Category: Social Life

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Solitary confinement offers no prep for the outside.

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

Source: Solnovi at DeviantArt, Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pettigrew experienced many of these symptoms himself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Social Media Societies Pose Risks to Mental Health

00Anorexia Nervosa, Featured news, Health, Media, Self-Harm, Self-Help, Social Life, Social Networking November, 17

Source: IraEm at Pixabay, Creative Commons

The internet is rife with social media societies on many popular sites, including Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. #Ana, #Sue, #Cat—translated, they mean anorexia, suicidal, and self-harm.

By searching these tags, online users are exposed to a slew of posts from people experiencing the mental illnesses or issues tagged. On Instagram you can find pictures of users with fresh cuts on their arms accompanied by the hashtag #Cat, indicating self-harm.

A study by Janis Whitlock, Jane Powers, and John Eckenrode at Cornell University found that the self-injury-related message boards studied were mostly frequented by females between the ages of 14 and 20.

With so many young people accessing social media, membership to these online communities can be concerning. In an interview with Vice, Frank Köhnlein, a youth psychiatrist at the University Clinic in Basel, discussed how young members are particularly vulnerable:

“Young people who are already fragile and perhaps already have experience with self-harm could be massively stimulated by this sort of thing and encouraged to self-harm again. When self-harm is glorified or—as in this case—put into an almost religious context, so that it is evaluated positively, the risk is particularly high.”

The Whitlock study showed that online interactions can reduce social isolation in adolescents since the exchanges allow teenagers to connect with others easily. In essence, social media can serve as a virtual support group where users gain instant help.

But negative implications may outweigh the positive. Whitlock also found that participating in self-harm message boards online can normalize and encourage self-harm, and teach vulnerable individuals tactics to conceal self-injurious behaviors. Users within these virtual sub-communities often exchange techniques for self-harming as well.

A study by Carla Zdanow and Bianca Wright at the Department of Journalism, Media, and Philosophy at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University looked at user statements in two Emo Facebook groups. They found that cutting was discussed often, with teenagers openly expressing affirmative opinions of these behaviors.

Sites like Instagram are aware of the precarious environment their users have created. When searching for tags like #Sue, a “Content Advisory” warning comes up reading, “Please be advised: These posts may contain graphic content. For information and support with suicide or self-harm please tap on Learn More.” The notice displays a link to Befrienders Worldwide, a site that provides emotional support to prevent suicide. Users can then choose to view posts or navigate away from their original search.

Instagram outlines the types of photos and videos that are “appropriate” for posting in their Community Guidelines, specifically singling out eating disorders, and self-injury as not welcome in the community.

Megan Moreno at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and colleagues conducted a study where they found 10 hashtags on Instagram related to non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). A popular image outlining the code words for mental illnesses titled #MySecretFamily had over 1.5 million search results. Only one-third of the NSSI related hashtags generated content advisory warnings, which means that the majority of this NSSI content is easily accessible to all Instagram users, regardless of age or mental stability.

In an interview with A Stark Reality, a 15-year-old girl from Denmark, whose name was changed to protect her identity, described her relationship with this online community:

“The community means that I can express myself, and talk to people all over the world that feel the same way. Sometimes we cheer each other up, other times we drag each other down in that big, black hole called sadness.”

For better or worse, people reach out to online communities. But sites like Instagram and Twitter can play a greater role in providing their users with mental health resources and accurate information.

Abbiramy Sharvendiran, 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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Social Media Societies Pose Risks to Mental Health

00Anorexia Nervosa, Featured news, Health, Media, Self-Harm, Self-Help, Social Life, Social Networking November, 17

Source: IraEm at Pixabay, Creative Commons

The internet is rife with social media societies on many popular sites, including Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. #Ana, #Sue, #Cat—translated, they mean anorexia, suicidal, and self-harm.

By searching these tags, online users are exposed to a slew of posts from people experiencing the mental illnesses or issues tagged. On Instagram you can find pictures of users with fresh cuts on their arms accompanied by the hashtag #Cat, indicating self-harm.

A study by Janis Whitlock, Jane Powers, and John Eckenrode at Cornell University found that the self-injury-related message boards studied were mostly frequented by females between the ages of 14 and 20.

With so many young people accessing social media, membership to these online communities can be concerning. In an interview with Vice, Frank Köhnlein, a youth psychiatrist at the University Clinic in Basel, discussed how young members are particularly vulnerable:

“Young people who are already fragile and perhaps already have experience with self-harm could be massively stimulated by this sort of thing and encouraged to self-harm again. When self-harm is glorified or—as in this case—put into an almost religious context, so that it is evaluated positively, the risk is particularly high.”

The Whitlock study showed that online interactions can reduce social isolation in adolescents since the exchanges allow teenagers to connect with others easily. In essence, social media can serve as a virtual support group where users gain instant help.

But negative implications may outweigh the positive. Whitlock also found that participating in self-harm message boards online can normalize and encourage self-harm, and teach vulnerable individuals tactics to conceal self-injurious behaviors. Users within these virtual sub-communities often exchange techniques for self-harming as well.

A study by Carla Zdanow and Bianca Wright at the Department of Journalism, Media, and Philosophy at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University looked at user statements in two Emo Facebook groups. They found that cutting was discussed often, with teenagers openly expressing affirmative opinions of these behaviors.

Sites like Instagram are aware of the precarious environment their users have created. When searching for tags like #Sue, a “Content Advisory” warning comes up reading, “Please be advised: These posts may contain graphic content. For information and support with suicide or self-harm please tap on Learn More.” The notice displays a link to Befrienders Worldwide, a site that provides emotional support to prevent suicide. Users can then choose to view posts or navigate away from their original search.

Instagram outlines the types of photos and videos that are “appropriate” for posting in their Community Guidelines, specifically singling out eating disorders, and self-injury as not welcome in the community.

Megan Moreno at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and colleagues conducted a study where they found 10 hashtags on Instagram related to non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). A popular image outlining the code words for mental illnesses titled #MySecretFamily had over 1.5 million search results. Only one-third of the NSSI related hashtags generated content advisory warnings, which means that the majority of this NSSI content is easily accessible to all Instagram users, regardless of age or mental stability.

In an interview with A Stark Reality, a 15-year-old girl from Denmark, whose name was changed to protect her identity, described her relationship with this online community:

“The community means that I can express myself, and talk to people all over the world that feel the same way. Sometimes we cheer each other up, other times we drag each other down in that big, black hole called sadness.”

For better or worse, people reach out to online communities. But sites like Instagram and Twitter can play a greater role in providing their users with mental health resources and accurate information.

Abbiramy Sharvendiran, 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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Slam Poetry Facilitates Sharing Stories of Mental Illness

20Anxiety, Creativity, Depression, Featured news, Health, Relationships, Self-Esteem, Social Life, Trauma May, 17

Source: MatthewtheBryan on Deviant Art

Andrea Gibson is a spoken word artist and activist who writes with intense passion about mental illness, bullying, and social tragedy.

In her award-winning poem, The Madness Vase, Gibson speaks firsthand about the shame many feel from disclosing experiences of mental illness and suicide. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, she explained, “The trauma said don’t write this poem; no one wants to hear you cry about the grief inside your bones.”

When asked why people use spoken word to share these sensitive and personal experiences, Gibson told the Report:

“I can say things within the context of a poem that I could never speak outside of a poem. There is a way in which a poem cares for its writer. Allows no interruption. It’s a sweetness, a generous sweetness. I think of a poem almost as a good parent who might say, ‘I’m going to hold you and have your back while you say this, and you have every right to say this.’ There is a safety in it. A holding we may not have had elsewhere in life.”

Gibson also speaks to the ways in which sharing poetry can build self-esteem and promote self-love in both speakers and audience members, and views her poetry as a form of therapy to treat anxiety and depression:

“Telling your story is healing. Telling your story to a receptive audience of listeners is even more healing. Being witness to people telling their stories is healing. There is so much pain in hiding, and spoken word is the opposite of hiding.”

Gibson’s ability to connect with her audience lies in her willingness to share her adversity battling panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. Narrating her journey with mental illness contributes to the authenticity of her poetry and resonates powerfully with viewers.

“I doubt that I would have an artistic life if I had not been pushed into it by my own flailing nervous system. Art is a shelter of sorts. At the same time, I have had shows where I was almost too panicked to speak. I had to keep saying to the audience, “I am feeling so much anxiety, I can barely get through this.” But I’m guessing in the long run even that is of some comfort to many people. To witness a panic attack on stage, and to watch art happen regardless.”

In addition to her work as a spoken word activist, Gibson created STAY HERE WITH ME in 2011, an online platform to share experiences of trauma, mental illness, of wanting to die, and of the different art forms that have prevented individuals from committing suicide. Gibson started this initiative with co-founder Kelsey Gibb, a mental-health professional and tour manager.

“Kelsey and I were on tour together while I was receiving a lot of letters from people who were struggling to want to stay alive and we wanted to create an online community that had larger reach of support. We wanted to create something that helped people want to stay.”

Gibson’s work highlights the healing power of story-telling. As an art-focused space, STAY HERE WITH ME encourages the use of art and poetry to heal, connect, and remind the audience they are not alone. Hundreds of individuals have shared personal stories through her website, finding acceptance and understanding through shared experiences.

Through poetry and mental health advocacy, Gibson is determined to build a community dedicated to helping people who have suicidal feelings.

“I want to remind individuals struggling with suicide to be sweet to the part of them that is in pain. To hold that part with gentleness and not to ask that pained part to go away sooner than it needs to. Sometimes simply letting ourselves hurt is what the hurt needs to move through us.”

–Lauren Goldberg, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Staffing Shortage Underserves Long Term Care Residents

10Aging, Cognition, Dementia, Featured news, Health, Loneliness, Social Life February, 17

Source: Chris Marchant on flickr, Creative Commons

In the summer of 2014, I volunteered at a long-term care facility (LTC) in the Peel Region of Southern Ontario. Most of the residents who lived there were diagnosed with some form of cognitive impairment, primarily dementia. I saw first-hand the unfortunate reality of understaffing, and how it leads to deficits in patient care.

As the elderly population has grown, Ontario has seen a 22% increase in admission rates of LTC residents as of 2014. And the number of residents with cognitive impairments is especially high. According to the Ontario Long Term Care Association’s 2014 annual report, 62% of residents have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia resulting from stroke, developmental disability, or traumatic brain injury.

Patients with cognitive impairments may have other mental health disorders as well. The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) indicates that 25.9% of residents in Ontario long-term care homes have shown symptoms of depression through 2013 and 2014.

In my time volunteering at the LTC, I noticed that residents often refrained from socializing because they were unable to take part in events due to memory deterioration, speech issues, and physical ailments such as paralysis or arthritis. Most residents required staff to transport them from one place to another and though they worked hard to support residents, there were simply not enough staff to supervise these daily activities.

Jane (name changed for anonymity), the Supervisor of Activation at an LTC in the Peel Region, spoke to the Trauma and Mental Health Report about this issue. Jane is responsible for organizing activities that motivate elderly residents to engage in social interaction and improve cognitive well-being.

Jane agreed that one of the biggest challenges for LTCs is staffing:

“Year by year, the case load of different residents is increasing, but with such little funding we do not have enough staff to support their needs. If residents aren’t participating in daily events and activities, their cognitive functioning is negatively impacted.”

A University of Ottawa study found that between the years 2000 and 2010, over 60% of residents with multiple cognitive deficits lacked stimulating therapeutic activities and social support. It showed that while residents received sufficient assistance with physical needs, such as feeding and changing, cognitive functioning continued to worsen in areas like memory and attention.

Jane also explained that despite research emphasizing the importance of activities that are engaging, staffing shortages make it difficult for these activities to be held in LTC homes:

“We need more activation staff for art therapy, music therapy and physiotherapy as these activities are beneficial to residents’ cognitive functioning. However, many activities are cancelled or postponed because of a lack of staff to facilitate the activities and monitor the residents. A few years ago, residents only needed one staff member or nurse for assistance, now they need two or more people. Sometimes, they’re left waiting for support.”

But perhaps the real issue here is funding. Adequate funds are necessary to increase the amount of staff within LTCs, so that residents can develop social relationships, participate in interactive activities, and improve their cognitive functioning and capabilities. Jane agrees:

“Funding hasn’t increased yet the resident conditions are changing and they require more care. The caseload is increasing, with little funding.”

Funding should also be allotted for appropriate staff training. LTC residents with cognitive impairments have a unique set of needs. According to the University of Ottawa study, residents require assistance in areas such as memory retention and engaging in regular social activities to help them interact and feel like recognized members of their community.

Making use of mental health first aid programs, such as the workshops offered atConestoga College and the Baycrest Health Sciences’ Geriatric Mental Health Serviceconference, can go a long way in improving the services staff provide.

As a past volunteer for an LTC home, I have seen the impact of limited support on residents’ lives. Greater funding and more staff to facilitate therapeutic activities are crucial to optimizing the care residents receive and to ensuring better cognitive functioning.

–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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Friends of Teens with Eating Disorders Unsure Where to Turn

00Adolescence, Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Eating Disorders, Featured news, Friends, Health, Social Life January, 17

Source: Darren Tunnicliff on Flickr, Creative Commons

During my last year of high school, I tried to help one of my closest friends, Rebecca (name changed), through an eating disorder.  I found myself in the difficult position of guarding her secret, yet somehow trying to get her through a mental illness.

So I was eager to see director Sanna Lenken’s, My Skinny Sister at the 2015 Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival in Toronto, a film that captures the pain of a family coping with one member’s eating disorder.

The story is narrated by a young girl, Stella, who discovers that her older sister and role model, Katja, is suffering from anorexia nervosa. Through their complicated relationship, the viewer feels the struggle of wanting to protect a friend or family member from harm, while respecting the right to come forward only when ready.

Stella’s confusion and anxiety resonated with me. Like her, I felt I had to keep my friend Rebecca’s eating disorder a secret, scared of repercussions should anyone find out.

Rebecca’s condition escalated during senior year. She began over-exercising and restricting her caloric intake. At first, the disorder was hardly noticeable. But over time her weight dropped, her face appeared gaunt, her bones protruded.

At seventeen, I felt ill-equipped to handle this. Like Stella, I wanted Rebecca to seek help, but I didn’t know how to arrange it without betraying her trust.

Trying to aid a family member or friend with an eating disorder is very hard. Without resources at school, with no one to turn to, I didn’t know how to begin the conversation. As I struggled to support Rebecca, it became obvious I had no tools to help. One week of anti-stigma instruction that focused on body image and speaking inclusively wasn’t nearly enough.

Many adolescents are vulnerable to personal and friendship crises like these. And some websites help educate teenagers, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) site or the National Eating Disorder Association’s (NEDA) site.

But mental health education in high school? Not so much.

That’s unfortunate. Research shows the benefits of educating teachers on mental illness. In a 2014 study published in the journal Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Yifeng Wei and Stan Kutcher at Dalhousie University found that training teachers through a mental health program led to significant development in their ability to identify individuals with mental illness. And their attitudes toward mental disorders improved as well. Teachers were better able to support students, and link them to services.

The Youth Action Committee of Children’s Mental Health Ontario, in 2012, designed a project to identify where schools were deficient in educating mental health issues. The study found a lack of training and education for students, with 39.5% of participants saying they only learned about mental health in one class. There was also a lack of access to resources, such as a designated safe space for students who wanted to discuss these issues in school.

In the end, there wasn’t much I could do to help my friend. Over time, Rebecca sought treatment independently—she got the help she needed.

But not everyone struggling with an eating disorder will seek help on their own. Better education and resources for people coping with mental illness, as well as for those who want to help, would go a long way in providing support.

–Alyssa Carvajal, 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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Prisoners Gain Understanding of Others Through Literature

00Emotional Intelligence, Empathy, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Psychopathy, Social Life December, 16

Source: Homes and Antiques

Does reading have the ability to increase empathy? Writer and activist Alaa Al Aswany thinks so. He believes that the role of literature has been captured by the single word ‘also’ from the Dostoyevsky novel The House of the Dead, in which a prisoner, witnessing the death of another, comments “He, also, had a mother.” Aswany says that in this context, the word ‘also’ is an attempt to understand what is common to all humans, and that this understanding is the essence of literature.

Literature as a tool for human understanding and empathy… The idea has been a powerful socializing influence in a very unlikely setting: prison.

The organization Book Clubs for Inmates facilitates 22 book clubs across Canada to allow inmates in federal penitentiaries to read and discuss novels. Their slogan is‘Literacy, Self-Awareness and Empathy’. They reason that most inmates will re-enter society at some point and, by encouraging reading while in prison, the organization believes that prisoners can improve vital social skills.

Volunteers guide conversations through themes that range from self-sacrifice to overcoming adversity, and how these topics relate to inmates’ lives. Through these discussions, prisoners develop pro-social skills, such as taking turns speaking and listening, which may enable easier reintegration later on.

The Book Clubs for Inmates website claims that 85% of prisoners report improved reading skills; 90% realize improved communications skills; 93% report reduced recidivism; and 86% see the book clubs as an opportunity to engage in meaningful discussion.

One inmate expressed:

“The Book Club is an enormous source of intellectual and social—sometimes even spiritual—inspiration to both myself and the many others who attend. I have watched men in that group realize their potential to analyze and reflect that I don’t know if they even realized they had.”

Research conducted by David Kidd and Emanuele Castano at The New School for Social Research in New York provides evidence to support idea that literary fiction can enhance the capacity to understand the thoughts and feelings of others.

In their study, participants read randomly assigned texts, either non-fiction, thrillers, romance, or literary fiction. After reading, they perform a series of tasks to measure empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence by examining how accurately the participants could identify emotions in others. For example, one task involves inferring emotion simply from a picture of someone’s eyes. Scores of empathy were significantly higher for those who had read the literary fiction.

Kidd and Castano explain this phenomenon as literary fiction’s ability to leave more to the imagination by not explaining characters’ behaviour explicitly. Readers then have the freedom to make inferences about characters’ thoughts and motivations. This kind of interpretation requires sensitivity to emotional nuance.

Kidd explains:

“In literary fiction, the incompleteness of the characters turns your mind to trying to understand the minds of others.”

Readers can then carry this awareness into the real world to understand others who are different and think differently. Kidd argues that this transference is to be expected:

“The same psychological processes are used to navigate fiction and real relationships. Fiction is not just a simulator of a social experience, it is a social experience.”

Current research in the neurosciences supports the idea that reading allows people to experience life from a character’s perspective. A study at Carnegie Mellon University found that reading a Harry Potter excerpt, in which Harry rides a broom, activates the same brain regions that would be responsible if one were to actually fly a broom. That is, readers live vicariously through the characters they read about in literary works.

Raymond Mar, a social psychologist at York University, stresses the role of fiction in teaching empathy to children as well, saying that “Even though fiction is fabricated, it can communicate truths about human psychology and relationships,” which can be very important lessons for the developing child.

Exposure to fiction can improve children’s social functioning, as well. Not only does it allow them to step into another’s shoes, improving empathy, but it helps to develop vocabulary for their feelings, allowing them to communicate more effectively. Mar viewsreading as developing their theory of mind, their ability to understand others’ thoughts, desires and motivations.

As one inmate said:

“When you’re reading books, you realize that the world’s not all about you. You’re not the only one going through these trials and tribulations. You get to have a little empathy for other people.”

–Caitlin McNair, 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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“Ex-Gay” Conversion Therapy Movement Puts Lives at Risk

00Conformity, Featured news, Health, Sexual Orientation, Social Life, Stress, Therapy September, 16

Source: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

There is a billboard in Richmond, Virginia hanging above the interstate with a picture of identical male twins and a caption that reads: “Identical Twins: One Gay, One Not. We believe twin research studies show nobody is born gay.”

Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX), the organization that created the ad, promotes the view that being gay is a choice, not a genetic predisposition, despite extensive research showing the contrary.

The claims in the ad are not only false, but the men featured are not actually twins at all, or even brothers. According to the Huffington Post, the face of South African model, Kyle Roux, was superimposed onto two different bodies to give the illusion of twins. Roux was shocked to see his face on the ad, as he didn’t give permission for the image to be used. And…he is openly gay.

PFOX is part of the controversial Ex-Gay Movement, encouraging gay persons to refrain from same-sex relationships, eliminate homosexual tendencies, and develop heterosexual desires. Their view: Gay must be cured.

They consider sexual orientation a choice, and those who identify as gay are willingly choosing a deviant lifestyle. But this ideology results in family rejection and self-hatred among LGBTQ individuals, as well as intolerance and discrimination in the community.

Organizations promoting this view are often affiliated with religious institutions. PFOX believes gay people can renounce homosexuality through religious revelations or conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy.

Sexual orientation conversion therapy became popular in the 1960s. According to the American Psychological Association report, Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, different disciplines of psychology influenced practices of conversion therapy.

In response to such treatments, numerous mental health and psychological organizations publically announced that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and is not something that can or should be cured. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association’s Board of Trustees removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Second Edition (DSM II) in 1973. And in 2000, they further stated:

“The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.”

The risks are even greater among gay youth. A 2009 study by Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State University found that young adults who experience family rejection based on their sexual orientation are eight times more likely to attempt suicide and six times more likely to experience depression.

Despite these findings and professional opposition to conversion therapy by both the American Psychiatric and American Psychological Associations, many of these treatments continue to be used and promoted.

Michele Bachmann, a Republican former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, considers homosexuality a choice. Bachmann and her husband were found to be practicing conversion therapy at their Christian counseling clinic in Minnesota.

Conversion therapy is still legal in most U.S. states, though anti-conversion bills have been signed into law in California, New Jersey, and Washington DC. Campaigns such as the #BornPerfect movement are working toward expanding state bans into other areas.

While public attitudes and legislation are shifting toward respect for LGBTQ individuals, conversion therapy is still a common practice, compromising mental health, threatening lives, and undermining efforts of movements that stress tolerance and equality.

–Eleenor Abraham, 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

Patients with Misophonia require help and understanding

Patients with Misophonia require help and understanding

10Empathy, Featured news, Happiness, Loneliness, Neuroscience, Relationships, Social Life November, 15

Source: Rick&Brenda Beerhorst on Flickr

Some people find the sound of nails on a chalkboard or the rumbling of a snoring spouse irritating, but what if the sound of someone breathing sent you into a fit of rage?  This is a reality for many sufferers of misophonia.

Only recently garnering attention from researchers, misophonia is a condition where individuals have a decreased tolerance for certain sounds.  Chewing, coughing, scratching, or pen clicking can provoke an immediate aggressive response.  Verbal tantrums are common and in severe cases, sufferers may even physically attack the object or person causing the noise.

“I turn my eyes to face the source of the noise and feel myself glaring at that person in rage,” misophonia sufferer Shannon Morell explains to The Daily Record.  “The only thing I can think about is removing myself from the situation as quickly as possible.”

Many sufferers begin to structure their lives around their struggle with the disorder and avoid triggers by socially isolating themselves.  Public spaces like restaurants or parks are readily avoided and in extreme cases, eating or sleeping in the same room as a loved one can feel impossible.  Even establishing or maintaining relationships is very challenging.

Misophonia can interfere with academic and work performance.  In a study by PhD candidate Miren Edelstein at the University of California in San Diego, patients reported trouble concentrating in class or at work due to distraction from trigger noises.  In some cases, students may resort to isolating themselves, taking their courses online.

David Holmes tells The Daily Record that he finds refuge in using headphones (whenever possible) to block out external noises while at work.

The cause of misophonia is currently believed to be neurological, where the patient’s limbic (emotional) and autonomic nervous systems are more closely connected with the auditory system.  This may be why hearing a disliked sound elicits an emotional response.  Aage Moller, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas, describes it as a complication in how the brain processes auditory stimuli.

Research shows that misophonia usually develops at puberty and tends to worsen into adulthood.

But misophonia is still greatly misunderstood.  There is a lack of research examining its causes or possible treatments.  There is no cure, and some critics even wonder if misophonia should be considered a disorder at all, arguing instead that it’s just a personality quirk.

While it seems there is little help available for people with the disorder, Misophonia UK, an organization dedicated to providing information and support to misophonia sufferers, outlines a number of interventions.

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) involves teaching patients how to slowly build sound tolerance, while Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on changing negative attitudes that can contribute to the severity of the disorder.  In some cases, hypnosis can be used to relax individuals.  Breathing techniques are also taught so patients can learn to sooth themselves when hearing their trigger noises.

Keeping a diary to record feelings and providing education to loved ones are also strategies recommended by Misophonia UK.  Support groups and online forums like UK Misophonia, Selective Sound Sensitivity, and Misophonia Support also provide a way for sufferers to share their experiences and interact with others.

Researchers in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Amsterdam say that DSM classification may be necessary to pave the way for more recognition and research on the disorder, and that if misophonia is not regarded as a distinct psychiatric condition, it should at least be viewed as part of Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Disorder (OCSD).

The prevalence of misophonia is currently not documented, and it seems few seek help.  Suffers of misophonia can only do so much on their own before the disorder starts intruding on their lives.

– Anjali Wisnarama, 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

“Pro-Ana” Websites Encourage Anorexia

“Pro-Ana” Websites Encourage Anorexia

10Body Image, Eating Disorders, Featured news, Loneliness, Self-Esteem, Social Life August, 15

Source: Wolfgang Lonien/Flickr

In 2013, 17-year old Grainne Binns came forward to the Daily Mail with her story of having anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder defined by a distorted body image, and intense fear of being or becoming fat.  Months of restricting food intake meant Binns’ weight plummeted to 84 pounds.

Her inspiration, she explained, was admiration of girls on pro-ana and thinspiration blogs and websites.

The sites claim not to promote eating disorders, yet pro-ana (pro-anorexia) websites provide diet plans with dangerously low caloric intake, and ways to eat less and burn more calories, as well as “inspiration” through images of very thin models and celebrities.  They advance the idea of anorexia nervosa as a lifestyle rather than a mental illness.

Researchers at the Department of Communication at Wayne State University assert that the biggest appeal of pro-ana websites is their ability to provide social support and a sense of self-expression.  Offline, people with eating disorders often face stigma when voicing anti-treatment views and eating habits to friends and family.  Online, the websites become a sanctuary where users are free to express their views and have them met with agreement and support.

Shared writing about issues of self-esteem or feeling misunderstood, in fact, may be therapeutic, often providing a sense of community.  Emotional support and validation from other users seem to be part of the appeal of pro-ana websites.

In a study by Professor Nicole Martins, and Ph.D. Candidate Daphna Yeshua-Katz at the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University, interviews with regular pro-ana bloggers revealed that many felt the websites granted permission for them to continue with their eating disorder.  Bloggers also worried they would be seen as wanna-rexics (wannabe anorexics) by other online community members for not meeting their weight loss goals.

Binns knew this feeling well, describing her need to please other users when they would comment that she appeared fat in her photos.

Sonya Lipczynska, information specialist of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, also describes how the cult-like nature of pro-eating disorder websites are enabling harmful behaviour.  Personifying anorexia nervosa, writers on some sites refer to the disorder as if it were a real person, “Ana,” who members must appease by following rules and dedicating attention to making “her” happy.  These rules, known as “Ana’s Laws,” reinforce the fixation users have with being thin.

Some patients get so addicted to the appeal of pro-ana websites that they use them in secret, despite being advised against doing so by their therapists or other mental health professionals.

Although these websites are active, certain efforts are being made to discourage use.  Social media sites such as Tumblr and Instagram have changed their terms of service to ban the posting of thinspo images.

And a growing number of pro-recovery websites promote optimistic thinking and positive self-image through the use of inspirational quotes, pictures, and community support.  Users get the message that they can successfully beat their eating disorder, along with recovery tips and referral information to get professional help.

Still, pro-ana websites should not be dismissed.  What we need to appreciate is that the support and understanding the sites give to users make them not only popular, but addictive.

And there may be a lesson or two here for family, friends, and those in the mental health community invested in recovery from eating disorders:  The best way to address concerns about pro-ana websites is to provide the same level of support and understanding offline as users now get online.  And, eating disorder websites devoted to recovery need to provide a similarly supportive community as well.

In the case of Grainne Binns, the road was difficult.  But, it was the support of family and friends that allowed her to delete her pro-ana blog and start a new one about healthy living, ultimately facilitating her recovery.

– Anjali Wisnarama, 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