Archive for the ‘Trauma News’ Category


Gun Control vs Mental Health: How Do We Stop the Killing?

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Are mass murderers mentally ill or should we pursue gun control? This is a hot topic of debate. As a person who has a career spanning 40 years in mental health I would like to answer this question by answering some common statements that I’ve seen in the news the last few days.

“We don’t need gun control, we need better mental health services”. Wrong. We need both. If we have even one dangerously murderous potential mass murderer in our community we need to restrict their access to weapons. Isn’t this obvious, Republican Party?

“Most killers are not mentally ill.” What?! First of all I’d like to see a shred of statistical evidence to back that up. This is always said in forums with no citations. Even if there were stats for this amazing statement, can we consider where the known killers are? They are in prisons, American prisons, that famously do not provide adequate mental health services to inmates. No services equal no diagnoses, and no diagnoses equal no statistics. In the 1980s I did some research about serial killers (different than mass murderers but still…) and I found that an alarming number had temporal lobe lesions and/or diagnoses of Multiple Personality Disorder (what would now be Dissociative Identity Disorder).   We do not know jack daw about mass murderers. Most kill themselves, the rest end up in prison undertreated and definitely unresearched. As a therapist, when I read the descriptions of these folks they seem easily diagnosable to me. They are definitely not pinnacles of mental health and well being.

“Most mentally ill people do not kill other people.” Yes, that is a true statement. But that is not a reversible statement. See above. It is not logical to use this statement to establish anything. Even if mentally ill people don’t kill, they still deserve treatment. Most of us who have PTSD, for example, know that if a gun were in our hands in the wrong moment we could have killed ourselves or somebody else.  I believe a lot of couple murder/suicides happen this way, as terrible accidents that could have been prevented by not having a gun in the house.

“These people are not mentally ill, they are evil.” Really, folks it is 2015 not 1515. Should we sprinkle holy water on them? All sarcasm aside, to make this statement you have to assume that people are either born evil or choose to become evil. I do not subscribe to the belief that any human is born evil. Evil is a construct. Nobody is all good or all evil.   We are born babies, open to both good and evil actions . If a human grows up and identifies as evil, in other words, service to self above all others no matter what the cost they can wreak great havoc in the world. But if they are sanely evil, they do not usually end up dead, at least not for a while, they usually end up running corporations or governments (jk) (not really). Most of these mass murderers are young men who have barely started to live, and most end up dead at the end of their rampage. Where is the sanity in that? Calling these guys evil is lazy and glib and blinds us to solutions.

I recommend we all step back, take a deep breath and acknowledge to ourselves that each mass murderer is an individual with their own reasons for doing what they did. If we hope to prevent more such actions we need to seek to understand their behaviors and address the disconnection and untreated suffering that led to such a horrible event. And we need gun control.

 




School Shootings: An Open Letter to Parents

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Dear Parents,

  I feel your pain and horror.  I, too, am a parent and have two Juniors this year whose finals week was interrupted by the school shooting at Reynolds high school.  They have been so busy just trying to get through finals week that they haven’t even had time or energy to integrate what is happening in their own community.

 Nothing makes us more anxious than a threat to our children’s safety. Nothing makes us feel more powerless, saddened and enraged then when our schools safe walls are breached by murderous rage and terror.

 Some of us are vulnerable to traumatic stress and anxiety already. Events like this can feel overwhelming to cope with, and even moreso to help our kids to cope.  So what can we do?

As a professional and as a parent, I recommend that you put on the metaphorical oxygen mask first.  Please take the time to do whatever you can to take care of yourself in the coming weeks.  If you feel your own anxiety spiraling out of control, please get some help from a qualified trauma therapist or perhaps some other provider that you feel comfortable with such as an acupuncturist, Reiki practitioner or yoga therapist.  If you feel that you need psychiatric medication, now would be a good time to get a consultation. Practicing mindfulness meditation could be helpful or whatever really helps you calm down and integrate.

 If you are like most Americans you are probably going to want to think your way out of this problem and come up with a snappy and satisfying solution (gun control, armed school guards,  mental health interventions etc).  I would encourage you NOT to jump to this just yet.  First we need to calm ourselves down and become really, REALLY present to ourselves and our families.

 Trauma, like grief, has its own pace and rhythm, and some of us are dealing with both.  Our kids may have known the victim(s) or even been the victim. We need to give healing its full due. If our kids see us stopping, processing and restoring ourselves from trauma, that gives them permission to do so as well.  There are many resources for healing out there, including my book, The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out, which has a whole chapter on first-aid for trauma shock, the first stage of trauma.  Reading it will help you cope with the immediate aftermath of trauma. (You can find it in your local library and in all bookstores.)

 Your children are in shock and grief, too.  Like my kids, they may be in the middle of finishing up testing and not really be available for processing their feelings, or they may have a lot of time on their hands and be inwardly stewing over what has happened.  Lately the world seems to have exploded in violence.  Even if they are quiet, they have definitely noticed.

 Make yourself extra available to them.  Depending on age, gender and temperament our children will have varying needs and ways of moving through their own horror, anger and sadness.  Allow them to find their own mode of expression, which may be very different than yours.  But they do need to express in order to integrate.

 As a child and teen therapist, I know that there are very few children who can just sit down and talk about their feelings to their parents in an adult way.  It is best to find activities to do with your kids and let the conversation steer its way naturally to what is troubling them.  You can ask open ended questions and make positive statements such as, “I’m really interested in what you think/feel about this event.” “What are other people saying about what happened on Facebook?” etc.  Good activities can be throwing a ball, shooting hoops (I got really good at this doing inpatient work with boys), going for a walk together, driving somewhere, listening to music together (their choice),  playing a card or board or video game (not too intense so there is room for conversation).  You need to initiate these activities, especially for kids who tend to isolate when they are upset. 

 Allow your children, and especially teens, an uncensored discussion.  If you have rules about swearing or intensity (such as loudness or sarcastic tone), tell your child that you have suspended these rules, so they can say, freely, whatever is on their mind.  Our kids talk very differently to each other than they do in front of us.  If they need to blow off steam but feel inhibited in front of us, they will blow off steam elsewhere. 

 Sometimes stressful events like this show areas of relationships that are in need of work.  If you have been having trouble connecting with your child, this trauma will not automatically draw you closer. It may, in fact, do the opposite.  If so, consider seeking out professional help for yourself and/or the family.

 Put down your cell phone when you are home.  Stay home and make it clear that you are available when they need to talk, even if that need comes up around 10 or 11 pm as they are going to bed (as if often will). Monitor your own need to engage in avoidance activities and choose engagement.

  If you do not already have a self-care routine, now would be an excellent time to start one.  I am a big fan of progressive relaxation exercises and often prescribe them.  You could find some online or buy a CD and practice relaxing your whole body a couple of times a day, to reset your own nervous system.  Allow yourself more downtime than usual.

  Know these signs of acute stress and monitor them in your children.  If they persist past 2-4 weeks they may be cause for concern:

 

–       repetitive talk about the event

–       
repetitive drawing of the event

–       irritable

–       withdrawn


–       needy and clingy


–       more forgetful than usual


–       having trouble regulating emotions: laughing silly “highs” crash into sullen “lows

–       hair-pulling (trichotillomania)


–       disturbed eating

–       insomnia or frequent awakening in fear or tantrums

–       age-inappropriate behavior such as bed-wetting

–       rigid and perseverative play behavior (in younger children)

 

Lastly, know that no matter how upsetting this event is to your family and child, healing is possible. Human beings are incredibly resilient.  In the process of healing you and your family may wish to take some action in the world.  If this feels right to you, do it.  The wound of trauma often demands some response from us – when the time is right.

Blessings on your journey of healing, Sue




Defending Dr. Drew

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My husband is an interventional cardiologist. Most of the people he sees are in manageable stages of cardiac disease. Some of his patients are quite sick and come in with advanced stages of illness. A few are dead and dying when they reach his cath lab. Miraculously, he can bring a few back to life, or ease their suffering greatly with stents and medications, saving them the trauma of open heart surgery.

Nobody is surprised when some of these people die. Sad. But not surprised. And certainly not outraged.

I’m a mental health professional, as is Dr. Drew Pinsky. In the media Dr. Drew has been blamed for the recent death of country singer Mindy McCready, who appeared on his show Rehab a few seasons ago. Like my husband, we both see people in various stages of illness. We’ve held people’s lives in our hands in our offices as surely as my husband has in his cath lab.

Dr. Drew, on his show Rehab, treats the sickest of the sick. He admits people to his hospital who have a terrible prognosis, many of whom have been told they are going to die if they don’t get treatment. They are in the end stages of addiction, a disease just as surely fatal as heart disease.

Yet, for some reason, when these patients die, the good doctor is blamed. Why? He is treating those who need intensive intervention and treatment in a psychiatric facility, just as my husband treats people in his hospital. These patients can get well with interventions for a period of time and then fail, just as cardiac patients can.

I can only chalk this reaction up to the ignorance and wishful thinking of the American people. Here is what I, as a lifelong mental health practitioner, would like the general public to know:

1) Addiction is a deadly disease, no less of a threat than cancer, heart disease, or a terrible accident.

2) It takes a highly skilled practitioner, one with hundreds if not thousands of hours of training, practice and supervision to help these people get better, and, yet, like other physicians, we still may lose our patients.

3) When we do lose our patients, we feel terrible. We work so much more intimately with our patients than, say, my husband does with his. We know their secrets, their character. We have laughed with them and possibly cried with them. It is impossible to be a good therapist without attaching to our clients and they to us.

4) Clinicians don’t just ever treat addictions. Addictions are always a symptom of a much bigger problem, and, frankly, that problem almost always involves boatloads of psychological trauma.

5) Working with traumatic stress is incredibly taxing for patient and practitioner. Frankly, not that many people want to do it. If you don’t believe me ask yourself when the last time is that you asked someone to tell you about their history of abuse and neglect and then listened all the way to the end of their story. Never? I rest my case.

6) Mental health clinicians are the pariahs of the medical community in the same way our patients are pariahs in the public’s eye. We treat “losers” so we must be losers is how so many of us are seen (if you wish you can substitute the word “crazy” for “loser”). Most of us are undervalued, underpaid and disempowered, but we soldier on because we believe in our work and enjoy helping people end their suffering.

7) My husband never lacks for the tools to do his work. His patients have the best equipment, the best care, and only leave the hospital when they are well enough to go home. Often they go home with assistance of some kind or another. This is rarely true in mental health work. Our patients do not have long enough stays to get better, have trouble accessing clinicians who know how to treat them, and are often discharged without enough support at home.

Even with the best support money can buy, some patients, like the country singer Mindy McCready, fail. Some people do well until they are put under undo stress and then they collapse. This was the case, as far as I can tell, with Ms. McCready. She’d already had several suicide attempts until the completed suicide of her boyfriend. She snapped.

How is this Dr. Drew’s fault? Now, I know there is some controversy about publicly airing shows on mental health treatment, and the questions are valid. Yet, as a professional whose work is always done in complete opacity, I’m happy that the general public gets to see some of what I and thousands of my colleagues give to our clients on a daily basis. I can’t participate in Take Your Daughter to Work Day, but we can sit down and watch an episode of Rehab.

I am sorry that Mindy lost her battle with depression and addiction. I am sad that Dr. Drew is getting blamed for losing a patient in the end stages of a terrible disease process. I hope we can all use this event to deepen our understanding of the terrible costs and demands of mental health and addictions instead of using it as a way to take a cheap shot at a profession that works in areas that no one else will touch.










5 Ways to Manage Post-Disaster PTSD

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I just had a lovely interview with Luke Hayes, of MyRecovery Disaster Resilience Radio. We discussed helpful ways to prevent and overcome post traumatic stress around natural disasters, that are increasing in frequency and intensity around the world.

1) Be prepared. Don’t think it can’t happen to you (denial). Have food and water items stocked. Know what kind of disasters could happen in your area. Make a plan for a quick evacuation. An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of loss later. We don’t think and plan well in the midst of crisis. So plan ahead!

2) Know where to find help. Form a community organization. Familiarize yourself with local assistance such as Red Cross, shelters etc. If your community does not have such assistance consider forming a group yourself. People have much less trauma when they feel looked after by their community.

3) Practice control over your mind and emotions now. The first technique I teach my patients about PTSD is a single pointed meditation. Focus on one object for 3-5 minutes at a time. Most of us have flabby mind muscles. This exercise strengthens our ability to focus in a crisis and its aftermath while staying calm. It is easier to keep the mind calm when we have practiced at it ahead of time.

4) If you have severe trauma after a disaster seek help. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Response) is a powerful modality that involves eye movements that dissipates traumatic responses. It seems to work best on those who did not grow up with tremendous amounts of trauma. The results can be surprisingly fast and powerful.

5) Restore yourself and your body after the crisis has resolved. The body is profoundly affected and in some cases permanently altered by trauma. The endocrine system and central nervous systems may take weeks to months to heal fully affecting appetite, weight, autoimmune responses, mood swings, sleep patterns, libido and other aspects of human life. Most people tend to underestimate the results of trauma. Take the time you need to get help and heal yourself. It may take some time. 

You are valuable. You are needed. You deserve to heal!







The HPA Axis, Trauma and You pt. 2

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Maybe you have seen the discussion in the media lately around whether PTSD is a disorder or an injury. It is an injury.

Psychological trauma affects the entire body through the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis. As we discussed before, (see The HPA Axis, Trauma and You), this axis governs the body’s entire endocrine (hormonal) system. This is not in control of the victim, any more than bleeding and swelling is for the victim of a beating. PTSD always involves injury to the body’s mechanisms. Always. This is one of the reasons the disorder is so painful and so hard to describe.

I have come to believe that all symptoms of PTSD are related to these disturbances or attempts to ‘heal’ the disturbances.

Let’s take an extreme symptom, cutting or self-mutilation. We know in neurology that pain in one part of the body cancels out pain in another part of the body. This is a joke with my acupuncturist. Some times a painful needle will be inserted and he’ll ask how my symptoms are. I’ll answer, “fine, now that all I can feel is your painful needle!”. 

So, in a strange kind of way, cutting can be “adaptive” for forms of extreme trauma by managing through diversion and re-routing of pain signals, which then gives the victim a feeling of control.

Avoidance is another one of these symptoms. People with PTSD go to great lengths to avoid (or scare off, if it’s a person) reminders of their trauma, sometimes resulting in strange “phobias” or behaviors. That saying, “you always hurt the one you love” goes twice for PTSD sufferers when their partners inadvertently trigger them. We need to learn when our PTSD injury is manifesting and make ourselves safe in ways that don’t injure our relationships.

When medicine embraces the physiologic basis for PTSD, sufferers will finally gain the help that they need to heal from this profound HPA injury.




The Trauma Tool Kit Has Arrived! *GIVEAWAY*

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Hi all,

I’m happy to tell you that The Trauma Toolkit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out is now in bookstores across the United States and is shipping from online booksellers. I had the privilege of finally holding my own copy this week. In celebration I am giving away three copies to the first three readers who link to this blog and comment below. Please be sure to send me your address privately if you see your name in the first three comments! Here’s to healing from traumatic stress! Blessings, Sue




TTK BREAKING NEWS

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Hi all. Today I am pleased to tell you that one month out, the Search Inside function has been activated for The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out. Quest Publishing has been quite generous with their sharing so you can begin reading now! Click on the book cover to the right of this post to go to Amazon’s site for the book. My greatest desire is that this book help you overcome your traumatic stress and PTSD. Blessings, Sue




Stress, Genetics and PTSD

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Today there are a number of articles on the web about the genetic predisposition to PTSD. Researchers have discovered that if your ancestors were exposed to severe traumas, such as the holocaust, severe disasters, famine or others, you are likely to have some genetic markers that make you more susceptible to PTSD. We have known for some time that some people respond more dramatically to stress than to others. Now we are beginning to understand why. 

It would be easy to misconstrue this information to say that those with the trauma genes are ‘weaker’. This would be a mischaracterization. Researchers have made studies about how certain rabbits with more inherited hypervigilance are better at survival in certain terrains. The same people who are prone to PTSD may also have quicker reflexes, be more alert in their surroundings and/or more sensitive to situations. Sensitivity is not a liability but an asset. The world, after all, is not suffering from an overabundance of sensitivity but a lack of it. I would love to see researchers focus on the assets of these genetic changes.

Lastly, I want to point out that although some people are more prone to PTSD, there are some traumas that will cause PTSD in anyone, just as people with stronger or less strong immune systems may catch a particularly virulent disease. So let us engage our curiosity and our compassion for those who suffer in this way, and let us also take note of their resilience and their gifts.

 

 

photo courtesy of Maya Banitt




TTK Pre-orders are Here!

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People have been asking me when they can get The Trauma Tool Kit. We all are suffering from a range of stress from ordinary to unbearable suffering. I am happy to tell you that it is almost here. I am thinking of you all as the book goes to print! Hang on and know that there is a way to heal fully from PTSD and other stress related afflictions. Blessings, Sue




The HPA Axis, Trauma and You

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The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis has been the source of much research over the last three years. If you have traumatic stress, your HPA axis has been affected. If you have severe or chronic PTSD, your HPA axis has been affected a lot! What does this mean?

It means that PTSD is a whole body event. The HPA axis governs the entire hormonal system within the body including: mood, appetite, weight, sexual function, fatigue, sleep/wake cycles and more. As I like to say, the brain bone’s connected to the….everything bone!

What this means for you, suffering from traumatic stress:

1) You have to expect physical symptoms from traumatic stress.

2) You have to expect erratic moods.

3) You must find ways to relax your sympathetic (stress response) system on a regular basis.

4) Eat foods that calm down your body and nourish it.

5) Healing is possible, but not by just addressing the mind, although that is important. To fully heal you need to engage healing mechanisms at all levels of the body.

6) You must be gentle and persistent in your pursuit of healing.

It may or may not be obvious that traumatic stress affects the entire body, but the evidence is in. It does! The good news there are so many ways to heal! More on this in future posts. In the meantime, be well.




Trauma Toolkit Cover

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Well, here it is, the cover to my book which will be released in May of 2012. I feel there is so much trauma in the world that it cannot come soon enough! I am very pleased with my publisher’s design. It is a thrill to see your name in print, but it will be a bigger thrill to know that Trauma Toolkit is out in the world, helping people! What do you think?




Behind The Walls

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This is a fascinating account of what happens when a traumatized population becomes pathologized, marginalized and basically thrown away.  Tragic, fascinating and relevant. The Irish are arguably one of the more traumatized populations in the world, having been dominated by the British for 900 years before claiming their independence. Their considerable psychic and literary gifts have long been overlooked by the world.




PTSD Impairs Detection of Emotional Cues

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This article has significant relevance for first responders, especially police.  Police are often a traumatized population.  In the last few years they have made many mistakes interpreting motives and danger levels of people they are responding to.  Here in Portland several mentally ill or traumatized individuals have been shot, some fatally, because officer misread cues about the suspects’ danger levels.  Now we can see that first responders themselves may become impaired. This new information highlights a need for increased training and psychological awareness on the part of police and others.




Your Brain on PTSD

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We all have those days!  When your traumatized brain is not quite up to life, take some time for restoration and recuperation. You may not need to announce to your boss you are taking a mental health day, but take one anyway!  Anything you can do to calm down your mind and relax your body will help you cope and function better. Stay tuned for more blog posts on how to do just that!




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