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. 

Are you tracking your health? Here’s why you should.

Raise your hand if you are wearing a health or fitness tracker right now. These tiny, wearable computers are becoming more common and collect data on an array of things that matter to our health. 

If you’re not tracking your health, let’s talk about why you should – and what aspects of your health can be helpful to monitor. There are many factors that impact our bodies and overall health, so keeping a health journal can help you build a baseline and monitor changes over time.

Fitness

This one is a no brainer. A simple calendar can help you set goals, create a plan and keep yourself accountable. Additionally, your smartwatch or fitness tracker can help you stay motivated by monitoring your steps or logging that sweaty yoga class you like. A Harvard Medical School article on the subject notes that seeing your activity levels over time motivates you to keep building on your accomplishments – and that the added benefit of tracking your heart rate during exercise can help you keep track of the intensity of your workouts.

Mental health

The University of Rochester Medical Center suggests keeping a mood journal to check in with yourself daily. This can be as easy as jotting down a one-sentence review of your day. You can then use it in conjunction with your sleep and fitness tracking to identify triggers for stress, depression and anxiety.

Sleep

Most fitness trackers on the market have the ability to track your sleep and report on the number of hours you slept and when you woke up at night. If you want to change your sleep habits, keep a sleep diary and log information such as nighttime snacking and screen time.

Tracking your everyday activities can help you create a picture of your overall health. It also keeps you aware of your actions and choices, helps you stay motivated and keeps you accountable to your personal goals. 

What are you waiting for? Let’s get tracking!