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Professional News
Several Factors Critical In Ability to Handle Crises
Psychiatric News
Volume 41 Number 5 page 12-12

FIG1 Twenty-six years ago, a New Jersey couple announced to their mothers that they were moving to New Zealand. The husband's mother was devastated by the news and died a few months later. The wife's mother, however, said, "Oh, that's interesting. I look forward to visiting you there!" And that is precisely what she has done. Her most recent visit was at age 80.

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Steven Southwick, M.D.: "Psychiatrists are good at assessing psychopathology, but not very good at assessing people's strengths." 

Joan Arehart-Treichel

Could this true story illustrate how some people, when faced with a traumatic situation, buckle under, whereas others not only survive but thrive? Possibly, because finding "opportunity in difficult situations" is a major characteristic of resilient people, a resilience researcher reported at a recent meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association in New York City.

Yet looking for a "silver lining" in storm clouds is not the only attribute or behavior of resilient people, the researcher—Steven Southwick, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Yale University—emphasized. There are a number of others as well. Notably:

In addition to the qualities, behaviors, and skills that can help people successfully cope with crises, some medications may help as well, Southwick pointed out.

For instance, animals placed on SSRI antidepressants were found to handle stress better than animals not placed on them. One of the reasons may be that the SSRIs, like physical exercise, promote nerve growth in the hippocampus.

The most abundant neuropeptide in the brain—neuropeptide-Y—is known to have a calming effect. Further, soldiers who are more resilient make a lot of it, whereas individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder make very little, Southwick and his colleagues have learned. So they are planning to conduct a study to see if a nasal-spray form of neuropeptide-Y might increase people's ability to cope with stress. ▪

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

Steven Southwick, M.D.: "Psychiatrists are good at assessing psychopathology, but not very good at assessing people's strengths." 

Joan Arehart-Treichel

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