|Internet Activity: Locating Information on Professional Help for Psychological Problems
Using the following Web sites, additional sites listed on the links page for Chapter 3, or a general Web search, find out more about the different types of professional help available for psychological problems and about how to identify when such help may be needed.
National Associations of Mental Health Professionals
First, list five potential signs of serious psychological problems that may indicate the need for professional help:
Site(s) visited (URL):
Signs/symptoms (list at least five):
Next, choose one type of mental health professional and briefly describe their training and scope of treatment. Also describe how an individual could locate such a professional (for example, local or national association, physician referral, and so on).
Site(s) visited (URL):
Type of mental health professional:
How to locate:
For more on identifying symptoms of a serious mental disorder, read the story of David.
David: A True Story
When a person begins to act strangely in public or with friends or family, others rarely agree about what the behavior means. Opinions vary, based on levels of education and conflicting viewpoints. Conflicts between the models of psychological health are not just theoretical but have practical results, as this case history illustrates. Only the subject’s name and a few details have been changed to maintain confidentiality.
David was a 20-year-old junior at a large, competitive university, majoring in humanities. He had been the best all-around student in his high school class. The high school principal remembered him as brilliant and caring. In college, David maintained an outstanding academic record. Students in his dorm said he was cheerful, outgoing, and “laid back.” For six months he had been attending meditation classes, had become a vegetarian, and had started to jog daily. He avoided all drugs, including alcohol. Shortly before spring vacation, he told a friend he had been hearing voices and seeing “real” visions. He was convinced that the end of the world—the “Last Judgment”—was coming. He talked of taking his own life because he felt unworthy, and said that his death would help humanity. In contrast to his usual cheerfulness, he became withdrawn and isolated. The worried friend called David’s father, who lived far away. The father talked to his son several times by phone and arranged to fly up to see him in a week. The day before they were to meet, David jumped off a high bridge and drowned.
How did different people make sense of what happened? In his father’s opinion, David’s suicide was a result of spiritual striving—a deep interest in Eastern religions—combined with a drive for perfection in everything he attempted. According to his father, David was totally committed in life and in death. The problem his son had faced was trying to live simultaneously in both a world of reality and a world devoted to spirituality.
His friend took a medical point of view. He thought David’s visions and voices sounded like signs of schizophrenia. The father agreed only partially. From his phone conversations, he felt something had temporarily snapped in David’s mind. Perhaps a biochemical change had altered his mental state. But during the last phone call, the day before the suicide, his son seemed to have become completely lucid and calm again. David assured him he was OK now, that his father could stop worrying. They would see each other soon. His father found consolation in the thought that his son had found a kind of peace at the end. Yet to many who knew David, the story was only a tragedy—a talented, kind young person with most of his life in front of him died before the seriousness of his problems was recognized and treatment could begin.
There is often a temptation to lay blame in cases such as David’s. Was his father spiritualizing a schizophrenic disorder? Of all people, the father, who had known his son for all of his 20 years, should have recognized that something was wrong. But his father lived far away and was empathetically supporting his son’s spiritual quest. Religious impulses and spiritual crises are usually not signs of mental illness; they can have positive outcomes. And why didn’t his friend intervene more actively? He could have contacted a dean, faculty member, or someone at the student health service and insisted that someone in authority step in. Perhaps his respect for David made him hesitate. David might have felt betrayed if he had been hospitalized. And what kind of university was it, where a student could become so troubled yet so few people notice it? But many large universities do not watch students very closely, because they believe students should be treated as adults, with a right to privacy and to living with few rules. Troubled students often keep to themselves; not allowing them to do so would be forcing them to conform.
Thus, we cannot convincingly lay blame, but we can hope that in the future, better informed students, parents, and college administrators will be more sensitive to warning signs like the ones in this case: hearing voices and seeing visions, a major and sudden change in personality, suicidal thoughts, and the ominous false calm that can follow a firm decision to commit suicide.
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