A call to action for online mental health experts
Since the dawn of the Internet, followed by the start of blogging and the development of social media platforms thereafter, society has had to adapt to a virtual world of rapid and large-scale information dissemination that are immediately consumed by the masses. The online engagement rate only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. As an online society, similar to a teenager in the stages of puberty development, we take risks, we are often boastful and self-centered, we are very aware and responsive to others who present themselves as competitors, we are “experts. “In almost everything we are often reckless and irresponsible with what we say and share, we struggle to learn from the experience and unfortunately all of this has an impact on our mental health.
Mental health experts have the opportunity to fill in the gaps, fill in knowledge gaps through clarification and understanding. As a psychiatrist, clinical researcher and social entrepreneur, and alongside colleagues in the mental health field who are also concerned about the direction of our society, we have dedicated ourselves to educating the masses about mental health. I have spent most of the pandemic learning and understanding how the masses create and consume informational content on mental health issues. While I’m very impressed with people’s enthusiasm and commitment to mental health, I want to share a few themes that I think can be helpful in our consumption of information.
Misunderstandings and abuse of complex terms related to mental health
Words matter. This couldn’t be truer of medicine, and in particular of mental health and mental illness. The accuracy of mental health terminology is more important because we do not yet have laboratories, imaging, or other tools to make our diagnoses. As mental health symptoms and diagnoses are increasingly used in the general population, this has resulted in inadvertent misunderstanding or misuse of the terms that describe them. Some of these terms have become part of idioms, which I will list below along with a brief explanation of why they are potentially harmful.
“Mood swings” = Bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder is a complex mental illness that affects approximately 3% of the population. This means that it is relatively rare. The hallmark syndrome of bipolar disorder is that the person has experienced a fit of mania, which is not just a “mood jump” but rather an elevated mood that persists for more than a week and is associated with a decrease in blood pressure. need for sleep, disorganized thoughts, abnormal language patterns and impulsive / reckless behaviors. A manic episode is so destructive that a person may need to be hospitalized for medication to bring them back to a period of normalcy (called euthymia). While it is true that stress can lead to a manic episode in people with bipolar disorder, many people under stress may find that their “mood swings” are varying degrees of irritability. Additionally, a change in mood that lasts longer than a few days can be a sign of other conditions, such as depression. However, this requires an expert mental health assessment.
“I am bipolar”
We are not our medical diagnoses… at least I hope not. If the illness is acute (short-term and time-limited), the person can usually recover without too many psychological problems in the long term. However, for people with chronic and lifelong illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, hopelessness and shame can prevent the person from seeking, establishing, and maintaining treatment. Not to mention the feeling that their brain is “irreversibly broken.” For some people, during their treatment for the disease, they may over-connect emotionally and identify with the disease, which could hamper the hard work it takes to treat and manage the disease in order to get better and better. to stay better. For these reasons, I try to teach my patients with bipolar disorder that their condition is treatable, manageable, and that they can choose the myriad of ways to identify with themselves other than with their condition.
“My depression …”
Ironically, I have seen a few patients in my practice who tell me about their depression but do not have a diagnosis of depression. Because it is not clear what they see as depression, I am working with them to determine if “their depression” is a symptom of sadness, discontent, disappointment, indifference, shame, anxiety or a multitude of other strong negative emotions. While it is true that some patients may have subclinical depression that comes and goes and is experienced as intense periods of mood swings, clinical depression (major depressive disorder) is an acute illness that causes a deviation in mental functioning. base that lasts for at least two weeks almost continuously. In my clinical experience, many of the patients I see who report “my depression” typically experience symptoms of stress or anxiety related to depression.
“My OCD …”
Obsessions are worried thoughts that come back, while compulsions are behaviors based on an urge, often to relieve the worry. Obsessions and compulsions can be a part of normal life. For example, repeated worries about an upcoming exam may motivate a person to feel compelled to study more, which would be an adaptive and productive strategy. On the other hand, people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) may worry about things that may or may not be related to a stressor and may develop unproductive behaviors that resolve the worry but not the factor. of stress. For example, a person with OCD may fear an upcoming test and compulsively vacuum and clean the entire household, resulting in a clean house, but not enough time or effort to prepare for the test. In OCD, obsessions can be realistic or unrealistic worries, but they take up so much of a person’s time and mental space that they cannot focus on the task at hand. OCD is manageable and treatable, but proper assessment is required by a mental health expert.
“My PTSD …”
Acute trauma is an intense emotional response due to a crisis, disaster, or emergency. There are different types of trauma, each with different potential consequences and potential treatments. Not all trauma leads to a clinical condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects 3.5% of the population. PTSD is associated with intense and elevated states of anxiety, avoidance of situations that can trigger anxiety, and mental re-experience of the incident or traumatic incidents which can also lead to a trance state, called dissociation. Trauma can certainly lead to psychological issues (in the broad sense) that can be treated with psychotherapy, but luckily, it may not lead to PTSD. To make matters a bit more confusing, in a variety of clinical contexts the term “trauma” can be used to describe the natural course of a person’s life. For example, a therapist may talk to her clients / patients about the “traumas” of growth, that is, the emotionally intense experiences of normal stages of development. Either way, it can be helpful to talk to a mental health clinician about what is meant by trauma and how it can impact your life.
“I just need to process and / or work through it all …”
It’s a healthy thing to process our emotions about a situation, and sometimes we need time to assess things more clearly when the emotions aren’t so intense. The emotional process requires several steps that start with sensing and recording the emotion, then identifying the emotions being experienced, the context of the situation that triggers the emotions, determining the end result we want to achieve, and possibly , developing a plan of how we wish to resolve the situation. However, the above expression can sometimes be used to avoid discussing the situation. One way to know if you need to deal with or just avoid the situation altogether is to have a follow-up plan with the person about the situation and then follow through.
“I am triggered …”
We are all emotionally triggered by things throughout our days and weeks. This should not mean that we cannot face our emotions and find ways to resolve the issues that are encountered. If the trigger is one that requires the advice of a therapist, it would be great to work with the therapist on ways to deal with emotions when they arise, rather than avoiding anything that might trigger your emotions. It builds emotional resilience.
“I did my research …”
Finding information about mental health or mental illness online is radically different from using the scientific process to assess medical information. Often, online health information is written by a non-expert or someone who calls themselves an expert but does not have any credentials, training or experience to speak out on the issue. At worst, online information is conveyed by those who have a financial interest in the information being one way or another. A doctor or mental health clinician can help with the process of evaluating the scientific evidence for or against diagnoses and treatments. We are well versed in mental health issues, as our certifications and licenses require a plethora of testing and hours of training, and we have invested our own time, money, and effort to help others. Let us help you with your research.
Mental health is becoming incredibly important to the masses of people in our society, especially in recent years. Therefore, education is important so that people do not inadvertently cause more problems to their mental health. We are here to help – use us for what we have dedicated our life to.