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mental health professionals

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Intermittent Explosive Disorder – More Than Just Anger

Intermittent Explosive Disorder (also called IED, that is appropriate as it can go off unexpectedly and cause significant damage)

Intermittent Hulk Explosive DisorderProbably everyone knows that teenage boy (or girl) who punched a hole through the wall.  Perhaps for some, this became a regular pattern of behavior during adolescence but most of those teenagers outgrew it.  In fact, at least one-quarter of teenage boys has done something dumb like punching a wall.

One boy I knew in high school even broke his hand by punching the roof of his car, and some boys were routinely doing stupid stuff.  Despite that, all of it was teenage angst and changes that can be attributed to the massive amounts of testosterone flowing through the male adolescent body – none of them had intermittent explosive disorder.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder is worse than punching a hole through a wall.

It typically is first identified in the early teens – but can be seen much earlier in some cases.    In order to be actually characterized as intermittent explosive disorder, an individual must have had three episodes of explosive behavior that is severely out of proportion to the stressor.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder HulkinsectThey must have broken or smashed something that is monetarily valuable (more than a few dollars), physically attacked or made explicit threats to attack someone with the intent of causing harm.  If these three episodes occur within the space of 12 months, the disorder is considered to be more severe.

Here is the catch.

How do you distinguish between IED, average – though extreme teenage behavior and other psychiatric conditions?  It turns out that IED is probably a diagnosis of “if nothing else fits” as other psychiatric disorders certainly overlap with similar symptoms – and you have to rule out the adolescent hormone issue.

Bipolar disorder may cause outbursts of extreme anger and agitation, Borderline personality disorder may cause outbreaks, ADHD patients can exhibit a severe lack of self-control, and drug abuse is always a potential cause.  Even though those diseases may cause IED-like events, a sustained behavior pattern is something to address.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder WarningA recent study reported by the National Institutes of Health shows that IED can actually affect up to 4 percent of adults and lead to an estimated 43 attacks over a lifespan.  The disorder may also increase that chance of depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders.  People with IED have an obvious increased risk of legal trouble, financial difficulties, and divorce – that’s a no-brainer.

So the biggest problem for mental health professionals, like many other disorders, is to untangle all of the information leading in and out with a mix of behaviors and a mix of causes.  What came first – the chicken or the egg?  What came first – the drug abuse or the anger?  Which illness is more important – bipolar disorder or the IED?

One of the biggest clues may be in examining (or better, paying attention to) behavior that occurs before puberty.  In other words: What came first – the behavior or puberty?  Clearly if the behavior started before puberty, there was and is an issue.  If the behavior begins during adolescence – you have to wait (and hope) to see if the behavior goes away once the hormones are settled.

IED is not a simple diagnosis.

It requires a careful examination of an entire psychiatric and behavioral history – and the “ruling out” of a lot of other disorders that may be to blame.  Unfortunately, in the end – unless an underlying cause can be found, there is no medicationAnger management and cognitive behavioral therapy are likely the only answer – minimization of harm, not very satisfactory if it was your car window that got smashed in a fit of rage.

Melissa Lind

Borderline Personality Disorder in the News

In the news (and movies): Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) doesn’t get a lot of “press” or screen time.

We have all seen movies and news stories about people with bipolar disorder. (Girl Interrupted, Mad Love, Borderline Personality Disorder Newsand the unforgettable Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, drug addiction) (Chris Farley, Philip Seymore Hoffman, and Anna Nicole Smith), and major depression (Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, and Princess Diana).  Many of these movies or real-life examples also show how mental disorders are intertwined.

Depression comes with alcoholism, bipolar disorder comes with drug addiction, bipolar disorder comes with a lot of issues – but not much attention gets paid to Borderline Personality Disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder has a few issues:

  1. It is a personality disorder and not a psychiatric disorder that can be treated with medication
  2. It is hard to diagnose and can often be confused with other disorders
  3. Borderline patients may misrepresent their behavior to medical professionals
  4. Borderline patients are often “difficult” to be around
  5. Borderline personality disorder is not well known – make it not well known… and, for this reason, there is no reason to write a news story or make a movie about it.

“Good news”;

I put that in parentheses because the diagnosis is not great – but it is good that BPD is getting a bit of attention.  Two notable examples – one not so great and one which may or may not be great.

Not So Great;

The trial of Jodi Arias.  In 2008, Travis Alexander was brutally murdered.  He was stabbed over 20 times, shot, and photographed after his death.  The alleged perpetrator: his girlfriend, Jodi Arias.

The case has been pending for many years – one of the reasons may be the development of a clear understanding of why Arias acted the way that she did after the murder.  Reportedly, Arias was witnessed immediately after Alexander’s memorial (including explicit text messages sent for “flirting”), and she has been pegged as a possible borderline patient.  This is in addition to Alexander’s former friends that reported her stalking behavior, and her statements that the boyfriend was a pedophile and a domestic abuser.

Arias’ own friends and a court psychologist have reported erratic behavior, similar to that of BPD.  No verdict has been issued as of yet, and we may never know, but it does bring BPD into the news (not in a nice way but into the light, however).

In fact, some mental health professionals have expressed the belief that BPD patients may be more dangerous – both emotionally and physically – than most other mental disorders, some likening it to a form of sociopathy.

Possibly good news;

Borderline Personality Disorder in the NewsOn the movie front, Kristen Wiig (of Bridesmaids –and the new, all-female Ghostbusters) has starred in a”dramedy”. Dramedy is  a combination of a comedy and drama that is centered around a woman with BPD.   In Welcome to Me, the character, portrayed by Wiig, wins the lottery and uses part of the money to start a talk show.

Along the way, she skips out on treatment, quits taking her meds and ends up living in a casino.  No word on reviews for the show, but it has some big names including Joan Cusack and Tim Robbins. It is produced in part by Will Farrell, and even though it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, theater showings have not been announced.

If you know a BPD patient – imagine what he or she might do after winning the lottery.  BPD is hard to diagnose, hard to predict and even tougher to be around.

Whether the movie is any good, whether the trial comes to a just end…

Melissa Lind

Borderline Personality Disorder has gotten some attention!

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

Diagnosis and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose.

The average bipolar patient will see three mental health professionals before getting the right diagnosis. In fact, one-third of bipolar patients will not be diagnosed with the disorder until more than 10 years after they first seek treatment.

There is a lot of similarity between the symptoms of bipolar disorder and other psychiatric conditions, but that isn’t the only reason why it is so difficult to diagnose. Here are some of the complicating factors:

Bipolar Disorder PatientThe patient only talks about depression – as bipolar disorder is a condition that has periods of depression alternating with manic episodes, many patients present when they are depressed. This is particularly true when a patient seeks treatment for themselves. Manic patients feel good or at least energized and are unlikely to believe that anything is wrong. Either they feel terrific, or they are in a heightened “bad” mood – and likely to blame that on other people or life circumstances. Consequently when they first seek treatment – they only profess to the depression as that is most bothersome.

Bipolar disorder looks like anxiety – in actuality, many, if not most bipolar patients also have some type of anxiety disorder. Consequently it may be very difficult for mental health professional to root out bipolar disorder. If patients are seen as agitated, hyperactive or fidgety, they may be only asked about anxiety or given a self-rating scale for anxiety. This would immediately lead the practitioner to diagnose an anxiety disorder – unless careful investigations were done.

Substance abuse can be complicating the issue – many bipolar patients spend years self-treating with substances of abuse. This includes prescription medications, recreational drugs and alcohol. There is not any particular drug that is more often abused by bipolar people as a whole – some will choose alcohol, some will prefer stimulants, some will choose pain medications – all of which will mask the symptoms to some extent. In some cases, the substance abuse appears to be more problematic than anything else and in cases of addiction; the substance abuse must be treated before an accurate evaluation can occur.

Denial is very common – Denial is a nice way of saying dishonesty. That would be lying. This sounds very harsh but in many cases, bipolar patients will not be honest about difficulties that they have had. It may be subconscious dishonesty in that they, themselves do not really know what the problem is. Lack of awareness is common but outright denial is also common. Many bipolar patients absolutely refuse to accept the diagnosis when it is first presented – even after years of not being treated properly. Oddly, this may make it more likely that the practitioner believes that the patient has bipolar disorder but such outright denial delays treatment.

These are just a few of the reasons why bipolar disorder is so difficult to pin down and, unfortunately, delayed treatment can have huge life implicationsBipolar disorder is one of the riskiest psychiatric illnesses to have and can have severe consequences for the patient who is not properly diagnosed and medicated – including job losses, family disturbance, institutionalization, jail and even death.

Bipolar disorder affects not only the patient himself – but family and loved ones as well.

Why is it so difficult to diagnose bipolar disorder?