Friday, September 13, 2013

Colorado Floods: What To Do If You Aren't Handling The Stress Well

Many parts of northern Colorado have received about half of their annual precipitation in the last 48 hours. There has been widespread flooding, damage to houses and cars, and the constant threat of evacuation. Phones are buzzing with flash flood warnings, and it is hard to miss seeing the devastation, either in person or on the news.

In addition to staying physically safe, it is important to protect yourself emotionally. This is an amazingly stressful time for residents, first responders, news reporters, and public officials. Symptoms of acute depression and anxiety are common. Here are a few warning signs:

1. Sadness and tearfulness
2. A strong feeling that you need to get up and go somewhere immediately (the "flight" response)
3. Anger
4. Lack of ability to focus or think clearly (all you can think about is the disaster)
5. Excessive worry
6. Racing heart, sweating, shaking, cold hands and feet
7. A need to know where your loved ones are at all times
8. Jumpiness and hyperarousal (for example, you jump and feel a rush of anxiety every time you hear a siren)
9. Nightmares about the disaster
10. An inability to do anything (almost like you are "frozen in place")
11. A change in eating or sleeping habits (you can't fall asleep, you lose your appetite, or vice versa)

These symptoms are fairly normal reactions to stressful situations. For most people, the feelings of depression and anxiety go away quickly. For a smaller number of people, the symptoms linger. For some people, it feels like the depression or anxiety will never abate, and disorders such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Agoraphobia (a fear of leaving the house), and Major Depressive Disorder can develop.

If you feel completely overwhelmed, or you are worried that your depression or anxiety is getting out of control, there is help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a disaster distress hotline. Here is how you get in contact with them:

PHONE: 1-800-985-5990
TEXT: "TalkWithUs" or "Hablanos" to 66746
SUICIDE LIFELINE: 1-800-273-8255

SAMHSA also has an excellent web page with a lot of detail about anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and panic reactions. I won't summarize it in this post, but I highly recommend you click on the following link if you are in distress. It is a great resource. It includes information about how to make it through the immediate crisis and how to deal with your emotions when the crisis is over:

Good luck, and stay safe, physically and emotionally.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Odd Bathroom Behavior: Mental Illness, Bizarre Behavior, and Refusing Help

9 News reporter Eric Egan reported on a story out of Centennial last night where he discovered a woman who has been acting strangely and refusing help for months.

Her neighbors became concerned when they discovered she had been defecating in her backyard. They also started seeing rats coming from the house and in surrounding backyards. They said she never leaves her house and has not answered the door when concerned citizens try to help. The health department has served her several warnings, but so far, nothing has worked.

This is a tragic story, because it is almost certain this woman has a serious mental illness (or a physical illness that has symptoms similar to mental illness), and she is not getting the help she needs. In fact, she is refusing all help. She won't even come to the door.

The neighbors feel lost, and they are conflicted--they want to help this woman, and they also want the unsanitary conditions to be remediated.

Here is Eric's story:

Click here to watch if the above video does not automatically appear.

Although it is not perfect, there is a law in Colorado that allows anyone who suspects a person is mentally ill and in danger to petition the probate court for a court-ordered mental health evaluation by a licensed professional. A few months ago, I wrote a blog post outlining the steps a person needs to take, and a link to it is here.

If her neighbors have not already tried, it could be helpful for someone to petition the court for a mental health evaluation by a professional who has the authority to place her on a 72-hour mental health hold and get her to a hospital, if necessary.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Teen Charged With Killing Mom: Bizarre Behavior In Court

18 year-old Isabella Guzman is accused of attacking her mother and stabbing her to death. She is charged with first-degree murder, and according to police documents, she allegedly stabbed her mother 79 times.

She appeared in court yesterday to formally hear the charges against her. She was scheduled to appear in the morning, but she refused to leave her jail cell. By the afternoon, she was cooperating, but a camera in the courtroom caught her doing a number of bizarre things. She stared directly at the camera on several occasions with a sassy and defiant look on her face. At one point, she pointed to both of her eyes while looking straight at the camera. In the raw footage, you can also see redness in her eyes, as though she were holding back tears.

I have not met with or talked to Isabella Guzman. I have certainly not conducted a psychological evaluation with her. I cannot diagnose her from watching a few minutes of courtroom video. But, I can say, in those few minutes, she reminded me of the troubled teens I worked with when I was in graduate school. These were teenagers, mostly girls, whose behavior was so out of control they were sent to a residential treatment facility. Many of them had legal charges. Some of them had mental illnesses. But, most of them were sad kids who were raised in terrible circumstances. Almost all of them had been physically or sexually abused. They put on a mask of bravado and toughness, but just under the surface, they were wounded and fragile.

With good treatment, most of those teens turned out okay. Some of them just outgrew their poor behavior as they aged and matured. Some of them, however, went on to develop full-blown personality disorders.

I don't know what Guzman's upbringing was like, and I do not want to make any excuses for her alleged actions. But, seeing her on camera makes me wonder if she is like those teenagers I used to work with--masking fragility and desperation with bluster and defiance.

Here is a link to the video of Isabella Guzman in court:

Click here to watch the video if it does not appear above.

As an aside, Guzman was charged with her crime about a month after her 18th birthday. If she were to be convicted of first-degree murder, she would be eligible for the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. If she had committed the alleged murder just a few months earlier (i.e. when she was 17), neither of those sentences would be an option, even if she had been tried as an adult.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What Does Ariel Castro's Suicide Mean For His Victims?

Ariel Castro is back in the news, but not for much longer. The man who was convicted of more than 900 crimes in the kidnappings and sexual assaults of three Cleveland women has killed himself.

Castro was found hanging from a bedsheet in his cell in a prison in Ohio last night and pronounced dead about an hour later at a hospital.

In the news clip that follows, there is more information about the developments. And, I speak with 9 News anchor Gary Shapiro about the implications for the victims.

Here is the clip:

Click here to view the video if you are using a non-Flash enabled device.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.


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