1. Coping With Mental Illness: Anxiety, Depression, Adult ADHD and Other Conditions

    June 14, 2013

    by Valerie Johnston

    Mental illness can easily interfere with a person’s quality of life, even if the issues aren’t outwardly apparent. People who suffer from mental illness often struggle with inner demons that can make the ordinary tasks of life seem like burdens that are impossible to overcome. Each type of mental illness has its own unique set of problems as well as methods of psychological treatment. However, there are a few coping strategies that can help people with any kind of mental illness or disorder, from anxiety and depression, to adult ADHD and other serious types of mental illnesses.

    Step 1: Get Help

    Mental illness still carries a stigma in many communities; so people are often reluctant to seek treatment for their condition. If you are experiencing the symptoms of any mental illness or disorder, it is important to realize that the problem that you are suffering from is a real and physical problem. Though you may or may not be able to see any outward physical problems of the condition, that doesn’t make the symptoms any less real. If you are experiencing anxiety, fear, depression, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, or any other symptom, you should plan a visit to the psychiatrist or clinical psychologist to get help. At the very least, you should confide in family members or friends that you trust. They will be able to give you some support and advice to help you move forward.

    Step 2: Develop a Plan for Treatment

    The best way to cope with mental illness is to get regular treatment from a doctor, clinical psychologist, or psychiatrist. They will be able to help you treat your condition in any number of ways. They may prescribe medication that will help reduce your symptoms and make coping with your condition easier, though medications do not necessarily have to be used as the first line of defense. Many clinical psychologists will suggest starting with therapy (e.g. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to help you learn how to cope with your mental illness. Having regular appointments with a therapist can help you work through some of your issues and create routines that make it easier to manage the symptoms of depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, or whatever type of mental illness you are suffering from.

    Step 3: Build a Network of Support

    There is no doubt that patients who have a support system will experience far better success rates with their treatment of mental illness. Coping with the stress and added anxiety of a mental illness is easier when you have friends and family members who can take some of the burden away from you. It is important to build a support network and to involve these people in your treatment, so they can know how to help you cope. If your family and friends are aggravating your symptoms and making your condition worse, they might not know what to do to help you manage your condition. Sit down and talk with them, and explain to them how they can help you cope with different types of situations.

    Step 4: Make Lifestyle Changes

    Sometimes our lives are a source of undue stress, and this can easily aggravate any type of health problem, especially a problem like depression, ADD, or bipolar disorder. Clinical psychologists recommend taking the time to evaluate your life and look for ways to reduce your stress levels, which will hopefully help alleviate some of the problems you are dealing with. If work is particularly stressful, try to sit down and talk to your employers about your condition.

    See if there is anything they can do to help make the work environment more productive and less triggering for your illness. Make changes to your thinking, positive thinking is the best remedy for anxiety and depression. It is equally important to make sure your home life is as balanced and stress free as can be as well. Have your family members lend a hand, so you can cut down on the stress at home. Making changes to your lifestyle can reduce your level of stress and ultimately make it easier to cope with the symptoms of your illness.

    Image Credit: Mark Sebastian

  2. Help! I Think My Son Has ADHD

    June 9, 2013

    ADHD child 

    by  Kassandra Brown

    Recently a client of mine (let’s call her Sue) shared that she had taken an on-line test to check whether she had ADD or ADHD. “A couple of my friends kept making jokes about me being ADD,” Sue said to me. “After a while I thought I’d see if they were right.” Her scores placed her in the ‘very strong probability’ category for ADHD.

    Sue shared this information with me in our parent coaching session because she noticed that her son exhibits the same ADHD traits from the on-line test. She was wondering if she should talk with her son’s teachers. She also wondered about the consequences of having her son labeled as ADHD.

    Labels: Harm or Benefit?

    In medical treatment, it’s easy to get caught up in labels. Labels have power. They can be useful when they indicate a well known and helpful treatment path. Unfortunately, labels can also take on an unhealthy life of their own.

    Are you curious about what’s right for your child? Asking a few key questions may help clarify your path.

    • Are you planning on getting a formal screening or evaluation for your child?
    • If you screen or evaluate, what do you plan to do with the information from that screening or evaluation?
    • What is the existing relationship between your child and their teacher?
    • Do you and your child experience trust and caring with the child’s teacher?
    • Is the relationship between your child and their teacher adversarial?

    Sue thought she should ask her son’s teacher to treat him as though he had ADHD. Sue thought doing this would help the teacher use a current model for ADHD to positively motivate the child. She also thought this might help the teacher to view the child’s disruption as a symptom rather than as misbehavior.

    How might Sue answer these key questions? Sue wants her son to be treated well in school. She wants him to have a learning environment that works with his natural tendencies. She is not planning on a formal screening. She also has no plans for medication. Currently her son has a respectful and kind relationship with his teacher.

    Creative Solutions (Without Labels)

    The teacher relocated Sue’s son’s desk to accommodate his active learning style. She gave him a desk in the back row of the classroom where he is free to stand and move as long as he’s also doing his work. Being in the back of the classroom allows Sue’s son freedom of movement without disrupting his classmates. The solution is elegant in its simplicity and effectiveness.

    Since the teacher is already showing a willingness to work with Sue’s child, I advised Sue not to share her ADHD suspicions. The danger of labeling Sue’s son is that that label will follow him from grade to grade. It may cause his next teacher to assess his needs, abilities, and mental health before getting to know him as a person. Instead, I suggested to Sue that she continue to form good relationships with her child’s teachers, advocate for his needs, and help implement positive solutions.

    You can do this too. Talk to your child’s teachers at the beginning of the year. Be willing to share past challenges and solutions. Share your goals for your child’s learning. Be willing to help support the teacher.

    Teachers are often busy trying to balance many needs and learning styles within the same classroom. Sharing your assessment of your child’s needs and also offering to help can help your child’s teacher hear better manage your child’s needs. Perhaps you can volunteer to come in once a week, teach something you know well, or support a subset of the class during small group work.

    Many parents hesitate to offer help in the classroom because of a belief that classrooms are only for ‘real’ teachers. “What do I have to offer?” you, as a parent, may wonder.  The answer is “A lot!” Just stepping in to sit with the kids and help them when they get stuck takes pressure off the teacher. The less pressure the teacher is under, the more likely he or she will be to be creative and flexible. This benefits everyone including your child.

    Another reason parents often hesitate to volunteer in the classroom is that they do not feel they have the time. In order to know if that’s true ask, “How much time does it take to help?” If you can’t volunteer weekly, perhaps one hour a month might be enough to make a huge difference. Often there is some way for you to help at your child’s school, perhaps even before or after school. If your offer is sincere, you can find a way.

    Getting to know the teacher, offering the teacher support, and communicating your child’s needs can create a successful learning environment that diagnosis alone cannot. This was true for Sue and it may be true for your family too. Before ADHD screening, evaluations, and medication, I recommend thinking about your goals and formulating a plan for positive change. If you need assistance in doing this, I am happy to help.

    Have labels helped you and your children? When have labels stood in the way? Share your experiences with us.

    Image Credit: Nwardez

  3. Three Most Common Misconceptions of ADHD

    June 3, 2013

    Girl with ADHD

    by TK Cooke

    Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (hereon ADHD) has come into public scrutiny as of late because of the media blitz reporting on its overdiagnosis. The increased scrutiny is not without cause—a report from Psychology Today stated that the diagnosis of ADHD has increased by more than 40% over the past decade. The increased scrutiny has also brought upon a lot of misconceptions about the disorder and what it entails. So to set the record straight, we are going to talk about some of the more common misconceptions of ADHD. The following are three of the most commonly-held misconceptions about the disorder:

    Adderall (Or any other ADHD medication) Makes You Study (Better)

    This is a common belief among those who do not have ADHD, especially those in college. Ritalin, Adderall, and other methylphenidate/amphetamine run rampant in colleges, with many students believing it to be the silver bullet to acing their finals. This is a myth. ADHD medication will not make you do anything you didn’t want to do in the first place. Although popularly labeled as a stimulant, The Last Psychiatrist thinks ADHD medication should be labeled as reinforcers instead. The medication reinforces your will—but if you do not have a will to study, then there is nothing to reinforce. Yes, Ritalin (and the like) will make you hyper-focused. But what you are going to focus on is entirely up to you. If you want to talk to your significant other, the medication will make you focus on that and no medication in the world is going to make you study if you don’t want to.

    If I Can’t Concentrate, I Must Have ADHD

    The lack of concentration is just one of the hosts of symptoms used to render a diagnosis of ADHD. If you find yourself unable to concentrate but do not display any other types of symptoms, it does not mean you have ADHD.  ADHD is broken into several subsets: inattentive, impulsive-hyperactive, or combined, and the disorder itself presents the following set of symptoms:

    • Difficulty paying attention to details
    • Easily distracted by trivial matters (such as a buzzing sound or crickets chirping)
    • Difficulty finishing work or participating in activities that requires some sort of prolonged attention
    • Frequently shifting from one thing to another without ever finishing
    • Procrastination
    • Disorganized
    • Forgetfulness
    • Tendency to make careless mistakes
    • Failure to complete tasks
    • Frequent shifts in conversation
    • Not listening to other people while they talk
    • Fidgeting, squirming when seated
    • Getting up frequently to walk or run around
    • Running or climbing excessively when it’s inappropriate (in teens this may appear as restlessness)
    • Difficulty in a quiet setting
    • Always needing to be ‘on the go’ and doing something
    • Excessive talking
    • Impatience
    • Difficulty delaying responses
    • Difficulty controlling impulse for immediate gratification
    • Frequently interrupting others in order to get your point in
    • Starting conversations at times that would seem inappropriate

    You do not have to have all the above symptoms for a diagnosis of ADHD; however you do need to display a more than just inattention. And remember, you cannot develop ADHD as an adult—the onset of the disorder is only from early childhood.

    ADHD is Not Real?

    On the other side of the spectrum are non-believers who do not believe that ADHD is a real disorder. This misconception stems from the same originating premise as the previous misconception—that the only symptom of ADHD is the lack of concentration. Although ADHD is a highly subjective diagnosis, advances in neuroscience have made it possible to diagnose the disorder via imaging studies. Brain scans have shown that those with ADHD have a variant dopamine receptor gene that has been linked to regulating behavior. In addition, studies using brain scans have also found that ADHD is related to lowered dopamine production.

    Image Credit: Mark Sebastian