Parents Denial of Their Child’s Mental Health Issues Doesn’t Make It Go Away

Licensed Mental Health Counselor

ImageThe more family sessions I do, the more concerned I become at the astonishing number of parents who are in denial of their child’s mental health issues.

Recently I was dealing with a teenage girl referred to me by her mother because she was scared to be by herself, “acting weird”, talking and laughing to herself.

After meeting with the girl twice I got her to tell me some information she had ever told anyone else. She was hearing voices and having extreme paranoid delusions of someone putting “voodoo” on her and making her do things against her will.

After further sessions and gathering more collateral information from her mom and sister, I diagnosed the girl with a psychotic disorder, with a rule out of paranoid schizophrenia.  I referred the mom to a local psychiatrist so the young lady could be evaluated further and the mom was extremely hesitant. She…

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Why Are There More Suicides In Jails Than In Prisons?

Why Are There More Suicides In Jails Than In Prisons?

Suicide prevention of  inmates has been the main focus of my job for the last five years. It is such an important topic because in the United States suicide is the leading cause of death to inmates in jail.

This gets little attention because when most people think about inmates committing suicides, they tend to think about inmates in prison and for obvious reasons:

  • Prisons are usually bigger and overcrowded
  • Inmates in prison are usually there for more violent/serious crimes than inmates in jail
  • Inmate in prison are usually serving longer sentences, sometimes life sentences

While those reasons are valid points, the facts are that inmates in jail are more at risk of suicide than inmates in prison. This is important to know because family members are often shocked when their jailed loved one commits suicide often before they have even been to trial.

One reason jails have a higher suicide rate (46 per 100,000) than prisons (15 per 100,00) is that people who enter jail often face a first-time “shock of confinement” situation. They are suddenly removed from their daily lives, their support system, stripped of their job, housing, and basic sense of normalcy.

Also for some there is the fear of the unknown and perceived lack of control over the future that causes extreme anxiety and depression. They’re not sure how long they will be incarcerated or if their loved ones will stand by them. That isolation from their family and significant others can cause tremendous anguish for many inmates.

Many have a distrust of an authoritarian environment. They may fear for their safety, of being assaulted physically and/or sexually.  The living conditions and perceived dehumanizing aspects of incarceration are also difficult for many inmates to accumulate to. Some have to strip search in front of officers, are housed with inmates they would never associate with in the outside world and have to deal with the sleeping, showering and using the bathroom in not so private settings.

Depending on the person and the crime, many inmates experience a great sense of shame about being incarcerated. I have met doctors, law enforcement officers, pastors and prominent members of society who got arrested for everything from domestic violence, DUI to child molestation and stalking charges. They all had a very hard time dealing with not only being in jail, but with the affects it had on their social status.

Jails Usually Don’t Know Who They Are Getting

Jails get people right out of their personal lives, meaning that they get severe alcoholics and drug addicts who end up going through excruciating detoxes that sometimes end with them taking their own lives. They get chronically mentally ill individuals who may be off their medication or highly suicidal. They get people in the middle of a divorce or custody battle that they can’t fight from behind bars. Jail staff may not have a clue about these issues until the inmate starts exhibiting symptoms or attempts suicide.

Because jails are getting people right off the streets, they face a higher risk of inmates dying from drug and alcohol related complications as well.

By the time these inmates are sent to prison, the prison staff already have a detailed history of the inmate from the jail. Inmates have been detoxed and ideally mentally ill inmates have been stabilized on medication.  Also, inmates usually have acclimated to being incarcerated and come to terms with what’s ahead for them.

Many inmates who commit suicide do so before they have even been convicted. They’ve already thought of the worse case scenarios, i.e., “My wife is going to leave me”; “I’m going to get beat to death by other inmates”; “I’m gong to get raped”; “I’m going to prison forever” and decided that death was the better alternative.

The rise of inmate suicides is also partially due to the increased number of mentally ill inmates being jailed. Jails have become the new de facto mental health institutions, but they simply are not equipped to handle inmates with serious mental illnesses and other behavioral factors. These inmates are not only at a higher risk of committing suicide, but are at higher risk of being assaulted, raped and taking advantage of by other inmates. They are also more likely to end up in disciplinary confinement situations due to their behavior and lack of understand or following rules. 

It is equally unfair to severely mentally ill inmates and corrections officers who aren’t adequately trained to deal with them.

Educating jail staff on recognizing signs and symptoms of mental health problems to include signs that an inmate may be suicidal is invaluable. Also, addressing a jail culture that may be toxic or conducive to worsening mental health symptoms and increasing the likelihood that an inmate will attempt suicide is crucial.

Unfortunately I’ve had to deal with numerous inmate suicides and attempted suicides.  We never want to lose an inmate to an untimely death, especially one that could have been avoided, no matter if it’s an assault, a medical condition or suicide.

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Interview With A Hit Man

In my line of profession, I often talk to people who have committed horrendous crimes, including murder. It is not uncommon for me to have spoken to half of dozen people each day who have been convicted of killing someone else. It is rare, however, for me to speak with someone who has been convicted of killing multiple people. A serial killer if you will, but this man, Jose Martinez is a dangerous Hit Man.

I won’t say more as I don’t want to be in violation of his HIPPA rights or violate any other codes of ethic, so here’s a public video showing an interview with Mr. Jose Martinez.

Violence And The Mentally Ill

Violence And The Mentally Ill

Many people believe that all violent, sadistic and dangerous people in our society are mentally ill, thus coming to the conclusion that mentally ill people are dangerous.

The truth is, people with mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Only about 3% to 5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals with a serious mental illness.

Many movies depict violent characters as being mentally ill and often the news continuously replays stories of the rare occurrences when someone with a mental illness acted out in violence. We start to associate mental illness with violence.

One of society’s biggest fears are acts of violence that are senseless, random, unprovoked and unpredictable and thanks to the media, we often associate this with mental illness. We somehow take more comfort in knowing a man was stabbed to death walking down the street during a robbery than if he was stabbed to death walking down the street for no apparent reason.

This stigmatization is just one of many things people with a mental illness face. I have often heard people say they were afraid of a suicidal individual or someone who self-injured themselves: “If they would do that to themselves, what do you think they would do to me?” The fact is, most suicidal and self-harming individuals would rather hurt themselves before they would hurt anyone else.

While it is rare, people with mental illnesses, just like anyone else in the general population, can act out in violence. Individuals who have a substance abuse disorder alone are much more likely to become violent than the general public, including those individuals who have a mental illness alone or an associated substance abuse disorder.

However, when it comes to dealing with mental illness, individuals who abuse substances, have a co-occurring mental disorder and are non-compliant with their medication are at higher risk of committing violence.

Even with the combination of substance abuse and non-medication compliance, the general public are not at high risk of being attacked by someone with a mental illness. People who are in close relationship with these individuals such as family and friends, especially if they have troubled relationships and/or are financial dependence are more likely to become victims of violence.

Some of the most predictive variables for violence untreated psychotic symptoms to include suspicion/paranoia, hostility, severe hallucinations and poor insight into their delusions and the overall mental illness.

A Tragic Example

I recently spoke to a young man who appears to have had his first psychotic episode, at-least as far as he knows. He’s in his early twenties and at the prime age for the onset of many psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia.

One day last week he was home watching YouTube videos and became paranoid that someone was going to come and rape his mother. Alarmed and frightened, he armed himself, first with a shotgun, but discovering the shot gun was not operational, he armed himself with a handgun. He proceeded to guard the house from what he thought were real threats to his mother, some mysterious intruder/rapist. What happened next rocked the whole community.

At some point, his mother came downstairs and he shot her twice in the head. He then shot their dog twice in the head as well before setting the house on fire and rowing a boat across a lake. According to the people who were at that house, he came out of the boat shirtless, walking slowly and looking like Jason from Friday the 13th.  He was chased away by the homeowner and ran off into the woods. Soon after he turned himself into authorities and the totality of his behavior was brought to light. When the authorities went to his burned down home they found the charred body of his mother and their dog.

I have worked with a lot of individuals who were experiencing their first psychotic episodes, but I have never spoken to someone so young that went from apparently “normal” to acting out so violently in response to paranoid delusions and hallucinations.

Most individuals, who develop a psychotic disorder or any mental illness for the most part, start off with small signs and symptoms that if left untreated, can lead to worsening symptoms and rarely horrible things like suicide or violence. Usually this takes several months to years to decompensate to this level. It’s very rare for someone’s first psychotic episode to turn out so violent, causing death and destruction.

Thankfully, situations like that are extremely rare.

Warning Signs

Some warning signs to look out for when dealing with anyone, not just someone with a mental illness include:

  • Pacing
  • Psychomotor Agitation (i.e., leg bouncing rapidly)
  • Combative posturing (i.e., fist balled up)
  • Paranoid or threatening remarks
  • Irritability
  • Talking to self in language that includes violence or paranoia

If you see these behaviors, it may or may not mean that the person has a mental illness, but these are signs that someone is possibly in a volatile state. Stay calm, give them space, avoid intimidating eye contact.

If you have to deal with the person because they are a friend, family member or even a customer in your place of business, use a calm/soothing voice, helpful attitude, avoid loud noises, remove potentially dangerous objects and attempt to give positive reinforcement until you can either get help or get out of the situation.

We all probably know someone with a mental health problem and many of us don’t even know it because most individuals with mental health problems are productive members of our community.

When we destigmatize the violence associated with being mentally ill, we make it easier for those individuals to seek treatment and to talk about it with their family and friends instead of hiding it out of fear or shame.

Overcoming Suffering While Incarcerated

Overcoming Suffering While Incarcerated

Working in a correctional setting, I often find myself reciting my favorite quote by Viktor Frankl; “To live is to suffer. To survive is to find meaning in the suffering.” The reason this quote appears to have such relevance when dealing with incarcerated people is that many of them see themselves as suffering. They are imprisoned, away from their families and often facing uncertain futures. Many become depressed, anxious, hopeless and unfortunately, suicidal.

When  I speak with inmates who see themselves and their situation as depressing and bleak, I remind them that yes, they may feel like they are suffering, but that is life. A large part of life for most people includes a great deal of suffering. There is joy, and there is pain. I remind them that they are not the only ones suffering. They are incarcerated with hundreds of other individuals going through similar situations and millions of people around the world who are going through their own struggles.

I encourage them to accept the reality of it. Learn from it. Figure out how to use this suffering to become a better, stronger person instead of dwelling on it and allowing it to punish you even more.

There is a popular saying in prisons that goes, “Do time, don’t let time do you”, which means to use your time incarcerated to better yourself, to live life even in the bleakest circumstances and to not just be miserable and unhappy counting down the months, years or even decades until you are released (if ever). Have something to look forward to and remember that suffering doesn’t have to last forever. This situation doesn’t have to be permanent. People find ways to live good, happy lives even while imprisoned for life.

I ask every inmate I evaluate, “What do you have to live for? What are you looking forward to?”  I want to know what will motivate them to not only survive the stressful environment of being in incarcerated, but also what will give them something to hold on to when they start struggling with depressing and negative thoughts.

Many will say they have kids to live for, or they’re young and have their whole lives ahead of them, or their family or goals they want to accomplish. These individuals tend to be much less likely to both get in more trouble while incarcerated as well as are less likely to attempt suicide compared to those who struggle with or can’t find a reason to live.

Lastly, I also try to help inmates to stop seeing themselves as victims. Many inmates think that they are being punished unjustly, or they keep getting arrested because they have bad luck. They blame the system, their friends, society. These inmates are more likely to deal with depression, suicidal thoughts and to become repeat offenders.

Instead, I try to help them see that things happen for them, not to them. Yes they got arrested and it sucks, but maybe this is going to save their lives by getting them off drugs, stop them from associated with that criminal element, teach them that they really do need anger management classes or that they really need to take their psychotropic medications. Hopefully this experience will help them reexamine their lives and make better choices.

When people see things as happening for them, instead of to them, they do time better, easier and even happier. They become inmate workers, earn GEDs and even college degrees while incarcerated. They tend not to look like the typical depressed, angry, bitter inmates that I encounter far to often.

The things I try to teach these inmates are invaluable to helping them survive being incarcerated and they can use it when they are released to hopefully live better lives and to not come back. It can also help all of us understand that we’re not special, things happen, life sometimes sucks, don’t take it personal, don’t dwell on it, learn from it and grow from it. It’s when we get stuck feeling down, victimized, hopeless, worthless and negative that we stop fully living life and start suffering though life. That’s when we start living in a prison of our own construction regardless of if we are incarcerated or not.

Get In To The Habit Of Asking Yourself: “Does This Support The Life I’m Trying To Create?”

Get In To The Habit Of Asking Yourself: “Does This Support The Life I’m Trying To Create?”

We create the lives we want by the things we think, the things we do, how we spend our time and the people we spend our time with.

The problem is, many of us mindlessly do things and spend time with people that do not support the life we are trying to create. We say we want to raise our standards and make positive changes in our lives, but our habits show otherwise.

This is a very common theme with the inmates I work with in the jail. I see some of the same inmates re-incarcerated over and over again. Many of them are generally good, caring and intelligent individuals who could do anything they set their minds to.

They have goals and dreams that don’t include being behind bars, yet when they get released from jail they tend to go back to the same neighborhood, hang around the same people and end up doing the same things that landed them in jail to begin with.

They are holding themselves back, just as many of us are holding ourselves back by wasting time and energy doing things and associating with people who are not going to get us to the lives we want for ourselves.

We may be in relationships with partners who don’t believe in us, don’t support our goals and dreams or worst, attempt to sabotage our goals rather it be weight-loss goals, financial goals or our happiness.

We may be at jobs that don’t offer room to grow, that doesn’t offer training courses for professional improvement and career advancement or simply requires so much of our time and energy that at the end of the day we have none left for much of anything else, let alone to pursue our passions and talents.

There are countless ways we can be in situations that are not supportive of what we are trying to create for ourselves. It’s real easy to get stuck situations and habits without thinking much about it, which is why I think it’s important for us to take a step back from time to time and become mindful about what we are doing and to remember what is it we really want.

So get into the habit of asking yourself, especially when you get that gut feeling or you know deep down you shouldn’t be doing something (i.e., going out drinking when you should be home studying): “Does this support the life I’m trying to create”.

At least once a week, get into the habit of taking a quick inventory of your life. It doesn’t have to take a long time or be complicated, but check in with yourself:

  1. How is my life going? (take a quick look at all the important areas of your life and how satisfied you are in those areas)
  2. Make a note of the areas that need adjustment (areas where you are not so satisfied) and then commit to making changes in those areas.
  3.  Get to work making changes in those areas and repeat this check in again in a week or so. Little adjustments add up to big changes and you will realize you’ll start living more mindfully and intentional in creating the life you want and deserve.

Do women absorb the DNA of every man they have unprotected sex with?

Do women absorb the DNA of every man they have unprotected sex with?

I’ve been asked many times, mostly by worried pregnant mothers or potential baby fathers if a fetus’s DNA can be changed or effected by either another man’s semen while she is pregnant or from her sexual activities with previous partners.

The short answer is no.

There is a false belief that women absorb and retain the DNA of every man they have unprotected sex with. This belief has been spread through some articles, but stems from a 2012 research project that showed that the brains of some autopsied women had male DNA.  Some who heard this quickly jumped to the conclusion that they must have received this male DNA through sperm.

The truth is, this is called microchimerism and the explanation for the male Y chromosome being found in some female brains is not really that complex.

Pregnancy

When women become pregnant, they play host to another human with its own set of DNA. Some of this DNA gets absorbed through the placenta and remains with the woman for the rest of her life. If she has any male children then she will absorb some male DNA which explains why some of the women autopsied (aged 32 to 101) had male DNA in their brains even decades later.

The DNA a mother inherits from her child is often up to 10% of the free floating DNA in her blood stream. Often call foetal origin cells, they have also been found in the mothers skin and all major organ including the heart.

Blood Transfusions and Organ Transplants

When we receive blood transfusions or organ transplants, we are also receive some DNA from the donor. This is known as medical chimerism and is something the medical world has been aware of for a long time. If a woman receives a transfusion or transplant from a male, it is likely she will also absorb some male DNA.

Having an Older Male Sibling

If a woman has an older brother, the chances are her mother has absorbed some male DNA from him during her pregnancy and also passed it along to her daughter. This explains why some of the women autopsied who did not have any male children, blood transfusions or transplants, still had the presence male DNA.

Effects

Research suggests that having male DNA passed on to these women doesn’t affect them as far as femininity goes, but that it could have several beneficial effects:

  • Lower risk of some cancers
  • Longer life span
  • Better tolerance of successive pregnancies
  • Decrease risk of Alzheimer’s
  • Diminished symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

So while many women have the presence of male DNA, it’s not because they were having unprotected sex. They do not carry the DNA of ex-lovers and thankfully are not bonded to them for life, however, they will be bonded even on a cellular level with their children til death.