All Posts in Category: General Mental Health

woman typing on a laptop

How Much Is Too Much? Technology, Screen Time, And Your Mental Health

It’s no secret that people are somewhat “addicted” to their screen time. Just look around you at any restaurant and you’ll see families and friends interacting more with their phones than with each other. The same hold true for almost anywhere you go: some people can’t even take their eyes off their screens when driving or walking, which has resulted in numerous accidents and deaths.

In a 2018 study done by the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of teens aged 13 – 17 said they were concerned about the amount of time they were spending online and on their phones. In fact, they were so alarmed about it that “Some 52% of U.S. teens report taking steps to cut back on their mobile phone use, and similar shares have tried to limit their use of social media (57%) or video games (58%),” according to the researchers.

Parents don’t do much better. The study reported that, “36% say they themselves spend too much time on their cellphone.”

Because of all the time spent watching screens, research is being done to find out the physical and emotional effects it might be causing for us.

What Does Too Much Screen Time Do To Your Brain?

Since phones and computers have only been easily accessible and affordable for people in the last thirty years or so, we don’t yet know the long term effects of screen time on the brains of kids or adults. But, we do know that, because children’s brains are still in the process of developing and growing, it seems likely that they would be affected by this technology.

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study by the National Institutes of Health agrees. It has been following more than 11,000 kids, ages 9 and 10 years old, at 21 different areas throughout the United States. According to an article on Healthline, the initial results of the research show that:

  • MRI scans found significant differences in the brains of some children who reported using smartphones, tablets, and video games more than seven hours a day.
  • Children who reported more than two hours a day of screen time got lower scores on thinking and language tests.

The scary thing is that it will take many more years to discover whether these effects are the result of too much screen time or whether the differences were from something else.

So, does that mean adults are safe from the adverse effects of too much screen time? Actually, no.

Today’s adults have been estimated to spend more than 10 hours a day in front of screens (Harvard T. H. Chan School Of Public Health). Because the activity is sedentary, this exposure has been linked, in part, to higher obesity rates (which can lead to diabetes) and sleep problems.

Additionally, when asked, 15 percent of adults reported that they were more likely to lose focus at work due to checking their cellphone, which is double the number of teens who have trouble focusing in class for that same reason.

And, the Pew Research study indicates that more than half of teens (51 percent) say their parents are “often or sometimes” distracted by their own phones while in conversation with their child, leading to feelings of unimportance in the child.

What Are The Emotional Effects Of Too Much Screen Time?

For kids, anxiety, depression, and loneliness are often the result of too much screen time. A 2018 population-based study by Twenge and Campbell showed that after an hour of screen time per day, “…increasing screen time was generally linked to progressively lower psychological well-being.” The researchers also noted that, “High users of screens were also significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression.”

But maybe screen time isn’t bad if kids are texting or gaming together? After all, they are interacting with each other and developing social relationships, right?

Again, the answer is ‘no’. According to a Psychology Today article by Victoria L. Dunckley M.D., “…many parents mistakenly believe that interactive screen-time—Internet or social media use, texting, emailing, and gaming—isn’t harmful, especially compared to passive screen time like watching TV. In fact, interactive screen time is more likely to cause sleep, mood, and cognitive issues, because it’s more likely to cause hyperarousal and compulsive use.”  

In addition to the physical and psychological effects, too much social media time can lead to problems with social skills and their application, as well as a decrease in self-esteem – in both children and adults. Furthermore, kids can be bullied online while sitting right next to their parents and they can’t get away from it.

How To Limit Screen Time

For parents who are wondering how to limit their child’s screen time, the American Academy of Pediatrics set out updated media guidelines based on the latest research. They suggest:

  • For children under 18 months old, no screen time.
  • For children 18 to 24 months old, parents should choose only high-quality media and watch it with their child.
  • For children 2 to 5 years old, less than one hour per day of high-quality programming is recommended, with parents watching along.
  • Don’t use screen time as a way to calm your child down or as a babysitter.
  • No screens 1 hour before bedtime, and remove devices from bedrooms before bed.
  • Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent–child play times screen free for children and parents. Parents can set a “do not disturb” option on their phones during these times.

For adults who are trying to limit their own screen time:

  • As with the suggestions for kids: Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent–child play times screen free
  • Use phone apps to remind you when it’s time to stop using the phone
  • Turn off the majority of your notifications
  • Delete your social media apps
  • Stop using your phone as an alarm clock because it’s too easy to get caught up in checking for updates from friends, scanning texts, and reading emails if you pick up the phone to turn off the alarm

We Can Help Break The Screen Time Cycle

If you are concerned about your teen or ‘tween’s screen time amount – or your own – we can help you take steps to “disconnect.” For more information, contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Read More
marijuana plant

Mental Health Risks Of Marijuana

As more states legalize the possession and use of marijuana, we are beginning to get a clearer picture of the effects it can have on mental health. While advocates feel that the drug can do no harm, critics of legalization feel that there is nothing beneficial in marijuana – and the truth probably lies somewhere in between. However we do know that there has been an upswing in suicides and mental health disorders in states that have legalized the drug. So, what are the mental health risks of marijuana use?

Long Term Side Effects Of Marijuana Use

The short term effects of marijuana use have been known for years. They include altered judgement, weakened motor skills, and impairment of short term memory, along with an associated difficulty in learning and retaining information.

However, with long term use or heavy use of cannabinoids – particularly if the drug was initially used early in adolescence – people are developing more serious mental side effects. A 2016 study by Volkow, et al, found:

  • Addiction (in about 9% of users overall, 17% of those who begin use in adolescence, and 25 to 50% of those who are daily users)
  • Altered brain development
  • Cognitive impairment, with lower IQ among those who were frequent users during adolescence
  • Diminished life satisfaction
  • Symptoms of chronic bronchitis (*we are now seeing this in the current vaping crisis, which has been linked to the use of THC pods)
  • Increased risk of chronic psychosis disorders (including schizophrenia) in persons with a predisposition to such disorders

This is especially concerning because the Volkow study also reported that, “Currently, marijuana is the most commonly used “illicit” drug in the United States, with about 12% of people 12 years of age or older reporting use in the past year and particularly high rates of use among young people.”

Marijuana And Psychosis: Are They Linked?

Today’s marijuana is not the same strength as what people were familiar with in the past – cannabis is now much stronger. A review of the negative health effects of pot in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine reported that, “Current commercialized cannabis is near 20% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive constituent of cannabis, while in the 1980s concentration was <2%. This 10-fold increase in potency does not include other formulations such as oils, waxes, and dabs, which can reach 80–90% THC.” And, as the potency of marijuana increases, so do the rates of mental health disorders and psychosis.

Age at first use of the drug also makes a big difference. A 5-year study by Di Forti, et al, that was published in The Lancet in 2019 compiled data from across 11 sites in Europe and in Brazil to reveal that the occurrence of first-episode psychosis increased exponentially in those who used marijuana daily or in high potency form. Although the study authors reported that “Use of high-potency cannabis (THC ≥10%) modestly increased the odds of a psychotic disorder compared with never use… those who had started using high-potency cannabis by age 15 years showed a doubling of risk.” And, they said that, “daily use of high-potency cannabis carried more than a four-times increase in the risk of psychotic disorder.”

Cannabinoid Induced Psychosis

USAToday recently ran an article about the debate over cannabinoid induced psychosis. In it, they detailed the downward spiral of a young man who had once been a star high school athlete. After months of vaping a highly potent form of THC, he showed up at work disoriented and speaking incoherently. Upon hospitalization, doctors diagnosed him with “cannabis use disorder” and “psychotic disorder, unspecified.”

If the young man stays off pot for a year and has no further psychotic symptoms or episodes during that time, he will join the growing number of pot smokers who have been identified as suffering from cannabinoid induced psychosis (the diagnosis takes a year in order to be sure the psychotic episode did not stem from another reason).

This person is not alone. For their story, USAToday also “interviewed a dozen parents whose children suffered psychotic episodes – some of which led to schizophrenia – related to their marijuana use. Several of the children died by suicide. “

The USAToday article went on to say that, “In May, more than 40 Massachusetts doctors, psychiatrists, pediatricians and other public health professionals urged the state to add psychiatric risk warnings to marijuana packaging and to prohibit most advertising.”

Be Cautious Before Using Marijuana

In addition to concerns about marijuana use and the associated mental health risks are the recent vaping illnesses and deaths that have been reported. THC-containing vaping products and e-cigarettes have been implicated in almost all the cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that people “should not use THC-containing e-cigarette, or vaping, products, particularly from informal sources like friends, family, or in-person or online sellers.”

At this point, it is obvious that more research and time are needed to understand how marijuana affects the brain. Clearly the drug isn’t as innocent as some people believe. Until the results are in, think through the risks before deciding to use pot or vape THC.

Find Help Here

For more information about how we can help if you or a loved one are struggling with marijuana use and mental health concerns, contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Read More
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation: High Tech Help For Treatment Resistant Mood Disorders

Despite therapy and the use of medications, we occasionally find that the effects of a mental health disorder persist in some people. For these individuals, brain stimulation therapies like transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may provide relief from their symptoms. TMS may also be an alternative for those who cannot tolerate mood stabilizing medications.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that TMS and other brain stimulation therapies “involve activating or inhibiting the brain directly with electricity.” TMS is the most noninvasive of these treatments and is given via energy pulses that are generated by an electromagnetic coil held near or against the person’s head.

Because these magnetic pulses are given over and over in a repetitive rhythm, the most technically correct term for TMS is repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS).

What Is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Used For?

In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation to treat major depressive disorders and their associated cases of severe depression and anxiety. It has also been studied as a therapy for psychosis and researchers are looking into how it may help conditions like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Additionally, another form of rTMS, called deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (dTMS), has been FDA-approved for the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

In 2010, the NIMH funded a clinical trial on the effectiveness of transcranial magnetic stimulation. Initial results showed that the effectiveness of rTMS was around 14 percent compared with a placebo-type procedure, which was only 5 percent effective. However, when participants were put into a second-phase trial, the remission rate of rTMS increased to 30 percent.

How Does A TMS Work?

When you go through a session of rTMS, you will be fully awake. Each session lasts between 40 and 60 minutes and no anesthesia is required. It is an outpatient procedure so you can drive yourself to the appointment and back home again. Typically, a person is treated four to five times per week for between four and six weeks.

During the rTMS session, an electromagnetic coil, which is about the size of your hand, will be passed over your forehead and scalp along the region of the brain thought to regulate mood. This coil produces short electromagnetic pulses similar in strength to the ones generated by a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), “The magnetic pulses cause small electrical currents that stimulate nerve cells in the targeted region of the brain.”

As scientists gain more knowledge about how rTMS can help people, they are developing new treatment methods. In fact, the FDA has sanctioned the use of theta burst stimulation, which is a variation of rTMS. In the theta burst procedure, the person only receives transcranial stimulation for about 10 minutes per session, however they still need to have daily sessions for several weeks.

In addition, another form of rTBS, called iTBS or intermittent theta burst stimulation, is now being given in 3 minute treatments. iTBS (also FDA-approved) gives intensive bursts of high frequency stimulation and has shown results comparable to the customary rTMS therapy.

Does TMS Therapy Hurt?

While rTMS therapy doesn’t hurt, the person may feel some mild sensations as the electromagnetic pulses are administered. These sensations might include:

  • A light knocking or a mild tapping feeling on their skull.
  • The muscles in their face, jaw, or scalp tingling when the magnet is applied.
  • These same muscles contracting while the magnet is in use.

Is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Safe?

Although most people do very well with it, rTMS does have some temporary, mild side effects for a small number of people. They can include:

  • Mild headaches
  • Lightheadedness
  • Scalp discomfort

Rare, but possible, is the chance of a seizure, however no seizures were reported during the two large studies that have been done on the safety of rTMS, according to the NIMH.

Additionally, Johns Hopkins reports that people who have non-removable metal objects in their head (for example: stents or aneurysm clips) should not receive rTMS. This is because the magnets can cause these objects to move or heat up, which could produce a serious injury or even death.

It’s worth noting that because transcranial magnetic stimulation is relatively new, we haven’t been able to study its long term effects. That said, treatment data has been compiled and studied since the mid-1990s and there have been no long term complications from its use, to date.

We Can Help

If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns, consider speaking with the professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida. For more information on how we can help, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Read More

What Problems Do Adopted Adults Have?

When we think about adopted children, most of us picture a happy family of cooing parents bonding with an adorable infant. For the adult who was adopted as a child, however, this blissful image is often tarnished by issues that carry over from childhood.

What problems do adopted adults have? Among other things, they often suffer from:

  • Feelings of loss and grief
  • Problems with developing an identity
  • Reduced self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Increased risk of substance abuse
  • Higher rates of mental health disorders, such as depression and PTSD.

In fact, Childwelfare.gov reports that, “…most of the literature points to adopted adolescents and adults being more likely to receive counseling than their nonadopted peers (Borders et al., 2000; Miller et al., 2000).”

What Are The Psychological Effects Of Adoption?

Way back in 1982, Silverstein and Kaplan did a study that identified seven core issues in adoption that still hold true today. They are:

  • Loss
  • Rejection
  • Guilt/Shame
  • Grief
  • Identity
  • Intimacy
  • and Mastery/Control

The study reports that, “Many of the issues inherent in the adoption experience converge when the adoptee reaches adolescence. At this time three factors intersect: an acute awareness of the significance of being adopted; a drive toward emancipation; and a biopsychosocial striving toward the development of an integrated identity.”

Loss first comes into the adoptee’s life when they are given up by their birth parents. Although the child is taken into a new family, there is still a sense of loss, even if the child is an infant. We know that it is very beneficial for newborns to bond with their mother – imagine how it can affect a baby who does not make this crucial connection.

Later, as the child matures and finds out they were adopted, that sense of loss becomes a theme running through the person’s subconscious. As such, adopted children typically feel succeeding losses much more deeply than their non-adopted counterparts.

Rejection is part of the initial loss the adoptee experiences. In order to be adopted, they had to be rejected by their birth parents. Later in life, if a birth parent blocks the adoptee’s search for them, the person experiences yet another rejection.

Guilt/shame comes from the adoptee’s feelings of rejection. As we know, children tend to blame themselves when something bad happens, therefore an adopted child naturally questions what they must have done wrong (or what was wrong or “bad” about them) that made their birth parent give them away. Even if the adoptee knows the reason they were placed for adoption, they often still secretly harbor the idea that they were somehow “broken” or could have been a “better” baby, which is why their birth parents rejected them.

Grief is part of adoption because the child lost their birth parents. We see adoption as a joyous occasion for the parents who are adopting the child, therefore the thought is that adopted kids should feel thankful to have a new family. Grieving for what they lost doesn’t usually have a place in the child’s life – it is considered a rejection of the adoptive parents if the child grieves.

Additionally, children sometimes don’t feel the effects of their deep-seated loss until they reach adolescence or adulthood and have developed a high enough cognitive level to understand what the loss means to their life. In many cases, this leads to substance abuse, depression, or aggression.

Identity is another loss the adopted adult must face. While they have been given a new name and identity by their adoptive parents, is it who they truly are? Or are they really the person they were before the adoption?

Even if they fully embrace their new family, the adoptee still suffers a loss of identity because they often know nothing about their birth family. What medical concerns do they need to watch out for (i.e.” does heart disease run in their birth family)? Who are their ancestors? What do they know about inherited genetic ties or family backgrounds?

Intimacy is frequently difficult for the adopted adult because they have such deeply rooted feelings of rejection, guilt or shame, and don’t truly have an identity. Often people who have gone through these negative emotions subconsciously push others away to avoid experiencing another loss.

The Silverstein and Kaplan study notes that, “Many adoptees as teen[s] state that they truly have never felt close to anyone. Some youngsters declare a lifetime emptiness related to a longing for the birth mother they may have never seen.”

Lastly, adoptees often feel little sense of mastery/control over their lives because they had no say in the matter of their adoption. Whether placed with their adoptive family at birth or as an older child, they were not given an option. As they mature, this can result in power struggles with authority figures and a reduced sense of responsibility.

How To Cope With Being Adopted

The first step to coping with being adopted is to recognize that the experience itself leaves residual problems. When the adoptee learns about and acknowledges the core issues inherent to adoption, they can begin to talk about them with someone, such as their adoptive parents, support groups, or a professional.

Accepting and exploring these core issues helps the adoptee work through them. The open adoptions that are the norm nowadays may reduce their sense of loss and guilt, while interacting with other adopted adults can allow the person to feel less alone.

It should be said that, while finding the birth parents can give the adoptee answers and closure, this is a deeply emotional process. Before contacting their birth family, the individual should prepare themselves to experience possible further rejection if a reunion is not what they dreamed it would be (or if the birth parents refuse to meet them once they have been found).

In addition, if an adoptee seeks out a therapist, they should make sure they talk to a professional who has special training in adoption issues.  

We Can Help

If you are an adopted adult and are struggling with your feelings, the mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida, can help. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Read More

Counseling Adults with Autism

Our very own Dr. Ali Cunningham recently released a book, Counseling Adults with Autism. The cover art for the book was produced by a local man with autism, Michael Vidal (pictured here with Dr. Cunningham).

Counseling Adults with Autism is a practical guide for counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals looking to improve their confidence and competence in counseling adults diagnosed with mild to moderate autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Organized into 11 chapters based on key areas for guiding assessment and treatment planning for this population, this book highlights evidence-based practices and therapeutic interventions through case examples to demonstrate how assessment and treatment can be applied. Replete with insights from a variety of disciplinary approaches, this is a comprehensive and accessible resource for practitioners looking to support and empower clients struggling with social and behavioral challenges. Buy the book here.

Read More
toddler with social anxiety

Social Anxiety in Toddlers

Toddlerhood is defined as the age range from 12 to 36 months. During this period, a child’s emotional and cognitive development grows by leaps and bounds, as do their social skills. This also coincides with the time when children are likely to go into a daycare environment or head off to preschool. As they engage more often with other children and adults, it may also be the stage when a toddler’s social anxiety begin to emerge.

Just as with adults, some children are comfortable with social interactions while others may not be. Each group of kids will have the social butterfly as well as the “shy” child who quietly observes and doesn’t interact as much. It is one thing to be shy, however, and another to be intensely fearful and anxious in a social setting. Because we know it can show up early in life, a toddler who shows such strong reactions in a social environment is often regarded as having social anxiety.

What causes social anxiety in toddlers?

We aren’t really sure what causes social anxiety in toddlers. Genetics likely plays a role, since it contributes to a child’s temperament and personality. We also know that some genetic traits can influence certain mental health conditions.

A toddler’s environment could also predispose them to social anxiety. For a young child who already has a higher genetic risk, living with trauma or a severe parenting style may be enough to initiate social anxiety. Social anxiety may also be learned from a parent, according to a 2006 study by de Rosnay, et al. Their research focused on indirect expressions of a mother’s social anxiety on their infant. The results showed that, “compared to their responses following their mothers interacting normally with a stranger, following a socially anxious mother-stranger interaction, infants were significantly more fearful and avoidant with the stranger. Infant-stranger avoidance was further modified by infant temperament; high fear infants were more avoidant in the socially anxious condition than low-fear infants.”

Is social anxiety a form of autism?

Studies have shown that social anxiety is not a form of autism, although the two have overlapping indicators, such as separation anxiety and avoiding eye contact. In fact, not only are they two distinct disorders, but the symptoms and diagnostic criteria for each are vastly different.

As the name implies, social anxiety is driven by anxiety. A child who has social anxiety will function within the parameters of their level of unease. For instance, they may simply keep to themselves, avoid other children, or might talk too quietly. Some kids may not talk at all.

On the other hand, a child with autism spectrum disorder doesn’t behave based on their anxiety level. Instead, this child has trouble understanding social cues and the nuances of communication. They might speak too loudly, may push their way into a group of children, or might misinterpret facial expressions or gestures.

Does my kid have social anxiety?

Children who have social anxiety may be branded as difficult kids because their anxiety can show up in forms other than just in social interactions.

Toddlers with social anxiety often show certain signs, such as:

  • Being a picky eater
  • Easily startled by noises
  • Not adapting well to new situations
  • May have a higher sensitivity to tactile sensations
  • Acting shy around new people and fearing strangers
  • Disliking being separated from their parents (separation anxiety) and distraction doesn’t calm them
  • Having strong emotional reactions and difficulty self-soothing
  • Might have sleep issues
  • Seems afraid to interact with peers, both individually or in a group setting
  • Often has other phobias or fears

How to help a child with social anxiety

At home, parents can demonstrate healthy social interactions when their child is with them, so the toddler learns not to be so fearful.

They can also rehearse a new situation with their child before it comes up. For example, a toddler who will be going to daycare for the first time might role-play some of the things they’ll do while they are there. Practicing certain aspects of the day or even dropping by the daycare a couple of times before officially attending can ease fears because the daycare will already be familiar. It would also be helpful to let the teachers or caregivers know about your child’s fears, so they can help build confidence.

Other supportive methods include:

  • Encouraging your toddler, but not forcing them in social interactions
  • Using praise when the child successfully navigates a scary situation
  • Not criticizing them for their fears
  • Being calm and showing the toddler that you are confident
  • Not being overprotective, which only reinforces the idea that the toddler has something to be afraid of
  • Reading books or watching videos that show confident children

Have Further Questions?

If your toddler is experiencing social anxiety, the mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida, can help. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Read More

Asperger’s And Diagnosing Autism In Adults

We usually think of autism as being a childhood disorder because it is typically talked about in kids. Nowadays, children are screened for the signs of autism by their pediatricians during their 18- and 24-month well checks. This means that most cases of autism will have been identified by the time a child is two years of age. But, this screening procedure is fairly recent, so what if you are an adult who was told you had a learning disorder years ago or were called a “difficult” child before this protocol? Is it possible that you may have undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder (ASD), even if your symptoms are mild?

Autism In Adults

Back in the day, autism spectrum disorder was often misdiagnosed or mistaken for other conditions, like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). Many adults who were labeled with behavioral concerns as kids might wonder now if they actually have ASD instead. Currently, it can be problematic to get an answer, however. There is no set protocol for screening adults for the disorder and it isn’t a common practice for doctors to watch for signs of autism in adults.

But, that will change as we learn more about ASD. According to a 2016 study by Murphy, et al, “Autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that has a potentially detrimental impact on adult functioning.” Today it is widely thought to be a disorder that comes from a combination of inherited genetic causes and environmental factors

Initially, autism was considered rare. Back in the 1960s, it was believed that only about 4 in 10,000 people had it. We now know, however, that ASD affects around one percent of adults and children.

This upsurge in cases is not due to an increase in the condition. Rather, it is because we have increased our awareness of it. We also have better diagnostic tools and classification systems in place now. For instance, in 2013, Asperger’s syndrome was reclassified as part of ASD after it was decided there wasn’t enough evidence to show it was a separate condition from autism.

Adult Autism Checklist

At present, adult autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed through behavioral observations. There is no test or checklist to identify it, although one is in the process of being developed.

Still, there are symptoms that can indicate possible ASD. These behavioral signs of autism in adults include:

  • Wanting to stick to a strict routine, schedule, or firm guidelines.
  • Problems adjusting to change or emotional outbursts when something doesn’t happen according to plan.
  • Increased chance of having an accompanying mood disorder, anxiety, or having obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • Difficulty with social interactions. It can be hard to make friends and a struggle to keep them.
  • Issues with making inferences from verbal cues, making predictions, sequencing tasks, or problem solving.
  • Problems interpreting other people’s points of view.
  • Difficulty with communication skills, especially in group settings. Not good at making small talk.
  • Rituals or repetitive behaviors.
  • Specific and extreme interest in a particular topic or hobby (bordering on obsession). It may be difficult for the person to relate socially until a favored topic is introduced, then they can easily converse on it at length.

The problem with diagnosing adults with spectrum disorder comes from the fact that someone who has had it for a long time has gotten good at hiding their symptoms. Since there hasn’t been as much research into autism in adults, usually a doctor will rely on observation and either your childhood memories or those of a close family member to help with carrying out an in-depth assessment.

Despite these issues, it can be good to get a diagnosis. In this way, you might begin to understand your youthful difficulties a little better and you can learn coping skills to help you in the future.

Interventions For Adults With Autism

Clinicians treat autism differently in adults than they do in children. In part this is because other mental health conditions like anxiety or OCD may also be playing a role in the person’s life, and must be addressed. Also there can be other concerns to treat at the same time, such as job or relationship difficulties.

A formal diagnosis opens the doors to resources and autism-related services, like vocational training and job placement. These programs vary by state and may not be available everywhere in the country, however.

The 2016 study authors noted that, “service provision for adults with ASD is in its infancy. There is a lack of health services research for adults with ASD, including identification of comorbid health difficulties, rigorous treatment trials (pharmacological and psychological), development of new pharmacotherapies, investigation of transition and aging across the lifespan, and consideration of sex differences and the views of people with ASD.“

Although this is discouraging, today’s children with ASD are aging, so things will change to accommodate them and we’ll see more adult services in the coming years. Meanwhile, in addition to the programs that are currently in place, adults have access to professional treatment and things like books, online forums, and in-person support groups.

While ASD can’t be cured, it can be successfully managed. Behavioral interventions and learning targeted skills can reduce the challenges that those with autism may face throughout their lives.

Have Further Questions?

If you or someone you love have questions or would like further information about the assessment and diagnosis for adults with spectrum disorder, the mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida, can help. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Resources

Murphy CM, Wilson CE, Robertson DM, et al. Autism spectrum disorder in adults: diagnosis, management, and health services development. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2016;12:1669–1686. Published 2016 Jul 7. doi:10.2147/NDT.S65455

Read More
The Connection Between Diet And Mental Health

The Connection Between Diet And Mental Health

Hungry? Beware – reaching for the chips or soda could be at the root of your mental health. After all, we really are what we eat. As it turns out, recent studies have shown that diet and mental health are more closely linked than we realize.

“A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health,” says Felice Jacka, president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. “A healthy diet is protective and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.”

Nutrition Psychiatry

Mental health conditions are more common than you think in the United States. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 50 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point during their lives. As of 2018, “mental illnesses, such as depression, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the United States for those aged 18-44 years old.”

These alarming statistics, coupled with the fact that the Western diet is often filled with junk food, made scientists wonder if the two were linked. Does nutrition affect the brain as much as it does the body? To find out, about ten years ago, researchers began to look into the relationship between diet and mental health.

The last decade of study has shown that, “the risk of depression increases about 80% when you compare teens with the lowest-quality diet, or what we call the Western diet, to those who eat a higher-quality, whole-foods diet”, reports Drew Ramsey, MD, an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University. He goes on to note that, “the risk of attention-deficit disorder (ADD) doubles.”

Now researchers are even thinking that food allergies may play a role in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Food and Mental Health

Most of the recent studies have revolved around the connection between a healthy diet and mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Although direct evidence connecting diet and mental health hasn’t been found yet, currently there are trials in progress to obtain it.

Meanwhile, we do know that a healthy diet affects brain health by:

  • Boosting brain development.
  • Changing brain proteins and enzymes to increase neural transmitters, which are the connections between brain cells.
  • Increasing good gut bacteria. This promotes a healthy gut biome, which decreases inflammation. Inflammation is known to affect both cognition and mood.
  • Raising serotonin levels through various food enzymes, which improves mood.

We know that a nutrient-rich diet produces changes in brain proteins that improve the connections between brain cells. But diets that are high in saturated fats and refined sugars have been shown to have a “very potent negative impact on brain proteins,” Jacka says.

Additionally, a high sugar, high fat diet decreases the healthy bacteria in the gut. Some study results have shown that a diet that is high in sugar may worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia. And, a 2017 study of the sugar intake of 23,000 people by Knuppel, et al., “confirms an adverse effect of sugar intake from sweet food/beverage on long-term psychological health and suggests that lower intake of sugar may be associated with better psychological health.”

Foods For Brain Health

It sounds logical that the foods that are best for the body would also be the ones that promote brain health. This is supported by the results from a large European study that showed that nutrient-dense foods like the ones found on the Mediterranean diet may actually help prevent depression.

The nutrients that may help brain health include:

  • Zinc – low levels of zinc can cause depression.
  • Omega 3s – may improve mood and do help improve memory and thinking.
  • B12 – A report by Ramsey and Muskin that was published in Current Psychiatry in 2013y, noted that “low B12 levels and elevated homocysteine increase the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease and are linked to a 5-fold increase in the rate of brain atrophy.”
  • Vitamin C – The report by Ramsey and Muskin also noted that, “Vitamin C intake is significantly lower in older adults (age ≥60) with depression.”
  • Iron – iron-deficiency anemia plays a part in depression.

Eating nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, leafy greens, colorful vegetables, beans and legumes, seafood, and fruits will boost the body’s overall health – including brain health. Both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which eliminates sugar, were found to significantly improve symptoms in the patients who took part in one study on diet and mental health.

Adding fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, pickles, or kombucha, to your diet can improve gut health and increase serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate sleep and stabilize mood. About 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut, so it is understandable that eating these foods can make you feel more emotionally healthy.

The next time you reach for the chips and soda, ask yourself if they are benefiting your brain. Then, grab some cultured yogurt or an apple instead. Remember – every bite counts!

Note: Dietary changes shouldn’t substitute for treatment. If you are on medications for a mental health disorder, don’t replace or reduce them with food on your own. Speak with your doctor about what you should eat, as well as what you shouldn’t. Medications will work better in a healthy body than an unhealthy one.

Questions? We Can Help

For more information about the relationship between your diet and mental health, talk to the professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida help. Contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Read More
Call Us (561) 496-1094