Category: Friends

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Friends of Teens with Eating Disorders Unsure Where to Turn

00Adolescence, Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Eating Disorders, Featured news, Friends, Health, Social Life January, 17

Source: Darren Tunnicliff on Flickr, Creative Commons

During my last year of high school, I tried to help one of my closest friends, Rebecca (name changed), through an eating disorder.  I found myself in the difficult position of guarding her secret, yet somehow trying to get her through a mental illness.

So I was eager to see director Sanna Lenken’s, My Skinny Sister at the 2015 Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival in Toronto, a film that captures the pain of a family coping with one member’s eating disorder.

The story is narrated by a young girl, Stella, who discovers that her older sister and role model, Katja, is suffering from anorexia nervosa. Through their complicated relationship, the viewer feels the struggle of wanting to protect a friend or family member from harm, while respecting the right to come forward only when ready.

Stella’s confusion and anxiety resonated with me. Like her, I felt I had to keep my friend Rebecca’s eating disorder a secret, scared of repercussions should anyone find out.

Rebecca’s condition escalated during senior year. She began over-exercising and restricting her caloric intake. At first, the disorder was hardly noticeable. But over time her weight dropped, her face appeared gaunt, her bones protruded.

At seventeen, I felt ill-equipped to handle this. Like Stella, I wanted Rebecca to seek help, but I didn’t know how to arrange it without betraying her trust.

Trying to aid a family member or friend with an eating disorder is very hard. Without resources at school, with no one to turn to, I didn’t know how to begin the conversation. As I struggled to support Rebecca, it became obvious I had no tools to help. One week of anti-stigma instruction that focused on body image and speaking inclusively wasn’t nearly enough.

Many adolescents are vulnerable to personal and friendship crises like these. And some websites help educate teenagers, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) site or the National Eating Disorder Association’s (NEDA) site.

But mental health education in high school? Not so much.

That’s unfortunate. Research shows the benefits of educating teachers on mental illness. In a 2014 study published in the journal Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Yifeng Wei and Stan Kutcher at Dalhousie University found that training teachers through a mental health program led to significant development in their ability to identify individuals with mental illness. And their attitudes toward mental disorders improved as well. Teachers were better able to support students, and link them to services.

The Youth Action Committee of Children’s Mental Health Ontario, in 2012, designed a project to identify where schools were deficient in educating mental health issues. The study found a lack of training and education for students, with 39.5% of participants saying they only learned about mental health in one class. There was also a lack of access to resources, such as a designated safe space for students who wanted to discuss these issues in school.

In the end, there wasn’t much I could do to help my friend. Over time, Rebecca sought treatment independently—she got the help she needed.

But not everyone struggling with an eating disorder will seek help on their own. Better education and resources for people coping with mental illness, as well as for those who want to help, would go a long way in providing support.

–Alyssa Carvajal, 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

Bipolar Disorder Makes For Up-And-Down Friendships

Bipolar Disorder Makes For Up-And-Down Friendships

00Bipolar Disorder, Featured news, Friends, Relationships, Suicide August, 15

Source: Farrukh/Flickr

Lauren and I have been friends for a long time.  More than once, she had mentioned to me that she had bipolar disorder, but I never gave it much thought.  It always seemed under control, and I knew she was getting help.  When we decided to move in together, I was not concerned.

But it became apparent immediately that she did not have her mental illness under control.  Long depressive episodes, where she did not talk to anyone, were followed by short manic ones (when she was great to be around).  As a friend, I had no idea how to help or how to help myself while living with her.  I was confused when she would suddenly get angry at me, and I worried about what to do if she hurt herself.  And if I were to call someone I didn’t know how she’d react.

Over the past year I’ve learned a lot about the disorder, how to deal with it; not as a psychologist or therapist, but as a friend.

Don’t take it personally

It is difficult to accept, but sometimes people in a depressed state don’t feel like talking, and not because they dislike you, or because they’re being rude.  Mdjunction.com tells readers that one of the “do’s” of dealing with a loved one is to “realize your friend is angry and frustrated with the disorder, not with you.”  I once asked Lauren why she would ignore me for days at a time and she told me that sometimes she doesn’t talk just to avoid crying on the spot.

Recognize triggers

Drinking made Lauren manic.  On the surface, mania doesn’t look all that bad.  The person is happy, exuberant, and outgoing.  But those with bipolar disorder who are manic often crash into a depression that lasts longer and is more severe than the mania.  I pointed this out to my friend, explaining that when she drank, her night usually ended in depression.

She responded, and cut down her drinking.  But some may not be as willing to take responsibility.  It’s impossible to force a friend to change, but pointing out triggers may give them some insight into their behaviour.

Talk to their family when necessary

Luckily, Lauren has a caring supportive family.  Her brother and I have exchanged phone numbers, and if something happens to Lauren where I’m in over my head, I can notify her brother and ask him to help.

Know when to call for help and own your decision

Once I had to call an ambulance for Lauren.  After finishing a bottle of prescription sleeping pills, she admitted to me that she wanted to die.  She could barely form a sentence and I feared the worst.  It was a difficult decision, I knew I risked losing Lauren’s trust but I called anyway.

Terri Cheney, author of, A Memoir and The Dark Side of Innocence: Growing up Bipolar writes “If someone you know or love talks about suicide, even jokingly or in a passing remark, stop and listen.  Ask if he or she has a plan….Above all, take it seriously.”

You don’t know how they feel

Don’t pretend to understand how someone with bipolar disorder feels.  Being empathetic and actively listening to what your friend has to say will go much further than telling them about that time you were sad and how it’s the same.  It’s not.  And most important, do not tell them to just “get over it.”  It’s not so easy.

Don’t put your friend’s needs before your own

Sociologist Jeanne Segal, author of The Language of Emotional Intelligence, writes that “Supporting your loved ones may involve some life adjustments, but make sure you don’t lose sight of your own goals and priorities.”

I used to invite Lauren everywhere.  I did enjoy her company; but on reflection, I think I was doing it largely out of fear.  I worried she’d hurt herself home alone.  Looking after her was emotionally draining.  I came to realize that not only did I have to learn to trust her alone, but I also needed my own time with friends, I needed to focus on my own life.

Having a friend or a family member with Bipolar Disorder can be complicated, and may require time and patience.  But the illness doesn’t have to define the individual.  Lauren is the same person I knew long before I knew of the diagnosis, and she is still a great friend.

But now I have learned to become more empathetic and accepting of people, whose moods I cannot justify…or even fully comprehend.

– By Anonymous, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Taboo of Male Rape Keeps Victims Silent

Taboo of Male Rape Keeps Victims Silent

00Depression, Featured news, Friends, Gender, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sex, Stress June, 15

Source: Mitchell Joyce/Flickr

“My name is Will, and I think rape is hilarious…when it happens to a dude,” begins the monologue in a recently posted video written and performed by actor, Andrew Bailey. In this powerful mostly-satirical piece, Bailey opens discussion about how male sexual assaults are brushed off. “A male can’t be raped because he must have wanted it.”

Rape can and does happen to men. Approximately 1 in 6 men have experienced some form of sexual abuse as children, and 1 in 33 American men are reportedly survivors of attempted or completed rape.

And these statistics are likely an under-representation. According toRAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization, about 60% of all sexual assaults are not reported to police.

Although women are more likely to be sexually assaulted, Western notion of masculinity and gender have made it difficult to view men as victims of abuse. Men are often expected to welcome sexual advances, not view them as unwanted, rendering them less able to identify a sexual assault when it occurs to them.

“Male survivors may be less likely to identify what happened to them as abuse or assault because of the general idea that men always want sex,” Jennifer Marsh, the vice president for Victim Services at RAINN told CNN.

A further challenge is the widely-held view that physical strength makes men incapable of being overpowered or assaulted. James Landrith, a sexual assault survivor, spoke to CNN: “We [men] are conditioned to believe that we cannot be victimized.”

But, a research study led by Janice Du Mont from the University of Toronto, reported that male victims are often drugged prior to assault. While the assailant is usually male, female aggressors who violently sexually abuse male victims are not uncommon.

After an assault, the victim often feels troubled by his inability to protect himself, questioning his masculinity, feeling that a sense of control has been taken from him. They may also feel ashamed about the incident, making them reluctant to speak out. In fact, 71% of adult sexual assault survivors hold the view that “nobody would believe me” as a reason for not reporting the incident.

Many report receiving little to no support from family and friends, as they often fear disclosing the abuse. In an interview with theDepartment of Justice Canada, a male sexual assault victim recounts, “no one knew about it, so I just felt very alone, and I didn’t communicate any of that.”

“All the guys would laugh at me about it,” Bailey says in his monologue. Uncomfortable disclosing the reality of the experience, Bailey’s character gives in to rape humour, to fit in with friends. “I was like ‘psych’, I totally did enjoy it; then they high-fived me and told me I was cool.” Indeed, it is not unusual for male victims to fear rejection and harassment from others. Many keep silent.

Victims also report a complex range of emotional difficulties: isolation, anger, sadness, shame, guilt, and fear. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression and anxiety disorders are also common among victims.

Raising awareness and encouraging male survivors to reach out for support may be challenging, but education regarding sexual abuse and demystifying misconceptions surrounding rape is essential to help male survivors heal.

In research by the Department of Justice Canada, survivors suggested raising awareness through campaigns to better inform male survivors about available resources.

A recent UK initiative created a £500,000 fund for male victims of sexual abuse, bringing considerable public attention to the issue. The UK Ministry of Justice began an international social media campaign using the hash-tag #breakthesilence to end stigma and raise awareness.

Duncan Craig of Survivors Manchester, a survivor-led/survivor-run organization states, “In the future I would like to see both the government and society begin talking more openly about boys and men as victims and see us trying to make a positive change to pulling down those barriers that stop boys and men from speaking up.”

– Khadija Bint Misbah, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Social Media Cannot Fix ‘Being Alone’…Nor Should It

Social Media Cannot Fix ‘Being Alone’…Nor Should It

00Featured news, Friends, Media, Relationships, Self-Esteem, Social Networking May, 15

Source: Federico Morando/Flickr

As Facebook turned eleven this past February, I became acutely aware of my various virtual connections. I can tweet about what I am having for breakfast, or post a photo of my cereal to Instagram, and so on.

But is being virtually connected an effective way of interacting with others? Gary Turk, writer and director of “Look Up,” a short film that went viral over this past weekenddoesn’t think so.

According to Michelle Drouin, a professor of psychology at Purdue University, people use technology for different reasons. For example, individuals with secure attachment – those who are able to maintain trusting relationships and possess a good sense of self – tend to use text messaging to arrange meetings and check in, but save personal conversations for face-to-face contact. But those with insecure attachment styles are more likely to use texting for reassurance or the creation of artificial distance in relationships.

Sherry Turkle, M.I.T. professor and psychologist, characterizes the problem as one of not knowing how to be alone. To manage that fear, we seek to connect virtually, yet we are also afraid of real intimacy and use social media and technology to control how we connect. She refers to this “edited version” of a real conversation as the Goldilocks effect –having not too much, not too little, but a just-right amount of comfortable contact with others.

But, edited controlled conversations can lead to a lack of empathy. Since we cannot see our friends’ reactions we are unsure if our true intention was received. And, we cannot always read the emotion or tone of a comment and can overreact or become anxious over varying interpretations. The comedian Louis C.K. notes this impact on empathy as the reason he will never get his daughter a cell phone. He also thinks we use our cell-phones and social media accounts to avoid uncomfortable situations or deep emotions.

When we experience this “half-communication” with family or friends, we are left feeling unheard and lonelier than before.

The mere presence of a mobile phone in a room during a conversation reduces the feeling of closeness and connection between individuals, say Andrew Przybylski and Netta Weinstein, psychologists and professors at the University of Essex. The presence of the phone reminds us of our social network, other connections we could be making, and divides our attention. This same divided attention creates the feeling of not being heard, so we feel less certain of our ability to trust or connect with the other person.

Louis C.K. thinks what we really need is to turn the phone off and re-connect with ourselves. Being virtually connected is not the same as true connection.

As noted, Turkle considers the driving force of the Goldilocks effect as the fear of being alone. To improve our connection with others, what we need to learn is how to be fully present, and to be fully present, we first have to be able to sit with being alone.

The ability to be alone, to be in “solitude,” is not necessarily the same as being lonely.

Some benefits of solitude include being free of the scrutiny of others, allowing for more self-expression and creativity, time spent in self-reflection, and time to re-charge and renew.

Turkle thinks that time alone in conversation with oneself builds the skills necessary to engage in conversation with others. She is not against technology, but does think we need to find a balance and rethink how we are using technology. Drouin’s research does not fault the media. If not Facebook or Twitter, we would find other means to control how we interact and avoid the scary aspects of aloneness and intimacy.

There is increasing support for the idea that we need to re-balance. Social media is not a cure for loneliness.

But if I find that posts and tweets are leaving me wanting, then it is up to me to contact my friends and family to engage in more meaningful communication.

– Heather Carter-Simmons, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today