Scariest Psych Disorders, the finale
Hello, people… welcome back to the blog! Last week, we talked about more of the strangest and scariest psych disorders, and this week, we’ll finish that off before we take a break for the holidays. Let’s get right to it.
Ever had a food craving? Maybe you want a piping hot pepperoni and mushroom pizza, with extra cheese. Sounds good, right? How about you add some dryer lint? Yum! Or maybe a little shredded phone book? Still sound good? No? How about sex… ever had a craving for that? Of course, everyone has, right? How about sex with a truck? Not in a truck… WITH a truck. Hmmm…. Maybe not so much.
Well, imagine craving the taste of that phone book, or wanting to have sex with a car. It sounds unreal, but those things are reality for people with Kluver-Bucy Syndrome, a very scary neurological disorder associated with damage to the temporal lobes of the brain, resulting in the desire to eat inedible objects, sexual attraction to inanimate objects, and memory loss.
First described by neuropsychologist Heinrich Klüver and neurosurgeon Paul Bucy- hence the name- the story of Klüver-Bucy syndrome begins with a monkey and a cactus. Actually, it begins with mescaline, which is a chemical derived from a cactus, that causes vivid hallucinations. It was studied very thoroughly- and quite personally- by psychologist Heinrich Klüver, who noticed that monkeys that were given mescaline often smacked their lips, which reminded him of behaviors exhibited by patients with seizures arising from the temporal lobe of the brain. Unsure if this was due to mescaline or not, this made the two of them curious as to all of the functions of the temporal lobe, so they designed an experiment on a monkey named Aurora, who happened to be particularly aggressive. They removed a large part of Aurora’s left temporal lobe to investigate it under a microscope, and noted that when she woke, her previously aggressive demeanor had vanished, and she was instead placid and tame.
Apparently, this drew their interest more than the mescaline, so they focused solely on the temporal lobe, performing bilateral temporal lobe surgery on a series of 16 monkeys, and afterwards noted the following symptoms:
Psychic blindness- this indicates a lack of recognition or understanding of a person, place, or thing being viewed. After the surgery, the monkeys would look at the same object over and over again, unable to recognize the form or function of the object. Even things they should fear, like a hissing snake, they didn’t recognize, much less fear.
Oral tendencies- like a very small child, the monkeys evaluated everything around them by putting it all into their mouths, rather than using their hands, as they normally would. They would even attempt to push their heads through the bars of their cages in order to touch things with their mouths, instead of their hands.
Dietary changes- prior to the temporal lobe surgeries, these monkeys usually ate fruit, but afterwards, the monkeys began to accept and consume large quantities of meat.
Hypermetamorphosis- this meant that anything that crossed the monkeys’ field of vision required their full and immediate attention.
Altered sexual behavior- after the procedure, the monkeys become very sexually interested, both alone with themselves, and with others.
Emotional changes- the monkeys became very placid, with reduced or even absent fear. Facial expressions were also lost for several months, but those did return after a period of time.
Not surprisingly, people with Kluver-Bucy syndrome often have the same symptoms: trouble recognizing people and/ or objects that should be familiar to them, and excessive oral tendencies, with the urge to put all kinds of objects into the mouth, whether food items or not. Hypermetamorphosis is also common, the irresistible impulse or need to explore everything that comes into view. Other symptoms include memory loss, emotional changes, extreme sexual behavior, indifference, placidity, and visual agnosia, which is difficulty identifying and processing visual information. A nearly uncontrollable appetite for food is often noted, and there may be dementia type symptoms as well.
Klüver-Bucy syndrome is the result of damage to the temporal lobes of the brain. This can be the result of trauma to the brain itself, or the result of other degenerative brain diseases, tumors, or some brain infections, most commonly herpes simplex encephalitis.
Thankfully, this type of extreme damage is rare. The first full case report of Klüver-Bucy syndrome was reported by doctors Terzian and Ore in 1955, when a 19-year-old man had sudden seizures, behavioral changes, and psychotic features. First the left, and then the right, temporal lobes were removed. After the surgery, he seemed much less attached to other people, and was even quite cold to his family. At the same time, he was hypersexual, frequently soliciting people who happened by, whether they were men or women. He also wanted to eat constantly, regardless if the items were food or not.
Because it is so rare, like many classical neurological syndromes, Klüver-Bucy syndrome is really more important for historical and academic reasons, rather than for its immediate applications to patients. The reports of Klüver and Bucy got a lot of publicity at the time, mainly due to their demonstrating the temporal lobe’s involvement with interpreting vision, and their work added to the growing recognition that particular regions of the brain had unique functions which were lost if that region of the brain was damaged. Science is built on the work of others- the more we know, the more we learn- and while Klüver-Bucy syndrome isn’t very common, the work that went into describing it still has an impact felt in neurology to this day.
To be or not to be… that is the question. At least, that’s one of the many questions someone with aboulomania is likely to ask themselves. From the Greek a-, meaning without’, and boulē, meaning will, aboulomania is a psych disorder in which the patient displays pathological indecisiveness. While many people have a hard time making decisions, it is rarely to the extent of obsession, and that’s exactly the case in aboulomania.
In most people, the part of the brain that is tied to making rational choices, the prefrontal cortex, can hold several pieces of information at any given time. But people with aboulomania quickly become overwhelmed when trying to make choices or decisions, regardless of the importance of that decision. They come up with all the reasons how and why their decisions will turn out badly, causing them to overanalyze every situation critically. It’s a classic case of paralysis by analysis, where a lack of information, difficulty in valuation, and outcome uncertainty combine to become obsession. Often associated with anxiety, stress, and depression, as you can imagine, aboulomania can severely affect one’s ability to function socially.
As for etiology, it’s usually extremely authoritarian or overprotective parenting that leads to the development of aboulomania; when caretakers reward loyalty and punish independence. Sometimes there’s a history of neglect and avoidance of expressed emotion during childhood that contributes to it. If someone is a victim of humiliation or abandonment during childhood, the chances for aboulomania increase, as shame, insecurity, and lack of self-trust can all trigger it. It’s sad to see, when everyday tasks become deciding questions of peoples’ lives. Simple decisions… to see a movie or stay at home, and what movie? Do I want Mexican or Italian food? Should I call John or text him? These are questions that cannot be answered by people with aboulomania without an eternity of dilemmas.
It’s common for people with aboulomania to avoid being alone whenever they know a decision has to be made, or feel like a dilemma might come up. But this doesn’t come from a fear of being alone, it comes from the need to have someone there to make the decision for them, and assume the responsibility for said decision. Here, the fear of being alone isn’t the root of the problem, it’s just a symptom of a bigger issue. It’s important to mention that this dependency on people makes it easier for others to manipulate or lie to people with aboulomania. Some people will take advantage of their indecisiveness and use that, while others will simply leave them for not being able to make choices or ever express disagreement.
Many times, people with aboulomania don’t recognize it, or recognize it but try to play it off, but this is a pathological level of indecision, a mental illness, not just a self-esteem or insecurity issue, so diagnosis is important. Look, being indecisive when having to make an important decision is normal, but when it starts affecting your relationships, and it makes it impossible for you to live your life, it’s a problem, so it’s time for an evaluation. Once diagnosed, the process really consists of dealing with any of the underlying anxiety, depression, or stress that usually goes with it. The idea is to then help the person develop more autonomy, self esteem, and social skills, like assertiveness.
Ah Paris… the beautiful city of lights, croissants, funny mimes, the Champs-Elysées, macarons, the Eiffel Tower, and art at the Louvre. Sounds fabulous. That’s what most people think of, that view that I just described, so the reality can come as a shock… McDonald’s on every corner, crime, graffiti, and rude taxi drivers and waiters, irritated by tourists who don’t speak the lingo. I mean, every place has its pros and cons, but people seem to have romantic expectations of Paris, right? Hence Paris syndrome, an extremely odd, but thankfully temporary, mental disorder that causes one to become completely overwhelmed while visiting the city of Paris. And to be clear, not overwhelmed by the beauty, but rather by the reality of Paris.
Interestingly, Paris syndrome seems to be most common among Japanese travelers. The theory is that they’re used to a more polite and helpful society in which voices are rarely raised in anger, and the experience of their dream city turning into a nightmare can simply be too much. Of the approximately 6 million Japanese visitors to Paris each year, one to two dozen experience overwhelming anxiety, acute delusions, hallucinations, feelings of confusion and disorientation, nausea, paranoia, dizziness, sweating, and feelings of persecution that are Paris syndrome. Researchers really just speculate as to cause; because most people who experience this syndrome have no history of mental illness, the leading thought is that it’s triggered by the language barrier, physical and mental exhaustion, and the reality of Paris as compared to the idealized version.
So what can one do to prevent Paris syndrome? Simple: adjust your expectations. Ultimately, it’s like any modern metropolis- dirty, crowded, loud, and often indifferent… but beautifully so. Just don’t expect the furniture to spring to life and help you get ready for your dance with the Beast, and a trip to Paris will be exciting, and, most importantly, free of debilitating anxiety and hallucinations.
It seems like there have been so many iterations of The Walking Dead, and like every generation sees a new zombie trend, but this isn’t all movie magic. Imagine feeling IRL that you are dead already, that your body and all of your internal organs are rotting, and that you are ceasing to exist. Well, that’s how it is for people with this very strange- and incredibly frightening- neuropsych disorder also known as nihilistic delusion, as well as walking corpse syndrome. Boy, that last one pretty much says it all, right? Named for neurologist Jules Cotard, who first described it in 1880 as “The Delirium of Negation,” Cotard delusion typically occurs in conjunction with severe depression, some psychotic disorders, and other neurological conditions.
One of the main symptoms of Cotard delusion is nihilism- the belief that nothing has any value or meaning- but can also include the belief that nothing really exists. And in fact, in some cases, people with Cotard delusion feel like they’ve never existed, never lived. But it does have a flip side, the feeling of being immortal. As for other symptoms, depression is numero uno, with anxiety a close second. Hello, I think I’d be depressed and anxious too if I thought I was rotting and my very soul didn’t exist. But depression is in fact very closely linked to Cotard delusion, with a review indicating that 89% of documented cases cited depression as a symptom. Aside from anxiety, other common symptoms include hallucinations, hypochondria, guilt, and a preoccupation with hurting oneself or with death.
Researchers aren’t sure what causes Cotard delusion, but there are a few potential risk factors. Being female is one, as women seem to be more likely to develop Cotard delusion. Age is a factor. Several studies indicate that the average age of people with Cotard delusion is about 50, but it can also occur in children and teenagers. Interestingly, people with Cotard delusion that are under the age of 25 tend to also have bipolar depression, so that’s a risk factor. In addition, Cotard delusion seems to occur more often in people who think that their personal characteristics, rather than their environment, cause their behavior. People who believe the opposite- that their environment causes their behavior- are more likely to have a related condition called Capgras syndrome. That should sound familiar from the first installment of this series, as the syndrome causes people to think their family and friends have been replaced by imposters. Notably, Cotard delusion and Capgras syndrome can also appear together. Imagine that… believing that your body is rotting away, you are ceasing to exist, and all of the people and places in your life have been replaced by imposters! Jump on the empathy train, people.
In addition to bipolar disorder, other mental health conditions that might increase one’s risk of developing Cotard delusion include postpartum depression, psychotic depression, schizophrenia, catatonia, and dissociative disorder. Cotard delusion also appears to be associated with certain neurological conditions, including dementia, brain infections, brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, migraines, stroke, traumatic brain injuries, and Parkinson’s disease.
As you can imagine, feeling like you’re ceasing to exist- or like you’ve already died- can lead to some gnarly complications. For example, some people stop bathing or taking care of themselves, which can lead to skin and dental issues. All of that can cause people around them to start distancing themselves, which then usually leads to additional feelings of isolation and depression for the patient. Others stop eating and drinking because they believe their body doesn’t need it, and in severe cases, this can lead to malnutrition and starvation, even death by starvation. Unfortunately, suicide attempts are very common in people with Cotard delusion. Some see it as a way to prove they’re already dead by showing they can’t die again, while others simply feel trapped in a body and life that feels hopeless and doesn’t seem real. They hope that their life will get better or that their condition will stop if they die again.
Fortunately, Cotard’s delusion is very rare, with about 200 cases known worldwide, and while the symptoms are extreme and it can be hard to get the right diagnosis, most people get better with treatment. That generally entails a mix of therapy and medication, often a combination of meds to find something that works. If nothing seems to work, ECT- electroconvulsive therapy- may be used as a last resort. Done under general anesthesia, ECT passes small electric currents through the brain; this induces a generalized seizure and causes changes in brain chemistry that may quickly reverse or resolve symptoms of certain mental health conditions. While it sounds horrifying, ECT is not the procedure depicted in old B movies, and it can be a real game changer for some people with refractory conditions… I’ve seen a single ECT session change a person’s life.
There are descriptions of several Cotard’s cases available on the interwebs. One of the earliest recorded cases occurred in 1788, when an elderly woman was preparing a meal and felt a sudden draft, and then became totally paralyzed on one side of her body. When feeling, movement, and the ability to speak eventually came back to her, she told her daughters to dress her in a shroud and place her in a coffin. For days, she continued to demand that her daughters, friends, and maid treat her like she was dead. They finally gave in, putting her in a shroud and laying her out so they could mourn her. Even at the “wake,” the lady continued to fuss with her shroud, and even complained about its color. When she finally fell asleep, her family undressed her and put her to bed. After she was treated with a “powder of precious stones and opium,” her delusions went away, only to return every few months.
Some 100 years later, Cotard himself saw a patient he called Mademoiselle X, and she had an unusual complaint. She claimed to have “no brain, no nerves, no chest, no stomach and no intestines,” yet despite this predicament, she also believed that she “was eternal and would live forever.” Since she was immortal, and didn’t have any innards, evidently she didn’t see a need to eat, and soon died of starvation. Cotard’s description of the woman’s condition spread widely and was very influential, and the disorder was eventually named after him.
But Cotard’s delusion isn’t strictly confined to the history books. In 2008, a New York psychiatrist reported on a 53-year-old patient who complained that she was dead and smelled like rotting flesh. She asked her family to take her to a morgue so that she could be with other dead people. Thankfully, they dialed 911 instead, and the patient was admitted to the psychiatric unit, where she accused paramedics of trying to burn her house down. After a month or so on a strict drug regimen, her symptoms were greatly improved, and she was well enough to be released to her loving family.
That seems like a good place to stop. We’ll be taking a break for the holidays, so the next blog will be in 2022! I hope you enjoyed this week’s blog and found it to be interesting and educational. Please feel free to share it with family and friends. Be sure to check out my YouTube channel with all of my videos, and I’d appreciate it if you would like, subscribe, leave comments, and share those vids! As always, my book Tales from the Couch has more educational topics and patient stories, and is available in office and on Amazon.
Happy holidays! Be well people!
The Scariest Mental Disorders of All Time
Hello, people! I hope everyone had an excellent Thanksgiving! Is everybody on tryptophan overload? I know I am, but man was the turkey great this year! And the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the gravy, the pineapple casserole… you get the idea. Anyhoo, last week and 5 pounds ago I finished up our series on the dark side of ADHD. I hope everyone learned something. Squirrel!! Again, if you don’t get that joke, check out the series. This week, I want to talk about the weirdest and scariest psych disorders out there. I remember this section from med school- it really caught my attention- you’ll see why shortly. Imagine suffering from a mental illness that causes you to believe your significant other is an imposter, hell bent on harming you, or one that convinces you that books are for eating, not reading. Or that your genitals are shrinking? YIKES!! Or the ultimate… that you have somehow become the walking dead. Pretty scary, right?
While a very small percentage of people are forced to live with these unusual disorders, 450 million people worldwide suffer from mental illness. In the United States alone, one in four families is affected. While some mental disorders, like depression, usually occur naturally, others are the result of brain trauma or other injuries. Although it’s certainly fair to say that any mental illness can be scary for those suffering from it- as well as their families- there are a few rare disorders that are especially terrifying. Those are what I’m going to talk about this week, so jump on the empathy train and buckle up, people… it’s about to get wild.
Also known as Body Integrity Disorder or Amputee Identity Disorder, Apotemnophilia is a disorder that sort of blurs the lines between neurology and psychiatry- we aren’t certain of the origins- so I’ll call it a neuropsych disorder. Whatever it is, apotemnophilia is typically characterized by the overwhelming desire to amputate or permanently damage healthy, functional parts of the body. More rarely, affected individuals have the express desire to be paraplegic, and in some exceptionally rare cases, they seek sensory deprivation, such as blindness or deafness. Oddly enough, the first description of this condition traces back to a series of letters published in Penthouse magazine in 1972, but the first scientific report of this disorder came about in 1977 with the medical description of two cases. As happens, two have become many, and now there may be thousands of people with apotemnophilia desiring amputation. They seem to gather on the interwebs, and some even have their own websites seeking support or pleading their cases. I mean, Captain Obvious says that the vast majority of surgeons won’t just amputate healthy limbs upon request… hello, Hippocratic Oath… so some sufferers of apotemnophilia feel forced to perform amputations on their own. DIY surgery? That’s a very dangerous scenario to be sure. But there have been some cases who have had a limb removed by a doctor, and most are reportedly very happy with their decision.
Since little was known about it, one American shrink made an attempt to further illuminate the disorder by surveying 52 volunteers desiring amputation. Thanks to his work, a number of key features were identified: there seems to be a gender prevalence, as most individuals are men, as well as a side preference, with left-sided amputations being most frequently desired. He also found that there was a preference toward amputation of the leg versus the arm. Until recently, the explanation for apotemnophilia has been in favor of a psychiatric etiology; it was thought to be a pathological desire driven strictly by a sexual compulsion. But a neurological explanation has recently been proposed, in the form of damage to, or dysfunction of, the right parietal lobe, thereby leading to a distorted body image and subsequent desire for amputation. In order to investigate this potential etiology, recent studies have utilized electrophysiological and neuroimaging techniques in an attempt to identify neurological correlates of body representation impairments. That work is ongoing. What’s interesting is that, in my experience, most of these folks seek limb amputation primarily to “feel complete” as they put it, as opposed to wanting to satisfy any sexual proclivities, but the debate about the reasons behind the desire rage on as studies continue. Sounds a little oxymoronic, to remove something to feel more complete, but that’s apotemnophilia.
Also known as imposter syndrome or Capgras syndrome after Joseph Capgras, a French psychiatrist who was fascinated by the illusion of doubles, Capgras is a debilitating mental disorder in which one irrationally believes that the people and/ or things around them have been replaced by identical imposters. Sort of like Leonardo Di Caprio in Inception, but without a totem to tell if you’re in the real world. Whether it’s a close friend, spouse, family member, pet, or even a home, people suffering from Capgras feel that their reality has been altered, that the real thing has been substituted for a fake. And if that weren’t bad enough, even worse, the imposters are usually thought to be planning to harm them. Capgras is usually transient, ranging from minutes to months, but unfortunately, also usually recurrent.
Capgras syndrome is most commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, both of which affect memory and can alter one’s sense of reality. Schizophrenia, especially paranoid hallucinatory schizophrenia, can cause episodes of Capgras syndrome, as this also affects one’s sense of reality and can cause delusions. In rare cases, a brain injury that causes cerebral lesions, especially in the back of the right hemisphere, can also cause Capgras syndrome, as that’s the area of the brain that facilitates facial recognition. Rarely, people with epilepsy and migraine may also experience temporary Capgras syndrome as well. There are several theories on what causes the syndrome. Some researchers believe that it’s caused solely by a problem within the brain, by conditions like atrophy, lesions, or cerebral dysfunction, while others believe that it’s a combination of physical and cognitive changes, causing feelings of disconnectedness. Still others believe that it’s a problem with processing information, or an error in perception which coincides with damaged or missing memories. For all we know about the brain, there is still so much we don’t. Occurring more commonly in females than males, Capgras is relatively rare, and is most often seen after traumatic injury to the brain. No matter the how and why, Capgras is upsetting for both the person experiencing the delusion and the person who is accused of being an imposter, and it’s easy to see why it’s one of the scariest disorders of all time.
Diogenes Syndrome is more commonly referred to as simply hoarding, and is one of the most misunderstood behavioral disorders. Named after the Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope- who was, ironically, a minimalist- this syndrome is usually characterized by the overwhelming desire to collect seemingly random items, to which an emotional attachment is then formed. In addition to uncontrollable hoarding, people with Diogenes syndrome often exhibit extreme self neglect, apathy towards themselves or others, social withdrawal, and no shame for their habits. It is very common among the elderly, those with dementia, and people who have at some point in their lives been abandoned, or who have lacked a stable home environment. Occurring in both men and women, people with Diogenes syndrome often live alone, tend to withdraw from life and society, and are seemingly unaware that anything is wrong with the condition of their home and lack of self-care. The conditions they live in often lead to illnesses like pneumonia, or accidents like falls or fires, and in fact, it’s often through these situations that the person’s condition becomes known.
Diogenes syndrome is often linked to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, dementia, and addiction, especially to alcohol. While there are defined risk factors for developing Diogenes, having one or even more doesn’t necessarily mean it will occur. In many cases, a specific incident becomes a trigger for the onset of symptoms. This can be something like the death of a spouse or other close relative, retirement, or divorce. Medical conditions may also trigger symptom onset: stroke, congestive heart failure, dementia, vision problems, increasing frailty, depression, and loss of mobility due to any number of reasons are the most common medical triggers.
This condition can be difficult to treat, and it can be very frustrating to care for people who have it. While Diogenes syndrome is sometimes diagnosed in people who are middle aged, it usually occurs in people over 60. Symptoms usually appear over time, and in early stages, generally include withdrawing from social situations and avoiding others. People may then start to display poor judgment, changes in personality, and inappropriate behaviors. Due to the associated isolation, people typically have this condition for a long time before it’s diagnosed. Warning symptoms in an undiagnosed person may include skin rashes caused by poor hygiene, fleas or lice, matted, unkempt hair, overgrown toenails and fingernails, body odor, unexplained injuries, malnutrition, and dehydration. The person’s home generally exhibits signs of neglect and decay, with possible rodent infestation, overwhelming amounts of garbage in and around the home, and an intense, unpleasant smell. Despite all of these factors, people with Diogenes syndrome are typically in denial of their situation and usually refuse support or help.
Most people cringe at the first sniffle that may indicate a potential cold or illness, but not people with Factitious disorder, as this scary mental disorder is characterized by an obsession with being sick. Factitious comes from the Latin word meaning artificial, so as the name suggests, people with factitious disorders will present artificial symptoms of real medical conditions. They will often go to incredible lengths to imitate symptoms of a real medical condition, and some will go so far as to intentionally harm themselves to feign symptoms. I’ve seen people inject bacteria into their bodies, intentionally contaminate lab tests, and take hallucinogenic drugs to feign symptoms of whatever illness they’re aiming for, and they’re often willing to be hospitalized and even undergo unpleasant or painful medical tests in order to further their efforts. I should note that factitious disorders are similar to hypochondriasis, in that the symptoms or complaints are not the result of having true, tangible medical conditions, but there is one key difference between factitious disorders and hypochondriasis: people with hypochondriasis believe that they are ill, whereas people with factitious disorders know that they are not.
There are basically three types of factitious disorders. The first is Munchausen syndrome, where people will repeatedly fake symptoms of medical problems. The symptoms will usually be exaggerated, and they tend to go to great lengths to convince others that those symptoms are real. Munchausen syndrome patients have been known to undergo multiple unnecessary medical procedures, even surgeries, and they tend to go to different medical facilities so as not to be detected. The second is Munchausen by proxy, which is like Munchausen, but when by proxy, the person suffering from factitious disorder will force someone else into the patient role. Most commonly, it is the parent(s) or caregiver(s) forcing children into the proxy role, putting them through various medical procedures, making up symptoms that the child has, encouraging the child to lie, falsifying medical reports, and/or altering tests to give the appearance of a sick child. The third is Ganser syndrome, which is a rarer factitious disorder that mostly occurs amongst prisoners, whereby they’ll display faked psychological symptoms such as psychosis. At times, they know they’re not going to get anything out of it, but they’ll give it a try anyway. Psychological testing and sharp shrinks usually tell the true tale with Ganser syndrome.
It can be difficult to identify factitious disorders because the perpetrators are often very adept in feigning symptoms, and they may go to great lengths to physically cause symptoms. I had one case where a woman was admitted to a hospital complaining about vomiting blood, and she insisted on receiving surgery. When an endoscopy didn’t show any stomach bleeding or other source of blood, she shoved her fingers up her nose to make it bleed down her throat. The ruses almost always include elaborate stories, long lists of symptoms, and jumping from hospital to hospital. As you can imagine, it’s incredibly difficult to get an accurate depiction of how prevalent factitious disorders are, because many people are so masterful at faking their symptoms. The estimated lifetime prevalence in clinical settings is 1.0%, and in the general population, it is estimated to be approximately 0.1%, but it ranges widely across different studies, from 0.007% to 8.0%. In one study of patients in a Berlin hospital, it was shown that approximately .3% of hospitalized patients had a factitious disorder. I suspect that whatever the actual number is, these disorders may be much more common than previously thought. Since people with factitious disorders can be very persistent, physicians have to carefully monitor people for it.
Experts have not identified one solid cause of factitious disorders. Some experts believe that these people suffer from a sense of inadequacy or unstable self worth, and use the factitious behaviors to get attention and sympathy, and this essentially defines their self worth. Most likely, they’re caused by a combination of emotional aspects. Such an obsession with sickness often stems from past trauma or serious illness, and it can be linked to a history of hospitalization or sickness during childhood which the patient tries to recreate, in order to return to normalization. Another possible cause is that someone close to the person really was chronically ill, and the person became jealous of the attention, and began to feign symptoms in order to get that same attention. People with factitious disorders will almost always insist that their symptoms are real, even despite clear medical evidence to the contrary, and this makes them very difficult to treat. Unfortunately, most factitious patients will steadfastly deny it and refuse any sort of treatment, but when help is sought, it’s often able to be at least limited with psychotherapy.
That’s a good place to stop for this week. Next week, we’ll talk about more weird and scary psych disorders. I hope you enjoyed this blog and found it to be interesting and educational. Please feel free to share it with family and friends. Be sure to check out my YouTube channel with all of my videos, and I’d appreciate it if you would like, subscribe, leave comments, and share those vids! As always, my book Tales from the Couch has more educational topics and patient stories, and is available in office and on Amazon.
Thank you and be well people!
The Dark Side of ADHD
Hello, people, welcome back to the blog! This week, we’re continuing our discussion on the dark side of ADHD, with a look at gender differences within the disorder.
Before we get to that, I want you to imagine this: Little Janie sits quietly at her desk in second grade. She isn’t talking and she isn’t acting out. That’s great, but she also isn’t learning… anything. Her inattention and inability to focus are obvious every time her teacher asks her a question, which isn’t very often. Teachers like Miss Jones like interaction; they tend to shy away from vacant stares like the one that usually occupies Janie’s face. So Miss Jones’ gaze moves to Barbara, who’s listening attentively- she’s not a “space cadet”- she’s clearly keeping up with what’s going on. So once again, Janie is overlooked, passed over…
Janie’s fraternal twin brother, Johnny, on the other hand, gets lots of attention… though not always for the best reasons. Diagnosed with ADHD last year, he has a reputation for being a bright kid, even if he’s usually hyperactive. Treatment for his ADHD has helped him; he’s a better student than he was, and he gets along better with the other kids. He has some behavior problems, but his natural charm keeps him from getting into too much trouble. But Miss Jones can tell immediately if he’s missed his medication, because it makes all the difference in the world for Johnny. It’s been a total lifesaver. Good for Johnny. But meanwhile, Janie is in her own little world, drowning in inattention. And no one is any the wiser… especially Janie.
Unfortunately, scenarios like this play out day in, day out, all across the globe. Why? Because the vast majority of people diagnosed with ADHD are male. In fact, according to the CDC, boys are three times more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than girls, but I’ve seen that number quoted as double that. Statistics say that during their lifetimes, an average of 13 percent of men will be diagnosed with ADHD, while just 5 percent of women will be diagnosed. Girls aren’t any less less susceptible to the disorder than boys, so why are boys three times more likely to receive a diagnosis? That’s what we’ll talk about today.
In a nutshell, it’s because ADHD symptoms present differently in girls and boys. Boys tend to show more obvious externalized symptoms, such as hyperactivity and impulsivity, while girls’ often display the inattentive aspects of the disorder, with symptoms that are more internalized and much more subtle. In general, boys’ symptoms are typically simply more pronounced and extreme as compared to girls. Captain Obvious says that hyperactive characteristics are obviously much easier to spot than more subtle symptoms like inattention. Some ADHD signs in girls can be very difficult to identify. When girls have primarily inattentive type ADHD, without hyperactivity, research indicates that up to 75 percent are undiagnosed. Ultimately, it takes a higher burden of risk factors for symptoms to be recognized in girls- the threshold for referral and diagnosis seems to be much higher than for boys- so girls are less often referred to behavior specialists for evaluation, and this leads to fewer girls being diagnosed.
There are other theories as to why it’s more commonly diagnosed in boys. One is that there may be actual neurobiological differences. Some researchers think that girls may have a protective effect at the genetic level, that they are in some way “protected” from developing ADHD, though the jury’s still out on that.
Another reason why boys are much more commonly diagnosed with ADHD than girls is because boys with ADHD have been found to have more obvious co-existing disorders, like conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, whereas girls do not. The girls’ internalized symptoms are less disruptive in the classroom than the aggression and rule breaking typically exhibited by boys, so this results in fewer referrals, diagnoses, and treatment in girls. The ole “squeaky wheel gets the grease” kind of thing.
Why else? Well, yes, girls are less likely to exhibit hyperactivity, but even when they do, they’re more likely to “just” be over-talkative, or maybe a little rebellious, more of a “wild child,” so the symptoms aren’t recognized for what they are, as being caused by ADHD. Also, girls with ADHD might get noticed in school for being overly chatty, but we expect girls to be more sociable than boys, so teachers might chalk this up to the girls being immature, rather than possibly having ADHD. And girls with primarily inattentive type ADHD, who don’t have hyperactivity, might just be described as distracted or “daydreamy” or overly emotional or “sensitive.” For some reason, we just seem to attribute these behaviors in girls to other things first, whereas with boys, if they’re running around, the first thought is usually ADHD. It’s nearly automatic, and that’s a problem for both the boys and the girls.
Another contributing factor to why so many more boys get diagnosed is that girls are better at compensating for their ADHD symptoms than boys are. Girls develop better coping strategies to make up for their ADHD-related difficulties than boys, such as working harder to maintain classroom performance. As a result, they can better mitigate or mask the impact of their diagnosis. This is similar to how girls with autism “mask” their symptoms. At one time, it was theorized that autism was strictly a “boy disorder,” but of course that’s not the case. It’s a similar situation. Girls simply tend to adapt better. Even if they are hyperactive, girls are less likely to blurt things out in class or shove the kid next to them. This is where the social or societal aspect comes in. A girl that runs around and acts aggressively would be criticized more harshly by her peers. It’s much harder for girls to behave that way, to get away with it, so they tend not to.
All of these behaviors I’ve mentioned are signs of ADHD, but people react to them in different ways, for lots of reasons. Ultimately, not only are teachers and families less likely to notice signs of ADHD in girls, but they may even be more accepting of the signs girls often show. Parents and teachers either don’t notice girls’ inattentive behaviors and/ or seem to down play girls’ hyperactive and impulsive symptoms, while playing up those same types of behaviors in boys. Seems to be a much bigger issue when it’s a boy.
Since girls with ADHD often display fewer behavioral problems and have less noticeable symptoms, their difficulties are often overlooked and/ or mislabeled. Many times, the behaviors are wrongly attributed to anxiety or depression. Even when girls are properly diagnosed, it happens an average of five years later than boys. This can lead to serious problems in the future, as girls with undiagnosed and late diagnosed ADHD are more likely to have problems in school, social settings, and personal relationships than other girls. Research indicates that this can have a very negative impact on girls’ self-esteem, and can even affect their long term mental health. Boys with ADHD typically externalize their frustrations, but girls with ADHD usually turn their pain and anger inward- they tend to blame themselves- and this puts them at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, panic disorders, eating disorders, chronic sleep deprivation, and substance abuse. This doesn’t just impact them long term, as adults, these things can affect them even as they enter their teenage years.
Many late diagnosed adult women with ADHD show symptoms similar to those found in post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, where the coexisting panic and anxiety are the result of the classroom trauma they experienced during childhood from the undiagnosed ADHD. For example, if the woman dealt with low self-esteem from attention problems back in grade school, returning to school later in life may trigger those same emotions. Some women aren’t diagnosed until much later in life, around their 30s and 40s, when one of their children is diagnosed with ADHD. This happens more than you’d imagine… when undergoing the process with their children, they recognize the symptoms in themselves. Being diagnosed much later in life can lead to problems, such as the woman blaming herself for things going wrong, or believing that she cannot achieve higher goals, especially if her symptoms interfered in her school or work performance. Studies have indicated that these women are prone to financial problems, underemployment, divorce, and/ or lack of education. It’s a sad situation, and they blame themselves, as though at age seven they should’ve known they had ADHD. That’s why it’s important that everyone recognize the signs in girls and boys.
Recognizing ADHD in Girls
As I mentioned above, girls with ADHD often display the inattentive aspects of the disorder, whereas boys usually show the hyperactive characteristics. These hyperactive behaviors are easy to identify at home and in the classroom, as the child usually can’t sit still and behaves in an impulsive or dangerous manner. The inattentive behaviors are generally more subtle and can be difficult to spot. That child is unlikely to be disruptive in class, but they will miss assignments, will be forgetful, or just seem “spacey,” and this can be mistaken for laziness or even a learning disability. It’s important to know about the different ways kids can act out, and which behaviors tend to get overlooked. That awareness can help girls with ADHD get the help they need sooner, and that definitely makes for a better long term outcome.
Girls’ symptoms typically include:
-Inattentiveness or a tendency to “daydream”
-Appearing not to listen
-Verbal aggression, such as teasing, taunting, or name calling
-Difficulty with academic achievement
Recognizing ADHD in Boys
Though ADHD is often underdiagnosed in girls, it can be missed in boys as well. Traditionally, boys are seen as energetic, so if they run around and act out, it may be dismissed as simply “boys being boys.” But it’s a mistake to assume that all boys with ADHD are hyperactive or impulsive; some boys display the inattentive aspects of the disorder, and they may not be diagnosed because they aren’t physically disruptive.
Boys with ADHD tend to display the symptoms that most people think of when they imagine ADHD behavior. These include:
-Impulsivity or “acting out”
-Hyperactivity, such as running and hitting
-Lack of focus, including inattentiveness
-Inability to sit still
-Frequently interrupting other peoples’ conversations and activities
While the symptoms of ADHD may present differently in boys and girls, it’s critical for them to be treated. While the symptoms of ADHD usually lessen with age, they still tend to have adverse effects. People with ADHD often struggle with school, work, and relationships- even as adults- and they’re also more likely to develop other conditions, including anxiety, depression, and learning disabilities. If you suspect your child has ADHD, take them to a doctor for an evaluation as soon as possible. Getting a prompt diagnosis and treatment will not only improve symptoms, but it can also help prevent other disorders from developing in the future.
I hope you enjoyed this blog and found it to be interesting and educational. Please feel free to share it with family and friends. Be sure to check out my YouTube channel with all of my videos, and I’d appreciate it if you would like, subscribe, leave comments, and share those vids! As always, my book Tales from the Couch has more educational topics and patient stories, and is available in office and on Amazon.
Thank you and be well people!
The Dark Side of ADHD, part deux
Hello, people, welcome back to the blog! Hope everyone had a great weekend. Last week, we started a series on the dark side of ADHD. Squirrel!! If you don’t get that, check out last week’s blog. This week, we’re going to continue the discussion, but we’re going to focus on what it’s like to have ADHD, from that person’s perspective. I’ve made a little list of things patients have told me, and I want to share that, because they tell it best; far better than I can.
First, I just want to bust a couple more myths. Someone asked me about sugar causing ADHD, and that really put a bug in my bonnet about myths and misconceptions. There’s still so much misinformation out there, so I want to stamp it out.
“ADHD is a learning disability.”
Wrong. ADHD symptoms can definitely get in the way of learning, but they don’t cause difficulty in specific skills like reading, writing, and math, as a true learning disability does. That said, some people can have ADHD and a learning disability, but it is not one itself. Now, just because ADHD isn’t a learning disability doesn’t mean that kids can’t get help in school. And for that matter, adults with ADHD can often get support at work as well.
“People with ADHD can’t ever focus.”
Wrong. While it’s true that people with ADHD can have trouble focusing, they can actually experience hyperfocus. If they’re very interested in something, they may focus on it very intensely, to the exclusion of everything else, even to the point that they cannot pull themselves away. That’s hyperfocus. Some kids with ADHD are very easily distracted in class but a bomb could go off when they’re playing a video game, and it wouldn’t faze them. Adults might have trouble focusing on the parts of work they find boring, but they totally pour themselves into the aspects they really enjoy.
“People with ADHD would be more successful if they tried harder.”
Wrong. ADHD isn’t an issue of laziness or lack of motivation. A person is considered lazy if they have the ability or capacity to do something, but they just don’t want to exert the effort to do it. People with ADHD are often trying as hard as they can to focus and pay attention, and they exert as much effort to get things done as those without it- and often more- but their condition keeps them from getting to the finish line because they’re so easily distracted along the way. They’ll eventually get there, it just may take a little longer. And btw, telling someone with ADHD to “just focus” is like asking someone who’s nearsighted to just see farther. It doesn’t fly. If they could, they would. The reason they struggle with attention has nothing to do with attitude… it’s due to differences in the way their brain is structured and how it functions.
“People with ADHD aren’t smart.”
Wrong. ADHD isn’t related to lower IQ. People with ADHD may be perceived to have lower intelligence because they work differently than everyone else. But the truth is, most people with ADHD are highly intelligent and creative… even more creative than their non-ADHD counterparts. They’re also more intuitive thinkers and better at managing crises. Tell Albert Einstein (yes, the theoretical physicist) that people with ADHD aren’t smart. Or Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire business mogul. Or John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States. Or actor/producer/rapper Will Smith. Or actor/comedian/producer Jim Carrey. Or Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time. They all seem to do just fine. People with ADHD aren’t dumb, and kids with ADHD can grow up and be just as successful as anyone else. The factors that contribute to the success of a child with ADHD are mostly related to how their parents and teachers react. If they take the time to understand what’s going on, embrace the learning process, and help the child find ways to manage it, they greatly increase that child’s chances of success.
So what’s it like to have ADHD? Here’s what I’ve been told…
It’s rarely feeling like you really enjoy anything, because you’re always so distracted by something else.
It’s constantly coming up with great ideas, but failing to focus or work efficiently on any one of them long enough to make it a reality.
It’s knowing how long it takes to get ready in the morning, but not being able to tell how quickly time is passing until you’re already late.
It’s being able to note every single detail of a classroom, but being unable to pay attention to the one thing you’re supposed to be looking at.
It’s struggling in every aspect of your life, but feeling that other people don’t recognize your suffering as a legitimate disorder.
It’s feeling exhausted at the end of a hectic day, but too overwhelmed with thoughts to actually fall asleep.
It’s having a conversation in a public place and hearing every noise around you… except for the voice you’re supposed to listen to.
It’s being barely focused on everything around you, or so hyperfocused on one thing that the world around you ceases to exist.
It’s hearing all the instructions, but not being able to hold them in your brain long enough to actually use them.
It’s remembering that you always need your phone, keys, and wallet before you leave the house, but still having to play hide and seek for them every single time.
It’s knowing you need to switch to another task on your to-do list, but being too hyperfocused on what you’re doing to disengage from it.
It’s being completely bored with what’s in front of you, but totally restless and jittery with excitement about all the abstract thoughts circling in your head.
It’s always trying to do too many things at once, and not multitasking efficiently enough to finish any one of them.
It’s believing you can succeed in your career, while also fearing that your ADHD will cause you to fail.
It’s knowing you need to reach a long-term goal, but lacking the planning strategies to take the right short-term steps to get there.
It’s wanting to control your intense emotions, but not realizing you need to until after you’ve had the uncontrollable outburst.
It’s having a brilliant answer to a question in the back of your head, but taking too long to communicate it, so someone else answers.
It’s knowing you’re smart, but feeling stupid all the time, because you have trouble putting your thoughts into words.
It’s knowing that you shouldn’t interrupt someone, but not being able to stop yourself from speaking out loud.
It’s working twice as hard for twice as long as everyone else, but to get just half as much done.
It’s knowing that you need a particular environment to be productive, but not wanting to ask for special accommodations.
It’s being excited to make plans with someone you love, but forgetting about them because you didn’t write them down.
It’s being focused on everything and nothing at all, which makes it feel like you’ll never get anything done.
It’s wanting to take control of your life and achieve your dreams, but feeling like ADHD will always have control over you.
As you can imagine, ADHD can cause a great deal of frustration. People can feel hopeless at times, and feeling misunderstood makes it that much worse. Misconceptions propagate in silence, and ultimately can prevent people from seeking help. By taking the time to learn more about ADHD, you’re already making an effort to beat that, so be sure to share what you’ve learned.
That’s a good place to stop for this week. Next week, we’ll talk about gender differences in ADHD. I hope you enjoyed this blog and found it to be interesting and educational. Please feel free to share it with family and friends. Be sure to check out my YouTube channel with all of my videos, and I’d appreciate it if you would like, subscribe, leave comments, and share those vids! As always, my book Tales from the Couch has more educational topics and patient stories, and is available in office and on Amazon.
Thank you and be well people!
The Dark Side of ADHD
Hello, people, welcome back to the blog! Last week, I told you all about SAD, seasonal affective disorder, a depressive disorder that exhibits a seasonal pattern, usually late fall through spring, though it can have a spring/ summer pattern. I thought it was timely, since we were approaching its usual start point; symptoms seem to begin shortly after we “fall back” and winter arrives. Speaking of which, we had our first hint of winter this weekend- or at least what passes for winter here in SoFla- as temps dipped below 60 late Saturday night…. brrrrr! Sunday was kind of gray outside, but temps were really nice. Anyhoo, this week, I’m starting a new series on the dark side of ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
When you think about ADHD, you probably think of a 9 year old boy running around in circles, laughing his head off, totally out of control. While that certainly can be the case, the real faces of ADHD may surprise you. Think of your boss, your mail carrier, or your kid’s teacher… anyone has the potential to have ADHD, even if you don’t see what you think of as the classic symptoms. What most people know about ADHD comes from pop culture… they hear ADHD and think of that 9 year old boy, or maybe Dug the talking dog from the movie Up. Remember him? He couldn’t even complete a sentence without being distracted by an imaginary squirrel. Squirrel!! It was funny, right? Squirrel!! Maybe you’ve made a joke about being ‘sooo totally ADHD’ after you’ve gotten distracted and lost your train of thought? Hey, you’ve got to have a sense of humor to get through this life, and psych disorders sometimes make easy punchlines. But ADHD is a real disorder, and it affects real people in real ways, so it’s important that you’re informed about it, that you understand it, as that’s the basis of empathy. Empathy is where it’s at, and that’s the true point of this blog, to understand what people with ADHD experience on the daily. That’s not to say we can’t laugh about it, because sometimes it’s funny. Squirrel!! But if you understand it, you’re much more likely to laugh with, and not at, and that’s the ultimate point here.
So, what is it? ADHD is a neurological disorder, typically characterized by difficulty in sustaining attention, a lack of impulse control, and impaired working memory. There are three forms of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combined types. By the way, ADHD is the official, medical term for the condition, regardless of whether a patient demonstrates symptoms of hyperactivity. We used to call that condition, having an attention deficit but without hyperactivity, ADD- actually some people still do- but that’s now technically considered to be an outdated term for describing inattentive type ADHD. So they’re all called ADHD now, no more ADD, and just the type or form varies. Inattentive type ADHD is characterized by a lack of attention to details, an inability to follow or remember instructions, and getting distracted easily. Hyperactive-impulsive type is marked by the stereotypical symptoms, things like fidgeting, running around, and talking too much. And shockingly, combined type is a combination of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD types, and people with this type can exhibit both types of symptoms. Regardless of type, ADHD symptoms impact every aspect of a person’s life, and can seriously limit a person’s ability to study or work, and this can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.
Prevalence statistics for ADHD vary widely, but it’s considered the most common childhood neurodevelopmental disorder. The symptoms of ADHD typically first appear between the ages of 3 and 6, and the average age of diagnosis is 7 years old. Squirrel!! According to the American Psychiatric Association, 5 percent of American children (ages 4 to 17) have ADHD, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the number at more than double that, stating that 11 percent of American children carry the diagnosis. In my opinion, the actual number is closer to the CDC’s statistic, but may actually be higher still. And contrary to what some people believe, ADHD isn’t just a childhood disorder. Today, about 4 percent of American adults over the age of 18 deal with ADHD on a daily basis.
People with ADHD experience hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention in varying degrees. Not everyone with ADHD is noisy and disruptive. A child may be quiet in class, for example, while facing severe challenges that they do not express. The effects of ADHD features vary widely from person to person and even within a person, as they may find that their experience of ADHD changes over time. Squirrel!! Features and behaviors also seem to vary by gender; females with ADHD tend to have more difficulty paying attention, while males tend to have more hyperactivity and impulsivity. Depending on the type a person has, ADHD will have a predominantly inattentive presentation, a predominantly hyperactive and impulsive presentation, or a combined presentation that includes both types of behaviors.
This can manifest in innumerable ways, many you might not even realize unless you experience them. Some behaviors related to inattention might include daydreaming, being easily distracted, squirrel!, having difficulty focusing on tasks, making “careless” mistakes, appearing to not listen while others are talking, being late, having difficulty with time management and organization, difficulty completing projects, frequently losing everyday items, avoiding tasks that need prolonged focus and thought, and difficulty following instructions.
Hyperactivity and Impulsivity
Hyperactivity presents in any number of ways, and can vary widely, especially depending on the person’s age. In children, impulsivity often presents as conduct issues, so we think of a child “running amok” around a classroom. With age, overt behavioral symptoms usually become less conspicuous, as adults have generally learned to restrain themselves from these telltale behaviors. But they may manifest conduct issues in other ways, like blurting out things they didn’t mean to say. Some other behaviors related to hyperactivity and impulsivity include restlessness, the person seeming to be unable to sit still, being constantly “on-the-go,” running or climbing at inappropriate times, having difficulty taking turns in conversations and activities, constantly fidgeting or tapping the hands or feet, excessive talking and/or noise making, workaholism, and taking unnecessary risks.
Causes and Risk Factors
We don’t know exactly what causes ADHD, but we do know that a large component is genetic. About 85% of people diagnosed with ADHD have someone in their family who also has it. We have identified some risk factors, and these include brain injury, fetal exposure to stress, alcohol, or tobacco during pregnancy, fetal exposure to environmental toxins during pregnancy, or from a young age, low birth weight, and preterm birth. Diet may play a role, and some factors are random, just down to an individual brain’s wiring.
One question that’s asked a lot is if kids can outgrow ADHD. The answer is yes, but it rarely happens. That said, at one time, it was suggested that up to 40 percent of children outgrow their diagnosis, but recent research has proven this is wrong. Unfortunately, fewer than 10 percent actually outgrow it; the rest still meet the clinical definition of the disorder. Generally, what actually happens is that the presentation of symptoms changes as the person ages, but the underlying disorder remains. As the person matures and enters adulthood, overt behavioral symptoms usually become less conspicuous, and excessive motor activity becomes less common. Squirrel!! Hyperactivity is usually changed from being an external behavior to an internal state, so it can appear to others that the person’s ADHD has gone away, along with its most obvious symptom. But in reality, only the presentation has changed.
In other words, a 35 year old can’t get away with the same behavior that a 9 year old can, so instead of being a 9 year old running around willy nilly, laughing maniacally, the now 35 year old has an inner restlessness, and channels that into something else, like becoming a workaholic or an adrenaline junkie. Many adults with ADHD become workaholics, they like to keep their brains in overdrive. ADHD symptoms can also change for the better depending on stress levels, environment, and the amount of support a person receives. For example, establishing a routine and having understanding family members, friends, co-workers, and colleagues that can assist or help compensate for certain issues as needed are two ways to make symptoms seemingly decrease or disappear. In addition, the person may develop coping skills that address their symptoms well enough to prevent ADHD from interfering with their daily lives. Some do it so well that it appears as though they’ve outgrown it, but in reality, they’ve found working solutions. It’s sort of like watching a duck on a pond. Or maybe a squirrel! The duck looks still and serene on the surface, everything under control, but beneath the water, its little feet are paddling furiously.
I’ve seen many patients create their own little systems and methods to cope and compensate for their symptoms, to varying levels of success. I remember an ADHD patient that was very forgetful and terrible with time management especially. She had alarm clocks set to go off to remind her to set other alarm clocks, and her life was all color coded post its in strategic places to remind her to do whichever thing. I couldn’t understand it to save my life, much less keep up with it, but it worked for her. Pretty darn well, actually. But if the batteries in one alarm clock died- this was years ago, when people used alarm clocks, and they were radios too, imagine that- her entire life unraveled. She would get behind and it was like dominoes. But if her alarm clocks went off properly and her post its didn’tblow away, you’d be hard pressed to know she had ADHD. On the surface, she looked like she had it all under control, no problem, but below, her feet were constantly paddling, she was working overtime to keep it all together.
The term “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” wasn’t used in medicine until the 1980s, although symptoms of the disorder were discussed in the early 1900’s. Back then, the diagnosis was typically thought to relate to the child having family members with psychiatric disorders, or the result of poor parenting. Squirrel! Strangely enough, some of these myths and stereotypes persist even today. We’ve busted some of those today, and next week, we’ll talk about what it’s really like to have ADHD, how it affects someone’s day to day life.
I hope you enjoyed this blog and found it to be interesting and educational. Please feel free to share it with family and friends. Be sure to check out my YouTube channel with all of my videos, and I’d appreciate it if you would like, subscribe, leave comments, and share those vids! As always, my book Tales from the Couch has more educational topics and patient stories, and is available in office and on Amazon.
Thank you and be well people!
Hello, people… welcome back to the blog! Last week, we finished our two part series on phobias, and it seems everyone enjoyed it. I got a lot of great feedback on it, and people have been sharing their weird phobias with me even more than ever… I’ve really added to my list of doozies! This week, I wanted to talk about a topic I ran into recently, seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
What is SAD? In the shrink bible, the DSM-5, it’s identified as a type of mood disorder. It’s not a standalone, but is specified as a major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern, meaning that it happens every year at the same time, typically starting in fall or early winter and ending in spring or early summer. Because of this, some people call SAD the “winter blues,” but this is misleading, as there is a rarer form of seasonal depression known as “summer depression” that begins in late spring or early summer and ends in fall. And while the two types obviously share many symptoms, interestingly, their profiles are slightly different. More on that in a moment.
First, let’s talk statistics. In the United States, the percentage of the population affected by SAD is about 5%, but varies widely based on geographical location, from 1.4% of the population in Florida, to 9.9% in Alaska. This should give you a clue about one of the main factors associated with SAD, the amount of available sunlight. SAD may begin at any age, but it typically starts between the ages of 18 and 30, and as with other types of depression, SAD is much more common in women; they are three times more likely to be affected than men.
Calling SAD the “winter blues” makes it sound like no big deal, but people with SAD experience serious depression- the mood changes and symptoms are very similar to chronic depression- and these symptoms can have a major impact on their lives for 40% of the year, as symptoms usually occur during the fall and winter months and typically improve with the arrival of spring, with January and February being the most difficult months in the US. While temporary, SAD symptoms can be overwhelming, and in some cases, it can seriously interfere with daily functioning. Thankfully, it can be treated, and that’s why I decided to cover this topic. Recognizing the disorder is very important because it can cause such serious psychosocial impairment, but it’s not just important to recognize it… getting help is key, because acute treatment can be very effective, and maintenance treatment can actually prevent future episodes.
People with SAD experience mood changes and symptoms similar to depression, and these can vary from mild to severe. Everybody gets bummed out from time to time, those everyday feelings of sadness or fatigue brought on by life’s ups and downs- even during the holidays- but depression is a different animal.
Seasonal depression is marked by some specific symptoms, and these may include:
-Sleeping more than usual and still feeling drowsy and fatigued during the day
-Loss of interest in activities that once brought you joy
-Increase in purposeless physical activity, like pacing and hand wringing; an inability to sit still
-Slowed movements or speech, severe enough to be observable by others
-Feeling irritable and anxious
-Feeling guilty, worthless, hopeless, sad, tearful
-Desire to isolate, not wanting to see people
-Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
-Increased appetite, overeating, and weight gain
-Cravings for carbohydrates
-Physical symptoms, such as headaches
-Thoughts of suicide or death
Clearly you don’t have to have every one of these to have SAD, and as with anything else, symptoms occur on a spectrum. Some people with SAD have mild symptoms and basically feel out of sorts or cranky, while others have symptoms that totally interfere with relationships and work. As I mentioned earlier, spring and summer SAD is much less common, but still occurs. The symptom profile is a little different; instead of people eating their way through it as a result of increased appetite, it’s difficult to get summer SAD people to eat at all, as they tend to have zero appetite. In my experience, it also seems to feature more agitation, almost manic type behavior.
What causes SAD? Like so many disorders, the cause isn’t completely understood, but we know that the body uses sunlight to regulate sleep, appetite, and mood. It’s believed that the decreased sunlight in the fall and winter months disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm. Lower light levels in winter disrupt the body clock, leading to depression and tiredness. As seasons change, people already naturally experience a shift in their biological internal clock that can cause them to be out of step with their daily schedule, so people may be more vulnerable during this time. The change in season, with shorter daylight hours, can lead to a biochemical imbalance in the brain, specifically in levels of serotonin and melatonin, two hormones that affect sleep and mood. SAD has been linked to this imbalance. There are risk factors involved as well. You’re more likely to develop SAD if you have an existing form of depression, or a relative with SAD or another form of depression. And Captain Obvious says that SAD is much more common in people living far from the equator where there are fewer daylight hours, so living somewhere where you expect months of darkness during the year isn’t the best plan if you have any of the risk factors.
The main feature of SAD is that your mood and behavior shift along with the calendar. So how do you know if you have it? If for the past 2 years, you:
-Had depression or mania that starts as well as ends during a specific season
-You didn’t feel these symptoms during your “normal” seasons
-Over your lifetime, you’ve had more seasons with depression or mania than without
I should note that sometimes it takes a while to diagnose SAD, because it can easily mimic so many other other conditions, like chronic fatigue syndrome, underactive thyroid, low blood sugar, viral illness, and/ or other mood disorders. If you suspect that you or a loved one may have it, the best course of action is to see a physician. There are online resources available as well, from the Center for Environmental Therapeutics, at cet.org. More on that at the end of this blog.
Clearly, you can’t stop the changing of the seasons, but there are some things you can do to combat SAD, including light therapy aka phototherapy, antidepressant medications, talk therapy aka cognitive behavioral therapy, or a combination of all three. Meds are usually brought in as adjuvants if light therapy is insufficient in reducing symptoms. Wellbutrin XL was the first drug approved specifically for SAD in the United States, and I’ve seen some success with it. Symptoms will generally improve on their own with the change of season, but it happens far more quickly with treatment. Treatment course differs depending on how severe your symptoms are, and of course, depending on whether you have another type of depression or bipolar disorder. For some people, simply increasing exposure to sunlight can help improve symptoms of SAD, and it’s recommended that people get outside early in the morning to get more natural light. If this is impossible because of the dark winter months, then phototherapy is key.
As I mentioned, light affects the biological clock in our brains that regulates our circadian rhythm, a physiological function that may induce mood changes when there’s less sunlight in winter. We know that natural or “full-spectrum” light can have an antidepressant effect. In phototherapy, you mimic that by sitting about 2 feet away from a light box, usually a 10,000-lux light box specifically, so that full spectrum bright light- about 20 times brighter than normal room lighting- shines directly upon you, but indirectly into your eyes. You do this for 15 minutes per day to start, and the times are increased as necessary with a max of 30 to 45 minutes a day, depending on your response. If using a weker lightbox, such as those that emit 2,500 lux, it will require much longer, about two hours of exposure per day.
Light therapy should be done in the early morning, upon waking, to maximize treatment response. Morning therapy also helps to specifically correct any sleep-wake cycle issues contributing to the symptoms. Please people, don’t look directly at the light source of any light box, to avoid possible damage to your eyes. I’ve heard of some practices that provide light boxes for patients with SAD. Again, the Center for Environmental Therapeutics has info on this. I’m sure you can also rent light boxes, and I know you can purchase them, but they’re expensive, and health insurance companies don’t usually cover them. But if you have SAD and live in a “dark” winter area, they can be worth their weight in gold.
Optimum dosing of light is crucial, since if done wrong it can produce no improvement, or partial improvement, and that can potentially lead to worsening of symptoms. I read some research that found that even a single, one hour light session can improve symptoms of depression in people with SAD. It varies; some people recover within days of using light therapy, most see some improvement within one or two weeks of beginning, but a few take longer. To maintain the benefits and prevent relapse, light treatment is usually continued through the winter, until you can be out in the sunshine again in the springtime. Because of the anticipated return of symptoms in late fall, I highly recommend that SAD patients begin phototherapy when fall first starts, even before feeling the effects of SAD. If the SAD symptoms don’t go away, your physician may increase light therapy sessions to twice daily. While side effects are minimal, be cautious if you have sensitive skin or a history of bipolar disorder. Common side effects of light therapy include headache, eyestrain, nausea, and agitation, but these effects are generally mild and transient, or disappear with reducing the dose of light.
Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT can also be an effective treatment for SAD, particularly if it’s used in conjunction with light therapy and/ or medication. CBT involves identifying negative thought patterns that contribute to symptoms, and then replacing these thoughts with more positive ones. For many of my patients, I utilize all three modalities for treating SAD, as this has shown the most benefit.
… is worth a ton of cure in this case. So what can you do to avoid SAD?
Get out! Get as much natural sunlight as you can. Spend some time outside every day, even when it’s cloudy, as the effects of daylight still help. If it’s too cold out, let the sunshine in… open your blinds, and sit by a sunny window, even at work. If trees block the sunlight, trim them. I have a SAD patient that has her trees pruned way down in early fall so she can get as much light in the house as possible.
Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Our diets do more than provide us with energy, they also impact our mental health. A healthy diet rich in fruits and veggies and low in processed garbage can help curb feelings of depression by reducing inflammation in the body, which is a big risk factor for depression. Pass up all those sweet starchy “foods” in favor of lean proteins and veggies. This will help you have more energy, even if you’re craving carbs bigtime. If you recall the blog on Vitamin D, research has found that people with SAD often have low levels, so people with SAD are also often encouraged to increase their intake of Vitamin D through supplementation, in addition to diet and sunlight exposure.
Stay Active! Exercise is a great way to naturally combat the imbalance of brain neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine that can contribute to depression. When you exercise, your body produces endorphins, the mood boosting hormones that counteract serotonin and dopamine deficiencies that can bring you down. Exercise for 30 minutes a day, five times a week. That doesn’t have to mean you’re tied to the gym pumping iron all the time… Do something structured, but also pick an activity you enjoy and do it. Gardening, walking, dancing, and even playing with your kids can all be good forms of exercise.
Stay Connected! Social connections can be a great defense against depression. Whether you talk on the phone, video chat, or better yet, meet in person, keep in regular contact with friends and family for a healthy and happy mind. Experiencing depression of any kind isn’t a sign of weakness and shouldn’t be dealt with alone. Social support is very important, so stay involved with your social circle and regular activities. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression that keep you in, seek help. Ask your physician what treatment options are available.
When should you call your physician? If you feel depressed, fatigued, and cranky at the same time each year, if it seems to be seasonal in nature, you may have a form of SAD. Talk openly with your physician, and follow their recommendations for lifestyle changes and treatment.
The Center for Environmental Therapeutics, CET, is a non-profit organization that provides information and educational materials about SAD, along with free, downloadable self-assessment questionnaires and interpretation guides, to help you determine if you should seek professional advice. All of that can be found on their website, cet.org.
I hope you enjoyed this blog and found it to be interesting and educational. Please feel free to share it with family and friends. Be sure to check out my YouTube channel with all of my videos, and I’d appreciate it if you would like, subscribe, leave comments, and share those vids! As always, my book Tales from the Couch has more educational topics and patient stories, and is available in office and on Amazon.
Thank you and be well people!
OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER (Darker Subtypes)
Hello, people! Welcome back to the blog, where we’re continuing our discussion of some darker OCD subtypes. Last week we talked about emotional contamination OCD, which is when people become obsessed with the idea that they may become “infected” by the thoughts or beliefs of another person. This can happen any number of ways; through air, electronic media, by touch, by talking about them, or even by being in the presence of someone who’s been in their presence. It’s difficult to deal with- trying to avoid this influence can become so consuming that it completely alters the course of a person’s life. This week, we’re going to talk about a particularly devastating subtype called pedophilia OCD, which features an obsession with the idea that you might be attracted to children, and could potentially act on that attraction.
Before we get started, I want to make a very important distinction. People with pedophilia OCD or POCD are not people you need to hide your children from. They are not predators, and have no actual desire to molest children. They have an unusual form of OCD where an idea basically gets trapped in their brain, and because of the OCD, it gets twisted in such a way that they worry they may act on it. Maybe they see a news segment that gives details on a molestation case, or they read an article, or participate in a discussion; that may be all it takes. The idea of harming a child is as horrifying to them as it is to you and to me, but unfortunately, the OCD allows the possibility to take root. They wonder if their worry about pedophilia means they have desire. They fear they could act, and they obsess about the fear. It can be very debilitating. I’ve had patients that were so afraid of what they “could” do that they were often unable to get out of bed in the morning. They think these thoughts must mean something… why would they have them otherwise? It can be a real mind screw.
Pedophilia OCD is an example of harm based OCD, and there may be many variations on that general theme. It may be a fear that they may hurt or kill strangers, or even parents or siblings. For any person with harm based OCD, the biggest fear is that they are dangerous. The object of harm can remain the same for years, or may change for no obvious reason. A patient I consulted on, a 20-something named Heidi, obsessed about harming her boyfriend. She would find herself worrying she might push him down the stairs, stab him with the carrot peeler, or run him over with her car. She worried about it for three years before she admitted it to anyone… three years! Can you imagine? Once she initiated therapy for that, the focus shifted to a pedophilia based fear; she worried she might molest her baby nephew. It was her first time as an aunt, and she loved the little guy. She didn’t want to hurt him, it was just her OCD talking to her, filling her head with nonsense. She constantly wondered ‘Am I attracted to this; do I want to molest him? Why did I have this thought? This must mean something about me…. this must be who I am.’
It was a nightmare for her. She couldn’t trust herself to be alone with her new nephew, and yet was understandably afraid to tell her sister she was having these thoughts. She wasn’t able to sleep at night, worried she would do something to him while everyone was sleeping. Eventually, she confessed what she was thinking to her mother. With her support, she was then able to talk to her sister, and then her whole family, who all supported her. Sadly, not all do; but she was able to turn to them to seek reassurance. This is a fairly common compulsion for people with stereotypical OCD- they compulsively need another person to tell them what they’re obsessing about isn’t true. Heidi would call her sister or mom and tell them when she was having these scary thoughts, and they would reassure her that she was a good person, she wasn’t going to molest him. It helped take the edge off, but only for about ten seconds. Then it was back to worrying. Remember that OCD is a disorder of doubt. Even after she was diagnosed with OCD, at the back of her mind, Heidi was even unsure if her thoughts came from that, or if it was truly something darker.
Sometimes pedophilia OCD thoughts first center on a parent. People with it may wonder if perhaps they’re attracted to a parent, and/ or if they were molested as children, if something was done to them to cause the thoughts. That’s never happened in any of the cases I’ve been involved in, it’s simply the obsessive mind looking for reason. These thoughts torment people with pedophilia OCD, and many say that they thought they were going crazy before they were diagnosed with OCD. If their fears revolve around molesting children, they will do all they can to avoid them, and not even talk about them. When they can’t avoid the topic, their anxiety and uncertainty is multiplied. They will desperately review every movement they made around a child to help them figure out whether their actions were inappropriate, and they’ll constantly seek reassurance from loved ones, provided they’re aware of it. If not, they suffer alone. They know they would never hurt a child, but they can’t trust themselves, so they really need to hear it from someone else. Self-compassion is often non-existent, self-loathing is more the rule. They believe they should be able to control their thoughts. Since they can’t, they constantly judge themselves, and that often leads to depression.
As you can imagine, it’s hard for them to seek treatment, because they’re afraid of being judged. They live in fear that family and friends will find out the “true” nature of their thoughts, and they’ll be ostracized, labeled as a pedophile, as disgusting or evil. People with POCD feel extreme shame and guilt for their thoughts. Most people don’t understand that pedophilia OCD is not the same as pedophilia. Imagine this: you see a kid and you’re like, ‘Awww, so cute!’ If you have POCD, your next thought is something like, ‘Oh, my god. Does that mean I’m a pedophile?’ Clearly, babies are cute, everyone knows that, nothing wrong with it. But the POCD tries to spin it, so if you have it, it makes you worry that you’re a deviant.
Last week, I talked about exposure therapy for OCD, and POCD is treated the same way- it requires putting the person face to face with the ideas and “temptations” of pedophilia. Just reassuring them that they’re not a pedophile doesn’t work; they don’t believe it. Instead, people with POCD have to become comfortable with the uncertainty, with the risk that their very worst fears are true. Then they have to figure out how to live their lives despite that risk. POCD exposures might include going to a park where children are playing, or to a children’s store, maybe handling clothing. They could watch that pageant show with the nutty parents- might as well try to get a laugh while working on it. At some point, exposures might re-introduce behaviors the person has been avoiding- like having someone who has been avoiding changing a diaper or giving a bath start doing so again- even if it makes them anxious and fearful. As scary as it can be for them, not doing these things can be much more damaging to the children in that person’s life, since people with POCD often avoid giving affection, spending time, or caring for children because of their fears. Ideally, as exposures continue, the person begins to understand that what they’re afraid of isn’t true. The goal is for them to learn that they can trust themselves to do these things without molesting a child or hurting them in any way. As hard as it may be to get there, every patient I’ve worked with has been willing to do whatever it took to reach that realization. It may not make 100% of the obsessive thoughts stop, but it gives them the ability to call bs on them and keep it moving.
Speaking of, that’s it for this week. Next week, another OCD subtype, perfectionism.
Thank you and be well people!
The Darker Side of OCD
Hello, people! Last week we finished up our discussion on the importance of vitamin D, so I hope everyone spent a few minutes in the sun over the weekend to get a dose… gotta have it! This week, we’re starting another series on OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear about OCD? It’s probably neatness, everything in its exact place, like making sure all the edges of the silverware are perfectly aligned in the drawer. Or maybe it’s repetitive hand washing, counting steps, or checking the locks on all the doors in the house. While those stereotypical obsessions are definitely common symptoms, in reality, OCD can involve any persistent, intrusive, obsessive thought that causes anxiety; it’s then generally paired with a behavior that attempts to quell that anxiety. But the scope of it can reach much further than worry over germs or counting and checking, as it is limited only by the person’s mind. Some obsessions are much darker, incorporating a person’s deepest darkest fears and worries. How about obsessing about killing your mother? All of your thoughts center on how you’d go about it, how it would feel. While these types of obsessions may be less common, they can clearly be much harder to talk about, and for that reason, can remain undiagnosed for years, even if a person seeks help. In the best case scenario, it can take an average of 14 to 17 years for people to find treatment, even though OCD usually emerges in childhood.
Think about having an obsession centering on a bodily function, let’s say swallowing. How many times do you swallow in a day, whether eating or drinking or not… ever noticed? Probably not, unless that happens to be an obsessive thought for you. Do you ever worry about the ability to swallow when you need to… do you doubt it? Can you imagine how debilitating something like that could be? And most people have more than one obsession that draws their focus. I did have a patient with OCD who thought he was Jesus, so all of his obsessions centered on that. He dressed like Jesus, wore his hair and beard like Jesus, and acted like Jesus- or how I imagine Jesus would act- with this “peace, brother” persona that he never dropped. He was court ordered, but totally harmless. The total effect was, well… honestly, kinda eerie. That could’ve been me- for some reason, it gave me flashbacks to confirmation classes as a kid. Anyhoo, he was so sure of his true identity that he would only date women named Mary. Yep. Sometimes in OCD, all of the obsessions are present in the mind at once, competing for attention, while at other times, one will take center stage, while the others wait in the wings. Depending on the year, the day, or even the minute, OCD can look completely different, even within one individual.
At its core, OCD is a disorder of doubt. A person can’t be sure that their thoughts aren’t indicative of something that may happen in real life. They can’t be sure of their safety, their intentions, their motives, or even their true realities. And yet, most people with OCD are completely, and usually painfully, aware that what they’re thinking isn’t true. For example, a person with a contamination obsession knows deep down that they don’t need to wash their hands for the 100th time, but they cannot get past the possibility that there could be germs lingering there. They’re haunted by the reality that there could be. Are those germs dangerous… could they make them sick, even kill them? That doubt is what they obsess over. So they continue to wash. When people find out what I do, at cocktail parties and the like, they’ll sometimes ask me, what’s the weirdest/ worst/ scariest symptom or diagnosis you see? Well, when it comes to OCD, there’s really no hierarchy to suffering- one obsession isn’t necessarily inherently worse than another- the worst obsession is the one that’s right now. Still, some forms of OCD are more challenging to deal with, diagnose, and treat. To start with, the content of some obsessions are so taboo that people simply won’t divulge it, so they suffer without finding the help they need. Sometimes they don’t even know that they have OCD, that that’s what’s driving these obsessive thoughts. So this week we’ll be talking about the darker side of OCD, examining some lesser known types you may have never heard of.
Before we start, a note on these subtypes. Although all forms of OCD have symptoms in common, the way these symptoms present themselves in daily life differs a lot from person to person. Usually, OCD fixates around one or more themes, and some of the most common themes are contamination, harm, checking, and perfection. The content of a person’s obsessions isn’t ultimately the important part, though it’s certainly what feels important in the moment. Someone’s subtype is really just their manifestation of symptoms- the particular way their OCD affects them. What does the mind focus on, and what thoughts and actions result from this focus? Psych geeks like me call a condition like OCD “heterogeneous” because it varies so much from one person to the next, but there are a few common “clusters” of symptoms. There’s a lot of discussion about these symptom clusters, and even more debate about whether or not they should be classified as more specific categories or subtypes. But there are clear groups of obsessions and compulsions that pop up regularly in people with OCD. Many clinicians try not to talk about subtypes because there isn’t any real research backing them. They’re not perfect categories or neat little boxes you’re supposed to fit into, so if you have OCD, it’s not worth spending too much time trying to figure out which subtype you fit into if it’s not immediately apparent. That said, for lots of folks with OCD, the immediate recognition of their own experience in a list of subtypes is a powerful thing, and may actually be the start of the treatment process.
So ultimately, I’ve chosen to go with calling these subtypes, but you can call them forms of OCD, or whatever you want, really. The point is that the symptoms seem to fall into groups naturally, and the info just needs to be out there so there’s more awareness of what lots of folks with OCD struggle with on a daily basis. Imagine that you’ve thought of yourself as truly- and totally uniquely- messed up for a long time. No way anyone has ever had the thoughts you have, or so you think. All of a sudden, you’re crusing the interwebs and see a list of symptoms that match yours exactly. Recognizing yourself in this OCD subtype, you’re not alone anymore- there are enough people like you out there to have your own type. Maybe you don’t have to feel hopeless anymore, because other people have clearly faced similar struggles, with similar types of obsessions and compulsions. There’s no realization that comes close to that kind of hope. Listing subtypes may be an imperfect way of categorizing OCD, because people may mistakenly think of them as distinct conditions rather than common manifestations of the same diagnosis, but I think it’s the way it should be. All of that said, keep in mind that there are hundreds of different ways OCD can show up in someone’s life- people don’t fit in boxes, they can have more than one subtype, and while the subtypes are relatively stable over time, they can change- new symptoms can appear and old ones might fade. Not a lot of rules when it comes to the brain’s capacity for imagination and change. So now, finally, we’ll begin discussing some unusual OCD subtypes, just to illustrate the mosaic of experiences associated with the diagnosis, and to illuminate some of what goes on in the OCD mind.
Hyperawareness OCD is an obsession with a part of the body, or with an involuntary bodily function. The patient I mentioned earlier, with the swallowing obsession, had hyperawareness OCD. It’s also called sensorimotor or somatic OCD. At any given moment, your brain, through your entire CNS, is sending and receiving signals about what different parts of your body are doing- like where your hands are, what your heart rate is, or if your stomach is empty or full. These are done subconsciously, so most people don’t pay attention to them. Everyone blinks and swallows, but very rarely do you give it any consideration. With sensorimotor OCD, a function like this can become an obsession. A person can get stuck in this place where they become hyperaware of some part of their body, or of the signal controlling it in their brain. I had a patient obsessed with blinking. Every morning, her first thought upon waking was to check to make sure she was still blinking, or still able to blink. And the thought persisted throughout the day… am I blinking now? It was consuming her life, not only was it the first thing she thought about, but also the last. She even kept herself awake with it, because she would close her eyes to sleep and would have to open them and make sure she could still blink.
When anyone starts to think about things like involuntary processes- even for people without OCD- they can become heightened. If thinking about “it” makes it happen, and if “it” happening makes you think about it… well, you can see how easily this could lead to an obsession in the mind. To make matters worse, a lot of the anxiety in OCD lies in the person’s fear that they’ll never stop thinking about the blinking or swallowing, or whatever the obsession may be. And of course, the more they monitor it, the more they try to control it, the less automatic it feels, the more controlled it feels, and the more it seems like they’re never going to stop thinking about it. It’s a never ending cycle, and it produces a lot of other obsessions like, what if this drives me crazy, what if I never stop, if I’m permanently distracted by it? And in fact, my blinking patient also had a tendency for projection, so she imagined obsessing over blinking for the rest. of. her. life… ife… ife… ife…. I should point out that I make light of it, because one of the ways to combat an obsession is, oddly enough, to examine it in detail, so that includes looking at the futility of obsessing over an automatic bodily process that you cannot control… forever. It sounds counterintuitive, but dealing with it that way is a form of mindfulness- for those of you who read my blog on that many moons ago- examining whatever the thought may be, and the body part it involves, in an effort to soothe and assure. It can’t control it, but it can help lead to acceptance of the thought, which can take away its power.
While sensorimotor OCD is relatively rare, in addition to blinking, the top three obsessions also include swallowing and breathing; but it can focus on the function of literally any part of the body. It can even involve non-functional parts, like the location of a mole or freckle, or hyperawareness of normal occurrences like itching or heart rate. As you can imagine, it can be very debilitating and isolating. My swallowing patient had a very hard time eating in front of anyone- these obsessions tend to be very self-propagating- and she was too anxious over being anxious about her swallowing. And it’s very difficult to talk about these symptoms, even with a therapist or a shrink, so unfortunately, people really suffer. It’s easier to just keep it simple and tell people that you have OCD and let them think you spend all your time straightening silverware or washing your hands, rather than risk being judged for the other manifestations. It’s a tough situation- while I understand it may be easier, it’s not necessarily better in the end. Some clinicians don’t understand sensorimotor OCD, or recognize that people with it have compulsions. Compulsions are the actions or rituals the person is basically “required” to complete in order to make the obsession, and therefore the resulting anxiety, stop. For instance, in contamination OCD, the obsession is germ exposure, and the compulsion is the continual hand washing. But in sensorimotor OCD, the compulsions are there, but they’re just not obvious. It’s more about the mental rituals taking place in sensorimotor, like reviewing or checking to see how that bodily sensation feels, or maybe trying to actively replace the obsessive thought with another thought.
Given the lack of understanding, one of the biggest barriers to treatment is the isolation that the patients feel. Meds are helpful, and there are specially licensed therapists for treating serious OCD. Regardless of the subtype, treatment essentially the same. The gold standard of treatment is exposure and response prevention therapy, or ERP, which is sort of a combined approach. I’ll talk more about that later, but as with anything else, acceptance is key. If you’re a person that thinks about blinking, then you’re a person that thinks about blinking. Hopefully treatment stops that, but if it doesn’t, are you going to let it run your life? Once there’s acceptance, that then becomes the question, as opposed to being concerned about it. That’s where mindfulness comes in. If you pay attention to your blinking, then that’s one thing, but if you’re worried about it, that’s kind of pointless. You’ve proven you’re doing it right, and that your blink isn’t broken, about 18 times in the last minute alone. Did you know that that’s the average number of times a person blinks in one minute, 18? Sounds like a lot. Anyway, there’s a difference between watching your behavior in a mindful way, and not trying to change it, versus actively thinking about it and trying to figure out if you’re doing it the “right” way. Personal acceptance of anything means being less judgmental about the internal experience of it. Admittedly, it’s a lot easier said than done. There shouldn’t be any trivializing how upsetting it would be to think about blinking, or swallowing, or where a mole is. These things may seem banal to you, but they may be the center around which another person’s life revolves. When you think about accepting anything, but especially OCD, maybe just ask yourself, what would my patient Jesus do?
Next week… more OCD subtypes! I hope you enjoyed this blog and found it to be interesting, and of course, educational. Please feel free to share it with family and friends. Be sure to check out my YouTube channel with all of my videos, and I’d appreciate it if you would like, subscribe, leave comments, and share those vids! As always, my book Tales from the Couch has more educational topics and patient stories, and is available in office and on Amazon.
Thank you and be well people!
Hello people… hope everyone had a great weekend! This week, I’m going to finish up our discussion on the big D… vitamin D! Last week, we talked about how it’s not actually a vitamin, it’s really a hormone. And unlike most vitamins, it can be synthesized in the body, provided there’s sufficient skin exposure to the sun- it doesn’t take much- maybe 10 minutes two or three times a week. If you spend all your time inside, have very dark skin, or constantly wear high spf sunscreen, you may need to take a vitamin D supplement. Maintaining adequate vitamin D is essential for many basic processes, far beyond the bones and teeth. Vitamin D helps the immune, muscle, and nervous systems function properly, and a surprising percentage of the population are chronically low. Last week, I mentioned that the elderly population are especially at risk of severe D-ficiency, and this increases the risk of several brain-related disorders. Vitamin D alters cholinergic, dopaminergic, and noradrenergic neurotransmitters systems, and abnormalities in these neurotransmitters have been implicated in various neuropsych diseases and disorders, such as schizophrenia, depression, Parkinson’s disease, dementia/ Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis, MS. This week, I’ll finish discussing what researchers know about vitamin D deficiency and these disorders thus far.
A 2014 study found that moderate and severe vitamin D deficiency in older adults was associated with increased risk for some forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia involves a decline in thinking, behavior, and memory that negatively affects daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder and the most common form of dementia, accounting for as many as 80 percent of dementia cases. When compared with people who had normal vitamin D levels, the study found that people with low levels of vitamin D had a 53 percent increased risk of developing all-cause dementia, while those who were severely deficient had a 125 percent increased risk. In addition, people who had lower levels of vitamin D were about 70 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease specifically, and those who were severely deficient were over 120 percent more likely to develop it. These findings may seem alarming, especially considering the devastating toll that dementia can have on patients and their families, but don’t panic- this was an observational study, meaning it cannot prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship between vitamin D deficiency and dementia and Alzheimer’s. You have to consider that the risk of both Alzheimer’s and dementia already increase with advancing age, and vitamin D deficiency increases with advancing age, so you have to wonder if the relationship is incidental, or if there’s a causal mechanism at play. Researchers are trying to tease out the findings to answer that. Nonetheless, the theory is that the “sunshine vitamin” might help literally clear the patient’s heads- the vitamin D may protect against dementia by helping to break down and sweep out the protein plaques commonly linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This would increase blood flow to the brain as well, which is a good thing.
Vitamin D receptors are present throughout the central nervous system, and research has shown that maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D can have a neuroprotective effect. When a person has multiple sclerosis, MS, the immune system attacks the myelin coating that protects the nerve cells, damaging them and affecting transmission of signals. But studies show that vitamin D may lower the risk of developing MS. A number of studies have shown that people who get more sun exposure and vitamin D in their diet have a lower risk of MS, so vitamin D levels are considered to be an important modifiable environmental risk factor for development of the disease. For people who already have MS, some studies suggest that vitamin D may offer some benefits- it may lessen the frequency and severity of their symptoms, which improves quality of life, and lengthens the time it takes to progress from relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis to the secondary-progressive phase. At this point, the evidence isn’t conclusive, more research is needed, but the connection between vitamin D and MS is strengthened by the association between sunlight and the risk of MS. Studies have shown that the farther away from the equator a person lives, the higher the risk of MS. This suggests that exposure to sunlight may offer protection from MS. Therefore, researchers theorized the link to vitamin D and set out to explain it.
A team of Harvard researchers conducted a study and reported that women who ingested more vitamin D from food (approximately 700 IU/day) had a 41 percent lower risk of MS as compared to women with lower intakes; those who took vitamin D supplements (400 IU/day or more) had a 33 percent reduced risk of developing the disease, as compared to those who did not. In another Harvard study, researchers discovered that some people, specifically caucasians whose blood levels of vitamin D were above 40 ng/mL (meaning levels were sufficient) had a 62 percent lower risk of developing MS. More recently, researchers have linked higher blood levels of vitamin D with reduced risk of relapse, less active lesions on MRI, and possible neuroprotective effects. Although it’s not clear what role vitamin D plays in MS, hypotheses involve its impact on the immune system, and question potentially faulty vitamin D receptors in people with MS.
Parkinson’s, Preliminary Association
Most evidence on the link between vitamin D and Parkinson’s disease (PD) has been from animal studies, but human trials have also uncovered a potential connection between chronically deficient levels of vitamin D and the development of PD. A Finnish follow up review of 3,173 men and women without PD found that those with higher blood levels of vitamin D showed a reduced risk of the disease. An Emory University publication found that more people with PD, 55 percent, had a vitamin D deficiency than a control group, 36 percent. Scientists still don’t know how exactly vitamin D levels affect Parkinson’s risk, but the findings are generating interest in more research.
Most people are familiar with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which happens during seasons with less light exposure. The relationship between sunlight and depression is no accident, so it’s no surprise that vitamin D deficiency may be linked to a higher risk of depression. After all, the nickname for vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, and that’s not just because many people generate much of their required amount thanks to sun exposure. Vitamin D status is also connected to a sunny, or not so sunny mood. Research has previously demonstrated a relationship between low mood and low vitamin D levels, and in fact, I see many patients with depression that have low vitamin D levels. The two seem to go hand in hand, which is why this is an important topic. A study I read not long ago utilizing high dose vitamin D found that participants had a significant decrease in depression and anxiety, and an improvement in general mood. I’ve found vitamin D supplementation to be very helpful in patients with mood disorders, even treatment resistant depression, especially in those who also have other inflammatory-related conditions. I have one patient that just started a D3-K2 supplement I suggested that also has rheumatoid arthritis, and I’m hoping it will improve symptoms of both. K2 is menaquinone, a micronutrient supplement that works synergistically with D3. I’ll talk about it in a moment.
Risk of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder that affects less than one percent of American adults. Symptoms commonly appear between ages 16 and 30, and include delusions, hallucinations, incoherent speech, withdrawal from others, and trouble focusing or paying attention. A scientific review from 19 observational studies suggests that people who are vitamin D deficient may be twice as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, as compared with people with sufficient vitamin D levels. Schizophrenia is more prevalent in places with high latitudes and cold climates, and studies suggest children who relocate to colder climates appear to be at a higher risk of developing it. While the researchers observed a link between the two factors, I should note that we need some randomized controlled trials to better define the link and to determine if supplementation may help prevent it. Probably couldn’t hurt. Considering what we know about the role of vitamin D in mental health, the findings seem to have merit.
Vitamin D deficiency has been implicated in the pathogenesis of multiple autoimmune diseases, including diabetes mellitus type 1.
The connection seems clear, but why it exists is not. Some researchers believe the link is related to the role of vitamin D in insulin sensitivity and resistance, which results in increasing blood sugar. The hormone insulin helps control the amount of sugar, or glucose in the blood. With insulin resistance, the body’s cells don’t respond normally to insulin, and glucose can’t enter the cells as easily, so it builds up in the blood. So you have high blood glucose levels, and this can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes. Researchers theorized that low vitamin D levels change glucose “homeostasis,” which just means it affects how you maintain a proper level. Studies have found that when vitamin D is deficient, many cellular processes in the body begin to break down, and this may be what sets the stage for the onset of diseases like diabetes. In animal studies, vitamin D deficiency has been shown to have a detrimental effect on insulin synthesis and secretion, and some human observational trials have also indicated a correlation between pre-diabetic states and vitamin D levels. But in the randomized controlled trial on vitamin D in pre-diabetic states, not all the evidence supported that increasing vitamin D levels through supplementation results in improvements in insulin sensitivity. In some cases, it didn’t improve. So the jury’s out as far as proof of the influence of vitamin D on glucose homeostasis. Most of the data suggests it’s helpful, but we don’t have a definitive answer as yet.
Rhematoid Arthritis, RA
Vitamin D has been found to have immunomodulatory actions, meaning it may help keep the immune system in balance. Autoimmune diseases like RA occur when the affected person’s immune system attacks their own tissues, hence the name. It’s been previously established that reduced vitamin D intake has been linked to increased susceptibility to the development of RA. Deficiency has also been found to be associated with disease severity in patients with RA; low vitamin D can lead to more severe disease. As I mentioned last week, vitamin D deficiency can cause bone loss and diffuse musculoskeletal pain, similar to that which occurs in RA. Science is always looking at common links to exploit them therapeutically. They also knew that vitamin D supplementation may help prevent osteoporosis, so they put that all together and theorized that vitamin D may also help decrease pain associated with flares of RA. “Flares” are periods of time when the disease is active, when the person’s immune system is attacking their bones and joints, and they can be extremely painful. So they started looking at vitamin D and RA disease states. Researchers of one large study found that only 33 percent of the people with RA they studied showed satisfactory vitamin D levels- 77 percent were low. And the people who had active RA at the time, who were experiencing more severe symptoms, their vitamin D levels were even lower. While the link between vitamin D and RA is well known, this was the first study to look at the impact of levels on the course of established disease. So those of you at risk of RA or with constantly flaring RA, make sure to get your D checked!
A published 2014 study found a link between low blood levels of vitamin D and aggressive prostate cancer in European American and African American men. Researchers looked at vitamin D levels in 667 men, ages 40 to 79, who were undergoing prostate biopsies. The connection between low vitamin D and prostate cancer seemed especially strong in African American men. The results suggested that African American men with low vitamin D levels were more likely to test positive for cancer than men with normal vitamin D levels. These findings were observational- meaning that they didn’t prove that low vitamin D led to prostate cancer, just that the two factors may be linked- it does suggest you may reduce your risk by ensuring adequate vitamin D levels. Captain Obvious says you should also make regular doctor’s visits, and watch for common prostate cancer symptoms, to make sure you get an early diagnosis and treatment if you’re affected. Common symptoms are difficulty starting and maintaining a steady stream of urine, frequent urination, excessive urination at night, urge to urinate, and/ or weak urinary stream. Prostate cancer occurs mostly in older men, and the average age of diagnosis is about 66 years of age. Other than skin cancer, it’s the most common cancer in men, and the second most common cause of cancer death in American men, per the American Cancer Society. Just a friendly PSA from MGA.
Severe Erectile Dysfunction, ED
A small 2014 study of 143 subjects found that men with severe ED had significantly lower vitamin D levels than men with mild ED. The researchers theorized that vitamin D deficiency may contribute to ED by impeding the arteries’ ability to dilate, another “ED” condition called endothelial dysfunction. Captain Obvious says that one of the requirements for achieving an erection is proper function of the arteries, as they’re responsible for supplying the penis with blood so it can become engorged. Ironically, arterial stiffness may be the cause of the endothelial dysfunction that causes the erectile dysfunction… basically, if the arteries are too stiff to dilate, something else won’t be. And in fact, a totally separate study suggested that a lack of vitamin D was indeed linked with general arterial stiffness in healthy people. Another PSA: ED is the most common sexual complication among men, and according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, it affects up to 30 million American men. It can stem from other health conditions, including diabetes, prostate cancer, and high blood pressure. Common ED treatments include hormone replacement therapy, counseling, and lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, limiting alcohol, and eating a balanced diet. Yet another reason to check your D.
It’s not just prostate cancer that shares a link with low vitamin D levels, there’s also a link between vitamin D deficiency and breast cancer. A 2017 published review found that “most” vitamin D studies support the “inverse association” between vitamin D level and breast cancer risk. That’s nerd speak for saying that women with low levels of vitamin D have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. A 2019 in vitro study, meaning “in glass” in a lab, found that high concentrations of vitamin D inhibited breast cancer cell growth. In addition, studies and statistics indicate that women with breast cancer that have adequate or high vitamin D levels seem to have better outcomes- fewer cases of metastases, fewer deaths. So it appears that vitamin D may play a role in controlling breast cell growth, and that high levels may be able to actually slow or halt growth. It’s exciting stuff, but cells isolated in a petri dish in a lab are one thing, and cells in a walking talking human with all of the additional influences are quite another, so human trials are needed before we celebrate with a giant vitamin D cake. But it’s a start. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2021, 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women, not including about 49,290 new cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and about 43,600 women will die from breast cancer. Horrible.
D3’s BFF, K2
This isn’t a math formula, this is a quick note on vitamin K, a micronutrient that most people haven’t ever heard of. K vitamins are critical cofactors for a variety of proteins in the body, including factors involved in blood clotting, calcium transport, insulin regulation, fat deposition, cell proliferation, and DNA transcription. Vitamin K comes in many different forms, traditionally divided into two groups. Vitamin K1, aka phylloquinone, is the most common form of vitamin K. It’s found in plants, notably leafy greens like kale, spinach, turnip greens, collards, Swiss chard, mustard greens, parsley, romaine, and green leaf lettuce. Vitamin K2, aka menaquinone, is mainly found in fermented foods like natto, miso, and sauerkraut. Because K2 is found in so few foods, it’s most commonly found in supplement form. K2 is D3’s BFF. They work synergistically, so current prevailing wisdom says you should take them together. While vitamin D3 improves your calcium absorption, vitamin K2 allocates where that calcium can be used. It’s responsible for depositing the calcium at the right places in the body, like in the bones and teeth. It also prevents calcification, the accumulation of calcium in places where it is not required, like in the arteries and other soft tissues of the body. You definitely don’t want it there. Also, vitamin D needs calcium for metabolism, and when you aren’t getting enough calcium from your diet or from supplementation, vitamin D may pull the calcium it needs from your bones. That’s clearly not the best thing. Taking vitamin D stimulates the body to produce more of the vitamin K2-dependent proteins that transport calcium. These proteins have many health benefits, but can’t be activated if insufficient vitamin K2 is available, so anyone who’s taking vitamin D needs more vitamin K2. Deficiencies in both are extremely common, and more and more people are taking both D3 and K2 together as a daily dietary supplement. This raises the question of how they’re best combined. The current dietary guidelines don’t distinguish between vitamin K1 and K2. There are many D3-K2 combination supplements widely available. If for some reason you choose to take K2 but not D3, 45mcg of vitamin K2 a day is generally enough for healthy people under the age of 50, but again, this recommendation only applies if there is no additional vitamin D3 intake from dietary supplements. If you do take a D3 supplement, the recommended dosage is increased to 100mcg – 200mcg vitamin K2 per day. The higher dosage of 200mcg is recommended for people who have a history of cardiovascular disease or osteoporosis in their families. I recommend the combination product to my patients, as long as it’s not contraindicated. Please note: vitamin K helps your blood clot, so if you are taking anticoagulant medication like coumadin to prevent blood clots, please consult your doctor before taking it. Generally speaking, if you do take an anticoagulant, 45 mcg vitamin K2 per day is a safe dose, but talk to the physician who prescribes the anticoagulant first.
So that’s the deal on vitamin D. The moral of the story is that the vitamin that’s not a vitamin is very busy in the body… it’s not just about the bones anymore. Having adequate levels of it may mean the difference between developing a debilitating disease one day and avoiding one, so make sure you get enough. Check your levels, and consider a supplement if you need it. And don’t forget its best friend K2.
Thank you and be well people!
Personality Disorders, part 3
Hello, people! In last week’s blog, we talked about the cause of personality disorders, sort of the nature versus nurture debate, and how both genetics and environment play a role in developing these disorders. We also discussed some of the requirements for diagnosis: how the maladaptive behaviors or personality traits must be relatively stable over time and consistent across situations; that they must cause significant impairment in self and interpersonal functioning; and that they cannot be a result of the direct effects of a substance or general medical condition. Each of the ten disorders has its own set of diagnostic criteria based on the various signs and symptoms typically exhibited. And that’s what we’ll be getting into today- the signs and symptoms of personality disorders.
As I mentioned before, the DSM-5 allocates each of the ten personality disorders to one of three groups or clusters, A, B, or C, based on similar characteristics and symptoms. Many people with one personality disorder also have signs and symptoms of at least one additional personality disorder, and it is usually within the same cluster. I should note that it’s not necessary to exhibit all the signs and symptoms listed for a disorder to be diagnosed. So let’s get started on the first cluster.
Cluster A Personality Disorders
These are characterized by odd, eccentric thinking or behavior. They include paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder.
Paranoid Personality Disorder
PPD is defined by mistrust and suspicion so intense that it permeates thought patterns and behavior, interfering with daily functioning. A person with PPD feels very wary of others, believing that they want to harm them. They are always on guard for signs that someone is trying to threaten, mistreat, or deceive them. No matter how unfounded their beliefs, they may repeatedly question the faithfulness, honesty, or trustworthiness of the people around them, whether they are friends, family, spouse, and/ or lovers. They may be defensive or sarcastic, which may elicit a hostile response from others. This response, in turn, then seems to confirm their original suspicions, reinforcing their beliefs. When they perceive they’re being persecuted, rejected, or slighted, they’re likely to respond with hostility, angry outbursts, and/ or controlling behavior; and they often deflect any blame onto others. Their fearful and distrustful perceptions make forming and maintaining close relationships very difficult. In addition, they’re often able to find and exaggerate the negative aspects of any situation or conversation, which also strains relationships. These qualities affect their ability to function at home, work, and school. Because of these symptoms, the condition often results in social withdrawal, tenseness, irritability, and lack of emotion.
Common PPD symptoms include:
-Suspecting, without justification, that others are trying to exploit, harm, or deceive them.
-Doubting or obsessing on the lack of loyalty or trustworthiness of family, friends, and acquaintances.
-Refusing to confide in people for fear that any information they divulge will be used against them.
-Becoming detached or socially isolated
-Interpreting hidden, malicious, demeaning, or threatening subtext or meanings in innocent gestures, events, or conversations.
-Having trouble working with others, being argumentative and defensive.
-Being overly sensitive to perceived insults, criticism, or slights.
-Quickly feeling anger, snapping to judgment, and holding grudges.
-Responding to imagined attacks on their character with anger, hostility, or controlling behavior.
-Repeatedly suspecting, without basis, their romantic partner or spouse of infidelity.
-Having trouble relaxing due to an inability to let their guard down.
PPD affects approximately 1 to 5 percent of people worldwide, though I’ve seen estimates of up to 10 percent. It often first appears in early adulthood, and is more common in men than women. Research suggests it may be most prevalent in those with a family history of schizophrenia. Despite being one of the most common personality disorders, PPD can be difficult to detect until symptoms progress from mild to more severe. This is because most people behave in mistrustful, suspicious, or hostile ways at some point in their lives without warranting a diagnosis of PPD. Spotting the signs can be further complicated as it often occurs with another mental health problem, such as an anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), substance abuse, or depression. When people with PPD have other diagnoses, it can compound their PPD symptoms. For example, depression and anxiety affect mood, and shifts in mood can make someone with PPD more likely to feel paranoid and isolated.
Professional treatment can help someone with PPD manage symptoms and improve their daily functioning. But due to the very nature of the disorder, most people with PPD don’t seek help, as they don’t see their suspicious behavior as unusual or unwarranted. Rather, they see it as rational. They are defending themselves against the bad intentions and deceptive, untrustworthy activities of those around them. As far as they’re concerned, their fears are justified, and any attempts to change how they think only confirms their suspicions that people are “out to get them” in some way. In addition, their intense suspicion and mistrust of others often includes mental health professionals. They question their motives in trying to help, and it can take a fair amount of time to build enough trust so they feel comfortable confiding in them and following their advice.
Schizoid Personality Disorder
The term “schizoid” indicates a natural tendency to direct attention toward one’s inner life and away from the external world. Please note that while their names sound alike, and they might have some similar symptoms, schizoid personality disorder is not the same thing as schizophrenia. People with schizoid PD tend to be distant, detached, aloof, and more prone to introspection. They often choose to be alone, and have little to no desire for social or sexual relationships. In addition to being indifferent to other people, they are also indifferent to social norms and conventions. They seem to not care about external praise or criticism, and commonly demonstrate a lack of emotional response. They are generally “loners” who prefer solitary activities. Many people with schizoid personality disorder are able to function fairly well, although they tend to choose jobs that allow them to work alone, such as night security officers, library, or lab workers.
A competing theory about people with schizoid PD is that they are in fact highly sensitive with a rich inner fantasy life. That they experience a deep longing for intimacy, but find initiating and maintaining close relationships too difficult or distressing, and as a result, choose to retreat into their inner world, which they create with vivid detail.
Common Schizoid PD symptoms include:
-Lack of interest in social or personal relationships, preferring to be alone
-Limited range of emotional expression
-Inability to take pleasure in most activities
-Inability to pick up normal social cues
-Difficulty relating to others
-Appearance of being cold or indifferent to others
-Little or no interest in intimacy or in having sex with another person
-May commonly daydream and/or create vivid fantasies of complex inner lives.
-Often reclusive, organize life to avoid contact with other people
Available statistics suggest that between 3 to 4 percent of the general population has schizoid PD, though it’s very difficult to accurately assess the prevalence, because people with schizoid PD rarely present for medical attention. This is because they generally function so well, and their preferences have few or no negative legal or societal consequences. Schizoid PD usually begins in late adolescence or early adulthood, affects men more often than women, and is more common in people who have close relatives with schizophrenia.
Schizotypal Personality Disorder
STPD is characterized by oddities of appearance, behavior, and speech, unusual perceptual experiences, and anomalies of thinking similar to those seen in schizophrenia. People with STPD have a higher than average probability of developing schizophrenia, and the condition used to be called “latent schizophrenia.” Their anomalies of thinking can include odd beliefs, suspiciousness, obsessive ruminations, and magical thinking, which is being overly superstitious or thinking of themselves as psychically powerful. An example may be believing that they have a “sixth sense” or thinking that speaking of the devil can make him appear. This may lead them to develop what are called ideas of reference- the false belief or intuition that occurrences, events, or details in the world relate or refer directly to themselves. People with STPD generally don’t understand how relationships form, or the impact of their behavior on others. They may react oddly in conversations, not respond, or talk to themselves. They have difficulty with responding appropriately to social cues, often misinterpret people’s motivations and behaviors, and develop significant distrust of others. This can cause excessive social anxiety, and can lead them to fear social interaction, thinking that other people are harmful. While people with STPD and people with schizoid PD both avoid social interaction, people with STPD do so because they fear others, whereas people with schizoid PD do so simply because they have no desire to interact with others, or find interacting with them too difficult.
Schizotypal personality disorder typically includes five or more of these signs and symptoms:
-Being a loner and lacking close friends outside of the immediate family
-Limited or inappropriate emotional responses, “flat emotions”
-Persistent and excessive social anxiety, tendency to be stiff and awkward when relating to others
-Very uncomfortable with intimacy
-Commonly misinterpret events, ie feeling that something has a direct personal offensive meaning, when it is actually harmless or inoffensive
-Distorted perceptions or odd perceptual experiences, ie mistaking noises for voices, hearing a voice whisper their name, or sensing an absent person’s presence
-Peculiar, eccentric, or unusual thinking, beliefs, or mannerisms
-Suspicious or paranoid thoughts and constant doubts about the loyalty of others
-Belief in special powers, such as mental telepathy or superstitions
-Dressing in peculiar ways, such as wearing oddly matched clothes or appearing unkempt
-Peculiar style of speech: highly variable, this may include unusual patterns of speaking, rambling oddly during conversations, vague speech, or speaking in excessive detail, in metaphors, or in an overly elaborate manner.
The prevalence of STPD ranges from approximately 1 to 4 percent of the population, and is more common in men than in women. STPD occurs more often in relatives of patients with schizophrenia or another Cluster A personality disorder. In fact, people that have an immediate family member with STPD can be as much as 50 percent more likely to develop it, as compared to people without that family history. People with STPD typically disagree with the suggestion their thoughts and behavior are disordered, and seek medical attention for depression or anxiety as opposed to the disorder. While it is typically diagnosed in early adulthood, some signs and symptoms, such as increased interest in solitary activities, or a high level of social anxiety, may be seen in the teen years. These children may also underperform in school, or appear socially out of step with peers, and this may result in teasing or bullying. STPD is likely to endure across the entire lifespan, though treatment, such as medications and therapy, can improve symptoms. Without treatment, individuals with STPD are at high risk for having major difficulty with work and relationships.
That’s the end of Cluster A personality disorders. Next week, we’ll cover Cluster B.
I hope you enjoyed this blog and found it to be interesting and educational. If you did, let me know. If you didn’t, let me know that too!
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Thank you and be well people!
Hello, welcome back to the blog, people! We’re continuing our look at thyroid disease. Last week, we took a pretty deep dive into diagnosis, especially lab tests. I mentioned that the TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) test is considered by most practitioners as the gold standard test, as it regulates the release, and therefore balance, of the thyroid hormones T4 and T3. A T4 (thyroxine) test is commonly ordered with the TSH, as together, they offer a good snapshot of overall function, as well as suggest a cause for an abnormality. A T3 (triiodothyronine) test is usually only ordered to support a diagnosis of hyperthyroidism, as it’s not very helpful in hypothyroidism, since it’s the last hormone to be affected. Thyroid antibody tests can also be run to help identify different types of autoimmune thyroid conditions, such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and Graves’ Disease hyperthyroidism.
There are different recommendations on how to screen for abnormal thyroid hormone levels, and your health insurance may “help” determine what tests are done and when. In most US states, and probably elsewhere as well, you can order your own thyroid tests on the interwebs, and this may be a more affordable way to have them done. You can find plenty of analyzers there too, so you can enter your results if you’re confused about what they mean.
A TSH alone can be a sufficient screening test for abnormalities, and it can be followed by a T4 and/or T3 should any be found.
Generally speaking, an elevated TSH, with or without low T4 or T3, is associated with hypothyroidism, and a low TSH with high T4 and/or high T3 is associated with hyperthyroidism. I should note that in order to receive a diagnosis of hyperthyroidism, lab tests must demonstrate that one or both thyroid hormones are elevated, so there must be a high T3 and/ or T4.
In addition to lab tests, diagnosis of thyroid disease generally involves a review of signs and symptoms, physical examination of the neck to feel for masses or nodules, while noting the condition of hair, nails, and eyes, with imaging and ultrasound tests to further evaluate findings if needed. A primary care physician can make the diagnosis and formulate an effective treatment plan, but a physician who specializes in the thyroid, an endocrinologist, is very helpful, and may be required in some cases.
Once diagnosed, treatment is aimed at correcting the imbalance and returning thyroid hormone levels to normal, in order to alleviate the symptoms the person is experiencing. This can be done in a variety of ways, depending on the cause, and whether the imbalance has resulted in a hyper- or hypothyroid condition.
Several treatments for hyperthyroidism exist. The best approach depends on your age, personal preference, physical condition, and the underlying cause and severity of your disorder.
Taken by mouth, radioactive iodine is given to a large percentage of adults with hyperthyroidism, as it effectively destroys the cells of your thyroid, preventing it from making high levels of thyroid hormones. It also causes the gland to shrink, which may make it a good choice in cases of goiter. Symptoms usually subside within several months, and excess radioactive iodine disappears from the body in weeks to months after treatment is discontinued. This treatment may cause thyroid activity to slow enough to actually be considered underactive, meaning that it may result in secondary hypothyroidism; so you may eventually need to take medication every day to replace thyroxine. Common side effects include dry mouth, dry eyes, sore throat, and changes in taste. Precautions may need to be taken for a short time after treatment to limit or prevent radiation exposure to others.
Medications like methimazole (aka Tapazole) and propylthiouracil gradually reduce symptoms of hyperthyroidism by preventing your thyroid gland from producing excess amounts of hormones. Symptoms usually begin to improve within several weeks to months, but treatment typically continues for at least one year, and often longer. For some people, this clears up the problem permanently, but other people may experience a relapse. These drugs can be pretty gnarly. If you’re allergic, you can develop skin rashes, hives, fever, or joint pain. They can make you more susceptible to infection, and can cause serious liver damage, sometimes even leading to death. Because propylthiouracil has caused far more cases of liver damage, it should really only be used when you can’t tolerate methimazole.
Beta blockers such as propranolol and Inderal are usually used to treat high blood pressure. They don’t affect thyroid levels, but they can ease some symptoms, such as tremor, sweating, rapid heart rate, and palpitations. For this reason, your physician may prescribe them to alleviate symptoms until your thyroid levels are closer to normal. For patients with temporary forms of hyperthyroidism, ie thyroiditis, inflammation of the thyroid gland, beta blockers may be the only treatment required. Once the thyroiditis resolves, they can be discontinued. These medications are generally well tolerated, but aren’t recommended for people who have asthma, and side effects may include fatigue and sexual dysfunction.
In a thyroidectomy, most of your thyroid gland is permanently removed. If you’re pregnant, can’t tolerate antithyroid drugs, and don’t want or can’t have radioactive iodine therapy, you may be a candidate for thyroid surgery- although this is usually an option of last resort, as it is permanent. Risks of this surgery include damage to your vocal cords and parathyroid glands, those four tiny glands situated on the back of your thyroid gland that help control the level of calcium in your blood. Postoperatively, you’ll need lifelong treatment with synthetic hormone to supply your body with normal amounts of thyroid hormone. If your parathyroid glands are also removed, you’ll need medication to keep your calcium levels normal as well.
If you have hypothyroidism, low levels of thyroid hormones, the main treatment option is to replace the hormone. Daily use of the synthetic form of thyroid hormone thyroxine, called levothyroxine, ie Levo-T and Synthroid, restores adequate hormone levels, and reverses the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism. Determining proper dosage may take time, but you should start to feel better soon after you start treatment. To determine the proper initial dosage, your physician may check your TSH level after six to eight weeks. With a proper diet, the medication will gradually lower cholesterol levels elevated by the disease, and may also reverse any weight gain. Treatment with levothyroxine will be lifelong, but because the dosage you need may change, your physician should check your TSH levels periodically as needed. If you have coronary artery disease or severe hypothyroidism, your physician may start treatment with a smaller dose and increase it gradually. This progressive replacement allows your heart to adjust to the increase in metabolism.
Having excessive amounts of this hormone can cause side effects, such as increased appetite, insomnia, heart palpitations, and tremor or shakiness. It causes virtually no side effects when used in the appropriate dose and is relatively inexpensive, but try to stick to the same brand, as there can be some variances in dosing. Don’t skip doses or stop taking it because you’re feeling better; if you do, your symptoms will return. Food hinders absorption of levothyroxine, so it should be taken on an empty stomach at the same time every day. Ideally, you take it in the morning and wait one hour before eating or taking other medications. If you take it at bedtime, wait four hours after your last meal or snack. Certain medications, supplements, and even some foods may seriously affect your ability to absorb it. Tell your physician if you eat large amounts of soy products or a high fiber diet, or you take other medications, such as iron supplements or multivitamins that contain iron, aluminum hydroxide, which is commonly found in antacids, and calcium supplements.
Thyroid Disease: Prognosis
Generally speaking, even if you have a thyroid disease, you can usually live a normal life without many restrictions, as long as you have appropriate treatment. The overall prognosis varies depending on your diagnosis. With hypothyroidism, your levels and overall symptoms may improve with medication, but it’s a condition you’ll be treating for the rest of your life. You’ll take medication daily, and your physician will likely monitor you to make adjustments over time if needed. But this is not necessarily the case with hyperthyroidism. If antithyroid medications work, then your thyroid hormone levels will most likely return to normal without any further issues. That said, once you have any form of thyroid disease, your physician may need to monitor your condition with occasional blood tests to make sure your thyroid hormones are at optimal levels.
Thyroid Disease: Complications
As with any disease, early diagnosis and treatment of symptoms improves the long term outlook. The complications of undiagnosed, uncontrolled, and/or inadequately controlled thyroid disease can lead to a number of health problems that can affect your long term quality of life, and in some cases, can even be life threatening.
Even if you are under treatment or have received treatment for thyroid disease, if you start to notice signs of any of the following issues, see your physician to check your thyroid levels, or seek emergency treatment when appropriate.
Some of the most serious complications of hyperthyroidism involve the heart. These include a rapid heart rate, a heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation, which increases your risk of stroke, and congestive heart failure, a condition in which your heart can’t circulate enough blood to meet your body’s needs.
Excess thyroid hormone interferes with your body’s ability to incorporate calcium into your bones, so untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to weak, brittle bones and osteoporosis.
People with Graves’ Disease can develop eye problems, including bulging, red or swollen eyes, sensitivity to light, and blurry or double vision. When left untreated, severe eye problems can lead to vision loss.
Red, swollen skin
People with Graves’ disease can develop Graves’ dermopathy. This affects the skin, causing redness and swelling, often on the shins and feet.
Thyroid storm, aka thyrotoxic crisis, is a life threatening hypermetabolic state induced by excessive release of thyroid hormones, resulting in a sudden worsening of symptoms. An individual’s heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature can reach dangerously high levels, causing delirium. This requires urgent medical attention, as without prompt, aggressive treatment, thyroid storm is often fatal.
Constant stimulation of your thyroid to release more hormones may cause the gland to become larger, a condition called goiter. Although it’s generally not painful, a large goiter can affect your appearance and may interfere with swallowing or breathing.
Hypothyroidism puts you at greater risk for heart disease and heart failure, and can raise your levels of LDL, low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol.
Mental health issues
Hypothyroidism can cause depression that becomes more severe over time. You may notice decreased interest in activities you used to enjoy. It can also cause slowed mental functioning, and memory or concentration lapses.
Long term uncontrolled hypothyroidism can cause damage to your peripheral nerves that carry information from your brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body. Peripheral neuropathy causes pain, numbness, and tingling in affected areas, most often the legs and feet.
Uncontrolled hypothyroidism can cause you to have aches and pains in your joints and muscles, as well as tendonitis.
Low levels of thyroid hormone can interfere with ovulation, which greatly impairs fertility. In addition, some autoimmune causes of hypothyroidism can also impair fertility.
Myxedema is a life threatening condition that can result from undiagnosed hypothyroidism. The term “myxedema” can be used to mean severely advanced hypothyroidism. But it’s also used to describe skin changes in someone with severely advanced hypothyroidism. The classic skin changes include swelling of your face, including lips, eyelids, and tongue, and/ or the swelling and thickening of skin anywhere on your body, but especially on your lower legs. Signs and symptoms include intense cold intolerance and drowsiness, followed by profound lethargy and unconsciousness. In people with severe hypothyroidism, trauma, infection, exposure to the cold, and certain medications can trigger a life threatening condition called myxedema coma, which causes a loss of consciousness and hypothermia, extremely low body temperature. If you have signs or symptoms of myxedema, you need immediate emergency medical treatment.
That’s all for this week, folks. Next week will be devoted to thyroid disease and mental health issues.
I hope you enjoyed this blog and found it to be interesting and educational. If you did, let me know. If you didn’t, let me know that too!
Please feel free to share the love! Share blogs and YouTube videos with family and friends.
Be sure to check out my YouTube channel with all of my videos, and I’d appreciate it if you would like, subscribe, and share those vids too!
And if you like what you see and want more of it, or if you want a specific topic, leave it in the comments- I love reading them!
As always, my book Tales from the Couch has more educational topics and patient stories, and is available in the office and on Amazon.
Thank you and be well people!
Alprazolam Use Disorder
Helll-ooo people! I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend, maybe bit the head off a big bunny- a chocolate one of course. We’ve been talking about alprazolam, trade name Xanax. Last week I warned you about the dangers of buying it off of the street. If you’ve forgotten why it’s dangerous, it’s because it’s nearly always counterfeit crap made in some moron’s basement with fentanyl and heaven knows what else, and you don’t want that. If you think I have a pretty clear opinion on fake Xanax, or any fake pharmaceutical for that matter, Captain Obvious says you’d be right.
If you read the first blog in this series a couple of weeks ago, you already know that Xanax, generic name alprazolam, is a member of the class of anxiolytic drugs called benzodiazepines, and very commonly prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders- mainly because it’s very effective and works quickly. But it also has serious addiction potential and is a common drug of abuse, and this is something that patients and their families must be aware of up front. With that in mind, this week’s blog will focus on the signs and symptoms of Xanax abuse, and how that progresses to the diagnosis of sedative use disorder, or more specifically Xanax use disorder.
Some people who are prescribed Xanax for anxiety or panic disorders can take their prescribed dose twice a day for years and never experience an issue, unless or until they stop taking it. They become dependent upon it, but only in that their body becomes used to having the drug in their system- it’s not a pathological dependence. Upon stopping it, they’ll still experience withdrawal symptoms, but they don’t develop Xanax use disorder, because their use is quite literally not disordered. Incidentally, I’ll be focusing on withdrawal from Xanax next week. In contrast, far too many people develop a pathological dependence upon Xanax. Even if they have a genuine anxiety disorder and start out taking it only as prescribed, they begin to abuse it by taking too much and/ or too often, and they develop a use disorder, which progresses to what we colloquially call an addiction.
This is a process that generally starts because they begin to develop a tolerance to the drug and require more of it to achieve the desired effect, whether that is to quell their symptoms of anxiety, or to get high. Tolerance is a phenomenon that occurs with many drugs, but it is especially dangerous in a drug like Xanax, as it’s a closed circuit- the more you need, the more you take, and the more you take, the more you need. Ideally, a patient informs their prescribing physician if they feel that their current dose is no longer adequate. But that doesn’t always happen, and patients may choose to increase the dose on their own; and at that point, they’re abusing the drug.
Some of the most common physical signs and symptoms of Xanax abuse include slurred speech, poor motor coordination, confusion, blurred vision, drowsiness, dizziness, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, and an inability to reduce intake without symptoms of withdrawal. Beyond the physical symptoms, when a person begins to abuse Xanax, there will likely be noticeable changes in their behavior as well. Some of the most common behavioral signs of Xanax abuse include the following:
-Taking risks in order to buy Xanax: some people may do things they wouldn’t have previously considered in order to obtain it. For instance, they may steal, often from loved ones, in order to pay for Xanax.
-Losing interest in normal activities: as Xanax abuse takes a firmer hold in a person’s life, they commonly lose interest in activities they formerly enjoyed.
-Risk-taking behaviors: as Xanax abuse continues, the person may become more comfortable taking big risks, such as driving while on Xanax.
-Maintaining stashes of Xanax: to ensure that they will not have to go without Xanax, they will attempt to stockpile it.
-Relationship problems: Xanax abuse invariably leads to interpersonal problems and social issues, but this often isn’t enough to motivate the person to stop.
-Obsessive thoughts and actions: the person will spend an inordinate amount of time and energy obtaining and using Xanax. This may include activities like doctor shopping or looking for alternate sources of it, or asking friends, family, and/ or colleagues for it.
-Legal issues: this can be related to illegally obtaining Xanax, being arrested/ incarcerated for drugged driving, or for other disturbances as a consequence of use.
-Solitude and secrecy: when abusing Xanax, it’s very common for people to withdraw from friends and family to protect their use.
-Financial difficulties: to pay for Xanax, a person may drain their financial resources and/ or those of family and friends.
-Denial: this includes setting aside valid concerns about Xanax abuse to protect ongoing use of the drug. For example, minimizing or refusing to recognize the dangers of buying it on the street.
As Xanax abuse progresses, it reaches what most people would term an addiction. But the actual diagnosis recognized in the psych nerd’s bible, the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition) is termed use disorder. If the person is using Xanax, we call it sedative use disorder or Xanax use disorder, but there is opioid use disorder as well- essentially anything that is abused can fill in the blank. In order for a person to be diagnosed with a sedative use disorder, they must exhibit a certain number of signs and symptoms within a one year period. The more symptoms that are present, the higher the grading the sedative use disorder will receive, and this places the severity of the disorder on a continuum, be it mild, moderate, or severe.
Paraphrased versions of the assessed symptoms of Xanax use disorder are as follows:
-Repeated problems in meeting obligations in the areas of family, work, or school because of Xanax use.
-Spending a significant amount of time acquiring Xanax, using it, or recovering from side effects of use.
-Continued Xanax use despite hazardous circumstances.
-Continued Xanax use despite the complications it causes with social interactions and interpersonal relationships.
-Continued Xanax use despite experiencing one or more negative personal outcomes.
-Using more Xanax or using it for longer than recommended or intended.
-An inability to stop using Xanax despite an ongoing desire to do so.
-Obsessive craving for Xanax.
-Ceasing or reducing participation in work, social, or family affairs due to Xanax use.
-Building tolerance over time, necessitating the use of increasing amounts of Xanax to achieve desired effect.
-Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon decreasing the dose of Xanax.
These last two signs- building tolerance that requires continual dosage increases, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when dosage is decreased- are indicative of physical dependence and ultimately addiction. These are natural body processes that occur when the brain and body habituate to drug use over time. Once the body becomes accustomed to having the drug, a sort of new normal is established in its presence. Thereafter, when the drug use stops, the body will issue its demand for more of the drug in the form of withdrawal symptoms. And that’s exactly where we’ll pick up next week.
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Thank you and be well people!
At some point in your life, I’m sure someone’s told you, “Life is short, you should stop to smell the roses.” Somebody well intentioned, maybe your Nana, your next-door neighbor Janet, or your favorite uncle Fred, giving you the benefit of their experience, and just telling you to slow down and enjoy every moment. You probably smiled, suppressed an eye roll, noncommittally murmured something in the affirmative, and kept it moving. Nobody actually stops to think about these typically unsolicited pieces of sage advice, right? The very idea is anathema to our frenetic culture of constant multi-tasking and 24/7 connectivity. Well, turns out it might not be the worst idea to actually take it to heart. It seems that science is telling us that there might be something to it- stopping to enjoy the moment may actually be good for your health. It’s a concept called mindfulness, or sometimes mindfulness meditation.
Last week I finished up the remote work blog, and I considered adding mindfulness as a tip for dealing with stress. It’s actually a great technique to use, because it literally takes less than two minutes, so it’s easy to incorporate into your day as you need it. Essentially, mindfulness is a meditative practice where you focus on being intensely aware of everything you’re sensing and feeling in a present moment, without any interpretation whatsoever. However you’re experiencing life, you simply notice each moment as it unfolds, without any judgment or preconceived notions. You just let it flow and let it go. In this way, you take yourself off of autopilot, which is how most people normally operate, and purposefully engage with the world around you. This actively directs your attention away from whatever kind of thinking is causing you anxiety, and that puts you in a more peaceful present place. Whenever you have a few free minutes, you can practice mindfulness throughout the day, no matter where you are, answering emails, sitting in traffic, or waiting in line. All you have to do is become more aware. That can mean focusing on your breath, your feet on the ground, your fingers typing, or the people and voices around you.
Captain Obvious says that the nervous system is always working in the body, but we’re not really aware of everything it’s doing. All of its automatic functions, such as the heartbeat, digestion, and breathing, are regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s responsible for our normal, relaxed state, where the body and mind can “rest and digest” as they say. Its counterpoint is the sympathetic nervous system, whose most recognized role comes into play during its “fight or flight” mode. During these threatening situations, the sympathetic nervous system automatically releases stress hormones that flood the system, and we experience a physiological and emotional response in a cascade like fashion. Both branches of the nervous system are clearly very important, but if the sympathetic, “fight or flight” mode is activated too often, or for too long, that’s a serious health concern with harmful consequences. In an analogous way, living in a constant high stress state can elicit similar effects and have a negative effect on physical health, emotional well-being, and longevity.
The overall benefit of mindfulness is that it encourages you to pay attention to where you are right now, without any further interpretation. Once you begin learning how to be more mindful, you’ll realize how much your mind races, and how often you focus on the past and the future. Anxiety is often the product of thoughts about where you need to be, what you need to do, what might happen, and “if and when” type thoughts. Mindful redirection without judgement helps you experience thoughts and emotions with greater balance and acceptance, and removes that anxiety and stress from your mind and body. As a result, most people who practice mindfulness report an increased ability to relax, more enthusiasm for life, and improved self-esteem. Mindfulness and meditation have been studied in many clinical trials, and evidence supports their effectiveness in improving many chronic conditions, including stress, anxiety, chronic pain, depression, insomnia, and hypertension. Meditation also has been specifically shown to improve attention, decrease job burnout, improve sleep, increase immunity, and even improve diabetes control.
The concept of mindfulness is simple, but it’s called a practice for a reason. As I said, most people operate on autopilot, reacting to each situation or sensation as they go. When you have too many obligations and too little time, anxiety and stress often undermine healthy habits such as eating well, getting proper sleep, and exercising. This can easily become a cyclical pattern that’s difficult to break. But mindfulness actually pays out twice, because in addition to being relaxing in the moment, it also has a positive cumulative effect over time. So practicing a pattern of mindfulness breaks unhealthy patterns, which allows you to better enjoy positive life experiences, while also minimizing adverse reactions to negative life experiences. The idea of practicing mindfulness on a regular basis isn’t to get better at it. The goal is to make it second nature, so that you are essentially mindful at all times. Ideally, you then automatically become mindful, rather than anxious or stressed out.
In our culture, we tend to place great value on how much and how fast, but mindfulness doesn’t need to be complicated or take a long time to be effective. Just interrupting daily stress with a healthy response is essentially mindfulness for dummies, so by taking just a moment to breathe deep, you’ve become more mindful. If you’re not sure if mindfulness is your kind of thing, there are some simple mindful principles you can incorporate into your life while you look for proof of concept, to see if it’s helpful for you.- Pay attention. It’s hard to slow down and notice things in the middle of a busy day in a hectic world, but try to experience your environment with all of your senses: touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste. – Treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend; with acceptance and care, and without judgement and harsh criticism. – Eliminate the negative. When you have negative thoughts, try to sit down, close your eyes, and actively remove them from your mind to gain perspective. – Acknowledge and redirect yourself as needed to maintain awareness. Anytime you’re trying to be mindful, if you find your awareness slips, or anxiety or negativity continue to creep in, acknowledge them without judgement and redirect yourself to return your focus to the present.
Below are a few quick mindfulness activities you can easily incorporate into your daily life, including at work. Since you don’t need any specific tools, you can try them out on your commute or even at your desk when you feel stressed out.
Close your eyes and slowly breathe in and out. Concentrate on the rising and falling of your chest, and try to empty your mind. If other thoughts pop into your head, acknowledge and dismiss them, then bring your focus back to present.
It’s easy for your mind to wander during conversations. Instead of formulating your response while a colleague is still talking, clear your mind and really listen to what they’re saying. Try not to think about all the stuff on your to-do list, your plans for the evening, or your previous conversations- just be in the moment. This will help you pick up on more information, and can also improve your workplace relationships.
Choose any object nearby- a pen, your computer mouse, or even your tie- and really focus on it for one minute. Pretend it’s brand new to you and try to see it for the first time. Pay close attention to its shape, texture, and how it’s constructed. Try to connect with something positive about it you may have never considered before. This helps you not only clear your mind, but also helps to foster appreciation for the everyday objects that surround you.
This one requires you to get up and leave your desk, but so much the better. When you go on a coffee or lunch break, take a stroll by yourself through a nearby park or green area. If possible, leave your phone and other electronic devices back in the office, and use these few minutes to focus on and listen to the natural world around you. This is a healthy exercise for both your mind and your body, as you also benefit from the physical movement and the chance to get a breath of fresh air.
Those simple mindfulness exercises can be practiced nearly anywhere and anytime. Some of the more structured mindfulness exercises may require you to set aside time when you can be in a quiet place, without distractions or interruptions. You might choose to practice the following types of exercises early in the morning before you begin your daily routine. Here are some examples of more structured exercises you can use to practice mindfulness.
Unlike when breathing is an automatic function, this mindful technique encourages taking a moment to be present, and focusing on completely inhaling and exhaling air in and out of the lungs. Breathe in through your nose to a count of four, hold for one second, and then exhale through the mouth to a count of five. Repeat often, as needed. Over time, this exercise usually leads to a pattern of slower, deeper breathing as a healthy default.
Mental imagery exercises allow you to picture a calming place for relaxation. This technique focuses on a positive mental image to replace negative thoughts and feelings you may be experiencing at any given time. This is the classic “happy place” you can go to in your mind to reduce stress and anxiety.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
When you have anxiety or stress in your life, one of the ways your body responds is with muscle tension. Progressive muscle relaxation is a method that helps relieve that tension. During this technique, you tense a group of muscles as you breathe in, and you relax them as you breathe out. You work on your muscle groups in a certain order, head to toe or toe to head. The action of tensing followed by relaxation releases physical tension and relaxes you. When your body is physically relaxed, you cannot feel anxious, so this is an effective method to relieve stress.
I imagine you’ve heard of “mindless eating,” where you’re watching television with a bag of cheesy poofs in one hand, and the remote control in the other, and the next thing you know, the giant family size bag is empty. When you eat mindlessly, you shovel food into your mouth without noticing how much you’re actually consuming. Mindful eating is the exact counterpoint to this, and for this reason, mindfulness is a universally recognized tool to help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight. With mindful eating, you only eat when you’re hungry, you make sure to focus on each bite to fully appreciate what you’re eating, and stop eating when you’re full.
Walking is such an established, habituated action that this is yet another thing we tend to do on autopilot. The moment we step out the door, our minds wander and get caught up in planning, worrying, and analyzing. But it’s pretty amazing how different you feel when you pay attention to your movement and what’s going on all around you, rather than all the stuff swirling in your brain. A walking meditation is a great way to take your mind for a walk with you, and the idea is to focus on your gait and the physical experience of walking. Pay attention to the specific components of each step, being aware of the sensations of standing, and the subtle movements that help you keep your balance as you move. Research indicates that engaging your senses outdoors is most beneficial, so try to find a big green space outside and take a mindful walk.
Ideally, you should aim to practice mindfulness in multiple ways each day. By that, I don’t mean you have to do a progressive muscle relaxation technique each day. I’m saying you can just incorporate the basic principles into your life each day. Eat mindfully instead of mindlessly. When your mind swims with everything you have to get done in a day, slow down and breathe. When you start to criticize yourself, stop the negativity and gain some acceptance. When you walk to work, try to do it mindfully. Remember that it’s far better to make small changes you can sustain than it is to make grand changes that don’t stick, so apply little mindful touches throughout your day. That way, you’re providing a break from stressful thoughts multiple times each day, allowing you to gain more perspective, and you’re also reinforcing this as a response to daily stressors so that it becomes more automatic. Over time, mindfulness becomes more second nature, and this effectively reduces stress and anxiety in the future.
Please note, it takes time and practice to learn to slow down and live in the moment. So if it seems to take longer than you “think it should,” you’re kind of missing the point, and you should drop the judgement and continue the effort. With regular practice, you’ll find that rather than operating on autopilot, reacting as you go, with your emotions influenced by negative past experiences as well as fears of future occurrences, mindfulness will allow you to root your mind in the present moment and deal with life’s challenges in a calm, clear, assertive way. As a result, you’ll develop a fully conscious mindset that frees you from the bonds of unhelpful, self-limiting thought patterns, and this will allow you to focus on the positive emotions that increase understanding in yourself and others. And that’s never a bad thing. So the next time someone tells you to stop and smell the roses, before you roll your eyes, take a mindful moment to be present, and then say thank you.
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Personality and Behavior: DISC Model
Wikipedia defines personality as the “characteristic set of behaviors, cognitions, and emotional patterns that evolve from biological and environmental factors.” I’m sure they probably go on to list those factors in the third through fifth paragraphs, so this short definition seems neat and tidy without really committing to much. But as we all know, when you’re dealing with humans, things aren’t ever simple. In reality, there’s no formal or universal definition, but that’s okay, because it gives psych nerds something to argue about. Because there’s no universally accepted meaning, all definitions are essentially theories, most of which center somewhere around an individual’s psychological motivations and resulting interactions with their environment. Alternatively, people can refer to it as character, temperament, or disposition, but in my opinion, no matter what you call it, the bottom line is that each person has a unique combination of characteristics or qualities that form a distinctive set, and these govern their perspectives, motivations, and behaviors.
Now, before I really get into this week’s topic, this is a good place for me to add a disclaimer: When addressing concepts like personalities and behaviors with a large group of people, I have to simplify and generalize, because these are nuanced subjects with far too many influential and individual factors than I could ever address in a blog. So if there are any psych police out there on patrol, please don’t write me a ticket for simplifications and generalizations.
Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll start with a question: have you ever noticed at times how different the judgement and behaviors of your family and friends can be from your own? My profession means that I literally spend the majority of my life examining what someone does, their behavior(s), and why they do it, their motivation(s). I’m sure you’ve been in many situations where you’ve asked yourself, “Why did he/ she dothat?” or “What were they thinking?” While sometimes it can be frustrating to have a difference of opinion with people, the truth is that life would be boring if we all thought and acted the same way.
So how do you understand and reconcile these differences? Believe it or not, the starting point of understanding people is actually pretty simple; accept just one fact: that while I’m sure you’re fabulous, everyone is not like you. In point of fact, everyone is not like everyone else, either. If you search for a definition of the word personality, you’ll invariably find the words “characteristic” and “unique” included, along with other synonyms. These are all evidence of, and pretty words to convey, one fact: that we’re all different. We all carry our life experiences and opinions with us, and we filter everything we see, hear, and experience through them, so they color our perceptions and motivations; and these in turn influence our behaviors. I believe the saying goes something like “different isn’t bad, it’s just different,” and I can roll with that. Each of us is unique; we think differently, and therefore behave differently. It’s really a good thing; far, far better than the alternative.
But behavior and personality can be easily misunderstood, and if that becomes chronic, these repeated misunderstandings tend to become areas of stress that affect a person’s happiness, which in turn affects motivation and productivity in every aspect of life. If you’ve ever been in a situation where you felt like you couldn’t “get along” with someone, on some fundamental level, you probably just don’t understand them. A lack of understanding and acceptance of differences can lead to tension, disappointment, and miscommunication. When issues like these go unresolved, they tend to build, and ultimately, can lead to resentment. Resentments can be notoriously difficult to untangle, so in the end, it’s far better to avoid the original problem if you can. Admittedly, that’s often easier said than done, especially if you don’t have a clue what on earth is going on inside the mind of another person. I’ll shed some light on that, so that hopefully by the end of this blog, you’ll have more insight on what that may be.
If the problem is associated with misunderstanding(s), then it only follows that the solution to that problem probably has a lot to do with understanding. When I say that, I’m not talking about holding hands and singing kumbaya with everybody… I’m saying that accepting that people have different opinions from yours, and then making reasonable attempts at understanding where they’re coming from, will serve you better than being obstinate and absolutely refusing to do so. That said, the success of nearly every solution is in its application, so how exactly do we better understand people? There is a relatively simple visual model that can serve as a key to understanding the basics on how people behave. It’s called The DISC Model of Human Behavior, aka DISC model. It can be applied to loosely categorize a person’s personality traits and extrapolate their motivating factors and behavioral styles. More on that later.
Before I get into the DISC model, time for another disclaimer: Because personality and behavior are such diverse and nuanced human attributes, and since the DISC model is a theoretical one, it isn’t used for diagnostic or clinical applications. In other words, when you come into my office and tell me your life story, I’m not running through it in my head looking to categorize you as one of four types. People are complex and DISC is by nature more simple and general; and rarely, if ever, does anyone fall perfectly into any one type. That said, I’m covering this model today in blog form because I think it’s an interesting and practical way for everyday non-clinical people to better understand themselves and others, and to apply that in an effort to communicate more effectively with people who have differing perspectives… which is basically everyone!
Why Personality Traits and Behavior Matter
Why should you care to learn about behavior and personality or the DISC model? Believe it or not, personality and people skills are important aspects of life: personal, social, and workplace. If you can’t work in cooperation with other people, it can be really tough to make it in this world. It can affect your ability to keep a job or advance your position, to make friends, and to keep peace with partners, family, and friends. We’re all familiar with IQ, our intelligence quotient, and we spend years in school developing and learning how to effectively use our minds. But developing your personality to effectively use behavior is also vital to successful living. Studies have shown that technical skill, beginning with intelligence and developed through education and experience, accounts for only 15% of success in the workplace; the other 85% has been shown to actually come from people skills. These skills are developed through learning better ways to behave, communicate, and interact with others. The DISC model is commonly applied as a tool to increase your ability to understand yourself and others, and communicate more effectively with everyone.
History of the DISC Model
Even if it sounds like one, this isn’t a new age, hippy-dippy-trippy idea. Au contraire. Let’s get in the waaay-back-machineand go to Greece, around about 300 B.C.-ish. Why? To see Hippocrates. Whenever I hear his name I can’t help but smile despite myself, because it always makes me think of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. When they met Hippocrates, they mispronounced his name like the murderous mammal + crates, pronounced like it rhymed with plates, and in their characteristic burner dude affectations. And now the memory of that movie quote is inextricably linked to his name in my mind.. I hear them say it every time. Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Hippocrates was a physician, but also a rebel! And thankfully so. At a time when most of his fellow Greeks were attributing sickness to The Fates, superstition, and the wrath of the gods, Hippocrates espoused the firm belief that all forms of illness had a natural cause. Which, believe me, is a far better alternative than worrying about appeasing The Fates, the witches, and the gods. At any rate, perhaps in pondering the natural basis of illness, or maybe ways to prove his theory to his colleagues, Hippocrates began to recognize that the behaviors of individuals seemed to follow distinct patterns, and he began to loosely categorize the differences in these behaviors.
While Hippocrates had the original notions on behavioral patterns, many psychologists and scientists continued to explore and expand on his theory. In 1928, Dr. William Marston wrote The Emotions of Normal People, in which he theorized that people are motivated by four intrinsic characteristics or factors that direct predictable behavioral patterns, and described these four factors as personality types. He then created a visual model that utilized a circle divided into quadrants to represent these four personality types. In his original work, he labelled them as D, I, S, C: Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance. And poof… the DISC model was born.
From what I’ve read, Marston was kind of a freaky guy, and the slightly(?) deviant undertones of his word choices “dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance” seem to confirm this. Even though he was a well respected psychologist by day, he was also a surprisingly successful comic book author by night, and is in fact credited for creating the comic book character “Wonder Woman.” She’s an Amazonian, a race of female warriors from an island where men were not allowed. This actually isn’t too much of a stretch, because Marston was also a champion of women’s rights. Despite this, he seemed to have had more than his fair share of female-centric scandal in his life. I found several references that said that he invented the first lie detector test, but also found some that credit someone else with this feat. Regardless, apparently he wasn’t exactly always on a first name basis with the truth, because he lied to the public about being a bigamist. Evidently, after he married his second wife (who was also a former student) and she moved in with him and his first wife, he told the public she was just a relative staying with them… and they fell for it. So during his bigamist marriage, they all lived together in a ménage à trois, and he actually fathered children with both women. But in spite of the scandal he caused with his colorful private life, Marston’s theories of human behavior are still widely accepted today.
What is DISC Used For?
The DISC model is applied as a personal assessment tool designed to ascertain a person’s personality traits and behavioral styles. It’s essentially a series of questions that evaluate human behavior in various situations. For example, it looks at how you respond to challenges, rules, and procedures, how you influence others, and what your preferred pace is.
While Marston’s theories and DISC model were generally well received, some organizations later modified it and created a negative tool used by organizations and employers to weed out undesirables. But in later years, to reflect a change in attitudes, it has since seen several iterations. Now all existing forms of it are used exclusively as positive tools of inclusion rather than being negative and judgemental. DISC assessments are used to foster understanding and respect, improve people skills, build better teams, increase productivity, reduce conflict, and relate and communicate with others more effectively; all of this is meant to translate to increased cooperation and the creation of better working relationships. In fact, the DISC model is widely accepted in the business community; so much so that many organizations and employers incorporate it into all associate training programs, but it is especially used in fields and positions related to sales, marketing, customer service, and management.
I was surprised to learn that DISC assessments have confirmed use in 70% of the Fortune 500 companies, including Exxon/Mobile, General Electric, Chevron, and Walmart. Pretty impressive, as these are strong companies with good management; and according to what I read, that’s where most of them focus their DISC utilization.
But you can also apply the model to your personal life, to learn more about yourself and grow as a person, increase people skills, illuminate your own motivations, and uncover your strengths and blind spots, some of which you may not even be aware of. As a bonus, you’ll then be better prepared to answer certain questions that may come up in life; for example, when a prospective employer asks “What would you say your strengths are?” or even better, when your spouse or partner looks at you exasperatedly and asks, “Why the *bleep* do you do that?” Wouldn’t it be nice to have a handy answer to that one?!
In the end, despite its generalizations, the model is sort of like “personalities for dummies”- not that I’m saying you’re dummies- I’m just saying it’s a simple and useful way for non-clinical people to better understand themselves and their own motivations, and apply that knowledge to relationships and everyday interactions, both in and out of the workplace.
DISC Terminology: Four Behavioral Patterns
Since Marston’s time, while the general concept surrounding the DISC model has remained the same, some of the terminology has changed several times. Some publishers and reference models use a lowercase i in DISC as a way of distinguishing between different models and for trademarking assessments and reports (read: as a way of making money). DISC with a capital I can’t be trademarked, so I’ve used that form for our purposes. The terms used to convey the DISC personality/ behavioral types have also changed for several reasons: to reflect a change in attitudes and more positivity, as a way of distinguishing between different models, and for trademarking purposes; so now there are a few different versions that vary slightly. Different companies and publishers determine and apply their various terms, and I’ve listed the most popular ones, in an order with the ones that I find most applicable first and Marston’s being last.
D: Dominant / Dominance
I: Inspiring / Interactive / Inducement
S: Supportive / Steadiness / Submission
C: Cautious/ Conscientious / Compliance
No matter what term is used, the basic traits and behavioral styles are essentially the same; I’ll cover those later.
I should note that now some publishers have apparently modified assessments to further extrapolate personality traits and behavioral styles; I’ve seen some that will describe up to twelve types, and even an article that referenced exactly 41 personality types. I didn’t fact-check or verify that, but just wanted to mention it as kind of an outlier.
This model is based on two fundamental observations about what drives people to behave the way they do, which are essentially their motivators. I want to emphasize something to keep in mind: as you look at fundamental behaviors, you’re looking at tendencies, not absolutes. Most people will tend to behave more one way than the other, but will behave both ways, to greater and lesser degrees, depending on the situation they find themselves in. Also, behaviors are fluid; they can and do change over time and vary by situation.
DISC: Two Fundamental Observations
(Internal) Motor and (External) Focus
-Some people are more outgoing, while others are more reserved. This is each person’s “pace,” or “internal motor.” It is sometimes simply referred to as the “motor” drive. Some people engage quickly and always seem ready to go, and these are considered outgoing types. Others engage more slowly or more cautiously, and these are considered reserved types.
-Some people are more task-oriented, while others are more people-oriented. This is each person’s “external focus” or “priority” that guides them; sometimes simply referred to as “focus.” Some people are more focused on getting things done, and these are considered task-oriented types. Others are more attuned to the people around them and their feelings, and these are considered to be people-oriented types.
Visualizing the DISC Model
As I mentioned, DISC is a visual model, and it utilizes a circle to represent the range of “normal” human behaviors. You can imagine it as a clock face.
To illustrate the application of the first fundamental observation, aka motor drive, imagine you divide a circle in half horizontally, as from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock on a clock face. The upper half then represents Outgoing (or fast-paced) people, while the lower half represents Reserved (or slower-paced) people.
To illustrate the application of the second fundamental observation, aka focus drive, imagine you divide a circle in half vertically, as from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock on a clock face. The left half then represents Task-Oriented people, while the right half represents those who are more People-Oriented.
When the two motor and focus circles are superimposed to combine them, you end up with four behavioral tendencies to help characterize people: Outgoing, Reserved, Task-Oriented, and People-Oriented. The balance of these four tendencies shapes the way each person sees life and those around them.
To illustrate the incorporation of the two drives (motor and focus) you can imagine one clock face with two divisions (horizontal and vertical) and therefore in four quadrants. Starting at 12 o’ clock and moving clockwise, you would then see Outgoing at 12 o’clock, People-Oriented at 3 o’clock, Reserved at 6 o’clock, and Task-Oriented at 9 o’clock.
By combining the two drives, you now have four total behavioral tendencies: from the upper left quadrant, moving clockwise, those tendencies are then:
Outgoing and Task-Oriented (upper left quadrant)
Outgoing and People-Oriented (upper right quadrant)
Reserved and People-Oriented (lower right quadrant)
Reserved and Task-Oriented (lower left quadrant).
Then to further define and describe these four behavioral tendencies, the DISC terms are added, one letter per quadrant: Dominant, Inspiring, Supportive, and Cautious.
Illustratively, these are added to each of the four corners of the diagram, again starting with the upper left quadrant and moving in a clockwise direction: Dominant in upper left quadrant, Inspiring in upper right quadrant, Supportive in lower right quadrant, and Cautious in lower left quadrant.
Once added, starting with the upper left quadrant and moving in a clockwise direction, each DISC term correlates with the four behavioral tendencies such that:
Dominant types are Outgoing and Task-Oriented (upper left quadrant)
Inspiring types are Outgoing and People-Oriented (upper right quadrant)
Supportive types are Reserved and People-Oriented (lower right quadrant)
Cautious types are Reserved and Task-Oriented (lower left quadrant).
What emerges is the full graphical description of the complete DISC model.
To make the quadrants easier to discuss, we typically call each quadrant a behavioral style or type, though some people use the phrase personality type. I’ll spare you the specifics as to why, but technically speaking, it’s not really accurate to use the word “personality” type or style with the DISC model, because it’s actually a behavioral model. While I tend to refer to it as a behavioral style, either term- personality or behavior- is generally acceptable for a colloquial discussion or a blog.
DISCussion: Four Primary Behavioral Styles
While DISC refers to placement within four primary behavioral styles, always keep in mind that each individual person can, and usually will, display some of all four behavioral styles depending on the situation. The resultant blending of behavioral tendencies is often called a style blend, and each individual’s style blend will have more of some traits and less of others.
The Dominant “D” Style
An outgoing, task-oriented individual will be focused on getting things done, solving problems, making things happen, and getting to the bottom line, usually as quickly as possible. They can sometimes be blunt, outspoken, and somewhat demanding. The key insights in understanding and developing a relationship with this type of person are respect and results.
The Inspiring “I” Style
An outgoing, people-oriented individual is generally enthusiastic, optimistic, open, and trusting. They thrive on interaction and love to socialize and have fun. This person places emphasis on persuading others and is usually focused more on what others may think of them. The key insights in understanding and developing a relationship with this type of person are admiration and recognition.
The Supportive “S” Style
A reserved, people-oriented individual will place an emphasis on cooperation, sincerity, loyalty, and dependability. They enjoy working together as a team and thrive on helping or supporting others. They usually focus on creating and/ or preserving relationships and on maintaining peace and harmony. The key insights in understanding and developing a relationship with this type of person are friendliness and sincere appreciation.
The Cautious “C” Style
A reserved, task-oriented individual enjoys independence, and often fears being wrong. They will seek value, consistency, and quality information, and will usually focus on details, facts, rules, accuracy, and being correct. The key insights in understanding and developing a relationship with this type of person are trust and integrity.
I should also note that some organizations use a shortcut in discussing the different behavioral types, where the dominant type is also known as High D, the inspiring type is also known as High I, the supportive type is also known as High S, and the cautious type is also known as High C.
Behavioral Styles: Elevator Test
As you’ll see, this is a pun meant to give you an idea of your own behavioral style and to help you identify others. Captain Obvious says it’s not meant to be scientifically or clinically valid, people, it’s just to illustrate the four behavioral styles in a relatable, “everyday situation” kind of way.
The doors are about to close on a person who is eager to get on an elevator, which already has four people inside. One of the four people already inside glances at their watch, because they’re in a hurry and would prefer not to wait. But also inside is the bubbly, smiling, energetic second passenger who actually holds the door open while encouraging the newcomer to climb aboard. The third rider doesn’t mind if the new person gets on, and they simply step back to make room while patiently waiting for them to do so. The fourth passenger barely looks at the new guy, as they’re busily calculating the sum of everyone’s weight in their head while also looking around to estimate the age of the elevator.
Did you see yourself in this scenario? Did you recognize the behavioral styles of the other elevator passengers? Read on to find out if you’ve got it.
This scenario demonstrates behavior of the Dominant (outgoing / task-oriented) person who wouldn’t really mind if the elevator door closes before the new guy can get on, because they’re just focused on getting where they need to be as quickly as possible. But that possibility is dashed by the Inspiring (outgoing / people-oriented) person who feels energized by the addition of yet another positive interaction to their day. The Supportive (reserved / people-oriented) person just calmly steps back to make room for the new guy because they empathize with him and are willing to be accommodating. All of this while the Cautious (reserved / task-oriented) person almost can’t help but make sure the added person doesn’t exceed the weight limit of the old elevator and potentially cause them all to get stuck… or worse.
Notice that there were four different people who responded to the same exact event in very different ways? People are motivated differently, and therefore think differently, so they behave differently.
Every individual person has a unique combination of characteristics and qualities that form a distinctive set, and these govern their perspectives, motivations, and behaviors.
The DISC model developed by Marston is used as the basis for varying assessments of personality traits and behavioral styles.
While it is simplified and generalized, it can be an effective and empowering tool to examine motivating factors, to uncover and address blind spots, and to identify, highlight, and articulate strengths.
It can be used by people to better understand themselves and others, and to apply that understanding in an effort to improve people skills and to communicate more effectively with people who have differing perspectives.
It is commonly used in the professional arena, especially in Fortune 500 companies. Employers often use it for determining placement of new employees, to build better teams, increase productivity and communication, reduce and resolve conflict, and foster acceptance and understanding.
Each person has a unique blend of all of the major personality traits and behavioral styles to a greater or lesser extent.
Behavioral patterns are fluid and dynamic, and can change over time or as a person adapts to his or her environment.
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The Skinny on Psychostimulants, Part 3: Modafinil
Over the past two weeks, we’ve been discussing the psychostimulants amphetamines and methylphenidate, which stimulate the central nervous system by increasing synaptic concentrations of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine to varying degrees, and are used in pharmaceutical preparations primarily for treating ADHD, narcolepsy, obesity, and binge eating disorders. They are also used off label to treat cognitive dysfunction and depression in cancer patients and as part of a regimen in chronic pain patients, as well as being used recreationally to get high, study, take tests, improve focus, and/ or stay awake for extended periods of time. In this last installment on psychostimulants today, I’ll discuss a popular drug called modafinil.
While modafinil isn’t technically a psychostimulant, it acts “stimulant-ish,” and ultimately elicits similar effects as its stimulant brethren. It actually belongs to a class of drugs called eugeroics, which are wakefulness-promoting agents, and is also considered a nootropic. Nootropics are “smart drugs,” substances that can enhance brain performance or focus. Strictly speaking, the term nootropic is generally reserved for prescription and over the counter (OTC) pharmaceuticals and supplements that are not taken therapeutically to treat a particular illness, but rather to enhance cognitive function in healthy individuals beyond what is usually considered “normal” in humans. Nootropics or smart drugs can alternatively be referred to as performance enhancers or pharmacological cognitive enhancers (PCE’s). To cover all the bases and avoid ticking off the biohackers, I suppose you could call modafinil a nootropic eugeroic. Whatever!
Originally synthesized in France in the 1970’s, modafinil was approved by the FDA in 1998 and is used primarily to treat sleep disorders, including narcolepsy, shift-work sleep disorder, and residual/ excessive sleepiness in obstructive sleep apnea despite continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).
It is used recreationally to increase focus and learning, for cognitive and physical performance enhancement, and to stay awake for extended periods of time. Modafinil is taken by mouth, usually once a day. Most people who work during the day take it in the morning on either a full or empty stomach, but shift workers who take it to promote wakefulness do so before their shifts begin. Modafinil is marketed under the trade name Provigil, while its R-enantiomer armodafinil is marketed under the name Nuvigil. If you recall, enantiomers are mirror image molecules, like left and right hands, that generally induce similar pharmacological effects. Indeed, the two are used to treat the same disorders, but armodafinil is a newer compound and has a slightly different side effect profile than its older sibling modafinil. More on that in a moment.
Both forms are Schedule IV drugs, which defines them as having a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence. Some other examples of Schedule IV drugs are benzodiazepines like diazepam and alprazolam. That said, while I concur that (ar)modafinil has a low risk of abuse and dependence, I beg to differ on the risk of abuse and dependence being comparable to benzos. In my experience, benzos are far more commonly abused, and the incidence of dependence on benzos far exceeds that of modafinil. However, while studies have not shown any significant withdrawal effects from discontinuation of modafinil, any drug that provides stimulant effects to the brain can enforce drug taking to some extent, and thus carry the potential for dependency, which could lead to withdrawal symptoms upon cessation. Anecdotally, people have reported reduced energy, lack of motivation, and depression following discontinuation of modafinil; therefore, modafinil should always be tapered when discontinued if it has been used for a long period of time.
I’ve found that modafinil carries a very low risk of side effects, and a very mild profile when present, one that may be comparable to having an extra cup of coffee. The most common side effects are potentially occasional minor headaches, possibly some jitters, and sometimes trouble sleeping, which is usually related to the time of dosing being too late. But the official list of side effects also includes: dizziness, upper respiratory tract infection, nausea, diarrhea, nervousness, anxiety, agitation, and dry mouth. For armodafinil, you can add upset stomach to the list and take away upper respiratory tract infection. Something you have to be aware of when taking modafinil are the synergistic effects of other stimulants. If you consume coffee, energy drinks, or anything with caffeine, you’re likely to have much stronger stimulating effects, and these may include jitters or anxiety. It is wise to avoid anything else meant to make you or keep you awake when taking modafinil, at least until you are aware of its effects on your system, and even then you should still use great caution. As with any medication, if you take other prescription or OTC medications, be sure to disclose them with your prescribing physician to discuss potential interactions. Modafinil has a half-life of 12 hours, meaning that after 12 hours, the effects will start to wear off, but half of the drug will still remain in your system.
Modafinil’s off label and “lifestyle” use in healthy individuals to stay awake for extended periods of time and increase cognitive alertness and physical performance is well documented and likely exceeds its therapeutic utility as far as numbers go. In some professional groups such as pilots, academics, and scientists, modafinil use is reported in the ballpark of 20 to 30 percent; but I’d like to note that that is the reported use, not actual use, which I think is significantly higher, given how available it is on the internet. Modafinil’s popularity among college students, athletes, and the Silicon Valley techie set isn’t exactly a state secret, but its use among the military literally was until confirmed relatively recently. The US Armed Forces tested modafinil in improving performance despite sleep deprivation and in combating pilot fatigue; in fact, at one point, we led the world in military research on modafinil. I happened to catch part of a television show over the holidays that mentioned modafinil studies in Air Force fighter pilots. The show stated that it induced vigilance (aka kept them awake) for 40 hours, which, the show mentioned, is apparently a desired effect during times that necessitate flying to Iraq quickly. Now, I’ve never flown to Iraq, much less in a fighter jet, but I can’t imagine that it takes 40 hours to get there… but you get the point. If you were exhausted, but needed to get to Iraq all quick like, modafinil may be the compound of choice.
Of course, I had to look into these studies. Captain Obvious says that Uncle Sam has been “officially” dosing our Armed Forces for years, so modafinil is just another in a long line of compounds. I’ve had many patients that were/ are members of the US military, and I’ve been told of the sanctioned use of various drug combinations in all branches of it: hypnotics to induce them to sleep before a mission, followed by stimulants (in the form of dextroamphetamine) “go pills” to switch them back on just before, at “go time.” As far as modafinil is concerned, the experiments relating to sleep deprivation seem pretty ambitious, testing for 40, 60, or even 90 hours without sleep. In some journal articles, scientists speculated that with modafinil, troops might function for weeks(!) on as little as four hours of sleep a night.
Back to fighter pilots: in the study I looked at, Air Force scientists looked at the effects of being awake for 37 hours on pilot alertness and flight performance; this was evaluated through simulator tests repeated every five hours to track the pilots’ level of fatigue. The same experiment was conducted with and without modafinil, and also in a rested state without modafinil for comparison. What did they find? While on modafinil, the pilots’ performance significantly improved, especially at time points after 25 hours without sleep, and the pilots sustained brain activity at almost normal levels despite their sleep deprivation. Further, while under the influence of modafinil, flight performance degraded by 15 to 30 percent. Now that doesn’t sound great, until you consider that performance by pilots without modafinil (and without sleep) degraded by 60 to 100 percent (hell-ooo!!) as compared to rested levels. All of the findings led researchers to conclude that modafinil “significantly” reduced the effects and impacts of fatigue during flight maneuvers, even though sleep deprived pilots on modafinil were unable to maintain the same performance as they exhibited during a rested state off of modafinil. I’ll say… Degraded by 60 to 100 percent?! Bottom line: clearly, if a pilot can’t get sleep, they should get modafinil. Ultimately, they stated that until more research is done, a 100 mg dose of modafinil is viewed as an option to, but not a replacement for, a 10 mg dose of dextroamphetamine.
All of that said, most of us are not fighter pilots, much less operating a complicated machine at mach speed and 50,000 feet, under stress, and sleep deprived… and thankfully so. Most of the people that ask me about modafinil are everyday people looking to focus better at work, get excellent scores on SAT’s to get into a great school, win a medal or a pro poker tournament (pro poker players love modafinil) or maybe beat out somebody at work for a promotion. In my experience, for all of those things and more, modafinil is a safe and effective tool, and lots of folks want it in their tool box. It’s been around long enough to have some significant studies done; all findings echo my experience, and one another: it works well and nobody’s dropping dead at their desks.
The University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School conducted a formal review of all research papers on cognitive enhancement with modafinil in non-sleep-deprived individuals, dated from January 1990 to December 2014. They found and evaluated 24 studies, which included more than 700 participants total, dealing with different benefits associated with taking modafinil, including planning and decision making, flexibility, creativity, and learning and memory. They also surveyed overall performance enhancing capabilities and side effect reporting. Findings were as follows:
Modafinil made no apparent difference to working memory or flexibility of thought, but did improve executive function, the ability to sift through new information and make plans based on it.
As to side effects: (70 percent the of 24 studies looked at the effects of modafinil on mood and the side effects of modafinil) In those where side effects were studied, there were very few side effects overall, although a very small number reported insomnia, headache, stomach ache, or nausea, but these were also reported in the placebo group, meaning those who were unwittingly given a “sugar pill” with no biological action.
As to overall performance enhancing capacity of modafinil: this was found to vary according to the task; the longer and more complex the task tested, the more consistently modafinil conferred cognitive benefits.
Modafinil clearly and reliably enhanced cognition, especially in higher brain functions that rely on contribution from multiple simple cognitive processes.
Some snippets of findings from other studies:
“It has been shown to increase resistance to fatigue and improve mood.”
In healthy adults, modafinil improves “fatigue levels, motivation, reaction time and vigilance.”
Modafinil is effective at reducing “impulse response,” meaning it reduced the incidence of poor decision making.
Modafinil “…improved brain function in sleep deprived doctors.”
Modafinil “enhanced the ability to pay attention, learn, and remember.”
There is some evidence that modafinil only helps people with lower IQ, but I read validated accounts of years of use associated with validated corresponding increases in IQ, though this could theoretically be due to other unrelated factors.
How Does Modafinil Work?
Scientists haven’t gotten it all figured out quite yet, but like the psychostimulants we’ve already discussed, modafinil increases the production of norepinephrine and dopamine in the CNS, the neurotransmitters linked to emotional well being, motivation, memory, and focus. At the same time, modafinil may also reduce the production of neurotransmitters that are known for blocking communication between neurons. It also increases the production of histamine, which increases the oxygen concentrations travelling to the brain, making you more awake, or so it’s theorized. Just as the anti-histamine Benadryl dampens histamine and puts some people to sleep, modafinil boosts histamine levels, which has a tendency to wake you up and increase alertness. If you’ve ever had an acute allergy, especially an anaphylactic reaction, and experienced the typical increase in heart rate and blood pressure associated with it (which is also associated with wakefulness and alertness) then you’ve felt the acute effects of excess histamine production. Obviously, modafinil doesn’t cause this level of histamine release, that’s just an explanation of how the release of histamines from taking modafinil are thought to cause a feeling of wakefulness or alertness: from the increase in heart rate and blood pressure associated with their release. Though scientists aren’t exactly sure how it works, they have elucidated that modafinil also enhances several other CNS neurotransmitters, including serotonin, glutamate, and GABA.
The Ethics of Modafinil Use
Pharmacological cognitive enhancers (PCE’s) like modafinil may be used to treat cognitive impairments in patients, but they are more commonly used by healthy individuals in an effort to improve focus, stay awake and alert for extended periods of time, and boost mental and physical performance. This lifestyle use of modafinil by healthy people is increasing, and in fact, it appears that it far exceeds the therapeutic use of modafinil for cognitive impairment and sleep abnormalities. As it enhances cognition and has effects on attention, learning, memory, planning, and problem solving, this lifestyle use raises a number of ethical issues.
In societies and populations that foster or encourage academic and professional competition, access to knowledge about how to gain a competitive edge and how to perform better in the workplace is a valuable commodity, but not one that tends to be equally distributed across all social groups. As modafinil rises in popularity, will we soon be locked in a productivity arms race, pounding out after-hours spreadsheets with one hand while Googling “latest nootropic advancements” with the other? Some sports organizations already ban the use of prescription psychostimulant drugs- including methylphenidate- without an official ADHD diagnosis, for the same reasons they ban steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. Will employer drug screens soon test for off label modafinil use in an effort to avoid its presence in the workplace? Or will the opposite be the case; will CEOs welcome super sharp workers who never need sleep? Think about the Bezos’ and the Musk’s of the world… will they be adding modafinil to the water coolers?
Considering modafinil’s popularity, you can be sure that more cognitive enhancing drugs are right around the corner. Will everyone be able to compete? What if you can’t get access to a cognitive enhancer, can’t afford it, or can’t take it due to negative interactions or side effects… are you destined to be stuck in a dead end job or hit an impenetrable corporate ceiling while you watch your friends and co-workers climb the corporate ladder? How about your kids? If you think things are competitive now… just wait ten years. Will they be able to get into a good pre-school without putting modafinil or some other enhancer in their kool-aid, or juice, or whatever you’ll put in their sippy cups? Seriously, will they be able to compete… to get into a good school without cognitive enhancement? In a cognitively enhanced society, what happens to the benefits and self-satisfaction of earning something by the sweat of the brow… especially when that’s just. not. good. enough? Could this lead to a devaluation of hard work and generate less engagement with the world? And if so, what happens to a society where few people see the value of civic work or doing something for the greater good rather than getting ahead? These won’t be hypothetical questions for very long. How about things less under our direct control? Will the FDA save us by prioritizing drugs that preserve lives, or will they bow to pressures from big pharma to prioritize drugs that will undoubtedly be more popular among healthy individuals, have a far larger market, and make more money?
Hey people… these are things to think about. Don’t shoot the messenger.
In situations where there is a deficit in performance due to sleep deprivation or fatigue, a medical diagnosis, or learning disorder, there’s no doubt that modafinil can even the playing field. But what about in “normal” healthy individuals? Proponents of modafinil use in healthy individuals argue that it reduces fatigue-related and work-related accidents and improves learning outcomes; in other words, it’s a good thing, so use it. But when it comes to “enhancement” or “optimization” of performance, do the ends always justify the means? To use a sports analogy, does enhancement corrupt the “rules of the game”? If so, does it make the game pointless? Or is enhancement or optimization a slippery slope that leads to the desire to “perfect” human beings? The increase in medical options available to affect human characteristics and abilities over recent decades certainly offers more options to do so, but the desire to want to do so is hardly novel. The difference is that now we’re getting much closer to being able to actually do it. The door is open, and people are walking through it. Some people are running through it. But can we ever turn around to get back to where we were if/ when we find we don’t like what’s on the other side? What happens when average abilities become less the norm, and more of a negative exception… would average people feel fundamentally inadequate?
The ethical implications of the use of modafinil in particular, and smart drugs in general, has become one of the biggest issues in neuroethics and bioethics; it’s got ethics nerds everywhere red faced and arguing, and it’s certainly a favorite topic in the popular media as well, with tons of hype. What about the ethics of biohacking, using any and all, drug and non-drug technologies to improve cognition; ie training and nutrition to boost brainpower, and/ or the application of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), deep brain stimulation (DBS), or brain-computer interfaces (BCI)? There are plenty of biohackers out there- do they have an unfair competitive advantage, or is it mostly acceptable, because a lot of it requires at least more effort and dedication than just swallowing a pill? If most people biohack themselves in order to become cognitively superior, when is superior… superior enough? There could be serious ramifications concerning attitudes towards conventional human abilities in the long term.
I certainly don’t suppose that I have the answers to these questions, but I know that I’m not the only one asking them. The last question I’ll pose that is still unanswered is: when will we be forced to confront all of the above questions… and then some? Because that day is coming. Of that, I have no doubt.
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The Skinny on Psychostimulants, Part 2: Methylphenidate Stimulants
Last week I introduced a class of drugs called psychostimulants, or central nervous system (CNS) stimulants. As the name states, psychostimulants are “uppers” that stimulate the central nervous system when consumed in varying ways. This class includes the illicit drugs cocaine, ecstasy, and crystal meth, nicotine found in tobacco, and the most commonly consumed drug in the world, caffeine, which is a highly addictive compound that occurs naturally in more than 60 plant species, including the various beans brewed to make the most widely consumed beverage in the world, coffee. Other recognizable sources of caffeine include cocoa beans, tea leaves, and kola nuts. Caffeine is also chemically synthesized for handy inclusion in energy drinks, sodas, and various medications. This class also includes two types of stimulant medications, amphetamines and methylphenidate, which can be found as the bases in a myriad of pharmaceutical products.
In last week’s blog I introduced amphetamines; this week I’ll discuss methylphenidate stimulants. Like amphetamines, methylphenidate stimulants are tightly controlled Schedule II central nervous system (CNS) stimulants that work by stimulating the chemical messengers dopamine and norepinephrine, the neurotransmitters associated with control, attention, fight or flight response, and the pleasure/ reward system in the brain.
While these two types of drugs induce similar effects when taken, the way that they induce those responses, their mechanisms of action, are actually different. Both work to increase levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the synapses between neurons, which helps messages move from one neuron to the next. Recall from last week that amphetamines have three mechanisms for increasing these levels: 1) they reverse the direction of the transporter pumps that would normally divert dopamine and norepinephrine away from the synaptic cleft, 2) they disrupt cellular vesicles, thereby preventing the storage of excess dopamine and norepinephrine, which frees them up for use in the cleft, and 3) they also promote the release of dopamine and norepinephrine at nerve cell terminals, making them more readily available in the synaptic cleft. Amphetamines’ three mechanisms combined ensure that there are very high concentrations of dopamine and norepinephrine in the synapses of the central nervous system and result in the very strong psychostimulant effects that amphetamines produce.
In contrast, methylphenidate affects the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the synaptic cleft through a single mechanism: by shutting down the transporter pumps that would usually take up excess neurotransmitters. It does not reverse these pumps to cause a flood of neurotransmitters to be released, and does not work to increase neurotransmitter levels through any other actions the way that amphetamines do. As a result, amphetamines are slightly more stimulating than methylphenidate-based stimulants. For this reason, I typically use methylphenidate-based stimulants for children and adolescents and generally reserve amphetamines for use in adults.
Both amphetamines and methylphenidate are used to treat and control symptoms of narcolepsy, obesity, binge eating disorders, and most commonly, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Off-label indications, meaning potential uses that are not strictly approved by the FDA, include using either to treat major depressive disorder and in cancer patients to treat weakness, fatigue, and depression. There are also some relatively recent studies that indicate success in using psychostimulants off-label to decrease pain levels as part of a regimen in treating chronic pain patients.
All stimulants can be prone to misuse, and may be used recreationally in certain populations via oral route, smoking, injecting, or snorting, to get high and/ or to stay awake for long periods of time. And their ability to improve concentration means some people use them to boost cognitive ability, to improve focus, and to study for and/ or take exams. This is a relatively common practice among some college students.
The two types of medications are available as short-acting medications and in longer acting preparations. Both are essentially equally effective, and have the same benefits, risk(s), and side effect profiles, only varying mainly in their severity, with the profiles associated with amphetamines sometimes being slightly stronger than with methylphenidate. And while I’ve found that most patients respond equally well to either medication, adults to amphetamines and children to methylphenidate, some may respond better to one versus the other. But that’s certainly not a unique feature; that’s always the case with medications, as different bodies respond differently to varying formulations.
Methylphenidate is most commonly used for treating ADHD, and is FDA approved first line therapy for ADHD patients age 6 and up. While it may seem counterintuitive to treat hyperactivity with a stimulant, this class of drugs have been shown to be the most effective treatment for reducing the symptoms of ADHD. This is because CNS neurotransmitter concentrations are lower in the ADHD brain, sometimes markedly so, and the addition of a stimulant raises the neurotransmitter levels to equal those comparable to the “normal” levels found in the non-ADHD brain.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in childhood, and is associated with impaired functioning and negative developmental outcomes. Children with ADHD find it unusually difficult to concentrate on tasks, to pay attention, to sit still, and to control impulsive behavior. They generally have more difficulty focusing, controlling actions, and remaining still or quiet, as compared to classmates or other people the same age. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends behavior therapy and medication for children 6 years of age and older, preferably both together. The end result in up to 90 percent of cases is that methylphenidate-based stimulant medication helps children with ADHD become more focused, improve their approach to schoolwork, get better organized, think before acting, get along better with others, conform better to societal norms, and break fewer rules. They do better socially, academically, and in terms of self esteem. As a result, they, and their other family members, are happier. In my experience, as the chaos in the patient’s mind is decreased, the chaos that usually follows and surrounds them is also decreased, and that makes for better harmony in the home as well. To put the success of methylphenidate in treating ADHD into perspective, there is no other medication for a psychiatric condition that has such a high response rate.
In contrast, children with untreated ADHD don’t do as well comparatively speaking. Generally, if the symptoms of ADHD are negatively impacting any area of their life, they are impacting every area of their life, because ADHD is not just an academic problem, it’s a neurobehavioral problem that permeates every aspect of life and affects them academically, emotionally, and socially. Studies have shown that unchecked ADHD symptoms hinder childhood progress, causing a tendency to suffer in school and in social relationships. This negatively affects self-esteem, which causes feelings of anxiety and depression, not only at the time, but as lifelong consequences. The long term implications of low self esteem are well documented and extensive, and nearly always include fairly pervasive anxiety and depression. Low self esteem and all of its many consequences is common in adults with undiagnosed childhood ADHD, as well as from other sources, and it’s a common source of issues that I treat on a daily basis.
So the lesson is that when weighing risks of treating ADHD with methylphenidate stimulants, recognize that making the decision not to medicate a child with notable ADHD symptoms has its own risks that must be considered. When you take into account that childhood is meant to be a building block and a time to learn, not just math and grammar, but how to make friends and function in the world, what the decision encompasses is a whole person and a whole life, and all that entails. As a psychiatrist, my opinion might be biased, but I might never understand why the decision to treat disorders affecting mental health are made so differently from ones that affect physical health, as if good mental health isn’t as important, or as necessary, as good physical health. I wonder, if a child had diabetes that was negatively impacting their life, would you suggest that child be treated for it, or would you withhold medication from them? Why is mental health treated so differently?
While it has been used safely and effectively for decades, there’s still a great deal of angst and controversy surrounding using stimulants in children with ADHD, one that begs further discussion. I’ll start with some fast facts on ADHD.
ADHD: By the Numbers
Incidence and prevalence statistics always vary according to sources and sampling methods, but the following are the 2020 numbers quoted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The number of children ever diagnosed with ADHD is 6.1 million, or 9.4 percent.
388,000 (2.4 percent) young children, aged 2 to 5
2.4 million (9.6 percent) of school-age children, aged 6 to 11
3.3 million (13.6 percent) of adolescents, aged 12 to 17
Symptoms of ADHD typically first appear between the ages of 3 and 6.
The average age of ADHD diagnosis is 7 years old.
Males are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than females (12.9% compared to 5.6%).
Despite that fact, the incidence of ADHD diagnosis in girls has increased in recent years. Historically, diagnosis and incidence reporting had been low in girls, but new research indicates how ADHD symptoms manifest differently in boys and girls, leading to better recognition in girls.
ADHD isn’t just a childhood disorder. About 60 percent of children with ADHD in the United States become adults with ADHD, which is about 4 percent of the adult population.
ADHD severity is generally based on the age at diagnosis:
Mild: Average age of diagnosis is 8
Moderate: Average age of diagnosis is 7
Severe: Average age of diagnosis is 5
Roughly two-thirds of children with ADHD diagnosis have/ have had/ will have at least one other mental, emotional, or learning disorder: most common are depression and/ or anxiety and other behavioral or conduct disorders, but other conditions such as autism spectrum disorder and Tourette syndrome/ tic disorder may also affect children with ADHD.
ADHD On the Rise
Cases and diagnoses of ADHD have been increasing dramatically in the past few years. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) says that roughly 8.4 percent of American children have ADHD, which differs significantly from the statistic quoted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers vary depending on sampling methods and reference, but they all do indicate one thing: that ADHD diagnoses are on the rise.
To account for the differences in statistics, there may be an implication that ADHD is being commonly mis-diagnosed, that children are being diagnosed with ADHD when they don’t actually have it. In reality, while ADHD isn’t a fast, easy diagnosis to make, there are strict and clear cut guidelines for diagnosis that make mis-diagnosis fairly rare. There must be a comprehensive evaluation using multiple collaborative sources (including interviews with the child, the parent(s), and typically the teacher), established symptom rating scales, observation by a physician, and cognitive and/ or academic assessments. A valid diagnostic appraisal takes time, so while mis-diagnosis certainly occurs in a very small percentage, it is certainly not responsible for the rise in numbers.
What is responsible? The answer is multi-faceted, and includes: the increase in research and development in making the diagnosis, the decrease in the stigma associated with seeking help and/ or being evaluated for and/ or potentially having the diagnosis, and the increase in public awareness of ADHD. Many of today’s ADHD patients would have been yesterday’s “problem children.” In other words, we simply know better now, so we do better. Physicians are better trained in how ADHD manifests itself, especially in girls, since it’s stereotypically been a “boy disorder,” and everyone involved, including physicians, parents, and teachers, are more alert and pay closer attention to the disruption that behavioral issues cause in the classroom to everyone, not just the student with ADHD.
The question then may be asked if more kids are actually experiencing ADHD today than they were before, and if so, why? We now know that ADHD is caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors, and current best estimates indicate that about 70 to 80 percent of the risk for ADHD is genetic. But it’s not very clear cut or simple, where you either have an “ADHD gene” or you don’t, and there’s no single marker to look for or confirm a diagnosis. Instead, each gene involved in the condition contributes a certain amount of risk for developing it. The genetic component is complicated, but we really know even less about the environmental component, which makes up the other 20 to 30 percent of the risk of developing ADHD. The environmental risk factors we are fairly sure of- the ones we have the strongest and clearest evidence for- appear to be preterm birth and low birth weight. We also know that it is likely that if in fact we are seeing a true rise in ADHD cases over the last 20 years or so, as we believe we are, environmental factors must play an important role in it, simply because genetics don’t change that quickly. Some studies have suggested that exposure to toxins (ie lead exposure, smoking during pregnancy) may play a role, and that traumatic brain injuries may also play a role in increasing risk of developing ADHD. In the end, the rise in the number of cases is most likely to be a combination or interaction of all of the above factors, and that some environmental factors interact with certain genetics to increase a child’s risk of developing ADHD. What else do we know about increasing numbers of ADHD cases? That we always need and want to know more.
There are several methylphenidate product formulations, including oral tablets and capsules in immediate release/ short-acting, extended release/ long acting, chewables, liquid, and patches to be applied to the skin. There’s even a formulation called Jornay PM, which is taken at night, but only becomes active in the morning. All are derived from essentially the same basic methylphenidate compound. Immediate release or short-acting formulations typically begin to work about 30-45 minutes after ingestion and last about 3-4 hours, while extended release generally last about 6-8 hours, though there are of course exceptions that may release even more slowly and last longer.
Ritalin is a short-acting formulation of methylphenidate that lasts about 3-4 hours. Focalin is another form of methylphenidate that also lasts about 4 hours. Both of these medications begin to work about 30-45 minutes after taking them. For children who have trouble swallowing pills, this medication can be crushed and mixed with foods. There is also a liquid and a chewable tablet form of the short-acting methylphenidate.
Other preparations of methylphenidate have been created to release the medication over a greater period of time, extending the duration of the effect of the medication. This is of great benefit when trying to provide a response that lasts through a school day, typically 6-8 hours. Some of these compounds take effect as quickly as the short-acting forms of these medications.
Concerta is one of the longest-acting methylphenidate medications on the market, lasting 8-12 hours. Concerta can’t be chewed or opened. It has to be swallowed whole in order for it to work the way it was designed. This can be a problem for some kids.
Ritalin-LA and Metadate CD are capsules that are filled with medication. These medications are very similar in that they both last about 6-8 hours. These are better for kids who can’t swallow pills, because you can open up the capsule and sprinkle it on foods like yogurt, applesauce, peanut butter, etc.
Aptensio XR and Focalin XR are also capsules filled with medication that can be opened and mixed with food. They typically work longer than Ritalin LA or Metadate CD.
Quillivant XR is a long-acting formulation of methylphenidate in liquid form, which makes it a good alternative for kids who have trouble swallowing capsules and can’t tolerate beads on food items either.
Quillichew ER is a chewable long–acting formulation of methylphenidate that can last up to 8 hours.
Daytrana is a methylphenidate patch. It’s another good option for kids who can’t swallow pills. You can wear the patch for up to 9 hours, and often get another hour’s worth of response after the patch is removed. But if using the patch, understand that it can often take 1-2 hours from application to the skin to start working.
Potential Benefits of Methylphenidate
In truth, the benefits of treating ADHD with stimulants are too vast to really list when you consider long term implications, but for our purposes, I’m only dealing with direct observed benefits when treating ADHD with methylphenidate stimulants here.
Methylphenidate based medications have been proven to reduce the disruptive and troublesome symptoms of ADHD, making kids less hyperactive, less impulsive, more focused, and less distractible, with few side effects, if any, when the medications work properly. However, it’s important to note that these medications cannot treat or correct learned behaviors or other types of learning disorders.
The Benefits of Methylphenidate on ADHD Brains: What Science Says
Much of the controversy that surrounds treating childhood ADHD with methylphenidate stimulants has to do with concerns about long term implications, mainly regarding brain development. Recent research on the neurobiological and anatomical underpinnings of ADHD has shed some light on this subject.
Several years ago, neuroimaging work confirmed that there are neuroanatomic, or structural differences, in the brains of people with ADHD versus those without ADHD, especially in the frontal cortex, which is involved with attention, organization, abstract thinking, and keeping track of things. It was also confirmed that total brain volume, made up of gray and white matter, also differs.
Regarding anatomical brain differences, specifically, children with ADHD had overall smaller brain volumes, by about 3 percent, than children without ADHD, though it is important to note that intelligence is not linked to or affected by brain size. In addition, five of the regional areas in the deep brain that pertain to regulating emotion, motivation, and emotional problems- the caudate nucleus, putamen, nucleus accumbens, amygdala, and hippocampus- were smaller in people with ADHD; and some showed structural deformations as well. The brains of children with ADHD showed decreased cortical thickness in the prefrontal cortex, and less white and gray matter.
White matter affects learning and brain functions, and acts as a relay to coordinate communication between different brain regions. White matter consists of axons, or nerve fibers, which have a myelin sheath whose color gives the area its name. Think of these myelinated nerve fibers of the white matter as the wiring of the brain- where information is carried from one point to the next- and these are insulated, so that the information is conserved, ie doesn’t “leak out” as it’s carried. Grey matter is the more outward layer of the brain that serves to process information in the brain and directs sensory stimuli to nerve cells in the central nervous system where the synapses induce the response to that stimuli. The grey matter has more connections than white matter, but isn’t as insulated as myelinated white matter; so this area relates more to memories and facts which are used every day to help a person function optimally.
In fact, further studies have shown that the structural differences in ADHD brains tended to be most observed in the brains of children with ADHD and not as much in ADHD adult brains. This is likely an indication that childhood is an important time to treat ADHD, which seems to be confirmed by further research. All in all, the findings led researchers to state that ADHD is a function of atypical brain structure and atypical chemical development. A few years ago, a research group took these findings a step further. Given the success of methylphenidate in treating the symptoms of ADHD, which is basically correcting the atypical chemical differences in neurotransmitter levels, they looked at the effects of methylphenidate on brain structure.
The study found that childhood psychostimulant medication (methylphenidate) led to volume normalizations in several areas where volume levels were known to be reduced in the ADHD brain. Normalization means that where they were previously reduced prior to treatment with methylphenidate psychostimulant medication, they were increased to the point of reaching levels found in “normal” non-ADHD brains after being treated with the psychostimulant methylphenidate.
These studies found that specifically, overall white matter volume and grey matter volume normalized, or “resolved” after childhood treatment with psychostimulant, as did anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) volume, which is implicated in several complex cognitive functions, such as empathy, impulse control, emotion, and decision-making. When they looked at the largest part of the brain, the cerebral cortex, which is the ultimate control and information processing center, responsible for higher-order brain functions of sensation, perception, memory, association, thought, and voluntary physical action, they found that the ADHD-related thinning that had been present, was moderated by childhood psychostimulant treatment. The ADHD-related size reduction of the deep brain structures, which are key to learning, memory, reward, motivation, and emotion, normalized after psychostimulant treatment, as did deformations of the caudate nuclei, when present.
One hypothesis that they had looked to prove or disprove was that methylphenidate treatment of ADHD during childhood and adolescence, but not during adulthood, would stimulate white matter, striatal, and frontal cortical development, resulting in more adult-like values. And in fact, their findings did prove this. This is important, because it is an age-related treatment response. It essentially means that when you treat childhood ADHD with methylphenidate in childhood, the methylphenidate stimulates a response that normalizes most of the abnormalities found in the brain of the child with ADHD such that they are comparable to normal adult values later. That’s a good thing.
Another study looked at behavioral changes associated with using methylphenidate, and found that, relative to periods off medication, ADHD patients on medication have fewer motor vehicle accidents, have a lower risk of traumatic brain injury, are less likely to engage in criminal activity, have lower rates of suicidal behavior, and have lower rates of substance abuse. Why? Because it seems that when neurotransmitter levels are normalized, behavior is normalized as well, which makes behavior when on medication safer, more risk averse, ie less risky. The authors end the report of their findings with this: “Thus the answer to the question ‘Is there long-term benefit from stimulant treatment for ADHD” is a definite “Yes!'”
Potential Negative Side Effects of ADHD Stimulant Medications/ Methylphenidate
Most side effects associated with methylphenidate are very mild and temporary, but if they exist, are likely to be dose or formulation related, as it can take some time to find the appropriate medication and dose. If you find that any side effects are intolerable or persist, it’s important that you inform the prescribing physician. In addition, the dose should be re-evaluated each year, even if there are no issues, as the medication needs can change over time, especially in growing children.
This is the most common side effect of stimulant medications. The loss of appetite may happen just while the medication is effective, and then wear off, as the benefits of the medication do. Children may be very hungry once the medication wears off, and if they haven’t eaten, they may also be irritable, aka hangry. This is typically a manageable problem, but the issue should be discussed with the physician who prescribes the medication if it persists or is intolerable.
Insomnia/ Sleep Problems
There may be issues with falling asleep associated with methylphenidate. This is usually fairly mild, and it tends to occur more in younger children who might have already had issues with falling asleep before they started the medication. There are many things that can interfere with falling asleep or manifest as sleep issues, so it’s important to determine if any external causes (other than medication) may be present. These can include poor or irregular sleep schedule, excess screen time/ blue light exposure right before bed, academic concerns/ worrying about school tests, or social issues with friends. Again, problems falling asleep are likely to improve over time, but may also be overcome by changing either the time or type of the medication that is given. For example, if a second or third dose of a short-acting formula is taken too late in the day, it may not have worn off by bedtime, which could cause the issue. This can be addressed by the physician with formula or dosing changes.
There is a small subset of children with ADHD who may seem moody and irritable when they take stimulant medications, even if they are taking the best possible dose. If this is going to happen, it usually happens right away, as soon as they start taking the medication, and goes away immediately when they stop taking it. If this happens, it may help to switch to a different formulation or dose, so inform the prescribing physician right away to discuss potential alterations. Sometimes when a stimulant dose is too high, especially in children, they may begin to look tired or experience irritation. If this happens, the prescribing physician may opt to adjust the dose until the right dose is found: one in which the child gets the most benefit from the medication with the least possible side effects.
While this isn’t technically a side effect, a very small minority of children experience behavioral changes as their ADHD medication wears off, which typically occurs at the end of the school day. Some parents call it “rebound” but that term can be a bit misleading. They can seem more irritable or emotional, but it is usually a mild transient finding. Sometimes it’s related to being hangry or overtired, but it can be connected to the medication level dropping, and strategies that create a more gradual decrease in the medication level may help relieve it. Obviously, discuss with the prescribing physician if you notice it and believe it’s due to the medication levels.
About 10% of kids with ADHD will have concomitant tics, whether or not they take methylphenidate, so that translates to a fair number of children. Tics usually start between 6 and 8 years of age, which is often when kids also first start taking a medication for ADHD. Tics may also be transient, and may come and go over time. The best we know from a series of studies, is that stimulants don’t cause tics, but if tics are present, sometimes methylphenidate can aggravate them. Despite this, methylphenidate may possibly still be used, but treatment should be more closely monitored if this is the case. If tics increase significantly during treatment, there may be an option to use a non-stimulant medication that affects the brain in a different way.
Non-Stimulant Medications for ADHD
There are two types of non-stimulant medications that can help to alleviate some symptoms of ADHD. While they don’t have the efficacy that stimulants do, and they have very different side effect profiles, they may be an option worth trying if stimulants aren’t a viable option due to concomitant disorders like tics. Just as with stimulants, it may take several attempts to find the right medication and dosage, with the least side effects.
Clonidine (Catapres, Kapvay) and guanfacine (Tenex, Intuniv) are called alpha-adrenergic agonists, and these medications were developed to lower high blood pressure in patients with hypertension. But they are also prescribed in adjusted doses for children with ADHD who don’t tolerate stimulants well, and are sometimes also used to treat tics. These medications can cause fatigue related to low blood pressure, so blood pressure and heart rate must be regularly monitored while taking these medications. These are typically short-acting medications that require several doses each day, but they come in longer acting versions, Kapvay and Intuniv.
Atomoxetine (Strattera) is in a class of drugs called norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. Norepinephrine is one of the CNS neurotransmitters needed to control behavior.
Unlike stimulants, Atomoxetine can take 4-6 weeks to take effect and has to be taken daily.
There’s a great deal of false information out there on ADHD and stimulants.
Does using stimulants stunt growth?
In spite of concerns that have been voiced regarding growth and stimulants, a recent well-validated clinical study showed that neither ADHD, nor treatment with stimulants, was associated with a decrease in growth rate during the maximum growth period in childhood, or a change in final adult height. Combined with other studies, it is clear that treatment with stimulants has no impact on growth rate or final adult height.
Are psychostimulants addicting?
Provided they are taken via the prescribed route, at the level they are prescribed for ADHD, methylphenidate medications do not raise the dopamine level high enough to produce euphoria, and they are not considered addictive.
Does using stimulants make children prone to addiction later in life?
Observational studies conclude that stimulant medication to treat young children with ADHD does not affect- neither in an increasing nor decreasing way- the risk for substance abuse in adulthood.
Does using stimulants change a child’s personality?
ADHD medications should not change a child’s personality. If a child taking a stimulant seems sedated or zombie-like, or tearful and irritable, it usually means that the dose is too high and the clinician needs to adjust the prescription to find the right dose.
Does using stimulants have negative long term effects?
In over 50 years of using stimulant medications to counteract the symptoms of ADHD, and hundreds of studies, no negative effects of taking the medication over a period of years have been observed. On the contrary, using methylphenidate to treat childhood ADHD especially, is associated with the positive effects and benefits of normalization of neurotransmitter levels and structural brain differences.
Using Methylphenidate for ADHD in Children:
As a parent, making a decision to place a child on a stimulant for ADHD isn’t to be taken lightly. As a physician, it’s certainly one I take very seriously. The following are things to keep in mind when weighing the decision.
All research studies indicate that stimulants are the most effective treatment for symptom reduction in ADHD.
Methylphenidate has been used for decades, and is considered safe and generally well tolerated by most people, including children and adolescents, with low side effect profiles.
Do a risk/ benefit analysis. You have to weigh the risks associated with treating ADHD with a safe and effective stimulant with a good track record versus not treating the ADHD, and all of the areas of the person’s life that decision impacts, including the well documented academic and social implications. In the total analysis, the risks associated with living with untreated ADHD are generally greater than treating with a methylphenidate stimulant that has an excellent safety profile and actually has the benefits of normalization of neurobiological and structural brain anomalies associated with ADHD.
When the symptoms of ADHD are negatively affecting every aspect of a child’s life, medication is a better and safer alternative than allowing that negative impact to persist throughout school age years and beyond.
Methylphenidate, like all medications, may cause some side effects, but most are mild, temporary, and/ or can be relieved by a change in formulation or dosing. It may take some trial and error to find the prescription and dosage that works well with the least side effects. While this may take time and patience, it’s time well spent.
Deficiencies in neurotransmitters such as those in ADHD also underlie many common disorders, including anxiety, mood disorders, anger-control problems, and OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder. As a result, ADHD often occurs concomitantly with other disorders. In other words, ADHD may not be the only thing going on with an ADHD brain. At least two-thirds of people diagnosed with ADHD are also diagnosed with at least one other mental health or learning disorder in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Some of the more common accompaniments, especially in children, include anxiety disorders, depression, and learning and language disorders. As a parent, you may find you’re looking for the right mix of medications or treatments for multiple issues.
Granted, there are a lot of issues to consider, but hopefully I’ve managed to cover most of them here. My opinion is clear, and it is that overall, given the high efficacy, the track record, the safety, and the many well proven benefits of its use, methylphenidate treatment for ADHD far outweigh the risks associated with not treating it.
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The Skinny on Psychostimulants
Happy 2021 people! Are you as happy as I am that 2020 is finally in the rearview?! Weirdest. Longest. Year. Ever.
That actually makes me think of a new and hilarious commercial I just saw for a big online dating site. It starts out with Satan bored out of his mind in hell, and then he gets a text message from the site saying he’s been matched with a girl, and he’s very intrigued. When they meet, it’s obvious that they’re both instantly smitten. Then the starry-eyed girl introduces herself as 2020. They fall in love. And they live happily (?) ever after… apparently in hell. Unless they stay at her place I guess. Anyway, 2020 is over, even though unfortunately, we’re still schlepping some of its covid baggage, but hopefully not for much longer.
Considering the euphoria surrounding the new year and the stimulation of resolutions, I thought it very fitting that I start with a three part blog series on pharmacological central nervous system stimulants, aka psychostimulants. One of the main compounds in this class of drugs are the amphetamines, and that will be today’s blog topic.
As psychostimulants go, amphetamines are very strong ones; they are a group of very tightly controlled and well monitored schedule II drugs. Add a little carbon atom, bind some hydrogens to it, and you’ve got a methyl group; and that makes it methamphetamine, which everyone’s heard of. When prescription methamphetamine is (very) illegally altered…tah-dah…you’ve got crystal meth, aka speed, ice, crank, etc. Other examples of psychostimulants include caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, and other prescription compounds that I’ll cover next week.
Because of their stimulant activity within the central nervous system, prescription amphetamines are used in the treatment of several disorders, including narcolepsy, obesity, binge eating disorders, and very commonly, ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. They can also be used recreationally in certain populations to get high, to stay awake for long periods of time, and/ or to improve focus and study for exams. In fact, it’s those last two that make amphetamines very popular party favors among college students.
Structurally speaking, amphetamines are drugs that are related to catecholamines, which are chemical messengers that help transmit a message or signal across neural synapses in the central nervous system, from the terminal end of a transmitting nerve cell to the receiving end of a target nerve cell. In an over-simplified explanation, when a signal gets to the end of one neuron, catecholamines help the signal jump to the beginning of the next neuron, hence the name “neurotransmitter.” That message is repeated billions upon billions of times, as there are billions upon billions of neurons in the central nervous system. These neural signals activate emotional responses in the amygdala of the brain, such as fear in a “fight or flight” situation. At the same time, catecholamines also have effects on attention and other cognitive brain functions. Examples of catecholamines include the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Pharmacologically speaking, amphetamines increase levels of the specific neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the neural synapses, which helps the message to make the jump from one neuron to the next. In a way of thinking, amphetamines “speed” the transmission of the message by increasing the levels of these neurotransmitters. Amphetamines increase these dopamine and norepinephrine levels through three different mechanisms of action, at least that we know of: 1) they reverse the direction of the transporter pumps that would normally divert dopamine and norepinephrine away, 2) they disrupt cellular vesicles, thereby preventing the storage of excess dopamine and norepinephrine, which frees them up, and 3) they also promote the release of dopamine and norepinephrine at nerve cell terminals, making them readily available in the synaptic cleft. These three mechanisms combined ensure that there are very high concentrations of dopamine and norepinephrine in the synapses of the central nervous system. The “catecholaminergic” (try that one next time you play scrabble) actions of increasing the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine result in the very strong psychostimulant effects that amphetamines produce.
You’ll notice that I keep saying amphetamines, plural. Why? Because like the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine it effects, amphetamines are chiral molecules; this is a fancy way of saying that in their three dimensional world, they can exist in different forms called enantomers (more scrabble points!) that are mirror images of each other. I know this sounds complicated, but it’s really not. Think of it as “handedness.” Your left and right hands are mirror images of one another: they look similar, except the placement of the fingers and thumbs are mirror images, and they can do pretty much the same things, like hold a fork or a pencil, but the way they do so differs slightly. The same is true of amphetamines. The two enantiomers of amphetamines are usually referred to as dextroamphetamine (also denoted as d-amphetamine) and levoamphetamine (also denoted as l-amphetamine). All prescription amphetamines boil down to four variations of the amphetamine molecule, which have markedly similar, but potentially slightly variable effects: dextroamphetamine, aka dexadrine; lisdexamphetamine, which is a precursor or pro-drug of dextroamphetamine; methamphetamine, aka methamphetamine HCL, which has that methyl group I mentioned before; and mixed amphetamine, which is essentially a mixture of dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine at a specific ratio.
Of those four active forms of amphetamines, there are several brand name drugs on the market, some of which have generic forms available. They are all oral formulations that may be immediate-release, which are typically taken twice a day, or extended-release, which are obviously released more slowly and taken once a day.
Adderall XR (generic available)
Dexedrine (generic available)
ProCentra (generic available)
The desired effects of amphetamines include: stimulation (thank you Captain Obvious), increased alertness, cognitive enhancement, euphoria, and mood lift. Amphetamines have been around for a long time and when taken as prescribed, they’re fairly safe, but there are potential negative side effects. These can include insomnia, hyperfocus, GI irritation, headache, anxiety, slight increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and anorexia. There is addiction potential associated with amphetamines, and there is a short and fairly mild associated withdrawal period where one might feel some fatigue, sleep a lot, and experience strange dreams.
When taken as directed, and by mouth, usually 20mg – 40mg per day, amphetamines are fairly safe. However, when smoked, injected, or snorted, they are decidedly UNsafe; especially in large doses. I’ve seen people take up to 1000mg per day… though not for long. Why? Because they usually end up dead of overdose. What happens if you choose to use amphetamines in large quantities and/ or via routes other than oral? Hallucinations, delusions, psychosis, seizures, cardiovascular collapse/ arrest, stroke… the bottom line is it ain’t pretty, people, so don’t do it.
Because amphetamines have multiple mechanisms of action and thereby are very strong psychostimulants, I generally restrict their use to adults only, and choose to use another type of psychostimulant in children called methylphenidate. And that will be the topic next week in psychostimulants part 2 of 3.
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MGA here. I’m writing this closing after finishing today’s blog, but it’s weird that I’m sticking it at the top of it, but there’s a method to my madness. I’m switching things up today and talking to you first because I might just have an announcement! And maybe even a favor to ask of all of you. So please read on.
I think you guys have liked these sex toy blogs, no? Well, I have to tell you, this series has been a lot of work, but really great fun, too. So even though today’s sex toy blog is the last in the series (wahn waaahnn waaahhhhnnnnn) I don’t want you to be sad.
Months ago, when I stumbled across some health benefits of orgasms that I didn’t know or hadn’t thought about, I started thinking that if I didn’t know or think about these things, maybe some of you didn’t either. Once I started looking at all the material online about orgasms, that led me directly to the point (underlined in bold letters) that they’re not the automatic foregone conclusion to any and every sexual event that all the movies and all the… propaganda is really the only accurate word… makes them out to be. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Especially for women. This singular fact- that there is more bs and shame shrouding the real reality of sex and orgasm- made me want to expose it. And of course do so in my very own unique (maybe slightly weird and slightly more irreverent) way. My shrinky senses were on alert, and the rest of it, the sex toys and all, was just a natural progression. I had a mission. Present all of it in an approachable way, no shame, no bs, no flinching.
There’s sooo much material on the great interwebs on all things sex, orgasm, toys, and sex psych… it’s actually overwhelming. I knew that I couldn’t possibly do the subject any justice in one blog, so I decided to do the series. And while I was researching and reading, I saw so much evidence that made it crystal clear that sex, orgasm, and sexual health and wellness are such huge and integral components of the human condition, yet… Shhhh!Keep your voice down! What is wrong with you?! Why do you have to talk about this stuff anyway? Helll-ooo… such huge and integral components of the human condition, yet WE DON’T TALK ABOUT THEM!!
Because the fact that we don’t talk about it is just patently dumb. Look, I’m all for discretion, though you couldn’t be blamed if you’re having a hard time believing that, rolling your eyes right about now and thinking “seriously?” Yep. Seriously. I understand that it’s not an easy topic, but the fact that there’s so much shame and confusion and bs obscuring the topic of sex, all things that do real damage to real people in real life, I knew that propagating those things by continuing to not talk about it just wasn’t going to happen.
Once I had put up the first sex toy blog, a patient asked me what the hell was I… ‘a psychiatrist of all people, doing writing about sex (very quietly) and dildos (almost whispered, as though she was concerned that the morality police were hiding behind my desk waiting to bust her) and how some people can and some people… can’t… be… satisfied?‘ she almost spit it out, she was so happy to have found the word, any word. Then she quickly added, ‘It’s just too… too personal!‘ she said with a shake of her head and a tsk tsk expression. For any of you that are thinking ‘Yeah, riiight? Exactly!’ right now, my answer to why is pretty simple: I am a psychiatrist, so people come to me seeking help for their problems. Right? I’m dealing with their minds and all the things that happen in them and to them. So any and every “thing” that creates a barrier to their happiness- to the point that they’re sitting in my office- is fair game. And many times, the tallest, widest, and strongest barrier I see in that office is shame. And shame is shame, no matter what it arises from, and so it is my sworn enemy, and I like to make it a point to wipe it out where it lives at every opportunity. And the fact that this patient who wanted to know why I was doing these blogs had to barely whisper the word dildos as it stuck in her throat, and because I could literally see her search frantically for any word to say butorgasm is exactly why I was doing them. How’s that for irony?
I don’t claim to be a sex therapist, so it doesn’t fall to me to cleanly and concisely educate about it in an academic way, every impact that sexual health and wellness has on people’s lives. That’s not why I wanted to do it. Do I want you to learn something? Definitely. By the time you’ve read these blogs, do I want you to be able to recite the six principles of sexual health and explain the genesis of their inclusion? No. In fact, I don’t even go over all of that technical stuff, because that’s not what this is about. What this is all about is just getting the real deal info out there. Relax the stigma. Show that the subject is not too taboo, which was why I made that the subtitle of the first sex toy blog.
So during the countless hours I spent putting these last three blogs together, I had an epiphany. Okay, maybe it was part epiphany, part hallucination brought on by a lack of sleep, but the end result remained the same: with all of the things that have to be brought to the light, these were going to be some really. long. blogs. people. In fact, I could totally fill an entire book with this stuff. So I’m going to. That’s the announcement: I’m doing another book…my third. But it’s going to be very different from my first two, and not just because of the subject matter. It’s going to be different because I’m writing with a co-author, something I’ve never done. Her name is Dawn, and she’s kind of got degrees like a thermometer: biology, molecular biology, chemistry, microbio… there could be more, but my point is that she’s not a moron at all, yet despite that, she doesn’t take herself too seriously, and I think you’ll like her writing style, because I do… and it’s a lot like mine to be honest. I think that having both the male and female perspectives will make it a better, more balanced book. It’s going to be good, people!
Which brings me to my next point. Actually, my next question. And it’s for you. Yes… you. And you. All of you! I need a favor. Well, we- Dawn and I- need one. We need you to help us. Will you help us write this book? I promise it’ll be super easy. Here’s the scoop: given the general topic of sex and orgasm, we’re going to be doing a simple, anonymous sex survey in the not-too-distant future, and we’re hoping that you’ll agree to participate in it. And in order to get a statistically significant sample size (say that five times fast) and draw conclusions from the survey, it’s got to get into the hands of a lot of people. So I’m asking everyone to please share this blog with at least five people, but if you can share it with more than that, even better! So I guess that’s two favors I’m asking: one, that all of you will agree to be contacted to take the survey, and two: that each of you will share this blog to pass that same request on to at least five others. I really appreciate it people!
For you to agree to be contacted to take the survey, you just have to leave a comment on the blog saying so. If you’re familiar with the site, at the end of each blog there’s a little blue link that says “LEARN MORE” Click on that and it’ll take you directly to a reply box. Type in “Contact me to take the survey” fill in your info, check save my info for future, check if you wish to get notifications and submit. Voila!
If you’re like me, you like to ‘copy paste edit’ to save time, so here’s a message you can do that with to send along with the blog to explain everything to your people, people! FYI: I assumed that the people you send to won’t be familiar with the blog, so the instructions on how to leave a comment that I give in the following pre-fab message are different than those I gave you above- they’re faster, as they don’t require they read the whole blog to see the “learn more” link located at the end of each blog. They can just click on the small grey comment link just before the blog.
Feel free to ‘copy paste edit’ this paragraph to send when you share the blog. Thanks!
Dr. Mark Agresti, a psychiatrist I know, has a weekly blog https://dragresti.com/blog/ and he just mentioned that he will be doing a simple anonymous sex survey sometime in the not-too-distant future, and in order to get a statistically significant sample size of completed surveys to draw conclusions from, he’s requesting that people agree to be contacted to take the survey, and that we please pass that same request on to at least five other people. So great news… you’re one of my people! So please click on the link https://dragresti.com/blog/ and you’ll be able to see and read all of his weekly blogs anytime. To agree to be contacted to take the survey, you have to leave a comment saying so. There are lots of places to do that, but the fastest is to look where it announces that week’s blog title and in small grey letters you’ll see the authorship, date, category and a [> 1 comment] link. Click on that little comment link and it’ll take you directly to a reply box. Please type in “contact for survey” then fill in your details, check the box that says ‘Save my name, etc for next time’ and if you wish to receive future notifications and submit. Voila! And please feel free to pass the request along to as many people as you’d like. Dr. Agresti appreciates it and so do I!
Housekeeping is almost done here people.
I hope you’ll enjoy this final blog in the three part sex toy series: The Future of Sex Toys
Please don’t forget to leave a “Contact for survey” comment and share the blog to pass it along to as many people as possible. The more people that take the survey, the more meaningful the data gathered from it will be- and the better the book based on that will be!
I really appreciate it.
And if you have other comments about any of my blogs, if you like what you’re reading or you have suggestions, please leave those too. I’m always down for comments!
Be sure to check out my YouTube channel with all of my videos, and I’d appreciate it if you would like, subscribe, share, and comment on those vids too! And my book Tales from the Couchhas more educational topics and patient stories, and it’s available in the office and on Amazon.
Thank you and be well people!
Now without further ado, this week’s blog…
Part Trois du Trois:
The Future of Sex Toys
Throughout the course of history, humans have experimented with numerous ways to derive sexual satisfaction: ancient dildos, Ben Wa Balls, Cleopatra’s bee vibrator… We’ve already explored how our ancestors got off in the history of sex toys, so now we’ll look ahead. What does the future of sex toys hold?
Imagine a world where you can strap on your VR headset, crank up your smart bodysuit, and have virtual sex with someone on the other side of the globe. It sounds like the setting for a sci-fi porn flick, but fully remote VR sex is closer than you think.
The marriage of sex and innovative technologies is known today as “sex tech.” And just like every innovative business linked to sex, it’s BIG business: the sex tech industry is currently valued at more than $30 billion dollars. But unlike some businesses linked to sex, the sex tech market specifically is set to explode, and this value is predicted to climax at over $124 billion by 2024… quadruple in four years people! I can’t think of another industry that has, or ever could, accomplish this growth rate expectation.
Remember that total geek that sat in front of you in eighth grade math class? The guy with the pocket protector and ultra thick glasses that couldn’t get a human date so he was really into robots? Yeah, him. This is what he grew up to do: sex tech. And just fyi… he’s a billionaire now.
From Sex Industry to Sex Tech
While sex toys in their primitive form have existed for literally ages, the last few decades have allowed civilization to explore an unprecedented level of freedom in the sexual health and wellness arena, and this has led to a proliferation of sophisticated technology and innovation in sex tech. A perfect example of this is the novel intersection of sex and Artificial Intelligence (AI), a pairing that was once thought to be inconceivable, but now holds great promise for the most immersive sex experiences ever possible.
Sex Tech Defined
As defined by FutureofSex.net: “Sex tech is technology and technology-driven ventures designed to enhance, innovate, and disrupt in every area of human sexuality and human sexual experience. Sex tech is important because sex and sexuality lie at the heart of everything we are and everything we do.”
Now that we’ve cleared that up…
What Will Sex Toys Look Like In The Future?
Where do you currently keep your sex toys? In the sock drawer? A dedicated goodie box?
Let’s explore some data:
The world’s largest masturbation study (yup, that’s a real thing) published that 78 percent of adults in the world masturbate, including: 96 percent of British men, 93 percent of German men, and 92 percent of American men; and 78 percent of British women, 76 percent of German women, and 76 percent of American women.
A survey from UK sex toy creator Lovehoney found that three in four Americans own at least one dildo. That means roughly 70 percent of Americans have a dildo in their homes (or cars, or cubicles… no judgement) While the majority, 78 percent, are women, 64 percent of men that answered also said they own a “phallic sex toy;” guess they couldn’t say d i l – d o… dildo.
One safe conclusion we can draw from this data is that there are a lot of dildos floating around out there people. If we round down the current US population to 328 million, and assume that each respondent has just one dildo (which would be highly unusual- most people that use them definitely have more) that means there are more than 229 million dildos in the US. And given that number, as compared to the number of people that freely talk about using them or admit to it, we can also see clear evidence that many people still feel embarrassment and/ or shame to admit to masturbating, much less using toys. So even though the tech has advanced, it’s pretty clear that society’s acceptance has not come nearly far enough. It’s especially true in the non-male founded sex tech companies. There is a definitive double standard, so read on for details on that.
In 2017, one sex tech company self-named by its founder, Lora DiCarlo introduced the Osé, a dual massager for blended orgasms that introduced the world to “sex tech inspired by human movement.” For the very first time, a “smart toy” employed very complex mechanics and robotics that spoke to actual female anatomy and vaginal physiology. This founder and her company actually did a ton of work to develop this. They took countless measurements and made molds of thousands of vaginas to create a natural feeling toy with robotics that perfectly mimicked human movement, specifically a “come hither” motion for G-spot massage. The end result was apparently worth it- it was so unique and the movement so human and life-like that it actually won a highly coveted robotics innovation award from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) in that same year.
But then, when the CTA considered that the company was founded by a woman, they actually rescinded the award! Apparently because in their estimation, a female engineer/ founder creating robotic tech ‘inspired by human movement’ for the purposes of creating ‘a dual massager with come hither G-spot massage and clitoral stimulation’ for the specific purpose of ‘achieving a blended orgasm’ was lewd, and as such, the CTA could not be associated with the device in any way; which btw in their policies, that made it comparable to hard core pornography. That means they were actually saying that a woman creating robotic tech to theoretically pleasure herself and other women is pornographic. Saaay whaaat?! I’m a guy, so I don’t even have a horse in this race, but I’m still offended! They made it quite evident that if it had been developed by a man, it would have been a different story. A male founder of the product would have kept the award. Can you believe that bullshit, people? And PS, they also refused to let her company, and all other female founded sex tech companies, to even attend the event in the future!
As you can imagine, Lora DiCarlo was mad as hell, but not surprised at all. She and all of the other female sex techies were used to having Facebook and other social media platforms censor them, PayPal refuse to offer their payment platform for their websites, or to be associated with them in any way. They got nothing but doors slammed in their collective faces. Just another Tuesday.
Well, Captain Obvious says that Ms. Lora DiCarlo had some things to say to the CTA about that. She started a critical public conversation about gender equity in tech, demanded that CTA issue a public apology and re-award her the award that she earned, and publicly demanded that any and all female-founded sex tech companies be invited to all future CTA events. And CTA in fact got smart and capitulated to her demands. Since that time, Lora DiCarlo and her company have continued to champion the cause of women’s sexual health in as open and public a way as possible. In addition, she and her fellow female techies have also formed Women of Sex Tech, which the New York Times said is “a tech-savvy and female-led women’s sexuality movement that has made its home in New York, instead of, say, Silicon Valley. Women, many of them under 40, are updating sex toys and related products with their own needs in mind, and leading the companies that sell them.”
And in fact, there are many more female founded sex tech co’s than male- it’s not even close, and Facebook and some other social platforms still censor them, so some specifically create vanilla campaigns to slip past the censors to be allowed on them. I don’t know about PayPal, but any person or company with three brain cells to spark off each other should be rolling out the red carpet to welcome these previously wrongly censored companies. I can feel her pain with Facebook… they refuse to boost my blog ever since I said that social media was problematic because devotees spent too much time in their artificial, anti-social social media platform. They need to get with the times and realize that just because they don’t appreciate a product or comment or statement, that doesn’t automatically invalidate it.
Anyway, the moral of that story is that today, women are kicking butt and leading the charge in the women’s sexual wellness arena and the robotics and AI that go with it…a fact that offends the nerdy guys in their Silicone (Valley) Prisms.
Back to the Future… of Sex Toys
We all know what yesterday’s dildos look like- mostly veiny, flesh-toned, realistic penis replicas (designed by men- I can believe that) or brightly colored carnival-prize-looking things that apparently didn’t excel in form or function. Both of those are relegated to under the bed to gather dust and dog hair (eeeww) or under the socks in the top drawer.
Now contrast that to an insta-worthy living room with a coffee table proudly displaying an artsy magazine, a glass succulent cactus terrarium, and a beautiful, artisanal, teal-colored dildo…
According to sexperts, advances in sex tech will continue to be accompanied by a more open and accepting attitude towards sexuality. As a result, sex toy designs are moving away from products that need to be hidden away under a bed or in a drawer like a dirty secret. Now designers are embracing sleek and aesthetically pleasing designs that are meant to be noticed and begging to be on display in (almost) every home in the country. Ornamental dildos? Sure, why not?!
More Options, More Orgasms
As society becomes more open-minded and accepting of trans, non-binary people, and just all people, we can expect to see more gender neutral toys in a range of sizes, colors, and designs. In fact, as you’ll read later, this is already the case.
Alexa… Oh Yeah, Right There Alexa!
The future isn’t just about high tech gadgets, it’s about having greater control over them. Imagine a vibrator with a range of personalized settings: slow and sensual or a hit it and quit it quickie for lunch breaks. Voice recognition and AI technology will play an increasing role in realizing this future. Voice activated toys that respond when asked to change strength, speed, or force will make Alexa look like a boring prude by comparison. And in fact, this is another example of ‘the future is now’ deal, as Vibease, the company that introduced the world’s first app controlled vibrator has now developed the world’s first AI integrated, voice activated vibrator. And it actually looks like a designer lipstick, so they clearly created it with an eye toward it going with when the user heads out to work or play. As Vibease says, their “goal is simple: bring out your inner glow…” Pretty catchy, huh people? Right now, I believe the AI enabled voice activated lipstick vibrator (say that four times fast) is actually available on Kickstarter for half price; they’re evidently selling it at a discount as a means of funding future techie toys. If anybody maybe needs a handy excuse for buying and trying…
How about sex toys that become integrated into our bodies? The founder of media and research company Future of Sex believes that in 30 years we might not even see sex toys as separate entities. I don’t know about that exactly, but it’s quite a concept, and as you’ll read later, Elon Musk is already working on what I might categorize as similar tech. A male sex techie named Rich Lee has developed the LoveTron9000. How stereotypical does that sound? I can hear some dulcet baritone celeb like Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones, or best yet, Barry White, voicing the commercial… “The LoooveTronnn9thouusaaannd… Oh yeaaahhh, you neeeeddd thiiss, mennn.” So what is it? It’s an implant that’s embedded behind the pubic bone, and it vibrates so that it makes the penis vibrate. If you’re into that, then the good news is that innovation in bio-hacking and body modification means that similar tech innovations will become more common. Just had a thought: is Barry White dead? If he is, sorry and may he RIP, baaabbbyyyy.
If vibrating penises aren’t your thing, how about a smart bed that can hug you, whisper sweet nothings in your ear, and stimulate your nether regions… all at the same time. That tech is on the not-too-distant horizon too, people.
VR and LDR
If you’re in a long distance relationship and/ or living in The Time of Corona, futuristic sex toys could bring you closer together, even if you’re social distancing. VR, sex robots, and teledildonics (sex toys controlled remotely over an internet connection via apps) are combined to allow your sex doll to be controlled remotely by your partner while you’re wearing a VR headset, with… say, Fiji as the 3D backdrop. The tech is coming soon, people. Teledildonics has already been around long enough to be slightly goosed by the newer competition. While it’s not obsolete by any means, there have been tech advancements that necessitated a new and equally advanced term: cyberdildonics. While some references seem to mistakenly use the two terms interchangeably, cyberdildonics is actually distinctively different. Both are technologies for participants to have remote sex via electronic data link and/ or smart applications, but cyberdildonics is tech in which tactile sensations (which is also called haptic tech) specifically are also able to be communicated between the participants via a data link and/ or smart applications.
Here’s how cyberdildonics work. The dildo lover/ female/ pronoun of your choosing/ yourself/ them: they have a high-tech dildo embedded with touch sensors. The person who enjoys penis attention has an advanced penis sleeve that’s capable of pulsating and contracting. First step: the two lovers connect their sex toys to the interfacing app. Second step: both then connect to a video call, which can be through the same toy interface app (some companies have this ability included) or through another exogenous app like FaceTime, What’s App, or Duo. Third step: have some fun! When they stroke or suck or insert the dildo into themselves, the other sees it on the video call screen and in response, their sleeve pulses and squeezes, delivering sensations that are said to be remarkably close to actual sex.
And/ or… switch ’em up! For the person who would usually be enjoying the sleeve’s pulsations on their penis, give them a smart vagina, replete with vulva and clitoris and embedded with touch sensors. Then give their lover an app-enabled vibrator. As one strokes or licks the smart vagina, their lover’s vibrator will react so they can feel their touch with every move made. With tech advances, new smart toy types have been, and will be continued to be, released. So if variety is the spice of life, get the vibrating cock ring, butt plug, vibrator egg, or whatever strikes your fancy and eat it up!
Teledildonics, Cyberdildonics, Digisexuality… Oh My!
Here’s a neologism for ya: digisexuality. What is it? A digisexual is a person who is sexually attracted to robots or other forms of sexuality that are technologically-mediated. Like the geek in my eighth grade math class with his thick glasses and pocket protector… the one who’s bound to be a billionaire by now. He’s a digisexual for sure. But whatever floats your boats people. No judgement, just saying.
No Partner? No Problem!
According to sexperts, it’s just a matter of time before celebrities hop on the digisexual and cyberdildonic bandwagon and license the use of their faces for sex dolls or VR scenes, so one day soon, you’ll be able to have a simulated sexperience with your favorite celebrity! Honestly, this one rates kinda high on my creep-o-meter people.
Sick of People? Date a Robot!
Wouldn’t it be great if you could program your boyfriend and/ or girlfriend to do and say whatever you wanted? Well, sex robots are not a sci-fi fantasy anymore: they’re already among us. Harmony 3.0 (and by now maybe even 4.0 and 5.0) is a lifesize doll which can be programmed via the Realbotix app. And of course it comes with 18 personality types, 42 nipple designs, and 14 dishwasher-friendly labias to choose from, don’tcha know. These AI drive sex toys are transforming the way people view- and feel- sex. One benefit associated with them would be that if you wish to fulfill any sexual fetish that a regular human partner might not want to engage in, you can access various quick sex scenarios on your bot partner and indulge in the experience that way. And Captain Obvious says that another benefit of utilizing this technology is that the risk of STD is completely eliminated. Remember Ryan Gosling in the movie Lars and the Real Girl? I mentioned it in a previous blog. If you’re into this, dolls and bots can be programmed to tell jokes and recite poetry, whatever you’re willing to teach them, they’re willing to learn. Just think: she will always remember your birthday. And never bitch when you leave the toilet seat up. Now that is technology I can get behind people!
If bionic penises are more your speed, sexbot company RealDoll also has a fully customizable male doll… Though it looks like they literally have one, while the rest of their site is absolutely overrun with different female versions: classic, petite, and wicked, in dizzying arrays of features, along with interchangeable heads and toros too, for the Jeffrey Dahmer set I suppose. And if you like penises but could care less what it’s attached to… or if it’s actually attached to anything, they also sell the RealPenis, which at first glance is shockingly realistic. And it may also be at second glance too, but I couldn’t look again.
The Future of Sex Toy Tech is Coming… Are You?
The expiration of the original teledildonics patent a few years ago is the driving force behind the rapid expansion in the field of smart sex toys. That’s why we’ve come so far in such a short period of time and have an array of smart toys. It’s been a wild ride, but we haven’t even hit the loop de loops yet! Where there once were only app controlled panty vibes where you turned control over to your partner so they could zing you out of the clear blue sky just to say hi, now there are teledildonic couple toy sets: an app controlled toy for vaginal/ G-spot/ clitoral stimulation is sold in a set with a vibrating penis sleeve, or vibrating butt plug, or vibrating cock ring. They’re meant to be used simultaneously via app control by your partner.
There are a few really unique smart app controlled vibrating toys that are worth an honorable mention. If you can’t sleep unless you can hear and/ or feel the beat of your partner’s heart, Little Riot’s Pillow Talk might be the ticket. It lets you hear the heartbeat of your loved one in real time via a mobile app, wristband, and speaker, as if you have laid your head on their chest, even when they’re on the other side of the world. And haptic touch advancements in combination with VR have also made smart toy prototypes that make virtual hugs and even remote kissing possible. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m going to have to see that to believe people.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, since you asked… as anyone who’s argued helplessly with Alexa or Siri about just turning on a damn light has discovered, the reality of an ‘Internet of Things’ is sometimes closer to an ‘Internet of Shit.’ If you think it’s irritating when your own doorbell decides you’re an intruder because you’re wearing your favorite Batman shirt, wait until tech companies start using your genitals to beta-test their cutting edge tech. And the quality of your sexual experience in using these is based on the quality of internet connections and the app/ software interface between the devices. But I imagine the up-side is that time will only lead to better connectivity. Regardless, this tech is not without risk. In reality, it’s possible that people can be hurt, technologically and maybe even physically by this tech. Companies could possibly leak data that identifies users, even without malicious intent mind you. Remember the Ashley Madison hack in 2015? When “The Impact Team” stole the user data of Ashley Madison, the commercial website that billed itself as an enabler of extramarital affairs? At least two suicides are directly attributed to having been identified in that data breach.
Breaches of that order happen all the time. I got a letter from an e-commerce, or “shopping cart” company about a year ago. They’re basically responsible for presenting you an online store’s stuff, enabling you to select the stuff you want and put it in your cart, write reviews, seek faq’s, make modifications, and eventually pay for your crap in order to receive it. Well, the letter informed me that this gigantic e-commerce site had a security breach, and that my card information was among the data that was extracted. The kicker? The breach had taken place like 16 months before! Yet this was the first I’d heard of it. I don’t know if they dragged their feet during an investigation and that’s why they didn’t inform me sooner, or if maybe they didn’t even know about the breach until long after it was done. Frankly both are disturbing. They say that cyber thieves or their network rings usually just hold on to the data they steal for a while, lulling you into believing that your info must be safe, because surely they would’ve robbed me blind by now, right? Right? Anyway, you see the issue. If you’re employing an app to facilitate intimacy, use protection… and I don’t mean condoms.
Poor security could also allow malicious hackers to view the GPS coordinates of users, or take control of devices remotely. We’ve known for years that cars can be hacked, as can heart implants and webcams. Similar invasions could possibly be coming soon to your erogenous zones, too. But I have noted that some sex techs are very serious about security, as Bluetooth can also be hacked. And the almighty cloud. In an attempt to thwart this, I know that sex tech co Vibease allows only one linked device to control the toy at any given time so that any hacker will just be impotent. You set it up with your partner with a password and they also suggest a fingerprint-required complete phone lock to keep pick-pocketing smartphone thieves from availing themselves of your partner’s pleasure. Maybe the sex toy app itself should require a penis or nipple print as a unique identifier to access it too.
While there are always cons against pretty much anything in life, the same goes for pros. In addition to providing a viable outlet for sexual intimacy in long distance relationships, as well as the same during A Time of Corona, there are some other fascinating opportunities. For example, sex tech can provide people with an anonymized and untraceable alternative to a physical encounter in countries where gay sex is against the law. In a situation like that, teledildonics could provide physical pleasure with far less risk than what would be involved with an actual encounter. And as we’re already seeing with cyberdildonics, as sex tech advances, it will continue to incorporate other emerging technologies. Combining VR is on the not-too-distant horizon, so in combining VR and toys, you’re more fully immersed in the sexual experience, since you can see it, hear it, feel it, and get physical stimulation based on what you’re seeing in the chosen scene. Morning sex in Maui, a nooner floating along on the Nile, and for delicious dessert, go to Dubai.
Another cool thing about sex tech is the definitive opportunities to create hardware for disabled people to have sex. Historically, most toy controllers have been touch-based. There hasn’t been a lot of time and/ or effort dedicated to voice interfaces or eye tracking capabilities that would allow people who can’t reliably manipulate a phone to control toys. Through hands free utilization, tactile capabilities, and voice recognition AI, sex tech can be developed as a more sexually gratifying experience for people with disabilities. Also, for those people, or any people who may find it difficult to reach orgasm, many tech toys already can, or will be able to “learn” what gets their user off, so that the patterns and combinations that are the E ticket ride can be recalled, accessed, and re-played anytime.
Whether you consider yourself to be a visionary on the cutting edge or a total dinosaur in technology adoption, one thing is for sure… sex tech literally moves at cyberspeed. A report from Future of Sex offers insightful information and predictions on technological transformation in 5 areas:
#1: Remote Long Distance Sex
Internet of thing (IoT) system that enables the safe connection of device(s) to the Internet. Obvi this technology of teledildonics and cyberdildonics is already here and expanding, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
#2: Virtual Sex, Cybersex
Virtual sex or cybersex would entail the electronic transmission of sexually explicit or obscene messages via text, voice, or video. Historically, cybersex has utilized chatroom(s) and/ or online games, but believe it or not, good old fashioned phone sex and sexting are some of the most common forms of virtual sex.
Virtual sex via online games allow fantasies to run wild. Online multiplayer virtual games allow users to adopt different roles to see what they like best. The game Red Light Center allows you to design your own avatar to experience virtual interactions and even sex with other players in real time. The role playing, customization of avatars, and the virtual environment allows fantasies that are erotic and outrageous, and everything in-between. Some 3D sex games even support virtual reality headsets and interactive sex toys, all of which can deeply intensify the immersive cybersex experience.
#3: Robot Sex
Robots aid humans in various tasks; robotics are actually integrated into so many everyday objects that we take them for granted… we don’t even think about them. But sex tech robots are designed to be noticed; and many “online adult forums” utilize erotic chatbots to help moderate and facilitate racey group chats or private room activities. So it should come as no surprise that sex robots have been a popular sex tech trend, and they’re getting better all the time, as I mentioned near the beginning of this blog. Sexbots are basically very expensive and very lifelike, fully customizable silicone dolls. Tech advancements give them increasingly sophisticated movement and features to make them look, feel, and act like real girls. As they do closely mimic human movement and behavior, when you consider the potential to learn constantly, get smarter in communication on every topic (humor, speech, friend’s preferences/ likes/ dislikes) and with every interaction their human friend has with them, they offer very realistic and responsive experiences when it comes to sex and intimacy. Different doll techies/ creators offer multiple dolls with varying levels of virtual reality, artificial intelligence, physical characteristics, capabilities, and external feature realism, such as skin qualities: how it feels to the touch, it’s warmth, and the presence of responsive touch sensors.
#4: Immersive Entertainment
In order to have an immersive experience and heighten the end user’s intimacy, it is common to see many adult entertainment providers embrace and incorporate virtual reality (VR) technology with teledildonics and cyberdildonics. For example, CAM4VR offers live streaming with a VR sex camera and voice capability, so users can engage directly with adult performers. Put it all together and it makes for a very up-close and personal experience. Meanwhile, CamSoda includes 3D holograms to explore and even incorporates a release of various scents through a sensory mask in order to provide a multi-sensory play.
Aside from the adult industry, VR is utilized in an immersive sex education experience in an effort to create a safer environment for people to learn about their sexuality. Emory University and Georgia Tech plan to develop a high-engagement VR sex education program focusing on safer sex practices for young women to minimize instances of STD infection and transmission, HIV infection and transmission, and unintended pregnancy. VR is also utilized in therapeutic applications as well. BaDoinkVR is one example of such a program; their complementary VR tool is provided to singles and couples to help them discover their own sexual pleasure preferences and those of their partner, as well as methods to enhance both sexual pleasure and performance in real world sexual intimacy. And what’s coming soon may have you doing the same… on the not too distant horizon, VR will be applied to haptic (touch sensation) tech for users to indulge in thoroughly immersive acts of sexual intimacy.
Human augmentation typically refers to the notion of improving on or building upon the capabilities of the human body. But being human, we’re constantly wanting more and better, so augmentation also refers to theoretical methodologies to push the envelope on the human body’s capabilities and use methods that could, would, or will (!) include augmented reality through implantables or wearables.
The future is now, and many recent medical breakthroughs have demonstrated marked success in human augmentation; these have opened our eyes to many possibilities we once believed impossible.
Some success stories include: the first US penis transplant in 2016. A penile cancer patient required an amputation of his penis in order to have a chance of survival. Following this at a later date, his surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital successfully completed the 15 hour transplant operation using a complete organ taken from a deceased donor. The operation was ultimately deemed a success after the 64-year-old man regained sexual function and the ability to urinate normally once again. This procedure has been adapted and procedure time significantly decreased to apply the surgical technology to US soldiers who sustained severe bodily damage and amputations from bombs and IED explosions during overseas wars, and thus far with great success, as they have regained sexual function and the ability to urinate normally post-operatively.
Another example of augmentation success as Swedish doctor Mats Brannstrom completed the world’s first “womb” transplant, which I assume they mean is a uterine or total vaginal transplant. Since then, many procedures involving varying iterations of vaginal transplants have been successful in countries around the globe, some of which were reproductively successful with patients carrying pregnancies to full term and delivering normally with the transplanted organs.
Yet another example of successful human augmentation was made possible by doctors at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center when they succeeded in building and implanting a lab-grown vagina derived from the patient’s own cells, ultimately allowing her to resume normal vaginal function. The same group was also responsible for bio-engineering penile erectile tissue followed by successful implantation on laboratory rabbits.
Augmentation methodology has been used to overcome sexual dysfunction and/ or injury through the re-engineering of human tissues and organs which are then transplanted to help restore normal function. Moreover, this technology offers the potential for future body modification and customization in an effort for humans to enhance their individual sexual aesthetic and increase their enjoyment of sexual intimacy.
Clearly, augmentation is yet another technology where the future is now, as it has already been successfully employed numerous times around the world to repair the body and its organs after the ravages of disease and war. But what if feelings of orgasmic pleasure or heroin-like bliss were accessible through augmentation and made available to you as easily as you could push a button? Would you push it?
Elon Musk is betting you will. His company Neuralink has recently made quite a stir with the claim that their products can directly stimulate the pleasure centers in the brain. The company is dedicated to creating “Brain Computer Interfaces” (BCIs) which are devices that communicate directly with the brain at the synapse level. Basically, they want to put microchips inside people’s skulls, people… microchips that would elicit a chemical release as a response to their communication with the brain.
Musk has introduced a pig named Gertrude to the world, and she has a coin-sized chip implanted in her brain. Interesting timing, as the BBC states that Neuralink applied for approval to begin human testing on their BCI microchips last year.
So what is this brain chip anyway? Musk calls it a “digital superintelligence layer” that mediates communication between the limbic system and the brain’s cortex. The limbic system mainly deals with emotions, how we feel about things, while the cortex is more involved with the experiences of consciousness, perception, and thought which are far more important to human homeostasis.
Musk has stated that the initial use of BCIs will be aimed at brain-related diseases, claiming that neurological conditions like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and autism could all potentially be “solved’ or cured with Neuralink’s microchip. Basically, brain signals release chemicals, and those chemicals make us feel the way we do about things. So if Musk’s chip can tap into our sexual pleasure centers, it can cause a release of chemicals that make us feel an orgasm without the physical actions and scenarios that we would usually undertake in order to reach it. In a nutshell, he says that the chip will allow the wearer to bypass the requisite physical activity and get straight to the reward. I’m going to use the example of Tourette Syndrome, which is a disorder whereby affected people are compelled to make repetitive disruptive noises and sudden movements called tics. Like OCD, Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder that is totally out of a person’s conscious control; if they make attempts to deny the tics or hold them back for any length of time, eventually they will literally explode with tics, to the point where they are unable to function until the tics are expressed, which then sort of puts them back at baseline, almost like they’ve been reset. Affected people say that the mental feeling of needing to tic is like the need to scratch an itch, and that the feeling will build and multiply until they must finally “scratch it,” meaning they express the tics. This causes them to expel the tics that have built up in a sort of fit, after which the “itch” is vanquished… for a short time. It will build again and the whole cycle starts over. This feeling of being purged of tics must be mediated by the release of a chemical in the brain…. Just as the all-encompassing feeling of ‘I need to tic, I must tic’ is mediated by a chemical released by the brain when affected people resist their tics. That bit is basic science people, it’s like a for-sure deal that different chemicals released by the brain are what tells the person’s nervous system ‘hey, you haven’t tic’d, you can’t deny me, you must tic now now now…’ And also after having tics, then ‘hey, it’s okay, chill out, you’re good… for now.’
Musk didn’t mention my example, but I think it’s the perfect model for explaining the potential of a chip with this technology, assuming it actually does interface with the brain in the way it’s described and that it does elicit the chemical response as it’s described to do. But please understand that those are big assumptions for now.
If this BCI chip causes the release of chemicals in the brain that mediate how we feel about something without having to physically enact the behavior(s) that would usually cause their release, then it should work well in Tourette Syndrome or tic disorder, along with other neurological disorders with the same sort of altered or skewed reward system, where you could get the chemical release without acting out the potentially maladaptive or undesirable behavior of tics or checking and re-checking the locks in OCD, or self-injurious behaviors (like head baging) often exhibited in autism. I can also see the potential for use in psych patients who are cutters: they have an irresistible need or urge to deeply incise the skin and/ or release blood and/ or feel pain. If they could have that insatiable desire quenched chemically in the brain without having to act out the physical cutting action, that’s it… problem solved, cutting cured. That’s pretty incredible to imagine. The potential benefit in ALS patients is a little more complex, so I won’t bother with that here, but on first glance, Musk’s BCI chip has the potential to be a total game changer in treating some of the most difficult neurological and neuropsych disorders on the face of the planet in my opinion. It could hold great promise for disorders where the reward system is somehow perverted or held for ransom by the brain.
Musk says that the advent of his BCI chip will not necessitate the automatic elimination of physical activity, and that the chip’s presence would not override independent human thoughts of performing physical activities as we’re all used to doing now. And dare I add the single qualifier “before…” to the end of that statement? Because when you’re monkeying around with the reward center, the release of chemicals, and the brain, bad things can happen from the jump or they can develop over time. The brain is a powerful organ people, just ask an addict. That said, to me, Musk’s pre-qualifying comment at this very early stage of the game sort of smacks of his intentionally plugging a pacifier into our collective mouths before we even start whimpering about its absence. In any case, Neuralink’s human studies could prove to be an interesting bit of theater. But Musk generally gets what he wants, and he wants this technology- at least the ownership of it. Because I’m pretty dang sure he won’t be getting one of those chips in his skull anytime soon. Still lots to be determined. Stay tuned.
I do see benefits of the chip in the sexual wellness category. For people who are unable to physically engage in sexual activity due to illness and/ or injury, people who are simply anorgasmic, or people that can perform acts of sexual intimacy, but not to a point of orgasmic release, I see great potential. These are all genuine issues with real life implications. The chip could allow for the stimulation of pleasure centers to heighten arousal and increase the potential for an orgasmic sexual response. Then it could essentially capture and record the pleasure responses of one person and those can be read by some technology within the chip or even some of the independent biofeedback type sex tech devices, and then transmitted (for lack of a better word) to that person’s partner, which would let that partner know what the first person’s sexual pleasure feels like, and that could integrate that desire into their partner’s intimate experience. And also, if there is a specific set of circumstances that arouses someone and makes them more likely to achieve the end goal of reaching orgasm, they could share that feeling with their partner. Say if they like the excitement from the risk of being caught having sex in a public place, or they like the completed idea of getting away with it, the chip could capture what that risky feeling feels like to them and those feelings could then be overlaid onto the partner’s chip or through some other type of independent sex tech, so that the partner also feels the rush or excitement from that risk, and therefore automatically incorporates it into their feelings during the sexual experience. Almost like dimming the lights to set a mood, except this would be setting a mental mood, so that the sexual experience would have a specific mental context that may make both halves of the couple more likely to reach orgasm. That’s a win – win scenario.
Sounds interesting, right? Well, need I say there are risks? Actually, there are RISKS people. I mean, Captain Obvious reminds us that we are talking about having a chip implanted in or near the brain… an electronic component interfacing directly with brain tissue, or at least interacting with another electrical system, which the human brain is. But even if we throw those trivial matters aside, hell, I’ve had my computer hacked- what happens if some homicidal freak hijacks people’s chips? Would they be able to remotely control someone to do their dirty work? Yikes, people! And what about all the data collected from chips? All the random thoughts and/ or feelings, the ‘side data’ if you will. If a private interest group got access and/ or control over everyone’s data and used it to advance a candidate in an election, or influence the government, or squash or advance legislation or alter bill introduction or the passing of laws or affect the governing actions of all of the above? Any group that had access to all that information would basically rule the world- they could control everyone and everything with relative impunity.
But this I know: people could potentially be seriously harmed by overstimulating the brain globally, and overstimulating the pleasure centers of the brain specifically. Helll-ooo… aaa-ddic-cc-tion! If people can have “orgasmic pleasure” or “heroin-like bliss” freely available to them as easily as pushing a button, will they be able to continue functioning everyday without constantly pushing that button? They would be bombarding their neurons with pleasure chemicals… and usually, too much of a good thing… is a really bad thing.
We’ve all seen sci-fi movies where AI (artificial intelligence) enslaves the entire human race. But Musk has an answer for that too. Sort of. He claims that Neuralink’s devices are actually the very things that will protect us humans from this situation, should it ever arise: that BCIs would give us virtually instant access to information in a way analogous to completely automated systems, which intimates that we would somehow “know” or “understand” everything, even when we’re being tampered with or manipulated. Not so sure about that.
Generally speaking, I like Elon Musk. And admittedly, some of this sounds cool. But I don’t trust his abilities over mine to be certain of potential medical, psychological, and behavioral ramifications of brain neurochemistry. But I assume he’s put the right people in the right places. I have to say that as a psychiatrist, if there was a cure for some of the most destructive and currently incurable neuropsych disorders in existence, that would be amazing. But… in my experience, where Mother Nature or God or a higher power or whatever you believe in puts a check…there’s a balance somewhere, usually in a place you don’t see until it’s too late. Couple that with the potential for addiction issues, the possibility of chip hijacking, and honestly, Musk’s (kinda lame) assertion/ pseudo explanation not to worry, that we would know and/ or anticipate everything would keep us safe, that feels a little too tenuous for moi to step out on… So let’s just say that I won’t be beta testing these BCIs. But, I will follow this issue and read with great interest all about the people who do.
Embracing Sex Tech: Problems & Solutions
As far as existing sex tech and products coming in the relatively near future, most fall squarely into the “adult entertainment” and “sexual health and wellness” arenas, and I think the latter have been, and will continue to be, better received. It seems that innovations in teledildonics and cyberdildonics aim to improve intimacy and sexual pleasure, and they hold great potential to resolve the age-old problems that revolve around physical, emotional, and geographical constraints of romantic love relationships. I know that with coronavirus, some couples that had to temporarily split for months at a time had difficulty doing so successfully. Long distance relationships are another excellent example. If you’re a young newlywed bride from Great Grits Georgia and your soldier husband is called to serve in some hellhole on the other side of the globe for a year, that’s a real problem- the kind that breeds misery, introversion, distrust, communication issues, and physical/ emotional intimacy problems in both partners- problems that can potentially pave a road to divorce where one never existed before. So if sex tech and couple toys or similar interactive devices allow couples to continue- or even advance- their sexual intimacy, while forging ahead with a difficult situation, then only good healthy things are likely to come of it.
…Very Different from Embracing Sexbots!
AI-driven sex tech robots are relatively new and their aim is to apply advanced concepts of machine learning to transforming our sexual experience. Thanks to the sensors in the defined “sensitive” zones of the bots’ bodies, these sex robots can experience pleasure and, in turn, reciprocate the favor. Also, they can learn from previous experiences. For example, your habits and moods or what turns you on.
I was surprised to read a recent survey that said that 1 out of 5 men said they are open to the idea of having sex with a doll. This number is likely to increase when sex dolls become more humanlike and way less expensive. In fact, human/doll (or bot) sexual intercourse might overtake human/human sexual intercourse way faster than we think.
Issues: Sex Dolls and Bots
However, major concerns are arising, not the least of which involve the concept of men having sex with child type sex dolls. With sex dolls, the romance and chit-chat typical of a normal relationship are eliminated, and maybe more importantly, these relationships happen in a strictly private environment. It’s not like you bring your bot ball and chain with you when you go to a buddy’s house to watch the game. So really we’re left to just speculate about the psychological ramifications of a continual and purposeful romantic love relationship with a non-human entity. And boy do we speculate…
Monetary Costs of Sex Dolls and Bots
Currently, these things are freaking E for expensive people. A Realbotix head alone costs about $10,000, but you’ll shell out another $25,000 to $65,000 if you want a body to put it on. And speaking of that body, features such as skin-like materials, self-warming orifices, full-body detailing, and a texturized canal with internal pulsations are only the tip of the iceberg. If a human tells their doll/ bot what they enjoy sexually, they can evidently learn from it; then when it’s applied during physical intimacy, the patterns can be recorded or “remembered” by the doll or bot; I can only assume that they can then be recalled, essentially repeating the exact same experience. This would only be in the most advanced models I’m sure. Doll/ Bot companies claim that today’s most futuristic dolls can learn whatever names you give them, when your birthday is, how to read poetry, and even hold their own during erotic conversations. Plus, they don’t require cab fare when you’re done or a romantic dinner before you even get started.
In comparison, the “busted up bargain bots” as I lovingly call them only range from $4,000 to $12,000. But with continued advances in technology, the price across the bot board is certain to drop, making this tech more accessible to the average person, which will undoubtedly lead to more dolls and bots, but probably the same scant amount of information about the psychological ramifications of a purposeful romantic love relationship with a non-human entity.
And this was a new one on moi…
Enter the Slutbot Sexting Tutors
Supposedly, these were developed in response to the controversy that has obviously sprung up around the invention of such high-functioning sex bots, with people arguing that such machines will make interpersonal interactions a thing of the past. But the world’s first Slutbot Sexting Tutor has entered the scene and it’s definitely making the conversation more interesting- in more ways than one. This intuitive robot helps users express their sexy, seductive side in a more efficient and flirty way, which serves as not only a relationship booster, but also a terrific add-on to any interactive sex toy you might already own and utilize. So its reason for existence is basically to transform lonely -cis men into slutbox sexters? Alllrrrightyyy thennn…
The True Future of Sex Toys Is Non-Binary
When sex toys became popular in the ‘70s, they were made “by men” and “for women” so it’s no great wonder that they looked like giant towering examples of realistic penises, complete with veins and perfectly sculpted heads, often with an attached set of perfectly sculpted balls, neatly placed where they would be in an anatomy schematic but never in real life. They were typically flesh toned and the focus was placed on the penetrative aspect as opposed to being concerned with stimulation. In short, they missed the mark, and that really set them up to continue to miss it for a very long time. Why? Because that’s what the industry execs assumed women wanted to use. And so began a long enduring disconnect. But fast forward to today, when the sex tech industry is finally focused on inclusion, and actually does include some non-binary-led companies amongst the many powerful female-led companies, all of them seeing that the future of sex tech is truly and unapologetically non-binary.
Gone are the days of “one size dildo fits all vulvas.” Gone are the days when hot pink phallic contraptions had to be appreciated, just because it was amazing to even have a choice. It’s a good thing that those days are in the rearview mirror. But let’s face it, there’s still a huge amount of phobia surrounding sex in general, no matter the labels or qualifiers. But it’s magnified and multiplied when it’s non-cis, non-hetero sex. Thankfully, more and more companies are working hard to do away with that phobia.
When it comes to sex toys, we now recognize that sexual interests and tastes can be as unique and singular as the bodies that contain them. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting a rainbow glitter dick, lipstick vibrator, or hyper-realistic flesh-colored dildo, many of these products can be alienating to individuals who may identify as gender nonbinary, or people who feel put off by the gender essentialism of toys created “for men” or “for women.” So, in light of the increased cultural awareness of non-binary gender identities, innovative sex toy designs are making pleasure more accessible for everyone. One company striving to make the sex toy industry more inclusive is Wild Flower, a nonbinary sex toy retailer and digital community dedicated to providing sex education to those who have been overlooked by the adult industry.
What makes purchasing a sex toy so difficult for some individuals are the ideas and labels that automatically come attached to them like baggage. Gender, sex, and bodies are complex topics… acknowledge this and counter it by totally eliminating gender in marketing. While this might make things like search engine optimization difficult, the upside is that newly unlabeled and unlimited genderfluid-friendly toys can open minds and new worlds of sexual expression for everyone, regardless of how they identify, or if they even do at all. Free the toys!
A Victorian Take on Remote Sex
Today’s blog has been all about the future of sex tech, which at its heart centers around smart sex toys designed for remote sex in one of many forms. But really, remote sex is nothing new. Ever since the dawn of literacy, lovers separated by distance or circumstance have touched each other remotely through erotic letters held and read in one hand… while doing something else with the other. If you’ve got some time, there are many examples of “Victorian sexting” during the civil war era online. Some of it is hilarious and some is pretty mind blowing… but let’s take a quick “wow break” to check out a couple of excerpts from letters between none other than General George Armstrong Custer and his wife Elizabeth “Libbie” Bacon Custer, who was said to be “hotter than a $2 pistol.” We’ll see how they implemented remote sex.
Far from the prudish stereotype of the Victorian woman, Libbie clearly delighted in creative euphemism and double-entendre. In one letter to her husband, she wrote of “a soft place upon somebody’s carpet” and of her desire to “sit Tomboy” (as in astride) for “just one… ride” as they were fond of asking for “just one” which appears to be a reference to an orgasm. Scandalous.
Custer wrote in reply “Oh, I do want one so badly. I know where I would kiss somebody if I was with her tonight.” Shocking.
Nothing could dampen Custer’s ardor for Libbie. During one of his campaigns, he sent her the 19th Century equivalent of a dick pic:
“Good morning my Rosebud. ‘John’ has been making constant and earnest inquiries for his bunkey for a long time, and this morning he seems more persistent than ever, probably due to the fact that he knows he is homeward bound.”
And in one letter to her BFF, Libby told her that she and Custer had had a threesome, and it seems like she wants her to stay!
She said “Custer, as I, devoted most of our attention … to the selection of a pretty girl… This pretty girl … was held by both of us, and would do more toward furnishing and beautifying our army quarters than any amount of speechless bric-abrac.”
That Libby was really freaky. And the great General Custer was into it. Who knew?
Now moving away from the Victorian age and through the 20th century, remote sex migrated to the telephone, when even Dear Abby approved of- and even recommended- phone sex for long distance lovers. Of course, any form of remote sex is not the “real thing,” but the body’s sexiest organ is the mind, and remote sex talk excites it just as much now as it did in years past. Teledildonics and cyberdildonics basically combine these excited and sexy thoughts, and therefore the minds, of each half of a couple that are separated, bringing them together virtually, and that extends the potential excitement more than ever before.
Potential Real World Ramifications of Sex Tech
Teledildonics Biggest Winners: Sex Workers
No doubt some long-distance lovers will embrace teledildonics and have big juicy fun. But the largest market for Web-enabled sex devices appears to be sex work. The Web already contains a surfeit of sites whose female (and gay male) employees show their assets, touch themselves, and exhort remote users to masturbate, all in an effort to earn a buck.
Teledildonics not only makes remote sex work more lifelike, it’s also more personal. The phone-Web interface is more one on one, allowing consumers to feel closer to providers. In addition, teledildonics allows sex workers to earn extra money by fulfilling requests. Men can tip to see the sex worker fellate a dildo while they physically feel it by utilizing a device. Tipping is almost too easy: just tap your phone, and voila… the fee is charged to your credit card. No fuss, no muss, no exchange of fluids.
Many sex workers prefer remote sex to the real thing. And why not? The hours are flexible. They can work in the privacy of their homes. And compared to the alternatives: street-walking, massage parlors, hotel calls, and brothels, remote sex is safer… no violent customers, poor hygiene, or sexually transmitted diseases, and no risk of arrest. Police generally focus on street level sex work; they really couldn’t care less what people do on the phone behind closed doors. Teledildonics is also safer for men who regularly pay for sex as well, and for all the same reasons.
Teledildonics’ Biggest Losers: Women Who Abhor Porn and Snoops
While teledildonics may be a boon to long distance lovers, it’s bound to cause consternation among women who feel threatened by their men masturbating to porn. Except instead of the man stroking himself to some random video image, now teledildonics allows him to look at a real live woman who’s stroking, licking, and using a Web-enabled sex toy. Many men are likely to find that more compelling than porn. And I suspect that their wives will not exactly be thrilled about all that.
By some estimates, as many as 25 percent of coupled individuals have peeked into their partners’ devices looking for evidence of porn use or affairs. I hear about this from patients all the time. They complain that their partner tracks them, or steals their phone to snoop. Some put a screen lock on, but their partners know that sometimes the photos they might be looking for would be on the micro card, so they snag it and plug it into their phone to snoop. Anyway, the evolution of sex tech means that from now until who knows when, jealous and insecure partners will continue to snoop and should now be expected to check for teledildonics apps- after scouring the phone for texts and calls with random women, and tossing the closets and drawers looking for web-enabled sex toys.
As teledildonics and cyberdildonics become more established, I think the news media will treat it breathlessly, with sympathetic profiles of long distance couples who “really enjoy it” followed by hand-wringing from those who consider it a threat. Personally, I find that sex sells… people love to read about it and speculate on it, and app-enabled sex toys are a fascinating new wrinkle in the oldest quest of all time: the search for erotic satisfaction. Especially in my profession, where that search is often tied into self worth. I’m not terribly concerned with what it all means for civilization, since it’s not like commercial phone sex services have led us to the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah in previous years. We’ll survive. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but lust is often the father of necessity… because don’t forget that a hard prick has no conscience.
Sex Tech Psychology
The End of the World as We Know It?
If the sexbots are already here, what’s next? Will everyone start marrying dolls and sever connections with other human beings? If we get used to programming our partner, how could we ever go back to human beings with free choice? Panic rules the streets!
I’ve read articles and comments online that point to concerns that sexbots and VR pornography could dehumanize sex and warp our perception of consensual relationships, but I’m not convinced of that at all. Even if that’s a possibility in the future, it’s certainly not the case yet, because I think sex robots have yet to seem ‘real’ enough to appeal to a large audience. Until the last couple of years, designers have been very bad at making human-like robots, as technology hasn’t been all that well suited to it, and our brains can easily pick out points where human-like things don’t look like humans, and that’s a buzzkill in every way imaginable. And until recently, after advancements in skin technology to add warmth and feel and the addition of more realistic facial features and movements, sex robots have really just been immobile sex dolls glorified with some animatronics and chat capabilities built in, and I think it’s going to stay niche as long as that’s the case, and that makes it a non-starter in the problem department. I don’t think they treat these dolls like real people.
But some vehemently disagree, claiming that owners become deeply bonded to bots, but also add that even if their use of sex dolls appears to dehumanize real (meaning actually human) women or promotes misogyny, that in reality, bot-owners actually “cherish” their dolls and treat them with respect. That’s a ‘Hmmm maybe’ for moi people. I’m sure that for some people that find it hard to make connections and sustain romantic relationships, sex dolls could be an incredibly useful way to combat loneliness. But I can’t imagine a way that any man could ever convince himself that he is in a real relationship with a doll. Just doesn’t compute for me. But I guess the fact is that it doesn’t have to! In the meantime, it’s an interesting theoretical, but I don’t think I’ll be spending much time worrying about it.
The Future of Sex Toys: For Better or Worse? Utopia or Dystopia?
Should we be excited about all this new technology, or terrified of what the future holds? Are sex robots a threat to human relationships, or a niche invention which can help the lonely without affecting anyone else?
With all of the questions swirling around the future of sex, I think that the answers have everything to do with being human, and little to nothing to do with technology. No matter what “toys” you add, it still comes down to a person’s brain, as that’s what’s ultimately in control. As for the future, I’m just hoping for one that is more open, with less judgement and shame, and more acceptance and equality. I think that’s something we can all get behind. However it goes, the future of sex tech promises to be exciting, and all we can do is wait for it to be revealed and see what it’s about.
Thanks- be well, people!
Postpartum Depression: o
Signs, Symptoms, New Treatment?
Last week, we talked about sex and orgasms, so it seems only fitting that this week, I talk about the potential ‘homework’ that may come after the sex and orgasms: pregnancy… and the postpartum depression that may accompany it.
It is one of life’s greatest joys, and for me personally, the proudest moment of my entire life: the birth of a child. But no matter how much you love that baby or how you’ve looked forward to its arrival, having a baby is stressful on both parents for many reasons. However, there are specific reasons that make it more physically and emotionally taxing on mom. Captain Obvious says that there are many physical, emotional, and chemical changes in a woman’s body that allow them to (help) create, carry, and birth these little miracles. And add to that the onset of new responsibilities, sleep deprivation, and lack of time for any personal care, it’s not a big shock that lots of new moms get overwhelmed and feel like they’re on an emotional rollercoaster from hell. In fact, the mild depression and mood swings that are so common in new mothers have earned them a name, “the baby blues.” But how do you know if what mom is feeling goes beyond the blues? What should you look for, and when should you seek help?
The majority of women experience at least some symptoms of the baby blues immediately after childbirth. Why? It’s all down to female hormones: specifically, progesterone and estrogen, the big kahunas in the female hormone universe.
Progesterone’s role in pregnancy is so vital that it’s referred to as the “pregnancy hormone.” Actually, progesterone comes into play long before pregnancy, as it is one of the hormones secreted by the ovaries that governs ovulation and menstruation in post-pubescent women. Then upon conception, it gets the uterus ready to accept, implant, and maintain a fertilized egg, and it also prevents the uterine muscle contractions that would otherwise cause a woman’s body to reject it. During fetal gestation, it helps create an environment that nurtures the developing baby. It makes it sound like progesterone is in there painting, hanging curtains, and fluffing pillows, but its role goes way beyond that. The placenta, which is the structure inside the uterus that provides oxygen and nutrients to a developing baby, will itself begin to produce progesterone after about 8 to 10 weeks of pregnancy. At this point, the placenta increases progesterone production to a much higher rate than the ovaries ever thought about making. Those high levels of progesterone throughout the pregnancy cause the mom’s body to stop producing more eggs, as well as prepare her breasts to produce milk.
Also produced by the ovaries when not pregnant, and then later by the placenta during pregnancy, estrogen helps the uterus grow, maintains the uterine lining where the budding baby is nestled, steps up blood circulation, and activates and regulates the production of other key hormones. In early pregnancy, it also helps mom develop her milk-making machinery. And baby benefits too, as estrogen triggers the development of those teeny tiny organs and regulates bone density in those cute little developing arms that wave and legs that kick.
The increased levels of progesterone and estrogen during pregnancy actually make mom feel good and feel bonded to baby, even though she may be crying her eyes out for virtually no reason (sorry ladies) in the beginning. Levels of both hormones continue to increase as the pregnancy advances, and mom’s body actually gets used to these high levels. Then when the baby is born, there’s no more placenta, so mom’s progesterone and estrogen levels drop suddenly and precipitously, in a matter of hours. So mom goes essentially cold turkey from high hormone levels to comparatively no hormone levels. Sudden hormonal change + stress + isolation + sleep deprivation + fatigue = tearful + overwhelmed + emotionally fragile mom. Generally, these feelings can start within just the first day or so after delivery, peak at around one week, and taper off by the end of the second, third, or maybe up to the fourth week postpartum; that’s if it’s the baby blues.
These baby blues are perfectly normal, but if symptoms are extreme, don’t go away after a month, or get worse, mom may be suffering from postpartum depression and likely needs help.
Postpartum Signs & Symptoms
Though they share some symptoms, postpartum depression is a much more serious problem than the baby blues, and should never be ignored. Shared symptoms of the two include mood swings, crying jags, sadness, insomnia, and irritability.
Postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbearing, and it occurs in 10% to 20% of all moms after delivery. It is different from the baby blues in that the symptoms are more severe and longer lasting. It is an issue that can’t be blown off or underestimated, because it begins at a critical time, when mom is caring for a helpless infant and needs to be bonding with them.
Symptoms of postpartum depression can include suicidal thoughts, an inability to care for the newborn child, and in extreme cases, even thoughts of harming the baby. Postpartum can be extremely debilitating, and certain signs can put the lives of mom and/ or baby in jeopardy.
Beyond the Blues
Common Red Flags for Postpartum:
-Mom withdraws from partner
-Mom’s unable to bond well with baby
-Mom’s anxiety gets out of control, preventing ability to sleep and/ or eat
-Mom feels guilty, worthless, useless, overwhelmed
-Mom seems preoccupied with death or wishing she were no longer alive
There’s no single reason why some new moms develop postpartum depression and others don’t, but a number of interrelated causes and risk factors are generally at play.
Postpartum Causes/ Triggers
Hormonal changes after childbirth cause fatigue and depression:
-Progesterone/ estrogen levels drop
-Thyroid levels can drop
-Changes in blood pressure, immune system functioning, metabolism
Numerous physical/ emotional changes after delivery:
-Physical delivery pain
-Difficulty losing baby weight
-Insecurity, especially in physical/ sexual attractiveness
Significant stress of caring for a newborn:
-Mom is sleep deprived
-Mom is overwhelmed/ anxious about her abilities to properly care for baby
-Mom has difficulty adjusting
All of the above factors are especially true in first time moms, as they must also get used to an entirely new identity at the same time.
Postpartum Risk Factors
Several factors can predispose a mom to suffer from postpartum depression:
-History of postpartum depression
A prior episode can increase the chances of a repeat episode by 30% to 50%.
-History of non-pregnancy related depression and/ or family history of mood disturbances
-Social stressors, including lack of emotional support, abusive relationship, and/ or financial uncertainty
-Significantly increased risk in women who discontinue medications abruptly for purposes of pregnancy.
Postpartum psychosis is an even more rare, and more extremely serious disorder that can also develop after childbirth. Characterized by a loss of contact with reality, postpartum psychosis poses an extremely high risk for suicide or infanticide, and hospitalization is nearly always required to keep both mom and baby safe. Postpartum psychosis develops suddenly, usually within the first two weeks after delivery, and sometimes within a matter of 48 hours.
Postpartum Psychosis Symptoms
Postpartum psychosis is considered a medical emergency requiring immediate medical attention.
-Hallucinations: seeing things and/ or hearing voices that aren’t real
-Delusions: paranoid, irrational beliefs
-Extreme agitation and anxiety
-Suicidal thoughts or actions
-Confusion and disorientation
-Rapid mood swings
-Inability or refusal to eat or sleep
-Thoughts of harming or killing baby
There is a screening tool that can be used to detect postpartum depression, called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. I will put the questions and explain the scoring of this scale at the conclusion of this blog. It can be helpful if mom or partner isn’t quite sure if symptoms are the baby blues or true postpartum depression.
Coping with Postpartum Depression
Four Tips for Moms:
1) Create a secure attachment with baby.
The emotional bonding process between mom and child, known as attachment, is the most important task of infancy. The success of this wordless relationship enables a child to feel secure enough to develop fully, and affects how he or she will interact, communicate, and form relationships throughout their entire lives.
A secure attachment is formed when moms respond warmly and consistently to baby’s physical and emotional needs. When baby cries, quickly soothe them. If baby laughs or smiles, respond in kind. In essence, the goal is for mom and baby to be in synch, and to be able to recognize and respond to each other’s emotional signals.
Postpartum depression can interrupt this bonding. Depressed moms can be loving and attentive at times, but at other times may react negatively or not respond at all. Moms with postpartum depression are generally inconsistent in their care, and tend to interact less with their babies; they are also less likely to breastfeed, play with, and read to them. Postpartum is sinister in this way, as learning to bond with baby not only benefits the child, it also benefits mom by releasing endorphins that make mom feel happier and more confident. By its very presence, postpartum makes the bonding process difficult, and therefore mom is less likely to produce those endorphins that would make her feel better. It’s a vicious cycle.
If mom didn’t experience a secure attachment as an infant, she may not know how to create a secure attachment as a mom. However, this can be learned, as human brains are definitively primed for this kind of nonverbal emotional connection that creates so much pleasure for both mom and baby.
2) Lean on others for help and support.
Human beings are social creatures. Positive social contact relieves stress faster and more efficiently than any other means of stress reduction. Historically, and from an evolutionary perspective, new moms have typically received help from those around them after childbirth. In today’s world, new moms often find themselves alone, exhausted, and lonely for supportive adult contact.
Ideas to better connect with others:
-Make relationships a priority. When feeling depressed and vulnerable, it’s more important than ever to stay connected to family and friends, even if you’d rather be alone. Isolating will only make the situation feel even bleaker, so make adult relationships a priority. Let loved ones know your needs and how you wish to be supported.
-Don’t hide feelings. In addition to the practical help that friends and family can provide, they can also serve as a much-needed emotional outlet. Share experiences- good, bad, and ugly- with at least one other person, and preferably face to face. It doesn’t matter who mom talks to, so long as that person is willing to listen without judgment and offer reassurance and support.
-Be a joiner. Even if mom has supportive friends, she may want to consider seeking out other women who are dealing with the same transition into motherhood. It’s very reassuring to hear other mothers share the same worries, insecurities, and feelings. Good places to meet other new moms include support groups for new parents or organizations such as ‘Mommy and Me.’ Pediatricians can also be excellent neighborhood resources.
3) Take care of yourself. One of the best things moms can do to relieve or avoid postpartum depression is to take care of themselves. The more moms care for their mental and physical well-being, the better they’ll feel.
Simple lifestyle changes can go a long way toward helping moms feel more like themselves again.
-Skip the housework. Make yourself and baby the priority, and give yourself the permission to concentrate on just that. Remember that being a 24/7 mom is far more work than holding down a traditional full-time job.
-Ease back into exercise. Studies show that exercise may be just as effective as medication when it comes to treating depression, so the sooner moms get back up and moving, the better. No need to overdo it: a 30-minute walk each day will work wonders. Stretching exercises, like those found in yoga, have shown to be especially effective.
-Practice mindfulness meditation. Research supports the effectiveness of mindfulness for making moms feel calmer and more energized. It can also help moms become more aware of what they feel and need.
-Don’t skimp on sleep. A full eight hours may seem like an unattainable luxury when dealing with a newborn, but poor sleep makes depression worse. Moms must do whatever they can to get plenty of rest- from enlisting the help of the partner or family members, to catching naps at every opportunity.
-Set aside quality time for yourself to relax and take a break from mom duties. Find small ways to pamper yourself, like taking a bubble bath, savoring a hot cup of tea, lighting scented candles, or getting a massage at a day spa, or even calling a masseuse to come to you.
-Make meals a priority. Nutrition often suffers during depression. What mom eats has an impact on her mood, and also the quality of breast milk the baby requires, so always make the best effort to establish and maintain healthy eating habits, for yourself and baby.
-Get out in the sunshine. Sunlight lifts the mood, so try to get at least 10 to 15 minutes of sun each day.
4) Make time for your relationship with your partner. More than half of all divorces take place after the birth of a child. For many men and women, the relationship with their partner is their primary source of emotional expression and social connection. The demands and needs of a new baby can get in the way and fracture this relationship, unless couples put time, energy, and thought into preserving their bond.
-Don’t scapegoat. The stress from nights of no sleep and new or expanded responsibilities can leave parents feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. It’s all too easy to play the blame game and turn frustrations onto your partner. Instead of finger pointing, remember that you’re in this together. If you tackle parenting challenges as a team, you’ll find that you’ll become an even stronger unit.
-Keep the lines of communication open. Many things change following the birth of a baby, including roles and expectations. For many couples, a key source of strain is the post-baby division of household and childcare responsibilities. It’s important to talk about these issues, rather than letting them fester. Don’t assume your partner has a crystal ball or knows how you feel or what you need, because you’re bound to feel perpetually disappointed and frustrated if you do.
-Carve out couple time. It’s essential to make time for just the two of you when you can reconnect. But don’t put pressure on yourself to be romantic or adventurous, unless you’ve discussed it and found you’re both game. And you don’t need to go out on a date to enjoy each other’s company. Just spending even 15 or 20 minutes together, undistracted and focused on each other, can make a big difference in how close you feel to each other.
Treatment for Postpartum Depression
If, despite self-help and the support of family, mom is still struggling with postpartum depression, it’s best to seek professional treatment.
-Individual therapy/ marriage counseling A good therapist can help moms deal better with the adjustments of motherhood. If moms or partners are experiencing marital difficulties or are feeling unsupported at home, marriage counseling can also be very beneficial.
-Antidepressants. In postpartum cases where mom’s ability to function adequately for herself or baby is compromised, antidepressants may be an option, though they are more effective when accompanied with psychotherapy. Obviously, medication must be closely monitored by a physician.
-Hormone therapy: Estrogen replacement therapy can sometimes be helpful in combating postpartum depression, and is often used in combination with an antidepressant. There are risks that go along with hormone therapy, so moms must be sure to talk to their doctor about what may be best, and safest, for them.
Helping New Moms with Postpartum
If your loved one is a mom experiencing postpartum depression, the best thing you can do is to offer support, give her a break from her childcare duties, provide a listening ear, and always be patient and understanding. But, be sure to take care of yourself too. Dealing with the needs of a new baby is hard for the partner as well as mom. And if your significant other is depressed, that means you are dealing with two major stressors.
Tips for Partners:
-Encourage mom to talk about her feelings. Listen without judgement and without making demands. Instead of trying to ‘just fix’ things, simply be there for mom to lean on.
-Offer help around the house. Chip in with the housework and childcare responsibilities, and don’t wait for mom to ask… trust me on this one!
-Make sure mom takes time for herself. Rest and relaxation are even more important after a new edition. Encourage her to take breaks, hire a babysitter, or schedule some date nights.
-Be patient if she’s not ready for sex. Depression affects sex drive, so it may be a while before mom’s in the mood. Offer her physical affection, but don’t push it if she’s not up for anything beyond that.
-Getting exercise can make a big dent in depression, but it’s hard for moms to get motivated when they’re feeling low. So do something simple, like going going for a walk with mom. Better yet, make walks a daily ritual for just the two of you, or for the whole family.
There is a fairly new breakthrough drug called Zulresso (brexanolone). Approved in 2019, Zulresso is a neuropathic drug, and first in its class. So what is it? Basically, it’s an aqueous (water-based) solution of progesterone products. They have taken the component product of progesterone and put it into solution; it is then administered to a new mom with postpartum depression. And then a miracle happens… seriously! This lifts postpartum depression like a kid does candy. It is a scientific breakthrough; never before have we had a drug that treats postpartum depression faster than any drug for any type of depression, ever. That’s the good news, but guess what comes next… the bad. While we know it works, very well and very quickly, there are some major disadvantages of this drug. The first one is that it can only be administered by IV infusion. So that means that you have to place an IV map into mom’s vein and drip the drug in with IV fluid. That brings me to the next big disadvantage: it can only be administered in a hospital setting. Why is that? Well, studies show that during administration, which takes place over about 60 hours, two and a half days, some moms can become very dizzy and faint, can lose consciousness, and can even stop breathing. For all of these reasons, moms must be medically monitored with an oximeter and telemetry for two and a half days, during which time they must be checked on every two hours. And they cannot be in charge of baby during this hospital stay, because they may be in and out of consciousness and/ or have severe respiratory issues. While that’s no bueno, the last disadvantage is muy loco, people. Are you ready? The drug costs $34,000. Yep. But wait, it gets better, which in this case, actually means worse. That little $34K is just for the drug! The hospitalization and monitoring costs more… a lot more. And to add insult to injury, you have to shell out the cash to pay for a sitter to watch baby, as mom could potentially be very busy losing consciousness and going into respiratory distress.
Needless to say, Zulresso is not used very much, even though it is an amazing breakthrough product, essentially curing the notoriously difficult-to-treat postpartum depression in a mere 60 hours. There are some other anti-depressants that work pretty well. Effexor (venlafaxine, desvenlafaxine) and Wellbutrin (bupropion) with antipsychotics like Abilify help to speed up the treatment process generally show some progress in about a week.
So while I’m very impressed with Zulresso as a novel, first-in-class drug, you can see my practical issues with it. Although, I suppose that everything is relative: if my wife were suffering from serious postpartum depression, to the point that she was suicidal, or the baby’s life was in danger, and it was refractory, meaning all other treatment options had been tried and failed, I would find a way to get the Zulresso treatment; I’d make it happen, by contacting the manufacturer for patient support options. Or maybe by selling a kidney. Whatever it took.
Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale
This 10-question self-rating scale has proven to be an efficient way of identifying patients at risk for “perinatal” or postpartum depression. While this test was specifically designed to be administered by a medical professional, to a woman who is pregnant or has just had a baby, it can be used as an effective at-home guide to determine if you or someone you care about has postpartum depression. Just make sure to follow all of your score’s corresponding action(s).
For each of the 10 questions, please check mark the answer that comes closest to how you have felt in the past 7 days. Scoring is explained after the questions.1) I have been able to laugh and see the funny side of things.
____ As much as I always could
____ Not quite so much now
____ Definitely not so much now
____ Not at all2) I have looked forward with enjoyment to things.
____ As much as I ever did
____ Rather less than I used to
____ Definitely less than I used to
____ Hardly at all3) I have blamed myself unnecessarily when things went wrong.
____ Yes, most of the time
____ Yes, some of the time
____ Not very often
____ No, never4) I have been anxious or worried for no good reason.
____ No not at all
____ Hardly ever
____ Yes, sometimes
____ Yes, very often5) I have felt scared or panicky for no very good reason.
____ Yes, quite a lot
____ Yes, sometimes
____ No, not much
____ No, not at all6) Things have been getting on top of me.
____ Yes, most of the time I haven’t been able to cope at all
____ Yes, sometimes I haven’t been coping as well as usual
____ No, most of the time I have coped quite well
____ No, I have been coping as well as ever7) I have been so unhappy that I have had difficulty sleeping.
____ Yes, most of the time
____ Yes, sometimes
____ Not very often
____ No, not at all8) I have felt sad or miserable.
____ Yes, most of the time
____ Yes, sometimes
____ Not very often
____ No, not at all9) I have been so unhappy that I have been crying.
____ Yes, most of the time
____ Yes, quite often
____ Only occasionally
____ No, never10) The thought of harming myself has occurred to me.
____ Yes, quite often
____ Hardly ever
SCORING VALUES AND GUIDE
Grade each of your checked answers with the specifically stated score, then add the scores together. Take that sum and apply to the interpretation/ action scale and follow the stated suggestion.1) I have been able to laugh and see the funny side of things
0 As much as I always could
1 Not quite so much now
2 Definitely not so much now
3 Not at all 2) I have looked forward with enjoyment to things
0 As much as I ever did
1 Rather less than I used to
2 Definitely less than I used to
3 Hardly at all 3) I have blamed myself unnecessarily when things went wrong
3 Yes, most of the time
2 Yes, some of the time
1 Not very often
0 No, never 4) I have been anxious or worried for no good reason
0 No, not at all
1 Hardly ever
2 Yes, sometimes
3 Yes, very often 5) I have felt scared or panicky for no very good reason
3 Yes, quite a lot
2 Yes, sometimes
1 No, not much
0 No, not at all 6) Things have been getting on top of me
3 Yes, most of the time I haven’t been able to cope
2 Yes, sometimes I haven’t been coping as well as usual
1 No, most of the time I have coped quite well
0 No, I have been coping as well as ever 7) I have been so unhappy that I have had difficulty sleeping
3 Yes, most of the time
2 Yes, sometimes
1 Not very often
0 No, not at all8) I have felt sad or miserable
3 Yes, most of the time
2 Yes, quite often
1 Not very often
0 No, not at all 9) I have been so unhappy that I have been crying
3 Yes, most of the time
2 Yes, quite often
1 Only occasionally
0 No, never 10) The thought of harming myself has occurred to me
3 Yes, quite often
1 Hardly ever
EPDS Score Interpretation/ Action
Score of 8 or less: depression not likely, but continue to seek support.
Score of 9 to 11: depression is possible, continue seeking support and re-screen in 2 to 4 weeks. Seriously consider appointment with primary care provider or established mental health professional.
Score of 12 to 13: fairly high possibility
of depression. Continue to monitor and seek support. Make appointment to see primary care provider or established mental health professional.
Score of 14 and higher: this is a positive screen for probable postpartum depression. Diagnostic assessment is required to determine appropriate treatment. See mental health specialist or primary care provider for referral to same.
Note: if there is any positive score (a rating of 1, 2, or 3) on question 10 (suicidality risk) definite immediate discussion and possible emergency management is required. Refer to primary care provider, mental health specialist, or emergency resource for further assessment and intervention as appropriate. The urgency of the referral will depend on several factors, including: whether suicidal ideation is accompanied by a plan, whether there has been a history of suicide attempt(s), whether symptoms of a psychotic disorder are present, and/ or if there is concern about harm to the baby.
So that’s all the news on postpartum depression. If you liked this, please share with friends and family. Look for new blogs here every Monday, and check out my book, Tales from the Couch, for more education and patient stories, available on Amazon.com. See my YouTube channel for new lectures- I post them all the time. And I’d appreciate it if you hit that subscribe button, people! Thanks everybody, be well.
*Reader Discretion/ Age Advisory*
Pedophilia: Predators in Your Back Yard
Pedophilia has become a topic of increased interest, awareness, and concern for both the medical community and the public at large. In my nearly thirty years of practice, I am sad to say that I have treated far too many victims of pedophilia and sexual predation of every unimaginably horrific kind; those narratives are indelibly etched into my memory. In the last decade or so, increased media exposure, new sexual offender disclosure laws, web sites listing the names and addresses of convicted sexual offenders, and increased investigations of sexual acts with children have increased public awareness about pedophilia. That’s definitely a good thing. The passing of laws, like Megan’s Law in 1996, authorizes local law enforcement agencies to notify the public about convicted sex offenders living, working, or visiting their communities, and has helped expose pedophiles living amongst us, and this allows parents to better protect their children.
But in the age of the internet, cyber predators can stalk their victims from a safe distance before ever suggesting they meet. They can be very cunning, and they often lie about their age/ gender/ status/ likes/ dislikes; they play online team video games to attract children, and they make up customized stories, tailor made to lure specific victims. Because of these realities, it’s important for everyone to understand pedophilia, its rate of occurrence, and the characteristics of both pedophiles and sexually abused children.
In recent years, the law has taken a tougher stance on dealing with pedophiles and sexual predators, and exposure is often the order of the day for the media, as these cases play out in the wide open. You need only note the allegations of sexual predation in the priesthood or in the Boy Scouts to realize that predators are everywhere, even in some unlikely places. Who can forget Jared Fogle, the smiley faced Subway spokesman who lost 200-plus pounds, supposedly by eating only sub sandwiches? Who would’ve ever guessed that he was actually a predator, targeting children of middle school age, a demographic he often found himself in the company of during his well paid and nation wide lectures about healthy eating habits. That age group was his preference, but he wasn’t discriminatory by any stretch of the imagination. He made that quite clear in the surreptitiously taped conversations he had with a “friend” who was actually working undercover for the FBI. I was physically repulsed when I heard those recordings, and even as I remember them now, I can actually taste and feel the bile rising in my throat. Ultimately, in 2015, Fogle was adjudicated as guilty of charges of child pornography and having sex with minors, and was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison. He apparently passes the time by filing frivolous lawsuits against the Feds and Donald Trump, all without the aid of his attorney.
A name synonymous with sexual predation since the millennium, especially here in Palm Beach County, is of course Jeffrey Epstein. This multimillionaire financier dirtbag was a predator incarnate, who, over a period of at least 15 years, lured a procession of girls as young as 14 to his Palm Beach mansion to perform nude bedroom massages for money; massages that often ended with Epstein groping or sexually assaulting the girls. All told, investigators found evidence that Epstein preyed on at least 80 girls total, here and in New York.
One of my patients, I’ll call her Dominique, was one of at least 15 girls from Royal Palm Beach High School alone, who Epstein sexually exploited in that aforementioned bedroom 15 years ago, and she will live with those memories forever. At the time, it was a not-so-well-kept secret among RPBHS students, teachers, and administrators that girls were being sexually exploited in return for gifts of cash, expensive cars, trips, and shopping sprees courtesy of their Sugar Daddy; but nobody reported their concerns to authorities at the time. Epstein masterminded an underage sexual assault scheme, paying girls $200 for each new victim they recruited, instructing them to target vulnerable girls, often on the verge of homelessness and desperately needing money, and “the younger the better.”
Dominique drove a convertible Mercedes, courtesy of Epstein, flew in his jet to travel on trips with him to Mexico and the US Virgin Islands, and met some very famous and influential people, including a former POTUS, a ridiculously wealthy computer nerd, and one particularly slimy smarmy one that calls Britain’s monarch “Mummy.” Dominique told me that she and the other girls would skip school, hang out at his house, float around in the pool, go out on the boat, or head to Worth Ave for lunch, followed by black card shopping. The girls also drank alcohol and did drugs, made available by Epstein, of course. Consumption of alcohol and drugs is a way that predators groom their targets, to seduce them, make them more comfortable and less inhibited, and hamper their ability to resist.
The girls traded sexual favors in exchange for all of the cash and material gifts he gave them, and Dominique said that oral sex and intercourse were just an acceptable part of the deal; it was very much a simple transaction. The better the girls were, the more they pleased him, the more money and gifts he would give them. It was a calculated and infinitely alluring arrangement, all by Epstein’s diabolical design, and before she knew it, Dominique was in over her head, but yet unable to cut ties. Thankfully, the law intervened and cut those ties for her, for once and for all. Now she’s moving on with her life and looking forward to the future, all while still dealing with the extreme damage done in the past.
When any of his girls became nervous or ever questioned activities, Epstein had a remedy for those circumstances as well. He used his “assistant” Ghislaine Maxwell as a beard to make the girls feel more comfortable; sort of an older sister vibe, a figure for them to look up to and emulate. She played a key role in the scheme, and she’s currently awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges and who knows what else. In his first two charges here in Palm Beach County (soliciting a minor for prostitution and procuring minors for prostitution) Epstein made a sweetheart deal with the Florida DA’s office, spending 13 months (of an 18 month sentence) in a private wing of the Palm Beach County Jail on Gun Club Road, but he was still allowed to go to “work” on Palm Beach Island six days a week for twelve hours each day. I consider that incomprehensible. Then after he served his tiny time here, he was facing more charges in New York for sex trafficking of girls as young as 14 and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. Apparently, the Feds also had a lot more charges up their sleeves, and were investigating every single thing in his life. At his arraignment in New York, Epstein pleaded not guilty to all charges. If convicted, he would have faced up to 45 years in prison. But, evidently, he couldn’t take the heat. He was found hanging in his cell by the guard that may have been too busy sleeping to guard him. The coroner’s manner of death was listed as suicide, but his family and other conspiracy theorists say he was murdered. Either way, he’s gone, as is the opportunity for his victims to face him in open court and tell their truths.
Below, I define pedophilia and associated terms, and discuss a generalized profile of a typical pedophile or sexual predator, and go over what you can do to protect children from such predators.
Pedophile, Hebephile, Ephebophile, Predator, or Child Molester?
I want to clarify some terms related to pedophilia. A pedophile is a person who is primarily attracted to prepubescent children, usually defined as under the age of 12. A common mistake is to define a pedophile as anyone attracted to another person that is below the age of majority; but this definition would include people attracted to teens, which is incorrect. Even a late adolescent (like 15 or 16 years old) can be a pedophile, if they have sexual interest in prepubescent children. A hebephile is a person who is primarily attracted to others in their young to mid-teens, while an ephebophile is a person who is primarily attracted to others in their mid-to-late adolescence. Captain Obvious says that a child molester is anyone who molests a child, but without regard to their sexual attractions or preferences. Their act of molestation is not typically linked to sexual desire or interest. In the interest of time for this blog, I will not divide or differentiate the term predator into hebephile or ephebophile, and the terms pedophile, predator, and molester will be used interchangeably.
Pedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or an older adolescent is sexually attracted to young children. Pedophiles can be anyone: rich or poor, young or old, of any race/ creed/ color, educated or not, and professional or not. Despite this wide array of potentially inclusive characteristics, pedophiles do often demonstrate similar attributes. Please note that these are just possible indicators, and you should never automatically assume that individuals with these indicators or characteristics are pedophiles. But noticing these characteristics in a person, in combination with questionable behavior, could be a red flag that someone may be a pedophile or sexual predator.
All parents want to protect their children from predators, but how do you do that when you don’t know how to spot one? Anyone can be a pedophile/ predator/ child molester, so identifying one can be difficult, especially because most of them are initially trusted by the children they abuse. Below, I’ll go over which behaviors and traits are red flags, what situations to avoid, and how to deter predators from targeting your child.
Understand that there is no one physical characteristic, appearance, profession, or personality type that all child predators share. They may appear to be charming, loving, and totally good-natured, while also adept at harboring predatory thoughts. That means that you can’t just dismiss out of hand the idea that someone you know could be a child predator. Anyone can turn out to be a pedophile or predator.
Most pedophiles are known to the children they abuse. Thirty percent of children who have been sexually abused were abused by a family member; that can include mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, aunts, uncles, cousins, stepparents, and so on. Sixty percent of children who have been sexually abused were abused by an adult that they knew, but who was not a family member. That means that only ten percent of sexually abused children were targeted by a total stranger. In most cases, the child predator turns out to be someone known to the child through school or some other common everyday activity, such as a neighbor, teacher, coach, clergy member, tutor, music instructor, or babysitter.
Traits of Pedophiles or Sexual Predators
-Majority are men over 30 years of age, regardless if victims are male or female
-Heterosexual and homosexual men are equally likely to be child molesters
-Notion that homosexual men are more likely to be child molesters is completely false
-Female child predators are more likely to abuse boys than girls
-Often single and/ or with few friends
-Some have mental illness, such as a mood or personality disorder
-Many have a history of physical and/ or sexual abuse in their own past
Behaviors of Pedophiles or Sexual Predators
-Display more interest in children than adults -May have a job or volunteer in a position allowing them unsupervised access to a child
-Will contrive other ways to spend time with children (act as helpful neighbor or coach)
-Tend to talk about or treat children as though they are adults
-May refer to a child as they would refer to an adult friend or lover
-Often say they love all children or feel as though they are still children
-May prefer children nearing puberty who are curious about sex but sexually inexperienced
-Common for the pedophile to be developing a long list of potential victims at any one time
-Many believe their proclivities aren’t wrong: it’s healthy for the child to have sex with them
-Almost all pedophiles have a pornography collection, which they protect at all costs
-Many predators also collect “souvenirs” from their victims, which are also very cherished
Other Noteworthy Characteristics
Look for signs of grooming. The term “grooming” refers to the process that the child predator undertakes in order to gain a child’s trust, and sometimes the parents’ trust as well. Over the course of months, or even years, a pedophile will become an increasingly trusted friend of the family; they will likely offer to babysit, take the child shopping or on trips, or spend time with the child in any number of ways. Many child predators won’t actually begin abusing a child until full trust has been gained; this exhibition of patience and restraint is unnerving in the grand scheme of things.
Child predators look for children who are most vulnerable to their tactics, whether they are shy, withdrawn, handicapped, lacking emotional support, come from a broken, dysfunctional, and/ or underprivileged home, come from a single parent home lacking supervision, or just aren’t getting enough attention at home. Pedophiles work to master their manipulative skills and unleash them on these vulnerable children by first becoming their friend; this quickly builds the child’s sense of self-esteem and brings them closer to the predator. The pedophile may refer to the child as special or mature, which appeals to their need to be heard and understood. They basically strive to give the child whatever is lacking in their home. This sounds altruistic, but in reality, it’s just another empty ploy, used by the predator to distance the victim from their family and draw them nearer to them. Often, the next step is to entice them with adult activities, like looking at sexually explicit pictures and magazines and watching x-rated movies.
Pedophiles and predators don’t only need to earn the trust of their mark; they must also work very hard to convince parents that they are a nice, responsible person and capable of supervising their child or children in their absence. They may make it seem like they’re doing the parent(s) a favor by watching them or taking them out, “Oh, I don’t mind taking little Johnny to get an ice cream cone and then to the park, that way you can just relax and put your feet up for awhile.” This is how a child predator manipulates parents, instills a false sense of security, and gains their trust. Pedophiles will foster a close relationship, and even forge a friendship, with the parent(s) of a mark in order to get close to that child. That friendship with the parent(s) is just the ticket to get the predator through that front door. Once inside the home, they have many opportunities to manipulate the children and use guilt, fear, and love to confuse them. If the child’s parent(s) works, they may offer after school babysitting or tutoring, and this gives them the private time needed to abuse the child.
Pedophiles often refer to children in angelic terms; they use descriptive words like innocent, heavenly, divine, angel, pure, and other words that may describe children, but seem inappropriate and/ or exaggerated. They may also fixate on a specific feature on a child’s face or body, and talk incessantly about it, making unusual and age inappropriate comments like, “Oh, that baby girl has the prettiest lips I’ve ever seen, they look so soft, and they’re the perfect shade of pink,” or “Wow…she’s going to be really hot when she grows up and fills out,” or “I’ll bet she’s going to grow up to be a real tease, ya know what I mean?” These are examples of how pedophiles and predators sexually objectify children, by speaking to or about them in a way that is not age appropriate and is not acceptable.
A pedophile will often use a range of games, tricks, and activities to gain the trust of and/ or deceive a child. One of the predator’s main goals is to make sure the child won’t tell anyone about the inappropriate contact. What they do or say to ensure this silence depends on the age of the victim. For younger children, they may suggest a pact of secrecy; secrets are valuable to most kids, because they’re seen as something very “grown up” or “adult” and a source of power as well. For older children, the predator may threaten their victim, warning them that nobody would believe them if they told, and that people would make fun of them, and that they would lose all their friends if they told. In rare cases, the predator may even threaten bodily harm. Some predators just don’t care if the world knows what they’re doing; they feel above everyone else, like nobody and nothing can touch them, a la Jeffrey Epstein. As the relationship progresses, they incorporate some sexually explicit games and activities like tickling, fondling, kissing, and touching. The predator will behave in a sexually suggestive way, and have no issue exposing a child to pornographic material, bribing the target child, flattering them, and then worst of all, showing them affection and love. Be aware that all of these tactics are ultimately used to confuse your child and isolate them from you.
Now that you know some general traits of pedophiles and predators as well as some behaviors to be aware of and look out for, let’s move on to protecting your child from predators.
How to Protect your Child(ren)
One of the first things you can and should do is find out if, and how many, sex offenders live in your neighborhood. There are subscription services that show you everything about the offenders and then send you updates with alerts when new sex offenders are released from jail and/ or if a registered sex offender moves near you. But, unless you need all the bells and whistles for some reason, you can always go to one of several free sites that will allow you to search a sex offender database by zip code, neighborhood, and by offender name if you suspect someone specific of being a sex offender. Here is my disclaimer: while it’s good to be aware of potential predators, realize that it is illegal to endeavor to take any kind of action against registered sex offenders.
Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Website
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement Sexual Offenders and Predators Search https://offender.fdle.state.fl.us/offender/sops/home.jsf
Another way to protect your child is to supervise their extracurricular activities. Being as involved as possible in your child’s life is the best way to guard against child predators. They will look for a child who is vulnerable and who isn’t getting a lot of attention from his or her parents, and they will cozy up to them, and then will do everything in their power to convince the parents that they are of no danger to their child. Show up at sporting games, practices and rehearsals, chaperone field trips and all other trips out, and spend time getting to know the adults in your child’s life. Make it obvious to everyone that you’re an involved and present parent. If for some reason you can’t be there for a trip or other outing, make sure that at least two adults you know well will be chaperoning the trip. Don’t ever leave your child alone with adults that you don’t know well. Remember that rule even goes for relatives too, as they can also pose a threat. The key here is to be as present as possible.
Set up a nanny cam if you hire a babysitter. Obviously, there will be times when you won’t be able to be present, so use other tools to make sure your child is safe. Set up hidden cameras in your home so that inappropriate activity will be detected. No matter how well you think you know someone, you always need to take precautions for your child’s safety.
Teach your child about staying safe online. Make sure your child knows that predators often pose as children or teenagers in order to lure children in. Monitor your child’s use of the internet, keeping rules in place to limit their “chat” time. Have regular discussions with your child about whom he or she is communicating with online. Be sure your child knows to never ever give out your address or phone number, or send any pictures to a person they met online; and that they must not ever meet someone in real life that they’ve only communicated online with. As a parent, you must know that children are often very sneaky and secretive about online behavior, especially when encouraged by others to keep secrets, so you’ll need to be vigilant about staying involved in your child’s online activity.
Make sure your child is feeling emotionally supported. Since children who don’t get a lot of attention are especially vulnerable to predators, make sure you are spending a lot of time with your child and that he or she feels supported. Take the time to talk to your child every day and work toward building an open, trusting relationship. Child predators will always ask, or demand, that their marks keep their secrets from their parents. Ensure that your children understand that if a person has asked them to keep a secret from you, it’s because they know what they’re doing is wrong. Express ongoing interest in all of your child’s activities, including schoolwork, extracurriculars, and hobbies; and let your child know that he or she can tell you anything, and that you’re always willing to talk.
Teach your child to recognize inappropriate touching. Many parents use the “good touch, bad touch, secret touch” method. It involves teaching your child that there are some appropriate touches, like pats on the back or high fives; there are some unwelcome or “bad’ touches, like hits or kicks; and there are also secret touches, which are touches that the child is told to keep a secret. Use this method to teach your child that two types of touches aren’t good, and if and when these touches happen, he or she should tell you immediately, even if the person touching them tells them that they can’t or shouldn’t tell. Teach your child that no one is allowed to touch him or her in private areas, and that they are not to touch anyone in their private areas. Many parents define private areas as those that would be covered by a bathing suit. Children also need to know that an adult should never ask a child to touch their own private areas or to touch anyone else’s private areas, and if someone tries to touch them or tells them to touch someone else, tell your child to say “no” and walk away. And again, reinforce the directive of telling them to come to you immediately if someone touches them the wrong way.
Recognize when something is out of sync with your child. If you notice that your child is acting differently for no obvious reason, pursue the issue to find out what’s wrong. Regularly asking your child questions about their day, including asking whether any “good,” “bad,” or “secret” touches happened that day, will help open the lines of communication and create an important daily dialog. If your child tells you that he or she was touched inappropriately or doesn’t trust an adult, never summarily dismiss it. Always trust your child first. Along those same lines, never dismiss a child’s claims just because the adult in question is a valued member of society or appears incapable of such things. That’s exactly what a predator or pedophile wants, it’s their stock in trade. They’re counting on adults not listening to child victims so that they can continue to get away with molesting them.
By age 12, kids should already have gotten basic sex education explained by their parents, including what everything is called, what it does, and how it works. Parents explaining it all to their kids themselves will prevent a predatory teacher or friend from misleading them about sex for their own nefarious purposes. Make sure your child already knows everything they need to know about what’s what and what is and isn’t acceptable behavior, before they are taught very different lessons and definitions through rumor and innuendo discussed on the monkey bars or over ham and cheese sandwiches in the cafeteria.
A child aged 14 and under may not recognize that there’s a difference between a grumpy teacher giving extra homework and a strange acting teacher that insists on kissing them on the cheek before leaving the room. They can’t really differentiate, because at this age, they simply file both of these things in their brain under ‘annoying.’ So if your child tells you vague stories about the teacher making sex jokes or touching them, or being ‘annoying’ and asking all kinds of ‘private stuff,’ you must consider the possibility that there might be something hinky going on. When and if a child mentions that their teacher is acting strangely, asking about their family and siblings, making them uncomfortable by grilling them for private information, and/ or is pushing for pictures, you must guide that child, and tell them how to react to, and deal with, these ‘annoying’ things.
But I cannot stress enough that you must be realistic in your approach! Telling your kids to run away screaming bloody murder if the teacher touches their back, or telling them to yell ‘no!!’ and smack the teacher’s hand away if an innocent touch grazes a shoulder as the teacher walks down the rows of desks in the classroom. Those reactions will not help the situation for several reasons. First of all, chances are that they won’t hit a teacher under any circumstances, but they surely won’t do so if that teacher is actually and truly grooming them, all while filling their head with smooth assurances that they’re a good guy, on their side, and only there to help them.
So, what’s a parent to do if they suspect something’s hinky, but have no concrete proof? If the child is age 14 and under, there are a couple of possibilities to consider. The first one is to instruct the child that if this person touches them, or asks questions or makes suggestions that makes them feel uncomfortable, that they should tell this person that they have told their parents about this issue (of inappropriate touching or making them uncomfortable with questions or whatever the case may be) and that their parents weren’t happy to hear about it. This would definitely take some serious chutzpah on the child’s part, but I think it would also empower them, and that’s never a bad thing. The second option would be to have the child deliver a message to the person that touches them, or asks questions and makes suggestions that makes them feel uncomfortable. One of the parents would create the message by getting a piece of paper and jotting a quick note on it; it should simply say ‘Stop touching my son/ daughter, Johnny Smith/ Jenny Smith’ or ‘Please stop asking my son/ daughter, Johnny Smith/ Jenny Smith so many questions, as they make him/ her very uncomfortable’ or whatever the issue may be. Then finish the note with the date and the parent’s autograph. Then the parent can put the signed note in an envelope and give it to their child, and instruct them that they are to give the envelope to the person who is touching them inappropriately, at the time they are touching them inappropriately, despite being asked to stop; or give the envelope to the person who is asking them questions and making suggestions that make them uncomfortable, at the time they are making them uncomfortable, despite being asked to stop. It is important to make sure the child gives the note to this person when they are red handedly doing what they have asked them to stop doing. This can be a very tricky situation, so make sure to give this a lot of thought. Keep in mind that employing one of these two tactics will only have a positive effect if you are absolutely sure that this person is ignoring a child’s personal boundaries and going too far with touching inappropriately or asking questions and making suggestions that make the child uncomfortable, all despite being asked to stop. You must be sure that this is a deliberate act of a magnitude that is unacceptable. One impulsive hand on the shoulder doesn’t meet the criteria to qualify here.
Remember that the most important thing you can do to protect your child is to pay attention to them and really listen when they speak. Keep the lines of communication open, let them know you’re on their side, assess their needs and desires, talk to them, and basically, just be the best parent you can possibly be. The bottom line is that if you don’t pay attention to your child, someone else will.
These days, it seems like pedophiles and predators really have the odds stacked in their favor; they get away too easily due to lack of evidence, and even when they are caught and jailed, they get out early for good behavior. One factor that works against the pedophile is that eventually, the children they molested will grow up and recall the events that occurred, and hopefully they will report them. Often, pedophiles and predators are not brought to justice until such time occurs, and even then, they get off far too lightly. That makes victims even angrier, as they feel like they are victimized twice- first by the predator, and then again by the justice system. More than anything, victims of pedophiles and sexual predators want to protect other children from the same fate that befell them.
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