Category: Depression

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Rape Victims’ Reactions Misunderstood by Law Enforcement

40Depression, Featured news, Law and Crime, Neuroscience, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Trauma January, 18

Source: Richard George Davis, used with permission

In 2008, 18-year-old Marie reported being raped at knifepoint in her apartment. Confronted by the police with allegations that she was lying, she conceded under pressure that the rape may have been a dream. Then, after being aggressively interrogated about her story, she finally admitted to making it up. She was subsequently charged with false reporting.

The report, however, was not false. In June 2012, Marc O’Leary pleaded guilty to 28 counts of rape and was sentenced to 327½ years in prison, including 28½ years for the rape of Marie.

Rape is unlike most other criminal offences. The credibility of the victim is often on trial as much as the guilt of the assailant, despite the fact that false rape accusations are rare (only an estimated 2-8% of cases are fabricated).

Sergeant Gregg Rinta, a sex crimes supervisor at the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office in Washington, deemed that what happened to Marie was “nothing short of the victim being coerced into admitting that she had lied about the rape.” Rinta recounted in an external report of the department’s handling of the case how Marie was subjected to “bullying and hounding”, as well as threats of jail time and withdrawal of housing assistance.

Steve Rider, the commander of Marie’s criminal investigation, considers her case a failure. In an interview conducted by ProPublica and The Marshall Project, he explained:

“Knowing that she went through that brutal attack—and then we told her she lied? That’s awful. We all got into this job to help people, not to hurt them”

The seed of doubt was planted when the police received a phone call from Marie’s former foster mother Peggy and another foster mother, Shannon. One of their biggest issues was that Marie was calm while describing the attack, rather than upset.  Shannon stated:

“She called and said, ‘I’ve been raped. there was just no emotion. It was like she was telling me that she’d made a sandwich.”

Peggy remembers:

“I felt like she was telling me the script of a Law & Order story. She seemed so detached and removed emotionally.”

Hearing these accounts from those closest to Marie led the police to distrust her story, and the situation unfolded from there. In rape cases, a judgment of legitimacy often focuses on the victim’s reaction during and following the event instead of on the assailant’s behaviour.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Rebecca Campbell spoke about the neurobiology of sexual assault in a talk to the National Institute of Justice. She explained that victims are flooded with high levels of opiates during a rape—chemicals in the body intended to block physical and emotional pain, but which can also dull the victims’ feelings:

“The affect that a victim might be communicating during the assault and afterward may be very flat, incredibly monotone—like seeing no emotional reaction, which can seem counterintuitive to both the victim and other people.”

This misperception contributes to sexual assault cases not going to trial. Of rape cases that are reported, 84% are never referred to prosecutors or charged; 7% are charged but later dropped; 7% get a plea bargain; 1% are acquitted; and only 1% are ever convicted.

Dr. Campbell identifies part of this problem as the police misunderstanding victims’ reactions as they recount their trauma. Based on this confusion, police officers make assumptions about the legitimacy of what they hear and often discourage victims from seeking justice. Officers may even secondarily victimize them.

Secondary victimization is defined by Dr. Campbell as “the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of social system personnel that victims experience as victim blaming and insensitive. It exacerbates their trauma, and it makes them feel like what they’re experiencing is a second rape.”

On average, 90% of victims are subject to at least one secondary victimization in their first encounter with the justice system. Victimization includes discouraging victims from pursuing the case, telling them it’s not serious enough, and asking about their appearance or any actions that may have provoked the assault.

These incidents have a profound effect on victims, as conveyed by Dr. Campbell, with many reporting feeling depressed, blamed, and violated. In fact, 80% feel unwilling to seek further help. As a result, many rape victims withdraw their complaint. To make matters worse, only 68% of rape cases are reported in the first place.

Sharing information on the neurobiology of trauma could be a powerful tool in educating police officers who don’t understand victims’ reactions. Evidence of the neurobiological changes that lead to flat affect or what appear to be huge emotional swings after an assault may help police better serve this population.

Furthermore, normalizing a range of reactions from rape victims, rather than accepting preconceived notions, may lead to a safer and more effective environment for reporting sexual assault. Knowledge about trauma can also serve to inform public discourse about sexual assault, as well as help victims to see their own reactions with compassion.

–Caitlin McNair, 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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Crushing Debt Affects Student Mental Health

60Anxiety, Career, Depression, Education, Featured news, Health, Politics January, 18

Source: thisisbossi at flickr, Creative Commons

Brian, a graduate from a university in California, struggled financially and emotionally. He often experienced anxiety, panic, and shame about his student loans.

Upon graduating, Brian moved to Germany, and to this point, has not paid back a cent of his debt. So long as Brian continues to live abroad, earns a living in a foreign country, does not pay U.S. taxes, and does not collect social security, loan companies are unable to contact him.

Brian’s story of “debt dodging” is just one way, albeit extreme, some students cope with the stress of educational loans, which play a very large role in higher education in North America. And Brian is not the only student who has left his home, family, and friends to escape.

In Canada, average student debt estimates hover in the mid-to-high $20,000 range. This estimate is close to the $26,300 figure that many students said they expected to owe after graduating, according to a recent Bank of Montreal survey.

When she was granted a large enough loan to pay for four years of university and one year of college, Aneeta (name changed for anonymity), a recent graduate of the journalism program at the University of Guelph-Humber in Canada, says she did not understand the consequences of accepting such a large sum of money.

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Aneeta explained:

“I really didn’t grasp the gravity of having so much financial assistance from the government, and then having to owe all that money back until after I actually graduated. And it was even more anxiety-provoking because I really struggled to find permanent, full-time work after leaving school.”

Since graduating, Aneeta still lives with her parents and has bounced between temporary retail jobs. The toll the debt has taken on her mental wellbeing includes frequent feelings of self-doubt, embarrassment, and even days of relentless anxiety and depression.

“Honestly, my plan after graduation was to score an awesome job in my field and save up enough money to move out and rent. I just forgot to consider the 25+ thousand dollars that I owe—which I think a lot of undergraduates do, to be honest with you. And every time I think of how much I owe and how much of a long way I have to be debt-free, it freaks me out. And then I feel guilty for spending the money I do have.”

Unable to afford much at all, Aneeta feels isolated and out of the loop; she seldom sees her friends. For students like Aneeta, high debt loads represent not only financial stress, but they can delay the time it takes to reach certain life milestones.

Denise Lopez, a registration and financial aid assistant at the University of Toronto (U of T), said in an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report:

“The number of former students I see who are well into their 30s and 40s and are still paying off their student loans is overwhelming. And many of them admit to being financially restricted from the things they really want to do like buy a car or property.”

Lopez distinctly recalls one U of T alumnus who shared his fear that, when his kids hit university age, he’ll still be paying off his own student loans. And with university tuition rising to record levels in Canada, his fears may not be unfounded.

According to research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the cost of a university degree in Canada is getting steeper, with tuition and other compulsory fees expected to triple from 1990 to 2017.

The mental wellbeing of students is not the only area affected by steep tuition and loans—their parents’ lives are also altered. For example, parents are postponing retirement and taking on additional debt to help put their children through school or pay off loans. In Aneeta’s words:

“My dad recently became an UBER driver to help me pay off my loans because I can’t do this on my own. I feel guilty. I can see the financial burden and stress in his face. If he had the choice, he wouldn’t want to be working on-top of the hours he puts in at his day job.”

–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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Online Programs Confront Suicide in Indigenous Communities

30Depression, Featured news, Health, Resilience, Suicide, Therapy December, 17

Source: Nicole Mason at unsplash, Creative Commons

In 2016, a wave of suicides occurred in Canada’s indigenous populations. Communities in northern Saskatchewan particularly witnessed several youth suicides. In October of that year, five girls between 10 and 14 died by suicide in the span of a few weeks. The situation intensified when news broke later that month that a 13-year-old girl was the latest to take her life: a total of six young girls in the province.

Indigenous communities have a long and painful history of mental health issues. Persistent poverty, discrimination, and systemic racism have been cited as key factors in the growing mental health crisis these people face today. Indigenous communities are found in remote, less populated areas, making it difficult for them to get adequate care.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for indigenous peoples—indigenous youth being an acutely vulnerable population. Unsurprisingly, there has been a public outcry for intervention. To reach these remote areas, both activists and researchers are turning to technology to alleviate the growing suicide epidemic.

The We Matter Campaign, an initiative by brother-sister duo Kelvin and Tunchai Redvers, began in October 2016. The campaign consists of videos from members of the indigenous community sharing personal stories of survival and hope. The Redvers’ website hosts a variety of work from indigenous youth—visual art and poetry, in addition to the videos, which are the main focus. Individuals with diverse experiences have shared their stories, from high school students, to residential school survivors, to members of parliament.

One especially moving story comes from comedian Don Burnstick, who discloses:

“I ended up on a chair with a rope around my neck, and I was going to hang myself. …I imagine if I would have done that, I would have ended up another statistic; a cross on the ground in my res. None of this life would have happened for me. I was very grateful that I got off that chair, took the rope off and looked at suicide and said ‘I’m not going to do it. I don’t care how much pain I’m in. I’m not going to do it. You’re not going to get me.’”

By hosting a multi-media campaign on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as their own website, the Redvers harness technology and social media to reach otherwise isolated populations.

Kelvin and Tunchai Redvers spoke to the Trauma and Mental Health Report about their initiative. When asked how it started, Kelvin emphasizes the role of the internet:

“It seemed like something so simple, yet we hadn’t seen anyone do it yet. 3AM is when life seems so bleak and you feel most alone. Since our campaign is online and available at all hours, it could really help during those dark moments.”

Tunchai further highlights the important role technology plays in their approach:

“Our campaign is online, and it lives online—to all remote corners, to those who might not reach out for help. It’s less overwhelming that way, less intimidating.”

Researchers, too, are harnessing the power of technology to help indigenous youth populations. Sally Merry and colleagues at Auckland University have developed a video game called SPARX (Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-Factor thoughts). Referred to as the first “scientifically-proven ‘gamified’ online therapy for depressed people,”SPARX is a fantasy role-playing game designed to teach coping skills based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy. SPARX teaches five behaviours to help young people address stress or depression: problem solving; being active; dealing with negative thoughts; improving social skills; and learning relaxation techniques.

Anecdotal findings of SPARX in Auckland show that adolescents using it report feeling happy that their peers don’t know they are depressed, and that they can deal with their mental health concerns on their own. That same study found youth reporting decreased feelings of hopelessness and better emotion regulation. One user explains:

“It gives you the courage to sort out your problems, face your problems, and may even enable you to take another step and talk to someone.”

SPARX has been used to treat depressed youth in a variety of cultural contexts, including indigenous youth. After successful results with the New Zealand Māori population, the approach is being tried in Canada. Given that individuals of the Inuit community in Nunavut are 11 times more likely than the national average to commit suicide, researchers from York University are working to adapt SPARX for the Inuit context (SPARX-N).

This technology is enabling new routes to helping marginalized, indigenous populations that live in inaccessible areas. Although tangible outcomes remain to be seen, technology-based solutions offer hope toward helping heal a long history of trauma. Above all, the founders of the We Matter Campaign emphasize the strength and resilience of indigenous communities. Tunchai says:

“There are a lot of issues out there, but also so much creativity, love, and hope.”

–Fernanda de la Mora, 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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Climate Change Affecting Farmer’s Mental Health

60Depression, 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