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Mental Health Professionals and Suicide

Suicide – Threat of Liability for Mental Health Professionals

Suicide is the third most common cause of death for young adults – and the ninth highest for the general adult population.  This means that a large percentage of mental health professionals will have a patient that commits suicide. It may be as high as 80 percent of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other therapists, that eventually have a patient who commits suicide.

Serious Mental Health ProfessionalYou might think that professionals are insulated against emotions that come with the death of a friend or acquaintance – but they aren’t.  Many health professionals report that even when death is expected (natural causes), they spend a great deal of time going over their treatment of the patient. They try to find out if they could have done anything different, (given another treatment) in order to help.

But, what may be surprising is the number of liability lawsuits filed against mental health professionals, when a patient commits suicide.  In fact, it is the number-one cause of responsibility lawsuits brought against mental health providers.
The threat of lawsuits, and also the stigma against people working it in the mental-health profession, has led to many psychiatrists refusals to treat the chronically suicidal. The profession sees it as a failure of the doctorMental health professionals are also less likely to see additional suicidal patients after they have had a patient succeed at suicide.

When a therapist or physician is unable, or unwilling, to treat a suicidal patient – it leaves the patient in the lurch.  It produces feelings of failure and hopelessness, without a doubt, compounding the fact that they are suicidal.  It may also be difficult for an extremely suicidal patient to find a new therapist or doctor.  Many patients report that the mental health professionals suddenly “don’t have time”.

We don’t think much about the way suicide will affect those around us – and certainly the professionals are way down the list of people whose feelings are important.

Mental health professionals also report that there is a lack of training on how to deal with suicidal patients, and processing the death of a patient.  More than half of professionals surveyed also Knocking on Heavens Doorstated that they really don’t believe they can prevent a patient from committing suicide.

Oddly, the complaint process against physicians has been shown to increase the risk of the physician becoming depressed. One of the consequences of this will be a worsening of the situation for mentally ill people. (Chronically suicidal patients)

This is a complicated process with no easy answers, but you should know that it is likely that all psychiatrists, therapists, social workers and other counselors probably need to be in counseling themselves.  When you find a new doctor or therapist – you might want to ask.

Even if you aren’t suicidal, you need to know that your counselor is as mentally healthy as possible, certainly healthier than you.

Melissa Lind

Mental Health Professionals Report a Lack of Training on How to Deal With Suicidal Patients

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – OCD

Collecting, Organizing, Checking, Washing…. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder.

OCD - Bug ObsessionIt is composed of two parts: Obsession and Compulsion.  Obsession is the portion of OCD that occupies your thoughts such as excessive concerns about cleanliness (my kids call this germophobia), extreme social fear, fear of harming someone, preoccupation with organization or other intrusive thoughts that create anxiety.  Compulsion is the physical manifestation of needing to do something about the obsessionsCompulsion results in behaviors such as ritualistic behaviors like excessive hand washing, repeatedly checking to make sure the stove is off, counting steps and other extreme behaviors such as hoarding.

OCD the Good
Once I while participating in a wedding, I was attending the rehearsal dinner at the home of the bride whose mother made the appetizers for over 200 people.  I was amazed at her management skills that made her capable of preparing appetizers from a single kitchen – right up until the time that when looking for the restroom adjacent to the laundry, I opened the pantry door.

There, staring at me were over 100 spice containers, of all the same brand, all the same size and all angled at a precise 45-degree angle so that the labels were all pointed exactly at my head.  I was so dumbfounded that I continued to stare and found that on the other shelves there were precise pyramids of 5 cans each of various vegetables – all the same brand, all the same size, with all the labels facing exactly the same direction.

Lining the floor were plastic bins, spaced 2 inches apart…exactly, containing 3 bags each of a variety of pasta, flour, rice…. all of course the same brand, carefully placed in the bin, with the label in exactly the same location.

This is OCD at its best – at least for others.  She had an obsession and a compulsion that created this superbly organized pantry.  Likely though, even this “good” OCD manifestation took up a lot of her time – and had a negative impact on her daily life and that of her family’s.

OCD is not always at its best however and can result in the opposite – hoarding.  I don’t have to go into this but if you haven’t seen it, you should watch “Hoarders” or “Hoarding, Buried Alive” for some insight.

OCD the Bad
In addition to situations like hoarding, OCD can also interfere with life in other ways.  I have a cousin with OCD, who before he was medicated, found himself unable to leave his driveway due to fears that he would back over a child with his car.  This caused him to spend hours – literally hours every morning starting the car, looking in the rear view mirror, getting out of the car to look behind it, getting back in the car, looking in the rear view mirror, getting out of the car….  He eventually found himself unable to work.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - OCD Confused MindOthers have found that OCD has limited their lives in similar ways.  Howie Mandel, a well-known comic, has talked about his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  It prevented him from appearing in public for many years, in part due to social fear but also due to fear of infection.  Even today, while his disease is “under control,” he does not ever shake hands or allow others to touch him.

How do I know if I have OCD?
A lot of people have rituals – such as specific routines before bed.  A lot of people have extreme concerns which may consume thoughts for a while – such as excessive concerns over money.  The difference in “normal” rituals and “normal” concerns is that they don’t typically impair normal life and they don’t become paralyzing.

Thoughts and behaviors that might indicate OCD:
•    Repeated thoughts or mental pictures about things such as
o    Germs
o    Dirt
o    Intruders
o    Violence
o    Hurting others
o    Embarrassment
o    Disorganization
o    Religious beliefs
•    Repeated behaviors such as:
o    Washing hands
o    Disinfecting surfaces
o    Locking and unlocking doors
o    Counting
o    Repeating steps over and over
o    Keeping unneeded things
o    Excessive grooming
•    Lack of ability to control or stop unwanted thoughts and behaviors
•    Repeated behaviors provide temporary relief from anxiety that is caused by obsessive thoughts
•    Repeated behaviors don’t provide any pleasure other than temporary relief
•    Spending at least 1 hour a day on thoughts and behaviors, creating a negative impact on daily life

The International OCD foundation reports that it takes around 15 years for most people to be diagnosed.  This may be due to hiding of symptoms – but it may also be due to lack of awareness of both the public and health professionals.

What can be done about OCD?
OCD can be treated – it usually cannot be cured but can be controlled.  First line treatment for OCD includes working with a properly trained therapist – most beneficially, one who is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).  CBT uses “exposure to” unpleasant stimuli, carried on to the “what if” stage.  “What if” I touch that faucet without disinfecting it?  “What if” I get into the elevator without opening the door 10 times?  The “exposure” period is followed by “response prevention” where the patient chooses NOT to perform the behavior that the “exposure” usually causes.  Over time, the obsession and compulsive thoughts and behaviors become more manageable.
In other cases, medication may be needed – usually given in combination with CBT.  Some antidepressants (not all) will help with OCD.  Anti-depressants that have been shown to help include:
o    Luvox (fluvoxamine)
o    Prozac (fluoxetine)
o    Zoloft (sertraline)
o    Paxil (paroxetine)
o    Celexa (citalopram)
o    Lexapro (escitalopram)
o    Effexor (venlafaxine)

Other medications may also help but have not been “approved” to treat OCD.  Doctors who have found them helpful may use them regardless of whether they are officially approved to treat OCDMedications such as Cymbalta (duloxetine) have been reported to be helpful – and some patients may benefit from short-term use of anti-anxiety agents.

It is important to know that all medications may cause side effects and you should tell your doctor about any other medications you are taking.

Melissa Lind

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce anxiety and by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing that anxiety.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be treated!

Mental Illness in Children

Mental Illness In Children – Are We Too Afraid To Find Out?

Up until about 20 years ago, the idea of mental illness occurring in children was pretty much unthinkable.

Boys who were extremely active were sent outside to play.  Defiant children were punished or sent outside to play.  Irritable children were sent outside to play.  Depressed children were sent outside to play.  Get the picture?Get the Idea

Today we do know a lot more about mental illness and have a lot more medication to treat it.  As mental illness becomes more easily diagnosed in adults, it is natural that we begin to look at our children and wonder.  It is also natural that we look back on our own childhoods and wonder or even know that we were ill then too.

Even though most psychiatric diseases are not diagnosed until the teens or early adulthood, it should be fairly obvious that those diseases did not suddenly happen when the kid turned 18. Likely there were signs of existing mental disorder long before the diagnosis.  Unfortunately, some parents may be too afraid to look.

The problem with recognizing mental illness in childhood is that symptoms of mental illness are different from the symptoms in adults.  Children’s symptoms can be masked with other signs or even opposite to those in adults, so they are not obvious. In addition, the symptoms of many different psychiatric disorders are so similar that it is difficult to distinguish one disorder from another.  Some examples:

Depression in children can show as: Depression, Insomnia, Nightmares, Bedwetting, Anxiety, Combativeness, Lack of interest, Anger, Poor grades

Anxiety in children can show as: Insomnia, Nightmares, Bedwetting, Fearfulness, Depression, Poor grades, Social inadequacies, Lack of interest, Combativeness, Anger.

Mental Illness in ChildrenADHD can show as: Inattentiveness, Lack of interest, Fidgetiness, Poor grades, Irritability, Inability to make friends, Excessive anger, Lack of organization

Asperger’s can show as: Lack of interest, Poor grades, Inability to make friends, Excessive anger, Lack of organization

On the other hand normal childhood occurrences such as puberty can show as: Lack of attention, Difficulty getting along with friends, Unexpected anger, Excessive sleep, Inability to sleep, Nightmares, Irritability, Mood swings, Excessive anger, Excessive crying, Poor grades

And Sexual abuse can show as: Nightmares, Bed-wetting, Excessive anger, Anxiety, Depression, Mood swings, Irritability, Disinterest

So how can we determine if it is something that happened to the child, something that is temporary or something like a mental illness?

The best things we can do are to pay attention, know your children.  If they change, find out why.  Know your family history.  If they seem “different”, talk to their teachers.  If they are continuously exhibiting behavior outside of the range of “normal”, there may be something wrong.  Listen to your kids, if they tell you that something is wrong, it probably is.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Educate yourself.  Take the self-test quizzes.  Have your spouse or the child’s other caregivers take the tests.  Take all of this information to your healthcare provider and if that doesn’t work, find someone who will listen.

Most mental disorders are not diagnosed until the late teens or early adulthood – bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorder and schizophrenia.  There is more recognition today, but a lot of resistances to – both from parents and health professionals.  Don’t be afraid to seek help just because you are afraid of medication, knowing what is wrong and knowing your options can head off problems.

Recognizing an oncoming issue may help prevent years of anguish for your child and yourself.

Melissa Lind