Monthly Archives: April 2011

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Statistics on Depression are Depressing

I gathered some statistics about depression today from several websites. Here’s what I found:

  • Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.
  • Everyone, will at some time in their life be affected by depression.
  • Pre-schoolers are the fastest-growing market for antidepressants. At least four percent of preschoolers — over a million — are clinically depressed.
  • The rate of increase of depression among children is an astounding 23% .
  • 15% of the population of most developed countries suffers severe depression.
  • 30% of women are depressed. Men’s figures were previously thought to be half that of women, but new estimates are higher.
  • 54% of people believe depression is a personal weakness.
  • 41% of depressed women are too embarrassed to seek help.
  • 80% of depressed people are not currently having any treatment.
  • 92% of depressed African-American males do not seek treatment.
  • 15% of depressed people will commit suicide.
  • Depression will be the second largest killer after heart disease by 2020 — and studies show depression is a contributory factor to fatal coronary disease.

Sounds like it is time to discuss depression as an occurrence that might be described as heading in the direction of an epidemic.

I suppose depression still carries so much stigma because it is considered to be a psychological illness and is, therefore, all in the mind. Truth be told, depression is actually all in the brain and is sustained by low levels of the brain chemicals, a recognizable one is called serotonin.

Think of it this way. If your pancreas is not producing insulin, would you ignore the ensuing diabetes.? I sure hope not; because people who care about you would start to become quite upset at having to tend to you when you repeatedly fall into a diabetic coma. You most probably would treat this illness with a strict regimen of insulin treatment.

If your thyroid malfunctioned, would you suffer in embarrassment, or would you start taking some medication like Synthroid so that you could feel healthy and on the top of your game? I’m pretty sure you would opt for the medication.

If you suffered from hypertension, would you pray not to endure a stroke or would you take a beta blocker so that your blood pressure could be controlled? You know the answer.

If people would begin to regard depression as the physiological problem that it truly is, maybe they would begin to seek treatment just as they would with any other physical condition. Low mood, hopelessness, despair, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, anxiety, sleep disturbances, overeating, irritability, poor appetite, thoughts of suicide are some of the symptoms or the effects of depression. They are not the depression itself. The depression is a malfunctioning in certain areas of the brain.

There are three basic molecules within the human brain, known chemically as monoamines, which are nothing more than transmitters which the brain uses to communicate with the nerve cells. If there is a breakdown, anywhere along the path between the brain and the nerve cells, the neurotransmitter supplies may not be adequate for the needs of the brain. If this happens, then the low levels lead to many symptoms, which we “call” depression. These neurotransmitters are chemically known as: norepinephrines, serotonins, and dopamines. Is this so different from not producing enough insulin, thyroxine or beta blocker?

Interestingly enough, people would rather ignore the physiological condition of depression when it is quite treatable with medication, just like many other physical ailments. Whether you are yourself suffering or someone you care about is suffering; please try to remember this: depression is not all in the mind, it is all in the brain.


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Reality TV Triggers Form of Second-Hand Shock

A friend of mine sent me an article regarding a recent study of “vicarious embarrassment.” The article describes how a team of European scientists found that there’s a physiological reason why certain episodes of shows such as “The Office” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm” or “American Idol” have the power to elicit some hard-to-take feeling states. The researchers coined the discomfort at seeing others look foolish as “vicarious embarrassment.”

“Vicarious embarrassment”, according to the study published recently in a journal called PLoS ONE,  activates the region of our brains that processes empathy. In one experiment, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the brain’s “pain matrix”;  namely the anterior cingulate cortex and the anterior insula of the brain, while 619 participants read a series of vignettes describing embarrassing moments. That “pain matrix” is the area that processes actual, physical pain, but previous research has shown that this is where social pain, including empathy, is felt, as well. Protagonists in the vignettes slipped in mud, walked around with their fly open, burped loudly in a fancy restaurant and wore T-shirts bragging about their sexual prowess. In these vignettes, some of the characters were conscious of behaving in a ridiculous manner, while other characters were not.

“Vicarious embarrassment was experienced regardless of whether the observed protagonist acted accidentally or intentionally and was aware or unaware that he/she was in an embarrassing situation,” write the study authors, led by Sören Krach and Frieder M. Paulus from Philipps-University Marburg, Germany.

The participants were also asked to rate how embarrassed they would feel if they were in the person’s position. Not surprisingly, compassionate people were more likely to experience second-hand shame, proving what we have already discussed at great length in our book: the more empathic you are, the more likely you will be to suffer vicariously for yourself.

This study is so valuable because it empirically demonstrates that humans can easily struggle with the upset of another “as if” it were actually happening to them. This study truly strengthens the perspective that those in the business of using their compassion and empathy to help others are affected; not only in their minds, but physiologically in their brains and in their bodies.

If “vicarious embarrassment” can be addressed as newsworthy, then certainly Second-Hand Shock deserves our attention as a veritable syndrome that burdens our caring heroes. Let’s all step up to be of assistance to those who sacrifice their own health and well-being for the greater good!


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Anger is Always About the One Who Feels It

We live in a world where people tend to disown their anger by abdicating responsibility for it over to others. Just think about it. We blame, judge, accuse and hate others as a way to justify our anger because we are so uncomfortable in simply having it as our own personal experience. Too bad; because expressing anger in this faulty manner not only feeds into all kinds of conflict (including wars), it also robs us of an emotional experience that can passionately drive forward healthy transformation and growth.

Here’s a tip to help you use anger for its greatest good: remember that anger is always about the one who feels it. Examples:

  • A speed demon cuts you off on the freeway. That behavior is about him/her. Your anger at their driving is about you.
  • Your child fails math because he/she did not turn in homework. That behavior is about him/her. Your anger at their academic performance is about you.
  • Your spouse has an extra-marital affair. That choice was theirs. Your anger about them stepping out of the marriage is about you.

In these particular cases we have been hard-wired to say remarks like:

  • “That idiot made me so mad when he cut me off.”
  • “Krista, you really aggravate the heck out of me when you don’t do well in school.”
  • “I can’t believe you could betray me like that by taking up with your secretary!”

These types of communications are counter-productive because the receiver will tend to immediately feel attacked and defensive. Vulnerable and unsafe, the receiver’s ability to listen to your message is greatly diminished. When we communicate our anger without taking responsibility for it, the priority for the listener becomes self-protection rather than truly hearing what you have to say.

If we follow the premise that anger is about the one who feels it, we could make more constructive communication about feeling mad. Here are some more effective ways to express our anger regarding the above instances:

  • “I feel so frustrated when someone doesn’t practice kindness and safety on the road. It endangers the lives of others.”
  • “I lose patience completely with you Krista, when you so not do well in school. I think academic achievement is key for your future.”
  • “I felt so betrayed and sad when I found out you were involved with someone else. What in heaven’s name happened between us to help you make that kind of choice?”

When we communicate our feeling experience of anger in the first person, the receiver will tend to react less defensively; can hear you better and can respond, rather than react, to your communication. Responsible expression of your anger now becomes a gateway to productive dialogue that can clarify values, set mutual goals, develop useful strategies and ultimately promote the spirit of collaboration.

It’s your anger, so have it! But have it with responsibility, accountability and for the purpose of promoting peace and the greater good.


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Worry Wanes With Brainstorming

Worry, a form of anxiety, is a real drain on our rational thinking ability. Since it is common knowledge that most of the things we worry about never happen, why does worry take up so much of people’s time and energy? ….And what can be done about it?

Apprehension about something creates a neurological loop that steers us away from our analytical thinking ability. Worry is sustained by a ratcheting up and down of brain chemicals that can become an habitual, mind-altering pattern. Some people have shared with me that once they get into a “worry loop”, they will go round and round inside their heads until the worry recedes on its own. How exhausting!

A great way to diminish the tenacity of the worry loop is through brainstorming the problem. This approach gets our neurons to start firing in the left part of our cerebral cortex and in so doing, diverts mental attention away from the worry loop.

Brainstorming is simple and can be done solo or with others. Make a list of all possible solutions to the defined problem. Do not evaluate the options; just list them. Some of the options may even sound ridiculous at first. No matter; add them to the list. After you have listed every possible option you can think of, go back and begin to evaluate each one until you find the one you can live with moving forward.

Here’s an example. Mary was freaked out by hearing through the grapevine that her company was planning to lay off a group of employees due to the poor economy. After three sleepless nights she consulted with a coach regarding the issue. Together, they decided a brainstorm session would clear her mind. They listed a bunch of options regarding how she would handle being laid off:

  1. Apply for a job at a company she really liked
  2. Move to a new state where jobs were plentiful
  3. Take a world cruise
  4. Go back to school and get teaching certification
  5. Take a part-time job as a server so she could go to school or look for work during the day
  6. Start her own business
  7. Take a loan from her parents until she got back on her feet
  8. Volunteer for a high-profile organization to where she could network and gain visibility

Then Mary went back and evaluated her stated options. She immediately eliminated #2, #3 and #7.  While she could live with all the other possibilities, she finished her brainstorm session with deciding on a combination of #1 and #5 as her best bet.

Mary slept like a log that night and never ended up being laid off. But in the event that happened, she had a plan. That plan greatly reduced her tendency to worry.

If you are in a position where people bring their worries to you for help, this is a great strategy to help them lessen their anxieties. Teach them to brainstorm. It will help them learn to control their own thinking and it will make your job much more satisfying.


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Signs of Addiction Can Be Subtle Among Professional Helpers

An interesting article appeared online regarding the more subtle signs of addiction. The author, Ms. Melanie Haiken claims that knowing whether someone you love has a problem with drugs or alcohol is not always as obvious as you might think. People tend to stereotype the typical alcoholic as someone staggering around with a bottle in a paper bag. Many addicted people have fallen prey to “managed” habits and they are quite skilled in covering up their addictive behavior. She shares some of the secret signs of addiction which include numerous covert behaviors that help the addict to hide what they are doing.

I believe this to be particularly true for helping professionals who have gotten into addictive patterns as a way to distract themselves from the Second-Hand Shock they have developed over time. Self-medicating is a common, albeit counter-productive and potentially dangerous, method for quieting and numbing the overstimulated mind and body that results from absorbing trauma content. Alcohol, Vicodin, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Valium and other benzodiazepines, Cocaine, Marijuana, and  other stimulants all rank high among drugs of choice for professional helpers.

Most people who work in a helping system are too close and too involved to clearly recognize the addictive process when they are in it.  If and when they become addicted, they become”sophisticated” addicts until they have a rock bottom experience that brings them to their knees.  Many of them come from addictive and/or dysfunctional families and are unwittingly replaying their unresolved historical pain.

Frequently, colleagues and peers enable the addicted professional by ignoring or minimizing the issue. They fear the loss of work and loss of professional respect. Spouses and families will tend to let it go on too long because they fear loss of their lifestyle and discovery by the community. They are enabling the helper, rather than acknowledging the price helper is paying for the precious work they do.

I believe that addiction is a more pervasive problem in the helping professional community than is documented or acknowledged.  In Vicki Carpel Miller’s and my study of Vicarious Trauma, we found a strong correlation between the neuroscience of Vicarious Trauma and the neuroscience of Addiction.  We found that many professionals are addicted to helping, itself.

Vicki and I want to raise awareness of this problem and encourage others to address it in the spirit of caring for our helpers who struggle with addiction and with their own psychological and spiritual well-being on a daily basis. Addiction is not really the problem, it is the “solution” for the struggling helper who can not tolerate the pain of Second-Hand Shock.