Category: Appetite

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Trauma Documented Three Decades after Chernobyl Disaster

00Appetite, Depression, Environment, Featured news, Health, Stress, Trauma December, 16

Source: Surian Soosay on Flickr, Creative Commons

Chad Gracia’s award-winning 2015 documentary, The Russian Woodpecker, addresses the legacy of trauma caused by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The film documents the investigative journey of Fedor Alexandrovich, a Kiev based artist who shares his own experience as a survivor while exploring the disturbing question: Was the disaster at the Chernobyl power plant an ‘inside job’?

When a reactor at the power plant exploded on April 26th, 1986, the effects were catastrophic. As radiation levels rose, hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.

Forced evacuation and relocation was traumatic for many who had no hope of returning home. In the most contaminated areas, entire villages were bulldozed and buried. Further, citizens were not notified of the risks they faced from radiation. Tamara Kovalchuk, who was employed by the Chernobyl power plant, tells Alexandrovich in the film:

“When the explosion happened, no one thought anything of it. They put on masks and we were surprised. Why wear a mask in such good weather?”

After the event, political authorities failed to implement policies to protect the health of their citizens. For example, the World Health Organization claims that:

“If people had stopped giving locally supplied contaminated milk to children for a few months following the accident, it is likely that most of the increase in radiation-induced thyroid cancer would not have resulted.”

Trauma is a recurrent theme of The Russian Woodpecker. Alexandrovich was four years old at the time of the disaster—he was evacuated from Kiev, Ukraine, separated from his parents, and sent to an orphanage. Reflecting on this experience, he says, “I thought I would be there forever. It’s quite a serious trauma for a child. And from that time I’ve felt strange…different.”

But this trauma is not unique to Alexandrovich—it extends to the hundreds of thousands of people who faced relocation, suffered from illness, and coped with deliberate misinformation from their government about health risks. To this day, those affected by the explosion continue to struggle, living in fear of long-lasting consequences such as birth defects and contaminated foods.

According to psychologist Lynn Barnett, trauma from the Chernobyl disaster is cumulative because it is “characterized by repeated adversity with no foreseeable end”. She describes radiation as an “unseen, unheard, unfelt and ‘un-smelt’ terror.” Its elusiveness, in conjunction with government deception following the event, has led to the spread of misinformation guided by unscientific explanations and recommendations for coping with radiation.

One such recommendation is that small doses of radiation are good for people of middle or old age. Others are that drinking red wine, or swabbing the throat with antiseptic iodine, can protect against radiation. But maybe false beliefs like these lessen the threat of the unknown by providing a sense of control.

Other research corroborates this notion. Anthropologist Richard Sosis at the University of Connecticut studied the effects of psalm recitation during the Second Palestinian Intifadain northern Israel. Among secular women, those who recited psalms to cope with violence experienced lower anxiety.

In relation to the Chernobyl disaster, Barnett wrote:

“The secrecy and lies that enshrouded the Chernobyl accident led to an almost total lack of knowledge about the facts, leading to the impossibility of any kind of personal control.” 

Perhaps Alexandrovich was seeking control over the chaos inflicted by the event when he decided to look into the politics surrounding the disaster.

His inquiry led him to interview Vladimir Komarov, head of the Chernobyl investigation committee. This committee was tasked with identifying the cause of the explosion. In the film, Komarov tells Alexandrovich that the last Soviet Head of Atomic Energy, Georgy Kopchinski, made phone calls to Chernobyl engineers demanding that they conduct experiments on an unstable nuclear reactor.

Kopchinski, who Alexandrovich also interviews, denies that he made these phone calls, despite the fact that they were reported by engineers at the time.

Like trauma that affects the individual, politically motivated trauma leaves people with a sense of vulnerability and fragility. In traumatic events, key values, beliefs, and attitudes are largely compromised, and individuals turn to external sources of authority, such as political figures, for answers.

But when political figures are complicit in the trauma, or fail to perform their leadership duties, basic trust in one’s society and culture is challenged, and the ability to cope is further hindered.

Alexandrovich’s theory that the Chernobyl disaster was politically motivated is provocative and incendiary. But is it true? According to Chernobyl historian Natalia Baranovskaya, “To prove this you need all the documents. But the documents are still classified.”

Secrecy around the events of the Chernobyl disaster persist, preventing those affected from understanding the cause of their suffering. For now, the truth remains elusive.

–Rebecca Abavi, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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U.S. Government Fails to Support Families of Hostage Victims

00Anger, Anxiety, Appetite, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Parenting, Politics, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Resilience, Sleep, Stress, Teamwork, Trauma November, 14

On August 19, 2014, a YouTube video of American journalist James Foley’s beheading was released by the terrorist organization ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). Weeks later, two more videos were released, showing the execution of American journalist Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines. Each victim was taken hostage years ago and ransom demands for their release were directed at their families in the months prior to their deaths.

But their families faced more than the pain of watching their loved ones die. The US government pressured relatives of hostages to do nothing to help.

According to Sotloff’s parents, a member of President Obama’s National Security Council threatened the family with criminal prosecution if they attempted to pay a ransom to ISIS for Sotloff’s release. A similar conversation was held with Foley’s family.

The US government emphasizes that they do not negotiate with terrorist organizations. But is threatening the families of hostages justifiable?

Families in hostage situations feel powerless, especially when information about their loved one is scarce. Government officials exacerbate this sense of powerlessness. Along with initial anxiety, feelings of isolation, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping, families of hostage victims who are denied the ability to intervene are more likely to develop long-term conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Furthermore, the US government may actually be stepping outside of its own legislation by forcing victims’ families into inaction.

According to an FBI report from April 2014 that discusses the protocol for helping families in overseas hostage situations, the ideal scenario is very different from what took place. The report states that a highly experienced operational psychologist should be put on the case to help the victim’s families by providing them with a sense of hope. 

“We [should] let them know there are people actively working to recover their family member and that we aren’t giving up”, says Carl Dickens, an operational psychologist with the FBI. In addition to emotional support, families should also be provided with temporary living accommodations and emergency expenses. 

When asked if they felt the US government gave them adequate support, the Sotloffs responded, “Not at all. We never really believed that the administration was doing anything to help us.”

The British government has also stood strong on their position to not pay ransom money to terrorist organizations. But the Haines family was never threatened. Despite their anger toward the law, friends and family of Haines did not experience the same pressure their American counterparts faced. “The government and foreign office did their best,” said Mike Haines, brother of the fallen aid worker, “we have complete satisfaction with what they did. We felt very much part of the team.”

The White House has denied all accounts of threatening the Sotloff and Foley families. Yet the Obama administration has become more attentive to families of the latest overseas hostages and the latest victim, Peter Kassig. The famiy of an unidentified female aid worker who is presently being held hostage by ISIS recently had personal meetings with Obama to discuss the situation.

This is an important step towards finding a balance between respecting victims of terrorists and protecting the public good. But in the meantime, where the government has failed, the families of victims are trying to help others like them. Foley’s parents are establishing an organization to aid families of overseas hostage victims through counselling and support. The James W. Foley Legacy Fund will help build a resource center for families of American hostages and foster a global dialogue on government policies in hostage crises.

– Contributing Writer: Alessandro Perri, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

 – Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report 

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/babasteve/4705515039/

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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To Share or Not to Share (the Family Bed)

00Alcohol, Anxiety, Appetite, Attachment, Child Development, Empathy, Featured news, Health, Parenting, Sleep, Smoking October, 14

Some of the most common questions posed to parents of newborns, particularly by other parents, relate to sleeping patterns. Choices around sleep can be personal and sometimes controversial.

In western cultures, it is normal to put infants in different rooms. But in much of the rest of the world, the baby either sleeps with parents (bed-sharing) or in close proximity to the parent (co-sleeping).

These differing traditions often present a dilemma to parents in western societies who hear opposing points of view when seeking advice.

James McKenna, professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame considers that despite the dominant view (no bed-sharing), parents increasingly are opting for co-sleeping or bed-sharing. In fact, half of U.S. parents with infants bed-share with their children during at least part of the night.

This is especially true for breastfeeding mothers as co-sleeping can make night-time feeding easier to manage. It is thought by many that co-sleeping while breastfeeding results in the mother being more in-tune with the infant’s immediate hunger needs and as a result, the infant quickly learns that their needs can be satisfied. This contributes to the development of secure attachment

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, mothers should sleep in close proximity to their baby not only to help facilitate breastfeeding but also to improve the survival rate of the developing infant. 

McKenna also indicates that from an anthropological viewpoint the proximity and sensory touch associated with bed-sharing induces positive behavioural and physiological changes in the infant. Studies have found long-term benefits of bed-sharing or co-sleeping. For example, children who bed-shared were found to have less anxiety and a higher level of comfort in social situations later on.

Traditional western medical views on bed-sharing tend to be rather negative. Based on the Joint Statement on Safe Sleep: Preventing Sudden Infant Deaths in Canada, the main reason cited is the threat of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The Joint statement defines SIDS as, “the sudden death of an infant less than one year of age, which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including the performance of a complete autopsy, an examination of the death scene, and a review of the clinical history.”

Because it is difficult to distinguish specific causes of death that occurred during sleep, in many SIDS cases the cause may be cited as “unintentional suffocation due to overlaying,” which may be used to discourage bed-sharing.

Yet in many of the studies where infant deaths are discussed, parental smoking, alcohol consumption and unsafe sleeping practices are often major factors, as opposed to bed-sharing per se. Understanding preventative measures and safe sleeping practices can help reduce the incidence of SIDS.

Further, some research has found a strong link between breastfeeding and lowered risk of SIDS. Fern Hauck of the University of Virginia reviewed 18 studies that looked at the relationship between these two variables and found that babies exclusively breastfed had a 70% lower risk of SIDS, and the risk is lowered further the longer breastfeeding continues. Researchers attribute this lowered risk to infants being able to awaken more easily, reducing the risk of sudden death.

Daniel Flanders, pediatrician at North York General Hospital in Toronto, states that as a physician he follows the guidelines for the prevention of SIDS, but feels that strong recommendations against bed-sharing undermine parental choice on how to raise one’s child. He notes that in non-westernized communities bed-sharing is often a major part of the cultural practice of child rearing, and therefore his approach is to present the most relevant and up-to-date information available so the parent can make an informed decision.

There are several measures one can take to reduce the risks associated with bed-sharing. One of the most important things for the baby’s safe sleep is ensuring that the surface the infant sleeps on is firm, smooth and flat. Sheets should be tucked and never loose, whether the child sleeps with the parents, in a sidecar or in the crib.

If parents choose to bed-share there should be ample space for all, with both parents agreeing to the arrangement. The bed should not be shared with multiple children, especially if one or more are slightly older. Also, if the bed is raised off the floor there should be a mesh guardrail around the bed to prevent the baby from falling over. If the bed is against the wall, parents should ensure that there is no gap between the bed and the wall at all times.

Although bed-sharing is often discouraged by many in the medical community due to its association with an increased risk of SIDS, this does not mean that the practice is without benefit. Done safely, bed-sharing and co-sleeping offer unique opportunities for the development of closeness between parent and child.

Parents must choose the arrangement that works best for them and their families. For more information: Safe Sleeping Practices for Infants

– Contributing Writer: Saqina Abedi, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today