All Posts Tagged: delray beach

HOCD and Intrusive Thoughts

HOCD (homosexual obsessive compulsive disorder) is a subgroup of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It causes relentless questioning of one’s sexual orientation via the intrusive thoughts that are characteristic of OCD. HOCD is also known as Gay OCD or Sexual Orientation OCD (SO-OCD).

The term HOCD is not a recognized scientific or diagnostic name. Instead, it is more of a reference name or “title” that is used within the OCD community. This term defines the mental anguish that comes from experiencing intrusive, unwanted thoughts that you might be gay. If you have HOCD, these thoughts can come so often that, over time, it can become unbearable.

Part of the frustration with HOCD is that, once the intrusive thoughts are triggered, the person’s mind refuses to accept the reality that they have never been attracted to the opposite sex before. They can try to convince themselves that they are content with their straight orientation, but their OCD won’t allow them to do so. Eventually, these thoughts can become intrusive enough to make a person quit a job or leave a relationship because they are so convinced that they have been lying to themselves their entire life.

If you have HOCD, you might:

  • Fear that you have been living in denial of your true orientation.
  • Worry that just the fact that you are questioning your sexual identity means you are gay, because “I wouldn’t wonder about my orientation if I was straight.”
  • Fear losing your “self” and your previous identity.
  • Be concerned that homosexuality is “catching” in the same way that a cold or the flu can be caught.
  • Worry that being around a gay person will trigger your own latent tendencies and cause you to act out.
  • Fear that being unable to perform sexually means you are gay.
  • Think that other people will see you as gay because of a certain mannerism or because of how you dress or act.

HOCD Is All About Intrusive Thoughts

The truth is, HOCD is not about the person’s sexual orientation – it is really about their intrusive thoughts and how they react to those thoughts.

People without OCD will have a random thought and then dismiss it because it has no meaning. Those who have OCD and HOCD, however, attach deep meaning to these random thoughts and often spend countless hours searching for one hundred percent assurance that the thought is or is not true.

These intrusive thoughts don’t go away, either. For someone with OCD, once an intrusive comes into their mind, they cannot dismiss the thought because it sets up a cycle of doubt and questioning that repeats over and over again.

As far as OCD goes, no proven cause has been found for the disorder. And, since there isn’t just one concrete cause for OCD, there also is no exact reason for why someone with OCD will go on to develop HOCD or another subgroup. What we do know is that OCD and its subgroups revolve around whatever it is that the person fears. For example, while some may worry that they are actually gay (HOCD), another may worry that they will hurt themselves or others (Harm OCD).

Help for HOCD

Because there are only a few studies out there on HOCD, many mental health professionals don’t realize this subcategory exists. Therefore, they don’t understand how to properly diagnose and treat it. In many cases, clinicians either miss the diagnosis or they call it “sexual identity confusion” instead of HOCD. But, remember – HOCD is not about sexual identity, it is about the person’s OCD (whether it has been diagnosed or not).

There is a big problem with labeling and treating HOCD as “sexual identity confusion.” It can cause the individual to believe that their misinterpretation of their sexual orientation is actually meaningful and true. For this reason, when seeking help for HOCD, it is extremely important to find a therapist who specializes in treating either OCD or the HOCD subgroup.  

A therapist who is familiar with the condition will also understand that HOCD is not something that can be cured through reasoning and talk therapy because there is no underlying homosexuality to uncover. Instead, treatment for HOCD should involve the same therapies clinicians use when treating classic OCD. These include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure and response therapy (ERP), exposure and ritual prevention therapy (EX/RP), and sometimes the short term use of medication to help with depression and anxiety.

We Are Experts In The Treatment of HOCD

Learn more about HOCD in Dr. Rosen’s newest book, HOCD: Everything You Didn’t Know – A primer for Understanding & Overcoming Homosexual Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Find it online here.

In addition to this book, our clinic has therapists who are specially trained to treat OCD, HOCD, and other subgroups of the disorder. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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HOCD: Everything You Didn’t Know – A Primer for Understanding & Overcoming Homosexual Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

HOCD: Everything You Didn’t Know – A Primer for Understanding & Overcoming Homosexual Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

If HOCD has left you struggling with relentless questions about your sexual identity, a new book by Dr. Rosen, Founder and Clinical Director of The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders will be an indispensable and compassionate guide that will demystify the disorder and offer hope.

HOCD (Homosexual Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is a debilitating condition that attacks without warning in those who already struggle with classic OCD. It leaves its victims reeling with uncontrollable doubt about their sexual orientation (despite never having questioned it before), while igniting a vain pursuit of certainty over the question of whether they are truly straight.

In this HOCD primer, Andrew Rosen, Ph.D. draws on more than forty years of clinical practice to give readers insight into the disorder, as well as offering practical help to those who are fighting against a sexuality they know deep down really doesn’t exist for them.

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What Is Harm OCD?

Studies show that the vast majority of us occasionally have unwanted violent thoughts about injuring ourselves or others. For example, we might briefly fantasize about harm befalling the guy who just cut us off in traffic and then scared us even more when he immediately slammed on his brakes to avoid other cars. Although we don’t like to acknowledge them, about 85 percent of people do experience some type of random harmful thoughts, but they are fleeting and don’t disturb our normal lives.

For people who have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), however, having unwanted thoughts about hurting someone may not be able to be dismissed so easily. In fact, these thoughts can become frequent enough to become intrusive, taking over the person’s life. When this happens, the individual is dealing with Harm OCD.

Defining Harm OCD

Harm OCD is a subset of classic obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The condition is characterized by having aggressive, intrusive thoughts of doing violence to someone, as well as the responses the person uses to cope with these thoughts.

OCD makes the individual feel that they can’t trust their own mind. Wherein someone without OCD could have a violent thought and recognize that it is simply a thought, a person with OCD who has the Harm OCD subset worries that just having the thought is somehow meaningful. As a result, they want full assurance that they won’t act on the thought.

Having these intrusive thoughts leads to engaging in compulsions and rituals to decrease the anxiety the person feels about the thought. Once they complete the ritual, they feel less anxious, but then the intrusive thought comes again, setting up endless cycles of doubt and fear.

Harm OCD Symptoms

Those who suffer from Harm OCD may:

  • Have aggressive thoughts or see images in their minds of violence and worry that this means they will carry them out.
  • Fixate on the idea that they could inadvertently be responsible for causing harm and not realize it (for example, they may worry about running someone over by accident, and then leaving the scene because they were unaware of what they had done).
  • Be terrified that they will hurt someone (or themselves) on impulse – whether intentionally or not.
  • Worry they are hiding their true nature from themselves and others and that they are really a vicious, aggressive person who will act out someday because they will lose control.

In response to their intrusive thoughts, people who experience Harm OCD engage in compulsions and rituals to help relieve their anxiety. These may include such actions as:

  • Hiding dangerous objects (kitchen knives, poisonous chemicals, medications, ropes, razor blades, and the like) so they aren’t tempted to use them to hurt someone.
  • Reviewing their every action to see if they could have, or did, cause harm
  • Avoiding watching the news or such things as violent movies, television shows or videos, so as to keep from triggering violent ideas.
  • Spending excessive amounts of time online, researching violent crimes and ideology in an effort to know whether they have things in common with the offenders.
  • Compulsive praying or carrying and using spiritual items so that they won’t lose control.
  • Asking others if they think the person with Harm OCD could hurt others.
  • They may also endlessly question themselves in an effort to answer, once and for all, if they are capable of injuring anyone (including themselves).

Treatment for Harm OCD

As with classic OCD, Exposure and Ritual Prevention (ERP) is the treatment for any OCD subset, like Harm OCD.

The first part of the therapy – exposure – happens when the individual allows themselves (with the help of their therapist) to encounter the triggering object, image, or environment that begins their cycle of intrusive thoughts. The idea is to confront what they fear, but to refrain from using their compensating compulsions (ritual prevention).

By resisting the urge to complete a ritual after the exposure and then finding that they do not act on the violent thought, the person builds self-confidence and begins to retrain their brain. This leads to learning to trust that their thoughts are simply thoughts. Over time, consistently avoiding the use of compulsions while remaining nonviolent helps break the cycle of doubt.

For the best chance of overcoming Harm OCD, find a therapist who specializes in treating classic OCD. Trying to get past intrusive thoughts on your own can keep you stuck because it can be difficult to stop “testing” yourself to see how you are reacting – which is a ritual that could reinforce your false beliefs.

Have Further Questions?

If you are concerned about your violent thoughts or worried that you may harm yourself or someone else, seek help from the OCD-trained therapists at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Intensive Outpatient Therapy For Depression And Anxiety Help

We all have our anxious moments or times when we are depressed. It’s normal to feel these emotions when we are in stressful situations. Generally, this anxiety or depression goes away once conditions improve and life becomes less hectic again. For millions of people, however, anxiety or depression can drag on and on. It may get worse over time and might even start to interfere with their work, school, or relationships. When it reaches this point, it is likely that the person has an anxiety or mood disorder that requires treatment.

While about 20 million to 40 million Americans suffer from these disorders, only about a third will seek help – yet these conditions are highly treatable.

People who have depression or other mood disorders often do best with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Anxiety help and relief comes through therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness.

Most of the time, someone who is undergoing treatment for depression or anxiety will see their therapist once or twice a week for 30-60 minute sessions. These sessions often continue for three to four months, but could go on much longer depending on the severity of the person’s disorder. However, a relatively new concept in psychotherapy, called intensive outpatient therapy, is showing promise for helping patients get better faster.

What Is Intensive Outpatient Therapy?

Intensive outpatient therapy is focused therapy that is given over longer treatment sessions. For example, intensive treatment might be concentrated into daily, three-hour sessions given five days in a row over a two to four week period.

Just as with a traditional psychotherapy session, intensive treatment uses methods like CBT, mindfulness, and exposure response and prevention (ERP). The idea behind the intensive sessions is to teach strategies to decrease the person’s symptoms and provide support, but to do it within a framework that allows them to live at home and continue family or personal activities.

An intensive outpatient therapy program includes:

  • Comprehensive treatment planning
  • Learning to recognize unhealthy behaviors
  • Methods and practice to aid in asking for and getting support
  • Learning coping strategies and skills
  • Building successful problem solving abilities
  • Follow up sessions to reinforce these new skills

Although intensive therapy is fairly new, research is showing that it is just as beneficial as long term therapy or in-patient centered therapy. A 2012 study by Ritschel, Cheavens, and Nelson at the Emory University School of Medicine reported that, “Depression and anxiety scores decreased significantly and hope scores increased significantly over the course of treatment.“

If you are looking for an intensive program, be sure that whichever one you choose utilizes therapists who have been highly trained in treating anxiety and depression. Also, you want the program to be individualized to you. You should feel a connection with the therapist and they should work with you to develop a plan specifically for your needs in order to maximize the outcome of your treatment.

Who Would Benefit From Intensive Outpatient Therapy?

Sometimes a person can struggle with depression or anxiety symptoms while still being able to function in their daily life. At other times, someone may need more focused therapy and support. Intensive outpatient treatment would work for both people.

Intensive therapy also benefits those who either don’t find it practical to see a therapist over several months or those who have tried traditional therapy but haven’t been as successful as they’d hoped. It also can provide rapid and effective management in someone with severe symptoms who has taken time away from work or school for their recovery.

To be most effective, those who participate in intensive therapy should:

  • Be sure they attend every session. This can be difficult if they are having bad days, but they will get the most benefit by coming to every appointment.
  • Allow themselves time to process what they are learning.
  • Treat themselves gently while they learn that it’s okay to make mistakes
  • Trust in the therapy and therapist.

Learning coping skills and effective management of symptoms may continue on and off during one’s life. Sometimes people need a “booster” even after intensive therapy, but trusting that the psychotherapists and treatment will help can aid in quickly reducing and managing moderate to severe anxiety and depression.

Learn More About Our Upcoming Intensive Outpatient Therapy Sessions – Starting Soon!

If you have depression or need anxiety help, consider our upcoming summer intensive therapy sessions. For more information, talk to the mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida. Contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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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.

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Is Suicide Contagion Behind The Recent Parkland Deaths?

We are only one month past the first anniversary of the shootings at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School and this past week we have all been saddened to learn of the suicides of two students who survived the attack. Additionally, the father of a child who was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shootings also died this week – apparently due to suicide. Is it possible that these deaths are the result of suicide contagion?

What Is Suicide Contagion?

When the media reports that someone notable has died by suicide, it often seems that other suicides quickly follow – as if taking one’s life somehow becomes “contagious.” As an example, we saw this phenomenon last summer when Anthony Bourdain took his own life within days of Kate Spade’s death. Now there are concerns that this most recent suicide cluster involving the Parkland students and the Sandy Hook father may have happened partly because of suicide contagion.

Suicide contagion is also known as the Werther Effect – a phrase coined by suicide researcher, David Phillips, in the 1970s. Werther was a character in a 1774 novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In the book, Werther kills himself after the woman he loves marries another man.

The book was blamed for numerous copycat suicides across Europe after its release. In this early example of suicide contagion, many of the victims died in a similar manner to the Werther character’s death in the novel. Some were even found with copies of the book on or near their bodies.

There is strong evidence to suggest that suicides can occur in groups. Moreover, Phillips’ research into clusters of suicides led him to conclude that copycat suicides rise when there is excessive media coverage of the suicide of notable figures.

The Media’s Connection To Suicide Clusters

Besides Phillips’ research, several other studies agree that suicide rates go up when there is an increase in media coverage about a suicide. And the rates fall when the media coverage stops. Dr. Madelyn Gould, a suicide researcher from Columbia University has said, “The way suicide is reported is a significant factor in media-related suicide contagion, with more dramatic headlines and more prominently placed (i.e., front page) stories associated with greater increases in subsequent suicide rates.”

And, as with Goethe’s book, suicide clusters also tend to happen when a fictional television or movie character dies by their own hand. Dr. Gould says, “Research into the impact of media stories about suicide has demonstrated an increase in suicide rates after both nonfictional and fictional stories about suicide.”

Experts have long debated why suicide contagion occurs. Does the news coverage of a suicide cause other people to take their own lives or do they do so because they were already in a vulnerable state?

Either way, media guidelines for reporting these deaths have been in place in many parts of the world since the end of the twentieth century. The Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have both issued policies for how news reports should cover notable and celebrity suicides.

Nowadays, however, we have a new concern. In the twenty-first century, we rely less on standard media reporting (like radio, newspapers, or television reports) and depend more on online sources to find out what is happening around us.

In particular, young people get their news from the internet and social media, which can spread a topic far faster than news broadcasts and – unfortunately – can do so with no filtering.

Suicide Risk Factors

In the case of the Parkland tragedy, we know that the first student to take her life was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She also suffered with survivor’s guilt, as do many of the teens who were there that day. It can be devastating to know that you’re still alive, but your friends will not reach the milestones that you will. Instead of being happy occasions, events like graduation or the first day of college are often very distressing for a survivor.

For young people between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is already the second leading cause of death and this is without factoring in the trauma of a massacre like the one in Parkland. Clearly, we need to talk more openly about suicide prevention.

Adults and peers can help prevent a death by watching for youth suicide signs and risk factors and asking direct questions.

Although a risk factor can’t predict if someone will take their own life, having one or more of them makes it more likely the person will consider or attempt suicide. These risk factors are:

  • Mood or mental disorders (particularly anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and some personality disorders)
  • A personal history of trauma or abuse
  • Feeling hopeless
  • A family history of suicide
  • A previous suicide attempt
  • Isolating themselves or having a lack of social support
  • Stigma against asking for or needing help
  • Alcohol abuse or abuse of other substances
  • Absence of mental health and substance abuse treatment
  • Knowledge of recent suicides of peers or learning about others who have taken their lives via news stories, the internet, or social media
  • Suicide ideation

The chances of suicide can also increase in someone who has recently had a financial loss, been diagnosed with a major physical illness, lost their job, or lost a close relationship.

Preventing Suicide

The first step in suicide prevention is awareness that someone is considering suicide. The next step is determining whether intervention is needed immediately.

If you know someone is at risk, you can help them by using the Columbia Protocol suicide risk assessment. The Columbia Protocol was developed jointly by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Pennsylvania, in conjunction with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). In 2011, it was adopted by the CDC and today it is used worldwide to assess at-risk individuals.

The Columbia Protocol is a series of three to six simple, direct questions that you ask the person you are concerned about. The answers they give will provide enough information to know whether they need help and whether urgent action is needed (download the free Columbia Protocol toolkit now).

If your child or someone else you know tells you they are considering suicide, don’t judge them. Instead, show compassion for their feelings. Next, get help from a mental health professional or a suicide crisis hotline. The crisis hotline is especially critical if the person is in immediate danger of attempting suicide.

Never leave someone alone if they are threatening suicide. If you believe they are in immediate danger, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) in the United States. The line is open 24/7.

Let Us Help

If you are worried about yourself or a loved one who may be at risk for suicide, talk to the mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida. Contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

References

Forum on Global Violence Prevention; Board on Global Health; Institute of Medicine; National Research Council. Contagion of Violence: Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2013 Feb 6. II.4, THE CONTAGION OF SUICIDAL BEHAVIOR. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207262/

 

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