Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD

Who is Affected by PTSD and Why

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects a large percentage of the population. While most people associate PTSD with war veterans and it is a fact that many vets suffer from PTSD, the reality is that there are different forms of and reasons for PTSD, and it can affect almost anyone. Children can be affected, as well as someone who has either been through or witnessed a traumatic, dangerous, or unexpected event. However, not every person who experiences trauma develops PTSD; each person responds differently. There is no singular determining factor as to who will or won’t develop PTSD, but there are certain categories and types that most sufferers fall into.

Girl upset.

Singular Traumatic Event

A large percentage of the population has experienced a singular traumatic event in their lifetime—over half. Someone who experiences only one event has a lesser chance of developing PTSD; however, it can still present itself over time. Certain people with a tendency for stress, anxiety, or worry are more susceptible to PTSD, but ultimately doctors can’t determine in advance whether someone will develop it or not. Sometimes PTSD symptoms may not surface until many months or even years later, since each person’s brain works differently and can be affected by certain triggers. Often, a person can experience a trauma and never develop PTSD, but it is entirely normal for someone to react to going through or witnessing a trauma and one must not feel weak or overly sensitive for developing PTSD. Examples of singular events that often cause PTSD are car accidents, deaths, rape or sexual assault, physical attacks or bodily harm, and situations where a person’s life may be in danger.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD

Ongoing Traumas

A person who experiences ongoing or multiple traumas is more susceptible to developing PTSD overall, which makes sense due to repeated or extended intense experiences. When a person is consistently exposed to stress and trauma, such as prolonged war, forms of abuse, or dangerous situations, the resulting PTSD can even turn into Continuous Traumatic Stress Disorder (CTSD). CTSD can present all the same signs and symptoms of PTSD, but the difference is that CTSD sufferers are more likely to have additional health problems and must focus more on coping mechanisms than alleviating symptoms. Of course, soldiers in combat will often experience ongoing situations of endangerment, violence, and death, which is why it is common for them to develop both PTSD and CTSD after returning from war.  

PTSD symptoms can manifest themselves in unexpected situations in relation to ongoing trauma in the sense that a person may not realize he or she is developing PTSD because it cannot necessarily be traced back to a singular event. However, domestic physical or emotional abuse can trigger a form of PTSD in addition to anxiety or depression, so one must look at symptoms from all points of view in order to receive proper treatment.

Children

When discussing PTSD, one may tend to forget about the fact that children can develop it just as often as adults. While symptoms of PTSD may manifest themselves a bit differently in children than adults and depending on the child’s age, the diagnosis and treatment are generally the same. When looking out for symptoms in a child, one must remember that smaller children may not even know or process what they have witnessed or been a part of, but signs will come out in various ways, such as nightmares, trouble sleeping, or acting out the trauma during playtime. Children may also respond differently based on the trauma experienced, so one must pay special attention and even write down symptoms and occurrences, if possible. Older children, such as adolescents and teenagers, will respond more like adults, sometimes developing anxiety, depression, or flashbacks. Regardless, children will likely be on edge or irritable and feel sad, perhaps even forgetting or attempting to forget the traumatic event in order to avoid the related fear and stress.  

Conclusion

Millions of people across the country and around the globe suffer from PTSD, and it can affect anyone who has experienced traumatic events or situation. Unfortunately, our world is plagued with violence and problems, so it isn’t likely that PTSD will disappear from our lives anytime soon. We must find ways to cope and do anything we can to help; those who have experienced it can provide support for others, whether it be recommending a therapist, recognizing signs in a friend or family member, or simply being there for someone to talk to and help them deal with and process things. One never knows when providing a listening ear may help someone and give them the confidence they need to seek treatment and begin the road to recovery.  

What is PTSD?

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a condition in which a person relives a traumatic experience or event from the past, with triggers often causing flashbacks and memories associated with the event that can lead to depression, anxiety, or other problems. Like most mental health conditions, PTSD affects many and is not something that disappears overnight. Traumatic events are so common in the U.S. today that millions have suffered from some form of PTSD in their lives; but sufferers should know that they are not alone and that there is hope for recovery. People from all walks of life can be affected, but with proper treatment, symptoms can diminish and possibly even disappear over time. Let’s take a look at some PTSD facts.  

PTSD

Who is Affected by PTSD

PTSD is most commonly talked about and associated with those who have been involved in war, because the events that soldiers experience are often prolonged, intense, and consistently life-threatening. Despite the fact that soldiers have been trained for combat, the human brain responds differently to the actual experience of trauma and its aftereffects, and certain people develop PTSD as a result. However, anyone is susceptible to developing PTSD, including someone who has been the victim of an accident, an assault, a life-threatening situation, a natural disaster, or someone who has witnessed a person’s death or any of these scenarios as well. In fact, PTSD currently affects as much as ten percent of men and fourteen percent of women in the U.S., placing it on the list of the country’s most common mental health conditions.

PTSD develops when a person is unable to recover emotionally from a traumatic event, and the more trauma a person experiences, the higher the chance he or she will develop PTSD at some point. Someone who has been a victim of ongoing traumatic experiences is likely to develop PTSD, and if an injury occurs along with the event, the chances of it developing are even more likely. Children can also be affected by PTSD, especially if they have been victims of sexual abuse or other intense circumstances. Statistics today show that over half of U.S. residents have experienced some kind of traumatic event, so it makes sense for PTSD to be such a common condition. The severity of the PTSD is dependent less upon the acuteness of the trauma and more on the instances of traumatic events a person experience in his or her lifetime, especially a child; however, a family history of anxiety, mood, or depression disorders can put you at a higher risk for developing PTSD. Those who have a tendency to panic more or dissociate have a higher probability of developing PTSD as well. Aside from those factors, doctors cannot definitively determine who will or won’t experience PTSD; the best thing they can do is to treat it if it does occur and make it better before the symptoms get worse.  

Sad, depressed and lonely woman

Ways PTSD Manifests Itself

Symptoms and signs of PTSD can be different for each sufferer, but similar to anxiety, PTSD begins with the body’s fight or flight instinct. A traumatic event can wreak emotional havoc on anyone; the difference with someone who develops PTSD is that the brain’s survival response doesn’t shut down as much or as soon as others’. As a result, when a person is reminded of the event, it sends the brain back into fight or flight and reactivates the fear, panic, or heightened awareness felt during the original event, which can turn into chronic PTSD. While it is normal for a person who has experienced trauma to have trouble sleeping, nightmares, or feel jittery for a while after the event, it cannot be considered PTSD until symptoms have been ongoing for at least a month. Sometimes, PTSD symptoms do not show up for a while after the initial event, so it is important to recognize the symptoms and attribute them to the original event.

Some of the physical and mental symptoms of PTSD may include:

  •         Trouble sleeping
  •         Feeling on edge, jittery, or irritable
  •         Flashbacks and upsetting memories
  •         Disturbing thoughts
  •         Nightmares
  •         Avoiding reminders of the event

PTSD affects children differently than adults; often, younger children will feel especially clingy with their parents, have difficulty sleeping, or act out or draw the traumatic event that they experienced. Many have nightmares or become hostile and irritable, perhaps causing trouble or avoiding certain people or situations. Some may even wet the bed or stop talking as a result of their trauma. Older children and teens tend to react more like adults do, potentially developing anxiety or depression or possibly withdrawing and avoiding reminders.

Diagnosis Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Treatments and Therapy for PTSD

While the goal of PTSD treatment differs for each individual, the focus remains the same—and that is to lessen the severity of the symptoms as much as possible, working toward alleviating them enough so that they don’t interfere with a person’s daily life. For the most part, the majority of PTSD sufferers’ symptoms will improve over time, especially if they are recognized and treated sooner rather than later. For many sufferers, treatments can help to the point of relieving the symptoms completely.

Counseling or psychotherapy and medication are the two main courses of treatment prescribed for PTSD today; both can be effective, and many doctors will prescribe a combination of the two for treatment. Several types of psychotherapy exist to help PTSD, such as trauma-focused therapy or prolonged exposure. There is no easy solution or overnight fix, but having perseverance and patience with treatment puts PTSD sufferers on the road to recovery. Before too long, symptoms and triggers will begin to lessen and the sufferer will find himself or herself able to function more easily. In the end, the sufferer will come out stronger having triumphed over PTSD and may be more able to deal with future events as a result.

Conclusion

Like depression and anxiety, PTSD is rough to live with and can be difficult to overcome. While sufferers cannot undo the trauma that caused PTSD in the first place, they need to know that there is always hope for a brighter future and that they do not suffer alone. A good support system can help you deal with trauma and its lasting effects, allowing you to move on with your life and keep PTSD and its symptoms from destroying your future. The sooner you receive treatment for PTSD, the better your odds of overcoming it faster and more fully. You may even be able to help others in the future who suffer and assist them in overcoming their own struggles.

Learning the Types of Anxiety Disorders

When the word “anxiety” is thrown around these days, it is used in many different contexts. It is often used nonchalantly in situations such as test-taking or clothes shopping. That kind of anxiety comes and goes from one day to the next. But when a person is diagnosed with anxiety disorder, he or she knows what it’s like to suffer from true anxiety or phobias that can interfere with one’s life or potentially become debilitating.

Anxiety Disorders

And while the majority of people experience some form of anxiety at least once in their lives, it becomes a problem when it begins to disrupt a person’s everyday life. While the term “anxiety” does cover a broad spectrum of issues, there are even more that fall under the umbrella than one would think. However, most professionals agree that there are essentially five to seven main types of the disorder. If you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, it may help you to figure out which type yours is or the category it falls under, so you can seek the appropriate treatment.

  1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, GAD, is the most common and most broad form of anxiety disorder. Those who suffer from GAD have constant worry, fear, and tension; it affects every aspect of their daily lives. GAD also usually cannot be pinpointed to a particular cause or event; GAD sufferers experience anxiety in an ongoing, persistent manner. And while GAD is the most common, general form, it tends to be common in those who experience other anxiety disorders as well. GAD is often characterized by muscle tension, restlessness, trouble focusing, and obsessive thoughts.

  1. Panic Attack Disorder

Panic Attack Disorder is dramatically different from GAD. Panic attacks are characterized by a fear that only exists in the person’s mind and is not grounded in reality, such as a sense of impending doom or death. Panic attacks often are also accompanied by physical symptoms that make the sufferer feel like they’re having a heart attack or another serious medical emergency. After a person experiences a panic attack, they can develop a secondary disorder, which may include fear of a panic attack—so it’s important to recognize the disorder and stop it before it continues to worsen.

  1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder stemming from a situation or event where the sufferer’s life was in danger or may have been in danger. PTSD is a common disorder among soldiers after returning home from war, where they experienced a lot of death and injury, and their lives were potentially in danger at all times. It can also occur after a personal attack or the death of a loved one. Sufferers usually have at least one trigger that activates the PTSD, causing them to go into fight-or-flight mode and relive the traumatic experiences. They also often experience nightmares and have flashbacks during the day, keeping them on alert and stressed. Those with PTSD should seek professional help as soon as possible to avoid a more intense form of the disorder.

  1. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder causes a person to have persistent and recurring thoughts and impulses that may lead to actions. While obsessions and compulsions are similar, they manifest themselves differently in that obsessions are thought-based while compulsions are behavioral. A person may obsess over a specific thought and not be able to move on from it, and with compulsions, sufferers often feel the need to repeat certain behaviors and cannot stop themselves. Many times, the thoughts and behaviors are connected; the thought becomes an obsession, and thus, the person repeats an action to avoid or cause something related to the obsession. Sometimes, the sufferer finds an action that seems to decrease their anxiety a bit, so they will repeat the action endlessly in an attempt to continue reducing the anxiety. Unfortunately, repetitive behaviors only further the disorder, leading to another vicious cycle, so professional help is necessary to improve this condition.

  1. Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is the fear of going out in public, sometimes the fear of being in unknown places or large, open spaces. Some people with agoraphobia can never leave their homes, and some can go a few places that they feel comfortable with but nowhere else. Often they feel an intense fear that prevents them from going somewhere new. Agoraphobia sufferers usually—but not always—experience panic attacks and are diagnosed with panic disorder. This makes sense because the sufferer may have a panic attack in a public place and therefore want to avoid that place (or all public places) to avoid the panic attacks. Eventually, the person will be afraid to go anywhere and afraid to be in a place where they are not in control, so they stay home where they feel safe and comfortable.

  1. Social Phobia

Social phobia and agoraphobia can be somewhat connected, as someone who doesn’t feel comfortable leaving the house may also have a fear of social situations, which is the main component of social phobia. Social phobia is not to be confused with a normal amount of shyness or nervousness while speaking in public, for example. Fears of social situations turn into phobias when they cause a person to routinely avoid social or public situations for fear of being observed or judged or for fear that they will embarrass themselves in front of people. Social Phobia sufferers see social situations as potentially painful situations for them, as they may feel overwhelmed and anxious around others. They may also feel anxiety when thinking of social situations, not just when in the midst of them. As a consequence, social phobia can develop into agoraphobia for someone who wants to avoid the public altogether.

  1. Specific Phobias

A specific phobia is a fear of something like a specific object or scenario. Arachnophobia is a common example of a phobia, and it is somewhat irrational in that most spiders don’t even hurt people, yet sufferers are deathly afraid of them. Some examples of other phobias are fear of blood, snakes or other animals, thunderstorms, etc. The fear usually is far worse than the actual danger itself, but the phobias can disrupt a person’s daily life regardless. Fear can be determined to be a phobia when the sufferer is gripped with terror despite knowing that the fear is irrational—and the person goes to great lengths to avoid the object or situation. Like social phobia, specific phobias can cause stress or anxiety with the mere thought of the object, not simply exposure to it.

Anxiety Due to a Medical Condition

Anxiety Due to a Medical Condition

One more category of anxiety is the type of anxiety brought on by a medical condition. Sometimes an illness or disease like a heart condition can cause a person to develop anxiety. Perhaps the condition causes the person to be afraid of going out in public due to the illness, or perhaps they have an increased fear of death due to the condition. It is also a possibility that it causes the sufferer to be unable to accept the condition as reality, thus triggering anxiety and maybe even depression as a result. This type of anxiety may go away if the condition is improved, or it may remain long-term, especially if it is untreated.

Short-term and Long-term Anxiety Disorders

Short-term and Long-term Anxiety Disorders

While the majority of disorders mentioned above are considered long-term disorders, there are some that are categorized as short-term. Anxiety that develops in response to a trauma or life-changing event is usually short-term. One such short-term disorder is acute stress disorder, which follows a traumatic event. The anxiety may be intense, but the symptoms often dissipate rather quickly when the person returns to normal. Anxiety following an event such as a marriage, divorce, or move is usually considered a short-term adjustment disorder. In the case of anxiety with substance abuse, it may be triggered when a person quits the substance or after the withdrawal symptoms have passed, but this will be short-term as well.

Since anxiety disorders can take on so many forms, it is best to assess your situation and see which one best fits you if you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety. Regardless of your disorder, it is always best to seek professional help to assist you in dealing with and working toward overcoming your anxiety.

Understanding Your Anxiety

Understanding Your Anxiety

Anxiety can be debilitating, and it can manifest itself in many ways. Without a doubt, anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the United States, affecting over 40 million adults—approximately 18 percent of the population. With that high a percentage affected, the general population can benefit from education on anxiety. Whether you have it yourself or know someone who does, it can make life easier if you understand the different aspects of anxiety and how to deal with it.

Someone with anxiety would likely say that one can’t fully understand it without experiencing it. Indeed, most things are more easily understood with experience. However, that doesn’t mean that there are no resources out there to help understand what anxiety is, where it comes from, and how to deal with it. These resources can be helpful for both sides. The first step to understanding anxiety is knowing the different types of anxiety and how they differ.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

While the full list of anxiety disorders and types is pretty long, there are a few main categories that most types fall into. Knowing the various types and determining which one you may can help you to know how to deal with it. Make a list of common symptoms you have experienced and talk to a mental health professional to help you create a treatment plan. Keep in mind that no matter the symptoms or type of anxiety you may have, there are others who have experienced the same thing and professionals who are trained to work through it with you.

While most anxiety types fall under one of these broad categories, this is by no means an exhaustive list.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – the most common anxiety disorder, anxiety without one specific, localized cause
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – anxiety after a traumatic event
  • Panic Attack Disorder – experiencing panic attacks with physical symptoms
  • Social Phobia – fear or anxiousness in social situations
  • Agoraphobia – fear of going out in public or unfamiliar places
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – obsessing and repeating thoughts and actions
  • Specific Phobias – fear of a certain situation, event, or object
  • Anxiety due to illness or medical condition

Most of these types of anxiety disorders are considered long-term disorders, and some can start as early as childhood and last for many years—especially if left untreated. Other types of anxiety can be brought on by traumas, life-changing events, or terminating substance use, and those are considered short-term disorders. Generally, the short-term disorders can be traced back to a specific trigger and will likely be resolved once the issue is fixed or the stressor is removed.

A Guide to Anxiety Symptoms

Just as anxiety can manifest itself in many different ways, symptoms can vary greatly from one person to the next even with the same diagnosis, because each person’s chemical makeup is different. Anxiety symptoms often mimic symptoms of other health conditions, but if you’ve been to your doctor and certain conditions have been ruled out, the diagnosis is most likely anxiety. The body responds to stress in different ways, and it is natural for the body to experience anxiety with any number of symptoms when under stress. So, simply put—anxiety itself is a symptom of underlying stress in a person’s life.

A Guide to Anxiety Symptoms

One can experience symptoms of anxiety in several ways; it does not just present itself mentally. One can experience behavioral issues and physical issues as well.

Some of the mental issues include:

  • Thinking that you’re going crazy
  • Fear, tension, and feeling nervous
  • Feeling unable to control worry or fear
  • Wanting to avoid certain situations that trigger anxiety
  • Feeling a sense of impending doom
  • Feeling trapped
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling spaced out

Physical symptoms:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating when it’s not hot/feeling overly hot or cold
  • Shaking, trembling, or muscle twitches
  • Insomnia
  • GI or digestive problems, nausea
  • Feeling weak and lethargic
  • Chest pains and/or palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath or choking sensation
  • Fear of dying, fear of losing control
  • Feeling detached from oneself and/or reality
  • Numbness and/or tingling sensations
  • Headaches
  • Feeling an electric shock or jolt feeling in the head or body
  • Brain fog and disorientation

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Hypervigilance
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Anger
  • Impatience
  • Nightmares
  • Restlessness
  • Avoidance of situations that trigger fear/anxiousness
  • Self-medicating or self-destructive behaviors

The fact is that everyone will experience anxiety at some point in their lives; it’s normal for it to happen to some degree. However, anxiety becomes a disorder when it interrupts your normal, daily living and prevents you from doing regular activities. It’s also a problem when the fears are irrational and not based on reality or any events—they just present “out of nowhere”—and if they don’t go away. Often anxiety and its symptoms are due to a traumatic event or situation and will resolve themselves on their own over time if the situation is resolved. The stress response a person’s body produces is also called the fight-or-flight response, and when that response occurs repeatedly, the body reacts with any number of the above symptoms in order to deal with it.

Anxiety Treatment

Sometimes and for some people, anxiety can go away on its own when the body is healed. Stress causes anxiety and anxiety causes stress, so at some point, it just becomes a vicious cycle if the problem is not fixed or does not improve. The good news is that anxiety knowledge has increased in recent years, and thus, some treatment options are available.

Anxiety Treatment

  • Talking to a counselor or psychotherapist is a common solution. A trained professional who has studied anxiety and knows how to listen and help can walk you through steps to recovery. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one form of psychotherapy used for anxiety, in which your psychotherapist teaches you to change your thinking and behavior patterns and learn how to cope with the symptoms. It won’t eradicate anxiety overnight, but it will help you to gradually learn what triggers it and how to manage it.
  • Medication is another option. There are a variety of medications out there, and your doctor or therapist can work with you to find the best one for you and your symptoms. Anxiety disorders are usually treated with either antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.
  • Several alternative therapies can also help you overcome anxiety, such as yoga, acupuncture, meditation, massage, mindfulness, etc. Relaxation and breathing techniques are beneficial as a natural way to calm down and refocus without medication and are a helpful way to manage day-to-day stress.
  • Coping strategies help to manage and minimize anxiety as well. Gradual but effective, coping strategies tend to cause a person to be more purposeful about doing things that reduce anxiety and avoiding things that cause it. Choices such as limiting caffeine and alcohol, exercising, and practicing healthy eating habits are some such strategies. An overall balance in the physical body will help the mental state as well.

Oftentimes a combination of the anxiety treatment options will be what works best; keep in mind that a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. Also, keep in mind that no treatment is an instant fix. With time, patience, and perseverance, you will start to notice yourself feeling better and having a better outlook.

Conclusion

With the high percentage of the population experiencing anxiety and the number continues to rise in today’s fast-paced, driven world, it is important to understand what anxiety is, what it can feel like, and what can be done about it. Knowing the basics can help you or someone you love who suffers from anxiety—now or in the future. Knowledge is the key to prevention, management, treatment, and moving on from anxiety to live a happier, healthier life.

Treatment Steps and Options for Anxiety Disorders

If you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety disorder, it can be disconcerting and feel somewhat hopeless. Stress causes anxiety, and anxiety makes you stress—and the symptoms of anxiety cause to worry, which starts the whole cycle all over again. It’s like a snowball, building up and feeding off of itself, growing bigger by the day. If you don’t nip it in the bud, anxiety can grow to be such a big problem that it causes other issues and becomes debilitating.

But the good news is, there is hope. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the United States today, affecting as many as 1 in 4 adults. With that high a number of the population affected, anxiety as a disorder simply cannot be ignored. The studies of the disorder and the options for treatment are increasing at a steady rate.

Medications

Medications

Anxiety is treated with a few different medications depending on the type of anxiety disorder diagnosed. Usually, several of the mental and physical symptoms can be controlled or reduced by using an antidepressant, a beta-blocker, a tricyclic, or a benzodiazepine. While antidepressants were designed to specifically treat depression, they still help with the symptoms and have fewer side effects than older antidepressants. Antihistamines and beta-blockers can treat mild cases of anxiety and are usually only taken as needed, while antidepressants and tricyclics must be taken daily as directed by your healthcare provider.

Medication is often prescribed in combination with other therapies, especially counseling and psychotherapy, and the combination can be beneficial for most types of anxiety disorders.

Therapy

Therapy

There are a few different types of therapy available for anxiety—not just regular counseling sessions. It’s probably best to find a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders, and together you can find which type of therapy would work best for you.

  • Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy can be administered with or without medication and is often highly successful at relieving or eliminating the symptoms of anxiety. Psychotherapy involves talking with a professional who is experienced with anxiety to explore the possible causes and ways to manage and cope with the disorder. Sometimes group therapy may be prescribed as well.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a specialized type of psychotherapy that contains two main elements. The first part focuses on the brain, working toward changing anxiety-related thoughts. The second part targets the person’s reactions, training the person to respond differently to situations, objects, or events that trigger anxiety. CBT encourages anxiety sufferers to face their fears and train their brains to become desensitized to them, thus eliminating the anxiety-inducing scenarios.

  • Biofeedback

Biofeedback involves a series of therapy sessions in which a person watches his or her brain wave patterns with an electroencephalograph to determine what it feels like during anxiety-causing situations. The person then is gradually taught to control their anxiety while watching the brain wave patterns so that they can eventually learn to relax on cue—on their own, without the help of the therapist or the tools. This mode of therapy can work in as few as 12 sessions and has been highly successful thus far. 

Self-care

Taking care of yourself while treating anxiety is one of the most important things you can do. When you’re alone with your thoughts, you are responsible for how they affect you. Practice trying to replace negative thoughts with positive ones—and at the very least, recognize that it’s the anxiety speaking in your head and not the real you. Once you acknowledge that, it’s easier to let certain thoughts go. Besides that, here are a few things you can do to help:

  • Practice deep breathing, yoga, relaxing visualizations, or meditation techniques.
  • Exercise—any kind. Do what makes you happy.
  • Take a relaxing bath, and try adding lavender essential oil or salts.
  • Envision yourself fighting a fear and winning. This helps to make it happen.
  • Talk with a supportive friend or family member. You probably know someone who has been through what you’re going through.
  • Minimize stress in your daily schedule by making a plan and setting deadlines so that you have a roadmap to follow.
  • Add lavender oil to your pillow to relax you and lull you to sleep at night.
  • Drink chamomile tea, eat healthily, and avoid caffeine/alcohol.

With the amount of stress that the majority of the global population experiences today, most—if not all—of these options would be beneficial for just about anyone. If you haven’t experienced anxiety, count yourself lucky—and consider these self-care options preventative measures. Besides, who doesn’t feel better after some exercise, deep breathing, or a hot bath?

Conclusion

Anxiety treatments vary with each case, but most cases will most likely benefit from a combination of several therapies and lifestyle modifications. Regardless of the therapies you are prescribed, if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, just know that there are others who have been there before and who have come out on the other side of it. Stay patient and perseverant, and you will be feeling better before you know it. Recognizing your situation and taking steps toward improving your life is the best place to start.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Different anxiety disorders can have different symptoms, but there is one common theme to them all: a feeling of fear. Fear can manifest itself in numerous ways in a person’s conscious and subconscious mind, but all the reactions stem from a person’s fight-or-flight response. The mind determines the physical, emotional, and behavioral responses to the stress placed on it when experiencing anxiety.

Many times, a person will think that he or she has a medical condition due to physical symptoms of stress and anxiety—the most prevalent example of this is a panic attack. Anxiety manifests itself with real physical symptoms that sometimes mimic a heart attack or other medical emergency, but the brain is fooled into thinking that because the fight-or-flight response is heightened. Also, when a person experiences intense or repeated trauma, the mind can trick the body into thinking something is physically wrong either because of the severity of the trauma or the fact that it is prolonged. So the longer the event occurs, the worse the anxiety may get, and the worse it gets, the more physical symptoms may manifest themselves.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety symptoms can be easily categorized into three main segments: Behavioral, Physical, and Mental. However, a fourth small category exists, and that is Illness-related Symptoms that don’t seem to fall into the other three categories. While the complete list of symptoms could fill a small book, a shortened list of the most common can be summarized here.

Behavioral

Sometimes anxiety manifests itself with behavioral symptoms, and sometimes it does not. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder sufferers tend to be those with the most obvious behavioral symptoms because they tend to repeat an action over and over as a way to lessen their anxiety. However, other forms of the disorder can present behavioral changes as well, such as:

  • Fainting
  • Temperament changes, such as anger, impatience, irritability, and restlessness
  • Social withdrawal and avoidance of situations that trigger anxiety
  • Difficulty focusing or relaxing
  • Hypervigilance
  • Self-medicating or self-harm
  • Clumsiness
  • Weight loss or gain

While other behavioral symptoms may surface, the important thing is to watch for changes in a loved one or yourself that may be concerning. It is important to seek help for yourself or the other person, especially if you think there may be a danger of self-harm.

Anxiety mental symptoms

Mental

While the list of mental symptoms may not be the longest, they are perhaps the most important. Anxiety can change the chemical makeup of the brain, altering the connectors that communicate how to think—and sometimes how to act. Anxiety can even cause severe mental states, such as removing a person’s ability to feel pleasure or even causing a person to forget who they are. Thankfully, however, it is also possible to restore the mind once the anxiety is healed. Receiving help and treatment can prevent and reverse mental changes, keeping them from becoming permanent.

Mental symptoms can essentially be broken down into three categories: thoughts, emotions, and cognitive function.

Thoughts: negative, racing, crazy, strange, violent, obsessive, irrational, disturbing, scary

While it can be hard to control your thoughts, one step toward curing anxiety is to remind yourself each time you have one of these types of thoughts that it’s due to the anxiety and try to let it go. Awareness of the thoughts is important to recognize symptoms.

Emotions: mood symptoms, such as anger, hyperactivity, hysteria, euphoria, mood swings, sadness, suicidal thoughts—or fear symptoms, such as fear of death or going crazy, hypochondriasis, being scared easily

Just as it is important to recognize symptoms in your thoughts, recognizing mood changes will help you overcome anxiety faster by acknowledging them and recognizing them for what they are.

Cognitive Functions: memory loss, hallucinations, nightmares, detachment, disorientation, confusion, distorted reality

While thoughts, emotions, and cognitive functions are tied together, cognitive function describes more how the brain acts as opposed to thoughts or moods. Moods and cognitive functions are more noticeable by others; anxious thoughts can be kept to oneself more easily.

anxiety physical symptoms

Physical

The list of possible physical symptoms anxiety can cause by far the longest, proving that what affects the mind also affects the body. Symptoms can be felt in the entire body, such as aches and pains or a weakened immune system; they can also be felt in specific areas of the body, such as muscles, organs, head, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, chest, neck, back, arms, stomach, etc. They can be vague, such as hormonal changes or high/low blood pressure, or specific, such as acne or tingling feet or toes. They can be internal, such as digestive issues or incontinence, or external, such as sweating or wheezing. Symptoms can even be subconscious nervous habits such as nail biting or inadvertent, such as drooling. Anxiety can even cause heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat, leading a person to believe that they have a severe medical condition.

When a person experiences any physical symptoms (and an underlying health condition is ruled out), it is important to remember not to let the symptoms worsen the anxiety. Try to remain calm and remember that the symptom (and others you may experience) are brought on by the anxiety and will be reduced when the anxiety gets better.

Conclusion

Since each person is vastly different, symptoms can vary greatly, some perhaps even experiencing ones that may not be on any list. It is important to remember not to focus on the symptoms but to seek help and work toward retraining your brain to recognize anxiety and overcome it. Help is available, and there are always others out there who have experienced it and can support you in your journey toward healing.

6 Steps to Beating Depression

Sad woman looking through the window

Depression is more than simply feeling unhappy. It is a debilitating disorder that drains your energy, your motivation, and your self-worth. The major difference between depression and unhappiness is that depression is a persistent feeling. 

It can be as frustrating dealing with someone who has depression as it is dealing with depression yourself. But know that one of the worst things you can do is tell someone who is depressed to “just snap out of it” or something similar. Just like any disorder, it takes time to work through it, so it’s important to be patient. 

However, part of having depression means losing sight of how much control you actually have. While feeling better does take time, and it’s a gradual process, being persistent about your healing process is what will get you through. 

The following are six steps to taking control of your emotions and overcoming your depression.

1. Practice Mindfulness

Someone in a depressed state of mind tends to hyperfocus on the negative. This can breed anxiety and further support the miserable cycle of worthlessness that comes with depression. It’s not a helpful habit to fall into when trying to overcome your depression. 

The first and most simple thing you can do is breathe. Mindful breathing is scientifically proven to reduce anxiety, as it helps your nervous system shift from the animalistic “fight or flight” response to the parasympathetic nervous system which is far more relaxed.  

Zen moment

Bringing your mind into the present moment takes your mind off of the negative thoughts. This can be accomplished through meditation. Try using your senses– sight, smell, touch, sound –to anchor yourself in the present. Practicing this helps you regulate your negative thoughts, and it gets easier to shift into the present moment. 

Another mindful practice you can use is gratitude. By recognizing the good in your life– the people, things, and experiences you’re grateful for –you reinforce positivity. If you practice this enough, it becomes easier to focus on the positives in your life rather than the negatives. 

Writing in a journal is also mindfulness practice. It can help move your negative thoughts out of your brain, and it also helps you gain some perspective when you’re able to read back your thoughts from a piece of paper.

2. Get More Active

It can be incredibly difficult to even roll yourself out of bed when you’re depressed, much less exercising. But exercise is highly combative of depression. It’s proven that working out on a regular basis can serve as effectively as medication for relieving symptoms of depression. 

Finding peace

Because your body releases endorphins when you exercise, working out naturally boosts your mood. It can be hard to get started when you’re drained of energy, and all you want to do is lay in bed. But if you can just manage to begin and stick with it, that feeling of fatigue will dissipate, and your energy levels will rise. 

This consistent practice of exercising also improves your immune system. It’s recommended to exercise for at least 30 minutes each day. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be 30 consecutive minutes. If you can manage a 10-minute walk, three times a day, you will be doing your mental health a huge favor.

3. Reach Out and Connect with People You Trust

This seems like a simple act, but it is often one of the hardest things to do when you’re depressed. The nature of depression keeps you feeling isolated and uninterested in connecting with others, even your closest friends and family members. But social support is vital to overcoming depression, and anxiety too. 

Connecting with others when you’re depressed can help you with your perspective, and even if it’s just for a little while, it can help you feel better. There’s even research that shows people with close friends are more likely to survive traumatic life events. If you feel like you don’t have anyone to reach out to, it’s never too late to build that support network– yes, even if you’re depressed. 

Here are some suggestions for how you can reach out and connect with people when you’re down:

  • Talk to someone trustworthy and good at listening about your feelings
  • Ask a loved one to check in with you on a regular basis
  • Meet new people by taking a class or joining a club
  • Call or message an old friend
  • Volunteer and support somebody else
  • Love on a pet 

If you’re worried someone you know may have depression, they may not reach out to you. Remember that this is characteristic of depressed individuals and that you don’t have to wait for them to connect with you. In many cases, you can help someone by reaching out to them first.

4. Eat a Healthy Diet

Surely you’ve heard the phrase “you are what you eat.” In a way, that’s true. What you eat has a direct effect on how you feel. That’s why it’s so important to be mindful of what you eat, especially if you’re depressed. 

Fruits and vegetables overhead assortment on colorful background

According to research on depression, many sufferers of depression are frequently lack in a fatty acid called EPA. Omega-3 fatty acids have proven to decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression like sleep disorders, suicidal thoughts, and lacking sex drive. You can find these healthy fats in foods like salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, walnuts, and flaxseed. Shoot for two servings of Omega-3 per week. 

Another good idea for eating healthy is to cut down own sugar and carbs. Comfort foods like pasta or baked goods will make you feel good in the moment, but give you drops in your energy later on. 

If you lack in B vitamins, this can also make your depression worse. Make sure you either take a B vitamin supplement or eat more leafy greens, citrus fruits, beans, or eggs.

5. Seek Treatment

If you’ve taken all the steps you can to try to overcome depression and find it’s getting worse rather than better, it may be a good idea to seek professional help. There is no shame in pursuing treatment through therapy or medication.  

Couple with a psychiatrist.

A therapist can help you find healthy coping skills and to understand thought patterns and beliefs that may be hurting you. 

A psychiatrist can prescribe medication that will help relieve your symptoms. If you’re not comfortable taking medication, a visit to a psychiatrist may still be helpful in understanding other treatment options out there.

6. Don’t Give Up

If you start all of these steps today, it’s highly unlikely you will feel completely better tomorrow. Overcoming depression takes time. But by building better habits, such as eating better, exercising, practicing mindfulness, and connecting with others when you’re sad, you can gradually recover from this disorder. 

If you are prescribed medication, it’s important that you are committed to taking it every day. The same goes for therapy. If you’re investing in it, commit to going and working through your issues, however painful it may be. It will take time before you start seeing the effects of professional treatment. 

Many people experience depression; you are not alone. The key to overcoming it is not to get rid of it but to learn how to manage it. Hang in there and keep persevering. 

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3998282

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/15-ways-to-overcome-depression-and-sadness.html

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/coping-with-depression.htm#help

http://www.businessinsider.com/tricks-to-overcome-anxiety-and-fear-2016-2/#talk-to-yourself-to-perform-better-in-stressful-situations-14

What Happens After You Overcome Depression?

Cheerful woman playing in bed with daughter

Overcoming depression is a gradual process, and in most cases, you’re able to get back to a healthy headspace. But life after depression isn’t without its challenges. After you’ve experienced a depressive episode, life’s not as it was before. 

And because you’ve experienced this mental illness, you’re more at risk for relapsing later on in life. While this may sound discouraging and plays right into the thought patterns that depression perpetuates so well, there are practices you can implement in your life to prevent relapse. 

Ultimately, you want to maintain your mental health, and that means accepting that while you have had depression, you aren’t defined by depression.  

The Road to Recovery

It’s important to recognize depression for what it is: an illness. It’s a mental illness that lies to you through your thoughts. Accepting that you cannot trust all of your thoughts because they are not an accurate representation of reality is a hard thing to do. 

But it’s absolutely necessary. 

Reconnecting with reality and regaining your mental health means teaching yourself how to recognize which of your thoughts are true and which aren’t. This is no easy feat, but it’s an important practice. Prioritizing this practice just a little each day will improve this discernment.

Removing Toxic People

Coming back to reality can also mean making painful decisions about who you keep in your life. If you’ve experienced a depressive episode and there’s a toxic person in your life, this puts you at a higher risk of feeling the symptoms again. 

It’s crucial to identify who, if anyone, makes your symptoms worse and to separate from this person. This can end up being one of the hardest choices you’ll ever make, but the well-being of your mind is not worth keeping a toxic individual around.

Taking Care of Your Body

Your mind and your body are inextricably connected. So ultimately, caring for your mental health means also caring for your physical health. An unhealthy body just cannot sustain a healthy mind. 

So don’t dump that exercise routine after you’ve overcome depression. Don’t start eating loads of junk food after you’ve begun to feel better. What you put in your body today will affect your health tomorrow. 

Don’t be afraid to try different workouts or diets to find what works best for you and your health. Recovering from depression is a process, and most of that process is trial and error. There is no right way to recover. As long as you’re on a path to be healthier, you’re doing it right.

Staying Mindful 

freedom feelings

Mindfulness is a practice you should carry with you for the rest of your life, regardless of if you ever experience a depressive episode again. This is an exercise for everybody. 

Mindfulness meditation and mindfulness in daily activities help people to witness their thoughts rather than to be wholly absorbed by them. This practice teaches you to give less power to your thoughts, and instead to watch them come and go just as bodily sensations do. 

Remember– those negative thought patterns are what give depression its power. If you can detach yourself from these thoughts, depression is far less likely to return.

Staying Connected 

Group therapy session with therapist and client hugging

The real catch-22 of depression is the fact that relief is found in reaching out for support, yet the cyclical negative thoughts and social isolation can make that feel impossible. 

Research has shown that “formerly depressed adults who had emotionally supportive and close relationships were four times more likely to report complete mental health than those without such relationships. Having at least one trusted friend was critical to cultivating complete mental health” (Mercedes Bern-Klug, Associate Professor, University of Iowa). 

The genuine relief and healing lie in social connection. Even after your depressive episode is over, it’s crucial to maintain at least one good relationship with somebody. Your mental health is largely dependent on the human connections in your life.

Risk of Relapse 

Pensive teenage girl

As mentioned, those who have experienced depression previously are more prone to experiencing it again. The risk of relapse is highest during the first six months of recovery.

For some people, depression can potentially be a long-term or even a lifelong illness. 

Though some people very well may experience recurring depression throughout their lives, this does not mean they will never be happy. In due course of treatment, there is hope for even people with lifelong depression to manage their illness and live happy lives.

Continuation Treatment vs. Maintenance Treatment

There is a treatment for individuals who are coming off of a depressive episode, and for people who have experienced depression in the past and continue to deal with depressive episodes. 

Continuation treatment is a combination of therapy and prescription medicine that is administered to an individual for up to six months after a depressive episode. This type of treatment is important to consider if you’ve experienced a single major depressive episode. 

Maintenance treatment, on the other hand, is only provided to certain individuals who have shown signs of recurring depressive symptoms. Only people who have experienced two or three major depressive episodes in their lives are considered candidates for maintenance treatment. 

This treatment is long term and used to prevent relapse into depression. It typically includes psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy, with medication doses remaining the same throughout. There are hope and relief for even those with lifelong depression. 

If you feel that your depression is lasting for a long time, or that it keeps recurring, it may be time to consult a doctor about your treatment options.

Conclusion

The healing from depression is gradual and can only be achieved through deliberate, everyday practice. While it may seem disconcerting that there’s a possibility of lifelong depression, you should not worry. Many people have experienced lifelong depression before, and because of this, doctors have been able to gather valuable information on how to best treat longer lasting depression. 

There is always hope. If you are in need of help with recurring depression, reach out for help. The Lighthouse Health Group in Jupiter, Florida is here to help you and answer any questions you need. 

References

https://psychcentral.com/lib/how-mindfulness-can-mitigate-the-cognitive-symptoms-of-depression/

http://www.heysigmund.com/life-after-depression/

https://tinybuddha.com/blog/getting-back-up-after-you-fall-healing-from-depression/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1911177/

 

A Guide to Overcoming Depression

Unhappy girl in a bedroom

Depression is a serious mental illness caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and social distress. It’s not just a prolonged feeling of sadness, as it can change a person’s neural brain circuits. 

The range of symptoms that come with depression can drastically change a person’s behavior. It can decrease energy levels, self-esteem levels, change sleep patterns, appetite, ability to concentrate, and even daily behavior. The symptoms of depression can deteriorate a person’s personal life, including relationships, as well as their professional career, so it’s critical to counteract these symptoms by recognizing them and treating them as soon as possible. 

The following are some tips to recognizing, overcoming, and recovering from depression.

How Anxiety Can Play a Role in Depression

Sad woman looking at the sea

A common misconception about depression is that you cannot have both depression and anxiety at the same time. Many people believe you can’t have a mental disorder that causes fear of the future (anxiety) while also having a mental disorder that shuts you down and prevents you from being able to cope (depression). 

But in all reality, anxiety, and depression can go hand in hand. Research has shown that 60-70% of people with depression suffer from anxiety, and 50% of those with chronic anxiety suffer from clinical symptoms of depression. There’s a term for the existence of both of these disorders in one person in the psych world, and it’s called comorbidity. 

Researchers are beginning to conclude that depression and anxiety are actually two sides of the same disorder. These illnesses are so similar, in fact, that mental health professionals have difficulty distinguishing between the two. Depression and anxiety have a lot in common: both can be predicted by genetics, the neurobiology of the two are similar, and the psychological and biological natures are the same. 

Anxiety is a reaction to life stressors, and depression is almost a step beyond that. It’s as if all of the anxiety builds up to a point where a person feels they can’t cope anymore, resulting in depression. This is why in most cases anxiety precedes depression. 

One major similarity these two disorders share is that people who suffer from them tend to avoid coping with the things that scare or worry them. As a result, these sufferers are unable to develop the skills they need to cope, and the cycle of misery continues. 

The onset of anxiety can be an indicator for looming symptoms of depression. Here are just a few signs of the presence of both anxiety and depression:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sudden or extreme changes in mood
  • Sleep troubles
  • Changes in appetite
  • Constant fear or worry 

For more information on the symptoms of both anxiety and depression, check out this guide. 

How to Defeat Depression

Being able to recognize the symptoms of depression at the onset is an incredibly important first step to overcoming it. Believe it or not, it’s easy for a person to be caught up in depression and isolate themselves without realizing they’re suffering from a depressive episode. 

Here are some red flags to look out for when trying to determine whether or not you or someone you care about is experiencing depression:

  • Withdrawal from social life
  • Persistent aches and pains such as headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
  • Persistent anxious, sad, or feelings of emptiness
  • Irritability
  • Thoughts or talk of suicide
  • Loss of interest in activities that bring pleasure, including sex
  • Fatigue and lacking in energy 

Recognizing these signs are the first step to overcoming a depressive episode. Once depression is identified, it’s important to begin treating it right away to prevent the condition from getting worse. 

Many people can treat their depression without seeking help from a mental health professional. Here are a few suggestions to ease those symptoms on your own:

  • Distract yourself – One of the simplest ways to overcome depression is just by keeping busy and thereby distracting your mind from depressing thoughts.
  • Challenge negative self-talk – The ideas that crop up as a result of depression are usually fear-based and not representative of reality. By acknowledging these thoughts as ones being produced by an unhealthy mind and reminding yourself not to take them so seriously, you can regain some critical perspective.
  • Connect with others – Depression is in its nature an illness that isolates people from others. So it can often be difficult for a depressed person to reach out. But one of the all-around best ways to overcome depression is by feeling the support of others who care. 

mercy, two hands silhouette, help concept

These are only a few tips for overcoming depression. For more suggestions, read 6 Steps to Beating Depression. 

Keep in mind that there will be many cases when a depressed individual needs more treatment than what they can provide to themselves. A mental health professional will be able to determine what specific treatment is necessary, but the standard prescription is a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and medication.

Recovering from Depression

When you’re coming out of a depressive episode, you may not even realize it at first. The healing from depression is a very gradual process so you can’t expect to feel better right away. In many cases, you can get back to a healthy mind as long as you’re patient with your recovery. 

That being said, life after depression does not come without its challenges. In fact, if you’ve had a depressive episode you’re statistically more likely to experience another one. This is why it’s so important to instill practices in your life to prevent relapse later on.

Man crying during psychological therapy

Here are some tips for preventing the onset of depression in the future:

  • Practice mindfulness – Depression is a mental illness that produces thoughts that mostly lie to you. These thoughts are negative and fear-based by nature, and they are often not set in reality. Mindfulness helps you center yourself so you can get the mental distance you need to recognize that these thoughts are not you.
  • Self-care – Depression makes you neglectful of yourself. By stepping up to care for your body by eating healthily and exercising, you make a healthy mind. This makes it more difficult for depression to come back. Practice listening to what your body needs.
  • Support, support, support – Don’t stop reaching out for help when the worst of your depression is over. Human connection is the best source of healing and also the best preventative medicine for depression. Isolating yourself is likely to cause a relapse.

Sometimes to fully recover from depression, it takes more effort than just mindfulness, self-care, and support. And in some cases, people live with depression for the rest of their lives. For more information on recovering from longer lasting depression, this article provides the information you need.

Remember that if you’ve been prescribed medication or therapy by a mental health professional, it’s important to continue your treatment until they recommend to ease back. Just like with prescribed antibiotics when you’re sick, you can begin to feel better before you’ve finished your full prescription, but if you quit right after you feel better, the illness can come back. Keep with your treatment until you’re explicitly told you can stop.

Conclusion

While depression can be a crippling mental illness and affects millions of people every year, it is possible to defeat it. If you are experiencing depression, it’s imperative for you to remember that you are not alone and that many of the thoughts you’re experiencing are lies from your depression. 

For more resources, you can check out the linked articles in this guide. If you’re in need of immediate help or feel that you are in danger, call the US Suicide Hotline (1-800-784-2433) or NDMDA Depression Hotline (800-826-3632). 

References

https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200310/anxiety-and-depression-together

http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/detecting-depression#1

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/15-ways-to-overcome-depression-and-sadness.html

https://psychcentral.com/lib/telephone-hotlines-and-help-lines/

Are the things you tell your therapist really private?

therapist-1024x626

When you leave your psychotherapist’s office after an especially personal session, it’s comforting to know that everything you discussed remains within those four walls. But will it really? Just how bound to confidentiality is your therapist? Can they be legally coerced into revealing what you’ve talked about in private?

Privacy is what makes therapy work

“Psychologists understand that for people to feel comfortable talking about private and revealing information, they need a safe place to talk about whatever they’d like, without fear of that information leaving the room,” states the website of the American Psychological Association (APA). Psychologist Ali Mandelblatt of Lighthouse Health Group, LLC in Florida, backs up that claim, saying, “a client can tell his therapist his deeply held secrets knowing they will not leave the therapy room.”

There are, however, times when a therapist must breach a patient’s confidentiality and release personal information into the more public realm.

RelatedCan you photo be published without your consent?

As a professional, Mandelblatt cannot provide accurate information about confidentiality until she first determines who her client is and why he or she is seeking treatment. “Is the client voluntarily seeking treatment or is she court-ordered to treatment?’

In the first case, most of the information disclosed by the client would remain confidential. In the second case, however, the information the client discloses is not confidential. “Court-ordered treatment provides that the therapist report back to the Court in terms of the client’s progress and/or lack thereof,” explains Mandelblatt.

Laws are in place to support your privacy…

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) lays out national standards to protect the personal health information—including information about psychotherapy and mental health—of an individual.

Each state has its own standards above and beyond the level of protection provided by the HIPAA Privacy Rule. You can find out what laws and protections exist for you by contacting your state’s board of psychology. The contact information for each state’s board can be found at The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

…but there are exceptions

When you first visit a psychotherapist (psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker), you should be provided with written information that details how your personal information will be handled. Exceptions to your privacy protection should be made clear. In the following instances, according to the APA, your therapist can share information without your written consent:

  • Psychotherapists may disclose private information without consent in order to protect the patient or the public from serious harm; for example, if you reveal a plan or intent to commit suicide or to harm or kill someone else.
  • Psychotherapists are required to report ongoing domestic violence, abuse, or neglect of children, the elderly, or people with disabilities. If, however, an adult discloses that they were abused as a child, the therapist is not necessarily bound to report that abuse, unless there are other children who are continuing to be abused.
  • Psychotherapists may release information if they receive a court order; for instance, if your records are subpoenaed in a legal case regarding your mental health, or if the treatment is court-ordered, as Mandelblatt indicates above.

“It should be noted even though these disclosures are ‘allowed,’ a client may still bring a complaint about the psychologist to the Board of Psychology,” adds Mandelblatt. “Confidentiality and breaches of confidentiality can often place a psychologist in a difficult situation legally, professionally, and ethically. Rapport may be ruined between the client and the psychologist after this breach, leading to a termination of the therapeutic relationship.”

Disclosure with consent

Your therapist may ask if they can share your personal information with other healthcare professionals when coordinated care is in order. This, too, is a policy that should be mentioned at your initial visit. Ultimately, you get to decide whether or not you’re okay with it.

“As a therapist and a forensic psychologist, it is initially my duty to help my clients understand confidentiality and the limits of confidentiality,” says Mandelblatt. “By doing this, I give my clients an opportunity to understand how the information they disclose to me can or may be used.”

As the patient, you are free to disclose as much or as little as you desire about your therapy sessions. You can tell family, friends, coworkers – anyone. Choosing to do so does not give permission to the therapist to do the same. “Psychologists are ethically bound to protect your privacy,” reads the APA website, “regardless of what information you choose to share with others.”

How much does your insurance company need to know?

Your health insurance company (or Medicare or Medicaid, if applicable) may need access to some of your personal information in order to pay for your treatment. In turn, the insurance company (or government program) is bound by the same HIPAA regulations that apply to your therapist. For example, the health insurance company may not share information about your treatment with your employer, even if your coverage is through that employer.

If you are uncomfortable with your insurance company having access to your private health records, you can circumvent it by paying out-of-pocket for your treatment.

Minors get slightly less privacy

This area, in particular, is one in which states differ. Typically, a parent or guardian is involved when a child under the age of 18 receives psychotherapy services. That involvement may be as limited as having an early discussion about what types of information everyone—the therapist, minor, and parents—agree should be shared. The APA website states that it is common for parents to agree to be informed only if their child is engaged in risky activities.

What happens when a child is over the age of 18 but still covered by their parents’ insurance? If the insurance is used to pay for the treatment, then the parents will receive an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) from the insurance company describing the services the child has received. The EOB will not reveal what was discussed during sessions with the therapist, only that the visits were made.

Bottom line: A professional psychotherapist will abide by the rules and laws that protect your privacy. And he or she will use those laws to protect you further – by breaking that confidence when necessary. Use the resources available to you to make sure your therapist is licensed and in good standing. And, if you feel that your privacy has been breached, seek help from an attorney to protect your rights.