Category: Health

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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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Police “Blue Wall of Silence”; Facilitates Domestic Assault

00Anger, Conformity, Domestic Violence, Featured news, Health, Relationships, Work April, 17

Source: Stefan Guido-Maria Krikl on flickr

In January 1999, Pierre Daviault, a 24-year veteran constable of the Aylmer Police Services in Quebec, was arrested on 10 criminal charges for allegedly assaulting and drugging three ex-girlfriends between 1984 and 1999. Daviault resigned from the police force a few days later, but he was only sentenced to three years’ probation, no jail time.

In their 2015 book Police Wife: The Secret Epidemic of Police Domestic Violence authors Susanna Hope (pseudonym) and Alex Roslin describe instances of police spousal abuse within the U.S. and Canada, reporting that at least 40 percent of U.S. police-officer families experience domestic violence, compared to 10 percent of families in the general population.

Some officers are speaking up. Lila C. (name changed), a Canadian corrections officer (CO), was interviewed by the Trauma and Mental Health Report to discuss the growing issue of spousal abuse in Canadian law enforcement. Lila’s former colleague, Stephanie (name changed), was a victim of abuse. Awareness of Stephanie’s predicament, and the inability to do anything about it, affected Lila’s mental health more than anything else on the job.

Lila explained:

“Steph and I bonded very quickly and we were very open with each other, which is normal when two COs work together so often. But she never actually told me about the abuse she was taking at home. I noticed bruises on her neck myself.”

Stephanie’s perpetrator was her husband—a long-time police officer of the Peel Regional Police in Ontario. He was a man Lila knew well, and considered a friend:

“At first I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing and I kept quiet for the first few hours of our shift that day. But eventually, I asked ‘what’s that on your neck, what’s going on?’ And then came the breakdown period and she told me everything.”

Upon opening up to Lila, Stephanie revealed that she was frequently abused by her husband at home, both physically and verbally.

“My first gut response was ‘you need to leave him and tell someone’. I mean, how could he continue to work in law enforcement, deal with these types of cases on the job, and then go home and abuse his wife off the job? But Steph wouldn’t do it—she wouldn’t leave him. She felt that she wouldn’t be able to have him arrested. If she called the police to report him, who would believe her?”

In Police Wife, authors Hope and Roslin argue that one factor perpetuating abuse is that many officers think they can get away with it.

Carleton professor George Rigakos explains in an interview with Hope and Roslin: “A major influence in the use of domestic violence is a lack of deterrence. If there is no sanction, then it’s obvious the offence goes on.”

Referred to as the “blue wall of silence”—an unwritten code to protect fellow officers from investigation—officers learn early on to cover for each other, to extend “professional courtesy.”

And when a woman works up the nerve to file a complaint, police and justice systems often continue to victimize her. She must take on a culture of fear and the blue wall of silence, while simultaneously facing allegations of being difficult, manipulative, and deceptive.

Lila explains:

“I mean, I saw her almost every day and it was a huge elephant in the room. We didn’t bring it up again. And though I didn’t see her husband often, when I did see him, it was weird. He had no idea that I knew—I just couldn’t be around him, knowing what he was doing. But there was no getting away from the constant reminder of this unspoken and undealt-with abuse.”

Knowing both the victim and the perpetrator, knowing that the abuse was not being addressed on a systemic level, and feeling powerless to do anything about it herself affected Lila’s mental health and enthusiasm about the work she was doing:

“About two months in, I started having panic attacks on my way to work and even during my shift. I vaguely remember nights where I had bad dreams. It’s weird, I wasn’t even the one being abused, but I felt unsafe. I knew that I couldn’t say anything, because it would probably make things worse. I feared for Steph’s life, but in some strange way, I also feared for my own.”

Many officers face ostracism, harassment, and the frightening prospect of not receiving support when they do not abide by the blue wall of silence. Believing she would not be taken seriously if she decided to come forward (because of her gender) only amplified Lila’s sense of powerlessness and anxiety.

“I know that the system is unjust towards women, and that makes this situation even more hopeless to confront.”

Stephanie eventually left the corrections facility where she and Lila worked, and they gradually lost touch. Lila doesn’t know if Stephanie is still with her husband, and looking back she partly wishes she had said something about it.

Hope and Roslin explain in Police Wife that we are often reluctant and afraid to intervene if we think a friend or family member may be in a violent or abusive relationship. They encourage bystanders to acknowledge the courage it takes to reach out.

–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

Lena Dunham's Representations of Mental Illness

00Anxiety, Asperger's Syndrome, Featured news, Health, Media, Obessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, Self-Esteem March, 17
Karolina Reis on Flickr

Source: Karolina Reis on Flickr

Media portrayals of mental illness are often controversial and have been criticized for inaccurate stereotypical depiction.

But more recently viewers have seen a notable shift towards more accurate representations. Writers, producers, and actors are using their own experiences to create more authentic characters and situations.

The controversial television series Girls on HBO leads the way.

Lena Dunham –actress, writer, director, and executive producer of Girls– stars as the show’s protagonist Hannah Horvath, who struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Through her character, Dunham conveys her own personal journey, enabling viewers to observe genuine symptoms of the illness.

Dunham was diagnosed with OCD around age 9. In an excerpt from her new book, she discusses the experience of intrusive thoughts:

“I am afraid of everything. The list of things that keep me up at night includes but is not limited to: appendicitis, typhoid, leprosy, unclean meat, foods I haven’t seen emerge from their packaging, foods my mother hasn’t tasted first so that if we die we die together, homeless people, headaches, rape, kidnapping, milk, the subway, sleep.”

As a public figure, Dunham feels a responsibility to discuss her disorder openly. She believes this approach helps people better relate to those who live with mental illness.

Researchers Joachim Kimmerle and Ulrike Cress explored this in an article published in the Journal of Community Psychology. Their study demonstrated that we can learn about mental illness from fictional shows when the information is accurately presented, highlighting how there can be many useful and creative ways to disseminate knowledge in mental health.

However, research by Nicole Mossing Caputo, a marketing and public relation specialist, and Donna Rouner, who has her PhD in mass communication, at Colorado State University found that when viewers don’t relate to the storyline or don’t form an emotional bond with a character, social stigmas tend to persist.

When a link to a storyline is successful or an emotional bond is formed, viewers become less critical and adopt the protagonists’ perspective and understand their struggle. Connections to narratives and characters like Hannah Horvath help battle misconceptions.

Another show, Parenthood, candidly explores the struggle of living with Asperger’s Syndrome (Autism Spectrum). Like Dunham, the show’s creator Jason Katims uses his own experience of raising a son with Asperger’s to connect with viewers on issues surrounding mental illness.

Dunham’s representation of OCD on television has increased public discussionaround mental health. It has increased the visibility of various mental-health communities and has helped pave the way for other shows to do the same.

In a Psychology Today article, Jeff Szymanski, Executive Director of the International OCD Foundation, speaks to this progress:

“Lena did a service not only to herself by letting the world ‘see’ what the struggle looks like, but to the entire OCD community at large by showing some of the pain, stigma, and struggle any person with mental health issues has to endure.”

And many are taking notice.

Shortly after Girls first aired, Allison Dotson—an OCD sufferer herself—wrote an articlefor the Huffington Post explaining how the depiction of Hannah on Girls has helped fight stereotypical portrayals of her disorder:

“As someone with OCD, I find it refreshing to see this often misunderstood illness portrayed in a realistic way on an acclaimed television show. Just as Hannah herself resists typical far-fetched sitcom stereotypes — she’s not model thin, she struggles with her finances and her career choices, and she often finds herself in believable awkward situations — her OCD symptoms are presented in a way that resists the low-hanging fruit of a kooky character most of us never encounter in our day-to-day routine.”

– 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

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Photography Documenting Mental Illness Draws Criticism

00Caregiving, Emotional Intelligence, Empathy, Featured news, Health, Relationships, Resilience March, 17

Source: ethermoon on flickr, Creative Commons

For the past six years, Melissa Spitz of St. Louis, Missouri has been using photography to illustrate her mother’s experience with mental illness, referring to it as a form of “documentary photography”.

The photographs taken of Melissa’s mother Deborah are shared on Melissa’s professional website and on her Instagram in a project she calls “You Have Nothing to Worry About.” They artfully depict Deborah’s lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, dissociative identity disorder, and problem drinking.

In an interview with Time Magazine, Melissa explained that the series aims to provide an intimate look into the life of an individual suffering from mental illness. She told Dazed Digital:

“For me, mental illness has a face and a name—and that’s mum.”

Melissa first became aware of her mother’s mental-health problems when she was a child, and Deborah had to be institutionalized for “psychotic paranoia”. After years of anger and blame, Melissa picked up her camera as a way of confronting her mother’s disorder head-on.

The project became an emotional outlet for Melissa to facilitate healing. In an interview with Aint Bad Magazine, she explained:

“By turning the camera toward my mother and my relationship with her, I capture her behavior as an echo of my own emotional response. The images function like an ongoing conversation.”

Research published in the Journal of Public Health has shown that creative media can serve as powerful tools to help people express feelings of grief. Art therapy specifically can provide a means of expression, relieve emotional tension, and offer alternative perspectives.

Through her project, feelings of pain and hurt that Melissa held toward her mother were ameliorated, and she found herself feeling greater empathy, visually acknowledging her mother’s struggle with mental illness.

While the project is not without its merits, the provocative nature of the photographs—ranging from Deborah’s hospitalization to images of her unclothed and bruised—may elicit shock and discomfort in viewers.

Which raises the question: where do we draw the line between exploitation and freedom of expression in art depicting mental illness?

Laura Burke, a drama therapist from Nova Scotia, Canada, sees Melissa’s project as crossing an ethical line. Laura was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2005, and has suffered from depression her entire life. She believes that people with mental illness are often spoken for, and this is a common trap in representing their lives through art.

In an interview with The Trauma and Mental Health Report, Laura commented on Melissa’s project:

“It appears sensitively done, but the line between exploitation and reverence is a tough one to walk. If the focus was more explicitly on Spitz’s perspectives of her mother, and not an objective account of how things happened, which is sometimes how a photo can appear, I might feel more comfortable with it.”

Another issue that can arise is the power differential between photographer and subject. Even when consent is provided, subjects who struggle with mental health issues are particularly vulnerable when someone else is formulating the vision and acting as “the voice” of the art piece.

Laura addressed this concern in her interview:

“I feel that focusing more on the family member’s experience, and less on the subject living with the mental illness would be a less exploitative choice.”

Melissa is aware of the criticism her project has garnered from audiences. In an interview with Time Magazine, Melissa said:

“I am fully aware that my mother thrives on being the center of attention and that, at times, our portrait sessions encourage her erratic behavior. My hope for the project is to show that these issues can happen to anyone, from any walk of life and that there is nothing to be ashamed about.”

Despite the criticism, art can be transformative for both the artist and the audience by exposing mental illness in its rawest form. Max Houghton, a Senior Lecturer in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication, appreciates what Melissa’s project can do, and how it can help break down stigma surrounding mental illness.

Houghton told BBC News:

“I think photojournalism is criticised when it looks at the miserable side of life and depressing issues. However, in the right hands, photography can be used as a tool to discover and tell important stories differently”.

Projects like Melissa’s You Have Nothing to Worry About often spark much needed discussion around mental illness and are important and necessary to address stigma. And yet, one is left wondering whether such depictions of the vulnerable may do more harm than good.

–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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Staffing Shortage Underserves Long Term Care Residents

10Aging, Cognition, Dementia, Featured news, Health, Loneliness, Social Life February, 17

Source: Chris Marchant on flickr, Creative Commons

In the summer of 2014, I volunteered at a long-term care facility (LTC) in the Peel Region of Southern Ontario. Most of the residents who lived there were diagnosed with some form of cognitive impairment, primarily dementia. I saw first-hand the unfortunate reality of understaffing, and how it leads to deficits in patient care.

As the elderly population has grown, Ontario has seen a 22% increase in admission rates of LTC residents as of 2014. And the number of residents with cognitive impairments is especially high. According to the Ontario Long Term Care Association’s 2014 annual report, 62% of residents have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia resulting from stroke, developmental disability, or traumatic brain injury.

Patients with cognitive impairments may have other mental health disorders as well. The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) indicates that 25.9% of residents in Ontario long-term care homes have shown symptoms of depression through 2013 and 2014.

In my time volunteering at the LTC, I noticed that residents often refrained from socializing because they were unable to take part in events due to memory deterioration, speech issues, and physical ailments such as paralysis or arthritis. Most residents required staff to transport them from one place to another and though they worked hard to support residents, there were simply not enough staff to supervise these daily activities.

Jane (name changed for anonymity), the Supervisor of Activation at an LTC in the Peel Region, spoke to the Trauma and Mental Health Report about this issue. Jane is responsible for organizing activities that motivate elderly residents to engage in social interaction and improve cognitive well-being.

Jane agreed that one of the biggest challenges for LTCs is staffing:

“Year by year, the case load of different residents is increasing, but with such little funding we do not have enough staff to support their needs. If residents aren’t participating in daily events and activities, their cognitive functioning is negatively impacted.”

A University of Ottawa study found that between the years 2000 and 2010, over 60% of residents with multiple cognitive deficits lacked stimulating therapeutic activities and social support. It showed that while residents received sufficient assistance with physical needs, such as feeding and changing, cognitive functioning continued to worsen in areas like memory and attention.

Jane also explained that despite research emphasizing the importance of activities that are engaging, staffing shortages make it difficult for these activities to be held in LTC homes:

“We need more activation staff for art therapy, music therapy and physiotherapy as these activities are beneficial to residents’ cognitive functioning. However, many activities are cancelled or postponed because of a lack of staff to facilitate the activities and monitor the residents. A few years ago, residents only needed one staff member or nurse for assistance, now they need two or more people. Sometimes, they’re left waiting for support.”

But perhaps the real issue here is funding. Adequate funds are necessary to increase the amount of staff within LTCs, so that residents can develop social relationships, participate in interactive activities, and improve their cognitive functioning and capabilities. Jane agrees:

“Funding hasn’t increased yet the resident conditions are changing and they require more care. The caseload is increasing, with little funding.”

Funding should also be allotted for appropriate staff training. LTC residents with cognitive impairments have a unique set of needs. According to the University of Ottawa study, residents require assistance in areas such as memory retention and engaging in regular social activities to help them interact and feel like recognized members of their community.

Making use of mental health first aid programs, such as the workshops offered atConestoga College and the Baycrest Health Sciences’ Geriatric Mental Health Serviceconference, can go a long way in improving the services staff provide.

As a past volunteer for an LTC home, I have seen the impact of limited support on residents’ lives. Greater funding and more staff to facilitate therapeutic activities are crucial to optimizing the care residents receive and to ensuring better cognitive functioning.

–Afifa Mahboob, 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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Lack of Regulation in Porn Industry Leaves Women Unprotected

00Career, Featured news, Health, Law and Crime, Pornography, Sex, Trauma January, 17

The documentary film ‘Hot Girls Wanted’, produced by Rashida Jones and released in the spring of 2015, follows several young women living in a North Miami Beach home as they attempt to enter the amateur pornography industry. Since its release, the film has sparked major discussion about the experiences of female performers and the porn industry itself.

There is very little research available on the impact on performers within this poorly regulated industry. In the U.S., the government turns a blind eye to many of the issues surrounding the production of pornography, unless it involves performers under the age of 18. And despite laws prohibiting the employment of performers under the legal age, there are still issues involving consent among newly legal women in the 18-21 age range.

During an AOL BUILD discussion led by Jones, Gail Dines, a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston, emphasized the lack of understanding that some young women seem to have:

“I meet woman after woman who went into this industry, thinking they were going through consent. They’re young. They don’t know what they’re up against.”

Jones also interviews one of the film’s main performers Rachel Bernard, who has since left the industry, and who openly speaks about her experience working in amateur pornography. She addressed the concept of consent, and how it can become even more problematic on porn sets:

“When you walk in, your agent might’ve told you what you’ll be doing or they were general about it because they don’t want you to have an opinion whether you like it or not.”

In the AOL BUILD discussion, Bernard explained how it was common for her to enter onto a set without previously being told the details of her performance and, eventually, she would be pressured to perform acts she was not comfortable with. In one instance, she was told to say a highly demeaning line. When she refused, the director responded by saying, “Well, it’s part of the script, so you have to.”

A lack of agency in young people entering into any field of work is problematic. But working in pornography can open performers to elevated health risks and uncomfortable situations. During the AOL BUILD discussion, Bernard described how sex work was not comparable to most other lines of work because it required a higher degree of vulnerability:

“Every job does have points where it’s maybe uncomfortable but, when you go to a regular job, you’re not showing every single part of your body. The fact that I am out there and I am completely open. Every part of my body, soul, and mind is having to be in that position. It’s a little bit more than uncomfortable.”

Not only can pornography be uncomfortable, but due to the lack of regulation in the industry, the work can also have a negative impact on performers’ health. Condom use is reported to be very low in heterosexual adult films, with only 17% of performers using condoms. And performers in the study reported feeling pressured to work without condoms to remain employed.

The average age of performers entering the industry could explain a hesitance to speak up about rights on set.

For over 40 years, the average age of entry for female porn performers has been approximately 22. In an interview with VICE, Jones expressed the significance of the age of performers in influencing how they experience this line of work:

“When you’re 18 and you’re making choices for yourself, you’re not thinking about the eternal effects of footage online. You’re not thinking about the external and internal costs; the psychological, emotional, physiological, physical costs of having sex for a living. You’re thinking about the fame part. And so you may not be the best candidate to make a decision for yourself but you’re allowed to because you’re 18 and that’s all you need to be.”

So what do performers say about the development of regulations for this industry?

In February 2016, California officials in charge of workplace safety rejected a proposal requiring the use of condoms, dental dams, and goggles for porn actors on set. The decision was made after six hours of testimony from almost 100 performers and producers who strongly opposed the proposal.

Performers who spoke up in protest of the proposal worried that those particular regulations would either hurt the porn industry and their job security, or drive it underground, resulting in even more dangerous conditions.

In an interview with The Guardian, Ela Darling, a porn performer who spoke at the hearing, explained how those regulations would further limit performers’ rights:

“This law denies bodily autonomy to an already marginalized population, and it denies us our voice.”

In a statement made after the February decision, Erich Paul Leue, the executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult entertainment industry, discussed industry members’ interest in being involved in deciding industry regulations.

“We’re not opposed to regulation,” he said. “We’re opposed to this regulation.”

In terms of regulation, the aim should be to provide performers with the freedom to make their own decisions without fear of risking job security or safety. Individuals working in the industry should not be required to compromise health, safety, or wellbeing. And despite the current lack of understanding about the implications of working in porn, one thing is clear: Performers who wish to enter and remain in the industry should be able to do so without having to check their rights at the door.

–Abbi Sharvendiran, 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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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

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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