Category: Environment

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Coronavirus Anxiety Fuels Panic and Racism

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

Source: Elchinator at Pixabay, Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Lotus Huyen Vu, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Treatments Now Available For Disordered Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– David Remisch, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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At Burning Man, Fire Breathing Fuelled by Belonging

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

Source: Joris Voeten at Unsplash, Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-David Lipson, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

-Copyright, Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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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

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Asthma Brings Surprising Challenges

00Anxiety, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Depression, Environment, Fear, Featured news, Mental Health March, 19

Source: Free-Photos at Pixabay, Creative Commons

During the summer of 2017, Adrian and his partner, Kayla, ventured out to explore the dense forest in a remote area of south-eastern Canada where they were vacationing. Hiking on a trail that took them deep into the woods, Kayla shouted back at Adrian, urging him to catch up. Turning to him, Kayla could instantly tell something was wrong. After a wave of panic, he collapsed to the ground, gasping for air.  

As Adrian began to fade in and out of consciousness Kayla frantically dialed 911, despite knowing there was no cellphone service within miles of their location. They were completely isolated. Trying to provide comfort, all Kayla could say was, “This is not the end.” 

Approximately 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma. This inflammatory lung disease, which causes swelling of the airways and constricted breathing, can be life-threatening. Globally, 250,000 people die each year from the condition, and researchers have yet to find a cure.  

Asthma is a common health concern, and the traumatic experience of an asthma attack can affect the emotional well-being of the sufferer and loved ones.

A Canadian study by Renee Goodwin and colleagues published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that asthma is related to numerous mental health conditions, with the greatest links between asthma and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mania, and panic disorder. Using data from the World Health Organization, Kai On Wong and a team of researchers found that, globally, asthma is associated with depression and anxiety. 

Alex Watford is not surprised by these findings. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, he discusses the toll his asthma has had on his mental health, and provides insight into what it is like to experience an asthma attack: 

“It feels like you’re drowning. All of a sudden, you’re not getting enough oxygen despite how much you try to breathe. While attempting to breathe, you can hear phlegm rapidly filling your lungs, slowly suffocating you. You then become light-headed and begin to lose vision while your body becomes weak and lifeless.” 

With diagnoses that include PTSD, anxiety, and depression, Watford believes his psychological distress is largely due to his terrifying flashbacks that cause him to live in constant fear of the next attack; fear which in turn provokes a level of anxiety that makes breathing difficult.

Clinical health psychologist Laura Flower, and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Southampton, Ben Ainsworth, describe Watford’s experience as the ‘cycle of breathlessness,’ a factor that contributes to the “complex and bi-directional” association between asthma and mental health challenges: 

“The experience of breathlessness is distressing; and it’s a normal reaction to be anxious about it. This anxiety then leads to an increased chance of breathlessness – which causes more anxiety.”

According to Flower and Ainsworth, the association between asthma and mental illness is further complicated by the complex relationships asthma sufferers have with their symptoms: 

“Some people are deconditioned to them (e.g. “it’s just my lungs, it’s just me”) and therefore aren’t motivated to manage them. Other people find them really uncomfortable, and are unable to work or enjoy a satisfactory quality of life. Both of these can lead to social isolation, poor lifestyle factors, such as fitness, which in turn worsen asthma symptoms.”

Watford describes how his daily life has been impacted by the disease:

“Having asthma affects my everyday life, as it makes having to walk long distances, such as across campus, really tough. This often deters me from going to class because I will feel so exhausted afterwards that attending feels useless. I often find myself avoiding many other activities for this same reason.” 

In a UK-based asthma community forum, members offer further insight into asthma’s invasive nature and speak to the unpredictability and uncertainty of life with asthma. 

“You don’t know what to expect tomorrow. Will you be able to breathe? Will there be someone there wearing strong perfumes or aftershave? Is there dust in the air? Oh, and just the sheer tiredness of it all, the worrying, not being in control of your surroundings…”

Some members say they are unable to perform simple tasks, such as walking up staircases or showering. Asthma sufferers describe the impact of the disorder as “genuinely life destroying and heart breaking”. 

Complicating matters further is the stigma associated with asthma, resulting from a lack of awareness and understanding. The stigma can lead to improper management of the disease, as well as social isolation that creates further mental health challenges in asthma sufferers. 

This is a theme that comes up in the asthma community forum:

“…sometimes we trivialize asthma as a society. It makes us think our illness isn’t that bad and so all the problems associated with it aren’t genuine.”

Clinical health psychologist Stacy Thomas, shares some of the ways psychologists, like herself, help asthma sufferers cope with the mental health aspects of chronic disorders, including asthma: 

“Using therapeutic interventions, health psychologists help to eliminate the psychological barriers that moderate the experience of asthma. For example, cognitive behavioural therapy, considered the ‘gold standard’ in terms of therapeutic approach, examines the thoughts and beliefs that contribute to problems with mood or anxiety, the tools one can use to find more balance in their thinking, and the behaviours that might need to be changed.”

Adrian survived his close call that summer hiking in the woods.  But like many others, he continues to re-live the attack with great intensity and struggles with the anxiety that such an experience leaves. Sometimes Adrian forgets that he suffers from asthma. For now, Adrian tries to remain positive, while patiently hoping for a cure. 

-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

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Solitary confinement offers no prep for the outside.

10Anxiety, Environment, Featured news, Loneliness, Social Life, Social Networking March, 19

Source: Solnovi at DeviantArt, Creative Commons

Ryan Pettigrew is a Colorado native who spent eight years of a 12-year prison sentence in solitary confinement. Struggling with bipolar disorder as a teen, he was abandoned by his parents and left homeless. On the streets, Pettigrew turned to drug trafficking to survive, and was eventually indicted on assault and drug charges. His resulting incarceration led to time in prison isolation for fighting with another inmate.

Solitary confinement is the practice of keeping a prisoner apart from the general population of a correctional facility. Prisoners spend up to 23 hours per day in their cell alone, deprived of both environmental and social stimulation. The majority of Colorado inmates in isolation have a mental illness.

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Pettigrew said:

“For the most part, solitary in Colorado is 24-hour lockdown. I went eight years without seeing sunlight, without human contact. Without anything.”

Cells vary widely, even within North America. Some cells include a bed, toilet, and television. Others contain no furnishings and a bucket or hole for use as a toilet. Not surprisingly, the United Nations (UN) states that placing a person in solitary confinement for more than 15 days constitutes cruel and inhumane treatment, and is tantamount to torture.

Partly due to pressure from the UN, both American and Canadian governments have expressed intentions to reduce the use of isolation in correctional facilities. Pettigrew believes that this change is long overdue, stating in another interview that solitary confinement exacerbated his bipolar disorder. He claims that this type of prisoner abuse often leads to anti-social behaviour after incarceration, rather than to rehabilitation:

“My message to the public is: regardless of how you feel about criminals, most of them get out [of prison], and public safety requires they be released prepared to become productive citizens rather than angry and ignorant. I’m not asking for sympathy, just a rational win-win solution.”

Stuart Grassian, a psychiatrist from Harvard Medical School, spent much of his career researching the impact of solitary confinement. His findings show that it produces a distinct psychiatric condition. Symptoms include hypersensitivity to external stimulation, hallucinations, panic attacks, problems with thinking or memory, intrusive and obsessive thoughts, paranoia, and impulsivity.

Pettigrew experienced many of these symptoms himself:

“The first six months to about a year [in isolation] was really hard. It felt like the walls were closing in. I would have panic attacks and start hyperventilating.”

In a recent PBS documentary, Last Days of Solitary, Grassian stated:

“One of the important clinical findings in solitary confinement is that people deprived of an adequate level of stimulation become intolerant of stimulation. They overreact; they become hyper-responsive to it, and they can’t stand it.”

Upon being released, Pettigrew found that he was not the same person he used to be. Before his incarceration, he was outgoing and loved to socialize. Afterward, he no longer enjoyed being around people and moved to the countryside to avoid contact:

“I get overly stimulated very quickly. Just too much going on drives me crazy. My first week out, I locked myself in my brother’s basement. That’s why I like the country. There are not all the noises and lights.”

In an interview with PBS, Grassian also explained that the brains of people who are exposed to extended periods of isolation show greater activity in response to external stimuli, compared to those who haven’t.

In light of these findings, some U.S. prisons, including Maine State Prison, are reducing their dependence on this type of punishment. The prison’s warden Rodney Bouffard said in the PBS documentary that every effort should be made to reintegrate prisoners into the jail’s general population. He believes that keeping them in isolation is harmful:

“Putting them in confinement and forgetting about them is going to make them worse. There’s no question in my mind. If I have someone who comes in with a five-year sentence, you can have them do their whole time in segregation. But I wouldn’t want them living next to me when they release them.”

Instead, Maine State Prison’s program teaches inmates to resolve conflicts without violence and to control their actions and emotions. Between 2011 and 2017, Maine State Prison successfully reduced the number of inmates held in solitary confinement from 100 to 8. And now over 30 other state prisons are attempting solitary reforms.

It may not be possible to eliminate solitary confinement immediately, but reducing its use is in the best interest of prisoners and the public.

– 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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A Brain Stimulation Device May Power Healing

00Cognition, Cognitive Stimulation Therapy, Environment, Featured news, Mental Health, Neuroscience February, 18

Source: UCI Research at flickr, Creative Commons

Promising new treatments for neurological disorders are aimed at transforming disease management through neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to alter its structure and function to adapt to changes in the environment. Leading-edge research is investigating how technological solutions can enhance neuroplasticity, boosting recovery from neurological damage.

In September 2016, Helius Medical Technologies announced positive results for its pilot study using a brain stimulation device to treat pediatric Cerebral Palsy (CP). CP affects muscle control due to injury or malformation of the brain. For the study, some participants received standard physiotherapy, while others received standard physiotherapy along with 20 minutes of brain stimulation with Helius’s experimental device.

Those who received brain stimulation showed improvements in muscle spasms and gross lower limb motor function, over those who did not. And, there were improvements in quality of life, social status, and cognitive function. One explanation is that the brain stimulation device heightens the brain’s natural ability to heal, producing enhanced benefits from physiotherapy.

This new method of brain stimulation is termed cranial nerve non-invasive neuromodulation (CN-NINM). A successful feasibility study was done for the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and studies are underway for Parkinson’s disease, brain injury, and stroke. Participants are reporting improvements in mental health and wellbeing, such as greater mental clarity and increased energy. And benefits may extend to other neurological conditions as well.

The brain stimulation device used in these studies comes from decades of work by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the Tactile Communication and Neurorehabilitation Laboratory (TCN Lab). The team named the device the Portable Neuromodulation Stimulator (PoNS). The PoNS consists of a small array of electrodes that transfer an electrical current to the patient’s tongue, activating areas of the brainstem and cerebellum. Researchers theorize that this activation induces a sequence of activity that spreads through the brain.

In his book, The Brain’s Way of Healing, researcher and psychiatrist Norman Doidge explains how brain stimulation enhances neuroplastic healing. Doidge says an underlying cause of symptoms in neurological disorders is a dysregulation of electrical activity in the brain. He explains the sequence of activity caused by the PoNS may help the brain balance the electrical activity in its networks of brain cells. Balancing promotes rest and relaxation of these cells, allowing further stimulation alongside appropriate rehabilitative therapy. Stimulation reactivates dormant or dysregulated brain cells, and reintegrates them into functioning networks. Taken together, these changes make an ideal state for neuroplastic healing to take place.

Doidge shares a story about Broadway singer Ron Husmann’s remarkable recovery, which Doidge attributes to neuroplastic healing. Multiple Sclerosis led Ron to lose control of his bladder, mobility, and singing voice. Devastated by the loss of his voice and feeling he had nothing to lose, Ron travelled to the TCN Lab. He spent two weeks in intensive speech therapy, accompanied by brain stimulation with the PoNS device. By the end of his stay, Ron was singing and dancing again.

Brain stimulation and modulation are not new. They are central to established, FDA-approved treatments, such as deep brain stimulation (DBS), for neurological disorders. But, an important difference between the PoNS device and deep brain stimulation is that DBS is a highly invasive treatment. It involves the insertion of an electrode into the patient’s brain, and introduces several possible risks, including infections and strokes. And so, DBS is only used as a last resort. But the PoNS is non-invasive and presents few risks. Plus, the effects of the PoNS appear to continue even after the stimulation ends, whereas the benefits of DBS tend to end when stimulation is turned off.

Reported side effects for treatment by the PoNS, though, include increased salivation, mild headaches, and jaw pain. To reduce side effects, researchers teach participants swallowing and relaxation techniques that manage saliva and tension in the jaw.

Although early evidence for the PoNS device is impressive, skeptics point out that the number of participants used in the studies is small, which reduces confidence in reported outcomes. And although the team at the TCN Lab has shown that the PoNS increases activity in key brain areas, theories on how, precisely, it contributes to healing are still unclear.

Still, the PoNS shows promise as an addition to rehabilitation programs, and as a way of promoting physical and mental health. This technology is one to watch.

–Stefano Costa, 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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Climate Change Affecting Farmer’s Mental Health

60Depression, Environment, Featured news, Mental Health, Suicide, Work December, 17

Source: CIAT at flickr, Creative Commons

The cutoff for irreversible climate change has long been accepted as two or more degrees in global temperature compared to pre-industrial records. Reports show that, in early March 2016, this cutoff was crossed for the first time in recorded history.

January and February of 2016 broke all previous monthly records for high temperatures. Accompanying this trend are regular reports of melting ice caps and changes to animal migratory patterns. But the link between climate change and mental health is less visible.

One effect has been observed in farmers who are closely connected to the land. For some, environmental problems stem from insufficient water supply. For others, too much rainfall is a detriment to crop growth. Not surprisingly, farmers are anxious.

Matthew Russell is an Iowan farmer whose family has tended to their land for five generations. In an interview with Medical Daily, he recounts the physical and psychological toll brought on by extreme climate conditions:

“Psychologically, in the last few years, there’s a lot of anxiety that I don’t remember having 10 years ago. In the last three or four years, there’s this tremendous anxiety around the weather because windows of time for quality crop growth are very narrow.”

Russell explains that this narrow window is due to increasing levels of rain, which leave his land muddy and wet, decreasing crop quality.

Aside from droughts and flooding, extreme temperatures compound the problem, as do weeds, pests, and fungi that thrive better as a result of warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide levels.

For those like Russell who have farmed throughout their lives, the idea of uprooting and relocating or finding a new profession seems daunting. With the continuing effects of climate change, this threat may soon become reality.

Anxiety is not the only mental-health concern influenced by climate change. A reportfrom the US National Library of Medicine states:

“An association has been found between crop failures due to unexpected droughts and suicide attempts in the farmers. Failure of crop can lead to economic hardships. When dependent on low precipitation situations, the farmer might not be able to sustain the expenses of the family and may become a victim of the debt trap to meet the expenses.”

Although the report focuses on droughts in Australian and Indian populations, these experiences are echoed elsewhere, like in California. Drought there has contributed to failed crops for farmers, as well as increased food prices for consumers in North America. A 2012 report showed that the economic hardship associated with these problems has increased the risk of suicide in American farmers.

A study on suicide by Ryan Sturgeon at the University of Calgary examined the content of calls to a rural stress line from farmers in Manitoba, Canada. He found that farmers may not be using the mental health resources open to them:

“Multiple factors may negatively impact farmers’ help-seeking behaviour, including greater isolation due to a growing distance between farms, increased competition and less cooperation among farmers because of the changing global economy, and fragmentation of existing rural communities as more people are moving off farms and into urban areas.”

Problems brought on by climate change are exacerbated in vulnerable rural communities populated by farmers. But as a worldwide phenomenon, climate change is likely to affect mental health globally.

–Andrei Nistor, 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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Climate Change Affecting Farmers' Mental Health

00Depression, Environment, Featured news, Mental Health, Suicide, Work December, 17

Source: CIAT at flickr, Creative Commons

The cutoff for irreversible climate change has long been accepted as two or more degrees in global temperature compared to pre-industrial records. Reports show that, in early March 2016, this cutoff was crossed for the first time in recorded history.

January and February of 2016 broke all previous monthly records for high temperatures. Accompanying this trend are regular reports of melting ice caps and changes to animal migratory patterns. But the link between climate change and mental health is less visible.

One effect has been observed in farmers who are closely connected to the land. For some, environmental problems stem from an insufficient water supply. For others, too much rainfall is a detriment to crop growth. Not surprisingly, farmers are anxious.

Matthew Russell is an Iowan farmer whose family has tended to their land for five generations. In an interview with Medical Daily, he recounts the physical and psychological toll brought on by extreme climate conditions:

“Psychologically, in the last few years, there’s a lot of anxiety that I don’t remember having 10 years ago. In the last three or four years, there’s this tremendous anxiety around the weather because windows of time for quality crop growth are very narrow.”

Russell explains that this narrow window is due to increasing levels of rain, which leave his land muddy and wet, decreasing crop quality.

Aside from droughts and flooding, extreme temperatures compound the problem, as do weeds, pests, and fungi that thrive better as a result of warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide levels.

For those like Russell who have farmed throughout their lives, the idea of uprooting and relocating or finding a new profession seems daunting. With the continuing effects of climate change, this threat may soon become reality.

Anxiety is not the only mental-health concern influenced by climate change. A report from the US National Library of Medicine states:

“An association has been found between crop failures due to unexpected droughts and suicide attempts by the farmers. Failure of a crop can lead to economic hardships. When dependent on low precipitation situations, the farmer might not be able to sustain the expenses of the family and may become a victim of the debt trap to meet the expenses.”

Although the report focuses on droughts in Australian and Indian populations, these experiences are echoed elsewhere, like in California. Drought there has contributed to failed crops for farmers, as well as increased food prices for consumers in North America. A 2012 report showed that the economic hardship associated with these problems has increased the risk of suicide in American farmers.

A study on suicide by Ryan Sturgeon at the University of Calgary examined the content of calls to a rural stress line from farmers in Manitoba, Canada. He found that farmers may not be using the mental health resources open to them:

“Multiple factors may negatively impact farmers’ help-seeking behavior, including greater isolation due to a growing distance between farms, increased competition, and less cooperation among farmers because of the changing global economy, and fragmentation of existing rural communities as more people are moving off farms and into urban areas.”

Problems brought on by climate change are exacerbated in vulnerable rural communities populated by farmers. But as a worldwide phenomenon, climate change is likely to affect mental health globally.

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

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

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Trauma Documented Three Decades after Chernobyl Disaster

00Appetite, Depression, Environment, Featured news, Mental Health, Stress, Trauma December, 16

Source: Surian Soosay on Flickr, Creative Commons

Chad Gracia’s award-winning 2015 documentary, The Russian Woodpecker, addresses the legacy of trauma caused by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The film documents the investigative journey of Fedor Alexandrovich, a Kiev based artist who shares his own experience as a survivor while exploring the disturbing question: Was the disaster at the Chernobyl power plant an ‘inside job’?

When a reactor at the power plant exploded on April 26th, 1986, the effects were catastrophic. As radiation levels rose, hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.

Forced evacuation and relocation was traumatic for many who had no hope of returning home. In the most contaminated areas, entire villages were bulldozed and buried. Further, citizens were not notified of the risks they faced from radiation. Tamara Kovalchuk, who was employed by the Chernobyl power plant, tells Alexandrovich in the film:

“When the explosion happened, no one thought anything of it. They put on masks and we were surprised. Why wear a mask in such good weather?”

After the event, political authorities failed to implement policies to protect the health of their citizens. For example, the World Health Organization claims that:

“If people had stopped giving locally supplied contaminated milk to children for a few months following the accident, it is likely that most of the increase in radiation-induced thyroid cancer would not have resulted.”

Trauma is a recurrent theme of The Russian Woodpecker. Alexandrovich was four years old at the time of the disaster—he was evacuated from Kiev, Ukraine, separated from his parents, and sent to an orphanage. Reflecting on this experience, he says, “I thought I would be there forever. It’s quite a serious trauma for a child. And from that time I’ve felt strange…different.”

But this trauma is not unique to Alexandrovich—it extends to the hundreds of thousands of people who faced relocation, suffered from illness, and coped with deliberate misinformation from their government about health risks. To this day, those affected by the explosion continue to struggle, living in fear of long-lasting consequences such as birth defects and contaminated foods.

According to psychologist Lynn Barnett, trauma from the Chernobyl disaster is cumulative because it is “characterized by repeated adversity with no foreseeable end”. She describes radiation as an “unseen, unheard, unfelt and ‘un-smelt’ terror.” Its elusiveness, in conjunction with government deception following the event, has led to the spread of misinformation guided by unscientific explanations and recommendations for coping with radiation.

One such recommendation is that small doses of radiation are good for people of middle or old age. Others are that drinking red wine, or swabbing the throat with antiseptic iodine, can protect against radiation. But maybe false beliefs like these lessen the threat of the unknown by providing a sense of control.

Other research corroborates this notion. Anthropologist Richard Sosis at the University of Connecticut studied the effects of psalm recitation during the Second Palestinian Intifadain northern Israel. Among secular women, those who recited psalms to cope with violence experienced lower anxiety.

In relation to the Chernobyl disaster, Barnett wrote:

“The secrecy and lies that enshrouded the Chernobyl accident led to an almost total lack of knowledge about the facts, leading to the impossibility of any kind of personal control.” 

Perhaps Alexandrovich was seeking control over the chaos inflicted by the event when he decided to look into the politics surrounding the disaster.

His inquiry led him to interview Vladimir Komarov, head of the Chernobyl investigation committee. This committee was tasked with identifying the cause of the explosion. In the film, Komarov tells Alexandrovich that the last Soviet Head of Atomic Energy, Georgy Kopchinski, made phone calls to Chernobyl engineers demanding that they conduct experiments on an unstable nuclear reactor.

Kopchinski, who Alexandrovich also interviews, denies that he made these phone calls, despite the fact that they were reported by engineers at the time.

Like trauma that affects the individual, politically motivated trauma leaves people with a sense of vulnerability and fragility. In traumatic events, key values, beliefs, and attitudes are largely compromised, and individuals turn to external sources of authority, such as political figures, for answers.

But when political figures are complicit in the trauma, or fail to perform their leadership duties, basic trust in one’s society and culture is challenged, and the ability to cope is further hindered.

Alexandrovich’s theory that the Chernobyl disaster was politically motivated is provocative and incendiary. But is it true? According to Chernobyl historian Natalia Baranovskaya, “To prove this you need all the documents. But the documents are still classified.”

Secrecy around the events of the Chernobyl disaster persist, preventing those affected from understanding the cause of their suffering. For now, the truth remains elusive.

–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