Category: Health

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When a subway passenger dies by suicide, workers suffer too

00Featured news, Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, Trauma, Work August, 19

Source: Lily Banse at Unsplash, Creative Commons

In an article in a Canadian daily, The Globe and Mail, Oliver Moore reported that during 2016, 21 suicide attempts occurred on Toronto’s subway system. In fact, a study published by the Journal of Urban Health considers suicide on subway platforms to be a public health issue.

Subway delays by attempted suicide not only affect passengers, the victims and their families, but drivers as well. Subway workers and drivers who have witnessed a suicide have been reported to have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Research suggests that those exposed to human-generated traumatic events have a greater chance of developing PTSD.   In an interview with Vice Magazine, psychologist Wilfried Echterhoff discussed the long-lasting psychological trauma workers face when confronted with a death on the worksite:

“Some people have never been confronted with death before…To suddenly be confronted with it in such a violent way can lead to PTSD or a serious depression.”

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Robert (name changed), a retired subway worker with over 30 years of experience, described an incident he faced while working: 

“One Saturday afternoon maybe around 11:00 a.m. or 12:00 p.m., I witnessed a lady jump off the subway platform. I needed to go upstairs and tell my supervisor and my supervisor told me that my face was all white. They kicked everyone out and only the police and ambulance were allowed to come in.” 

Nik Douglas, a train driver who worked for the Northallerton subway station in the UK, noted in an interview with The Independent:   

“When I was on my own I’d burst into tears for no reason, I found sleep hard and I’d have flashbacks during the night and day. I could be in a room full of people with a really good party atmosphere but feel alone and isolated. That’s one of the biggest things I remember, feeling alone… It changed my life instantly from who I was to what I have become. Some people aren’t affected, but two years after it happened I’m still not the same person.”

In deciding what was best for his mental health, Nik took six months off work to deal with his PTSD. Recent studies suggest that in Canada, 6.5% of subway workers have been absent from work due to witnessing suicides while working. Last November, this rate was at its highest with 7.44% of employees absent. Some employees are unable to return to work altogether and opt to receive compensation from their employers.

Nik experienced intrusive distress and feelings of isolation. Kevin, a 39-year-old subway driver expressed his feeling of being responsible for the suicide of a man:

“When he looked at me and our eyes met, time just stood still. It felt like driving your car over railroad tracks, that rumbling feeling you get … I realized then that I just killed somebody.”  

In his years of working at the subway, Robert explained the brief protocol subway workers go through once they have witnessed a suicide:

“The subway drivers have to talk to the police after that happens. They always have to stay and give a statement. Then they’re taken off duty for that day. Then they get sent home or to counselling. It depends on what the driver wants to do. It just started recently in the last five or six years.  The company asks if the drivers want to speak to someone.”

Effective suicide preventions have been created to decrease the suicide rate in subway stations and increase safety. Subway stations in Tokyo have implemented glass doors that open for passengers to board the subway only once it has arrived in the station. Other preventions put in place are blue lights and mirrors set up to discourage suicide attempts. In London and Paris, these forms of preventions have been effective too. 

In addition, intervention programs, including the Gatekeeper Program, exist for those who are feeling suicidal.  However, interventions put in place for subway workers who experience suicides are rare. Most workers deal with the effect of these experiences on their own. In Robert’s words:

“If something is going to happen, it’s going to happen.  There’s nothing you can do. They don’t tell you this can happen or that can happen.  They won’t tell you what can happen when you sign up for this job.  They don’t tell you that workers deal with this.  They don’t train you how to deal with it.  They won’t ever tell you what to expect even when training people.”

Social support is argued to be one of the most powerful factors in recovering from PTSD and is known to decrease risk for depression, foster resilience, and reduce stress in those who have experienced traumatic events.  Mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy has shown to reduce stress and increase recovery in those with PTSD.  

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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Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Brings Benefits

00Aging, Burnout, Caregiving, Featured news, Health, Memory June, 19

Source: Edwin & Kelly Tofslie at Flickr, Creative Commons

“I’m always in the present. I have to be one step ahead of David. Things go missing all the time in this house—the remote, mail and even the utensils. I’m down to a handful of forks! It would be simple if I could just lock the door to store some important items, but he doesn’t like that.”

Mary (name changed for anonymity) is the primary caregiver for David, her husband of 50 years who is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. For Mary, ‘being in the present’ refers to her constant worry about even the most mundane elements of life that many take for granted. 

Recent estimates show that over 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s—a number expected to rise to as high as 16 million by 2050. Currently more than 15 million Americans function as primary caregivers and provide essential, albeit unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related illnesses, taking on responsibilities such as bathing, grooming, dressing, feeding, and providing additional daily living assistance. At times, caregivers may even have to manage unexpected and unprovoked acts of violence, paranoia, and inappropriate sexual behaviours.  Mary understands this reality all too well. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report she confirms this additional stress:

“I take David everywhere I go. I’m always scared that he will do something unpredictable, embarrassing and grossly inappropriate.”

This demanding and overwhelming role can take an emotional toll, putting caregivers at risk of becoming socially isolated, exhausted, and suffering from burnout. It is clear that there are drawbacks to being a primary caregiver and Mary has experienced many of them, such as loneliness, guilt, embarrassment, frustration, and even verbal and physical abuse. Mary and many individuals in similar circumstances, continue to do so at the expense of their own wellbeing.

But a growing body of research shows that despite challenges, there are positive aspects associated with providing such care for another person. Studies report that some experience an enhanced sense of meaning in their lives, while others feel a sense of empowerment as they learn how to navigate the health and social systems related to the illness. Caregivers have also been found to frequently reminisce on happy memories, enjoy pleasurable activities, and develop a deeper appreciation for time spent with their loved ones.

When reflecting on their life and their current situation, many of the positive benefits of caregiving resonate with Mary:

“Throughout our marriage, we lived separate lives. At times, I resented David because he would often leave me to go play golf.  I felt a distance between us. Now our situation has forced me to spend time with him and in some ways, I’m getting what I longed for. I’ve become closer to family members who have assisted me with David’s care for which I am so grateful. You truly learn who is there for you.”

In addition to gaining a deeper appreciation for her family, Mary acknowledges that she has also grown substantially as an individual:

“I have become more patient and have learned to effectively de-escalate situations. I am confident I can handle a lot more than I could before.”

Speaking with her, it is evident that Mary has come to appreciate the little things in life:

“Despite our daily struggles, there are precious moments; moments when I see glimpses into his soul. Some days when I pick him up from the nursing home, he is eagerly waiting for me by the window. I’m sure he thinks that I’m solely his caregiver. But, I can see his vulnerability and I know that he needs me.”

Many factors appear to influence caregiver resilience: the intensity and context of the provided care, socio-demographics such as age, gender, education, the availability of social and community resources, and the caregiver’s psychological attributes. Though Mary fully acknowledges the struggles and stresses that come with her role caring for David, she remains resilient. And no matter how difficult her situation may get, she stays focused on the gifts this experience has brought her. 

-Young Cho, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

-Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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When Doctors Are At-Risk for Suicide

00Burnout, Depression, Embarrassment, Emotion Regulation, Featured news, Health, Suicide May, 19

Source: Feature: skeeze at Pixabay, Creative Commons

They had known each other well enough in the early days of medical school, when they were students studying well into the night. After graduation, they went their separate ways, each assuming the other was doing well.

“I wanted you to hear it from me,” a colleague sadly said on the phone. Dr. Ranjana Srivastava nearly fell to the pavement when she was told that her long-time friend and colleague—a clinician, wife, and devoted mother—had died by suicide.

Unfortunately, this is not the first that time Dr. Srivastava had to face the suicide of a colleague. In a piece she wrote for The Guardian, Srivastava explains:

“Forced smiles and tough hides abound in the workplace, where always being ‘fine’ is a badge of honour. This is why it can be so difficult to distinguish doctors who will indeed be fine from those who need help.”

Research shows a higher rate of mental health problems among physicians. A 2013 report estimates over 25% of doctors in Australia having at least a minor psychiatric disorder, with 10% reporting suicidal thoughts in the past year. A survey of 2000 U.S. physicians showed that roughly half believed they met criteria for a mental illness in the past, but had not sought treatment. And in Canada, recent research estimates over 26% of Canadian doctors suffer professionally due to poor mental health, with 20% of them reporting they had been depressed in the last 12 months. Overall, roughly 30% of physicians worldwide have depression or symptoms of it, according to an extensive review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Why is this the case? The answer isn’t all that clear, but according to physician and social worker Katharine Gold and colleagues, stigma is to blame. Their research looked at survey responses of over 2000 female physicians, and it showed that stigma attached to mental illness is greater among medical trainees and physicians than in the general population. According to one respondent:

“I have been discriminated against in a department after disclosing my history of well-treated depression to my department chief.”

And this is not an isolated incident. Studies show that 50% of doctors are less likely to work with a colleague who has a history of depression or anxiety disorder, with four in ten admitting to thinking less of such a colleague. And throughout the years, healthcare organizations have favoured a punitive approach when addressing the issue of physician mental illness, rather than a supportive one. So disclosing mental health issues by a medical doctor can pose a real threat to licensing, career, and reputation, leading to reluctance to seek help.

In an interview with the Trauma & Mental Health Report, medical student Jamie Katuna explains the predicament physicians face:

“Getting care could mean problems for doctors. If they seek help for mental health issues and if someone decides they are ‘unstable’ and shouldn’t be seeing patients, that physician is out of a job and would have a really hard time finding another one. So instead, doctors suffer in silence.”

When deteriorating mental health makes it difficult to work, many physicians ignore their symptoms and continue to work anyway, often self-medicating with drugs or alcohol to avoid the perceived embarrassment of having a psychological disorder.

Steps are being taken to bring awareness. Many universities and medical organizations are starting conversations about physician wellness and stigma reduction. Physicians and medical students who have lived through suicide attempts, depression, and other mental health issues are standing up for themselves and each other. Likewise, organizations such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the American Medical Association have recommended reforming medical licensing questions to make it clear that physicians may get help without fear of negative consequences. Despite the growing support, Thomas Schwenk of the University of Nevada School of Medicine noted that change isn’t happening fast enough:

“A lot of [conversations about mental health stigma are] very difficult and very slow to happen, and unfortunately tragic incidents like the two suicides in Quebec and other suicides across the country are still occurring because it’s taking time to change that culture.”

There are some resources available. In Canada, organizations like Physician Health Program and the Canadian Medical Association provide a range of direct services for physicians and medical students at risk of, or suffering from, substance use, psychiatric disorders, or occupational stress. The interventions offered can include awareness workshops, referral to treatment, and monitoring, all while maintaining confidentiality. Also, online resources such as ePhysicianHealth and Combating Stigma are available.

Most solutions exist at a personal or program level, but the problems are pervasive and affect the entire structure of healthcare education. According to Katuna:

“The culture of medicine should undergo amazing and radical transformations. We need to redesign how we implement medical education.”

Systematic problems require systematic solutions and until then, medical professionals remain at risk.

— Ilia Azari, 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 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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Jurors Are Left Traumatized by Some Court Cases

00Decision-Making, Dopamine, Empathy, Featured news, Health, Law and Crime, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Stress, Trauma April, 19

Source: Marica Villeneuve, Trauma and Mental Health Report artist, used with permission

On November 7, 2016, the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario reached a settlement with a juror diagnosed with vicarious post-traumatic stress disorder. The juror served on the trial of eight-year-old Tori Stafford’s killer.

The woman, who cannot be named due to a publication ban protecting the identity of jurors in this case, received the diagnosis months after performing her civic duty. Four years ago, she was one of 12 jurors in the trial of Michael Rafferty, the man charged and convicted of kidnapping, sexually assaulting, and murdering Stafford.

While sitting on the jury during the two-month trial, the woman visited scenes of rape, saw photographic evidence of the crime, and heard eyewitness testimony from Rafferty’s girlfriend and accomplice, Terri-Lynne McClintic.

In a submission to the Ontario Court of Appeal, the juror said that, almost immediately after the trial, she lashed out at her children, suffered from depression, had flashbacks to disturbing pieces of evidence, and experienced short-term memory loss and difficulties with concentration.

Over the course of a criminal trial, jurors are often exposed to disturbing graphic evidence. And while jury members are instructed to remain unbiased and evenhanded, the process can take a toll on their mental health.

Beyond the traumatizing effects of graphic evidence, the weight of the task itself can be harmful to jurors’ wellbeing. The high-stakes decision that members have been tasked with, which includes determining the fate of someone’s life, can be psychologically taxing. This pattern of stress and anxiety is frequently observed in other high-pressure jobs that involve exposure to traumatic information and heavy responsibilities, such as social work.

Patrick Baillie, a psychologist with Alberta Health Services, and former Chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, says that jury members are often not mentally prepared to sit through a criminal trial:

“These are twelve citizens who don’t typically have any involvement with the system, which is why we want them to serve as jurors, being given this extraordinary task with not a whole lot of mental support.”

In addition to the responsibility of remaining impartial, jurors are not allowed to share any details related to their deliberations. To protect the integrity of the trial, members are prohibited from discussing their personal views on the evidence, witnesses, or trial process, to ensure confidential information cannot be related back to discussions that took place in the jury room. Baillie explains:

“It is illegal to disclose the deliberation of a jury to anybody. So, [you] can’t tell a spouse and family and friends… people in [your] usual support system and the mental health professionals that [you] may want to come in contact with down the road. We need to make sure that jurors are not identified and to make sure the process is pure as it can be.”

Under these circumstances, jury members are left to process the psychological and emotional effects of the trial on their own.

Barbara Legate, the lawyer representing the juror from Stafford’s case, argues:

“We ask jurors to sit through days, weeks, and sometimes months of testimony and sometimes that testimony is very, very difficult, and we ask them to keep it to themselves, not discuss it with people outside.”

Until recently, Ontario judges were responsible for deciding whether jurors should be offered counseling at the end of a trial. Jurors would then either be connected with counselors provided by the Ministry of the Attorney General or would pursue counseling on their own.

Starting in January 2017, however, Ontario initiates a new program to provide free and accessible counseling services to anyone serving on a jury. The Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi says the Juror Support Program will be available for anyone serving in a criminal or civil trial, or an inquest.

Jurors will be provided with information on the program at the beginning of a trial, and then again as it finishes. They will call a designated phone number, speak to a specialist who does an assessment, and have counseling made available to them. A third party will provide and cover the costs of the counseling services, but the government still determines who that third party will be. Naqui says:

“Jurors in difficult trials do face evidence that could be quite horrific, and we’ve heard those stories. It’s only appropriate that we provide appropriate services.”

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

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

-Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Asthma Brings Surprising Challenges

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

Source: Free-Photos at Pixabay, Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Julia Martini, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.

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

-Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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What Can Minimalism do for Mental Health?

00Consumer Behavior, Featured news, Gratitude, Happiness, Health, Loneliness, Mindfulness, Sensation-Seeking February, 19

Source: Torley at flickr, Creative Commons

Ryan Nicodemus was once a senior executive making a six-figure income in a corporate job. He found himself unsatisfied with his life and depressed. He explains:

“I had everything I ever wanted. I had everything I was supposed to have. Everyone around me said, ‘you’re successful.’ But really, I was miserable.”

He looked to his life-long friend Joshua Fields Millburn for advice. Millburn pointed him toward Minimalism, namely, placing less focus and meaning on material possessions, and simplifying life to concentrate on what makes a person happiest and most fulfilled.

Nicodemus re-evaluated his circumstances and decided to de-clutter and downsize, leaving his career to pursue a life of simplicity. Together, he and Millburn branded themselves “The Minimalists.” The two attribute improved mental health to this change.

These experiences are detailed in their film Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things where they also reveal their difficult upbringings. Both Nicodemus and Millburn witnessed addiction and substance abuse in their families. They faced the limitations that come with living in low-income households. Their challenging pasts initially led them to aspire to acquiring wealth and material objects.

Rick Hanson, a psychologist whose work lies in personal well-being, states in the film:

“I think we’re confused about what’s going to make us happy. Many people think the material possessions are really at the center of the bull’s eye and they expect that gratifying each desire as it arises will somehow summate into a satisfying life.”

He goes on to say that this is not the case, and that the media perpetuate this way of thinking.

In the film, philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris argues that it is natural to use other’s lives or what’s in the media as yardsticks to measure one’s own success. He adds that this approach can lead to immense dissatisfaction.

Research seems to back up Harris’ claim. Mario Pandelaere of Ghent University cites a relationship between materialism and depression. Further, Pandelaere has found that “materialists” are, on average, not the happiest people.

In fact, Rik Pieters of Tilburg University has established a link between materialism and an increase in loneliness over time, and also reports a correlation between loneliness and depression.

And, there is support that materialistic consumption doesn’t lead to satisfaction.

The Minimalists advocate tackling materialism and consumption to fight depression. They describe excess consumption as a hunger that never gets fulfilled, and as a hopeless search for contentment. They say that, when letting go of the need to consume, people can tune in to their feelings and address unhappiness. Nicodemus and Millburn note:

“No matter how much stuff we buy, it’s never enough.”The two maintain that, if people abandon what is superfluous and only keep the items that add value, they can lead more satisfying lives. By regularly asking “Does this add value to my life?”, people are left with possessions that either serve a purpose or bring joy. Nicodemus and Millburn claim that answering this question leaves more room to build meaningful relationships and facilitate personal growth.

Not everyone agrees. With increased attention on Minimalism and de-cluttering in the news, there is some backlash to the movement. Many people are asking “How accessible is Minimalism? Is it something only for the wealthy elite?”

Most cannot afford to uproot their lives or leave their jobs to engage in a Minimalist lifestyle. Also, the portrayals of Minimalism so often seen on social media—images of chic white walls and trendy delicate jewelry—are far from attainable. Some people even say that they like having lots of knick-knacks and “clutter”, opting to call themselves “Maximalists.”

In his discussion of materialism, Pandelaere says:

“Everybody is to some extent materialistic, and materialistic consumption may not necessarily be bad. It may largely depend on the motives for it. If people consume in an effort to impress others, results may be adverse.”

– Fernanda de la Mora, Contributing Writer

The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

-Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Pressures to Breastfeed Can Harm Maternal Mental Health

00Child Development, Decision-Making, Embarrassment, Featured news, Guilt, Health, Parenting, Postpartum, Stress, Suicide January, 19

Source: sevenfloorsdown at DeviantArt, Creative Commons

Florence Leung of British Columbia, Canada went missing on October 25, 2016 while struggling with post-partum depression. Less than a month later, her family discovered that she had taken her own life, leaving behind a husband and infant son.

In an emotional public letter, Leung’s husband Kim Chen wrote an impassioned plea to new mothers asking them to seek help if they felt anxiety or depression. He also revealed that his wife’s difficulties with breastfeeding, and the resulting feelings of inadequacy, likely contributed to her condition. Urging women not to criticize themselves about an inability to breastfeed or a decision not to breastfeed, Chen wrote:

“Do not ever feel bad or guilty about not being able to exclusively breastfeed, even though you may feel the pressure to do so based on posters in maternity wards, brochures in prenatal classes, and teachings at breastfeeding classes.”

Speaking with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Melissa (name changed) said that she was struck by Chen’s words, and recalled the scrutiny around breastfeeding she experienced with her first child:

“I was tired, sore, and the baby was cranky and constantly wanting to feed. It surprised me that, despite my vocal frustration and obvious difficulty breastfeeding, the nursing staff and lactation consultants were adamant that I continue to breastfeed exclusively.”

The frustration worsened once the couple returned home. The week that followed was exhausting, spent trying to calm a screaming newborn who constantly wanted to feed. The couple attended several breastfeeding clinics that reiterated the same message: breast is best. Melissa and her husband felt confused and defeated.

Shortly thereafter Melissa became completely overwhelmed:

“I began to get scared, and not trust myself. My inability to easily nurse and soothe my baby without intense discomfort led to feelings of failure. My emotions were overwhelming. I wasn’t sleeping because I was constantly pumping breastmilk or nursing.”

Within a week after giving birth, Melissa’s infant was suddenly much quieter and less agitated. Upon closer examination, she noticed that the baby looked pale, and was lethargic and dehydrated. A frantic trip to the emergency room (ER) revealed the newborn was not getting enough liquids and nourishment—despite the many scheduled feedings. Melissa said:

“When the ER doctor apologized for the miscommunication and advised us that supplementing with formula is not only okay, but sometimes necessary, I felt a mixture of relief and betrayal. Relief because I knew we would be okay, yet betrayed by some health professionals who put their personal agendas above our health and well-being.”

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Diane Philipp, a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at SickKids Centre for Community Mental Health in Toronto, shared that she meets many mothers suffering from stress, shame, and guilt associated with breastfeeding. Philipp explained that the judgements of others place unnecessary pressure on mothers:

“It’s important for mothers to have access to frank and open discussions that are safe and non-judgemental where they can seek out information and make the most knowledgeable decision that is best for their child and for themselves in terms of breastfeeding.”

Every woman’s situation is unique. Lifestyle habits, medication use, and medical and psychological history can complicate the post-partum experience. With this context in mind, the healthcare team should provide a comfortable environment—free of judgement—when discussing post-partum issues, including how to provide an infant’s nourishment.

For mothers who are unable to nurse, be it for medical, physical, or personal reasons, their decision can be supported and honoured in a way that promotes emotional well-being and encourages healthy parent-child bonding. Philipp said:

“For parents who can’t breastfeed for whatever reason, wonderful attachment bonds can still be made. Breast milk is not the only ingredient in a valuable, long-lasting relationship.”

Melissa, now a mother of two healthy school-age children, remains sensitive to others’ assumptions of breastfeeding:

“I felt so pressured to get it right, and so judged when I couldn’t provide for my child. Even when you come to terms with your decision not to breastfeed, people question your choice. Looking at my children today, I know I did the right thing.”

– 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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Mental Illness in Youth Often Goes Undetected

00Adolescence, Anxiety, Child Development, Decision-Making, Depression, Emotion Regulation, Featured news, Health December, 18

Source: Zarina Situmorang at DeviantArt, Creative Commons

When university student Kinga (name changed) was young, she struggled with symptoms she couldn’t identify. She had shortness of breath and would suddenly get anxious. Her mother took her to a doctor, and Kinga was diagnosed with asthma. Despite asthma treatment, her inability to catch her breath persisted, and she had feelings of panic.

In retrospect, Kinga isn’t so sure she had asthma at all, believing she was misdiagnosed. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, she explains:

“The doctors never knew what was wrong with me, probably because I didn’t have the right words to explain what was happening, and maybe because I wasn’t failing in school.”

Some mental illnesses, even those that are familiar, such as anxiety and depression, can be hard to identify. For youth with subtle to moderate symptoms, diagnosis can be especially difficult. Psychiatrist Peter Jenson and colleagues emphasize that diagnoses tend to rely on adults noticing symptoms. Children and teenagers often don’t have the knowledge to recognize their own mental-health difficulties.

As Kinga entered her pre-adolescent years, she always felt tired. Everything she did took a little more effort. While she continued her day-to-day activities, her symptoms followed her around. She says:

“I always performed well in school. I went out with friends, attended dance and language classes, but the fatigue was almost too much to bear. I had to fight the fogginess in my head to concentrate in school, and push myself through the exhaustion in dance class.”

Struggling pre-teens may not even realise that their mental health is at risk. They might only feel a little more tired or pessimistic. But these symptoms can hinder their ability to perform to their full potential.

Kinga also experienced other symptoms, like irritability:

“Sometimes, I would scream at my parents or siblings over the smallest things. My mom called it ‘being a teenager’, she didn’t realise, none of us realised, that it was more than that.”

Despondent and unable to get help, Kinga took matters into her own hands and researched her symptoms on the Internet. She recalls:

“I was so fed up with feeling like this. So I turned to Google. I searched ‘what is tiredness a symptom of?’ In my 16-year-old mind, that was all it was. I was just tired. I clicked on a link— ‘symptoms of depression.’ Other symptoms listed were feelings of hopelessness, negative thoughts, difficulty concentrating, feelings of numbness… I suddenly realised what must be going on.”

With this new information, she went back to her doctor.

“I finally had a name for these feelings. But for so long, I was doing too well for anyone to notice something was wrong. I suffered for years, believing that everyone felt like this—everyone felt a little out of breath, a little empty.”

A form of depression where people appear to function normally is called dysthymia, and it often begins in childhood. Although it may not be as debilitating as major depression, dysthymia can prevent positive feelings and interfere with daily tasks. On average, it lasts five years, does not usually resolve on its own, and requires treatment. About 75% of those with dysthymia develop severe forms of depression if left untreated.

While Kinga’s symptoms did not prevent her from continuing her usual activities, if she had not received help when she did, she may very well have developed a more serious mental illness.

In a post on Up Worthy, college student Amanda Leventhal shares a similar experience. Four years passed before she was diagnosed and treated. And Leventhal believes the process took so long because of stereotypes regarding mental illness:

“Even though we’re often told that mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, I think we’re still stuck with certain ‘stock images’ of mental health in our heads.”

She says that ideas of how mental illness “should look” are so prevalent, it is difficult to believe that someone who doesn’t look mentally ill could be struggling. In fact, a study out of Duke University reports that only half of teenagers with mental health problems receive treatment at all.

Kinga says:

“I don’t know where I would be today if I didn’t get help. I don’t even want to think about that. I know I’m not the only one who suffered from mental illness as a kid, so I hope there is an increase in awareness of mental illness in young people.”

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

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

-Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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What Can A Lizard Tell Us About Mental Health?

00Animal Behavior, Child Development, Epigenetics, Evolutionary Psychology, Featured news, Genetics, Health, Parenting, Stress, Trauma December, 18

Source: Hayke Tjemmes at flickr, Creative Commons

A new study on lizards has found that, when exposed to stress, their responses can be passed down genetically. Scientists now believe there may be more to the process of heritability than once thought. This process is called “Transgenerational Stress Inheritance.”

As recently as 2011, most research did not examine the possibility that parental stress could affect sperm or egg cells. Since genes are transferred to offspring through these cells, anything that modifies them can have an impact on genetic expression in children. The idea that parents’ experiences prior to pregnancy can change gene expression and, therefore, affect offspring behaviour, is novel.

In the lizard study, researchers from Pennsylvania State University exposed young lizards to fire ants (a natural stressor) and compared stress levels to unexposed lizards. Interestingly, contact with the stressor did not affect the lizards’ behaviour later in life. But, their offspring had stronger stress reactions than offspring of lizards who had not been subjected to the ants.

Lead researcher Gail McCormick told PsyPost:

“Our work reveals that the stress experienced by an individual’s parents or ancestors may overshadow the stress that an individual faces within its lifetime. In this study, offspring of lizards from high-stress sites were more responsive to stress as adults, regardless of exposure to stress during their own lifetime.”

These findings suggest that, although early life stress may not manifest later in adulthood, the effects may be passed down to offspring, even if offspring are not directly exposed to the stressor.

A similar study involved researchers conditioning mice to associate the smell of cherries with a mild electric current. When the fragrance permeated the air, the mice were given a small electric shock. And so, the mice began to fear the scent even when the shock wasn’t administered. Even more fascinating was that offspring of these mice, as well as their offspring, experienced fear in the presence of the odor. The fear reaction occurred even though the later generations didn’t experience the conditioning process.

Of course, the question these studies pose is whether there is a similar effect in humans.

As recently reported in the Guardian newspaper, researchers from New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine compared the genes of direct descendants of Jews who were “interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had had to hide during the second world war” to the offspring of Jews living outside of Europe who were unharmed. The children of parents who experienced WWII trauma showed genetic changes and a greater risk of stress disorders. These were not present in the other children. The Guardian article stated:

“[The] new finding is [a] clear example in humans of the theory of epigenetic inheritance: the idea that environmental factors can affect the genes of your children.”

In other research, psychologist Margaret Keyes from the University of Minnesota and colleagues examined twins to determine if the behaviour of biological parents could affect offspring who were not raised by them. The study found that children of parents who smoked were more likely to be smokers, even if those children weren’t raised by the parents, and as such, did not have parental smoking behavior modeled to them. Scientists are still questioning, though, whether it’s parental behavior directly affecting these genes or a genetic predisposition to smoking being passed down for generations.

On the whole, these studies make the case that genetic changes can happen a lot faster than previously thought, within a few generations or even one generation. And, as reported in Science magazine, people can see evolution in real time:

“Now, thanks to the genomic revolution, researchers can actually track the population-level genetic shifts that mark evolution in action—and they’re doing this in humans. [Studies] show how our genomes have changed over centuries or decades…”

Research in this field is still new and is subject to several caveats. Perhaps the most important one is the complexity of human beings and their environments. Indeed, there may be too many variables that factor into the human experience for researchers to arrive at definitive conclusions.

But, these studies do suggest that individuals may be affected by the stress felt by ancestors in  before them. Further research is required to determine whether these findings are the result of transgenerational stress inheritance or an external factor that has yet to be considered.

– Andrei Nistor, 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