Category: Decision-Making

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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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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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Talking about Death May Prevent End-Of-Life Suffering

80Anxiety, Decision-Making, Featured news, Grief, Health, Psychopathy December, 17
Source: Marica Villeneuve, Trauma and Mental Health Report artist, used with permission

Death comes unexpectedly. As City University of New York professor Massimo Pigliuccionce said, “You can evade taxes. But so far, you can’t evade death.” Just what is it, though, that we are trying to evade?

“We don’t know how or when we will die – even as we are actually dying,” wrote Joan Halifax, medical anthropologist and Zen teacher. “Death, in all its aspects, is a mystery.”

But we can talk. In conversation, we are able to clarify our wishes for end-of-life care, express our fear of the unknown, and grieve the loss of a loved one.

The “Death Café”, or “café mortel”, is a movement in which strangers meet to talk about death over tea and cake. The first “café mortel” was hosted in 2004 by Swiss sociologist and anthropologist Bernard Crettaz. In 2011, the movement migrated to the UK and took on the name “Death Café”. Their website states:

“Our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.”

In an article for Aeon magazine, freelance essayist Clare Davies described the kinds of topics explored at Death Café:

“The guests take turns to voice their thoughts and feelings across a wide range of subjects. How does it feel to lose a parent? What is existence? What matters most to us in life? The point is to talk. What is death like? What exactly are we afraid of? To what degree do our ideas on death influence how we live?”

But death isn’t an easy topic… even some doctors avoid it.

A 2015 study led by Vyjeyanthi Periyakoli at the Stanford University School of Medicine found that 86% of 1040 doctors said that they find it “very challenging” to talk to patients about death.

Yet, conversations that explore patient values are essential to end-of-life care. Many prefer to forgo aggressive treatments that are unlikely to prolong life, or improve its quality. Conversations ensure that patients are protected from unwanted treatments and excessive rescue measures that may lead to distress.

End-of-life distress can take many forms. Medications and surgeries often leave the body frail and vulnerable to other illnesses, or dependent on a ventilator or intravenous nutrition.

In a 2010 New Yorker article entitled “Letting Go”, medical doctor and public health researcher Atul Gawande wrote:

“Spending one’s final days in an intensive care unit because of terminal illness is for most people a kind of failure. You lie on a ventilator, your every organ shutting down, your mind teetering on delirium and permanently beyond realizing that you will never leave this borrowed, fluorescent place.”

End-of-life decisions can be stressful for both the patient and doctor. But talking about them does help.

In the New Yorker article, Gawande describes a 2008 Coping with Cancer study in which only one third of patients reported talking with their doctors about goals for end-of-life care, even though they were, on average, four months from death. Those who did have end-of-life conversations were significantly less likely to undergo cardiopulmonary resuscitation, be put on a ventilator, or end up in an intensive care unit. Gawande wrote:

“These patients suffered less, were physically more capable, and were better able, for a longer period, to interact with others. In other words, people who had substantive discussions with their doctor about their end-of-life preferences were far more likely to die at peace and in control of their situation, and to spare their family anguish.”

Audrey Pellicano hosts the New York Death Café, and works as a grief counsellor. She told the New York Times:

“Death and grief are topics avoided at all costs in our society. If we talk about them, maybe we won’t fear them as much.”

This sentiment is echoed by palliative care specialist Susan Block, who was interviewed by Gawande for the New Yorker article. Regarding end-of-life conversations, she said:

“A large part of the task is helping people negotiate the overwhelming anxiety—anxiety about death, anxiety about suffering, anxiety about loved ones, anxiety about finances.”

Fear surrounding life’s end is immense and varied. But death comes regardless. Perhaps what is needed is an ideological shift, supported by movements like the Death Café, which provides opportunities for people to discuss death from a safe distance. By facing death, a greater appreciation of life’s preciousness may emerge, clarifying what we want most from both living and dying.

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller.

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Talking About Death May Prevent End-Of-Life Suffering

00Anxiety, Decision-Making, Featured news, Grief, Health, Psychopathy December, 17
Source: Marica Villeneuve, Trauma and Mental Health Report artist, used with permission

Death comes unexpectedly. As City University of New York professor Massimo Pigliuccionce said, “You can evade taxes. But so far, you can’t evade death.” Just what is it, though, that we are trying to evade?

“We don’t know how or when we will die – even as we are actually dying,” wrote Joan Halifax, medical anthropologist and Zen teacher. “Death, in all its aspects, is a mystery.”

But we can talk. In conversation, we are able to clarify our wishes for end-of-life care, express our fear of the unknown, and grieve the loss of a loved one.

The “Death Café”, or “café mortel”, is a movement in which strangers meet to talk about death over tea and cake. The first “café mortel” was hosted in 2004 by Swiss sociologist and anthropologist Bernard Crettaz. In 2011, the movement migrated to the UK and took on the name “Death Café”. Their website states:

“Our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.”

In an article for Aeon, freelance essayist Clare Davies described the kinds of topics explored at Death Café:

“The guests take turns to voice their thoughts and feelings across a wide range of subjects. How does it feel to lose a parent? What is existence? What matters most to us in life? The point is to talk. What is death like? What exactly are we afraid of? To what degree do our ideas on death influence how we live?”

But death isn’t an easy topic… even some doctors avoid it.

A 2015 study led by Vyjeyanthi Periyakoli at the Stanford University School of Medicine found that 86 percent of 1040 doctors said that they find it “very challenging” to talk to patients about death.

Yet, conversations that explore patient values are essential to end-of-life care. Many prefer to forgo aggressive treatments that are unlikely to prolong life, or improve its quality. Conversations ensure that patients are protected from unwanted treatments and excessive rescue measures that may lead to distress.

End-of-life distress can take many forms. Medications and surgeries often leave the body frail and vulnerable to other illnesses, or dependent on a ventilator or intravenous nutrition.

In a 2010 New Yorker article entitled “Letting Go”, medical doctor and public health researcher Atul Gawande wrote:

“Spending one’s final days in an intensive care unit because of terminal illness is for most people a kind of failure. You lie on a ventilator, your every organ shutting down, your mind teetering on delirium and permanently beyond realizing that you will never leave this borrowed, fluorescent place.”

End-of-life decisions can be stressful for both the patient and doctor. But talking about them does help.

In the New Yorker article, Gawande describes a 2008 Coping with Cancer study in which only one-third of patients reported talking with their doctors about goals for end-of-life care, even though they were, on average, four months from death. Those who did have end-of-life conversations were significantly less likely to undergo cardiopulmonary resuscitation, be put on a ventilator, or end up in an intensive care unit. Gawande wrote:

“These patients suffered less, were physically more capable, and were better able, for a longer period, to interact with others. In other words, people who had substantive discussions with their doctor about their end-of-life preferences were far more likely to die at peace and in control of their situation, and to spare their family anguish.”

Audrey Pellicano hosts the New York Death Café, and works as a grief counsellor. She told the New York Times:

“Death and grief are topics avoided at all costs in our society. If we talk about them, maybe we won’t fear them as much.”

This sentiment is echoed by palliative care specialist Susan Block, who was interviewed by Gawande for the New Yorker article. Regarding end-of-life conversations, she said:

“A large part of the task is helping people negotiate the overwhelming anxiety—anxiety about death, anxiety about suffering, anxiety about loved ones, anxiety about finances.”

Fear surrounding life’s end is immense and varied. But death comes regardless. Perhaps what is needed is an ideological shift, supported by movements like the Death Café, which provides opportunities for people to discuss death from a safe distance. By facing death, a greater appreciation of life’s preciousness may emerge, clarifying what we want most from both living and dying.

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller.

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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When Adolescents Claim the Right to Refuse Treatment

20Child Development, Decision-Making, Family Dynamics, Featured news, Parenting, Therapy April, 16

Source: UnitedNotions Film, Used with permission

In a personal essay in the Hartford Courant, 17-year old Cassandra C. recalls her legal battle when she refused to undergo chemotherapy after being diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

The Connecticut Superior Court ruled that as a minor, Cassandra did not understand the severity of her condition. She was taken to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, where she was forced to undergo chemotherapy.

In her essay, Cassandra wrote:

“I should have had the right to say no, but I didn’t. I was strapped to a bed by my wrists and ankles and sedated. I woke up in the recovery room with a port surgically placed in my chest. I was outraged and felt completely violated.”

When Cassandra’s mother did not bring her to medical appointments, the Department of Children and Families took Cassandra into custody. She was medically examined and placed into foster care.

A month later, Cassandra was allowed to return home once she agreed to continue chemotherapy. After reluctantly undergoing two days of treatment, Cassandra claimed that it was beginning to take a toll. Feeling trapped, she decided to run away to evade treatment, only returning home out of fear her disappearance would land her mother in jail.

It is common for cancer patients to experience adverse side effects while undergoing chemotherapy. In addition to physical side effects, patients often experience a range of psychopathologies, including depression, fear, anxiety, and hopelessness.

In court, Cassandra argued that she cared more about the quality of her life than the duration. Yet she was told that undergoing chemotherapy would increase her chance of survival by 85 percent. Without it, doctors said there would be a near certainty of death within two years. Although Cassandra acknowledged this risk, she maintained that she had the right to make decisions about her own life and body.

In an interview with the New York Times, Cassandra’s mother supported her daughter’s decision to refuse chemotherapy:

“She knows the long-term effects of having chemo, what it does to your organs, what it does to your body. She may not be able to have children after this because it affects everything in your body, it not only kills cancer, it kills everything in your body.”

Both Cassandra and her mother denied that Cassandra’s decision was anyone’s but her own. But there is some concern that Cassandra’s opinion on medical treatment could have been influenced by her parents. This issue is especially important given the far greater chance of survival offered by treatment.

A study by psychiatrist Paola Carbone in the Journal of Child Psychotherapy describes how young cancer patients may have trouble accepting treatment because of its severe effects on their developing bodies. Adolescent girls often express dissatisfaction with their bodies and lower self-esteem. The side effects of chemotherapy, such as weight loss, may negatively affect their fragile self-confidence.

The right to independent decision-making at this age is also a factor. In her essay, Cassandra writes:

“I am a human—I should be able to decide if I do or don’t want chemotherapy, whether I live 17 years or 100 years should not be anyone’s choice but mine.”

Researchers, Coralie Wilson and Frank Deane, suggest that it is important to teach adolescents’ that part of being more independent and autonomous is being aware of when and how to seek the support of others.

An extreme need for independence can result in self-imposed isolation, which is why Carbone maintains that adolescents are particularly in need of familial support. Other studies have also found that family involvement in discussions about the side effects of chemotherapy improves social support and decision making, lowers physical and mental distress, and increases emotional wellbeing.

Carbone explains:

“Chemotherapy refusal by adolescent patients should not be considered an obstacle to be eliminated at all costs, but rather a message to be welcomed and worked on.”

Cassandra was discharged from hospital last April, after completing treatment. Prior to being released, she wrote on Facebook, “I have less than 48 hours left in this hospital and I couldn’t be happier!”

She reported that she was grateful that she responded positively to the drugs and was predicted to survive cancer-free. But she also added:

“I stood up and fought for my rights, and I don’t regret it.”

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today