Category: Featured news

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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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Using Art to Heal from Sexual Assault

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

Source: Safi, Frizz kid,used with permission

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

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

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

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

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

According to Shafi:

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

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

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

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

Participants were invited to answer the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Copyright Robert T. Muller.”

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Should Those with Mental Illness Have the Right to Die?

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

Source: KingaBritschgi at DeviantArt/Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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What if Your Father Were a Pedophile?

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

Source: Feature: enki22 at flickr, Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Copyright Robert T. Muller”

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Surprising Side Effect of Parkinson’s Drug: Creativity

00Career, Creativity, Dopamine, Featured news, Psychiatry, Psychopharmacology, Self-Control August, 18

Source: Image Credits Feature: Ingrid Hauff, Used With Permission

In 2014, Ingrid Hauff was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD), a degenerative disorder that attacks the nervous system, leading to speech impairment, loss of control over body movement, and a long list of other symptoms. Plus, there is no cure.

Struggling with the diagnosis, Hauff checked herself into a psychiatric clinic where she was introduced to art therapy. The clinic supplied her with materials, and the staff asked her to paint what she felt. She initially used painting as a way to cope with the illness.

Hauff tells the Trauma and Mental Health Report:

“Before my diagnosis, I never painted. I could never have imagined that painting would be so important to me like it is today. I paint every day. It is a great pleasure for me to paint. I forget every trouble, and I find the [disease’s] side effects are lessened.”

Painting has become more than therapy for Hauff. It’s now a fundamental part of her life, and her unique artistic style and choice of colour have helped her become a successful artist. She has even held an exhibition of her landscape paintings in Berlin.

But her story of artistic knack and creative development is, surprisingly, not a rare one for those diagnosed with PD. Some scientists are investigating whether medications, such as Levodopa and Pramipexol, prescribed to relieve PD symptoms, heighten creativity. These drugs increase the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical in the brain that regulates movement. Dopamine is gradually depleted as PD progresses, so boosting this neurotransmitter allows patients to retain regular movement and regain control over their bodies.

Like all medications, though, these drugs have a multitude of side effects, ranging from headaches and nausea, to tremors and hallucinations. Unlike other medications, however, one side effect stands out from the rest: uninhibited creativity.

Neurologist Rivka Inzelberg and colleagues published a study in 2014, finding that patients treated with dopaminergic drugs showed enhanced verbal and visual creativity in comparison to neurologically healthy individuals who were not on the medication. This is one of several studies where Inzelberg demonstrated that PD medications are associated with higher rates of creative capability.

But in some instances, patients claim to produce artwork to a point where they can’t restrain themselves. Eugénie Lhommée and her colleagues interviewed people with PD and published a case study on the influence of increased dopamine on creativity. In it, the patient reported:

“I transformed my home into a studio, with tables and canvases everywhere [and] started painting from morning till night. I used knives, forks, sponges […] I would gouge open tubes of paint—it was everywhere. I started painting on the walls, the furniture, even the washing machine. I would paint any surface I came across. I could not stop myself from painting and repainting every night in a trance-like state. My partner could no longer bear it. People close to me realized that I crossed some kind of line into the pathological, and, at their instigation, I was hospitalized.”

Hauff also experienced an “extreme influence” on her artwork when prescribed Pramipexol:

“I began painting for hours every night. I didn’t have any ability to stop. I lost a lot of sleep and was constantly without energy after these sessions, so I decided, together with my neurologist, to stop [Pramipexol]. I’ve been off of it since the beginning of February 2017, and now after one month [on new medication], I can declare that my feeling of control has come back.”

While these experiences can be damaging to patients and their loved ones, Hauff was able to take advantage of this unique side effect by exhibiting and selling the artwork she had produced. Her solution to the problem was to switch to a different medication. The creative boost remained, but the compelling drive disappeared. Hauff explains:

“My creativity is still there, but the ‘painting time’ is now reduced radically. I am painting only during the daytime. My opinion is that Pramipexol limits my ability to maintain self-control.”

But Hauff has no regrets about her experience with Pramipexol:

“It let me find my creativity and showed me what I can do. It showed me secret parts of my soul. It showed me what has slept in my brain and in my heart for nearly 60 years. It showed me a way to live with my Parkinson’s.”

As is the case for most individuals considering a drug therapy, people with PD have to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of medication options. But as more research on this unexpected and artistic by-product emerges, it begs the question of whether similar medications can be used to boost creativity in the future.

– Ty LeBlanc, 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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Dangerous Eating Has Become a Problem in High-Level Sports

00Anorexia Nervosa, Body Image, Coaching, Diet, Eating Disorders, Featured news, Health, Sport and Competition July, 18

Source: Image Credits Feature: Thomas Wolter at pixabay, Creative Commons

As profiled by the media during the Summer 2016 Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, doping is a problem that continues to plague sporting events worldwide. For the past half-century, international sports federations, including the International Olympics Committee (IOC), have tried to stop the infiltration of illegal substances into sports.

Despite harsh punishments, some coaches and athletes persist in employing banned drugs, such as stimulants and hormones, to improve performance. Through periodic drug testing, these federations monitor the substances that athletes consume. Educational programs and medical treatment also help athletes address drug use and the pressures of high-performance sports.

But is anyone paying attention to what athletes are not consuming?

Disordered eating behaviours are another tactic used to heighten performance. Although highly controlled eating practices can cause serious health problems, dangerous eating among athletes is not heavily monitored by sports organizations.

Disordered eating is defined as a spectrum of harmful and often ineffective eating behaviours used to lose weight or attain a lean appearance. When defining disordered eating, the American College of Sports Medicine uses a behavioural continuum that starts with healthy dieting among athletes, proceeding to more extensive weight or dietary restrictions, to passive or active dehydration (e.g., saunas), and end at the onset of diagnosable eating disorders.

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Roy Cowling, Technical Director and Club Head Coach at North Toronto Soccer Club and volunteer for the Special Olympics Ireland and Special Olympics Great Britain, says that “involvement in organized and professional sports can offer a lot of benefits—improved self-esteem and body image, and encouragement to remain active throughout one’s life.”

But from his day-to-day interactions with clients who are training for professional sports, he thinks that athletic competition can cause severe psychological stress.

“The sports culture, with its emphasis on optimal or ideal body size or shape for best performance, is at many times an influencing factor in developing odd or abnormal eating patterns. Even extreme dieting or not eating at all.”

When the pressures of athletic competition are layered on top of an existing cultural emphasis on thinness, the risks increase for athletes to end up with disordered eating—a strong predictor that individuals may progress to an eating disorder (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder).

In a study of Division 1 NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) athletes, over one-third of female athletes reported pathological attitudes and symptoms toward eating, placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa. Although most athletes with eating disorders are female, males are not immune. Athletes competing in sports that tend to place an emphasis on diet, appearance, size, and weight requirements—such as wrestling, bodybuilding, running, and ‘anti-gravity’ sports (jumping sports where excess body weight is a disadvantage)—face more pressure to maintain a certain body weight.

Athletes are also at a higher risk than the general population of suffering harsh health consequences of eating disorders. According to Cowling:

“Athletes already exercise heavily, so their bodies and energy levels are depleted sooner and their health is heavily tested and challenged.”

Doping is deemed harmful to an athlete’s health by sports federations and is monitored. So why aren’t eating disorders carefully screened? This question is particularly crucial, given that pathological eating behaviours, specifically anorexia nervosa, have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness.

Cowling, through his work at the Olympics, says that it often boils down to time, resources, and ultimately, athletes’ willingness to speak out.

“Testing for illegal substances is a fairly quick and standard process, whereas inquiring about someone’s eating behaviours or dieting leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation. There’s no guarantee that the athlete is even going to be honest, since that could risk them getting excluded from the team or competitions. Plus, a lot of resources and training would have to go into properly screening for abnormal eating behaviours—something that international, and even national or local sports organizations, can’t be bothered with.”

Unless sports federations pay closer attention to this issue, the onus is on coaches who work closest with athletes to help keep eating and dieting behaviour in check.

Despite the lack of screening and prevention on the part of international sports federations, the National Eating Disorders Association and the National Eating Disorders Collaboration have guidelines for coaches to enhance their awareness and ability to address and prevent problematic eating behaviours in athletes.

“-Veerpal Bambrah, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.”

“–Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.” http://trauma.blog.yorku.ca/

“Copyright Robert T. Muller.” https://psychotherapytoronto.ca/

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Dangerous Eating Habits Enhance Sports Performance

00Anorexia Nervosa, Body Image, Coaching, Diet, Eating Disorders, Featured news, Health, Sport and Competition July, 18

Source: Image Credits Feature: Thomas Wolter at pixabay, Creative Commons

As profiled by the media during the Summer 2016 Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, doping is a problem that continues to plague sporting events worldwide. For the past half-century, international sports federations, including the International Olympics Committee (IOC), have tried to stop the infiltration of illegal substances into sports.

Despite harsh punishments, some coaches and athletes persist in employing banned drugs, such as stimulants and hormones, to improve performance. Through periodic drug testing, these federations monitor the substances that athletes consume. Educational programs and medical treatment also help athletes address drug use and the pressures of high-performance sports.

But is anyone paying attention to what athletes are not consuming?

Disordered eating behaviours are another tactic used to heighten performance. Although highly controlled eating practices can cause serious health problems, dangerous eating among athletes is not heavily monitored by sports organizations.

Disordered eating is defined as a spectrum of harmful and often ineffective eating behaviours used to lose weight or attain a lean appearance. When defining disordered eating, the American College of Sports Medicine uses a behavioural continuum that starts with healthy dieting among athletes, proceeding to more extensive weight or dietary restrictions, to passive or active dehydration (e.g., saunas), and end at the onset of diagnosable eating disorders.

n an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Roy Cowling, Technical Director and Club Head Coach at North Toronto Soccer Club and volunteer for the Special Olympics Ireland and Special Olympics Great Britain, says that “involvement in organized and professional sports can offer a lot of benefits—improved self-esteem and body image, and encouragement to remain active throughout one’s life.”

But from his day-to-day interactions with clients who are training for professional sports, he thinks that athletic competition can cause severe psychological stress.

“The sports culture, with its emphasis on optimal or ideal body size or shape for best performance, is at many times an influencing factor in developing odd or abnormal eating patterns. Even extreme dieting or not eating at all.”

When the pressures of athletic competition are layered on top of an existing cultural emphasis on thinness, the risks increase for athletes to end up with disordered eating—a strong predictor that individuals may progress to an eating disorder (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder).

In a study of Division 1 NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) athletes, over one-third of female athletes reported pathological attitudes and symptoms toward eating, placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa. Although most athletes with eating disorders are female, males are not immune. Athletes competing in sports that tend to place an emphasis on diet, appearance, size, and weight requirements—such as wrestling, bodybuilding, running, and ‘anti-gravity’ sports (jumping sports where excess body weight is a disadvantage)—face more pressure to maintain a certain body weight.

Athletes are also at a higher risk than the general population of suffering harsh health consequences of eating disorders. According to Cowling:

“Athletes already exercise heavily, so their bodies and energy levels are depleted sooner and their health is heavily tested and challenged.”

Doping is deemed harmful to an athlete’s health by sports federations and is monitored. So why aren’t eating disorders carefully screened? This question is particularly crucial, given that pathological eating behaviours, specifically anorexia nervosa, have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness.

Cowling, through his work at the Olympics, says that it often boils down to time, resources, and ultimately, athletes’ willingness to speak out.

“Testing for illegal substances is a fairly quick and standard process, whereas inquiring about someone’s eating behaviours or dieting leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation. There’s no guarantee that the athlete is even going to be honest, since that could risk them getting excluded from the team or competitions. Plus, a lot of resources and training would have to go into properly screening for abnormal eating behaviours—something that international, and even national or local sports organizations, can’t be bothered with.”

Unless sports federations pay closer attention to this issue, the onus is on coaches who work closest with athletes to help keep eating and dieting behaviour in check.

Despite the lack of screening and prevention on the part of international sports federations, the National Eating Disorders Association and the National Eating Disorders Collaboration have guidelines for coaches to enhance their awareness and ability to address and prevent problematic eating behaviours in athletes.

“-Veerpal Bambrah, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.”

“–Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.” http://trauma.blog.yorku.ca/

“Copyright Robert T. Muller.” https://psychotherapytoronto.ca/

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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The Making of a Murderer

00Child Development, Featured news, Genetics, Law and Crime, Parenting, Psychopathy July, 18

Source: sarahjgibson at DeviantArt, Creative Commons

In 1993, when Robert Thompson and Jon Venables from Liverpool, England were both 10 years of age, they killed a two-year-old boy. Thompson and Venables kidnapped the victim from a shopping centre, tortured him, and left him to die.

Stories like these raise many questions. Chief among them, how does something like this happen at all? Was it the result of bad parenting? The community certainly thought so, viewing the boys’ upbringing as the cause.

The trial had exposed evidence of domestic problems in both families. The judge stated that Thompson’s and Venable’s parents must take moral responsibility for their children’s actions. So members of the Thompson family had to assume new identities and go into hiding. They moved nine times to escape verbal and physical attacks. The Venables experienced similar threats.

In a recent interview with CNN, family therapist Tricia Ferrara put the onus on parents to understand when their child is in trouble. She said:

“All parents need a better understanding of child development so we can detect when the signals show a child may be moving in an anti-social direction.”

And a study conducted on the Columbine shootings, where two teenagers killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Denver, suggested that the community saw parents as partly accountable for the murders.

There’s no doubt that parenting plays an enormous role in child development. Researchhas found that abuse, negative parenting, and prolonged malnutrition are linked to a proclivity toward physical violence.

But, there is also important research pointing to the role biology plays in predisposing some individuals to psychopathy, including violence. The BBC reported that neuroscientist Adrian Raine discovered a decrease in activity of the pre-frontal cortex in the brains of murderers, suggesting a genetic predisposition.

And, research by Elizabeth Cauffman and colleagues from the University of California found that good parenting doesn’t always lead to the outcomes we imagine. In fact, anti-social encouragement by a romantic partner was correlated with the highest level of offending in youth, even when warm relationships endured with parents.

In a TVO documentary Genetic Me, professor Daniel Nettle claimed that personality is stable throughout a person’s life. Individuals have tendencies for some things and not others. Nettle suggests that people are born with predispositions for certain personality traits. He adds, though, that the environment has some effect on bringing out theses inclinations, and that people can fight against them.

NPR reported that there are additional factors that play into a person’s development, perhaps explaining why not all children raised by the same parents are violent. Children in the same families have distinct personalities and varied interests that elicit different parenting. Plus, children experience independent social environments outside the home.

Perhaps the complexity of the matter is described best by neurobiologist James Fallon, who studies the brains of psychopathic killers. He explained in a TED Talk that an interaction occurs between environment and genetics. When presented with a particular brain image, he noted it was clearly a psychopath’s brain. What was most shocking—it was his own brain. Fallon, though, is not a killer, and had a happy upbringing. But, he has a family history of homicide. The first documented murder of a mother by a son was committed by a member of his family, several generations back.

Fallon said that, although some individuals, mostly male, have genes or brain damage that make them more susceptible to becoming murderers, their childhood experiences can make all the difference. For instance, the MAOA gene in particular can give rise to a violent individual if the gene is combined with experiences of brutality.

Where do murderers come from? Like all the big questions in mental health, an either-or perspective leaves little room for complexity. In the great genetics versus environment debate, the making of murderers—indeed, the making of us—requires that we look somewhere in-between.

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller.

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Feeling Like a Fraud in the Face of Success

00Anxiety, Confidence, Featured news, Parenting, Self-Esteem, Stress, Work June, 18

Source: Kynan Tait at flickr, Creative Commons

More common than once thought, from new fathers to high-level executives, many of us experience impostor syndrome. Defined in the Harvard Business Review, it’s:

“A collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Impostors’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”

For fathers, these beliefs can result from observing the immediate bond between mother and infant (fathers may take up to two months to have a similar connection). Physician Liji Thomas explained to News Medical:

“Fathers bond to their babies over a longer period… During this time, they may feel ‘out of it’, especially when they observe the special bond between their spouses and the new baby.”

And many mothers think they’re impostors too. Blogger Michelle Grant posted a piece in the Huffington Post titled “The Parenthood Impostor Syndrome,” where she said:

“It’s a feeling of uncertainty, of anxiousness and for me, it was the very real idea of being a fraud in those early weeks of motherhood… ‘Everyone else is better at this than me,’ I told myself.”

New parents can’t get direct feedback, so it can be difficult to know if they’re doing things correctly for the infant. Grant continued:

“When we first become parents, we are expected to carry out a role we’ve not been trained for—and we get no feedback from our babies on how well we’re doing. So, it’s no wonder if we feel out of our depth and like an impostor.”

The impostor phenomenon is not a psychological disorder, but rather a reaction to a situation where individuals struggle to settle into a role and feel as though they’re faking ownership of it. And, feeling like an impostor isn’t limited to parents.

In a research review, psychologists Jaruwan Sakulku and James Alexander reported that as many as 70% of people experience impostor syndrome at least once during their lives—exposing the magnitude of the problem. In fact, many successful professionals face impostor syndrome.

It was first identified by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 when it was used to describe many high-achieving women who didn’t recognize their personal success despite exceptional academic and professional accomplishments. These perceptions may be related to whether or not women attribute their success to luck or to ability.

Women are particularly vulnerable to impostor syndrome when they believe their achievements are the result of chance. And when they engage in occupations historically held by men, such as being a university professor or member of law enforcement, women may feel they are not truly meant to be there.

Further research, though, has demonstrated that both men and women in high-earning positions or positions that are characteristically respected are susceptible to the impostor phenomenon. A Forbes article mentioned that partners at accounting firms and famous celebrities alike have felt like frauds in their positions, as though they would be uncovered for being an impostor. Actor Don Cheadle said:

“All I can see is everything I’m doing wrong that is a sham and a fraud.”

In another example, renowned author Maya Angelou recounted:

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”

A number of causes can  contribute to impostor syndrome. These range from perfectionist personality traits, to family pressures to succeed, to minority status. A cover story in gradPSYCH magazine of the American Psychological Association stated:

“Differing in any way from the majority of your peers—whether by race, gender, sexual orientation or some other characteristic—can fuel the sense of being a fraud.”

There are some ways to combat impostor syndrome for those struggling with its challenges. Psychiatrists Andreea Seritan and Michelle Mehta suggest that “accepting compliments graciously” and “keeping a record of positive feedback” are important to minimize its effects.

For parents who are suffering with self-doubt, the CBT Institute of Southern California advises that acknowledging the fallibility of being human is helpful to overcoming impostor syndrome, and to enjoying the positives and pitfalls of parenthood.

–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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Domestic Abuse Linked to Financial Crisis

00Domestic Violence, Featured news, Health, Marriage, Psychopathy, Relationships, Stress June, 18

Source: isabellaquintana at pixabay, Creative Commons

Self-reported spousal violence has declined in most Canadian provinces over the past ten years, according to Statistics Canada. But an increase in domestic violence calls to the police in the province of Alberta was reported for 2016 by The Globe and Mail. The increase occurred concurrently with the loss of thousands of jobs in the mining and oil industries.

This connection has also been established in other countries. During the financial collapse in Greece, the Greek police reported a 53.9% increase in family violence in 2011 from before the crisis in 2008. Additionally, when sociologist Claire Renzetti and colleague reviewed research in the United States, they found evidence of a relationship between economic stresses and domestic abuse.

Another study of American households indicates that intimate partner violence occurs at disproportionate rates among impoverished groups of women. The World Health Organization states that 13-61% of women worldwide recount experiencing physical violence from a partner at some point in their lifetime, and that poverty is a risk factor.

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Barbara MacQuarrie, the community director of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University, described the link:

“At the heart of domestic violence is a dynamic of power and control, where one person feels they have the right to control another. When one loses control over their finances, they may attempt to regain that control by controlling their spouse through physical violence and other abusive tactics.”

Awareness of how financial stressors affect violent behaviour becomes important during times of financial hardship, such as economic recessions. Although macro research on the influence of economic crises on domestic violence is limited, the findings in Alberta, Greece, and the United States are telling. There are also personal accounts of spousal aggression surrounding financial problems.

Anne (name changed for anonymity), a survivor of domestic violence, recounted her experience to the Trauma and Mental Health Report. She recalled financial struggles preceding violent episodes from her previously non-violent husband.

In 1991, Anne moved from Russia to Canada to join her husband Jonathan (name changed). This move coincided with a severe recession beginning in the early ’90s. Johnathan’s wages were cut in half, to the detriment of the family. A once promising future was now out of reach. In Anne’s words:

“I needed to work to help ends meet. Because I took care of our children and household during the day, I had to work at night. I cleaned at a corporate office for minimum wage, so money was tight. “

Months after the move to Canada, arguments became heated, and he became more aggressive, at one point, pushing her hard enough that she hit her head against concrete, and fell unconscious. Anne believes that their financial stresses brought out another side of Jonathan that led him to become both physically and emotionally abusive. She decided to leave, but was afraid for her life and the safety of her children if she did.

“He was supposed to be my partner, but instead of my being able to go to him for help or support, I feared him. “

Women who are survivors of domestic violence are right to feel afraid. The Canadian Women’s Foundation reports that 26% of women killed by their spouse are killed after they leave the relationship, and women are six times more likely to be murdered by an ex-partner than a current partner. Nonetheless, with proper planning and support, women can safely leave a violent situation. Anne said:

“When Jonathan left on a work-related trip, I took the children with me to a women’s shelter. It was highly secure, padlocks on every door, and a security guard at the main entrance. Eventually we moved into an apartment.”

Anne and her children now live safely. She encourages those who are facing potential domestic violence to seek help immediately, especially as warning signs increase. Barbara MacQuarrie explains that more than one risk factor in the perpetrator increases the chances of violence:

“Unemployment is a very significant risk factor, especially if it’s present with other factors, such as the perpetrator having experienced abuse as a child or witnessed domestic violence.”

–Anika Rak, 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