By Robert Wheatley – Health and Innovations Editor
Every month, Trident Media will highlight certain mental disorders to raise awareness of the importance of taking care of your mind’s wellbeing. University can be stressful, so paying attention to your mental health is very important. If you’re ever feeling like you can’t cope, reach out to friends and family, and if needed, the University of Hertfordshire has services available to help manage your stress.
Dissociation isn’t an uncommon experience for those experiencing mental illness, and isn’t always present in a person as a disorder. It can at times be the side effects of taking some medication, or coming off of some, and even a response to anxiety or a panic attack. For some, dissociation can be a response to stress and something they have learned to expect, but for others the experience can be incredibly stressful.
Some experiences of dissociation can occur in memory, termed ‘dissociative amnesia’. One may find it difficult to remember certain periods in their life, or forget key details about themselves. Some experience disorders like derealisation, where the world feels or appears unreal, or the people in the world seem fake; or depersonalisation, where one feels disconnected from their body and actions.
One need not have a dissociative disorder to experience the above symptoms, but those that do may classify as having a certain type of the disorder:
Dissociative Identity Disorder: previously referred to as ‘multiple personality disorder’, this is a condition that results in identity changes that alter one’s behavior and thinking. For example, one may feel a lot younger, or of a different gender as one identity, or a lot older as another.
Dissociative amnesia: a condition that causes one to be unable to recall one’s identity, their history or events from their past.
Depersonalisation/Depersonalisation disorder: a condition characterised by periods of feeling disconnected from oneself or one’s body. What makes these symptoms a disorder is that this continues regularly, and cause distress for the experiencer.
Unspecified dissociative disorders: these are conditions in which one experiences different combinations of disconnective symptoms that don’t fit into one of the predefined categories; a combination of memory loss and a loss of identity, for example.
If one experiences other mental illnesses, they may experience dissociative symptoms.
Sufferers of depression, as a result of their symptoms, may experience disconnection from the world because of continuous anxiousness, or lack of motivation and low moods.
With Borderline Personality Disorder, intense stress from symptoms can result in paranoia, psychotic experiences, and potentially numbness and disconnection as a result.
In anxiety and panic disorders, the intensity of symptoms can result in experiencing depersonalisation, causing one to feel disconnected from their surroundings or from themselves.
While the experience is scary, it is not a sign of losing one’s mind, no matter how intense the symptoms get: it is instead a coping mechanism designed to deal with these symptoms.
Treatment for these disorders varies depending on one’s condition. If one has pre-existing conditions such as depression, anxiety or borderline personality disorder, treatment of these underlying conditions is important to one’s recovery.
Talking therapy is an effective and recommended treatment for dissociative disorders, but this may be hard to receive on the NHS – instead, one may wish to attend specialist therapies like ESTD that operate for the United Kingdom.
If this is not possible, having an advocate that will listen to your concerns and help you explore options for your treatment may be your best choice.
Otherwise, one may consider medication. There are no specific drugs designed to treat dissociative disorders, but other medication that deals with disorders like depression, anxiety, and OCD may be used, especially if one has an underlying mental health condition.
Counselling can be beneficial, and this is offered by the University of Hertfordshire’s counselling services. These can refer you to GP services, and these may recommend medication to help you cope with symptoms — taking medication is something you need to discuss with a doctor.
I previously experienced depersonalisation and derealisation symptoms as a teenager, and still do if I experience a panic attack or get too stressed. However, my symptoms are not only far less intense than they used to be, but now affect me far less. Through medication and therapy for treating my anxiety disorder, as well as slowly introducing myself to the symptoms I was afraid of, I managed to recover. It takes time, but recovery is always possible.
As with all mental health conditions, and your emotional wellbeing in general, get support if and when you need it — you deserve happiness.
Disclaimer: while our articles utilise reliable sources, the best information available will be at your local GP.