Category: Health

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Womb Wounds: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

00ADHD, Alcohol, Child Development, Education, Empathy, Featured news, Guilt, Health, Neuroscience, Parenting, Pregnancy, Psychiatry, Stress, Trauma November, 14

“Fifteen years ago there were very few people who knew about FASD. If you were to go to court and say, ‘My son or daughter has FASD,’ a judge wouldn’t even know if it was a real thing.” – Jonathan Rudin, Justice Committee Co-Chair at the FASD Ontario Network of Expertise

Recently referred to as an “invisible condition” by the popular Canadian newspaper, The Globe And Mail, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD) often goes undiagnosed.

A supervisor at the Toronto Children’s Aid Society described to the Trauma & Mental Health Report the stream of FASD cases that have recently found their way into youth care and justice systems.

“You often don’t know a child has FASD because the mother is not around to confirm alcohol exposure during pregnancy. With one case, we suspected it, and did some digging. The grandparents of the child confirmed that the mother did consume alcohol during pregnancy. It was the grandparent’s report that changed everything. Nobody would have known.”

Characterized by growth deficiencies and central nervous system damage, FASD is an incurable condition. According to Ernest Abel, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Wayne State University and Ronald Sokol, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Colorado, FASD is the leading cause of mental retardation.

The Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry explains that mothers often feel intense guilt and are typically blamed for damage to the child. For this reason, they are not always forthright about drinking habits. Stigma also plays a powerful role in motivating mothers to withhold information. And often, mothers consumed alcohol before they knew they were pregnant and are therefore unable to recall precise quantities and timing of drinks.

Adelaide Muswagon, a single mom, was featured in the Winnipeg Free Press in an article on FASD. “It took a lot of courage for me to get help. I know behind my back I was called an alcoholic and druggie. I can’t change what I have done; I already harmed my child. But I want expecting mothers to know my story, realize the consequences, and not make the same mistakes I did.”

The diagnosis of FASD is only given at birth for the most extreme cases. More often than not, symptoms are mild and fall within the normal range of development. For a firm diagnosis, confirmation of alcohol use during pregnancy is required. Because FASD can look like other medical, psychosocial and psychiatric conditions, children can be mistakenly labelled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or a behavioural disorder.

Fortunately, the behavioural symptoms associated with FASD are becoming better known. As we learn more about the hardships associated with the condition, mothers may question their decision to be vague or dishonest about drinking.

Liz Kulp, award winning author, advocate, and person living with FASD speaks candidly about her experiences in her book, The Best I Can Be: Living with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome-Effects.

“Finding out [why life was so hard for me] didn’t change how hard life is, but it did make me believe I was not a bad person. When I ask a question, it is because I don’t understand, not because I have not been listening, sometimes there is a blank space and I can’t get across it. I may look really normal and I work really hard to maintain. That is really stressful and sometimes I get frustrated. Sometimes the stress just builds up, especially when different people put different expectations on me all at the same time.”

For students, FASD manifests with attention problems and difficulties understanding instructions and rules. Common sense can be lacking, along with a tendency to take things literally. Learning issues lead to high drop-out rates. Youth with FASD often become involved in criminal justice systems, and many such individuals are overrepresented in prison populations. Jonathan Rudin, an Ontario lawyer and chair of the FASD Justice Committee says people with FASD are “usually not the mastermind behind the crime” but they are “easily convinced to take the rap.”

Catching the condition early in life and understanding its effects can help with education, parenting strategies, and legal provisions.

Moving through life without knowing why things are harder for you and why everyone else seems to be able to function with ease can be devastating. Sadly, people with undiagnosed FASD often grow up using alcohol to cope, possibly giving birth to a child with FASD.

Alleviating stigma around FASD by providing mothers with a non-judgemental space to speak about their drinking may help with diagnosis and treatment.

– Contributing Writer: Anjani Kapoor, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Fear of Ebola Leaves Orphaned Children Abandoned

00Anxiety, Child Development, Cognition, Deception, Diet, Fear, Featured news, Grief, Health, Parenting, Politics, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sleep, Stress, Teamwork, Trauma October, 14

13-year-old Jennette’s (name changed by UNICEF) grandmother died from Ebola. Shortly after attending the funeral, Jennette began to feel sick. When fever developed, she was taken to a local treatment center along with her mother and sister. All three family members tested positive for Ebola. Against all odds, they were successfully treated and released.

Jennette broke down in tears as she spoke about her experience as a victim of Ebola to Timothy La Rose, a Communication Specialist with UNICEF Guinea. Despite being healthy again, Jennette could not feel good about her recovery, now facing the stigma of being an ‘Ebola contact’.

“I cannot return home [to] my aunt who threatened me a lot when I was sick. So far she has never asked about my fate.”

The WHO (World Health Organization) estimates Ebola fatality rates between 25 and 90 percent. Passed on through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, symptoms are gruesome and can include internal and external bleeding. Currently, there are no approved vaccines, and the 2014 outbreaks in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have created immense fear among those living in affected regions. Even in the United States, by October 2014 a handful of cases have quickly led to panic in some regions.

Jennette is only one of the many children facing the consequences of neglect due to the distrust surrounding Ebola survivors. UNICEF estimates that about 3,700 children have lost one or both parents to the current outbreak.

UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa, Manuel Fontaine, said, “these children urgently need special attention and support; yet many of them feel unwanted and even abandoned.”

After surviving Ebola or losing a family member to the virus, these children are being shunned by surviving relatives due to fear of reinfection. “Orphans are usually taken in by a member of the extended family, but in some communities, the fear surrounding Ebola is becoming stronger than family ties,” Fontaine told CNN.

Orphans—some as young as two years old—are in the streets alone, lacking proper shelter, healthcare, and nutrition. Many of these children have undergone extreme trauma. Some have spent weeks in isolation wards without caregivers or proper mental healthcare. The New York Times reported a gut-wrenching scene:

In the next ward, a 4-year-old girl lay on the floor in urine, motionless, bleeding from her mouth, her eyes open. A corpse lay in the corner — a young woman, legs akimbo, who had died overnight. A small child stood on a cot watching as the team took the body away, stepping around a little boy lying immobile next to black buckets of vomit. They sprayed the body and the little girl on the floor with chlorine as they left.

Surviving children must also struggle with the grief of losing parents and siblings. “The hardest part of the job is telling parents their children have died or separating children from their parents,” Malcolm Hugo, a psychologist working in Sierra Leone, told the Guardian.

Many children are displaying symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that may develop after exposure to trauma. Intense grief, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and extreme cognitive impairment are being reported in children who are most affected. Symptoms of depression and anxiety are also common.

The WHO reports that the most severely affected countries, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia lack resources to help those affected by the outbreak.

Many humanitarian aid agencies like Doctors Without Borders have sent physicians and healthcare workers to help in the treatment and containment of the disease. However, very little psychological or medical help is available for orphaned survivors. UNICEF has appealed for $200 million to provide emergency assistance to affected families but has only received a quarter of the amount so far.

Currently, the organization is looking at unique ways to provide emotional support. In Liberia, they are working with the government to train mental health and social workers. UNICEF will also be working with Ebola survivors who are now immune to the disease to provide support to children quarantined in health centres.

In a statement to Al Jazeera, Fontaine explained, “Ebola is turning a basic human reaction like comforting a sick child into a potential death sentence.” Further work needs to be done to abolish the harmful distrust surrounding Ebola survivors, and strengthen family and community support. Without this support, orphaned children face a harsh and unwarranted emotional toll, alone.

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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For Families Touched by Homicide, the Media Prolongs Pain

00Featured news, Grief, Health, Law and Crime, Media, Memory, Parenting, Resilience, Stress, Trauma October, 14

On January 1st, 2008, fourteen year old Stefanie Rengel was murdered a few meters outside of her Toronto home.

After receiving a mysterious phone call from someone she believed may have been a friend, Stefanie put on her shoes, told her younger brother that she would be right back, and ran out the door. She never returned.

Leading a normal life one day, and suddenly being thrust into the inevitable bureaucracy that follows a murder is excruciating for families affected by homicide.

The Trauma & Mental Health Report had the chance to speak with Stefanie’s mother, police officer Patricia Hung, who discusses how media involvement and court proceedings sometimes prolonged the healing after her teenage daughter’s murder. She also commented on support available for bereaved parents.

Patricia: Trying to get justice for Stefanie, in some ways… it kept her alive. It gave us something to focus on. I don’t know if that prolonged the grieving, but it certainly spread it out. When a child dies in a car accident, and there are no reporters or trial, you have no choice but to deal with it all right then. For us, we dealt with it a little at a time.

For families affected by homicide, the grief is drawn out. The media, bail hearings, preliminary trials, adjournments, mental health assessments, impact statements, perhaps a trial and hopefully a sentencing, all act as constant reminders of the tragedy. Prolonged investigations and legal processes have these families re-living the trauma of what happened to their loved ones.

Patricia: The day after Stefanie died the reporters were there –it was terrible– it felt like an attack, when all we wanted was privacy. They would come to our door at all hours of the day and night. They would go to my children’s schools and would piece together a false relationship between Stefanie and her killer.

Following a high profile murder case, reporters can unwittingly create chaos for families. The constant questioning, often well intentioned, can turn into intrusive and harmful reminders of the trauma.

Patricia: In the beginning, the press is really friendly to you because they want the gory details and all the juicy information. If you say one wrong word, they can turn on you [for a story]. The last thing grieving families need is to feel tried in the newspapers.

Unfortunately, most bereaved parents aren’t sure what it is they need right after their child’s death. They often feel as though no stranger is going to be able to help them and are unaware of how important it is to reach out for help.

Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Services (VCARS) is a Canadian charitable service, with 48 sites in Ontario alone that provide immediate on-site assistance to victims affected by tragedy. Bereaved families can use victim services at any point during their recovery even if they initially decline assistance. Victim services offer a variety of support programs for long term assistance and can even help families deal with the media.

Patricia: Being a police officer and having to go through the legal system, I realized how scary it must be for other families who have absolutely no idea what to expect. So to those families who are feeling lost and overwhelmed, know that someone from victim services can be taking notes for you at the preliminary trial, someone can guide you while preparing for your impact statement, and can sit with you during trial.

One of the great difficulties at trial for bereaved parents is informing the judge or jury on how their child’s death affected their life. Impact statements can help determine the offender’s sentence, and parents feel the pressure; victim services help families write these. 

Patricia: Testifying and giving an impact statement was very difficult. I was trying to make sure that I wouldn’t mess it up. You’re so worried that if you say something wrong it could screw everything up. 

And adding to the heartache: 

Patricia: There are things that you don’t expect to happen that do. When I was at court, I went to the washroom and the accused’s mother was in there. It was just so hard. At the time, it wasn’t me against her. I actually felt quite sorry for her… it was a whirlwind of emotions.

Trial is very draining for families. Not only do they hear details of the child’s death, but also the accused is just feet away. Having external support such as VCARS ensures that bereaved families are aware of what steps they need to take and provides comfort at a time when family ties can become strained. 

Once a verdict is made, bereaved families still have much to deal with. Grieving the loss of a child never really ends. As time passes, families fill their lives with new memories and the moments of grief become more intermittent.

But of course, as parole hearings approach, families have to face the trauma of losing their child all over again.

– Contributing Writer: Tessie Mastorakos, The Trauma and Mental Health Report 

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

 Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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No Place to Be a Child

00Anxiety, Child Development, Cognition, Depression, Education, Empathy, Environment, Featured news, Grief, Health, Meditation, Resilience, Social Life, Stress, Therapy, Trauma, Treatment October, 14

“If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children” – Mahatma Gandhi

Over 18 million children are currently living in regions affected by war. While most humanitarian aid groups focus on meeting the basic physical needs of these children, in the midst of armed conflict, cognitive, social and emotional development is often inhibited and overshadowed by regional chaos.

Exposed to violent, traumatic and stressful situations that threaten their sense of stability and well-being, children have few places to simply be children, where they can play, learn and socialize safely. And few resources are in place to help them heal from the psychological burdens of war.

As the need for rehabilitative and restorative measures gains greater recognition by the international community, a growing number of child rights advocates, organizations and researchers are stepping forward to understand the implementation of psychologically therapeutic programs for war-affected children. The challenge is in figuring out what is needed, what is available and what will work across a variety of cultures, contexts and settings.

Seeking to bring psychological care on a tight budget, academics and policy advisors have emphasized evidence-based programs. Theresa Betancourt, professor and director of the research program on children and global adversity at Harvard’s school of public health, and her colleagues are evaluating the effectiveness of child trauma programs based in countries such as Uganda, Sierra Leone, Chechnya, Gaza, Sudan, Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia.

Individual therapeutic interventions such as trauma focused therapy and narrative exposure therapy have shown promise among children affected by war and are approved by UNICEF as preferred techniques.

Group interventions have been used to accommodate the psycho-social needs of a greater number of children. These include Interpersonal group therapy for depression, creative play, mother-child psycho-education and support, and torture group psychotherapy with cognitive behavioural techniques.

Some other psycho-social initiatives have focused on the creation of Child Friendly Spaces (CFS’s) and Temporary Learning Centers (TLC’s) within refugee camp settings or local communities. These provide a child-centered environment for play, basic education and socialization; and they identify children in psychological distress.

But some concerns have been noted. The focus on trauma can lead to community stigmatization. In addition, these therapies are hard to carry out on a large scale due to the high costs of employing highly-trained professionals. Individualized services are rare and reserved for severely distressed children, usually demobilized child soldiers.

Problems arise when trying to apply western definitions and measures of distress that are not necessarily applicable to other cultures and contexts. And in understanding any given child’s psychological functioning, it is important to factor in ongoing stressful events and the social dynamics that a war-affected child must deal with on a daily basis.

There has been a movement away from a traditional western “clinical treatment” model toward a more inclusive, holistic framework of “psycho-social intervention,” termed to reflect the complex interplay between a child’s psychological and social development.

More effective group interventions for children have tended to be those that involve a school setting, address everyday stressors, utilize a form of trauma/grief-focused psychotherapy or use mind-body relaxation and coping techniques such as meditation, biofeedback and guided imagery.

Benefits include decreases in posttraumatic stress disorder, improved coping skills, and greater psychological relief and psycho-social adjustment.

Still, universal, comprehensive, culturally-sensitive psychological services for war-affected children remain a long way off. For more information on mobile psycho-social and education programs for war-affected children, please check out The Freedom to Thrive Foundation. Email FreedomToThriveFoundation@gmail.com to find out how you can get involved.

– Contributing Writer: Adriana Wilson, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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To Share or Not to Share (the Family Bed)

00Alcohol, Anxiety, Appetite, Attachment, Child Development, Empathy, Featured news, Health, Parenting, Sleep, Smoking October, 14

Some of the most common questions posed to parents of newborns, particularly by other parents, relate to sleeping patterns. Choices around sleep can be personal and sometimes controversial.

In western cultures, it is normal to put infants in different rooms. But in much of the rest of the world, the baby either sleeps with parents (bed-sharing) or in close proximity to the parent (co-sleeping).

These differing traditions often present a dilemma to parents in western societies who hear opposing points of view when seeking advice.

James McKenna, professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame considers that despite the dominant view (no bed-sharing), parents increasingly are opting for co-sleeping or bed-sharing. In fact, half of U.S. parents with infants bed-share with their children during at least part of the night.

This is especially true for breastfeeding mothers as co-sleeping can make night-time feeding easier to manage. It is thought by many that co-sleeping while breastfeeding results in the mother being more in-tune with the infant’s immediate hunger needs and as a result, the infant quickly learns that their needs can be satisfied. This contributes to the development of secure attachment

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, mothers should sleep in close proximity to their baby not only to help facilitate breastfeeding but also to improve the survival rate of the developing infant. 

McKenna also indicates that from an anthropological viewpoint the proximity and sensory touch associated with bed-sharing induces positive behavioural and physiological changes in the infant. Studies have found long-term benefits of bed-sharing or co-sleeping. For example, children who bed-shared were found to have less anxiety and a higher level of comfort in social situations later on.

Traditional western medical views on bed-sharing tend to be rather negative. Based on the Joint Statement on Safe Sleep: Preventing Sudden Infant Deaths in Canada, the main reason cited is the threat of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The Joint statement defines SIDS as, “the sudden death of an infant less than one year of age, which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including the performance of a complete autopsy, an examination of the death scene, and a review of the clinical history.”

Because it is difficult to distinguish specific causes of death that occurred during sleep, in many SIDS cases the cause may be cited as “unintentional suffocation due to overlaying,” which may be used to discourage bed-sharing.

Yet in many of the studies where infant deaths are discussed, parental smoking, alcohol consumption and unsafe sleeping practices are often major factors, as opposed to bed-sharing per se. Understanding preventative measures and safe sleeping practices can help reduce the incidence of SIDS.

Further, some research has found a strong link between breastfeeding and lowered risk of SIDS. Fern Hauck of the University of Virginia reviewed 18 studies that looked at the relationship between these two variables and found that babies exclusively breastfed had a 70% lower risk of SIDS, and the risk is lowered further the longer breastfeeding continues. Researchers attribute this lowered risk to infants being able to awaken more easily, reducing the risk of sudden death.

Daniel Flanders, pediatrician at North York General Hospital in Toronto, states that as a physician he follows the guidelines for the prevention of SIDS, but feels that strong recommendations against bed-sharing undermine parental choice on how to raise one’s child. He notes that in non-westernized communities bed-sharing is often a major part of the cultural practice of child rearing, and therefore his approach is to present the most relevant and up-to-date information available so the parent can make an informed decision.

There are several measures one can take to reduce the risks associated with bed-sharing. One of the most important things for the baby’s safe sleep is ensuring that the surface the infant sleeps on is firm, smooth and flat. Sheets should be tucked and never loose, whether the child sleeps with the parents, in a sidecar or in the crib.

If parents choose to bed-share there should be ample space for all, with both parents agreeing to the arrangement. The bed should not be shared with multiple children, especially if one or more are slightly older. Also, if the bed is raised off the floor there should be a mesh guardrail around the bed to prevent the baby from falling over. If the bed is against the wall, parents should ensure that there is no gap between the bed and the wall at all times.

Although bed-sharing is often discouraged by many in the medical community due to its association with an increased risk of SIDS, this does not mean that the practice is without benefit. Done safely, bed-sharing and co-sleeping offer unique opportunities for the development of closeness between parent and child.

Parents must choose the arrangement that works best for them and their families. For more information: Safe Sleeping Practices for Infants

– Contributing Writer: Saqina Abedi, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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New EEG Technology Makes for Better Brain Reading

00Cognition, Featured news, Health, Intelligence, Mind Reading, Neuroscience, Optimism, Personality, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sleep, Sport and Competition, Therapy, Trauma September, 14

Clinical psychologists have a long tradition of attempting to understand what is “on the mind” of their clients by use of psychological tests. The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales, for example, have been used for decades to assess intelligence levels. And other empirically valid psychometric measures are commonly used to understand patient mood or personality functioning.

To this point, direct examination of brain activity as a window into the client’s mind has remained elusive. But advances in the field of brain examination using electroencephalographs (EEGs) may be changing all that.

The first EEG was developed in the 1920’s by the German psychiatrist Hans Berger. He developed it to test the biological electricity produced in the brain, and first used it during brain surgery performed in 1924 on a 17-year-old boy.

If the EEG has been around for almost a century, why is it so important now? Recent technological advancements may soon have a profound impact on how mental health practitioners diagnose mental illness.

Currently, we know that the EEG records activity in the brain through electrodes attached to the scalp. When neurons (electrical pulses the brain uses to send messages) fire, they produce a small current. The EEG reads and records this current between 250 and 2000 times a second. The graphs it makes of these readings are what we know as ‘brain waves.’

The EEG is primarily used to diagnose epilepsy. As of 2005, 70% of EEG referrals were for epilepsy. During an epileptic seizure there is a large spike in brain activity that the EEG has little difficulty detecting. Even then, it is used in conjunction with a clinical examination by a physician, not as the sole means of diagnosis.

The second most common use is to diagnose sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea. The EEG is effective at reading the brain waves produced during sleep, which show special patterns in those with sleep disorders.

Biomedical engineering professor Hans Hallez of Flanders’ University writes, “during the last two decades, increasing computational power has given researchers the tools to go a step further and try to find the underlying sources which generate [brain waves]. This activity is called EEG source localization.”

Source localization is the technique that tells us which part of the brain is communicating. With advances in neuroscience and imaging techniques, we know what activities are represented by different parts of the brain. For example, activity in the primary visual cortex in the occipital lobe is related to vision and activity in special areas of the temporal lobe is associated with speech.

If you know what part of the brain is communicating and what it is responsible for, then you can start to build a picture of what brain waves from different parts of the brain mean. In theory, this is what some experts consider akin to mindreading

But the game-changer is this: recent developments in the field have led to a portable EEG that is relatively cheap, effective, and requires no human scoring.

Philip Low, who is the founder, CEO, and chief scientific officer of NeuroVigil Inc., developed a complex algorithm in 2007 that allows one electrode to do the work of many. His company has developed what they have named the iBrain. It uses one wireless electrode sensor the size of a quarter to record brain activity with an app that works on a smartphone.

Low says, “our vision is that one day people will have access to their brain as routinely and as easily as they currently have to their blood pressure.” He hopes to code brain wave profiles of those suffering from mental illnesses into a database at NeuroVigil that receives information from iBrain users’ cell phones. The iBrain 3 is expected to cost around $100 and be available to the public in the next few years.

Low isn’t the only one pushing the boundaries of EEG technology using single electrode devices. Hashem Ashrafiuon, a mechanical engineering professor at Villanova University’s College of Engineering has developed similar technology. His work is being used in sports helmets that can instantly diagnose concussions by detecting large changes in brain waves that occur immediately after impact.

Ashrafiuon sees many applications for his work. “It can basically be used to diagnose any health problem that affects brain activity. We hope to monitor brain health in patients with mild traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, and sleep and circadian disorders.”

It is the belief of technology developers Low and Ashrafiuon that we will one day have brainwave profiles of all mental illnesses stored. Diagnosing a mental illness would be assisted by comparing brain wave profiles of a patient to a database of stored sample profiles, allowing for rapid diagnosis.

Does it sound too simple? Perhaps. Diagnosis of mental illness involves a substantial behavioral component. What the brain looks like may be a far cry from the choices a given individual makes, and how those choices affect later functioning. 

Still, there is reason for guarded optimism about the developments in EEG technology. The portability and improved accuracy will help with the diagnosis of epilepsy and sleep disorders, allowing patients to be comfortable at home and still be monitored. The more physically and economically accessible it is the better.

In a few years you may be the proud owner of Low’s iBrain 3. But in all likelihood, it won’t replace mental health practitioners any more than a good toothbrush replaces a dentist.

– Contributing Writer: Bradley Kushnier, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Letters to My Daughter

00Bias, Domestic Violence, Education, Empathy, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Gender, Health, Politics, Resilience, Teamwork, Trauma September, 14

We have heard countless stories speaking to the injustices and brutalities faced by women in Afghanistan. In Letters to My Daughters, Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan woman writes about her personal experiences living in Afghanistan during the civil war.

A member of parliament in Afghanistan, Koofi, 35, is chairperson of the standing committee on human rights and civil society, and a candidate for the presidential elections in 2014.

Her book is a memoir, beginning from birth when her mother left her to die from exposure. The first half focuses on Koofi’s struggles with her limited access to education. She explains that she was the only girl from her family who was allowed to attend school, and only because her father was no longer present. Once the Taliban took control, she was immediately forced to quit medical school.

 In a later section of her book, Koofi describes a trip she took to northern Afghanistan with a team of foreign surveyors. There she realized that one of the biggest difficulties faced by women was access to health care services -a problem that did not exist before the war. Once the civil war began many facilities were destroyed, and most physicians were forced to migrate to neighboring regions. 

The situation was further exacerbated when the Taliban took over. Women were no longer allowed to work in health care facilities, except in a select few hospitals (functioning under deplorable conditions) designated for women only. Male doctors were prohibited from seeing female patients and female doctors were seldom allowed to work, leaving female patients without treatment.

Many women living in smaller cities and villages still do not have access to health care services, leaving them to die from illnesses as common and easily treatable as diarrhea.

Throughout the book, Koofi describes how she consistently experienced inhumane treatment by Afghan men. Systematic gender discrimination was made worse with the arrival of the Taliban and, although they have been removed from power, the prejudice still continues in most regions to this day. 

Women are still harassed if they leave the house without their shroud-like burqas and a male chaperone. Many women around the world face domestic violence. As is often the case, the abuse occurring in Afghanistan is considered a family matter, without much hope of intervention or help from authorities.

 Koofi emphasizes that the arrival of the American forces resulted in liberation of Afghan women. Critics accuse her of being a “traitor” for siding with the Americans, and some consider Koofi to have obtained personal gain by writing a book that humiliates the Taliban and elevates the status of the U.S. 

Although Letters to my Daughters describes Koofi’s personal experiences, the memoir sheds light on the troubling hardships many Afghan women face. Although change seems more likely with a new democratic government in place, it will still take years before the women of Afghanistan are able to enjoy the opportunities that Koofi and other women are fighting for.

The book provides a fascinating insight into her personal struggle, and the struggle of so many like her. Koofi’s book is a must read for anyone interested in understanding Afghan women’s traumatic experiences.

– Contributing Writer: Fareena Shabbir, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Dr. Mom and Dad

00ADHD, Anxiety, Attention, Child Development, Depression, Environment, Featured news, Health, Intelligence, Leadership, Motivation, Parenting, Psychiatry, Psychopharmacology, Self-Control, Sleep September, 14

We live in a world of self-diagnosis. With access to online medical databases like WebMD and kidshealth.org, it is easy to type symptoms into Google, find a diagnosis and present findings to the family physician.

Self-diagnosis may seem harmless, but it can become problematic when we diagnose ourselves or our children with more complicated conditions, behavioral disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The over-diagnosis of ADHD and the over-prescription of medications like Ritalin, Adderall, and Vyvanse (to name a few) have been longstanding problems in the health care community. Clinical psychologists Silvia Schneider, Jurgen Margraf, and Katrin Bruchmuller, on faculty at the University of Bochum and the University of Basel found that mental health workers such as psychiatrists tend to diagnose based on “a rule of thumb.” That is, children and adolescents -often males- are diagnosed with ADHD based on criteria such as “motoric restlessness, lack of concentration and impulsiveness,” rather than adhering to more comprehensive diagnostic criteria.

Parentsmotivation to get help for their child’s problems along with free access to online information may play a role in the over-diagnosis of ADHD.

A study by Anne Walsh, a professor of Nursing at Queensland University of Technology found that close to 43% of parents diagnosed and 33% treated their children’s health using online information. Of concern, 18% of parents actually altered their child’s professional health management to correspond with online information. Considering the questionable quality of some online health information, these numbers are worrisome.

Furthermore, as primary caregivers can sometimes be persuaded, it is possible that parental conviction of the child’s diagnosis may play a role in physician decisions to treat. With basic diagnostic criteria for ADHD readily available online, some parents may be quick to self-diagnose their “restless and impulsive child.”

“It sometimes happens that parents come to me convinced that their child has ADHD [based on their own research] and in many circumstances they are correct,” says Dan Flanders, a pediatrician practicing in Toronto, Canada.

 According to Flanders, there are certain traits that make a child more likely to be misdiagnosed with ADHD. “Children who have learning disabilities, hearing impairment, or visual impairment may be mistaken as having ADHD because it is harder for them to focus if they can’t see the blackboard, hear their teacher or if they simply cannot read their homework.”

Flanders adds that gifted children, children with anxiety or depression, and children with sleep disorders are commonly misdiagnosed with attention disorders. “Gifted children learn the class objectives after the first 10 minutes of a class whereas their classmates need the whole hour. For the remaining 50 minutes of class these children get bored, fidgety, distracted, and disruptive. The treatment for these children is to enrich their learning environment so that they are kept engaged by the additional school materials.”

Children with anxiety and depression can be misdiagnosed with ADHD because there may be an interference with a child’s ability to learn, focus, eat, sleep, and interact with others. For children with sleep disorders, “one of the most common presentations of sleep disorders is hyperactivity and an inability to focus during the day. Fix the sleep problem and the ADHD symptoms go away.”

It is, however, important to note that these disorders are not mutually exclusive of each other. “A child can have a learning disability, anxiety, and independent ADHD all at the same time.” 

While it is often beneficial for parents to consult online databases for background information, Flanders warns against relying solely on information found online because the information may not be up-to-date and cannot replace a thorough psychological assessment.

Why, then, do parents resort to this quick fix of information?

Walsh reported that parents use online health information for a range of reasons including feeling rushed and receiving limited general lifestyle guidance from their doctors.

Flanders points out that the doctor’s approach should always be to review the data honestly and objectively with parents and then openly present the treatment options available to them.

“The most important part of ADHD treatment is making sure of the diagnosis. There are so many children who are started on medication inappropriately. Throwing medication at the problem is not the answer unless the diagnosis is well established and the differential diagnoses have been exhausted.”

– Contributing Writer: Jana Vigour, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today