Category: Depression

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Climate Change Affecting Farmers' Mental Health

00Depression, Environment, Featured news, Health, Suicide, Work December, 17

Source: CIAT at flickr, Creative Commons

The cutoff for irreversible climate change has long been accepted as two or more degrees in global temperature compared to pre-industrial records. Reports show that, in early March 2016, this cutoff was crossed for the first time in recorded history.

January and February of 2016 broke all previous monthly records for high temperatures. Accompanying this trend are regular reports of melting ice caps and changes to animal migratory patterns. But the link between climate change and mental health is less visible.

One effect has been observed in farmers who are closely connected to the land. For some, environmental problems stem from insufficient water supply. For others, too much rainfall is a detriment to crop growth. Not surprisingly, farmers are anxious.

Matthew Russell is an Iowan farmer whose family has tended to their land for five generations. In an interview with Medical Daily, he recounts the physical and psychological toll brought on by extreme climate conditions:

“Psychologically, in the last few years, there’s a lot of anxiety that I don’t remember having 10 years ago. In the last three or four years, there’s this tremendous anxiety around the weather because windows of time for quality crop growth are very narrow.”

Russell explains that this narrow window is due to increasing levels of rain, which leave his land muddy and wet, decreasing crop quality.

Aside from droughts and flooding, extreme temperatures compound the problem, as do weeds, pests, and fungi that thrive better as a result of warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide levels.

For those like Russell who have farmed throughout their lives, the idea of uprooting and relocating or finding a new profession seems daunting. With the continuing effects of climate change, this threat may soon become reality.

Anxiety is not the only mental-health concern influenced by climate change. A reportfrom the US National Library of Medicine states:

“An association has been found between crop failures due to unexpected droughts and suicide attempts in the farmers. Failure of crop can lead to economic hardships. When dependent on low precipitation situations, the farmer might not be able to sustain the expenses of the family and may become a victim of the debt trap to meet the expenses.”

Although the report focuses on droughts in Australian and Indian populations, these experiences are echoed elsewhere, like in California. Drought there has contributed to failed crops for farmers, as well as increased food prices for consumers in North America. A 2012 report showed that the economic hardship associated with these problems has increased the risk of suicide in American farmers.

A study on suicide by Ryan Sturgeon at the University of Calgary examined the content of calls to a rural stress line from farmers in Manitoba, Canada. He found that farmers may not be using the mental health resources open to them:

“Multiple factors may negatively impact farmers’ help-seeking behaviour, including greater isolation due to a growing distance between farms, increased competition and less cooperation among farmers because of the changing global economy, and fragmentation of existing rural communities as more people are moving off farms and into urban areas.”

Problems brought on by climate change are exacerbated in vulnerable rural communities populated by farmers. But as a worldwide phenomenon, climate change is likely to affect mental health globally.

–Andrei Nistor, 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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When a Sibling Dies by Suicide

00Depression, Family Dynamics, Featured news, Grief, Health, Suicide October, 17

Source: Clair Graubner and Clair Graubner at flicker, Creative Commons

“As far back as I can remember, Michael was always good at being silly. He could make me laugh harder than anyone. He was very creative, and always had a good ear for music.”

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Samantha (names changed for anonymity) shared her experiences living through the suicide of her older brother, Michael, when she was sixteen years old.

Michael’s battle with mental illness began as a teen. He struggled with low self-esteem and clinical depression, and consequently self-medicated.

“After my parentsdivorce, his mental health took a turn for the worse. He was always getting stoned and was generally depressed… After he took LSD with his friend, he was never the same. He was in a psychotic, suicidal state from the drug, so my parents took him to a mental hospital one night… He stayed in the hospital for a week, and was moved to a rehab facility to learn coping skills to become less dependent on marijuana. He was in an extremely dark place during his stay there, and came home in September to start school. He committed suicide on October 15, 2007.”

Samantha’s experience is not uncommon. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people aged 15 to 34. And according to a report published by the National Institute of Mental Health, depression and substance abuse (often in combination with other mental disorders) are common risk factors for suicide.

“Words could never express how I felt when I found out. I fell to the ground in absolute hysterics. It’s such an out-of-body memory for me… to go from having an older brother and having visions of our future together, to then in a second having all of that taken away from you.”

Samantha also experienced dissociative thoughts after her brother’s suicide.

“I remember thinking that maybe we were being ‘punk’d’, and that this was all part of a twisted social experiment to show the devastating effects suicide has on a family. That probably lasted a year or so in order to protect my brain from feeling too deeply and to help me focus on other things, like getting into college.”

Samantha began using marijuana and alcohol regularly to numb feelings of anger and loss. Her transition to college was challenging—she had difficulty balancing school work with partying, and often felt isolated.

“I felt like I couldn’t relate to most of my peers, and was extremely lonely. I was always getting high by myself, and reflecting on the past. While all of this was going on, my dad got remarried and had a baby during my freshman year of college. It was really hard for me to watch him start a new family while I was still grieving the loss of our old family.”

Samantha’s decision to self-medicate to deal with her unresolved grief is common among adolescents who lack strong social support.

“I think about Michael every day… but finally I have the relationships and living environment to really dig deep and process what I’ve been through. Yoga and meditation have also played a huge part in my healing process, as well as hula hoop dancing.”

In fact, yoga and meditation can help the healing process. Research by psychology professor Stefan Hofmann and colleagues at Boston University describes the benefits of mindfulness meditation for anxiety and mood symptoms. In their meta-analysis of 39 research studies, individuals who practiced mindfulness meditation experienced reduced anxiety, grief, and depressive symptoms.

Everyone grieves in their own way, and moving on doesn’t have to mean leaving the loved one’s memory behind. As for Samantha: “Michael continues to live on with all of those who knew him.”

–Lauren Goldberg, 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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Parent Mental Illness Casts Long Shadow on Children

00Anxiety, Child Development, Depression, Featured news, Parenting, Suicide, Trauma June, 17

Source: stefanos papachristou on flickr, Creative Commons

“My aunt woke me to say that my mom sent a text to the family priest in the middle of the night, asking for prayers after taking a bunch of pills.”

Diagnosed with clinical depression, Keith Reid-Cleveland’s mother had a long, painful history of suicide attempts, feeling unhappy and tired much of the time. Like many children, he felt helpless and didn’t understand depression, thinking her fatigue was from hard work, and that his mother just needed sleep.

As Reid-Cleveland grew up, he began to take notice of his mother’s mood, making it his responsibility to try to make her smile:

“At first, this just entailed telling her ‘I love you’ every time I saw her. Eventually, it morphed into me acting as sort of a motivational life coach/stand-up comic.”

After his mother’s first hospitalization:

“I did Desi Arnaz impressions to make her laugh…”

He also gave her emotional support:

“I sat down and unpacked what was bothering her step-by-step, until she realized it wasn’t as devastating as she’d thought.”

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) estimates that 8% of adults will experience major depression at some point in their lives. About 4000 Canadians die each year by suicide, making it the second leading cause of death for those between ages 15 and 34.

Parental suicide and hospitalization have a tremendous impact on children.

To better understand this traumatic experience, researchers Hanna Van Parys and Peter Rober, from the University of Leuven in Belgium, conducted interviews with children between ages 7 and 14 who had a parent hospitalized for major depression.

Many children showed sensitivity to the parent’s distress. Like Reid-Cleveland, some reported awareness of parental fatigue or lack of energy. Others picked up on mood changes, such as when the parent was feeling angry or sad. And some reported feeling guilty for being a burden.

Eleven-year-old Yellow expressed to his father: “If you would like me to be somewhere else sometimes, just tell me.”

Others sought ways to convey to their parents that they were not affected by their mental health, attempting to elevate mom’s or dad’s mood. Van Parys and Rober consider this behaviour common for children seeing a parent in distress. In their study, a child named Kamiel was asked whether he would like to solve problems for his mother, to which he responded: “Yes, sometimes, if that would be possible,” while hugging her closely.

When his mother was first hospitalized for a suicide attempt, Reid-Cleveland’s loved ones decided he shouldn’t see her. Recalling similar situations of parental hospitalization, child interviewees reported much distress and worry about the parent. Many felt alone, powerless, unable to help.

One girl expressed existential fear, stating: “Then I think about when you will die, everything will be different when you die.” Seeing a parent in the hospital forces the child to imagine life without them.

Research shows that children of parents who attempt suicide are at higher risk to do the same. And in a study conducted at the Aarhus University in Denmark, researchers found an increased long-term risk of suicide in children who experienced parental death in childhood, increasing suicide risk for up to 25 years following the traumatic experience.

Like Reid-Cleveland, many children living with parent mental illness feel isolated and helpless. Van Parys and Rober note that prevention programs focusing on family communication are beneficial to enhance family resilience, and to lessen the burden on the child.

– Khadija Bint-Misbah, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.
– Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report.
 

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Slam Poetry Facilitates Sharing Stories of Mental Illness

00Anxiety, Creativity, Depression, Featured news, Health, Relationships, Self-Esteem, Social Life, Trauma May, 17

Source: MatthewtheBryan on Deviant Art

Andrea Gibson is a spoken word artist and activist who writes with intense passion about mental illness, bullying, and social tragedy.

In her award-winning poem, The Madness Vase, Gibson speaks firsthand about the shame many feel from disclosing experiences of mental illness and suicide. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, she explained, “The trauma said don’t write this poem; no one wants to hear you cry about the grief inside your bones.”

When asked why people use spoken word to share these sensitive and personal experiences, Gibson told the Report:

“I can say things within the context of a poem that I could never speak outside of a poem. There is a way in which a poem cares for its writer. Allows no interruption. It’s a sweetness, a generous sweetness. I think of a poem almost as a good parent who might say, ‘I’m going to hold you and have your back while you say this, and you have every right to say this.’ There is a safety in it. A holding we may not have had elsewhere in life.”

Gibson also speaks to the ways in which sharing poetry can build self-esteem and promote self-love in both speakers and audience members, and views her poetry as a form of therapy to treat anxiety and depression:

“Telling your story is healing. Telling your story to a receptive audience of listeners is even more healing. Being witness to people telling their stories is healing. There is so much pain in hiding, and spoken word is the opposite of hiding.”

Gibson’s ability to connect with her audience lies in her willingness to share her adversity battling panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. Narrating her journey with mental illness contributes to the authenticity of her poetry and resonates powerfully with viewers.

“I doubt that I would have an artistic life if I had not been pushed into it by my own flailing nervous system. Art is a shelter of sorts. At the same time, I have had shows where I was almost too panicked to speak. I had to keep saying to the audience, “I am feeling so much anxiety, I can barely get through this.” But I’m guessing in the long run even that is of some comfort to many people. To witness a panic attack on stage, and to watch art happen regardless.”

In addition to her work as a spoken word activist, Gibson created STAY HERE WITH ME in 2011, an online platform to share experiences of trauma, mental illness, of wanting to die, and of the different art forms that have prevented individuals from committing suicide. Gibson started this initiative with co-founder Kelsey Gibb, a mental-health professional and tour manager.

“Kelsey and I were on tour together while I was receiving a lot of letters from people who were struggling to want to stay alive and we wanted to create an online community that had larger reach of support. We wanted to create something that helped people want to stay.”

Gibson’s work highlights the healing power of story-telling. As an art-focused space, STAY HERE WITH ME encourages the use of art and poetry to heal, connect, and remind the audience they are not alone. Hundreds of individuals have shared personal stories through her website, finding acceptance and understanding through shared experiences.

Through poetry and mental health advocacy, Gibson is determined to build a community dedicated to helping people who have suicidal feelings.

“I want to remind individuals struggling with suicide to be sweet to the part of them that is in pain. To hold that part with gentleness and not to ask that pained part to go away sooner than it needs to. Sometimes simply letting ourselves hurt is what the hurt needs to move through us.”

–Lauren Goldberg, 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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Male Rape Victims Face Difficulty Finding Support

00Depression, Featured news, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, Therapy, Trauma April, 17

Source: Fabrizio Lonzini on flickr, Creative Commons

In October 2015, Sweden opened the world’s first male rape center. It is the only known center that provides emergency medical care for men and boys who are victims of rape or sexual abuse. Although most rape centers don’t turn male victims away, there are no others that cater specifically to the physical and emotional needs of men who undergo such trauma.

The issue of male-on-male, and especially female-on-male rape and sexual abuse is largely unacknowledged in part because these forms of trauma are much less common than those involving a female victim. Statistics Canada reports that approximately 8% of sexual assaults involve a male victim.

In the 1980s, the word “rape” was removed from the Criminal Code of Canada and replaced by three different levels of sexual assault, specified by whether or not force or threats were involved and to what degree they were present. The problem with this approach is that “sexual assault” sounds like a lesser issue; it doesn’t carry the same weight as “rape”.

In October 2013, Kirk Makin wrote in an article for The Globe and Mail:

“Instead of the loaded word rape—with all its moral and social baggage—three levels of sexual assault were written into law, each level escalating in gravity. But getting rid of the legal term ‘rape’ didn’t stop it. In fact, many argue that it profoundly defanged the justice system and has resulted in lighter—not tougher—sentencing.”

Terminology may partly account for a lack of male rape centers, but so might the negative cultural view of a man being raped, particularly by a woman.

Popular culture and the media typically portray rape as involving penetration, which assumes only a male can perpetrate it. So, the common view is that men cannot be raped by women. For example, if a victim tells a friend he’s experienced unwanted sexual activity, the friend’s reaction is likely to be as congratulatory as horrified. And the victim is less likely to report the crime. An article on rape from Stanford University’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy even states in its premise the assumption that perpetrators are male and that victims are female, disregarding the issue of male rape altogether.

There is a common sentiment that men are always open to sexual advances and, therefore, automatically consent. This misconception can lead to situations where, if a man is intoxicated or otherwise unable to provide consent, he may subsequently be sexually assaulted. Contrary to stereotypes, the common view of “no means no” applies to both genders, and a lack of consent is just as significant as an expression of non-consent.

Another problem focuses on the male-on-male rape that occurs in prisons. Jokes about not “dropping the soap” are rampant in the media, giving the impression that, since these individuals are criminals, they should expect—indeed deserve—sexual assault.

And rape committed in prisons is not even included in national statistics, an omission that has the effect of failing to prevent abuse, as well as diminishing the issue. As a result, there is an insufficient allocation of resources for victims within the prison system. Victims require both emergency medical services, as well as counselling, to address the physical and emotional damage of sexual violence.

The opening of a male rape center in Sweden is a positive step, suggesting some progress toward support for male rape victims. But on a broader scale, the problem goes unacknowledged. Attitudes cannot change without a more systemic shift in how male rape is viewed and addressed.

–Andrei Nistor, 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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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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Illustrating Mental Health with Cartoons

00Charisma, Creativity, Depression, Featured news, Health, Humor, Therapy November, 16

Source: Allie Brosh

From the darkness of despair, Gemma Correll and Allie Brosh have created deeply personal cartoons to illustrate their experiences with mental illness. Maintaining popular online blogs, they have recently published cartoon books revealing their innermost struggles and fears.

Through simple drawings, Correll and Brosh make it easy for audiences to grasp the intricate aspects of psychological disorders. The unique illustrations are designed to be informative, yet dark and humorous.

In her 2015 book, The Worrier’s Guide to Life, Correll portrays her experience with anxiety, including unwanted intrusions from unexpected guests and unwelcome phone calls that one would prefer to avoid. She labels them “Real Life Horror Movies.”

Another example of Correll’s sharp humour comes in the form of a red poster, shouting: “I can’t keep calm and carry on because I have an anxiety disorder.”

Though the images are vital to the message, the corresponding narratives are equally important. Correll explains her images only make sense in combination with the words. One poignant cartoon called “Visit Depression Land! It’s the crappiest place on earth,”depicts a “non” amusement park with commentary on all of the “non” amusing things you can do while visiting.

The comics are both painful and funny. One of Correll’s fans sums up the experience on Twitter: “I’m laughing but I’m also crying. But I’m also laughing.”

A common thread in the struggle with mental illness is the accompanying isolation; in these comics, readers see themselves and their situations, and perhaps realize that they are not alone in the experience. In an interview with NPR, Correll explains, “I think people are really glad to find somebody who’s had the same kind of experience. Anxiety and depression can make you feel quite isolated.”

This sentiment was echoed by Brosh in an online Reddit question and answer session:

“Depression is such an isolating experience, but there’s always a tiny amount of comfort from knowing that someone else has been out there too. I mean, I never thought that writing about my depression would circle back around and make me feel less isolated, but in a strange way, it has.”

Although depression can be difficult to explain, Brosh chronicles it with startling clarity in her blog Hyperbole and a Half:

“I spent months shut in my house. I couldn’t feel anything through the self-hatred. Trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back.”

In another blog entry with an accompanying cartoon, Brosh captures how depression feels:

“You’re stuck in the boring, lonely, meaningless void without anything to distract you from how boring, lonely, and meaningless it is.”

Brosh painstakingly works to get the facial expressions and body stances of her characters just right, to depict the emotions she wants to convey. Visual cues give meaning where words fail.

Depression is often misunderstood by those who don’t suffer from it. Many think that giving advice and imposing optimism are the answers. Brosh illustrates this disconnect.

Psychologists and professors are taking note—sharing the blogs widely and using them as teaching tools.

Psychologist Jonathan Rottenberg of the University of South Florida devoted a post on Psychology Today to Brosh:

“I know of no better depiction of the guts of what it’s like to be severely depressed. If you’ve been severely depressed, or if you know someone who is and you want to know more about what they are experiencing, please read ‘Hyperbole and a Half.’ “

Psychotherapist, psychology student, and Reddit user ‘busterbrother’ also explains on Reddit how the cartoons made a difference in her practice and at school. One of her suicidal clients struggling with depression felt that no one understood. Using Brosh’s blog, the therapist could offer an account of someone facing similar difficulties. ‘Busterbrother’ also used the blog in a presentation to illustrate depression to others in her cohort, after which her professor began incorporating it into his own classes:

“The professor said that this blog is the best way that he has ever seen someone talk about depression to someone who has never experienced it.”

This idea is supported by research. In the International Journal of Humor Research, Yan Piaw Chua, a professor at the University of Malaya in Malaysia, demonstrated how this type of humour can enhance student comprehension and motivation to learn. And studies show that humour can improve wellbeing and reduce depression.

Researchers Shelley Crawford and Nerina Caltabiano at James Cook University in Australia developed a humour skills program that included a booklet with jokes and funny stories. They found that participants achieved heightened wellbeing, as well as decreased depression and anxiety, in comparison to groups that received treatment without humour or no treatment at all. Other studies have shown similar results.

As one reader put it: “…these comic strips make my day whenever I am feeling a little glum and need an instant pick-me-up.”

Being able to communicate feelings of depression and anxiety without being judged, and doing so creatively… what better way to combat demons?

–Lysianne Buie, 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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Fast Food Industry Demands ‘Emotional Labour’ from Employees

00Burnout, Depression, Emotion Regulation, Featured news, Health, Stress, Work October, 16

Source: Steffi Reichert on Flickr

Donna Abbott (name changed), a long-time employee at McDonald’s, does more than serve Happy Meals. She smiles politely and greets every single customer. It’s part of the job. She’s even expected to ask the customer about their day. That way, the customer can walk away feeling satisfied.

Emotional labour—strict emotional control and outward enthusiasm—may be a way of earning tips. But in some sectors, including North America’s growing low-wage service industry, emotional labour is a fundamental part of the job. Displaying concern for a customer’s needs, smiling, and making eye contact is critical to a customer’s perception of service quality.

Cheerful presence can be essential to profitability of service providers, particularly in the fast-food industry. But emotional labour may be doing more harm than good to employee emotional and mental wellbeing.

A recent research review by Alicia Grandey and colleagues at Penn State University examined the benefits and costs of emotional labour practices, including those used in fast-food services. According to the study, the self-control and regulation needed to convey a sense of artificial happiness for an extended period of time is taxing, depleting energy and resources that could be dedicated to other tasks.

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Donna said:

“The energy that I spend being overtly happy could be used elsewhere—I know that I’d be able to take orders faster and prepare meals quicker if I didn’t have to take that extra and, in my opinion, forced step to be emotionally friendly with customers that I don’t know.”

Emotional fatigue that detracts from the ability to do other work isn’t the only problem. Unless the employee is naturally a positive person, the act of suppressing true feelings and generating insincere ones leads to what psychologists call dissonance—a tense and uncomfortable state that can lead to high levels of stress, job dissatisfaction, and burnout.

“It’s just stressful and really frustrating,” says Donna. “It creates this push and pull within you that you really want to—but often can’t—resolve. And in trying to cope with these fake feelings, I’ve turned to things I’m not proud of and don’t admit to everyone.”

Donna reports excessive use of cigarettes and marijuana, particularly after a long and emotionally draining 10-hour shift; addictions that are not uncommon among employees in the fast-food industry. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, food service has the highest rate of drug use, with an estimated 17.4% of workers abusing substances.

Individuals vary in their ability to deal with inauthentic emotional expressions. This means that the effects of emotional labour on emotional and mental wellbeing do not apply to all fast-food employees. Some workers may be able to identify with the organization’s values of positive emotional communication, making them better prepared to express appropriate emotions. And people who are generally more cheerful and pleasant may be able to turn off negative emotions more easily than others.

Donna is one of the less cheerful employees:

“When I started working at McDonald’s I would say that I was happy, but still not at the level of putting a smile on randomly for just anyone. I’m not a naturally happy person. And after being there for a long time, I wouldn’t say that I’m the most pleasant employee. I’ve had my fair share of negative attitude and customer complaints, which make it very hard to pretend to be happy or care about the customer—especially since it’s not technically in my job description to do that.”

In their research, Grandey and colleagues note that there are some jobs where emotional labour may be a core requirement. Childcare workers or people who care for those who are mentally or physically ill are a common example. But, the dissonance that a fast-food employee feels is probably more than workers experience in other sectors, like care providers, who typically see the act of helping as part of their identity.

Emotional labour comes at an emotional cost. And employers who require emotional labour should do so in a supportive rather than controlling climate. By training employees to recognize mistreatment, offering down-time to help workers re-charge, and giving employees opportunities to engage in honest interaction, employers might find a positive attitude that comes about on its own.

–Veerpal Bambrah, 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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Mental Healthcare Lacking for Small Business Owners

00Anxiety, Burnout, Depression, Featured news, Health, Stress, Work July, 16

Source: Gary Suaer-Thompson on Flickr

Being your own boss, doing something you love, having control over your own schedule. These are only a few reasons why people choose to start their own business.

But the reality many small business owners face is far less appealing. Financial stress, professional isolation, long hours, and blurred boundaries between work and family life can take a toll on mental health.

Although there is a growing focus on mental health in the workplace, programs often target large companies with thousands of employees, providing fewer options for those running small businesses.

Jeffrey Markus, entrepreneur and founder of Daddyo’s Pasta and Salads restaurant in Toronto, knows firsthand the psychological impact of running a small business. When his restaurant was struggling, he took it personally:

“I was a go-getter and an entrepreneur. But as business slowed I was more and more affected. I couldn’t separate myself from my business. It was the worst experience of my life. It put a strain on my marriage and I missed out on seeing my daughter grow up, which was very difficult for me.”

In Markus’ opinion, small business owners are overlooked when it comes to providing support for people in the workplace.

And he may well be right. While employees in larger organizations often have access to human resource support or programs, business owners and entrepreneurs are left to deal with stress on their own.

Associate professor Angela Martin of the Tasmanian School of Business and Economics in Australia, conducts research on the mental health of small business owners. She believes that while there is some evidence of a growing awareness for providing mentally healthy workplaces among larger businesses, it may not be helping entrepreneurs:

“Small business owners need access to support, but the current workplace mental health programs are missing all of these people. These models don’t work in small business as they do in a larger organization. They don’t translate to a single person.”

Martin’s research has been used to develop a set of preventative guidelines that help small and medium business owners recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health issues in themselves and their employees. But she is working in an under-investigated field:

“There is no big systematically collected data, so we don’t know how many people are affected and what impact it is having on small and medium business.”

Another issue is that while small businesses are often seen as one type of industry, they are actually quite diverse—ranging from building contractors and health professionals to artists and online retailers. These differences mean that the time and cost constraints faced by individual business owners are also different.

In Jeffrey Markus’ experience, the number of small business owners in distress is alarmingly high. But after facing his own share of crises, he has learned to care for himself as well as his business:

“People are borrowing against their homes which can cause marital issues. Many marriages break down when husbands and wives clash within a family business. But I had to reframe my thinking and approach to things. I had to get the entrepreneur life to work for me, not against me.”

Markus has learned a few simple things that go a long way, such as saying no to the prospect of expanding his restaurant to multiple locations, remembering to leave time for relaxation and self-care, and being more present within the lives of his family and close friends.

In considering his experience, he notes that community and peer support were key in helping him get through tough times.

Rebekah Lambert, a good friend of Markus, is an entrepreneur working to help other small business owners connect with each other and find support. Her company, The Freelance Jungle, is an Australian initiative providing community support and helping people manage the stress of running a business:

“I found a lot of people are having a hard time. I saw a lot of them spending money on being a businessperson, but not on getting proper support.”

Markus agrees that small business owners need to support each other due to the absence of government programs. This is particularly important since business owners’ poor mental health will affect not only their lives but also the mental health of their employees.

Potential solutions being examined by Lambert and other entrepreneurs are online associations and support networks, local meetup groups, and mentorship programs. With a current lack of formal mental health programs, it is important that business owners learn to look after themselves in the meantime.

– Veerpal Bambrah, 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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Failed Mental Health App Highlights Pitfalls of Social Media

00Depression, Featured news, Health, Media, Social Networking, Stress, Suicide July, 16

Source: Jayson Lorenzen on Flickr

On October 29, 2014, The Samaritans—a suicide-prevention organization in the United Kingdom—launched an app for Twitter called Samaritans Radar. Its purpose: to detect alarming, depressive, and suicidal tweets to help prevent suicide. Less than a week later, the app was suspended due to public outcry over privacy concerns.

Social media are being used increasingly for marketing and advertising, with privacy a growing issue. Many marketing apps, like Hootsuite, track users’ social media posts in fairly covert ways. Yet, when social media pits privacy against mental health, ethical conflicts are concerning.

Traditionally in mental healthcare, there are few reasons to break confidentiality between client and therapist, such as harm to self or others.

The Samaritans Radar app worked by tracking tweets from every account the individual follows on Twitter. If alarming content was found—ranging from “I’m tired of being alone.” to “Feeling sad.”—the app would notify the user by email. Along with the email, came a link to the flagged tweet, as well as suicide intervention and prevention resources that the individual could provide to the writer of the alarming content.

At the launch of the app, the organization said that:

“Samaritans Radar turns your social net into a safety net by flagging potentially worrying tweets from friends, that you may have missed, giving you the option to reach out and support them.”

The app was quickly criticized for allowing users to track people’s tweets without their awareness or consent. The Samaritans replied by highlighting that everything posted on Twitter and all the information the app uses was public, and that it was up to the app’s user to decide whether they wanted to respond to any particular tweet.

Adrian Short, who started a petition to shut down Samaritans Radar, stated that it “breaches people’s privacy by collecting, processing, and sharing sensitive information about their emotional and mental health status.”

He also noted that the app may be used by less-than-scrupulous individuals for all sorts of purposes, not just helping individuals overcome mental health issues.

The Samaritans addressed these concerns by launching a “white list,” where people could sign up if they wanted to deny the app access to tracking their account. Many did not see this as a solution since opting out would require people to be aware of the app’s existence, leaving privacy in jeopardy.

But the problem that the app was trying to address is not trivial. In the UK, where the Samaritans are based, suicide is the leading cause of death among males under the age of 35. A free mobile app could be an easily accessible way to reach out to people who are alone and lacking other forms of support.

As one of the few supporters of the app, Hannah Jane Parkinson wrote for the Guardian:

“It is estimated that 9.6% of young people aged 5-16 have a clinically recognised mental health condition. Anything that helps to better this situation is great, and particularly as it is crucial to catch mental ill health early on.”

Yet as Adrian Short and others pointed out, this same easy access also poses potential threats. Internet bullying is common, especially among vulnerable users that Samaritans Radar targeted. The app could therefore be used for nefarious purposes.

“The app makes people more vulnerable online. While this could be used legitimately by a friend to offer help, it also gives stalkers and bullies and opportunity to increase their levels of abuse at a time when their targets are especially down,” says Adrian Short.

The app was an attempt to reach out to people in need of emotional support and to raise awareness about mental health using new media. But it highlighted the potential pitfalls of such platforms for dealing with mental health concerns. While the incidence of mental health problems is concerning, putting peoples’ mental health into the hands of anyone with access to a smartphone is naïve.

Perhaps this unsuccessful launch did successfully show that a greater understanding of social media users and platforms is needed before apps like Samaritan Radar can become commonplace.

– Essi Numminen, 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