Sexual Abuse

There are many forms of sexual violations, all of which are abusive and often result in sexual trauma.  Two major delineations exist:  childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual violence.  All acts under these two categories are considered sexual violence, especially if these are non-consensual or have been committed under duress.

Both childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual violence is further categorised as:

  1. Contact abuse — range of which includes sexual touching to outright rape.  Contact sexual violence may encompass completed or attempted penetration involving any of these parts: penis, vagina, anus, and mouth.  It can also involve sexual touching of the breasts, genitals, groin, inner thighs, buttocks, or anus.
  1. Non-contact abuse — may involve forced participation in pornography, exhibitionism, and inappropriate modelling of sexually provocative clothes or behaviour. Non-contact abuse or violence is usually voyeuristic and can include verbal and behavioural harassment.

Sexual abuse or violence is considered a childhood tragedy if the victim is under 18 years of age at the time the crime was committed.  Adult sexual violence refer to victims who are 18 years or older.

Psychological Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse

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Mental disorders often follow sexual abuse, particularly when the individuals in question are children.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common result among sexually molested children who because of a traumatic event or a series of them, experience terrifying feelings of extreme fear, helplessness, shame, and worthlessness.  These victims often exhibit negative coping symptoms such as numbness, lack of responsiveness, paranoia on perceived threats, and recurring nightmares.  As such a number of such patients additionally suffer from depression, anxiety disorder, substance abuse, and eating disorders.  Many may have suicidal thoughts and intentions as well.  These symptoms may impair an individual’s quality of life, making him unable to hold a job, get work, maintain relationships with friends and family, or do everyday tasks requiring some form of social contact.

Sexually abused children may grow up to be either sexually inhibited adults or highly promiscuous ones.  Because of repeated early exposure to sexual abuse, promiscuity may be patterned after the behaviour of the sexual abuser or perpetrator.  Those however who develop frigidity or low sexual drive may have difficulty entering into and maintaining close relationships.

Individuals who have been particularly severely sexually abused in their early years may develop Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  BPD is a difficult mental condition to treat and is characterised by maladjusted and immutable personality traits.  People afflicted with BPD often exhibit suicidal symptoms and have the propensity for self-harm, substance abuse, unsafe sex, and the like.

Unfortunately, survivors of childhood sexual abuse may develop both BPD and PTSD which some classify as complex PTSD.  People with complex PTSD may be plagued by extreme mood swings, unexplained physical pain, symptoms that defy medical explanation, and altered states of consciousness.  They may also exhibit other personality disorders characterised by extreme paranoia (Paranoid Personality Disorder); extreme shyness and a huge inferiority complex (Avoidant Personality Disorder); or the extreme need for admiration and lack of empathy (Narcissistic Personality Disorder).

Psychological Effects of Adult Sexual Violence

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Adult victims may develop short-term and long-term psychiatric symptoms.  PTSD symptoms such as sleeping problems, emotional numbness, and panic attacks can show a short time after the traumatic event but may taper off in severity after a few months.  There are, however, survivors that live with PTSD symptoms for years.

Research however has focused mostly on PTSD as the psychological repercussion of adult sexual violence.  Other disorders may be overlooked such as clinical depression; Body Dysmorphic Disorder characterised extreme attention to physical faults; or compulsory body mutilations such as excessive body piercing and tattooing.

How well adult survivors of sexual violence can cope after traumatic events had to do with their belief system used to interpret life experiences.  The more stringent this personal belief system is, the more psychologically distressed the survivor may be.  For instance, a woman who believes that her rape was a result of an outfit that showed more skin than usual, may possess higher degree of self blame and embarrassment.  If the victim also feels she has no control over her recovery or does not realise that she can empower herself against future sexual violence, she may be more mentally distressed than those who believe that the power of recovery lies in their willingness to change their perceptions or outlook for the better.

Sexual Abuse: A Public Health Concern

The psychological consequences of sexually abused people make for a public health problem.  More sexually abused victims increases the population of psychologically impaired citizens.  This has serious ramifications on a country’s social, economic, and physical well-being.  It is imperative to empower sexually abused victims with the psychological tools geared toward allowing them to take control of their emotional healing and recovery of self-worth.

There is no cut-and-dried response treatment to sexual abuse.  People react to abuse in many different ways and degrees, from mild to life-threatening.  Resultant emotions or behaviour may manifest immediately or be significantly delayed and their duration may vary from short-term to one lasting several years.

Psychiatrists however are now more aware of the strong link between abuse and ill mental health so that survivors of sexual abuse or violence may be better identified and referred to the right specialists for treatment.

The Psychology of Shyness

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Do you consider yourself shy?  If so, how shy?  Shyness is that tendency to feel socially uneasy, awkward, tense, and anxious when confronted with having to interact with people.  Social situations presented by parties, school life, and work may instil a bit of fear in many people.  Shyness can vary in degree from slight to severe.

It is normal for people to be shy from time to time or be generally shy during social interactions such as meeting new people or presenting something to an audience.  Shyness becomes abnormal however when it is pervasive and so intense that it keeps the person from relating to others even if they need to or want to.  When extreme shyness starts to be debilitating to one’s career and everyday life, shyness has morphed into a mental disorder called social phobia or social anxiety disorder (SAD).

Acute shyness was not recognised as a mental health problem until 1980, yet not many people have sought treatment for it.  Perhaps it is not considered as serious as other mental health issues; hence, the sufferers endure in silence and often cannot get what they want out of life.  Acute shyness is actually a phobia, an all consuming fear which incapacitates a person from carrying out work-related interactions or even normal everyday activities.  A person with social phobia may be so afraid of talking to others that he may avoid going to family gatherings, school, or even the grocery.

The Pain of Severe Shyness or Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

Unreasonable fears of social embarrassment, other people’s negative opinions, or people’s expectations are some of what characterise severe shyness or social anxiety disorder.  Individuals who are extremely shy often have the following personality problems:

  • Low self-confidence and low sense of self-worth; feelings of inferiority
  • Trouble asserting themselves
  • Very sensitive to criticism
  • Putting one’s self down with constant negative talk
  • Negative self-image
  • Inadequate social skills
  • Excessive self-consciousness
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Emotional turmoil
  • Baseless negative perceptions and irrational thoughts

The tragedy of untreated social phobia is that it affects all spheres of the individual’s life, from career to personal relationships.  An extremely shy person may:

  • be bypassed for promotions
  • have limited job opportunities
  • not finish his education or may drop out of school as the complexities of social interactions may be too much to bear
  • resort to substance abuse in the attempt to derive some social courage from these
  • develop eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia as a coping strategy
  • have the inability to establish intimacy in relationships
  • isolate himself from other people at work or even from family members
  • have difficulty starting or maintaining friendships
  • engender marital or familial conflicts due to low self worth

Indeed, a socially phobic person’s world is a lonely one where the sufferer imposes his self-isolation due to fears blown out of proportion.  Sometimes, the fears are so unreasonable but real to the people-phobic person that he may not even be able to carry out simple tasks that need being around and possibly communicating to strangers such as  going to the grocery, speaking to someone over the phone, using public restrooms, or trying out a new diner or cafe.

Because of these fears and self-imposed limitations, a very shy person may descend into depression and suffer from anxiety disorder as well.

Cause of Extreme Shyness

Social phobia may stem from a combination of many factors rooted in the biological, psychological, and environmental areas.  Some scientists believe it is genetic and that imbalances in hormones or brain chemicals contribute to feelings of anxiety and fear.  The environment may also shape the development and degree of SAD if an individual is constantly exposed to situations that decrease his level of self-worth and engender fear of being judged as inferior.  In many cases, it is not easy to point to one direct cause as the causes have not been clearly defined.

Treatment of Shyness

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A combination of psychiatric counselling and prescription drugs may be an effective treatment strategy for those with social anxiety disorder coupled with depression and generalised anxiety
disorder from SAD.  For those whose shyness is of a lesser degree, sans clinical depression or major panic attacks, only professional counselling may be all that is needed.

Counselling may involve Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).  Such therapy could include development of social skills; identification of the “whys and whats” of situations which are causing the social phobia; and improvement of perception and thinking patterns for better handling of social situations.

Prognosis for shy people opting to undergo CBT is very good.  One can overcome social anxiety if they follow and apply the cognitive strategies taught to them consistently in their daily lives.

Chronic Pain and Depression

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People who have been diagnosed with a medical condition and experience chronic pain because of it are quite likely to develop depression.  Chronic pain is debilitating and can impact everyday life by rendering suffering individuals dependent, powerless, and feeling very sick.  Suffering because of pain is already enough to make someone depressed but the added negative psychological effects pain brings can help deepen feelings of sadness, fear, and hopelessness.

Understanding Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is the condition in which pain from an injury or illness lasts longer than what is considered normal.  Chronic pain causes the body to react negatively, thus contributing to problems in other areas even if these are not related to the original pain source.  A body in prolonged pain can exhibit mood disorders, muscle pain, fatigue, and impaired cognitive and physical functions. Sometimes, chronic pain causes neurochemical changes which increase the body’s sensitivity to the pain.  The afflicted may actually start feeling pain in other areas of his body.

The Pain and Depression Tandem

Chronic pain is difficult to cope with so that many sufferers go into a depression.  Unfortunately, depression can amplify pain; so that the cycle continues…more pain leads to deeper depression and so on.  Depression’s symptoms such as insomnia, lack of energy, loss of appetite, and decreased physical activity are factors that worsen pain.

Depression’s viability as a partner of pain may rest on the fact that both share the same two neurotransmitters: 5-HT and NA.  Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that relay signals to help nerve cells communicate.  These chemicals send the messages for the heart to beat, the stomach to digest, and the lungs to take in air and expel it, among other signals.

Pain and depression often go hand in hand; but, they are not inseparable.  Depression may be treated separately with cognitive behavioural therapy and medication.  Relief from depression can decrease pain as well.

Physical and Emotional Issues Chronic Pain Induces:

A person experiencing chronic pain is often anxious and irritable.  He may also feel:

  • Angry
  • Constantly anxious or panicky
  • Mood swings
  • Low self-confidence
  • Confused
  • Decreased sexual appetite
  • Weight loss; weight gain
  • Physical weakening
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Fear of injury
  • Fatigue

All these symptoms also point to depression which needs to be treated in order to ease a patient’s pain and allow him to live capably with it.

Treatment

As mentioned, chronic pain and depression touch on the same neurotransmitters and nerve system.  As such, antidepressants can help relieve pain by making the brain change its perception of the pain’s degree while reducing the symptoms of depression as well.  New antidepressants such as Duloxetine HCL and Venlafaxine HCL do not have as much side effects as the older tricyclic antidepressants.

Depression can be further treated separately with talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  When depressive symptoms are reduced, the degree of chronic pain also usually decreases.

Physical exercise may also be recommended as part of the treatment plan.  Although it may be the last thing anyone in chronic pain would want to do, exercise is a necessary part of helping the body cope with the pain.  Consistent physical movement helps keep the body fit and less prone to more injuries and worsening pain.  Moreover, exercise helps dampen depression by increasing the very brain chemicals antidepressant drugs are designed to release.  A physician may help formulate a safe and effective exercise regimen for the patient.

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Cognitive Strategies for Dealing with Chronic Pain

There are no easy answers for dealing with chronic pain.  The person involved must make a lot of effort to take control of his condition and live successfully with it.  Some of the things a person in chronic pain can do are:

  • Learn as much as he can about type of chronic pain he is afflicted with.  Knowledge can lessen the fear that pain is causing more damage than what it is.
  • Know good sleep hygiene or habits that contribute to better rest and sleep.  Pain can be exacerbated by fatigue and a body that sees little rest.
  • Sidetrack pain or remove the focus from pain by engaging in things you like doing.  Being preoccupied with something of real interest could relegate pain into the background.
  • Knowing what thoughts are unhelpful and switching these for more positive ones in order to improve outlook and mood
  • Indulge in meditation and relaxation therapies in order to decrease overall muscle tension caused by pain.  Muscle tension actually exacerbates pain so a reduction of the tension could also spell pain reduction.

Chronic pain can change one’s life.  It can affect a person’s ability to work and live the way he was used to.  As such, it is important to factor in coping strategies into everyday life so that chronic pain and the depression it drags with it are not given the opportunity to radically lower one’s quality of life.

Immigration and Mental Health

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Immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are one of the most vulnerable social groups in the U.K. Most of these people are fleeing their home countries because of poverty, civil war, or a ruthless government.  Many of these countries are third world nations in which there are high incidences of disease, crime, torture, and separation from families.  As a consequence, some may have developed mental illness to some degree.  Others may have acquired some mental health issues owing to the stress of adapting to a new culture, system, lifestyle, and social treatment in their adoptive countries.

In the U.S., a high number of Asian American immigrants show depressive symptoms.  This is according to a 30-year old study, one reported by the University of Hawaii in 2011.  These people are stressed by the loss of their support system in their home countries and the pressing need to learn a new language and adapt to a foreign system.  Most of these immigrants may not have had mental health issues to begin with; but, the piling up of all the stressors from moving to a totally different country and society can contribute to the decline of mental health.  Children are particularly vulnerable to immigration stressors.

In the U.K., the African and African Caribbean communities have a high prevalence of depression and anxiety.  Everyday, people in these communities have to live with racism, difficulty in finding employment, bad housing conditions, and other stressors which can make many people, mentally ill.

Among African refugees and asylum seekers, PTSD is the most ubiquitous mental problem.  Mood disorders come second.  Some, being torture survivors, may be experiencing hallucinations, nightmares, panic attacks, sexual issues, acute phobias, and major depression.  These individuals may have difficulties forming relationships and developing trust.

Why Immigration Can Lead to Development of Mental Health Problems

When a person immigrates to another country or place, they face huge changes that they need to cope with:

  1. Upheaval of their social network and the need to re-establish personal, social, and business ties with new people
  2. Adapting from one type of socio-economic system to another
  3. Adapting to a new cultural system

Migrants have to leave the social ties they have built and try to forge new ones in the new host country.  Whatever role or profession they had occupied in their old place may have to drastically change to a lower profession or even a totally different one.  For instance, a respected dentist in her country may come to find herself having to occupy a much lower level position, such as a dental receptionist, in the new place.  The migrant may also have migrated to a place where her certification as a professional dentist holds no value or recognition.  In order to be certified as a dentist in the new country, she may have to study again to get the credentials.  Often, the migrant does not have the necessary financial means to fulfil such requirements.

The immigration process also puts a great strain on the migrant as his citizenship status and his economic status is highly uncertain.  Institutions may question his legality of stay in the country which in turn could impact his employment options, not to mention his options as a person without citizenship privileges.  He may also be vulnerable to situations involving violence, especially if he finds himself in refugee camps or detention centres where resources are meagre and conditions are harsh.  Such environments and the reality of powerlessness can trigger or create chronic depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mental health issues, even in mentally healthy people.

Treating Immigrants

Psychiatric treatment of immigrants needs to be approached from a cultural perspective.  Since most immigrants come from a different cultural background, it is important to understand how a migrant patient communicates.  Sometimes, patients with depression or panic attacks focus on unexplained physical symptoms such as pain, stomach upsets, fatigue, and the like.  When interviewed in a more relaxed social rather than clinical setting, the patient may reveal being burdened by social and situational stressors which they are usually reluctant to talk about as culturally, these may be deemed inappropriate medical topics.  Some cultures also highly stigmatise mental illnesses so that seeking professional attention on the matter is not something individuals may want to acknowledge they need or want to talk about.

Language is another barrier to treating migrants who do not adequately speak the tongue of the host country. In this case, language interpreters and culture brokers can effectively assist and vastly improve diagnosis and treatment by helping to span both cultural and communication gaps.

How Mental Illness Affects a Marriage

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One of the heartbreaking sad realities of a marriage in which one partner suffers from mental health issues is a broken relationship leading to divorce.  There is a strong link between divorce and mental illness, the highest ratios belonging to major depression, substance addiction, histrionic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

A partner with a mental health disorder is often debilitated, emotionally, mentally, and even physically.  In many cases, cognitive functioning, social drive, sexual appetite, and social behaviour lie outside the normal limits of acceptance.  These may manifest on decreased or extreme levels, causing chronic stress, anxiety, fear, and frustration on the mentally healthy spouse.

Common Challenges a Marriage Faces with a Mentally Ill Partner

The vow to stay together “for better or for worse” is challenged by the fact that the tenor of the marriage changes as the symptoms of mental illness bring about these conditions:

  1. Loss of a sense of partnership

For the mentally stable partner, there is “no partner to turn to” when situations become   difficult.  The mentally ill partner however may come to depend heavily on the spouse for emotional, social, and even financial support.  Instead of a partner-based relationship, the healthy spouse may find himself or herself alone with the burden of keeping the family together, without help or support from the significant other.

  1. Financial issues

Mental health disorders debilitate and may cause a sick individual to lose his job or source of income.  In this case, it falls on his/her spouse to financially carry the family alone.  This puts a strain on the relationship with the healthy spouse developing resentments and the unhealthy one, being frustrated with himself and further worsening his mental condition.

  1.  Single parenting and taking the role of a caregiver

Not only does the healthy spouse lose a partner when mental illness strikes, he also has to assume the role of a caregiver who has to weather the storm of emotional upheavals mental illnesses bring.  The healthy partner also has to make decisions alone regarding children, if any, and steer the family into the right direction, almost without help from the spouse.  This often leaves the healthy partner feeling alone, trapped with an enormous burden from which there is scant relief.

  1.   Sexual distancing and loss of desire

The chronic burden of caregiving, dependency of partner, and other issues that may crop up can decrease sexual desire of the caregiving partner for the other.  If the mentally ill partner is experiencing major depression, he may lose his sexual appetite as a common repercussion of the malady.  Sexual distancing also erodes emotional closeness between partners which over time contributes to the dissolution of the marriage.

  1.   Social distancing and isolation

When the behaviour of the mentally unhealthy partner starts to become socially unacceptable and embarrassing, such as compulsive habits or lecherous remarks, friends may start withholding invitations and the couple may find themselves isolated from their former social groups.  Even family relations may place some distance from the mentally ill person, and in consequence, isolate the other stable partner as well through no fault of his own.  This could exacerbate the healthy spouse’s feelings of being alone with the burden of caring for a mentally ill patient.

According to John Gottman, psychology professor emeritus and author of over 40 books and academic articles on marriage and parenting, the four horsemen of the apocalypse that destroy marriages and lead to divorce are:  contempt, defensiveness, criticism, and stonewalling.  In relationships where one or both partners are dealing with their mental health issues, these four elements crop up more frequently, making a marriage with a mentally ill partner rather difficult to upkeep.

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What Can Be Done

There is no one-way-fits-all approach for helping a deteriorating marriage on its feet.  Just as it is with any malady, seeking professional help is paramount when the symptoms are still at their early stages.  In a marriage, early counselling coupled with medical treatment is key.  Sadly, couples who come in for counselling usually have gone years relating dysfunctionally with each other so that one spouse has already seriously been considering divorce.

It is best for both partners to seek counselling or therapy together.  The therapist can mediate between both parties, set a “no blame” environment, help the mentally ill partner acknowledge how his behaviour is affecting the relationship, and reduce relationship distress.  The therapist may also prescribe medication as part of his therapy plan in order to improve the mentally ill spouse’s ability to function and communicate.

There are, however, cases where the severity of mental illness mandates a separation, especially where the mental and physical health of children are involved.  Violent behaviour, for instance, may be one imperative for couples to distance themselves from each other.  Staying in a marriage where one is mentally ill is a case-to-case basis.  For some undergoing couple’s therapy, mental illness can somehow strengthen the relationship bonds; for others, however, sticking it out together just cannot be an option any longer.

The Link Between Intelligence and Mental Health

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High I.Q. and Mental Stability

Geniuses and highly creative people with high I.Q.s have always been linked to mental health problems such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.  Often we may picture a brainy computer geek who may be a programming whiz but prone to social awkwardness and withdrawals.  We admire masterpieces and learn of its gifted creators who oscillate between mania and depression.  Indeed, in the pantheon of great achievers, there are a number of personalities such as Beethoven, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Buzz Aldrin, and Jackson Pollock who have struggled with mental health issues during their lifetimes.  Even Aristotle was quoted to have said, “There is no genius without having a touch of madness. “

Some individuals with above average to superior I.Q.s commonly tend to exhibit symptoms from these three mental illnesses:  bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  There are about 20-30 studies that support the “tortured genius syndrome,” the strong link between genius and madness.  One decade-long study on a 700,000 Swedish adolescents turned up surprising evidence, which was published in 2010.  Those teenagers that excelled in intelligence tests were four times more likely to have developed bipolar disorder.  Another study on children gifted with superior I.Q. above 130 showed that 65% of these kids had some sort of major depressive disorder.

Why is genius or superior intelligence linked to mental and emotional instability?  Brilliance instils the ability of being able to construct an inner world to fit their views and preferences.  However, when that worldview clashes with reality, it often leaves the person lost and unable to cope well.  Moreover, highly intelligent people are more sensitive to stimuli than average individuals.  Ellyn Saks, a University of Southern California mental health professor reiterates that “people with psychosis do not filter stimuli as well as others without the disorder, meaning that they’re able to ponder contradictory ideas simultaneously and gain insight into loose associations that the general unconscious brain wouldn’t even consider worthy of sending to consciousness.”

A Swedish study also found that many people diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are or have been in highly creative jobs that demand highly functioning cognitive skills and artistic cleverness in levels not usually employed by the average or normal individuals.  This is why artists seem to be functioning at a perspective so different from non-artistic or creative people.

Highly intelligent individuals have the ability to see novel patterns and innovative connections of things which the average intellect may not discern.  This ability also makes a very creative and smart individual, very vulnerable to feeling strong emotions, hallmarks of bipolar disorder.

It is however not entirely accurate to stereotype intelligent people as mentally unstable individuals.  Not all people with very high I.Q.s are unhealthy, mentally; but, there is a percentage of the gifted population that have developed depression and other major mental disorders because of their intellectual gifts.

As high I.Q. can be factor of developing mental illness, low or below average I.Q. can be contributory element as well.  Studies have also pointed out a direct correlation between low intelligence and depression.

Low I.Q. and Depression

Low I.Q. or a low intelligence quotient means lower than average cognitive abilities and problem-solving skills.  People with a 70-79 intelligence rating (below average I.Q. rating) have been surveyed by the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey in England to be generally less happy than those with average or high I.Q.  People with less than average intellectual abilities often have difficulties catching up in school, getting hired in good paying jobs, earning sufficiently for their families, and earning peer respect and regard.  Because of these inabilities, people with below average I.Q.s tend to have poor relationships, low income, scant employment opportunities, and a lot of personal frustration.  These conditions alone are enough to drive a person into clinical depression.

 

Scientists are still unsure about the precise mechanisms on how intelligence affects mental health.  Perhaps there will come a time in which formulated cures would be available to help people balance their intelligence, high or low, against their propensity to develop mental illness.  Until such time, people need to understand that people with low or high I.Q.s may carry the extra burden of ill mental health and therefore should be treated with more understanding.

Hypnosis: A Viable Alternative Treatment

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Contrary to popular notion, hypnosis is not an obscure practice customarily carried out only by charlatans or mediums.  Hypnosis is a legitimate therapeutic tool utilised by some in the medical community.  In the field of psychiatry, hypnosis is known as hypnotherapy, a very helpful aid in the practice of psychotherapy.

The Hypnotic Spell

Hypnosis or hypnotherapy employs guided relaxation and sustained concentration on something to bring about a trance.  A trance is a state in which a person is so highly aware or focused on something specific that external stimuli is blocked out or ignored.  A hypnotised person is so engrossed on his point of focus that he does not register anything going on around him for the time being.

For the skilled psychiatrist, hypnotherapy can be a very effective adjunctive treatment.  Hypnosis can be a useful behaviour modification tool and as such can prove to be invaluable to the field of psychotherapy which seeks to change behaviours and mindsets in treating many mental disorders.  Under the state of a hypnotic trance, patients can perceive and explore painful memories, thoughts, and feelings that may be present in their subconscious minds but hidden from their conscious ones.

What Hypnosis is Used For

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis (a type of psychotherapy) criticised hypnotherapy and consequently only reinforced the negative perception hypnotism was getting over fifty years ago.  However, after WWII, hypnotism gained favourable ground and is now an internationally acknowledged valid medical method to treat not only psychiatric conditions but also such physical
diseases as AIDS, asthma, eczema, and irritable bowel syndrome.

In psychiatry, hypnotism is basically used for:

  • Removing symptoms of mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression
  • Decreasing stress
  • Treating psychological traumas
  • Treat phobias
  • Alleviate chronic pain such as arthritic pain
  • Manage psychosomatic symptoms such as high blood pressure brought about by anxiety
  • Control destructive behavioural impulses such as those typified by anorexia, gambling, and sexual addiction

Two Types of Hypnosis

As a therapeutic aid, hypnotism may be used as two different strategies:

  1. Analysis Therapy

Hypnosis is used to relax the patient and bring him to a point where he and the therapist may pinpoint the root cause of the mental problem.  The cause is usually a painful memory hidden by the brain in its subconscious area.  Once the original trauma has been uncovered, it can now be addressed with behavioural therapy, counselling, and other psychotherapy treatments.

  1. Suggestion Therapy

Destructive behaviour such as smoking, drinking, or hair pulling can be minimised or eliminated by the suggestive power of hypnotherapy.  Hypnosis opens patients up to suggestions to change bad habits, alter their perceptions, and even adapt to sensations.  As such, hypnosis has also proven to be very useful for pain management.

Does Hypnosis Work?

Yes it does, especially if the person undergoing hypnosis is highly suggestible.  Research points to those who can become very engrossed in a daily task or activity (i.e. reading or painting) may be more hypnotically inclined than most.

Hypnosis is gradually brought on a willing individual through the verbal guidance of a hypnotherapist.  The hypnotised person is neither asleep nor unconscious but is acutely aware and hyper responsive at a subconscious level.  His subconscious mind is more open to suggestions and therefore has improved propensity to change unwanted behaviour when brought back to his normal mental state.

Hypnosis however is not an immediate cure.  Several sessions may need to take place before some progress may be seen.  Moreover, subjects must be willing patients to undergo this type of therapy for this to work because hypnosis cannot make one do what he does not want to do.

Is Hypnotherapy Safe?

Generally, hypnosis is safe but it must be performed by qualified hypnotist-physicians.  Contrary to general belief, hypnosis cannot change your ethics or moral values.  A person cannot be forced to do something he doesn’t want to do or change the way he thinks.  The value of hypnotherapy lies with making wanted behavioural changes much easier.

As with almost anything, however, hypnotherapy can be abused.  There is such a thing as regression-based hypnosis which takes the patient backwards through his life in order to recover repressed memories.  This can be dangerous because the hypnotist can accidentally suggest memories that never occurred.  Because hypnotism puts the person under a highly suggestive mode, little add-ons to already traumatic memories may lead to additional mental health problems.  Patients with a history of psychosis must talk to their physicians first before putting themselves under hypnotherapy.  Hypnosis can increase the risk of a psychotic episode happening.

Obesity and Its Impact on Mental Health

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While the world’s population has been going on a rising trajectory, it has also been growing heavier by the year.  Obesity is now a global health issue.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the epidemic is spawned by the pervasive issues of unhealthy diets and low physical activity.  Obesity is expected to be one of the biggest killers by the year 2020.

High body mass indices (BMIs) of 30 or more plague an estimated 300 million people globally at every social class and age group, particularly in the U.S., U.K., Middle East,  Australia, China, and the Pacific Islands.  Much more disturbing is the phenomenon of rising child obesity which has almost tripled within the last three decades.

Notwithstanding the fatal repercussions morbidly excessive weight can have on physical health, obesity takes its toll on mental health as well.

The Relationship between Obesity and Mental Health

Research backs evidence of an intrinsic link between obesity and common mental disorders. Obesity can cause depression, anxiety, and other unhealthy mental conditions just as these mental illnesses can lead to obesity.  According to the March 2011 National Obesity Observatory paper on Obesity and Mental Health, studies point to a two-way correlation between depression and obesity.  “Obese persons had a 55% increased risk of developing depression over time, whereas depressed persons had a 58% increased risk of becoming obese.  Another recent systematic review and meta-analysis found a weak but positive association between obesity and anxiety disorders.”

Generally, an obese person is not a very happy person.  Obesity can trigger many unhealthy psychological conditions:obesity stigma

Depression

A higher incidence rate of depression occurs among morbidly obese individuals, especially those with BMIs of 35 and over.  Studies also reveal that obese children often rate their quality of life lower than children suffering from cancer.  The Swedish Obese Subjects (SOS) study disclosed that very obese individuals often had as much as or higher depression scores than patients who were afflicted with chronic pain.

Western culture places a stigma on weight and as a result, excessively overweight individuals tend to develop self-imposed social isolation, poor self-image, and low self-worth, all major contributory factors to depression.  This has not been without just cause, though.  Society has not been very kind to the excessively overweight.  Fat people have often been ridiculed, ostracised, and stereotyped; hence leading most overweight individuals to adopt even more self destructive behaviours such as binge eating and substance abuse.

There is a silver lining though.  When obese patients begin to take off significant weight, their mental state also begins to improve.

Anxiety and Mood Disorders

A study that involved NESARC data found that obese persons were one and a half times more likely to report a mood disorder or panic attacks that have been plaguing them for the past year or as long as they can remember.  Extremely obese individuals were twice as likely to report the same.  The anxiety phenomenon is stronger in women than in men.

Because of Western culture’s aversion to fat people, obese individuals can develop social anxiety disorder (SAD) just from the sole reason of being extremely overweight.  Such a disorder has served to impair their functioning in their social milieu.

On the obverse, anxiety can breed obesity as well.  Anxiety can trigger compulsive and excessive eating patterns and depress the will to engage in physical activity, two factors which generally lead to obesity over time.

What Can Be Done?

For people with mental health disorders due to obesity, there is good news.  Mental health conditions significantly improve as one reduces his weight.  However, making radical changes to lifestyle eating and movements may backfire if one does not make such changes with a support group or team.

Consider approaching the obesity problem with the help of qualified professionals.  Your GP can draw up a safe, balanced eating plan and exercise regimen while a psychiatrist or psychologist can help you discover the core issue behind overeating and your subsequent weight gain.  These professionals can also help you deal with negativity and low self-esteem.

Depending on the level of obesity, medications for obesity or surgical procedures such as gastric bypass, bariatric surgery, and the like may be prescribed.  However, lifelong lifestyle changes will always be obligatory to complement and maintain obesity treatment.

HIV and AIDS

hiv virus

What is HIV?

HIV or human immunodeficiency virus is a disease that compromises the immune system, gradually leaving the victim defenceless against other diseases.  The virus attacks white blood cells called T-helpers or CD4s and replicates itself inside these.

Different strains of HIV exist and these can coexist in one infected individual.  HIV resides in bodily fluids such as semen, blood, vaginal and anal fluids, and breast milk.  Sweat or urine however are not carriers of the virus and therefore HIV cannot be transmitted through these bodily excretions.

A person can be infected with HIV through:

  • Vaginal and anal sex without condoms –The most common form of transmission from which 95% of cases in the UK in 2013 resulted.
  • Breastfeeding — Infected mothers pass the virus to their babies through breast milk.
  • Injections by contaminated needles or other equipment that pass through skin
  • Unprotected oral sex and sex toy sharing although the risks are very low with 1 in 5,000 chances of transmission

HIV is incurable but people who are diagnosed early on and get good medical treatment can live long lives with the disease.

As of 2014, about 103,700 cases have been diagnosed in the U.K.  About 60% of these cases fall within the age range of 35-54 and the remaining 40% are distributed among the young and senior group.  The highest incidence of HIV in the U.K. is among two groups: gay and bisexual men and black heterosexual men.  Sadly, there are perhaps numerous cases undiagnosed simply because of lack of knowledge.

It is easy to miss the onset of HIV because the early symptoms mimic those of the flu.  Symptoms such as joint pain, fever, sore throat, and body rash appear 2-6 weeks after contraction of the disease.  After this period, the symptoms disappear for years; that is why symptoms can be brushed aside as simply indicators of common influenza.

HIV can be asymptomatic for as long as ten years.  The infected person can actually feel healthy and well during this time period.  This is a major reason why there are numerous individuals who remain undiagnosed.  The asymptomatic period is dangerous because the afflicted person does not know that his immune system is gradually being damaged to the point where the body is left defenceless to all sorts of illnesses.  In the advanced stages of HIV, the patient may experience:

  • Weight losshiv uk stats
  • Recurring infections
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Dangerous and life-threatening diseases
  • Skin disorders such as red or purple blotches, rashes, etc.
  • Night sweats
  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Sores in the mouth, genitals, and anus

What is AIDS?

AIDS or acquired immune deficiency syndrome is an illness that attacks an HIV patient towards the last stage of the HIV infection when the immune system has been rendered helpless against the onslaught of various illnesses.  AIDS is therefore euphemistically known as advanced HIV infection or late-stage HIV.  Because an AIDS patient has no defence against disease, death can result from infections from other illnesses such as pneumonia, cancer, and tuberculosis.  Even mental illness such as depression and dementia can set in with AIDS.  Any sort of illness can invade the body at the AIDS point because the body has been left wide open to health invaders.

The Psychological Impact of HIV and AIDS

Despite the decreasing numbers fatalities because of adequate treatment and increased public awareness, HIV and AIDS remain highly stigmatised diseases.  An HIV diagnosis on the outset is highly traumatic as it not only means that one is harbouring an incurable and possibly fatal illness but it also means the likely possibility of becoming a social pariah.

The stigma of HIV and AIDS has left many feeling isolated and very lonely.  Fear of rejection from potential partners hound many HIV-positive people and these feelings are of especial concern to infected adolescents growing into adulthood.  Shame and embarrassment are also other factors that positively diagnosed individuals feel as the disease is still socially viewed as proof of immorality.  As a result, HIV patients have higher incidences of depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies.

Depression in itself causes physical problems with HIV patients.  Depressed people are less likely to stick to their medical treatments, a phenomenon lessening their chances of being able to live long, normal lives with the disease.

An HIV patient does not need to disclose their condition to just anyone; but he or she must have at least one supportive person they trust to talk to about their situation.  There are also organized HIV-support groups to touch base with other people afflicted with the same condition.  Talking to other HIV-positive people can dampen feelings of isolation and rejection.  In addition, professional support from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker may greatly help your mental and emotional condition.

When an HIV patient’s mental and emotional health is addressed, their adherence to their anti-retroviral treatments, reduction of high risk behaviours, and their social engagements become remarkably improved.  Quality of life for an HIV-positive individual need not be severely compromised as long as he takes care of his physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Promoting Our Own Mental Health

Sound mental health is as important as good physical health for optimal overall well-being.  Everyone agrees that a strong mental constitution is a vital factor for living potentially to the fullest.  

What Mental Health Means

Wikipedia defines mental health as “the psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioural adjustment.  From the perspective of positive psychology or holism, mental health may include an individual’s ability to enjoy life, and create a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience.

Mental health is not simply the absence of mental illnesses or disorders.  It encompasses the abilities of an individual to:

  • think, emote, and relate well with others
  • realise their potential
  • be productive in the community
  • cope well with life’s stresses
  • enjoy life
  • be reasonably independent

To put it simply, the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud defined mental health as the ability “to work and to love.”

Managing Sanity

Since every stage in life brings major changes, we need the psychological resiliency to meet the challenges life metes out.  Our mental health is challenged by adversity and also by the response of our own genes and brain chemistry.  Because anyone’s mental health can be risk at some point in life (from trauma, sudden change of fortune, etc.), it is important to be aware of the early warning signs of mental health deterioration.

Early warning signs such as those listed below should prod one to get immediate help:

  • Loss of interest in learning or doing anything
  • Pulling away socially
  • Sleeping too much or hardly sleeping at all
  • Low energy; chronically fatigued or exhausted
  • Feeling lost, helpless, or hopeless
  • Experiencing unexplainable aches and pains
  • Feeling of detachment from self and others; emotional numbness; indifference
  • Severe mood swings
  • Irritable, confused, angry
  • Worried, scared, forgetful, anxious
  • Inability to perform normal tasks
  • Thoughts of self harm or inflicting harm on others
  • Persistent thoughts that play in the mind over and over

Early psychological intervention increases the chances of an individual’s full recovery.  

Strengthening Your Mental Health

As important as it is to strengthen or maintain our physical health, our mental health also needs constant upkeep.   

strengthen mental health

Value Yourself

We may be kind and understanding to others but we usually tend to be hard with ourselves.  Tone down your self-criticism and treat yourself with the same kindness and respect.  Aim for personal growth by allowing yourself new experiences and learning new things.  Becoming an expert in your hobby, learning a new language, or challenging your intellect with puzzles can help you build different facets of yourself, making you a more interesting person.

Valuing yourself like this helps fortify your self esteem which goes a long way to promoting your mental health.

Take Good Care of Your Body

The mind and body are intrinsically connected.  If the body weakens, so does the mind and vice-versa.  In order to bolster chemicals in the brain that are responsible for making us feel good, good habits that promote physical health promote mental health as well:

  • Regular exercise — increases the production of endorphins and serotonin, both “feel good” elements that lower depression and encourages positive perception
  • Enough rest or sleep — sleep deprived individuals are more prone to developing anxiety and depression.  Lack of sleep also significantly decreases one’s cognitive abilities thereby impairing memory, focus, problem solving, and the like.
  • Avoiding vices such as alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking
  • Eating a nutritious, balanced diet — a diet high in sugar, processed food,  or sodium can be detrimental to both physical and mental health over time

Learn Stress Management   Mental-Health

As stress invades life, almost daily for others, one must learn how to deal.  Anger management, work-life balancing, time management, and such must make their way into your skill set so you may manage the degree of stress that comes your way.

In addition, try to find humour in your mistakes.  Laughter can boost your immune system and reduce stress.  

 

Give of Yourself

Helping others and realising you have made a difference, no matter how small, in a person’s life, increases your sense of self-worth which in turn strengthens your mental health.  Positive social connections help improve mood, emotional resilience, and confidence.  The best form of social interaction is one’s giving of himself…time, effort, money, goods, etc….to others.  The act of generosity stimulates the pleasure areas of the brain because it makes us feel relevant, useful, and needed—factors which improve the way we see and feel about ourselves.

Cultivate a Support Group

People who have strong familial or support connections often exhibit good overall health.  Your mental and emotional well-being can be maintained well over time if you have people you can trust, talk to, and be of help as well.  Widen your circle of friends by joining a club, gym, or cause.  Spending time to cultivate positive relationships within the family and among friends is always a wise investment of your time.   

Because your happiness rests on your mental well-being, it is vital that you take steps to safeguard and maintain it.  When you feel you need help, seek it out and get it.  This is not a personal sign of weakness but of strength.  With appropriate treatments and care for mental disorders, you can make a full recovery to live your life to the fullest.