Is Addiction a Mental Illness?

man drinking bottle bar

Today, it’s widely accepted by major scientific associations that addiction is a medical illness. The National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA] and the American Psychiatric Association [APA] both define addiction as a “brain disease,” and the DSM-V lists criteria for classifying addiction as a mental health condition called “Substance Use Disorder.”

However, it wasn’t always this way. In the United States, there’s a long history of vilifying not only drugs and alcohol, but also the people who use them. Less than a century ago, addiction wasn’t seen as an illness outside of one’s control, but rather as a moral failing rooted in one’s personality.

In the 1930s, when scientists first began to study addiction, the prevailing view was that addicts were simply those too weak in willpower to say no. Because addiction wasn’t seen as an illness, there was no concept of treating it with rehabilitation centers and 12-step programs. Instead, heavy users of drugs and alcohol were seen as degenerates and criminals and were treated accordingly; they were imprisoned or institutionalized so as not to be a nuisance to society. Continue reading Is Addiction a Mental Illness?

Dealing With Depression: What You Need to Know

woman sitting lake mountains landscape

If you are dealing with depression, remember that you are not alone. More than 300 million people around the world live with depression. It is the leading cause of disability.

Dealing with depression is a lifelong journey of overcoming pain, accepting change, challenging your mind, training your body, and engaging in something outside of yourself. To thrive during this sometimes harrowing journey, you might need knowledge of the strategies, treatments, and lifestyle changes that will help you. We outlined them below:

Treatment Options for Dealing With Depression

In-Person Psychotherapy

Working with a licensed psychotherapist in-person is an effective treatment for reducing symptoms of depression and learning to cope with depression, according to the American Psychological Association and many other credible institutions. A therapist can help clients with depression by:

  • Identifying events, negative beliefs, patterns, behaviors, and people that contributed to the development of the depression; then working on strategies to address these issues
  • Setting realistic, specific, and actionable goals for dealing with depression; then helping maintain accountability for these goals
  • Helping develop skills to cope with symptoms and problems

There are many types of therapy, and some might work better for you than others. Continue reading Dealing With Depression: What You Need to Know

5 Therapist-Approved Ways to De-Stress Your Day

woman writing pen table journal

Daily stress management is one of the key indicators of mental health and wellness. By being proactive in dealing with stress, we can minimize its impact. Regularly engaging in stress reduction techniques emboldens us to stave off feelings of being completely overwhelmed, depressed, or persistently anxious or panicked.

Here are five ways you can start de-stressing your day today:

1. Journaling

Journaling is a tried and true practice for therapists. Many of us came up in training programs that required writing to process our own experiences as students and trainees. Journaling is a simple yet powerful tool that allows for internal thoughts, worries, and concerns to become externalized onto a page. This can help you gain greater insight into your feelings, thoughts, and motivations as well as provide an emotional holding space for difficult material.

2. Spend More Time in Nature

Often overlooked, spending time in nature has great therapeutic effects. With the power of Vitamin D (which helps lift mood), spending time in nature can also be a great mindfulness activity. By communing with nature, many people discuss feeling a greater sense of peace and less rumination (which is consistent with worry and anxiety). Sites like parks and beaches are often popular because they tend to convey feelings of bright energy, enjoyable activities, and generally pleasant conditions. Continue reading 5 Therapist-Approved Ways to De-Stress Your Day

The History of LGBTQ Conversion Therapy

gay man rainbow paint couch therapist

In 1965, TIME magazine published an article titled “Homosexuals Can Be Cured.” The article focused on the “triumphant” results of group therapy work led by psychiatrist Samuel Hadden, who was also a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School at the time. Hadden had been leading long-term (four to eight year) therapy sessions for men who identified as homosexual in the hopes of “curing” them of their sexual “perversions.”

TIME’s article celebrated Hadden’s ability to help men work through their “symptoms” of “illness”—whether that was wearing inappropriately feminine clothing or being sexually interested in men instead of women. Hadden was only one of many esteemed psychiatrists and psychologists to consider — and treat — homosexuality as a sickness during the 1960s. In fact, homosexuality was not removed from the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” [DSM] until 1973.

The pathologizing of homosexuality was not, however, contextually specific to 20th century America. Many of the earliest writings condemning homosexual acts as “unnatural” caught on in 12th century Europe, when religious leaders like Saint Thomas Aquinas denounced homosexuality as a sin in their early writings. Popular disdain against homosexuality, began in the realm of religion, but it quickly moved into the legal arena in centuries to come. Continue reading The History of LGBTQ Conversion Therapy

The Pain of Anti-LGBTQ Bullying: Ending the Silence

sad woman sitting on floor

April 24, 2017 was GLSEN’s Day of Silence, an annual campaign that brings awareness to the silencing effects of anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment. To participate in this campaign, we decided to share the stories (anonymously) of Talkspace clients who faced anti-LGBTQ bullying and used therapy to heal.

How Childhood Bullying Has Lasting Effects

When people face anti-LGBTQ bullying — or any other form of bullying — during their youth, it can affect them for the rest of their lives. One of our therapists worked with a client who was bullied in school because he was gay. His peers also taunted and teased him because he was quiet and shy. Rather than supporting him and being compassionate, his parents told him to “toughen up.”

This had profound effects on the course of the client’s life. Now in his 40s, the client has trouble making friends and believing he is likeable. He finds it hard to believe that anyone would want to spend time with him. He often takes neutral behaviors personally or perceives them as punitive. His world feels small and he struggles with the daily pain of his loneliness. Continue reading The Pain of Anti-LGBTQ Bullying: Ending the Silence

How Being in Abusive Relationships Made Me a Perfectionist

gay man in corner abused

It’s 1:30 in the morning and I’m lying awake listening to the sound of my boyfriend’s light snoring. The box fan is humming softly in the corner. Cool night air blows through the window.

Although I’m happy, I’m also torn. In the dark I debate whether the fan is making enough noise to keep him asleep if I get up to go put away the clean dishes. Half of me is kicking myself for forgetting to do so. The other half is wondering if it’s a good opportunity to also clean the bathroom overnight as a surprise.

I remind myself how lucky I am to have found a good guy. I wonder whether this is business as usual for domestic violence survivors everywhere. I tell myself I’m most likely not as alone and abnormal as I feel. I force myself to fall asleep.

This all sounds weird, but these little debates play out in my head all day, every day. When I shop, I try to find little gifts for him to keep him happy, like a new pair of shoes. Every time I make it home before he does, I try to use those spare moments to clean something. Getting into his car also means clearing out a few bits of trash as I exit. I always make sure he has everything he needs before he leaves for work and his alarm is set before we go to bed.

Sometimes scars make you sweet. Continue reading How Being in Abusive Relationships Made Me a Perfectionist

Anxiety Attack vs. Panic Attack: Which One Are You Having?

anxiety vs. panic attack illustration

Knowing the difference between an anxiety attack vs. panic attack is more than an issue of semantics. It can shape the course of your mental health. If you don’t know which one you are having, it will be difficult to find the appropriate treatment or develop useful coping skills. You might waste time addressing the wrong issues.

By understanding the issue of anxiety attacks vs. panic attacks, you can more efficiently address your mental health and the issues behind the attacks. It starts with understanding the more confusing of the two, anxiety attacks.

What Are Anxiety Attacks? – Clinical Terms vs. Colloquial Terms

“Anxiety attack” is not an official clinical term. The latest edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” [DSM-5], a book the vast majority of mental health professionals abide by, does not list it (we’ll be sure to update this article if that fact changes during the next release of the DSM). Continue reading Anxiety Attack vs. Panic Attack: Which One Are You Having?

14 Movies About Depression That Perfectly Capture the Experience

Anomalisa movie poster

More than 300 million people have depression, and each person has a unique story. It’s a mental health condition that manifests in a myriad of ways. It can make people feel lonely, detached, down or unmotivated, like there’s no point to anything. It can also spur them to act irrationally or destructively. We need movies about depression — among other works of art — to help us understand, humanize and sympathize with the many ways people experience depression.

If you’re interested in watching a movie featuring depression, it can be difficult to know where to start. There are hundreds of movies about depression, and thousands with strong themes of depression.

Rather than starting a subjective conversation about which movies are “best” in terms of the filmmaking (good writing, interesting characters, solid plot, etc.), we wanted to learn which ones would best enlighten you on the experience of depression. If you live with depression, you might identify with one or more of the characters in these films or they might provide your family and friends some insight into what you’re struggling with. Continue reading 14 Movies About Depression That Perfectly Capture the Experience

Recognizing Trauma vs. PTSD: A Quick Primer on Symptoms

traumatic stress vs. PTSD image

Imagine you have just had a car accident on the way home from work. Would you consider this a traumatic experience? What about if you left a country with oppressive government to find asylum in a safer country? Would you consider that traumatic?

There are different kinds of trauma you may experience. In the past, trauma meant experiencing events such as torture or abuse. But mental health professionals have come to see trauma as being more varied. How will you know if you or someone you love is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic stress? Clarification begins first with the definition of trauma.

The International Society for Trauma Stress Studies defines trauma as a set of mild to severe reactions to, “shocking and emotionally overwhelming situations that may involve actual or threatened death, serious injury, or threat to physical integrity.” Continue reading Recognizing Trauma vs. PTSD: A Quick Primer on Symptoms

Children’s Mental Health: When To Worry, How To Take Action

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Approximately one in five children experience a diagnosable mental health condition in their lives.

I once worked with a young man (whom I will refer to here as James) who was in his early 20s and had been plagued by difficulties at both work and his personal life. About two years prior to our first meeting, he left school due to his inability to keep up with the schoolwork and the stress that it caused him. James told me he always felt as if he were playing “catch up.”

Throughout our time together in therapy James came to recognize he had been living with untreated ADHD. He spent years internalizing negative messages from his teachers and family members about his behavior and difficulty concentrating. They labeled him as “bad,” and he believed it. Continue reading Children’s Mental Health: When To Worry, How To Take Action