Think about the person who is in charge of your workplace. Not necessarily your immediate supervisor or someone in middle management, but the individual who is everybody’s boss. Often this person is called something like “chief executive officer” or “executive director.” The word “executive” in someone’s title generally indicates that they are in charge.
Now imagine that the executive at your workplace begins to behave a bit erratically. Maybe they don’t reliably do what they say they will do. Maybe their mood seems to fluctuate so that they seem pleased with everyone one moment and then angry at everyone in the next. Maybe they don’t remember conversations or decisions or plans that everyone has agreed upon.
Under circumstances like those, your workplace might quickly become dysfunctional. You might even say that your company is experiencing disordered executive function—a fancy way to say that the executive is not executing their job effectively.
Disordered executive function (sometimes called executive dysfunction) is a real thing, but the phrase isn’t generally used to describe actual executives. Instead, it describes a situation in which a person has difficulty managing their behavior or organizing their activities.
But before we can understand disordered executive function, we need to have a good sense of what executive function is.
A Key Set of Mental Skills
“Executive function” refers to a group of mental skills that are in play when a person interacts with others or has tasks to complete. Those mental skills include:
- Making plans and organizational systems
- Processing and analyzing information
- Remembering key details
- Staying focused on an activity
- Managing time effectively
- Solving problems that arise
- Handling more than one task at a time
- Regulating behavior and emotions
All of those skills are important as we navigate the world. But for some people, those functions are hampered for one reason another. When that is the case for an individual, they find themselves dealing with disordered executive function.
That can lead to a range of symptoms including difficulty managing impulses, regulating emotions, and multitasking. A person with disordered executive dysfunction may have problems with their short-term memory, may behave in socially inappropriate ways, and may have trouble solving problems or learning from new information. Their attention may waver, and it may be difficult for them to organize and plan tasks. They may have trouble getting started on a new project, and once they do get started, they may have trouble completing the project.
All of these things impact a person’s ability to succeed at work, at school, or in interpersonal relationships. And that can result in issues related to mood, self-esteem, and more.
What accounts for these symptoms?
A Variety of Causes—Including Mental Health Disorders
The phrase “disordered executive function” serves as a bit of a catchall for a variety of possible causes for the symptoms we listed above. There may, for example, be neurological causes behind a person’s symptoms.
But mental health and behavioral disorders are often cited as underlying causes when a person is struggling with executive function. For example, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder can all be associated with disordered executive function.
As result, some of the treatment options for executive function disorder align with other mental health treatments. For example, antidepressants or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may well be effective—especially in combination.
Back to Our Fictional Executive Director
If the leader of your company was behaving erratically and in ways that may have negative repercussions for the business and the employees, you would want to make a change, right? An executive who cannot function effectively simply cannot be an executive for long. So when things are threatening to spiral out of control, an executive has to make a substantive change right away.
That applies to a person experiencing disordered executive function as well. When your executive functions are impaired—by a mental health disorder or another cause—the consequences can quickly become serious. And so it is important to make a substantive change right away.
We Can Help You Reclaim Your Executive Function
At Peak View Behavioral Health in Colorado, we are committed to providing high-quality, evidence-based, personalized mental health care. We treat each person as an individual, listening carefully and then creating a treatment plan specific to that person.
If you are struggling with issues related to executive function due to a mental health or behavioral disorder, we want to help. We have the experience and expertise necessary to help you improve your overall mental well-being.