Bipolar Disorder – May Prove to Have Advantages if Harnessed

Born March 30, 1853, Vincent Van Gogh, became a well-known artist during the impressionistic period of art. After suffering multiple mental problems, in 1888 Van Gogh commited himself into the Saint Remy Asylum. It was during this period that he completed one of his most famous creations, “Starry Night[1].” Anna Marie Duke was born to a household filled with turmoil. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother was an undiagnosed manic depressant. It was not until she was 8 years old that she was discovered by John and Ethel Ross, talent scouts were looking for young actresses. Pulling Anna from her troubled home, they whisked her away to stardom. After unofficially adopting her, the Ross’ changed her name to Patty, telling the young girl that Anna Marie was dead. “You’re Patty now.” By age 16 Patty became the first child recipient of an Oscar Award for her role in Helen Keller. After several years of a successful acting career the signs of depression began to exhibit themselves and in 1982 Patty Duke was formally diagnosed as “manic depressive” and tells of her account in her autobiography, “Call me Anna[2].” What do these two very famous people from completely different eras have in common? They both were bipolar. Vincent Van Gogh’s life ended in tragedy while Patty Duke to received lithium as treatment for her condition.

Bipolar disorder or manic depression can best be described as a serious mental illness that can affect a person’s ability to feel a normal range of emotions or moods. People that are diagnosed with bipolar disorder find themselves with moods that range from very high (manic) to very low (depression). Originally, the term manic depression was used to describe this mental illness but now bipolar disorder is used as it better described the extreme polarity of highs and lows that the patient experiences.

Symptoms that a patient with bipolar disorder may exhibit cover a wide range as one might imagine with an illness that spans such extremes. A patient during bouts with mania will exhibit behavior such as increased energy levels, less need for sleep, racing thoughts, are easily distracted, more talkative, stronger sense of self confidence, focused on getting things done but with little results, and indulgence in risky or unusual activities to an extreme. On the opposite “pole” these same patients, during a depression state, will exhibit such behavior as feeling sad or blue, loss of interest in things the person used to enjoy, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness, variation in sleep patterns (too little or not enough), fluctuation in weight or appetite, feeling tired or lack of energy, and thoughts of suicide or preoccupation with thoughts of death. As researchers become more familiar with bipolar disorder they have come to the conclusion this illness is typically lifelong but with a variety of medicines and therapies the patients can go on to live relatively normal lives.

Vincent Van Gogh and Patty Duke are famous individuals but everyday common ordinary people battle bipolar disorder in a variety of ways. Patients, even after they are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, are able to hold jobs, raise families and go on to live productive lives. Medicines like mood stabilizers are effective in treating the “highs and lows” of the disorder. In addition, anti-depressants and anti-psychotics are often used in conjunction with mood stabilizers to stave off or help control the bouts of depression and mania. Another medical treatment that is not considered a drug is Electroconvulsive Therapy or ECT. This treatment has been found effective for patients that do not respond well to drug therapy.

Some goals of a professional that is treating a patient with bipolar disorder might include some of the following: control of acute manic and depressive symptoms, reduction in the amount and frequency of mood cycling and mood instability occur, to aid patients in the achievement of functioning at their highest level possible, minimization of side effects of treatments and to aid in the implementation of a rigid treatment management plan.

The professional that treats a patient that is bipolar will inevitably encounter the patients that feel as though they are “cured” and will not require the use of medication or therapy to live out a normal life. This in fact can be quite disastrous. Patients that begin to feel bipolar disorder is in “check” will stop taking their prescribed medication or therapy and at the behest of their treating professional, will experience further instability with regard to their management of the disorder. Some common excuses given by patients include:

  • I don’t want to take medication for the rest of my life
  • I feel better, there’s nothing wrong with me
  • I’m experiencing the side effects of the drugs; I sleepy all the time, I’m gaining weight, etc.
  • I disagree with my treatment

Patients taking medication for bipolar disorder must be frequently reminded and encouraged that this disorder is not to be considered a character flaw or weakness and treatment must be continuous or relapses or worsening effects of the illness will occur. Like a patient that has high blood pressure or cholesterol, a patient with bipolar disorder must continue their drug therapy, as prescribed, or bouts of the disorder will increase in frequency and intensity.

Alternatives to drug therapy may include talk therapy or psychotherapy. This therapy has been found to be quite effective in aiding the patient in isolating triggers of bipolar disorder. During talk therapy, the patient would discuss with a mental health professional their unique circumstances and relationships. This therapy aids the patient in assessing and evaluating their condition. With bipolar disorder, the patient can experience a wide array of feelings and emotions. A mental health professional can aid in helping the patient understand the source of these feelings and offer adjustment techniques to the gamut of emotions they are experiencing. It must be understood that talk therapy is not about getting advice or answers. Talk therapy should revolve around assisting the patient in understanding themselves, getting support and feedback in a open, honest and private setting. Different types of talk therapy are available and will depend on the severity of the bipolar patient as to which therapy is best suited to their needs. One-on-one therapy and group therapy are both effective but must be administered correctly and safely. Some therapies center on information and support while others encourage the patient to learn about themselves and their relationships. Overall, therapy of any sort should aid the patient in establishing confidence and to reduce the strain bipolar disorder places on an individual and their relationships.

According to the National Mental Health Information Center, 1 in every 100 people develops bipolar disorder[3]. No one has the same symptoms of this disorder nor will they experience it to the same degree. While the jury is still out on the exact cause of bipolar disorder, scientists now believe that it can be traced to an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. If a patient has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder they should not be disheartened. There are numerous examples of people that go on to live out normal and productive lives. Some things a patient can do to increase the effectiveness of their therapy (drug, psycho therapy or ECT) is to take a vested interest in your disorder. Research is vital in the education and understanding of this disorder. Every day new hallmarks are being made in the treatment of bipolar disorder. It would behoove the patient to track their moods and emotions on a chart, to avoid triggers of mood episodes, and keep a list of questions for your mental health care provider. Staying informed and maintaining a discipline of taking your medication are 2 of most important things a patient can do to achieve a sense of normalcy in coping with bipolar disorder.

In conclusion, bipolar disorder does not mean a death sentence on your ability to live a mentally, socially and physically normal life. Some patients have even learned to harness their illness to achieve great success in life. It is believed by some that Van Gogh’s ability to paint was heightened by his emotional energy while coping with bipolar disorder. Patty Duke’s ability to act was attributed by some, to her ability to exhibit such extreme emotions. Sadly, this is still a disease and must be treated as such.

NOTE: The information contained in this article is not intended to in anyway advise or instruct the reader. It contains opinions and research as gathered by the author. Please consult your healthcare professional for expert medical and psychological opinions.

Bipolar Disorder – References and Sources

  • As noted in footnotes
  • Bipolar.com

[1] Reference: www.vangoghgallery.com

[2] Reference: www.bipolar/about.com/cs/celebs/a/pattyduke.htm

[3] www.mentalheatlh.samhsa.gov

Stress – Causes, Effects, and Coping by Rodger Mangold

Time Magazine in its June 6, 1983 issue calls stress “America’s No. 1 Health Problem.”[1] Fast forward 26 years and the problem of stress is still plaguing the United States and doesn’t show signs of giving way anytime soon. With the scarcity of funds and negative economic indicators it is no wonder the American Psychology Association states that 73% of Americans name money as the number one factor that affects their stress level according to a 2004 APA survey[2]. Couple that fact with the leading source of stress being “job stress[3]” and with one directly affecting the other we can draw the conclusion that anxiety and stress are quickly becoming the psychological staple of the American family. It will be the intent of this paper to ascertain the causes, effects and strategies for coping with contemporary stress in our lives. The primary reason for specifying “contemporary” stress is that stress has become more pervasive and insidious as decades unfold and each generation is presented with unique challenges from a psychological perspective that can drastically differ from their predecessors. We will be defining stress, discussing the types and various sources of stress. A large portion of this article will be devoted to the importance of coping with stress as well some modern strategies for dealing with stress. Lastly, the author will share the results of a personal stress assessment and his intentions on implementing some coping skills learned from the research for this article.

Stress Defined
Defining stress brings with it a myriad of views. Simply put stress can be defined as an organism’s total response to environmental demands or pressures. Stress in humans results from interactions between persons and their environment that are perceived as straining or exceeding their adaptive capacities and threatening their well-being. The element of perception indicates that human stress responses reflect differences in personality, as well as differences in physical strength or general health.[4] One online source points out that in the field of stress research there is the difference in defining stress as “an external response that can be measured by changes in glandular secretions, skin reactions, and other physical functions, or is it an internal interpretation of, or reaction to, a stressor; or is it both?”[5] 

Top 10 Causes of Stress
From an externally identifiable source there have been attempts to identify the top ten stressful events in an individual’s life as follows: Death of a spouse, Divorce, Marital separation, Jail term or death of a close family member, Personal injury or illness, Marriage, Loss of a job due to termination, Marital reconciliation or retirement, Pregnancy and Changes in financial state.

The causes of stress largely depend on the individual and their ability to adapt and or their genetic pre-disposition to dealing with or coping with stressful situations. These stressful situations can range from births, deaths, reunions, to weddings. Personal relationships are a constant source of contention and stress as well, as an individual is called upon to balance the responsibilities of work and project deadlines and quality time with the family. More time at work could mean less time with one’s family while more time with one’s family and less time at work could add economic stress.

Medical View of Stress
From a medical perspective stress has deadly consequences. As our bodies attempt to maintain the state of homeostasis, the ability or tendency of an organism or cell to maintain internal equilibrium by adjusting its physiological processes (American Heritage Dictionary), stress sets in motion a series of chemical and hormonal changes that make homeostasis difficult. The survival instinct that is purported to be genetically implanted in our DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) is called “fight or flight.” This condition causes the following biological responses to take place, A) Heart rate and blood pressure increases the flow of blood to the brain to improve decision making B) Blood sugar rises to produce more fuel for energy. As a result there is a breakdown of glycogen, fat and protein stores C) Blood is diverted from the digestive tract where it is not needed for digestion and sent to the large muscles of the arms and legs to provide more strength in combat (fight), greater speed in retreating (flight) from the scene of danger D) Clotting takes place more rapidly to prevent excessive blood loss from cuts, scrapes or internal hemorrhaging. The endocrine system plays a vital role in “fight or flight” by setting in motion a cocktail of hormones including adrenaline, cortisol and other stress-related hormones. These internal mechanisms are intended as life saving measures to facilitate our ability to deal with physical dangers. With our sedentary lifestyles and lack of perilous situations on an ongoing basis our bodies are still prone to this “fight or flight” response in stressful situations. Repeatedly activated without the outlet of escaping the perils of the “fight or flight” we are at greater risk for a host of medical conditions that include hypertension, strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, ulcers, neck or lower back pain, to name a few. For a pictoral of the medical effects of stress from the Washington Post click HERE.

Coping with Stress
Now that factors leading to stress have been identified a very important element in the discussion of stress that will be covered is coping. As there are a variety of sources and causes of stress so too are the strategies for coping. There were some intriguing findings in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology[6]. This article assesses how people cope with stress based on five scales with four items each that measure distinct aspects of problem-focused coping (active coping, planning, suppression of competing activities, restraint coping, seeking of instrumental social support). Within the scale there are two general ways in which people cope with stress. First is problem-focused coping which can be described as problem solving or doing something to alter the source of the stress. This method is often exercised when it is believed that something constructive can be done to eliminate or reduce the stress. Problem-focused coping has unique properties in that is centers on planning, taking direct action, seeking assistance, screening out other activities, and forcing oneself to wait before acting. 

Secondly, is emotion-focused coping that centers around reducing or managing the emotional distress that is associated with the situation. This method is predominately used when people feel that the stressor is something that must be endured. Emotion-focused coping typically revolves around denial, others embrace a positive reinterpretation of stressful events and still others involve seeking out social support.

 As we delve deeper into the coping aspect of a sub-element of problem-focused coping we find Active Coping. Active coping is a process in which steps are taken to remove or circumvent the stressor or to at least minimize its effects. Just as the name implies this style of coping tends to involve direct action on the part of the individual coping with the stress by increasing one’s efforts or involvement in an attempt to reduce or eliminate the source of stress. Also under the umbrella of problem-focused coping is Planning. Planning is thinking or dwelling on how to cope with a stressor. An additional element of problem-focused coping is Suppression of competing activities. This enables the individual who is attempting to cope to avoid dealing with competing and conflicting events that will enable them to better focus on dealing with the stressor.

Restraint coping involves the individual waiting until the appropriate opportunity. This requires that an individual would be holding back and deferring any action until either they are better equipped to handle the stress or if acting prematurely would simply aggravate the situation further. The last element, Seeking social support, is the process of seeking out advice or assistance in coping with stress. Essentially, this is seeking “moral support” or seeking knowledge and understanding about the source of the stress. Other more traditional methods for coping with stress include the following; medication, stress management programs, behavioral approaches, massage, cognitive therapy and mediation.

My Stress Assessment
As promised the author of this article will now reveal the results of an online stress assessment[7]. Personal Results of Test as follows: HIGH

A high level of stress puts you at increased risk of serious health consequences, including obesity, heart disease and depression. Take steps to lower your level now.

Stress is what you experience when the level of your stressors exceeds your ability to cope. To lower your stress level, you have two options.

You can start by identifying sources of stress that you can eliminate. Consider internal stressors, such as fears or unrealistic expectations, as well as external stressors, such as family or work demands. Next, seek out effective strategies for coping with stress, including exercise, painting, humor or simply saying no. If you need help identifying stress management strategies, talk to your health care provider.

In Closing
Upon review of the results of this research, which only scratches the surface, the author hereby intends on making lifestyle changes that are better suited to not only coping better with stress but preventing it. Another stress assessment put the author at risk for hypertension, stroke and even genetic predisposition for a heart attack unless measures to improve coping with stress are immediately taken. Taking this all into consideration from a generational standpoint we are training out children on how to identify and cope with stress now. It is our hope that they are better equipped to handle the stress of their day. As stated in the opening paragraph 26 years ago stress was the number 1 health problem – let’s hope 26 more years from now the problem that generation has is how to handle all their “stress-free time!”  – By Rodger Mangold 


[1] Time Magazine: June 6, 1983 “Stress! Seeking Cures for Modern Anxieties

[2] www.apahelpcenter.org/articles/topic.php?id=6 – American Psychology Association Website

[3] www.stress.org – Article from the American Institute on Stress

[4] Encyclopedia of Medicine

[5] Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine – Article by Paula Ford-Martin: Rebecca J. Frey, PhD

[6] Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1989, Vol. 56, No. 2, 267-283

[7] Mayo Clinic Stress Assessment – http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-aassessment/SR00029

The Dangers of Using Plastic for Our Food and Water

Bottledwater

Who knew? Arguably, one of the greatest advancements in the past 100 years, plastic is virtually everywhere you look. In fact, the keyboard and computer I am typing on right now, would be impossible without the advancement of plastic technology. But, now it appears some plastics (not all) contain chemicals that can leach into our food and water, and subsequently be ingested by the consumer. You owe it to yourself and your children to research this information for yourself and make an informed decision based on the studies presented in these resources. Startling information about the harmful effects, can be found at the links below.

Essentially, if the plastic you are using has #3, #6, or #7, based on the findings, you should discontinue use immediately. While the “one-time” use of some of the products may or may not be safe, re-using them has definitely proven to leach chemicals into our bodies. What’s troubling about this information, is that many of the water bottles that are sold for hikers and bikers, or to just transport water, for a healthier lifestyle are identified with a lethal #7. You will be sickened when you stop to think about the times you’ve heated up your baby’s bottle, or leftovers from a carry-out container, in the microwave. Plastic “sippy” cups are suspect as well. How many toddlers have you seen walking around with them? Incidentally, the bottled water you drink is a #1 which is only rated for “one-time” use. And how many of us have re-filled our water bottles thinking we were being environmentally conscious?

What is one to do? One expert recommends not “beating yourself up over it,” and moving on, as it were. Make good conscious decisions now, based on these findings. Limit the amount of plastic you use to store and heat food. Don’t re-use “one-time” use water bottles. And, use responsible alternatives when possible. The article links below will point you in the right direction for alternatives and what your risks are.

A Brief Breakdown in Numbers

#3 – PVC or V: Polyvinyl Chloride, used for cling wrap, some plastic squeeze bottles, cooking oil and peanut butter jars, detergent and window cleaner.

#6 – PS: Polystyrene, used in Styrofoam food trays, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, carry-out containers and opaque plastic cutlery.

#7– Other: Usually polycarbonate, used in most plastic baby bottles, 5-gallon water bottles, “sport” water bottles, metal food can liners, clear plastic “sippy” cups and some clear plastic cutlery. NOTE: New bio-based plastics may also be labeled #7.

Article Links

For more details click the following links: