Check Your Symptoms

Let’s talk about your psychiatric disorder symptoms.

Since symptoms have a way of clumping together, and it requires the evaluation and diagnosis of a psychiatrist to figure out what’s going on, let’s talk about that and what to do about it.

There is not one specific diagnosis to attach to “worry.” We think of anxiety being the name for lots of worrying.

Suicidal Thinking is a Symptom

There isn’t just one diagnosis for someone who thinks about dying, or frankly just wants to die. We attach depression to that symptom, but it’s true that a number of circumstances and forces can cause the kind of desperation that results in wanting to not live like this anymore.

Sounds like Bipolar Disorder…?

And when we think of someone who has emotional outbursts, is sensitive, sometimes is super outgoing and happy, and other times is crushed in despair, who has a tendency to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, or act out sexually in highly inappropriate ways, we may presume this person has bipolar disorder.

But – in fact – there are other diagnoses that may be more accurate. And people with bipolar disorder commonly think about suicide, but so do people with many other psychiatric disorders.

Don’t Play Armchair “Psychiatrist.” 

In our well-informed society, it’s not unusual to feel you’ve read so much on the subject of psychiatric disorders that it seems obvious which symptoms mean what.

But, if that were true…well…there wouldn’t be so many instances where doctors misdiagnose because all the symptoms haven’t fully developed yet. Sometimes it takes awhile to get the diagnosis right and to proceed to effective treatment.

In terms of emotional outbursts, we see this in depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, autism, PTSD… you get my point.

Those who suffer with Major Depressive Disorder can be wracked with anxiety, just as those with OCD, PTSD, bipolar disorder, autism, dementia, and schizophrenia are.

Some disorders require as much information from a close observer as from the patient

Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder are examples of personality disorders that cause misery for the people who love the sufferer. The coping mechanisms for someone with a severe personality disorder can be off-putting at best, and deeply damaging in the long run, for the family and friends close to him or her.

Even so, with all the reactions that they have to circumstances and the people around them…people with personality disorders are a deeply miserable. But their ability to cope with their insecurity is so etched in stone, that they manages to hide it from themselves.  At least, until the consequences of all of their behaviors isolates them in a lonely place.

They may have trouble recognizing symptoms in themselves or knowing what they mean.

You may have trouble.

A feeling of abandonment may torment this person, especially toward the end of his life. One of my colleagues made the comment when referencing a man with this narcissistic personality disorder, “In spite of his harshness toward others, deep inside he’s a scared little boy.”  

That’s the part that seems counter-intuitive to his loved ones. 

So, how can you tell these psychiatric disorders apart…? How can tell if the primary problem is mood, or anxiety, or substance abuse, or personality?

You really can’t.  

Give us the best information you can so we can arrive at as accurate a diagnosis as possible — sooner rather than later — and so you can begin effective treatment as soon as possible.

If your symptoms include hallucinations, that doesn’t automatically signal schizophrenia, because hallucinations can occur in substance use disorders, alcohol withdrawl, dementia, severe mania and severe depression, schizoaffective disorder, and some other disorders. In fact, hallucinations can be a side effect of some medications.

Rule of thumb: Avoid jumping to conclusions.

Using a Symptom Checklist

What you can do, is use a symptom checklist.

Take note of your loved one’s symptoms and write them down when you notice them.  Agitation?  Check.  Fear?  Check. Describing something you can’t see as an observer?  Check.

The more you document individual incidents of symptoms that seem out of the ordinary to you, the more you are provide your psychiatrist with data she can evaluate.

The same is true of all symptoms that seem out of the ordinary for your loved one.  Walking or talking in sleep?  Write it down. Date and time.  Awaking during the night terrified?  Write it down. Date and time.

Not getting out of bed to go to work or school?  Write it down…date/time.  Weeping? Hopeless? Talking about death or wanting to die?  Get as much detail as possible.  

You see, it’s not only the symptoms themselves but their context and prevalence of them in your life or in your loved one’s life that help with an accurate diagnosis.

Angry outburst?  How many times this week?

Forgetting to eat?  When did it start?  Signs of weight loss or gain…? Lots of people are so focused on their work they forget to eat, so of itself, that’s not a symptom of anything abnormal.  However, in context with other symptoms, it just might be.

If you see or learn about your loved one participating in reckless behavior…even if you consider it reckless and they don’t, write It down. Let your psychiatrist decide.

Adolescence is its own “syndrome” and a very challenging phase of development

Now, think about this: While you may have seen your son act out, stop eating, or start eating twice as much as he used to, exhibit emotional outbursts, and refuse to get out of bed, this may not actually be a psychiatric disorder.  

If he’s 15, it could be the ups and downs of adolescence which are also tough on the adolescent as well as those who live with him.

Keep a symptom log if you’re worried. Be consistent and be accurate so you can look back after a month or two and see how often certain behaviors happen.

Then work with your psychiatrist to answer your questions. And be patient with your loved one. His disordered brain makes him miserable, too.

Check Your Symptoms – Write them down and bring them with you

At Innovative Psychiatry in South Windsor, CT, we can work with you to evaluate your symptoms and work toward a diagnosis that’s accurate and comprehensive. And we offer innovative treatment options for mood and anxiety disorders. While our practice is closed for medication management, we do have openings for advanced treatment options such as IV ketamine treatment and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.

If your symptoms concern you, or you have a loved one who displays symptoms that concern you, please call 860.648.9755 or contact us.

We’re here to help.