Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Myths that Society Holds About Mental Illness

It is an undisputed fact that individuals who experience mental health issues are often faced with discrimination that results from misconceptions of their illness. As a result, many people who would benefit from mental health services often don't seek treatment for fear that they will be viewed in a negative way. The World Health Organization agrees and says that in the 400 million people worldwide who are affected by mental illness, about twenty percent reach out for treatment.

Take a look at the common myths society holds about mental illness. 

MYTH: Mental illness is not a true medical illness like heart disease and diabetes. People who have a mental illness are just "crazy."
FACT: Mental illness is a physiological illness, like heart disease and diabetes. Research shows there are genetic and biological causes for mental health illnesses, and that they can be treated effectively.

MYTH: Mental illness does not strike the "average person."
FACT: Anyone can potentially develop a mental illness, no matter sex, age, race, or economic status.

MYTH: If someone looks or acts odd it means that you need to be concerned about the potential for violence.
FACT: Contrary to popular beliefs, individuals with mental illness are no more prone to violence than the general public, and in fact, are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.

MYTH: Mental illness is a result from a personality weakness or character flaw, and people could just snap out of it if they tried hard enough.
FACT: Mental illness has nothing to do with being lazy or weak. It results from changes in brain chemistry or brain function. Medication and psychotherapy often help people to recover.

MYTH: Depression is a normal part of the aging process.
FACT: It is not normal for older adults to be depressed. Signs of depression in older people include loss of interest in activities, sleep disturbances and lethargy. Depression in the elderly is often undiagnosed, and it is important for seniors and their family members to recognize the problem and seek professional help.

MYTH: Depression and other illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, do not affect children or adolescents. Any problems they have are just a part of growing up.
FACT: Children and adolescents can develop mental illnesses. In the United States, one in ten children and adolescents has a disorder severe enough to cause impairment.

MYTH: Most people with a mental illness are receiving treatment.
FACT: Only 1 in 5 persons affected with a mental illness seeks treatment.

MYTH: If you have a mental illness, you can will it away. Being treated for a psychiatric disorder means an individual has in some way "failed" or is weak.
FACT: A serious mental illness cannot be willed away. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away, either. It takes courage to seek professional help.

MYTH: Mentally ill people cannot lead productive lives.
FACT: People with a mental illness who receive treatment with therapy and/or medication can live full, enjoyable and productive lives. In fact many high profile people, including Abraham Lincoln, Patty Duke, Sheryl Crow, Hugh Laurie, John Leguizamo, Buzz Aldrin, Bruce Springsteen, George Stephanopolous, Michaelangelo, Halle Berry, Dick Clark, just to name a few, have been very successful in their chosen professions.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Is It Ever Right For a Therapist to Cry?


During my morning surf for psychology stories, I came across this one at the BBC asking "Is it ever right for a therapist to cry?"

I wondered as I sipped my English Breakfast Tea (a perfect coincidence) why this was a worthy subject the BBC felt needed covering. Surely, people know that therapists cry. Especially if a patient's narrative is moving, upsetting or emotionally tragic. Right? The article, though, reported that some patients were surprised that a therapist might tear up in a session, finding the response off-putting and even unprofessional.

The BBC article brought into view a recent study by San Diego psychologist Amy Blume-Marcovici, PsyD, who wrote that approximately 75% of the psychologists surveyed cried at least once while with a patient. Of these psychologists, 30% had cried within the past four weeks. This data didn't surprise me, being a trained psychoanalyst. Empathic attunement and countertransference are but a few of the psychoanalytic principles I've spent hundreds of hours studying as a training analyst, experiencing as a practicing therapist and writing about as an author.

A lot of multitasking goes on in therapy. As a therapist, you listen deeply with your patients, index your own thoughts and feelings as they talk, register what threads to grab to explore further, and dwell in the experience of it all as it unfolds in real-time. Sometimes, a patient's narrative moves you. Sometimes it takes your breath away. Other narratives may upset you, make you laugh or raise a sense of worry, just to name a few. Whatever the emotional response, therapists are trained to deal with them in productive ways for the patient being treated. Sometimes therapists may share them, sometimes not. But when they do, it's with the intention of sharing a genuine experience to empathize, connect and validate.

Tearing up while bearing witness to a patient's unimaginable loss or a painful memory is not a rare event for me. Because I specialize in depression and trauma, I often work with individuals who have endured unimaginable events. As my patients and I work in sessions toward recovery,  I consider the range of ALL my emotional responses to be an integral part of the therapeutic process. And so does research. 

While many think it's unprofessional that a therapist cries, being emotionally open is often just what a patient needs from a therapist.

So, the answer to the question of is it right for a therapist to cry, is a resounding, "Yes."

Thursday, May 01, 2014

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

I'm Blogging for Mental Health.

In honor of May as Mental Health Awareness Month, I'll be giving away 2 autographed copies of my award winning book "DEPRESSION AND YOUR CHILD: A GUIDE FOR PARENTS AND CAREGIVERS."

Research shows that children, even babies, experience depression. The clinical term is called Pediatric Depression, and rates are higher now than ever before. In the United States alone, evidence suggests that up to 1% of babies, 4 percent of preschool-aged children, 5 percent of school-aged children, and 11 percent of adolescents meet the criteria for major depression.

Suicide is significantly linked to depression, so early diagnosis and treatment of Pediatric Depression is not just extremely important – it is life-saving. 

Depression is a serious, but treatable condition, but only 38% of adults with diagnosable mental health problems and less than 20% of children and adolescents receive needed treatment.

Learn the signs of pediatric depression and ways to get help. Treatment offers recovery, healing and most of all, hope.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Depression and Your Child by Deborah Serani

Depression and Your Child

by Deborah Serani

Giveaway ends May 31, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

May 31, 2014 Update: Congratulations to the winners named by Goodreads! 
I am sending your books out in Monday's mail. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How To Ask For Help

Asking for help can be easy for some, and painfully tough for others. There are many myths that tend to keep others from asking support or assistance. Here are a few:

Myth: Asking for help makes us look vulnerable.
Truth: Asking for help actually creates an atmosphere of empowerment. It communicates to others that, while you may not have the answers, you are willing to find them and make things better.

Myth: Holding things in and keeping personal issues under wraps keeps us feeling secure.
Truth: In reality, not allowing yourself to be "known" actually keeps you socially isolated, and therefore, insecure. When you seek the counsel of others, you'll not only connect with them, but you'll also realize that you're not alone in your struggle.

Myth: Asking help bothers others.
Truth: We are hardwired for caregiving - and most people find it meaningful to help when asked if it's within the margins of their abilities to do so.

Myth: Highly successful people never ask for help.
Truth: Actually, successful individuals will tell you that the key to success is knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Learning how to delegate, asking for help and letting others show you the way are part of the plan. Successful people are driven and motivated -- and when the going gets tough, the tough ask for help!

When it comes to asking for help, remember to: 

Have realistic expectations for the kind of help you are seeking

Express your needs simply and clearly

Let others know you are there to help them as well

Praise your pals for their assistance and pat yourself for asking for help

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Power of Positive Direction

Remember this scene from Star Wars ?

Stormtrooper: Let me see your identification.

Obi-Wan: (influencing the stormtrooper's mind) You don't need to see his identification.

Stormtrooper: We don't need to see his identification.

Obi-Wan: These aren't the droids you're looking for.

Stormtrooper: These aren't the droids we're looking for.

Obi-Wan: He can go about his business.

Stormtrooper: You can go about your business.

Obi-Wan: Move along.

Stormtrooper: Move along. Move along.

This snippet of dialogue showing how "The Force" works is similar to the technique known as Positive Direction.

Positive Direction is a style of communication that works toward making positive behaviors happen. Don't and Stop are negative words that often fail to register as we think. Instead, it's human nature to register the words that come after the Dont's and the Stop's.

When you use Positive Direction, you give a child or an adult a positive image to attain. And there's likely to be more cooperation, less rebellion. And, well,  everyone feels good. A win-win all around.


Instead of: Don't throw your coat on the floor!

Try: Hang you coat up.

Instead of: Stop interrupting me when I'm on the phone.

Try: Wait and I'll talk to you later.

Instead of: Don't be so loud!

Try: Talk in a quiet voice.

Instead of: No, you can't go out with your friends, you have homework to do!

Try: Yes, you can see your friends when you finish your homework.

Positive Direction takes some practice, but it could be worth the time and energy.

Now, move along....

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

12 Films That Feature Mental Illness

In celebration of the 2014 Oscars is my list of movies that feature mental illness. Many of these movies have won Oscars, while others should have, but didn't. As we roll out the red carpet and honor this year's best films, keep in mind that there's no shame in having a mental illness.
1. Ordinary People (Depression, PTSD, Suicide)
This is my absolute favorite movie of all time because it portrays the human experience of loss so well and it also features psychotherapy in a realistic way.  This was Robert Redford's directorial debut, which also starred. Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, Judd Hirsch and Timothy Hutton, who wow in their performances.

2. A Beautiful Mind (Schizophrenia)
The true story of Nobel Prize Winner John Nash is told in this award winning film. Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly star. Directed by Ron Howard.

3. The Soloist (Schizophrenia)
This is the true story of Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, a former Julliard Student, who falls into the depths of schizophrenia. When reporter, Steve Lopez, befriends him, both of their worlds change. The ethical issues of treatment of mental illness are realistically portrayed. Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx offer great performances.

4. Canvas (Schizophrenia)
A young boy moves through the his mother's psychotic episode with the help of his father and friends. Joe Pantoliano, Marcia Gay Harden and Devon Gearhart are inspiring to watch.

5. Bird (Substance Abuse/Eating Disorder)
The true story of Charlie "Bird" Parker, Jazz legend, and his struggles with mental illness. Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Forest Whitaker. Fantastic soundtrack.

6. Rain Man (Autism)
Dustin Hoffman delivers an award winning performance as a man with Autism and Tom Cruise as the brother who doesn't understand him.

7. Fearless (PTSD)
Jeff Bridges is unforgettable in his performance as a survivor of a plane crash as is Rosie Perez in this emotional tale of trauma, loss and recovery.

8. Lars And The Real Girl (Social Anxiety Disorder)
This film knocked me out with its poignant storytelling of a young man living in a rural Minnesota community. Ryan Gosling and Emily Mortimer star.

9. A Lion In Winter (Personality Disorders)
Various personality disorders as well as maladaptive defense mechanisms often seen in family dysfunction are presented in vivid language and breathtaking performances. Peter O'Toole, Katherine Hepburn and a young Anthony Hopkins dazzle in this award winning film. It's an oldie, but a goodie - and based on the life of King Henry II.

10. The Night Listener (Factitious Disorder)
Robin Williams and Toni Collette tell this true-based story from the experiences of author Armistead Maupin, and his connection to a mysterious young boy.

11. Bug (Shared Psychosis)
Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon meet and discover a shared experience. This film begins slowly and soon reveals itself - and as the horror unfolds, it infects you as a viewer as well.

12. Clean, Shaven (Schizophrenia)
I don't think I have ever experienced a film that so vividly takes you into the the life, mind and world of a person who lives with Schizophrenia. Actor, Peter Greene, and writer/director Lodge Kerrigan, create a film that is both meaningful and moving to watch.

Do you have a favorite movie that sheds light on mental illness?