Thursday, December 27, 2007
Mental illnesses have different degrees of severity

By Anthony Policastro, M.D

A fair number of mental health diagnoses have become common. Most people know what ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) is. Many people use the term OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). I commonly hear people talk about Bipolar Disorder. Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder are often known to parents. We often talk to people about their Panic Disorder. Some people have Anxiety Disorders. Autistic Disorder has become very common. What most people do not realize is that all of these are only part of a spectrum of symptoms. There are three categories of symptoms. The mildest version is what is called a variant. The intermediate version is what is called a problem. The severe version is what is called a disorder. For example, there are some people who have obsessive-compulsive tendencies. They may double check things. They may have to do things in a certain order. They may be what we call neat freaks. Their friends may tease them about being OCD. However, those may just be personality traits. They may not interfere with that person's day-to-day activities. We would say that those individuals have an obsessive-compulsive variant. Other people might have more obsessions or compulsions. It might interfere with their daily life. They may double check things so many times that they are always late. They may get very upset when things are not just so. There is some interference with their daily function. However, it is not creating major issues to get through the day. They have an obsessive-compulsive problem. There are other individuals who cannot get through a day without major problems. They may not leave the house. They may recheck things a certain number of times every time. They cease to function in a normal fashion. They have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The same thing is true of any of the other disorders. Some people may always be a little bit anxious. They could have an anxiety variant. Others may be so anxious that it concerns those around them. However, they get through the day fine. They have an anxiety problem. Other individuals have so much anxiety that they cannot get anything accomplished. They have an anxiety disorder. There are three major things to realize about all this. The first is related to the fact that just because we notice a trait in someone, it does not mean that there is a problem. It could just be a variant and be normal for them. No treatment would be necessary. The second is that patients with disorders are in need of intense treatment. The treatment might be medication. It might be counseling. That is not true for those with problems. They will need some treatment. It usually will be counseling. It may be a short course of medication. The third thing is that people may move from one to another of these depending upon the situation. Someone who has a variant can be put into a situation in which it moves to a problem.

For example, someone with an anxiety variant could get a job that moves him or her to an anxiety problem. People who get treated for a disorder may move to the point where they have a problem or a variant. They will likely not get rid of the trait entirely. The bottom line here is that it is not clear-cut. Most people think that you have a disorder or nothing. That is not the case. There are lesser degrees of symptoms. They are recognizable. They may or may not need formal treatment.

Depression support group in Laurel
The Mental health Association in Delaware will be sponsoring a Depression Support Group in Laurel on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month. The meetings begin at 7 p.m. The purpose of the Laurel Depression Support Group is to share experiences related to living and coping with depression. The group is confidential and offered at no charge. The MHA encourages anyone dealing with a depressive disorder to attend. Register in advance by calling 1-800-287-6423.
  • Peer support groups sponsored by Mental Health Association of Delaware are not intended to replace professional mental health treatment. To maintain the privacy of our members, MHA does not publish support group locations; locations are provided with registration.

  • Stroke support group
    Nanticoke Memorial Hospital will offer free monthly Stroke Support Group meetings designed for individuals who have survived a stroke and their families and caregivers. Meetings are held the third Thursday of each month at Nanticoke Cancer Care Center, from 1:30 - 3:30 p.m. The meetings will consist of guest speakers and breakaway sessions, in which caregivers and survivors will meet in two groups to discuss concerns, provide support and networking. Refreshments will be provided. Sheila Brant and Joan Burditt, occupational therapists at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, will facilitate the support group meetings. Pre-registration is not required. For more information, call 629-6611, ext. 5121.

    Alzheimer's holds training
    The Alzheimer's Association Delaware Valley Chapter is sponsoring a training program for family caregivers at LifeCare at Lofland Park in Seaford on Friday, Jan. 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The program includes a medical overview; legal and financial issues; challenging symptoms, daily care issues; and information on getting the help you need. The session is free and lunch will be provided, but pre-registration is required by Jan. 11. For more information or to register, call Jamie Magee, branch office coordinator, at 854-9788.