “paralyzed” by fear.
* Anxiety is causing you to avoid things you used to be able to do without anxiety, or things that are important to you (this could include social activities, leaving your house, going to your job, driving, engaging in spiritual activities, etc.).
* You have difficulty staying present “in the moment”, which may repeatedly distract you from attending to conversations, being able to complete work or school tasks because of lack of focus.
* You are having difficulty with sleep or eating due to excessive worry or anxiety.
Anxiety is causing significant physical symptoms.
* You cannot determine a cause for the anxiety and the symptoms are persistent or very bothersome.
* You worry about “everything” or “all the time”.
* The anxiety/worry you are experiencing about situations seem excessive.
* You need to engage in compulsive or repetitive behaviors, or do things in a certain way, in order to avoid significant anxiety/worry.
* Anxiety is causing you to turn to self-medication with alcohol or substances.
So you’ve determined you should seek help, now what? Psychotherapy can be helpful for anxiety, and is a very important component of treatment. Psychotherapy may include several modalities such as cognitive behavioral therapy, addressing faulty beliefs contributing to anxiety, psychoeducation about anxiety and worry, problem-solving, exercise and wellness activities/lifestyle changes, addressing sleep hygiene, skills for time management and stress reduction, or exposure therapy, just to name a few.
How do you know if psychotherapy is enough to manage the symptoms? Medication can be a helpful component in treatment of anxiety, particularly if symptoms are not improving with other psychotherapeutic interventions mentioned above. Medications alone are rarely enough to treat anxiety disorders adequately. Medication can often make it easier to engage in meaningful psychotherapy, to make those helpful lifestyle changes, or try new ways of coping with the anxiety/worry. If you are experiencing suicidal thinking or significant depression, medication should be a consideration. If the anxiety symptoms are preventing you from being able to work or do other essential tasks, medication may be indicated. If your therapist suggests a medication consultation, you should consider it.
The important things to remember are, everyone has some anxiety, not all anxiety is bad, and when anxiety does become problematic or excessive, there are evidence-based treatments to help, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help!
How to Treat Psychosis with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Psychosis (CBTp)
Many think that psychosis cannot be targeted with cognitive behavioral therapy, but that is not the case. There is a specific form of therapy that was developed for psychosis called CBTp. One important point to mention is that the symptoms are only targeted when they are distressing to the client and they interfere with their functioning or safety, not because one believes them to be untrue or abnormal. The main tenet is to join with the client and build rapport while not directly challenging their psychosis, which is referred to as working within their belief system. Once this is established, gradually helping them think differently about some of their experiences or beliefs is possible, but not in all cases. In some cases, the therapy is used to help them live their life and meet their goals in spite of their experiences or beliefs.
One useful technique with this therapy is to help them feel less stigmatized and normalize some of their experiences. There are specific websites out there that detail stories and list famous people out there who have struggled with psychosis, which can be very helpful for the client to read about. One such website is intervoiceonline.org.
Another very practical technique is helping them set smart and realistic goals. This can be done by asking what their goals are and developing a shared goal that can be accomplished. For example instead of “wanting the voices to stop” a smart goal could be “by the fourth session I will have learned and used two different coping strategies that reduce how much distress the voices cause from 100% to 75%”.
Other strategies that CBTp utilizes are coping strategy enhancement. First you figure out what they already are using to cope and figure out if they need to be refined or improved. Helping them figure out the time of day to use these strategies is important. They are likely to be most helpful when their voices are triggered, such as certain times of the day, a specific place, a certain smell, or certain feeling. Some strategies that can be useful to use before their voices are triggered include progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and practicing mindfulness of the present moment such as identifying things in the room. Strategies that can be helpful once the voices are already triggered include: using an ipod and listening to a feel good songs playlist; playing the look, point and name; using sub vocal speech or singing under one’s breath which can interrupt the voices; focusing on voices (hearing out in order to change relationship with voice); entering into dialogue with them, and setting specific times for listening to voices.
When targeting voices in sessions, there are several main goals. One is to help the client understand how their beliefs and thoughts relate to the voices and influence their feelings, mood, and coping. Another is to help them identify their beliefs about their voices. Helping
them explore evidence for and against their distressing beliefs is important. One can also develop behavioral experiments to test out the reality of their belief. Helping them generate alternative explanations and thoughts about their voices is also helpful. Providing behavioral interventions to reduce distress associated with their voices is key as well. Lastly, helping them change their relationship to their voices is important.
As you can see, there are many strategies that can be useful for this presenting problem.
The key it to present it in a way that is collaborative with the client and doing so in a trusting professional relationship. Meeting the client where they are at is important. It is also helpful to keep in mind that these techniques take some time to work and for the client to be able to use them, so patience is key as well.
Nicole Bosse, PsyD
Staff Psychologist, Lindner Center of HOPE
Psychological Assessment: What is it and how can it help?
Jennifer L. Farley, PsyD
Lindner Center of HOPE, Staff Psychologist
People often wonder what “psychological testing” is, what it is used for, and how it can help. The answers to these questions vary, depending on what the referral question is and in what setting testing is sought after.
What is a Psychological Assessment?
Most broadly, psychological assessment involves an objective manner in which one’s “psychological functioning” is assessed. An “objective” way of testing involves comparing one’s responses to standardized measures (in which every respondent is given the same measure or responds to tests that are administered in the same way) to normative group (usually based on the person’s age) to see how well they are functioning compared to their age peers. (Think of the standardized testing that students complete in school or with college preparatory examinations such as the ACT or SAT.) “Psychological functioning” is also a broad label, since many different abilities are assumed within this. More specifically, when people refer to “psychological functioning,” it helps to understand if they are referring to intellectual abilities and some other cognitive skills (such as attention), emotional functioning, and/or personality characteristics.
What is included in a Psychological Evaluation?
There are different types of evaluations that can be pursued, depending on the purpose of the testing. First, a psychoeducational evaluation is one in which the patient typically undergoes testing for a learning-based disorder. Often, this testing centers around intellectual testing and academic achievement measures (such as tasks involving math, reading, and written language). Comparisons are then made between one’s intellectual abilities and his or her academic skills; if there is a large discrepancy between one’s intellectual skills and academic skills in any particular area (in which the academic ability is significantly lower than what would be expected for the patient’s intellectual abilities), this helps form the basis of diagnosing a specific learning disorder. Psychoeducational evaluations are often performed within schools when there is a concern about a child having a cognitive or learning-based disorder that is interfering with their learning. These types of evaluations are also often done “privately,” meaning that individuals pursue these evaluations in a clinical (i.e., not academic) setting with a licensed psychologist. Often, other measures (such as classroom observations or parent and teacher questionnaires of observations of behaviors or emotional functioning) may be included in these types of evaluations. Though school psychologists cannot diagnose specific disorders (such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), what matters most is that regardless of the testing setting, the findings help guide interventions and/or accommodations that can be implemented into a 504 Plan or into a more formal, Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
How a Psychological Assessment helps?
Next, some may seek evaluations to help understand a patient’s emotional and/or personality functioning, especially because the testing helps learn about the individual in a more comprehensive way in a shorter amount of time (instead of over several therapy sessions). Results from these measures can help with recommendations for mental health treatment, such as with use of medications and/or for therapy (such as which strategies can be most helpful to teach the patient). Findings can also help guide other referrals, such as to other specialists (such as a psychiatrist or a neurologist). Depending on the age of the patient, these measures may include questionnaires that are only completed by the patient themselves (this is particularly the case among adult patients). When assessing a child, parents often complete questionnaires that ask about what they observe (behaviorally and emotionally) in their child. When the patient is an adolescent, it is more common that a combination of emotional and personality questionnaires are included that involve the adolescent responding to self-report measures and the parent(s) or primary caregiver(s) responding to their own measures involving observations of the child. Parent or caregiver responses are particularly helpful (and often necessary) when assessing children and adolescents, as most children and many adolescents lack enough insight or awareness into their difficulties, and often parents are the ones to observe problems or concerns first. These evaluations are conducted in clinical settings such as outpatient practices and sometimes inpatient hospitals in which obtaining such information is necessary to guide a clinician’s diagnostic impressions and treatment recommendations.
Another type of psychological assessment is a neuropsychological evaluation that helps measure more detailed aspects of cognitive functioning, such as executive functioning abilities (i.e., one’s ability to plan, organize, and inhibit cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses), attention, learning, memory, and even motor coordination and/or strength. Individuals who specialize in these types of assessments are required to have completed more thorough post-doctoral training. Often times, referrals may come from physicians or therapists who are concerned about a patient’s functioning in these areas, whether it be related to a neurological condition (such as a seizure disorder, a head injury, or dementia) or to a psychiatric disorder (in which it is common for mood states or anxiety to negatively affect one’s cognitive functioning). Neuropsychological assessments are most often conducted in medical-based settings. Yet, they can also be conducted when a more comprehensive evaluation is sought after (such as in psychiatric residential settings). When this is the case, a neuropsychological assessment battery can capture one’s functioning more globally with measures of intelligence, academic achievement, neurocognitive abilities, and personality and emotional functioning.
A final consideration for any kind of psychological assessment is this: while testing is often sought after to diagnose a condition or to understand one’s possible difficulties in any area of functioning, it is also important to learn what someone’s strengths are. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses relative to their own abilities; it is helpful to inform individuals from testing of what their strengths are and how to use these to compensate for any documented weaknesses they may have. Information helps empower people to develop and grow, and results obtained from psychological assessment can help people be more informed as to how to proceed with utilizing their cognitive and/or emotional strengths to help improve their mental health overall.
An Introduction to Radically Open Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
Radically Open Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (RO DBT) is a treatment developed by Thomas Lynch for those who develop disorders associated with an overcontrolled (OC) personality. OC individuals are often described as reserved and cautious, not very expressive with their emotions, and great at delaying gratification. OC individuals tend to be strong rule followers and feel a high sense of obligation in their lives (i.e., go to a birthday party because they feel they have to rather than wanting to do so). However, at times, they may experience “emotional leakage,” or emotionally breaking down once they are in private after holding it all together all day in public. An OC personality can be really helpful in some ways. These are the people that get their work done no matter what, show up to work on time every day, work through all the nitty, gritty details of a project, and follow through on their word. They can be very organized and methodical, and they are great at planning for long-term gains (i.e., saving to buy a house). However, they can be rigid and inflexible at time (i.e., get very upset if a restaurant lost a dinner reservation and struggle with figuring out where else to go to eat) and may have difficulty receiving feedback. Patients that may benefit from this treatment include those with chronic depression and anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, and Anorexia Nervosa.
The biosocial theory behind RO DBT explains that OC individuals have brains that zoom in on the negative or threatening aspects of a situation before seeing the positives. This predisposition interacts with being raised in an environment that encourages or praises high levels of self-control in one’s life (i.e., doing homework without one’s parents needing to remind them to do so), performing at a high level (i.e., getting good grades, doing well in sports, receiving accolades), and avoiding making errors. These individuals end up avoiding uncertain situations, hold back their emotions out of fear that others may see them as being out of control, and become guarded in social situations, appearing to others as withdrawn. Their lack of vulnerability and difficulty expressing what they are really feeling leads others to struggle to relate to them, so they end up feeling lonely and isolated. Thus, RO DBT operates under the assumption that increasing connectedness to others can improve psychological functioning, thus targeting emotional expression. Additionally, RO DBT encourages being open to hearing other points of view so that one can learn as well as learning to be flexible in responding to varying situations.
Thomas Lynch describes that the five main behavioral targets of RO DBT include 1) being socially distant or reserved, 2) inflexible, rule-governed behaviors, 3) focusing on the details rather than the big picture of a situation and being overly cautious, 4) demonstrating emotional expressions that are inconsistent with how one is really feeling, and 5) comparing oneself to others, leading to resentment and envy. In RO DBT, patients work with their therapists on identifying personal goals consistent with these behavioral targets, connecting these goals to the problems that brought them into treatment. For instance, a patient may bring up that he/she would like to deepen relationships with others, be more flexible when things don’t go according to plan, or let go of past grudges to help fight depression and anxiety.
Many incorrectly assume that RO DBT and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) are the same thing. While RO DBT has some similarities with DBT, these are two very different treatments. DBT primarily benefits those who have an undercontrolled (UC) personality. UC traits include being impulsive, sensation-seeking, wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve, and acting in the here and now. Thus, DBT can be helpful for those that have impulsive control problems, such as those with borderline personality disorder, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and substance abuse disorders. Both RO DBT and DBT combine individual therapy with skills training classes, involve tracking emotions and behaviors via diary cards, allow for telephone consultation with the individual therapist, and involve consultation teams for the group and individual therapists. However, DBT has a stronger focus on self-regulation to target emotion dysregulation whereas RO DBT is much more focused on helping individuals address social signaling and connectedness with others.
Lynch, T. R. (2018). Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy. New Harbinger Publications.
Lynch, T. R. (2018). The Skills Training Manual for Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy. New Harbinger Publications.
Lindner Center of HOPE, Psychologist and Clinical Director of Partial Hospitalization/Intensive Outpatient Adult Eating Disorder Services
Psychological Disorders and Their Impact on Cognition
Fortunately, our culture has recently seen a gradual erosion of the stigma regarding emotional disorders, along with an increased understanding of such conditions. However, a less well-understood aspect of emotional disorders is the impact that they have on the cognitive functioning of those who are afflicted. Disorders such as Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Schizophrenia all tend to interfere with one’s ability to access the full extent of their cognitive abilities, adding to the burden that these conditions create.
Regarding Major Depression, it is the one disorder that the DSM-V lists cognitive difficulties as one of the diagnostic criteria (diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day). As a neuropsychologist, I routinely encounter patients who are all too aware that their depression impacts their ability to think clearly, to focus, and to recall everyday interactions. Part of the reason for this is that depression causes a reduction in processing speed, as well as the energy that it takes to attend to conversations and events. Difficulties with maintaining attention, and “keeping up” with things going on around them, these patients experience troubles recalling information, sometimes so profoundly that they begin to fear that they may have dementia. However, as their depression is more effectively treated, they regain full access to their cognitive skills and abilities.
Anxiety disorders also are accompanied by significant cognitive difficulties, for a couple of reasons. First, when the mind is anxious, most of the brain’s resources (blood flow, oxygen, glucose, etc.) are redirected to the emotional centers of the brain (the limbic system), and away from parts of our brain that mediate higher-level thinking and logic. Secondly, those who are anxious tend to be rather “internally-oriented” in their thinking, and so they are not as attentive to external events. In other words, because they become preoccupied with their fears and worries, the ordinary events of the external world can be largely overlooked. As a result, these ordinary events are not well-encoded into the memories of anxious patients, and therefore they cannot easily be recalled. As with depression, as anxiety becomes better managed, these cognitive issues largely resolve.
Two other diagnoses have profound implications for cognitive functioning. Bipolar disorder has a well-established pattern of cognitive difficulties, including diminished attention, verbal memory, and executive functioning abilities (planning, anticipating, problem-solving, emotional regulation, staying focused and attentive to personal goals, etc.) These difficulties, fortunately, are typically limited to times that these patients are actively experiencing a mood episode, whether it be depression or mania. Regarding those with schizophrenia, they experience similar cognitive difficulties. However, they often continue to experience such cognitive difficulties even when their symptoms of schizophrenia have been well-controlled with treatment. This is why the DSM-V lists “associated features” of schizophrenia specific to these difficulties, explaining that, “Cognitive deficits in schizophrenia are common and are strongly linked to vocational and functional impairments.”
Fortunately, over the past 20 years there have been treatments and interventions to address such cognitive difficulties. Cognitive Enhancement Therapy, or CET, has been developed and implemented for the mentally ill for whom cognitive problems are getting in the way of living independently, maintaining employment, and sustaining meaningful relationships. It has proven to be an effective means to address such difficulties, and for providing a much higher quality of life. It is anticipated that, as the benefits of CET become more evident to those working with the mentally ill, its positive impact will widen in both its breadth and depth.
Managing Suicidality During Isolation
In the United States, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death. The rate increased 33% from 1999 through 2017 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that “suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair.” For some, the COVID-19 pandemic could create this experience. The pandemic has produced a condition that has increased many of the risk factors for suicide: feelings of depression and anxiety, increased alcohol and substance use, serious physical health conditions, unemployment, financial crisis, illness or death of a loved one, isolation, and decreased access to care.
Social distancing and isolating at home have limited access to coping skills and reduced suicide protective factors. People no longer have in person contact with behavioral health providers, there is decreased connectedness to support systems, and no access to gyms, art studios, massage therapy, beauty salons, barbers, etc. With fewer physical and creative outlets, healing therapies, and self-care that improves self-esteem, people can feel lost. They also no longer have physical access to places of worship where the social connection was as important as the message or music. It important to remember that we need to maintain physical distancing rather than social distancing – it is necessary to maintain physical separation to not contract the virus but other ways of maintaining social connections are still very important.
Another risk factor that staying at home can bring is closer proximity to abusers. Children of abusive parents who are no longer in school are now with their abusers all day and adults with abusive partners are also with their abusers more often. Adverse childhood experiences are associated with 2 to 3 times more suicide attempts later in life and victims of intimate partner violence are twice as likely to attempt suicide.
Staying at home also increases access to lethal means so it is imperative to either remove guns from the home or ensure they are locked securely and reduce access to other lethal means (such as large amounts of extra medications, excess amounts of alcohol, ropes/cords) in the home for people who are high risk for suicide. For homes with large amounts of prescription medications due to multiple health conditions, a medication safe is recommended.
For people with loved ones who have risk factors for suicide, it is important to know the warning signs. Warning signs include talk of: killing themselves, feeling hopeless, having no reason to live, being a burden, feeling trapped, and unbearable pain; behavior: increase use of alcohol and drugs, looking for a way to end their lives (including internet searches), withdrawing from activities, isolation from family and friends, too much or too little sleep, saying goodbye to people, giving away possessions, aggression, and fatigue; and mood: depression, anxiety, loss of interest, irritability, humiliation/shame, agitation/anger, and relief/sudden improvement. If you notice these warning signs, it is important to ask a person directly if they are having thoughts of suicide and if they are, get them help by contacting their mental health providers, calling a crisis line, taking them to an emergency department, or calling 911. Visit take5tosavelives.org or bethe1to.com to learn how to talk to your loved ones about suicide. Due to COVID-19, people have tried to avoid emergency departments and hospitals but if someone you love is unsafe do not hesitate to get them the help they need.
What are ways to increase coping skills and protective factors in our current climate? Take advantage of telephone or video appointments offered by your mental health providers. If you do not already have mental health providers, now is a good time to seek treatment – practices are still accepting new patients and insurances are covering telephone and video appointments. To reduce worry and fear, limit media consumption about COVID-19. Stick to a routine, stay physically active, get outside with appropriate physical distancing, get enough sleep, limit alcohol, and eat healthy. If you feel you have a problem with alcohol, substances, overeating, or other addictive behaviors – there are online support groups. Connect with loved ones by phone, social media apps, video apps, or writing. Consider safe altruistic ways to connect with others – making masks, running errands for vulnerable loved ones, donations, etc.
How can you get help? Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741, they can also be messaged on Facebook messenger.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
YouthLine answered by trained teen peer support from 4 pm – 10 pm and by adults from NSPL during other hours 877-968-8491 or text teen2teen to 839863
Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline text or call 1-800-422-4453
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
Mental Health America Support Group Directory www.mhanational.org/find-support-groups
Lindner Center of HOPE 513-536-HOPE
Danielle J. Johnson, MD, FAPA Lindner Center of HOPE, Chief Medical Officer
Living with Anxiety During Times of Stress
Times are uncertain. The world feels scary. Our normal day to day life has been turned upside down. Let me just start by saying this, if you are feeling anxious, scared, overwhelmed, frustrated… you are allowed to feel these emotions, it makes total sense why you feel this way, you are not alone, and you are not weak. Remember, pain in life is unavoidable, but suffering is a choice. Meaning, we are going to experience stress in our life, every person on this planet will, but it is ultimately how we respond to that stress that influences exactly how much pain we will experience. Let’s walk through some ways we can live with anxiety during times of stress.
Mindfulness of Emotions. When it comes to managing our anxiety during times of stress, an important first step that we tend to overlook is mindfulness. In order to reduce anxiety, we must first acknowledge that it is there. Allow yourself to pause and put a name on what you are feeling, notice if you feel it physically in your body, observe what thoughts are running through your mind. Try using the stem “I am aware of the emotion of ______, I am aware of the thought that _______.” By bringing mindful awareness to our anxiety in this way, we are bravely choosing to face our discomfort while also seeing it as something that we are experiencing in that given moment, not who we are or the way things will always be.
Self-Compassion. Now that you are observing your anxious mind in action, practice some self-compassion by normalizing the experience, validating its’ presence, being “kind to your mind.” We tend to create more suffering for ourselves when we judge ourselves for our emotions, when we tell ourselves we should not be feeling that way, or try to just “suck it up.” You are an amazing human doing the best you can with some really hard human things right now!
Changing Emotional Response. While part of our goal is accepting the anxiety through mindfulness and self-compassion, we also have the ability to create change in our emotional state and our response to it. First, we need to “check the facts” and get a good look at what our mind is telling us. Our minds tend to be great storytellers, mind readers, and fortune tellers. While these seem like super powers, these are actually mind tricks and traps that create more suffering. Checking the facts is seeing if your emotion and its’ intensity actually match reality (i.e., are valid), or if you are responding to a mind trick.
Next, ask yourself if the action urge associated with the emotion you are feeling is effective? For example, is being angry with your partner because they did not clean the house then throwing a shoe at them actually helpful here?? If the emotion is invalid and/or ineffective, we want to act opposite to what the emotion is telling us to do. So instead of avoiding work responsibilities because we are stressed, make a specific schedule to complete tasks. Instead of spending hours reading the news because we are scared, watch one news program then spend the rest of the day playing with the kids or watching movies.
Acceptance. Consider what is and what is not in your control. If there is a stressor that is in your control, practice problem solving. For stressors we cannot control, accept that we cannot change that reality and focus instead on what in the here and now is in your power. Remember, rejecting reality does not change reality. Instead of dwelling on how terrible it is to be stuck at home, make plans for a game night, clean out that room you have been avoiding, soak up the springtime outdoors.
Practice Gratitude. Lastly, practice gratitude every day. Spend some time thinking about what you have that you are grateful for rather than hyper-focusing on what you don’t have or what has been taken away, which tends to just create more stress. Be specific, instead of just saying you are grateful for your family, say “I am grateful that today my kids helped clean the kitchen and cuddled with me on the couch.”
We as humans are under an incredible amount of stress right now, but remember, as humans we are also incredibly strong and resilient. Importantly, please know you do not have to struggle with this alone. Sometimes the strongest thing we can do is ask for help. If your anxiety is persistent and intense and/or is significantly interfering with your life, please reach out to a mental health therapist. Telehealth services are being offered across the region, including at the Lindner Center of HOPE, who has a whole team of providers eager to help guide you through this.
By Allison Mecca, PsyD
Lindner Center of HOPE, Staff Psychologist, Harold C. Schott Foundation Eating Disorders Program