Mental health, illnesses affect self image

Stress and pressures can weigh heavily on the mind. Sometimes this stress can lead to the development of a mental illness.

The kinds of mental disorders, their triggers and their symptoms are varied but all of them are potentially serious conditions. The Good Samaritan Hospital can offer aid to those who have a mental illness, as can some other mental health resources in the area such as Hope Sparks.

One of the commonly talked about mental disorders is anorexia nervosa, which is more specifically defined as an eating disorder. Health and Fitness teacher Sue Krippaehne describes the symptoms commonly associated with anorexia.

“Some signs or symptoms [of an eating disorder] might be fear of weight gain, excessive weight loss but you have to be careful about that because…just because someone has lost weight does not mean you assume they have an eating disorder it might be some other medical thing that is going on with them that caused them to lose wight. So you have to be careful not to take any one thing,” Krippaehne said. “So [other symptoms are] denial of feeling hungry, refusal to eat, excuses to avoid meals, talking about food all the time. Sometimes they talk about food a lot, they will prepare food but they [will not] necessarily eat the food. View of self as being fat, even when they are very thin, excessive or compulsive exercising that usually goes along with anorexia…For females they might stop having their period.”

Another commonly discussed eating disorder is bulimia. Krippaehne lists some of the symptoms that are specific to bulimia.

“For bulimia, [there is] a preoccupation with food and calories, secret eating, hoarding food, feeling out of control, bathroom trips immediately after eating. And that is about purging so if they do eat at a meal, which a lot of the times bulimics will eat but they will have this compulsion to get rid of it… [They will] eat extremely large amounts of food without weight gain, so they are binging and secretly purging…[Dental problems] would not come right away but after a person makes themselves throw up over and over their teeth are going to start having a lot of problems,” Krippaehne said.

Pierce Community College Intro to Psychology, Abnormal Psychology and Human Sexuality teacher Sandra Croswaite explains some of the factors that can cause an eating disorder.

“Eating disorders tend to develop out of a need to feel in control when the rest of your life is not under your control. This frequently translates to parents with high or unrealistic expectations, demanding, controlling, etc. It becomes, ‘If I [can not] control other things, I can control what goes in my body.’ The media is another part of it with its excessive demand for thinness. Usually these two things interact in some way and set off an eating disorder,” Croswaite said. “Eating disorders are considered addictions so doing extreme dieting can sometimes shift your neurochemicals in such a way that you crave the feeling of starvation, hence causing an eating disorder. There is not a one way only to this disorder.”

Withdrawal from activities they used to enjoy, spending more time away from friends and falling behind in school all are possible mental symptoms of depression but there are some physical symptoms as well.

“Depression can exhibit itself in a variety of ways. It affects our diet so often you will see a lack of appetite or you can see an increase in appetite because food can be very comforting to people who are feeling really down,” Nurse Karen Smith said. “So that is a question I will ask kids, ‘How are you eating? What is your normal day look like? Are you a breakfast eater? Do you have snacks? Have you lost any weight? Has your weight been stable, up or down five or 10 pounds in the last six months?’ I will use that as a gauge to see if it is just normal growth rate or if, ‘wow they dropped 20 pounds without trying’ that is significant.”

Over sleeping or under sleeping are other signs of depression, which stem from either feeling excessively sad or from an associated anxiety accordingly.

“Another physical symptom would manifest itself with their sleep and so [students] and it can go both ways like with the diet, sometimes they can struggle getting to sleep at night. Because… Depression goes hand-in-hand with anxiety. You might be awake all night just thinking about all the things that are on your mind all those ‘what ifs,’ playing out those scenarios. Or maybe they are feeling so down that they are sleeping all of the time,” Smith said.

Smith describes the reasons behind a problem related to depression, self-harm (also known as cutting). Self-harm is not necessarily reflective of suicidal thoughts.

“If we know a student is cutting or doing self-harm, we will contact the parent to make sure the parent is aware of that and we will refer them to a mental health specialist. We strongly encourage them to seek some outside therapy. Kids cut for a variety of reasons, a lot of people think that cutting is the same thing as a suicide attempt. It is not. It could be one of the factors that plays a role down the line but it is not necessarily related. In knowing that, it is just a way for kids to escape and have a little bit of control. If they are feeling a lot of emotional pain it gives them physical pain to attach it to,” Smith said.

Croswaite explains the basis of effective treatments for mental disorders and offers a way to possibly avoiding developing a mental disorder.

“The most effective treatment is usually a combination of medications and therapy which has at least a 20 percent higher success rate than either alone… If you want to reduce your chances of a mental disorder, keep your stress levels down, do things for fun, have a social life, eat healthy and exercise. Stress is the [number one] reason that a person ultimately develops or relapses into a mental disorder,” Croswaite said.