#orlandostrong

Orlando_Strong_1

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks undergoing two courses in trauma therapy, not realizing that an incredibly traumatic event would hit the city I live in.  What happened in my city of Orlando in the early morning hours of 6/12/2016 was an unimaginable tragedy.

I woke up that morning and saw all the commotion on the news and in my disoriented state, I was trying to figure out part of the world this tragedy had occurred in, not realizing that it was happening in my city, just fifteen minutes from where I live.

Just hours earlier I was on my way home from a night out on the town, not far from where the shooting happened, when I saw all the rescue vehicles headed in the opposite direction.  I had no idea that they were going to what would turn out to be the largest mass shooting in recent United States history.

This touched me. It hurts me, not just because so many people got killed, but that it happened in my backyard. It makes me angry. It touched everyone in the city somehow someway. I had never been to Pulse night club, but knew people who did.  My nephew knew two of the victims that got killed.

My sister, the Fire Marshall for the City of Orlando got called to that horrific scene and was shaken by the cell phones ringing on the bodies still inside of the club.

I watched on Facebook as many people I knew; fellow therapists and friends, shared pictures of people they knew and loved who were now gone.

Later that day, I was standing in line at the convenience store when the person in front of me found out that one of her friends was among the dead and right there in front of everyone she broke down in sadness and anger.  I was caught off guard. I had just gone out to buy some milk and there I was face to face with the impact of such a senseless crime.

I did the best I could verbally to console her so that she could get herself together enough to drive home, but it was an instant reminder of the many families and friends that were impacted by this man-made disaster.

Thinking about this tragedy, the nonsense of it all, the loss of life and the amount of trauma that will affect not only the surviving victims, but also the victims’ families, friends, first responders and the residence of the City Beautiful disheartens me.

This was a hate crime no matter how you slice it. Hatred of Americans, hatred of homosexuals, hatred of religious freedom, etc. We can’t let hate win.

No one should have to go through this. I could go on and write about gun control laws, terrorism, homophobia, religion or even post-traumatic stress disorder since this is a mental health blog, but I won’t.

I could go on about how the killer himself was probably struggling with his sexuality and hated that so many people could live freely and comfortably in their own identity, but I won’t give him that much of my energy .

What I want is this: for everyone to take some time to visit with and get to know someone of a different culture, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, whatever.

Get to know people who may seem different from you.

A few months ago I went to a gay nightclub for the first time just because it was the closes club in walking distance in downtown Minneapolis in negative ten degrees weather and I had a blast! It was something I thought I would never do and was initially uncomfortable with, but I had so much fun I went again the next night.

Stop being xenophobic!

Also take a moment and show love to those you love. My nephew just today told me that if he had not ran into me that Saturday night he had plans on going to that same nightclub and could have been among the dead or injured. Tomorrow is not promised for any of us.

There’s a lot of #prayfororlando going around, but besides praying, do something. If you can’t give blood or contribute to the GoFundMe  platform, then at least learn to embrace other human beings and end xenophobia, racism, sexism, religism and any other B.S. that contributes to hate.

On an end note, I am very proud of the way my city, my country and my world are banding together to show support and love for both the LBGTQ community and Orlando as a whole. That’s what love is and that’s the way it should be at all times, not just during times of tragedy.

Psychological Truama: A Brief Overview

Psychological Truama: A Brief Overview

Psychological trauma is sometimes hard to understand. Because of this, many people who have suffered from it do not realize how it affects their lives. More sadly, many parents who have children that have undergone psychological trauma, do not realize the importance of getting them help because they do not realize the damage that has been caused.

They believe that children are resilient and will get over or forget something traumatic that happened to them when they were one, two, three or four yeas old. Depending on the child, the traumatic event and what protective factors were or weren’t available to the child after the event, that child may suffer psychological damage for life.

Psychological trauma is the unique individual experience of an event in which the individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed or the individual experiences a threat to their life, body or sanity.

A traumatic event creates an overwhelming feeling within a person where they are not able to cope and are left to feel as if they will be killed, seriously injured or psychologically damaged. The person may feel overwhelmed emotionally, cognitively and/or physically. This type of situation is common with abuse, entrapment, helplessness, betrayal, pain, loss and/or confusion.

Trauma is a very broad definition and includes responses to powerful one time events such as natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and crime, deaths, and even surgeries.  It can also include responses to repetitive events such as combat, urban violence, concentration camps and abusive relationships.

The key component in trauma is feeling helpless and endangered. No two people will experience the same traumatic event the same. As a matter of fact, what may be traumatic for one person may not be at all traumatic to the next.

For instance, earlier this week I did crisis counseling with four female inmate workers who were out clearing road debris when a man came out of the woods with a machete and chased them back to the van. The man was apprehended, but the four women were brought to me to be evaluated.

Out of the four women, three appeared to be handling the situation relatively well, even able to laugh and joke about the incident while also describing it as terrifying.

One woman however, was obviously more shaken up. She sat nearly stone faced with tears in her eyes, not saying a word during the counseling session. I quickly learned that she was the last woman to make it safely to the van and was the one whose life was most in danger. She also has a history of mental health problems which may make her predisposed to developing signs of trauma which include:

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief.
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings.
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame.
  • Feeling sad or hopeless.
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Avoidant behavior

Out of the four women, she is the one I most worry about and the one I will observe closes during the days to come to see how she processes this trauma and to help walk her through it if needed.

That is the interesting part of trauma and why trauma is defined by the experience of the survivor.  We can’t say one event will cause trauma and another will not or that one person will be traumatized by this experience while another will not. Trauma is too broad for such simple explanations.

 

“Big T” versus  “Little T”

It’s hard to go through life without being traumatized in some way. Most of us have experienced some type of event that has affected us either consciously or subconsciously. It could be the divorce of our parents, being bullied in school, seeing a pet die when we were young.

Many of us don’t even know we walk around caring these traumas with us or how they affect our lives.

For instance, a man whose favorite pet died when he was five may never like pets for the rest of his life and grow angry and anxious when his kids ask if they can have a pet.

These types of traumas are called “Little Ts” or “Little Traumas”. They do not have the severe impact that  “Big Ts” or “Big Traumas” usually have such as flashbacks, avoidant behavior, severe anxiety and nightmares that lead to a diagnosis of PTSD. Still, “Little Ts” can unconsciously disrupt our lives.

Most men I’ve worked with in anger management don’t even realize why they are so angry, why they hit their wives or bully their children. It’s only after some intense introspection that most of them can identify traumatic events in their childhood such as being bullied by their own father, watching their father beat their mother or watching their mother go through abusive relationship with one man after another, that they realize the reason they carry around so much anger.It’s once we deal with the root causes of their anger that they began to truly heal.

I myself as a child watched as my father often abused my mother. I never had any nightmares, flashbacks or anything that would make it a “Big T”. I never felt that my own life was in danger, but I did feel like my mothers’ life was.

Still, one of the affects it had on me was that for many years I thought that’s what love was. That if you loved someone you fought, made up and then fought again. It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned I was wrong. For many years, that “Little T” of watching my parents fight had me living in a world where fighting verbally and physically meant love.

A woman I counseled with was claustrophobic and afraid of the dark. She had no ideal why until one session we processed the fact that her older siblings used to play a game where they would lock her in a closet when she was very young. They thought it was funny, but she was tormented. She never viewed that as a traumatic event until years later, sitting across from me crying.

Trauma doesn’t have to be a negative word. Often times the way we respond to trauma, the way it changes us, the way we adapt to a traumatic event, is natural given the coping skills, circumstances and knowledge we have at the time.

The topic of trauma is too broad to cover in one post. I’ve actually been on a radio talk show discussing trauma twice within the last two months and will likely be on a third time because it is such a huge topic.

My bottom line for this post is to help others realize that you don’t have to go off to war or survive some horrific event to suffer from the affects of trauma. Even “Little Ts” can rob us of our full quality of life and “Big Ts” can devastate us.

Once we recognize this, we can change it through self help, the help of loved ones and even professional help if needed and reclaim the joy and full life we deserve.

 

 

 

123 Mentally Ill People Killed By Police So Far This Year

In the first six months of the year, nationwide police have shot and killed 462 people. Out of those 462 people, 123 of them were in the midst of a mental or emotional crisis according to a Washington post analysis. c07_jd_02jul_shootinggraphic-640x230

To be fair, most of these individuals were armed, but mostly with weapons less lethal than a firearm such as toy guns, knives or a machete. Only 3 officers have been killed by a knife or machete in the past decade according to the FBI.

Below I have included a video of a mentally ill man shot and killed by police only seconds after they arrive on the scene. The mans mother called because her mentally ill son was acting erratic. He was armed with a screw driver. You can watch the video with caution and judge for yourself.

The police who responded weren’t usually called to respond to a crime, but were called by concerned family members, bystanders and neighbors because a person was acting erratically. 50 of them were outright threatening suicide.

In more than half of those killings, the officers who responded did not have adequate training in dealing with persons with a mental illness. Most of them actually responded with tactics that escalated the already volatile situation.

Yelling and pointing guns at a person with a mental illness is like pouring gasoline on a fire. A person in the middle of a mental crisis is not going to respond like someone else would, they have too much going on in their heads.

Almost a dozen of these individuals killed by the police were military veterans, many who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One was even a former California Highway patrolman who was forced into retirement after a severe beating during a traffic stop lift him suffering from depression and PTSD.

Forty five of these cases involved someone who was seeking medical treatment or had been turned away from medical treatment.

John Guillory, a 32 year old father of two had worked as a contractor in Afghanistan. He was having what his wife called a mental health emergency. He went to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Arizona, but was turned away because they were too busy. He went home and called 911 twice, hanging up both times. When the police showed up to his house he pulled a gun out of his waistband saying, “I bet I can outdraw you”. The police shot him six times killing him.

Suicide by cop is real thing and accounts for a number of these killings.

One individual in San Francisco who pulled a BB gun out on a group of officers and was shot and killed, had left a message on his phone telling the officers “You did nothing wrong. You ended the life of a man who was too much of a coward to do it himself.”

On average, police have killed someone who was mentally ill every 36 hours so far this year. Police are starting to acknowledge the lack of effective tools and trainings they have in dealing with this population. Without large-scale retraining and a nationwide increase in mental health services, these deadly encounters will continue.

While officers on average spend 60 hours in firearm training, they only spend 8 hours on learning to de-escalate a tense situation and 8 hours on handling mentally ill individuals. Otherwise they use tactics that are counterproductive and increase the risk of violence when they encounter these individuals. Most of these individuals end up dead within minutes of encountering the police.

Some of these killings probably couldn’t have been avoided. In some of the situations the individuals had guns pointed at the police. However, a large number of these individuals could still be alive if the officers had proper crisis intervention training.

Post Dramatic Stress Disorder

748Today I counseled an inmate who was upset because he had been diagnosed with what he called Post Dramatic Stress Disorder (PDSD). What he meant and I quickly corrected him, was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Initially my colleagues and I had a good laugh at the fact that he mistakenly called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Post Dramatic Stress Disorder, but then I thought about it. Can exposure to too much drama create a milder form of stress that can have a negative effect on an individual’s life?

Every day most of us are exposed to some type of drama, either in our personal lives or through the media where we are bombarded with images of war, devastation and danger just from watching the  news. We are faced with even more murder, betrayals and violence from the television shows, books and magazine articles we consume.

Most of us don’t give a second thought to these images that slip into our brains, but for some of us, prolonged exposure to drama can create anxiety, difficulty sleeping, a sense of helplessness and agitation.

Think about it. How many times have you watched or read something that was provocative, suspenseful or violent and then found yourself dreaming about it that night, perhaps even having a nightmare that the dramatic even was happening to you?  Many of us will push this aside as we wake up and get back to our realities, but for a few, they will remain hyper vigilant and uneasy for days.

My oldest sister had to stop watching one of her favorite movies because it would cause her to go back to work the next day angry. Why? The dramatic events in the movie didn’t happen to her, yet they affected her on multiple levels triggering an agitated response.

What’s the solution? Certainly I am not advocating boycotting television or books filled with drama, but instead to take a break from it every now and then. Go for a walk, take up yoga, spend time with someone you love, try to avoid real life drama, do anything relaxing that can help bring you centered. Also, try to pay attention to how dramatic events affect you, which ones and how. Most of us are much more affected by the dramatic events in our real lives than in the media, but maybe watching a suspenseful movie before bed isn’t the best idea if they generally give you nightmares and poor sleep quality.

What started off this morning as a good laugh (with the seriousness we deal with every day we are always looking for a good laugh), a real topic was brought up. Post Dramatic Stress Disorder may not be a real disorder, but the effects of being dramatized are. The less drama (real or fictional) we have in our lives, the healthier we will be both mentally and physically.

The True Toll Of War

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I’ve written before about the affects of war on our veterans. About how on average 22 veterans kill themselves everyday, many suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, physical injuries, substance abuse, depression and other mental stressors. However, what is rarely talked about is wars toll on the families of veterans.

Many military spouses, children, even siblings and parents end up suffering when their loved ones are deployed and sadly, many of them end up killing themselves as well. Exactly how many is unknown as that record is not yet being kept the way the number of veterans who commit suicide is, yet it is an issue that needs to be tackled.

Deployment after deployment can take its toll on any veteran and his or her family. The fear, trauma, uncertainty, pressure and strain can be too much for some of them to bear. Many are left feeling exhausted, isolated and desperate.

Multiple deployments can leave a family feeling despondent. Many families end up emotionally and financially shattered as they take care of injured veterans with physical and or emotional wounds that can take their toll over time. Some are so grief stricken over the loss of a loved one at war, that they themselves can’t stand to live.

I am not saying that stress, plus deployment equals suicide. Suicide is much more complicated than that. The combination of reasons a person commits suicide is different for each individual. There are many military families who deal with war, injury and death fairly well and show great resilience.

However, when it comes to suicide there are usually many underlying factors such as a wife who was already depressed and gets extremely depressed when her husband is deployed. Alone and depressed, she may be more tempted to take her own life.

Many family members get severely depressed when their loved one is deployed, but fail to seek mental health help out of fear that it will jeopardize the career of their loved one. After all, they are supposed to be the strong ones, supporting their family members at war. However, they too suffer.

Many who sought help felt like they did not get adequate treatment. Some confided in their doctors only to receive medication with no counseling or follow up care.

Take Faye Vick for example, a 36-year-old Army wife of a newborn and 2-year-old who killed herself and both kids by asphyxiation in her car while her husband was deployed.

Cassey Walton, a wife of an Iraq vet who killed himself outside his home in 2007, shot and killed herself just days later wearing her husbands fatigue jacket and dog tags.

Monique Lingenfelter, the wife of a sergeant, barricaded herself in her home and killed herself and her baby despite police trying for hours to persuade her to come out.

Sheena Griffin told her husband while he was away at Fort Hood preparing to be deployed to Afghanistan, that she wanted to kill herself and their 8 and 9-year-old sons. By the time he called police and they arrived to her house, the home was already engulfed in flames and Sheena and her two sons were both dead.

And then there is Jessica Harp who wrote a nearly 4,000 page suicide letter that went viral, detailing how her marriage had deteriorated after her husband served in the war.

According to Harp, her husband came back changed, drinking, impulsive and most likely suffering from PTSD. She said that if her husband had died she would have been surrounded with support, but because he wasn’t dead physically, but wounded mentally, there was little to no support and the weight and emotional strain was too much for her to bear.

Harp didn’t kill herself. Her letter was preprogrammed to be sent out, but she ended up in a local hospital instead of killing herself.

Melinda Moore, a researcher at the University of Kentucky says, “The service member is like a pebble in a pool, the pain a person carries affects everyone around them. Trauma ripples outward.”

You can see these affects on their spouses, their children, other family members and even friends before, during and after deployment. War has a way of changing people. The person who left isn’t always the person that comes back and this has an affect on the entire family unit from parents, to spouses and kids.

The number of military family members who have killed themselves or attempted to kill themselves is unknown, because it isn’t being tracked, something I hope will change soon. In 2009 there were 9 confirmed suicides of service family members and “too many to count” attempted suicides in just the army alone according to Army officials.

The way we treat our veterans who come back from war has to be holistic, meaning that we treat not only the veterans, but those are are closes to them as well in order to keep families together, people mentally health and a live.

If you or anyone you know who is a family member, spouse or even friend of a service member and you need help, here’s a list of resources.

Veterans Crisis Line- A 24/7 hotline open to family members of all armed forces: 1-800-273-8255 and press 1

For nonemergency help try TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors): 1-800-959-TAPS (8277)

Military OneSource- provides counseling referrals and assistance with all needs of military life including mental health: 1-800-342-9647

Treatment Of The Mentally Ill In A War Torn Country

706x410q70simon-somalia-subbedMThe other day I was reading a very interesting article about how mentally ill people are treated in Somalia where they have one of the highest numbers of mentally ill people in the world.

Somalia is a country that’s been plagued by war, famine and disease for decades. As a result, at least 1 out of 3 of their 10 million citizens are affected with a mental illness, including many former soldiers, some who joined various armies and fractions at as early as 7 years old and are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

On top of all this, a very large number of the population uses a drug called Khat, which is a plant that you can chew and it causes psychedelic effects. It’s legal and addicting although it can cause both health and mental damage.

Things are further complicated for the mentally ill in Somalia because of the lack of qualified mental health professionals. Many of the mental health workers in Somalia have only received 3 months of training through the World Health Organization (WHO), which is advocating for the humane and proper treatment of the mentally ill in Somalia and worldwide.

WHO officials have rescued mentally ill people from some very poor conditions. Families who have mentally ill family members in Somalia often don’t know what to do or where to turn for help so they chain them to beds in the house or to trees in the yard, including one lady who was chained by her husband to a tree for eight years and gave birth to three children.

Faith and folklore also play a role in treating the mentally ill in Somalia, with individuals sometimes being flogged to get rid of the “evil spirits”, locked in a room with a hyena for three day stretches in hopes that the hyena would eat away the “evil spirits”, or simply just beaten to death by villagers.

The streets of Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, are littered with the mentally ill sleeping under bridges or wandering around aimlessly chewing on Khat. Most of these individuals are suffering from some sort of mental trauma and are receiving no help.

Something that makes this story even sadder is that Somalia’s only trained psychiatrist died last year in a car crash. It’s one thing to have one psychiatrist in a country of 10 million people, but when that person dies and there is no one else to take their place, the fate of the mentally ill seems that much dimmer.

A lot of money is going into rebuilding Somalia and helping with diseases like HIV, TB and diarrhea, but not enough funding is going into helping the mentally ill.

I can only imagine that it will be nearly impossible to build a stronger country, economically, educationally and health wise, if such a large portion of the population is suffering from mental trauma.

Where will these workers come from? How can they function if they are suffering from a mental illness without being treated? How will the children who are suffering learn and grow up to be productive citizens?

This is only a snap shot about mental illness in a third world, war torn country and similar terrible conditions are played out everyday around the world.

Hearing about these deplorable conditions initially made me wish I could go to Somalia to help out, but I realized that it also makes me want to advocate even stronger for the rights and proper treatment of the mentally ill here in the United States and across the world through education, information and community service.

Daniel Sommers: A Soldiers Losing Struggle With PTSD And Depression

istock_000011501105small-eda6b80f8b0e6fb04724b38c94926b4e798fe269-s6-c30***Warning… this post may contain language that can be a trigger for depressed and/or suicidal individuals***

Recently I read about and researched the suicide of Daniel Sommers, an Iraq war veteran who was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Gulf War Syndrome, fibromyalgia, and other medical conditions after his service in the armed forces in 2007.

Last month he committed suicide and his suicide letter was posted across the internet by his family, hoping to draw attention to the poor treatment of veterans by the United States Office of Veteran Affairs (VA).

While Daniel Sommers sought treatment through a variety of modalities including music, medication, and traditional therapy, nothing was enough to alleviate the physical and mental pain he felt and ultimately he took his own life.

Before I even started researching for this post, I was already researching the increase in young veterans committing suicide and was preparing to write a post about that, but when I read Daniel Sommers suicide letter, I felt like it gave a chilling insight into the mind of someone struggling with PTSD and depression.

“My body has become nothing but a cage, a source of pain and constant problems. The illness I have has caused me pain that not even the strongest medicines could dull, and there is no cure,”  Daniel wrote in his final letter. Those words echo so much of what I hear when I have worked with people suffering from diseases such as fibromyalgia, lupus and even undiagnosed problems that they are told are all in their head.

“All day, every day a screaming agony in every nerve ending in my body. It is nothing short of torture. My mind is a wasteland, filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety.” 

It’s not often that we get to see the last words and thoughts of someone who feels like the only solution is suicide. Being able to read Daniel’s words and analyze them, not only gives us great insight into the way he was thinking, but it can potentially help us help others who are thinking about ending their lives.

I have a book called Psychotherapy with Suicidal People and it is filled with suicide letters from people who ended their lives,  including some famous individuals. At some points it was one of the most depressing books I have ever read, but the amount of insight these letters give to us trying to help others is invaluable.

While the military and other non-profit support groups have many resources aimed at helping veterans with PTSD, Daniel Sommers family feels like the military failed their son and is failing others who have and are currently serving our country.

In February, the VA released findings from a study that said that 22 veterans commit suicide everyday and that 325 committed suicide last year. Those numbers are astonishing. If we were losing 22 children to shootings everyday, something drastic would be done.

Those numbers tell me that things could be better when it comes to the way we deal with and treat veterans dealing with PTSD and depression and some changes are coming.

In August, President Obama signed an order to increase veterans access to mental health services and the VA hired 1,600 mental health professionals while also adding more telephone and online help for veterans. Help for veterans is better than it’s ever been, but it’s far from perfect and too many people like Daniel Sommers are falling through the cracks.

As much pain as Daniel Sommers was going through, suicide is never the answer and the bad thing about his suicide letter going viral is that others suffering from depression and mental anguish may see this as verification that suicide brings about peace, but suicide is a permanent solution to what are usually temporary problems.

If you would like to read  Daniel Sommers suicide letter just click on the link. I didn’t want to post it because it could serve as a trigger for those already suffering with suicidal ideations. This is definitely a tragedy, but just think, there are 22 tragedies like this occurring everyday with just our veterans alone, not to mention our civilian population where the Center for Disease Control estimates 105 people commit suicide everyday.