Category: Trauma

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Male Rape Victims Face Difficulty Finding Support

00Depression, Featured news, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, Therapy, Trauma April, 17

Source: Fabrizio Lonzini on flickr, Creative Commons

In October 2015, Sweden opened the world’s first male rape center. It is the only known center that provides emergency medical care for men and boys who are victims of rape or sexual abuse. Although most rape centers don’t turn male victims away, there are no others that cater specifically to the physical and emotional needs of men who undergo such trauma.

The issue of male-on-male, and especially female-on-male rape and sexual abuse is largely unacknowledged in part because these forms of trauma are much less common than those involving a female victim. Statistics Canada reports that approximately 8% of sexual assaults involve a male victim.

In the 1980s, the word “rape” was removed from the Criminal Code of Canada and replaced by three different levels of sexual assault, specified by whether or not force or threats were involved and to what degree they were present. The problem with this approach is that “sexual assault” sounds like a lesser issue; it doesn’t carry the same weight as “rape”.

In October 2013, Kirk Makin wrote in an article for The Globe and Mail:

“Instead of the loaded word rape—with all its moral and social baggage—three levels of sexual assault were written into law, each level escalating in gravity. But getting rid of the legal term ‘rape’ didn’t stop it. In fact, many argue that it profoundly defanged the justice system and has resulted in lighter—not tougher—sentencing.”

Terminology may partly account for a lack of male rape centers, but so might the negative cultural view of a man being raped, particularly by a woman.

Popular culture and the media typically portray rape as involving penetration, which assumes only a male can perpetrate it. So, the common view is that men cannot be raped by women. For example, if a victim tells a friend he’s experienced unwanted sexual activity, the friend’s reaction is likely to be as congratulatory as horrified. And the victim is less likely to report the crime. An article on rape from Stanford University’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy even states in its premise the assumption that perpetrators are male and that victims are female, disregarding the issue of male rape altogether.

There is a common sentiment that men are always open to sexual advances and, therefore, automatically consent. This misconception can lead to situations where, if a man is intoxicated or otherwise unable to provide consent, he may subsequently be sexually assaulted. Contrary to stereotypes, the common view of “no means no” applies to both genders, and a lack of consent is just as significant as an expression of non-consent.

Another problem focuses on the male-on-male rape that occurs in prisons. Jokes about not “dropping the soap” are rampant in the media, giving the impression that, since these individuals are criminals, they should expect—indeed deserve—sexual assault.

And rape committed in prisons is not even included in national statistics, an omission that has the effect of failing to prevent abuse, as well as diminishing the issue. As a result, there is an insufficient allocation of resources for victims within the prison system. Victims require both emergency medical services, as well as counselling, to address the physical and emotional damage of sexual violence.

The opening of a male rape center in Sweden is a positive step, suggesting some progress toward support for male rape victims. But on a broader scale, the problem goes unacknowledged. Attitudes cannot change without a more systemic shift in how male rape is viewed and addressed.

–Andrei Nistor, 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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Lack of Regulation in Porn Industry Leaves Women Unprotected

00Career, Featured news, Health, Law and Crime, Pornography, Sex, Trauma January, 17

The documentary film ‘Hot Girls Wanted’, produced by Rashida Jones and released in the spring of 2015, follows several young women living in a North Miami Beach home as they attempt to enter the amateur pornography industry. Since its release, the film has sparked major discussion about the experiences of female performers and the porn industry itself.

There is very little research available on the impact on performers within this poorly regulated industry. In the U.S., the government turns a blind eye to many of the issues surrounding the production of pornography, unless it involves performers under the age of 18. And despite laws prohibiting the employment of performers under the legal age, there are still issues involving consent among newly legal women in the 18-21 age range.

During an AOL BUILD discussion led by Jones, Gail Dines, a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston, emphasized the lack of understanding that some young women seem to have:

“I meet woman after woman who went into this industry, thinking they were going through consent. They’re young. They don’t know what they’re up against.”

Jones also interviews one of the film’s main performers Rachel Bernard, who has since left the industry, and who openly speaks about her experience working in amateur pornography. She addressed the concept of consent, and how it can become even more problematic on porn sets:

“When you walk in, your agent might’ve told you what you’ll be doing or they were general about it because they don’t want you to have an opinion whether you like it or not.”

In the AOL BUILD discussion, Bernard explained how it was common for her to enter onto a set without previously being told the details of her performance and, eventually, she would be pressured to perform acts she was not comfortable with. In one instance, she was told to say a highly demeaning line. When she refused, the director responded by saying, “Well, it’s part of the script, so you have to.”

A lack of agency in young people entering into any field of work is problematic. But working in pornography can open performers to elevated health risks and uncomfortable situations. During the AOL BUILD discussion, Bernard described how sex work was not comparable to most other lines of work because it required a higher degree of vulnerability:

“Every job does have points where it’s maybe uncomfortable but, when you go to a regular job, you’re not showing every single part of your body. The fact that I am out there and I am completely open. Every part of my body, soul, and mind is having to be in that position. It’s a little bit more than uncomfortable.”

Not only can pornography be uncomfortable, but due to the lack of regulation in the industry, the work can also have a negative impact on performers’ health. Condom use is reported to be very low in heterosexual adult films, with only 17% of performers using condoms. And performers in the study reported feeling pressured to work without condoms to remain employed.

The average age of performers entering the industry could explain a hesitance to speak up about rights on set.

For over 40 years, the average age of entry for female porn performers has been approximately 22. In an interview with VICE, Jones expressed the significance of the age of performers in influencing how they experience this line of work:

“When you’re 18 and you’re making choices for yourself, you’re not thinking about the eternal effects of footage online. You’re not thinking about the external and internal costs; the psychological, emotional, physiological, physical costs of having sex for a living. You’re thinking about the fame part. And so you may not be the best candidate to make a decision for yourself but you’re allowed to because you’re 18 and that’s all you need to be.”

So what do performers say about the development of regulations for this industry?

In February 2016, California officials in charge of workplace safety rejected a proposal requiring the use of condoms, dental dams, and goggles for porn actors on set. The decision was made after six hours of testimony from almost 100 performers and producers who strongly opposed the proposal.

Performers who spoke up in protest of the proposal worried that those particular regulations would either hurt the porn industry and their job security, or drive it underground, resulting in even more dangerous conditions.

In an interview with The Guardian, Ela Darling, a porn performer who spoke at the hearing, explained how those regulations would further limit performers’ rights:

“This law denies bodily autonomy to an already marginalized population, and it denies us our voice.”

In a statement made after the February decision, Erich Paul Leue, the executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult entertainment industry, discussed industry members’ interest in being involved in deciding industry regulations.

“We’re not opposed to regulation,” he said. “We’re opposed to this regulation.”

In terms of regulation, the aim should be to provide performers with the freedom to make their own decisions without fear of risking job security or safety. Individuals working in the industry should not be required to compromise health, safety, or wellbeing. And despite the current lack of understanding about the implications of working in porn, one thing is clear: Performers who wish to enter and remain in the industry should be able to do so without having to check their rights at the door.

–Abbi 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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Trauma Documented Three Decades after Chernobyl Disaster

00Appetite, Depression, Environment, Featured news, Health, Stress, Trauma December, 16

Source: Surian Soosay on Flickr, Creative Commons

Chad Gracia’s award-winning 2015 documentary, The Russian Woodpecker, addresses the legacy of trauma caused by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The film documents the investigative journey of Fedor Alexandrovich, a Kiev based artist who shares his own experience as a survivor while exploring the disturbing question: Was the disaster at the Chernobyl power plant an ‘inside job’?

When a reactor at the power plant exploded on April 26th, 1986, the effects were catastrophic. As radiation levels rose, hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.

Forced evacuation and relocation was traumatic for many who had no hope of returning home. In the most contaminated areas, entire villages were bulldozed and buried. Further, citizens were not notified of the risks they faced from radiation. Tamara Kovalchuk, who was employed by the Chernobyl power plant, tells Alexandrovich in the film:

“When the explosion happened, no one thought anything of it. They put on masks and we were surprised. Why wear a mask in such good weather?”

After the event, political authorities failed to implement policies to protect the health of their citizens. For example, the World Health Organization claims that:

“If people had stopped giving locally supplied contaminated milk to children for a few months following the accident, it is likely that most of the increase in radiation-induced thyroid cancer would not have resulted.”

Trauma is a recurrent theme of The Russian Woodpecker. Alexandrovich was four years old at the time of the disaster—he was evacuated from Kiev, Ukraine, separated from his parents, and sent to an orphanage. Reflecting on this experience, he says, “I thought I would be there forever. It’s quite a serious trauma for a child. And from that time I’ve felt strange…different.”

But this trauma is not unique to Alexandrovich—it extends to the hundreds of thousands of people who faced relocation, suffered from illness, and coped with deliberate misinformation from their government about health risks. To this day, those affected by the explosion continue to struggle, living in fear of long-lasting consequences such as birth defects and contaminated foods.

According to psychologist Lynn Barnett, trauma from the Chernobyl disaster is cumulative because it is “characterized by repeated adversity with no foreseeable end”. She describes radiation as an “unseen, unheard, unfelt and ‘un-smelt’ terror.” Its elusiveness, in conjunction with government deception following the event, has led to the spread of misinformation guided by unscientific explanations and recommendations for coping with radiation.

One such recommendation is that small doses of radiation are good for people of middle or old age. Others are that drinking red wine, or swabbing the throat with antiseptic iodine, can protect against radiation. But maybe false beliefs like these lessen the threat of the unknown by providing a sense of control.

Other research corroborates this notion. Anthropologist Richard Sosis at the University of Connecticut studied the effects of psalm recitation during the Second Palestinian Intifadain northern Israel. Among secular women, those who recited psalms to cope with violence experienced lower anxiety.

In relation to the Chernobyl disaster, Barnett wrote:

“The secrecy and lies that enshrouded the Chernobyl accident led to an almost total lack of knowledge about the facts, leading to the impossibility of any kind of personal control.” 

Perhaps Alexandrovich was seeking control over the chaos inflicted by the event when he decided to look into the politics surrounding the disaster.

His inquiry led him to interview Vladimir Komarov, head of the Chernobyl investigation committee. This committee was tasked with identifying the cause of the explosion. In the film, Komarov tells Alexandrovich that the last Soviet Head of Atomic Energy, Georgy Kopchinski, made phone calls to Chernobyl engineers demanding that they conduct experiments on an unstable nuclear reactor.

Kopchinski, who Alexandrovich also interviews, denies that he made these phone calls, despite the fact that they were reported by engineers at the time.

Like trauma that affects the individual, politically motivated trauma leaves people with a sense of vulnerability and fragility. In traumatic events, key values, beliefs, and attitudes are largely compromised, and individuals turn to external sources of authority, such as political figures, for answers.

But when political figures are complicit in the trauma, or fail to perform their leadership duties, basic trust in one’s society and culture is challenged, and the ability to cope is further hindered.

Alexandrovich’s theory that the Chernobyl disaster was politically motivated is provocative and incendiary. But is it true? According to Chernobyl historian Natalia Baranovskaya, “To prove this you need all the documents. But the documents are still classified.”

Secrecy around the events of the Chernobyl disaster persist, preventing those affected from understanding the cause of their suffering. For now, the truth remains elusive.

–Rebecca Abavi, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Remote Northwest Territories Lacking Mental Health Care

00Environment, Featured news, Health, Self-Harm, Suicide, Therapy, Trauma November, 16

Source: Gloria Williams on Flickr, Creative Commons

On April 26, 2015, 19-year-old Timothy Henderson, a resident of the North West Territories in Canada, was taken off life support after sustaining self-harm injuries, the culmination of a long battle with depression and other mental health issues.

Beginning in adolescence, Timothy struggled with symptoms of ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome (Autism spectrum). When he felt overwhelmed by his condition, he reached out for support, but felt dismissed, and began to lose hope that the help he needed would be available.

Shortly before his death, Timothy admitted himself to Stanton Territorial Hospital for the fifth time in a year, where he again disclosed details about a tendency to self-harm. He was released two days later, without adequate follow-up or a long-term care plan. Later that month, he sustained self-inflicted injuries that led to his death.

Timothy’s case is not uncommon in the Northwest Territories, a remote region of northern Canada. The NWT Mental Health Act states that a medical practitioner can only detain an individual for psychiatric assessment for a maximum of 48 hours. This time limitation often results in rushed and insufficient care—a result of a system that is understaffed and overworked.

The territory’s current Mental Health Act, introduced in June 1988, has been cited as a main cause of inadequate services for individuals suffering from mental illness. The act is out-of-date and has not been modernized with strategies to address the current mental health climate of the NWT.

In a report by the Alternative North Health Coalition, the mental wellbeing of residents in the NWT is shown to be much lower than that of the average Canadian, with a national rate of suicide three times greater than those living in the more populous south. Lack of access to staff, resources, and community-based treatments are all relevant aspects of the act that impede adequate treatment and prevention strategies.

Timothy’s mother, Connie Boraski, believes Timothy’s mental health began to worsen when he turned 17, and no longer qualified for the pediatric healthcare program. This transition resulted in lengthier waits for treatment and drastic changes in privacy laws that prevented Timothy’s parents from having access to information about their son’s treatment. Mental health legislation regarding the legal rights of family members and other caregivers is an aspect of the Mental Health Act that restricts parents, like Timothy’s, from intervening to support their children.

After being repeatedly dismissed, Timothy eventually stopped asking for help. Boraski explains:

“Timothy never wanted to be a burden to anyone. That was a real challenge for him, to ask for help.”

Deficiencies in the quality and quantity of staff and resources reflect the isolation and socioeconomic climate of the NWT. Due to the small and relatively isolated nature of the region, accessing facilities within the community can be difficult. Timothy had to travel between hospitals in the NWT and Alberta to obtain psychiatric help, which resulted in seeing a different doctor on each occasion. This kind of disjointed doctor-patient relationship makes it difficult to stay connected.

The public outrage following Timothy’s death eventually drove NWT Health Minister, Glen Abernethy, to open a review into Timothy’s case and bring changes to mental health legislation. In addition to other important components, the new act will include information on services such as Assertive Community Treatment (ACT), which will allow patients to have access to specialized treatment and supervision within remote communities of the NWT.

The revised act, if passed, is expected to come into effect sometime in 2016. Though implementation of a new mental health act is too late for Timothy Henderson, the hope is that a new mandate will provide the Northwest Territories with better preventative measures and resources for residents suffering with mental illness.

– 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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Death Penalty May Not Bring Peace to Victims’ Families

00Featured news, Forgiveness, Law and Crime, Memory, Punishment, Stress, Trauma October, 16
Source: Lesia Szyca – Trauma and Mental Health Report Artist

On May 15th 2015, a federal jury condemned Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death for his role in killing four people and injuring hundreds in the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. Before the verdict, Bill and Denise Richards—the parents of a nine-year old boy who was killed in the attack—asked that the government not seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev. In an open letter published in the Boston Globe, they explained:

“The continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong the most painful day of our lives.”

The death penalty is often touted as the only punishment that provides true justice and closure for a victim’s family and friends, also known as covictims. But this is rarely based on covictims’ actual sentiments.

Research by University of Minnesotta sociology-anthropology professor Scott Vollum and colleagues found ambivalence in covictims’ reactions to capital punishment. Their study showed that only 2.5% achieved true closure, and 20.1% said that the execution did not help them heal. Covictims in the study also expressed feelings of emptiness when the death penalty did not “bring back the victim.”

The long judicial process between conviction and execution, which can span many years in some cases, also prolongs grief and pain for covictims. Uncertainty prevails in the face of appeals, hearings, and trials, while increased publicity inherent in death-penalty cases exacerbates covictims’ suffering. Through media exposure, they repeatedly relive traumatic events.

Pain and anger, especially, are common in the wake of tragic loss and can be accompanied by an overwhelming desire for revenge. Some covictims in the Vollum study voiced that the death penalty was not harsh enough, while others communicated a wish to personally inflict harm on the condemned. In the majority of cases though, executions were not sufficient to satisfy these desires.

“More often than not, families of murder victims do not experience the relief they expected to feel at the execution,” states Lula Redmond, a Florida therapist who works with surviving family members. “Taking a life doesn’t fill that void, but it’s generally not until after the execution that families realize this.”

In a number of cases, covictims actually expressed sympathy for family members of the condemned, often empathizing with the experience of loss. “My heart really goes out to his family. I lost my daughter, and I know today is a terrible day for them as well,” statedone covictim.

A death sentence can polarize the two families, obstructing healing for both. Prison chaplain Caroll Pickett has witnessed how capital punishment inflicts trauma on loved ones of both the condemned and the victim, as well as prison employees and others in the judicial process, stating in his autobiography, “All the death penalty does is create another set of victims.”

Of course, findings like these beg the question, are other forms of punishment more conducive to healing? A 2012 Marquette University Law School study showed improved physical and psychological health for covictims, as well as greater satisfaction with the justice system, when life sentences were given, rather than capital punishment. The authors hypothesize that survivors “may prefer the finality of a life sentence and the obscurity into which the defendant will quickly fall, to the continued uncertainty and publicity of the death penalty.”

Would covictims move through the natural healing process more rapidly if they were not dependent on an execution to bring long-awaited peace? Perhaps the execution as an imagined endpoint for closure only leads to more grief in the meantime.

As one survivor expressed, “I get sick when death-penalty advocates self-righteously prescribe execution to treat the wounds we live with after homicide… Healing is a process, not an event.”

The realities of capital punishment may be poorly suited for healthy grieving and healing. The Richards family wrote, “We hope our two remaining children do not have to grow up with the lingering, painful reminder of what the defendant took from them, which years of appeals would undoubtedly bring.”

–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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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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CIA Torture Techniques Harm Interrogators As Well

00Anger, Empathy, Featured news, Intelligence, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Stress, Trauma August, 16

Source: KamrenB Photography on flickr

In December of 2014, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released a tell-all report about the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) detainment and interrogation of suspected terrorists, concluding that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used were far less effective and ethical than previously thought.

Under the supervision of medical staff, detainees were deprived of sleep for as long as a week, confined inside coffin-shaped boxes for several days, water-boarded multiple times a day, and even subjected to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” in an effort to assert “total control over the detainee.”

The report shows that, to obtain information, CIA officers intimidated detainees with threats to harm their families, which included, “threats to harm a detainee’s children, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and threats to cut a detainee’s mother’s throat.” These individuals were also led to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive.

According to Mark Costanzo, professor at Claremont McKenna College, torture used as an interrogation device can have severe, long-lasting effects on physical and mental health.

In the Senate report, one detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was initially deemed compliant, cooperative, and truthful by some CIA interrogators. Yet after years of intense interrogations, he was diagnosed with anxiety and major depressive disorder and was later described as a “difficult and uncooperative detainee, who engaged in repeated belligerent acts, which included attempts to assault CIA personnel and efforts to damage items in his cell.”

Al-Nashiri accused CIA staff of “drugging or poisoning his food, and complained of bodily pain and insomnia.”

Yet the report failed to thoroughly investigate the long-term psychological consequences such techniques may inflict upon not only detainees, but interrogators as well.

CIA personnel involved in the interrogations also experienced psychological distress. Some even elected to be transferred out of the interrogation sites until the CIA stopped using torture as a form of interrogation.

Costanzo notes that research on the psychological consequences of partaking in torture is limited. Most studies have analyzed medical professionals who previously supervised torture to identify the psychological consequences.

In 1986, psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton interviewed Nazi doctors who participated in human experimentation and mass killings. Lifton concluded that after years of exposure, many of the doctors experienced psychological damage similar in intensity to that of their victims. Anxiety, intrusive traumatic memories, and impaired cognitive and social functioning were all common consequences.

Costanzo believes that interrogators who use torture techniques may have similar experiences. In February 2007, Eric Fair, an American interrogator who was stationed at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, confessed to participating in and overseeing the torture of Iraqi detainees. In his memoir, Consequences, Fair discusses how those events continue to haunt him—leading to martial problems, reoccurring night terrors and insomnia, substance abuse, and depression.

The U.S. public seems split on the issue of torture use, with many believing that enhanced interrogation techniques are warranted if they help prevent future terrorist attacks. Days after the Senate Intelligence Committee released the report, the Pew Research Center polled 1,000 Americans and discovered that 51% believed the CIA’s interrogation techniques were justified.

But according to Costanzo, many who survive torture reveal false information in order to appease the torturer and stop the pain. The Senate Intelligence Committee supported this finding when they discovered that none of the 39 detainees subjected to the enhanced interrogation techniques produced useful intelligence.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, further argues that the CIA’s techniques are amoral:

“Such pressure, fear and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security.”

Feinstein is now proposing a bill to reform interrogation practices in the United States. The bill suggests the use of techniques designed by the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which rely on building rapport and empathy as opposed to relying on physical and psychological pressure. This model has seen great success in both law enforcement and intelligence gathering in countries like Norway and the United Kingdom. Feinstein explains:

“It is my sincere and deep hope that through the release of these findings and conclusions, U.S. policy will never again allow for secretive indefinite detention and the use of coercive interrogations.”

–Alessandro Perri, 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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Exercising Your Way to PTSD Recovery

00Featured news, Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Stress, Therapy, Trauma August, 16

Source: Wounded Warrior Regiment on Flickr

Recent headlines about suicide, domestic violence, and shootings have brought public awareness to the mental health strain that is placed on the men and women in our military.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can drastically alter the lives of sufferers and is particularly common in veterans. The condition has been documented in 8% of Canadian soldiers who served between 2001 and 2008 in Afghanistan.

Effects include flashbacks, high anxiety, personality changes, startle responses, mood swings, and disturbed sleep, with typical treatment involving antidepressants and psychotherapy.

In an effort to develop treatment options, many are looking to physical remedies such as intense exercise to help those suffering from PTSD. We know that those who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. But research by Mathew Fetzner and Gordon Asmundson at the University of Regina found that two weeks of stationary biking can be helpful in reducing PTSD symptoms and improving mood.

Further, researchers at Loughborough University have reviewed multiple studies that looked at the impact of sport and physical activity on combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Their findings: physical activity enhances well-being in veterans by reducing symptoms and improving coping strategies.

Symptom reduction in these studies seems to occur through a renewed sense of determination and hope, increased quality of life, and the cultivation of positive self-identity. The researchers explain that participating in sports and physical activities helps combat veterans gain or regain a sense of achievement.

Exercise also increases respiratory sinus arrhythmia. This naturally occurring variation in heart rate is linked to higher levels of emotion-focused coping—an ability disrupted in those with PTSD.

Treatment adherence is often a problem for PTSD sufferers, given that formal therapy is not always appealing to them, Fetzner claims. Low dropout rates of therapies involving physical exercise make the intervention feasible.

But the positive effects of intensive exercise on PTSD may be suitable only for some combat veterans: those with the physical ability to participate.

According to Veterans Affairs in Canada, psychiatric conditions are the second-most common cause of disability among returning soldiers. Debilitating physical injuries, such as amputations, and traumatic brain and spinal chord injuries are more common. And in addition to PTSD, the two most common mental health problems among returning soldiers are substance abuse and depression. More than 80 percent of the time, combat veterans have more than one diagnosis.

While aerobic exercise significantly reduces depression symptoms and helps prevent the abuse of drugs, the high rates of physical impairment in returning soldiers complicates the optimistic picture of exercise’s benefits on PTSD.

Less physically demanding exercise may be an option. Recent research shows that yoga, for example, may help individuals with PTSD focus on the present, reduce rumination, and combat negative thinking patterns.

While strenuous physical exercise may only be helpful for some returning veterans, milder forms of exercise and physiotherapy may be a useful adjunct to traditional treatment for many others. In either case, it is important for researchers and clinicians alike to take note of alternative ways of treating PTSD in an effort to provide options to those affected with the debilitating disorder.

–Veerpal Bambrah, 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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Teaching Children about Trauma: The “River Speaks” Series

00Child Development, Emotion Regulation, Family Dynamics, Featured news, Grief, Therapy, Trauma March, 16

Source: Freaktography on Flickr

In her latest series of children’s books, River Speaks, author Sandy Stream conveys the emotional turmoil that children and families go through when dealing with trauma.

Children who have undergone loss, abuse, and other traumatic experiences are often unable to fully understand or express their feelings. Their inability to verbalize the emotional impact the crisis had on them makes it difficult for therapists to determine how to best help them heal.

Although research has shown children’s literature to be a helpful tool in therapy, its use is still not particularly common.

The stories found in Stream’s books are meant to help therapists provide relatable experiences for children to help them come to terms with their own trauma. They revolve around a baby bird, Sparky, who is snatched away from his family. In dealing with his captivity, escape, and eventual return, Sparky and his family learn to articulate the complex feelings they experience.

Sparky does return home, but the series does not employ the conventional happily-ever-after ending. Instead, the stories address the turmoil felt by everyone both during his captivity and after his return.

The seven books in this series, Sparky Can Fly, Sparky’s Mama, Tweets and Hurricanes, Feathers, Flex, Roots, and The River, all feature a different main character, retelling the narrative from the perspective of the victim, the parents, the siblings, and the therapist. Each book also deals with different emotional themes, including grief, loss, isolation, and acceptance.

Many of the communication strategies seen in River Speaks can be linked to Jean Piaget’s work on child development. According to Piaget, healthy coping and a sense of self cannot exist without establishing trusting relationships during childhood. Trauma can interrupt this process, and the River Speaks series is intended to restart and re-establish healthy connections.

Research, including that of psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, professor at Boston University, shows that children must understand the emotions caused by trauma. This research emphasizes that therapists should teach children to regulate emotional distress, with the first step being acknowledgment of the distress’ severity.

Stream’s metaphorical approach helps children grasp the complex concepts that make the healing process. Comparing Sparky’s inability to express anger and grief to “hurricanes” and “tweets” helps make the abstract more tangible.

This strategy allows the River Speaks stories to personify complex psychological issues such as emotional defense mechanisms like denial, fear of abandonment, and Stockholm syndrome, making her books well-suited to children as young as three or four years of age.

Stream’s stories are accompanied by illustrations from Yoko Matsuoka. The colourful drawings were designed to keep the oftentimes-dark subject matter child-friendly, and work well in conjunction with Stream’s metaphorical portrayals of emotions and trauma.

Such illustrations are a common tool in dealing with childhood trauma. The use of visual art to depict emotional reactions has been found to benefit children during the normal grieving process. A paper by Cynthia O’Flynn at North Central University explains that art therapy can be especially beneficial for children suffering from serious traumatic grief.

The article cites numerous other studies reporting that art allows children to bypass the language and vocabulary needed to explain their grief or loss, making self-expression much easier. The children are able to perceive greater control over their emotions and feel safe while reflecting upon their experiences.

Alexa S. Rabin of Alliant International University reinforced these findings in 2012, stating that art is an exercise which allows children to assert themselves and their boundaries. Rabin explained that such therapy significantly decreases acute stress symptoms, noting that the purpose of trauma treatment is to help children find a way to cope.

Stream’s books bridge the two sets of findings—using both art and language to reach out to children and better their self-expression across both media. A therapist using Stream’s books would be more flexible in tailoring the therapeutic style to the child’s age and individual needs.

Feedback from psychologists such as Jacqueline A. Carlton and fellow author Cheryl Eckl, applaud Stream’s attempt at tackling such difficult subject matter. And while research would be needed to gauge the helpfulness of her specific stories, existing research suggests that her books may ease therapy for both clinicians and children.

– Olivia Jon, 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