Category: Health

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Ketamine Depression Treatment Poses Unknown Risks

00Decision-Making, Depression, Education, Featured news, Health, Psychopharmacology, Suicide November, 18

Source: SnaPsi at flickr, Creative Commons

New evidence that ketamine, an anesthetic medication, might be effective in treating depression is leading to increased research on the drug. What’s significant is the rapid relief in symptoms seen in some patients. After just one dose of ketamine, their depression can decline within three days, much quicker than with conventional anti-depressants.

This finding is particularly meaningful for people at risk for suicide. Ketamine may provide an option for physicians to quickly treat acutely suicidal patients by creating a window of opportunity to begin long-term behavioral and pharmacological therapies. If a patient’s symptoms are relieved even for a short time, it may be long enough to intervene.

Recent excitement also surfaced when researchers from New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine demonstrated the drug’s ability to alleviate treatment resistant depression (TRD). TRD occurs when feelings of intense sadness, loss of energy, and inability to experience pleasure persist even after multiple attempts at treatment. In the study, a shocking nine out of 10 patients with TRD experienced significantly reduced symptoms after their first dose of ketamine.

Despite this finding, questions remain about the drug’s long-term efficacy, as well as its side effects.

Anthony (name changed) has first-hand experience with ketamine to treat TRD. In a Reddit thread and interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, he explained that, prior to receiving ketamine treatment, he had tried numerous anti-depressants. After spending weeks or months on each drug to no avail, his doctor would switch him to a new drug in hopes of finding one that worked, but nothing did. Anthony began researching alternative treatments himself. He explained:

“When you try so many drugs—SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAS, antipsychotics, lithium, depakote—you are pretty open to anything that will help.”

He discovered ketamine and was enticed by the prospect of its therapeutic benefits:

“Before ketamine, I was in a hole. This was as depressed as I had ever been. I was suicidal. I called my mom and dad. They rescued me, letting me live in their basement. There, I began researching ketamine until I knew almost every study. I convinced my doctor to let me try it.”

But ketamine is only approved for use as an anesthetic by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This provision means that any patient who receives ketamine treatment for depression must have it prescribed as an “off-label” treatment. In other words, the doctor prescribes the drug for a non-FDA-approved use.

Choosing to participate in an unapproved treatment may expose a patient to more risks than they are aware of. FDA approval for ketamine use in anesthesia indicates that one time treatments are not harmful, but it is uncertain whether repeated treatments are safe. And, the long-term effects are not known.

Not surprisingly, the off-label prescription of ketamine has been criticized. A study by Melvyn Zhang at the Institute of Mental Health in Singapore and colleagues cited multiple problems with ketamine treatment for depression. A major criticism was that current information is based on inadequately short periods of observation. These observations indicate depression relapse rates as high as 73% one month after treatment ends.

Nevertheless, after deciding he was scared, but prepared to do anything to overcome his depression, Anthony began intravenous (IV) ketamine treatment in his doctor’s office:

“[When taking the drug] I feel completely disconnected from my body. I cannot move. I feel partly elated, and partly terrified. Reality becomes distant. I have no awareness of my body; only my mind exists. In this space, I can see my own struggle with depression. I recognize in this strange way that the depression isn’t real, not a part of me. I realize that I am surrounded by people who love me. Slowly, I come back to the chair I’m in, back to the doctor’s office. Somehow, I already feel better.”

After his initial treatment, Anthony said that his thoughts of suicide disappeared. He remembers feeling clear-headed, not high or euphoric. He felt normal again. This realization was so profound, he was moved to tears:

“After the initial five treatments, I was having moments when it felt like all my symptoms of depression were gone. But they would always eventually return. I was prescribed a nasal spray about a month after my last IV treatment. That worked for a while.”

Unfortunately, these benefits had serious contraindications. Anthony experienced lingering feelings of being disconnected from his body and from reality. Another study investigating ketamine use for TRD found that three out of 10 participants experienced dissociative symptoms from the drug.

These side effects have yet to be fully understood. Although Anthony believes that the treatment saved him, it also opened the door for other mental-health problems:

“Looking back, I would do it over again, as ketamine literally pulled me from suicidal thoughts. But, in my opinion, ketamine opened the door for the feelings of disconnection. And they are a huge struggle for me every day now.”

With alarmingly high post-treatment relapse rates, little knowledge of long-term safety, and worrisome side effects, ketamine has yet to be proven as a lasting treatment for depression.

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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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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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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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

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Solitary Confinement Is Torture

00Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Health, Politics, Psychopathy, Punishment, Suicide May, 18

Source: The Euskadi 11 at flickr, Creative Commons

Sixteen-year-old Kalief Browder spent three years in New York’s notorious Rikers Island prison, awaiting trial for robbery. Two of those years were spent in solitary confinement. Browder’s case was eventually dismissed and, after surviving four suicide attempts during incarceration, he was released. Suffering from depression and paranoia from his years in isolation, Browder died by suicide in June of 2015.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama referenced Browder’s story in an opinion piece he wrote for the Washington Post, explaining his decision to ban solitary confinement for juveniles in all federal prisons, and calling for greater restrictions on its use as a punitive measure. New York had already ended the use of isolation for prisoners 16 and 17 years old, but in October 2016, the age restriction was extended to age 21 and younger.

In 2015, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau moved to ban the use of long-term solitary confinement by placing a 15 consecutive-day limit on its use—as of writing, this ban had not come into effect. His decision was motivated in part by the death of Ashley Smith, a young offender who had spent more than 1,000 days in isolation. At the age of 19, while being held in solitary, Smith died by hanging herself. A coroner’s inquest ruled her death a homicide, indicating that other people’s actions were factors in her death.

Reforms are moving in the right direction, but results of a 2011 United Nations (UN) report raise the question—should isolation be permitted under any circumstances? UN Special Rapporteur Juan E. Mendez said in this report:

“Solitary confinement, [as a punishment] cannot be justified for any reason, precisely because it imposes severe mental pain and suffering beyond any reasonable retribution for criminal behaviour and thus constitutes an act defined [as] … torture.”

Nevertheless, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, many American states impose no restrictions on the use of solitary confinement, even for juveniles. In Canada, there is currently no limit on how much time a prisoner can spend in solitary confinement. And, if adopted, the limits proposed by Trudeau will only affect federal prisons.

According to an American National Survey by the Association of State Correctional Administrators at Yale, “between 80,000 and 100,000 people were in isolation in prisons as of the fall of 2014.” In Canada, The Globe and Mail reports, “1,800 Canadian inmates are held in segregation on any given day.”

According to Mendez, the adverse health effects of this type of imprisonment are numerous, and include ‘prison psychosis,’ which can lead to anxiety, depression, irritability, cognitive disorders, hallucinations, paranoia, and self-inflicted injuries. Mendez concluded that “solitary confinement for more than 15 days…constitutes cruel and inhuman, or degrading treatment, or even torture”—well below the time Browder and Smith spent in isolation.

The adverse effects of solitary confinement on mental health have a long history of documentation. David H. Cloud, head of the Vera Institute of Justice’s Reform for Healthy Communities Initiative, stated:

“Nearly every scientific inquiry into the effects of solitary confinement over the past 150 years has concluded that subjecting an individual to more than 10 days of involuntary segregation results in a distinct set of emotional, cognitive, social, and physical pathologies.”

These findings prompted Kenneth Appelbaum from the Center for Health Policy and Research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School to write an article calling for American psychiatry to join the fight against the use of solitary confinement.

Many prison administrators disagree. In an interview with the Boston Globe, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Correction defended the use of solitary, explaining:

“We have to be realistic when we’re running these prisons. Segregation is a necessary tool in a prison environment.”

An article by Corrections One, an online news outlet for the correctional field, explains that segregation keeps jails safer by removing violent and dangerous inmates from the prison population, in the same way that imprisonment removes dangerous people from society. Segregation, the article states, is primarily used on prisoners that pose a risk of harm to themselves or others.

Speaking with the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC), Lisa Kerr, law professor at Queen’s University in Southern Ontario, reported that:

“Prison administrators have long been convinced that they cannot manage their institutions without easy, limitless recourse to segregation.”

Watch-dog groups point out that other countries apply the use of solitary confinement more selectively and with greater oversight than is used in North American prisons. In the U.K., while solitary is still in practice, the number of prisoners subjected to this form of punishment is much lower. Even more progressive are correctional institutions in Norway, where prison reform has moved away from punitive approaches and has placed rehabilitation and reintegration as a key focus during incarceration.

Eliminating the use of solitary confinement for juveniles is a promising first step towards abolishing the practice entirely. While supporters of solitary may not feel there are effective alternative punishments, human rights advocates continue to fight for prison reform. Looking at solutions used in other countries, perhaps more effective and humane incarceration methods can be realized, and the current paradigm of punishment may shift.

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller. 

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Unforeseen Stress When a Child Receives a Transplant

00Featured news, Guilt, Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Stress, Trauma April, 18

Source: debowscyfoto at pixabay, Creative Commons

On April 13, 2016, Bill and Lindsay Brent received the phone call they were desperate for. Their youngest child Nathan would get the liver transplant he urgently needed. Within hours, the family from Barrie, Ontario was heading to The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

By 8:00 the next morning, Nathan’s life-saving surgery was underway. Twelve hours after surgery began, the Brents’ feisty toddler emerged from surgery sedated, but holding his own, and began his road to recovery.

Twenty months earlier, Nathan was diagnosed with Alagille Syndrome, a genetic disorder affecting his liver, and severe enough that his only hope for survival was a liver transplant. But as the months passed, the situation began to look bleak. Nathan’s rare AB negative blood type greatly decreased his chances of finding a donor match.

Complicating matters further, Nathan was ineligible for the program; he required a liver from a deceased donor rather than from someone who was living. In his case, a pediatric donor would increase the odds of success, meaning that another child would have to die for Nathan to live.

And yet, despite insurmountable odds, thanks to the decision of one family, a liver was donated and Nathan survived.

Raelynn Maloney, a clinical psychologist and co-author of the book Caring for Donor Families: Before, During and After, says that the donor waiting period can be extremely stressful for families.

“Many traumas can occur during the ‘waiting period’; seeing a loved one suffer from illness without a clear outcome in sight, financial stress as families juggle care demands with work schedules, and, of course, the fear of running out of time.”

For the Brents, though, the psychological impact of their son’s traumatic journey started to surface only after the transplant was completed. Bill explains:

“Even though you are devastated when you receive the news that your child has a life-threatening illness, your need to remain focused on the outcome and to stay positive takes over. What has been shocking is the magnitude of post-transplant emotions that we’ve had to face. You’ve received a miracle, and yet, somehow, you are gripped with guilt and sorrow for the donor’s family, and an anxiety about the future that is so strong, it hinders your ability to feel good about life.”

For the couple, while they shared the same concerns for Nathan, their struggles with anxiety manifested in different ways. While Lindsay tended to ruminate and panic about the risks to Nathan post-transplant, such as illness, injury, and organ rejection, Bill reported an increase in social anxiety and was gripped with survivor’s guilt and depression. He says:

“It is very difficult for me to accept that my son needed someone to die for him to live. The donor family is in our thoughts constantly, and words cannot describe how thankful we are to them. They are our heroes.”

Maloney explains that recipient families can have a delayed reaction to the distress they experience while their loved one is on the donor list, and they are often unprepared for the rush of emotions that come after transplant.

While remaining focused on a solution, recipient families often do not allow themselves the space to grieve setbacks as they occur. Rather, they strive to maintain hopefulness while supressing the pain of the situation.

Maloney emphasizes that it may only be during recovery, when these families finally have a chance to process what they have gone through, that the traumatic grief hits.

The Brents recognized that, post-transplant, there was much more time to reflect on the enormity of what they had been through. Although grateful for Nathan’s outcome and the support of their family and friends, the Brents still faced ongoing emotional issues, all while trying to build normalcy back into their lives. Lindsay explains:

“Since Nathan has received his new liver, we no longer have access to the transplant support team that was available to us before the surgery. The medical team has moved on, the social support from the families at the hospital has been less frequent since we have returned home. In a way, Bill and I feel like we’ve lost family members, people that up until the transplant were a part of our innermost circle. In some ways, we feel left to navigate this post-transplant terrain on our own.”

Maloney acknowledges that there is an illusion held by the public that, after a transplant, all is well and life returns to normal. In reality, this is a time when transplant recipients and their families may need even more support as they try to reconcile the trauma of the illness with a hopeful and optimistic view of the future.

Now at home, Nathan continues to improve. Bill and Lindsay look forward to the time when this difficult journey will be surpassed by many happier, hopeful moments.

–Kimberley Moore, 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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For Those With Schizophrenia, Writing Can Help

30Creativity, Featured news, Health, Integrative Medicine, Psychopathy, Self-Help, Therapy March, 18

Source: Joe Skinner Photography at flickr, Creative Commons

A myth in popular culture: Mental illness leads to creativity. The idea is bolstered by successful movies like Total Recall, Minority Report, and Blade Runner, based on the work of author Philip K. Dick, who struggled with schizophrenia. Other notable artists, like singer-songwriter Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys, also showed schizophrenic symptoms.

These links have led scientists to question the relationship between schizophrenia and creative expression. While a connection appears to exist, the assumption that schizophrenia can cause creativity (or vice versa) doesn’t hold up, not in any simple or direct way. Often, these assumptions overlook other risk factors, such as family history, that contribute to the disorder.

And a report on brain illness and creativity by Alice Flaherty, associate professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, paints a more complicated picture. While schizophrenia is not necessarily associated with creativity, one specific traitopenness to unusual ideas—relates to creativity and is prevalent among schizophrenic patients. This trait is common in many writers, as their work is a product of their imagination.

Mental health professionals have observed the therapeutic effects of writing on patients with schizophrenia—finding that the creative process assists these individuals with managing their symptoms.

Laurie Arney, who has schizophrenia, is a case in point. Arney’s therapist Christopher Austin from the Calgary Health Region in Alberta applied an approach called Narrative Therapy to help her cope with the illness. As part of the approach, Arney wrote about her thoughts, feelings, and hallucinations in an open journal to Austin, who would then write back, asking questions about her experiences and helping her process them. He found:

“Writing helped the client to express her experience of living with a mental illness, to describe her years of mental health treatment, and to find her own path toward wellness.”

As an adjunct to other therapies, the approach was helpful for Arney. She explained:

“When I am writing, I do not censor myself the same way as when I am talking. When something stressful happens to me, I can just go to my computer. As I write to Chris about the incident, I am already starting to go through the process of dealing with it. I do not have to save up all my concerns until my next [therapy] appointment.”

Writing therapy is also supported by research from Simon Mcardle at the University of Greenwich in the United Kingdom and colleagues. Certain creative or expressive writing exercises, such as poetry and story-writing, help schizophrenic patients express themselves, and control their thoughts and hallucinations.

According to Noel Shafi, a poet and neuroscience researcher, poetry can be used as a communicative tool for schizophrenic patients to share their emotions and disturbed thoughts. Shafi explains:

“The client externalized his negative beliefs in the form of a Haiku, using poetic expression for personal awareness and growth. The client had lost his sense of self-worth through his experience with psychosis and was now using poetry to validate his existence.”

But there are some risks associated with writing therapy, as these narrative exercises can elicit negative or disturbing expressions. According to Shaun Gallagher of the University of Memphis and colleagues, when using self-narratives, such as journal accounts or stories, patients can get confused between the story and real life. One patient’s narrative account reads:

“I get all mixed up so that I don’t know myself. I feel like more than one person when this happens. I’m falling apart into bits.”

Without regular monitoring, there may be difficulties, especially if patients struggle to distinguish between their thoughts and reality. Still, as a tool in the therapist’s kit, therapeutic writing does offer some help to a number of high-risk patients with serious mental-health problems.

–Afifa Mahboob, 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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Inadequate Training Increases Risk of Compassion Fatigue

70Burnout, Caregiving, Featured news, Health, Stress, Trauma, Work March, 18

Source: Pennsylvania National Guard at flickr, Creative Commons

Every afternoon, personal support worker Susan (name changed) struggled with administering medication to a particular elderly patient in the dementia ward where she worked. On one such occasion, fed up with the patient’s behaviour, Susan became so frustrated that she mumbled a profanity, reached over, and pinched the patient’s arm. With a sharp cry of pain, the patient quickly accepted the medication and Susan was able to move on.

Stories of malpractice or poor patient care like this are not as uncommon as one might imagine. Evident from media reports of negligence in hospital settings, such cases can ignite an outcry in the community and prompt questions about individuals’ suitability for caretaking roles. How could someone with a career revolving around caring for others lack empathy?

Grace, an Ontario care worker who witnessed Susan’s behavior firsthand, believes the demanding nature of the job took a physical and mental toll on her co-worker. Having worked for eight years at a residential center for dementia patients, Grace knows from experience just how mentally exhausting the work can be. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Grace explained:

“There’s so much to take care of with these particular patients. When it’s dinnertime, you have to make sure to clean the patient, take them to the dining room, prepare the area for them, feed them, etc. But the next thing you know, they may have soiled themselves or vomited and you have yet another thing to clean when you already have so much to do… There are times when you need to take dirty clothing or dishes from them and they refuse to give them to you or just start yelling at you.”

When faced with the same situation on a daily basis, Grace explains that it’s hard not to become exasperated:

“It can get annoying and even angering at times. It’s hard to control… I didn’t hear much from Susan when I first started working here, but then she began yelling at the patients. I do believe it’s because the stress finally got to her.”

Mental health professionals support Grace’s theory. Overworked employees who are plagued by such feelings of frustration are showing signs of Compassion Fatigue (CF).

Francoise Mathieu, CF specialist and founder of Compassion Fatigue Solutions in Kingston, Ontario, describes the condition on her organization’s website as a gradual emotional and physical exhaustion of helping professionals. While CF is sometimes used interchangeably with Vicarious Trauma (VT), there is a difference between the two. VT is a secondary form of post-traumatic stress disorder, where a worker becomes preoccupied with a specific event or patient problem. On the other hand, CF is an overall decline in the ability to empathize with others.

The American Institute of Stress also differentiates CF from ‘burnout’. With CF, the constant pressure to show compassion toward patients may wear on mental energy stores, leading workers to become emotionally blunted to people and events. Burnout is less dependent on this loss of compassion.

CF is not limited to mental health professionals. It has been shown to affect teachers, social workers, police officers, prison guards, and even lawyers who work with trauma victims. In Grace’s words:

“At first, the stories you hear and the things you see involving the patients really do follow you home. They used to make me feel depressed. Over time, that sensitivity does lessen. After being exposed to this type of thing day after day, you start to lose those feelings.”

According to CF expert Francois Mathieu, once workers begin to experience this emotional exhaustion, they may be prone to moodiness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, intrusive thoughts, feelings of hopelessness, and apathy in both workplace and personal relationships. Fran McHolm, Director of Continuing Education at the Nurses Christian Fellowship has written about how CF can lead to a decrease in general employee happiness, workplace satisfaction, and quality of patient care.

CF is not a rare condition. Results from a 2012 dissertation study by Shannon Abraham-Cook at Seton Hall University show that, out of 111 urban public school teachers in Newark, New Jersey, 90% were at high-risk for CF. In 2010, Crystal Hooper and colleagues from the AnMed Health Medical Center in South Carolina also found that 86% of emergency department nurses exhibited moderate to high levels of CF.

While CF is common in many workplaces, help for employees who are experiencing symptoms, is not readily available. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Isabella, an assistant teacher working with special needs children at a Toronto daycare, describes her experience:

“When we began training, the instructors only talked about how to care for the children and how to work with the different age groups. Management didn’t provide us with anything else. The only thing we can do when feeling overly stressed is go for a break.”

Grace adds that her center for dementia patients fails to directly address employee needs:

“Recently, they added cameras everywhere to prevent poor patient care, but it’s made things worse. Now we are forced to seem especially compassionate and the littlest mistake can lead to a suspension. The management doesn’t try to understand the worker’s view of things at all.”

Dan Swayze, vice president of the Center for Emergency Medicine of Western Pennsylvania, discusses several ways management can address employees’ personal needs pertaining to compassion fatigue. In an article in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, Swayze writes about the importance of implementing policies and developing programs that can help ease the onset of CF. Teaching employees how to set professional boundaries with patients, conducting meetings to solve individual client issues as a team, and offering counselling services to stressed employees are just a few options administration can take.

And a 2015 study by researcher Patricia Potter and colleagues in the Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing argues for resilience training, a program designed to educate personnel about CF and its risk factors. Workers are taught how to employ relaxation techniques and build social support networks to cope with symptoms that arise from working with difficult populations. Staff members from a US medical center who participated in the training self-reported an increase in their empathy and overall emotional health.

Volunteer crisis hotline operator, Anabel, explains the benefits of these resources in her line of work:

“The staff at the distress center are really considerate of their volunteers. In the training they prepare you for compassion fatigue, encourage volunteers to take care of themselves, and to not take the calls home with you. They also make sure to be available to the volunteers 24/7 in case they need to debrief a call with someone. It really helps to know they’re there to talk to—often after a distressing call.”

Training and intervention programs can help safeguard against the development of compassion fatigue in care workers. But many people working in the field, like Grace and Isabella, have been thrown into care-taking roles with no consideration for the risks to their mental wellbeing. Both women have identified various ways of coping as a stopgap until they receive the assistance and support they need.

Isabella suggests taking full advantage of breaks every few hours:

“Whenever you feel overwhelmed, go for a break right away—even if it’s just to the washroom or for a coffee… When you leave and come back, you feel refreshed. I’m lucky that I live so close to my workplace that I can go home during lunch.”

Grace recommends taking a deep breath and focusing on any positive aspect of the job:

“I learn so much from the patients. Hearing their stories, you can end up getting really close to some of them. I try to listen to them when I can and when I see the positive effect that has on them, I feel very fulfilled.”

These coping mechanisms do not work for everyone, which is why early intervention is so important. While camera implementation has prevented some inappropriate conduct like Susan’s from continuing, it doesn’t address the root problem.

“There are times where I get angry,” Grace admits. “I can’t always entertain patients or be friendly. I try… but it’s so hard… I know a lot of people, like myself, are really sensitive, which is why we are so emotionally affected by this job. There’s no stress management or counselling here, but… these training programs could really help.”

For many helping professionals, compassion fatigue may be inevitable. Cases like Susan’s show that the wellbeing of individuals in caretaking roles directly influences the quality of care that patients will receive. Support in the form of training programs and other preventative measures can make a difference in the lives of these workers, and, improve patient care.

–Anjali Wisnarama, 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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For Mentally Ill, Jail Diversion Program Gives Second Chance

30Featured news, Health, Law and Crime, Loneliness, Politics, Psychiatry, Psychopathy March, 18

Source: octopusdevon at flickr, Creative Commons

On February 8, 2015, Natasha McKenna—a 37-year-old who suffered from mental illness—died following an incident in which she was tasered four times by law enforcement.

After a week-long delay in transporting her to a county jail in Virginia, where she would be provided with mental-health resources, she became agitated. In an effort to regain control, officers used a stun gun on her multiple times. Despite CPR to revive her, McKenna passed away shortly after.

McKenna had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and depression when she was just fourteen. Her case highlights a growing issue in county jails and prisons across America: resources are scarce for offenders with mental illness.

In 1992, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and Public Citizen’s Health Research Group released a report revealing alarmingly high numbers of people with serious mental illness incarcerated in the United States. The subsequent 2002 report showed that little had changed in the preceding ten years.

But shortly after McKenna’s death in 2015, Fairfax County Jail—where she had been held—created a Jail Diversion Program (JDP). The objective of this program is to divert low-risk offenders in mental-health crises to treatment rather than send them to a prison setting that exacerbates their symptoms.

JDPs are designed so that authorities, alongside certified crisis clinicians, have the capacity to decide whether a non-violent offender who suffers from a mental disorder is directed to a JDP where they can receive treatment, or is arrested. JDPs give offenders the opportunity to work with a trained mental-health clinician, ultimately transforming how resources are provided.

Sarah Abbot, the program director of Advocates—a JDP in Massachusetts that works with the Framingham Police Department—believes that JDPs are crucial in early intervention for mentally ill offenders.

During an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Abbot explained:

“JDP’s effectively divert people with mental illness from the criminal justice system, and have been shown to be successful in the prevention of unnecessary arrests for those who suffer with a mental illness. Police choose to transfer offenders to JDPs 75% of the time.”

Abbot believes that early intervention via JDPs is key to preventing those with a mental illness from reoffending. In 12 years of operation, Advocates has successfully diverted 15,000 individuals from the criminal justice system into treatment.

During calls related to misdemeanors, police respond to the scene with a JDP clinician. After consulting the clinician, the officers use their discretion, along with information from victims and bystanders, to decide whether or not to press charges. Alternatively, the officer can choose to secure treatment for the offending individual at a JDP.

In the latter case, the clinician performs an assessment to determine if the offender meets the criteria for inpatient care. If so, they are diverted from arrest and placed in a local mental-health facility where they receive intensive treatment through the support of counsellors, social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists.

The purpose of JDPs is to de-escalate encounters with mentally ill offenders and create a cooperative environment for assessing the situation. Abbot views their contribution as a form of compassionate justice:

“If we can keep mentally ill individuals out of the criminal justice system, their lives will ultimately be better by default. How much better depends on the quality of the treatment they receive and the individual’s commitment to success.”

The literature on JDPs suggests that placing these individuals in treatment programs within their community, where they have the support of family and friends, inevitably results in lower rates of relapse in comparison to incarceration.

Abbot believes that JDPs are vital in keeping individuals away from the isolation of a jail cell:

“My hope is that we divert people like Natasha McKenna into proper treatment, because once they are in a cell, things can escalate quite quickly.”

If somebody with a mental illness has an arrest on their record, JDPs keep doors open to them for education, employment, and housing. JDPs have the potential to protect individuals like McKenna, and provide offenders suffering from mental illness with a second chance at living stable lives post-arrest.

–Nonna Khakpour, 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