Guest: Robyn Wheeler
Guest Bio: Robyn Wheeler overcame bouts of anger, depression and pessimism after years of struggling with an undiagnosed mood disorder known as Dysthymic Disorder. Robyn wrote several books about her journey, and courage and determination. She is now dedicated to spreading awareness about Dysthymic Disorder, helping others improve their attitudes and live an anger-free life. Robyn Wheeler has a Bachelor’s degree from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. She has more than 20 years experience in education.
Robyn Wheeler discusses how social stigma plays a part in delayed diagnosis and treatment of Dysthymic Disorder. Additionally, physical implications, red flag behaviors, and dual-diagnosis are discussed.
Health Professional Radio – Diagnosis And Treatment Of Dysthymic Disorder
Neal Howard: Hello. You’re listening to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host, Neal Howard. Our guest today is Robyn Wheeler, the founder of The Inspiration Foundation, and an expert in anger management and coping with a form of depression known as dysthymic disorder. She’s also the author of 2 books, Born Mad and 104 Ways to Starve Your Anger and Feed Your Soul. Welcome, Robyn.
Robyn Wheeler: Thank you. Thank you for having me on.
Neal: Dysthymic disorder, what exactly is it?
Robyn: Dysthymic disorder is a mild form of depression, and many people may not realise that they have it. They don’t have to feel depressed every single day. It could be something where people are just feeling a little bit moody or they’re hypersensitive to certain things. It is a mood disorder and it is a unipolar depression.
Neal: What percentage of the population are suffering from this mild form of depression?
Robyn: When I was doing my research, the statistics that I found said about 3% to 6% of the population. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but considering that bipolar and schizophrenia each are about 1% to 1½% of the population, this is actually double bipolar and schizophrenia put together. It’s probably closer to the 6%, because many people are not aware of this disorder, so I’m sure there are people out there who are suffering from it who have never been diagnosed.
I think one of the major national mental health associations estimates that statistically, that we know of, there’s about 25% or ¼of the population who suffer from some kind of mental illness, but it’s probably closer to about 40% or 44%, because many people don’t seek treatment for it.
Neal: Because they think that they’re maybe just one of the glass half empty people, and that’s normal, so they don’t seek help for what is actually a potentially debilitating disorder, yeah?
Robyn: Yes, yes, and maybe because people are embarrassed about it. The way I look at it is, I didn’t go to Wal-Mart and pick up a box of dysthymic disorder and take it home and apply it like I would hair conditioner or something. It wasn’t something that I asked for. It’s not something that I wanted. It’s just something that I have. But there are a lot of people who are embarrassed about that and don’t want to say anything. On top of all of that, when we see – the public is sometimes not very understanding.
Just since I’ve become diagnosed, I’ve heard people saying, “Oh well, those people are psycho,” or “They’re crazy.” We have a whole bunch of slangs for people who suffer from mental illness, and when we keep saying those words, less and less people are going to want to come out and say that they suffer from something.
Neal: Now, the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, trouble sleeping, and you mentioned, with all of the slang and the social stigma attached to a mental disorder of any type, that adds greatly to feelings of isolation, yeah?
Robyn: It does. It does a lot. The first thing that happened to me was, I just didn’t want to be around people. I didn’t feel worthy. I didn’t feel that I was as good as everyone else, and so that leads to social isolation. After I got treatment, believe it or not, I think I’m more embarrassed by the years that I didn’t get treatment than the fact that I have treatment now.
To me, being angry all the time and reacting to things the way that I did, now is embarrassing to me more than, “Hey, I have a form of depression, I’m taking medication for it, and I feel great.”
Neal: Great, great. So things like poor coping skills, the uncontrollable anger, mild to severe violent behaviour, those are just some of the things that the medication is helping you to cope with, yeah?
Robyn: Yes, it is. And I want to make a point – I have found one other book by a woman who had dysthymic disorder, and she said she suffered from social phobia and she was an alcoholic. Those two things don’t affect me. She was experiencing dysthymia in a whole different way than I was. She would go to Alcoholics Anonymous. She had social phobia and she couldn’t stand up in front of people, so she just went back home and reverted back to her alcoholism
There could be a lot of alcohol and substance abuse and anger and domestic violence abuse that probably could stem from dysthymic disorder, untreated dysthymic disorder.
Neal: Basically, it can fall into the category, like so many other disorders, coupled with substance abuse, as a dual diagnosis?
Robyn Wheeler: Yes. I believe in my book, I wrote that ¾ of the people who are diagnosed with dysthymic disorder will have some other disorder that goes along with it – alcoholism or ADHD or OCD or general anxiety disorder. It runs hand in hand with other disorders.
Neal: When a health care practitioner sees a patient or gets a new patient, and they discover that they have the feelings of isolation, and they discover that they have a possible substance abuse problem as well, discovering these from other physical ailments, maybe they should automatically take a look at dysthymic disorder, as being coupled with, or maybe the root cause, of some of the ailments that brought them to the practitioner in the first place?
Robyn: I think it would be a great thing if they at least thought about it and maybe examined it a little further, and recommended that person to maybe see a psychiatrist, to see if they could diagnose something that was there, instead of – someone coming in and saying, “Oh, I feel blah,” instead of just saying, “Oh, well, just shake it off,” or prescribing them an antidepressant which may not be the correct one for them, depending on what kind of depression that they have. If they could think of that, and do further investigation, I don’t think it could hurt at all.
Neal: But still, as with the major depression and bipolar, there is still a hit-and-miss treatment when it comes to the antidepressants, to find out which one is the right one for this particular person’s dysthymic disorder. Because one person’s symptoms, if I’m hearing you correctly, one person’s symptoms and manifestations may differ from another when both of them have the same disorder?
Robyn: Correct, correct. It is kind of a hit-and-miss. You just have to talk with the psychiatrist or the physician, and see what they recommend, and try one and see how you’re feeling. I think a lot of times, people give it two or three weeks and say “Well, it’s not working”, and they quit taking their medication.
Unfortunately, sometimes medications can take months to work. Not only it is a hit-and-miss with the medication, but the medication can take a long time. It’s not like it’s going to happen overnight and you’ll going to feel better.
Neal: With such a large amount of the population suffering from dysthymic disorder, it seems that maybe you were one of the lucky ones in being diagnosed, even in your 40s. What would you say to physicians or psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, when they are speaking with people and they see some of these other behaviours, to not maybe immediately go for the textbook classic disorders?
Robyn: In my experience, I think that we still don’t know as much about this disorder as we would like to. Probably about many of the mental illnesses, which is one of the reasons why I spoke up and I wrote Born Mad, is because if it can help physicians and psychologists, to understand what was going on in my mind, maybe it might help them when they see somebody else who may be going through the same thing.
I think we still have so much to learn about each one of these mental illnesses. Again, medications are hit-and-miss, and a lot of people get off medications because of the side effects too. But hopefully, in the future, there will be better medications that will cause fewer side effects.
Neal: You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host, Neal Howard. Our guest has been Robyn Wheeler, anger management, depression, dysthymic disorder expert, and also an author, public speaker, editor, and the founder of The Inspiration Foundation.
You can find more information about Robyn Wheeler at robynwheeler.com. Her books – Born Mad and another, 104 Ways to Starve Your Anger and Feed Your Soul. Doing all that she can to educate and help people suffering from dysthymic disorder. It’s been a pleasure having you with us here today, Robyn.
Robyn: It’s been a pleasure for me. Thank you for having me on. Thank you for conquering this topic.
Neal: Thank you, and we will have an opportunity to talk with you again.
Robyn: All right. Sounds great.
Neal: Transcripts of this program are available at www.healthprofessionalradio.com.au.