School days had been fun, playing team games at school and with the neighbours’ children in the sprawling campus all evening and on weekends. This did not deter him from achieving 90% and above in all the subjects in school and in the 10th standard Board Examination. 11th and 12th were in one of those cram schools, with 10-hour teaching schedules, which prepare children for the IIT entrance examination. IIT proved elusive and Krishna joined a reputed private engineering college and stayed in the hostel attached to the institution.
It is not clear whether it was the initial ragging, or the continuous teasing by the seniors in the hostel that made Krishna progressively more anxious and to withdraw socially; or indeed whether these were early manifestations of his mental health condition; whatever it was, seemed to viciously erode his self confidence in stages. He had been at the butt end of jokes even at school, as he was prone to get some facts wrong in areas of common knowledge, which he would blurt out impulsively. The inherent social awkwardness became magnified into loss of self-esteem and social withdrawal in the new environment, away from home and away from his childhood friends. Class grades plummeted by end of 2nd year at Engineering College and he had accumulated arrears in a few subjects. Clearing them seemed insurmountable even as his mental turmoil increased. By the 3rd year, he had to take a break from studies and later returned to the college, commuting from the home of his paternal grandparents (who lived in the same city where he attended college), for a period of six months, after which he opted to brave the hostel milieu, cleared the arrears and completed the course effectively, receiving a choice of campus placement.
Exploring the Condition
Krishna had thus been through a four year period of waxing and waning symptoms of social anxiety, with significantly reduced social interaction from about 17 years of age. He had a once in three month follow up with a psychiatrist over the previous couple of years and was on antidepressant medication, a low maintenance dose of Fluoxetine. On this medication and some counseling, Krishna was managing his daily activities and work performance satisfactorily, till 6 months prior to his consultation with us, when his condition turned for the worse.
In the competitive job scenario, Krishna found the IT project job very stressful as he could not grasp the concept of project ideas conveyed to him over the phone, often within a brief communication and consequently could not reply relevantly to suit the demands of the foreign clients. Being inherently a high achiever and wanting to please, he found this situation beyond his coping ability. An acute phase of illness set in, with marked loss of appetite, insomnia, loss of weight, fatigue, poor self-care, poor concentration, total inability to attend office, social isolation and subsequently led to a state of almost catatonic mutism During this period he had delusions of reference (others are talking and commenting about me) and experienced mental confusion. He appeared to be out of touch with reality and in a state of acute psychosis. Krishna was forced to go on medical leave.
It is at this point that the highly concerned, well educated, discerning parents made inquiries for a place that could offer sustained therapies and close follow up. He was admitted for a few days for comprehensive assessment and investigations and management of the acute psychotic state by the TriMed-Neurokrish team.
The case called for elaborate psychological testing. These assessment scores are touched upon here, without too much explanation, for the lay reader to appreciate the need for a scientific and evidence-based approach to a neuropsychiatric case which depends not only on the clinical acumen of the Neuropsychiatric Consultant as Head of the Group, but that clinical judgement is dependent on inputs from other team members, to estimate the degree of mental disturbance and to guide the course of management.
Our Healing Approach
During assessment at Trimed-Neurokrish, Krishna admitted to have gone through similar, but less alarming phases of physical limitation and mental turmoil which he had not expressed clearly to anybody. Self perception and perception of the environment became progressively maladaptive in a range of social and personal contexts, and the subjective distress kept mounting. He had experienced suicidal ideation 2 years earlier.
He also described vividly ‘catastrophic scenarios that he had witnessed in his mind’ (possibly delusional) for e.g., an unknown person to the patient, whose tongue had been lengthened infinitely to be placed with precision under a running truck and the vivid, gruesome picture of the resultant trauma and bleeding. On further questioning, there is no history of manic or hypomanic phase or of drug abuse; no clear family history of major depression.
On medical leave, out of the stress-inducing situation in his work space and on integrated therapy and medication at Trimed-Neurokrish, Krishna soon came out of his acute psychotic state dramatically and settled to a preparedness to face the real world. In this phase, he was reported to have improved insight and judgment, understood he had a problem which impaired his capacity to cope with workplace stress and to engage in social interaction with his peers. He wanted to overcome this state, and be able to get back to his routine in better shape.
The patient was cooperative for the psychological testing. The 42 responses to the Rorschach test met the criteria for the Coping Deficit Index. Thematic Aperception Testing pointed to the need for achievement, security, nurture, the conflict arising out of lack of ego strength and fear of rejection. The Neuropsychiatric Inventory score was 4-5 on anxiety, delusion, night time behaviour and appetite, and low on the depression scale. A diagnosis of late onset Persistent Depressive Disorder (dysthymic disorder) was arrived at.
Krishna was on regular medication for over 2 months:
- Dicorate ER 750mg ( Divalproex)
- Olanzipine (10mg + 2.5mg) at bedtime and (20 mg + 10mg) in the morning
- Vitamin and Calcium supplements
He responded well to the integrated therapy with a total of 15 sessions of Reflexology, Acupuncture and Yoga and over 10 hours of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and some sessions of parental counselling.
An individualised short course CBT was initiated, setting attainable goals which helps in bringing the them back to their normal level of functioning.
In PERSISTENT DEPRESSIVE DISORDER, the patient suffers a pervasive sad mood for over 4 years with barely any symptom-free period. The symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, educational, employment and other important areas of functioning.
Dysthymics however, may be pushed into major depression and subsequent acute psychosis Often this occurs at times of high stress and is linked to strong emotions and feelings, for example worry, anxiety, fear, depression or feeling overwhelmed by events. Lack of appetite, difficulty sleeping, lack of energy, poor self-esteem, difficulty with concentration or decision making,and a feeling of hopelessness, peaking to result in a phase of acute psychosis. It has been suggested that in dysthymic disorder, to compensate for the lack of social and real life interaction, the patient can create elaborate and complex fantasy inner worlds within their minds. According to DSM V criteria, individuals whose symptoms meet major depressive disorder criteria for 2 years should be given a diagnosis of persistent depressive disorder as well as major depressive disorder.
A person who suffers from dysthymic disorder has generally learned to live with a fair amount of chronic unhappiness in their lives and so the therapist cannot go by the mood on a particular dayl He must first identify the thoughts associated with the patient’s distress. In dysthymia, these thoughts may concern the patient’s self-view, his or her representation of a significant relationship, or a meaningful situation.
Goals will vary according to type of therapy. The emphasis in Cognitive Therapy is to effect changes in one’s faulty or distorted way of thinking and perceiving the world. Interpersonal therapy focuses on an individual’s relationships with others and how to improve and strengthen existing relationships and an attempt to accommodate new ones. Solution-focused therapy looks at specific problems affecting the person’s life in the present and examines how to best go about changing the person’s behavior to solve these difficulties. Social skills training focuses on teaching the client new skills on how to become more effective in social and work relationships.
Dean Schuyler Evidence–based Review Short-term cognitive therapy shows promise for dysthymia Vol. 1, No. 5 / May 2002
Krishna continued to suffer from low self-esteem and a pervasive sad mood, with occasional congruent delusions of reference and delusional exaggerated fantasy, when assessed midway from onset of the integrated therapy. By the end of the intensive integrated therapy sessions at TriMed-Neurokrish, he was much more stable, and was on the bench at his IT job, preparing with a greater level of confidence for active work to be initiated with the clients.