Study Summary | To protect students who self-injure, focus on helping them manage emotions

Research from the University of Washington Medical School suggests how to improve treatments for college students struggling with non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). Treatments which develop people’s practical skill in managing emotions may be more effective than the current therapies that increase people’s confidence in their ability to cope with events.

The study involved 187 students with a history of self-injury. The students provided information about their experiences with NSSI, including the age at which they first self-injured and the reasons behind their self-injury.

Continue reading “Study Summary | To protect students who self-injure, focus on helping them manage emotions”

Personality Disorders 101: Obsessive-Compulsive PD

The final personality disorder in the current diagnostic system is Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). First, I’ll explain why OCPD is not the same as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

In OCD, someone’s obsessions and compulsions are entirely subjective, and individual to them. While the person knows their obsessions and fears are irrational, they feel forced to listen to those fears. At the core of OCD are ingrained if-then loops: if the person does not listen to those fears, something bad will happen to them or people they care about. If the person carries out their compulsions – either activities or rituals of specific thoughts – then they have briefly stopped those negative things from happening

As a stereotypical example, consider a person with OCD whose particular obsession and compulsion centres on locking doors. The person may need to spend an hour checking that every door in their house is locked before leaving, to prevent the overwhelming consequences of leaving one unlocked. However, they will not think differently of their family members for being able to leave after checking once. They may envy their family for being free from that worry and may feel guilty over how the time spent checking intrudes upon other family members.

In OCPD, the person’s rules and beliefs are not subjective and personal. They see their rules and methods as “objectively” correct, regardless of how complex, rigid or time consuming their approach may appear to others. Someone with OCPD who had specific rules about the correct location of every item in their house would require everyone else to abide by those rules exactly. If a housemate wanted to do things differently, the person with OCPD would see them as incorrect, illogical, or even morally wrong.

Continue reading “Personality Disorders 101: Obsessive-Compulsive PD”

Personality Disorders 101: Dependent PD

Dependent Personality Disorder was introduced in the first version of the DSM in 1952. Originally, it was seen as a subtype of an now-unused condition named “Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder”, but it was quickly changed to being a separate condition.

The core symptom of DPD is a person’s belief that they are unable to function independently. A person with DPD is compelled to rely excessively on either one person (often a significant other) or multiple people (such as a close group of friends) to help them navigate most or all parts of their life. This reliance is not out of laziness, nor a wish to delegate responsibility. Instead, it is to escape a primal fear of inability. A person with DPD sees the world as a cold, dangerous place, and usually believes that they are deficient and unable to survive on their own. Therefore, they will seek out others who they view as stronger and more capable to help them navigate through life. They are terrified of losing that support or angering their support network, as they believe they cannot function alone.

The DSM-5 describes DPD as a pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of, which leads to submissive and clinging behaviour and fears of separation. To be diagnosed with DPD, someone needs to have at least 5 of these criteria:

  • They have difficulty making everyday decisions without excessive advice and reassurance from others
  • They need others to assume responsibility for most major areas of his or her life
  • They struggle to disagree with others because they fear a loss of support or approval.
  • They have difficulty initiating projects or doing things on their own. because they lack self-confidence in their own judgment or abilities (Not because of lacking motivation/energy etc)
  • They go to extremes to get nurture and support from others, even to the point of volunteering for uncomfortable or dangerous situations
  • They feel uncomfortable or helpless when alone, as they are convinced they cannot care for themselves
  • They must urgently seek out new relationships to provide care and support when a relationship ends
  • They are unrealistically preoccupied with fears about being left to take care of themself alone
Continue reading “Personality Disorders 101: Dependent PD”

Personality Disorders 101: Avoidant PD

Today we move on to the Cluster C personality disorders, which are known as the “anxious” or “fearful” disorders. The first of these is Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD).

In 1911, Swiss psychiatrist Bleuler wrote about people who shied away from most social contact and activities. Bleuler is better-known for coining the words schizophrenia and schizoid, and he interpreted people’s avoidance through that lens; he assumed severe social avoidance was part of an unnoticed type of schizophrenia. However, this opinion was not widely accepted, and within ten years others described severe social avoidance as a separate condition.

AvPD is leagues beyond being shy and introverted. Instead, it is a deep-rooted and severe fear of rejection and criticism which impacts almost every aspect of a person’s life. While someone with AvPD will want to connect with and develop friendships with others, their fear of being criticised and disapproved of can be so painful that they are unable to take part in social activities. Their self-loathing and feelings of inferiority may be so strong that they assume others would not want to interact with them. As a result, they often interpret neutral statements as containing hidden rejections or reminders of their perceived social inability, which reinforces their perception of being socially inadequate.

The DSM-5 describes AvPD as a widespread pattern of being inhibited around people, feeling inadequate, and being very sensitive to any negative judgements. To be diagnosed with AvPD, someone must meet 4 of these criteria:

  • They avoid occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact because they fear criticism, disapproval, or rejection.
  • They are unwilling to get involved with people unless they can be certain of being liked.
  • They show restraint within close relationships because of the fear of being shamed or ridiculed
  • They are preoccupied with being criticized or rejected in social situations.
  • They are inhibited in new social situations because they feel inadequate
  • They seem themselves as socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others
  • They are unusually reluctant to take personal risks or to engage in new activities in case they embarass themseleves.
Continue reading “Personality Disorders 101: Avoidant PD”

Personality Disorders 101: Borderline PD/ Emotionally Unstable PD

Today’s topic, Borderline Personality Disorder, is perhaps the third most argued-about psychiatric disorder (with first and second place going to Dissociative Identity Disorder and ADHD/ADD).

One of the many contentious points is its name. When the DSM was first developed during the 1950s, psychiatrists divided mental health issues into “neurotic” and “psychotic”. People with “neurotic” illnesses were in distress but still aware of reality and that they were ill, while people with “psychotic” illnesses were detached from reality and often unaware that they were ill. Borderline personality disorder received its name because psychiatrists saw the symptoms as being on the border of both categories. However, that method of categorising mental health conditions is no longer used, so “borderline” now doesn’t mean anything. It can also be actively unhelpful, because people can assume it means that someone is on the border of having a mental health condition and not having one. The ICD-10 instead uses the name “Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder”, which better reflects the condition’s core symptom.

A person with EUPD experiences much more intense and changeable emotions than a typical person, and the overwhelming nature of those emotions underpins the other EUPD symptoms. To be diagnosed with EUPD in the DSM-5, someone must meet 5 of the 9 criteria:

Continue reading “Personality Disorders 101: Borderline PD/ Emotionally Unstable PD”

Personality Disorders 101: Narcissistic PD

The term “Narcissism” comes from the Greek myth of Narkissos, a demigod famed for his beauty. Although everybody admired Narkissos, he scorned and rejected everyone who loved him. Eventually Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, led Narkissos to a pool of water where he fell in love with the image he saw. When Narkissos realised the image was himself, and understood that he could never love anyone else in the same way, he died.

Psychologists first used the word narcissism to mean vanity and self-admiration. Now, people often call an arrogant or over-confident person a narcissist. But the disorder covers far more areas than vanity or confidence. The DSM-5 describes Narcissistic PD as a pattern of having an unrealistic sense of greatness or uniqueness, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. The person needs to have at least 5 of the following criteria:

  • They have a grandiose sense of self-importance. They exaggerate their achievements and talents, and they expect to be recognized as superior without reason.
  • They are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, or beauty, or of ideal love.
  • They believe they are “special” and unique, and that they can only be understood by other special, high-status people.
  • They require excessive admiration.
  • They have a sense of entitlement. They expect especially favourable treatment or automatic obedience to their expectations.
  • They take advantage of others to achieve their own goals.
  • They lack empathy and are unwilling to recognize or identify others’ feelings and needs.
  • They are envious of others, and believe others are envious of them.
  • They are arrogant and haughty to others.
Continue reading “Personality Disorders 101: Narcissistic PD”

Personality Disorders 101: Histrionic PD

The word histrionic comes from the Latin word “histrio”, which means both “actor” and “excessively dramatic or emotional”. People with HPD struggle to be genuinely intimate in relationships, so often maintain relationships through acting out a role. Yet they are skilled at setting up situations which force specific emotions from others, often by using their appearance to attract others. Their reliance on seduction can generate many shallow friendships but spark distrust from longer-term friends or partners.

In the DSM-5 Histrionic Personality Disorder is a long-term pattern of being excessively emotional, dramatic, and attention-seeking, which is true across multiple areas of life. To be diagnosed with HPD, a person must meet 5 or more of these criteria:

  • They are uncomfortable whenever they are not the center of attention
  • They use inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behavior to interact with others
  • They express rapidly shifting and shallow emotions
  • They consistently use their physical appearance to draw attention
  • They speak in an excessively impressionistic way which lacks detail
  • They are dramatic and theatrical, showing exaggerated expressions of emotion
  • They are suggestible – easily influenced by others or circumstances
  • They consider relationships to be more intimate than they actually are

The general PD criteria mentioned in the first post must also apply. “A person needs to have a collection of unusual behaviours and traits which affects a large portion of their everyday life. Those behaviours and traits must start before early adulthood. They need to cause negative consequences for the person, who should be upset by or annoyed at those behaviours.”

However, someone with HPD generally won’t see their actions as dysfunctional. “Rapidly shifting emotions” applies to how a person views other people and external situations, not themselves; even if a person with HPD tires of a friend or partner, or suddenly quits a job they enjoyed the previous week, they will keep a good image of themselves. Another criteria is “distorted views of relationships”, which is also found in BPD. Yet while someone with BPD can alternate between pulling people closer and pushing people away to protect them, a person with HPD will solely pull others to them.

Because someone with HPD does not perceive any issues with their actions, they usually seek assistance due to a conflict with someone else such as a relationship breakup. As someone with HPD considers relationships to be stronger than they actually are, a break-up will be a severe shock, especially if they believed they were being a perfect partner. They may feel intensely depressed after relationships end, and may feel victimised by the breakup; noticing this pattern can flag up HPD.

Many sources discuss HPD using the same exemplar character: Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With The Wind. Although Scarlett’s main motivation is the good cause of protecting her homestead and herself from further traumatic experiences, she is unable to realise when she has gone too far in reaching a goal. She is an expert manipulator who makes multiple men fall for her despite being unsure of her feelings for them. She desires to be the centre of attention, without caring how she gets there- she interrupts a conversation on war merely to call it trivial.  While often appearing highly social, intelligent and functional in everyday life, she can also enter a very self-centered, almost infantile mode.

This character demonstrates many of the traits associated with HPD. However, it is important to remember that the character was written decades before the idea of HPD, or the DSM itself, was developed.

Psychological Criticisms of HPD

HPD is one of the conditions where friends and family may experience greater distress than the person themselves. Although the DSM specifies that histrionic traits need to cause functional impairment such as job problems or an inability to maintain relationships in order to be diagnosed as HPD, conditions diagnosed mostly through observable behaviour still raise questions about how to ensure psychiatric diagnoses are fair and useful tools rather than judgemental reactions to individual differences.

This complaint is especially relevant for HPD because people with it do not often experience as many negative consequences as people with some other PDs. Although many people with Antisocial PD receive criminal convictions, and some (though not all) people with Borderline PD experience frequent hospitalizations, these events are rarely part of HPD.

Another criticism of HPD is over gender bias. HPD has very similar criteria to Borderline PD and Narcissistic PD. HPD differs mostly because it does not feature suicidal behaviour (a common Borderline PD trait) or envious and jealous behaviour (a Narcissistic PD trait). As a result, some researchers argue that HPD and NPD could be male and female sides of the same disorder rather than two separate diagnoses.

However, >75% of people diagnosed with NPD are male, while about 75% of people diagnosed with HPD are female. The HPD criteria sound like an exaggerated version of negative female stereotypes; being overly emotional and relying on appearance or physical appeal are often seen as female traits. Similarly,  seductive behaviour is shown almost entirely by female characters in media, which biases people’s idea of what that behaviour looks like.

Finally HPD is under-researched; possibly because people with HPD keep a lower profile in regards to legal and medical services, or because people with HPD are unlikely to volunteer themselves for treatment or research into it. This lack of research means the potential causes, triggers, and treatments for HPD are even less clear than for other PDs.

Personality Disorders 101: Antisocial PD

Today we move on to the Cluster B disorders, which are known as the “dramatic” or “erratic” disorders. The first of these is Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD).

The stereotypical understanding of ASPD is of a criminal with little-to-no empathy or regard for others; someone who will break things and break people “just because they can”. While elements of that are true for some people with ASPD, this stereotype is more influenced by sensationalism and crime-based media than reality.

In the DSM-5, ASPD is considered to be a long-term pattern of disregard for and violation of other people’s rights, which has occurred since the age of 15. To be diagnosed with ASPD, someone must meet at least three of these criteria:

Continue reading “Personality Disorders 101: Antisocial PD”

Personality Disorders 101: Schizotypal PD

Previously, I talked about the relationship between schizophrenia, Schizoid PD (SPD) and Schizotypal PD (SzPD). Continuing on from that, today’s topic is SzPD.

Schizotypal PD (SzPD) overlaps with some symptoms of schizophrenia, such as disordered thoughts and perceptions. However, someone with SzPD will not experience reduced motivation or catatonia, and they will have fewer difficulties in thinking and working than someone with schizophrenia. Instead, many SzPD symptoms link back to social situations and social performance. While people with SzPD desire social interaction, they are often anxious in social situations regardless of who they are with. Delusional or paranoid beliefs, such as that others can hear their thoughts, may be behind their anxiety. Alternately, their anxiety may be from the pressure of communicating with minds which work on very different wavelengths to their own.

The DSM-5 describes SzPD as a long-term pattern of being uncomfortable with and unsuccessful at maintaining close relationships, as well as experiencing distorted thoughts and perceptions and odd behaviors. To be diagnosed with SzPD, someone must meet 5 of the following criteria:

Continue reading “Personality Disorders 101: Schizotypal PD”

Personality Disorders 101: Schizoid PD

Today’s topic is Schizoid Personality Disorder, and the first step with this one is explaining why both a Schizoid and a Schizotypal PD exist. Both names are derived from the Greek prefix skhizein, which means “split”. They are both part of the schizophrenia spectrum, and they are more common in people who have relatives with schizophrenia. However, their symptoms oppose each other.

A common way to explain symptoms of schizophrenia is by sorting them into “positive” and “negative”. Positive symptoms refer to when something atypical is added, such as when a person experiences hallucinations or delusions. Negative symptoms refer to when something typical is lost, such as when a person is unable to feel happy or unable to motivate themselves. (Think of positive and negative as representing plus and minus, rather than good and bad).

Schizotypal PD (SzPD)  lies inbetween a personality disorder and a schizophrenic disorder, as some people who have SzPD later develop schizophrenia while others only ever have SzPD. SzPD includes many positive symptoms of schizophrenia, including disordered thoughts, disordered speech, and near-psychotic experiences. However, it doesn’t feature any negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

Schizoid PD (SPD), in contrast, is solely a personality disorder. Its diagnostic criteria include many negative symptoms of schizophrenia, but none of the positive symptoms. To be diagnosed with Schizoid PD, a person needs to meet 4 of these criteria:

  • They are emotionally cold and detached, and do not seem to experience strong emotions.
  • They do not often express emotions towards others or react strongly to others.
  • They consistently prefer to work alone and have solitary hobbies.
  • They have few or no close friends or relationships (due to not wanting them rather than anxiety or fear).
  • They don’t care about being praised or criticised.
  • They find few or no activities pleasurable.
  • They are indifferent to social norms and conventions.
  • They are preoccupied with fantasy and introspection; they may seem “in their own world” or absent-minded.
  • They do not desire or care about having sexual experiences with another person.

Continue reading “Personality Disorders 101: Schizoid PD”

Personality Disorders 101: Paranoid PD

The first in the series of personality disoders is Paranoid Personality Disorder (PPD). Although experiencing paranoia in a stressful situation is common, PPD refers to a much bigger idea; a permanent fear that someone or something is trying to cause you harm, and that you are in almost-constant danger.

A person with PPD will treat every experience, however neutral or friendly, as a personal attack and a sign of their “put-upon” status. They will feel like they always need to be on guard to defend themselves. Someone with PPD will struggle to trustanything, as they fear (or expect) that everything in their world could be revealed as a lie or trick at any moment. This uncertainty may drive someone with PPD towards anger and constant arguments with other people, who they assume are lying or hiding information. Alternately, the person may isolate themselves from the world and from others so they cannot be decieved.

To be diagnosed with PPD in the DSM-5, someone must meet 4 of these criteria;

Continue reading “Personality Disorders 101: Paranoid PD”

Personality Disorders 101 : How are PDs diagnosed?

The study of psychological differences and “abnormal” behaviour has received more public attention than many other branches of psychology, but this attention isn’t always beneficial. “Abnormal” behaviour is associated with sensationalist news headlines more than sensible conversation. As a result, people often know about psychological conditions through their portrayals in mass media, rather than from factual explanations.

Of the many psychological differences, the category of personality disorders is most frequently misunderstood. The individual personality disorders (PDs) are often mis-represented, while the idea of a “disordered personality” sparks criticism from anti-psychiatry groups and people diagnosed with PDs.

So what are PDs, and what do we mean by “personality” in this context?

Currently, personality disorders are defined as groups of traits, experiences and behaviours that are significantly different from the majority of people; that affect someone’s thinking, emotions and impulses; and are associated with personal distress and dysfunction. These general criteria needs to be met for any PD diagnosis.

So to be diagnosed with a PD, someone needs to have a collection of unusal behaviours and traits which affects a large portion of their everyday life. Those behaviours and traits must start before early adulthood. They need to cause negative consequences for the person, who should be upset by or annoyed at those behaviours.  The name “personality disorder” attempts to represent how far-reaching and impactful those behaviours and experiences are upon almost every aspect of the person’s understanding of themselves and their ability to relate to others.

Continue reading “Personality Disorders 101 : How are PDs diagnosed?”

Review | Three Fourths Home

Three Fourths Home is about that conversation you always wish you’d started, and that regret you might not be able to repair. More literally, it’s about talking, driving, and closure.

TFH is a piece of interactive fiction with a simple premise: protagonist Kelly is on her way home from visiting her grandparents’ now-empty house when a storm approaches. Kelly’s mum calls to locate her, and their struggle to communicate forces their complicated family dynamics to unravel there and then. The entire game is held within this one conversation; as Kelly, all you can do is keep driving and keep talking.

Continue reading “Review | Three Fourths Home”

The Year of (Less) Gaming…

Follow-up to this post.

The previous post was at the end of last year, and my end of year reflection post kind of build on what I was already thinking in that post. In the last few months, where gaming was and where it should be is something I’ve been continuing to think about.

The main catalyst beyond the posts was in January. I had a conversation happen that was very much not what I’d hoped, and made me doubt everything, and feel pretty bad. This was right in the middle of January, while a few of my assignments were due.  I let feeling bad about it take over, and dealt with everything by isolating myself from people and gaming instead of doing my uni work.  For one of my essays, I didn’t put anywhere near as much effort into it as I could have, and ended up submitting it late. That meant the highest mark I could possibly get was the minimum pass mark- made more annoying by finding out later that it would have received a Merit.

Continue reading “The Year of (Less) Gaming…”

Mental Health, Common Sense, and the Unknown

Everyone has a level of physical health which changes over time and as a result of circumstances.

A minority of people are at their peak of physical health, the healthiest they could possibly be.The majority of people are generally healthy: they don’t have to worry about their physical health as everything is working well enough to live their life.

Minor physical health issues such as colds or aches and pains, are common. They temporarily make life doable but more difficult. People with longer-term minor issues learn to adapt and accommodate around what is tougher for them- perhaps they can usually function at 95% of the generally healthy level .

Major physical health issues can make normal life very difficult, requiring someone to change how they live for a bit and often need a recovery time/ gradual return afterwards.

Then a small percentage of people have chronic, severe physical health issues that mean they either cannot function in a typical life at all, or they need to adapt almost everything about their life to live and function.

So, why did I just write that? Everything I’ve just said is common sense, and it doesn’t need saying.

But try it again, swapping physical for mental…

Continue reading “Mental Health, Common Sense, and the Unknown”

Does Photographic memory exist? Pt. 1

Photographic memory is one of those concepts that is understood and shown by pop-psychology and the media a lot more than it is shown by academic psychology. Just think of how many films, books and TV shows you’ve seen featuring a character with perfect factual recall or full memory of almost every experience they’ve had.

But in real life, photographic memory cannot be easily found – scientists and researchers are still debating whether it actually exists. While people have often come forward saying they have an exceptional or photographic memory, they are found to be mistaken, and there are only a few cases where a person could genuinely have a photographic memory.

From my existing psychology education, I know of three reasons why someone can have a much better memory than average. For each of these, I have mini-theories of whether these could turn into photographic memory if it exists, and how they might work. The first condition, Hyperthymesia, is below the cut.

Continue reading “Does Photographic memory exist? Pt. 1”