Category: Resilience

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Wearing Cancer Survival Like a Badge of Honor

00Featured news, Grief, Health, Positive Psychology, Relationships, Resilience October, 17

Source: eKBS at DeviantArt, Creative Commons

“I have stage 3 cancer; my friend has stage 1—which is like a pimple.”

On her personal blog, Debbie Woodbury, a woman diagnosed with Stage 0 cancer, references this comment by a fellow cancer patient. While she considers the comment hurtful, she is not particularly surprised.

Cancer prognoses vary, and there is large variation in survival between types and degrees of illness. Some are fortunate to survive without the sickening effects of chemotherapy, the fear of losing hair, or surgeries that leave patients bedridden for weeks. But people may also minimize their cancer journey, or be made to view their experiences as ‘lesser’.

Woodbury explains:

“Without a tumor and with a Stage 0 cancer diagnosis, I started this journey not even sure I was qualified to call myself a cancer patient.”

Similarly, Lesley Miller writes of her husband:

“I bought him a bold yellow shirt that said ‘survivor’ across the front. ‘Survivor,’ in his mind, is nothing to tell the world about. He didn’t do anything to claim survivor status; his body just had a treatable cancer that happened to respond to drugs.”

Just like that, degrees of illness become a competition, belittle personal struggles, and create segregation among patients and those in remission.

In January 2015, cancer survivor Cindy Finch posted an article in the Huffington Post entitled “The 6 Injustices of Cancer.” The article received a great deal of backlash for suggesting that certain cancer patients “get off really easy”. She claimed:

“I’ve heard it a hundred times, ‘I’m a cancer survivor, too.’ ‘Oh, really? What type of cancer did you have and what was your treatment?’ ‘Oh, I had thyroid cancer and had to take a radioactive pill for 30 days. Then I was all better.’”

Finch talks about individuals with ‘worse’ diagnoses:

“These folks represent the worst among us. If you’re not one of these folks, perhaps you should be quiet and sit down, and let someone else tell their war story.”

As if some cancer patients just aren’t macho enough. Attitudes like these have negative consequences on patient mental health.

Cancer patients often report feelings of guilt for surviving the illness. Survivor guilt is common among people who have gone through traumatic experiences, such as war, accidents, natural disasters, and interpersonal abuse. For Woodbury, not suffering enough throughout her cancer experience elicited guilt feelings.

Some individuals also consider themselves less deserving. Ann Silberman, a breast cancer survivor, writes in her personal blog:

“It was my belief that others deserved to live more than I did. Better people than me are now gone; people who were funnier, who were kinder, who had more to give.”

And then, of course, there are expectations people have of cancer patients: The image of the strong, inspirational individual, filled with gratitude for a second chance at life.

Silberman continues:

“I am still trudging along, bitching about how cold I am and slamming pain meds for my aches and pains.”

According to Crystal Park and colleagues at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, living through cancer results in the development of new identities that can define people for the rest of their lives. For those still in active treatment, the identity of patient or victim can develop, carrying the connotation of severe suffering inflicted on them. But for those who have survived such adversity, the most common identity was survivor, which carries the connotation of cure.

As cancer becomes an engrained aspect of an individual’s identity, it may be natural for those who suffered greatly to take pride in how much they overcame, indeed to try to silence others who have not experienced the same level of adversity.

But Woodbury takes umbrage at this view, noting:

“The truth is that cancer is not a competition and, just as I am enough, so is my cancer. I certainly did go through less than someone else might have gone through. Thank God for that. For that I should be grateful, not made to feel, by myself or anyone else, that I am guilty of not suffering enough to qualify in the cancer games.”

– Eleenor Abraham, 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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Losing a Pregnancy Only to Lose One Again

00Fear, Featured news, Grief, Pregnancy, Resilience, Therapy, Trauma July, 17

Source: margimadness, Deviant Art

Anna R. was having an ultrasound, prepared to see her baby for the first time. When she asked the technician what the sex of the baby was, the tech quickly left the room. The physician then entered to tell Anna there was no heartbeat. This became the first of seven pregnancy losses that she would endure.

Recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL) is typically defined as three consecutive losses prior to 20 weeks from the last menstrual period.

Affecting 1-2% of women, the causes of RPL differ. Advancing maternal age is associated with elevated risks of miscarriages, particularly in women 45 or older. Paternal age can also be a variable, with environmental and genetic factors playing a role as well. The risk of miscarriages further increases with the number of previous miscarriages, reaching approximately 40% after three consecutive losses.

While these causes have been established within the medical community, doctors still struggle to predict what ultimately leads to a couple’s pregnancy loss. Even after numerous tests, Anna’s physicians never found anything wrong, making the loss that much harder to cope with.

After her eighth miscarriage, Tracey Beadle of County Durham, UK told The Northern Echo:

“I think I wanted for them to find something wrong, because that would mean something could either be fixed or give us a reason to stop trying for a baby. We did not know when to stop.”

Janet Jaffe, a clinical psychologist and co-author of the book “Reproductive Trauma: Psychotherapy with Infertility and Pregnancy Loss Clients”, told the American Psychological Association:

“A miscarriage is a traumatic loss, not only of the pregnancy, but of a woman’s sense of self and her hopes and dreams of the future. She has lost her ‘reproductive story’, and it needs to be grieved.”

This grief is unique, in that expectant mothers and fathers mourn a child that never came to be. As Kate Evans, a woman who had six miscarriages said in an article in the Independent:

“If there’s no body, how can I grieve? I feel as though I must be kidding myself, wallowing in a morass of grief over a person who never even lived. Every time my mind trips back to this death, this loss, it strikes on empty, because there’s nothing there to miss.”

While there is no physical body to grieve, the hopes and dreams for a future with the child are ultimately the elements missed the most.

This grief is further complicated by feelings of isolation. When a loved one dies, there is often comfort in collective mourning with other grief-stricken individuals. But grieving the loss of a pregnancy can be an isolating experience for parents, as others haven’t formed the same connection with the unborn child and may struggle to understand why the experience is so painful.

Outsiders may also lack empathy for the mother’s experiences and fault her for the outcome of the pregnancy. Anna explained that people unintentionally implied that she was to blame for her miscarriage through comments like, “Do the doctors know what’s wrong with you?” or “Maybe you weren’t taking good care of yourself.”

RPL has been shown to severely disrupt the parents’ mental health. According to astudy by psychiatrist Michael Craig and colleagues at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, of 81 women with recurrent miscarriages, 33% were classified as depressed, with 7.4% suffering from severe depression. And 21% of the women also had clinically significant anxiety, while some experienced heightened anger and guilt.

Research documenting fathers’ grieving processes showed that, unlike women, many men do not react with increased depressive symptoms, crying, or feeling the need to talk. But similar to women, a major source of grieving arises from relinquishing their hopes and expectations for their unborn child.

While physical treatments for RPL include surgeries, medications, genetic screening, and lifestyle changes, the emotional and psychological toll must also be addressed.

A report by the Practice Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine indicates that psychological support in early pregnancy results in significant improvement of pregnancy outcomes. Psychotherapy can also help work out anxieties and fears from previous miscarriages.

According to Anna, therapy was what helped her through seven painful miscarriages:

“My therapist became my saving grace. I could comfortably tell her anything and everything—especially things I didn’t want to discuss with my husband, like thoughts of suicide. She was the voice of reason in my confused and isolated world.”

Individuals can find additional help through in-person support groups at local organizations, or through online sites, such as the Baby Center, which offer web-based clubs and blogs. Connecting with these groups allows individuals to interact with others experiencing the same grief, which may reduce feelings of isolation.

In the midst of hopelessness, people may feel safer bracing themselves for more heartache. But it is important to remember that, even after four consecutive losses, a patient has a greater than 60% to 65% chance of carrying the next pregnancy to term. In the meantime, seeking psychological support to work through the anxiety and grief may be beneficial.

–Eleenor Abraham, 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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Photography Documenting Mental Illness Draws Criticism

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

Source: ethermoon on flickr, Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura addressed this concern in her interview:

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

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

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

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

Houghton told BBC News:

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

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

–Nonna Khakpour, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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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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Transgender Homeless Youth Victimized by Shelter System

00Bias, Featured news, Gender, Resilience, Sexual Orientation, Stress, Transgender, Trauma August, 16

Source: RAJVINOTH JOTHINEELAK on Flickr

At the age of three, Gale started to challenge gender norms, insisting on wearing dresses and tiaras; by age four, sobbing at his mirror image wearing pants. He began calling himself “a boy and a girl,” and later chose to identify with the female gender.

In 2010, Gale was found dead on an Austin Texas sidewalk, right outside a homeless shelter, having been denied housing. Shelter staff considered Gale’s male genitalia inconsistent with a female identity. She would have to stay with the other men. Unable to accept these terms, Gale decided to spend the night on the sidewalk, but froze to death.

A heartbreaking story; across the U.S. and Canada, it is hardly unique.

Every year, new names are added to the memorial list of transsexual people who have been killed due to transphobia. Founder of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Gwendolyn Ann Smith explains, over the last decade at least one person has died every month due to anti-transgender hatred and violence.

Research conducted by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness shows the reality transgender individuals face: elevated levels of daily stress resulting in missed school and work, addiction, self-harm, and chronic mental illnesses, which can lead to poverty and an inability to build a healthy, successful life.

The most vulnerable of the transgender community are its youth. Many are thrown out of their homes by parents unable to accept their gender identity. Many leave to escape daily abuse.

There is a much higher prevalence of homelessness among transgender youth as compared to other minorities.

In Canada, many transgender youth from rural areas leave unsafe home environments and come to Toronto in hopes of discovering freedom and acceptance in the city, even if it means spending a few days or weeks on the streets. But they are quickly exposed to the harsh reality of discrimination in the shelter system.

Housing discrimination is a significant concern for the transgender community. Most homeless shelters are segregated by sex. Shared shelters usually separate women and men by placing them on different floors.

Placement on the male or female floor is based on shelter staff perceptions of the youth, regardless of which gender the individual identifies with. This is problematic for those whose gender identity is not congruent with their biological sex.

Forcing transgender individuals into shelter housing with those who identify as the opposite gender falls under the definition of transphobia, the consequences on physical, mental, and emotional health are severe.

Research has shown that transgender youth are three times more likely to develop major depression, conduct disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Transphobia can also lead to greater risk of developing substance abuse and self-harming tendencies.

A large study called TransPULSE investigated the current health conditions of transgender people in Canada. Results showed that, in Ontario, 77% of the transgender population had seriously considered suicide, while 45% had made an attempt to end their life. Transgender homeless youth in particular were found to be at greater risk for suicide, and LGBT homeless youth committing suicide at a rate 62% higher than heterosexual homeless youth. Based on the New York City model of the two LGBTQ shelters, the Ali Forney Center and the New Alternatives Centre, Toronto will soon be welcoming its first 54-bed shelter reserved for the gender-queer population, a promising achievement but not nearly enough.

There are many social and personal issues that accompany being young and transgender. While the personal trauma suffered by these individuals will only change with shifting views, it is up to us to provide safe spaces for this at-risk population.

– 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

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Sexual Freedom: Only Part of the Equation for LGBTQ Refugees

00Anxiety, Embarrassment, Featured news, Loneliness, Resilience, Sexual Orientation, Stress July, 16

Source: Eric Constantineau on Flickr

Montgomry Danton is a gay man from the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. In June 2014, he fled persecution in his home country to claim asylum in Canada because of his sexual orientation. By September 2014, he had been granted refugee status under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of 2002.

Leading up to his official hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board, Danton experienced the fear and anxiety common to many LGBTQ asylum seekers. He reported feeling isolated and depressed, being unable to sleep or eat, and experiencing thoughts of suicide. At one point, Danton wanted to give up and return home to Saint Lucia, despite the danger this would have posed to his life.

One might imagine that after a successful refugee hearing, the difficult part would be over. It would be time to start building a new life in Canada. But for Danton, and others like him, the struggle to become established in a new country can be as stressful as the claims process itself. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Danton said:

“It was a relief to know I can actually stay in Canada to be who I really am and be comfortable with myself and also my sexuality. People think coming to Canada is a good thing, you know? But you have to prepare for challenges.”

Some challenges are broad, ranging from finding affordable housing, to gaining employment, to securing basic necessities like food and clothing. But others are more specific to individual circumstances, including language barriers and cultural unfamiliarity.

LGBTQ refugees, in particular, may continue to experience social isolation, perpetuating a sense of danger and persecution. Individuals who have undergone physical and emotional trauma may not be able to move past their experience and attain a sense of personal safety until they establish a support system in Canada.

For Danton, building a new life has been stressful, edging him back towards the depression he experienced during the refugee claims process, and before that, in Saint Lucia:

“There are certain times I just wish I was back home because if I was back home I would be comfortable living my life.”

He, like many others, has been struggling with the concept of ‘home.’

In Saint Lucia, Danton did personally meaningful work as an outreach officer for the LGBTQ organization, United and Strong, and lived with his partner. In Canada, he is unemployed, has moved four times since his arrival, and has been dependent on the assistance of acquaintances and friends.

“In Saint Lucia, if it was safe for me to be who I am, to show that I’m gay, I wouldn’t think about coming to Canada. I would have stayed.”

For Danton, and for other LGBTQ asylum seekers, safety, security, and freedom of expression are only a few aspects of a meaningful existence. As a refugee, he has had to sacrifice many other significant parts of his former life, which is a common tradeoff for many in his position.

And the choice between freedom of sexual expression and stable housing and employment is an unimaginably difficult one to make, as is the choice between safety from persecution and the comforting presence of friends and family back home.

Still, Danton emphasizes his gratitude and appreciation at being granted asylum. He is happy to feel safe, to be far from the persecution he experienced on a daily basis in Saint Lucia, to be accepted into a country like Canada where he hopes to reclaim his life.

“At the end of the day, I’m still grateful and I’m trying my best to not let the challenges get the best of me. I’m thinking about moving forward.”

– Sarah Hall, 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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Srebrenica Massacre Continues to Haunt Victims

10Featured news, Law and Crime, Politics, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Resilience, Trauma March, 16

Source: Sara Benceković

The defendant entered the courtroom, giving a thumbs-up to the judges and clapping mockingly at the spectators watching from a glass-walled gallery. His name: Ratko Mladić, a 70-year-old former Bosnian Serb army general whose troops committed the single largest war crime in Europe since the Second World War.

In July 1995, a 15-square-kilometre area around the city of Srebrenica had been designated to offer shelter to Muslims fleeing Serbian armed forces. 400 Blue Berets were deployed by the United Nations to safeguard the area and over 10,000 people from all over Bosnia flocked to it for safety.

When Mladić’s troops arrived, they overcame the UN forces and most of the men and boys were slaughtered, while women were forced to flee. Over the course of four days, eight thousand people died.

After 16 years of hiding from UN accusations, Mladić was arrested in 2011 and has been on trial for his involvement in the massacre since June of the same year. He is accused of persecution on political, racial and religious grounds, extermination, murder, deportation, inhumane acts, terror, unlawful attacks on civilians, and taking peacekeepers as hostages.

Prosecutors have been building a case against Mladić, claiming that he led a coalition to ethnically cleanse parts of Bosnia of non-Serbs. His intentions, they say, were guided by the Serbian nationalist ideology of the Great Serbia, which aspired to claim territories of modern-day Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia. However, his defence counsel describes Mladić as a patriot who merely fought to defend his people.

Although Mladić denies the allegations, many survivors consider him directly responsible for their trauma. Nineteen years have passed since the end of the war, but the sorrow still hangs heavy over Srebrenica. Over four hundred witnesses flew in from all over Bosnia to testify against him before the tribunal.

In witness testimony during the trial, one survivor said: “My neighbours have gone to live in some other world, my schoolmates lie buried beneath the old playfields. My husband, once warm and loving, now lies bloodless and breathless. My life is an illusion; I died long before I will be buried.”

To this day, mass graves continue to be discovered across Bosnia. So far, nearly 5,000 victims of the bloodshed have been laid to rest, yet similar numbers remain undiscovered. A list with the names of missing people has since been compiled and published in the hope of gathering information from the public that could bring closure to family members.

Despite these efforts, many victims and their families have not yet found peace.

Elvedin Pašić, a witness at the UN trial, testified about being separated from his father when they were captured by Serbian soldiers. Women and children were forced onto buses to be dispatched from what is now Serbian territory, while men, including Pašić’s father, were required to stay behind. Most of them were never seen again.

During Pašić’s testimony, Mladić did not react and later denied feeling any guilt for his participation. His defence team claims that he suffers from a memory disorder that makes it impossible for him to differentiate between truth and fiction.

If the allegations against Mladić are proven in court, he will face a life sentence in prison. Many of those affected by the Srebrenica massacre see his captivity as justice that would end their suffering.

Witnesses have called for a restoration of the region back to its pre-war state. The area of south-eastern Europe used to be a mosaic of overlapping minorities, in which residents rarely had a sense of their neighbours’ nationality. Inter-marriage was common, children were bi-religious, and conflict was far from people’s minds.

Although it will likely take more than the imprisonment of war criminals to heal the trauma endured, Srebrenica survivors have united under the collective vision of rebuilding for the future. By seeking redress in the Mladić trial, the survivors of the region have generated empathy and support from those around them.

They continue to challenge the official history of events and in doing so have become prosecutors and judges in their own right, seeking justice for these crimes.

– Sara Benceković, 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

Parental Pressure Takes a Toll on Young Athletes

Parental Pressure Takes a Toll on Young Athletes

00Child Development, Family Dynamics, Featured news, Parenting, Resilience, Self-Esteem November, 15

Source: Jim Larrison on Flickr

Two young Jiu Jitsu fighters battle for position, and all I hear are the parents, “Ref, you missed those last two points!” “Jeffery, you’re doing it wrong!” Jeffery gets caught in a dangerous hold, and I end the match to spare him risk of a broken arm.  Afterward the parents approach me, angry I ended it so soon.

As a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu referee, many parents appreciate my concern for the welfare of trainees, but all too often, I’m forced to address those parents who try to motivate their children through put downs.  They call them names, yell, compare them to others, and stress the importance of being number one.  The pressure has a detrimental effect on child health, and leaves them feeling distressed and deflated.

According to Frank Smoll, Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington, parents play a pivotal role in determining whether sport is a fun learning experience or a nightmare. Smoll calls it frustrated jock-syndrome for parents who attempt to re-live their own past successes.

Smoll’s research found that children respond most favourably, not to coaches and parents who punish undesirable behaviours, but to those who sincerely reinforce behaviours that are desirable. For example, instead of yelling at a child for fumbling a ball, a parent or coach should congratulate the young athlete for the assist they made earlier in the game.  This encourages the child to try their best.

The money that parents spend can be a factor too.  Financial investment in sport has been associated with parental expectations. Travis Dorsche, a Utah State University professor and former football player, recently told The Wall Street Journal that “when parental sport spending goes up, it increases the likelihood that either the child will feel more pressure or the parent will exert it.”

As parents spend more on private coaching, equipment and travel expenses, the sport becomes less enjoyable for the child, and the child’s sense of personal ownership over their athletic career weakens.

Parent support is necessary for child success, but there is a fine line between supportiveness and pushiness.

Long term negative effects of overbearing sports parents are seen in two of the most successful athletes of all time, tennis player Andre Agassi, and baseball player Mickey Mantle.  In his international best seller, Open: An Autobiography, Agassi writes that he hates tennis with a “dark and secret passion” because of his overbearing father, and that when he won his first Grand Slam title, his father responded with, “You had no business losing that fourth set.”

Throughout their professional careers, both Agassi and Mantle developed problems with substance abuse.

Agassi turned to methamphetamine because it “swept away every negative thought in [his] head.”  Mantle, who had also been under intense pressure from his father, struggled with alcoholism and contemplated suicide.

According to Northern Illinois’ department of education, pressuring children too much in athletics can result in low self-esteem. These children are also at risk for physical injury, often pushed to perform regardless of pain complaints; they return to the field before fully healing.

For parents with children who play sports, about.com suggests encouraging your child to play the sport he or she enjoys, and supporting your child’s desire not to play a particular sport. Paediatrician and youth sports medicine specialist, Paul Stricker, argues that emphasis should be placed on a child’s effort.  Additionally, this should be modeled by parents and coaches, so children can learn the positivity of competition and effort, regardless of winning or losing.

As a coach and referee, safety is imperative.  Standing by my decisions and explaining that I’m not willing to risk safety may help some parents realize that there are things more important than being number one.

– Andrew McColl, 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

After a Stillbirth, Interpersonal Support Facilitates Coping

After a Stillbirth, Interpersonal Support Facilitates Coping

00Caregiving, Depression, Featured news, Grief, Health, Parenting, Resilience October, 15

Source: Judit Klein on Flickr

Over 2 million babies are stillborn every year worldwide, resulting from a genetic or physical defect, an illness suffered by the mother, or problems with the umbilical cord. In more than one quarter of cases, no cause can be determined.

In a recent interview with The Trauma & Mental Health Report, Heather, a mother and mature student shared her experiences surrounding stillbirth and commented on the services provided for families.

I chose to name my baby Benjamin.  I didn’t return to work after I got the ultrasound results and eventually I resigned.  I didn’t want to face the office, or their sympathy.

Immediately after a stillbirth, parents are offered various services to help manage their grief.

I was given a private room for the induction – an artificially stimulated labour – and received options for grief counselling and the services of priests and rabbis at the hospital.  We had him cremated, and the tiny basket of ashes was buried on my grandmother’s grave.  My husband and I also received genetic counselling to try to find the cause of the loss.

Parents of stillborn children have the option to see, touch, or hold their baby.  Memories that validate their experiences as parents can be created through handprints or footprints, pictures, or keeping locks of hair.  It can be overwhelming to make these decisions while coping with the reality that your child is gone, but these options may help parents make sense of their grief.

I was 21 weeks pregnant, so I was already making plans, thinking of names, and my daughter was looking forward to having a sibling.  I also looked physically pregnant… I was ready to have a baby, and in a fleeting moment he was gone.  It was so hard to move forward after that, and it was hard to reach out for help.

Interactions with hospital staff following the death of the child may influence how parents cope.  A 2013 study by Soo Downe, an associate professor at the University of Central Lancashire, found that parents believed there was only one chance to create an environment conducive to coping.  This means that positive memories and outcomes following a stillbirth depend as much on caring attitudes and behaviors of staff as on high-quality clinical procedures.

When interactions with hospital staff did not create a supportive environment, parents became distressed, which added to their grief and affected their ability to manage their jobs, family life, and mental health.  This additional stress can ultimately impact couples’ willingness to seek help.  When these interactions were more compassionate, parents were more likely to have positive, healing memories that aided their psychosocial recovery.

It is also common for parents to develop poor coping strategies, and to adjust differently after the loss of a child. Those who do not seek out services because of shame, fear, or anger tend to suffer in silence. A study by social worker Joanne Cacciatore, Faculty Associate at Arizona State University, shows that women who attend a support group develop fewer post-traumatic stress symptoms than those who do not.

Opening up to other bereaved mothers is helpful for reducing grief and other mental health difficulties.  Partners may also find reaching out to religious or spiritual leaders, funeral homes, and support groups helpful.  Online resources like blogging can also be useful for parents looking to connect in an anonymous way.

Heather was lucky to have the support and experience of the women in her family, which played a critical role in how she managed her grief.

I was grateful that my mother came out to stay with me during the termination.  Talking with her helped.  Other family members also began opening up for the first time about their experiences with miscarriage and stillbirth.  I didn’t feel so alone.

Some organizations are working to educate marital partners on coping styles and seeking out support.  The International Stillbirth Alliance works to improve stillbirth prevention and bereavement care for those who have lost a child.  Although they do not provide individual services, they work with other organizations to connect locally and globally to improve standards of care.

Women who have had a stillbirth can benefit from bereavement services and support of their loved ones.  Those who suffer in silence will likely do so much longer than they have to.

– Danielle Tremblay, 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