Vasantham (Mediacorp’s Tamil & Hindi TV Channel) studios reached out to Promises Healthcare’s Senior Clinical Psychologist, S C Anbarasu, in the name of bringing greater mental health awareness to the Indian community in Singapore.
In En Ullae S2 episode 9, we are introduced to an exuberant boy, who upon closer inspection is revealed to suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Is he beset by developmental issues, or is there a more benign explanation? Senior Clinical Psychologist S.C. Anbarasu opens the episode with a parsimonious explanation of ADHD – simply, people with ADHD are distinguished by a lack of ability to pay attention, and appear to have vast amounts of energy, hence, ‘hyperactivity’.
In a dramatisation, the boy’s mother wears an expression of bemused exasperation – the problems began even before his birth. Prolonged labour (which occurs after 18 – 24 hours), and a possible Caesarean section heralded the coming of a “problem child”. Anusha Venkat then recalls how, at the age of 2 or 3, she came to the realisation that her son’s inability to focus was far more prevalent than what she observed in other children. Even a couple of seconds of concentration seemed to be a hard ask. He couldn’t remain placated long enough to complete any task. At the childcare, teachers baulked at how he pinged from corner to corner of the room.
Anusha reveals how a serendipitous discovery that Carnatic music could calm him down enough to remain in one spot for more than 10 minutes. A breakthrough! Anbarasu explains that while a child suffering from ADHD can disrupt classroom proceedings, it is pointless to use force to discipline them. ADHD can make someone feel like they are “constrained within a container” if they are impelled to do a task in which they have no interest. Instead, they expend their energy reserves by indulging in some other activity – like running around and being a little menace. For parents who are unaware of ADHD as a mental health condition, seeing their child act out can be scary. In fact, Seelan (the boy protagonist) went undiagnosed at age 3 – doctors merely offered that most children are, well, rambunctious tots at that age. It takes a diligent parent to make a reasoned conclusion that their child may suffer from ADHD. Seelan was given assorted tasks to complete, with his attention span closely watched, even who he liked or disliked in class was logged.
However, Anbarasu recommends that care must be taken to conduct a diagnosis per the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5). First, the test must be conducted on children below the age of 12. While school-going children come with a larger raft of observable behaviours due to differences in environment (home, school, etc), Anbarasu admits that is is not easy to chalk up roughhousing or rowdiness to ADHD when those are developmentally appropriate behaviours for a child. Apparently, six or seven are ages when an accurate diagnosis is reached easiest.
Aside from Carnatic music, Seelan’s attention span was helped by repetitive menial tasks like peeling potatoes, chopping ladies’ fingers and carrots. Anbarasu acknowledges that dealing with ADHD in children is a time-consuming task because they aren’t able to complete tasks as quickly as their peers. He calls on parents to pick up the slack – strategising holistic ways to help their child, both at home and in school. It’s a collaborative effort between teachers and parents to then carry out an agreed-upon strategy.
All is not doom and gloom, however. Seelan is observed to play with Lego building blocks for hours on end, despite not performing in the classroom. Anbarasu calls this ‘hyper-focus’. It is a state of mind wherein the mind eliminates noise that potentially distracts them from the task at hand, a sort of “perk” if you will. We are cautioned that encroaching upon this state of hyper-focus can exacerbate emotional issues and precipitate anger. People with ADHD are victim to ‘emotional dysregulation’, which may manifest from frustration in perceived inability to complete tasks satisfactorily. Seelan was unable to appreciate the benefits of delayed gratification, getting restless and upset if things didn’t go his way. Anbarasu explains that this results from emotional dysregulation as well.
At some point, Seelan faces potential expulsion from his class due to the complaints of other children’s parents. Especially in Singapore, where grades are paramount, a poor academic performance which results from an inability to work with a child’s ADHD can be distressing to parents. The teeth-gnashing frustration can make parents feel helpless, and Anbarasu suggests that these situations call for a consultation with a professional therapist who will elucidate the behavioural issues at hand. This gives parents more information to plan future steps. Parents of children with ADHD also attract stinging criticism from other parents. They might feel inadequate in their roles as nurturers and mentors. Anusha has accepted this to be a part of life, chortling as she muses that “you can’t change people”. Whatever the case, it isn’t fair to fault parents for a child’s ADHD. Or the child. Anbarasu clarifies that ADHD is a neuro-developmental disorder – in other words, that’s just how the cookie crumbles. Blame should not be apportioned. Anusha recalls how Seelan used to behave like an attention hog – in its absence, tantrums would be the order of the day. According to Anusha, dealing with instances of emotional dysregulation like this is challenging, especially if you have to deal with the needs of your child while observing social propriety.
Every child’s circumstances are different, so Anbarasu recommends that care be taken to evaluate if danger is imminent. Shouting for a little is perfectly OK. Deal with them after they have thrown their fits because anger is not conducive to receptiveness to advice. Anbarasu is careful to eschew the notion of a “cure” for ADHD. Rather, he says that it is “treatable”. Whether with medication or psychotherapy, or a combination of the two.
Children with ‘combined-type’ ADHD are challenged in a triune of areas – attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. For these cases, neuropharmacological support is required, to aid concentration and retention of information in class. If the ADHD is not as pronounced, therapy alone could manage the condition. For parents who are especially harrowed by their child’s condition, they should know that there is ample evidence in favour of managing ADHD through the concurrent administration of medication and therapy. On top of psychiatric interventions, there are support groups inside and outside the classroom for parents who are overly stressed.
The episode closes with the narrator speaking over clips of Seelan looking positively cherubic. The viewer is called on to spare the snide remarks, replacing them with positivity, understanding, and “plenty of support”.
If you’ve been pottering around the Promises Healthcare’s ‘Our Team’ page, and are new to the world of mental health in that you’re considering making the leap to seeking help from a mental health professional, it’s our hope that this casual guide to demystifying the titles, designations and dizzying abbreviations that adorn each profile will point you in the right direction.
For starters, there’s one thing that each of our mental health professionals have in common. They all possess at minimum a Master’s level certification in their discipline, so you can be assured of all their competencies.
As we’ve shared in a previous article, a psychiatrist is at their core a medical doctor, which certifies them to prescribe neuropharmacological support – i.e., medication.
But of course, psychiatrists more often than not do indeed possess relevant counselling and psychotherapy certifications, because being well-versed in the craft of patient care in the mental health sector does help them delve deeper into the minds and psyches of their clients, and assist them in skilfully and empathetically overcoming boundaries that some clients may consciously or unconsciously put up that stymie the therapeutic process.
Prescribing the most effective neuropharmacological support is buttressed by the psychiatrist’s skill in interpersonal communication, both verbal and non-verbal. Psychiatrists often describe themselves as observers, but it goes without saying that navigating these one-on-one interactions requires input from their side of the desk. While you might think that psychiatrists have reached the peak of the career trajectory of a mental health professional, keep in mind that by no means should you think of a psychiatrist as the fount of all mental health knowledge. Think of the ‘helping’ professions encompassed in the form of a large tree, rooted in a common desire to help people in need and supported by a trunk of science and evidence based knowledge , from which grows different branches representing the many ways in which mental health professionals can help someone in need – certain disciplines are applied more rigorously in helping certain conditions or situations. This is why Promises is described on our page as a multidisciplinary team of mental health professionals. Your treatment plan is provided by our team, and under the shade of our tree, you will be prompted to reach for certain branches – but at the end of the day, it is your choice to pick the leaves which seem most lush to you.
Psychologists differ from psychiatrists in one key authority. They are not medical doctors, and therefore cannot prescribe you medication. You’ll notice that our stable comprises a good number of clinical psychologists – so, what exactly are they, and how can they help you? Clinical psychologists possess doctorate degrees in psychology, and are imbued with the ability to cater to clients who suffer from any number of the discombobulating disarray of mental health conditions which sadly, are still negatively stigmatised in society. Think schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and their ilk. A clinical psychologist can make a diagnosis for you, if you think you are suffering from a mental health condition. Using the tools in their arsenals which they are trained in, such as psychometric testing, intelligence testing, personality testing, and much more, their diagnoses are firmly rooted in evidence based science. You could then make the logical conclusion that if they deem your condition treatable with medication, they would refer you to a psychiatrist. There’s a lot of symbiosis going on in our clinic!
The difference between Counsellors & Psychotherapists
We’ll deal with counsellors and psychotherapists next, because the two fields are very much intertwined, aligned in some facets, while possessing in granular detail key differences. Counselling and psychotherapy are both broadly concerned with betterment of clients in need, and there is significant overlap in the goals of either mode of therapy. Now, on to the differences, which will help you better distinguish which leaf you’d like to choose. First, there is a temporal difference between the two in both the length of treatment and how far back into your life each mode of therapy delves into in order to solve your current issue.
Counselling, on one hand, tends to favour clients who are more self aware and sensitive to their emotions and thought processes, and need a helping hand in unpacking a recent difficulty or life altering experience that they wish to resolve. This is rather unlike psychotherapy, rooted in a humanistic tradition – some may refer to it as height psychology, a term which gained currency during the time of Abraham Maslow and his espousement of self-actualisation. Psychotherapy, in this sense, takes a long, lingering look at a person’s past, life changing experiences, deep seated traumas and neuroses, or any relevant factors – all to help a client gain mastery of self (self awareness) and challenge them to enact the necessary life changes that lead to self improvement. You might well think of counsellors more as “advisors”, and psychotherapists as the “life guides”. Of course, detract nothing from both disciplines – their practitioners chose their specialities precisely because they fit into their world-views and probably, because they thought that they were good at it!
How do you choose?
Of course, given the array of therapeutic modalities and mental health professionals, we understand that choosing the right leaves can be a bewildering experience. That’s why we feel it’s best that you browse the profiles of our therapists, read their biographies and see which of them you feel most comfortable seeing. In the near future, Promises Healthcare intends to refine and streamline your selection process by having a list of issues or conditions that you are having problem(s) with – your input will then guide you to the mental health professional in our team that is best equipped to deal with your issues. For now, take a deep breath, sit back, read, absorb, think with clarity about what you want to deal with, and pick one to make an appointment with. Choosing the right therapist isn’t a one hit wonder – it takes time and patience, but rest assured that we’ll do our best to help you in that regard.
This episode of En Ullae touches on psychosis. This case study was about a man who had developed schizophrenia and became obsessed with the ‘spiritual safety’ of his partner. The building tension served to demonstrate the dangers of ignoring the symptoms of psychosis, which his partner was predisposed to do, in her untoward position as the long-suffering partner in a dangerously unstable relationship. Dr Jacob characterised psychosis as rooted in an unshakeable belief in false delusions – people who suffer from the condition are often willfully blind to reason, which he cautions against trying to impose on them when the time is inclement.
Prem, the unfortunate man with all the symptoms of hallucinatory schizophrenia, began to cast an evermore imposing spectre in the relationship, causing much distress to Rani. His delusions began to take such a toll on their relationship, with even the good tidings of a baby in the oven twisted into a string of abortion by Rani, afraid that he would bring harm to her and any prospective child she would bequeath upon them – he professed to see the child as a harbinger of doom, as the embodiment of the devil. Midway through the episode, the viewer is treated to the appearance of two ambiguous personalities – a man and a woman, whose blue lanyard faintly conveyed some sense of authority. We are left uncertain as to their actual responsibilities – they are at times quizzical, unwilling to manifest the “good cop, bad cop” trope. No matter, it is not the point of the episode to further entangle the convoluted plotlines – they serve as plot devices which encourage Prem’s own narrative to unfold – to the end, he remains stolidly convinced that his stabbing of Rani had taken her to a better place, the expression on his face almost beatific at times.
Dr Jacob, at this point, sees fit to caution the viewer against harshly attributing homicidal tendencies to persons with psychosis. He presents the statistic that even less than 15% of homicides are perpetrated by people mentally unsound. Noting the prevalence of drug use and antisocial tendencies that colour this 15%, he confidently steers the viewer away from making too quick a conclusion – it is in everyone’s best interest to step back and evaluate statistics grounded in good science, instead of leaping to the easy conclusion that Prem was beyond rehabilitation.
Anger is a response most of us have when we feel our territory is being threatened. This is a primitive reaction from our days as cavemen (and cavewomen) when a wild animal was nearby! This reaction has not quite been removed by modern civilisation. When something threatens our security, the brain responds to it with a fight or flight reaction. The body releases adrenaline which causes changes in the body. The heart pumps faster, breathing gets faster, blood gets diverted to the legs and arms so we can run or fight back. The blood flow to the reasoning part of the brain is lessened so that thinking becomes difficult. Nowadays there are no saber tooth tigers coming out to attack us which require us to fight or flee. However the body’s response to a threat remains the same and, unless we find ways to discharge the energy or change our perceptions, the fight response will persist.
Powerless!! That’s the situation most people find themselves in at the moment during this Covid-19 Pandemic Circuit Breaker. From the home maker, who has to see her family all day long to the child who wants to have his friends over; teenagers who are restricted in their activities with peers to husbands who have to adjust to being at home with no break! Cabin fever is setting in and many are not coping well. Add to that mix an addiction that is running rampant in the household and you have a powder keg ready to blow!!!
What can family members do at this time to stay sane and not get embroiled in another power struggle or argument with the addict in the house. Anger that luxury during normal times is just magnified as all of us are forced to Stay Home. A simple request turns into a huge event; an innocent comment gets misinterpreted; and even demonstrations of concern become fuel for accusations of being manipulative or controlling. What to do??
Most family members of addicts or dysfunctional families (most of us can attest to being in this category), have resorted for a while now to manage, manoeuvre, save or guilt trip. This comes from a place of love and fear. However having time apart has always been a great diffuser of tension. Now faced with a Stay Home situation things can get stressful. Once free to go out, meet friends, go to the gym and pursue our life goals, we find ourselves having to don a mask and stay six feet away from each other, with frequent temperature checks thrown in! Yes we know it’s for our own good but just how do we go about removing that sense of irritation or frustration?? What’s wrong with me? I never used to get SO upset?? Being stuck at home we ‘step on the toes’ of others or they inadvertently step on ours.
So here are some possible ways to cope…..
1. Walk away and discharge the energy
Going for a walk, or a run and getting away from the source or trigger for our anger is one option. Moving away and giving vent to the energy is what we need to do. Digging in the garden, washing dishes, scrubbing the bathroom tiles or polishing the furniture is a great outlet for this energy. Shredding newspaper is another excellent technique. After which you could turn the strips into Papier Mache pulp and create an art project. One woman wrote that she would pull out weeds and imagine she was pulling out her husband’s hair! This is called Detaching.
2. Practice Deep Breathing and Self soothing
This taking in of deep breaths, helps bring more oxygen into the body and to the brain. Especially important is the frontal cortex where our reasoning happens. Improved brain function helps restore some calmer thinking. Follow this up with doing something good for yourself such as listening to some music you like, dancing, playing a game on your phone, doing a craft or even having a nap. Seld care is important when you have to deal with a loved one suffering from an addiction. We often say, “Put on your own oxygen mask before you attend to others.”
3. How Important Is It?
Ask yourself this question. After walking away and breathing for a bit, consider how the event figures in the larger scheme of things. Does this event require action right now or can it wait? Do I need to say what’s on my mind right now or can I pause and say it later. Often I ask myself these questions- Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said by me? Does it need to be said by me now?? By the time ive asked myself these questions, my good sense would have returned and I can leave it for another time.
4. Respond not react
After calming down, consider a way to communicate which is kind and thoughtful. Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean. I’ve heard this said by someone- “Try to say it in ten words or less!” Haha! Most of us have communication patterns that escalate tension! So, try this for a change.
Another great tool is the acronym – T.H.I.N.K. Before I speak I need to THINK.
Is what I’m saying Thoughtful, Honest, Intelligent, Necessary or Kind. If not take a piece of Masking tape and place it nearby. This helps as a reminder to keep my mouth shut.
When all else fails, go talk to someone you trust and let it out. A friend in need is a friend indeed. Or seek one of many support groups or counsellors to help you cope. Whatever the case, we are all in this together! So don’t suffer alone. There are many helplines and people available to support you such as the ones listed below.
If you’re considering seeking help from a mental health professional / psychiatrist, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve realised there’s help out there that can assist you with whatever concern you have on your mind. Your mind may be in disarray, but remind yourself that whatever stigma against seeking mental help may exist in your mind, it’s there because of your lived experiences – created by the culture you live within. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to get better, or better yourself, and to feel constrained by some vague idea of what it means to be “a man” or “a strong woman” is unwarranted.
If you’re fearful of revealing your innermost thoughts and feelings to a stranger (by virtue of it being your first visit), keep in mind that your psychiatrist is first and foremost a doctor, bound by the Hippocratic oath, and second, believes in the value of offering a non-judgmental listening ear through their training and moral code. If that doesn’t comfort you, you should be aware of legal constraints that exist in your favour to protect the information that you share with them. Notwithstanding of course, if there is reason to believe you intend to injuriously harm yourself or another.
Because of the anxiety that may roil your thoughts, it may do you well the night before to sit in silent contemplation and pen down the reasons or thoughts you intend to divulge. Having a concrete list to bring into your psychiatrist’s office will help you ground yourself and serve as a reminder that you’re there for good reason – to get help. Nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide, nothing to unconsciously lose behind a preponderance of mistrust or other self-serving attitudes. Your psychiatrist’s office is a safe space.
If you feel that all this is a hard ask, consider bringing along someone whom you trust and knows you well, with your best interests in mind. They can serve as a calming influence that soothes your inner turmoil. Furthermore, they might be able to helpfully point out if there are discrepancies between what you tell your psychiatrist and the truth of the matter.
When you step into your psychiatrist’s office for the first time, you will most likely be greeted with an open-ended question such as “How may I help you today?”, or “What’s been bothering you?”. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the variegated ways you can choose to answer their greeting, especially if you have issues with how you are perceived by others. But remember, this is their way of getting to know you, especially since they have nary a clue of why you may have decided to make good on your appointment.
Because of the time constraints on your visit (your psychiatrist’s office is a place of business after all), you can expect them to try their best to elicit responses through a line of inquiry that their best judgment will allow them to evaluate and cohere into an accurate as possible diagnosis of your mental condition, if you are indeed suffering from one. No psychiatrist is a soothsayer or mind-reader, and you should be aware that the help you receive will very much be preponderant both the truthfulness of your responses and the skill of your psychiatrist, who is also trained in reading cues and tells that they feel will help them make a diagnosis.
As your visit comes to a close, based on the personal proclivities of your psychiatrist, you can expect a number of permutations to happen. They may prescribe you medication, if they feel confident in their diagnosis. They may point you towards psychotherapy or counselling (the difference between the two we will delve into in another post), they may prescribe both the former and the latter, or they may hold off on either if they feel that they cannot in good conscience do so.
Of course, it is very much your right to evaluate for yourself if the synergy between your initial choice for a psychiatrist is optimal for you. If you feel comfortable with them, do feel encouraged to continue on course, or if not, seek out another psychiatrist per a trusted friend’s recommendation, or look online for one that seems more promising in terms of a potential therapeutic alliance.
Ultimately, don’t forget that your psychiatrist has your best interests in mind. They are committed to formulate a treatment plan for you that runs parallel to your values and is in line with your goals.
Promises Healthcare is committed to providing mental health services to those in need, and has realigned how we provide these services in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Not only do we practice strict social distancing in the clinic, we have a new teleconsultation service up and running. This may be a blessing for those who are not yet comfortable with in person visits. Simply visit our main website and visit our teleconsultations page.
Alternate services of help are also provided by the Ministry of Health & National Council of Social Services in the public health and non-profit sector respectively. The Minister for Health has also written in response to a question regarding the use of Medisave for mental health therapy and counselling treatment: “No Singaporean will be denied access to necessary and appropriate healthcare because of an inability to pay.”
Anxiety, stress, and fear are common emotions people experience through the course of everyday life. Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, go beyond our daily worries and fears. Stress and pressure is subjective to each person – anxiety disorders can induce heavy stress and pressure, and these feelings can become more intense over time. Issues that crop up for anxiety disorder sufferers range from anodyne to hair-raising. For example, some people are terrified of meeting new people and having to interact with strangers, while others suffer panic attacks when memories of past traumas surface. The most common types of anxiety disorders are diagnosed as:
Panic Disorder (PD)
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
Agoraphobia (Perception of certain environments as unsafe, with no easy escape)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Not only are there psychological symptoms, people dealing with anxiety disorders may also experience a litany of physical symptoms such as insomnia; inability to concentrate or relax; heart palpitations; gastroenterological issues; and sexual frustration, among others. When all these problems start impinging on one’s behaviour, mood and thoughts, life can start to feel like a slog through quicksand. A once “normal life” now appears out of reach, and getting there again can feel like a Sisyphean task.
What makes people suffering from an anxiety disorder seek out substances?
It’s important to understand a little more about addiction before dealing with this question. Addiction is indubitably a very uncomfortable disorder, and that’s characterising it mildly. For a “preference” to devolve into full blown addiction, a person must keep making the same conscious decisions every day, day after day, that facilitate indulgence in his or her vice – in spite of a mounting cornucopia of problems. Maintaining an addiction certainly is tiresome. People suffering from addiction make these choices because their addiction serves them a purpose. Concomitant discomfort is tolerated in light of perceived benefits garnered from substance abuse.
A parsimonious way to think about addiction is to assume that it is a simple cost-benefit analysis. For someone struggling with an anxiety disorder, the allure of a “quick-fix” in the form of a suitable drug or drink is hard to ignore. What may begin as a misguided attempt to ameliorate paralysing fear can eventually develop into a fully-fledged addiction. With this in mind, it is now a lot clearer why substance use disorder (SUD) is a co-occurring psychiatric disorder that is one of the most prevalent among people with an anxiety disorder. The most recent and largest comorbidity study to date (with over 43,000 participants), the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), found that 17.7% of respondents with an addiction problem also had an anxiety disorder.
Ironically, the problem with the “solution” of substance abuse is that the ”solution” hurts more than helps. It can often exacerbate the anxiety disorder – which becomes ensnared in the convoluted mess that is addiction. Thus comes the slippery slope of anxiety, substance use, and elevated tolerance.
Chronic dependence is the likely consequence of this chain of events. For example, a person who suffers from social phobia might employ stimulants or anxiolytics to engender artificial confidence during a social situation. This can feel liberating, exhilarating, even, for someone who has spent a lifetime on the sidelines. The folly in this endeavour lies in the eventual normalising of this ‘chemically induced courage’ – if you turn it into a precondition to interacting with other human beings, you will only succeed in erecting progressively more imposing barriers in a completely self-defeating, tautological situation.
Are there psychotherapies out there that treat anxiety and addiction together?
Diagnosing a mental disorder in a person who also suffers from an addiction is challenging.
It may be hard to determine which came first, the addiction or the anxiety/depression. A clinical history, which is triangulated with loved ones, teachers and others may assist to know which came first. In any case, both the addiction and the disorders have to be treated at the same time. Otherwise, if untreated, the anxiety and depression may lead to the resumption of drug or alcohol use. Cognitive behavioural therapies (CBT), meditation and mindfulness therapies, experiential therapies and medication can assist to address both compulsive behaviour and anxiety and depressive disorders.
A trained and experienced mental health professional can help you navigate your addiction recovery journey to ensure that you get the best possible outcome within the guidelines of your values and needs. While this article is about substance addiction, you will find that our team of psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists have the expertise and experience to work with a variety of addictions, and mental health issues such as anxiety disorders.