When another episode of senseless violence occurs, such as a school shooting, mental health advocates hold their collective breaths as they wait to find out more about the perpetrator of such tragedy. If a mental health diagnosis is found, it fuels renewed public debate about violence and mental illness.

While discussion on finding better predictors of sudden, violent behavior can be valuable, what often gets lost in the noise of accusation and outrage is that mental illness is NOT closely associated with violence.  The exceptions, profiled on television screens and across the front pages of morning newspapers, stoke public fears and increase stigma about mental illness.

A look at a few facts about mental illness and violence, however, can help separate speculation from reality. Consider these facts:

  1. Individuals with mental illness are not generally violent. When examining the incident of violent behavior, researchers have found that mental disorders are not a major cause. Only an estimated 3 – 5% of violent acts appear due to the presence of a serious mental illness. The MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study1 found that having a severe mental illness alone was not a predictor of violence. Other factors, such as an individual’s past history of violence, social conditions, and substance abuse, were much greater predictors.
  2. Treatment of mental illness further reduces the risk of violent behavior. Mentally ill individuals who undergo treatment are statistically no more likely to be violent than the general population. One study looked at psychiatric hospital patients one year after discharge and found that they had no higher rates of violent behavior than individuals without a psychiatric disorder.
  3. The general public is not statistically at risk for aggression by the mentally ill. Isolated incidents may lead people to believe that they may be a likely victim of a deranged attacker, the MacArthur study also found that the infrequent acts of violence by those with mental illness were much more likely to occur with family members or close friends in the home. Such a finding is true of most violence in American society, regardless of one’s health status. Discharged psychiatric patients have actually been found to be less than half as likely as individuals without a mental illness to target complete strangers for aggression.
  4. People who are mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence. In one study, almost two thirds of hospitalized psychiatric patients reported that they had been physically victimized in the past year by someone they dated. Half of those who lived with family members reported being physically victimized. Another study compared the rate of criminal victimization of individuals with severe mental illness versus the general population. Over a four-month period, it was found that mentally ill individuals had a victimization rate of 8.2%, as compared to 3.1% in the general population. Untreated mental illness makes an individual more vulnerable to exploitation and violence by others. Much like some victims of child abuse, individuals may more likely to become part of a cycle of violence, sometimes reacting to violence with aggression. But they are also more than twice as likely to be a victim than a perpetrator.

Based upon the facts, it appears that individuals with serious mental illness need treatment and protection from violence more than suspicion and stigma. While horrible acts by individuals should not be defended, being armed with the facts can help the general public be less likely to give in to fear or to perpetuate myths that maintain stigma. Such stigma make it more difficult for individuals with mental illness to seek the treatment they so need.

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1 Monahan, J., Steadman, H., Silver, E., Appelbaum, P., Robbins, P., Mulvey, E., Roth, L., Grisso, T., & Banks, S. (2001). Rethinking Risk Assessment: The MacArthur Study of Mental Disorder and Violence. New York: Oxford University Press.


Millions of Americans suffer from depression each year.  While medication and psychotherapy can provide great benefit to those suffering from the disorder, researchers have found that less traditional treatment methods are worth another look.  In particular, exercise has been found to boost mood and contribute to overall mind/body wellness.  Whether used as a supplement to traditional methods of treatment for those with clinical depression or as a quick mood booster for a case of the blues, physical activity can pay dividends in anyone’s wellness routine.

The Power of Exercise

The effect of physical activity in easing depression has long been documented, and exercise is a wellness movement cornerstone for patients with mental illness.  Exercise is considered a self-care strategy that is frequently recommended to help patients manage their depression.

There are numerous ways in which regular exercise helps reduce depression, including:

  • Releasing endorphins and neurotransmitters that boost mood;
  • Reducing chemicals in the immune system that tend to worsen depression;
  • Raising body temperature, which can have a calming effect;
  • Decreasing stress and insomnia, both associated with depression;
  • Improving self-confidence as body image improves and exercise goals are met;
  • Providing distraction from negative thoughts;
  • Creating opportunities for social interaction.

Traditional exercise, ranging from brisk walks to team sports activities, can provide psychological benefits to everyone, including those who struggle with depression. As little as twenty minutes of exercise per day can have a meaningful impact on one’s mental health.

Exercise and Mindfulness

Research points to the particular benefits of exercise that combines physical activity with mental focus. “Mindfulness” activities use such techniques as deep breathing or meditation to help clear the mind of distracting or stressful thoughts.

Mindfulness refers to a state of having open and active attention to the present, without judging one’s thoughts and feelings. It means truly living in the moment and being more awake to one’s experiences.

Today, several practices combine tools from exercise, meditation, and mindfulness principles to offer physical fitness routines that are also calming to the mind.  Two popular examples are yoga and tai chi.

Yoga therapy has long been known to provide many health benefits, including pain and stress reduction.  Now researchers and practitioners have found that yoga can help individuals who suffer from depression.  Its calming and gentle nature is appealing to many for whom rigorous physical exercise may seem more challenging.

Yoga practice emphasizes concentration, breathing, and smooth movements that may calm both the mind and body.  Participants are often encouraged to focus on positive images or to block negative thoughts, thereby reducing stress and anxiety.

One way in which yoga appears to impact depression is through the increase of serotonin, an important brain chemical that is often deficient in individuals with depression.  Higher levels of serotonin in the brain can boost mood – a principle utilized by many modern antidepressant medications.

Tai chi is another type of workout that has been found to ease depression.  While this Chinese practice was originally developed centuries ago as a form of self-defense, tai chi is now used as a particularly gentle and graceful form of exercise.  It is often utilized for stress reduction and many health conditions.

Tai chi is designed to promote serenity through its flowing, stretching movements, which are performed in a focused and slow manner.  Deep breathing accompanies the movements. Classic tai chi combines elements of meditation, exercise, and focused breathing, all of which are associated with reductions in depression and anxiety. Numerous research studies support the mood benefits of practicing tai chi.

The practice of tai chi is often promoted among older adults because it is such a gentle, low-impact exercise.  Tai chi has been found effective in reducing depression in older adults with major depression, as well as improving cognition.

Almost any form of exercise can be a valuable part of a wellness routine for those who suffer from depression.  But exercises which also incorporate mindfulness activities may offer superior benefits for both physical and mental health.

To the general public, psychotherapy is often seen as a mysterious treatment process — a type of therapeutic “mumbo jumbo.” Understanding the true nature and benefits of psychotherapy can help individuals who might benefit most to consider this valuable clinical treatment option.

Millions of Americans of all ages and walks of life have undergone psychotherapy and learned ways to better cope with life’s problems or with mental illness.

The Nature of Psychotherapy

Often referred to as “talk therapy,” psychotherapy is a type of treatment that relies on the patient and therapist talking together about the patient’s problems and concerns. During the course of psychotherapy, individuals learn more about their problems, as well as their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Psychotherapy can be used with a wide variety of behavioral health problems, from depression to phobias, addictions, and serious mental illnesses such as bi-polar disorder. Whether issues are acute or chronic, psychotherapy is frequently a primary component of an individual’s treatment program.

A major element of psychotherapy is the therapeutic relationship that develops between the patient and the therapist. Trained, licensed professionals can create a safe and non-judgmental climate for helping individuals confront and deal with their innermost problems.  Trust and respect are critical for effective psychotherapy to take place.

In addition to individual therapy, patients can receive psychotherapy in group or family settings.

The Benefits of Psychotherapy

One of the major values of undergoing psychotherapy is the development of increased understanding of one’s problems and improved self-awareness.  Patients may be better able to manage their emotional problems, for example, if depression or anxiety is de-mystified for them.  Understanding the underlying motivations for dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can be very beneficial.

However, research indicates that gaining insight alone is not the most effective strategy for improved mental health.  Contemporary forms of psychotherapy also place an emphasis on helping patients learn new skills for coping with problems or managing their mental illness. The primary benefit of psychotherapy may be in showing individuals how they can learn to take control of their own lives.

The methods and focus of psychotherapy may vary depending upon the nature and cause of an individual’s presenting problems. An individual who has developed a mental illness due to a genetic predisposition, for example, might benefit from different strategies than an individual who has recently undergone a traumatic experience.

For individuals seeking assistance, a mental health professional will first perform an evaluation to assess the problem or disorder and determine the best course of action.  A treatment plan will then be developed to establish goals and therapeutic strategies, and the type, frequency, and duration of psychotherapy will be determined. Psychotherapy may also be used in combination with medication or other treatment modalities.

Patients can develop a sense of peace in their lives by reaching the goals set in psychotherapy.  Through better insight, perspective, and coping abilities, individuals can achieve greater hope for the future.

By its very nature, adolescence is a time of volatile moods.  Hormonal changes, social pressure, and the move toward greater independence can make navigating the teenage years a minefield for both teens and parents alike.  But how can a parent know when a teen is experiencing more than just routine moodiness?  The alarming suicide rate for adolescents – it is the third leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds — makes it imperative that parents recognize the signs and symptoms of suicidal risk.

Risk Factors

While suicide and suicide attempts often seem unpredictable, there are some known risk factors associated with suicide among young people.  They include the following:

  • History of previous suicide attempt(s);
  • History of suicide by a family member or friend;
  • Family history of depression;
  • Presence of a mental disorder or substance abuse;
  • Presence of a physical illness;
  • Sexual orientation issues in an unsupportive environment;
  • History of abuse, bullying, or other mistreatment;
  • Social isolation or lack of social or parental support;
  • Recent loss; e.g., break-up with boyfriend/girlfriend, death of family member;
  • Access to means or methods of suicide.

Some risk factors are biologically or genetically based; e.g., up to 95% of people who commit suicide have a psychological disorder.  However, environmental risk factors can often be addressed directly.

Warning Signs

Regardless of underlying risk factors, teenagers are considered most at risk for a suicide attempt after a particularly stressful life event, such as a relationship break-up, death of a loved one, parental divorce, or school bullying.

If a teenager displays any of the following, particularly following a major stressor or trauma, it may be an indication of suicidal thoughts:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness;
  • Increased agitation, impulsiveness, aggression, or risk-taking;
  • Poor concentration;
  • Confused thoughts;
  • Frequent talk about death or suicide;
  • Hints about not being around much longer;
  • Giving away treasured possessions;
  • Avoiding family or friends;
  • Losing interest in school, sports, or favorite activities;
  • Significant changes in eating or sleeping habits;

Reducing Suicidal Risk

While all suicides cannot be prevented, parents can take practical steps to help reduce adolescent risk:

Be watchful.  Parents should keep a close eye on a teenager who has recently experienced a loss or major stressor.  They should watch for warning signs of depression, in particular. NOTE: Symptoms of depression in adolescents often include irritability, sleep disturbance, or withdrawal, rather than crying and sadness.

Increase communication.  Even if they don’t show it, adolescents need parents’ concern, love, and support. Parents should encourage teens to confide in them and show that they deserve their trust. Minimizing concerns, making fun, or avoiding serious discussions will only increase a teen’s frustration. If unwilling to talk with a parent, teens should be encouraged to talk with another relative or a trusted adult such as a school counselor, physician, or minister.

Parents should not be afraid to ask if a teen is having suicidal thoughts.  Asking the question will not plant the idea in someone’s head, but may open the door to honest communication. If a teenager directly expresses suicidal intent, the threat should be taken seriously. While only 1 in 25 suicide attempts by teens are successful, those odds are not ones with which any parents should be comfortable.

Seek professional assistance.  If warning signs are present and parental intervention is not sufficient, it’s time to reach out for professional help.  Assistance is available through mental health centers, doctors’ offices, or clinicians such as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, or counselors.  Emergency assistance is also available by telephone; e.g., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Both professionals and parents can assist teens in learning important life skills such as problem solving.  The more effectively a teenager can navigate through conflicts and social problems, the more resilient he or she will become. School counselors or healthcare professionals can direct parents to relevant training materials.

Restrict access to means and methods.  Suicidal risk increases dramatically with access to reliable means and methods. Almost 60% of suicides in the U.S. are committed with a gun, so any guns in the home should be locked up and out of reach. Prescription and non-prescription medicine overdoses are also common, so parents should monitor all medications in the home.

By being more aware, practicing reasonable precautions and seeking professional help when needed, parents can significantly reduce suicidal risk in their teenagers.  One impulsive act can have fatal consequences, but one act of parental concern can have far ranging and positive effects on a loved one’s future.

A mental health condition triggered by an extremely stressful event, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects over 5.2 million Americans each year, and almost 8 million will experience it at some point over their lifetimes. PTSD is a serious mental disorder that can develop at any age and last for years.  Once known as “shell shock” because so many soldiers in combat developed the disorder, PTSD is commonly associated with war veterans.  However, a variety of triggering events can lead to the onset of this disorder, which can affect anyone.

Causes and Risk Factors 

PTSD can be triggered by experiencing any sort of physical or psychological trauma, or even by seeing or learning about such an event.  Feelings of helplessness and intense fear bring on later symptoms.  Examples of traumas can include physical or sexual assault, life-threatening experiences such as combat or accidents, natural disasters, or the death of a loved one. First responders to emergencies, such as EMTs and other rescue workers, can develop the disorder due to exposure to others’ trauma.

Many people face terrifying or extremely stressful experiences in their lives, but not everyone goes on to develop PTSD.  What triggers the disorder in some individuals but not others?  It appears that the following factors may affect an individual’s relative resiliency when exposed to extreme stress:

  • Genetic factors, including inherited mental health risks;
  • Severity and amount of previous trauma, particularly in childhood;
  • An individual’s temperament;
  • How one’s brain regulates hormones and chemicals released during episodes of stress;
  • Presence of lack of a strong support system of friends and family;
  • Intensity and duration of the traumatic experience;
  • One’s gender – women develop PTSD more frequently than men, partially due to the fact their increased vulnerability to domestic violence, rape, and other forms of abuse;
  • Presence of existing mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.

Symptoms of PTSD

In order to be classified at having PTSD, an individual must have symptoms occurring for at least one month and affecting overall functioning.  Most individuals develop symptoms within three months of the traumatic event, but symptoms may not emerge until years later.

People who go through a traumatic event can have reactions that include anxiety, anger, shock, and guilt.  These are common responses that fade away over time.  For an individual with PTSD, these feelings don’t fade but actually increase.

Mental health experts classify post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in three categories:

  • Reliving.  Flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares are common ways in which individuals relive their traumatic ordeals.
  • Avoidance. Individuals often avoid places, people, or situations that remind them of the trauma.  This behavior can lead to social isolation, emotional numbing, and loss of interest in activities.
  • Increased arousal. Individuals may experience volatile emotions, such as anger outbursts, and feel agitated or easily startled. Concentration is often poor. Associated physical symptoms include increased heart rate or blood pressure, rapid breathing, and muscle tension.

The severity and duration of the illness vary. Some people recover within six months, while others suffer much longer.

Treatment of PTSD

While PTSD can be disabling, it is treatable – usually through a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Medications are often used to control extreme symptoms of the disorder, including anxiety, nightmares, and sleep disturbance.  Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed to manage anxiety and depression and improve sleep. On a short-term basis, antipsychotics may be given to control emotional outbursts and severe sleeping disturbance.

Other medications may be used to treat specific physical or psychological symptoms.  For example, Prazosin, a drug normally prescribed for hypertension, may also manage insomnia and recurring nightmares.

Professionals also recommend psychotherapy or “talk therapy” to help individuals learn to manage symptoms and cope better with memories and feelings. Common treatment approaches include individual, family, or group therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapies are particularly effective, as they help patients deal with negative thought patterns that trigger stress.

Two strategies often associated with PTSD treatment are exposure therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).  The former is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy in which patients relive traumatic experiences in a controlled and supportive environment.  This technique allows patients to confront their fears and become more comfortable in anxiety-provoking situations. EMDR helps patients deal with traumatic memories by teaching a group of guided eye movements that assist in processing these memories.

A word about prevention: there is evidence that seeking treatment as soon as possible after a traumatic event can be highly beneficial.  Immediate support can often help an individual recover from trauma without developing full-blown PTSD. Whether a mental health counselor, minister, or other helping professional, a trained, caring individual can provide invaluable support at a critical time.

Do you know someone who gambles excessively?  If so, perhaps you’ve wondered if this individual just had a bad habit or if he or she was actually addicted to gambling.  It’s a question that even the experts have debated.  But the latest diagnostic publication of the American Psychiatric Association, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)-V, confirms that excessive gambling can indeed be an addiction, just like substance abuse.

The Nature of Gambling Addiction

“Problem” gambling, also referred to as pathological or compulsive gambling, affects an estimated 2 – 4% of the population. Before recent changes by mental health clinicians, it was classified as in impulse control disorder.  Like kleptomania (uncontrollable stealing) or pyromania (impulsive fire setting), compulsive gambling was considered a mental disorder associated with poor impulse control.

With further research, a new classification of the disorder has been made.  In the DSM-V, compulsive gambling is considered to be one of the “substance-related and addictive disorders.”  Why the change?  There is growing clinical evidence that pathological gambling has much in common with traditional substance abuse disorders.

First, the effects of the respective disorders on individuals’ work, financial, and personal lives can be similar. Neurochemical testing and brain imaging have also made a case for the belief that gambling activates the brain’s reward system in a manner similar to drugs.  For example, compulsive gamblers report highs from gambling as well as cravings.  Furthermore, gambling problems tend to run in families, indicating potential genetic factors. Finally, pathological gamblers are more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs.

Symptoms of Gambling Addiction

In order for an individual to be classified as having a gambling disorder, at least 4 of the following symptoms must be present:

  • Frequent preoccupation with gambling;
  • Tendency to gamble increasingly large amounts of money;
  • Using gambling to cope with feeling distressed;
  • Lack of success in controlling, cutting back, or stopping the behavior;
  • Lying to others to hide gambling or committing illegal acts to finance;
  • Restlessness or irritability when attempting to decrease or stop gambling;
  • Frequent and often long-term “chasing” of losses with increased gambling;
  • Loss of a job or relationship due to behavior;
  • Reliance upon others to get out of financial straits.

Many of these symptoms resemble classic addictive symptoms, such as withdrawal and loss of control.

Individuals with pathological gambling problems are more likely to exhibit symptoms of other psychiatric problems.  In addition to substance abuse, such problems may include mood disorders, anxiety, or personality disorders.

While the effects of pathological gambling should not be minimized, viewing the behavior as evidence of an addiction rather than a character flaw can be helpful in encouraging an individual to seek treatment.  It may also remove some of the stigma associated with the behavior.  With appropriate intervention, individuals with gambling addictions can recover and live productive lives. (And that’s a sure bet!)

When we talk about wellness and the mind/body connection, we often think of the importance of exercise and healthy eating for good physical and mental health.  But did you know that one of the most helpful activities for promoting total wellness dates back thousands of years?  It’s the ancient practice of meditation, and its use is showing surprising results among 21st century researchers.

Because of its benefits, an increasing number of physicians are prescribing meditation as part of their patients’ healthcare routines.  Clinics and hospitals across the nation now integrate meditation and related mind/body techniques into their clinical practice.

Physical Health Benefits of Meditation

The daily practice of meditation has been associated with improvements in a variety of health problems, including hypertension, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic pain.  Just 20 minutes twice each day is sufficient.

Over 500 research studies have been conducted to determine the effect of regular meditation on health problems.  Current research is examining more long-term effects and looking at the role of meditation in preventing chronic diseases and increasing longevity.

Mental Health Benefits of Meditation

Because of its relaxing effects upon the mind and body, meditation has long been used to reduce stress and anxiety.  Meditation appears to help activate the parasympathetic nervous system.  As it slows the release of stress hormones as well as heart and breathing rates, it improves the body’s overall relaxation response.

Research now shows that meditation can also reduce depression in affected individuals.  In one study of family caregivers, it was found that research participants who meditated had lower levels of depression than those who only listened to relaxing music.

Additionally, meditation may increase brain alertness. Meditation appears to improve people’s cognitive abilities, including attention and memory.  Research using medical imaging has demonstrated that meditation improves the functioning of certain circuits in the brain, as well as potentially reducing shrinkage in older adults’ critical brain centers.

Moving Forward

At the National Institutes of Health, the Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has provided funding for several new studies to determine the effect of meditation on many health conditions.  It is anticipated that further research will bring new findings on the best types and frequency of meditation, along with other practice issues.

Most clinical practices today use meditation techniques based on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.  This type of meditation was developed by the University of Massachusetts’ medical school and utilizes yoga, stretching exercises, and mindfulness meditation.  Mindfulness meditation pays close attention to breathing techniques while the individual sits in a restful posture.

Whatever the approach, making a commitment of no more than 40 minutes each day may be a small price to pay for improved physical and mental health.

You may have heard the expression: “healthy mind, healthy body.”  But do you know what it really means?  For centuries, a connection has been theorized to exist between physical and mental health.  Modern science has now demonstrated that such a connection really does exist.

The role of a healthy diet, proper sleep, regular exercise, and other lifestyle practices in promoting better mental health is at the core of many behavioral health treatment regimens.  Such practices may also play a role in preventing future mental health problems.

Conversely, physical health is dependent upon one’s state of mind, as the body responds to the ways in which each of us feels, thinks, and acts.  This fact is at the heart of the mind-body connection. Emotional or mental imbalance creates physical symptoms, from aches and pains to elevated blood pressure.  These in turn can lead to chronic health problems and disease.

Ideally, an individual should strive for a state of total wellness, one in which there is a sense of balance in the mental, physical, spiritual, and social elements of his or her life. Following wellness principles can help one achieve increased resiliency, greater longevity, and overall better physical and mental health.

The Role of the Mind upon the Body

Mental or emotional problems are associated with the development of physical disease. An estimated 95% of all illnesses can be caused or aggravated by stress. Individuals with high stress levels are even more likely to catch colds. It is not uncommon for individuals to develop hypertension or an ulcer after particularly stressful life events.

Depression has been linked to a range of disorders, including strokes, heart disease, and diabetes.  Other mood and emotional problems can also take a toll. In one study, people who had difficulty coping with anger were found to have a ten times greater risk for the development of heart arrhythmias.  Anger-prone physicians have been found to have higher risks of heart attacks than even smokers or individuals with high blood pressure.

The right attitude and social supports can affect health in more positive ways, however. The old saying, “Laughter is the best medicine” is true, as it has been found to reduce pain, speed healing, and increase creativity. Being active in a group—even something as simple as a bowling club—can actually increase one’s longevity, regardless of other health habits. Social networks also provide needed support. In one study of women with metastatic breast cancer, participation in support groups doubled survival rates.

Scientists have found that individuals with mental health or substance abuse problems have a life expectancy decades lower than the general population.  Taking care of one’s physical health is a critical part of the recovery process for those with behavioral health problems.

The Role of the Body upon the Mind

Research supports the role of physical activity in helping manage mental disorders. Active people have been found to be less depressed than inactive ones, and people with chronic depression are more like to go into remission with regular exercise.

Due to increased levels of oxygen and endorphins, individuals who exercise regularly feel more alert and have more energy, better memory retention, and a greater sense of wellbeing. As little as 20-30 minutes of vigorous physical activity daily is sufficient to achieve results.

Yoga, meditation, and other relaxation strategies have been found to ease stress, depression, and sleep problems. There is growing evidence that the practice of meditation can even slow cognitive decline in older adults.

Eating healthy foods in moderation can increase emotional well-being and reduce many of the physical problems often associated with mental illness, such as fatigue and obesity.

Getting approximately eight hours sleep per night is a goal few adults achieve, but the benefits are worth the effort.  Adequate sleep improves mood and concentration, as well as decreasing physical health risks.

By following these healthy lifestyle practices, individuals may significantly improve both their mental and physical health.

Statistics can be somewhat ambiguous when it comes to eating disorders. Over the years, there have been countless studies conducted surrounding the prevalence of illnesses such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Although many of these studies convey slightly different findings, one thing is certain: Millions of Americans struggle with eating disorders.

While the majority of eating disorder sufferers are young women and adolescent girls, research has discovered that more and more males — an estimated 10 to 15 percent — are struggling with eating disorders as well. Additionally, incidents of these disorders in older women have been on a steady incline in recent years.

Why the Upward Trend?

New information is surfacing in regard to women in their 40s, 50s and 60s maintaining a negative body image, and as a result, continuing unhealthy eating patterns or developing eating disorders. Recent studies have found that over 60 percent of women 50 years of age and older are acutely concerned about their weight. Roughly 13 percent of these women suffer from some type of eating disorder.

Some older women keep their eating-related struggles hidden for years. Others, after having addressed an eating disorder earlier in life to at least some degree, relapse as they approach middle age. There are of course a variety of other factors that may contribute to the development of eating disorders in middle-aged women. These include a divorce or the loss of a mate where a woman feels she needs to lose weight to regain a level of attractiveness. It’s also not out of the question for a woman to develop an eating disorder for the first time later in life.

Never Too Late to Begin Treatment

Regardless of age or gender, anorexia treatment, bulimia treatment and treatment methods for other eating-related illnesses have evolved throughout the years. The percentage of successful outcomes continues to increase. Treatment for eating disorders usually consists of a combination of nutritional counseling, individual or group therapy, and in many cases, medications.

With the discovery of eating disorders in so many older women, mental health professionals are realizing that life-long care may be required even after a young woman has shown significant signs of recovery. However, those who get help for eating disorders early do have the best chance at long-term recovery.


This blog is written and published by Lindner Center of HOPE.

When the subject of disabilities surfaces in our thoughts or conversations, it is common to first consider those caused by some type of physical ailment or affliction. Conditions such as arthritis, heart disease and back problems are certainly primary causes of long-term disabilities in our nation. However, mental illness is the leading cause of disability in U.S. citizens ranging in ages from 15 to 44, according to National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) statistics.

What these numbers show is that many Americans and people around the world are affected by illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and a host of other mood and anxiety disorders in the prime of their working lives. Unfortunately, these numbers show no sign of subsiding anytime soon. In fact, they continue to rise, as do the number of filings with the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) for disability benefits due to mental illnesses.

The SSA and Mental Illness Claims

The SSA has established specific criteria that qualify those suffering with mental disorders for disability benefits. Basically, it must be determined that an existing mental condition limits or impairs one’s ability to fulfill their work obligations. In most situations, assessments and evaluations must be performed by mental health professionals. Additionally, evidence must be submitted to the SSA that indicates the individual in question is unable to perform their assigned job duties as a consequence of their condition.

Getting Back on their Feet

It is important for those with mental health issues to make their employers aware of their situation. All too often, workers are hesitant or afraid to address their condition with their employers for fear of negative repercussions. But behavioral or productivity problems could lead to termination, which also often results in the loss of insurance, creating even more problems for these individuals in regard to receiving treatment.

When documented mental health issues are reported to an employer, they are obligated under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations to accommodate that employee with whatever they need to successfully perform their job duties, or to make their working situation as comfortable as possible. In lieu of applying for disability benefits, this can allow an employee to continue to work while receiving mental health treatment and take measures that will eventually enable them to effectively manage their condition.


This blog is written and published by Lindner Center of HOPE.