Category: Social Life

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Social Media Societies Pose Risks to Mental Health

00Anorexia Nervosa, Featured news, Health, Media, Self-Harm, Self-Help, Social Life, Social Networking November, 17

Source: IraEm at Pixabay, Creative Commons

The internet is rife with social media societies on many popular sites, including Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. #Ana, #Sue, #Cat—translated, they mean anorexia, suicidal, and self-harm.

By searching these tags, online users are exposed to a slew of posts from people experiencing the mental illnesses or issues tagged. On Instagram you can find pictures of users with fresh cuts on their arms accompanied by the hashtag #Cat, indicating self-harm.

A study by Janis Whitlock, Jane Powers, and John Eckenrode at Cornell University found that the self-injury-related message boards studied were mostly frequented by females between the ages of 14 and 20.

With so many young people accessing social media, membership to these online communities can be concerning. In an interview with Vice, Frank Köhnlein, a youth psychiatrist at the University Clinic in Basel, discussed how young members are particularly vulnerable:

“Young people who are already fragile and perhaps already have experience with self-harm could be massively stimulated by this sort of thing and encouraged to self-harm again. When self-harm is glorified or—as in this case—put into an almost religious context, so that it is evaluated positively, the risk is particularly high.”

The Whitlock study showed that online interactions can reduce social isolation in adolescents since the exchanges allow teenagers to connect with others easily. In essence, social media can serve as a virtual support group where users gain instant help.

But negative implications may outweigh the positive. Whitlock also found that participating in self-harm message boards online can normalize and encourage self-harm, and teach vulnerable individuals tactics to conceal self-injurious behaviors. Users within these virtual sub-communities often exchange techniques for self-harming as well.

A study by Carla Zdanow and Bianca Wright at the Department of Journalism, Media, and Philosophy at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University looked at user statements in two Emo Facebook groups. They found that cutting was discussed often, with teenagers openly expressing affirmative opinions of these behaviors.

Sites like Instagram are aware of the precarious environment their users have created. When searching for tags like #Sue, a “Content Advisory” warning comes up reading, “Please be advised: These posts may contain graphic content. For information and support with suicide or self-harm please tap on Learn More.” The notice displays a link to Befrienders Worldwide, a site that provides emotional support to prevent suicide. Users can then choose to view posts or navigate away from their original search.

Instagram outlines the types of photos and videos that are “appropriate” for posting in their Community Guidelines, specifically singling out eating disorders, and self-injury as not welcome in the community.

Megan Moreno at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and colleagues conducted a study where they found 10 hashtags on Instagram related to non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). A popular image outlining the code words for mental illnesses titled #MySecretFamily had over 1.5 million search results. Only one-third of the NSSI related hashtags generated content advisory warnings, which means that the majority of this NSSI content is easily accessible to all Instagram users, regardless of age or mental stability.

In an interview with A Stark Reality, a 15-year-old girl from Denmark, whose name was changed to protect her identity, described her relationship with this online community:

“The community means that I can express myself, and talk to people all over the world that feel the same way. Sometimes we cheer each other up, other times we drag each other down in that big, black hole called sadness.”

For better or worse, people reach out to online communities. But sites like Instagram and Twitter can play a greater role in providing their users with mental health resources and accurate information.

Abbiramy Sharvendiran, 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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Slam Poetry Facilitates Sharing Stories of Mental Illness

00Anxiety, Creativity, Depression, Featured news, Health, Relationships, Self-Esteem, Social Life, Trauma May, 17

Source: MatthewtheBryan on Deviant Art

Andrea Gibson is a spoken word artist and activist who writes with intense passion about mental illness, bullying, and social tragedy.

In her award-winning poem, The Madness Vase, Gibson speaks firsthand about the shame many feel from disclosing experiences of mental illness and suicide. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, she explained, “The trauma said don’t write this poem; no one wants to hear you cry about the grief inside your bones.”

When asked why people use spoken word to share these sensitive and personal experiences, Gibson told the Report:

“I can say things within the context of a poem that I could never speak outside of a poem. There is a way in which a poem cares for its writer. Allows no interruption. It’s a sweetness, a generous sweetness. I think of a poem almost as a good parent who might say, ‘I’m going to hold you and have your back while you say this, and you have every right to say this.’ There is a safety in it. A holding we may not have had elsewhere in life.”

Gibson also speaks to the ways in which sharing poetry can build self-esteem and promote self-love in both speakers and audience members, and views her poetry as a form of therapy to treat anxiety and depression:

“Telling your story is healing. Telling your story to a receptive audience of listeners is even more healing. Being witness to people telling their stories is healing. There is so much pain in hiding, and spoken word is the opposite of hiding.”

Gibson’s ability to connect with her audience lies in her willingness to share her adversity battling panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. Narrating her journey with mental illness contributes to the authenticity of her poetry and resonates powerfully with viewers.

“I doubt that I would have an artistic life if I had not been pushed into it by my own flailing nervous system. Art is a shelter of sorts. At the same time, I have had shows where I was almost too panicked to speak. I had to keep saying to the audience, “I am feeling so much anxiety, I can barely get through this.” But I’m guessing in the long run even that is of some comfort to many people. To witness a panic attack on stage, and to watch art happen regardless.”

In addition to her work as a spoken word activist, Gibson created STAY HERE WITH ME in 2011, an online platform to share experiences of trauma, mental illness, of wanting to die, and of the different art forms that have prevented individuals from committing suicide. Gibson started this initiative with co-founder Kelsey Gibb, a mental-health professional and tour manager.

“Kelsey and I were on tour together while I was receiving a lot of letters from people who were struggling to want to stay alive and we wanted to create an online community that had larger reach of support. We wanted to create something that helped people want to stay.”

Gibson’s work highlights the healing power of story-telling. As an art-focused space, STAY HERE WITH ME encourages the use of art and poetry to heal, connect, and remind the audience they are not alone. Hundreds of individuals have shared personal stories through her website, finding acceptance and understanding through shared experiences.

Through poetry and mental health advocacy, Gibson is determined to build a community dedicated to helping people who have suicidal feelings.

“I want to remind individuals struggling with suicide to be sweet to the part of them that is in pain. To hold that part with gentleness and not to ask that pained part to go away sooner than it needs to. Sometimes simply letting ourselves hurt is what the hurt needs to move through us.”

–Lauren Goldberg, 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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Staffing Shortage Underserves Long Term Care Residents

10Aging, Cognition, Dementia, Featured news, Health, Loneliness, Social Life February, 17

Source: Chris Marchant on flickr, Creative Commons

In the summer of 2014, I volunteered at a long-term care facility (LTC) in the Peel Region of Southern Ontario. Most of the residents who lived there were diagnosed with some form of cognitive impairment, primarily dementia. I saw first-hand the unfortunate reality of understaffing, and how it leads to deficits in patient care.

As the elderly population has grown, Ontario has seen a 22% increase in admission rates of LTC residents as of 2014. And the number of residents with cognitive impairments is especially high. According to the Ontario Long Term Care Association’s 2014 annual report, 62% of residents have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia resulting from stroke, developmental disability, or traumatic brain injury.

Patients with cognitive impairments may have other mental health disorders as well. The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) indicates that 25.9% of residents in Ontario long-term care homes have shown symptoms of depression through 2013 and 2014.

In my time volunteering at the LTC, I noticed that residents often refrained from socializing because they were unable to take part in events due to memory deterioration, speech issues, and physical ailments such as paralysis or arthritis. Most residents required staff to transport them from one place to another and though they worked hard to support residents, there were simply not enough staff to supervise these daily activities.

Jane (name changed for anonymity), the Supervisor of Activation at an LTC in the Peel Region, spoke to the Trauma and Mental Health Report about this issue. Jane is responsible for organizing activities that motivate elderly residents to engage in social interaction and improve cognitive well-being.

Jane agreed that one of the biggest challenges for LTCs is staffing:

“Year by year, the case load of different residents is increasing, but with such little funding we do not have enough staff to support their needs. If residents aren’t participating in daily events and activities, their cognitive functioning is negatively impacted.”

A University of Ottawa study found that between the years 2000 and 2010, over 60% of residents with multiple cognitive deficits lacked stimulating therapeutic activities and social support. It showed that while residents received sufficient assistance with physical needs, such as feeding and changing, cognitive functioning continued to worsen in areas like memory and attention.

Jane also explained that despite research emphasizing the importance of activities that are engaging, staffing shortages make it difficult for these activities to be held in LTC homes:

“We need more activation staff for art therapy, music therapy and physiotherapy as these activities are beneficial to residents’ cognitive functioning. However, many activities are cancelled or postponed because of a lack of staff to facilitate the activities and monitor the residents. A few years ago, residents only needed one staff member or nurse for assistance, now they need two or more people. Sometimes, they’re left waiting for support.”

But perhaps the real issue here is funding. Adequate funds are necessary to increase the amount of staff within LTCs, so that residents can develop social relationships, participate in interactive activities, and improve their cognitive functioning and capabilities. Jane agrees:

“Funding hasn’t increased yet the resident conditions are changing and they require more care. The caseload is increasing, with little funding.”

Funding should also be allotted for appropriate staff training. LTC residents with cognitive impairments have a unique set of needs. According to the University of Ottawa study, residents require assistance in areas such as memory retention and engaging in regular social activities to help them interact and feel like recognized members of their community.

Making use of mental health first aid programs, such as the workshops offered atConestoga College and the Baycrest Health Sciences’ Geriatric Mental Health Serviceconference, can go a long way in improving the services staff provide.

As a past volunteer for an LTC home, I have seen the impact of limited support on residents’ lives. Greater funding and more staff to facilitate therapeutic activities are crucial to optimizing the care residents receive and to ensuring better cognitive functioning.

–Afifa Mahboob, 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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Friends of Teens with Eating Disorders Unsure Where to Turn

00Adolescence, Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Eating Disorders, Featured news, Friends, Health, Social Life January, 17

Source: Darren Tunnicliff on Flickr, Creative Commons

During my last year of high school, I tried to help one of my closest friends, Rebecca (name changed), through an eating disorder.  I found myself in the difficult position of guarding her secret, yet somehow trying to get her through a mental illness.

So I was eager to see director Sanna Lenken’s, My Skinny Sister at the 2015 Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival in Toronto, a film that captures the pain of a family coping with one member’s eating disorder.

The story is narrated by a young girl, Stella, who discovers that her older sister and role model, Katja, is suffering from anorexia nervosa. Through their complicated relationship, the viewer feels the struggle of wanting to protect a friend or family member from harm, while respecting the right to come forward only when ready.

Stella’s confusion and anxiety resonated with me. Like her, I felt I had to keep my friend Rebecca’s eating disorder a secret, scared of repercussions should anyone find out.

Rebecca’s condition escalated during senior year. She began over-exercising and restricting her caloric intake. At first, the disorder was hardly noticeable. But over time her weight dropped, her face appeared gaunt, her bones protruded.

At seventeen, I felt ill-equipped to handle this. Like Stella, I wanted Rebecca to seek help, but I didn’t know how to arrange it without betraying her trust.

Trying to aid a family member or friend with an eating disorder is very hard. Without resources at school, with no one to turn to, I didn’t know how to begin the conversation. As I struggled to support Rebecca, it became obvious I had no tools to help. One week of anti-stigma instruction that focused on body image and speaking inclusively wasn’t nearly enough.

Many adolescents are vulnerable to personal and friendship crises like these. And some websites help educate teenagers, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) site or the National Eating Disorder Association’s (NEDA) site.

But mental health education in high school? Not so much.

That’s unfortunate. Research shows the benefits of educating teachers on mental illness. In a 2014 study published in the journal Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Yifeng Wei and Stan Kutcher at Dalhousie University found that training teachers through a mental health program led to significant development in their ability to identify individuals with mental illness. And their attitudes toward mental disorders improved as well. Teachers were better able to support students, and link them to services.

The Youth Action Committee of Children’s Mental Health Ontario, in 2012, designed a project to identify where schools were deficient in educating mental health issues. The study found a lack of training and education for students, with 39.5% of participants saying they only learned about mental health in one class. There was also a lack of access to resources, such as a designated safe space for students who wanted to discuss these issues in school.

In the end, there wasn’t much I could do to help my friend. Over time, Rebecca sought treatment independently—she got the help she needed.

But not everyone struggling with an eating disorder will seek help on their own. Better education and resources for people coping with mental illness, as well as for those who want to help, would go a long way in providing support.

–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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Prisoners Gain Understanding of Others Through Literature

00Emotional Intelligence, Empathy, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Psychopathy, Social Life December, 16

Source: Homes and Antiques

Does reading have the ability to increase empathy? Writer and activist Alaa Al Aswany thinks so. He believes that the role of literature has been captured by the single word ‘also’ from the Dostoyevsky novel The House of the Dead, in which a prisoner, witnessing the death of another, comments “He, also, had a mother.” Aswany says that in this context, the word ‘also’ is an attempt to understand what is common to all humans, and that this understanding is the essence of literature.

Literature as a tool for human understanding and empathy… The idea has been a powerful socializing influence in a very unlikely setting: prison.

The organization Book Clubs for Inmates facilitates 22 book clubs across Canada to allow inmates in federal penitentiaries to read and discuss novels. Their slogan is‘Literacy, Self-Awareness and Empathy’. They reason that most inmates will re-enter society at some point and, by encouraging reading while in prison, the organization believes that prisoners can improve vital social skills.

Volunteers guide conversations through themes that range from self-sacrifice to overcoming adversity, and how these topics relate to inmates’ lives. Through these discussions, prisoners develop pro-social skills, such as taking turns speaking and listening, which may enable easier reintegration later on.

The Book Clubs for Inmates website claims that 85% of prisoners report improved reading skills; 90% realize improved communications skills; 93% report reduced recidivism; and 86% see the book clubs as an opportunity to engage in meaningful discussion.

One inmate expressed:

“The Book Club is an enormous source of intellectual and social—sometimes even spiritual—inspiration to both myself and the many others who attend. I have watched men in that group realize their potential to analyze and reflect that I don’t know if they even realized they had.”

Research conducted by David Kidd and Emanuele Castano at The New School for Social Research in New York provides evidence to support idea that literary fiction can enhance the capacity to understand the thoughts and feelings of others.

In their study, participants read randomly assigned texts, either non-fiction, thrillers, romance, or literary fiction. After reading, they perform a series of tasks to measure empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence by examining how accurately the participants could identify emotions in others. For example, one task involves inferring emotion simply from a picture of someone’s eyes. Scores of empathy were significantly higher for those who had read the literary fiction.

Kidd and Castano explain this phenomenon as literary fiction’s ability to leave more to the imagination by not explaining characters’ behaviour explicitly. Readers then have the freedom to make inferences about characters’ thoughts and motivations. This kind of interpretation requires sensitivity to emotional nuance.

Kidd explains:

“In literary fiction, the incompleteness of the characters turns your mind to trying to understand the minds of others.”

Readers can then carry this awareness into the real world to understand others who are different and think differently. Kidd argues that this transference is to be expected:

“The same psychological processes are used to navigate fiction and real relationships. Fiction is not just a simulator of a social experience, it is a social experience.”

Current research in the neurosciences supports the idea that reading allows people to experience life from a character’s perspective. A study at Carnegie Mellon University found that reading a Harry Potter excerpt, in which Harry rides a broom, activates the same brain regions that would be responsible if one were to actually fly a broom. That is, readers live vicariously through the characters they read about in literary works.

Raymond Mar, a social psychologist at York University, stresses the role of fiction in teaching empathy to children as well, saying that “Even though fiction is fabricated, it can communicate truths about human psychology and relationships,” which can be very important lessons for the developing child.

Exposure to fiction can improve children’s social functioning, as well. Not only does it allow them to step into another’s shoes, improving empathy, but it helps to develop vocabulary for their feelings, allowing them to communicate more effectively. Mar viewsreading as developing their theory of mind, their ability to understand others’ thoughts, desires and motivations.

As one inmate said:

“When you’re reading books, you realize that the world’s not all about you. You’re not the only one going through these trials and tribulations. You get to have a little empathy for other people.”

–Caitlin McNair, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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“Ex-Gay” Conversion Therapy Movement Puts Lives at Risk

00Conformity, Featured news, Health, Sexual Orientation, Social Life, Stress, Therapy September, 16

Source: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

There is a billboard in Richmond, Virginia hanging above the interstate with a picture of identical male twins and a caption that reads: “Identical Twins: One Gay, One Not. We believe twin research studies show nobody is born gay.”

Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX), the organization that created the ad, promotes the view that being gay is a choice, not a genetic predisposition, despite extensive research showing the contrary.

The claims in the ad are not only false, but the men featured are not actually twins at all, or even brothers. According to the Huffington Post, the face of South African model, Kyle Roux, was superimposed onto two different bodies to give the illusion of twins. Roux was shocked to see his face on the ad, as he didn’t give permission for the image to be used. And…he is openly gay.

PFOX is part of the controversial Ex-Gay Movement, encouraging gay persons to refrain from same-sex relationships, eliminate homosexual tendencies, and develop heterosexual desires. Their view: Gay must be cured.

They consider sexual orientation a choice, and those who identify as gay are willingly choosing a deviant lifestyle. But this ideology results in family rejection and self-hatred among LGBTQ individuals, as well as intolerance and discrimination in the community.

Organizations promoting this view are often affiliated with religious institutions. PFOX believes gay people can renounce homosexuality through religious revelations or conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy.

Sexual orientation conversion therapy became popular in the 1960s. According to the American Psychological Association report, Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, different disciplines of psychology influenced practices of conversion therapy.

In response to such treatments, numerous mental health and psychological organizations publically announced that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and is not something that can or should be cured. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association’s Board of Trustees removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Second Edition (DSM II) in 1973. And in 2000, they further stated:

“The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.”

The risks are even greater among gay youth. A 2009 study by Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State University found that young adults who experience family rejection based on their sexual orientation are eight times more likely to attempt suicide and six times more likely to experience depression.

Despite these findings and professional opposition to conversion therapy by both the American Psychiatric and American Psychological Associations, many of these treatments continue to be used and promoted.

Michele Bachmann, a Republican former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, considers homosexuality a choice. Bachmann and her husband were found to be practicing conversion therapy at their Christian counseling clinic in Minnesota.

Conversion therapy is still legal in most U.S. states, though anti-conversion bills have been signed into law in California, New Jersey, and Washington DC. Campaigns such as the #BornPerfect movement are working toward expanding state bans into other areas.

While public attitudes and legislation are shifting toward respect for LGBTQ individuals, conversion therapy is still a common practice, compromising mental health, threatening lives, and undermining efforts of movements that stress tolerance and equality.

–Eleenor Abraham, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Patients with Misophonia require help and understanding

Patients with Misophonia require help and understanding

10Empathy, Featured news, Happiness, Loneliness, Neuroscience, Relationships, Social Life November, 15

Source: Rick&Brenda Beerhorst on Flickr

Some people find the sound of nails on a chalkboard or the rumbling of a snoring spouse irritating, but what if the sound of someone breathing sent you into a fit of rage?  This is a reality for many sufferers of misophonia.

Only recently garnering attention from researchers, misophonia is a condition where individuals have a decreased tolerance for certain sounds.  Chewing, coughing, scratching, or pen clicking can provoke an immediate aggressive response.  Verbal tantrums are common and in severe cases, sufferers may even physically attack the object or person causing the noise.

“I turn my eyes to face the source of the noise and feel myself glaring at that person in rage,” misophonia sufferer Shannon Morell explains to The Daily Record.  “The only thing I can think about is removing myself from the situation as quickly as possible.”

Many sufferers begin to structure their lives around their struggle with the disorder and avoid triggers by socially isolating themselves.  Public spaces like restaurants or parks are readily avoided and in extreme cases, eating or sleeping in the same room as a loved one can feel impossible.  Even establishing or maintaining relationships is very challenging.

Misophonia can interfere with academic and work performance.  In a study by PhD candidate Miren Edelstein at the University of California in San Diego, patients reported trouble concentrating in class or at work due to distraction from trigger noises.  In some cases, students may resort to isolating themselves, taking their courses online.

David Holmes tells The Daily Record that he finds refuge in using headphones (whenever possible) to block out external noises while at work.

The cause of misophonia is currently believed to be neurological, where the patient’s limbic (emotional) and autonomic nervous systems are more closely connected with the auditory system.  This may be why hearing a disliked sound elicits an emotional response.  Aage Moller, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas, describes it as a complication in how the brain processes auditory stimuli.

Research shows that misophonia usually develops at puberty and tends to worsen into adulthood.

But misophonia is still greatly misunderstood.  There is a lack of research examining its causes or possible treatments.  There is no cure, and some critics even wonder if misophonia should be considered a disorder at all, arguing instead that it’s just a personality quirk.

While it seems there is little help available for people with the disorder, Misophonia UK, an organization dedicated to providing information and support to misophonia sufferers, outlines a number of interventions.

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) involves teaching patients how to slowly build sound tolerance, while Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on changing negative attitudes that can contribute to the severity of the disorder.  In some cases, hypnosis can be used to relax individuals.  Breathing techniques are also taught so patients can learn to sooth themselves when hearing their trigger noises.

Keeping a diary to record feelings and providing education to loved ones are also strategies recommended by Misophonia UK.  Support groups and online forums like UK Misophonia, Selective Sound Sensitivity, and Misophonia Support also provide a way for sufferers to share their experiences and interact with others.

Researchers in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Amsterdam say that DSM classification may be necessary to pave the way for more recognition and research on the disorder, and that if misophonia is not regarded as a distinct psychiatric condition, it should at least be viewed as part of Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Disorder (OCSD).

The prevalence of misophonia is currently not documented, and it seems few seek help.  Suffers of misophonia can only do so much on their own before the disorder starts intruding on their lives.

– 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

“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

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Rape Chants Prevalent on University Campuses

00Education, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Law and Crime, Social Life, Stress, Trauma January, 15

“Y-O-U-N-G, we like ‘em young, Y is for your sister, O is for oh so tight, U is for underage, N is for no consent, G is for go to jail.”

Frosh week: When nerves and expectations are high, and when first-year students are eager to meet new friends.

In September of 2013, university officials were outraged that some University of British Columbia (UBC) and St. Mary’s University (SMU) students glorified sexual assault by chanting a rape song during frosh week.

Chanting at frosh events is supposed to facilitate school-pride and community. Returning students organize frosh events to represent their schools with dignity. But like every year at UBC and SMU, frosh leaders continue to endorse sexist chants. The president of student council at St. Mary’s, who since resigned, said, “I never thought anything about it” since he heard the chant four years earlier. 

So do students who voluntarily take part in a rape chant actually endorse it? 

The desire to be part of a group can mean surrendering individuality. Social psychologists call this phenomenon deindividuation and it explains why rational individuals can become unruly in crowds. While group chanting is used as a social bonding technique during frosh –where fitting in and making friends is a priority– chanters may not realize they are legitimizing rape.

Historically, rape chanting has been associated with acceptance of violence against women says Otutubikey Izugbara, professor of medical anthropology at the University of Oyo, Nigeria. What’s concerning is that university campuses are unknowingly endorsing this mentality when young women ages 16 to 24 are four times more likely to be assaulted sexually than any other age group.

Political science professor Janni Aragon of The University of Victoria was not surprised by the frosh chants. “We live in a hyper-sexualized world where social justice activists, rape crisis workers, and academics working in women’s studies or other fields continually explain that rape culture thrives.” She explains that an atmosphere of rape culture can turn a rape chant into a “light-hearted moment,” one that underplays the severity of the ritual.

Both UBC and SMU administrators promised sensitivity training, counseling, and anti-rape education for students. Among them, Robert Helsley, dean of the UBC business school voiced concern for student safety and communicated his assurance that such inappropriate events would no longer occur. St. Mary’s appointed a panel to recommend sexual violence prevention on campus, including former politician Laurel Broten, who drafted Ontario’s sexual violence plan.

Education is part of the solution. Jessica Carlson, a psychology professor at Western New England College and Danielle Currier, a sociology and women’s studies professor at the College of William and Mary reported that students who participated in a rape education course were found to have changed attitudes about rape. Students were more likely to see rape as a negative event rather than a neutral or positive one.

But when Helen Lenskyj, professor of social justice at The University of Toronto showed that 60% of Canadian college-aged males would commit sexual assault if they knew they would not get caught, are preventive programs being introduced too late? 

In 2004, the Rand Corporation and Break the Cycle non-profit think tanks, questioned whether violence education programs are appropriately timed for university students. Their research shows that first sexual experiences often occur at a younger age, many of which are forced. High-school students are considered a high-risk group for unwanted sexual encounters.

Since then, rape education grants have increased for middle schools and high schools. Poco Smith, a professor of social work at Wayne State University and Sarah Welchans, a statistician from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics studied rape education in high-school students. They found that using an education peer group to explain male responsibility in sexual assault (as opposed to victim blaming) led high-school students to perceive rape as an objectively harmful event.

Still, it is challenging to reach younger students because parental consent is often a requirement, and there are few knowledgeable counselors to teach abuse prevention. Sexual education in general also tends to focus on heterosexual abuse, labeling the male as the abuser and the female as the victim. There is considerably less research that focuses on abuse in sexually diverse groups.

For victims of sexual assault, there is a social and psychological cost. Male-privileging rape songs can isolate victims, and encourages a celebration of trauma.

When two different universities bordering Canada are singing the same song at frosh week, you might wonder if other universities across Canada are doing it too.

Universities worldwide ought to pay close attention. When I was in high school, I didn’t wonder whether the chant I participated in was wrong. My guess is there are a whole lot of unaware students out there. 

– Contributing Writer: Shira Yufe, The Trauma and Mental Health Report 

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller 

Photo Credit: Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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No Place to Be a Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today