Category: Gender

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Misdiagnosis All Too Common for Women with Autism

00ADHD, Autism, Cognition, Featured news, Gender, Health, Wisdom May, 19

Source: Ryan McGuire at Gratisography, Creative Commons

After twenty-eight years of being “dragged through the system,” Emily Swiatek was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s, a branch of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For Emily, receiving the diagnosis felt like “coming home to a version of yourself that you have been denied of.”

Research shows that Autism Spectrum Disorder is more prevalent in males than females by a ratio of three to one. But there is increasing evidence that this gender difference may be slimmer than we think, and that autism symptoms in women and girls are frequently overlooked and misdiagnosed. 

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Emily explains her frustration with being shuffled from one specialist to another for years, without receiving an adequate explanation for her symptoms: 

“I’ve been through quite a long journey, being given about 10 mental health diagnoses along the way. It was getting to that point where it felt like I was caught in the middle of a guessing game. I kept coming up against the same response of ‘we don’t really understand let’s keep throwing the labels and see what sticks’.” 

The National Autistic Society survey conducted in the United Kingdom found that compared to males, women and girls are more likely to be misdiagnosed, with 42% of females diagnosed with a mental disorder other than autism when being assessed, as opposed to 30% of males. 

Emily’s experience is not unique. Hannah Belcher, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at 23, shares her experience:

“Throughout my life, I’ve been diagnosed with Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar, traits of Borderline Personality Disorder, and ADHD. Some correct and comorbid, some incorrect and misdiagnosed.”

There is no clear explanation as to why women with autism are often misdiagnosed. Child psychiatrist Meng-Chuan Lai, a clinician-scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health says that while there is a range of different reasons why women receive a diagnosis of ASD later in life, one possibility is that autism characteristics aren’t so evident in females: 

“Girls and women may be more able to master ‘camouflaging’, so ‘typical’ autistic characteristics could be masked when they learn social skills.” 

Lai describes this as the ability to learn neurotypical social behaviours such as eye contact, gestures, holding conversations, and the utilization of social scripts.  These neurotypical behaviours represent those who are not on the autism spectrum in contrast to the neurodiverse behaviours which refer to differently wired brains and cognitive styles attributed to those on the autism spectrum. 

In the foreword for Safety Skills for Asperger Women by Liane Holliday Willey, Tony Atwood describes this “camouflaging” phenomenon, reporting that young girls mask the symptoms of autism by socializing and interacting with their peers, causing a delay in diagnosis.  

Both Hannah and Emily attribute mimicking socialization patterns as an important factor. Emily explains: 

“I’m not a part of that traditional profile of autism… It never even occurred to anyone who was assessing me that somebody who looks like me, somebody who presents like me, could be autistic because I’m smiley, I’m eloquent, I can probably make eye contact if I have to, even though I don’t like it. I’m a very strong mimicker and that masking and mimicking profile is true for me.  I think I very much fit that ‘well behaved little girl’ image—very intelligent, liked reading, very quiet, maybe they’d say I was shy.”  

Lai notes that another possible reason for the misdiagnosis is that women and girls tend to have restricted and repetitive behaviours that are less likely to be recognized:

“The issue is that some of these narrow interests of autism in males, if you only look at the content, are more traditionally male-typical such as trains, dinosaurs, trucks, and they are most easily recognized by clinicians because of our own stereotypes of autism. For girls, their restricted and repetitive behaviours might not be captured by standardized instruments as they are deemed as less noticeable.”

Recent research has touched on the idea of bias in the way autism is diagnosed. One study showed that girls are more likely to be diagnosed if they had an additional intellectual disability or behavioural issues. However, without these, many women are receiving incorrect diagnoses, or none at all. Hannah agrees:

“Sometimes you might feel like you don’t fit in anywhere, everything everyone thinks about autism is male biased. However, as slow and painful as the journey is, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It takes us a little bit longer to get to it, but it is worth the journey.

In a study looking at sex differences between children with autism, researchers recommend new strategies for improving autism recognition in females. In fact, Australia is the first country to form new national guidelines to help increase early diagnosis of women with autism.  Considerations of social camouflaging, anxiety, sensory overload, and depression are being included in these new guidelines.  

If these guidelines are implemented, it will be possible to decrease the number of misdiagnoses in women and girls who have autism, leading to less frustration for these women and more time to learn how to manage their diagnosis. Emily says that since she received her diagnosis, her life has changed for the better:

“It was instant relief the minute I got my diagnosis. It just made sense. It was right. It was instantaneous the difference it made. My general well-being just went up and up and up, and is still on an upward trajectory.”    

-Lucia Chiara Limanni, 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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Misdiagnosis Is All Too Common for Women with Autism

00ADHD, Autism, Cognition, Featured news, Gender, Wisdom May, 19

Source: Ryan McGuire at Gratisography, Creative Commons

After twenty-eight years of being “dragged through the system,” Emily Swiatek was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s, a branch of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For Emily, receiving the diagnosis felt like “coming home to a version of yourself that you have been denied.”

Research shows that Autism Spectrum Disorder is more prevalent in males than females by a ratio of three to one. But there is increasing evidence that this gender difference may be slimmer than we think, and that autism symptoms in women and girls are frequently overlooked and misdiagnosed. 

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Emily explains her frustration with being shuffled from one specialist to another for years, without receiving an adequate explanation for her symptoms: 

“I’ve been through quite a long journey, being given about 10 mental health diagnoses along the way. It was getting to that point where it felt like I was caught in the middle of a guessing game. I kept coming up against the same response of, ‘We don’t really understand—let’s keep throwing labels and see what sticks.’” 

A survey conducted in the United Kingdom by The National Autistic Society found that compared to males, women and girls are more likely to be misdiagnosed, with 42 percent of females diagnosed with a mental disorder other than autism when being assessed, as opposed to 30 percent of males. 

Emily’s experience is not unique. Hannah Belcher, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at 23, shares her experience: “Throughout my life, I’ve been diagnosed with Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar, traits of Borderline Personality Disorder, and ADHD. Some correct and comorbid, some incorrect and misdiagnosed.”

There is no clear explanation as to why women with autism are often misdiagnosed. Child psychiatrist Meng-Chuan Lai, a clinician-scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, says that while there is a range of different reasons why women receive a diagnosis of ASD later in life, one possibility is that autism characteristics aren’t so evident in females: “Girls and women may be more able to master ‘camouflaging,’ so ‘typical’ autistic characteristics could be masked when they learn social skills.” 

Lai describes this as the ability to learn neurotypical social behaviors such as eye contact, gestures, holding conversations, and the utilization of social scripts. These neurotypical behaviors represent those who are not on the autism spectrum, in contrast to the neurodiverse behaviors which refer to differently wired brains and cognitive styles attributed to those on the autism spectrum. 

In the foreword for Safety Skills for Asperger Women by Liane Holliday Willey, Tony Atwood describes this “camouflaging” phenomenon, reporting that young girls mask the symptoms of autism by socializing and interacting with their peers, causing a delay in diagnosis.  

Both Hannah and Emily attribute mimicking socialization patterns as an important factor. Emily explains: 

“I’m not a part of that traditional profile of autism… It never even occurred to anyone who was assessing me that somebody who looks like me, somebody who presents like me, could be autistic because I’m smiley, I’m eloquent, I can probably make eye contact if I have to, even though I don’t like it. I’m a very strong mimicker and that masking and mimicking profile is true for me. I think I very much fit that ‘well behaved little girl’ image—very intelligent, liked reading, very quiet, maybe they’d say I was shy.”  

Lai notes that another possible reason for the misdiagnosis is that women and girls tend to have restricted and repetitive behaviors that are less likely to be recognized:

“The issue is that some of these narrow interests of autism in males, if you only look at the content, are more traditionally male-typical such as trains, dinosaurs, trucks, and they are most easily recognized by clinicians because of our own stereotypes of autism. For girls, their restricted and repetitive behaviours might not be captured by standardized instruments as they are deemed as less noticeable.”

Recent research has touched on the idea of bias in the way autism is diagnosed. One study showed that girls are more likely to be diagnosed if they had additional intellectual disabilities or behavioral issues. However, without these, many women are receiving incorrect diagnoses or none at all. Hannah agrees: “Sometimes you might feel like you don’t fit in anywhere, everything everyone thinks about autism is male-biased. However, as slow and painful as the journey is, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It takes us a little bit longer to get to it, but it is worth the journey.”

In a study looking at sex differences between children with autism, researchers recommend new strategies for improving autism recognition in females. In fact, Australia is the first country to form new national guidelines to help increase early diagnosis of women with autism. Considerations of social camouflaging, anxiety, sensory overload, and depression are being included in these new guidelines.  

If these guidelines are implemented, it will be possible to decrease the number of misdiagnoses in women and girls who have autism, leading to less frustration for these women and more time to learn how to manage their diagnosis. Emily says that since she received her diagnosis, her life has changed for the better: “It was instant relief the minute I got my diagnosis. It just made sense. It was right. It was instantaneous the difference it made. My general well-being just went up and up and up, and is still on an upward trajectory.”    

-Lucia Chiara Limanni, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

-Copyright Robert T. Muller

LinkedIn Image Credit: Victoria Labadie/Shutterstock

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Transgender Homeless Youth Victimized by Shelter System

00Bias, Featured news, Gender, Resilience, Sexual Orientation, Stress, Transgender, Trauma August, 16

Source: RAJVINOTH JOTHINEELAK on Flickr

At the age of three, Gale started to challenge gender norms, insisting on wearing dresses and tiaras; by age four, sobbing at his mirror image wearing pants. He began calling himself “a boy and a girl,” and later chose to identify with the female gender.

In 2010, Gale was found dead on an Austin Texas sidewalk, right outside a homeless shelter, having been denied housing. Shelter staff considered Gale’s male genitalia inconsistent with a female identity. She would have to stay with the other men. Unable to accept these terms, Gale decided to spend the night on the sidewalk, but froze to death.

A heartbreaking story; across the U.S. and Canada, it is hardly unique.

Every year, new names are added to the memorial list of transsexual people who have been killed due to transphobia. Founder of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Gwendolyn Ann Smith explains, over the last decade at least one person has died every month due to anti-transgender hatred and violence.

Research conducted by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness shows the reality transgender individuals face: elevated levels of daily stress resulting in missed school and work, addiction, self-harm, and chronic mental illnesses, which can lead to poverty and an inability to build a healthy, successful life.

The most vulnerable of the transgender community are its youth. Many are thrown out of their homes by parents unable to accept their gender identity. Many leave to escape daily abuse.

There is a much higher prevalence of homelessness among transgender youth as compared to other minorities.

In Canada, many transgender youth from rural areas leave unsafe home environments and come to Toronto in hopes of discovering freedom and acceptance in the city, even if it means spending a few days or weeks on the streets. But they are quickly exposed to the harsh reality of discrimination in the shelter system.

Housing discrimination is a significant concern for the transgender community. Most homeless shelters are segregated by sex. Shared shelters usually separate women and men by placing them on different floors.

Placement on the male or female floor is based on shelter staff perceptions of the youth, regardless of which gender the individual identifies with. This is problematic for those whose gender identity is not congruent with their biological sex.

Forcing transgender individuals into shelter housing with those who identify as the opposite gender falls under the definition of transphobia, the consequences on physical, mental, and emotional health are severe.

Research has shown that transgender youth are three times more likely to develop major depression, conduct disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Transphobia can also lead to greater risk of developing substance abuse and self-harming tendencies.

A large study called TransPULSE investigated the current health conditions of transgender people in Canada. Results showed that, in Ontario, 77% of the transgender population had seriously considered suicide, while 45% had made an attempt to end their life. Transgender homeless youth in particular were found to be at greater risk for suicide, and LGBT homeless youth committing suicide at a rate 62% higher than heterosexual homeless youth. Based on the New York City model of the two LGBTQ shelters, the Ali Forney Center and the New Alternatives Centre, Toronto will soon be welcoming its first 54-bed shelter reserved for the gender-queer population, a promising achievement but not nearly enough.

There are many social and personal issues that accompany being young and transgender. While the personal trauma suffered by these individuals will only change with shifting views, it is up to us to provide safe spaces for this at-risk population.

– Sara Benceković, 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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Branding Tattoos Use Ink to Violate Women

00Anger, Body Image, Bullying, Domestic Violence, Featured news, Gender July, 16

Source: THOR on Flickr

Latishia Sanchez was fourteen when she was attacked and raped by five men, including her boyfriend. During the assault, the men tattooed her boyfriend’s name across her neck using a needle and pencil lead.

According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, fifty percent of all Canadian women will experience at least one incident of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. This can take many forms; recently tattoo branding has become a popular form of violence against women.

As a weapon of domestic violence, perpetrators use ink to assert control and ownership over victims, either physically forcing them to get tattoos, or drugging and tattooing them while they are unconscious. The offender’s name is usually forced onto a visible part of the victim’s body.

Six years after she was attacked and branded, Latishia Sanchez continues to relive the painful memories of her rape. In an interview with CBS News, she describes that seeing the tattoo daily has devastated her self-esteem:

“I didn’t think that I’d get raped, let alone my boyfriend allowing it. Right now our mirrors are covered up because I can’t even look at myself.”

Jennifer Kempton, a survivor of human trafficking, remains traumatized from her experiences of branding violence in the human sex trade in Columbus, Ohio. In an interview with The Guardian, she recalls how a pimp tied her down and tattooed “Property of Salem” above her groin, marking her as his possession. Kempton explains that the shame and trauma associated with this incident caused her to spiral into a deep depression and attempt suicide:

“Every time I took a shower or tried to look at my body I was reminded of the violence and exploitation I’d suffered. I was so grateful to be alive, but having to see those names on your body every day puts you in a state of depression. You begin to wonder whether you’ll ever be anything but the person those tattoos say you are.”

Sanchez and Kempton are currently seeking tattoo removal treatment. Dawn Maestas, a tattoo removal specialist and domestic abuse survivor explains the horrors of tattoo violence in an interview with CBS News:

“I’ve had victims who have been drugged and tattooed, who have been physically held down and force tattooed, and I get angry. I get angry because I know what these tattoos mean. This is control. This is ‘you belong to me.’”

Maestas is not alone in the fight to end ink violence against women. Chris Baker, a tattoo artist in Chicago and owner of tattoo parlor Ink180, is known for offering free cover-up tattoo and removal services for survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking.

Ink180’s mission is to “transform pain into something beautiful,” for survivors of branding violence. The tattoo parlor also has a clause on its website describing work it will not do, including tattoos that are gang related, satanic in nature, vulgar, or degrading to women.

Since the shop expanded its services to abuse survivors, Baker estimates that he has completed over 2,000 free cover-ups or removals. Though his shop offers regular, paid tattoos as well, over 80 percent of the work he does is pro bono.

One of the most common types of tattoos Baker sees is barcodes. These actually serve atracking system for pimps who brand victims with their contact information to monitor the behaviour of their sex workers. In an interview with The 700 Club, Baker describes the experience of removing barcode tattoos from a fifteen-year-old sex trafficking survivor:

“The relief on her face, you could feel the pain she had been through trying to get rid of old tattoos that defined her past.”

Baker’s shop features both a prayer wall and ‘Freedom Tree’ for survivors of abuse. Once their tattoos are removed, women can place a handprint on the tree symbolizing their newfound freedom and identity. Baker explains:

“They are very shattered people. I can’t even use the word broken, because their psyche is very fragile. We’ve had girls collapse on the floor in tears, because they no longer need to look in the mirror and see that barcode on their neck, or their abusive ex-boyfriend’s name on their hands.”

In an interview with Huffington Post, Baker urged other tattoo parlors to consider offering similar services and spread awareness of tattoo violence. For him, the rewards are worth the free work:

“I see the look on their faces when a domestic violence survivor doesn’t have to look down at their ex-husband’s name on their wrist or arm. I see that relief that he’s physically gone from their lives and they’re physically safe, but now they’re mentally safe as well.”

–Lauren Goldberg, 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

2 Normal barbie...-88d21adaf84f74daf0a460bb7271285b458c37d6

“Normal Barbie” Challenges Body Ideals

20Body Image, Child Development, Eating Disorders, Featured news, Gender, Politics May, 16

Source: Laura Lewis on Flickr

The Lammilly doll, a more realistic version of the Barbie, is challenging body image ideals perpetuated by the children’s toy industry. Proportioned like an average American woman, the doll comes with accessories that represent realities of the human body: acne scars, stretch marks, and cellulite.

The development of the Lammilly doll, reflecting the average 19-year-old body, was a crowd funded venture, raising over $95,000 in less than a day and over $501,000 in total. But the project first came together when Nickolay Lamm, the creator of the doll, realized that the dimensions of Mattel’s Barbie doll were physically impossible for any woman to attain.

“I created an alternative to suggest that it’s okay to not look like a supermodel, it’s okay to look like a normal person,” Lamm told The Telegraph. He is quoted in the Huffington Post as well, adding: “If we criticize skinny models, we should at least be open to the possibility that Barbie may negatively influence young girls as well.”

The effects of playing with dolls depicting an unrealistic body type have been debated. A study by Helga Dittmar at the University of Sussex found that young girls showed decreased self-esteem and decreased body satisfaction after being exposed to images of Barbie dolls. A recent study conducted by Doeschka Anschutz and Rutger Engels at Radbout University in the Netherlands similarly found that young girls had a decreased appetite after playing with thin dolls.

Eating disorders, such as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, have been frequently linked to the media depiction of the “thin ideal” for women, and are increasing in incidence among adolescent girls in North America and Europe. These disorders can lead to immune dysfunction, permanent physical damage, and death.

Lamm found the design of the original Barbie particularly disturbing for this reason. “There’s nothing wrong with being a supermodel but I just had the impression that the wall of supermodels suggests that something is wrong with you if you don’t look like one,” Lamm explained, referring to the Barbies stacked on the shelves of a toy store.

But Kim Culmone, the vice president of design for Barbie, defends the proportions.

“Barbie’s body was never designed to be realistic, she was designed for girls to easily dress and undress”, she said in an interview with Fast Co Design, suggesting that Barbie was meant to be unrealistic, a fantasy in a young girl’s play. “When they’re playing, they’re playing. It’s a princess-fairy-fashionista-doctor-astronaut, and that’s all one girl. She’s taking her Corvette to the moon, and her spaceship to the grocery store.”

But children’s fantasy doesn’t have to include fashionistas in Corvettes.

The Lammily doll comes with her own range of accessories. The “normalness” of the doll does not stop children from being imaginative. The doll can be accessorized with stickers of glasses, bandages, moles, scars, casts, grass stains, and tattoos, all of which promote creative storytelling.

But the Lammily brand may also have its shortcomings. The doll has come under criticism for trying to be too average. Despite Lammily’s popularity with fundraisers and parents, its performance may fall short on the toy store shelf. Many children, bombarded with ads and images of the tall, thin, ideal female, may not be so attracted to the average-looking Lammily doll.

In a story for The Guardian, writer Lionel Shriver describes the doll’s appearance as “downright dumpy”:

“…Has anyone asked the little girls if this is the doll they want to play with? Who pre-ordered these dolls? Parents. Who really wants these dolls? Parents. Are children quite so easily manipulated as this?”

Still, Lammily successfully sold over 22,000 dolls when it launched in November, 2014, and that number continues to grow as the doll becomes available at retail locations. A popular young icon and pop star, Demi Lovato, has voiced her support for the “normal” Barbie, contributing to its popularity.

With both feet firmly planted on the ground, the Lammily doll encourages acceptance. As Lamm states, “I see ‘average’ as inclusive of all of us, not a standard which excludes. I want to show that reality is beautiful.”

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Pregnancy Centers

Crisis Pregnancy Centers Traumatize Women Through Deception

10Deception, Featured news, Gender, Politics, Pregnancy, Religion, Trauma February, 16

Source: Heartbeat International on Flickr

In 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush enacted a policy allowing faith-based organizations to receive government grants to provide social services. America’s Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) were a major beneficiary, receiving an estimated $60 million in federal grants for abstinence promotion between 2001 and 2006.

More recently, access to abortion clinics has become a great concern in the United States, with 70 laws cutting abortion funding passed in 2013. It is estimated that as of 2014, CPCs outnumber abortion clinics five to one.

Founded on Christian ideology, CPCs are at the forefront of the pro-life movement and are gaining popularity among American conservatives. Often presenting themselves as abortion clinics, they claim to offer free pregnancy tests, sonograms and abortions to attract women facing unwanted pregnancies.

But these centres are not medical clinics and do not offer abortions. Women who walk into CPCs seeking guidance are often bombarded with images of aborted fetuses and religious propaganda to dissuade them from aborting unwanted pregnancies. Often located near actual abortion clinics, CPCs attempt to confuse visitors, induce guilt, and pathologize abortion through misinformation.

Misconception is a short documentary from Vice News that exposes unethical practices occurring in crisis centers. The film features hidden camera footage of lies told to women designed to scare them out of terminating their pregnancies.

The documentary shines light on the psychological distress women experience in these centers. CPC counsellors are seen telling women that abortion causes long-term psychological damage, infertility and can lead to complications for future pregnancies.

“If people die due to an abortion, later on they’re finding parts of the fetus in the lungs or the heart,” one counsellor told a client.

Donna, featured in the documentary, recounted a disturbing experience at a CPC in Texas. Thinking that the White Rose was an abortion clinic, she went in to receive a free sonogram and counselling. When she told her story to Vice, Donna was emotionally distraught: “It didn’t occur to me that there was a catch. It’s an awful feeling, being in that place, and I can’t explain why. You go in asking for help, but they’re not giving you the kind of help that you’re asking for. I feel like I was lied to. I feel like I was tricked.”

While some lie outright, other CPCs use controversial studies to dissuade women from aborting. Care Net, one of the largest American CPC networks, distributes a national brochure that purports a significant correlation between abortion and breast cancer, citing a single study that has since been called into question. Multiple other sources have demonstrated that abortion does not affect a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.

Allison Yarrow’s August 2014 report, The Abortion War’s Special Ops, documents the emotional trauma that women experience from this ongoing deception. The report speaks of counsellors repeatedly warning clients that abortion can lead to ‘post-abortion syndrome’, a supposed condition that includes a combination of suicidal thoughts and depression. Unsurprisingly, an American Psychological Association report found no significant increase in negative emotions or psychiatric illness as a result of having an abortion.

At a pro-life conference in 2012, Abby Johnson, a supporter of CPCs, explained their main strategy. “We want to appear neutral from the outside. The best call, the best client you ever get, is one who thinks they’re walking into an abortion clinic. The one that thinks you provide abortions.”

In an effort to reveal the deceptive tactics of CPCs, some women are fighting back. Pro-choice activist Katie Stack campaigns against anti-abortion legislation after her own disturbing experience at a local crisis center.

In 2011, she started The Crisis Project which exposes the “medical misinformation, emotional manipulation, and religious doctrine” within these clinics across the United States. As an undercover reporter, Stack frequents CPCs in an effort to reveal the harmful inaccuracies they spread.

The fight to end CPC deception comes with its challenges. Earlier this year, Missouri Bill HB 1848, which would have required clinics to notify patrons that they do not perform abortions or give referrals for abortion services, failed to pass. Many states have faced similar roadblocks in establishing pro-choice legislation.

While anti-CPC activists have a long way to go to acquire legislative change in the United States, they are making some headway on an international scale. Global organizations like Google have agreed to remove CPCs’ deceptive advertisements from search results.

On September 18, 2014, Yarrow told the Huffington Post: “We are all entitled to our own positions on abortion, but I bet many people disagree with taxpayer-funded deception.”

– Lauren Goldberg, 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

Underage Models Need Federal Protection and Regulation

Underage Models Need Federal Protection and Regulation

00Environment, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Gender, Law and Crime, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Stress, Work October, 15

Source: Anna Fischer/Flickr

When Jennifer Sky launched her career at age fourteen, she imagined a glamorous lifestyle, fame, and designer clothes.  Flash forward to seventeen:  Her experiences turned out to be very different.

For Jennifer and many other young models, the fashion world includes foreign locations and a cascade of highly sexualized situations with little supervision, grueling twelve-hour days with few breaks, and high-stress photo-shoots.

In a recent interview with the Trauma & Mental Health Report, Jennifer shared her experiences as a young model abroad, and discussed the repercussions she’s now facing.

Jennifer: In Japan I was molested several times on the subway.  In France, I stood in hypothermic-temperature waters every day for a week.  In Mexico, I was given drugs and coerced into going topless at age sixteen.  The human trafficking elements of fashion were all around me.  

It was during this time that Jennifer began experiencing symptoms of what was later diagnosed as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In her latest book, Queen of the Tokyo Ballroom, and herYouTube video that went viral earlier this year, Jennifer describes how her normally gregarious personality started to change.  She became withdrawn, easily startled, and feared new places.  Eventually, she felt so timid she barely spoke.

Although the symptoms began in the 1990s, Jennifer did not seek treatment until 2010 when she moved back to New York City.

Jennifer: I moved back to finish college and the symptoms returned with such a force that I could no longer ignore them.

Jennifer experienced panic attacks during stressful events, which were sometimes followed by dissociative episodes where she would lose, in her words, “whole swaths of time.” These overwhelming symptoms led her to visit her university’s clinic where she was formally diagnosed.

Almost twenty years since modeling, through anti-anxiety medication and psychotherapy, Jennifer is managing her symptoms and is now a graduate student and activist.

Jennifer: I’m working toward transforming a problematic and corrupt industry into a positive one. Fashion can be fun.  It can be a rewarding opportunity.  It can also be abusive, opportunistic, corrupt, and traumatizing.

So what is currently being done to make youth modeling a safer profession?

In the Fall of 2013, New York State passed the Child Model Law, which ensures protection for individuals under eighteen, who work in the fashion industry.  The law requires tutors and chaperones, and that 15% of the model’s earnings be held in financial trust.  It also requires that all working children and adolescents be in possession of a permit while on set, and limits the amount of time they are allowed to be there.

The changes to labour laws in New York State saw instant successat the 2014 New York Fashion week, where only three underage models obtained permits, and were able to work the fashion shows.  Previously, as many as 60% of the models were under eighteen.

As promising as these changes are, the new labour laws are not federal – they only protect models that are working in the state of New York. In general, models still face a working world devoid of adequate labour regulation or protection.

Jennifer still questions whether the modeling industry is the right environment for children. But, by raising awareness and promoting models’ rights, Jennifer hopes to convince the U.S. federal government to change laws on underage modeling.

Jennifer: When we are talking about the protection of children, there really should be no debate.

– Magdelena Belanger, 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

Cosmetic Vaginal Surgery Ignores Women’s Mental Health

Cosmetic Vaginal Surgery Ignores Women’s Mental Health

00Body Image, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Gender, Health, Media, Self-Esteem October, 15

Source: summerbl4ck/Flickr

“I just thought I was so different from everyone else that I wanted my vagina to be changed,” said 21-year-old, Rosie, during her interview for The Perfect Vagina, a 2008 documentary on vaginal reconstructive surgery.

Rosie received a labiaplasty to remove the skin of her labia minora (internal genitalia). While the operation is relatively simple, the risks include bleeding, infection, permanent scarring, nerve damage, and a painful three-month recovery.

David Matlock, a cosmetic surgeon and director of the Los Angeles Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation Institute pioneered the vaginal surgery market in Los Angeles. He claims he can create “the perfect vagina,” a promise that brings in about 12 million (USD) a year.

But researchers at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women believe the concept of a “perfect vagina” arises from consistent exposure to homogenous images of women’s genitalia.  Pornography, medical textbooks, and sex shops show a similar vagina that is pink, hairless, with only the labia majora (external genitalia) visible.  Even the popular women’s health and sexuality book Our Bodies Ourselves shows only one image of the vagina.  Yet, the appearance of the healthy vagina is highly variable.

Why are more women opting for vaginal reconstructive surgery?  John R. Miklos, director of Urogynecology and Reconstructive Vaginal Surgery at the Atlanta Medical Center, found that most of his patients (on average 35 years of age) pursue the labiaplasty to improve sexual function, or to reduce pain during intercourse.

Other reasons for labiaplasty include alleviating discomfort from clothing or exercise, pressure from male or female sexual partners, reducing shame from having large labia minora, and boosting self-esteem.  And many labiaplasty patients are dissatisfied with the appearance of their genitalia and have lower sexual satisfaction.

Cosmetic surgeons state that women have the right to make decisions about their bodies. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reported that women are the highest consumers of cosmetic surgery. In 2013, they accounted for 80% of all surgical (rhinoplasty, chin implants) and non-surgical procedures (BOTOX).

But many researchers take issue with that idea, arguing that vaginal cosmetic surgery patients often struggle with mental health.

Labiaplasty becomes problematic when young girls and women are looking for a self-esteem boost, as the surgery does not necessarily result in a positive outcome.  And for women struggling with low self-esteem, when one body part gets “fixed,” the dissatisfaction may shift rapidly to another.  This ongoing pursuit may be reflected in depression, anxiety, and even plastic surgery addiction.

However, Bruce Allan, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Calgary, Alberta, considers his patients to be very “well-adjusted people,” stating that a woman getting a labiaplasty is the same as a bald man getting a hair transplant.

Scientists at the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England have developed a psychological screening tool for all cosmetic surgery patients.  And specifically for labiaplasty candidates, there is the genital appearance satisfaction scale.

According to The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, psychological evaluations are not a mandatory procedure. Yet, most cosmetic surgeons are aware of body dysmorphic disorder, a chronic psychological illness characterized by obsessive, negative thoughts about one’s body and real or imagined flaws in physical appearance.  If patients opting for this surgery are doing so because they are suffering from a mental illness, one may ask whether it is indeed ethical to proceed?

Cosmetic surgeons would do well to consider the patient’s age when it comes to vaginal reconstructive surgery.  Young girls may prioritize a “quick fix” without understanding the surgery’s invasiveness.

And with adequate training to administer psychological screening tools, cosmetic surgeons could identify which patients should speak to a mental health professional before signing up for a labiaplasty.

Perhaps labiaplasty candidates can be given the opportunity to consider taking another route to address underlying body image dissatisfaction.  Patients might be better off if their doctors started tackling the problem from the top-down.

– Shira Yufe, 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

Cyberstalking yet to be taken as seriously as it should

Cyberstalking yet to be taken as seriously as it should

80Bullying, Fear, Featured news, Gender, Law and Crime, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Trauma September, 15

Source: Surian Soosay/Flickr

If you were to Google search your name right now, what would come up?  Some are surprised by what they find.  The posting of personal information has made the internet the perfect medium for harassment and stalking.

Cyberstalking can take on a number of forms including blackmail, having online activities tracked, or sending threatening messages. Some cyberstalkers commit identity theft and proceed to terrorize victims in ways such as cancelling credit cards or using personal information to besmirch individuals.

Cyberstalking takes an emotional toll on victims, a feeling that Anna, a university student recently interviewed by The Trauma & Mental Health Report knows well.

Anna:  I would receive up to 10 emails from him a day.  He would send me photos of myself with vulgar and aggressive comments about me and my family, and he also made a MySpace page dedicated to me with offensive comments on them.  I was terrified to go onto any social networking site.

Anna’s cyberstalker even went as far as to email her university professors, demanding they provide information about her.

Anna:  I was constantly cancelling plans and commitments… I was afraid to leave my house.  It’s frightening not knowing where your stalker is when they’re contacting you.  For all you know they could be sitting in a car, on the same street where you live, messaging you from their cell phone.  I didn’t know if I was in real physical danger.  I worried about my safety all the time.

It is common for cyberstalkers to make threats of physical violence, and there have been cases where online stalking has crossed over to offline stalking.  For Anna, her fear resulted in anxiety, nightmares, and insomnia.

Also common is for work or academic performance to deteriorate and interpersonal relationships to crumble from distrust, leaving these victims with a lack of social support.

The fear associated with cyberstalking can be so traumatic for some that desperate measures are taken. A study of cyberstalked university students performed by PhD candidate, Nancy Felicity Hensler-McGinnis of the University of Maryland showed that many reported withdrawal from courses or transferring schools to feel safer.  Popular cases like that of Kristen Pratt demonstrate that some victims will even change their appearance.

Calling the police seemed like Anna’s best solution, but the initial response she received was not helpful.

Anna:  I was told to try to track his IP address on my own because the police IT department might not be able to do it.  I was told to tell him to stop (as if I hadn’t already done that) and to make myself anonymous on the internet, which is not only difficult but nearly impossible in our technology driven professional world.  I was treated as if my situation wasn’t serious or detrimental to my well-being.

Anna’s predicament was not unusual.  Cyberstalking is often not taken seriously.  This is reflected in the lack of cyberstalking legislation in Canada.  Sections of the criminal code focus specifically on face-to-face stalking and although some cyberstalking behaviours are included, there are gaps.

When school teacher Lee David Clayworth’s cyberstalker harmed his reputation by posting inappropriate content under his name, authorities could do little, since his cyberstalker was not in Canada.  Canadian arrest warrants were not effective; jurisdictional obstacles, like difference in internet service providers, leave victims helpless.

U.S. state laws regarding cyberstalking vary, but according to the Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA) organization, many of these only protect victims 18 and under. Alabama, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Indiana have no formal cyberstalking laws. While some legislation addresses cyber harassment, this is defined as having no credible threat to victims.

Lack of internet regulation leaves victims to track down cyberstalkers on their own.  Asking individuals to erase their identities online is unrealistic.  Online communication continues to grow and law enforcement is having a hard time keeping up.

In both Canada and the US, some bills have been proposed.

Anna’s advice to victims is not to let fear control their lives:  People who harass you online want you to feel isolated and powerless.  If you are not in any immediate danger it is important to realize that by living in fear, you are actually giving them exactly what they want.  Do everything in your power to get them to stop; speak up about your experience and make their behaviour public.

Anna also stresses the importance of a support system. Talking to friends, family, or a counsellor may help victims deal with the trauma and realize they are not alone.

Clinical psychologist Seth Meyers mentions the importance of warning friends and family of a potential stalker as well. This could protect loved ones if there is risk of physical danger, and keeps victims from socially isolating themselves.

Until authorities take action, the Canadian Clearhousing on Cyberstalking suggests that victims report harassment to their internet service provider which can possibly take such measures as blocking the cyberstalker’s IP address from contacting them. Victims can also find support from organizations such as WHOA or CyberAngels which can help gather information to build a criminal case against the cyberstalker.

As communication continues online, personal information ends up on the internet. It is time that lawmakers realize the dangers and enact legislation to keep users safe.

– By Anjali Wisnarama, Contributing Writer, The Trauma & Mental Health Report 

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Poor Care Pushes LGBTQ Seniors Back in the Closet

Poor Care Pushes LGBTQ Seniors Back in the Closet

10Aging, Featured news, Gender, Loneliness, Resilience, Sexual Orientation July, 15

Source: Susan Sermoneta on Flickr

Today’s seniors grew up when their LGBTQ status was considered a mental illness, a view that has largely changed.  But, as Nancy Knauer of Temple University School of Law points out, modern attitudes towards LGBTQ individuals have not shifted nearly as much as people think.

As the western baby boomers begin relying more on extensive medical care, Knauer says this aging LGBTQ population is staying silent for fear of receiving poor treatment and losing social support, resulting in many being pushed back in the closet.  This problem is seen in hospices and in homecare.

In the 2010 documentary, Gen Silent, many nursing homes reported not having any LGBTQ individuals among their seniors (which is highly unlikely).  Having grown up in hostile environments, many of these seniors are afraid to come out, without explicit support from the staff.  Yet, 50 percent of staff reported that their colleagues would be intolerant of LGBTQ individuals.

Because of the extensive media attention from Gen Silent, more LGBTQ-specific nursing care facilities have been opening up in recent years.  But many seniors are still being forced into homes that are unwilling to accommodate their needs.

According to Associate Professor, Nancy McKenzie at the CUNY School of Public Health, a similar problem exists in homecare.  Many seniors rely on home-based visits from healthcare providers, which allow them to stay in the familiar atmosphere of their homes as long as possible, remaining in the company of family and friends and maintaining their independence.

Still, homecare presents barriers for LGBTQ seniors.  While the home is supposed to be a safe place – no discrimination, no homophobia – LGBTQ seniors have become isolated.  Some are estranged from their families for coming out.  Others are isolated from their neighbours and communities by not coming out.  This lack of informal support forces LGBTQ seniors to rely more heavily on professional services, which creates additional problems.

Many organizations providing homecare have constantly rotating staff with high turnover, greatly limiting continuity of care.  This is hard for all seniors, but those of LGBTQ status are repeatedly deciding whether to come out to the new healthcare worker.  Many seniors report receiving worse care after coming out, and therefore choose to stay silent about their identity, feeling imprisoned in their own homes.

This problem is even more challenging for those who have undergone gender-reassignment surgery, as they are unable to hide their LGBTQ status from healthcare providers who assist with dressing and bathing.  This may exacerbate stress and symptoms of depression, driving seniors away from care and into isolation.

New resources and inclusive healthcare facilities are being created at a rapid rate, but not fast enough to accommodate the aging population.  Robert Kertzner and his team at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons say the answer lies in training all doctors and nurses to provide holistic care adapted to the circumstances of each patient.  Jaime Hovey of the University of Illinois also recommends creating legislation oriented to protecting LGBTQ seniors from discrimination and allocating additional resources to meet their needs.

But ambitious as these recommendations are, there needs to be an attitude shift among family members and the public.  Family and community support are critical to maintaining high quality of life during aging.  Without support, LGBTQ seniors will continue to suffer in silence.

– Nick Zabara, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today