Category: Therapy

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Using Art to Heal from Sexual Assault

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

Source: Safi, Frizz kid,used with permission

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

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

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

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

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

According to Shafi:

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

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

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

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

Participants were invited to answer the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Copyright Robert T. Muller.”

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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For Those With Schizophrenia, Writing Can Help

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

Source: Joe Skinner Photography at flickr, Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Afifa Mahboob, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller.

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Online Programs Confront Suicide in Indigenous Communities

00Depression, Featured news, Health, Resilience, Suicide, Therapy December, 17

Source: Nicole Mason at unsplash, Creative Commons

In 2016, a wave of suicides occurred in Canada’s indigenous populations. Communities in northern Saskatchewan, in particular, witnessed several youth suicides. In October of that year, five girls between 10 and 14 died by suicide in the span of a few weeks. The situation intensified when news broke later that month that a 13-year-old girl was the latest to take her life: a total of six young girls in the province.

Indigenous communities have a long and painful history of mental health issues. Persistent poverty, discrimination, and systemic racism have been cited as key factors in the growing mental health crisis these people face today. Indigenous communities are found in remote, less populated areas, making it difficult for them to get adequate care.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for indigenous peoples—indigenous youth being an acutely vulnerable population. Unsurprisingly, there has been a public outcry for intervention. To reach these remote areas, both activists and researchers are turning to technology to alleviate the growing suicide epidemic.

The We Matter Campaign, an initiative by brother-sister duo Kelvin and Tunchai Redvers, began in October 2016. The campaign consists of videos from members of the indigenous community sharing personal stories of survival and hope. The Redvers’ website hosts a variety of work from indigenous youth—visual art and poetry, in addition to the videos, which are the main focus. Individuals with diverse experiences have shared their stories, from high school students to residential school survivors to members of parliament.

One especially moving story comes from comedian Don Burnstick, who discloses:

“I ended up on a chair with a rope around my neck, and I was going to hang myself. …I imagine if I would have done that, I would have ended up another statistic; a cross on the ground in my res. None of this life would have happened for me. I was very grateful that I got off that chair, took the rope off and looked at suicide and said ‘I’m not going to do it. I don’t care how much pain I’m in. I’m not going to do it. You’re not going to get me.’”

By hosting a multi-media campaign on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as their own website, the Redvers harness technology and social media to reach otherwise isolated populations.

Kelvin and Tunchai Redvers spoke to the Trauma and Mental Health Report about their initiative. When asked how it started, Kelvin emphasizes the role of the internet: “It seemed like something so simple, yet we hadn’t seen anyone do it yet… 3 a.m. is when life seems so bleak and you feel most alone. Since our campaign is online and available at all hours, it could really help during those dark moments.”

Tunchai further highlights the important role technology plays in their approach: “Our campaign is online, and it lives online—to all remote corners, to those who might not reach out for help. It’s less overwhelming that way, less intimidating.”

Researchers, too, are harnessing the power of technology to help indigenous youth populations. Sally Merry and colleagues at Auckland University have developed a video game called SPARX (Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-Factor thoughts). SPARX is a fantasy role-playing game designed to teach coping skills based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy. SPARX teaches five behaviours to help young people address stress or depression: problem solving; being active; dealing with negative thoughts; improving social skills; and learning relaxation techniques.

Anecdotal findings in Auckland show that adolescents using SPARX report feeling happy that their peers don’t know they are depressed, and that they can deal with their mental health concerns on their own. That same study found youth reporting decreased feelings of hopelessness and better emotion regulation. One user explains, “It gives you the courage to sort out your problems, face your problems, and may even enable you to take another step and talk to someone.”

SPARX has been used to treat depressed youth in a variety of cultural contexts, including indigenous youth. After successful results with the New Zealand Māori population, the approach is being tried in Canada. Given that individuals of the Inuit community in Nunavut are 11 times more likely than the national average to commit suicide, researchers from York University are working to adapt SPARX for the Inuit context (SPARX-N).

This technology is enabling new routes to helping marginalized, indigenous populations that live in inaccessible areas. Although tangible outcomes remain to be seen, technology-based solutions offer hope toward helping heal a long history of trauma. Above all, the founders of the We Matter Campaign emphasize the strength and resilience of indigenous communities. Tunchai says: “There are a lot of issues out there, but also so much creativity, love, and hope.”

–Fernanda de la Mora, 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

fd-_-article-1-_-feature-1-470x260.jpg

Online Programs Confront Suicide in Indigenous Communities

30Depression, Featured news, Health, Resilience, Suicide, Therapy December, 17

Source: Nicole Mason at unsplash, Creative Commons

In 2016, a wave of suicides occurred in Canada’s indigenous populations. Communities in northern Saskatchewan particularly witnessed several youth suicides. In October of that year, five girls between 10 and 14 died by suicide in the span of a few weeks. The situation intensified when news broke later that month that a 13-year-old girl was the latest to take her life: a total of six young girls in the province.

Indigenous communities have a long and painful history of mental health issues. Persistent poverty, discrimination, and systemic racism have been cited as key factors in the growing mental health crisis these people face today. Indigenous communities are found in remote, less populated areas, making it difficult for them to get adequate care.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for indigenous peoples—indigenous youth being an acutely vulnerable population. Unsurprisingly, there has been a public outcry for intervention. To reach these remote areas, both activists and researchers are turning to technology to alleviate the growing suicide epidemic.

The We Matter Campaign, an initiative by brother-sister duo Kelvin and Tunchai Redvers, began in October 2016. The campaign consists of videos from members of the indigenous community sharing personal stories of survival and hope. The Redvers’ website hosts a variety of work from indigenous youth—visual art and poetry, in addition to the videos, which are the main focus. Individuals with diverse experiences have shared their stories, from high school students, to residential school survivors, to members of parliament.

One especially moving story comes from comedian Don Burnstick, who discloses:

“I ended up on a chair with a rope around my neck, and I was going to hang myself. …I imagine if I would have done that, I would have ended up another statistic; a cross on the ground in my res. None of this life would have happened for me. I was very grateful that I got off that chair, took the rope off and looked at suicide and said ‘I’m not going to do it. I don’t care how much pain I’m in. I’m not going to do it. You’re not going to get me.’”

By hosting a multi-media campaign on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as their own website, the Redvers harness technology and social media to reach otherwise isolated populations.

Kelvin and Tunchai Redvers spoke to the Trauma and Mental Health Report about their initiative. When asked how it started, Kelvin emphasizes the role of the internet:

“It seemed like something so simple, yet we hadn’t seen anyone do it yet. 3AM is when life seems so bleak and you feel most alone. Since our campaign is online and available at all hours, it could really help during those dark moments.”

Tunchai further highlights the important role technology plays in their approach:

“Our campaign is online, and it lives online—to all remote corners, to those who might not reach out for help. It’s less overwhelming that way, less intimidating.”

Researchers, too, are harnessing the power of technology to help indigenous youth populations. Sally Merry and colleagues at Auckland University have developed a video game called SPARX (Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-Factor thoughts). Referred to as the first “scientifically-proven ‘gamified’ online therapy for depressed people,”SPARX is a fantasy role-playing game designed to teach coping skills based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy. SPARX teaches five behaviours to help young people address stress or depression: problem solving; being active; dealing with negative thoughts; improving social skills; and learning relaxation techniques.

Anecdotal findings of SPARX in Auckland show that adolescents using it report feeling happy that their peers don’t know they are depressed, and that they can deal with their mental health concerns on their own. That same study found youth reporting decreased feelings of hopelessness and better emotion regulation. One user explains:

“It gives you the courage to sort out your problems, face your problems, and may even enable you to take another step and talk to someone.”

SPARX has been used to treat depressed youth in a variety of cultural contexts, including indigenous youth. After successful results with the New Zealand Māori population, the approach is being tried in Canada. Given that individuals of the Inuit community in Nunavut are 11 times more likely than the national average to commit suicide, researchers from York University are working to adapt SPARX for the Inuit context (SPARX-N).

This technology is enabling new routes to helping marginalized, indigenous populations that live in inaccessible areas. Although tangible outcomes remain to be seen, technology-based solutions offer hope toward helping heal a long history of trauma. Above all, the founders of the We Matter Campaign emphasize the strength and resilience of indigenous communities. Tunchai says:

“There are a lot of issues out there, but also so much creativity, love, and hope.”

–Fernanda de la Mora, 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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Medical Marijuana for PTSD?

00Addiction, Featured news, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Stress, Therapy, Trauma December, 17

Source: Sinclair Terrasidius at flickr, Creative Commons

On October 1, 2016, a Canadian medical marijuana company called Marijuana for Trauma opened a location in Edmonton, Alberta to treat PTSD in military veterans. It’s owned and operated by Fabian Henry, who uses marijuana to treat combat-related PTSD, resulting from his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. He claims that conventional medicine does not allow people struggling with PTSD to process their trauma, while marijuana does.

Although the use of medical marijuana for the treatment of physical and psychological disorders is controversial, medical marijuana is currently legal in Canada.

The Washington Post reported that therapeutic use of marijuana was banned in the U.S. in 1970, and marijuana is still categorized as an illicit drug despite its potential medicinal benefits. Given its controversial nature and association with stereotypes, cannabis research for treatment of mental disorders has been limited. But scientific interest is intensifying.

A recent study published in Molecular Psychiatry showed that treatment using particular compounds found in marijuana may benefit those with PTSD, and that “plant-derived cannabinoids [psychoactive chemicals] such as marijuana may possess some benefits in individuals with PTSD by helping relieve haunting nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD.”

Research published on Science Daily also looked at symptom reduction in patients with PTSD. As a result of taking medical marijuana, participants reported a decrease in re-experiencing the trauma, less avoidance of situations that reminded them of the trauma, and a decline in hyper-arousal.

There is also anecdotal evidence. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Dianna Donnelly, a counselor and patient at the Canadian Cannabis Clinics, described her experience:

“I am a patient who legally uses cannabis for depression. The cannabis helps mute or lower my negative chatter, which allows for good thoughts and feelings to arise. One Veteran, a friend of mine, who recently started using marijuana instead of prescription medication for PTSD, said that with the cannabis, he can feel his emotions, and experience them properly and safely. Before, he just felt numb.”

Medical marijuana is not usually used on its own for the treatment of PTSD. Shelley Franklin, the Veteran Program Coordinator for the Canadian Cannabis Clinics, explained:

“Medical cannabis is used in conjunction with other therapies. Peer support groups are a highly supported therapy for patients suffering an Operational Stress Injury [another term for PTSD]. Medical cannabis strains with the right CBD and THC [psychoactive chemicals in cannabis] levels are assisting veterans with chronic physical pain, as well anxiety and insomnia issues. I believe that medical cannabis will continue to work in conjunction with many other therapies.”

Conversely, former Canadian Member of Parliament Peter Stoffer believes that soldiers have too much access to medical marijuana. Although not opposed to the use of medical marijuana in certain cases, Stoffer believes that current legislation, which compensates veterans for up to 10 grams of cannabis per day, promotes overuse and could potentially lead to negative effects. In an interview with the CBC, Stoffer said:

“Ten grams a day is an awful lot of marijuana to give one person. It is an incredible amount. That’s simply not the way to go. You’re not helping that person at all. You’re not giving them any chance of recovery. All you’re really doing is masking the pain that they’re suffering.”

The research is still in its infancy and likely to explode in the near future, as the Canadian government prepares to remove restrictions on marijuana in 2017. This movement will make it much easier for researchers to study the effects cannabis has on psychological disorders and to form conclusions on its efficacy.

As for Fabian Henry and his cannabis dispensary Marijuana for Trauma, he continues to work with physicians to tailor the amounts dispensed to individuals and has no plans himself to stop using the drug.

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Medical Marijuana for PTSD?

80Addiction, Featured news, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Stress, Therapy, Trauma December, 17

Source: Sinclair Terrasidius at flickr, Creative Commons

On October 1st, 2016, a Canadian medical marijuana company called Marijuana for Trauma opened a location in Edmonton, Alberta to treat PTSD in military veterans. It’s owned and operated by Fabian Henry, who uses marijuana to treat combat-related PTSD, resulting from his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. He claims that conventional medicine does not allow people struggling with PTSD to process their trauma, while marijuana does.

Although the use of medical marijuana for the treatment of physical and psychological disorders is controversial, medical marijuana is currently legal in Canada.

The Washington Post reports that therapeutic use of marijuana was banned in the U.S. in 1970, and marijuana is still categorized as an illicit drug despite its potential medicinal benefits. Given its controversial nature and association with stereotypes, cannabis research for treatment of mental disorders has been limited. But scientific interest is intensifying.

A recent study published in Molecular Psychiatry showed that treatment using particular compounds found in marijuana may benefit those with PTSD, and that “…plant-derived cannabinoids [psychoactive chemicals] such as marijuana may possess some benefits in individuals with PTSD by helping relieve haunting nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD.”

Research published in Science Daily also looked at symptom reduction in patients with PTSD. As a result of taking medical marijuana, participants reported a decrease in re-experiencing the trauma, less avoidance of situations that reminded them of the trauma, and a decline in hyper-arousal.

There is also anecdotal evidence. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Dianna Donnelly, a counselor and patient at the Canadian Cannabis Clinics, described her experience:

“I am a patient who legally uses cannabis for depression. The cannabis helps mute or lower my negative chatter, which allows for good thoughts and feelings to arise. One Veteran, a friend of mine, who recently started using marijuana instead of prescription medication for PTSD, said that with the cannabis, he can feel his emotions, and experience them properly and safely. Before, he just felt numb.”

Medical marijuana is not usually used on its own for the treatment of PTSD. Shelley Franklin, the Veteran Program Coordinator for the Canadian Cannabis Clinics, explained that:

“Medical cannabis is used in conjunction with other therapies. Peer support groups are a highly supported therapy for patients suffering an Operational Stress Injury [another term for PTSD]. Medical cannabis strains with the right CBD and THC [psychoactive chemicals in cannabis] levels are assisting veterans with chronic physical pain, as well anxiety and insomnia issues. I believe that medical cannabis will continue to work in conjunction with many other therapies.”

Conversely, former Canadian Member of Parliament Peter Stoffer believes that soldiers have too much access to medical marijuana. Although not opposed to the use of medical marijuana in certain cases, Stoffer believes that current legislation, which compensates veterans for up to 10 grams of cannabis per day, promotes overuse and could potentially lead to negative effects. In an interview with the CBC, Stoffer said:

“Ten grams a day is an awful lot of marijuana to give one person. It is an incredible amount. That’s simply not the way to go. You’re not helping that person at all. You’re not giving them any chance of recovery. All you’re really doing is masking the pain that they’re suffering.”

The research is still in its infancy and likely to explode in the near future, as the Canadian government prepares to remove restrictions on marijuana in 2017. This movement will make it much easier for researchers to study the effects cannabis has on psychological disorders and to form conclusions on its efficacy.

As for Fabian Henry and his cannabis dispensary Marijuana for Trauma, he continues to work with physicians to tailor the amounts dispensed to individuals and has no plans himself to stop using the drug.

–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

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Trauma Exposure Linked to PTSD in 911 Dispatchers

00Featured news, Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Therapy, Trauma, Work September, 17

Source: Public Domain at flickr

In February 2016, Gail—a 911 dispatcher with Toronto Paramedic Services—found herself in tears at work. She had just received a call about Wallace Passos, a three-year-old boy from Toronto, who fell from a 17-story apartment building to his death.

At age 57, Gail has been working as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher for 15 years. Taking calls from around the city, she dispatches the closest ambulance. All dispatchers are expected to work 12-hour shifts, at times with only one colleague on duty.

This past year, Gail’s job became especially difficult for her when she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Gail recently spoke with the Trauma and Mental Health Report to discuss the experience that led to the diagnosis:

“I’m still haunted by the sounds of the family crying on the phone after the three-year-old fell off the building. I imagine the boy in pain, and it’s just awful.”

Gail is not the first emergency dispatcher to experience PTSD symptoms. A study conducted by researchers at Northern Illinois University described how 911 dispatchers are exposed to duty-related trauma, which is defined as an indirect exposure to someone else’s traumatic experience. Duty-related trauma puts dispatchers at risk for developing PTSD. Participants in the study reported experiencing fear, helplessness, and horror in reaction to various calls they received.

Along with the stress of being on the receiving end of difficult calls, emergency dispatchers also deal with the pressure and demand of following protocol, despite variability in situations.

Toronto Paramedic Services follows specific protocols set by The National Academy of Dispatch. The system was developed at Salt Lake City, Utah in 1988 and incorporates a set of 33 protocols for those answering 911 emergency phone calls. On a call, everyone is treated equally and is asked the same basic investigative questions. These questions are then used to give priority to life-threatening situations and provide guidance to first responders like firefighters, paramedics, and police officers on the scene.

While the protocols can be useful for guiding dispatchers through stressful situations, in other circumstances, they can cause pain and discomfort when a dispatcher can tell that a situation is hopeless. Dispatchers are not trained to deal with each unique case differently; they are expected to follow through with the routine questions regardless of circumstances.

In the case of Wallace Passos, Gail had to give instructions for CPR despite knowing that the child was already dead.

“It’s not just that the little boy died, but I feel that I traumatized the people that were trying to help him because I was required, in my position as a dispatcher, to tell them what to do to try and save him. And I knew from their description that he was dead. But we have to follow the procedure; we have to try.”

This predicament is further compounded by the blame placed on dispatchers for negative outcomes. Gail explains:

“People curse us and call us names just because we’re doing our jobs.”

Before her diagnosis, Gail often found herself crying at work without reason; she would take a call regarding a minor injury and become emotional. Her supervisor eventually gave her permission to take a leave of absence.

Over the past few months she has had disruptive sleep, nightmares, headaches, and unexplainable muscle spasms:

“I am hyper-vigilant, especially when I hear sirens. And it doesn’t have to be an ambulance; it could be a police car or fire truck. I hear the sirens and I start tensing up and looking all around me.”

Gail has been on a year-long search for proper psychological support for her PTSD. Unfortunately, there are few mental health benefits offered to dispatchers. Gail sought help from doctors, counselors, and social workers, most of whom referred her to other mental healthcare workers without providing much support.

But there is reason to be optimistic. The Ontario government passed legislation in February 2016 for better mental health support and benefits for first responders with PTSD, including 911 dispatchers.

“It made me sad that no one was stepping up and taking care of us. I want my peers to understand what it’s like to have PTSD after doing this job because I felt so alone when it happened to me. But this new legislation is huge. I think it’s very important because it’s raising awareness around this concern.”

–Afifa Mahboob, Contributing Writer

–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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Trauma Exposure Linked to PTSD in 911 Dispatchers

00Featured news, Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Therapy, Trauma, Work September, 17

Source: Public Domain at flickr

In February 2016, Gail—a 911 dispatcher with Toronto Paramedic Services—found herself in tears at work. She had just received a call about Wallace Passos, a three-year-old boy from Toronto, who fell from a 17-story apartment building to his death.

At age 57, Gail has been working as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher for 15 years. Taking calls from around the city, she dispatches the closest ambulance. All dispatchers are expected to work 12-hour shifts, at times with only one colleague on duty.

This past year, Gail’s job became especially difficult for her when she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Gail recently spoke with the Trauma and Mental Health Report to discuss the experience that led to the diagnosis:

“I’m still haunted by the sounds of the family crying on the phone after the three-year-old fell off the building. I imagine the boy in pain, and it’s just awful.”

Gail is not the first emergency dispatcher to experience PTSD symptoms. A study conducted by researchers at Northern Illinois University described how 911 dispatchers are exposed to duty-related trauma, which is defined as an indirect exposure to someone else’s traumatic experience. Duty-related trauma puts dispatchers at risk for developing PTSD. Participants in the study reported experiencing fear, helplessness, and horror in reaction to various calls they received.

Along with the stress of being on the receiving end of difficult calls, emergency dispatchers also deal with the pressure and demand of following protocol, despite variability in situations.

Toronto Paramedic Services follows specific protocols set by The National Academy of Dispatch. The system was developed at Salt Lake City, Utah in 1988 and incorporates a set of 33 protocols for those answering 911 emergency phone calls. On a call, everyone is treated equally and is asked the same basic investigative questions. These questions are then used to give priority to life-threatening situations and provide guidance to first responders like firefighters, paramedics, and police officers on the scene.

While the protocols can be useful for guiding dispatchers through stressful situations, in other circumstances, they can cause pain and discomfort when a dispatcher can tell that a situation is hopeless. Dispatchers are not trained to deal with each unique case differently; they are expected to follow through with the routine questions regardless of circumstances.

In the case of Wallace Passos, Gail had to give instructions for CPR despite knowing that the child was already dead.

“It’s not just that the little boy died, but I feel that I traumatized the people that were trying to help him because I was required, in my position as a dispatcher, to tell them what to do to try and save him. And I knew from their description that he was dead. But we have to follow the procedure; we have to try.”

This predicament is further compounded by the blame placed on dispatchers for negative outcomes. Gail explains:

“People curse us and call us names just because we’re doing our jobs.”

Before her diagnosis, Gail often found herself crying at work without reason; she would take a call regarding a minor injury and become emotional. Her supervisor eventually gave her permission to take a leave of absence.

Over the past few months she has had disruptive sleep, nightmares, headaches, and unexplainable muscle spasms:

“I am hyper-vigilant, especially when I hear sirens. And it doesn’t have to be an ambulance; it could be a police car or fire truck. I hear the sirens and I start tensing up and looking all around me.”

Gail has been on a year-long search for proper psychological support for her PTSD. Unfortunately, there are few mental health benefits offered to dispatchers. Gail sought help from doctors, counselors, and social workers, most of whom referred her to other mental healthcare workers without providing much support.

But there is reason to be optimistic. The Ontario government passed legislation in February 2016 for better mental health support and benefits for first responders with PTSD, including 911 dispatchers.

“It made me sad that no one was stepping up and taking care of us. I want my peers to understand what it’s like to have PTSD after doing this job because I felt so alone when it happened to me. But this new legislation is huge. I think it’s very important because it’s raising awareness around this concern.”

–Afifa Mahboob, Contributing Writer

–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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Using Mindfulness with Opioid Addicted Chronic Pain Patients

00Addiction, Chronic Pain, Featured news, Health, Mindfulness, Therapy August, 17

Source: frankieleon at flickr, Creative Commons

In March 2016, legislative bodies in Maine put a bill forward to combat the state’s rising opioid addiction problem. New restrictions on opioids for chronic pain require doctors to limit prescriptions to just 15 days, and to encourage doctors to consider non-medicinal forms of treatment.

Treatment of chronic pain involves a delicate balance between managing pain relief and risking drug addiction or abuse. Opiates have been used for centuries to treat acute and chronic pain, and there is little debate over the short-term benefits of medication, but their use for chronic, non-malignant pain is controversial.

Chronic pain is a debilitating lifelong illness. The National Institute of Health defines chronic pain as lasting for at least six months, and creating both physical and mental strain on the victim’s quality of life. Patients may experience fear, depression, hopelessness, and anxiety in coping with their pain.

At the annual 2013 American Psychiatric Association meeting, pain specialists debated how to properly treat chronic pain and explored new forms of non-medicinal treatment.

Jennifer Potter from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Texas advocates continued use of opioid prescriptions, but cautions doctors to examine potential risk factors for substance abuse.

“The vast majority of people with chronic pain do not go on to develop an opioid addiction, so it’s important for patients to understand that if this medication benefits you, it’s not necessarily a concern. We can’t let our response to the rise in prescription drug abuse to be denying access to all people in pain who can benefit from opioids.”

But a 2015 study by Kevin Vowles and colleagues from the University of New Mexico found that, on average, 25 percent of chronic pain patients experience opioid misuse and 10 percent have an opioid addiction. So, we also need non-medicinal treatment options to care for lifelong pain.

“Patients with substance abuse issues can be treated for pain in a variety of ways that don’t involve opioids,” says Sean Mackey, Chief of the Pain Management Division at Stanford University and Associate Professor of Anaesthesia and Pain Management.

One alternative way to approach chronic pain is through mindfulness, described as the process of paying active, open attention to the present moment. When a person is mindful, they observe their own thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them as good or bad.

Mindfulness is based on acceptance of one’s current state, and is becoming increasingly popular among patients as a way to help with pain symptoms.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts, advocates for mindfulness-based strategies to be incorporated into chronic pain treatment programs.

Kabat-Zinn created the popular Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction approach designed to treat chronically ill patients responding poorly to medication. The eight-week stress reduction program involves both mindfulness practice and yoga, and is effective in alleviating pain and in decreasing mood disturbance and stress.

A study by Natalia Morone and colleagues at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System showed the benefits of mindfulness in older adults with chronic low back pain by looking at diary entries of participants throughout an eight-week mindfulness treatment program. They found that treatment improved attention, sleep, pain coping, and pain reduction through meditation.

Some participants gained better awareness of their body throughout treatment:

“It felt good to realize [through mindfulness] that I can co-exist with my pain. Being mindful helped me realize that in my angry reaction to my back pain, I was neglecting my whole body. I saw my body only through my pain, which caused me to hate my body over time. I can now see myself outside of my body, and am working day by day with my meditation to become a happier person living with chronic pain.”

The authors also found that practicing mindfulness helped participants create vivid imagery to enhance their mood and decrease pain. One patient noted:

“I hear a sound in the distance and felt it was bearing my pain away, replacing it with a joyful ‘lifting’ of my spirits.”

While no miracle treatment exists, mindfulness can help improve patient quality of life.

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

feature-_-lg5-470x260-516d550639c32440ae9dcba31855b8a080ac5967

Using Mindfulness with Opioid Addicted Chronic Pain Patients

00Addiction, Chronic Pain, Featured news, Health, Mindfulness, Therapy, Therapy News August, 17

Source: frankieleon at flickr, Creative Commons

In March 2016, legislative bodies in Maine put a bill forward to combat the state’s rising opioid addiction problem. New restrictions on opioids for chronic pain require doctors to limit prescriptions to just 15 days, and to encourage doctors to consider non-medicinal forms of treatment.

Treatment of chronic pain involves a delicate balance between managing pain relief and risk of drug addiction or abuse. Opiates have been used for centuries to treat acute and chronic pain. There is little debate over the short-term benefits of medication, but their use for chronic, non-malignant pain is controversial.

Chronic pain is a debilitating lifelong illness, affecting more than six million Canadians. The National Institute of Health defines chronic pain as lasting for at least six months, and creating both physical and mental strain on the victim’s quality of life. Patients may experience fear, depression, hopelessness, and anxiety in coping with their pain.

At the annual 2013 American Psychiatric Association meeting, pain specialists debated how to properly treat chronic pain and explored new forms of non-medicinal treatment.

Jennifer Potter from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Texas advocates continued use of opioid prescriptions, but cautions doctors to examine potential risk factors for substance abuse.

“The vast majority of people with chronic pain do not go on to develop an opioid addiction, so it’s important for patients to understand that if this medication benefits you, it’s not necessarily a concern. We can’t let our response to the rise in prescription drug abuse to be denying access to all people in pain who can benefit from opioids.”

But a 2015 study by Kevin Vowles and colleagues from the University of New Mexico found that, on average, 25% of chronic pain patients experience opioid misuse and 10% have an opioid addiction. So, we also need non-medicinal treatment options to care for lifelong pain.

“Patients with substance abuse issues can be treated for pain in a variety of ways that don’t involve opioids,” says Sean Mackey, Chief of the Pain Management Division at Stanford University and Associate Professor of Anaesthesia and Pain Management.

One alternative way to approach chronic pain is through mindfulness, described as the process of paying active, open attention to the present moment. When a person is mindful, they observe their own thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them as good or bad.

Mindfulness is based on acceptance of one’s current state, and is becoming increasingly popular among patients as a way to help with pain symptoms.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts, advocates for mindfulness-based strategies to be incorporated into chronic pain treatment programs.

Kabat-Zinn created the popular Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction approach designed to treat chronically ill patients responding poorly to medication. The eight-week stress reduction program involves both mindfulness practice and yoga, and is effective in alleviating pain and in decreasing mood disturbance and stress.

A study by Natalia Morone and colleagues at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System showed the benefits of mindfulness in older adults with chronic low back pain by looking at diary entries of participants throughout an eight-week mindfulness treatment program. They found that treatment improved attention, sleep, pain coping, and pain reduction through meditation.

Some participants gained better awareness of their body throughout treatment:

“It felt good to realize [through mindfulness] that I can co-exist with my pain. Being mindful helped me realize that in my angry reaction to my back pain, I was neglecting my whole body. I saw my body only through my pain, which caused me to hate my body over time. I can now see myself outside of my body, and am working day by day with my meditation to become a happier person living with chronic pain.”

The authors also found that practicing mindfulness helped participants create vivid imagery to enhance their mood and decrease pain. One patient noted:

“I hear a sound in the distance and felt it was bearing my pain away, replacing it with a joyful ‘lifting’ of my spirits.”

While no miracle treatment exists, mindfulness can help improve patient quality of life.

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller.

This article was originally published on Psychology Today