Liz Stafford

Beyond the Stigma

This is a part of a series of blog posts from members of the LifeSpring Brand Ambassadors program. Staff members in this program write about a topic they are passionate about relating to LifeSpring and/or mental health.

 

Depression is a real and serious condition that requires treatment and longtime support. It is often accompanied by a fear of stigma from those who experience it. This article is designed to dispel the myth that a person who experiences depression is “faulty” and “abnormal.”

There are multiple causes, both situational and organic, for depression. In addition, the severity of symptoms differ greatly from person to person.

 

Recognition of the issue is not a cause for shame or embarrassment.

The first step is to recognize and understand the signs and symptoms of depression. Here are just the tip of the iceberg:

            *feelings of hopelessness

            *trouble concentrating

            *thoughts of death or suicide

            *inability to make even simple decisions

            *sleep disturbance (too much or too little)

            *weight fluctuations (gains or losses)

            *fatigue

This, in no way, is a representation of all the noticeable signs of depression. In and of themselves, each one can be manageable. However, in combination, these symptoms may denote a serious condition that does not just need to be “dealt with” but treated.

Seeking treatment from a qualified mental health professional can help someone distinguish between the type and severity of the depression they are experiencing. Treatment options can include individual therapy and/or medication management. Treatment, combined with a system of support, can help someone with depression live a productive and happy life.

 

Susan Bugh, LCSW

Staff Therapist (Washington County Office)

ADHD: A Family Issue

This is a part of a series of blog posts from members of the LifeSpring Brand Ambassadors program. Staff members in this program write about a topic they are passionate about relating to LifeSpring and/or mental health.

ADHD: A Family Issue

We have heard a lot in our society about ADHD, otherwise known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It can present as predominately inattentive type, predominately hyperactive type, or combined. It is characterized by having 6 or more of the symptoms of each type. We have all probably been touched in some way by a child who has been diagnosed with this disorder and know how, if untreated, it can impair an individual’s function. However, it also has a dramatic effect on how the family unit as a whole functions and operates.

Common themes that have emerged from the families I work with, as well as my own personal experience include “Do you know how many times I have to say ‘Floss, brush, and Rinse’ each night?” or “I get the excuse ‘I forgot’ over twenty times this week!” As much as a child with ADHD is disorganized and forgetful, we as parents need to remember and be organized.

The first thing I tell the families I work with is that a new normal must be found. It is proven that structure and consistency are the best factors in improving overall functioning of a child with ADHD. This can be just as hard on parents/families at it can be on the patient. Charts, schedules, post-it notes, and verbal reminders are necessary components of effective treatment. Instead of thinking of these things as coddling or enabling, parents need to understand these are necessary keys to independence and success.

It is important to work with a trusted professional to develop a clear understanding of this issue. Next, finding support from friends or others having the same experience can help to normalize everyday stressors. Finally, remember that ADHD is not something to be “cured” in your child but accepted. When dealt with effectively, these challenges can make a family stronger!

Susan Walker Bugh, LCSW

Therapist, Washington County Office

Mad or Sad?

This is a part of a series of blog posts from members of the newly-created LifeSpring Brand Ambassadors program. Staff members in this program will write about a topic they are passionate about relating to LifeSpring and/or mental health.

 

MAD or SAD?

Understanding Depression in Children

 

Depression is defined as “feelings of severe despondency and dejection.” If you asked the average American, most could identify knowing someone who is depressed or being depressed themselves.   However, many are unaware that symptoms of depression in children can be very different.

 

Children are not “smaller adults” which is a common misconception. Depression often presents in children in the form of anger. Many parents and teacher think “This is one angry kid!” This confusion can often lead to misdiagnoses and children not getting the help they need.

 

Symptoms of depression in children can include the typical depressed mood, isolation, and crying spells.   However, it can also include inattention, difficulty concentrating, sleep disruption, irritability, anger/verbal outbursts, sensitivity, and eating disturbances. Depression is becoming more prevalent in those under the age of 18. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry “2 % of young children and 8% of adolescents suffer from depression.” These children can be classified as moody, irresponsible, and trouble makers and go without the treatment warranted and needed.

 

So remember, sad and mad are not just rhyming words. They could also be the telltale signs of children in need of treatment for depression.

 

Susan Bugh, LCSW

Therapist

Sage Advice for Thanksgiving

 

Like many holidays, Thanksgiving can evoke strong emotions. I know a fellow who told me how much he dreaded Thanksgiving, ever since the year he allowed himself to be baited into a knife fight with his brother-in-law. His story reminded me of a character in the movie “The Ladies Man,” who said that he always carried at least two knives and a gun to Thanksgiving dinner.

 

Comedian Al Franken once said that his family celebrated holidays by sitting in the living room viciously criticizing one another, until someone had a seizure and then they had pie. Thanksgiving is often a time when family members, who manage to successfully avoid each other all year, are suddenly forced to spend an entire afternoon together. It is not coincidental that Hollywood chose Thanksgiving as the backdrop for dysfunctional family movies like “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Avalon,” and “Home for the Holidays.”

 

Although this is a time when we should set aside our petty grievances to give thanks, the nerve-wracking nature of the occasion often puts everyone’s teeth on edge. At one family gathering it was suggested to my overweight brother that perhaps he was eating too much. He responded by throwing a plate of spaghetti against the wall. Perhaps you also remember my story about how my father pitched a roasted turkey out the kitchen door one New Year’s day. Throwing food unfortunately is one Stawar holiday tradition that Martha Stewart never considered, even while in prison.

 

Holiday stress often reaches its peak during dinner conversation, which frequently serves as a trigger event. Seemingly innocent remarks can quickly escalate into open warfare. For mystified outsiders, with no person experience of dysfunction to fall back on, I have decoded several classic dinner table comments below: 

  1. How’s work going?

Translation: If you are working, you deadbeat, when are you going to pay me back the money you owe me?

  1. Who made the lime Jell-O mold?

Translation: What could they have possibly been thinking?

  1. What’s your boy Jimmy up to these days?

Translation: Still on probation?

  1. Cousin Billy, what a surprise to see you here.

Translation: Is your television broken?

  1. And just exactly how much whipped cream do you intend to put on that thing anyway?

Translation: Don’t count on me administering CPR.

  1. How’s your Atkinson’s “diet” coming along?

Translation: Hey, everybody, doesn’t he look just like a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

  1. How does little Johnny like junior high?

Translation: Is the little monster any smarter than that dimwitted husband of yours?

  1. How is your writing “career” coming along?

Translation: Have you got them up to $10 dollars a column yet?

  1. Isn’t this turkey really moist, honey?

Translation: You’ll never be able to cook as good as my mother.

  1. This wine is great, Bill.

Translation: I didn’t know Wal-Mart had a wine cellar.

  1. Did you make this pumpkin pie?

Translation: We can’t expect much in terms of domestic skills from an overeducated egghead like you.

  1. No thanks, I don’t need any help.

Translation: As a daughter-in-law you are not qualified to handle actual food.

  1. It’s amazing how all this stuff just magically appears every year.

Translation: The fact that you are exhausted from cooking since 3:00AM this morning has completely eluded me.

  1. No children yet?

Translation: You may have a big successful career, smarty pants, but you will never be the woman I am.

 

Good luck making it through the minefield that is the dinner conversation, and here are a few final tips to help you survive Thanksgiving:

  1. Remember this is not a marathon family therapy session and not the best time to resolve lifelong resentments.
  2. Keep communications superficial. According to some of Randy Newman’s lyrics “Feelings might go unexpressed. I think that’s probably for the best. Dig too deep who knows what you will find.”
  3. Discourage alcohol consumption since that generally promotes uncensored disclosure, aggression, or flirtatious behavior, none which is particularly constructive at a family gathering.
  4. Unless you have been up all night making stuffing and baking rolls, don’t rhapsodize about how much you just love Thanksgiving. That could engender some resentment on the part of the food preparer. Forty seconds of carving a turkey is not the same as actually fixing the meal.
  5. Keep everyone busy. Watching parades or holiday movies usually puts everyone in a good mood. They limit actual interaction and avoid the latent hostilities that competitive activities bring out. Tryptophan-induced naps can also serve this purpose.
  6. Although it may annoy many women, marathon football watching is usually ok, so long as everyone is rooting for the same team or doesn’t care who wins.
  7. Avoid touch football, Twister or any other activity that might involve physical contact of any sort.
  8. And keep in mind the cardinal rule, no weapons allowed.

 

Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D.

LifeSpring Health Systems President/CEO

Thanksgiving Through a Psychologist’s Eyes

              Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I am looking over my favorite Thanksgiving reading. It’s something called, We Gather Together: Consumption Rituals of Thanksgiving Day by Melanie Wallendorf and Eric J. Arnould. Wallendorf is from the Marketing Department at the University of Arizona while Dr. Arno is in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Colorado. They wrote this piece for the Journal of Consumer Research.

              This article is sort of what might be produced if anthropologists from Mars came to earth to observe how we celebrate Thanksgiving. It reminds me of the Conehead movie in which Dan Aykroyd (playing the role of Beldar, a stranded space traveler from the planet Remulak) says to Chris Farley (dressed in a tux) when he comes to pick up Beldar’s daughter for the prom, “You looked especially handsome in ‘your pubescent ceremonial garb’.”

              I love how Wallendorf and Arnould sentimentally declare, “Thanksgiving Day is a collective ritual that celebrates material abundance enacted through feasting. Prototypical consumption of the meal occurs within nuclear and extended family units and private households.”

              According to Wallendorf and Arnould Thanksgiving Day has a number of close symbolic links to infancy. Historically Thanksgiving is closely associated with the beginning or infancy of America. They say: “Thanksgiving allows each participant to return to the contentment and security of an infant wearing comfortable clothing who falls asleep after being well fed. Sitting in relative silence, each participant is fed plain soft food by a nurturing woman and then is taken outside for a walk.” Wallendorf and Arnould, claim that in the traditional American Calendar of Rituals, Thanksgiving is the equivalent of Sigmund Freud’s oral-incorporative stage of development. As such it comes before the anal-retentive conflict of Christmas and the genital-sexually charged New Year’s Extravaganza—your classic oral-anal-phallic sequence.

              This connection with infancy can even be seen in the way people dress. Generally folks wear soft and forgiving fabrics such as jeans and sweaters, fleece sweat suits, and sneakers to Thanksgiving dinner. Elasticized waistbands and other comfortable clothing features are very common. Wallendorf and Arnould say our typical Thanksgiving wardrobes “recall the contemporary one-piece, all-purpose infant garment, sometimes known as ‘Dr. Dentons’. This is clothing that can move from meal time to play time to naptime without a change.”

              Besides the centerpiece turkey, soft pliant foods are customarily served at Thanksgiving time such as mashed potatoes, stuffing, yams, jello molds, cranberry sauce, etc. In addition many people end up smooshing their food altogether on their plates at this meal, just as infants are prone to do. While this may symbolize family togetherness, it also transforms food into a pabulum-like consistency usually associated with infantile consumption.

              I’m not sure I really believe all this psychoanalytic stuff, but it can give you something to think about as you lie swaddle in your sweat suit, on the couch, in a tryptophan-induced coma, snoozing as the Lions get their traditional Thanksgiving drubbing. In any case have yourself a happy, although possibly regressive, Thanksgiving.

 

Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D.

President/CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems

Depression in Males

This is a part of a series of blog posts from members of the newly-created LifeSpring Brand Ambassadors program. Staff members in this program will write about a topic they are passionate about relating to LifeSpring and/or mental health.

 

“You know what the worst part of all of this is? I can’t remember the last time I was happy. Like, I can tell when I’m supposed to feel that way—but I don’t. I just can’t bring myself to care and I hate myself for it.”

            I work at the Integrated Treatment Center and mostly work with individuals that have substance abuse problems. Many of my clients have been in and out of jail, have long criminal records, and are on probation or are involved with the Department of Child Services. Yet when we look beyond their battles with heroin, alcohol, or methamphetamine, I have found that many of my male clients are fighting another battle entirely. With the few words summarized above, Adam*, one client that I had been seeing for months, summed up what seems to underlie problems that bring many men to my office in the first place—depression.

            Depression is one of the biggest health problems nationwide. According to the National Institutes of Health, 6.9 percent of adults in the United States, approximately 16 million people, reported depression in 2012. Antidepressants are some of the most prescribed medicines in the country. Women are treated for depression at higher rates than men are, yet conversely the suicide rate has been 4 times higher among men than among women for many years. One of the best ways that I’ve found to explain that difference is in the distinct ways that men and women experience depression and emotional pain.

            In I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, author and therapist Terrence Real writes, “Depressed women tend to have pain; depressed men have trouble … We tend to not recognize depression in men because the disorder itself is seen as unmanly. Depression carries, to many, a double stain—the stigma of mental illness and also the stigma of ‘feminine’ emotionality.” Real believes that undiagnosed depression can find its way out through an “unholy triad” of damaging acts, including self-medicating, isolation, and abuse and violence. He writes, “It is clear that the stable ratio of women in therapy and men in prison has something to teach us about the ways in which each sex is taught by our culture to handle pain.” Call it what you may—major depression, dysthymia, Persistent Depressive Disorder, covert depression—a correct diagnosis for depression can be key when a man first arrives for mental health treatment.

            Nevertheless, it is important not to misdiagnose a client with depression, especially when there are other concerns at play. Substance abuse should be treated as a primary issue, as should any other mental health or behavioral concern. Notably, depression, in all of its forms, is never an excuse for hurting or abusing others. Yet it is just as important, in the ruckus of modern mental health care, to identify when a man is exhibiting symptoms of depression in ways that may seem culturally appropriate to him: anger, irritability, insomnia, restlessness, workaholism, changes in appetite, and, all too often, drug and alcohol abuse.

            A combination of therapy and medication can help 80 to 90 percent of depressed clients find relief—if they ask for it. It should be a duty of all of us to reduce the stigma and prejudice that all too often accompanies mental health treatment.

 

Brett Hammond, LSW, MSSW, CCTP

Therapist

 

*Name has been changed

We All Have A Story – Giving A Voice To Someone With An Illness

This is the first in a series of blog posts from members of the newly-created LifeSpring Brand Ambassadors program. Staff members in this program will write about a topic they are passionate about relating to LifeSpring and/or mental health.

 

We All Have A Story – Giving A Voice To Someone With An Illness

 

I feel much honored to work with and assist clients that struggle with different aspects of life, mostly pertaining to some form of mental illness. This is my story as to what inspired and led to a groundbreaking project we have recently completed.

In my professional career, I have been fortunate enough to assist others in some form or another. Before that, I can remember being in high school, offering to give a great friend of mine with disabilities rides to and from sporting events so he could be the “team manager”. We developed a bond built on friendship and respect, and it came full circle when “Larry” expressed to me his desire to become Prom King our senior year. Since I was a class officer, I knew he would never become eligible for King since he didn’t attend certain events, etc., required to earn the crown. Rules are rules, and while I did completely understand why they were put into place, it really spoke volumes to a somewhat hidden message in our society – some folks will never have the same opportunities that others will.

The night of prom came along and before I knew it, I was crowned Prom King. I held the title for about 47secs…..enough for me to get up out of my seat, make my way to the front, have the crown placed on my head, and for me to grab the mic to announce I was handing over the crown to “Larry”. No one knew of my intentions ahead of time – I probably didn’t even know them until the moment arrived to be honest. I was thrilled personally for my achievements, but once that crown was place upon “Larry’s” head, I knew the real King had arrived. The student body cheered, “Larry” blushed, and he felt like a million bucks. He had his picture taken for the newspaper, he had a dance with the beautiful Queen, and afterwards, he came up to me with his broken sentences and offered me the crown back….he just wanted the title. Truthfully, he probably just wanted the chance to become King. That night he made it and the crown is stored away to this day with other high school keepsakes in my closet.

Fast forward to November of 2013. I began a new group at LifeSpring titled “The Storytellers”. I think my creative flare was itching to do something groundbreaking that pushed the envelope in our field of work. Up until this point, I had already produced over 150 student lead videos for my local school system. I had the knowledge and the talent to make it happen, but really never thought it was possible due to the strict client confidentiality rules that need to exist. I guess my stubborn self just kept pushing until it happened.

The Storytellers group is made up of roughly 6-8 clients who meet religiously twice weekly to use the art of self-expression to share their story in some form or another. The Storytellers have been very successful – we have published our own “in-house” Christmas book, created motivational posters for our building, designed and created over 90 bookmarks for a Louisville area elementary school, and recently, completed our first video project, “We All Have A Story…”.

While all of these projects sound fun, I was able to sneak in the development of social skills much needed for the clients of LifeSpring, into the mix – developing friendships, positive communication, coping skills, relaxation techniques, completion of tasks, etc. In turn, my clients have become more confident in themselves and their own abilities.

The motivation to start this group came from statements made by two of the founding and still attending members. Simply put, one states he “wished he had a chance to write and draw, but no one would ever give him the time of day” while the other client stated he was told in school that “there are two types of learners in the world, slow and fast. I was told I am a slow learner and could never do it”.

The Storytellers has given these clients an outlet to express their own voices.   We have created a Facebook page in which a client selects a ‘Daily Thought’ every morning I see him. We have developed our clients into leaders of our building and in our community. We are teaching social development skills needed to be successful in life. We are networking with others and slipping out of the places we hide because we were forced into these hidden corners of the world. We are working to provide a voice for individuals with mental illness and/or personal struggles.

The “We All Have A Story…” video project has provided the clients with a voice to educate the world about the struggles anyone in this great land may relate with. The feedback has been tremendous and each time one of the stories are viewed, another part of that given clients dream comes true. We, as a group, soak up the attention this project has given us while we begin our next project to be released in the coming months. It builds the confidence and the mission of the group. Each internet click is a “virtual crown” earned in our minds…

I want to publicly thank my bosses, Ellen Kelley and Dennis Crandell, for allowing me to use my creative juices to make this possible for our clients. I also want to give a shout out to my former co-leaders Robin Jordan, who is now in with our CFS department, and Danica Lott, who is working to continue her own educational goals, for all the help along the way. I am excited to now have one of our own LS Therapist, Kim Parish, join our weekly meetings to offer a more therapeutic understanding behind the mission of the projects. And of course none of this would ever matter if you the reader, and viewer, didn’t take the time to view our 8 part series titled “We All Have A Story…”.

Stay tuned, we are just getting started, and be sure to check out our presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgz13_3hYvI&feature=youtu.be

 

Enjoy!

Steve Mahoney & ABS The Storytellers Group

The War of the Sleeping Sexes

By Terry L. Stawar

  

In his book Everything and a Kite, comedian  Ray Romano relates  that sometimes in the morning,  his wife yells at him for his behavior in one of her dreams.  He says, “That’s when you know you’re a true married couple: when you have to apologize for what you did in her dream.”  I was surprised to read this, I had thought that perhaps I was the only one who had to account for his bad behavior in other people’s dreams.

You see, Bad-Terry, as I call him, is really bad news. This highly  inconsiderate lout, is like having an evil twin who keeps popping up, getting you into big trouble.  He is my nocturnal Mr. Hyde who goes out, commits horrendous acts and leaves poor innocent Dr. Jekyll  holding the bag in the morning.

I have protested that I shouldn’t  have to be accountable for my behavior in someone else’s  dreams. After all I didn’t write the script. If I misbehaved in my own dreams, well,  that might be different. Of course,  no one would know about that, unless I was careless or foolish enough to tell them. I think I have a hard enough time being responsible for my own conscious behavior, let alone someone else’s unconscious thoughts.

The average person spends about six years of their life dreaming. This works out to be about two hours a night, so my chances of getting in trouble, if dream time is included,  increases by a minimum of 8%.  As always,  Diane has an airtight counter argument. She says that dreams reflect the current emotional state of the dreamer and that if  I hadn’t actually done  something to  evoke such feelings,  then she never would have had the dream in the first place. This of course is one of the reasons one should never get involved with women who have an advanced degree in psychology. It is also probably why Ray Romano says that in the war of the sexes, women have nuclear armaments, while men have a sharp stick as their secret weapon.      

Unfortunately all the current scientific research seems to support  Diane’s case. Modern theories  suggest that dreams  express unconscious conflicts and wishes,  help us cope with uncomfortable emotions,  and perhaps consolidate  memories.   The millions of connections between nerves cells, which are the physical basis for our minds,  are constantly changing in our brains.  Dreaming is when these connections are  most loosely made,  which make dreams appear nonsensical to our conscious minds.

Studies have shown that people who experience trauma have dreams that reflect the same strong emotions. Imagery in their dreams is more frequent, vivid, and intense. When people’s emotions are mixed up, their dreams tend to be more complicated.  So a major function of dreams may be to help us incorporate experiences into our memory, without experiencing  intense emotional discomfort.

Dreams seem to be necessary for good mental health, even if  the mechanism by which they are produced is not completely  understood. It is known that if people are deprived of dreams, their thinking deteriorates and they become irritable and irrational. Sophisticated new brain imaging techniques hold the promise of cracking the riddle of dreams in the near future.  

I wonder if men ever have dreams about their wives misbehaving.  Somehow I doubt  it.  This is  probably due to a gender differences in dreams, although Diane  might argue that it only proves that women are better.  Unfortunately after being a psychotherapist for many years,  I would have to agree that,  with all due respect to my gender, when compared with most women, most men are pretty loathsome—  sorry guys but it is best to just own up to this and move on.

Richard Wilkerson,  director of DreamGate, the Internet  Dream Education Center, says gender differences in dreams begin at an early age. Girl’s dreams contain more females and  familiar people. They are often concerned with personal appearance and have more references to food in them.  Ironically one of the authorities on food references in dreams is a fellow named Walter Hamburger.

As you might expect girls’ dreams are also more colorful and emotional.  In adulthood they emphasize the indoors, family, and home, and frequently include bodies of water, such as pools, lakes, and ponds.

Men’s dreams  have more men in them,  and often contain  themes of conflict and competition. Outdoor settings are typical along with references to weapons, tools, and autos.  Men also report more sexual dreams,  which should come as a big surprise.

Women’s dreams are definitely friendlier. About 25% of men’s dreams  involve  aggression,  while this is true for only about 4% of  women’s dreams,  where any aggression is much more likely to be verbal than physical.

I have thought about telling Diane that Dream-Diane  had been mean to me in one of my dreams, but it’s never happened and even if it did,  I am convinced that Miss Perfect would  just laugh at me  in disbelief. 

Historically people have long sought to divine the  meaning of their dreams.  Are they just meaningless by-products of   neurotransmitters fizzling out in our brains? Or are they filled with unconscious meanings that beg for our attention.      

In a Redbook Magazine article a few years ago, writer  Priscilla Grant, who might want to start minding her own business,  says that  “a recurrent negative dream about your husband could be  a “red-flag” that shouldn’t be ignored. She also says that  dreams can bring couples closer together and improve relationships. So maybe it is important to not be so defensive or quick to deny the constructive feedback that dreams can provide.  That Ray Romano certainly has a lot to learn about women.

 

Originally published in The New Albany Tribune

What Does Your Desktop Say?

I’m always changing the desktop wallpaper on our computer at home. I just got rid of the Valentine Day’s hearts for February and replaced them with a couple of Irish Dancers for March and St. Patrick’s Day. The boy dancer looks a bit goofy, so I will probably change it again— I’m thinking a leprechaun or shamrock. Over the holidays I had a slide show of Thanksgiving and then Christmas pictures set up in the screen saver , which irritated my wife Diane. When the grandchildren come to visit, I usually put up something like images of SpongeBob Squarepants or Disney princesses.

On my work computer I have our company logo on the home screen. My daughter and her husband have a slide show of pictures of their children constantly playing on the computer in their kitchen. For a lot of people these screens have become our personal art galleries.  A few years ago a British study of the psychological meaning of computer desktops was commissioned by Microsoft. Psychologist Donna Dawson reviewed a sample of office workers’ desktops seeking factors which reflect personality traits. She said “….desktops are our personal space and as such provide a fairly accurate personality description of an individual.”

According to eMarketer, the average American spends over 5 hours a day looking at screens. BioniX a company that makes software that helps people customized their computers, quotes a customer who says, ““One of the things I love about getting a new phone or computer is not just the things I can do with it, but the fact that I can personalize it and make it my own. I like my technology to reflect who I am, what I’m into, my opinions and beliefs.” The website also says that such customization helps people “feel at home” with their device and implies that no one would ever “dream of using the factory settings” for their desktops.

BioniX also says that getting a new device is much like buying a new home. The first thing you want to do is to redecorate it and make it your own. Since we spend so much time with our screens they say, “the choice of the image that greets us every time we fire up our laptop is an important one”. Brian McGannon, a columnist from postgradproblems.com says, “Maybe you’re a minimalist who likes to keep it simple, or maybe you’re the flashy type who has a beautiful cityscape with lightning flashing in the background. Either way, that desktop background can provide a deep look into your personality.”

Many people consciously choose images that are a source of inspiration. These pictures may be spiritual or religious in nature. Personal beliefs may also be expressed through political and historical images or quotations. Calming images that evoke relaxation or pleasant reveries are often seen on work desktops used to reduce the ill effects of on-the-job stressors.  Desktop visuals may also serve as reminders for goals we want to achieved or resolutions we wish to keep. Additionally the number and organization of icons on your desktop also may have psychological significance.  Along with Dawson and McGannon, writers Jeff Wysaski from pleated-jeans.com and Sophie Daste from Sparklife have offered their take on the different kinds of desktops people use. These along with some interpretations stemming from the content analysis of common symbols are presented for several desktop themes below.

1. Windows/MAC Default: Use of factory loaded defaults is generally associated with older users who may not be very tech savvy regarding how to personalizes the device. They also imply a lack of artistic temperament, being overly simplistic and old fashioned. It may also point to depression and a lack of energy or perhaps contempt for modern technology. You also may just be “stuck using your dad’s old laptop.” On a MAC it suggests someone who is easily pleased, unimaginative, and perhaps uses the use computer sparingly and only bought a MAC because of its association with youth.
2. Plain Blue Wallpaper: This simple, but often used, wallpaper suggests that the user possesses the technical skills to personalized the computer. This ability, however, is overpowered by a defensive and guarded unwillingness to disclose very much. Overall it suggests someone who likes to keep their personal life private.
3. Cute Animals: In all likelihood this user is an animal lover, compassionate, optimistic, imaginative, charitable and very possibly a little girl. These images suggest some degree of distancing of the self from others. Cartoon animals represent one step further away from reality.
4. Sports Photos or Logos: This wallpaper is associated with personality characteristics such as team/city/college loyalty, adventurousness, hero worshipping, and possibly beer drinking. It also suggests aggressiveness, competitiveness, extroversion, and a high energy level. Unless of course unless it’s the Green Bay Packers, then it’s okay.
5. Nature: These images are often used by people value travel and tend to be dreamers. They are commonly associated with people who lack windows in their workspace and need a vacation.
6. TV/Movie Characters or Scenes: People who use these backgrounds tend to be homebodies and loyal Netflix users. They may be imaginative and have an active fantasy life. This type of screen may overlap with the Celebrity Crush desktop, which is generally harmless unless you are over 15 years of age, when stalking becomes a viable possibility.
7. Personal Photos: These users tend to be family-orientated, as they are often they are people with children.. They may also reflect travel or hobbies. Subcategories include photos of: (A) You and your significant other, which reveals romantic tendencies, but also exhibitionism, since it invites personal conversations; (B) you accepting an award . Such self-portraits strongly indicate narcissism — folks with big egos who revel in past triumphs. This category reminds me of a guy that Diane once worked for, who didn’t have any pictures of his family around his office, but instead had many pictures of himself; and (C) college days: these indicate a desire to return to the good old days where there was less pressure and responsibility. Unless you just got out of college last week, authorities agree that it might be time to move on.
8. Inspirational Quotes: These are used by people who are overly conventional, easily influenced, and generally happy with their lives, although they may feel pangs of ambition at times.
9. Cluttered Icons on Desktop : When a desktop has icons strewn across the screen it suggests the owner is disorganized and tends to easily lose focus. Research reveals such people are e likely to be male, liberal, have higher education, be career-oriented, and are math whizs.
10. Highly Organized Icons: People with very tidy desktops are likely to be younger, non-urban, tech savvy, and place personal life ahead of work. When the icons are arranged symmetrically its suggests obsessive-compulsive features. If can also indicate they value balance and that they have the ability to keep a cool head, even in thorny situations.
11. Several Rows of Desktop Icons: This type of a desktop arrangement reflects a strong need to feel in control and prepared for every contingency. At the same time it indicates underlying anxiety, insecurity, and internal disorganization.
12. Seasons of the Year: Seasonal images are most often used by elementary school teachers who are constantly decorating bulletin boards and, of course, talented writers.

Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D.

Originally published in the Southern Indiana News Tribune