Blog Archive


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?

00Anxiety, 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


Death Gives a Wake-Up Call

00Bystander Effect, Featured news, Gratitude, Grief, Resilience, Trauma October, 19

Source: Ilya Haykinson at Flickr, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

On a quiet summer evening a few years back, while taking a walk in Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto, I witnessed an event that would change the course of several peoples’ lives. As I relaxed under a tree in the park, watching families enjoy themselves, I heard a loud noise and saw a large branch from another tree fall onto where a couple was sitting. I heard a woman scream, and the man beside her was now trapped under the branch.

Walking a few steps closer, I froze, trying to understand what I’d just seen, which seemed unreal. I felt helpless. Others reacted differently than me as some tried to remove the fallen tree branch, some tried to resuscitate the man, while others comforted his wife, saying the ambulance would soon come. It felt like it went on for hours. Once the yellow blanket was placed over the fellow, I knew it was over. He was pronounced dead.

Mike Lee, one of the three people who performed CPR on the victim, described the shock he felt immediately after the event in an interview with the “Trauma and Mental Health Report,” which is republished here:

“The biggest thing that went through my head was that there was nothing going on: no hurricane, no lightning, no typhoon, no volcano or violence; nothing. Just a beautiful day and this tree branch just happened to fall on this guy and killed him on the spot. How could something so beautiful, a beautiful day, turn into such a traumatic event?”

For me, it felt surreal, as if I’d lost control of my existence. I kept thinking that it easily could have been me under that tree. Later, I was left with unresolved questions about God, the universe, my existence and life’s meaning. And, despite having the courage to take action initially, Mike was affected by the traumatic experience too.

“I was in shock. I just walked around with my bike; I couldn’t even get on my bike to ride it. I kept thinking how thankful I was that I was ok and I kind of felt happy that I actually did something – that I didn’t just lock up and freeze. And then, I called my parents to say “I love you”. I was pretty traumatized, to be honest. I am pretty sure that I went home and cried.”

People experience trauma in different ways. For example, some re-experience the trauma itself, have nightmares, get bouts of anger and sadness, experience dissociation and even PTSD. Mike did not experience many negative consequences of this event although, at the time, he expressed sadness. That resonated for me. Sadness and disbelief along with dissociation were what I’d experienced.

Research has shown that dissociation is common after trauma, especially when extreme physiological arousal is present. Most who experience dissociation feel a sense of detachment from their lives. For me, dissociation provided some emotional distance, a buffer to protect myself from the overwhelming emotions that accompany something so tragic.

There are many unique challenges to overcome when faced with a traumatic experience and for some, it becomes a lifelong journey. In some ways, I feel fortunate because for me, facing my mortality was a wake-up call, one that encouraged me to try to live a more authentic and meaningful life. Mike shared similar thoughts:

“I will never forget that day, it was a pretty defining moment. It reminded me that you have one chance at life, and you never know when things are going to go bad. You can be safe your entire life – not fly on planes, be careful on buses, wear your seat belt, don’t do drugs, don’t drink – and you end up in a park one day and a tree falls on you. It just opened my eyes and made me realize life is short, so why not just make the best of it?”

A few months after the event, Toronto police presented Mike Lee with an award for his actions. Mike’s mother accepted it on his behalf, as he had already moved to Japan to start a new business. He had previously quit his job, as the incident led him to re-evaluate his life. Mike explained:

“If there is anything I would want as a message coming from me is for people to really reassess their beliefs and what they are holding onto as the most important things in their life.”

 -Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today


When Vicarious Trauma Victims Suffer From PTSD

00Anxiety, Compassion Fatigue, Environment, Featured news, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Trauma October, 19

Source: Charli Forrester, Used with Permission

Prolonged exposure to stress can have devastating effects on mental health. In fact, neuroscientists have found that chronic stress triggers long-term changes in the brain’s structure and functioning, making people more prone to mental illnesses such as anxiety, mood disorders, and in particular, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Typically, we associate PTSD with “shell shock”, war veterans, or assault survivors; and we are not wrong about this. But what we sometimes miss is that trauma exists in many forms, stretching way beyond these limits.

Amy Rolfes is an American retired middle school special education teacher and former Executive Director at an American-founded orphanage in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Located in one of South Africa’s poorest neighbourhoods, Amy witnessed extreme violence and corruption. Gang violence, murder, and rape were just a few of the realities. This was all new to Amy, who often found herself in survival mode.

Upon returning home from Johannesburg, South Africa, Amy found her mental health was now severely affected. In an interview with The Trauma and Mental Health Report, she says:

“For the first two years that I was back from South Africa I absolutely was affected by my trauma; I was debilitated, but I couldn’t identify it and no one else could either.”

Amy felt disoriented and struggled to understand the roots of her pain. She experienced flashbacks and had trouble sleeping for months. She remembers a friend suggesting she might be suffering from PTSD.

“I remember that moment so clearly because I threw my hands up in the air and said ‘for God’s sake I wasn’t in Vietnam!’” But Amy started to consider that maybe her friend was right.

It’s common for trauma survivors to minimize their psychological suffering. Some internalize or brush off symptoms. This happened to Amy.  She would ask herself why it was so hard to cope.

A study on PSTD symptoms in 9-1-1 dispatchers shows how wide-reaching trauma can be: It’s not even necessary to be physically present during a traumatic event or even personally know the victim for the event to adversely affect mental health. Vicarious trauma can be as overwhelming as experiencing the situation first-hand.

As Amy explains:

“That’s the part that I am most worried about. People are going over and doing this good work and they are becoming traumatized. They are experiencing trauma and they are hiding it because of shame, and because of not even understanding. If you don’t come home assaulted, or with your arm chopped off, everybody says ‘you’re fine’; and so I kept telling myself ‘no, I’m fine.’”

Amy believed her distress was “less-than” the distress of those who’d experienced trauma first-hand. But the effects of vicarious trauma were debilitating. She contacted the Headington Institute, an online training-centre that partners with humanitarian relief and emergency responders. It provides support, resources, and coping strategies for those who have experienced traumatic stress and vicarious trauma during and after deployment. After reaching out to them, Amy felt as though she was not alone anymore.

“Now, I clearly see that it was as if my entire body was on fire, flames of trauma shooting out.”

Through therapy and writing about her experiences, Amy found recovery. She says the writing process helped her to let go of the disturbing memories and allowed her to distance herself from the trauma.

Amy says:

“It is a sense of peace, after recovering from this trauma, understanding it, learning about it, even re-telling the stories, I really do feel a sense of peace. I feel that there is trauma and crazy things that happen in this world, but nonetheless, everything happens for a reason. I am a lot more accepting, and a lot more forgiving. I feel a deeper sense of self.”.

–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


Integrated Classrooms Fail Teachers and Students

00ADHD, Cognition, Confidence, Education, Featured news, Self-Esteem September, 19

Source: Ryan McGuire at Gratisography, some rights reserved

Sharon (name changed), an elementary school teacher in London, England, taught a challenging class last year. Out of a large group of 30 students, three were diagnosed with autism, one with dyspraxia, three with ADHD, and two with ODD. Despite her 25 years of experience, she felt stressed balancing the needs of these students with the needs of the class as a whole, and almost resigned from her position. 

Many teachers can identify. Students with special needs are often placed with teachers who have received no training or resources to help. This occurs in schools that have welcomed students with disabilities, but are not yet fully inclusive. Schools like this are said to be integrated. 

According to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in an integrated school, students with special needs are placed in existing educational systems. In contrast, inclusion involves making changes to the entire system to allow all students to have access to a learning environment that best suits their needs. These accommodations can range from specially formatted worksheets to in-class tutors to special technologies. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states:

“Placing students with disabilities in mainstream classes without appropriate structural changes to, for example, organization, curriculum and teaching and learning strategies does not constitute inclusion.”

Many schools fail to provide teachers with appropriate resources. And teachers’ training programs do not sufficiently prepare teachers for working with students with special needs. The lack of support places significant stress on teachers who struggle with the dual challenges of educating a large class and catering to each student’s individual needs.  In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Josee (name changed), an elementary school teacher in Ontario, said:

“It’s stressful. It’s a lot, especially because I have big classes… and they are two different grades…There are times when I just feel very overwhelmed.”

And it’s not just teachers who are stressed, students are affected as well. Tammy (name changed), who teaches elementary school in Berkley, California, said in an interview that she has observed students suffering self-esteem issues due to their needs not being met in the classroom. In her words:

“It’s heartbreaking to see a child that just has no confidence in their own abilities because they aren’t able to do the work they see their peers doing. It’s a vicious cycle too, they can’t do the work so they check out, and then they fall even farther behind. I try my best to celebrate and make visible some kind of success that child has had, whether it’s social or physical or artistic or whatever, just to give them a more positive self-image, but it’s a really hard thing to spend every day struggling to understand what’s happening around you.”

According to the CDC, in the United States, 15% of children ages 3 to 17 have a neurodevelopmental disability; this includes all developmental disorders, learning and intellectual disabilities, and motor and language disorders. The number of children in the same age group with mental, emotional, or behavioural disorders is estimated at 13% to 20%. These students often require individualized learning and attention within the classroom.  

However, without adequate training or resources, teachers find it difficult to give students the help they need. Rebecca (name changed), an Ontario elementary school teacher  explained in an interview:

No teacher knows exactly what to do with each kid and each diagnosis. Yes, there’s accommodations for academics, but it’s not always the academics that needs help, it’s the behaviour, it’s the self-esteem, it’s their growth, their confidence.

To better help their students, teachers require additional training on how to work with students with various disabilities, as well as assistants or co-teachers in the classroom to share the load. Other resources include technologies to better help students and the ability to consult with specialists. With these resources, schools can take the final steps towards become fully inclusive.

And, in schools that have successfully adopted a philosophy of inclusion, the benefits are significant. In a study conducted by Thomas Hehir, Professor of practice in learning differences at Harvard University:

“There is clear and consistent evidence that inclusive educational settings can confer substantial short- and long-term benefits for students with and without disabilities.”

Schools should keep working toward their goals of inclusion to create classrooms where both students and teachers are given the tools they need to succeed. 

-Roselyn Gishen, 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


The Hidden Struggles of Animal Rescue Workers

00Animal Behavior, Depression, Featured news, Resilience, Suicide, Trauma September, 19

Source: 12019 at Pixabay, Creative Commons

During the civil war in Syria, veterinary surgeon Amir Khalil from the charity organization Four Paws International, travelled to Aleppo to rescue surviving zoo animals. Before the war began, the zoo was home to around 300 animals, yet by July 2017 only 13 remained. After months of intense negotiations with the Syrian and Turkish governments, local factions and warlords, and two dangerous rescue missions later, Khalil managed to save all 13 animals. Prior to this rescue, Khalil had rescued animals from conflict zones in Libya, Gaza and Iraq. 

When tragedy strikes, most people think about the potential harm done to human lives. However, many care deeply about animals and are willing to put their lives at risk to save them. In fact, during Hurricane Katrina, of those who did not evacuate their homes, 44% did so because they did not want to abandon their pets.  

Research has even shown that there are some circumstances in which people chose to save pets over humans. One study showed that 40% of people chose to save their own pet over a foreign tourist. Another study showed that when presented with a fictional news story, people cared more about crimes involving dogs and children than adults. A possible reason for this surprising finding was likely due to the vulnerable nature of animals. In fact Khalil felt compelled to rescue many animals in the past simply because the zoo animals were dependent on humans. In an interview with The Telegraph, he explained: 

“Humans have the option to escape, but animals caged in a zoo don’t have this option. It was humans who brought animals to these places. They cannot speak, they have no political agenda, but they are messengers from the darkness, they bring hope.”

Other animal rescue workers express similar sentiments. Darren Grandel, Deputy Chief of the investigations department at the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, explained in an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report (TMHR) that the most difficult part of his enforcement work is witnessing innocents being harmed: 

“The animals, all the time, are the innocents. It’s not that they’ve chosen to engage in a type of activity that can harm them. The humans have done it to them. So a lot of the time you’re seeing innocent animals being harmed, sometimes in very horrific ways, in ways that you couldn’t imagine someone hurting another living thing. It can be very, very traumatic.”

When working on rescuing  animals such as in the wake of a natural disaster, a similar type of trauma can be experienced.  In a TMHR interview, Miranda Spindel, a veterinarian with 19 years of experience, including a decade with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals explained:

“On deployment, you are typically away from home and often working in conditions that are less than ideal. Sometimes, there are animal owners as well as animals involved, who may have experienced very stressful and emotionally challenging situations and require skilled and compassionate care, too. Often the work is physically as well as mentally challenging.”

Animal rescue work, though important, severely affects the mental health of these individuals. Humanitarian aid workers and first responders report high rates of depression, anxiety and PTSD. Animal rescue workers occupy similar roles, rescuing and proving aid to animals in distress and likely experience similar mental health problems. And, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, those in protective service occupations, including animal control workers, have the highest rate of suicide, at 5.3 per million workers. 

Veterinarians and others individuals who work with animals also experience high rates of compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue, also known as vicarious traumatization, refers to stress symptoms that result from providing care and empathy to humans or animals in distress. 

Janice Hannah, Campaign Manager of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Northern Dog Project described one such experience in a TMHR interview:

“I remember visiting a rural shelter. The dogs were literally stuck in a poop filled fence, cold, wet and hungry. That was the end of shelter work for me – I had been to so many similar shelters around the world and am reminded of the sadness felt in those situations. Though those feelings dissipate over time, it never goes fully away. You end up building up more and more sadness and discomfort around all the animals that you see but can’t make a tangible difference about the circumstance. 

There are some programs in place, such as support groups and internal services within organizations to help animal rescue workers recover from trauma. Yet, more needs to be done to better help individuals who have dedicated their lives to helping animals. Increased peer support and open communication without fear of stigma are required to better help individuals with mental health problems. Spindel emphasizes that preventative measures are equally important:  

“Whether or not workers are suffering from mental health issues, the circumstances are generally enough, in my opinion, that mental health services and resources should be made available as a matter of routine. Trained support during the deployment – or even before – not just debriefing afterward – seems critical to building resiliency for this type of work.”

From enforcement officers to veterinarians, many different professionals work selflessly to rescue innocent animals from harm. With greater support services, these individuals will be better able to cope with the stresses of their job, enabling them to better help animals in need.  

-Roselyn Gishen, 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


Post-Secondary School and Homelessness

00Depression, Education, Featured news, Loneliness, Productivity, Sleep August, 19

Source: liborius at Flickr, some rights reserved

Under the ivy-covered walls of many universities lies a disturbing phenomenon: homelessness. Many find it incomprehensible that homelessness would exist in these spaces, but it does. A study by Michael Sulkowski shows that student homelessness is growing at an “unprecedented rate,” with 1 million affected. Rising tuition costs, coupled with a higher cost of living, makes it unlikely that student homelessness will be resolved any time soon. 

In an interview with The Trauma and Mental Health Report, Maya (name changed for anonymity), a fourth-year psychology major, explained what it was like living as a homeless university student:

“I would search for empty lecture halls to sleep in. I would adjust my sleep schedule by sleeping during the daytime and remaining awake at night, because it was much safer to do so.”

“I would carry my bags with me, which contained all of my belongings. Classmates and friends would ask me why I was always carrying my stuff around, but I was hesitant to tell them that I was homeless. I was afraid and ashamed of my living situation and did not want anyone to know. I was afraid that people would judge me and believe that I was to blame for my homelessness,”

When at school, Maya said that it was hard to focus on her studies and practice self-care, as her homelessness took top priority:

“I would try to do everything in my power to not bring attention to myself. I would not ask questions in class, and I would avoid making friends with other classmates. I felt sub-human and inferior. I found myself deteriorating both physically and mentally. My hair began to turn grey and greasy, my skin was pale, and my mental health was in shambles. I was so focused on my homelessness that my grades also began to suffer.”

Eventually, things got a little better for Maya, as she found a temporary place to stay:

“One of my friends was a student executive for a women’s advocacy club on-campus, and she told me that I could use the office to sleep. It was a relief because I was given food, menstrual pads, and tampons, as well as a place to sleep. It really helped me to get back on my feet.”

Why does homelessness among university students seem to be an invisible issue? Stephen Gaetz, director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and Professor at York University explained this issue in an interview with CBC News Toronto: 

“The hidden homeless is a much different population compared to the homeless population that is seen in emergency shelters. Student homelessness is often overlooked because they pull all-nighters in school, take showers in the gym, and sleep on the couches.”

According to Sulkowski’s study, youth homelessness receives less economic resources compared to adult homelessness. Youth who experience homelessness encounter several barriers to their academic success and well-being, leaving them vulnerable. One barrier that Maya had to overcome was difficulty accessing on-campus resources:

“When I tried to access counseling services, the first thing they asked me was my address. I did not have one, so I used my mother’s address instead. Something as simple as an address was a large issue for me, which isn’t something that we think about too often.”

“But even when I tried getting help for my living situation, I was given the run-around. I would call one service, and they would refer me to another one. I honestly felt like no one cared and wanted to help me, so I stopped asking for help.”

And Maya’s story is not unique. Recently, one student at the University of Alberta shared his experience with homelessness, explaining that he “slept in parks or near malls” and would find himself “frequently accessing the university food bank.” Despite the number of anecdotes regarding student homelessness, there is no national approximation for the number of post-secondary students facing homelessness in Canada, and university-specific data are not currently available.

I asked Maya what she believed post-secondary institutions should do to address the growing issue of student homelessness, given her own experience:

“Firstly, I think that campuses should have services that allow students who are homeless to access these resources without having to provide sensitive personal information. Secondly, having a kitchen on-campus stocked with food so students can prepare their own meals. Oftentimes the food that is provided by the school’s food bank is not accessible because you need a fridge or stove in order to eat it.”

Student homelessness is a problem that goes unseen. For many who experience it, they resist speaking out for fear of being shamed by their circumstances and ridiculed by others. 

—Zeinab Mohamed, 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