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What Causes an Eating Disorder and How Do You Treat It?

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Shernide Delva

Over the weekend, I watched the movie To the Bone starring Keanu Reeves and Lily Collins. The film took us inside the life of Ellen, a 20-year-old woman who has consistently struggled with an eating disorder.  She enters a residential treatment program with several other women struggling with eating disorders.

The film received a plethora of controversy as many thought it was triggering.  However, after watching the movie, I felt it did an excellent job of allowing the viewer to understand the urgent and severe nature of an eating disorder. Often, films only focus on how little the patient is eating or how much weight they have lost. Yet, this is only a small component of having an eating disorder. Eating disorders go much deeper psychologically, and weight is simply part of the problem.

While the movie does an excellent job explaining what it is like to have an eating disorder, it does not explain what causes eating disorders in the first place. Eating disorders are complex with a broad range of variables.

Treatments for eating disorders vary in efficacy. There is no one size fit all treatment. This is elaborated in the movie as we watch Ellen transfer from one treatment center to another. Finally, she ends up at a treatment center she connects to and has a great therapist played by Keanu Reeves.

Often patients deny the severity of their condition at first. The lack of seriousness only progresses the disorder further. For example, in To the Bone, the women struggle to understand why their eating behaviors are considered abnormal. In fact, they believe that their compulsive eating behaviors are necessary to their survival. The idea of eating any other way is difficult to grasp.

Furthermore, patients lie about the severity of their condition which hampers their treatment options.

Most clinicians agree eating disorders stem from a variety of factors:

These factors range from:

Biological Contributors:

It is possible there is a genetic link that causes eating disorder. Significant studies on depression and anxiety allow reason to be hopeful.  Many people had anxiety and depression prior to the development of their eating disorder. Eating disorders can be a reaction to mental illnesses, in an attempt to manage symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Anxiety can be controlled through food restriction and purging. Symptoms of an eating disorder can elevate the mood as sufferers rely on their weight to fit in with society. Since depression and anxiety have a genetic component, there could also be a clear genetic connection to eating disorders.

Neurobiological Contributors:

Neurobiology is a branch of biology concerned with anatomy and physiology of the nervous system. When it comes to eating disorder, individual ones like anorexia nervosa over activate the inhibition control networks and under activate the reward systems. When looking at bulimia nervosa, there seems to be a dysregulation of both the inhibition control networks and reward pathways. These abnormalities are common among eating disorder patients. However, it is uncertain whether these abnormalities are the result of eating disorder behaviors, or if these abnormalities were present prior to the development of an eating disorder.

The Psychology of Eating Disorders

Needless to say, there is a strong psychological component to eating disorders. Most of what we read regarding eating disorders discusses the psychological component. Psychological elements of an eating disorder range from familial, relational, cultural and social. Most researchers agree that eating disorders and psychological disorders are co-occurring.

Some treatment processes focus on behavior and cognitive changes. These treatments include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT,) Family Based Treatment (FBT,) and others.  However, there is more research needed on how to treat the behaviors rather than solely focusing on the cause. In addition, families need to understand the root of eating disorders in order to understand how to best respond to them.

Overall, the reality is there is so much to be learned when it comes to eating disorders. Eating disorders are a result of a variety of factors. Furthermore, just like addiction, eating disorders are not a choice. People with eating disorders need treatment. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, mental illness or addiction, please call now. You do not have to do this alone. 

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Should We Have Seen Chester Bennington’s Suicide Coming?

 Linkin Park Singer Chester Bennington Commits Suicide

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Shernide Delva

Another devastating tragedy in music occurred on Thursday.

Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park, was found dead at just 41 years old due to an apparent suicide. Brian Ellis, the chief of operations for the LA County coroner’s office, confirmed the death hours after it was reported by a TMZ article.

The death struck similarities to the death of Sound Garden frontman Chris Cornell, who killed himself in May. Chester Bennington was very close to Cornell, and his suicide occurred on  Cornell’s birthday.

On the day of Chris Cornell’s suicide, Bennington wrote an open letter expressing his grief.

“I can’t imagine a world without you in it,” he wrote.

“I pray you find peace in the next life.”

The Era of Linkin Park

Linkin Park had a string of mega-hits over the years, including “Faint,” “In the End” and “Crawling.” Linkin Park even crossed music genres, collaborating with Jay-Z. The Linkin Park album, “Meteora,” was one of the biggest alternative albums in music history.

The death is a shock to millions of fans; however, Chester Bennington’s struggle with addiction and mental illness is not something he was ever private about. Bennington has opened up various times throughout his career about his struggles with substance abuse and mental illness.

In a recent interview, Bennington elaborated on what he had to overcome over the past few years. In 2015, Bennington broke his ankle while playing basketball.  The ankle injury forced the band to cancel all of the tour dates they had remaining for The Hunting Party Tour that year.

Stone Temple Pilot guitarist, Dean Deleo, talked with radio station WAAF-FM about how severe the injury was:

“He hurt himself badly. It was not only a break — the guy tore darn near every ligament in his ankle,” DeLeo says to host Mistress Carrie. “They had to go in on each side. He has about a five-inch incision on each side. They had to go in and assemble a big bowl of spaghetti.”

Talks of Depression and Addiction Issues

In May of this year, Bennington talked about how his ankle injury took a significant toll on his life.

“I needed reconstructive surgery and like plates and screws and more surgery,” he says. “It was like ‘wow.’ It was nasty, and that took me into a depression.”

Bennington says he started falling into bad habits due to the severity of the injury.

“I got to a point where I was like medicating, kind of having issues with that, kind of like falling into old habits, into old behaviors.”

This was not Bennington’s first injury. He says injuries have been an ongoing part of his life since 30. He described it as a tumultuous cycle of rehabbing injuries, reinjuring himself, and undergoing multiple surgeries.

Along with the stress of his injuries, the hardships of life continued to take their toll.

“Being in Linkin Park, it has a lot of perks, and it’s really a fun life, and it’s a blessed life. I get to do what I do with really talented exceptionally decent people,” he says.
“At the same time like none of us are immune from just sh*t happening to you and not to you but just making poor choices or being human. There’s always that element.”

Bennington talked about the band’s newest single “Heavy” and the challenges that inspired the song. He explains in the interview how problems started to stack one on top of the other.

“Life got really weird and really hard all at one time,” he says.

“It was like one of our friends died from cancer, my step dad died of cancer.  I broke my leg and had to rehab that for a year. I quit Stone Temple Pilots because it was just too much. I felt bad about that, and then I was depressed and drinking again and doing all this stuff and I was like ‘Dude, this is crazy.’”

“I even told one of my therapists at one point that I just don’t want to feel anything,” he admits.

On Surrendering Control:

Although Bennington talks about his struggles throughout the interview, he remains positive.  He learned to surrender to life instead of always having to be in control.

“I find myself personally when I’m stuck, it’s because I haven’t just surrendered to the process of life.  I’m trying to like be in there and do things my way. I’m trying to steer the ship or whatever,” he says, “There were a few times over the last couple years when I was ready to throw in the towel and give up on everything.”

The band was promoting their new album and tour and had dates set for the rest of the year.

Bennington is survived by six children and his wife, model Talinda Ann Bentley.

“I came to a point in my life where I was like, ‘I can either just give up and f—ing die or I can f—ing fight for what I want.’ And I chose to fight for what I wanted,” he says in the interview obtained by The Mirror. “I wanted to have good relationships. I wanted to love the people in my life. I wanted to enjoy my job.”

As a long-time fan of Linkin Park, I was devastated by the news of his death. Mental illness and addiction were challenges that plagued the singer’s life for decades. Still, in recent interviews, Bennington appeared to be making progress.

However, this simply confirms how serious mental illness is. It is not something that is easily understood, and none of us really know what pushed Chester Bennington to his breaking point. Regardless, the stigma has to stop. If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental illness, please reach out. There is help out there. Call now.

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Could Mental Health Security System be the Future of Public Safety?

Could Mental Health Security System be the Future of Public Safety?

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

If there are any other nerds out there like me, you may have come across an abstract animated series called Psycho-pass that rose in popularity a few years back in 2012. The show’s name fits firmly into the primary premise of the show, an authoritarian future dystopia, where omnipresent public sensors ceaselessly scan the mental states of every passing citizen. In the TV show, collected data on both present mentality and aggregated personality data is used to gauge the probability of an individual committing a crime, the rating referred to as that citizen’s Psycho-Pass. Law enforcement and public security utilizes technology tracking mental health of citizens in order to premeditate possible threats. The characters chase criminals who the system deems emotionally or psychologically at risk, and the show adds a few good twists of suspense and philosophical paradox.

Needless to say, I am a big fan of the series.

So of course, seeing a headline explaining a new research project that could make this kind of system a reality, it stirs up some curiosity. This abstract concept of machines reading the psychological profiles of everyday people as a security measure has jumped right out of the world of scifi-fantasy and could soon be another innovation that changes our world.

Could a mental health security system for the future of public safety?

How the Mental Health Security System Works

According to a new piece of research, published in the International Journal of Advanced Intelligence Paradigms, a mental health security system is being developed that gives an analyses of the user’s brainwaves.

Most modern security systems require a PIN or password. Other biometric-based systems require a fingerprint or scans of an iris or retina. We have already seen this kind of stuff in the movies; voice-activated locks, palm-print thermal safes and other cool high-tech gadgets. Now, Violeta Tulceanu of the University of Iasi is adding a truly unique aspect to security; the emotion detector.

Upon reading the brainwaves the system is designed to automatically determine whether the user is in a fit mental state. After the test is complete the system will grant access to resources, but only if deemed appropriate.

Violeta Tulceanu states:

“The true engine of motivation is our capacity to perceive pleasure and fear pain, and thus, reward and punishment,”

“Our ability to react to dangerous situations is directly related to our capacity to relate to our environment, and our sense of self-preservation.”

In the new approach, Tulceanu trains the system to recognize a user’s “emotional fingerprint” using the patterns of electrical brainwaves. The system measures the brainwaves they generate in the presence of specific, evocative stimuli. The system has to have a baseline mental signature to cross-reference. Each emotional response is matched to a given pattern and these are then associated with particular configurations of the mental health security system. So someone mentally stable will set the standard for their future readings.

Once the profile is complete it can allow or preclude access to given resources. So the next time someone tries to get access, the system simply measures the current electrical brain activity and if the result of processing the credentials matches the “emotional fingerprint” access is granted or refused accordingly.

This is amazing because it not just recognizes brainwaves to allow authorized access, but it also determines whether or not someone’s current mental health should keep them from having access.

Why a Mental Health Security System Could Matter

Based on the core concept, this could all matter a great deal to public safety. If someone is in a well-balanced emotional state, when faced with external factors they probably react according to:

  • Context
  • Group expectations
  • Education
  • Cultural background
  • Social norms
  • Personal inclinations

However, humans are emotional. We feel. Some of us more intensely, but all of us included. So our decisions can be subject to:

  • Our wants/desires
  • Lust
  • Greed
  • Happiness
  • Sadness

We can even be influenced by psychoactive chemicals that might make particular resources inappropriate or hazardous. Perhaps a safe with a gun locked inside should only be accessible by someone of a stable mental and emotional state.

With this kind of mental health security system there could be another step to control:

  • Entry to a building
  • Access to computer resources
  • Even the withdrawal of money from ATMs

The research actually indicates this mental health security system could also have applications in:

  • Military
  • Electronic learning
  • Healthcare

What Could the Mental Health Security System Change?

Many may not notice at first, but this is a huge deal and if it gained momentum it could change a lot about our world. Thinking about it, anyone can suffer from depression, stress, or anxiety, as well as substance abuse. Some of us may not even be aware of our own issues with mental health until something devastating has happened. We all have the capacity to make detrimental decisions, and sometimes we also have the capacity to do so while accessing sensitive resources.

Let us look at just a few ways this could be a really big deal.

  • Public Safety

In the interest of public safety, we could consider access to an airport or a school. With the history of shootings and other attacks on citizens being perpetrated by people deemed to be in the grips of mental illness, could this new technology have the capacity to save lives by blocking off those who it perceives to be a threat?

Tulceanu suggests this mental health security system could ensure the safety and security of individuals and those around them that might be at risk if access is granted to particular resources.

  • Anti-theft

The mental health security system might be able to assess whether a person is acting responsibly and of their own accord. So if someone is being forced to access something, the security system could measure this emotional response as well and act further on the behalf of someone who could be being robbed or held hostage.

Is a Mental Health Security System Morally Just?

Here comes the philosophical debate. When looking at the possibilities of this technology, we also have to ask ourselves the same questions that crop up in the scifi stories; is this moral? Specifically, if it became a government tool, does it violate privacy or civil rights? Really ask yourself- is this a brighter, safer future? Or could it be misused for subliminal, psychological oppression?

Seriously, this is a tough call. It does sound like it could save a lot of lives. But some would ask- who has the right to say whether or not I’m mentally or emotionally stable enough to get my own money from the bank? Or to get on a plane? Who decides when you are too emotionally or mentally compromised to go to work? What if years from now you aren’t allowed to live in a certain neighborhood because of your place on the brainwave scale?

Would this kind of restriction on people based on an analyses of mental health be reinforcing the stigmas attached to mental health? If so, would people be discriminated against for mental health issues? In the TV show I referenced earlier, people with moderately risky mental health ratings were lawfully mandated to therapy; would that become part of the normal practice if a more comprehensive mental health security system was put into place?

These days, modern research techniques show that far from being indefinable, emotion is completely neurological. Emotion lives at the core of all learning mechanisms. This makes it possible to treat emotion more objectively. All this new research is extremely fascinating. Without being too sure which way to lean, I simply wonder what the world would think of a mental health security system.

The importance of mental health care and substance abuse treatment is paramount. As technology grows so does our understanding of how complex and critical these issues are. There is help for those who are struggling with dual diagnosis, and holistic healing is an empowering way to make a transformation that could change everything.

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Study Proves the ‘Friendship Bench’ Program Improves Mental Health

Study Proves the ‘Friendship Bench’ Program Improves Mental Health

Author: Justin Mckibben

Remember the movie Forrest Gump? If not, I am so very sorry. Spoiler alert: it’s about a southern gentleman (Tom Hanks) who tells the incredible story of his amazing life to total strangers while waiting on a bench. He taught the world that life was like a box of chocolates, and that going for a run once in a while will change your life.

While on that bench, Forrest shares a lot of himself, and it has a pretty deep impact on some of the random folks he sits next to. Not to mention all the people watching the film who were moved by the experiences and emotions he shares.

Well this whole idea of making friends on a bench and soothing the soul by opening up to the strangers you sit with has taken new life in a place very, very far from the little park in Georgia that Forrest found himself in. The ‘Friendship Bench’ program in Zimbabwe is changing lives for those struggling with mental illness. A recent study proves that even just sitting on a bench and talking to a new friend can improve your mental health symptoms.

The Beauty of the ‘Friendship Bench’

The program is carried out by Zimbabwean lay health workers, who give brief but effective psychological treatment to the public. Instead of a big medical office, you find them conducting their problem solving therapy sessions on simple wooden seats. These health workers, or community “Grandmothers” carry out this practice with a personal touch in several major cities in Zimbabwe. The benches themselves are located on the grounds of health clinics.

The lay health workers are trained to listen and support patients living with common mental disorders such as:

The beauty is in the simplicity of the system, and the fact that it is showing to be so influential for countries where access to modern mental health treatment is limited or even nonexistent.

Studying this Solution

The study of the ‘Friendship Bench’ was published in JAMA. As a randomized controlled trial funded by the Government of Canada through Grand Challenges Canada, multiple sources contributed to the trials, including:

  • The University of Zimbabwe
  • The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
  • King’s College London

After a six month period, following six weekly sessions of “problem solving therapy” on a ‘Friendship Bench’ with a health worker, data showed a significant difference. The severity of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts was noticeably reduced. This is based on locally validated questionnaires:

  • The Shona Symptom Questionnaire (SSQ)
  • Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale (GAD)

The Big Results of the ‘Friendship Bench’

According to the research:

  • 50% of patients who received standard care still had symptoms of depression– Compared to only 14% who participated in the Friendship Bench (based on PHQ)
  • 48% of patients who received standard care still had symptoms of anxiety- Compared to only 12% who received Friendship Bench care(based on the GAD)
  • 12% of patients who received standard care still had suicidal thoughts- Compared to 2% who used the Friendship Bench program(based on SSQ)

The Friendship Bench intervention was also shown to be well suited to improve health outcomes among highly vulnerable individuals. Out of all the ‘Friendship Bench’ program participants:

  • 86% were women
  • Over 40% were HIV positive
  • 70% had experienced domestic violence or physical illness

With CDN being granted $1 million in funding from Grand Challenges Canada earlier this year, the ‘Friendship Bench’ program has since been expanded to 72 clinics in the cities of Harare, Gweru and Chitungwiza (total population 1.8 million). The plan is for this growing movement to keep expanding. In 2017, the team plans to focus on extending the model to other vulnerable populations, including youth and refugees.

The Need for New Methods

Forgive me if my math and comparison is a little off, but I tried to put all this in perspective.

Zimbabwe has a population of 15 million. 25% of the primary care patients suffer from depression, anxiety or other common mental disorders. In a country with 15 million, there are only 10 psychiatrists and 15 clinical psychologists!

In comparison, (hypothetically) if even only 1/4 of the population of Zimbabwe suffers from a mental health disorder… That is still 3,930,000 people. Even if you could split them up between 25 mental health professionals evenly, it’s still 157,200 patients per person!

26.2% of adults over 18 in America suffer from mental health disorders. That’s 57.7 million people out of 318.9 million people (population as of 2014). If the United States had such a cripple mental health care system, it would be catastrophic.

At the end of the day, holistic treatment is all about healing mind, body and spirit through innovative and effective strategies. The value of sitting down with another human being and getting the support and therapeutic connection we need is paramount. Therapy can come in all shapes and sizes, and developing a unique and personalized treatment program can make all the difference. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call now. We want to help.

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Advocates Speak Out: Mental Illness is Not a Halloween Costume 

Advocates Speak Out: Mental Illness is Not a Halloween Costume 

Author: Shernide Delva

Boo! Halloween is around the corner, which means it is that time of the year where people try to go above and beyond with their costume choices.  Of course, there are the usual go-to Halloween costumes we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing. You know what they are: the ghost, the mummy, the “sexy firefighter.”   Costumes like these are pretty harmless and non-offensive.

However,  every year at this time, alongside the vampires, and flesh-eating zombies are the mental hospital patients. You have seen those too. The serial killer, the psychopath, and the “mental institution escapee” are popular choices.  Although costumes like these are familiar, we often don’t think about how those costumes could offend those with mental illnesses. Are costumes like these only further perpetuating the stereotypes?

If you’re like most, you probably thought nothing of these mental illness costumes. However, many have come forward to spread awareness of how these costumes further promote stigma. Now, there is a movement towards informing the public that costumes like these are not harmless.

The Negative Portrayal of Mental Illness

The media already portrays mental illness in such a negative way, and mental illness costumes only further validate those stereotypes.  For those with mental illnesses, they often feel ostracized because of the negative portrayal their disease receives.

Recently, an amusement-park attraction called “Fear VR: 5150” shut down because it centered on an “insane asylum cum horror show.” Several people who struggled with mental illness, or had a loved one struggle with it, found the attraction to be insensitive and inappropriate.

Now, the conversation is shifting towards Halloween costumes.  Mental-illness stigmas are all around us, especially in television and movies. People with psychosis are routinely portrayed as serial killers, or worse.  Just a brief search online and you will see costumes playing on all sorts of mental illness stereotypes. It is likely there will be at least one serial killer, or straitjacket child ringing your doorbell this Halloween.

Advocates Want the Costumes to Stop

So with all the efforts lately to break the stereotypes of mental illness, should there be more of an emphasis on Halloween costumes? Advocates firmly believe so. In recent weeks, there have been numerous arguments made.

Lindsay Holmes, the editor of the Huffington Post, said,

“Mental Illness is a Health Condition, Not Halloween Entertainment.”

Furthermore, writer Colby Iktowitz said in the Washington Post

“Halloween attractions use mental illness to scare us. ”

Iktowitz went on to explain the important reasons why mental illness costumes and attractions should cease to exist.  Iktowitz says the message these costumes send isn’t subtle: People with mental illness are to be feared.

While many of us will read this article and think, “what’s a big deal?” The reality is that for many, costumes like these are incredibly hurtful because they mimic real scenarios they have endured. Pete Earley, an author, and advocate has stood up against these costumes and attractions.

“I realize that some think our protests are political correctness run amok,” he said, “but when you know people who are afraid of seeking treatment because they don’t want to be seen as ‘loonies,’ you understand just how harmful these costumes can be.”

The stigmas surrounding mental illness do not come from the words. They come from how the general public perceives those words. Words like bipolar, schizophrenic and psychopath conjure images in our mind because of how movies and costumes depict them to us.

Showing Support Towards Others

Ultimately, it’s the mass fear of mental illness driven by the public that prevents millions of people from seeking treatment for their condition. Without treatment, their condition worsens, and the scarier the disease can indeed become.

The good news is those with mental illness can recover, or improve with proper treatment and support. For those of us lucky enough to not struggle with mental illnesses, perhaps it might be helpful not to portray them in such a scary light.  It is just a thought. Personally, I’ve become so accustomed to seeing these costumes; it ‘s hard to see how offensive they can be. However, by looking at things from multiple points of view, it allows for better understanding and compassion for others.

What do you think? Should people be more considerate of their costume choices when it comes to mental illnesses?

Halloween is a time for fun and a time to portray all sorts of characters. Still, for those with mental illnesses, their condition does not just go away once November 1st hits. Treatment is critical, and fear should never stop a person from seeking treatment. If you or someone you love is struggling, please reach out and get help. Call toll-free now. We want to help.

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