Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mental Health Month: Did You Know?

By Guest Blogger: Kathleen Ashton, Ph.D.

Did you know?
  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population)
  • Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.

Every day I see patients with anxiety disorders that have gone undiagnosed, untreated, and interfere with their everyday life.  Fear, uncontrollable worry, muscle tension, poor sleep, poor appetite, difficulty concentrating—people with anxiety can really struggle just to get through the day.  The real tragedy is that anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet very few people receive treatment.  Even among those receiving treatment, they often are relying on short term medications that only temporarily relieve their symptoms.

We know that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is highly effective in treating anxiety disorders.  CBT helps patients identify thoughts that affect their anxiety and lead to changes in behavior.  By working with a psychologist trained in CBT, patients learn to identify maladaptive thought patterns and replace these with more functional ones.  Their anxiety can decrease dramatically, and this may lead to the patient being able to engage more pleasurably in their life.  A psychologist using CBT may also train the patient in methods to control their anxiety symptoms, such as relaxation training.  Psychologists may help the patient develop ways to confront and tolerate fearful situations through gradual exposure.

So why aren’t more patients with anxiety getting CBT?  First, many people still feel stigma about seeing a psychologist.  They worry they will have to go to years of costly therapy, and would like a quicker fix.  However, the reality is that most insurers cover CBT with a psychologist just like they cover medical costs.  Therapy for anxiety is usually brief (4-12 sessions), and the results can include skills that last a lifetime.

What are a few quick techniques that might give me a start on managing my anxiety?

1.       Stop and breathe for one minute.  Taking three long breaths, all the way from your belly can start to reverse the anxiety response and physical symptoms of anxiety.
2.       Ask yourself, “Is this in my control?”  Are you worrying about things that you have no power to change?  Try to focus on what you can do today.
3.       Focus on the here and now. Trying to predict the future is not very accurate.  Avoid “fortune telling.” 
4.       Take a small step outside your comfort zone.  If you’re anxious about heights for example, try taking the elevator to the third floor.  When you master, this, go up a floor every day and build your confidence.
5.       Check out your assumptions.  We worry about things all the time that just aren’t true (“She never talks to me so she must not like me.”)  Ask people what they are thinking rather than assuming.

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Kathleen Ashton, PhD, is a Psychologist in the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute. She received her doctorate from The Ohio State University, and she completed specialty training in health psychology at the Cleveland VA Medical Center and Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Ashton’s clinical and research interests include bariatric surgery evaluation and treatment, binge eating disorder treatment, and behavioral weight management. She has presented extensively on the psychological treatment of obesity and psychological aspects of bariatric surgery, including at the American Society of Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery and the International Conference on Eating Disorders.