Ask Dr.E

Dear Dr. E.,

My friend Ken is in a bad marriage, which seems to be making him suicidal. He keeps saying he's having his "psychological thingy"--a vision of shooting himself in the head. What can I do to help?

Scott D.

Madison, Wisconsin

Dear Scott,

Listen to Ken, hang out with him and support him--people don't kill themselves when they're with friends. And try, try, try to get him professional help. Nearly threequarters of a million Americans attempt suicide each year, and more than 30,000 of them are "successful." Many of these individuals visited a therapist or physician not long before killing themselves, or told others about their intentions well before the act. People who talk about suicide or who envision committing suicide are indeed at risk, and their statements should be taken seriously. For advice and information, call the American Suicide Survival Line at 1.888-SUICIDE, or the 9-Line crisis hotline at 1-800-999-9999, or the American Psychological Association at 1-800-374-2721.

Dear Dr, E.,

I've never been on a roller coaster and I'd like to go on one, but even when I've tried easy, low-speed rides, I've gotten very uncomfortable. Do you think this might be related to motion sickness? Is it psychological? Can I overcome it? I really don't want to waste my life not even trying a roller coaster once!

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Dennis T.

Los Angeles, California

Dear Dennis,

I'm not sure that a life without roller coasters is wasted, but if you want to try them, you might benefit from a "desensitization' procedure. A therapist can help you learn to relax while visualizing yourself in a graded series of roller-coaster experiences. Trying "lowspeed rides" on your own was a good idea, but you probably started too high. Work your way up gradually by going on kiddie coasters until you feel comfortable pursuing more dramatic experiences. Desensitization is extremely effective. For more information, check out "Thrills & Chills" in the June 1999 issue of PT. Happy coasting!

Dear Dr. E.,

My husband has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but I've been reading all about it, and I think he actually may be schizophrenic. He often makes no sense when he talks and can't seem to function at all. I love him, and I'm very afraid. I think the doctors at the local clinic have misdiagnosed him. What should I do?

Mina L.

Sunny Isles, Florida

Dear Mina,

Bipolar disorder, also known as manicdepressive illness, is characterized by shifts in mood from mania to deep depression. From the sound of it, your husband may indeed be struggling with schizophrenia, which is a serious thought disorder. But beware of psychiatric labels. Diagnoses in mental health are always a bit iffy. Professionals debate their validity all the time. If you're not happy with your current caregivers, call a local referral service for more suggestions. In Florida, you can call the Florida Psychological Association at (850) 656-2222. And don't give up!

Dear Dr. E.,

People have been acting cold to me lately and I think they might be jealous of my success. I don't understand such feelings. Where do they come from?

Gary S.

Akron, Ohio

Dear Gary,

Well, first of all, congratulations. If jealousy is aimed at you, it probably means someone thinks you have something valuable in your life: high grades, a wonderful girlfriend or an excellent job--something that he or she probably lacks. There are many schools of thought on jealousy, but here's one way to look at it. Imagine you have tried repeatedly to sink a basket from the foul line but have missed every time. After a while, you begin to feel angry; you might even curse the court and slam the ball on the ground. This is a common way we respond when we fail. You'd also feel hostile toward someone who walked around holding up a sign that read "Gary Stinks at Basketball,' because he or she would be calling attention to your failings. To your jealous friend, you are walking around with such a sign. The mere sight of you is a reminder of his or her failings. What's your friend jealous of, anyway?

Please send your questions to psychtoday@juno.com or call our 24-hour hotline at 1-877-PSYCHTODAY. Questions may be aired on PT's nationally syndicated radio program. PSYCHOLOGY TODAY reserves the right to edit all submitted material.

Robert Epstein, Ph.D., is editor-in-chief of PSYCHOLOGY TODAY and host of PT's nationally syndicated radio show.

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