Category: Self-Esteem

Lena Dunham's Representations of Mental Illness

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

Source: Karolina Reis on Flickr

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

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

The controversial television series Girls on HBO leads the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And many are taking notice.

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

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

– Alyssa Carvajal, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Plastic Surgery to Cope With Bullying?

00Addiction, Bullying, Child Development, Depression, Featured news, Health, Self-Esteem June, 16

Source: Aimee Heart on Flickr

Looks matter. Focusing on appearance is nothing new. And the growing popularity of plastic surgery has, to some extent, normalized changing our bodies to fit our ideals.

But how do we understand the limits, especially where children are concerned?

In 2014, fifteen-year-old Renata underwent nose and chin surgery to put an end to the constant bullying she was facing at school.

The teasing had become so bad that Renata was homeschooled for three years. And while she says that she is happy with the end results, there was great concern raised at the time by parents, health professionals, and the public over the surgeries.

Experts are split on whether children can benefit from undergoing plastic surgery to avoid bullying. But it should be acknowledged that Renata’s story is not that uncommon.

Fourteen-year-old Nadia Ilse, as well as 7-year-old Samantha Shaw, both had surgery to pin back their ears in response to bullying. They had the operations done for free by the Little Baby Face Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to correcting facial deformities of children from low-income families. Founder Thomas Romo tells NBC News that such procedures can have a positive impact on a child’s functioning:

“You take a child, and you change the way they look. To anybody who sees them, they’re good looking. That gives the child strength. We can’t go after the bully. But we can try and empower the children.”

A study by the Department of Psychology at the University of the West of England supports the idea of this kind of surgery, which can have a positive impact on mental health. In a pre- and post-operation comparison of 51 plastic surgery patients and 105 general surgery patients, the plastic surgery group experienced a greater decrease in their depression and anxiety.

But the extent of these positive results is questionable.

Over the course of 13 years, the Norwegian Social Research Institute studied body satisfaction in over 1,000 adolescent females, 78 of whom underwent cosmetic surgery. They found that although satisfaction with the specific body parts that were operated on increased, overall body satisfaction did not improve. Furthermore, participants who underwent cosmetic surgery had an increase in depression, anxiety, and substance abuse compared to those who had no surgery, suggesting that the positive mental effects of plastic surgery are localized and short-lived.

Child psychologist Nava Silton also tells Fox 9 News that plastic surgery could be covering up underlying emotional or mental health issues that a child might have, such as low self-esteem. Unaddressed emotional issues could lead to a plastic surgery addiction in adulthood.

Currently, there is no pre-surgery screening process for mental health issues. The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ASPS) recommends children only have plastic surgery if they understand the benefits and drawbacks, do not have unrealistic expectations, and initially requested the plastic surgery themselves. Yet media personality Laura Schlessinger questions a child’s ability to demonstrate such qualities, noting the importance of parents in guiding their children towards better decisions:

“Children, by virtue of their lack of maturity, may have exaggerated notions of how these procedures will improve their lives.”

Still, Renata insists that surgery was the right choice for her—one that she says boosted her confidence enough to return to school.

Children of different ages and different cognitive abilities vary in their ability to appreciate what they are getting themselves into, but wherever possible, it’s important to help them be realistic about the anticipated consequences of a surgical procedure that will change them permanently.

– Anjali Wisnarama, 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

Overpraising May Reduce Self-Esteem in Children

Overpraising May Reduce Self-Esteem in Children

10Confidence, Family Dynamics, Featured news, Parenting, Personality, Self-Esteem December, 15

Source: Vinicius Zeronian Mattoso on Flickr

Spend five minutes at a park, and soon you’ll hear enthusiastic parents reinforcing their kids with, “you did so amazing” and other statements as a means of encouragement.  To the nurturing parent or guardian, praising a child for performance seems like a no-brainer.

But recent research suggests that overpraising may not be such a confidence booster for some children, particularly those with low self-esteem.

Developmental psychology researcher Eddie Brummelman at Ohio State University says that using inflated praise can actually backfire.  In his research, children were asked to draw a famous painting, Wild Rose by Vincent van Gough.  One group of children received inflated praise such as “you made an incredibly beautiful drawing,” while a second group received non-inflated praise like “you made a beautiful drawing,” and a third group received no praise.

In a later task, children were asked to copy a picture of their own choice.  For example, they could choose to copy a simple picture, where the child would likely make few errors, or a difficult picture with more detail.

The results showed that children with low esteem were more likely to choose easier drawing tasks after receiving inflated statements of admiration.  In an interview with Research and Innovation Communications at Ohio State University, Brummelman said, “if you tell a child with low self-esteem that they did incredibly well, they may think they always need to do incredibly well.  They may worry about meeting those high standards and decide not to take on any new challenges.”

Children with low self-esteem may interpret high praise as expectation, making them afraid of failure and disappointment, and consequently, afraid to take on novel tasks.

Elizabeth Gunderson and colleagues at the University of Chicago found that parents who praised with a focus on the child’s personal characteristics (e.g. “you’re so smart”) implied to the child that their ability was fixed and unchangeable, resulting in a lack of motivation to tackle challenging tasks.  But when parents highlighted their child’s efforts (e.g. “you worked hard”), children often used positive approaches for problem solving, and believed that their abilities could be improved with effort.

Researchers often refer to this constructive encouragement as process praise.

Psychology professor, Lisa Marie Tully, from the University of California states that process praise might be especially beneficial for children who are generally more motivated and persistent.  Those children are more likely to ask for help when faced with experiences of failure after attempting challenging tasks.

Interestingly, Gunderson also found that the amount of praise that the child received from the parent had no apparent effect on motivation or self-esteem.

Consistent with these findings, Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) suggests ways to give constructive encouragement to children, to promote self-confidence and competence.

MSUE advises that supporting the child’s effort, whether or not they are successful in accomplishing a task, is important.  So instead of using personal and exaggerated praise in an attempt to boost esteem, let the child know that you recognize their determination.

Letting the child know exactly what they are doing well and noticing the detail of their work is critical.  Trading ambiguous praise for detail-oriented questions lets the child know that their work is interest-worthy.  When children are explicitly told what they are doing right (e.g. “good job at cleaning up the blocks”), it’s more effective in changing future behaviours and promoting improved effort.

– Khadija Bint-Misbah, 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

Laughing at Mental Illness?

Laughing at Mental Illness?

10Addiction, Bias, Creativity, Depression, Embarrassment, Featured news, Health, Humor, Laughter, Self-Esteem December, 15

Source: Fractured-Ray on DeviantArt

Whether chuckling at a New Yorker cartoon or an episode of South Park, there is nothing wrong with a bit of laughter. But certain topics are off limits.

Depression, anxiety, psychosis. Is it ever okay to laugh at mental illness?

Many mental health advocates say that mental illness is never a laughing matter. This view was reflected in public outcry after a2013 McDonald’s ad showed an apparently depressed woman with the caption, “You’re Not Alone. Millions of people love the Big Mac.” The helpline under the ad connected callers to the McDonald’s head office. The fast-food giant faced tremendous backlash and quickly pulled the ad, apologizing to those they offended.

Psychologist Howard Samuels, founder of The Hills Treatment Centre in Los Angeles, says that when we laugh at mental health issues, we lessen the seriousness of the condition and dehumanize sufferers. He cites the example of former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, whose substance abuse made for numerous jokes, ridicule that may have delayed his decision to seek treatment.

But Janine Hobson (name changed), a stand-up comedian for Vancouver’s Stand Up For Mental Health (SMH) and Toronto’s Laughing Like Crazy (LLC) disagrees. To her, the acceptability of finding humour in mental illness depends on who is making the joke and why. Does the person have a mental illness, and is the humour playing down the condition or helping that person connect to others?

According to Janine, a sufferer of bipolar disorder, SMH and LLC help people with mental illness overcome their conditions. As part of the two programs, participants come up with a comedy routine based on their experience with mental illness and the mental health system, performing their sketches in front of live audiences.

David Granirer, the founder of SMH and Janine’s trainer, thinks that comedy gives people with mental illness a powerful voice and helps reduce stigma and discrimination around these issues.

“People with mental illness suffer from the effects of misplaced public perceptions,” states Janine. “What do people think of the mentally ill? They’re dangerous, they’ll fly off the handle and kill you.People are afraid. The other myth is that mental illness is a symptom of a weak personality. When you have mental illness there’s a lot of shame.”

Proponents say that comedy diffuses shame and fights stereotypes. Addressing mental health issues through humour improves communication and creates a meaningful and memorable dialogue about the impact of mental illness on individuals and communities. At the same time, people with severe mental illness performing stand-up comedy—a daunting prospect for most—empowers sufferers and shows that mental illness does not have to be a handicap.

Although not a substitute for treatment, laughter can be a way for people to feel better about themselves and embrace their conditions while educating others.

“It’s a way of giving power and hope back to people like myself who are going through the system and have felt so disempowered over the years, which is so important to keeping someone spirited against the obstacles they face related to their illness,” claims Janine.

Research studies on laughter appear to support these views, showing that humour is related to the development of a positive and realistic self-concept, higher self-esteem and self-worth, and more positive emotional responses to stress. Humour that is good-natured, integrating, and non-hostile is associated with higher self-esteem and competence in interpersonal settings, and more positive feelings.

Janine emphasizes that participants of the SMH and LLC programs focus on their own experiences and make light of their ownproblems (as opposed to belittling or sensationalizing mental illness).

So, can we laugh about the frightening symptoms of schizophrenia? Hard to know, the answer depends on context. At its best, humour creates partnership, hope, and open-mindedness. At its worst, it triggers ridicule and bullying.

The difference is as thin as the line separating comedy and tragedy.

– Veerpal Bambrah, 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

Is Casual Sex Really So Bad?

Is Casual Sex Really So Bad?

10Anxiety, Depression, Featured news, Health, Relationships, Self-Esteem, Sex December, 15

Source: John Perivolaris on Flickr

Smartphone apps like Tinder, Grindr, Down, Tingle and Snapchat have opened up a new chapter in the complicated world of dating and casual sex.  Dubbed “hookup culture,” smartphone users 18-30 years of age are said to be navigating a very different sexual landscape than their parents did.

Early research on the topic found that undergraduates who engaged in casual sex reported lower self-esteem than those who did not.  Yet, other studies reported no evidence of higher risk for depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, or body dissatisfaction.

According to adjunct professor Zhana Vrangalova of New York University, the phenomenon of casual sex is layered with individual, interpersonal, emotional, and social factors.  Reasons for engaging in hookups are different.

Her recently published study demonstrates that casual sex is not harmful in and of itself, rather one’s motivations for engaging in casual sex is what affects psychological well-being.

Vrangalova draws upon self-determination theory:  Behaviours arise from autonomous or non-autonomous motivations.  When we do something for autonomous reasons, we are engaging in behaviours that reflect our values – the ‘right’ reasons.  When we do something for non-autonomous reasons, we are seeking reward and avoiding punishment – the ‘wrong’ reasons.

In the context of casual sex, Vrangalova and her team of researchers were able to show that those who hooked up for non-autonomous reasons (i.e. wanting to feel better about themselves, wanting to please someone else, hoping it would lead to a romantic relationship, and wanting favours or revenge) had lower self-esteem and higher levels of depression and anxiety.

But those who engaged in casual sex for autonomous reasons – fun and enjoyment, sexual exploration, learning about oneself – reported higher than normal levels of self-esteem and satisfaction, with lower levels of anxiety.

If hooking up for the right reasons, casual sex does not appear to have a negative impact.  Still it’s not so simple.  A number of issues need to be addressed.

Many studies examine “hookup culture” on college campuses, particularly the sex life of middle to upper class young adults.  Since college years are often a tumultuous time of self-discovery and changing opinions, longitudinal research on the long-term benefits (or drawbacks) of casual sex need to be carried out.  Few studies have explored how casual sex affects the mental health of individuals above age 30.

Outside the college domain, information on how different casual sex arrangements (one night stands vs. friends with benefits vs. non-monogamy) affect mental health is scarce, as is research exploring how casual sex behaviours vary between people of different ethnicities.  Preliminary research shows that non-white women report lower desire for casual sex.  How or why this is the case has not been examined.

There is little doubt that the sexual landscape has changed in the past few decades. Technologies, and more specifically social media, have altered the way we approach and engage in interpersonal relationships. But the idea that younger generations are ditching the traditional dating scene in favour of hooking up has not been supported by recent research.

Hang-outs, group dates, friends with benefits, no-strings-attached… For those emerging adults who are engaging in these behaviours with a psychologically healthy frame of mind, is it really so bad?

– Magdelena Belanger, 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

Cosmetic Vaginal Surgery Ignores Women’s Mental Health

Cosmetic Vaginal Surgery Ignores Women’s Mental Health

00Body Image, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Gender, Health, Media, Self-Esteem October, 15

Source: summerbl4ck/Flickr

“I just thought I was so different from everyone else that I wanted my vagina to be changed,” said 21-year-old, Rosie, during her interview for The Perfect Vagina, a 2008 documentary on vaginal reconstructive surgery.

Rosie received a labiaplasty to remove the skin of her labia minora (internal genitalia). While the operation is relatively simple, the risks include bleeding, infection, permanent scarring, nerve damage, and a painful three-month recovery.

David Matlock, a cosmetic surgeon and director of the Los Angeles Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation Institute pioneered the vaginal surgery market in Los Angeles. He claims he can create “the perfect vagina,” a promise that brings in about 12 million (USD) a year.

But researchers at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women believe the concept of a “perfect vagina” arises from consistent exposure to homogenous images of women’s genitalia.  Pornography, medical textbooks, and sex shops show a similar vagina that is pink, hairless, with only the labia majora (external genitalia) visible.  Even the popular women’s health and sexuality book Our Bodies Ourselves shows only one image of the vagina.  Yet, the appearance of the healthy vagina is highly variable.

Why are more women opting for vaginal reconstructive surgery?  John R. Miklos, director of Urogynecology and Reconstructive Vaginal Surgery at the Atlanta Medical Center, found that most of his patients (on average 35 years of age) pursue the labiaplasty to improve sexual function, or to reduce pain during intercourse.

Other reasons for labiaplasty include alleviating discomfort from clothing or exercise, pressure from male or female sexual partners, reducing shame from having large labia minora, and boosting self-esteem.  And many labiaplasty patients are dissatisfied with the appearance of their genitalia and have lower sexual satisfaction.

Cosmetic surgeons state that women have the right to make decisions about their bodies. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reported that women are the highest consumers of cosmetic surgery. In 2013, they accounted for 80% of all surgical (rhinoplasty, chin implants) and non-surgical procedures (BOTOX).

But many researchers take issue with that idea, arguing that vaginal cosmetic surgery patients often struggle with mental health.

Labiaplasty becomes problematic when young girls and women are looking for a self-esteem boost, as the surgery does not necessarily result in a positive outcome.  And for women struggling with low self-esteem, when one body part gets “fixed,” the dissatisfaction may shift rapidly to another.  This ongoing pursuit may be reflected in depression, anxiety, and even plastic surgery addiction.

However, Bruce Allan, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Calgary, Alberta, considers his patients to be very “well-adjusted people,” stating that a woman getting a labiaplasty is the same as a bald man getting a hair transplant.

Scientists at the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England have developed a psychological screening tool for all cosmetic surgery patients.  And specifically for labiaplasty candidates, there is the genital appearance satisfaction scale.

According to The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, psychological evaluations are not a mandatory procedure. Yet, most cosmetic surgeons are aware of body dysmorphic disorder, a chronic psychological illness characterized by obsessive, negative thoughts about one’s body and real or imagined flaws in physical appearance.  If patients opting for this surgery are doing so because they are suffering from a mental illness, one may ask whether it is indeed ethical to proceed?

Cosmetic surgeons would do well to consider the patient’s age when it comes to vaginal reconstructive surgery.  Young girls may prioritize a “quick fix” without understanding the surgery’s invasiveness.

And with adequate training to administer psychological screening tools, cosmetic surgeons could identify which patients should speak to a mental health professional before signing up for a labiaplasty.

Perhaps labiaplasty candidates can be given the opportunity to consider taking another route to address underlying body image dissatisfaction.  Patients might be better off if their doctors started tackling the problem from the top-down.

– Shira Yufe, 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

“Pro-Ana” Websites Encourage Anorexia

“Pro-Ana” Websites Encourage Anorexia

10Body Image, Eating Disorders, Featured news, Loneliness, Self-Esteem, Social Life August, 15

Source: Wolfgang Lonien/Flickr

In 2013, 17-year old Grainne Binns came forward to the Daily Mail with her story of having anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder defined by a distorted body image, and intense fear of being or becoming fat.  Months of restricting food intake meant Binns’ weight plummeted to 84 pounds.

Her inspiration, she explained, was admiration of girls on pro-ana and thinspiration blogs and websites.

The sites claim not to promote eating disorders, yet pro-ana (pro-anorexia) websites provide diet plans with dangerously low caloric intake, and ways to eat less and burn more calories, as well as “inspiration” through images of very thin models and celebrities.  They advance the idea of anorexia nervosa as a lifestyle rather than a mental illness.

Researchers at the Department of Communication at Wayne State University assert that the biggest appeal of pro-ana websites is their ability to provide social support and a sense of self-expression.  Offline, people with eating disorders often face stigma when voicing anti-treatment views and eating habits to friends and family.  Online, the websites become a sanctuary where users are free to express their views and have them met with agreement and support.

Shared writing about issues of self-esteem or feeling misunderstood, in fact, may be therapeutic, often providing a sense of community.  Emotional support and validation from other users seem to be part of the appeal of pro-ana websites.

In a study by Professor Nicole Martins, and Ph.D. Candidate Daphna Yeshua-Katz at the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University, interviews with regular pro-ana bloggers revealed that many felt the websites granted permission for them to continue with their eating disorder.  Bloggers also worried they would be seen as wanna-rexics (wannabe anorexics) by other online community members for not meeting their weight loss goals.

Binns knew this feeling well, describing her need to please other users when they would comment that she appeared fat in her photos.

Sonya Lipczynska, information specialist of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, also describes how the cult-like nature of pro-eating disorder websites are enabling harmful behaviour.  Personifying anorexia nervosa, writers on some sites refer to the disorder as if it were a real person, “Ana,” who members must appease by following rules and dedicating attention to making “her” happy.  These rules, known as “Ana’s Laws,” reinforce the fixation users have with being thin.

Some patients get so addicted to the appeal of pro-ana websites that they use them in secret, despite being advised against doing so by their therapists or other mental health professionals.

Although these websites are active, certain efforts are being made to discourage use.  Social media sites such as Tumblr and Instagram have changed their terms of service to ban the posting of thinspo images.

And a growing number of pro-recovery websites promote optimistic thinking and positive self-image through the use of inspirational quotes, pictures, and community support.  Users get the message that they can successfully beat their eating disorder, along with recovery tips and referral information to get professional help.

Still, pro-ana websites should not be dismissed.  What we need to appreciate is that the support and understanding the sites give to users make them not only popular, but addictive.

And there may be a lesson or two here for family, friends, and those in the mental health community invested in recovery from eating disorders:  The best way to address concerns about pro-ana websites is to provide the same level of support and understanding offline as users now get online.  And, eating disorder websites devoted to recovery need to provide a similarly supportive community as well.

In the case of Grainne Binns, the road was difficult.  But, it was the support of family and friends that allowed her to delete her pro-ana blog and start a new one about healthy living, ultimately facilitating her recovery.

– Anjali Wisnarama, 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

Social Media Cannot Fix ‘Being Alone’…Nor Should It

Social Media Cannot Fix ‘Being Alone’…Nor Should It

00Featured news, Friends, Media, Relationships, Self-Esteem, Social Networking May, 15

Source: Federico Morando/Flickr

As Facebook turned eleven this past February, I became acutely aware of my various virtual connections. I can tweet about what I am having for breakfast, or post a photo of my cereal to Instagram, and so on.

But is being virtually connected an effective way of interacting with others? Gary Turk, writer and director of “Look Up,” a short film that went viral over this past weekenddoesn’t think so.

According to Michelle Drouin, a professor of psychology at Purdue University, people use technology for different reasons. For example, individuals with secure attachment – those who are able to maintain trusting relationships and possess a good sense of self – tend to use text messaging to arrange meetings and check in, but save personal conversations for face-to-face contact. But those with insecure attachment styles are more likely to use texting for reassurance or the creation of artificial distance in relationships.

Sherry Turkle, M.I.T. professor and psychologist, characterizes the problem as one of not knowing how to be alone. To manage that fear, we seek to connect virtually, yet we are also afraid of real intimacy and use social media and technology to control how we connect. She refers to this “edited version” of a real conversation as the Goldilocks effect –having not too much, not too little, but a just-right amount of comfortable contact with others.

But, edited controlled conversations can lead to a lack of empathy. Since we cannot see our friends’ reactions we are unsure if our true intention was received. And, we cannot always read the emotion or tone of a comment and can overreact or become anxious over varying interpretations. The comedian Louis C.K. notes this impact on empathy as the reason he will never get his daughter a cell phone. He also thinks we use our cell-phones and social media accounts to avoid uncomfortable situations or deep emotions.

When we experience this “half-communication” with family or friends, we are left feeling unheard and lonelier than before.

The mere presence of a mobile phone in a room during a conversation reduces the feeling of closeness and connection between individuals, say Andrew Przybylski and Netta Weinstein, psychologists and professors at the University of Essex. The presence of the phone reminds us of our social network, other connections we could be making, and divides our attention. This same divided attention creates the feeling of not being heard, so we feel less certain of our ability to trust or connect with the other person.

Louis C.K. thinks what we really need is to turn the phone off and re-connect with ourselves. Being virtually connected is not the same as true connection.

As noted, Turkle considers the driving force of the Goldilocks effect as the fear of being alone. To improve our connection with others, what we need to learn is how to be fully present, and to be fully present, we first have to be able to sit with being alone.

The ability to be alone, to be in “solitude,” is not necessarily the same as being lonely.

Some benefits of solitude include being free of the scrutiny of others, allowing for more self-expression and creativity, time spent in self-reflection, and time to re-charge and renew.

Turkle thinks that time alone in conversation with oneself builds the skills necessary to engage in conversation with others. She is not against technology, but does think we need to find a balance and rethink how we are using technology. Drouin’s research does not fault the media. If not Facebook or Twitter, we would find other means to control how we interact and avoid the scary aspects of aloneness and intimacy.

There is increasing support for the idea that we need to re-balance. Social media is not a cure for loneliness.

But if I find that posts and tweets are leaving me wanting, then it is up to me to contact my friends and family to engage in more meaningful communication.

– Heather Carter-Simmons, 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

love is war, feature2

Love Is War: Post Infidelity Stress Disorder

00Anger, Attention, Cognition, Dreaming, Empathy, Featured news, Health, Hormones, Infidelity, Memory, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Relationships, Self-Esteem, Sex, Sleep, Stress, Trauma March, 15

Source: Daquella manera/Flickr

Blind-sided by the one you love, the one you married.

Learning about your spouse’s infidelity can be emotionally and physically devastating. The emotional damage is reflected in what some mental health professionals call Post-Infidelity Stress Disorder (PISD), for the stress and emotional turmoil experienced afterward.

Psychologist Dennis Ortman, author of Transcending Post-Infidelity Stress Disorder, describes the term as “not to suggest a new diagnostic category but to suggest a parallel with post-traumatic stress disorder, which has been well documented and researched.”

In Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), re-experiencing the trauma repeatedly is the first of three categories of symptoms described. The disorder is marked by flashbacks of war for veterans, nightmares of the accident for car wreck survivors, and painful memories of abuse for survivors of intra-familial trauma.

So too, in PISD husbands and wives will replay the painful realization of betrayal.  Even after the initial fall-out, people will have recurring thoughts of their partner with another.

Psychologist and certified sex therapist, Barry Bass, adds, “Like trauma victims, it is not unusual for betrayed spouses to replay in their minds previously assumed benign events,” those times when their spouse became defensive when asked a simple question, or the late nights at work, or the text messages from unnamed friends, all of these become viewed as possible deceitful acts.

The second category of symptoms for PTSD, avoidance and emotional numbing, is seen in PISD as well.  Rage or despair that comes after the initial shock of discovering the infidelity can be followed by a state of emotional hollowness.  Formerly pleasurable activities lose their appeal.  Those who were cheated on sometimes withdraw from friends and family and describe feelings of emptiness.

The last category of PTSD symptoms, hyper-vigilance and insomnia, can also arise for those dealing with infidelity.  Sleep patterns become erratic; and concentration becomes a challenge, affecting work performance and family life.

PISD can have physical consequences as well as emotional ones.  The stress of discovering infidelity can lead to what has been dubbed broken heart syndrome, also termed stress cardiomyopathy.  The American Heart Association describes symptoms such as sudden chest pain, leading to the sense that one is having a heart attack.  Physical or emotional stressors, such as a loved one passing or major surgery trigger a surge of stress hormones that temporarily affect the heart.  The condition typically reverses within a week.

Despite the stress, there is life after an affair.  Due to the symptomatic similarities, therapists are now beginning to use PTSD counseling techniques to help couples either stay together or move on.

Exposure and cognitive restructuring are techniques used when dealing with traumatic memories.  In exposure, spouses are asked to gradually imagine those heart-wrenching moments and to cope with them gradually, whereas cognitive restructuring substitutes irrational thoughts, feelings, and behaviours induced by the trauma, with adaptive ones.

Counselors use these “trauma focused” explorations with clients, sifting through the distressing memories and aversive feelings, to help build the client’s self-esteem and confidence in dealing with the betrayal or loss of the relationship.

Therapists are also working with their clients to help them understand the unique reasons that led to the infidelity.  Understanding why the affair occurred can help both people.

Along with help from family and friends, wounds can be bandaged and trust restored.  Infidelity trauma and the time and strength involved in recovery remind us that love, like war, can have its casualties.

– Contributing Writer: Justin Garzon, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: Daquella Manera/Flickr

This article was originally published on Psychology Today