Category: Featured news

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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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Remote Northwest Territories Lacking Mental Health Care

00Environment, Featured news, Health, Self-Harm, Suicide, Therapy, Trauma November, 16

Source: Gloria Williams on Flickr, Creative Commons

On April 26, 2015, 19-year-old Timothy Henderson, a resident of the North West Territories in Canada, was taken off life support after sustaining self-harm injuries, the culmination of a long battle with depression and other mental health issues.

Beginning in adolescence, Timothy struggled with symptoms of ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome (Autism spectrum). When he felt overwhelmed by his condition, he reached out for support, but felt dismissed, and began to lose hope that the help he needed would be available.

Shortly before his death, Timothy admitted himself to Stanton Territorial Hospital for the fifth time in a year, where he again disclosed details about a tendency to self-harm. He was released two days later, without adequate follow-up or a long-term care plan. Later that month, he sustained self-inflicted injuries that led to his death.

Timothy’s case is not uncommon in the Northwest Territories, a remote region of northern Canada. The NWT Mental Health Act states that a medical practitioner can only detain an individual for psychiatric assessment for a maximum of 48 hours. This time limitation often results in rushed and insufficient care—a result of a system that is understaffed and overworked.

The territory’s current Mental Health Act, introduced in June 1988, has been cited as a main cause of inadequate services for individuals suffering from mental illness. The act is out-of-date and has not been modernized with strategies to address the current mental health climate of the NWT.

In a report by the Alternative North Health Coalition, the mental wellbeing of residents in the NWT is shown to be much lower than that of the average Canadian, with a national rate of suicide three times greater than those living in the more populous south. Lack of access to staff, resources, and community-based treatments are all relevant aspects of the act that impede adequate treatment and prevention strategies.

Timothy’s mother, Connie Boraski, believes Timothy’s mental health began to worsen when he turned 17, and no longer qualified for the pediatric healthcare program. This transition resulted in lengthier waits for treatment and drastic changes in privacy laws that prevented Timothy’s parents from having access to information about their son’s treatment. Mental health legislation regarding the legal rights of family members and other caregivers is an aspect of the Mental Health Act that restricts parents, like Timothy’s, from intervening to support their children.

After being repeatedly dismissed, Timothy eventually stopped asking for help. Boraski explains:

“Timothy never wanted to be a burden to anyone. That was a real challenge for him, to ask for help.”

Deficiencies in the quality and quantity of staff and resources reflect the isolation and socioeconomic climate of the NWT. Due to the small and relatively isolated nature of the region, accessing facilities within the community can be difficult. Timothy had to travel between hospitals in the NWT and Alberta to obtain psychiatric help, which resulted in seeing a different doctor on each occasion. This kind of disjointed doctor-patient relationship makes it difficult to stay connected.

The public outrage following Timothy’s death eventually drove NWT Health Minister, Glen Abernethy, to open a review into Timothy’s case and bring changes to mental health legislation. In addition to other important components, the new act will include information on services such as Assertive Community Treatment (ACT), which will allow patients to have access to specialized treatment and supervision within remote communities of the NWT.

The revised act, if passed, is expected to come into effect sometime in 2016. Though implementation of a new mental health act is too late for Timothy Henderson, the hope is that a new mandate will provide the Northwest Territories with better preventative measures and resources for residents suffering with mental illness.

– Nonna Khakpour, 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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Death Penalty May Not Bring Peace to Victims’ Families

00Featured news, Forgiveness, Law and Crime, Memory, Punishment, Stress, Trauma October, 16
Source: Lesia Szyca – Trauma and Mental Health Report Artist

On May 15th 2015, a federal jury condemned Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death for his role in killing four people and injuring hundreds in the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. Before the verdict, Bill and Denise Richards—the parents of a nine-year old boy who was killed in the attack—asked that the government not seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev. In an open letter published in the Boston Globe, they explained:

“The continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong the most painful day of our lives.”

The death penalty is often touted as the only punishment that provides true justice and closure for a victim’s family and friends, also known as covictims. But this is rarely based on covictims’ actual sentiments.

Research by University of Minnesotta sociology-anthropology professor Scott Vollum and colleagues found ambivalence in covictims’ reactions to capital punishment. Their study showed that only 2.5% achieved true closure, and 20.1% said that the execution did not help them heal. Covictims in the study also expressed feelings of emptiness when the death penalty did not “bring back the victim.”

The long judicial process between conviction and execution, which can span many years in some cases, also prolongs grief and pain for covictims. Uncertainty prevails in the face of appeals, hearings, and trials, while increased publicity inherent in death-penalty cases exacerbates covictims’ suffering. Through media exposure, they repeatedly relive traumatic events.

Pain and anger, especially, are common in the wake of tragic loss and can be accompanied by an overwhelming desire for revenge. Some covictims in the Vollum study voiced that the death penalty was not harsh enough, while others communicated a wish to personally inflict harm on the condemned. In the majority of cases though, executions were not sufficient to satisfy these desires.

“More often than not, families of murder victims do not experience the relief they expected to feel at the execution,” states Lula Redmond, a Florida therapist who works with surviving family members. “Taking a life doesn’t fill that void, but it’s generally not until after the execution that families realize this.”

In a number of cases, covictims actually expressed sympathy for family members of the condemned, often empathizing with the experience of loss. “My heart really goes out to his family. I lost my daughter, and I know today is a terrible day for them as well,” statedone covictim.

A death sentence can polarize the two families, obstructing healing for both. Prison chaplain Caroll Pickett has witnessed how capital punishment inflicts trauma on loved ones of both the condemned and the victim, as well as prison employees and others in the judicial process, stating in his autobiography, “All the death penalty does is create another set of victims.”

Of course, findings like these beg the question, are other forms of punishment more conducive to healing? A 2012 Marquette University Law School study showed improved physical and psychological health for covictims, as well as greater satisfaction with the justice system, when life sentences were given, rather than capital punishment. The authors hypothesize that survivors “may prefer the finality of a life sentence and the obscurity into which the defendant will quickly fall, to the continued uncertainty and publicity of the death penalty.”

Would covictims move through the natural healing process more rapidly if they were not dependent on an execution to bring long-awaited peace? Perhaps the execution as an imagined endpoint for closure only leads to more grief in the meantime.

As one survivor expressed, “I get sick when death-penalty advocates self-righteously prescribe execution to treat the wounds we live with after homicide… Healing is a process, not an event.”

The realities of capital punishment may be poorly suited for healthy grieving and healing. The Richards family wrote, “We hope our two remaining children do not have to grow up with the lingering, painful reminder of what the defendant took from them, which years of appeals would undoubtedly bring.”

–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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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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Biased Publication Standards Hinder Schizophrenia Research

00Addiction, Bias, Deception, Education, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Psychopharmacology, Therapy September, 16

Source: Erin on Flickr

The effects of schizophrenia are profound. Characterized by delusions, hallucinations, and social withdrawal, the disorder has no known cure. The introduction of antipsychotic medications in the 1950s has helped many sufferers cope. Following diagnosis, patients usually take antipsychotics for the rest of their lives.

But recently, a 20-year study by professor emeritus Martin Harrow and colleagues at the University of Illinois found evidence to support alternative treatment methods. In fact, non-medicated patients in the study reported better community functioning and fewer hospitalizations than patients who stayed on antipsychotics.

So why do medications continue to be the most commonly prescribed treatment for schizophrenia?

Antipsychotic drugs are the largest grossing category of prescription medication in the United States, with a revenue of over $16 billion in 2010. And much of the research that exists on treatment of schizophrenia is directly funded by pharmaceutical companies, making it challenging for independent researchers like Harrow and his team to get studies published. A bias exists towards silencing unfavourable research.

An analysis looking into possible publications biases surrounding antipsychotic drug trials in the U.S. found that, of the trials that did not get published, 75% were negative, meaning that the drug was no better than placebo. On the other hand, 75% of the trials that did get published found positive results for the antipsychotics being tested.

The Washington Post wrote an article in 2012 claiming that four different studies conducted on a new antipsychotic drug called Iloperidone were never published. Each of the studies pointed to the ineffectiveness of the drug, finding that it was no more effective than a sugar pill for the treatment of schizophrenia. A publication bias like this is worrisome.

Research has also shown that staying on antipsychotic drugs for long periods of time negatively impacts brain functioning and could potentially lead to a worsening of some of the initial symptoms of the illness, including social withdrawal and flat affect.

A growing body of research is focusing on cognitive therapy and community based treatments for schizophrenia, as either a replacement for or in combination with traditional pharmacological treatments. So far, outcomes have been promising.

A study by Anthony Morrison, a professor at the University of Manchester found that patients undergoing cognitive therapy showed the same reduction in psychotic symptoms as patients receiving drug treatment. Likewise, research by psychiatristLoren Mosher, an advocate for non-drug treatments for schizophrenia, showed that antipsychotic medication is often far less effective without added psychotherapy. Onestudy by Mosher showed that patients receiving alternative community based treatment had far fewer symptoms of schizophrenia than patients who received traditional treatment in a hospital setting.

When antipsychotic medication was introduced, many hoped it would represent themagic pill for an illness previously thought to be incurable. But little was known about the long-term effects, and even today, many claims of medication efficacy or lack of side effects remain questionable.

Research in schizophrenia is burgeoning and whether a safer, more effective treatment can be developed remains to be seen. Yet for such developments to be possible, it is important for the scientific and medical communities to open themselves up to the possibility of alternative treatments instead of limiting research that challenges the status quo. While antipsychotic medications offer great benefits in terms of reducing acute positive symptoms like hallucinations or delusions, they are by no means a cure.

–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

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Semicolon Punctuates Mental Health Awareness

00Addiction, Featured news, Health, Resilience, Self-Harm, Suicide, Trauma September, 16

Source: Brittany Inskeep on Flickr

Sure, writers dismiss it. But the semicolon—the otherwise underwhelming punctuation mark—has had its share of fans like American physician and poet Lewis Thomas, who said the semicolon leaves “a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.”

Amy Bleuel echoed this sentiment when she founded Project Semicolon on April 16, 2013. This global non-profit movement is dedicated to providing support for those struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction, and self-injury.

In a recent interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Amy shared the meaning behind the semicolon:

“It represents continuance. Authors usually use the semicolon when they choose not to end the sentence. You are the author and the sentence is your life, and you’re choosing to continue.”

In 2003, Amy lost her father to suicide.

“I’m kind of continuing his story by telling it to raise awareness. It took 10 years for me to do it but I was able to use his story to bring hope to others and that was my inspiration.”

Since the project’s humble beginnings, the semicolon has evolved into something much bigger. After one of Amy’s blog posts went viral, many decided to get inked with the symbol. What’s more: they started sharing their stories online and creating awareness around mental illness.

But according to Amy, Project Semicolon was not intended to become a tattoo phenomenon:

“It was not meant at all to be a tattoo campaign. It was just picked up as that. I got a tattoo. People started getting a tattoo. It became something people apparently wanted to say.”

It also became something people were willing to stand behind. As a registered charity, Project Semicolon raises funds to help fight stigma and present hope and love to those in need. Dusk Till Dawn Ink, a tattoo shop in Calgary, even donates a portion of the proceeds from semicolon tattoos to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

But the semicolon isn’t the only mental health tattoo out there. Casidhe Gardiner, 20, has an eating disorder recovery symbol tattooed on the inside of her arm, alongside the words “take care.” To her, the tattoo serves as a reminder to look after herself and to avoid relapse:

“If I branded myself with a recovery symbol in a place that I could see all the time, it would remind me in a hard time when I’m spiraling down again that I’ve recovered. I’ve done all this hard work to get there. Why go through the negative parts of the disorder when I have all these amazing parts of recovery?”

What is it about mental health tattoos that help in the healing process?

According to Casidhe, the tattoo works as a conversation piece—sparking discussion when it might not happen otherwise. When asked about the role the semicolon tattoo plays in her healing process, Amy felt the concept was more opaque:

“You know I’m not really sure how that works. I have a lot of people say they look at the semicolon and it gives them inspiration. It’s a reminder that says you get to keep writing. Yeah it sucks sometimes but you get to keep going and choosing how you write that story.”

Supporters of the project have declared April 16th ‘National Semicolon Day.’ On this day, everyone is invited to post their semicolon tattoo on social media platforms like Twitter and Pinterest with the hashtag #ProjectSemicolon, raising awareness and celebrating the network of people who believe in moving forward despite their challenges.

On their website, the project states that they are not a helpline, nor are they trained mental health professionals. But what makes Project Semicolon special, according to Amy, is that it emphasizes the importance of community and non-judgmental support in recovery:

“These people need somebody who cares, who understands them. Not just people who say everything will get better. I wanna be open and honest about my own struggles, I don’t want them to think I’m a person who doesn’t struggle. I want people to be able to come up and say, ‘I struggle too.’ Why do we need to hide?”

A simple punctuation mark; a tattoo; a network of support. Perhaps by wearing a symbol that represents the struggles and victories of the human spirit, the invisible becomes visible. And visibility is important when striving for universal acceptance.

 “Stay strong; love endlessly; change lives.” The phrase appears on the mission statement on the project’s website. It was borne of a phrase close to Amy’s heart:

“I use the phrase “love endlessly” and I truly believe that it’s love that can save a life. And my father showed me that in the short time I had with him.”

–Marjan Khanjani, 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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“Ex-Gay” Conversion Therapy Movement Puts Lives at Risk

00Conformity, Featured news, Health, Sexual Orientation, Social Life, Stress, Therapy September, 16

Source: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

There is a billboard in Richmond, Virginia hanging above the interstate with a picture of identical male twins and a caption that reads: “Identical Twins: One Gay, One Not. We believe twin research studies show nobody is born gay.”

Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX), the organization that created the ad, promotes the view that being gay is a choice, not a genetic predisposition, despite extensive research showing the contrary.

The claims in the ad are not only false, but the men featured are not actually twins at all, or even brothers. According to the Huffington Post, the face of South African model, Kyle Roux, was superimposed onto two different bodies to give the illusion of twins. Roux was shocked to see his face on the ad, as he didn’t give permission for the image to be used. And…he is openly gay.

PFOX is part of the controversial Ex-Gay Movement, encouraging gay persons to refrain from same-sex relationships, eliminate homosexual tendencies, and develop heterosexual desires. Their view: Gay must be cured.

They consider sexual orientation a choice, and those who identify as gay are willingly choosing a deviant lifestyle. But this ideology results in family rejection and self-hatred among LGBTQ individuals, as well as intolerance and discrimination in the community.

Organizations promoting this view are often affiliated with religious institutions. PFOX believes gay people can renounce homosexuality through religious revelations or conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy.

Sexual orientation conversion therapy became popular in the 1960s. According to the American Psychological Association report, Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, different disciplines of psychology influenced practices of conversion therapy.

In response to such treatments, numerous mental health and psychological organizations publically announced that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and is not something that can or should be cured. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association’s Board of Trustees removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Second Edition (DSM II) in 1973. And in 2000, they further stated:

“The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.”

The risks are even greater among gay youth. A 2009 study by Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State University found that young adults who experience family rejection based on their sexual orientation are eight times more likely to attempt suicide and six times more likely to experience depression.

Despite these findings and professional opposition to conversion therapy by both the American Psychiatric and American Psychological Associations, many of these treatments continue to be used and promoted.

Michele Bachmann, a Republican former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, considers homosexuality a choice. Bachmann and her husband were found to be practicing conversion therapy at their Christian counseling clinic in Minnesota.

Conversion therapy is still legal in most U.S. states, though anti-conversion bills have been signed into law in California, New Jersey, and Washington DC. Campaigns such as the #BornPerfect movement are working toward expanding state bans into other areas.

While public attitudes and legislation are shifting toward respect for LGBTQ individuals, conversion therapy is still a common practice, compromising mental health, threatening lives, and undermining efforts of movements that stress tolerance and equality.

–Eleenor Abraham, 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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Divorce an Unreliable Predictor of Aggressiveness

00Anger, Child Development, Divorce, Emotion Regulation, Family Dynamics, Featured news, Parenting, Self-Control August, 16

by Afifa Mahboob, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

“Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my retribution against humanity, against all of you.”

Elliot Rodger spoke these words in a video he recorded before stabbing and shooting fellow students at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) in May 2014. After killing six and injuring 14 others, Rodger took his own life.

In a 140-page manifesto called “My Twisted World,” Rodger explained that he was seeking revenge for being a virgin at 22 years of age. Tormented by loneliness and rejection, he detailed many painful experiences that helped push him over the edge. In a final video, he threatened the life of every female student in UCSB’s most popular sorority house and anyone else he saw on the streets of Isla Vista.

Rodger sent this manifesto to his parents and therapist before the killing spree, blaming them for his sexual frustrations. His father, Peter Rodger, later explained that his son began dealing with mental health problems at a young age, following his parents’ divorce. In an interview with Barbara Walters on ABC’s 20/20, Rodger’s father spoke about Elliot’s fear of interaction with other children in high school:

“He felt the inability to get along with them. And this is when we realized that he had a real fear of other human beings, of other kids his age.”

Stories like those of Elliot Rodger lead us to seek explanations. We try to understand how something like this can occur. In the 20/20 interview, one explanation advanced was the idea that Rodger’s life changed when his parents divorced.

Source: Yuliya Evstratenko/Shutterstock

The idea of divorce being profoundly damaging to children offers a compelling explanation when it is otherwise difficult to understand certain individual actions. Research shows that children who experience divorce at a young age may develop separation anxiety and dependency. When they do not receive equal attention from both parents, they may become sensitized to rejection and react strongly to this same type of rejection in social situations. Over time, they may develop lower self-esteem and negative expectations regarding intimate relationships.

But even among this small fraction of children, severe aggression is rare. In fact, most children of divorce are able to cope relatively successfully with their situation and go on to develop close relationships, experiencing few behavioral problems. Yet it remains common to view divorce as being destructive for children.

Janine Bernard of Purdue University and Sally Nesbitt of the Counseling and Psychological Services Center in Texas both found no significant differences in levels of anger, aggression, and passive-aggressiveness between children of divorced or disrupted families and children of intact families. In their two-part study, they found that while all children are affected by the quality of their parents’ relationship, environmental and sociocultural factors are just as important in determining individuals’ temperament. Similarly, internal levels of maturity, personal coping styles, and other relationships can and often do counterbalance the negative impacts of divorce.

Bernard and Nesbitt note:

“For generations couples have been disillusioned by the marriage myth, which promised life happily ever after. The more recent divorce myth is equally dogmatic and suggests that divorce has inordinate powers to hurt people regardless of the mental health and maturity of the adults and children involved.”

People with such views tend to expect children from divorced families to become socially isolated and develop behavioral problems. Bernard and Nesbitt explain that this is a common hypothesis among researchers conducting divorce studies. The bias may impact their judgment and cause stilted reporting of results, with more focus on a child’s negative behavior and less on their positive qualities.

Eva Bennett on flickr

Source: Eva Bennett on flickr

Elliot Rodger is an example of one individual who was psychologically disturbed and viewed his parents as responsible for his suffering. But he is certainly not a typical example of a child of divorced parents.

His social isolation may have felt unbearable to him, and he and his family sought an explanation for his violent actions, just as we all do when we hear about tragic stories like this. But our best explanations can be misguided. Reliably predicting violent behavior is still difficult to do.

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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CIA Torture Techniques Harm Interrogators As Well

00Anger, Empathy, Featured news, Intelligence, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Stress, Trauma August, 16

Source: KamrenB Photography on flickr

In December of 2014, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released a tell-all report about the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) detainment and interrogation of suspected terrorists, concluding that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used were far less effective and ethical than previously thought.

Under the supervision of medical staff, detainees were deprived of sleep for as long as a week, confined inside coffin-shaped boxes for several days, water-boarded multiple times a day, and even subjected to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” in an effort to assert “total control over the detainee.”

The report shows that, to obtain information, CIA officers intimidated detainees with threats to harm their families, which included, “threats to harm a detainee’s children, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and threats to cut a detainee’s mother’s throat.” These individuals were also led to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive.

According to Mark Costanzo, professor at Claremont McKenna College, torture used as an interrogation device can have severe, long-lasting effects on physical and mental health.

In the Senate report, one detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was initially deemed compliant, cooperative, and truthful by some CIA interrogators. Yet after years of intense interrogations, he was diagnosed with anxiety and major depressive disorder and was later described as a “difficult and uncooperative detainee, who engaged in repeated belligerent acts, which included attempts to assault CIA personnel and efforts to damage items in his cell.”

Al-Nashiri accused CIA staff of “drugging or poisoning his food, and complained of bodily pain and insomnia.”

Yet the report failed to thoroughly investigate the long-term psychological consequences such techniques may inflict upon not only detainees, but interrogators as well.

CIA personnel involved in the interrogations also experienced psychological distress. Some even elected to be transferred out of the interrogation sites until the CIA stopped using torture as a form of interrogation.

Costanzo notes that research on the psychological consequences of partaking in torture is limited. Most studies have analyzed medical professionals who previously supervised torture to identify the psychological consequences.

In 1986, psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton interviewed Nazi doctors who participated in human experimentation and mass killings. Lifton concluded that after years of exposure, many of the doctors experienced psychological damage similar in intensity to that of their victims. Anxiety, intrusive traumatic memories, and impaired cognitive and social functioning were all common consequences.

Costanzo believes that interrogators who use torture techniques may have similar experiences. In February 2007, Eric Fair, an American interrogator who was stationed at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, confessed to participating in and overseeing the torture of Iraqi detainees. In his memoir, Consequences, Fair discusses how those events continue to haunt him—leading to martial problems, reoccurring night terrors and insomnia, substance abuse, and depression.

The U.S. public seems split on the issue of torture use, with many believing that enhanced interrogation techniques are warranted if they help prevent future terrorist attacks. Days after the Senate Intelligence Committee released the report, the Pew Research Center polled 1,000 Americans and discovered that 51% believed the CIA’s interrogation techniques were justified.

But according to Costanzo, many who survive torture reveal false information in order to appease the torturer and stop the pain. The Senate Intelligence Committee supported this finding when they discovered that none of the 39 detainees subjected to the enhanced interrogation techniques produced useful intelligence.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, further argues that the CIA’s techniques are amoral:

“Such pressure, fear and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security.”

Feinstein is now proposing a bill to reform interrogation practices in the United States. The bill suggests the use of techniques designed by the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which rely on building rapport and empathy as opposed to relying on physical and psychological pressure. This model has seen great success in both law enforcement and intelligence gathering in countries like Norway and the United Kingdom. Feinstein explains:

“It is my sincere and deep hope that through the release of these findings and conclusions, U.S. policy will never again allow for secretive indefinite detention and the use of coercive interrogations.”

–Alessandro Perri, 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