Category: Trauma

Female Inmates and Psychological Impacts

Prisons Perpetuate Trauma in Female Inmates

40Bullying, Featured news, Health, Law and Crime, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Therapy, Trauma January, 16

Source: r. nial bradshaw on Flickr

In May 2012, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) filed a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department for maltreatment of inmates in Alabama’s Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. EJI urged an investigation of the Alabama Department of Corrections, claiming they fail to protect inmates from sexual violence.

After an on-site inspection, federal investigators confirmed allegations that officers were frequently engaging in sexual violence against inmates.

Instances of repeated rape, sodomy, fondling, and exposure were reported.

According to its website, “The mission of the Alabama Department of Corrections is to confine, manage and provide rehabilitative programs for convicted felons in a safe, secure and humane environment.”

But the reality of the modern prison system paints a very different picture.

Allen Beck, Senior Statistical Advisor for the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported that “of the 1.4 million adults held in prison, an estimated 57,900 said they had been sexually victimized.” Statistics of abuse in local jails are similar.

Even more startling is a report by the BJS stating that 49% of nonconsensual sexual abuse in prisons involves staff sexual misconduct or sexual harassment toward prisoners.

Among those who experience the most damaging effects of sexual abuse are female inmates with preexisting mental health disorders or past trauma. These women make up a large number of prison inmates.

Charlotte Morrison, a senior attorney with the EJI, explains that to participate in the prisons’ rehabilitative programs, women are required to go through an invasive strip-search in front of male officers each day, a distressing experience for any woman, but especially difficult for those with a history of trauma or abuse.

And mental health services in prisons are either nonexistent or inadequate in supporting prisoner needs. BJS found that only 22% of prison abuse victims receive crisis counseling or mental health treatment.

The consequences are devastating. Higher rates of posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and suicide are frequently reported in female inmates, as well as exacerbation of preexisting psychiatric disorders.

“The key takeaway here is the levels of impunity in detention facilities” says Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, spokesperson for Just Detention International. Prison guards are often exempt from any punishment after assaulting or sexually abusing prisoners.

According to the BJS report, only 46% of sexual assault cases between staff and prisoners were referred for prosecution. In about 15% of cases, staff members were allowed to keep their jobs.

Lerner-Kinglake goes on to say that women underreport abuse because of limited legal options, and because they fear segregation and retaliation by staff.

In 2003, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was passed into law to analyze the incidence and effects of prison rape and to provide resources, recommendations, and funding for protection. Yet a decade later, abuse persists and statistics have barely improved.

This may soon change, however, as May 15, 2014 marked thedeadline for U.S. states and territories to submit certificates or assurances agreeing to comply with PREA standards. Those not following PREA regulations face potential reductions in grant funding.

While the U.S. government is finally enforcing prisoner safety laws, inmates still suffer from limited access to mental health services.

Many organizations recognize the limitations of the prison system and work to make these services available to prisoners. For example, Just Detention International (JDI), a health and human rights initiative, provides prisons with links to community hotlines and crisis counseling for rape victims. Public ads from such organizations are also being aimed at addressing the stigma surrounding prison rape.

While these may be positive steps to improve prisoner safety, further advocacy and legislation is necessary to protect inmates’ legal rights and to facilitate rehabilitation.

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Nasal Spray May Prevent PTSD, Study Finds

Nasal Spray May Prevent PTSD, Study Finds

00Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Law and Crime, Memory, Neuroscience, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Therapy, Trauma January, 16

Source: Stan Dominguez on Flickr

The emotional connection between a memory and an event can be powerful. A child rescued from a house fire or a soldier returning from Afghanistan may be plagued by flashbacks that elicit guilt, fear, and anxiety. These associations may disrupt daily functioning, causing social isolation, difficulty sleeping, and paranoia—all symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Traditionally, PTSD has been treated with counseling and cognitive behavioural therapy, as well as psychiatric medications. Now, new research by biochemistry professor Esther L. Sabban and colleagues at New York Medical College is exploring how to stop the negative emotional association from being formed in the first place. They developed a nasal spray that, when administered before, during, or after crises, may do just that.

The spray contains Neuropeptide Y (NPY) which, at low levels, is associated with reduced negative emotional processing of events. Increased NPY in the amygdala and hippocampus—structures of the brain involved in processing memory and emotional responses—is associated with decreased anxiety, fear, and depression resulting from stressful situations.

Sabban and colleagues found that, when inhaled, the peptide acts as a neurotransmitter that has an immediate effect on the brain and prevents the development of PTSD symptoms in rats. In their study, rats were first subjected to stress by being immobilized, forced to swim, and exposed to chemicals which made them lose consciousness. Thirty minutes before or after the stress, some rats were given NPY. After seven days, rats that received NPY had lower levels of anxiety, decreased avoidant behaviour, and fewer startle responses.

Similar results were obtained when the spray was administered a week after the stressful event.

If effective for people, the spray might benefit those with high-risk jobs or those who help others during emergencies. By reducing negative emotional processing of a traumatic event, victims and responders might have a weaker emotional reaction to the memory, limiting the subsequent development of PTSD symptoms.

But there are many questions as well as practical impediments.

Professor Evelyn Tenanbaum of Albany Law School outlines a number of legal and ethical issues that using this spray might have. She argues that blunting the emotional impact of such an event could hinder a victim’s ability to impact a judge or jury in criminal trials. Social change may also be more difficult as the emotional stories of trauma victims often act as catalysts.

Informed consent before administration must also be considered. Victims need to know they may no longer be a reliable witness to a crime and that their memory of the incident may become unclear. Informed decisions may be hard to make during crisis situations.

It is also important to remember that the spray has only been tested on animal populations. NPY purportedly severs ties between emotion and memory; it is unclear what this would mean for humans. Would individuals be left feeling neutral regarding the traumatic event?

A lack of emotion may leave some victims confused or depressed in an entirely different way. Philosophical counselor Elliot Cohen writes how some individuals may become depressed over not feeling guilt, even if they were not personally responsible for the event’s occurrence. And, some victims find their traumatic histories become vital parts of their identities. Personal experiences, memories, and feelings about painful events inform how we see ourselves. What does blunting memory do to a person’s sense of who they are?

NPY’s unpredictable effects on human emotion require much research. If effective, the spray might be a powerful tool for preventing PTSD in some.

Still for others, a painful memory may be preferable to none at all.

– 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

When A Loved One Attempts Suicide

When A Loved One Attempts Suicide

10Depression, Featured news, Forgiveness, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, Therapy, Trauma January, 16

Source: Wayne S. Grazio/Flickr

About two years ago, I personally came face to face with the suicide attempt of my best friend, Bella.  Distraught, she had called to tell me she loved me and that I was the best thing that ever happened to her.  I listened to her cry for a few minutes until she suddenly disconnected.  I was immediately filled with a sense of fear and dread.

Soon in my car breaking the speed limit, I was yet unaware how my life was about to change.

Bella suffered from clinical depression and although she kept it a secret from most, I was well aware of her struggles.  She had two kinds of days:  bad and terrible.  Her boyfriend had just broken up with her, which sent her into a tailspin.  She was in an inescapable depressive state, filled with thoughts of suicide.

Many parents who experience such episodes with their children are plagued with mixed emotions of self-blame, anger, shock, and grief.  They often feel powerless, not knowing how to help their children, and the threat of losing them is ever present.  Bella’s parents were no different.  They were emotionally exhausted and needed a break.  When I got to Bella’s house I told her parents that I would stay with her for a couple of hours.

We watched TV in silence, and soon Bella looked toward me decidedly, as if she had finally settled on a course of action.  She told me she had to go to the washroom downstairs.

Minutes passed and she had not returned.  An overwhelming anxiety came over me, I had to check on her.  As I walked down the stairs –my heart beating rapidly and my mind venturing to the unthinkable– I saw her.  Face blue, eyes red.  She was attempting to strangle herself with a rope she had found in the basement.

Although sparse, research on the effects of witnessing a peer’s suicide attempt shows that the event can have a strong impact on the witness.  Individuals may develop varying degrees of post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD) or other anxiety disorders.  Experiencing powerful and recurrent memories of the event and avoiding situations that may remind one of the trauma, create a cycle of negative thoughts and emotions that can make treatment challenging.

According to clinical psychologist, Daniel Hoover of Baylor College of Medicine, anyone in direct contact with a suicide attempt should seek out treatment following the event (which doesn’t necessarily have to be one-on-one counseling to be effective).

When I saw Bella trying to kill herself, I immediately rushed over, removed the rope and hugged her.  She cried, gasping for air, furiously yelling at me for stopping her.

For a long time afterward, this image of Bella was embedded in my mind.

And I felt profoundly guilty after the incident:  If I had not let Bella leave my sight, she might not have attempted suicide.  This thought often came to mind.  A vicious cycle of uncertainty plagued my daily activities.  I was holding myself accountable for actions that were ultimately out of my control.

I kept her suicide attempt a secret from everyone in my life.  I didn’t want to hurt her reputation or break her trust, and I became tormented by the trauma, but I couldn’t confide in family or friends for fear of having to explain Bella’s story.  For the first time in my life, I felt utterly alone.

Brian L. Mishara, author of The Impact of Suicide, suggests that telephone support programs can reduce the emotional burden on family and friends.  Counselors build a relationship with their client and provide information on healthy coping strategies and useful resources –all over the telephone.  Counseling calls tend to continue weekly over a period of time until the person feels comfortable coping with their traumatic experience.

Although challenging, recovery is possible.  Two years later, I’m doing much better.  For one thing, I needed to realize that Bella’s suicide attempt was not my fault.  You can only do so much to help a loved one when they are suffering from suicidal thoughts.  We want to protect our friends and family members, but we also need to protect ourselves.

And, suffering alone doesn’t work.  Withholding your thoughts after a traumatic event can compromise your physical, emotional, and psychological health.

Coping with a loved one’s suicide attempt is not easy.  Finding someone you trust and expressing your thoughts is helpful.  It’s much easier to cope when you have a trusted ally by your side.

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Trauma Survivors at Risk for Future Abusive Relationships

Trauma Survivors at Risk for Future Abusive Relationships

10Child Development, Domestic Violence, Featured news, Identity, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Relationships, Trauma January, 16

Source: David Dávila Vilanova/Flickr

In her 2012 TED talk on domestic violence, Leslie Morgan Steiner discusses what she calls “crazy love,” the irrational and often deadly tendency to be oblivious to the red flags that indicate you are sharing your life with an abusive partner.

After discussing the typical situations that often lead to an abusive relationship, Steiner states that by asking the  question, “Why doesn’t she just leave him?” we are blaming the victim for falling in love with someone who would go on to abuse them.

While Steiner was not a victim of childhood abuse, many women and men who find themselves in similar situations are.

Victims are never at fault; no one asks to be victimized by their relationship partner. But for those who do have a prior history of abuse and who might find themselves in repetitive abusive cycles, what ability do they have to become aware of their vulnerability to future abuse?  And more important, could such awareness be helpful to them?

When children witness or experience abuse, it can have a detrimental effect on their well being as an adult.  Their experiences have been linked to the development of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, as well as eating disorders later in life.  Early exposure can also place individuals at a higher risk of experiencing abusive relationships in the future.

Joanna Iwona Potkanska, a Toronto-based social worker and trauma-informed psychotherapist says, “We tend to remain in patterns that are familiar to us.   We often do not realize that the relationships we are in are abusive, especially if we grew up in dysfunctional families.”

Based on British psychiatrist John Bowlby’s original work on attachment, theorists view the attachment style one develops as a child as related to adult relational patterns.  Internal understanding of how relationships work derives from primary caregivers and is the basis of later interactions.

“It would be foolish to say that observing domestic abuse from a young age doesn’t have an impact on a person’s future relationships.  It contributes to the construction of a child’s belief system – on how a relationship should be and what it should look like,” says Whitney Wilson, a counselor for the Partner Assault Response program at the John Howard Society of Toronto.

Wilson considers exposure to early domestic abuse as altering one’s view of romantic relationships in many ways.  “It’s similar to having a parent that smokes; smoking becomes normalized and may influence your decision to smoke.  Or, you may dislike that your parent smokes and swear off it.  It really depends on your lived experience and how it affects the formation of your beliefs.”

According to Potkanska, when we experience interpersonal trauma, whether physical, emotional, sexual or spiritual, we often lose our sense of self.  The abuse becomes part of our story and is deeply internalized.

She says that when offenders are also caregivers, victims most often blame themselves.  “The idea that we are loved as we are being abused, or that we are being abused because we are loved(many perpetrators use this excuse to justify their actions) can become a template for the way we relate to the world and ourselves.”

So, if a woman grows up with a model of relationships that involved abuse, anger, and shame, will she believe that she deserves a different kind of relationship?  Or might she believe that a relationship based on support and love simply does not exist?

It depends…  The way people make sense of their early relationships, and the conclusions they draw from them, depend a good deal on what occurs in other important relationships in their lives.  And nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the area of counseling and psychotherapy.

By working with a therapist, individuals can learn to identify how they interpret experiences based on ‘old information’ and can learn to recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship.

Potkanska says that “without learning how to set healthy boundaries, we allow others to harm us and we re-enact conscious or unconscious situations in an attempt to have either a different outcome, or to reinforce what we already believe about ourselves.”

Healthy attachments to other supportive family members and mentors can buffer the effects of childhood abuse.  For those not fortunate enough to experience positive relationships growing up, there are other ways to break the cycle.

The connection a survivor builds with their therapist is meant to act as a model for secure attachment.  This can then translate to the way the individual perceives themselves and how they interact with others.

Potkanska emphasizes safety and space within the therapeutic relationship, noting that “Simple actions like ensuring that adequate physical space exists between myself and my client shows that I respect their boundaries.”

A large part of the therapy process focuses on building an identity that is separate from the abuse.

“Romantic partners and relationships become a way to soothe and regulate, and so when clients are taught to self-soothe, they are less likely to look to their partner to provide what their perpetrator has failed to do. They eventually rely more on themselves and other resources, including healthy relationships, to meet their needs,” says Potkanska.

Even with therapy, breaking the cycle of abuse can be difficult.  Building an identity separate from abuse can take years of self-work, and often people cannot afford therapy or have limited access to resources.

And then there are the socio-political causes that force people to remain in abusive situations.  Potkanska points out, “Without adequate financial support, women and children are reliant on their perpetrators.  Our legal system does a poor job at protecting survivors of violence, even after they leave the abuser.”  Not only that, but it is usually after the victim has left that they are in the most danger.  Simply because, as Leslie Morgan Steiner states, “the abuser has nothing left to lose.”

So what do people who’ve experienced abuse as children, but go on to have normal and healthy relationships do so differently?

According to Wilson, “It’s really an active process for all of us, even those who were not abused.  Because we’ve allowed society to normalize things like verbal or emotional abuse you have to really know what a healthy relationship looks like and know that it’s hard work.”

Being in a healthy relationship is about giving yourself permission not to have to accept abuse.  And for many, that takes practice.  You have to first identify that you’re stuck in a cycle of violence, and then decide you have the right to break it.

– Jana Vigor, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Is Online Treatment the Next Frontier for CBT?

Is Online Treatment the Next Frontier for CBT?

10Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Depression, Featured news, Psychiatry, Therapy, Trauma December, 15

Source: Mark Anderson on Flickr

Social media have dramatically changed the way many of us connect with family and friends. Some are now proposing that online relationships, particularly online therapeutic relationships may revolutionize mental health services by giving people with limited access a viable alternative to traditional treatment approaches.

One of these online alternatives, iCBT (internet-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) was derived from the tenets of traditional CBT pioneered by psychiatrist Aaron Beck.

Both target automatic negative thoughts that people have about themselves, the world, and their future, thoughts considered to be central to disorders like depression and anxiety.

But unlike traditional CBT where clients and therapists regularly meet in person, iCBT requires individuals to keep a journal recording their state of mind on an ongoing basis. Clients are given cognitive exercises, and their progress is tracked remotely by a therapist who reads the self-reflective journals, with feedback provided by e-mail.

The approach is currently being tested for its effectiveness in treating Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Psychologist and online therapist Marlos Postel conceptualizes iCBT as an approach that combines the advantages of structured self-help materials with the expertise of a therapist who directs activities and encourages clients.

Research from the University of New South Wales in Australia reports promising results, including improvements in patients with GAD, even compared to face-to-face treatments, with therapeutic gains maintained over three years.

Notably, many argue that online treatments eliminate an important ingredient, the therapeutic relationship between clinician and client. Research on the importance of this clinical relationship, the working alliance, has consistently shown it to be the single largest factor in predicting outcome. A central element of psychotherapy, it fosters trust, collaborativeness, and therapeutic change.

And some argue that underlying a strong alliance is the ability to detect non-verbal cues and subtle shifts in emotion that a client may demonstrate during therapy. Psychologist Madalina Sucala and colleagues from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York found that these cues account for a greater proportion of psychotherapy outcome than does treatment modality.

Notably, a different study conducted by Sucala found e-therapy and face-to-face approaches equivalent in outcome, despite the absence of non-verbal cues in e-therapy.

These discrepancies led researchers Gerhard Anderssona and Erik Hedman to suspect that some aspects of e-therapy may foster a different type of alliance between therapist and client. In a recent study, they found that iCBT creates a strong emotional connection between client and therapist because the therapist has more time to critically reflect on clients’ cases. Similarly, the online interactions did not affect client perceptions of how much their therapist cared for them or how much they trusted the therapist.

And co-director of the eCentreClinic and psychologist Nickolai Titov, an advocate for e-therapy, lists a number of advantages of the approach in a recent report. He found that iCBT is less-expensive—often 20-40% the cost of traditional therapy—and presents a viable alternative for rural locations where therapists are less accessible. Titov also found that many people can benefit from the relative anonymity of iCBT, as a common barrier to seeking therapy is embarrassment and fear of disclosure.

Therapists using modalities other than CBT have also started to come online. Clinicians using behavioural, interpersonal, and emotion-focused approaches have also begun offering online treatments. Even psychodynamic psychotherapy, which is traditionally a long-term, relational form of counselling, has been adapted into online formats.

Still, face-to-face mental health treatments are far from being replaced. Just as older styles of therapy are used alongside newer ones, online therapy may represent a promising treatment option for those comfortable with the format.

– Sumeet Farwaha, 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

Officers with PTSD at Greater Risk for Police Brutality

Officers with PTSD at Greater Risk for Police Brutality

00Featured news, Health, Law and Crime, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Stress, Therapy, Trauma November, 15

Source: Thomas Hawk on Flickr

After dropping off a colleague on September 14, 2013, Jonathan Ferrell began his journey home.  That night, the North Carolina highway proved more treacherous than he expected.  He veered off an embankment and, shaken but uninjured, made his way over to the first house he saw to get help.  But residents mistook his intentions and called police.

It’s unclear what transpired when three officers arrived 11 minutes later.  In moments, Ferrell lay dead with 10 bullets in his body.  Autopsy reports suggest he was on his knees when shot.

Victims of police brutality have been people of all ages, races, and walks of life – from 84-year old Kang Wong, beaten for jaywalking, to a 14-year-old boy disfigured for shoplifting, to two married university professors, one of whom had undergone open heart surgery only several days prior to being struck and dragged off in handcuffs.

Police violence does not confine itself to any one area.  Hundreds of protestors suffered physical and sexual assaults at the hands of police officers during the 2010 Canadian G20 protests.  Civilians were killed and publicly tortured by police as protestors pushed for democracy in Kiev, Ukraine.

But what puts officers at risk for engaging in police brutality?  New research from the Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Science points to links between police brutality and pre-existing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the officers themselves.

PTSD is a diagnosis traditionally used for victims of overwhelmingly stressful experiences, such as rape, combat, and natural disasters.  Many victims of police violence often experience PTSD, which manifests as severe agoraphobia and paralyzing panic attacks.  This creates a downward spiral of isolation, depression, and even suicide.  Treatments for PTSD involve facing the trauma and reconsolidating the memories in more constructive ways.

But the link between PTSD and police violence appears to be a two-way street.  Not only does police brutality have the potential to cause PTSD in victims, but according to psychiatrist, Ben Green of the University of Liverpool, violence among officers may be exacerbated by their prior experiences, their previous high incidence of PTSD, which stems from being exposed to many of the same traumas as soldiers in combat.

Yet because mental health issues continue to be a source of stigma in law enforcement, many police officers suffer in silence.

In the U.S., police officer deaths from gun violence and other causes have gone up by 42% from 2009 to 2011.  And each year, 10% of all law enforcement officials are assaulted, with a quarter of them sustaining injuries.  At the same time, public pressure on police to restrain their use of firearms against the public has reduced the number of bullets fired by officers by over 50% in the last decade.  This means that police officers are finding themselves in life-threatening situations more often, but are less able to respond, creating a state of fear and tension, factors that give rise to PTSD.

For the public, the danger of police officers developing PTSD comes from an increased startle response, suspicion, and aggressiveness.  These tendencies can make officers more likely to lash out at the public and result in the deadly overreactions that sometimes occur.

Symptoms of PTSD are often triggered by the same situations that caused the trauma.  This may be why officers who kill unarmed civilians report feeling confused and suffer from memory loss when they lose control.

While many officers cite unmanageable work stress and traumatic incidents suffered on the job when explaining misconduct, few law enforcement agencies offer comprehensive mental health care for dealing with PTSD.  Among the officers themselves, talking about trauma and mental health is oftentimes discouraged, leaving sufferers isolated or stigmatized.  At the same time, the justice system also serves to cover up the problem, imposing minimum punishments for officers and giving victims of police brutality no closure to initiate their own recoveries.

Better mental health awareness would help.  Allowing police officers to speak freely and receive treatment for their job-related stress would reduce PTSD.  Teaching fellow officers to recognize the symptoms of PTSD –including social withdrawal, personality changes, and poor decision-making – would allow them to help their partners and coworkers before problems escalate.

Giving officers access to treatment and support early on can reduce future incidents of police brutality and ensure that they get the help they need.

And understanding that police officers are often victims of violence is important for continued public trust in law enforcement.  The key is education and access to treatment.

– Nick Zabara, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Sensory Sensitivity Can Strain Parent-Child Relations

Sensory Sensitivity Can Strain Parent-Child Relations

00Attachment, Child Development, Featured news, Parenting, Relationships, Stress, Trauma November, 15

Source: Camp ASCCA/Flickr

“For a child that has sensory hypersensitivity, every touch is painful. A hug is perceived as a painful gesture.”

So says Yael Ohri, a preschool teacher who specializes in identifying and alerting parents to potential issues their children may have with sensory sensitivity.

Sensory sensitivity is an important concern for some children and their parents. Low sensory thresholds characterize sensory hypersensitivity, in which any touch or experience can overwhelm the child, while sensory hyposensitivity occurs when a child is “under-sensitive” to stimuli.

Ohri was trained by clinical-developmental psychologist Rami Katz at Tel Aviv University, who trains professionals who work with children, in the Neuro-Developmental & Functional Approach (NDFA). Developed by Katz, NDFA aims to address early developmental issues by targeting the underlying source of the problem, rather than the external manifestations like the behavioural and learning difficulties resulting from sensory sensitivity.

Sensory hypersensitivity comes in various forms as it may be experienced through any of the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, or taste. Ohri states that “a child’s skin may be so sensitive that she might complain that the tag in the back of the shirt, or the stitching in the socks is bothersome. Every little thing is experienced so intensely in a way that a child with normal sensitivity would not feel at all.”

Also of concern, over- or under- sensitivity in children can negatively affect the formation of attachment between parent and child.

As Ohri explains, “imagine a new mother who gives her baby a bath, and throughout the duration of the bath, the baby does not stop screaming, it can be very frustrating. The mom may blame herself and say, ‘I’m such a terrible mother, I can’t even bathe my baby,’ or worse, she may get angry with her baby for acting up and proclaim, ‘my baby hates me,’ causing an attachment issue right off the bat.”

To help young children struggling with average intensity stimuli, occupational therapists may stimulate the child’s skin with different brushes that allow the body to moderate the sensory input.

This, as well as other techniques, is designed to help sensory sensitivity. Still, Ohri believes that a critical element of treatment is simple awareness.

“It is essential that parents understand their child’s hyper- or hypo- sensitivity, and that it’s not something that the child is doing to them on purpose.” By raising early awareness, the issue is addressed when it is still relatively easy to treat. Ohri views it as much worse when the issue is not targeted early, leading to fights and stress in the family, as well as parents labelling the child as having a personality problem.

A sensory hyper-sensitive child may be labelled as irritable or whiny. Similarly, a hypo-sensitive child, who tends to be rougher, does so “not because he’s doing it on purpose, but instead, because he needs to hold and feel you and in order to do that, he does so more strongly. This kind of child is often labelled as violent.”

The problem is that this type of labelling can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy where the child ends up thinking of himself as difficult or rude, identity characteristics that become difficult to break free of later on.

Ohri argues that awareness helps. “Once parents become aware that the child has a sensory sensitivity, and begin asking themselves the right questions about the child’s day-to-day behaviours, they learn to alter their interaction with their child in order to avoid conflicts.”

Does simply being aware solve the problem altogether? No, but it’s a start.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that the child stops being sensitive, but it helps moderate the difficulties and makes the child’s environment more understanding. This applies to both the child and the family. As both sides become more aware, living with sensory sensitivity becomes more tolerable. Mothers are amazing, if they are made aware, they find the solution.”

But what about parents who struggle with their own mental health? Parents dealing with personal trauma may find it harder to perceive signals coming from their child and may interpret them inaccurately.

According to developmental psychologist, Sarah Landy, at the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre in Toronto, parents who don’t have their personal needs met due to past trauma, find it difficult to emotionally connect with their children and respond sensitively to their needs. “When parents are unavailable due to trauma,” says Ohri, “awareness alone won’t do the trick, since the parents might not be able to get there on their own.”

So, parents who work toward resolving their own struggles with mental health will likely become better attuned to their children’s cues and respond to them more sensitively.

Sensory hyper- and hypo-sensitivity can be resolved relatively easily when targeted early, but can become a more complex issue when ignored or treated incorrectly, or when parents are not emotionally available to notice the problem.

Through the difficulties, Ohri emphasizes, “awareness is key.”

– Noam Bin-Noon, 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

Rehabilitation Benefits Young Offenders

Rehabilitation Benefits Young Offenders

00Anger, Depression, Featured news, Health, Law and Crime, Punishment, Trauma September, 15

Source: Kim Silerio/Flickr

“We are seeing far too many young offenders entering the adult system who should be dealt with in the juvenile system,” says public defender, Gordon Weekes, in a short documentary published in April 2014, by Human Rights Watch.

With little support and a lack of rehabilitation resources available in adult facilities, young offenders prosecuted as adults are often faced with harsh protective and disciplinary measures like solitary confinement.

But, solitary confinement is just as common in juvenile correctional facilities. In 2013, an Ohio juvenile correctional facility placed a young boy in solitary confinement where he spent 1,964 hours in isolation. Referred to as K.R. in court documents, his longest period of seclusion was 19 consecutive days.

Although declining, in the 1980s through the mid-1990s, serious and violent juvenile crimes were on the rise, raising concerns about whether to subject young offenders to longer prison sentences and the same legal proceedings as adults. In 2011, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union estimated that more than 95,000 youth were held in prisons, most of these facilities using solitary confinement.

A 2012 HRW report states that solitary confinement is often used to punish young people for misbehavior, to isolate children if dangerous, to separate children vulnerable to abuse from others, and for medical reasons (including suicidal ideation).

Yet, research shows that solitary confinement can cause serious psychological and developmental harm to children, and can have a detrimental effect on one’s ability to rehabilitate.

In the HRW report, adolescents indicated a range of mental health difficulties during their time in solitary confinement. Thoughts of suicide and self-harm were common. Several participants even described that their requests for mental health care were not taken seriously.

Kyle B., a participant of the HRW study recalled:

“The loneliness made me depressed and the depression caused me to be angry, leading to a desire to displace the agony by hurting others. I felt an inner pain not of this world… I allowed the pain that was inflicted upon [me] from my isolation placement to build up. And at the first opportunity of release (whether I was being released from isolation or receiving a cell-mate) I erupted like a volcano.”

According to researchers at the 2014 Advancing Science Serving Society annual meeting, prisoners kept in isolation lose touch with reality, and can develop identity disorders after spending long hours without social interaction. It can also be damaging to individuals with pre-existing mental illnesses or past childhood trauma.

Incarcerated adolescents who have been accused or found guilty of crimes can be extremely difficult to work with.  UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, advises that “solitary confinement should be used only in very exceptional circumstances, for as short a time as possible.”

The US Supreme Court has consistently emphasized the importance of treating young people in the criminal justice system with special constitutional protections regarding punishment. Since solitary confinement is physically and mentally harmful to adolescents, many are calling for reform.

The HRW report suggests alternatives to solitary confinement to foster rehabilitation. They suggest increasing the number of trained supervised staff in facilities, like social workers and other mental health professionals. Providing adolescents with programs and activities in groups may help with development and rehabilitation. The HRW also emphasizes rewarding positive behaviours instead of punishing bad ones.

Research has also linked the role of education to improved behaviour and lower rates of delinquency among incarcerated youth.

Along with appropriate mental health care, education may improve rehabilitation efforts and assist youth in productive re-entry into their communities.

– Khadija Bint Misbah, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

LGBTQ Refugees Lack Mental Healthcare

LGBTQ Refugees Lack Mental Healthcare

00Featured news, Health, Law and Crime, Loneliness, Sexual Orientation, Stress, Trauma September, 15

Source: William Murphy/Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Sarah Hall, 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

Cyberstalking yet to be taken as seriously as it should

Cyberstalking yet to be taken as seriously as it should

70Bullying, Fear, Featured news, Gender, Law and Crime, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Trauma September, 15

Source: Surian Soosay/Flickr

If you were to Google search your name right now, what would come up?  Some are surprised by what they find.  The posting of personal information has made the internet the perfect medium for harassment and stalking.

Cyberstalking can take on a number of forms including blackmail, having online activities tracked, or sending threatening messages. Some cyberstalkers commit identity theft and proceed to terrorize victims in ways such as cancelling credit cards or using personal information to besmirch individuals.

Cyberstalking takes an emotional toll on victims, a feeling that Anna, a university student recently interviewed by The Trauma & Mental Health Report knows well.

Anna:  I would receive up to 10 emails from him a day.  He would send me photos of myself with vulgar and aggressive comments about me and my family, and he also made a MySpace page dedicated to me with offensive comments on them.  I was terrified to go onto any social networking site.

Anna’s cyberstalker even went as far as to email her university professors, demanding they provide information about her.

Anna:  I was constantly cancelling plans and commitments… I was afraid to leave my house.  It’s frightening not knowing where your stalker is when they’re contacting you.  For all you know they could be sitting in a car, on the same street where you live, messaging you from their cell phone.  I didn’t know if I was in real physical danger.  I worried about my safety all the time.

It is common for cyberstalkers to make threats of physical violence, and there have been cases where online stalking has crossed over to offline stalking.  For Anna, her fear resulted in anxiety, nightmares, and insomnia.

Also common is for work or academic performance to deteriorate and interpersonal relationships to crumble from distrust, leaving these victims with a lack of social support.

The fear associated with cyberstalking can be so traumatic for some that desperate measures are taken. A study of cyberstalked university students performed by PhD candidate, Nancy Felicity Hensler-McGinnis of the University of Maryland showed that many reported withdrawal from courses or transferring schools to feel safer.  Popular cases like that of Kristen Pratt demonstrate that some victims will even change their appearance.

Calling the police seemed like Anna’s best solution, but the initial response she received was not helpful.

Anna:  I was told to try to track his IP address on my own because the police IT department might not be able to do it.  I was told to tell him to stop (as if I hadn’t already done that) and to make myself anonymous on the internet, which is not only difficult but nearly impossible in our technology driven professional world.  I was treated as if my situation wasn’t serious or detrimental to my well-being.

Anna’s predicament was not unusual.  Cyberstalking is often not taken seriously.  This is reflected in the lack of cyberstalking legislation in Canada.  Sections of the criminal code focus specifically on face-to-face stalking and although some cyberstalking behaviours are included, there are gaps.

When school teacher Lee David Clayworth’s cyberstalker harmed his reputation by posting inappropriate content under his name, authorities could do little, since his cyberstalker was not in Canada.  Canadian arrest warrants were not effective; jurisdictional obstacles, like difference in internet service providers, leave victims helpless.

U.S. state laws regarding cyberstalking vary, but according to the Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA) organization, many of these only protect victims 18 and under. Alabama, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Indiana have no formal cyberstalking laws. While some legislation addresses cyber harassment, this is defined as having no credible threat to victims.

Lack of internet regulation leaves victims to track down cyberstalkers on their own.  Asking individuals to erase their identities online is unrealistic.  Online communication continues to grow and law enforcement is having a hard time keeping up.

In both Canada and the US, some bills have been proposed.

Anna’s advice to victims is not to let fear control their lives:  People who harass you online want you to feel isolated and powerless.  If you are not in any immediate danger it is important to realize that by living in fear, you are actually giving them exactly what they want.  Do everything in your power to get them to stop; speak up about your experience and make their behaviour public.

Anna also stresses the importance of a support system. Talking to friends, family, or a counsellor may help victims deal with the trauma and realize they are not alone.

Clinical psychologist Seth Meyers mentions the importance of warning friends and family of a potential stalker as well. This could protect loved ones if there is risk of physical danger, and keeps victims from socially isolating themselves.

Until authorities take action, the Canadian Clearhousing on Cyberstalking suggests that victims report harassment to their internet service provider which can possibly take such measures as blocking the cyberstalker’s IP address from contacting them. Victims can also find support from organizations such as WHOA or CyberAngels which can help gather information to build a criminal case against the cyberstalker.

As communication continues online, personal information ends up on the internet. It is time that lawmakers realize the dangers and enact legislation to keep users safe.

– By Anjali Wisnarama, Contributing Writer, The Trauma & Mental Health Report 

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today