issue 97 (our 8th year)
issue 97 (our 8th year)
Our culture has changed immensely as a result of the smartphone. We can get reassurance for every doubt just by texting our friends. We can feel approval by getting “likes” on our Instagram post or Facebook status. But heavy reliance on devices is responsible for a shift in how we regulate our emotions. A byproduct of this instant communication is a diminished ability to sit with uncertainty.
Intolerance to uncertainty has been shown to underlie a range of psychological difficulties. Psychologists could consider a person’s over-reliance on their phones as a “safety seeking behaviour” which reduces anxiety in the moment. But over time, safety behaviours actually feed anxiety because they prevent people from realising their fear has no basis once the situation has actually unfolded, or that it is something they’re able to cope with.
This is particularly problematic for children whose ability to build resilience may be disrupted by such behaviours. Unfortunately some apps, such as Messenger or the “read” message setting of the iPhone, tell the sender whether the other person is online or has read their message.
We need to retrain ourselves, and our teenagers, to stand up to such clear manipulation of their FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and fear of rejection. Learning to face uncertainty is essential to managing our mental health.
Research exploring groups of people with mental illness has documented individuals suffering from a range of mental illnesses are less able to sit with uncertainty compared to those who do not have these diagnoses. And the more a person is intolerant to uncertainty, the more they are likely to be diagnosed with a greater number of mental health conditions. This has been observed in adults. Our unpublished research has found the same association exists for children.
We know that uncertainty in positive areas, such as new relationships, reading an exciting book that slowly leads to the reveal or receiving a wrapped present heightens our emotions.
Gambling, app notifications and emojis play on this mechanism. Imagine the slight buzz you get when you receive a warm text from a friend you particularly like. Phone notifications take advantage of this sense of anticipation. They interfere with our concentration and pull our attention back to the device.
By contrast, uncertainty in areas of personal importance, such as being afraid that we might not keep a job, imagining that we are disliked by someone that we like, or fearing that we have failed an exam destabilises many of us. It leads to a desire to eliminate the uncertainty quickly, a second hook that can pull us back to leaning on the device. Smart phones and social media apps mean we can easily contact other people to obtain reassurance when facing a worrying situation instead of coping with it ourselves.
So when the situation unfolds, the person may believe some of their ability to cope was due to the reassurance they may have received, rather than developing self reliance. They also start to believe they “need” to have their phone with them to cope.
Being more comfortable with uncertainty improves a person’s ability to cope with worry and is closely associated with improvement for those experiencing anxiety. When treating anxiety, psychologists encourage clients to sit with not knowing the outcome of a particular situation and learning to wait to see if what they are afraid of will eventuate.
We ask clients to move towards embracing the situation in their normal lives without obtaining reassurance from their close friends and family. By sitting with uncertainty, a person gradually learns to distract themselves, let go of trying to control situations and realises they can survive the distress of “not knowing” in the situation.
Mostly after waiting it out, the feared outcome will not eventuate, or it will be tolerable. This type of cognitive behavioural treatment is accepted as best practice across anxiety disorders.
It is normal for a person to experience some arousal when there is doubt around something important for them.
Using phones to push the worry onto another person prevents self management from occurring. rawpixel.com/Unsplash, CC BY-SA
Using phones to push the worry onto another person prevents self management from occurring. Often, we don’t realise that after a little while (and sometimes a lot of distraction), the unpleasant feeling will go away. Keep in mind the old adage that “no news is good news” and resist the tendency to message first.
If something unpleasant happens, it is healthy to talk to someone and reflect on a situation that upsets us, especially if it is really important. However, to have this as the first option to manage every doubt is not healthy. Psychologists will tell you worry leads to more worry – and talking about a worry repeatedly does not alter the outcome.
Being able to wait and let go of the desire to control each situation is a major key to overcoming anxiety.
And to help children build resilience, we need to show them we can sit with our own uncertainty. Have times when the phone is switched completely off during the day and evening. Leave it at home deliberately. Slowly build this up.
If you have a partner who doesn’t stop looking at their device, encourage them to join you. Set an example for new family habits when you visit others. Set up days for your children which are phone free. We all need to show ourselves that we are fine without our phones.
Our new Frankston group opened on Monday 28 August 2017.
Monthly meetings are held at 7:00pm at the Orwil Street Community House, 16 Orwil Street Frankston on the fourth Monday of each month. Next meeting is on Monday Monday, 27 November 2017.
Enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org
A new Bipolar Carers Support Group is opening at South Yarra commencing Tuesday 3rd October 2017 and will be held on the first Tuesday of each month commencing at 7:00pm (except January).
Close family and friends (bipolar carers or caregivers) can be a primary source of support for a person with bipolar disorder. Discussions include ways caregivers can take care of themselves, deal with the bipolar disorder and the personal impact it has on them.
Enquiries to email@example.com
If you are over 18 and have bipolar disorder you may be eligible to help us trial new, online self-guided interventions designed to improve quality of life in people who experience bipolar. We are comparing two types of interventions that have been created by international experts which both include videos, exercises, tools, forums and an online coach.
To find out if these interventions are helpful, you would also be asked to complete 4 assessments (which include a telephone and online component) over a 6 month period. You will be reimbursed for participation in these assessments.
If you would like more information about the research or would like to participate go to: www.orbitonline.org
Melbourne Clinic – Isaac Sweitzer Room 130 Church Street Richmond (enter via Tweedie Lane)
Manager, Psychotropic Advisory Service
Mental Health Research Institute
Tuesday 14 November 2017 – 7:00pm to 8:30pm
Thursday 16th November 2017 – 7:30pm
Have a say!
Mental Health Foundation Offices
450J Chapel Street, South Yarra Refreshments provided
A Tale Of Three Halves
I remember the first time I thought about suicide, I was eighteen. I had been feeling very low & I didn’t want any more anguish. I grabbed a knife & held it to my stomach with the intention of falling forward so the knife would pierce my liver as I hit the ground.
The first manic episode I had I was nineteen. I was hardly sleeping but was still full of energy, I felt so strong. People at work were asking me if I was on speed because I was talking & working really fast. They couldn’t believe how much work I was getting through. I would see patterns or writing on walls that weren’t there & at times this was really disconcerting & sometimes I really liked it.
I would also make a lot of impulsive decisions & I couldn’t save any money. I always had to spend it, I still find it impossible to save money. During consequent manic/hypomanic episodes I would cross the road without looking. One time I thought I was a famous opera singer and got singing lessons. Another time I thought I was like superman and would go running and do martial arts with extreme energy.
When I went out drinking with friends or smoking marijuana I was always hassling others to keep up with me. I now realise I was using drugs & alcohol to get sleep when I was manic or make me feel better if I was depressed. This hardly ever worked.
When I turned twenty I had developed a major gambling addiction. This led to me becoming homeless, friendless, losing jobs & going through major depressive states & also the odd manic episode as well.
Throughout all the above times I never thought that I had Bipolar, I didn’t even know what Bipolar was! Whatever happened to me or however I felt I attributed to my gambling addiction. My life continued like this for a long time until March 2003. I was at the lowest I had ever been due to losing everything I had to gambling.
One plastic bag held all my belongings. I wanted to die, I was sick & tired of being sick & tired. I got back to Gamblers Anonymous & made a decision that I was going to put all my efforts into stopping gambling on a daily basis. I went to many GA meetings every week & the days & weeks passed & I was free from the compulsion to gamble & my life was getting better.
I got a job with a previous employer in October 2004. In 1996 I had stolen money from him. He could see that I had changed & in April 2005 I became a sales rep for him. I was good at my job & was earning a lot of money. I had a prolonged hypomanic episode which to me was just part of the way I was most of the time I didn’t give it a second thought. I was hardy sleeping but was never tired. At times I would smoke a lot of marijuana to try & sleep but it rarely worked.
In early 2006 I started to think of suicide & as time went by the thoughts increased to the point I was thinking of specific ways of ending my life. I was really confused by these feelings as I hadn’t been gambling for a couple of years, I had got reacquainted with lost friends & relatives, was earning a lot of money, had many choices but still the darkness within me continued to grow. I didn’t tell anyone at all about these feelings as they didn’t make any sense to me & I was worried what other people would think.
For the next couple of years, I had hypo manic/manic episodes as well as depressive states. In mid 2008 I was having a lot of sleep issues (eg. three days at a time without sleeping). Despite the lack of sleep my mind would be wide awake although my body was fatigued & sometimes my body was full of energy. I went to see a sleep psychologist. During that appointment I was talking about my addictions. The psychologist recommended another psychologist who did hypnosis. After trying the hypnosis I had three to four hours of good quality sleep so I continued with that therapist for several treatments. Around that time I went on a holiday to Queensland with a friend.
We went to visit my half-brother on his birthday. On the second night of the trip I impulsively got up around 3am and went home to Melbourne by myself. I left my friend behind with my family members. I was getting manic and people were asking me why I was talking so fast. I was seeing a psychologist to try and get help to stop taking marijuana. That psychologist suggested I might have Bipolar Disorder and sent me to a mental health aware GP. The GP also suspected Bipolar and put me on Seroquel. I then had an appointment with a psychiatrist who confirmed the diagnosis of Bipolar, he diagnosed Bipolar 1.
Initially, after being diagnosed, I didn’t want to accept it. I didn’t want to believe I had it. I had addictions so I thought “here’s something else that’s wrong with me.” During the next few weeks my friends kept sending me links to websites about Bipolar. Looking at them I saw that I had every single symptom mentioned at some stage or another.
I went to a support group through ARAFEMI (ARAFEMI later became MIND). Because of my experience with Gamblers Anonymous I was an enthusiastic advocate of support groups & I still am. There was one support group for people with Bipolar and it was based in Hawthorn. Unfortunately, the meeting ended up closing. Around this time Melbourne Bipolar Network (now called Bipolar Life Victoria) started setting up support groups around Melbourne. I have been attending these support groups ever since. I have learned a lot by attending the meetings and have made some great friends as well.
For the most part since diagnosis I haven’t had many large peaks and troughs. However, in 2014 I started to feel a slight depression. I started taking Ice for several months. I lost my job and spent most of my payout on Ice. I spent around $10,000 on the stuff in four months. I forgot to take my medication most of the time. I became psychotic. I was having visual and auditory hallucinations. The auditory hallucinations really worried me. At first, I would hear whispered murmurs and then a word whispered in my ear. Over the next week and a half, I started hearing more words and sentences.
At times it sounded like someone was sitting on the other side of the room talking to me, but nobody was actually there. I became paranoid. I thought my neighbours were spying on me. I consequently started tiptoeing around the house and carrying a knife. I ran out of money so couldn’t get any more Ice. Coming off the Ice, I fell into a deep depression. I emailed two friends saying: “I’m in trouble. I’ve been taking a lot of Ice. It’s all I think about. I just want more and more.” At the same time, I knew the Ice was making me depressed so I didn’t want to take it anymore. Two days after emailing my friends my two sisters turned up at the house un-announced. They said, “We’re not going anywhere until you get some help”. I didn’t argue as I felt defeated & deflated. They rang the CAT team.
The CAT team said I had to go to hospital. I started making excuses why I couldn’t go to hospital. The CAT team said I could go voluntarily or they would force me to go anyway. I consequently went voluntarily. The first twenty four hours at hospital I hated and I was trying to get out. I spent half an hour trying to get out of a locked door because I couldn’t work out it was locked, my mind couldn’t comprehend the simplest of tasks. After twenty four hours I realised hospital was the best place for me. For the next ten days I had a good experience in hospital and then for a few days I was fidgety, bored & wanted to go home. Overall, I was in hospital for about two weeks. I was also hospitalised in 2015 whilst being manic.
Unfortunately, due to my Bipolar & my Ice use I lost my three best friends around the same time after getting out of hospital. Losing friends sent me off into depression again. They have been out of my life now for three years. Since November 2014 I’ve at times tried to get into acting and have an agent. I’m also doing some work for the ORBIT project. I do a variety of voluntary activities for Bipolar Life Victoria too.
Since my diagnosis the following steps have helped me a great deal.
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