Category: Psychopharmacology

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Pregnant Women Struggle with Managing Psychiatric Medication

00Anxiety, Featured news, Health, Pregnancy, Psychiatry, Psychopharmacology, Suicide November, 17

Source: Lauren Fritts at flickr, Creative Commons

It is often portrayed as a happy and exciting time but the experience of pregnancy can be mixed, with physical and mental complications dampening the experience.

In a recently released documentary, Moms and Meds, director Dina Fiasconaro addresses the challenges that she and other women with psychiatric disorders face during pregnancy.

Fiasconaro’s goal in making the documentary was to investigate women’s experiences with psychotropic drugs at this life stage. She became pregnant while on anti-anxiety medication and had difficulty obtaining clear information from healthcare professionals.

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Fiasconaro explained:

“I received very conflicting information on what medications were safe from my psychiatrist, therapist, and high-risk obstetrician. Even with non-psychiatric medication, I couldn’t get a clear answer, or from the pharmaceutical companies that manufactured them. No one wanted to say ‘that’s okay’ and be liable if something were to go awry.”

When she spoke to her maternal/fetal specialist, she was provided with a stack of research abstracts regarding the use of certain psychotropic medications during pregnancy. Although the information was helpful, it didn’t adequately inform her about the risks and benefits of medication use versus non-use.

One of the main questions Fiasconaro had was, should she continue using medication and risk harming her baby, or should she discontinue use and risk harming herself?

One of the women featured in Moms and Meds, Kelly Ford, contemplated suicide several times during pregnancy. When her feelings began to intensify, she admitted herself to a hospital. There, she was steered away from taking medication which led her to feel significant distress and an inability to cope with her declining mental health.

Elizabeth Fitelson, director of the Women’s Program at Columbia University, also featured in the documentary, believes there is a tendency for healthcare professionals to dismiss mental illness in pregnant women.

In the film, Fitelson said:

“If a pregnant woman falls and breaks her leg, for example, we don’t say, ‘Oh, we can’t give you anything for pain because there may be some potential risk for the baby.’ We say, ‘Of course we have to treat your pain. That’s excruciating. We’ll give you this. There are some risks, but the risks are low and, of course, we have to treat the pain. ‘”

This lack of validation for mental health issues was echoed by Fiasconaro when she visited her doctor:

“I was referred to a high-risk obstetrician by my therapist. Although I was given the proper advice, that high-risk doctor ended up being very insensitive to my mental illness. She told me that everybody’s anxious and brushed it off like it was a non-issue. I understand that in the larger context of what she does and who she treats, my anxiety probably seemed like a low priority in the face of other, seemingly more threatening, physical illnesses.”

The ambiguous information provided by health professionals is representative of a lack of research on the risks of using medication during pregnancy.

Mary Blehar and colleagues, at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), state in the Journal of Women and Health that data are lacking on the subject. In a review of clinical research on pregnant women, they found that data obtained over the last 30 years, about which medications are harmful and which can be used safely, are incomplete. These gaps are largely due to the majority of information being based on case reports of congenital abnormalities, which are rare and difficult to follow.

During her pregnancy, Fiasconaro was able to slowly stop taking her anxiety medication. But halting treatment is sometimes not an option for women who suffer from severe, debilitating psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, major depression, or schizophrenia.

We also need to improve access to information on pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatment options, including psychotherapy for women with mental-health problems during pregnancy. Without adequate guidance, the management of psychiatric conditions can leave many feeling alone and overburdened. These women often feel stigmatized and neglected by healthcare professionals. The development of supportive and informative relationships is necessary to their wellbeing.

As Fiasconaro put it:

“I had to be pretty focused and tenacious in finding information and then making the most informed decision for myself. I’m grateful I was able to do so, but again, I know every woman might not be in that position, and it can be very scary and confusing.”

–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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Medicating women’s sexual desire still highly controversial

00Featured news, Health, Integrative Medicine, Low Sexual Desire, Meditation, Psychopharmacology, Sex November, 17

Source: Minjung Gang at flickr, Creative Commons

On August 18, 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Flibanserin, a drug that treats low sexual desire in women.

With the medication’s presence on the market, you’d think that low sexual desire in women would be well understood. In fact, there is still widespread debate on the issue. Marta Meana, a psychologist at the University of Nevada, writes:

“Desire is the most subjective and acutely amorphous component of sexuality.”

And Lori A. Brotto, a Professor of Gynecology at the University of British Columbia, offers a similar view, explaining:

“There is no clear consensus on the causes of sexual dysfunction in women.”

While women experience obstacles to fulfillment, the causes are complex. According to Brotto:

“An abundance of data indicates that low sexual desire is strongly influenced by a woman’s relationship satisfaction, mood, self-esteem, and body image.”

Medication is, at best, a partial treatment for problems with desire.

There are also differing perspectives on proper terminology around the issue. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Kristen Mark, Director of the Sexual Health Promotion Lab at the University of Kentucky, said:

“Sexual dysfunction may not be the most accurate way to describe low sexual desire. Women may experience sexual problems, but sexual desire ebbs and flows, so people should expect that it will fluctuate.”

Deciding between the word “dysfunction” or “problem” may seem trivial. But language creates meaning, and shapes how health professionals treat clients and conduct research.

Other clinicians agree. Leonore Tiefer, Associate Professor at the New York University School of Medicine, offers two metaphors for sex. The first is digestion. In this metaphor, sex is “just there”. Like digestion, it does not require learning, but is a natural or innate action that the body is equipped for at birth.

The other metaphor is dance. There are many ways to dance. Some people are better at dancing, and some people like dancing more than others. Tiefer argues that sex, like dance, is a learned skill.

Tiefer has advocated extensively against pharmaceutical interventions for female sexual problems. In 2000, she convened The New View Campaign, a collective of clinicians and social scientists dedicated to reframing the conversation around sexuality.

In a 2006 article on disease mongering, Tiefer explains why a purely biological approach to sexual health is inadequate:

“A long history of social and political control of sexual expression created reservoirs of shame and ignorance that make it difficult for many people to understand sexual satisfaction or cope with sexual problems.”

To emphasize that sex has a social context, the New View wrote an alternative system of classification for sexual problems. The first category is “sexual problems due to socio-cultural, political, or economic factors”, and the second is, “problems relating to partner and relationship”.

These categories includes specific causative factors, such as “ignorance and anxiety due to inadequate sex education, lack of access to health services, or other social constraints.”

According to Tiefer:

“Popular culture has greatly inflated public expectations about sexual function. People are fed a myth that sex is “natural”—that is, a matter of automatic and unlearned biological function—at the same time as they expect high levels of performance and enduring pleasure, they are likely to look for simple solutions.”

The drug Flibanserin is one of these ‘simple solutions’. Its approval has been met with controversy.

According to Loes Jaspers and colleagues at Erasmus University Medical Center, the effectiveness of Flibanserin is very low. In a meta-analysis examining the effect of the medication in about 6000 women, Jaspers found that those receiving the drug experienced, on average, only 0.5 more “sexually satisfying” events per month compared to those receiving a placebo.

At the same time, it carries a black label, which the FDA assigns to drugs that include serious side effects. For Flibanserin, these include sedation and fatigue. When combined with alcohol and other common drugs, it can cause dangerously low blood pressure and fainting.

And non-medical treatments, such as mindfulness-based sex therapy, can be effective for treating low sexual desire. According to Brotto, mindfulness shifts attention away from negative, self-defeating thoughts, and towards sensation and pleasure.

Mark, however, thinks that hope should not be abandoned for a medical solution. She says:

“At this point, I would not recommend Flibanserin for most women coping with desire problems. There may be a medication in the future that meets women’s needs when used in conjunction with other approaches, but this just isn’t it.”

Whether women’s sexual problems should be medically treated is still debatable. But what is clear is that social and cultural factors shaping women’s sexual experiences should not be bypassed for a quick solution.

–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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Biased Publication Standards Hinder Schizophrenia Research

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

Source: Erin on Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Documentary Film Tells Story of Race, Drugs and Baseball

00Addiction, Featured news, Personality, Psychopharmacology, Race and Ethnicity, Resilience, Therapy April, 16

Source: baseball971 on Flickr

Narratives surrounding professional sport often make stories about performance-enhancing drugs as common a spectacle as the sports themselves. As the story often goes, pressure to succeed and maintain peak physical form drives many professional athletes to substance abuse.

We hear this tale again in Jeffrey Radice’s biographical film, “No No: A Dockumentary,” titled as a play on the name of the story’s subject, Dock Ellis, a black Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher famous for using drugs while on the mound. In the film, Radice examines Ellis’ struggle with drug abuse, digging deep into his life story and the environment in which he played.

Beginning his major league career in the late 1960s with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Ellis was no stranger to the racial stigmatization faced by many black Americans during this time. Through interviews with former teammates, family members, and childhood friends, Radice shows the pride Ellis had for his culture’s acceptance into MLB. In his time as a professional athlete, he became known for his strong verbosity – he was expressive, opinionated, and willing to disobey MLB rules.

He also established himself as an elite pitcher in the league. His success did not come easily or without a price. Of this experience, Ellis says:

“When you get to the major leagues, it’s easier coming up the ladder, but it’s hell to stay there.”

Ellis’ initial drug of choice was a stimulant called “dexamyl,” popularly known as “greenies” in the MLB. This type of drug is classified as an amphetamine; side effects include alertness, a decreased sense of fatigue, mood elevation, and increased self-confidence. According to Ellis, “greenies” made him feel sharper and allowed him to throw with pinpoint accuracy.

On the eve of June 12th, 1970, Ellis took LSD, a hallucinogen, which lead to his most memorable performance: throwing a perfect game.

In the first half of the documentary, Ellis’ life is described as erratic but exciting, colourful, and Hollywood-like. Radice depicts Ellis’ drug-abuse in a surprisingly lighthearted manner. Ellis chuckles as he reminisces about his high-flying lifestyle when he was at the top of his game. He is portrayed as a baseball superstar, his drug abuse merely a stepping-stone to his success.

In the second half of his film however, Radice shifts his perspective to view the film’s subject through the lens of mental health. While portraying Ellis as good at what he did, Radice asks whether his success in the MLB justified his drug and alcohol abuse.

At one point, Ellis is shown coming off drugs and tearfully admitting his dependence on them. After his retirement and an unfortunate drug-fueled spousal assault, he entered rehab and spent the rest of his life mentoring and counseling other drug-dependent individuals. He stayed sober up until his death in 2008.

The juxtaposition in the documentary – between an outlandish and erratic drug-using icon and a recovered, empathic individual – is moving and effective. It represents the highs and the lows drug users face when coming to terms with their addiction, and the fight to stay sober and live a more fulfilling life.

Toward the end of the film, Ellis reads a letter sent to him by Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in the MLB:

“There will be times when you will ask yourself if it’s worth it all. I can only say, ‘Dock, it is’ and even though you will want to yield, in the long run your own feeling about yourself will be most important. Try not to be left alone.”

Although Robinson is referring to Ellis’ determination to gain equality in the MLB, his words also relate to the issue of drug-use and addiction in professional sports. The way “No No: A Dockumentary” approaches Ellis’ biography is unique: it idolizes a great baseball player, but also highlights his dark side and shows what Ellis ultimately lost because of drug dependence.

– Alessandro Perri, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Methadone Treatment May Prolong Addiction

00Addiction, Diet, Environment, Fear, Featured news, Health, Motivation, Psychopharmacology, Resilience, Sleep, Spirituality, Stress, Trauma January, 15

The conventional treatment for opioid dependence is to prescribe methadone.

Similar to morphine, methadone is a synthetic opioid sometimes referred to as a narcotic. It is useful at preventing opioid withdrawal, minimizing drug cravings, and is said to reduce the risk of HIV, Hepatitis C and other diseases associated with intravenous drug usage. Methadone is also cheap, and best of all legal.

Despite the advantages, methadone is highly addictive, and has many side effects such as dry mouth, fatigue, and weight gain.

Treatment involving methadone requires a weekly medical visit to renew the prescription, sometimes leading those who are addicted back to the very environment and people that they need to avoid to stay clean.

The Trauma & Mental Health Report recently spoke with Leslie (name changed for anonymity), a patient who has been receiving methadone maintenance treatment (MMT), who says, “Sometimes I wait all day to see the doctor. During that time, you can’t help but associate with other users, hear “drug talk”, or even see drugs being passed around. The methadone doctor doesn’t push counseling and is not there for support. I’m only going to get my prescription.”

Toward the end of treatment, methadone dose is slowly tapered to prevent withdrawal. But most users don’t wean off completely. Leslie says she didn’t have the motivation or tools to do so until she started seeing her drug addictions counselor:

“I’ve been trying to get off of methadone for 18 months now. It has helped with the withdrawal symptoms, and life is easier to manage since I’m not running the street 24/7 looking for my next fix. And I have more time to get my life on track. But, In order to ‘knock’ the addiction you need to figure out what your personal triggers are. My counselor has helped me with this. She also provides a safe place for me to go and discuss my problems and any issues I have with MMT.”

The greatest fear is relapse. Although part of the recovery process, relapse can have physical and emotional consequences. But it helps to identify personal triggers: cues that provoke drug-seeking behavior, the most common of which are stress, environmental factors such as certain people or places, and re-exposure to drugs.

The most important missing link in MMT is drug counseling. Meeting with a counselor is not mandated and patients seldom see one. Those who seek counseling benefit from help determining personal triggers, and preparing for potential relapse. A counselor may help create a healthy living plan that focuses on improving mental health with nutrition, exercise, sleep, building healthy relationships, and spiritual development.

Better family relationships also help with recovery. Including family members in treatment increases commitment to counseling and also helps family members understand what the person is going though.

Opioid addiction is more than physical dependence. Initial detox is a start. Methadone helps with the physical aspects of withdrawal, and helps users lead a more normal life. But without the help of a drug counselor, MMT isn’t enough.

Without counseling, social support, a drug free environment, and the desire to change, we lead the patient only part way there. And part way isn’t enough.

– Contributing Writer: Jenna Ulrich, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: www.123rf.com/stock-photo/lonely_man.html

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Myth Busting the Not Criminally Responsible Defense

00Altruism, Empathy, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Guilt, Health, Law and Crime, Psychiatry, Psychopathy, Psychopharmacology, Therapy, Trauma December, 14

“I thought he must die. He had no future, nothing good. I thought I was saving the child.”

Nerlin Sarmiento had expressed disturbing thoughts about her children long before tragedy struck her small family of four. On many occasions the 32-year-old Edmonton mother had confessed to doctors and family members that she had thoughts of harming herself and her children.

Precautions were taken: Sarmiento was admitted to hospital several times, prescribed psychiatric medication, discharged, and had her mother move in to help care for the children. 

On the morning of February 12th 2013 in Edmonton, Alberta, Sarmiento sent her ten-year-old daughter to school, then forced her seven-year-old son into the bathroom where she held him under water until he stopped breathing.

Sarmiento did not deny murdering her son. She called the police herself to report the crime. Her lawyers, however, argued that she should not be held responsible on account of her mental illness that prevented her from appreciating the moral wrongfulness of her actions.

Two psychiatrists testified at Sarmiento’s trial. They explained that she was experiencing a severe depressive episode as part of her previously diagnosed bipolar disorder. She felt despair so extreme she became convinced she was committing an altruistic act, saving her son from a life of predestined poverty and hardship. 

On September 12th, 2013, Justice Sterling Sanderman agreed. Nerlin Sarmiento was found not criminally responsible (NCR) on a charge of first-degree murder. 

The public outcry against the ruling was reminiscent of the aftermath of the Vincent Li and Guy Turcotte trials; they were found NCR on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree murder respectively.

NCR has been a hot topic featured prominently in the press following several high profile cases, but is often misunderstood.

In Canada, if the court decides that an individual has committed a criminal act (i.e., they are guilty), but lacked the capacity to know that their actions were not only criminally wrong, but also morally wrong at the time, a verdict of not criminally responsible may be given.

Psychiatrist Robert Dickey with Correctional Service Canada and the University of Toronto helped the Trauma & Mental Health Report gain a better understanding of NCR and bust some of the myths surrounding the defense. 

Myth 1: Almost anyone can claim they have a mental disorder and use the NCR defense.

Technically, this is true. But whether or not they would be successful is another story, says Dickey, explaining that if you don’t have a severe mental illness, it is very hard to malinger your way through an NCR assessment and defense.

He further explains that the finding of NCR is based on the exact mental state of the accused at the time of the crime. By the time someone is referred for assessment by the courts, their state of mind may be quite different than it was when the offense was committed. 

A good clinician will seek clear corroborating information that the individual was suffering from a psychotic illness at the time they were arrested. The police, jail and institutional records should give information as to the individual’s mental state at the time.

This is not a matter of being a little depressed, states Dickey. The individual must be so ill that they would not have been able to tell right from wrong, appreciate the wrongfulness of their actions or engage in rational choice when the crime occurred.

Myth 2: The NCR defense is a tactic for offenders to skirt the justice system.

Mostly false, says Dickey. If an individual does not suffer from a psychotic illness, pure psychopathy or criminality alone is not considered – by the law – to be a disease of the mind severe enough to qualify for a finding of NCR.

If the NCR defense is successful, the individual is remanded to the custody of the Provincial Review Board, where the offender is encouraged to receive treatment. Interestingly, the board itself has no power to order the accused to engage in treatment. 

But if an accused does refuse, they are often detained in a secure facility. Dickey explains that with cases of major mental illness and the refusal of treatment, the physician can refer the offender to the Consent and Capacity Review Board. And the individual may be declared incapable to refuse psychiatric treatment and treated against their will.

Myth 3: When a person is found NCR for a crime, they essentially walk free. 

False. The vast majority of offenders found NCR spend a lot more time detained in a secure facility than if they had been found guilty and served a regular prison sentence, Dickey explains. Because the consequences of NCR are more restrictive and more ensuring of treatment, the issue is now more readily raised by the crown (prosecution) than the defense.

After the individual has been remanded to the Provincial Review Board, the forensic psychiatrist will testify as to the necessary level of security needed to manage the offender and their psychiatric care, while still ensuring the safety of the community.

So what’s in store for Nerlin Sarmiento?

When her trial concluded, she was remanded to the custody of the Alberta Review Board (ARB). At a hearing within 45 days from the end of her trial, the ARB determined whether she would receive an absolute discharge, a conditional discharge or be detained in custody. The results of Sarmiento’s hearing have yet to be made public.

 – Contributing Writer: Jennifer Parlee, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

 Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Book Review: Becoming Trauma Informed

00Addiction, Anxiety, Child Development, Cognition, Empathy, Environment, Featured news, Health, Leadership, Parenting, Psychopharmacology, Race and Ethnicity, Stress, Therapy, Trauma, Treatment December, 14

Red, and your heart starts to race. Red, and your palms sweat. Red, and the sounds around you blur together. Imagine becoming emotionally aroused or distressed at the sight of simple stimuli, like the colour red, without knowing why.

Because triggers like this can take the form of harmless, everyday stimuli, trauma survivors are often unaware of them and the distress they cause in their lives. And clinicians who practice without the benefit of a trauma-informed lens are less able to help clients make the connection.

To address this and other concerns, researchers Nancy Poole and Lorraine Greaves in conjunction with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto recently published Becoming Trauma Informed, a book focused on the need for service providers working in the substance abuse and mental health fields to practice using a trauma informed lens.

Becoming Trauma Informed provides insight into the experiences, effects, and complexity of treating individuals who have a history of trauma. Without a clear understanding of the effect traumatic experiences have on development, it is challenging for practitioners to make important connections in diagnosis and treatment.

The authors describe how someone who self-harms may be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, possibly insufficiently treated with only medication and behaviour management. But using a trauma informed lens, the practitioner would more likely identify the self-harming patient as using a coping mechanism common to trauma survivors, giving rise to trauma informed care.

Such care involves helping survivors recognize their emotions as reactions to trauma. And helping clients discover the connection between their traumatic experiences and their emotional reactions can reduce feelings of distress. 

Throughout the text, the authors describe an array of treatment options, pointing to ways they can be put into practice; for example, motivational interviewing to provide guidance during sensitive conversations, cognitive behavioural therapy for trauma and psychosis, and body centred interventions to allow clients to make connections between the mind and body, an approach that has become increasingly popular in recent years. 

Importantly, the authors emphasize that a single approach to trauma-informed care is unrealistic and insufficient. While all treatments should include sensitivity, compassion, and a trusting relationship between therapist and client, specific groups require unique approaches. 

The authors devote chapters to specific groups, including men, women, parents and children involved with child welfare, those with developmental disabilities, and refugees. They outline different approaches necessary for trauma informed care in various contexts, such as when working in outpatient treatment settings, in the treatment of families, and when working with women on inpatient units, where treatment requires sensitivity to both the individual’s lived experiences and environment

A unique and compelling feature of this book is the focus on reducing risk of re-traumatization, an often neglected topic. Responding to the need for trauma survivors to feel safe, the authors outline how trauma informed care minimizes the use of restraints and seclusion (practices that can be re-traumatizing), and they offer ways to reduce the risk of re-traumatization by placing trauma survivors in less threatening situations, where they are less likely to feel dominated. This may involve matching female clients to female therapists or support groups comprised of only females. 

The numerous case studies help illustrate specific scenarios, challenges, and outcomes of trauma informed care and highlight the growing recognition of the link between substance abuse, mental illness and traumatic experiences.

While the text is theoretically grounded, the authors convey information in a way that is accessible to wider audiences. It provides critical information for those working in the field by underscoring the relationship between past experiences and current functioning.

Becoming Trauma Informed delivers a deeply informative look into the field of trauma therapy.

– Contributing Writer: Janany Jayanthikumar, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/auntiep/4450279893/

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Video Games Rated A for Addictive

00Addiction, Depression, Diet, Featured news, Health, Neuroscience, Optimism, Psychopharmacology, Self-Control, Sex, Sleep, Stress, Treatment December, 14

Picture if you will, flashing screens, loud noises, focused faces and a crowd gathered to watch high stakes games; games that end only when you run out of money.

This is not a casino. Those faces are staring at flashing computer screens in an arcade and the high stakes match is actually a video game.

Scenes like this make it possible to view video gaming as an addiction. Like a gambler endlessly playing slots, the video gamer can spend hours on the vice of choice.

Those who consider gaming as addictive highlight similarities between models of addiction and the behaviour of those who can’t seem to stop playing video games, despite the consequences 

What does it mean to be addicted to a video game? Addiction used to be a term reserved for drug use defined by physical dependency, uncontrollable craving, and increased consumption due to tolerance. Advances in neuroscience show that these drugs tap into the reward system of the brain resulting in a large release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This is a system normally activated when basic reinforcers are applied, like food or sex. Drugs just do it better.

Gaetano Di Chiara and Assunta Imperato, researchers at the Institute of Experimental Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Cagliani, Italy, found that drugs can cause a release of up to ten times the amount of dopamine normally found in the brain’s reward system. This has led to a shift in how addictions are viewed. Any physical substance or behaviour that can “hijack” this dopamine reward system may be viewed as addictive.

When can you be sure that the system has been hijacked? Steve Grant, chief clinical neuroscientist at the National Institute of Drug Abuse, says it happens when there “is continued engagement in self-destructive behaviour despite adverse consequences.”

Video games seem to hijack this reward system very efficiently. Certainly Nick Yee, author of the Daedelus Project, thinks so. He explains, “[Video Games] employ well-known behavioral conditioning principles from psychology that reinforce repetitive actions through an elaborate system of scheduled rewards. In effect, the game rewards players to perform increasingly tedious tasks and seduces the player to ‘play’ industriously.” Researchers in the UK found biological evidence that playing video games and achieving these rewards results in the release of dopamine.

This same release of the neurotransmitter occurs during activities considered healthy, such as exercise or work. Since dopamine release is not bad per se, it is not necessarily a problem that video games do the same thing.

In her book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, Jane McGonigal writes, “A game is an opportunity to focus our energy, with relentless optimism, at something we’re good at (or getting better at) and enjoy. In other words, game-play is the direct emotional opposite of depression.” Playing games can be an easy way to relieve stress and get that satisfaction that comes with dopamine release.

But it is concerning when this search for the dopamine kick becomes preferable to real life, when playing video games replaces activities like socializing with friends and family, exercising, or sleep. Nutrition may begin to suffer as the gamer picks fast-food over proper meals. School-work and job performance suffer as gaming turns into an escape from life. It becomes troubling when video games are used as the main way of coping.

Psychologist Richard Wood says just that in his article Problems with the Concept of Video Game “Addiction”: Some Case Study Examples. “It seems that video games can be used as a means of escape…If people cannot deal with their problems, and choose instead to immerse themselves in a game, then surely their gaming behaviour is actually a symptom rather than the specific cause of their problem.”

Regardless, there are some unable to stop despite the consequences. In rare cases it has actually caused death, through neglect of a child or physical exhaustion. Excessive video game playing may represent a way of coping with underlying issues. But it becomes its own problem when the impulse to play just can’t be denied.

Psychiatrist Kimberly Young, Director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery argues that “[gaming addiction is] a clinical impulse control disorder, an addiction in the same sense as compulsive gambling.” Her centre is one of many that are now found in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and China.

These clinics treat those with gaming problems using an addiction model. They use detox, 12-step programs, abstinence training, and other methods common to addiction centres.

Notably, many people play well within healthy limits, and engage in the activity for diverse reasons. Stress relief, a way to spend time online with friends, or the enjoyment of an interactive storyline are all common reasons for playing. Whatever the reason for starting, when you can’t stop you have a problem. 

We are often critical of labels in mental health, for good reason; they can be misused. On the other hand, a label can sometimes be helpful. If we call it an addiction, then we recognize it as a problem worth solving.

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: Ben Andreas Harding

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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LGBTQ Refugees Lack Mental Health Care

00Addiction, Depression, Education, Featured news, Gender, Health, Identity, Politics, Psychiatry, Psychopharmacology, Sexual Orientation, Stress, Suicide, Trauma November, 14

In 2012, the Canadian government introduced cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), which provides health coverage for immigrants seeking refuge in Canada. Coverage was scaled back for vision and dental care, as well as prescription medication. At the same time, the introduction of Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, left refugees with zero coverage for counselling and mental health services.

The bill affects all refugees and immigrants, but individuals seeking asylum based on persecution for sexual orientation or gender identity have been hit especially hard by these cuts.

LGBTQ refugees are affected by psychological trauma stemming from sexual torture and violence aimed at ‘curing’ their sexual identity. Often alienated from family, they are more likely to be fleeing their country of origin alone, at risk for depression, substance abuse, and suicide.

On arrival in Canada, refugees struggle with the claim process itself, which has been cited by asylum seekers and mental health workers as a major source of stress for newcomers. For LGBTQ individuals, the process is even harder, having to come out and defend their orientation after a lifetime spent hiding and denying their identity.

In 2013, six Canadian provinces introduced individual programs to supplement coverage. The Ontario Temporary Health Program (OTHP) came into effect on January 1, 2014, and provides refugees and immigrants short-term and urgent health coverage. But it still lacks provisions for mental health services.

Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights, an organization and research project out of York University in Toronto, has been collecting data from focus groups with LGBTQ refugee claimants both pre- and post-hearing. A recent report by lawyer and project member Rohan Sanjnani explains how the refugee healthcare system has failed. LGBTQ asylum seekers are human beings deserving respect, dignity, and right to life under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Sanjnani argues that IFHP cuts are unconstitutional and that refugees have been relegated to a healthcare standard well below that of the average Canadian.

Arguments like these have brought legal challenges, encouraging courts and policy makers to consider LGBTQ rights within the framework of global human rights.

In July of this year, Bill C-31 was struck down in a federal court as unconstitutional, but the government filed an appeal on September 22. Only if the appeal fails could immigrant healthcare be reinstated to include many of the benefits removed in 2012.

Reversing the cuts to IFHP funding would not solve the problem entirely. LGBTQ asylum seekers face the challenge of finding service providers who can deal with their specific needs. The personal accounts collected by Envisioning tell a story of missed opportunity, limited access to essential services, and ultimate disappointment.

In the last two years, programs have sprung up to address these special needs. In Toronto -one of the preferred havens for LGBTQ refugees- some health providers now offer free mental health services to refugees who lack coverage. Centers like Rainbow Health Ontario and Supporting Our Youth have programs to help refugees come out, and to assist with isolation from friends and family back home, and with adjusting to a new life in Canada.

Still, the need for services greatly outnumbers providers; and accessibility issues persist.

Organizations like Envisioning try to create change through legal channels, but public opinion on LGBTQ healthcare access needs to be onside for real change to occur. Recent World Pride events held in Toronto were a step in the right direction. But specialized training of healthcare professionals and public education would go a long way in providing the LGBTQ community with the care they need.

– Contributing Writer: Sarah Hall, The Trauma and Mental Health Report 

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/vhhammer/3238712773/

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