On Saturday, May 2nd, Amanda and I, both entry level Masters students in Occupational Therapy at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, had the opportunity to present at the Virtual Ability Mental Health Symposium in Sojourner Auditorium, Second Life. Our presentation was titled “Everyday Language and Clinical Diagnosis in Depression and Anxiety” and focused on comparing everyday language used to describe the mental health conditions of major depression and generalized anxiety disorder with definitions of the clinical diagnoses. We were very excited to present on this topic because we both are very interested in mental health. We chose to focus on the language associated with depression and anxiety as well as the stigma that can surround these conditions because we both feel that these are very important topics that generally do not get much attention.
We began our presentation by discussing the importance that language plays on our everyday interactions. We explained the importance in understanding that medical terms can be quite different from the words we use every day to describe health conditions – including mental health. The first mental health condition that we focused on was clinical depression. We gave examples about the way that the term depression is used in everyday language and contrasted them to the actual diagnoses of clinical depression. Clinical depression is a mood disorder that is diagnosed by a doctor. In order to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, an individual must meet 5 out of 9 criteria established by the DSM-V , which is a diagnostic tool for mental health conditions. In addition to defining clinical depression, we detailed the difference between the feeling of sadness and clinical depression.
The next mental health diagnosis that we described was generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is a clinical diagnosis that goes beyond the common feeling of anxiousness. To be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, a person must have at least three out of the six criteria listed in the DSM-V.
In addition to defining these mental health diagnoses, we also discussed myths and facts about depression and anxiety disorders. For example, it is a common myth that people can control their depression and “snap out of it” if they want to. But in fact, people with depression cannot just “snap out of it.” Most people with depression benefit from treatment including medications and counseling. A common myth about anxiety disorders is that they are not very common, when in fact about 18 percent of American adults experience some type of anxiety disorder in any given year. It was interesting to hear from the audience about their take on these different myths. One audience member said that she was surprised to hear that some people actually thought that anxiety disorders were uncommon, while others shared that they were surprised to hear just how common they are.
Presenting in Second Life was an incredibly unique experience. As this was our first presentation in Second Life, Amanda and I were both rather nervous to begin. Once we started, however, we both became much more comfortable with presenting and came to really enjoy the process. Something that made the presentation very unique was the lively discussion with the audience. Being able to engage with the audience and hear about their real life experiences with the topics we were presenting on was fascinating. One audience member recounted her previous experience with having difficulty naming and explaining her emotions to her doctor. This led us deeper into discussion about complications associated with “invisible” conditions, such as the mental health disorders we were focusing on. In addition to this, we also talked with the audience about their reactions to the fact that depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States. One audience member remarked that she only thought that depression was caused by disability, and had never realized that it could also go in the other direction. Being able to spread information like this was very rewarding, and we are glad that the audience was able to learn from our presentation. Having the opportunity to hear firsthand from individuals in the Second Life community about their experiences with these topics and their interactions with healthcare providers was extremely valuable to both Amanda and me. We later discussed how hearing these experiences and learning from them will help us to become better healthcare providers. We had a wonderful time presenting and are looking forward to presenting again in the future.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder. (2013). In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). doi: 10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.dsm05
Major Depressive Disorder. (2013). In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). doi: 10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.dsm04