Thank you to the co-authors of this article: Dr. Natalie Truba, psychologist and Dr. Nadine Schwartz, psychiatrist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Alleviating Anxiety & Depression with Psychiatry
Research tells us that there is an undeniably higher rate of anxiety and depression among parents in our community. These conditions definitely aren’t because the parents are too sensitive, weak, or exaggerating their problems. Quite the opposite.
To begin, parents of individuals with Duchenne are susceptible to inheritance and genetics just like any other person. In addition to genetic predisposition, the allostatic load itself of parenting a child with Duchenne can significantly distort brain chemistry. Once that imbalance of brain chemicals happens – whether genetically, environmentally or both – parents will often need outside help to rebalance their neurochemicals.
Psychiatry is a prime way to achieve that.
What is Psychiatry?
Psychiatry is the branch of medicine focused on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.
Psychiatrists are physicians who completed medical school and then specialized residency training in Psychiatry. Psychiatric training equips these doctors to examine a person medically and psychologically; to understand the complex relationship between physical health, emotions, genetics, personal life experiences and family history; to make a diagnosis; and to work with patients to develop treatment plans which may or may not include prescribing medications.
Psychiatrists use a variety of treatments – including various forms of psychotherapy, medications, psychosocial interventions and other treatments… depending on the needs of each patient.
The terms psychiatry and psychology are often confused by the general public and it’s helpful to know the difference. The most significant difference is that Psychiatrists are physicians who completed medical school and as such can complete physical examinations, order and interpret laboratory and radiologic procedures, and prescribe medications.
Psychologists also have doctoral level degrees from graduate level study, typically either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D., but they do not attend medical school and are not medical physicians. Psychologists may work in a variety of capacities, from completing a variety of types of psychological assessments to providing a variety of types of therapy including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Myths and Truths
Despite all the benefits that personal stories and academic data show us about psychiatry, the stigma and shame associated with psychiatric help still persists. Unfortunately, this misinformation prevents many people from getting the help they need. Here are just a few examples:
- Myth: Psychiatrists classify normal emotions as mental illness. Truth: Only if the emotions are prolonged or inhibiting the person’s ability to function normally might a mental illness diagnosis be made.
- Myth: Psychiatry is for crazy people. Truth: Patients are indistinguishable from people who do not receive care.
- Myth: Psychiatrists force medications. Truth: Psychiatrists use a variety of treatment methods that patients get to choose from.
- Myth: Psychiatric drugs alter personalities and must be taken forever. Truth: Psychiatric meds alleviate symptoms and are discontinued based on the person’s need.
Yet another common stigma about psychiatry is that individuals who seek psychiatric help simply are “not tough enough.” The media seems to imply that a daily walk, meditation, or the weekly mani or pedi would alleviate the stress if the person “wasn’t so weak.”
Some of these strategies may indeed work for someone with mostly balanced brain chemistry, however many parents of children with Duchenne have unbalanced brain chemistry, and need help with rebalancing their brain chemistry.
And most intuitively know it.
Stigma, Shame and Self-medicating
While medical treatment by a doctor for mental health still carries stigma and shame, it’s interesting to note that unregulated self-medication often seems acceptable and sometimes even encouraged.
It’s fairly common for humans to attempt self-medication in the efforts of restoring neurochemical balance, or “feeling better.” Whether emotional eating, street drugs, or anything in between, these maladaptive behaviors don’t fix the underlying problem. In fact, they often create a whole slew of new problems themselves.
What may be even more insidious than the obvious attempts at self-medication, is the “socially acceptable” attempts at self-medication. In our culture, consuming wine and alcohol are encouraged as part of a daily routine and are even used as a focal point in social events. From there, it’s a slippery slope to dependency and hiding indulgences in private.
Yes, the stigma and shame associated with seeing a psychiatrist for mental health are very real. Ultimately, the bias of a culture often plays a large part in determining whether parents in our Duchenne community seek regulated, doctor managed psychiatric help.
Regrettably, the stigma and shame that discourages psychiatric help for our Duchenne parents affect far more than just the parent.
More to Consider
- Stressors of DMD Parents
- Combined Therapy – coming soon
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – coming soon