1. Understanding Personality Disorders

    October 3, 2013

    by Jessica Galbraith

    Personality disorders are widely misunderstood by the general public. Although an estimated 10% of people have some type of personality disorder (Mental Health Foundation), the negative stigma that is attached to them makes diagnosing and follow-up treatment difficult. There are ten major types of personality disorders, which cover a wide range of personality spectrum.

    Getting diagnosed can be a challenge in itself, and usually includes psychological testing by a registered psychologist or psychiatrist, extensive interviews, and meeting strict criteria specified by Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Let us explore what exactly constitutes a personality disorder, the diagnostic process, and the treatment options available to those who have been diagnosed.

    Getting diagnosed with a personality disorder can be scary, but also brings relief.

    What is a personality disorder?

    Each of us has our own unique personality which determines how we behave, process, and feel. We each react to situations differently, from social engagements to trauma. As we go through life, we learn to cope with these experiences. For someone with a personality disorder, this becomes much more difficult. They may feel isolated, misunderstood, and have a generally hard time in every aspect of life. The illness affects their relationships and how they process their feelings.

    What types of personality disorders are there?

    There are ten officially recognized personality disorders, which are categorized into three groups.

    •  Suspicious Disorders: paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder.
    •  Emotional and Impulsive Disorders: anti-social personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder
    •  Anxious Disorders: avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, obsessive compulsive personality disorder

    Depression and anxiety are often present with a personality disorder, however the severity can range from mild to unmanageable. In addition, many sufferers deal with issues such as self-harm, eating disorders, panic attacks, and substance abuse.

     on the edge of suicide

    90% of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable personality disorder.

    Diagnosing and Treatment

    Getting diagnosed is often the biggest issue in mental health. Most people don’t seek help until they are forced to by family or friends, or until their illness escalates into a serious situation. Once a healthcare professional is able to assess what the person is dealing with, they will check if they meet enough criteria to be officially diagnosed with a disorder. A large majority of people who suffer from a mental health disorder, meet the criteria for two or even three others. There is usually multiple interviews to determine if the issues are constant or only related to a recent life changing event such as a divorce or loss. Once it has been established that they are dealing with a personality disorder, a treatment plan is devised. For many years, the general consensus was that there was no cure for mental illness. This is changing rapidly however, as research and mental illness education is becoming more accepted and prevalent. Those who have been diagnosed with a personality disorder, more often than not, face a lifetime struggle trying to find a balance through medication and therapy. The goal is usually to manage the disorder as much as possible rather than fix it. Medication can help side issues such as anxiety and depression, and psychotherapy is effective in addressing feelings and concerns as they arise.

    Common Misconceptions

    Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths out there on mental illness. One of the most common is that personality disorders are not treatable. While treatment is never expected to ‘fix’ the person, it does make life manageable; many people live normal lives with families, jobs, and a functional day-to-day. Another common myth is that mental illness isn’t a real condition. This of course, just isn’t the case. Mental illness is as real as any physical illness and has been linked to genetics and other neurological factors. Mental illness is also commonly believed to be a weakness in a person, and that it is something they should be able to snap out of. These types of misconceptions do tremendous harm to those who suffer with personality disorders. It can deter them in seeking help and creates feelings of shame.

    The misconceptions about mental illness are immense, but education initiatives are slowly making their mark.  As the general public becomes more informed, hopefully the myths and stigmas attached to mental illness will fade. There is still very limited research on the long-term benefits of various treatment options, but more and more research is being done. The future for those who suffer with mental illness has never looked better; but there is still a long way to go.

    Image Credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mytudut/5180391961 and http://www.flickr.com/photos/h-k-d/3685379062/

  2. Having A Mental Illness and Being Positive?

    August 22, 2013

     mental illness - positive thinking

    I hate “think positive” websites because most of them have no clue what it feels to have a mental illness. They give you this overly sweet message – just change this and that and you will be happy and achieve nirvana… Yet, I like Jeff’s blog – the message here is “bitter-sweet”, it doesn’t feel “fake positive” if you know what I mean…  Here, I decided to focus on the positive in my life, so let’s give it a shot:

    1. Finding out who your true friends are. Nothing makes people run away faster than the mention of a mental illness. At the beginning everyone sticks around but as time progresses the number gets smaller and smaller until your real friends are left.

    2. Finding out what your truly capable of. I never knew how much inner strength or will power I truly had until I became sick. After going to your absolute bottom and somehow finding the strength to still fight you find out who you truly are at the core level.

    3. Finding out what is important. At one point I had the middle class dream of a nice paycheck and a house with a white picket fence. After the depression tornado took everything away I learned the only thing that really matters are the people in your life for they can never be replaced.

    4. The ability to start over. After the mental illness beast has finally left your world you are awarded a second chance of choosing on what kind of life you want to live a luxury the “normal” people cannot pull off very easily.

    5. The power of knowing. For a very long time I seem to be wandering around in the dark with no visible purpose in my life and I could never figure out why. When the day came and the realization that I was mentally ill a boulder was lifted off of my shoulder for now I had an answer and knew exactly what I had to do to fix it. The purpose of my life is simple and that is to enjoy life as we only get one crack at it.

    To be completely honest here I am rather amazed that I was able to think of five reasons to be positive and I am sure there is a lot more, but the meds are working a little bit too well tonight so my brain appears to be running in slow motion.


    Andrew R.

  3. Taking it to Heart: the Connection between Mental Illness and Heart Disease

    July 21, 2013

    Mental Illness and Heart Disease

    by Carolyn Heintz

    For years, researchers have deliberated the symbiotic connection between mental illness and heart disease. Not only do those living with mental illness have a propensity for developing heart disease, but individuals diagnosed with heart disease are often likely to develop mental health problems. This reciprocal relationship is a complex one that requires vigilance in both (1) actively working to improve heart health and (2) maintaining positive and open communication with your doctors.


    Preventing Heart Disease when You Have Preexisting Mental Health Issues


    Unfortunately, those living with mental illness are likely to engage in unhealthy heart behaviors like smoking and a poor diet. Additionally, these individuals often suffer from high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which only increase their chances of developing heart disease. The key is to promote heart health by making some necessary lifestyle changes.

    First of all, physical activity is absolutely crucial; even adding a short walk after meals can make a substantial difference. For those living with mental illness, it can be difficult to find the motivation for fitness. The key is to find activities that you truly find enjoyable, preferably with a friend or partner who will hold you accountable to routine exercise. Sign up for a salsa dance class, go on regular hikes, whatever you find gratifying—just be sure to do something to get your heart rate up.

    Second, adopt a more balanced diet. Remember: moderation is the name of the game. An occasional treat is perfectly acceptable (go for that cupcake!) but don’t overdo it. Operate by the 80/20 rule: 80% of the time make responsible diet choices and leave 20% for treats. Also, make a conscious effort to incorporate more fruits and veggies into your diet and reduce your sodium (salt) intake. Look for choices that are high in fiber and avoid foods that contain bad fats (like saturated and trans-fats). Portion control is also advisable: pay attention to deceptive serving sizes on the “Nutrition Facts” table.

    Third, consider adding supplements to your routine. Both fish oil and flaxseed are said to have a beneficial impact on your heart health; but make sure you follow the recommended dosage. In line with this preventative thinking, consider adding preventative screenings to your yearly routine. These health screenings give you a greater awareness of your body and your health and can help avoid health problems later on in life.


    Maintaining Mental Health after Heart Disease Diagnosis


                It’s a two-way street; a heart disease diagnosis can also spur mental health problems. According to Harvard Mental Health Letter’s “Depression and Heart Disease: Mind and mood affect the heart,” nearly half of all hospitalized heart patients experience some sort of symptoms of depression and up to 20% of said patients will actually develop depression.

    Receiving a heart disease diagnosis is a terrifying experience, but it is vital to maintain positive communication with your cardiologist. Ask questions, ask for advice, and don’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk to your doctor about any mental health issues you may experience. Be open about what you are feeling and be receptive to your cardiologist’s advice; you will not shock them with any negative feelings—they’ve seen it all before and can offer valuable guidance over the course of your treatment. Most importantly, remember that half of heart disease patients are feeling the same thing you are and you are not alone.

    Mind over Matter


                The link between the body and mind is powerful and undeniable. As many of you know, mental illness affects your entire body and the heart is no exception. I know it can be difficult, but it is absolutely crucial to maintain a healthy heart in order to live a full, healthy life. Whether you live with mental illness or heart disease, don’t underestimate the link between the two and make whatever necessary changes to keep both in check.



    Image Source: Wikimedia Commons; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Love_heart.jpg

  4. What is Social Anxiety and How to Beat It

    July 13, 2013

    anxious and crying

    It is quite common for people to feel tense or awkward during social interactions. If this happens to you often or if you feel stressed before meeting other people, you might suffer from social anxiety. Do the following situations make you anxious?

    • Large crowds of people
    • Meetings
    • Social settings
    • Public speaking
    • Parties
    • Getting to know new people
    • Working in groups
    • People that praise or acknowledge you
    • Receiving attention from other people

    Varying degrees of social anxiety

    If one or more of these things make you nervous it doesn’t necessary mean you suffer from social anxiety. There is a bit of ambiguity here but you need to keep in mind that many people feel a bit nervous in one or more of these situations. There are varying degrees of social anxiety too. A good way to diagnose yourself is by answering the question: ‘Do I actively try to steer clear of social occasions?’ If your answer to this question is ‘yes’, you probably do suffer from social anxiety. If you really want to find out if you have social anxiety, the best way is to see a professional who can diagnose you properly. If you feel avoiding social situations is a daily disruption, it might be time to admit you suffer from a mental problem. The first step to solving a problem is to admit that you have a problem.

    Mental problem

    When you fear judgement by others, you may suffer from a social phobia. When you suffer from this, you fear you will be embarrassed or lose control in a social setting. The fear of embarrassment can cause people to actively try to avoid social situations. A social phobia will get worse when people find themselves in a social situation they don’t want to be in, which will cause them to act in an irrational way. After this happens they’ll try to avoid a social occasion even more. In certain settings, a lot of people will be nervous. Especially talking in front of groups of people is something not all of us are comfortable with. Many of us will feel self-conscious under these circumstances but still have the strength to push through. People with a mental problem have such a strong reaction to this that they physically will not be able to stand up and talk. They experience stressful days, weeks or even months before the event will take place.

    Control your inner voice

    Everyone has an inner voice that can give you positive messages or negative messages. You can say to yourself ‘I’m not successful with other people and in social situations.’ The more often you say this to yourself, the more you will begin to believe your own story. You’ve got the opportunity to have a positive life story or a negative one. You can treat social anxiety with visualization techniques and imagery. You can get rid of a negative belief by opposing it yourself. For instance, if you believe you aren’t good at meeting new people, try to think back of a time where you were successful on such an occasion. Meditate on it and write it down: every time you read this you’ll think back of something positive where you handled the situation well. This will challenge the negative belief you have about yourself and make you feel more confident.

    Do you really have a mental problem?

    You need to be absolutely positive you have social anxiety. It is dangerous to think that something is wrong with you when you’re perfectly normal. Unfortunately, some doctors are quite willing to prescribe drugs to you even when you don’t have a mental problem. You need to keep in mind that there is a difference between being a little stressed when you meet someone new versus having a mental illness. Therefore, if you’re often stressed in social occasions don’t run to the doctor immediately but rather try to control your inner voice through meditation and doing things that make you feel more confident.

    Image Credit: Anaïs Nannini

  5. 5 Most Common Mental Illnesses Seen In High School Kids

    April 25, 2013


    by Cindy Peters, School Psychologist

    Struggling with a mental illness at any age can be emotionally devastating and overwhelming for some. High school students have difficult enough time fitting in, maintaining their grades and planning for their futures let alone struggling with a mental illness during the process. Understanding the five most common mental illnesses seen in high school kids can help to better relate and empathize with individuals who may be facing a challenge during some of the toughest years of their lives.


    Depression is a common mental disorder and illness that not only affects high school students, but children, adults and the elderly alike. Depression causes overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, sadness and in severe instances, thoughts or actions related to suicide. Depression can be brought on by stress, interference with home life and other relationships in a high school teen’s life. Avoiding family and friends, withdrawing from everyday activities, an increase in sleep and the inability to focus are also signs of depression. Overcoming depression is possible with psychotherapy, becoming self-aware and in some cases, even medication.


    Anxiety is another common mental illness that can become overbearing depending on the severity of the disorder and the patient’s surroundings. Anxiety causes individuals to avoid situations and people, especially when being around them triggers sweating, nausea and full-blown panic attacks. Teens struggling with anxiety may ultimately begin slacking in class, avoiding friends and even skipping school altogether. Anxiety can make it increasingly challenge to feel safe and without worry, even in a classroom environment. Recognizing triggers and causes of anxiety in an individual is a key factor in recovering and determining the right methods of treatment. According to psychologists, anxiety and depression are two most common mental health issues causing people seek psychotherapy.

    Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

    Obsessive compulsive disorder, also known as OCD, is a mental illness that can feel suffocating to teens and any individual suffering with it. OCD can cause mental blocks that trigger patients to feel the need to count obsessively, move objects without reason and worry and fear unnecessarily. Repeated cleaning and washing while handling intrusive thoughts are all part of OCD, which can wreak havoc on anyone’s life. Various forms of psychotherapy, medication and self-reflection treatments are available when overcoming OCD depending on the symptoms the patient is dealing with and the severity of the compulsions.

    Substance Abuse

    Substance abuse is another disorder that can ultimately lead to an out of control lifestyle, especially for teens who are still in high school. Abusing substances is often a behavior that is picked up and learned from a parents or guardian. Becoming addicted to alcohol, drugs and even prescription pills can cause teens to depend on them to function with everyday activities and social situations. Substance abuse can be treated by enrolling in a rehabilitation center or by becoming self-aware that there is a problem that needs to be fixed to live healthier and happier.

    Bipolar Disorder

    Bipolar disorder is another mental illness that can wreak havoc on anyone’s life, especially teens who are trying to get through their years in high school. Bipolar disorder is an illness that causing an imbalance of chemicals in the brain of the patient. The individual suffering from bipolar disorder often experiences extreme mood swings referred to as “mania” and the “depressed” phases. Feeling extremely high and optimistic one day and devastatingly sad or hopeless the next may be signs of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is very serious mental illness and requires treatment and monitoring by a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist.

    Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sluys/6267948293