Interview on Virtual Worlds for Health and Human Service Professionals

Conducted by colleague Anne C. Smith, from Queensland, Australia

Everyday language in depression and anxiety – OT student presentation

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.

Jenna and Amanda presenting in Sojourner Auditorium

Jenna and Amanda presenting in Sojourner Auditorium.

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.

References:

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

Virtual Worlds, Best Practices in Education Conference (VWBPE) 2015

On Saturday, March 21 at 10 am EDT (7 am SLT), I will present  7 Years of Adaptation and Renewal in Second Life at VWBPE 2015.

Please see the full description of this and other presentations at: http://vwbpe.org/conference/vwbpe-2015-calendar

Hope to see you there!

Graduate Student Reports on the International Disability Rights Conference

OT Graduate Student Nicole Matyas, from Thomas Jefferson University, discusses the International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference held at Virtual Ability on October 3-4, 2014.

What is OT? Promoting our profession in a virtual world

presentation, What is OT?

Presentation at Virtual Ability: What is OT?

With every new presentation we hold in Second Life we learn a little more about the virtual community and a lot more about ourselves as future occupational therapists.  Our most recent discussion, “What is OT?” was held at the Sojourner Auditorium in Virtual Ability. The discussion was an exciting one for us; we continually learn throughout our courses about the importance of advocacy for our future profession, meaning we need to act as educators and proponents for OT and all that it entails.  Widespread understanding of our skill set is important because only through increased awareness will we be able assist all potential clients and communities that may benefit from our services.  Professionals and clients alike need to comprehend the impact we could possibly have on various situations so that the necessary requests and referrals can be made to begin therapy.  Without an accurate understanding of our scope of skills, accommodations and interventions may be withheld, thereby withholding progress from people.  Therefore, we were especially motivated for this presentation because it gave us a way to get the word out about OT and act as advocates for the profession to which we have devoted our lives!

The prior knowledge we gained through our courses at Thomas Jefferson University, Jefferson School of Health Professions this year definitely shaped the structure and content of our discussion.  We began by asking our audience what OT means to them to try to gain an idea of the experiences people have had with OT.  As we anticipated, there was some confusion about what OT encompasses, though some attendees did report prior OT interactions.  We used this opportunity to outline occupational therapy, including the populations served, the environments addressed, and the interventions used.

According to The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), occupational therapy “helps people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations).”  Our audience was extremely forthcoming in their responses and shared many activities that they do every day that hold meaning for them beyond just the activity itself.  Responses reflected a desire for mastery and independence in daily functioning; for instance, putting on a woman’s undergarment meant much more to one attendee than just getting dressed; it meant she could take care of herself.  OTs play a key role in helping people to attain goals such as this one.

We also discussed why OTs use meaningful occupations in therapy specific to each client.  The audience members recognized that OT works this way in order to utilize people’s own intrinsic motivation to progress.  One attendee shared an experience her mother had in a session that was not meaningful or stimulating for her because it did not include activities that were personally meaningful for her, so her motivation to progress was absent.  Though we never like to learn about negative experiences, stories such as this one help us OT students realize the importance of staying client-centered in therapy.  We are excited that our graduate experience is preparing us to work with our clients in this way.

Nicki and Kristina discuss OT

Nicki and Kristina discuss OT

Our discussion then progressed to cover some of the specifics of OT, including the environments in which we work (schools, clinics, hospitals, industries, senior centers, and many more), the populations we work with (across the lifespan and all diagnoses), and the practices we use and believe in.  One of the practices that sparked a lot of conversation was Universal Design.  Universal Design has 7 principles: equitable use, flexibility, simple and intuitive nature, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and adequate size/space.  These principles are meant to guide the construction of spaces so that everyone can participate and engage equally within the space, regardless of size, shape, ability, and needs.  Our audience thought of many ways this idea could be applied, and we hope to see more UD in the future since all people have the right to a comfortable, safe environment that meets all needs.

This discussion was one of our favorites because OT is our passion.  We were fortunate to have such an interactive audience, filled with participants of many backgrounds with a wide range of experiences and knowledge about OT.  We hope we shed light on our profession, its goals, and its services.  We plan to continue to act as advocates for OT and for our clients throughout the future.

Note: You can see our slideshare presentation here

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Presentation

On October 16th we held a presentation focusing on carpal tunnel syndrome. To prepare for this presentation a lot of research was done on general carpal tunnel syndrome information such as the signs, symptoms, treatment approaches, and how to decrease your risk for developing this condition. The research used for this presentation was the most up to date information available and evidence based to ensure that the most accurate information was being presented. Most of the information was found in occupational therapy journals and on hospital based websites. After the research was complete a power point and script were created along with several interactive aspects such as hand splint, carpal tunnel wrist animation,  and a 3D image demonstrating proper seated positioning at a desk.

                     This picture shows the wrist animation

The audience was very interested in this topic and most of them have had some experience with carpal tunnel syndrome. One attendee was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and was very interested in gaining more information about it. The audience members asked a lot of interesting questions and shared their personal experiences with carpal tunnel.

Some of the questions that surprised me were about how you can develop carpal tunnel syndrome. One question that was particularly interesting was about if yoga could cause carpal tunnel of make the symptoms worse. We had not conducted any research specifically on yoga and had not thought about how something like yoga could affect the wrists. Any excessive bending or stretching of the wrist can cause increased pressure on the median nerve (which is the cause of carpal tunnel) so yoga could cause the symptoms if it is done for a long period of time or very frequently. Many of our guests were coming up with other ideas and activities that could potentially cause carpal tunnel of make the symptoms worse.

The audience was very interested in the section our presentation on proper positioning and how to decrease your risk of developing carpal tunnel. Many of the audience members participate in activities, such as typing a lot, that can increase the risk of developing this condition so they were anxious to hear about how to decrease this risk and protect themselves and their bodies while continuing to do the activities they like (such as being on second life!).

Overall, this presentation went very well. The audience was interested and had good questions and discussions. I was surprised by how many of them had heard about carpal tunnel syndrome and new a fair amount of information on the topic. This presentation gave them extra information about carpal tunnel and also provided them with ways to avoid developing this disease.

National Alzheimer’s Project Act

January meeting
The January meeting of our support group for caregivers of persons with Alzheimer’s focused on passage of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA). Our new first year student, Vironica Loxley, did considerable research for the talk which was presented by Zsuzsa Tomsen and Geri Kuhn, group facilitators. Our main sources of information for the talk were the Alzheimer’s association (NAPA information), the report of the Alzheimer’s Study Group, and a discussion of non-pharmacologic treatments written by Drs. Laura Gitlin and Mary Mittelman. Geri also shared interesting commentary by Sandra Day O’Connor and Maria Shriver. The session was well-attended and included lively discussion of the issues that arise for implementing NAPA. Among the issues raised were: use of Second Life vs. a non-commercial virtual world such as Open Sim to present such topics and mobilize for action, the role of Medicare in funding interventions for those with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers, and the use of social networks to implement programming for NAPA. We hope this talk will be a starting point for more discussions and action that may help persons with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.