A Sixty-Year Old Story Worth Knowing

WWII Pacifists Exposed Mental Ward Horrors
by Joseph Shapiro

In September of 1942, Warren Sawyer, a 23-year-old conscientious objector, reported for his volunteer assignment as an attendant at a state mental hospital. The young Quaker was one of thousands of pacifists who had refused to fight and instead were assigned to work in places few outsiders got to see — places like Philadelphia State Hospital, best known as Byberry.

“Byberry’s the last stop on the bus here in Philadelphia,” Sawyer recalls. “Any young man on the bus, other people knew that we were COs working at the hospital. And they’d make different kinds of remarks, supposedly talking to each other, but hoping that we hear. And you know: ‘Yellowbellies, slackers.’ ”

Those slurs were harsh. But not nearly as harsh as what awaited the young men inside the gates of the chaotic and overcrowded hospital for people with mental illness and intellectual disabilities.

The young pacifists would be changed by what they saw in places like Byberry, and then become a force for change themselves.

Read the whole story here:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122017757

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KISS OFF STRESS

From the FOCUS ON FEELING BETTER section of the MSN website comes this great articl:

KISS OFF STRESS

By Lisa Farino

Stress can’t be avoided, but it must be managed if you’re ever to reach a state of relaxation. Here are nine tips to help you get there.

Say no
So many commitments, so little time. Sound familiar? If so, figure out what’s most important to you and practice turning down requests you feel less strongly about. Mastering the art of the honest-but-tactful refusal will reduce your stress level and give you an opportunity to try out new things.

Keep a journal
All the small, seemingly innocuous annoyances of life can add up to a substantial drain on your well-being. Try writing down your stress triggers — where and when they occur, who’s involved and how you respond physically, mentally and emotionally. The journaling process can help you explore and implement solutions for managing these unavoidable stressors.

Get some sleep!
It’s tempting to skimp on sleep and squeeze in a few hours of work when you’re running behind. Problem is, lack of sleep fogs your thinking and reduces your ability to concentrate. Get at least eight hours of sleep and help your body’s biological clock by sticking to a regular sleep schedule.

Get a little help from your friends
The support of friends and family can see you through stressful situations. Take the time to nurture these important relationships. Stay in touch, and reciprocate by being a good friend. This means really listening to your friends, celebrating their successes and remembering to say thanks.

Learn to get along with your boss
Does your supervisor monitor your every move? Or does your manager neglect to give you any guidance? Both situations can make your workplace very stressful. Try talking to your boss about what you need to meet and exceed expectations. If your boss isn’t open to change, maintain good work habits anyway. Pride in your continued professionalism will help mitigate stress, and respecting your boss may lead to a better relationship in the future.

Laugh
Laughter’s stress-busting properties rely on the release of neuropeptides — feel-good hormones that also strengthen your immune system. Treat laughter as the medicine people say it is: Don’t skip your daily dose. You may feel more relaxed and upbeat afterward, even if you had to force that first smile.

Run away from your problems
As anyone who has ever experienced a runner’s high can attest, exercising can yield a wonderful sense of well-being. This great feeling can be generated by exercising vigorously enough to produce the neurotransmitters called endorphins. Even without an endorphin rush, exercise can reduce anxiety by helping you focus on your body’s movements, rather than on the frustrations of the day.

Strike a serene pose
Hatha yoga has become a popular method for improving flexibility, but it can also help you feel more rooted and relaxed. Deep-breathing exercises help reduce anxiety and calm the mind. If you’re new to yoga, get recommendations from friends to find a skilled instructor and a class that’s appropriate for beginners.

Think that you can do it
If you tend to ruminate on all that’s stressful in your life, try some positive thinking. This doesn’t mean ignoring unpleasant realities. Rather, it means not focusing exclusively on what’s wrong. When we’re caught up in negative thinking, things seem worse than they are and we take everything personally. Taking a more positive view can dramatically reduce anxiety. Think you can’t do it? Think again.

Note: Always consult your doctor before making any changes to diet or exercise.

LISA FARINO is a Seattle-based health and science writer and a board member of the Northwest Science Writers Association. She is a regular contributor to MSN.

CNN: Post-traumatic stress may harm kids’ brains

The following is a fascinating, disturbing story from the CNN website:

Psychological trauma may leave a visible trace in a child’s brain, scientists say.

A new study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology found that children with symptoms of post-traumatic stress had poor function of the hippocampus, a part of the brain that stores and retrieves memories.

This is the first study to use functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to look at the function of the hippocampus in youth with symptoms of post-traumatic stress, researchers said. The findings are in line with what has been previously found in adults.

The study was led by Dr. Victor Carrion, and the senior author was Dr. Allan Reiss, both at the Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition that children and adults develop in response to a traumatic event. Intrusive memories, increased anxiety and emotional arousal are some of the symptoms, and typically they begin within three months of a traumatic event, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Of youths who have experienced a traumatic event, 3 percent to 15 percent of girls and 1 percent to 6 percent of boys could get a PTSD diagnosis, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

By contrast, an estimated 6.8 percent of the adult American population has had PTSD at some point, the department said.

The condition looks slightly different depending on age — young children may display “post-traumatic play” in which they repeat themes of the trauma, whereas adolescents may incorporate aspects of the trauma into their lives, carrying a weapon for instance. Also, adolescents are more likely than younger children or adults to exhibit impulsive and aggressive behaviors, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Although the study shows only an association — not a cause-and-effect relationship — between this brain damage and post-traumatic stress, the study authors believe the abnormal hippocampus findings are the consequence of post-traumatic stress, not a risk factor for it, said co-author Brian Haas.

That explanation makes sense, given what is known about post-trauma, said Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent and a neurosurgeon. He was not involved in the study. One of the reflexes that can come after a traumatic event is forgetting it, meaning perhaps “the hippocampus shrinks to fade away memories,” he said.

“The flip side of it is that you have trouble with memory overall,” he said. “You wish you could just forget the event.”

Animal studies have shown that brain damage in mice occurs after a trauma has been induced, Haas said.

Gupta said the study is important as researchers try to pinpoint what happens in the brain anatomically when a person has a trauma-related disorder.

The study looked at 27 people ages 10 to 17, which is a reasonable sample size for an imaging study of how the brain functions, said Lisa Shin, associate professor of psychology at Tufts University, who was not involved in the study. Participants were divided into 16 young people who had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and 11 normal youths.

Scientists scanned the participants’ brains while they completed a verbal memory test. They read a list of words, then looked at a similar set with additional words and had to remember which words were on the original list.

Participants with PTSD symptoms did worse on the recall portion and showed less activity in the hippocampus during that time than the control group members.

The young people whose hippocampus functioning was the worst were more likely to experience avoidance and numbing symptoms of PTSD — having difficulty remembering the trauma, feeling isolated and not displaying emotion.

Previous research had found that adults with PTSD tended to have a smaller hippocampus volume.

Measuring neural functioning in the brain can indicate the extent of symptoms that a person is experiencing after a PTSD diagnosis, and reflect the effectiveness of therapy, Haas said. In other words, if the hippocampus is functioning better, that may mean the treatment is working.

If there is enough evidence that the hippocampus is involved in PTSD, a treatment could, in theory, be targeted to it, Shin said. There is some indication that treatment with serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, is associated with memory improvement and increased volume of the hippocampus in adults with PTSD.

Shin and colleagues are working on a twin study to explore whether brain abnormalities in people with PTSD were pre-existing risk factors or the result of PTSD.

Psychiatrists can get compassion fatigue

This article comes from http://www.dallasnews.com website, posted on November 8, 2009. It was written by Gregg Jones and Lee Hancock

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had never set foot in Afghanistan or Iraq when he allegedly pulled out a semiautomatic pistol and began shooting his comrades at Fort Hood.

But as an Army psychiatrist, caring for soldiers scarred by both wars, Hasan had experienced the conflict almost as if he had been in the combat zone for the past six years, psychiatrists and traumatic stress experts said.

“Many of the soldiers you evaluate and treat talk to you about horrific events,” said Dr. Daniel Amen, a former Army psychiatrist who, like Hasan, once worked at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. “Psychiatrists can develop something called compassion fatigue. You just get worn out by the trauma.”

At its worst, compassion fatigue becomes secondary trauma – a condition similar to post-traumatic stress, mental health experts said.

“They may not see combat themselves … but they see the outcome of it and they hear the stories of it day in and day out,” said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., a psychologist in the Navy Reserves. “It can be very real when you are dealing with people’s difficulties every day.”

An uncle of the 39-year-old shooter said Saturday that the work clearly weighed on Hasan.

‘Tears in his eyes’

“I think I saw him with tears in his eyes when he was talking about some of [the] patients, when they came overseas from the battlefield,” Rafik Hamad told The Associated Press from his home near the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Hasan also was torn between his religion and his military service, officials and acquaintances have said, and stressed about his imminent deployment to Afghanistan – a place “where all these terrible things he had heard about had taken place,” Amen said.

While it’s not yet clear what might have factored into Hasan’s alleged attack on fellow soldiers Thursday, secondary trauma has been sparingly addressed in the military and civilian worlds, experts said.

“There have been a lot of cases and stories of those who just couldn’t take it any longer and were transferred,” said Charles Figley, a traumatic stress expert and former Marine who consults on the subject for the Pentagon. “And for those who are active duty, your career is over in that area if you transfer.”

Emotionally drained

An acute shortage of trained mental health workers in the military has left these therapists emotionally drained and overworked, with limited time to prepare for their own war deployments.

A military mental health task force in 2007 expressed concern about the stress on nondeployed mental health personnel because of the shortage, which it said was leading to high attrition rates. “A vicious cycle has formed that will probably continue to worsen before it improves,” the report said.

Dr. Layton McCurdy, a psychiatrist and dean emeritus at the Medical University of South Carolina who served on the task force, said the shortage is compounded by the thousands of troops suffering combat-related stress. “The psychiatrists are working with more people than they have time to work with,” McCurdy said.

Post-traumatic stress is in essence a memory-management problem – an “inability to effectively manage the frightening experiences they’ve had,” said Figley, who has conducted pioneering research on secondary traumatic stress at Tulane University. “It comes out in flashbacks, sleeping problems, being on edge.”

Secondary trauma causes similar symptoms: sleep disruptions, nightmares, depression and jumpiness. Sufferers may avoid situations that remind them of past stresses. A mental health practitioner also may feel guilty about not having done more to help a patient or may obsess about individual patients – particularly those with whom they identify.

One noted study found that social workers who treated survivors, victims’ families and first responders at the World Trade Center after 9/11 were most susceptible to secondary trauma if they lacked social support.

Suicide risk

Doctors generally have relatively high suicide rates, with psychiatrists having the highest rates.

Both male and female physicians are significantly more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the population, according to a 2004 article in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Among all physicians. Psychiatrists are considered to be at greatest risk for suicide, according to the 2007 version of Kaplan and Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry.

Secondary stress poses more potential risks for military personnel – especially psychiatrists, said the study’s principal investigator, public health researcher Joseph Boscarino of the Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa.

“They are at high risk,” said Boscarino, a Vietnam veteran and defense consultant.

No pleas for help

In 2008, the trend of military suicide rates being historically lower than the civilian population reversed, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. In the first nine months of 2009, the Army reported 117 confirmed or suspected cases of suicide among active-duty personnel, compared with 103 over the same period in 2008.

If Hasan was suffering from the stress of secondary trauma, he told no one, military officials said. That would not be unusual for the medical profession, according to the experts.

“Doctors are the No. 1 profession for suicide,” Amen said, but “doctors don’t ask for help.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

gjones@dallasnews.com;

lhancock@dallasnews.com

What is Normal in Mental Health?

by Deborah Mitchell at emaxhealth.com on Oct. 28.

Approximately 26.2 percent of Americans age 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, but how do you decide what’s normal or not normal when it comes to mental health? How do you know if your feelings of sadness or anxiety or occasional panic are signs of mental illness or that your state of mental health is normal?

First of all, the 26.2 percent statistic provided by the National Institute of Mental Health, which translates into 57.7 million people, can be shaved down significantly when you consider that the proportion that suffer from a serious mental illness is only 6 percent—still a substantial number but significantly less than 26.2 percent.

Second, determining whether what you are feeling is considered normal mental health or an indication that you should seek advice from a mental health professional is not always easy. Unfortunately, some people still believe it is a sign of weakness or a stigma to have or admit having a mental illness. This belief prevents them from seeking and getting advice or treatment that could benefit them greatly. Many people also do not know where to turn to get the information they need to make a decision about whether they should seek further help.

People who try to diagnose themselves and determine if their feelings and behaviors are normal will likely only become more frustrated and confused. It is not easy to distinguish normal mental health from a diagnosable mental illness because there is no one easy test anyone, even mental health professionals, can use to make that determination. Mental health providers gather much of the information they need by talking with the individual who is experiencing some mental health issues.

To help them make a diagnose, mental health providers use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which defines mental disorders as “behavioral or psychological syndromes or patterns that cause distress, disability in functioning, or a significantly increased risk of death, pain or disability. And that syndrome or pattern can’t just be an expected and culturally accepted response to a particular event, such as grieving the death of a loved one.” As you can see, this definition still does not provide a precise idea of what normal mental health is.

So what can you do to help you decide what’s normal? You can begin by turning to various mental health individuals, agencies, organizations, and groups to get information and guidance to determine whether what you (or a loved one) are experiencing is something that requires or would benefit from treatment, be it support groups, counseling, some type of psychotherapy, alternative therapies (e.g., biofeedback, guided visualization, meditation), medication, or a combination of these and other approaches.

The best place to begin is by consulting your family physician or another physician you trust. If you know any counselors, therapists, or other mental health professionals, including religious or spiritual counselors, you can contact them for a consultation. You might also contact any one or more of the following organizations. This is only a representative list; there are other organizations that focus on mental health issues that can provide professional information and guidance.

Looking Ahead to 2010

Mental Health America of Northeast Georgia will soon finalize its calendar for 2010. We’re looking now at the projects we will take on in the new year and the work to bring these projects to fruition.

Typically, we have the following events:

The Mental Health Benefit, which is held the last week of January;

Mental Health Day at the Capitol, which takes place in February;

Mental Health Month in May;

The Mental Health Banquet, near the end of June;

Mental Illness Awareness Week, which is in October; and,

Mental Health Wellness Week, which is in November.

In addition, we will have monthly presentations on a variety of topics. These presentations are scheduled for the auditorium at Athens Technical College.

I am scheduling our participation in local events, such as The Human Rights Festival and AthFest. I am talking with folks at Advantage Behavioral Health Services about doing some social events for clients.

If you have suggestions for other projects, please contact us.

Colleges see rise in Mental Health Issues

by Deborah Franklin

They may not tell their roommates or even close friends, but on college campuses all across the United States, more students than ever before are seeking psychiatric help, according to recent national surveys of campus therapists.

And it’s not just for homesickness and relationship problems, says the University of Michigan’s Daniel Eisenberg. He directs the Healthy Minds Study, a multicenter study that queries counselors about, among other things, the prevalence of clinical depression, anxiety and eating disorders on campus.

“One of the questions is whether they’re seeing an increase in the number and severity of students with mental health problems,” Eisenberg says. “And over 90 percent [of college counseling services] are saying yes to that question.” Just one example: In 2007, around 15 percent of students reported having been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives; that’s up from 10 percent in 2000.

Read the whole story here:

From NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113835383