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Eating Disorders

What are eating disorders?

     Eating disorders are serious illnesses that cause “extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues”. Contrary to what some believe, eating disorders are not simply “phases“, and can seriously impair a person physically and mentally. There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

     Anorexia nervosa is characterized by extreme weight loss due to under-eating, fasting, excessive dieting, or excessive exercise. People who suffer from anorexia nervosa exhibit an intense fear of gaining weight, and often believe they are overweight even when at a healthy or normal weight. People with bulimia nervosa share many of the same thoughts and fears of gaining weight, but instead exhibit a cycle of binging on large amounts of food and then purging to counteract the effects of binge-eating. Unlike anorexia nervosa, those with bulimia nervosa may be at a healthy weight or overweight. Unlike anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder is characterized by excessive eating without purging. Those who suffer from binge-eating feel a loss of control over their eating habits, and can often lead to other serious physical problems.

Eating disorders are very common; about 8 million adults in the U.S. are estimated to be suffering from eating disorders. Although eating disorders are most commonly associated with women, men can also suffer from them as well. All eating disorders are treatable through support, therapy, and careful attention to medical and psychological needs.

What are signs/symptoms of eating disorders?

The National Institute of Mental Health lists the signs and symptoms of eating disorders as:

  • Anorexia nervosa
      • Extreme thinness (emaciation)
      • A relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight
      • Intense fear of gaining weight
      • Distorted body image, a self-esteem that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape, or a denial of the seriousness of low body weight
      • Lack of menstruation among girls and women
      • Extremely restricted eating.
    • Bulimia nervosa
      • Similar to anorexia
      • Frequent, recurring episodes of eating large amounts of food
      • Feeling of no control over food consumption
      • Purging behaviors
        • Forced vomiting
        • Excessive use of laxatives or diuretics
        • Fasting
        • Excessive exercise
      • Binge-eating
        • Loss of control over eating habits
        • Eating unusually large amounts of food in short periods of time, even when not hungry
        • Feelings of guilt, shame, disgust, or depression about eating
        • Frequent dieting, with or without weight loss
      • Other symptoms that develop over time
        • Chronically inflamed and sore throat
        • Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area
        • Worn tooth enamel, increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth as a result of exposure to stomach acid
        • Acid reflux disorder and other gastrointestinal problems
        • Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
        • Severe dehydration from purging of fluids
        • Electrolyte imbalance (too low or too high levels of sodium, calcium, potassium and other minerals) which can lead to heart attack.

What are the risk factors for eating disorders?

  • Having family or friends who suffer from eating disorders
  • Young women (teens to early 20s) are more likely to report having an eating disorder
  • Having certain disorders such as anxiety or depression
  • Important life transitions, such as starting college or a new job
  • Dieting can cause feelings about weight and weight loss that may lead to development of an eating disorder

What are treatment options for eating disorders?

     Treatment for these disorders are often long-term, and are mainly treated through various types of therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, and group therapy. The goal of treatment for eating disorders is to change the mindset surrounding food and weight in order to encourage those who suffer from eating disorders to maintain healthy thoughts and behaviors when it comes to eating and dieting. Health care professionals may also focus on weight restoration and nutrition education, as well as encourage lifestyle changes that can promote lasting mental and physical health. In some cases, medication is used to treat symptoms of other illnesses that may affect eating disorders, or to control urges in the case of binge-eating.

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Eating Disorders was originally published on | Redefining Mental Health



Anxiety Disorders

What are anxiety disorders?

     In many situations, anxiety is a normal, healthy feeling that can actually be helpful. It makes us alert, aware, and provides motivation. Uncontrollable anxiety, however, is a serious and often debilitating disorder that can cause sufferers to feel overly anxious for no apparent reason. Anxiety disorders are different from regular feelings of anxiety and nervousness that are normally felt in anticipation of big or important events.

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, and social anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by an intense worry over relatively small things that can interfere with daily life. Similarly, social anxiety disorder is an intense fear of social situations, in which those who suffer from it are worried about being judged or embarrassed. Panic disorder is characterized by the presence of panic attacks, that can make the sufferer feel like they are in danger even if they are not. These attacks can happen at any time, in any place, and can range from lasting a few minutes to a few hours. People who suffer from specific phobias exhibit an intense, irrational fear of certain situations or objects. Though sufferers will often recognize that their fears are unfounded, they can go to great lengths to avoid these certain situations or objects. Obsessive compulsive disorder is characterized by sets of symptoms known as either obsessions or compulsions. Obsessions are recurring, unwanted, or obtrusive thoughts that cause anxiety and often unwarranted fear. Compulsions are behaviors that a person feels they must perform in order to alleviate fear caused by the obsessive thoughts.

Anxiety disorders affect about 18% of adults in the U.S., and are highly treatable through therapy, support, and medication.

What are signs/symptoms of anxiety disorders?

   The National Institute of Mental Health lists the signs and symptoms of the different anxiety disorders as:

    • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
      • Persistent, irrational fears
      • Difficulty relaxing or calming themselves
      • Difficulty concentrating
      • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
      • Physical symptoms
      • Fatigue
      • Headaches
      • Muscle tension
      • Muscle aches
      • Difficulty swallowing
      • Trembling
      • Twitching
      • Irritability
      • Sweating
      • Lightheadedness
      • Nausea
      • Frequent trips to the bathroom
      • Breathlessness
      • Hot flashes
    • Social Anxiety
      • Be very anxious about being with other people and have a hard time talking to them, even though they wish they could
      • Be very self-conscious in front of other people and feel embarrassed
      • Be very afraid that other people will judge them
      • Worry for days or weeks before an event where other people will be
      • Stay away from places where there are other people
      • Have a hard time making friends and keeping friends
      • Blush, sweat, or tremble around other people
      • Feel nauseous or sick to their stomach when with other people
      • Panic Disorder
      • Sudden and repeated attacks of fear
      • A feeling of being out of control during a panic attack
      • An intense worry about when the next attack will happen
      • A fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have occurred in the past
      • Physical symptoms during an attack, such as a pounding or racing heart, sweating, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness, feeling hot or a cold chill, tingly or numb hands, chest pain, or stomach pain
    • Specific Phobia
      • Avoidance of specific object or situation
      • Panic and fear
      • Rapid heartbeat
      • Shortness of breath
      • Trembling
      • A strong desire to get away
    • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
        • Have repeated thoughts or images about many different things, such as fear of germs, dirt, or intruders; acts of violence; hurting loved ones; sexual acts; conflicts with religious beliefs; or being overly tidy
        • Do the same rituals over and over such as washing hands, locking and unlocking doors, counting, keeping unneeded items, or repeating the same steps again and again
        • Can’t control the unwanted thoughts and behaviors
        • Don’t get pleasure when performing the behaviors or rituals, but get brief relief from the anxiety the thoughts cause
        • Spend at least 1 hour a day on the thoughts and rituals, which cause distress and get in the way of daily life.

What are the risk factors for anxiety disorders?”

[sources: Mayo Clinic, NIMH]
      • Family history of anxiety
      • Stress
      • Experiencing a traumatic event
      • Having a serious illness
      • Drug or alcohol use

What are treatment options for anxiety disorders?”

Though treatment for anxiety mainly depends on the type of disorder, therapy and medication are two of the more commonly prescribed treatments. Medication does not cure anxiety, but helps to manage symptoms while a person participates in therapy. Therapy typically consists of cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which effective coping strategies and stress management techniques are identified.

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Anxiety Disorders was originally published on | Redefining Mental Health




What is depression?

     Depression is a serious condition that is different from ordinary feelings of sadness. While it is normal for people to feel down or unhappy from time to time, clinical depression is a persistent state of unhappiness, and can seriously disrupt how a person feels, thinks, or behaves. Many people who suffer from depression have difficulty functioning on a day-to-day basis; they can feel overwhelmed or consumed by their thoughts,  and often don’t find pleasure in activities or hobbies they used to enjoy.

There are varying degrees of depression that can be diagnosed by a doctor. Major depression is the most commonly diagnosed form of depression, and is characterized by experiencing a combination of symptoms that is severe enough to interfere with normal daily functioning. Some other types of depression include seasonal affective disorder, bipolar depression (more about bipolar disorder here), and postpartum depression.

 Depression is one of the most diagnosed mental health disorders. It is estimated that about 19 million people in the U.S. suffer from depression in a given year. People with depression cannot simply “get over” their feelings– ongoing treatment is often necessary for recovery. Fortunately, depression is highly treatable through a variety of methods. The best source of effective and comprehensive  treatment options is through consulting with trained health care professionals.

What are signs/symptoms of depression?

[source: NIMH]
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.

What are the risk factors for depression?

     Depression is an illness that can affect anyone, but there are certain risk factors that can contribute to its development or onset:
  • Family history of depression
  • Having friends with depression
  • Previous episode(s) of depression
  • Experiencing a traumatic event
  • Excessive drug or alcohol use
  • Having a serious illness
  • Taking certain medications**
    • High blood pressure medications
    • Corticosteroids
    • Benzodiazepines
    • Parkinson’s disease medications
    • Hormone-altering drugs
    • Anticonvulsants
    • Stimulants
    • Gastroesophageal reflux disease and gastrointestinal disorder medications
    • Cholesterol lowering medications

**Note: Talk to your doctor before discontinuing any medications**

What are treatment options for depression?

     Depression can be treated using a variety of methods, including therapy, medication, or certain lifestyle changes. There are several antidepressant medications available. Each medication has their own pros and cons, and some trial and error may be necessary before the right medication is found. A doctor may also recommend counseling, therapy, or hospitalization for especially severe episodes of depression. There are also a number of lifestyle changes (such as exercise, meditation, or dietary changes) that can improve the effectiveness of prescribed treatments. While these alternative treatment methods may be helpful, a doctor should be consulted to determine any potential health risks that may be present.

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Depression was originally published on | Redefining Mental Health




What is ADD/ADHD?

     Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), sometimes referred to attention deficit disorder (ADD), is a condition that is characterized by problems paying attention, poor impulse control, restlessness, and hyperactivity. Some degree of these characteristics is normal for most people. However, AD/HD causes serious disruptions in a person’s daily life, and often interferes with their ability to focus or complete tasks. There are three subtypes of AD/HD: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and combined (inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive).

It is estimated that about 8 million adults and about 5 million children in the U.S. suffer from AD/HD. Although the average onset age is 7 years old, AD/HD can occur in both children and adults. Individuals who have AD/HD are likely to continue suffering from the symptoms throughout their lifetimes. There are many treatment options for AD/HD, and many health care professionals recommend a combination of therapy, counseling, and medication as the most effective way to manage symptoms.

What are the signs/symptoms of ADD/ADHD?

     There are three categories of symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The National Institute of Mental Health lists the signs and symptoms of ADHD as:

  • Inattention
    • Be easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another
    • Have difficulty focusing on one thing
    • Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless they are doing something enjoyable
    • Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task or learning something new
    • Have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities
    • Not seem to listen when spoken to
    • Daydream, become easily confused, and move slowly
    • Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
    • Struggle to follow instructions.
  • Hyperactivity
    • Fidget and squirm in their seats
    • Talk nonstop
    • Dash around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight
    • Have trouble sitting still during dinner, school, and story time
    • Be constantly in motion
    • Have difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities.
  • Impulsivity
    • Be very impatient
    • Blurt out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences
    • Have difficulty waiting for things they want or waiting their turns in games
    • Often interrupt conversations or others’ activities.

What are the risk factors for ADD/ADHD?

  • Having a family history of AD/HD
  • Environmental toxin exposure (ex: lead)
  • Premature birth
  • Maternal drug or alcohol use during pregnancy
  • Maternal exposure to certain environmental toxins

What are treatment options for ADD/ADHD?

     There are a variety of treatment options available for AD/HD. While medication is one of the ways attention and focus can be improved, it is only one way symptoms can be managed, it is most effective when used in conjunction with therapy and counseling. In some cases, individuals with AD/HD may be able to successfully control their symptoms without medication, instead focusing on lifestyle changes and the cognitive/behavioral aspects. Some alternatives to medication include dietary changes, exercise, and relaxation/meditation techniques.

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ADD/ADHD was originally published on | Redefining Mental Health


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