Q & A: Do people think mental diseases such as social phobia or schizophrenia are just a state of mind that can be trained to be overcomed?

In my experience, yes. Most people equate mental illness with a character flaw. That’s in the best case. Worst case scenario they think mental illness is another description for a lazy liar. The problem is, of course, that in some cases they’re exactly right! Since it can’t be seen there are always people who will try to run a con, making it just that much harder for the rest of us (hey, thanks guys! Really.)

At my lowest point I considered going to the train tracks and sitting my legs across them, just so the idiots who don’t believe I’m disabled will FINALLY have something to look at! When I told my best friend she answered that anyone who thinks mental illness is a character flaw will look at a legless person and say “Get a job”. Smart girl! There’s just no winning with some people.


Q & A: Should I get professional help before my OCD symptoms, which have recently magnified, potentially develop into something serious or debilitating?

The moment you think “Should I seek help” is the exact moment you should actually seek help. I’ve seen OCD up close and personal. Generally speaking it tends to intensify if left untreated. I’ve never seen it get better or back off, just gradually get worse. A person I care for a great deal nearly lost her marriage over this. It took a lot to get her to seek help but when she did it made a world of difference. She went on some meds, but what really helped were the therapy sessions. They taught her how to constructively deal with the more damaging aspects of the illness – I’m really impressed by the progress she’s made and how happy she is now. So please, don’t let it get that bad. Skip the worst of it and talk to a pro now.

Q & A: Why are electronic devices banned in psych wards?

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They aren’t. At least, it’s not a universal policy. In three of the five I’ve been in I had easy access to either my laptop or phone. I even taught the staff of one of the hospitals how to play “The Sims” (yeah, I’m dating myself here!). It was kind of hilarious, they were all totally hooked by the time I left. Of course, in two of the five they didn’t let me have anything except a hospital robe and a cup.


This may be due to budget. They have to watch patients carefully. Playing games, watching porn, even reading the news might be enough to set some of the more unstable patients off. If there’s competition for something such as electric outlets that may be a problem. Power cords can be used to strangle someone or themselves. Expensive electronic equipment could be damaged. If they have a staffing shortage it might be easier to simply deny devices to everyone.

Of course the opposite might be true. Giving patients access to electronic devices might be the best way to keep them calm. They can always be taken away due to behavioral issues, or used as a “reward” for good behavior.

Q & A: How are psych wards created?

This is an interesting, but rather broad question. Do you mean how are they built? Or why are they built? There are records of psychiatric hospitals going back at least 1,000 years. Back then institutions found in the Near East region were the ideal. European travelers wondered at the humane treatment of the insane.

Speaking generally, the Middle Ages sucked if you were insane. In fact, you have to get to the Victorian era before you see any real progress again. Reformers were of the opinion that being nice to lunatics was a better policy than dousing them with ice cold water, beating them and starving them. Go figure. An interesting tale from the inside of one of the “reformed” institution can be found here:

BROADMOOR REVEALED: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum: Mark Stevens: 9781781593202: Amazon.com: Books


The modern psych ward varies wildly from hospital to hospital, depending upon budget. I’ve been in five of them. Some I wish I never left, others I would have cheerfully murdered to get out of. After reading that book about Victorian Broadmoor, I can truthfully say that three of the five were inferior in nearly all ways to Broadmoor of 150 years ago, and that’s taking into account that it had no central heating. I’m not certain about hot water.

In general, you need to create your psych ward by making it a secure location with only 1 way in or out. You can include access to the outside, so long as no one can hop the wall and escape. You’re designing a prison, after all. Keep it away from the population of a town, and if it’s part of a hospital keep it separate from the main building if possible. If it must be part of the main building, make it part of a wing that can be easily isolated.

The first room of your ward should be something of a “common area”. There should be three significant aspects to this area. It should feature a secure location for your staff. This generally takes up a wall somewhere near the entrance. The second aspect should be the doors themselves. They should be heavy, two sets of large, electric double-doors that swing open toward the inside. This allows a gurney or wheelchair to be rolled in from the outside with paramedics or hospital staff accompanying it.

You’ve got a double set of doors why? Security. They never open at the same time. The first set opens, closes, then the second set unlocks, allowing entrance (or egress, depending). Both are controlled by the staff from their secure location. They need to sit behind shatterproof glass with a clear view of the common room and the doors. There might be a sliding window with a locking mechanism so an on duty nurse can speak to a patient, or maybe a small trough under the window that something can slide under, like medication. It depends on budget and paranoia.

The third aspect of the front room is the “common room” itself. While the doors and secure nurse’s station are pretty universal, the common room varies significantly. The higher the budget, the bigger the room, the brighter the paint, the newer the furniture. In one hospital the entire place was gray. It had eight or nine cafeteria tables put in a square with seats on the outside. There was a water fountain. And that’s IT. In another, the carpet was burnt orange, the entire floor plan was open, there was a door to an exterior smoker’s lounge. Sofas and easy chairs were scattered about, and there was a circle of chairs for “group encounter”. There was also a television and stocked bookshelves.

The common room is the central focus of the patient. Group sessions usually take place there. It’s also where they eat and pass the time between sessions. Patients are discouraged from spending time alone in their rooms. You never know what kind of mischief they can get up to in there, and there’s not enough staff to watch them all. Some wards will lock patient rooms when they’re not sleeping.

Branching off from the common room are the patient’s rooms. Again, these vary depending upon budget. In the high-end hospitals you have your own room. This consists of a single bed, mechanical. Possibly a window with a view that’s slightly distorted due to the thickness of the shatterproof glass. There might be a table and chair. Some might have a bathroom in the room. If so the mirror is metal, not glass. It’s bolted into the wall. There are no towels, sometimes no toilet paper. Anything like that must be requested from the nurse’s station. Everything except the toilet paper must be returned after use, including the soap.

Most wards have several hallways in a spoke pattern from the common room, leading to 6 rooms (or so), 2 patients each, with a common bathroom situated in a central location between the rooms, about halfway down each hall. When there are two patients in a room there may be a curtain hanging between the beds that offers the illusion of privacy during an exam. If there are two people, generally there’s no desk / chair.

Again, depending on size there may be other rooms for specialized therapy. In my favorite hospital they had one central room for group sessions. Another room was dedicated to music therapy, and still another for art therapy. There were small rooms for one-on-one sessions.

Does that answer your question?

Q & A: How can I stop my depression from making my grades worse and making me less motivated to have success?

I feel your pain – that’s exactly the route I took, and it sucks. I’m sorry you’re going through this. My answer may get a little long. Bear with me, I’ll answer your question.

There are two types of “depression” – I really wish we’d rename one of them so people wouldn’t get confused. There’s being depressed – lower case “d”. That’s a case of the blues. Everyone gets it. Typically it’s caused because something happened – it’s situational. Someone close to you dies, you break up with your girlfriend, you blow a test, whatever. Especially around the holidays lots of people get depressed. If you’re depressed working out helps you feel better. Someone saying “Hey guy, look on the bright side. Tough this out, things are going to get better!” makes sense. You know in your heart that yeah, even though things suck now, eventually it’s going to swing the other way.

Then there’s the other type of depression. Capital D “Clinical Depression”. This isn’t caused by a situation, though something bad happening can certainly make it worse. Clinical Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. When I’m Depressed, if someone tells me to “look on the bright side” I really want to punch them. I get even more Depressed because I can’t. Working out is out of the question. When I’m Depressed I can barely move, and when I do it hurts. In fact it feels like a combination of lead and lava. I couldn’t go to school, and when I did I couldn’t concentrate. This followed me for years. It was easy for me to get jobs, but I lost every one of them because of this. I came very close to graduating college – I even got through my student teaching – but in the end I couldn’t make it because of the Depression.

If you’re dealing with Clinical Depression, I don’t need to tell you it’s complicated. You already know that. Do you have anyone around you who will actually listen to you? Any authority figure will do – a relative, a religious leader, a teacher, school counselor… anyone? You need a pro to help you figure out what’s going on, and that means getting to a psychiatrist.

Incidentally some people don’t know what the difference is between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. So just to explain – a psychologist is a therapist. They help identify your thought process and then try to give you tools to use when things get rough. A psychiatrist is an MD (among other things). Clinical Depression is caused by a physical problem, which just happens to affect the way you think. A psychiatrist can help identify what may be out of balance, and can prescribe meds that might help.

There’s a lot you can work out on your own, but it looks like you’ve gone that route already, and you’ve taken it as far as you can. Track down someone who will really listen to you, and see if you can get in to see a psychiatrist for an initial diagnosis. You may have to see your regular doctor first – it’s a tedious process. Be as patient as you can.

If you are diagnosed with Clinical Depression, hang on to that patience with both hands. You’ll need as much as you can get. The psychiatrist will start out with a combo of drugs, depending on what they think is wrong. It takes time for any psychiatric drug to take effect, and even then, the effect may not be what you wanted. This is a long, drawn-out process (did I mention this sucks?) before you get the specific combo that works best for you. Keep the lines of communication as open as you can, count to 10 as often as you have to. You’ll also need to work with a psychologist to mentally get to a better place – the two of them work together.

One other thing, and again I’m basing all this on a lot of “ifs”. If you can talk to a psychiatrist, if you are diagnosed with Clinical Depression and if you do start taking meds, be sure to ask what the side effects are of those meds. And try not to freak out. Most doctors are very reluctant to discuss the side effects of psych meds with patients, because they sound so bad that most patients refuse to take them. Almost all of them slow down your metabolism, and many of them lead to weight gain. I’m mentioning this up front because you talked about working out in your question. If you already have enough discipline to work out, really all you need to do is maintain that. The worst thing you can do on psych drugs is to slow down or stop moving. The weight will really pack on quick. If you stay as active as you can you’ll hopefully be that much ahead of the game.

If you’re able to get back on an even keel, hopefully your motivation will be restored and your grades will bounce back. Right now, stay focused on your health. Classes can be taken over if it comes down to that. (still sucks). What’s so cool about your question is that you’re asking it in the 10th grade. I wish to God I had your forethought! Catching it now means all your opportunities are still ahead of you. Focus on you, get this straightened out, consider this the finest investment in your future you’ll ever make.

I wish you all the best.

Q & A: Why am I More depressed when the weather turns cold and rainy?

It sounds like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I’ve got it too, so I can offer a little insight based on experience. My doctor told me tit’s from a lack of Vitamin D. One of the best and most constant sources of Vitamin D is from the sun, absorbed through the skin. When the temperature drops you naturally bundle up. If it’s cold and rainy (or snowing) people tend to stay indoors. And also, the shorter days simply mean less sunlight overall. It’s the perfect recipe for a good case of SAD.

However, there are certain places where cases spike in midsummer. Colorado is one of them. In fact, Colorado is #1 in the nation for SAD. People love to play outside in this state, and they take their play very seriously. They bundle up in the winter to go skiing. But because we’re at elevation even in the city, we’ll slather on the sun screen every time we go outside in the summertime. To our skin there’s no difference between that and putting on a coat – the vitamin D is blocked along with everything else. Bingo! Midsummer SAD.

My doctor recommended a full spectrum table lamp. I use it as often as I can, but one thing he didn’t mention is that they’re HOT. It’s a lovely thing in December, but I usually don’t turn it on from May – October. For a while they had me on prescription strength Vitamin D. Once my levels got back up to normal I could back off to a daily over the counter supplement.

As always, check with your doctor and go with their recommendations.

Q & A: Are most mental illness cases a direct result of eating bad food or sustained malnutrition?

There’s ample proof that malnutrition affects all portions of your body in a negative way. However, instead of focusing on expired food, I’d look in a slightly different direction for your culprit.

The reigning philosophy of corporations world wide is that it’s far better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission. Better yet – don’t get caught at all. If they can get away with anything, they will. Even if they get caught doing something illegal, immoral or fattening, it’s extremely likely the fine will make up a tiny percentage of the profit gained. This is the main reason we currently exist in a soup that’s so toxic it’s a wonder we still carry on as a species. We pump poison into our air and water, we spray toxic chemicals on our crops, we inject our livestock with all manner of absurdities. Those responsible are counting that they’ll be retired or dead long before the bill comes due, and thus far they’ve been right.

If any connection is made between the toxins and the health of the population, a study is commissioned until the public forgets all about it, having focused on the next crisis to arise. Meanwhile those conducting the study are bought and paid for, so when it’s quietly published it absolves the accused or recommends more study, as the results are currently “inconclusive”. And so the merry dance of toxins goes on, unchecked, across every single aspect of our lives.

It’s really no wonder that we’re all going bonkers.

Q & A: Do you ever feel like you’re leading a double life by keeping your depression diagnosis from your friends?

GREAT question!! Totally fabulous.

I was initially diagnosed Bipolar I. And for a while I thought I’d keep it to myself. My neighbors already knew I was the lady with the hair-trigger temper. I’m the one they all talk about anyway. Why make it worse?

But then I thought hey! Why am I leading this double life? Aren’t we all adults? Why not tell them? Then they’d know that I’m ill. Maybe they’ll sympathize and we can start a constructive dialogue!

OMG, I totally crack myself up!

Yeah, I told them. In fact, I made it a policy for a while to tell everyone. Hell, I’d tell strangers in the street! I told my family, my friends, I posted it on Facebook, and certainly I told my neighbors.

Here’s what happened.

With my family it was almost immediate. I instantly transformed from “The Bitch” into “The Scapegoat”. No matter what the argument / problem was about, it was my fault. Why? I was DIAGNOSED! With a MENTAL ILLNESS! Case closed. It didn’t matter who started what, what they said, how they behaved or even what the point was. It all came down to me because I was officially crazy.  And if I wasn’t blamed, I was dismissed.  I could offer any suggestion, fact, theory.  You name it.  I might as well have been talking to myself.  What could I know about it?  I’m crazy!

Most of my friends vanished, as well as my extended family. Of the few who remain I can trust three of them. The rest (especially my cousins!) treat me with pity and only deal with me because it’s their “Christian Duty”. Is that worse than being The Bitch? Arg.

And then there’s my neighbors. Their idea of a constructive dialogue is to avoid me completely. To the point where if they see me coming they’ll actually turn and go the other direction. I went from being the loudmouth with the temper to a complete social pariah.

I STRONGLY recommend the double life.

Q & A: What has been the biggest plot twist that happened in your life?

In the first grade all the students in my class were pulled out for routine testing. Sight, hearing, you name it. They even did an IQ test. My mother is fond of telling the story about how my teacher, apparently a bit shaken, contacted her after the test. “Are you aware of just how bright your daughter is?” (Mom really loves that part). The last time I was tested I scored 155. Mensa was delighted. My parents were over the moon. I was a gifted athlete, I had model good looks, and a stratospheric IQ. The world was my oyster!!

And yet it became obvious as time went on that I can’t hold a “normal” job. I tested so high that I started college as a Sophomore. But I never graduated. My first marriage was a complete disaster and I’ve attempted suicide twice.

And I was supposed to be the best and the brightest.  What the hell?  I couldn’t even explain it to myself, much less anyone else.

It took 50 years to discover I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m incredibly good at some things, and I’m seriously lousy at others. But being raised to think that I had the biggest brain in the room, it was bad enough to think I was Bipolar – my initial diagnosis. But maybe I could get on top of it – it’s a hormonal imbalance. With the right blend of chemicals…

There’s no “getting on top of” Asperger’s. It’s not a chemical imbalance.  It’s something you are born with. Full stop, end of discussion. There’s no known cause, no known cure, no effective treatment for an adult. While a part of me is relieved that I FINALLY understand what the hell is going on, another part of me looks back at the train wreck of the last 50 years… I’m still reeling.

Q & A: Are autistic children actually good in maths?

Sometimes. It depends. Some of them are incredible at math. Some, like me, have trouble with the basics of “solve for x”. However, I made up for it in literature. I was reading at a college level in grade school, I won my first writing contest when I was 8. From everyone I’ve met it sort of seems like a roll of the dice. Most seem to be really good at something, but it’s not necessarily anything “useful” (read: someone will pay you lots of money for it).