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Who Will Save Our Mental Health from Technology?

Saving our mental health

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A Former Google Manager is Spearheading Efforts to Limit the Negative Effects of Technology and Social Media

What are the negative effects of technology and social media on us? We’re aware of its influences on our mental health, with studies linking excessive social media use to depression and anxiety. What other grips does cyber-reality have on us?

In 2012, a young manager at Google named Tristan Harris made an impassioned plea in a presentation for his bosses to attend to “[our] moral responsibility to create an attention economy that doesn’t weaken people’s relationships or distract people to death.”

His ideas for a more ethical digital world gained some traction for a time, and it even got him tapped to be the company’s design ethicist. The company lost focus, however, and shifted its attention to other priorities.

Harris left Google in 2015, and three years later, Google produced a screentime tracker known as Digital Wellbeing, so that Android users could see how much time they were spending each day on each application they tapped into. Apple followed suit with a counterpart app for iPhones.

Continuing the Crusade

Were the new screentime tracker apps enough of a leash? Not according to Harris. In Harris’ estimation, the “free” business model is the most expensive business model ever invented.

More recently, Harris started the Center for Humane Technology and has expanded his thinking to bring more awareness to the negative impacts of the internet on our lives. From misinformation/disinformation being proliferated on various social media platforms (e.g., Facebook and YouTube (owned by Google)), to election tampering and invaded privacy, and finally to political divisiveness in our country, the internet gets blamed for a lot. And probably with good reason. Just think about how much control we give our cyber lives over our actual lives.

Harris continues to grow his audience with various national media appearances, conferences, and additional presentations of his own. The biggest takeaway he wants his listeners to remember is the mistake it is to treat mobile technology drawbacks as mutually exclusive from those inflicted by social media. It’s all part of what he refers to as the “extractive attention economy (EAE).”

Our Private Information Used as a Currency

It’s been said that “money talks.” Well, so does information in the EAE. Its business model is driven by gathering and leveraging data about its users and what they like. In order to keep them engaged online, more and more of what users want to see is constantly being fed to them, faster and faster, by automated platforms. This may sound great and convenient, but it actually gives them more extreme, sensationalized content, which only feeds upon their frailties.

Without any thought, judgment, or intent, people dealing with mental health issues might be looking on YouTube for ways to improve their mental health, while being unwittingly steered via “recommendations” toward videos about suicide and death. The only thing the platforms care about is how the relationships between what users are searching for and what the algorithms calculate they like will keep users online, engaged and clicking.

The Unbearable Lightness of Technology

What happened to “fun” social media? Harris warns that our addiction to retweets, likes, comments, and reshares, is only keeping us distracted and depressed.

Steve Jobs spoke of technology as an “exercise bicycle for the mind.” Harris has responded that the exercise bike is taking us down dark, unfamiliar roads where we might not ever want to find ourselves.

Harris believes that language can help shape reality, but he had to work through a growing fear that the language we were using to define the real impact of cyber-reality on our lives was very much lacking. It wasn’t enough to describe what he warns as a coming hailstorm.

One of his epiphanies was the realization that the real danger we’re in isn’t technology overpowering our strengths (like the cliche science fiction bit when computers take over the world). The real danger is when technology learns to overwhelm and leverage our emotional weaknesses against us… for profit.

Harris and his cohorts brainstormed themselves to a point where they thought that what might be going on was a process of diminishing, of degrading human lives and humanity as a whole. Technology, as we give it more and more of our time and attention, is causing the downgrading of human relationships, of human attention, of our common sense of decency, of democracy itself.

How Social Media Negatively Affects Us

Harris has commented specifically about how various social media platforms negatively affect us:

  • Snapchat turns conversations into “streaks,” redefining how children value real friendship.
  • Instagram glamorizes the picture-perfect life, eroding our sense of gratitude for our real lives, along with diminishing our sense of self-worth.
  • Facebook puts us into separate echo chambers, dissolving our real communities.
  • YouTube auto-plays the one video after the next, within seconds, regardless of what it does to our sleep.

Four Ways Technology is Hurting Us

Harris shares the four main ways he sees our subservience to technology is taking its toll:

Mental Health

The rat race to keep us on screen 24/7 makes it harder to disconnect, increasing stress, depression, anxiety, and sleep deprivation.

Children

The rat race to keep children’s attention trains them to replace their sense of self-worth with the number of likes they get, encourages them to compare themselves with others, and creates a non-stop illusion of missing out…which can lead to coping problems and mental health challenges.

Relationships

The competition for attention forces social media users to prefer virtual interactions and rewards (likes, shares, etc.) on their screens vs. interaction in a real face-to-face community.

Democracy

Social media unwittingly rewards faux rage, sensational facts, while reducing the role of factual information. It’s dividing us and making it increasingly difficult to agree on what is “real.”

So, where does this leave us? Possibly with additional challenges for those coping with mental health issues brought on by extensive technology use.

The good news is that you can take back control of your life by better managing your social media use.

Curious to hear more?

Do you suspect that excessive technology use and social networking are having a negative effect on your mental health or on that of a loved one? If you or someone you love need to talk to someone about mental illness or feelings of being overwhelmed, we want to help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

12 Things You Should Know About Anhedonia

anhedonia symptoms treatment

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Anhedonia has received an increasing amount of attention in the past few years. What exactly is it? A working definition of anhedonia would be that it is one of the primary symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD).

In Greek, anhedonia directly translates to “without pleasure.” Anhedonia is a symptom of other psychiatric illnesses, such as schizophrenia. Note that major depressive disorder/anhedonia are not the same thing as dysthymia, which is also known as a persistent depressive disorder.

Have you ever gone through a phase (perhaps you’re in the middle of one now) when you wake up in the morning without any emotion, opinion, or interest in life? Completely “blah” about everything? Caring about nothing? Emotionally flat?

Typically, when you experience something pleasurable, the “happy chemical” dopamine rushes through your brain’s reward mechanism. Some research indicates that anhedonic conditions might be caused by lower activity in a region of your brain called the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC).

Anhedonia inflicts a loss of interest in activities and hobbies that you once found pleasurable, such as eating, socializing, touching, friendships, relationships, music, events, conversations, and even sex. It’s as if the brain’s pleasure/satisfaction center shorts out or shuts down completely.

This inability to experience pleasure (or to maintain a good mood for very long) can severely impact the quality of your life.

Anhedonia symptoms and signs

How does anhedonia manifest? Following are some common symptoms/signs to be aware of:

  • Despondent and with feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Inconsolable, and non-respondent when comfort is offered
  • Practically impossible to smile or laugh at anything; mirthless
  • Unexplained paranoia, dread, fear, social/emotional withdrawal, and/or irritability
  • Frequently sick, with the flu, colds, etc.
  • Increased difficulty adjusting in social situations; intently observant of others, but without engaging socially, almost as if not present in the room
  • Severe difficulty following a conversation; lack of interest in listening
  • Refusal to seek support or assistance
  • Negative feelings about self and others
  • Significantly reduced emotional abilities, including difficulty articulating thoughts and feelings
  • Difficulty pinpointing exactly what you feel, if anything at all
  • “Going through the motions,” with a tendency to act out emotions, because that is “how you’re supposed to feel”
  • Decreased sex drive, and lack of interest in physical intimacy
  • Suicidal ideation, fixation with death

Anhedonia risk factors

Risk factors for anhedonia include a family history of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. Females are at a heightened risk of suffering from anhedonia.

Other risk factors include eating disorders, a history of abuse and/or neglect, recent trauma and/or heightened stress, major illnesses, etc.

12 things you may not have known about anhedonia:

  • There are two types of anhedonia: Social Anhedonia and Physical Anhedonia. Social anhedonia is manifest by an overall disinterest in social situations and engagement. Physical anhedonia is a pronounced inability to feel pleasure from everyday activities.
  • Depression may reduce the brain’s hedonic (pleasure) capacity, but studies have led some researchers to formulate another theory: that anhedonia is not caused by an inability to feel pleasure so much as it is caused by difficulty sustaining positive feelings consistently.
  • Some people who suffer from anhedonia don’t have any mental illness at all.
  • Aside from MDD and schizophrenia, anhedonia can result from other conditions/illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease, psychosis, anorexia nervosa, and substance abuse-related disorders.
  • Anhedonia may have a role in sparking a desire to take part in risky behaviors, such as bungee jumping or skydiving.
  • One of the reasons that anhedonia has received increased attention is the fact that it has come to be known as a good predictor of whether someone with depression will respond to treatment. Popular anti-depressants typically don’t work as well for people who have depression with anhedonia than for those with depression, without anhedonia. Research continues to demonstrate that common treatments for depression don’t help alleviate anhedonia and may even exacerbate the problem by inflicting sexual anhedonia, anorgasmia (the inability to orgasm), and what’s known as emotional “blunting” (feeling an utter lack of any kind of emotion).
  • Some evidence indicates that an anhedonic state can increase the risk of suicidal tendencies.
  • Some research shows that many individuals with anhedonia can experience pleasure along with the best of them. The problem is that there is something “off” in regard to the dynamics between motivation, anticipation, and reward.
  • Anhedonia may also sap your energy significantly.
  • Currently, there are no treatments specifically to treat anhedonia. It is usually treated in tandem with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.
  • Anhedonia may bring about thought disorder (TD) or formal thought disorder (FTD) which shows up as disorganized thinking and disorganized speech. Thought distortion includes such issues as: poverty of speech, tangentiality (tendency to speak about topics unrelated to the main topic of discussion), derailment (conversational narrative consisting of a sequence of unrelated or only remotely related ideas), illogicality (drawing conclusions that do not follow from the premises), perseveration (repetition of a particular response (such as a word, phrase, or gesture), and “thought blocking” (ceasing to speak suddenly and without explanation mid-sentence).
  • Anhedonia can cause emotional detachment, which can mean a couple of different things. It can mean an inability to connect with others on an emotional level, and it can also refer to a means of coping with anxiety by avoiding trigger situations (also known as dissociation, or “emotional numbing”).

As mentioned, anhedonia can bring about suicidal thoughts and intents and can be very dangerous. If you suspect that you or someone you love is experiencing anhedonia, contact your primary care physician or a mental health professional as soon as possible. Anhedonia tends to dissipate when depression is being managed properly.

Are you going through a phase experiencing anhedonia? It is very treatable and manageable. If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

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5 Things You Should Know About Psychotic Depression

psychotic depression symptoms and treatment

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Psychotic depression (also known as major depression with psychotic features) is a very serious form of disorder characterized by delusional thinking affected by mood swings and observable changes in cerebral tissue. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of people with severe depression will eventually develop symptoms of psychosis. It is considered to be underdiagnosed and undertreated, though scientific knowledge and awareness regarding this form of depression have been on the rise in recent years due to advances in research.

Psychotic depression is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-V as a subclassification of major depressive disorder. One key optic the disorder exhibits is a combination of depressed mood with psychosis, typically in the form of persistent and morbid hallucinations or delusions.

Psychosis: the Lowdown

What is psychosis? Psychosis can occur in the form of an episode or a condition in which an individual cannot clearly distinguish between what is real and what is imagined.

A “psychotic break” occurs when an individual experiences an episode of acute psychosis after a significant symptom-free period, though more typically for the very first time. This psychotic break may or may not be related to depression. Similarly, a psychotic disorder, or delusional disorder, can occur independently of or in relation to a depressive disorder.

Psychotic, or psychosis, symptoms typically develop after the patient has had several bouts of severe depression without psychosis. Once psychotic symptoms have manifested themselves, they tend to reappear with each future depressive episode.

Anyone who has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder should become educated in psychotic depression to better understand what they might need to be on the watch for. Here are five things to be aware of.

  1. Misdiagnosis of psychotic depression is often a result of clinicians’ lack of recognition of pertinent psychotic symptoms, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Close to one-third of observed misdiagnoses in one study most commonly misdiagnosed psychotic depression as major depressive disorder without psychotic features. Other misdiagnoses included depression not otherwise specified (NOS), or mood disorder Surprisingly, none of the misdiagnosed individuals were considered to have any psychotic disorder whatsoever. This appears to suggest that the diagnosing mental health professionals were completely missing the psychosis rather than the mood disorder.
  2. Major depressive disorder (including psychotic depression) and dysthymia (persistent depression) can “play off” of one another to create what is known as “double depression.” When dysthymia is present, a major depressive or depression-related psychotic episode can end, but an individual will revert to his or her normal, chronic level of persistent depression. Without proper treatment for double depression, the individual is likely going to continue relapsing into double depression.
  3. Psychotic depression and bipolar disorder have shown signs of being interrelated. A family history of bipolar disorder has been shown to be a risk factor for psychotic depression but not for non-psychotic depression. Research has indicated that individuals with psychotic depression (particularly those diagnosed at an early age), may have a higher risk than non-psychotic depressed individuals of later developing bipolar disorder. Those related to individuals with psychotic depression are also at higher risk of developing bipolar disorder than relatives of those with nonpsychotic depression.
  4. Hallucinations vs. Delusions. Hallucinations are more typically visual or auditory, though they may also be olfactory (smell) or tactile (touch). Delusions may or may not be tied in with an individual’s depressive mood (mood-congruent delusions vs. mood-incongruent delusions). Mood-congruent delusions might involve overwhelming feelings of inferiority, illness, severe guilt, or deserving of punishment. Mood-incongruent delusions might involve heightened, artificial feelings of grandeur, despite a depressive mood (you may have heard the term “delusions of grandeur”). About half of those coping with psychotic depression experience more than one kind of delusion, usually without any hallucinations.
  5. It is common among those with psychotic depression to also experience severe anhedonia, or the inability to take pleasure in activities that are commonly considered to be pleasurable. Social anhedonia is a pronounced lack of interest in social contact, and decreased pleasure in social situations. Physical anhedonia is an inability to feel sensory pleasures in regard to eating, touching, or sex. Psychomotor retardation (a slowing down of cognitive processes and significantly slowed physical movements) is another common symptom of psychotic depression.

Needless to say, psychotic depression can be dangerous to someone. If you suspect that you or someone you love might be having a psychotic episode, or worse, might become suicidal or exercise poor judgment that could end up being dangerous for anyone, get help as quickly as possible. If you are protecting a loved one, avoid a confrontation and secretly hide car keys, guns, alcohol, and any drugs, prescription or illegal, that could possibly result in an overdose. If a situation becomes urgent, you may need to call 911 and request a “mental health check.”

Are you or someone you know dealing with hallucinatory experiences in addition to depressive symptoms? It doesn’t have to get into crisis mode before professional help is sought. Arrange a visit to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

Am I Bipolar? Top Indicators of Bipolar I Disorder (1st Article in a Series of 2)

Bipolar Disorder Test

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“Do I have bipolar disorder?” is a reasonable question you may have asked yourself. You may have undergone a test to see if you have the disorder, or received a bipolar disorder diagnosis. This article is the first in a series of two.

Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is a complex, lifelong mental health disorder that exhibits severe mood swings ranging from emotional highs (mania or hypomania) to lows (depression). Have you ever had concerns that you are bipolar?

You may have experienced euphoria, felt full of life and energy, or experienced moments of extreme irritability. Another week you may have found yourself feeling depressed, sad, hopeless, and without any interest in activities that have brought you pleasure or enjoyment in the past. Such extreme mood swings can sabotage your sleep cycles, energy levels, judgment, concentration, and adversely affect your ability to think clearly. They may have even driven you to feel suicidal.

Your episodic mood swings may occur only sometimes or multiple times every year. Between episodes you may experience some emotional symptoms, or perhaps none at all. Regardless, the disorder is a factor that makes your life seem difficult, if not unmanageable.

The root cause of bipolar disorder remains a mystery to mental health professionals, though several factors are involved, such as biological differences (physical changes in the brain),  and/or genetics (bipolar disorder is more common in people who have a first-degree relative, like a sibling or parent, with the disorder). Researchers are still working to find genes that may be directly involved in causing the condition.

There are several types of bipolar disorders and related conditions, including bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, cyclothymic disorder, to name a few. This post will focus primarily on symptoms of bipolar I disorder.

Bipolar I disorder means you’ve had at least one intense manic episode, resulting in uncharacteristic behavior, possibly before or after either a less severe hypomanic episode or a severe depressive episode. It has a distinct diagnosis from bipolar II disorder. The mania may have sparked an episodic break from reality, otherwise known as a psychotic episode, which may require hospitalization. Manic episodes experienced with bipolar I disorder can be severe and dangerous. Problems with work, school, and relationships are likely.

Manic episodes resulting from bipolar I disorder are characterized not only by a euphoric or irritable mood, but by three or more of the following symptoms:

  • Hyperactive thinking, inability to focus on immediate tasks
  • Loud and fast, uninterruptable speech
  • A significant boost in energy, including hyperactivity and feeling a need for less sleep
  • Delusional, aggrandized self-image
  • Excessive spending and/or travel
  • Impulsive behavior, an obsession with “living dangerously”
  • An overwhelming “devil-may-care” attitude
  • Brazen promiscuity
  • Substance abuse
  • Psychosis

A depressive episode is likely to follow your manic phase, not necessarily immediately, and possibly lasting days, weeks, or months.

Having bipolar disorder is not the end of the world. Though there is no cure for the condition, you can learn to manage your mood swings and other symptoms with the guidance of a mental health professional and a treatment plan. For most cases, bipolar disorder is treated with medications and counseling.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts and impulses, or the compulsion to hurt self or someone else, call a doctor immediately.

Are you concerned about the possibility that you or a loved one may have bipolar disorder? Don’t fret! It’s treatable and manageable! If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.