Category: Work

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When a subway passenger dies by suicide, workers suffer too

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

Source: Lily Banse at Unsplash, Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Coping Through the Lens of a Camera

00Attention, Career, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Media, Trauma, Work May, 19

Source: American Documentary, Inc at Flickr, Creative Commons

Documentaries tell compelling stories. But while we become captivated by moments on screen, we forget there is someone behind the camera, watching events unfold in real-time. Cameraperson, a recently released documentary by Kirsten Johnson, portrays her experiences filming documentaries, and it includes footage captured while traveling and filming.

Johnson has travelled the world – from the United States, to South America, to Europe – filming documentaries on topics such as America’s hunger problem or a notorious FBI burglary. She worked on Citizen Four, a documentary about a former CIA agent leaking government information. Sometimes, the stories are about traumatic historical events such as the Rwandan Genocide and the Bosnian War. She has visited the sites of mass killings and heard the stories of people who have survived tragedies. 

I had the opportunity to speak with Johnson, and learn about her experiences. Born in Seattle, she was always curious about the world and wanted to travel. She describes herself as a “visual person.” And as the daughter of a psychiatrist, she always wondered about the unique experiences of others. Her personal background, along with an interest in political inequalities, led her to pursue a career in documentary filmmaking.

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Johnson explains why she followed this path:

“As a doc filmmaker you’re trying to help reveal a human rights injustice, or a problem that people haven’t looked at or paid attention to, and you know people don’t want to hear it. People don’t want to watch a film about rape in Bosnia. Then the question is, how do you find a way for people to look at things they don’t want to look at?”

I asked Johnson about one of her first jobs filming documentaries:

“I filmed over 200 interviews with holocaust survivors, it was one of the first experiences I had in filmmaking and being deeply interested in how people tell the stories of their trauma. I got interested in the stories themselves, and how people remember them because some people remember different aspects. What I found surprising was that over half the people I interviewed had never talked to anyone about it before—this was the first time they had ever talked about it. There was just a curiosity in me, how could it be that somebody experienced something so devastating and never spoke of it?”

Many filmmakers have likely had similar experiences, so I was curious if Johnson had ever shared her experiences with other people in the industry:

“As camera people, we work so much we rarely get the chance to talk together. I have always talked a great deal with the people who I film with as they’re listening and I’m watching. We process our experience together. Or the translators, those are the kinds of people I’ve had deep conversations about things we were witnessing together.”

Johnson described some of the unspeakable events she had witnessed, and how she copes with the trauma while still doing her work:

“There’s often an aesthetic pleasure even though you may be filming a terrible moment—somehow, the light, the fabric, their skin, what they are wearing, helps you as the camera person cope with the things you are taking in. That’s what I realized when I was looking back at my own footage. It’s this active creative process you’re involved with when you’re trying to organize it and see it differently and search for the beauty in it.”

She described one such experience with a Bosnian family:

“We were filming about how rape was a weapon during the Bosnian war and listening to horrible stories about people who had to leave their homes. Being with one of the few families who had returned to their home—it was beautiful to witness that.”

When asked about the particularly overwhelming and painful moments she is confronted with during film shoots, Johnson incorporates practical and simple strategies to maintain “psychological equilibrium”. 

“ I try to sleep enough, eat with relish, laugh a lot and move in all kinds of ways. I read what others have written, talk to friends, see a therapist who has known me for years, watch movies and play with my kids. If I have been traveling too much, I stay home and if I have stayed somewhere too long, I go somewhere new and the world surprises me one more time.” 

The importance of telling stories is integral to documentaries. Filmmaking is about more than just reporting on tragedies, it’s about giving people a voice. Yet, more often than not, we don’t think about the person behind the camera, who witnesses trauma in order to share stories with the world.

-Amanda Piccirelli, 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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Feeling Like a Fraud in the Face of Success

00Anxiety, Confidence, Featured news, Parenting, Self-Esteem, Stress, Work June, 18

Source: Kynan Tait at flickr, Creative Commons

More common than once thought, from new fathers to high-level executives, many of us experience impostor syndrome. Defined in the Harvard Business Review, it’s:

“A collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Impostors’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”

For fathers, these beliefs can result from observing the immediate bond between mother and infant (fathers may take up to two months to have a similar connection). Physician Liji Thomas explained to News Medical:

“Fathers bond to their babies over a longer period… During this time, they may feel ‘out of it’, especially when they observe the special bond between their spouses and the new baby.”

And many mothers think they’re impostors too. Blogger Michelle Grant posted a piece in the Huffington Post titled “The Parenthood Impostor Syndrome,” where she said:

“It’s a feeling of uncertainty, of anxiousness and for me, it was the very real idea of being a fraud in those early weeks of motherhood… ‘Everyone else is better at this than me,’ I told myself.”

New parents can’t get direct feedback, so it can be difficult to know if they’re doing things correctly for the infant. Grant continued:

“When we first become parents, we are expected to carry out a role we’ve not been trained for—and we get no feedback from our babies on how well we’re doing. So, it’s no wonder if we feel out of our depth and like an impostor.”

The impostor phenomenon is not a psychological disorder, but rather a reaction to a situation where individuals struggle to settle into a role and feel as though they’re faking ownership of it. And, feeling like an impostor isn’t limited to parents.

In a research review, psychologists Jaruwan Sakulku and James Alexander reported that as many as 70% of people experience impostor syndrome at least once during their lives—exposing the magnitude of the problem. In fact, many successful professionals face impostor syndrome.

It was first identified by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 when it was used to describe many high-achieving women who didn’t recognize their personal success despite exceptional academic and professional accomplishments. These perceptions may be related to whether or not women attribute their success to luck or to ability.

Women are particularly vulnerable to impostor syndrome when they believe their achievements are the result of chance. And when they engage in occupations historically held by men, such as being a university professor or member of law enforcement, women may feel they are not truly meant to be there.

Further research, though, has demonstrated that both men and women in high-earning positions or positions that are characteristically respected are susceptible to the impostor phenomenon. A Forbes article mentioned that partners at accounting firms and famous celebrities alike have felt like frauds in their positions, as though they would be uncovered for being an impostor. Actor Don Cheadle said:

“All I can see is everything I’m doing wrong that is a sham and a fraud.”

In another example, renowned author Maya Angelou recounted:

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”

A number of causes can  contribute to impostor syndrome. These range from perfectionist personality traits, to family pressures to succeed, to minority status. A cover story in gradPSYCH magazine of the American Psychological Association stated:

“Differing in any way from the majority of your peers—whether by race, gender, sexual orientation or some other characteristic—can fuel the sense of being a fraud.”

There are some ways to combat impostor syndrome for those struggling with its challenges. Psychiatrists Andreea Seritan and Michelle Mehta suggest that “accepting compliments graciously” and “keeping a record of positive feedback” are important to minimize its effects.

For parents who are suffering with self-doubt, the CBT Institute of Southern California advises that acknowledging the fallibility of being human is helpful to overcoming impostor syndrome, and to enjoying the positives and pitfalls of parenthood.

–Andrei Nistor, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller.

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Inadequate Training Increases Risk of Compassion Fatigue

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

Source: Pennsylvania National Guard at flickr, Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isabella suggests taking full advantage of breaks every few hours:

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Anjali Wisnarama, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller.

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Robert T Muller - Toronto Psychologist

Workplace Alcohol Tests: Where Do We Draw the Line?

40Addiction, Alcoholism, Career, Featured news, Health, Law and Crime, Work February, 18

Source: Bousure at flickr, Creative Commons

Keeping our personal and professional lives separate is something many of us strive for. But, as Johnene Canfield recently discovered, we only have so much control over this process. In the spring of 2015, Canfield was fired from her six-figure position as a Minnesota Lottery official after a DUI conviction and a stint in rehab for alcohol abuse. The following October, she filed a lawsuit to reclaim her job.

Canfield’s former employers say the reason they dismissed her was to ensure the safety of other employees and clients, as well as to preserve employee productivity at the Minnesota Lottery. But these reasons reveal how problem drinkers are viewed as incapable of workplace competence.

According to Linda Horrocks, a former health care aide at Flin Flon’s Northern Lights Manor, a long-term care home for seniors, “Employers often act based on what they think they know about addiction and alcohol addicts”—but not necessarily on the reality of living with addiction. Horrocks, like Canfield, was fired for alcohol addiction.

She was eventually re-hired by the Northern Regional Health Authority, the health-governing body in northern Manitoba that oversees employment at Northern Lights Manor. But her employer required her to sign an agreement to abstain from drinking on and off the job, and to undergo random drug and alcohol testing.

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

“I didn’t object to the testing, but I didn’t want to commit to never drink again on my own time. My union even advised me against signing this agreement, because I would just be setting myself up for failure—I hadn’t gone through treatment yet. And so, I was fired again.”

Horrocks maintains that the employers’ offer to help her abstain from alcohol completely was based on misconceptions about alcoholism and treatment.

“The managers knew a little bit about alcoholism, as family and acquaintances had gone through treatment. They just decided that the counselling that I was going through with Addictions Foundation of Manitoba was not enough because it is a harm-reduction program, not a direct path to complete abstinence.”

Horrocks understands why some may think that abstinence is the only way:

“After all, if you’re a recovering alcoholic, alcohol is deemed ‘your enemy.’”

Proponents for abstinence-based treatments argue that periods of abstinence can repair brain and central nervous system functions that were impaired. Having problem drinkers self-moderate alcohol intake has had variable success in the past. For some, the temptation of having “just one drink” can be a precursor to relapse. And for them, total abstinence may be a better approach.

But Horrocks explains, abstinence may not be the best approach for everyone. The harm reduction model accepts that some use of mind-altering substances is inevitable, and that a minimal level of drug use is normal. This approach also recognizes research showing experimental and controlled use to be the norm for most individuals who try any substance with abuse potential.

Harm reduction seeks to reduce the more immediate and tangible harms of substance use rather than embrace a vague, abstract goal, such as a substance-free society. During intervention talk sessions, therapists explore and attempt to modify drinking patterns or behaviours with the client. The clinicians support autonomous decision-making and independent goal setting related to drinking.

Evidence published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows that these programs aim to reduce the short- and long-term harm to substance users and improve the health and functioning of these individuals. There are also benefits to the entire community through reduced crime and public disorder, in addition to the benefits that accrue from the inclusion into mainstream life of those previously marginalized.

Benjamin Henwood and colleagues from the University of Southern California also show that those who work on the front-line of severe mental illness and addiction prefer the harm-reduction approach to complete abstinence. Yet few employers have taken this approach into account when deciding the fate of employees with proven substance abuse problems outside of the workplace.

Horrocks’s and Canfield’s experience begs the question, where do we draw the line? How much say do employers have over their employees’ personal lives? It may just be that employers need to better respect the privacy of workers, so long as workplace productivity is not affected. And if employers maintain substance abuse policies that bleed over into the personal lives of staff, consideration of a harm-reduction approach is key.

–Veerpal Bambrah, 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

Robert T Muller - Toronto Psychologist

Firefighters Fight Stress as First Responders

90Burnout, Featured news, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Stress, Trauma, Work February, 18

We tend to think of firefighters saving lives as fires tear through homes or forest land. What many people don’t know is that firefighters are also first responders, arriving at crisis scenes even before paramedics or police officers.

Working in stressful and traumatic situations can take a toll on their mental health. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and suicide rates are much higher in first responders than in most other professions. Canadian first responders experience twice the rate of PTSD compared to civilians.

Ongoing exposure to stress means that access to support is critical. But cultural and administrative barriers get in the way. Because firefighters are regarded as tough and invulnerable, many feel embarrassed to ask for help, and available programs can be difficult to navigate.

Brian (name changed for anonymity), a 30-year veteran of the fire service and a District Chief in Ontario, Canada has experienced the stressful effects of the job firsthand, and has witnessed the toll it takes on colleagues and family:

“You’re just supposed to deal with the effects of the job. The stigma is that, if you can’t handle it, you’re weak. This idea has been built into the profession.”

When Brian entered his new role as District Chief, he received very little training on how to support the well-being of those working under him. He received only a phone number to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to distribute to team members if they had an exceptionally stressful day. The call is left up to individual firefighters rather than to an outreach program that communicates to them directly.

Although Brian believes that firefighters can benefit from the EAP, he knows that stigma exists around making the call. So, the resource doesn’t get used.

“There have always been employee assistance programs. In all my thirty years, I’ve only seen the EAP used once or twice. For the program to work, the agency needs to call the firefighters, because firefighters don’t reach out.”

To fight this stigma, the province of Ontario has launched several initiatives, including a new radio and digital campaign created to raise awareness and reduce the hesitancy of first responders to seek support. A free online toolkit has also been developed that addresses how to cope with PTSD.

Social support is another essential component of first responders’ wellbeing. In a study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Jasmine Huynh of Flinders University and colleagues found that support from family and friends was critical for protecting workers from burnout and for them to cope with the demands of frontline responsibilities.

Brian and his wife Sandra (name changed for anonymity) find support in each other and also through other firefighters and their families. Sandra explains that they often use humour to address the stress:

“When you go into the fire hall, there’s a lot of humour. I think we use humour to deal with the pressure, to keep going. That’s our coping mechanism. It’s also how we manage the stress as a family.”

While some programs exist to help firefighters work through their own issues, there is very little support for families of first responders. Having a loved one who is a firefighter can take a toll on the whole household.

In a study by social work professor Cheryl Regehr and a group of researchers at the University of Toronto, the authors explored how firefighters’ wives coped with the mental distress caused by their husbands’ emotionally taxing jobs. Wives handled partner stress by emotionally distancing themselves when necessary.

After thirty years, Sandra has learned to better read Brian’s emotional states, allowing her to recognize when he needs some space after a bad shift. She explains:

“If he comes home and is quiet, and not himself, I know that something is wrong. But I just let it go and let time pass, and then, eventually, I ask him about it. I can tell when it has been a rough shift. If he wants to be alone, I let him be.”

In an attempt to shield his children from the dangers of his job, Brian doesn’t discuss work much at home:

“When I was initially on the job, I talked to Sandra a lot about it, but when the kids came, I stopped. You don’t want to bring the experiences home; you don’t want the kids to worry. It’s bad enough that Sandra worries.”

Despite being proud of her husband, Sandra can’t help but feel constant fear in the back of her mind:

“I think about Brian’s safety all the time. The fear is always there. When he was first on the job, I tried not to think about it. I didn’t watch the news, and if I did, I prayed it wasn’t his fire truck at an emergency.”

To her relief, it has always been someone else’s fire truck. But that someone usually has a family at home, also worrying.

Brian and Sandra agree that more needs to be done to support frontline workers and families. At least initiatives like the media campaign and online toolkit serve as a starting point for an open dialogue surrounding the stigma of seeking help.

At the end of the day, Brian’s job is just that: a job. He says:

“People want to call us heroes. Most of the time, I don’t classify us as heroes. We do what we’re trained to do, and if we do it well, we all come home.”

–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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Climate Change Affecting Farmers' Mental Health

00Depression, Environment, Featured news, Health, Suicide, Work December, 17

Source: CIAT at flickr, Creative Commons

The cutoff for irreversible climate change has long been accepted as two or more degrees in global temperature compared to pre-industrial records. Reports show that, in early March 2016, this cutoff was crossed for the first time in recorded history.

January and February of 2016 broke all previous monthly records for high temperatures. Accompanying this trend are regular reports of melting ice caps and changes to animal migratory patterns. But the link between climate change and mental health is less visible.

One effect has been observed in farmers who are closely connected to the land. For some, environmental problems stem from an insufficient water supply. For others, too much rainfall is a detriment to crop growth. Not surprisingly, farmers are anxious.

Matthew Russell is an Iowan farmer whose family has tended to their land for five generations. In an interview with Medical Daily, he recounts the physical and psychological toll brought on by extreme climate conditions:

“Psychologically, in the last few years, there’s a lot of anxiety that I don’t remember having 10 years ago. In the last three or four years, there’s this tremendous anxiety around the weather because windows of time for quality crop growth are very narrow.”

Russell explains that this narrow window is due to increasing levels of rain, which leave his land muddy and wet, decreasing crop quality.

Aside from droughts and flooding, extreme temperatures compound the problem, as do weeds, pests, and fungi that thrive better as a result of warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide levels.

For those like Russell who have farmed throughout their lives, the idea of uprooting and relocating or finding a new profession seems daunting. With the continuing effects of climate change, this threat may soon become reality.

Anxiety is not the only mental-health concern influenced by climate change. A report from the US National Library of Medicine states:

“An association has been found between crop failures due to unexpected droughts and suicide attempts by the farmers. Failure of a crop can lead to economic hardships. When dependent on low precipitation situations, the farmer might not be able to sustain the expenses of the family and may become a victim of the debt trap to meet the expenses.”

Although the report focuses on droughts in Australian and Indian populations, these experiences are echoed elsewhere, like in California. Drought there has contributed to failed crops for farmers, as well as increased food prices for consumers in North America. A 2012 report showed that the economic hardship associated with these problems has increased the risk of suicide in American farmers.

A study on suicide by Ryan Sturgeon at the University of Calgary examined the content of calls to a rural stress line from farmers in Manitoba, Canada. He found that farmers may not be using the mental health resources open to them:

“Multiple factors may negatively impact farmers’ help-seeking behavior, including greater isolation due to a growing distance between farms, increased competition, and less cooperation among farmers because of the changing global economy, and fragmentation of existing rural communities as more people are moving off farms and into urban areas.”

Problems brought on by climate change are exacerbated in vulnerable rural communities populated by farmers. But as a worldwide phenomenon, climate change is likely to affect mental health globally.

–Andrei Nistor, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report. 

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

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

an5_feature-1-470x260.jpg

Climate Change Affecting Farmer’s Mental Health

60Depression, Environment, Featured news, Health, Suicide, Work December, 17

Source: CIAT at flickr, Creative Commons

The cutoff for irreversible climate change has long been accepted as two or more degrees in global temperature compared to pre-industrial records. Reports show that, in early March 2016, this cutoff was crossed for the first time in recorded history.

January and February of 2016 broke all previous monthly records for high temperatures. Accompanying this trend are regular reports of melting ice caps and changes to animal migratory patterns. But the link between climate change and mental health is less visible.

One effect has been observed in farmers who are closely connected to the land. For some, environmental problems stem from insufficient water supply. For others, too much rainfall is a detriment to crop growth. Not surprisingly, farmers are anxious.

Matthew Russell is an Iowan farmer whose family has tended to their land for five generations. In an interview with Medical Daily, he recounts the physical and psychological toll brought on by extreme climate conditions:

“Psychologically, in the last few years, there’s a lot of anxiety that I don’t remember having 10 years ago. In the last three or four years, there’s this tremendous anxiety around the weather because windows of time for quality crop growth are very narrow.”

Russell explains that this narrow window is due to increasing levels of rain, which leave his land muddy and wet, decreasing crop quality.

Aside from droughts and flooding, extreme temperatures compound the problem, as do weeds, pests, and fungi that thrive better as a result of warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide levels.

For those like Russell who have farmed throughout their lives, the idea of uprooting and relocating or finding a new profession seems daunting. With the continuing effects of climate change, this threat may soon become reality.

Anxiety is not the only mental-health concern influenced by climate change. A reportfrom the US National Library of Medicine states:

“An association has been found between crop failures due to unexpected droughts and suicide attempts in the farmers. Failure of crop can lead to economic hardships. When dependent on low precipitation situations, the farmer might not be able to sustain the expenses of the family and may become a victim of the debt trap to meet the expenses.”

Although the report focuses on droughts in Australian and Indian populations, these experiences are echoed elsewhere, like in California. Drought there has contributed to failed crops for farmers, as well as increased food prices for consumers in North America. A 2012 report showed that the economic hardship associated with these problems has increased the risk of suicide in American farmers.

A study on suicide by Ryan Sturgeon at the University of Calgary examined the content of calls to a rural stress line from farmers in Manitoba, Canada. He found that farmers may not be using the mental health resources open to them:

“Multiple factors may negatively impact farmers’ help-seeking behaviour, including greater isolation due to a growing distance between farms, increased competition and less cooperation among farmers because of the changing global economy, and fragmentation of existing rural communities as more people are moving off farms and into urban areas.”

Problems brought on by climate change are exacerbated in vulnerable rural communities populated by farmers. But as a worldwide phenomenon, climate change is likely to affect mental health globally.

–Andrei Nistor, 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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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

feature-_-af5-470x260-fe5510d0d275a89fd87a25acc8b8aee46014c652

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