This month, we take your questions straight to the expert. Raffael Boccamazzo is the clinical director of TakeThis.org and a doctor of clinical psychology. For more information about mental health; check out their website, TakeThis.org, for more articles, interviews, and tips for a better year.
What’s the turning point for seeking help? How scary is it to make that first call to get an appointment? Does it help? – Karey
I’ve heard from my clients that they often come to me when they know they risk losing something important if they do nothing. This may be a close relationship, a job, a scholarship, or friends. They’re often nervous. Some are nervous about making the phone call, and many are more nervous about making unknown changes in their lives. Change can be scary, but the consequences of doing nothing are often scarier for someone who decides to seek help.
Efficacy depends on a number of factors. One of the biggest is the relationship with their therapist (me). A person has to feel comfortable talking to their therapist, so no single therapist can work for everyone. Sometimes a client’s discomfort is out of the therapist’s control. I’m a pretty tall guy with a deep voice, which can trigger bad memories for some people. Sometimes it has to do with therapy style, or any number of other reasons. In cases like those, I try to refer them to another therapist I think they would be more comfortable with. More to your question, Karey, those who stay tell me that they find it pretty helpful.
How much research goes in to writing a character with specific disorders, both in terms of disorders as obstacles for that character, and possible treatments for those disorders as story elements? – William
Some writers do a lot of research. Some do very little. However, more factors go into to a character’s final portrayal than just the writer. It can also depend on the actor’s choices and how much research they do, or on what the director and producers want. A good artistic team will do its best to make a character as realistic as possible by balancing story and research, but story tends to trump facts.
During a lecture I attended, Jack Horner, a famous paleontologist and technical advisor for Jurassic Park, hypothesized that the T-Rex is an opportunistic scavenger instead of a hunter, and its anatomy indicates very limited dexterity, balance, and speed. While that’s fascinating, can you imagine Dr. Grant yelling, “Serpentine! Run serpentine!” at the kids in the movie only to have the T-Rex fall over and not get up? Boring!
It’s the same with mental illness. In movies or shows like Rain Man, Monk, or Memento, a more accurate portrayal is needed for the story. However, in movies like Shutter Island where it matters less to the story at hand, accuracy can be put aside for the sake of artistic license.
Aside from medication, what are some ways to calm down from a panic attack? – Alexis
Oh, Alexis, you are in good company. Judging by how often I hear this question, this is a concern for many, many people. If this is a concern for you, I suggest talking to a mental health professional who can give you personalized help.
While it’s often easier to prevent a panic attack than stop one in progress, I’ll share with you some tips that seem to work for many people. Distraction is often the name of the game in order to get a person’s mind off the thoughts of panic or the physical symptoms leading to the thoughts of panic. Sitting there ruminating on the panic makes it way worse.
- Sensory distraction. This could be holding an ice cube in your hand or taking a steamy shower. The more senses a person can employ the better. Try adding a little eucalyptus oil to the shower. That way you get smell and touch.
- Cognitive distraction. Do something that requires a little effort of thought like saying the alphabet backwards, counting backwards from 100 by 6 (100, 94, 88, etc.), or describing aloud what is going on in the room (“I’m sitting in the corner of a large room with three windows. A young woman is walking her dog across the street. The dog is a corgi who is bouncing on its short legs to keep up with her walking.”)
- Relaxing visualization. This one can take some repetition to master, but it can work. Add a ton of details to the thought. One of my favorite places is riding one of the ferries in Seattle at night. To add details, I could think of (or even describe out loud) the darkness of the deck, the rhythm of the waves hitting the ferry, the feel of the wind whistling across my ears, the glow of the lights of Seattle reflecting off the overcast clouds, the ding of the paging speakers, the smell of the water and wind, and the peace I feel standing on the deck looking across the water.
- Hobbies. It’s easy to get engrossed in something you enjoy. Several of the people I work with play a quick game on their phones or a portable gaming system.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. Start by tensing your toes for 5 seconds then relaxing them. Then do the same with your calves, thighs, hands, and so on until you work your way up to the head.
- Breathing. Take slow, deep breaths to a slow count of 4, then exhale to the same slow count of 4. This prevents hyperventilation, relaxes a person, and distracts.
Ironically, using distraction techniques helps a lot of people develop a belief of, “I can handle this,” which can also decrease the frequency of the panic attacks.
Thanks for the great questions, Karey, William and Alexis. If you have a question for our mental health experts, we’ll be answering more throughout the Year of Mental Health.
Take This is an informational organization. The resources we provide are for informational purposes only, and should not be used to replace the specialized training and professional judgment of a health care or mental health care professional. For more information about these resources, please visit our website.
Feature Image Credit: Marvel/Netflix