Simms’ Health Information Library

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Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are a group of mental illnesses. They involve long-term patterns of thoughts and behaviors that are unhealthy and inflexible. The behaviors cause serious problems with relationships and work. People with personality disorders have trouble dealing with everyday stresses and problems. They often have stormy relationships with other people.

The cause of personality disorders is unknown. However, genes and childhood experiences may play a role.

The symptoms of each personality disorder are different. They can mild or severe. People with personality disorders may have trouble realizing that they have a problem. To them, their thoughts are normal, and they often blame others for their problems. They may try to get help because of their problems with relationships and work. Treatment usually includes talk therapy and sometimes medicine.

Mental Disorders

What are mental disorders?

Mental disorders (or mental illnesses) are conditions that affect your thinking, feeling, mood, and behavior. They may be occasional or long-lasting (chronic). They can affect your ability to relate to others and function each day.

What are some types of mental disorders?

There are many different types of mental disorders. Some common ones include

  • Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias
  • Depression, bipolar disorder, and other mood disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia
What causes mental disorders?

There is no single cause for mental illness. A number of factors can contribute to risk for mental illness, such as

  • Your genes and family history
  • Your life experiences, such as stress or a history of abuse, especially if they happen in childhood
  • Biological factors such as chemical imbalances in the brain
  • A traumatic brain injury
  • A mother's exposure to viruses or toxic chemicals while pregnant
  • Use of alcohol or recreational drugs
  • Having a serious medical condition like cancer
  • Having few friends, and feeling lonely or isolated

Mental disorders are not caused by character flaws. They have nothing to do with being lazy or weak.

Who is at risk for mental disorders?

Mental disorders are common. More than half of all Americans will be diagnosed with a mental disorder at some time in their life.

How are mental disorders diagnosed?

The steps to getting a diagnosis include

  • A medical history
  • A physical exam and possibly lab tests, if your provider thinks that other medical conditions could be causing your symptoms
  • A psychological evaluation. You will answer questions about your thinking, feelings, and behaviors.
What are the treatments for mental disorders?

Treatment depends on which mental disorder you have and how serious it is. You and your provider will work on a treatment plan just for you. It usually involves some type of therapy. You may also take medicines. Some people also need social support and education on managing their condition.

In some cases, you may need more intensive treatment. You may need to go to a psychiatric hospital. This could be because your mental illness is severe. Or it could be because you are at risk of hurting yourself or someone else. In the hospital, you will get counseling, group discussions, and activities with mental health professionals and other patients.

Self-Harm

What is self-harm?

Self-harm, or self-injury, is when a person hurts his or her own body on purpose. The injuries may be minor, but sometimes they can be severe. They may leave permanent scars or cause serious health problems. Some examples are

  • Cutting yourself (such as using a razor blade, knife, or other sharp object to cut your skin)
  • Punching yourself or punching things (like a wall)
  • Burning yourself with cigarettes, matches, or candles
  • Pulling out your hair
  • Poking objects through body openings
  • Breaking your bones or bruising yourself

Self-harm is not a mental disorder. It is a behavior - an unhealthy way to cope with strong feelings. However, some of the people who harm themselves do have a mental disorder.

People who harm themselves are usually not trying to kill themselves. But they are at higher risk of attempting suicide if they do not get help.

Why do people harm themselves?

There are different reasons why people harm themselves. Often, they have trouble coping and dealing with their feelings. They harm themselves to try to

  • Make themselves feel something, when they feel empty or numb inside
  • Block upsetting memories
  • Show that they need help
  • Release strong feelings that overwhelm them, such as anger, loneliness, or hopelessness
  • Punish themselves
  • Feel a sense of control
Who is at risk for self-harm?

There are people of all ages who harm themselves, but it usually starts in the teen or early adult years. Self-harm is more common in people who

  • Were abused or went through a trauma as children
  • Have mental disorders, such as
    • Depression
    • Eating disorders
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder
    • Certain personality disorders
  • Misuse drugs or alcohol
  • Have friends who self-harm
  • Have low self-esteem
What are the signs of self-harm?

Signs that someone may be hurting themselves include

  • Having frequent cuts, bruises, or scars
  • Wearing long sleeves or pants even in hot weather
  • Making excuses about injuries
  • Having sharp objects around for no clear reason
How can I help someone who self-harms?

If someone you know is self-harming, it is important not to be judgmental. Let that person know that you want to help. If the person is a child or teenager, ask him or her to talk to a trusted adult. If he or she won't do that, talk to a trusted adult yourself. If the person who is self-harming is an adult, suggest mental health counseling.

What the treatments are for self-harm?

There are no medicines to treat self-harming behaviors. But there are medicines to treat any mental disorders that the person may have, such as anxiety and depression. Treating the mental disorder may weaken the urge to self-harm.

Mental health counseling or therapy can also help by teaching the person

  • Problem-solving skills
  • New ways to cope with strong emotions
  • Better relationship skills
  • Ways to strengthen self-esteem

If the problem is severe, the person may need more intensive treatment in a psychiatric hospital or a mental health day program.

Porphyria

Porphyrias are a group of genetic disorders caused by problems with how your body makes a substance called heme. Heme is found throughout the body, especially in your blood and bone marrow, where it carries oxygen.

There are two main types of porphyrias. One affects the skin and the other affects the nervous system. People with the skin type develop blisters, itching, and swelling of their skin when it is exposed to sunlight. The nervous system type is called acute porphyria. Symptoms include pain in the chest, abdomen, limbs, or back; muscle numbness, tingling, paralysis, or cramping; vomiting; constipation; and personality changes or mental disorders. These symptoms come and go.

Certain triggers can cause an attack, including some medicines, smoking, drinking alcohol, infections, stress, and sun exposure. Attacks develop over hours or days. They can last for days or weeks.

Porphyria can be hard to diagnose. It requires blood, urine, and stool tests. Each type of porphyria is treated differently. Treatment may involve avoiding triggers, receiving heme through a vein, taking medicines to relieve symptoms, or having blood drawn to reduce iron in the body. People who have severe attacks may need to be hospitalized.

NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Alzheimer's Caregivers

A caregiver gives care to someone who needs help taking care of themselves. It can be rewarding. It may help to strengthen connections to a loved one. You may feel fulfillment from helping someone else. But sometimes caregiving can be stressful and even overwhelming. This can be especially true when caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease (AD).

AD is an illness that changes the brain. It causes people to lose the ability to remember, think, and use good judgment. They also have trouble taking care of themselves. Over time, as the disease gets worse, they will need more and more help. As a caregiver, it is important for you to learn about AD. You will want to know what happens to the person during the different stages of the disease. This can help you plan for the future, so that you will have all of the resources you will need to be able to take care of your loved one.

As a caregiver for someone with AD, your responsibilities can include

  • Getting your loved one's health, legal, and financial affairs in order. If possible, include them in the planning while they can still make decisions. Later you will need to take over managing their finances and paying their bills.
  • Evaluating their house and making sure it's safe for their needs
  • Monitoring their ability to drive. You may want to hire a driving specialist who can test their driving skills. When it is no longer safe for your loved one to drive, you need to make sure that they stop.
  • Encouraging your loved one to get some physical activity. Exercising together may make it more fun for them.
  • Making sure that your loved one has a healthy diet
  • Helping with daily tasks like bathing, eating, or taking medicine
  • Doing housework and cooking
  • Running errands such as shopping for food and clothes
  • Driving them to appointments
  • Providing company and emotional support
  • Arranging medical care and making health decisions

As you care for your loved one with AD, don't ignore your own needs. Caregiving can be stressful, and you need to take care of your own physical and mental health.

At some point, you will not be able to do everything on your own. Make sure that you get help when you need it. There are many different services available, including

  • Home care services
  • Adult day care services
  • Respite services, which provide short-term care for the person with AD
  • Federal and state government programs that can provide financial support and services
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Nursing homes, some of which have special memory care units for people with AD
  • Palliative and hospice care

You might consider hiring a geriatric care manager. They are specially trained professionals who can help you to find the right services for your needs.

NIH: National Institute on Aging

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