OCD Awareness Week: an interview with Dr. Elizabeth McIngvale

Dr. Elizabeth McIngvale is the founder of the Peace of Mind Foundation, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people suffering from OCD. She was the first ever national spokesperson for the International Obsessive Compulsive Foundation – where she is now a member of the board of directors – and she regularly engages in advocacy, clinical work, research and teaching related to OCD, anxiety disorders and the mental health stigma.

We sat down with Dr. McIngvale on Day 5 of OCD Awareness Week to talk about why this is an important week and how you can find OCD treatment and community. 

Why is it important to spread awareness about OCD and what do you want people to know about it?

OCD, like any mental health condition, is a hidden and silent illness. Many people can be suffering without anyone even knowing because it’s just not visible. It’s important that people acknowledge it as an illness and as something that’s real and disabling. A lot of people don’t understand the severity of it.

We’re slowly getting better as a culture about recognizing and treating mental health conditions – but it’s a space that has historically had a stigma and a lot of misunderstanding. Do you think OCD specifically is often misunderstood?

Absolutely – the slogan we love is “OCD is not an adjective.” It’s a perfect statement because so many people refer to OCD incorrectly – they might say, “you should see my coworker’s desk, she’s so OCD.” 

But OCD is not just these simple personality characteristics and it doesn’t refer to someone who is a “neat freak” or likes to have things a certain way. It’s a disabling, chronic mental illness – it’s actually one of the top 10 reasons why people file for disability in the U.S.

OCD specifically is one of the top 10 reasons, not just mental health conditions?

Yes – OCD affects 3% of the worldwide population, which makes it one of the most prevalent chronic mental health conditions. That’s more prevalent than bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, for example.

How can someone know if they might have OCD or could benefit from treatment?

There’s no handbook for it, and it can be subjective. But ask yourself if any characteristics, rituals or behaviors are interfering with your ability to function or causing distress or depression. 

There’s no such thing as getting treatment too soon. My view is, why wait? It’s better to get your symptoms addressed as soon as possible instead of waiting until they are really interfering with your life to address them.

If someone has decided to seek treatment for OCD, what can they expect? 

Treatment for OCD is exposure with response prevention, which is a specific form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It’s basically exactly what it sounds like – you slowly and systematically expose individuals to the things they’re afraid of – to their perceived fears or the things that cause them anxiety – and teach them how to manage it and lean into it without ritualizing. 

You’ve said before how important it was for you to meet other people who were also struggling with OCD – how can people find those communities?

You can go to PeaceOfMind.com and learn more about ways you can join our community – we offer online and in-person support groups. You can also visit the International OCD Foundation website, which offers so many ways to connect with other people, including a yearly conference. 

Is there anything else you want people to know about OCD?

The most important thing is just knowing that treatment works and that there is effective care for people with OCD. So many of us are afraid to talk about it because we don’t know what people are going to think – but the reality is that OCD is a prevalent illness and treatment really can help.

OCD Awareness Week: how you can participate and support

October 13-19 is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) awareness week. Join us this week by showing some support to the 1 in 40 U.S. adults who live with OCD (maybe even sharing your own story to help reduce stigma) and learning more about the disorder so you can recognize the symptoms in yourself or your loved ones and find treatment.

If you’re not familiar with OCD, it’s a disorder characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviors like counting or cleaning. On average, it takes about nine years for an OCD sufferer to get the proper diagnosis and treatment for their disorder.

This week, we’re following along with the Peace of Mind Foundation’s OCD awareness week challenges. Each day this week, the foundation (whose mission is to improve the quality of life for OCD sufferers and caregivers) suggests a new way to spread awareness of OCD that we can all participate in!

Today’s challenge is to watch and share an OCD or related disorder educational video that has been helpful to you. Here at Nano, we agreed that the below video about the difference between helping and enabling someone with OCD is worth a watch – it’s geared towards parents of children who have OCD, but we think the message can apply to anyone struggling with OCD who you want to support. 

Follow along with us this week on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and visit the Peace of Mind Foundation website for more information about OCD awareness and education!

Alzheimer’s disease: what it is and who it can affect

An estimated 5.8 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2019, and this number is growing fast. Despite its huge and growing numbers, many people are still unfamiliar with the disease or confuse it with age-related dementia. 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is a specific disease, but dementia is not. Alzheimer’s is actually the most common cause of dementia, which generally describes symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning or other thinking skills that can interfere with daily life. 

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is memory loss. It’s a progressive disease caused by changes in the brain including atrophy, inflammation and vascular damage. Early detection is important for Alzheimer’s – if you are concerned that you are a loved one is displaying early signs of the disease, use the Alzheimer’s Association symptom checklist to and reach out to your doctor. 

Here are a few more facts about Alzheimer’s:

  • Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
  • Approximately 200,000 people under the age of 65 have early-onset Alzheimer’s, which is usually due to a genetic mutation.
  • Lack of sleep is associated with an increased risk for developing the disease due to the accumulation  of beta-amyloid, a protein linked to impaired brain function.
  • This amyloid also increases the chances of developing Alzheimer’s for people with Down syndrome.
  • By 2050, the total number of people requiring care for Alzheimer’s will triple.

Organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association are working with researchers to learn more about the disease through new tests and diagnostic tools in the hopes of someday finding a cure. 

Additionally, data scientists are tapping into the vast Alzheimer’s database to try to turn big data into actionable knowledge. The first Alzheimer’s Disease Big Data DREAM Challenge launched in 2014 to encourage these scientists to use open source data to identify new Alzheimer’s biomarkers and create advanced diagnostic technology.

In the meantime, technologies like smart homes, gps tracking devices, and medication management apps may help people with Alzheimer’s live more independently, and they may relieve some of the burden on their caretakers.

Is depression different for men?

As Michael Stipe from REM sang: “Everybody Hurts (sometimes),” but the symptoms of depression are often very different in men, and harder to spot. Recent guidance from the National Institutes of Health might help you, or a loved one, understand what’s going on – and find resolution. 

Men’s depression symptoms often manifest as anger or aggression, rather than sadness. Family members, or the men themselves, might not see that what’s behind the rage is a profound sense of loss. If left unchecked, the situation can get worse.

The National Institutes of Health differentiates between the regular “blues” which all of us get from time to time, and the clinical mood disorder of true depression which impairs the ability to function or handle daily life. Doctors estimate that a prolonged bout of feeling this way, of two weeks or more, is symptomatic of a clinical disorder. 

Here are some of the signs the NIH suggests looking out for: 

  • Men with depression may feel very tired and lose interest in work, family or hobbies. 
  • They may be more likely to have difficulty sleeping than women who have depression. 
  • Sometimes mental health symptoms appear to be physical issues. For example, a racing heart, tightening chest, ongoing headaches or digestive issues can be signs of a mental health problem. Many men are more likely to see their doctor about physical symptoms than emotional symptoms.
  • Some men may turn to drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their emotional symptoms. Also, while women with depression are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to die by suicide because they tend to use more lethal methods.

With the right treatment – usually a combination of talk therapy, exercise, a healthy eating regimen and, sometimes, medication, the NIH notes most men can work through the depression and come out the other side. 

If you, or someone you love, exhibits anything from the list above, don’t ignore the signs. Get help. We’re in this together. Even the future King of England has opened up about his mental health vulnerabilities – so you can, too. 

The health benefits of observing and creating art

Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most beloved, extraordinary artists of all time. It is also well known he suffered from mental illness. He created some of his most famous and widely recognizable paintings while convalescing at an asylum, into which he voluntarily admitted himself. He often wrote to his brother of the calm, focused feelings he experienced when painting.

As noted in Vincent’s letters, creative expression is a powerful tool for well-being.  

The nonprofit group Resources to Recover defines art therapy as the application of art to treat mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, dementia, and PTSD. It can be used in conjunction with traditional mental health therapy to manage behaviors and reduce stress.

A pilot study published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association demonstrated preliminary evidence that just 45 minutes of creative activity significantly reduces stress in the body, regardless of artistic experience or talent. Nearly 75% of the study participants had lower levels of salivary cortisol, the “stress hormone,” after the art making session.

All arts and crafts hobbies seem to have the power to positively affect the brain in a fashion similar to meditation. An online survey conducted with members of a virtual knitting community about  the benefits of knitting on their personal and social well-being published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy found a significant relationship between knitting frequency and feeling calm and happy.

Observing visual art can also reduce stress and anxiety for patients in hospitals and doctors’ offices. A study published in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Health and Well-being concluded, “Art contributes to creating an environment and atmosphere where patients can feel safe, socialize, maintain a connection to the world outside the hospital and support their identity.”

Whether you prefer to immerse yourself in the works of others or create your own, take advantage of healing power of art on the mind and body. 

Anxiety: the causes, triggers and myths

Anxiety can be a normal part of life. It’s the body’s defense mechanism, keeping us out of danger and preparing us for necessary action.

For many people, however, anxiety can become overwhelming. It disrupts their daily lives and even makes routine activities impossible. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates 264 million people worldwide have an anxiety disorder. People with anxiety disorders often have intense and persistent worries and fears, which result in panic attacks.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can begin occurring in childhood and are sometimes the result of treatable medical conditions. Some examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety, social anxiety, specific phobias and separation anxiety. 

What causes anxiety disorders?

Experts have not discovered the exact cause of anxiety disorders. However, researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health, believe brain chemistry, along with genetic and environmental factors may play a role. 

People with depression, irritable bowel syndrome, or a history of substance abuse have a greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Other factors that can increase your risk include stress, genetics, personality type, severe trauma and gender. 

Putting together a full picture of your wellness that includes other health conditions, family history and environmental exposure can help you better understand the cause of your anxiety and may help your doctor or therapist treat you more effectively. 

Anxiety triggers

Because anxiety has different effects on different individuals, triggers may be difficult to identify. Sometimes, environmental factors, such as location, sounds, and smells may trigger anxiety, especially in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some common anxiety triggers include:

  • Health issues and certain medications
  • Social or public events
  • Stress and relationship conflicts
  • Financial matters

Myths and misconceptions

If you or someone you love lives with an anxiety disorder, you may not be able to discern between trustworthy information and misinformation. 
Visit the ADAA website for valuable information like their Myth vs. Reality infographic, as well as links to other informational websites.