While mental health and physical health are interlinked, some people do not link the effects the mind may have on the body or visa-versa. Up until recently, mental health professionals and physicians did not collaborate when managing their patient’s care; the fields were considered separate.
This article will discuss the links between pain, depression, anxiety, and sensory defensiveness, which are some of the most common presenting symptoms that physicians and mental health professionals see. New research has linked mood disorders with on name — transdiagnostic mood disorders. This new understanding has provided clinicians with a new way of viewing presenting problems and providing treatment. Before reading the article, I encourage you to think about how you perceive these conditions to be related. Understanding how these are related will help us determine how a weighted blanket for depression can be prescribed in treatment settings.
Sensory Defensiveness Definition: Let us first define sensory defensiveness to gain a firm understanding of what will be discussed today. Most people associate sensory defensiveness with autism, but other people without autism can experience it too. Sensory defensiveness is defined by the person’s irrational reaction to stimuli that most people would not perceive as negative or harmful.
For example, some people with sensory defensiveness are unable to withstand shopping at a grocery store due to the excessive noise. In times of stress, and when our fight or flight response is triggered, the sympathetic nervous system heightens and causes our body to respond to the perceived stress. However, prolonged existence within a sympathetic state can be detrimental to one’s health.
Now that we have a basic understanding of sensory defensiveness, you may be curious as to how it relates to depression, anxiety, and pain. Around 90% of people who have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, also meet the criteria for depression. States of anxiety and/or depression are similar to sensory defensiveness, in that the sympathetic nervous system heightens.
Likewise, sympathetic nervous system activity also increases with pain. Furthermore, physical symptoms (such as pain) are often reported by people with depression and/or anxiety. Thus, physical processes that mediate depression, anxiety, and pain, as well as sensory defensiveness are all interwoven and overlap.
Weighted blankets for sensory disorders and symptoms of anxiety have proven to be effective. Identifying the links between conditions can help researchers expand on weighted blanket use in other connected symptoms, such as weighted blankets for pain, and a weighted blanket for depression.
Procedure for Identifying Links Between Disorders
Kinnealey & Fuiek (1999) recruited two groups of participants for their study. Group 1 and Group 2 participants were matched with each other based on age, race, and gender, although one participant refused to give her age and thus was matched with someone who appeared to resemble her age.
Group 1: A normative sample of adults who did not have any existing mental health diagnoses or past history of physical/ sexual abuse were recruited. Each participant was given the Forty-Eight-Item Counseling Evaluation to determine if any unidentified mental disorders were present, which if present, would exclude them from the study.
Everyone who took the survey was able to continue on with the study, as there was no identified mental disorder present. All participants then took the ADULT-SI assessment, which was used to determine the level of sensory defensiveness present in each participant. From the ADULT-SI, 16 participants were chosen to participate after not meeting the threshold for sensory defensiveness.
Group 2: Occupational therapists provided recommendations for adults who they believed would meet the criteria for sensory defensiveness, which made-up the sample for group 2. Group 2 participants also could not have a history of sexual/physical abuse or an existing mental health diagnoses. They, too, were given the Forty-Eight-Item Counseling Evaluation and the ADULT-SI to ensure qualifications and criteria were met.
- Forty-Eight-Item Counseling Evaluation: Used to identify psychopathology while screening potential participants.
- ADULT-SI: Used for the first time in this study to determine sensory defensiveness levels.
- The Institute for personality and ability testing (IPAT) Anxiety Scale: A 40-question assessment used to detect the presence of anxiety symptoms.
- The IPAT Depression Scale: A 40-question assessment used to detect the presence of depression symptoms.
- The Pain apperception Test: Used to measure the emotional/ subjective aspect of pain.
The sensory defensive participants (Group 2) had significantly higher anxiety levels compared to the non-sensory defensive group (Group 1).
This confirms what we discussed earlier, that the two are related. Remember that for both anxiety and sensory defensiveness, there is an increase in sympathetic nervous system activity.
These results make sense because people who are in situations that spark sensory defensiveness, experience anxiety surrounding the situation. However, there are different types of anxiety such as social phobia, panic disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder for example; the connection between anxiety and sensory defensiveness is pertinent but vague.
Mean IPAT Anxiety Scores
The sensory defensive participants (Group 2) had significantly higher depression levels compared to the non-sensory defensive group (Group 1).
These data confirm the link between anxiety and depression. Also, logically this makes sense because those who are anxious often isolate, and avoid. We are social beings that require some form of human interaction frequently. I hypothesize that depression symptoms are caused by isolating tendencies. Typical therapeutic treatment for depression addresses anxiety, as the two go hand in hand.
Mean IPAT Depression Scores
There was not a significant difference in pain perception between the sensory defensive group (Group 2) and the Non-Sensory Defensive group (Group 1).
I hypothesize that this result would have been different had the researchers included people who were diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety. Because psychopathologies were excluded, it’s difficult to completely negate the potential link between pain and sensory defensiveness/ anxiety/ depression. Although not significant, the non-sensory defensive group did have higher pain scores, thus leading to my hypothesis.
Can A Weighted Blanket for Depression by Effective?
The relationship between different presenting mental health concerns is apparent, but more work is needed to fully understand these relationships, which will, in turn, improve treatments. In addiction treatment, there is anecdotal evidence that demonstrates a link between insomnia, chronic pain, and depression, but this study’s data shows a lack of relationship between depression/anxiety/ sensory defensiveness and pain.
The underlying condition, which is causing the symptoms, could impact how the symptom interact with other presenting concerns. For example, people with PTSD can experience sensory defensiveness that can be treated through intensive therapy, whereas people with a neurological disorder (such as autism) may never adequately cope with sensory defensiveness.
The information provided by this article does still give us insight into how weighted blankets can help other presenting concerns. We know that weighted blankets have had some benefit in those with a sensory disorder, which is parallel to sensory defensiveness. We also know that weighted blankets have been shown to improve symptoms of anxiety by increasing parasympathetic activity. Through this reasoning, the anecdotal evidence hints towards the effectiveness of a weighted blanket for depression.
Unfortunately, this study does not show a strong relationship between pain and the other ailments, so we cannot say for sure if weighted blankets can impact the perception of pain or not.
Certain types of pain are treated through various touch/stimulation therapies such as special brushes or warmed sand rotating around the area. Although the present study’s data do not show a significant link between pain and sensory defensiveness/ anxiety/ depression, there is still some support that may be studied more in the future. Again, this is anecdotal and not backed up in any way, shape, or form, but the information does provide interesting food for thought.
I attempted to find the IPAT assessments and the Forty-Eight- Item Counseling Evaluation to compare the two. It was interesting that the authors chose to exclude those with a known mental health disorder, and screened potential participants out if they met the criteria for mental illness, even though they were studying the relationship between mood disorders and sensory defensiveness. I wonder how accurate these results are due to the exclusionary criteria. How would the results differ had they included those with known anxiety/depression diagnoses?
This was a well-designed study, in that the two groups were matched for age, gender, and race, and potential confounding variables were eliminated by screening for unidentified psychological problems. Therefore, the observed results that sensory-defensive individuals have relatively more anxiety and depression than non-defensive individuals, are likely true.
Although there was no difference in pain perception between the two groups, that is likely due to somatic processing of pain that is more hard-wired in our brains, than cognitive states of anxiety and depression. In other words, the ability to “rewire” the brain and alter the perception of anxiety and depression is likely easier than blocking the perception of pain. Therefore, this study suggests (and not surprisingly) that the ability of weighted-blankets to modify the brains of those with anxiety or depression is more feasible than the ability for weighted-blankets to alleviate pain.
Kinnealey, M., & Fuiek, M. (1999). The relationship between sensory defensiveness, anxiety, depression, and perception of pain in adults. Occupational Therapy International, 6(3), 195-206.