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Coronavirus Anxiety Fuels Panic and Racism

00Anger, Anxiety, Bias, Catastrophizing, Coronavirus Disease 2019, Environment, Featured news, Media, Mental Health March, 20

Source: Elchinator at Pixabay, Creative Commons

On December 31, 2019, China alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) about a viral outbreak in the city of Wuhan. By January 30, 2020, the WHO had declared the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) a global health emergency.

News outlets around the world have been reporting on the coronavirus by sharing live updates and real-time maps tracking the numbers of infections and deaths around the world. Additionally, experts have been racing to publish open-source articles and share important research. This flurry of negative news, online social media rumors, and increasing government response have brought intensifying anxiety to the public psyche. In fact, anxiety and mass panic have spread quickly.

The Trauma and Mental Health Report (TMHR) spoke with people in the community about their reactions to the coronavirus outbreak. Elisa (name changed for anonymity), a woman in her mid-forties, shared:

“At first I wasn’t worried about what was happening at all. I laughed at people who were anxious and dismissed them. I was not worried during the SARS outbreak. But within a week, all my friends and family were warning me; we all followed the daily headlines. It was keeping me up at night. Though we are halfway around the world from China, the anxiety felt about what happens there is an everyday experience here.”

Amelia (named changed), a retiree, cancelled her travel plans as a result of the virus:

“I had planned a two-week cruise around Asia three months ago. Then the outbreak happened and the virus started to spread around the world. My children were anxious about my safety on the return trip from Hong Kong. I eventually became anxious as well. All the countries I planned to visit had reported infected cases. I ended up cancelling my trip.”

As panic surrounding the coronavirus spread, people began to hoard N95 masks and surgical masks, hoping to protect themselves from the airborne transmission of the virus. John (name changed), a business manager in Hong Kong, explained:

“The panic to buy masks and hoard food was on. Doctors and nurses are on strike, demanding the government close its borders with China. Everyone is on edge, morale at work was seriously affected. It felt like an impending doom was coming.”

Similarly, Farah (name changed), a young mother and student, reported:

“I became so anxious about the news; I couldn’t focus on studying for my test and went online to buy masks for my kids, worrying that they won’t keep it on in school.” 

Public health concerns can also exacerbate symptoms in those who struggle with health anxiety. Nadia (name changed), a Russian-Canadian student, said:

“I had nightmares about the coronavirus. I was already a little bit of a germophobe, now I am afraid to touch anything or to go out and see anyone.”

As with previous viral outbreaks, a surge of racismxenophobia and stigmatizing of Chinese people is also spreading. Time Magazine has called it “The Pandemic of Xenophobia and Scapegoating.” In an interview with CBS News, Priscilla Wald, a professor at Duke University who studies public narratives about disease and epidemics, explains:

“We get a headline like “global health crisis” and everybody everywhere panics, even though in most places, nobody has any reason to panic…Each time we’re in a situation like this we immediately go into panic mode, crisis mode, that has all kinds of problems including stigmatizing people [and] racism…[Seeing] photographs of somebody in a Hazmat suit or [people] wearing face masks, it immediately triggers that panic response.” 

Comments on Reddit exemplified the surge of negative comments against Chinese people: “You guys just eat snakes and bats; you deserve the virus.”

Kevin (name changed), described his experiences with racism on Reddit:

“I am Chinese, and because of the coronavirus, I have experienced an increase in racism.  Commuters cover their faces when sitting near me, even though I am healthy and not coughing or sneezing. My ethnicity has made me feel like I was part of a threatening and diseased mass.”

To combat mass panic and irrational behaviour, free online resources are available to help people manage their fears. Ali Mattu, a clinical psychologist who specializes in panic and anxiety disorders, posted a video on YouTube to help people cope with anxiety caused by the outbreak. In it, he suggests people limit media consumption, practice healthy habits, read credible sources for information and stick to their regular routine. As well, the University of California, Berkeley’s University Health Services has circulated instructions on how to manage fears and anxiety around coronavirus, including keeping things in perspective and being mindful of our assumptions about others.

by Lotus Huyen Vu, 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


Domestic Sex Trafficking: Hidden in Plain Sight

00Adverse Childhood Experiences, Child Development, Conformity, Emotional Abuse, Featured news, Sex, Trauma March, 20

Source: geralt at Pixabay, Creative Commons

When she was a young girl, Danielle (name changed) was recruited into domestic sex trafficking from her long-term foster home. She was only able to leave this life once her mother regained custody of her.

Sex trafficking, a term used to describe the phenomenon of individuals performing commercial sex through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, is an epidemic. It affects about 25 million people globally. The US-based National Human Trafficking Hotline received 6,244 calls of domestic sex trafficking cases in 2017. Because of the difficulty in obtaining precise information, it is likely that the number affected is higher.

A common misconception about sex trafficking is that it is fundamentally a trans-border phenomenon—that the victim must have been moved from one country to another for the event to be considered trafficking. This is not the case. While both domestic and international sex trafficking share the feature of forcibly relocating an individual so that the person might perform commercial sex, domestic sex trafficking occurs within the borders of the victim’s country, and sometimes within their own community.

Victims of sex trafficking are controlled by the trafficker. Victims do not choose their clients, or the locations where they work, nor do they keep the money that they receive from clients. They are monitored by the trafficker and cannot leave; their life is at risk if they try to escape. They work in prostitution, pornography, strip clubs, escort services, brothels, massage parlors, and over the internet. While there are people who work in these services by choice, and control their work and earnings, there are many who have been coerced into it and are controlled by a trafficker.

There are many ways sex traffickers lure victims into the sex trade. In many cases, sex traffickers are expert manipulators who prey on a person’s emotional or financial vulnerabilities and offer exactly what the individual needs or desires, such as love and care, lavish items, shelter, money, or a job, with the hopes of later exploiting them. The victim is initially oblivious to the trafficker’s, or their proxy’s, real identity and intentions. The relationship begins as positive but becomes abusive, with the person being forced into the sex trade, and forced to stay in it, to work for the trafficker.

Some populations are particularly vulnerable. One of the top risk factors in becoming a victim of sex trafficking is having experienced childhood trauma. In an interview with The Trauma and Mental Health Report, Megan Lundstrom, CEO of Free Our Girls (a US-serving anti-trafficking organization) and a survivor of sex trafficking herself, reports the findings from her 2017 project:

“What we found is what we’re calling ‘The Perfect Storm.’ Upwards of 90 percent of the women that we interviewed for that project had experienced some form of child abuse, primarily some form of childhood sexual abuse. When you have that high of a correlation that most women in the commercial sex trade experienced some kind of childhood sexual abuse, clearly there’s something going on there.”

Lundstrom continues by paraphrasing one of the young ladies in her study: “I almost feel like I had a sign written on my forehead that said, ‘I’m damaged goods, please exploit me,’ in that traffickers know how to single in on those vulnerabilities.”

This is also true for Ana (name changed), whose trafficker was the owner of a tattoo shop. She recalls: “He asked me a bunch of questions, clearly testing my victim potential before-hand, all under the guise of a tattoo artist apprentice. I took the bait. I had childhood trauma, so I had ‘bait’ practically written across my forehead.”

In terms of recruitment locations, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that 15 percent of US sex trafficking recruitment occurs at homeless and domestic violence shelters. A victim of domestic sex trafficking, Jessica, recounts her experience that relates to this finding. She had been abused by her parents as a child, and found herself homeless after being thrown out of the house at age 14. She describes the circumstances of her victimization: “One day I was at a soup kitchen having coffee and stale muffins for breakfast when I was approached by an older guy, probably late 20s. He asked me to have a real cup of coffee with him and I agreed…mostly because it was nice to have someone speak to me like I was a human being.”

She describes her trafficker using the most common recruitment tactic: posing as a romantic partner (otherwise known as a Romeo Pimp), and convincing her that he would love and take care of her: “When he asked me to be his girlfriend, I felt like the luckiest girl alive. God, I was so dumb.”

Jessica goes on to say that her lack of interpersonal supports, such as friends and family, made it more difficult to leave the life of a trafficked person.

Exposure to adverse childhood experiences has long-term consequences, and impacts potential future victimization. Lundstrom explains why this is:

“When you have been assaulted at a young age, you learn how to shut off mentally, you know how to dissociate, you know how to protect yourself but you also struggle with feelings of ‘my body is not my own, I’m not important, this is maybe the only way people care about me’. So when you have that package, that perfect storm of vulnerability starting at a very young age, traffickers go after that.”

The status quo will continue until we recognize that sex trafficking happens in our communities. We can properly identify, and thus intervene in or prevent such cases, by educating our families and friends, as well as the community. Teachers, the hotel industry, healthcare providers (who can also incorporate trauma-informed care), police, airport workers, and child-welfare workers can be further educated on how to recognize these red flags while dispelling unhealthy myths.

— Riana Fisher, 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


Life After Sex Trafficking: Survival and Reintegration

00Anger, Depression, Featured news, Law and Crime, Post-Traumatic Growth, Sex, Sexual Abuse February, 20

Source: Richard George Davis, Used with Permission

In her Ted Talk, Barbara Amaya, a sex trafficking survivor, recounted a nightmare in which she ran away from her abusive home in Fairfax, Regina, to the streets of Washington, DC at age 12. She was recruited into sex trafficking by a young woman who had approached her, claiming to understand Barbara’s situation and saying she could help. The woman, who was a victim of sex trafficking herself, had been recruiting other runaways. They sold Barbara to a trafficker in New York who, as Barbara described, “Programmed my young mind and knew exactly how to create a commodity out of a human being.”

Domestic sex trafficking involves the use of coercive tactics to force an individual to perform commercial sex within the borders of one country. Victims of domestic sex trafficking are at risk for countless health problems, such as sexually transmitted infections, cancer, infertility, heart disease, and urinary tract infections. Victims also experience severe psychological distress, such as complex PTSD; mood, eating and personality disturbances; and addiction. The damage done by this trauma can last a lifetime.

The struggles that survivors face when reintegrating after having lived as a trafficked person are often overlooked. Megan Lundstrom, a survivor of sex trafficking, explains:

“I think a lot of people lose sight of the fact that just because you’ve received medical care and you’re no longer in jail, you can’t just pat a survivor on the head and say, ‘You’re fixed, go on with your life.’ That’s where the really hard work starts.”

Megan explains that returning after being trafficked, can lead to feelings of social alienation:

“You literally go through a period of culture shock of trying to understand, ‘How do I communicate with people? How do I work in a legitimate, legal job setting? What rights do I have and how do I put forth boundaries?’ All of those things are so new.”

This description resonates with Barbara. After escaping her trafficker at age 24, Barbara found herself lost and uncertain:

“By the time I left, one of the many rules of my trafficker was no reading, no writing to anyone. That amount of isolation made me feel like I was returning from Mars after a decade because I was trafficked from ages 12 to 24. I missed so many things that had happened in the real world. I also missed all the milestones of growing up in a loving environment… Nobody knew what to do with me and I didn’t know what to do with me. What was I supposed to do? I guess I’m supposed to get an education. Maybe I’m supposed to find a job? Maybe I’m supposed to get married and have a baby?”

The reintegration process is complex and multi-faceted, and it occurs one step at a time. For both Barbara and Megan, the road to reintegration required making meaning of their experience by helping others transform from victims to survivors. This involved ensuring people are prevented from being trafficked, that law enforcement agencies intervene and extract those who are already victims of trafficking from that life, and that survivors are supported while transitioning after having been trafficked.

Barbara was in a very dark depression:

“A newscast came on. I wasn’t really watching it; I was just lying here. They were talking about human trafficking… in northern Virginia and it was a very large case. I don’t remember ever having heard that term: Human trafficking. I had heard the term ‘drug trafficking,’ but not human trafficking. And then they started talking about the recruitment techniques that traffickers use and then I stood up and I had a true epiphany, a true “ah-ha” moment. I sat up and for the first time I self-identified as a victim and I thought, ‘What?’ They were describing what had happened to me, how traffickers were treating young women; that had happened to me, and it’s still happening to others. This caused a lot of emotions. One of them was anger, I just wanted to do something. I had a vague idea of helping women run away. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. But within two weeks, I was sharing my experiences on that safety channel and videos on my website, and I was just propelled forward.”

Likewise, Megan started speaking out about what was happening in her community in northern Colorado after feeling compelled to raise awareness about the hidden signs of domestic sex trafficking:

“Part of my exploitation happened up at the oil fields in North Dakota… When I moved back to Colorado in 2012, it was kind of the height of the oil boom in northern Colorado, and state-wide. I started doing my research because there was a hotel being built across the street from my home to house all of these oil field workers who were coming in temporarily. Because of my experience in North Dakota, I knew what that meant. It really started to bother me as I moved forward in my healing… And I was getting to a place where I felt I really needed to speak out in my community about what this hotel symbolizes to me, and maybe I was seeing what other people weren’t necessarily seeing because they didn’t have those experiences.”

Barbara’s epiphany led her to share her story on various news outlets, college campuses, and women’s organizations, and this exposure resulted in her being called upon by law enforcement to assist in training police officers. Barbara also wrote a book, Nobody’s Girl: A Memoir of Lost Innocence, Modern Day Slavery & Transformation, which contains a guide for teachers, health and medical personnel, law enforcement, and young men and women about this topic. She also created a graphic novel, The Destiny of Zoe Carpenter, which is a human trafficking educational resource for middle and high school students.

Like Barbara, Megan began speaking at different groups and realized that others had also had experiences like hers. She found that few agencies were aware that sex trafficking was happening in their communities. Megan also discovered that there were no services or trained individuals specifically serving this unique population. Recognizing this limitation, in 2014, she founded Free Our Girls, an American non-profit organization that has worked to create various resources, including awareness, prevention, and response training curriculums for survivors, professionals, and middle and high school level students, as well as outreach, intervention and restoration services for victims and survivors.

Of course, survivors from domestic sex trafficking need much help to reintegrate. Finding a sense of purpose after such tragic experiences can be a pivotal moment for those who want to recover from trauma.

-Riana Fisher, 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

Treatments Now Available For Disordered Gaming

00Addiction, Environment, Featured news, Mental Health, Mindfulness, Parenting, Personality Change, Social Life, Video Game Addiction February, 20

Source: pozaristul at Flickr, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

In June of 2018, The World Health Organization released the 11th version of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). For the first time, Gaming Disorder would be included as a mental health condition that is characterized by physical, social, and psychological impairments due to excessive video gaming.

Like most things, gaming can be healthy in moderation, but some gamers play excessively. Yonah Budd is the Director, Co-Founder and Chief Therapy Officer of The Farm – a private rehab center in Stouffville, Ontario. He has over three decades of experience with youth who are struggling with behaviour- and drug-related addictions. According to Budd, those he considers addicted to gaming often play to escape some form of stress in their lives and do not seek help until they have lost a relationship, a home, a business, or all three.

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Yonah explained that treatment for a gaming disorder utilizes similar steps to a typical drug-use program; one in which the first step for every new client is a complete detox. At The Farm, detoxing begins with a minimum of a 30-day stay without internet access to reduce dysfunctional behaviours. Older clients are typically given a flip phone without data while younger clients are provided with colouring books or building blocks. Being in an outdoor environment also provides a ‘wilderness’ experience in therapy. Being in a natural environment, there are fewer distractions from electronic devices.

Social integration is a very important goal of rehabilitation. People with disordered gaming behavior often experience significant withdrawal from social activities with friends and family. According to Yonah, many teens can become isolated, playing for 8-10 hours per day, sometimes even all night long.  It can be especially difficult to withdraw from a routine when playing with online friends. Yonah thinks the rise of online communities has only made it easier to fall into dangerous habits. However, face-to-face social interactions can be beneficial in treating a gaming disorder. Yonah described how social integration helped one of his clients:

“I know a boy now in his 20s. For most of his teenage years he was a gaming junkie… Now as an adult, he can’t spend all his time sitting in front of a computer because in your twenties you don’t do that anymore if you want to be social. Working with him, I said OK, why don’t we look at some board gaming… so now he’s is out 2-3 nights a week playing board games. It’s still gaming, but it’s social gaming…”

Parents and caregivers can play a key role in helping find alternatives to gaming that encourage a healthier lifestyle. Playing video games with a son or daughter can be a great first step to better understand their behavior and build parent-child rapport. As Yonah states:

“Rapport is what it’s all about. Adults have to come to the kids. Dad needs to sit down with Billy and play games with him… If a kid likes racing games, try engaging them in something more social, like go-karting.”

In order to prevent relapse, an important final step is re-integration back into the home environment and the family unit. One program, Venture Academy, places troubled teens from across Canada in “host-home environments.” At the end of the week, each of their teens gets a chance to practice problem-solving skills and daily responsibilities in small, family-sized units. Re-introducing clients to a more familiar setting before returning them home is intended to make it easier to transition from treatment into a normal routine. Chris Madsen, one of the counsellors at Venture Academy, says:

“Change is best retained in the environment in which it is learned. I’ve worked in wilderness programs and there are a lot of positive things about that, so don’t take this as a knock, but a lot of them are recognizing that once the child has “woken up”… teens are relapsing at home because parents are not going to be able to replicate a wilderness program.”

As the issues and technologies continue to evolve, treatment will have to evolve with it and what we learn over the coming decades will determine what methods help most.

– David Remisch, 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


At Burning Man, Fire Breathing Fuelled by Belonging

00Confidence, Creativity, Environment, Featured news, Mental Health, Synchronicity, Teamwork January, 20

Source: Joris Voeten at Unsplash, Creative Commons

Every year, thousands of fire breathers convene in Black Rock City, Nevada, on Labour Day weekend for an event called Burning Man. People come from far and wide to perform fire acts and to observe the burning of a giant wooden structure. They meet people, practice their art and learn from peers. Hazards notwithstanding, fascination with fire breathing draws thousands to the desert every year.

Fire breathing involves tremendous risk to performers, including severe burns, inhalation of toxic combustion products, and death. Fire breathers are often perceived as “crazy” for putting their lives at risk for the sake of entertainment. So, what drives them?

To be sure, feeling idolized and cheered on draws many to it. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, performer Richard Erno describes his experience:

“I get excited more for the crowd and the exchange of energy while I am on stage. I like the look of awe on their faces that say, ‘Wow!’”

But after a while, the thrill wears off, and according to Erno, is no longer a motivating factor: “I was excited more for the crowd in the beginning, but now the act feels routine.”

Once the initial thrill is gone, it is replaced by something much more mundane:  a sense of belonging. This was a theme identified in interviews with a number of fire breathers.  One of the performers at Burning Man explains:

“The benefit of fire breathing to me is partaking in events such as Burning Man. It was at Burning Man where I had the opportunity to gather with other fire breathers to set the world record for most fire breathers lit in one location. I was an unknown performer invited to hang out and perform with fellow fire breathers. It was as if I had experienced a pilgrimage.”

Despite the dangers, performers believe practicing together and motivating one another makes all their sacrifices worth it. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Tedward LeCouteur, a fire breather and fire marshal trainer said:

“I get to be part of a fire breathing team. There are many of us in a group all doing something we love, pushing each other to be better. We keep each other on our toes, always trying to improve the acts, and push the art to places it has never been.”

This desire to belong is, of course, not unique to fire breathing.  In an article published in Psychology Today, Karyn Hall explains that belonging to a special group of people is necessary for optimal mental health:

“A sense of belonging to a greater community improves your motivation, health, and happiness. When you see your connection to others, you know that all people struggle and have difficult times. You are not alone. There is comfort in that knowledge.”

Despite the dangers, fire breathers seem to benefit from being part of this unique community. And, when they join together each year at Burning Man, they are reminded of the reason they entered the profession—not for the money, the fame, or the adrenaline, but for the community that surrounds them.

-David Lipson, 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


Opioid Addiction a Battle Between Parents and the Law

00Addiction, Education, Featured news, Law and Crime, Mental Health, Parenting, Trauma Psychotherapy January, 20

Source: rafabordes at Pixabay, Creative Commons

In 2017, a father from Victoria, British Columbia, pleaded for his 15-year-old daughter to seek rehabilitation for an opioid addiction. He was terrified that by the time she realized she required treatment, it would be too late—a reality for many parents with children battling addictions.

Opioid addiction has reached epidemic levels among youth and adults in North America. In 2016, roughly 64,000 Americans died from this class of substances, which includes illegal drugs like heroin, and prescription drugs such as fentanyl, which constitute the majority of opioid-related deaths. In 2015, approximately 10% of youth ages 15 to 24 were using prescription opiates in Canada.

In Canada, health care is managed provincially. According to lawyer Lisa Feldstein, an expert in the field of children’s mental

Current Canadian laws are deemed highly problematic by parents of drug-addicted children who believe the laws impact their ability to protect their children from danger, leaving many feeling hopeless and afraid. The Trauma and Mental Health Report (TMHR) interviewed numerous parents with drug-addicted children and many believe the very nature of drug addiction impairs an individual’s ability to think rationally and recognize they have a severe problem warranting immediate treatment. This concern was reiterated by the father of the opioid-addicted child from Victoria, British Columbia:

“She’s a child. Her brain is not completely developed. She’s already suffering emotional issues and now the drugs are doing the talking for her. She’s not thinking rationally.”

Parents’ concerns are partially supported by research. According to one study, the reason many individuals with opioid addictions do not seek treatment may be due to dysfunctional neurocircuitry resulting in an impaired ability to recognize their drug addiction.

If it is believed their child lacks mental capacity, parents can obtain an official form, authorized by a physician, allowing their child to be involuntarily admitted to treatment. However, the period of time in which treatment facilities can involuntarily confine children is often short. For example, in British Columbia, Form 4 allows an individual to be involuntarily admitted for 48 hours. To be held longer, a second form must be completed within that 48-hour period, upon which an individual can be held up to 30 days.

In an interview, Brenda Doherty, a parent of a 14-year old opioid-addicted child, expresses the frustration and heartbreak caused by the current mental health system. Doherty was successful in obtaining Form 4, however, her daughter was released from the hospital she was admitted to within one hour of arriving:

“I didn’t even have time to get down there and they discharged her… They let her go and she died a day and a half later.”

While the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that involuntary treatment can be effective, Micheal Vonn, policy director for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, argues that involuntary treatment may place children at greater risk once discharged:

“The question then becomes, once they are released, are they actually more inclined or set up for an overdose because they don’t have a structured program to go into to support them in recovery?”

However, according to Families for Addiction Recovery, while voluntary treatment is always preferred, if obtaining consent is not possible, the risks of untreated addiction must be considered, which can include homelessness, juvenile detention and severe medical problems.

In an interview with the TMHR, Kaelan Lanie, a 20-year old from Minnesota who battled an opioid addiction throughout her youth appreciates both sides of the debate:

“Although I think in many cases forced intervention is necessary, I believe the addict has to want the help in order for treatment to actually work, and unfortunately you can’t force someone into wanting to get better.”

When asked what the primary motivating factor was that allowed Lanie to recover from addiction, she said:

“I just had enough. I became willing to do whatever it took to recover and God lined up the right people to believe in me until I could believe in myself.”

Lanie offers advice to parents of drug-addicted children:

“I believe the best thing a parent can do for their child with a drug addiction is to seek help themselves. Talk about things—whether by joining support groups or confiding in friends and family. Addiction is a family disease and everyone must recover from it.”

The balance between respecting children’s autonomy and the duty of a parent to protect their child is complex. However, a case can be made that allowing parents to consent to treatment on behalf of their child, although inadequate to solve the current opioid crisis, can potentially save the lives of opioid-addicted children. For now, all parents can do is support their child as affirmed by the father of the 15-year old from British Columbia:

“I tell her that I love her and to be careful and to take care. And when I get a response, I just know that she’s alive. And that’s all I can ask right now.”

—Julia Martini, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

-Copyright Robert T. Muller

health law, there is no minimum age for medical consent in most Canadian provinces, including British Columbia. If an opioid-addicted child is deemed to have mental capacity by a physician, they are capable of deciding whether or not they will receive treatment. Exceptions are only granted during medical emergencies in which case a physician decides on the most appropriate action. In contrast, parents in the majority of US states can make medical decisions on behalf of children under the age of 18, with a few US states even allowing parents to send adult children into involuntary treatment.

This article was originally published on Psychology Today


Convicted Men and the Women Who Love Them

00Empathy, Featured news, Forensic Psychology, Law and Crime, Mating, Relationships, Trust January, 20

Source: angus mcdiarmid at Flicker, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

With the recent Zac Efron movie, depicting serial killer Ted Bundy, the media have been shocked by the admiration many have expressed toward him. Netflix expressed their disapproval on Twitter:

Netflix US ✔ @netflix

I’ve seen a lot of talk about Ted Bundy’s alleged hotness and would like to gently remind everyone that there are literally THOUSANDS of hot men on the service — almost all of whom are not convicted serial murderers.

One research study examined women of varying ages, ethnicities, education and employment who were in relationships with incarcerated men. While they weren’t diagnosed with major mental illnesses or personality disorders, many came from difficult upbringings with a history of abuse. And, notably, 90% had experienced dominant, verbally abusive, prior marriages.

Some may become sexually aroused by being with a partner convicted of a severe crime such as rape, murder, or armed robbery. This is a paraphilia known as hybristophilia. American psychiatry’s diagnostic system, DSM-5, notes this condition may interfere with the establishment of normal sexual relationships.

Many meet their partner via online pen pal sites such as Canadian Inmates Connect. Melissa Fazzina, the site’s creator and founder, spoke with the Trauma and Mental Health Report (TMHR) to provide insight as to why woman choose such relationships:

“These women just want to offer support to people that do not have a connection to the outside world. Inmates have nothing but time. You really get to know that person because you talk about everything and anything. This is what makes these relationships strong. You can still have a relationship but you don’t have to be as committed in terms of cooking dinner every night and going to obligatory family functions etc. Pain heals pain. They feel special because they are the one.”

Julia (name changed) met her partner Bill (name changed) through Canadian Inmates Connect. Bill is convicted of murder and is serving a 25-year sentence. Julia had been through the prison system herself and knew the loneliness it brings. She made her selection based on two criteria: Bill was in for a long time, so he would not come out; and the jail was far, so she could not visit.

Julia describes her childhood in a small town:

“There has been no violence, no alcohol abuse, and no drug abuse in my family. I am educated, currently completing a university degree, and I own my own business and solely take care of my children…I don’t think my partner’s sentence is who he is; he just got caught up in something. He is loyal and hard working. He has dreams and aspirations and he is strong enough to want to change his future and get out and do something with his life.”

Psychologist Ami Rokach has worked in the prison system for 28 years. In an interview with the TMHR, he explains why some women choose incarcerated men.

“There are different types of women that could be interested in this type of relationship. There is the very high nurturing type, who feels they can “save” someone. Then, there is the type who wants someone who is considered tough, rough and “manly”, because this gives the illusion that they can protect them. Third, there is the rebellious type who are unhappy and angry and who live a vicarious rebelliousness through this experience.”

For Julia, being in a relationship with Bill allows her to experience emotional availability and connection on her own terms:

“I want people to understand that the stigma about women that are in relationships with inmates – that they are unstable or crazy – is not true. People ask me, “how can you fall in love with someone you have never seen in person?” To that I say, what is the biggest success indicator of a relationship? Communication. I talk to him for many hours on the phone. I know how he feels. I can hear it in his voice, when he is happy, sad or whatever-feeling. I compare this to a long distance relationship, it’s no different.”

When Luca Magnotta, a known killer, joined Canadian Inmates Connect, he received numerous letters of support and admiration, putting the ethics of the site into question. Melissa explained that she faced backlash for her actions:

“It was a dark time in my life, I was very upset that just because of one person who is in the public eye I get the media reprimanding me for it.”

What can be incomprehensible to many can be alluring to others.

-Eleni Neofytou, 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


Could Micro-Dosing Psychedelics Lift Depression?

30Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Featured news, Mental Health, Optimism, Trauma Psychotherapy December, 19

Source: Callie Gibson at Unsplash, Creative Commons

Prescribed medication for mental health issues works for some, but not others. In fact, a study measuring the prevalence of treatment-resistant depression (TRD) in the UK found that 55% of participants met the study’s definition of TRD. Seeking out alternative treatments often becomes the next step for people who do not respond well to medication. Assistant professor David Olson at the University of California, Davis, explains:

“Mind-altering drugs are already being used in the clinic. Ketamine is being prescribed off-label to [treat] depression, and MDMA is entering phase three [the most advanced phase] of clinical trials to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.”

And so, an increasingly popular trend in recent years has been self-administering small doses of psychedelic drugs, such as LSD or magic mushrooms, as an attempt to improve mental health. This is known as micro-dosing. Psychedelic drugs elicit hallucinations, intensified emotions, and changes in sensory feedback and the perception of time when taken in full doses; but, when taken in smaller amounts (approximately one-tenth of a full dose), these drugs are thought by some to be linked to improved mood and energy, reduced anxiety, better focus, and enhanced creativity.

Twenty-seven-year-old Erica Avey, who was interviewed by The Guardian‘s magazine, was experiencing mental health difficulties and decided to try micro-dosing on LSD:

“I started micro-dosing essentially because I was in a really depressed stage of my life. It was for mental health reasons – mood balancing, mood management. It was hard for me to leave my apartment and do normal things…”

By taking approximately one-sixth (about 15 micrograms) of a full dose of LSD every three days, Erika says she was able to go to work, and function normally:

“It lifted me out of a pretty deep depression. I’m still trying to wrap my head around what it has done to me in the long-term. I think it has changed me.”

Not only does Erica consider micro-dosing to have helped her feel less depressed, she says it made her less ruminative and more self-aware:

“I’m able to be more mindful of my emotions. If I’m feeling sad, that’s OK. I don’t obsess anymore. I don’t dwell on it. I don’t get worked up about it.”

And some have tried micro-dosing to help with depression and low mood. Ayelet Waldman, author of A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life, says she had no luck with conventional medications, claiming that micro-dosing on LSD saved her from her intolerable mood storms, changing her life for the better.

The subject of psychedelic micro-dosing remains relatively untouched by researchers. The first study on the micro-dosing of psychedelics was only conducted in 2017 by Thomas Anderson of the University of Toronto, along with York University’s Rotem Petranker, and colleagues. The study looked at over 300 micro-dosers in the Reddit community to examine the effects of micro-dosing on mental health. The authors found that micro-dosers tend to harbour less dysfunctional attitudes, exhibit less negative emotionality, and score higher on measures of wisdom, open-mindedness, and creativity. In an interview with The Trauma and Mental Health Report, author Thomas Anderson spoke about the widespread population of micro-dosers:

“The population was surprisingly well-spread… across all sorts of socioeconomic statuses, and all sorts of different occupations. Micro-dosing was most popular among students… but there was just a huge spread—everything from lawyers, to computer scientists, software developers, professors, construction workers, janitors, and single moms.”

Although most micro-dosers in the study reported improved mood, some experienced negative effects, as Rotem Petranker cautions:

“There were a lot of parallels in reported benefits and drawbacks of micro-dosing. Some people were reporting better focus, and some people were reporting worse focus, or some people were reporting lower anxiety, and some were reporting higher anxiety. And so it’s difficult to parse these results…”

Even with the reported benefits of psychedelic micro-dosing, without randomized placebo-control trials, it is difficult to rule out placebo effects and to draw clear conclusions. These trials are the next step in micro-dosing research.

And then of course, we can’t overlook the fact that these drugs are illegal. For micro-dosers, this was the most significant drawback of micro-dosing. Thomas explains:

“The most commonly reported drawback is that it’s illegal… that also includes trying to buy substances, and not having a steady supply, and not knowing exactly what you’re getting… especially in synthetic cases like LSD. Whenever you’re getting a dose on the black market, you don’t know exactly what you’re getting.”

Experimenting with micro-dosing is not for everyone. There are greater risks associated with micro-dosing for those who have experienced psychosis, have ongoing anxiety, or suffer from more severe mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder. This is true for Allan (name changed) from Reddit, who suffers from bipolar disorder:

“My first truly manic episode was after a mushroom trip. I was diagnosed as bipolar soon after…psychedelics can bring on, sometimes extended, bouts of mania and hypomania.”

Possible long-term effects, such as increased tolerance to a given drug following repeated use, and side effects of psychedelic micro-dosing remain unknown. Rotem explains:

“One of the concerns was that there is an unknown risk effect profile… we don’t know the risks. And the fact that we don’t know is one of the drawbacks of micro-dosing.”

And so, the jury is still out. Rotem adds:

“There could be a lot of individual differences at play, and since setting is really important in full-dose psychedelics, it may also be the case that setting is important in micro-dosing to some degree… we really just need randomized placebo-control trials to figure out what’s what.”

-Emma Bennett, 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


Sleep Paralysis: Not the Stuff Sweet Dreams are Made of

00Child Development, Circadian Rhythm, Dreaming, Featured news, Memory, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sleep December, 19

Source: John Henry Fuseli at Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

As a child, I would sometimes find myself wide-awake in bed, but unable to move. Some nights, I would hear voices in my room, as I felt invisible forces pinning me down. When I would finally regain control of my body, I was left feeling terrified.

Sleep Paralysis affects roughly 8% of the general population, yet its cause remains speculative, full of competing scientific, cultural and religious explanations.

Our current understanding is that sleep paralysis happens during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is a sleep-cycle in which a person’s eyes and brainwaves move at an accelerated rate, similar to a wakeful state. In this paralyzed limbo between sleep and wakefulness, people may experience multi-sensory dream activity, including auditory and visual hallucinations, that are generally described as terrifying. Scientifically, these interpretations of sleep paralysis are plausible, but one component remains especially elusive. Many report a common visual archetype—a dark figure sitting on their chests.

In Medieval Western philosophy, an “Incubus” was a seductive male demon who rested on the chests of sleeping females. In late Latin, “Incubo,” roughly translates to, “nightmare, one who lies down on (the sleeper).” Similarly, some Inuit communities recognize sleep paralysis as “Uqumangirniq,” a term that in Shamanistic practices refers to an individual who is sleeping or dreaming and whose soul is vulnerable as a result of being consciously unguarded. In Brazilian folklore, the “Pisadeira” is a crone with long fingernails who rests on the bodies of those who fall asleep. Sleep paralysis in Nigerian culture is referred to as “Ogun Oru”, or nocturnal warfare, during which sufferers are visited by a female entity. This malevolent being is present in numerous other cultures as well, including in Ethiopia as “Dukak,” in Egypt as “Jinn,” in Thailand as “Phi am,” and in Newfoundland, Canada as “Old hag.”

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Alison (name changed), explained that she experienced sleep paralysis during childhood, then again in early adolescence, and only a few times in her early twenties. Likewise, Asher (name changed), commented that he experienced sleep paralysis in his childhood and again recently, explaining:

“Over the last few years I have noticed it in particular, and even had some more aggressive and frightening situations occur during this time.”

If sleep paralysis can be understood as being a universal by-product of REM sleep, why do many experience this natural occurrence at random moments in their lives as opposed to every time they sleep? When asked to elaborate on the frequency of sleep paralysis, Alison commented:

“As a child, I remember it happening often. Within that time frame my grandfather was ill, and then passed away. As teen and adult, I can remember about 5 times, during this time there was family illness again- so my best guess was stress was the cause.”

Scientific studies have reported a correlation between sleep paralysis and posttraumatic stress disorder, explaining why for some, these incidents manifest during stressful periods of life. However, this does not explain why many who have endured stressful events do not suffer from sleep paralysis at all.

And how do we understand the shadowy figure that appears to some? Alison explains:

“Most of my experiences involved seeing a shadow at the end of my bed. The scariest was when it felt like someone was pushing me down – standing or floating above my body.”

Similarly, Asher described what he remembers:

“Something viewing my own motionless body, and oddly enough I have felt my breathing feel as though it was slowing down.”

In Alison’s case, the shadow was visualized as being either at the end of her bed or floating above her paralyzed body. The reason that some feel a demon resting on their chest is explained as the psychological interpretation of the chest pressure experienced during motor paralysis.

The feeling is experienced as very frightening, even traumatic, as described by Keira (name changed). Keira says she continuously endures sleep paralysis roughly four nights a week, with her earliest recollection from when she was about eight-years-old. She explains:

“I’ve seen hands reaching at me from the ceiling. . . demons on my chest, figures around my bedroom and I’ve felt insects crawling under my skin.”

-Courtney Campbell, 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


Healing Trauma with the Help of Tattoo Art

00Career, Depression, Embarrassment, Featured news, Resilience, Self-Harm, Trauma November, 19

Source: Nickola Pandelides, used with permission

“I think I’ve always struggled with my mental health. Even as a little girl I can remember being uncontrollably sad and stand-offish from people… I can remember feeling such sadness and hatred towards myself that I felt like I just needed to let it all out.”

When university student Krista (name changed) was young, she suffered from debilitating anxiety attacks and feelings of self-hate, which led her to begin self-harming at the age of 12. Self-harm can take on many forms such as cutting, burning, scratching, or other means of self-injury.

Artist and mental health advocate Nickola Pandelides has been a tattoo artist for three years at Koukla Ink, a tattoo shop that she owns. In an interview with The Trauma and Mental Health Report, Nickola describes noticing that people with personal difficulties were increasingly coming to her for help and she wanted to do something about it:

“So many clients were coming to me for scar cover-up tattoos. I realized that there was a need for it, that there needed to be a safer space for people to go to open up about these things…that’s when I started Project New Moon.”

Project New Moon is a non-profit tattoo service for people who are left with scars from self-harm. Nickola has received an overwhelmingly positive response to the project from people all over the world, showing that there is a widespread desire for such services. Nickola has been running this project out of pocket since May 2018.

“There have been over 200 responses, and a huge wait list that I can’t get to all on my own, so we definitely need help, and we’re trying to start funding through GoFundMe.”

Unfortunately, there is still stigma surrounding self-harm. In particular, people perceive these visible scars from self-harm negatively, often judging harshly and treating these survivors poorly. One of Nickola’s clients, Emily, has a story similar to that of Krista; she also struggled with self-harm, and eventually decided to get a cover-up tattoo. In an interview, Emily explains:

“The stigma around self-harm scars is huge. A lot of people see people in our situation and think they’re just looking for attention, which is a huge problem because then people don’t get the help they need… Everyone expresses their pain differently.”

The reasons that people choose to self-harm are complex, and can be difficult to understand. However, self-harming behaviour is generally thought to be a way to release or distract from overwhelming emotional pain and anger, or to feel a sense of control. The act of self-harming may temporarily relieve negative feelings, but Emily describes how it ultimately led to remorse in her case:

“I decided that I wanted to get a tattoo to cover my scars because I felt a lot of shame and guilt for what I had done to myself… As I got older, I would look at my scars and I would feel so embarrassed, so I would try to cover them with bracelets, but I would always have to take them off eventually and my scars were still there.”

Emily explains that her tattoo represents growth and change; it has helped her to forgive herself and acts as a reminder that she can still turn her life into something beautiful despite all the pain she once felt.

Many of the women who come to Nickola for cover-up tattoos are mothers who have been living with their scars for years. She tells me about one mother’s story that stood out to her:

“She was a drug addict and had recently become sober. She had a lot of scars on her arm from scratching and picking, and self-harm as well. She had a little boy, and he was getting to be the age where he would be starting to ask questions. I think it really mattered to her that she would have something positive [her cover-up tattoo] to talk to him about, and that her scars would be less noticeable so she could kind-of protect him from that.”

After turning their darkest memories into something beautiful, Nickola explains that her clients’ feelings of powerlessness, shame, and embarrassment are replaced with relief, and a regained sense of control. She remarks that many of her clients feel as though getting the tattoo was an essential part of their healing journey:

“I think a part of healing is also being able to feel on the outside as you do on the inside.”

Krista also received a cover-up tattoo from a different tattoo artist. As an artist herself, Krista wanted her tattoo to be a reminder that her hands should be used to make beautiful art, instead of being used to hurt herself. She explains that even though she is still working towards recovery, getting her tattoo gave her not only a sense of control, but also the motivation to refrain from self-harm:

“I think it’s changed my life by not allowing me to cut there anymore. I don’t want to ruin the tattoo so it’s even more incentive to take better care of myself.”

-Emma Bennett, 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