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Category: Panic

Preventing PTSD – Sleep Deprivation

It seems ridiculous to suggest that sleep deprivation is useful in any sort of way, but researchers seem to have found evidence that suggests it can be. Following in the same vein of the discovery of the drug geared toward preventing PTSD, recent studies have shown that sleep deprivation immediately after a traumatic incident can help prevent the onset of PTSD in the future.

It sounds surprising, but the idea actually makes sense. One of the many things that happens while you sleep is that long-term memories are formed in the brain. This occurs in the hippocampus, which resides in an area of the brain that controls emotions, called the amygdala. After a traumatic incident, a lot of sleep can lead to the memories of that incident becoming entrenched in the person’s mind, leading to fear reactions to similar situations in the future, sometimes in the exaggerated way that indicates the presence of PTSD. The researchers’ thinking was that if the brain is deprived of its best opportunity to file away these memories in a clear way, the fear responses will be diminished. Early studies have confirmed this line of thinking.

As with all scientific breakthroughs, there needs to be a quite a bit more research conducted on the matter before we can say with a reasonable certainty that sleep deprivation can be used to combat PTSD. We also need to look at the extent to which fear reactions are stunted; as mentioned in a previous post, it can be dangerous to suppress them too much. If further research goes well, though, this could be a simple, non-medical, and very cheap way to address a very serious problem.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders; Let’s not sleep on it. (2010, December). NewsRx Health & Science,655. Retrieved December 22, 2010, from Alumni – Research Library. (Document ID: 2214338741).

Active Minds

College leads to anxiety for thousands of students worldwide. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; for many, college means moving away from your family, the only people you have ever lived with, to a new place with thousands of complete strangers. Everyone and everything is unfamiliar. Students need to build new lives, while at the same time taking courses that could very well decide the direction of the rest of their lives. It’s a time of momentous decisions and tremendous personal growth. It’s a challenge. Fortunately, there is one organization that realizes the danger that faces college students and the adverse affects it can have on mental health, and it’s doing all it can to educate students about mental illness while breaking down the walls of stigma that surround it.

Active Minds has chapters at hundreds of schools nationwide, each of which puts on programs and workshops that inform, educate, and spark discussion about mental health topics. Students are told about resources available to them on and off campus to help with problems adjusting to their new settings, or any other problems that college tends to heap on young adults. The organization also puts on national conferences, aimed at helping members of chapter organizations to become knowledgeable, effective leaders of mental health causes on their own campuses. Active Minds even offers grants and scholarships to students who choose to undertake their own research or creative projects in the field of mental health.

Organizations like Active Minds help to shape a positive future for college students across the United States. College is a time when many latent anxiety and panic disorders come to the surface, as students are subjected to more stressors than they have likely ever been faced with in their lives to that point. Without understanding of and knowledge about these disorders, those students are powerless. Active Minds is on the front lines of the fight to educate students about the problems they face, and to let them know that they are not alone, and that they can take control of their situation. Check out their website for more information.

Preventing PTSD

Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago have developed a drug that, when injected into the brains of mice, prevents Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, based on new discoveries in understanding how the disorder works. The disorder is chalked up to two brain proteins that are activated by a stressful event and remain in a permanent state of excitement for long after the event has concluded. The injection puts the proteins to rest, ending the exaggerated fear responses that can result from PTSD in everyday life. It sounds like a miracle drug, but is it really healthy, even in the mental sense? There are some ethical factors that need to be considered first.

According to the study, PTSD is caused when two proteins in the brain are activated in a fear response, and remain agitated after the danger has passed. PTSD can cause panic attacks, and anxiety related to the onset of them, over everyday occurrences that bear only a slight resemblance to the original trauma. The fear response is exaggerated and over-generalized, causing the onset of unnecessarily heightened states of fear. The drugs, MPEP and MTEP, prevent these proteins from remaining in an agitated state, albeit with a caveat: the drug only works when administered within five to six hours of the inciting trauma. The exaggerated fear is extinguished, with normal fear responses taking hold.

This sounds great, but still needs to be put to a clinical test among human subjects. The real concern is over just how much the fear response will be suppressed. Traumas, after all, should cause some fear, as a means of discouraging the individual from getting into similar situations in the future. If the fear is numbed too much, people’s ability to properly gauge risk and danger could be irreparably damaged. Granted, this has not been the case with the test mice, who show fear reactions based on trauma (an electrical shock), but lack the exaggerated fear that comes with PTSD. It remains to be seen what effect it will have on humans, but the importance of fear needs to be kept in mind as this new approach to PTSD is pursued. If a healthy dose of fear remains, a healthy dose of this drug might prevent a lot of suffering in the future.

The Painted Brain

If you’ve got a mental health story to tell, and are itching to find a creative outlet for it, here’s something you might be interested in. The Painted Brain, formed in 2005 and based in Los Angeles, only prints a couple issues of its magazine per year, but it’s a perfect way for artists, poets, writers, and anyone passionate about mental health to submit creations and ideas to a publication that is filling a much needed role as a fun, engaging way to raise awareness and educate about all kinds of mental health topics. Studies have shown that creativity through the arts is an effective way for many to sublimate the stress caused by anxiety, so why not give it a shot? It can be a great way to relieve stress and express your feelings in a healthy, constructive way, and who knows: you might just end up in the next issue.

The magazine is just the start of what the Painted Brain is doing, though. The organization has been putting on performances, interviews, and speakers to raise awareness and money for mental health topics. Take a look at their website, and look for the Painted Brain to grow outside of the Los Angeles area in the near future. The website also has a great list of links for further information about mental health topics and activities and events that might be going on in your area. If you happen to be in the Los Angeles area, you can even help put the magazine together yourself!

If you’ve got some added holiday stress or anxiety these days, and aren’t sure just what to do about it, think about getting creative! It’s fun, it’s easy, and sometimes, the end result can speak much louder than words can.


Anxiety and Panic disorders are problems. Psychology and medical science have both confirmed this. We have mental health services in place to treat them. So, why is it that they are both considered less serious or less important than any other disorder or disease of the body? Why does mental health still carry such a stigma, against all logic and reason, and what does that mean for those with mental disorders?

Unfortunately, what it means is that an estimated less than 30% of all people with a diagnosable mental disorder ever actually seek treatment. The reasons for this vary. Some just never receive the resources or education needed for them to know that they actually are suffering from a specific condition that it is treatable. More often, though, the problem lies within society and common misconceptions about mental health and those with mental disorders.

Though it would be erroneous to say that we haven’t made progress in public awareness and decreasing stigma about mental health, it would be equally wrong to state that we are now able to rest on our laurels and be satisfied with only what we have accomplished. Too many still use words like “weak” and “lazy” to refer to people who struggle with mental disorders. Aside from an alarming lack of empathy, these judgments come in part from mass media depictions of mental health, in both fiction and news. This probably isn’t even done consciously; it’s likely more a product of the idea that bad news in all things is more entertaining and gripping than good news. Awareness campaigns geared toward content creators for mass media, then, are equally important as they are for the public.

The main concern that this stigma creates is that those who need help will not seek it, for fear of being thought of as weak, useless, or crazy by the rest of society. With all of the media focusing on the negative, it’s easy to see how this can have a large impact on someone thinking about looking for help. People are coming around and realizing the error of their previous thinking, and awareness campaigns are a big part of that. The term “raising awareness,” in and of itself, has its own stigma as something that is ultimately ineffectual and pointless. Raising awareness has a power of its own that has a ripple effect, though, and it should not be ignored. If even one person’s mind is changed by an awareness campaign, that person can be a vector, spreading knowledge to people around them who might also have misconceptions.

Stigma remains a large problem, and even though the problem is ingrained in society, it is a foe that can, in time, be defeated. If you’re suffering from symptoms of a mental health disorder, please fight the stigma and seek treatment, for yourself and your loved ones. You don’t have to go it alone. If you aren’t, think about participating in an awareness campaign near you, and join the fight to spread education about mental health. Check out NAMI and NIMH for more information about events near you.

Cost-Effective Treatments for Panic and Anxiety Disorders

Today’s mental health community considers Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to be the best way to address disorders, both for its high rates of effectiveness and low rates of recidivism. Unfortunately, CBT is often tied to private clinics, which are extremely hard to afford for most families. This is a glaring problem, especially considering the fact that many insurance providers’ mental health offers are still far too meager to be of assistance to most mid- to low-income households or individuals. You don’t need to feel like you need to go without help, though. Low-cost alternatives, though far more sparse than they should be, are available, and in certain cases can be even more effective than high-priced treatments.

The first step in finding a low-cost mental health solution should be to check your local listings or search on the Internet for a nearby community mental health center. Community centers everywhere are struggling to secure funding and grants, which is especially difficult now given the economic climate and that, inexplicably, public health seems to be one of the first sectors on the chopping block for government spending cuts, but those that are still running give free or reduced cost diagnostic and educational services to anyone seeking their aid. Clinics that work with Medicare and Medicaid are also available, and are great sources of care for those who qualify. Check out the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website to search for centers in your area.

Check to see if there are any universities in your area. Many psychology and psychiatry programs at universities across the nation offer sliding-scale fee treatment options, which can prove to be a lot cheaper than a private practice. You’re also receiving care straight from the source of academic progress in the mental health field, a research area that has exploded in the last decade. Individual and family therapy is available at countless universities. In fact, you can even participate in clinical trials for new methods of treatment, and sometimes get paid for it.

If someone were to tell you that the Internet is a quality source of treatment for anxiety and panic disorders, you would probably view that person with a healthy dose of skepticism. Getting any information from the Internet can often feel like a total crap shoot. Make no mistake, there is an alarming amount of misinformation on the Web, particularly in the field of mental health. That’s why it’s so surprising to hear that, if you look in the right places, you can find web-based therapies that are just as effective as therapy sessions with clinicians, if not more so. Studies performed around the world have shown that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-based self-help programs on the Internet are just as effect as having regular face time with a clinician. Check out this article for more information about the efficacy and nature of online CBT treatments. The numbers are pretty staggering, but the gist is that Internet-based therapy seems to work for a majority of people who seek it, and work very well. Thanks to research like this, more time will be dedicated in the near future to further research and development toward making online therapies accessible and useful to more and more people.

Granted, the Internet being the Internet, always take precautions to make sure that the online-based CBT treatment you are using is actually legitimate. Seek out a community center or university for advice before using or choosing a certain website, or ask a local doctor or clinician. Once you’ve settled on a website, do some digging. Make sure the people behind the treatments are fully licensed clinicians with legitimate degrees. Send some emails and ask some questions. If you have any doubts, don’t go forward until they have been assuaged. Your mental health is far too important to leave in the hands of a website that is not fully trustworthy. This site is a good start, but still, perform your due diligence before going forward, no matter what option you choose to pursue.

Panic Disorder

You’re lying in bed at night, and all of a sudden, an overpowering, debilitating fear shivers through your body. Your extremities begin to tingle, and you feel lightheaded. Your heart starts banging against your ribcage, pain shooting through your chest and arms. It gets harder to breathe. The world, it seems, is spiraling out of control.

It sounds a lot like a heart attack, but for many people, incidents like these happen with great frequency, coming in weekly, or even daily, intervals. What was described above could very well be a heart attack, and if you experience these symptoms in an isolated and unexpected incident, you should not hesitate to seek emergency help immediately. These symptoms, however, are also characteristic of a panic attack.

A panic attack can last anywhere from 1 to 20 minutes, and in some cases can fade into new attacks. They are characterized by rapid heartbeat, heavy perspiration, dizziness, shortness of breath, trembling, fear, hyperventilation, tingling or numbness in extremities, feeling flushed, chills, nausea, chest pain or a feeling of doom or loss of control. The most telling symptom that indicates that the experience is likely a panic attack is an overwhelming sense of fear or dread.

A single panic attack does not necessarily indicate the presence of full blown panic disorder, though.
Panic disorder is defined by noticeable changes in behavior that persist for at least a month and the presence of anticipatory attacks, or panic attacks that arise out of fear of having another panic attack in the near future. These anticipatory attacks can also indicate the presence or contribute to the onset of agoraphobia, or social anxiety. Fear of having a panic attack in a public place, and incurring embarrassment, can cause some people to avoid social situations with greater frequency. However, do note that agoraphobia and panic disorder, though there is a high comorbidity rate between the two, are separate conditions that may require separate treatments.

Genetics has been useful in predicting who is more at risk to develop panic disorder than others. This just indicates a predisposition; panic disorders are usually touched off by one of two things: highly stressful life events or substance abuse. A death in the family, a move from one area of the country to another or a bad break-up can trigger panic disorder. Over long periods of time, alcohol abuse has been shown to worsen the symptoms of panic disorder, and excessive use of caffeine can easily trigger the disorder in and of itself.

Currently, cognitive behavioral therapy is the leading treatment for panic disorder. Drugs like SSRIs and Benzodiazepines have been shown to help in certain cases, but the former can actually trigger panic attacks if the individual is misdiagnosed, and the latter can lead to dependency and tolerance issues. As with many disorders, the most important part of the treatment might just be a strong support group and education. Learning about what the disorder entails, and sharing it with close family and friends, can allow a support group to form that can take sensible and positive action when the individual begins to have an attack.

Panic disorder is a frightening force to confront. Attacks can come without warning, and, if frequent, can prevent you from living life to the fullest. Untreated, it can have real effects on physical health, with correlations to myriad heart problems. It can also be costly financially; panic attacks can easily be misinterpreted as serious physical conditions, leading to unnecessary trips to the emergency room. For those that don’t have health insurance these days, money towards one emergency room trip is no small matter, let alone multiple trips.

Don’t feel alone. 2.4 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with panic disorder, with untold more still hesitating to seek help. If you are concerned that you or a loved one is struggling with panic disorder, find a mental health professional in your area, or consult your doctor, to do something about it.

Mental Illness Awareness Week Is Coming Up

Mental Illness Awareness Week starts on October 3rd and culminates on World Mental Health Day on October 10th. Indeed, it comes not a moment too soon. Awareness is desperately needed in a field plagued by stigma and misunderstanding. Worse, public mental health services are almost always first in line on the chopping block when it comes time for state and federal governments to make spending cuts, which, these days, is almost always.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the leading grassroots advocacy organization for mental health public policy in the United States, and it has never been more important than it is now. Psychology continues to be an expanding field, with new breakthroughs and discoveries made every day by researchers across the globe. If a large part of the population has no access to the treatments we glean from all of this research, what have we really gained? NAMI works on behalf of all those with mental illnesses to ensure that public services are available to those who may need it the most. Countless studies have shown demonstrated that poverty and mental illness come in tandem at an alarming rate, with still others showing that, most often in these cases, the poverty precedes the mental illness. With so many people uninsured, or who have insurance plans that lack coverage for mental health, there are millions today who simply cannot afford conventional treatments.

The stigma surrounding mental health is puzzling, given how many people either have a mental illness or know someone who has one. Fortunately, those who educate themselves about mental illnesses and care about whether or not millions have access to services that could allow for them to lead more fulfilling lives have an outlet for action. NAMI regularly organizes walks targeted at raising awareness and money for mental health and mental health advocacy in cities across the United States. Below is a link to the NAMI website, where you can find dates and locations of walks in your home state. If there’s a walk in your area, please think about getting involved and making a difference in the fight for mental health.

Panic Attacks in Children

Despite what many think, childhood is not always a carefree time, exempt from feelings of stress and anxiety. This actually couldn’t be further from the truth (in fact, it’s a wonder any of us think this at all; we were all kids once, we should know better). Perhaps childhood tribulations like trying to fit in, trying to establish an identity and dealing with puberty seem trifling now, but at the time, they were real causes of stress and worry, because those problems were the most salient to us as children. Unfortunately, as real as this anxiety is, a child should be lucky to only have these concerns. Rising divorce rates, among many other traumatic life events, are causing kids to mature faster than they should, heaping adult responsibilities on a small frame that just isn’t ready. To make matters worse, kids tend to hold these feelings of stress and anxiety inside, because they are unfamiliar and disturbing. With no outlet for this stress, panic attacks can begin cropping up in kids of all ages, and it’s up to parents to make sure their kids stay healthy and safe.

A recent survey revealed that about 12% of all high school freshman have experienced a panic attack at least once in their lives. Parents aren’t going to be able to be around for all of those. Some will happen at school, some at home and some in private, with no one around to help. Even if a parent can’t be there to witness a panic attack, there are warning signs that could indicate a child is becoming prone to having one. Changes in sleeping patterns, loss of appetite, mood swings, outbursts of anger or sadness, violence, or anti-social behavior could all indicate the germination of a panic disorder within a child. Remember, anyone can have bad days; it’s not until a strong pattern of behavior consistent with these signs shows up that there is cause for concern. Needless to say, these warning signs can apply to a vast number of physical and mental disorders; if a child begins to exhibit some of these signs on a semi-regular basis, parents need to communicate concern in a calm, loving manner and let the child do most of the talking.

Parents concerned about their children suffering from panic attacks first need to understand what constitutes one, before they can be of aid. The most important characteristic of a panic attack is a strong, unprovoked and unspecific feeling of fear or discomfort. In addition, four or more of the following symptoms must be present:

  • palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • sweating
  • trembling or shaking
  • sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • feeling of choking
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea or abdominal distress
  • feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • fear of losing control or going crazy
  • fear of dying
  • paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
  • chills or hot flushes

Once parents understand what a panic attack is, they can help their child understand, too. Most children don’t understand that they are having a panic attack, which often worsens the attack, as it is feared to be a sign of a more serious unknown health problem. Ask children about these symptoms; if they start to seem familiar to them, you can help them understand what is going on. In many cases, simply understanding what a panic attack is, as opposed to being in the dark, can lead to a marked improvement in the incidence of panic attacks.

Some kids are unfortunately predisposed to be more at risk for panic attacks, and just knowing what is happening to them might not be enough. For these kids, the sooner a psychologist or medical professional can be consulted, the better. Left unchecked, childhood panic attacks can develop into seriously debilitating panic disorders later on in adulthood. Cognitive behavioral therapy is currently a leading treatment for panic attacks and disorders, and could work for many children. Medications are also available, but are unnecessary in many cases and pose the risk of creating dependencies.

If you are a parent, keep an eye on your kids’ behavior. Cries for help might be hard to see, but if your child is struggling with panic, stress and anxiety, they will manifest themselves somehow. The best thing you can do for your child is to arm yourself with knowledge, so you can be prepared to come to an understanding as a family about what is happening and what can be done to address it.