More Than a Feeling: Mental Health Issues Can Impact Us All

By Oz, Mehmet C.; Roizen, Michael F. | Success, June 2013 | Go to article overview

More Than a Feeling: Mental Health Issues Can Impact Us All


Oz, Mehmet C., Roizen, Michael F., Success


As a society, we have a long way to go in our understanding of mental illness. The conversation continues here, as the doctors shed light on how to deal with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and even pathological lying.

Q: My brother returned from Afghanistan a year ago and has been battling PTSD. He's seen doctors but still has occasional breakdowns. What role can I play in supporting him?

A: PTSD changes how certain hormones and neurotransmitters respond to stress. The best way to treat it is with medications such as Zoloft and Paxil, talk therapy, and by providing a supportive environment. This is where YOU come in!

Communicate your support. Learn as much as you can about PTSD to get a sense of what your brother is going through. Then let him know that you're ready to help in any way, whether it's keeping track of meds, attending doctor appointments with him, or just providing companionship. You might suggest he join a support group of other veterans with PTSD, which is shown to help.

Listen. Don't argue with your brother, which can agitate him. Be positive--your loved one's mood will fluctuate dramatically and is susceptible to the attitude of his closest family members.

Be patient. Progress won't be instant, so give him space and let him know you'll be there when he's ready to reconnect. Try to learn what triggers symptoms, which can include, among other things, self-destructive behavior, intense anger or guilt, and even flashbacks. Plan outings and activities that steer clear of his triggers.

Take time for YOU. Dealing with someone who has PTSD isn't easy. Taking care of your own needs will help you have the mental and physical energy to be there for him. Haven't had the time to eat right, exercise and get a good night's sleep? Make those things a priority.

Q: A longtime friend is a pathological liar. How am I supposed to react when I know she's not telling the truth?

A: You've probably been exercising patience for a while, because this didn't start overnight. Pathologic lying--telling lies repeatedly and impulsively--tends to develop early in life as a response to a tough situation that seemed to resolve itself when the child lied. It becomes a way of life, and making up things is more comfortable than telling the truth.

Pathological liars may also fib to get attention. They discover that the spotlight makes them feel good, and the whoppers grow bigger each time. The lying is not meant to manipulate--it's more like a very bad habit your friend can't break on her own.

Next time she lies, kindly present proof of the truth. Do not shout or accuse her of being a liar, which could cause her to go on the defensive. Simply provide the facts. If she vehemently denies it, leave the situation alone. But if she softens, ask whether she is seeking help from a mental health professional. If she is not, gently encourage her to do so.

Tell her you know it's not her fault and you will be there for her, but it's difficult to have a relationship without honesty. If all else fails, you may have to give your friendship a break. Change can only come in time and from within her.

Q: Are there any foods that have a specific mood- boosting effect--well, other than cheeseburgers?

A: Yes! Certain foods boost levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that can help you feel more content and calm. When you're feeling blah, reach for these "happy meal" picks:

Turkey: This sandwich staple contains tryptophan, which your body needs to make serotonin--it's partly why people feel so satisfied after Thanksgiving dinner. …

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