Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Posts tagged ‘OCD’

What’s Good About Drug Commercials?

I’ve often bitched about TV (and, I assume, magazine) ads for psychotropics. I’ve said that I despise the fact that they make the entire public their own experts on what they need and shills for “Big Pharma.” I’ve complained that they hamper doctors by encouraging consumers to “ask if drug X is right for you” and to accept no substitutes. I’ve also said that the ads present unrealistic pictures of very serious mental conditions by making depression, for example, no worse than the flu or a hangover.

Nonetheless, I’ve decided that drug commercials do have some beneficial purposes and effects. They aren’t all evil after all. They send messages to the viewing public that are actually positive. These messages contradict the prevailing public conception that people with mental illnesses are different from other people – that the entirety of their lives is taken over by their illness. People with bipolar disorder change from the depths of despair to uncontrollable, laughing lunacy within the span of hours or even minutes. People with OCD are picture-straighteners and tile-counters. People with schizophrenia are violent criminals or raving crazies, often hospitalized for life. None of these brain illnesses can be treated, according to the general wisdom.

Modern drugs have improved people’s lives and improved the general public’s conception of what mental illness is like.

First, more of the commercials now present understandable views of what some mental illnesses are like. They do this primarily when they use analogies or metaphors. Bipolar mania is like climbing a house of cards that is destined to collapse inevitably at some point. Depression is like darkness, and medications can lessen it by bringing light. They even make the symptoms and side effects more understandable: tardive dyskinesia, for example, is depicted with actual twitches, intractable movements, and mobility issues.

Also, the ads do emphasize that there are treatments, if not actual cures, for disorders that the general public views in a stereotypical way. Take schizophrenia, for example. Most people associate schizophrenia with homelessness, psychosis, and/or raving unintelligibly. Yes, those are sometimes the consequences of the disorder, but they’re far from the whole story. I’ve seen commercials for schizophrenia medications that show a man with a family playing guitar, two women with schizophrenia calmly discussing their symptoms, and a comparison of daily pills and twice-yearly injections for treatment. They humanize an illness that too many view as intractable and untreatable.

I stand by most of my criticism of ads for psych meds. They are shallow and simplistic. They do promote self-diagnosing and self-prescription and demands on doctors. They minimize the good that talk therapy can do, concentrating instead on medical and pharmaceutical interventions. At the same time, though, these ads promote more accurate, healthier views of mental illnesses, even the most severe. They portray people who have the illnesses as having alternatives, socially productive lives, and “normal” interactions with others despite their psychiatric conditions.

I have no scientific evidence to support this theory, but my guess is that after viewing these ads, often several times a day, a poll would reveal changes in attitude. That, combined with the public service announcements about depression and even ads for telemedicine therapy sessions, may indeed make it more likely that people who live with these conditions without realizing it to better understand their own possible mental problems and those of their friends and family, and to have greater empathy toward them.

And those are good things. May the trend continue.

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When Your Thoughts Run Away With You

Overthinking. It’s something we all do at times – so many of us that it cannot really be said that it is automatically related to mental illness. But in some cases, it is a symptom.

Let’s start with depression, a subject about which I know a thing or two. When I was in a depressive phase of my (undiagnosed) bipolar disorder, I could, as the saying goes, overthink a ham sandwich (once I actually overthought a BLT). When I was depressed and/or anxious, it seemed as though I had a recorder in my head that would play back for me every stupid thing I had ever done – even such a small thing as handing the wrong person a glass of water. At random moments, the memory would pop up, usually with full color and sound, and I would again castigate myself for being so stupid.

I agonized over decisions. Should I call a friend to tell him or her about a phone call I received that might affect them? One time it was the right thing to do, with positive consequences. Another time it was also the right thing to do, but with negative consequences. Dilemmas like that made it even more difficult to know what to do. Indecision paralyzed me. When I couldn’t figure out the consequences ahead of time, I couldn’t know if my decision was correct. Of course, this is true of most people and many decisions, but the dilemma would derail my thoughts and leave me vacillating.

Intrusive thoughts are quite often symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder, and they can be valid or nonsensical. Are my children getting an appropriate religious education? Where is my passport (when no trip is remotely planned)? They can keep one awake at night.

Psychologically speaking, overthinking and intrusive thoughts are definitely symptoms of OCD. Did I lock the door? Better check three times. Did I leave the stove on? Better check four times. Has the milk in the refrigerator expired? Did my cat get out the door when I wasn’t looking? Better go out and look around. Will I throw up when I ask my boss for a raise? Better not try. Does my aching knee mean I’m getting arthritis? Should I call my doctor about it? Will he think I’m imagining it? My mother only loves me because she’s my mother, not because of who I am. These kinds of thoughts can be disabling, crippling, or at the very least painful. They can cause you to doubt yourself and everything you do.

In mania, overthinking comes later. While you are spending or gambling or having risky sex or driving recklessly you don’t question it. It’s only later, when the episode wears off, that you have intrusive or obsessive thoughts. Oh, my God, why did I do that? How can I ever pay for all that? Are my finances so screwed up now that I can’t pay my rent? Did I binge drink and hurt someone? I’m so ashamed. I feel so guilty.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) may be one way to confront your intrusive thoughts and push them aside in favor of more productive thinking. Talk therapy of the usual sort may help you develop coping mechanisms for when your thoughts run away with you. And psychotropic medication may lessen or eliminate the underlying problem that causes you to have intrusive or obsessive thoughts. In my case, it was the latter two. I still get stymied by some decisions, but I don’t lie awake and think about them. I discuss them with someone else (my husband, my therapist) to get feedback. Then I make a decision and stick with it, or move on to thinking about something else.

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