Category: Health

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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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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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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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Exercising Your Way to PTSD Recovery

00Featured news, Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Stress, Therapy, Trauma August, 16

Source: Wounded Warrior Regiment on Flickr

Recent headlines about suicide, domestic violence, and shootings have brought public awareness to the mental health strain that is placed on the men and women in our military.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can drastically alter the lives of sufferers and is particularly common in veterans. The condition has been documented in 8% of Canadian soldiers who served between 2001 and 2008 in Afghanistan.

Effects include flashbacks, high anxiety, personality changes, startle responses, mood swings, and disturbed sleep, with typical treatment involving antidepressants and psychotherapy.

In an effort to develop treatment options, many are looking to physical remedies such as intense exercise to help those suffering from PTSD. We know that those who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. But research by Mathew Fetzner and Gordon Asmundson at the University of Regina found that two weeks of stationary biking can be helpful in reducing PTSD symptoms and improving mood.

Further, researchers at Loughborough University have reviewed multiple studies that looked at the impact of sport and physical activity on combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Their findings: physical activity enhances well-being in veterans by reducing symptoms and improving coping strategies.

Symptom reduction in these studies seems to occur through a renewed sense of determination and hope, increased quality of life, and the cultivation of positive self-identity. The researchers explain that participating in sports and physical activities helps combat veterans gain or regain a sense of achievement.

Exercise also increases respiratory sinus arrhythmia. This naturally occurring variation in heart rate is linked to higher levels of emotion-focused coping—an ability disrupted in those with PTSD.

Treatment adherence is often a problem for PTSD sufferers, given that formal therapy is not always appealing to them, Fetzner claims. Low dropout rates of therapies involving physical exercise make the intervention feasible.

But the positive effects of intensive exercise on PTSD may be suitable only for some combat veterans: those with the physical ability to participate.

According to Veterans Affairs in Canada, psychiatric conditions are the second-most common cause of disability among returning soldiers. Debilitating physical injuries, such as amputations, and traumatic brain and spinal chord injuries are more common. And in addition to PTSD, the two most common mental health problems among returning soldiers are substance abuse and depression. More than 80 percent of the time, combat veterans have more than one diagnosis.

While aerobic exercise significantly reduces depression symptoms and helps prevent the abuse of drugs, the high rates of physical impairment in returning soldiers complicates the optimistic picture of exercise’s benefits on PTSD.

Less physically demanding exercise may be an option. Recent research shows that yoga, for example, may help individuals with PTSD focus on the present, reduce rumination, and combat negative thinking patterns.

While strenuous physical exercise may only be helpful for some returning veterans, milder forms of exercise and physiotherapy may be a useful adjunct to traditional treatment for many others. In either case, it is important for researchers and clinicians alike to take note of alternative ways of treating PTSD in an effort to provide options to those affected with the debilitating disorder.

–Veerpal Bambrah, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Mental Healthcare Lacking for Small Business Owners

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

Source: Gary Suaer-Thompson on Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Veerpal Bambrah, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Failed Mental Health App Highlights Pitfalls of Social Media

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

Source: Jayson Lorenzen on Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Essi Numminen, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Russian Adoption Laws Leave Children Warehoused and Unwanted

00Attachment, Child Development, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Health, Law and Crime, Parenting June, 16

Source: John Manuel Sommerfeld on Flickr

It is a life of deafening silence, colourless walls, and empty corridors, a life of intense longing and disappointment. For over 600,000 children living in Russian orphanages waiting to be adopted, it is the only life they know.

In 2013, Russia passed a law to ban the adoption of orphaned children by American citizens, in part because of tense political relations between the two countries. In 2014, Russia also banned the adoption of orphans into any country that acknowledges same-sex marriage in order to “protect children’s psyche from the undesirable effects of exposure to unconventional sexual relationships.”

With these measures in place, finding homes for orphans outside the country has become very difficult.

Meanwhile, adoption within the borders of Russia faces its own set of barriers. Cultural prejudice against adoption perpetuates feelings of rejection among orphaned children and contributes to fears amongst potential adoptive parents that orphans have inherited undesirable traits and tendencies from their biological parents.

As one adoptive parent, Vera Dobrinskaya, stated in a BBC interview, many orphanage staff members discourage adoption when meeting with prospective parents. She quoted a nurse as saying to her, “Their parents abandoned them, and you want to take care of them?”

Unlike orphans in other countries, 95% of Russian orphans have at least one living parent. Often, they are taken forcibly into state custody because of family illness, disability, or poverty.

While institutions manage to provide for children’s basic physical needs, most Russian orphanages fail to take mental health into consideration. Research has shown that mass institutionalization and the absence of regular adoption practices harm children’s health and development.

To make matters worse, the interaction of staff members and children in these facilities is minimal and conducted in a formal manner, with little warmth or emotion. Daily activities like waking up, showering, dressing, and feeding are carried out in a militaristic way.

As the BBC explains, the problem of Russian orphanages is mainly in their self-identification as warehouses for unwanted children.

Georgette Mulheir, an advocate in the movement to end child abuse, explains why mental health neglect is a problem for these children in a recent TED Talk. While visiting a Russian orphanage, Mulheir reported seeing rooms lined with rows of barred beds, with children quietly gazing up at the ceiling. Newborns also lay in silence, often wearing soiled diapers but not crying, unfamiliar with the help that comes from attentive caregiving. And the head nurse proudly told Mulheir, “You see, our children are very well-behaved.”

Lacking proper stimulation and without secure attachment, many children develop odd and often self-injurious behaviours, such as rocking back and forth or banging their heads into walls. Just as healthy attachment between children and caregivers provides a sense of security for psychological, emotional, and physical development, lacking appropriate caregiving can seriously damage mental health.

As Stephen Bavolek, in the field of child abuse suggests, some of the problems these children can expect as they grow up include poor impulse control, impaired foresight, and a lack of trust in and affection for others.

Several months after the Russian adoption bans were implemented, the United Nations held a meeting to develop alternate childcare programs. Local governments within Russia were instructed to begin transferring children from orphanages to foster families.

This process, however, has encountered resistance from the institutional staff. As child rights protection activist, Maria Ostrovskaya, explains, “Institutions reject sending children into families, as state funding brings jobs and paychecks.”

The situation remains unresolved while many thousands of children wait for politicians to decide their fate. The stakes are high, as many of the children grow up with a risk of being sold into slavery, committing crimes, entering prostitution, or taking their own lives.

– Sara Benceković, 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