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What Can A Lizard Tell Us About Mental Health?

00Animal Behavior, Child Development, Epigenetics, Evolutionary Psychology, Featured news, Genetics, Health, Parenting, Stress, Trauma December, 18

Source: Hayke Tjemmes at flickr, Creative Commons

A new study on lizards has found that, when exposed to stress, their responses can be passed down genetically. Scientists now believe there may be more to the process of heritability than once thought. This process is called “Transgenerational Stress Inheritance.”

As recently as 2011, most research did not examine the possibility that parental stress could affect sperm or egg cells. Since genes are transferred to offspring through these cells, anything that modifies them can have an impact on genetic expression in children. The idea that parents’ experiences prior to pregnancy can change gene expression and, therefore, affect offspring behaviour, is novel.

In the lizard study, researchers from Pennsylvania State University exposed young lizards to fire ants (a natural stressor) and compared stress levels to unexposed lizards. Interestingly, contact with the stressor did not affect the lizards’ behaviour later in life. But, their offspring had stronger stress reactions than offspring of lizards who had not been subjected to the ants.

Lead researcher Gail McCormick told PsyPost:

“Our work reveals that the stress experienced by an individual’s parents or ancestors may overshadow the stress that an individual faces within its lifetime. In this study, offspring of lizards from high-stress sites were more responsive to stress as adults, regardless of exposure to stress during their own lifetime.”

These findings suggest that, although early life stress may not manifest later in adulthood, the effects may be passed down to offspring, even if offspring are not directly exposed to the stressor.

A similar study involved researchers conditioning mice to associate the smell of cherries with a mild electric current. When the fragrance permeated the air, the mice were given a small electric shock. And so, the mice began to fear the scent even when the shock wasn’t administered. Even more fascinating was that offspring of these mice, as well as their offspring, experienced fear in the presence of the odor. The fear reaction occurred even though the later generations didn’t experience the conditioning process.

Of course, the question these studies pose is whether there is a similar effect in humans.

As recently reported in the Guardian newspaper, researchers from New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine compared the genes of direct descendants of Jews who were “interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had had to hide during the second world war” to the offspring of Jews living outside of Europe who were unharmed. The children of parents who experienced WWII trauma showed genetic changes and a greater risk of stress disorders. These were not present in the other children. The Guardian article stated:

“[The] new finding is [a] clear example in humans of the theory of epigenetic inheritance: the idea that environmental factors can affect the genes of your children.”

In other research, psychologist Margaret Keyes from the University of Minnesota and colleagues examined twins to determine if the behaviour of biological parents could affect offspring who were not raised by them. The study found that children of parents who smoked were more likely to be smokers, even if those children weren’t raised by the parents, and as such, did not have parental smoking behavior modeled to them. Scientists are still questioning, though, whether it’s parental behavior directly affecting these genes or a genetic predisposition to smoking being passed down for generations.

On the whole, these studies make the case that genetic changes can happen a lot faster than previously thought, within a few generations or even one generation. And, as reported in Science magazine, people can see evolution in real time:

“Now, thanks to the genomic revolution, researchers can actually track the population-level genetic shifts that mark evolution in action—and they’re doing this in humans. [Studies] show how our genomes have changed over centuries or decades…”

Research in this field is still new and is subject to several caveats. Perhaps the most important one is the complexity of human beings and their environments. Indeed, there may be too many variables that factor into the human experience for researchers to arrive at definitive conclusions.

But, these studies do suggest that individuals may be affected by the stress felt by ancestors in  before them. Further research is required to determine whether these findings are the result of transgenerational stress inheritance or an external factor that has yet to be considered.

– Andrei Nistor, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

-Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Man to Monster

00Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Grief, Parenting, Pornography, Trauma November, 18

Man to Monster

Source: intographics at pixabay, Creative Commons

Anatomy of Violence, a film directed by Deepa Mehta, takes viewers on an emotional journey, illustrating how we create perpetrators of violence against women.

Mehta made the film after hearing about the gang rape of Jyoti Singh in Delhi, India. The BBC news reported that an off-duty driver took his bus for a joyride with five friends. When Jyoti boarded the bus, believing it was on-duty public transportation, the men raped her and beat her with iron bars. She died of the injuries.

According to the BBC, a rape victim cannot be publicly named under Indian law to protect the family from shame. In defiance, Jyoti’s mother Asha Singh stated in a public gathering after the attack:

“I say this in front of you all that her name was Jyoti Singh.”

The significance of her actions cannot be overstated. Jyoti’s mother said she had no shame in being known as the mother of a rape victim—it was the perpetrators who should feel shame.

Jyoti’s death sparked outrage across India, and brought public attention to the false belief that women are to blame when assaulted. Although media coverage focused on the victim, filmmaker Mehta decided to analyse what led the men to do what they did.

In an interview with The Reel, Mehta explains:

“I was in Delhi when this horrific incident [the rape of Jyoti] took place, and since then, I have been curious about what made or turned these men into brutal animals.”

Mehta thinks the rapists were not born monsters, but became that way. In the film, she explores factors contributing to their violent behaviour. She also humanizes the men by portraying their day-to-day lives, similar to the lives of other Indian men. They worked, they cooked, they had families.

This approach was highlighted when she spoke to the CBC about the film:

“I really wanted to humanize [the rapists]. [It] doesn’t excuse what they did, but it helps start a conversation about why these things happen.”

Early in the film, Vikas, one of the perpetrators, is shown hiding under the bed when his uncle enters his room and sexually assaults him. By age eight, Vikas is homeless.

Another character Dinesh grew up in a family where women were treated badly. He always received what he wanted, while his sisters were forced to take care of him and do household chores. In one scene, Dinesh’s sister is reading a book. Dinesh yells that he wants the book. His sister is then threatened by their father with violence if she denies her brother’s request.

Researchers at Georgia State University found similar themes in the backgrounds of men who were self-confessed rapists. The researchers analysed an “ask a rapist” thread on Reddit that posed the question: “Reddit’s had a few threads about sexual assault victims, but are there any redditors from the other side of the story? What were your motivations? Do you regret it?”

Someone responded with:

“I was an extremely isolated youth who came from a broken home, and my escape was the Internet… Most of the material [internet pornography] was very sexually aggressive towards women.”

Much like the characters in the film, this individual sees his environment as contributing to his violent behavior.

The responses to the Reddit thread also showed themes of: blaming the victim or their biology, expressing hostility toward women, and objectifying women. More than one motivation was typically found to underlie a single rapist’s actions.

-Anika Rak, Contributing Writer. The Trauma and Mental Health Report.”

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

“Copyright Robert T. Muller.”

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Does Pornography Impact Romantic Relationships?

00Addiction, Featured news, Porn Addiction, Pornography, Sex, Sex Addiction November, 18

Source: Davidcure at DeviantArt, Creative Commons

As pornography consumption has increased in the past few decades, so has fear surrounding its potential harm on relationships. But, does pornography have a negative impact on human intimacy?

An initial study in 1989 by researcher Douglas Kenrick claimed that men found their wives less attractive after viewing pornographic images. This finding created controversy around the health of watching pornography, and how its use might put female partners at a disadvantage.

Since then, however, concerns have arisen about the validity of the original study. The effects were present in a scientific laboratory, where men were exposed to photos of a Playboy centerfold, rather than in a real-world environment. These effects were also short-lived and disappeared quickly.

In July 2016, a group of researchers from the University of Western Ontario in Canada tried three times to replicate Kenrick’s study and failed to find similar results. This failure has prompted questions regarding the impact of pornography on men’s perceptions of their partners and on relationships as a whole.

It’s possible, though, that the replication studies may not have obtained similar findings due to sexual advertising becoming so prevalent in Western culture. The impact of viewing lewd images might be imperceptible now that under-clothed women are regularly displayed in popular media.

A March 2017 analysis by researchers from Indiana University examined the effects of pornography on sexual and relationship satisfaction in both men and women. The researchers examined results from 50 separate studies and determined that the impact on men and women is different. When women viewed pornography, their relationship satisfaction did not change. But when men viewed pornography, lower satisfaction did exist.

“…There appears to be no overall or global association between women’s pornography consumption and the elements of satisfaction studied by researchers to date… Men as a group, on the other hand, do demonstrate lower sexual and relational satisfaction as a function of their pornography consumption.”

These researchers raise the possibility that the men who experienced lower sexual and relationship satisfaction with their partner could be more likely to consume pornography because of their lower satisfaction—rather than pornography being the cause.

Another analysis conducted by researchers from the Universities of California, Copenhagen, and New York investigated whether viewing violent or non-violent pornography affected attitudes of violence towards women. The researchers found that both violent and non-violent pornography consumption was associated with attitudes that support this type of violence.

Researchers from Texas A&M and the University of Texas challenged these claims, proposing that pornography may be a means to alleviate sexual aggression. Looking at crime statistics, they point to evidence that, as access to and prevalence of pornography has increased, instances of sexual assault have not.

Clearly, finding a conclusive answer as to whether pornography use has negative effects on relationships is challenging. In addition, adverse effects on relationships may not be the direct result of pornography use, but rather caused by the motive behind viewing pornography or by underlying issues that lead to its consumption. In other words, it may be problems in a relationship that lead to viewing pornography.

Perhaps that is what it comes down to—the individual relationship.

In an opinion piece in The Guardian newspaper, one anonymous writer said about her husband’s pornography use:

“Porn ruined you. Ruined us… It was your love of porn that slowly diminished my love and respect for you and destroyed my self-confidence.”

If one partner has negative views towards pornography, that partner may feel betrayed upon discovering that the other partner consumes it. The partner consuming the pornography may feel guilt knowing that the other partner does not condone the behavior. These varying effects on different individuals may explain why some studies find that pornography is damaging to relationships, while others find the opposite.

– Andrei Nistor, Contributing Writer. The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Ketamine Depression Treatment Poses Unknown Risks

00Decision-Making, Depression, Education, Featured news, Health, Psychopharmacology, Suicide November, 18

Source: SnaPsi at flickr, Creative Commons

New evidence that ketamine, an anesthetic medication, might be effective in treating depression is leading to increased research on the drug. What’s significant is the rapid relief in symptoms seen in some patients. After just one dose of ketamine, their depression can decline within three days, much quicker than with conventional anti-depressants.

This finding is particularly meaningful for people at risk for suicide. Ketamine may provide an option for physicians to quickly treat acutely suicidal patients by creating a window of opportunity to begin long-term behavioral and pharmacological therapies. If a patient’s symptoms are relieved even for a short time, it may be long enough to intervene.

Recent excitement also surfaced when researchers from New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine demonstrated the drug’s ability to alleviate treatment resistant depression (TRD). TRD occurs when feelings of intense sadness, loss of energy, and inability to experience pleasure persist even after multiple attempts at treatment. In the study, a shocking nine out of 10 patients with TRD experienced significantly reduced symptoms after their first dose of ketamine.

Despite this finding, questions remain about the drug’s long-term efficacy, as well as its side effects.

Anthony (name changed) has first-hand experience with ketamine to treat TRD. In a Reddit thread and interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, he explained that, prior to receiving ketamine treatment, he had tried numerous anti-depressants. After spending weeks or months on each drug to no avail, his doctor would switch him to a new drug in hopes of finding one that worked, but nothing did. Anthony began researching alternative treatments himself. He explained:

“When you try so many drugs—SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAS, antipsychotics, lithium, depakote—you are pretty open to anything that will help.”

He discovered ketamine and was enticed by the prospect of its therapeutic benefits:

“Before ketamine, I was in a hole. This was as depressed as I had ever been. I was suicidal. I called my mom and dad. They rescued me, letting me live in their basement. There, I began researching ketamine until I knew almost every study. I convinced my doctor to let me try it.”

But ketamine is only approved for use as an anesthetic by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This provision means that any patient who receives ketamine treatment for depression must have it prescribed as an “off-label” treatment. In other words, the doctor prescribes the drug for a non-FDA-approved use.

Choosing to participate in an unapproved treatment may expose a patient to more risks than they are aware of. FDA approval for ketamine use in anesthesia indicates that one time treatments are not harmful, but it is uncertain whether repeated treatments are safe. And, the long-term effects are not known.

Not surprisingly, the off-label prescription of ketamine has been criticized. A study by Melvyn Zhang at the Institute of Mental Health in Singapore and colleagues cited multiple problems with ketamine treatment for depression. A major criticism was that current information is based on inadequately short periods of observation. These observations indicate depression relapse rates as high as 73% one month after treatment ends.

Nevertheless, after deciding he was scared, but prepared to do anything to overcome his depression, Anthony began intravenous (IV) ketamine treatment in his doctor’s office:

“[When taking the drug] I feel completely disconnected from my body. I cannot move. I feel partly elated, and partly terrified. Reality becomes distant. I have no awareness of my body; only my mind exists. In this space, I can see my own struggle with depression. I recognize in this strange way that the depression isn’t real, not a part of me. I realize that I am surrounded by people who love me. Slowly, I come back to the chair I’m in, back to the doctor’s office. Somehow, I already feel better.”

After his initial treatment, Anthony said that his thoughts of suicide disappeared. He remembers feeling clear-headed, not high or euphoric. He felt normal again. This realization was so profound, he was moved to tears:

“After the initial five treatments, I was having moments when it felt like all my symptoms of depression were gone. But they would always eventually return. I was prescribed a nasal spray about a month after my last IV treatment. That worked for a while.”

Unfortunately, these benefits had serious contraindications. Anthony experienced lingering feelings of being disconnected from his body and from reality. Another study investigating ketamine use for TRD found that three out of 10 participants experienced dissociative symptoms from the drug.

These side effects have yet to be fully understood. Although Anthony believes that the treatment saved him, it also opened the door for other mental-health problems:

“Looking back, I would do it over again, as ketamine literally pulled me from suicidal thoughts. But, in my opinion, ketamine opened the door for the feelings of disconnection. And they are a huge struggle for me every day now.”

With alarmingly high post-treatment relapse rates, little knowledge of long-term safety, and worrisome side effects, ketamine has yet to be proven as a lasting treatment for depression.

– Stefano Costa, Contributing Writer. The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Prison Executioners Face Job-Related Trauma

00Decision-Making, Empathy, Featured news, Guilt, Law and Crime, Trauma October, 18

When an order of execution is issued by the courts in the United States, the prison warden or superintendent is responsible for the sentence being carried out—often by Corrections Officers (CO) who are unaware they will be tasked with killing a prisoner.

Complicating matters, human connections are frequently formed between guards and prisoners. According to Jerry Givens, who administered the death penalty in Virginia to 62 inmates over 25 years, COs may spend more time with death-row prisoners than with friends or family, and can develop empathy towards these inmates.

With potential bonds between death-row guards and prisoners in mind, a separate team of officers frequently conducts the actual execution. COs directly involved with the prisoners are often given smaller roles, such as walking the prisoners to the execution spot, or putting a hood over their head. This approach aims to reduce the emotionally damaging effects of executions on those in close contact with the inmates.

Authorities also try to disperse feelings of responsibility for the killing by having multiple guards involved in the execution process. With lethal injection, the method of execution used in most States, three COs are assigned to turn a key switch that releases the lethal drug into the prisoner. Only one “live” switch dispenses the fatal chemical. The CO initiating the procedure that ultimately kills the prisoner is not known.

Despite such measures, guards can feel mentally tortured by their participation in executions, both before and after.

As illustrated in Into the Abyss, a documentary detailing the death sentence of convicted killer Michael Perry, many execution guards experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One guard explained his acute symptoms at the outset of his descent into PTSD. He began crying and shaking uncontrollably when “the eyes of all the inmates he had executed began flashing before him.” Another developed nightmares, cold sweats, and sleeplessness.

Other guards, like Givens, have reported depression, inability to sustain relationships, and changes in personality. According to Rachel MacNair, author of Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Psychological Consequences of Killing:

“The inner lives of guards who execute become like those of battlefield veterans who suppress memories from themselves and others.”

In 2007, two South Carolina COs who developed obsessive compulsive behaviour, nightmares, and other emotional disturbances filed civil lawsuits, claiming that their conditions resulted from performing executions. The COs alleged that they were coerced into carrying out executions and were not given any debriefing or counseling to help them deal with the emotional effects.

For some guards who need psychological treatment, it is simply not available. Other times, guards do not use available psychological help for fear of bei

Source: Feature: Fumigraphik at flickr, Creative Commons

ng labelled ‘weak’ by their colleagues. Additionally, guards may not have the opportunity to talk about their involvement in executions with members of their families. Givens explained:

“When I accepted the job, I never told my wife or kids or anybody. I didn’t want them to go through anything I had to go through. If I told someone, they would tell someone. It would have been like a snowball and gotten bigger and bigger and everyone would know exactly what I was doing.”

This secrecy protects guards from having to explain or defend their actions. But it also prevents them from obtaining help to lessen the ill-effects of the associated trauma. Lack of disclosure precludes obtaining support.

The unacknowledged stress experienced by guards on execution teams risks dangerous mental-health consequences. As Givens, who now campaigns to end the death penalty, put it:

“It’s not an easy task to do. If I had known what I had to go through as an executioner, I wouldn’t have done it. You can’t tell me I can take the life of people and go home and be normal.”

– Veerpal Bambrah, Contributing Writer. The Trauma and Mental Health Report.

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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What Can A Lizard Tell Us About Mental Health?

00Therapy News September, 18

A new study on lizards has found that, when exposed to stress, their responses can be passed down genetically. Scientists now believe there may be more to the process of heritability than once thought. This process is called “Transgenerational Stress Inheritance.”

As recently as 2011, most research did not examine the possibility that parental stress could affect sperm or egg cells. Since genes are transferred to offspring through these cells, anything that modifies them can have an impact on genetic expression in children. The idea that parents’ experiences prior to pregnancy can change gene expression and, therefore, affect offspring behaviour, is novel.

In the lizard study, researchers from Pennsylvania State University exposed young lizards to fire ants (a natural stressor) and compared stress levels to unexposed lizards. Interestingly, contact with the stressor did not affect the lizards’ behaviour later in life. But, their offspring had stronger stress reactions than offspring of lizards who had not been subjected to the ants.

Lead researcher Gail McCormick told PsyPost:

“Our work reveals that the stress experienced by an individual’s parents or ancestors may overshadow the stress that an individual faces within its lifetime. In this study, offspring of lizards from high-stress sites were more responsive to stress as adults, regardless of exposure to stress during their own lifetime.”

These findings suggest that, although early life stress may not manifest later in adulthood, the effects may be passed down to offspring, even if offspring are not directly exposed to the stressor.

similar study involved researchers conditioning mice to associate the smell of cherries with a mild electric current. When the fragrance permeated the air, the mice were given a small electric shock. And so, the mice began to fear the scent even when the shock wasn’t administered. Even more fascinating was that offspring of these mice, as well as their offspring, experienced fear in the presence of the odor. The fear reaction occurred even though the later generations didn’t experience the conditioning process.

Of course, the question these studies pose is whether there is a similar effect in humans.

As recently reported in the Guardian newspaper, researchers from New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine compared the genes of direct descendants of Jews who were “interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had had to hide during the second world war” to the offspring of Jews living outside of Europe who were unharmed. The children of parents who experienced WWII trauma showed genetic changes and a greater risk of stress disorders. These were not present in the other children. The Guardian article stated:

“[The] new finding is [a] clear example in humans of the theory of epigenetic inheritance: the idea that environmental factors can affect the genes of your children.”

In other research, psychologist Margaret Keyes from the University of Minnesota and colleagues examined twins to determine if the behaviour of biological parents could affect offspring who were not raised by them. The study found that children of parents who smoked were more likely to be smokers, even if those children weren’t raised by the parents, and as such, did not have parental smoking behavior modeled to them. Scientists are still questioning, though, whether it’s parental behavior directly affecting these genes or a genetic predisposition to smoking being passed down for generations.

On the whole, these studies make the case that genetic changes can happen a lot faster than previously thought, within a few generations or even one generation. And, as reported in Science magazine, people can see evolution in real time:

“Now, thanks to the genomic revolution, researchers can actually track the population-level genetic shifts that mark evolution in action—and they’re doing this in humans. [Studies] show how our genomes have changed over centuries or decades…”

Research in this field is still new and is subject to several caveats. Perhaps the most important one is the complexity of human beings and their environments. Indeed, there may be too many variables that factor into the human experience for researchers to arrive at definitive conclusions.

But, these studies do suggest that individuals may be affected by the stress felt by ancestors in  before them. Further research is required to determine whether these findings are the result of transgenerational stress inheritance or an external factor that has yet to be considered.

– Andrei Nistor, Contributing Writer

Image Credits
Feature: Hayke Tjemmes at flickr, Creative Commons
First: Hartwig HKD at flickr, Creative Commons
Second: Blondinrikard Fröberg at flickr, Creative Commons

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Prison Executioners Face Job-Related Trauma

00Therapy News September, 18

When an order of execution is issued by the courts in the United States, the prison warden or superintendent is responsible for the sentence being carried out—often by Corrections Officers (CO) who are unaware they will be tasked with killing a prisoner.

Complicating matters, human connections are frequently formed between guards and prisoners. According to Jerry Givens, who administered the death penalty in Virginia to 62 inmates over 25 years, COs may spend more time with death-row prisoners than with friends or family, and can develop empathy towards these inmates.

With potential bonds between death-row guards and prisoners in mind, a separate team of officers frequently conducts the actual execution. COs directly involved with the prisoners are often given smaller roles, such as walking the prisoners to the execution spot, or putting a hood over their head. This approach aims to reduce the emotionally damaging effects of executions on those in close contact with the inmates.

Authorities also try to disperse feelings of responsibility for the killing by having multiple guards involved in the execution process. With lethal injection, the method of execution used in most States, three COs are assigned to turn a key switch that releases the lethal drug into the prisoner. Only one “live” switch dispenses the fatal chemical. The CO initiating the procedure that ultimately kills the prisoner is not known.

Despite such measures, guards can feel mentally tortured by their participation in executions, both before and after.

As illustrated in Into the Abyss, a documentary detailing the death sentence of convicted killer Michael Perry, many execution guards experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One guard explained his acute symptoms at the outset of his descent into PTSD. He began crying and shaking uncontrollably when “the eyes of all the inmates he had executed began flashing before him.” Another developed nightmares, cold sweats, and sleeplessness.

Other guards, like Givens, have reported depression, inability to sustain relationships, and changes in personality. According to Rachel MacNair, author of Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Psychological Consequences of Killing:

“The inner lives of guards who execute become like those of battlefield veterans who suppress memories from themselves and others.”

In 2007, two South Carolina COs who developed obsessive compulsive behaviour, nightmares, and other emotional disturbances filed civil lawsuits, claiming that their conditions resulted from performing executions. The COs alleged that they were coerced into carrying out executions and were not given any debriefing or counselling to help them deal with the emotional effects.

For some guards who need psychological treatment, it is simply not available. Other times, guards do not use available psychological help for fear of being labelled ‘weak’ by their colleagues. Additionally, guards may not have the opportunity to talk about their involvement in executions with members of their families. Givens explained:

When I accepted the job, I never told my wife or kids or anybody. I didn’t want them to go through anything I had to go through. If I told someone, they would tell someone. It would have been like a snowball and gotten bigger and bigger and everyone would know exactly what I was doing.

This secrecy protects guards from having to explain or defend their actions. But it also prevents them from obtaining help to lessen the ill-effects of the associated trauma. Lack of disclosure precludes obtaining support.

The unacknowledged stress experienced by guards on execution teams risks dangerous mental-health consequences. As Givens, who now campaigns to end the death penalty, put it:

“It’s not an easy task to do. If I had known what I had to go through as an executioner, I wouldn’t have done it. You can’t tell me I can take the life of people and go home and be normal.”

– Veerpal Bambrah, Contributing Writer

Image Credits
Feature: Fumigraphik at flickr, Creative Commons
First: CACorrections at Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Second: Alexis Fracois at flickr, Creative Commons

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Using Art to Heal from Sexual Assault

00Anger, Creativity, Featured news, Relationships, Self-Control, Therapy, Trauma September, 18

Source: Safi, Frizz kid,used with permission

Frizz Kid (Hana Shafi), a writer and visual artist based in Toronto, Canada, deals with themes of feminism, sexual violence, and self-care. Shafi first came to prominence through social media after the high-profile Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial in Toronto. Prominent radio personality Ghomeshi was charged with, but subsequently acquitted of, multiple counts of sexual violence.

Ghomeshi’s victims were essentially blamed for the assaults, and their stories were discounted as inconsistent or false. Following the trial, numerous artists and activists joined together under the hashtag #WeBelieveSurvivors—Shafi among them. And her craft was deeply affected and altered by the outcome of the trial.

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Shafi discussed the impact on her art:

“The period after the trial was really difficult. The constant media coverage of what happened to these women and the ultimate lack of justice was hurtful, particularly to survivors of sexual assault. A compassionate perspective was missing. The trial turned into an attack on their characters instead of focusing on the wrong that was done to them.”

In reaction, Shafi began her most well-known work: her Positive Affirmation Series. Shafi combined drawn images with words to assert comforting phrases, such as “healing is not linear,” “it’s natural to have emotional baggage,” and “you are worthy of love.”

According to Shafi:

“The series has been a way for me to express solidarity with victims of sexual assault. I never expected the art to get as big a reception as it has.”

Her art serves several purposes. She creates it to cope, as well as to help others:

“All my pieces have a purpose for me as much as for others. I find it personally healing to create, but I also want to help others and create a community of people around art where we can heal together, be angry together, be sad together, and create together.”

To engage more closely with her audience, Shafi recently collaborated with Ryerson University as their artist-in-residence. There, she conducted free workshops on making zines, which are short, self-published magazines made by photocopying and binding artwork, poetry, or other writing.

Participants were invited to answer the following:

“Have you ever thought about what you would say to the person who sexually assaulted you? What would you want your peers to know? What would you like to remind yourself?”

These works were compiled for an art installation, titled “Lost Words.” In an Instagram post, Shafi explained:

“Through these questions, we can communicate the lost words; all the things that have been left unsaid but need to be heard.”

When speaking with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, she added:

“I really wanted there to be a platform for people impacted by sexual violence to speak about their experiences. To say the things they never had an opportunity to say, or felt they couldn’t say. I wanted people to get the sense that they could say whatever they wanted in that space and that they would be safe doing so. This is them talking back. I think having an outlet like this is critical for the healing process.”

Shafi also stressed the important role that participant anonymity played in “Lost Words:”

“There’s safety in anonymity. People are not super understanding about this subject matter; there needs to be anonymity.”

Some may be familiar with the therapeutic practice of writing a letter to a person who has hurt them, then destroying the letter. These so-called “hot letters” are used as a form of emotional catharsis.

Similar ideas were explored by Shafi in this exhibit. “Lost Words,” however, dealt with having private and painful thoughts read by the public. These works were exhibited in conjunction with the Sexual Assault Roadshow, a travelling art gallery that aims to change the public’s perception of survivors of sexual assault. This decision to exhibit to the general public was tactical. Shafi explained:

“I think through viewing the works, they begin to understand; they get a small glimpse into the reality of a survivor; they see the injustice, trauma, and frustration.”

Survivors of sexual assault benefit from the exhibit too, Shafi argued:

“They express what they’ve always wanted to say but never had the platform for. It may have been unsafe for them to say things before, but they are now excited that their work will be seen—that they can speak in a public setting while remaining anonymous.”

The reception to the exhibit was overwhelmingly positive, with many reaching out to Shafi to express their gratitude. Others, Shafi said, were genuinely surprised by the exhibit, which she suspected was a reality check for them.

Shafi stressed that she is not giving survivors a voice because they have their own voice.

“I think what I’m doing is giving them a space to feel heard and validated. Giving them art that emphasizes their experience, highlights their issues, and provides a compassionate space.”

– “Fernanda de la Mora, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.

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

“Copyright Robert T. Muller.”

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Should Those with Mental Illness Have the Right to Die?

00Chronic Pain, Decision-Making, Featured news, Health, Resilience, Suicide September, 18

Source: KingaBritschgi at DeviantArt/Creative Commons

On June 17, 2016, Canada joined a handful of countries and several U.S. states in enacting assisted suicide legislation. Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID), also known as euthanasia, was passed into Canadian law as Bill C-14 in an effort to provide relief from unbearable suffering to those whose death is reasonably foreseeable.

Although having the choice to die brings relief to many individuals and their families, Bill C-14 does not cover those who wish to end their life due to an unendurable mental illness.

Being denied a legal right to assisted death for significant mental illness was the plight of 27-year-old Adam Maier-Clayton. Since childhood, Maier-Clayton suffered from unrelenting psychological disorders that robbed him of sustaining a reasonable quality of life. In an essay published in The Globe and Mail, he detailed the unrelenting pain his psychological disorder caused him:

“I’m not suicidal in the sense that I hate myself and I want to leave. I think this world is beautiful, but this amount of pain is intolerable… Some people are confined to lives of truly horrifying amounts of suffering that no amount of treatment can stop.”

Maier-Clayton lobbied the Canadian federal government to change the criteria that would allow people with severe mental illness to qualify for medical assistance in dying. His bid was not successful. Sadly, in April 2017, he took his own life.

Currently, the law in Canada excludes access to MAID for people suffering from psychological issues alone. For right-to-die supporter, author, and journalist Sandra Martin, this position is disrespectful to the severely mentally ill. In an article written for The Globe and Mail, Martin argued for what she believes is the best interest of the patient:

“We can’t leave it to vote-wary politicians and risk-averse medical associations to campaign for an equitable MAID law….We can’t wait for another constitutional challenge to recognize that not all suffering is physical. That struggle is Maier-Clayton’s legacy—and fighting for it might make a difference to you or somebody you love.”

Not having an available, safe, and medically supervised solution to dying does not prevent death. According to Dying With Dignity Canada, the absence of a legal and feasible option pushes individuals into making agonizing and expensive decisions. They must either take their own life or travel abroad to countries where assisted suicide is legal.

Despite the pressure to change MAID, lawmakers are taking a cautious approach to considering future regulation on right-to-die policies involving psychological disorders. Many mental health professionals and organizations meet this unhurried approach favourably, as they feel it is necessary to protect potentially vulnerable members of society who may recover.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) supports the Canadian government’s decision to painstakingly consider the implications of MAID for psychiatric patients. CAMH stated:

“CAMH recognizes that people with mental illness can experience intolerable psychological suffering as a result of their illness, but there is always the hope of recovery. In those rare cases where a mental illness may be determined to be irremediable, safeguards must be in place to make sure that an individual truly has the capacity to consent to MAID.”

On February 8, 2017, in a panel discussion jointly hosted by the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and CAMH, mental health professionals converged to dissect this multifaceted debate. In addition to the vast legal issues, they discussed the enormous ethical dilemmas inherent in right-to-die policies. Panel member Scott Kim, Senior Investigator at the National Institute of Health, summarized some of the ethical, moral, and legal issues at play, and cautioned against enacting policy without the appropriate research on euthanasia available. Kim emphasized the risk of human error in the medical profession in making this type of decision:

“Euthanasia is permanent….Even the most sophisticated psychiatrist does not have too much data to go on except their own experience and impressions to make these prognostic determinations.”

Kim goes on to point out that wanting to die is often part of the mental illness manifestation itself, and with correct and consistent treatment, the desire to end one’s life may abate.

MAID currently requires a medical practitioner to support a patient’s resolve to die. The magnitude of such a permanent decision lies not only with the patient, but also with the medical professional. In an occupation that is obligated to ‘do no harm’, supporting the death of someone with a non-terminal illness, despite an intolerable life, appears contradictory.

Tarek Rajii, panel member and Chief of Geriatric Psychiatry at CAMH, has worked with patients that he knows may never recover. However, based on the current research available, Rajii remains hesitant about MAID for mental illness:

“We don’t know who will die suffering. We don’t know how to identify that person….If we are considering MAID as a form of treatment intervention, when there is very limited evidence, as a medical profession, do we introduce an intervention without enough evidence, that we don’t [fully] understand?”

With making the decision to end a life of psychological suffering, mistakes are not an option. There is no room for error; there is no reversal. And yet, how much suffering can one person endure? Ultimately, we are left with the realization that, despite the pain from devastating mental illness, hope for recovery cannot be ruled out.

– Kimberley Moore, Contributing Writer, “The Trauma and Mental Health Report”

“-Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The trauma and Mental Health Report”

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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What if Your Father Were a Pedophile?

00Embarrassment, Family Dynamics, Featured news, Psychiatry, Punishment, Relationships, Trauma August, 18

Source: Feature: enki22 at flickr, Creative Commons

“Between You and Me,” a documentary by director Chase Joynt, examines what it feels like to discover a family member has done a terrible thing. In this short film, Chase accompanies his friend Rebekah Skoor as they travel to visit Rebekah’s father, Michael, a convicted pedophile.

Michael Skoor, a pastor and family man, was convicted of repeatedly molesting an 11-year old boy. After contemplating suicide, he confessed the abuse to a psychiatrist, who reported him. Michael turned himself in, pled guilty, and was sentenced to 29 years in prison. For many, the story ends there, but for Rebekah and her family, the story just begins.

After her father’s revelations, Rebekah and her family faced social ostracism and stigmatization from their community. And, they felt their own feelings of shame. These repercussions often fall on families of sex offenders. “It was a really scary time,” Rebekah recounts to Chase in the film, as they prepare to travel to see her dad in prison.

A study by Professors Jill Levenson and Richard Tewksbury reported on data from family members of sex offenders. These families experienced financial hardship, housing displacement, and psychological distress. They also met with social repercussions, such as ridicule and teasing, as a result of their loved one’s actions.

In addition to feeling humiliation and shame, family members feared for their personal safety. Of all participants studied, 44% reported they had been threatened or harassed by a neighbor. Children of offenders suffered from depression and anxiety due to being bullied at school by both teachers and fellow students.

The public’s animosity toward these families may have its roots in the belief that family members know about the relative’s crimes, and could have intervened to stop them. It’s not uncommon for some members of law enforcement, the media, and the helping professions, to voice such assumptions, which may influence public opinion.

In an opinion piece by psychologist Seth Myers, he portrays the wife of disgraced football coach Jerry Sandusky as a guilty party to her husband’s crimes, even though she was never charged for any part in the assaults. And, Myers had never clinically assessed Sandusky’s wife. The assumption of guilt-by-association is a dubious claim to make, and may be at the heart of stigma faced by family members of sex offenders.

In an interview with the Toronto Star, psychiatrist Paul Fedoroff refers to the family members of sex offenders as “secondary victims.” These people are often abandoned and left reeling in the aftermath of the crime.

Families must also deal with their own personal feelings and internal conflicts. In the Toronto Star article, Scott Woodside, of the Sexual Behaviours Clinic at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, explained that children of sexually abusive fathers “don’t like that their father did this to them but they love their father… and do not want their father to be taken away because no one will replace him.” The same can apply when parents abuse outsiders.

While acknowledging the seriousness of the crimes committed by these sexual predators, their families are confronted with the difficult task of trying to reconcile their good memories with the knowledge of the terrible act the relative committed. They are caught in the middle.

And to them, the offense is hard to integrate. In a deleted scene from “Between You And Me,” Rebekah explains her difficulty in trying to convey this dichotomy to others when speaking about her father:

“I feel called to give the back story of the 21 years of awesomeness that was in my life. Not perfection, but good intentional fathering. Before I land this heinous offense on people… I want them to be able to hold with me my dichotomy, that he is in some part hero and in some part this fallen man.”

Rebekah wants to illustrate both sides of her father, the man she knew, and the crimes he committed. Recognizing these two seemingly incompatible aspects leaves Rebekah feeling she is caught between loving her father and condemning his actions. Rebekah’s recollection of his sentencing illustrates the issue well.

“It felt very divided… the people with the ribbons who were there for the [victim] and the people without ribbons who were there for my dad. I really felt this profound sense of, ‘I also want a ribbon. I’m not pro sexual violence. I’m not endorsing my father’s actions.’”

She does not approve of what he did. And yet, “The terrible things don’t undo the love.”

– Stefano Costa, 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