NPD: The Mental Disorder that Demands AttentionMental Health
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
I recently came across this story about one of my peers, a lawyer, who prefers to remain anonymous and goes by the name of “Julie.” Julie suffers from chronic depression but did not want to get therapy out of fear of having to disclose medical records. And according to the story, “Julie's worries were warranted: All 50 states' bar associations ask about applicants' mental health histories, and there are several cases of people being denied admission to practice law on the basis of mental health problems—even if they've been successfully treated.”
This reaction by professional organizations like state bar associations is not surprising. In a study from the American Sociological Association (ASA) that examines public attitudes toward mental illness, 68 percent of respondents say they would not want one of their family members marrying someone with drug or alcohol addictions, schizophrenia or depression. Fifty-eight percent of respondents are also hesitant to work with people with these issues.
May is Mental Health Month, and it’s time to crush the stigma surrounding mental illness. The truth is mental illness can happen to any of us despite our race, gender, age and socioeconomic status. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 Americans will be affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime, and every American is affected or impacted through their friends or family. And mental disorders come in many forms. While certain mental disorders like depression and schizophrenia are stigmatized, others like narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) may not even be seen as mental disorders.
Perhaps you have never even heard of NPD. However, we need to acknowledge all forms of mental illness and that includes being proactive about NPD.
Reports say 6 percent of the general population (more common in males) has NPD.
Symptoms of NPD include:
- Requiring constant attention and admiration from others
- Disregarding the feelings of others
- Expressing jealousy towards other people or believing people are jealous of you
- Taking advantage of others to get what you want
- Having a sense of entitlement
You have likely dated or worked with someone who has NPD and exhibits these symptoms, but you probably concluded they were simply arrogant or unpleasant. You would not necessarily suspect they might be suffering from a mental disorder that requires treatment.
A person with NPD may be uncomfortable to be around, but imagine how hard daily life is for the person with NPD. Imagine how hard it is to live with such unrealistic expectations and such a false sense of reality. Imagine the damaged relationships and difficulties in the workplace someone with this disorder may have.
Some believe Adolf Hitler had paranoid schizophrenia and NPD. Yes, bipolar disorder and NPD are two very different conditions, but they are both mental illnesses and need to be taken seriously.
If left untreated, NPD can negatively affect a person’s work, family and social life. This may not seem life-threatening. We spend so much time fearing issues like obesity and cancer, which is very important, but happiness and healthy relationships are critically important as well.
According to a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there may be some connection between suicidal behavior and narcissistic personality disorder. However, currently, “there are no reliable estimates of suicidal behavior for this population,” says the Institute.
NPD is not only a mental disorder in itself, but it may snowball into other issues. According to Psychiatric Times, "[p]rototypical persons with NPD present with many interpersonal problems and comorbid disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, with consequent increases in risk of suicide, alcohol and substance abuse, and eating disorders." This would indicate NPD needs to be more acknowledged and taken more seriously.
Hopefully, further studies will shine a light on a disorder unknown to many and encourage people to get help if they suspect they need it.
So what can we do to be proactive about our mental health?
Nutrition. What you eat directly affects your brain. A diet high in foods containing refined sugars including sweets, processed foods and sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) may cause brain injury and make symptoms of mental illness even worse. Harvard Medical School reports, “[in] addition to worsening your body’s regulation of insulin, they [refined sugars] also promote inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders.”
It’s critical to maintain a balanced diet with all the vital vitamins and minerals. There are many minerals you may not know are very powerful in helping with mental illnesses. Some of these minerals include:
- Magnesium. Several studies have shown symptoms of depression improved in people who were given 125-300 mg of this mineral at each meal and at bedtime. Low magnesium levels have also been found in a large percentage of people suffering from depression. This mineral has also demonstrated it helps people cope better with anxiety. Dietary sources of magnesium include leafy green vegetables (like spinach), legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Foods with fiber are also good sources of magnesium, and many cereals are fortified with it.
- Chromium. Studies have also shown chromium helps with depression, particularly atypical depression. Meats, whole grain products, high-bran cereals, green beans, poultry, fish, broccoli, nuts and egg yolk are all sources of chromium.
- Iron. You may know an iron deficiency can cause anemia, but you may not know iron is extremely important in regards to depression. Many women are depressed during their childbearing years (25-45), and this may be because women lose iron during menstruation. There are two types of iron -- heme and non-heme. Heme iron is rich in lean meat and seafood. This is more bioavailable, meaning your body can use it better. Non-heme iron is found in nuts, grains, vegetables and other fortified products.
- Selenium. This is a mineral with antioxidant properties, which are very effective in helping with oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is linked to brain function and depression. Studies have shown improvement in mood, anxiety level and symptoms of depression in people who received more selenium in their diets. Brazil nuts are high in selenium as well as oysters, whole grains and meats.
- Zinc. This mineral is involved in more than 300 reactions in the body and is abundant in the brain. Studies have shown zinc not only helps with symptoms of depression but may also help antidepressants work more effectively. Zinc may also help with anxiety. Oysters are the highest source of zinc. You can also get zinc from red meat, poultry, crabs, shrimp, fish, lobster, oatmeal, whole grains, cheeses, yogurt, beans and nuts.
- Copper. This mineral is important in depression because it is a component of the enzymes that metabolize the brain chemicals that help you respond to stress, feel happy and be alert. Organ meats, shellfish, nuts, seeds, wheat-bran cereals and whole-grain products are all sources of copper.
- Manganese. This mineral was found to be low in some patients suffering from bipolar disorder. Dietary sources of manganese include nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, tea, wheat germ and whole grains (including unrefined cereals, buckwheat, bulgur wheat and oats), legumes and pineapples.
- Calcium. There is no clear relationship between calcium and depression, however, some studies found low calcium levels in depressed patients. Regardless of needing more evidence, calcium affects the levels of magnesium in the body. As you can see, it is important to get the right balance of all the necessary minerals. You can get calcium from milk, yogurt, calcium-fortified orange juice, salmon, turnip greens, kale, broccoli and more.
I know these are a lot of minerals to keep up with and, truthfully, there are even more. You can be proactive and take control by getting nutritional testing and checking out our recent book Minerals - The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy.
Exercise. Just like food, exercise is medicine. According to NAMI, “[e]xercise has been researched and validated for treating a variety of mental issues and mental health conditions. Additionally, exercise alleviates conditions such as bad moods and stress."
Education/being our own health advocate. The more we know about our bodies and minds, the more proactive we can be. Doctors appreciate patients who express an insatiable hunger for achieving optimal health and using preventative strategies as opposed to being reactive to illness.
If you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness, click here for additional sources of support.
Remember, the only thing worse than having a serious illness that affects your quality of life is the fear of getting treatment for that illness.
Enjoy Your Healthy Life!
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