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What is Depression?

Clinical depression goes by many names, such as “the blues,” biological depression, and major depression. But all of these names refer to the same thing: feeling sad and depressed for weeks or months on end — not just a passing blue mood of a day or two. This feeling is most often accompanied by a sense of hopelessness, a lack of energy (or feeling “weighed down”), and taking little or no pleasure in things that once gave a person joy in the past. Depression symptoms take many forms, and no two people’s experiences are exactly alike. A person who’s suffering from this disorder may not seem sad to others. They may instead complain about how they just “can’t get moving,” or are feeling completely unmotivated to do just about anything. Even simple things — like getting dressed in the morning or eating at mealtime — become large obstacles in daily life. People around them, such as their friends and family, notice the change too. Often they want to help, but just don’t know how. Clinical depression is different from normal sadness — like when you lose a loved one — as it envelops a person in their day-to-day living. It doesn’t stop after just a day or two — it will continue on for weeks on end, interfering with the person’s work or school, their relationships with others, and their ability to enjoy life and just have fun. Some people feel like a huge hole of emptiness inside when experiencing the hopelessness associated with this condition. In any given year, 7 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with this condition; women are 2 to 3 times more likely to be diagnosed than men (American Psychiatric Association). Can Depression Be Treated? The short answer is yes: clinical depression is readily treated nowadays with modern antidepressant medications and short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy. For most people, a combination of the two works best and is usually what is recommended. In more serious or treatment-resistant cases, additional treatment options may be tried (like ECT or rTMS). No matter how hopeless things may feel today, people can get better with treatment — and most do.

What is Bipolar?

A disorder that can affect how a person feels, thinks and acts. It involves dramatic shifts in mood – from the highs of mania to the lows of major depression. More than a fleeting good or bad mood, the cycle of bipolar disorder lasts for days, weeks or months and is disruptive to work/social relationships. Bipolar disorder can rarely be overcome without medical treatment. For some, the periods between episodes of illness can be normal and productive. However, research suggests that when left untreated, episodes of illness occur more often and are more severe. During a manic episode, a person might impulsively quit a job, charge up huge amounts of debt, or feel rested after sleeping two hours. During a depressive episode, the same person might be too tired to get out of bed and full of self- loathing and hopelessness over his or her unemployment status and credit card bills.

What is a Panic Disorder?

People with panic disorder have feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly, most often with no warning. The frequency and severity of panic symptoms can vary widely. A person with this condition usually can’t predict when an attack will occur, and so many develop intense anxiety between episodes, worrying when and where the next one will strike. Between panic attacks there is a persistent, lingering worry that another one could come at any minute. Panic disorder symptoms are primarily centered around panic attacks. Panic attacks often consist of a pounding heart, sweatiness, a feeling of weakness, faintness or dizziness. The hands may tingle or feel numb, the person may feel flushed or chilled. There can be chest pain or smothering sensations, a sense of unreality, a fear of impending doom or loss of control. The person may genuinely believe they are having a heart attack or stroke, losing their mind, or on the verge of death. Panic attacks can occur any time, even during non-dream sleep. In the U.S., this type of panic attack has been estimated to occur at least one time in roughly one-quarter to one-third of individuals with panic disorder, of whom the majority also have daytime panic attacks. While most attacks average a couple of minutes, occasionally they can go on for up to 10 minutes. In rare cases, they may last an hour or more. Panic disorder strikes between 3 and 6 million Americans, and is twice as common in women as in men. It can appear at any age — in children or in the elderly —  but most often it begins in young adults. Not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop panic disorder. For example, many people have a single panic attack and never experience another. For those who do have panic disorder, though, it’s important to seek treatment. Untreated, the disorder can become debilitating.

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders include a set of related mental conditions that include: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, social phobia, and simple phobias. Anxiety disorders are treated by a combination of psychiatric medications and psychotherapy. Anxiety, worry, and stress are all a part of most people’s life today. But simply experiencing anxiety or stress in and of itself does not mean you need to get professional help or you have an anxiety disorder. In fact, anxiety is a necessary warning signal of a dangerous or difficult situation. Without anxiety, we would have no way of anticipating difficulties ahead and preparing for them. Anxiety becomes a disorder when the symptoms become chronic and interfere with our daily lives and our ability to function. People suffering from chronic anxiety often report the following symptoms:

  • Muscle tension
  • Physical weakness
  • Poor memory
  • Sweaty hands
  • Fear or confusion
  • Inability to relax
  • Constant worry
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • Upset stomach
  • Poor concentration
What is Bulimia?

People with bulimia nervosa consume large amounts of food and then rid their bodies of the excess calories by vomiting, abusing laxatives or diuretics, taking enemas, or exercising obsessively. Some use a combination of all these forms of purging. Because many individuals with bulimia “binge and purge” in secret and maintain normal or above normal body weight, they can often successfully hide their problem from others for years. Family, friends, and physicians may have difficulty detecting bulimia in someone they know. Many individuals with the disorder remain at normal body weight or above because of their frequent binges and purges, which can range from once or twice a week to several times a day. Dieting heavily between episodes of binging and purging is also common. Eventually, half of those with anorexia will develop bulimia. As with anorexia, bulimia typically begins during adolescence. The condition occurs most often in women but is also found in men. Many individuals with bulimia, ashamed of their strange habits, do not seek help until they reach their thirties or forties. By this time, their eating behavior is deeply ingrained and more difficult to change. The level of severity of a bulimia diagnosis is based on the frequency of inappropriate compensatory behaviors (see below). The level of severity may be increased to reflect other symptoms and the degree of disability caused to the person.

  • Mild: An average of 1–3 episodes of inappropriate compensatory behaviors per week.
  • Moderate: An average of 4–7 episodes of inappropriate compensatory behaviors per week.
  • Severe: An average of 8–13 episodes of inappropriate compensatory behaviors per week.
  • Extreme: An average of 14 or more episodes of inappropriate compensatory behaviors per week.

Formerly, in the fourth diagnostic manual (DSM-IV), there were two types of bulimia nervosa:

  • Purging Type: The person regularly engages in self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas
  • Non-purging Type: The person has used other inappropriate compensatory behaviors, such as fasting or excessive exercise, but has not regularly engaged in self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas
What is Anorexia?

People who intentionally starve themselves suffer from an eating disorder called anorexia nervosa. The  disorder, which usually begins in young people around the time of puberty, involves extreme weight loss that is less than what is considered minimally normal. Many people with the disorder look emaciated  but are convinced they are overweight. Sometimes they must be hospitalized to prevent starvation. People with anorexia typically starve themselves, even though they suffer  terribly from hunger pains. One of the most frightening aspects of the disorder is that people with  anorexia continue to think they are overweight even when they are bone-thin. For reasons not yet  understood, they become terrified of gaining any weight. Food and weight become obsessions. For some, the compulsiveness shows up in strange eating rituals or the refusal to eat in front of others. It is not uncommon for people with anorexia to collect recipes and prepare gourmet feasts for family and friends, but not partake in the meals themselves. They may adhere to strict exercise routines to keep off weight. Loss of monthly menstrual periods is typical in women with the disorder. Men with anorexia often become impotent.

What is Insomnia?

The predominant complaint in insomnia disorder is difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, or nonrestorative sleep, occurring at least 3 nights per week for at least 3 months, despite adequate opportunity for sleep. The sleep disturbance (or associated daytime fatigue) causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. The sleep disturbance does not occur exclusively during the course of another, more predominant, sleep disorder, such as Narcolepsy, Breathing-Related Sleep Disorder, Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder, or a Parasomnia. The insomnia is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication). However, insomnia can occur alongside or as a result of a coexisting mental (e.g., major depressive disorder) or medical condition (e.g., pain) as long as the insomnia is significant enough to warrant its own clinical attention and treatment. For instance, insomnia may also manifest as a clinical feature of a more predominant mental disorder. Persistent insomnia may be a risk factor for depression and is a common residual symptom after treatment for this condition. With comorbid insomnia and a mental disorder, treatment may also need to target both conditions. Given these different courses, it is often impossible to establish the precise nature of the relationship between these clinical entities, and this relationship may change over time. Therefore it is not necessary to make a causal attribution between the two conditions.

  • Episodic insomnia refers to when symptoms last at least 1 month but less than 3 months.
  • Persistent insomnia refers to chronic insomnia lasting 3 months or longer.
  • Recurrent insomnia refers to repeated episodes (1-3 month duration) of insomnia within the course of a year.
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

A condition in which a person experiences intrusive thoughts, images or impulses. These are often very disturbing to you and may make the person feel anxious (obsessions). In turn, the person may perform certain acts or rituals in order to feel better or less anxious (compulsions). Typically, obsessions include fears of contamination, doubting (such as worrying that the iron has not been turned off), thoughts of hurting others, disturbing thoughts that go against the person’s religious beliefs, or thoughts of performing acts the person feels are highly inappropriate. Compulsions can involve repeated checking, counting, washing, touching, or organizing things over and over again until they are symmetrical or ‘just right.’

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Occurs when a person has been exposed to traumatic events that cause her to experience distressing psychological symptoms that can become disabling. Common symptoms include nightmares; feelings of anger, irritability or emotional numbness; detachment from others; and flashbacks, during which the person re-lives the traumatic event. Frequently, the person will try to avoid situations or activities that remind her of the event.