#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.

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.

The Trayvon Martin Tragedy And Psychology, Part Three: Cultural Stereotypes

students_112210-thumb-640xauto-1605In part two of this three part post, we discussed how psychological research suggests that people who have a gun themselves are more likely to assume that other people also have guns, even when they don’t.

We have to wonder if this played a role the night when Mr. Zimmerman saw Trayvon Martin, who was wearing a hoodie and likely carrying the items he had (skittles and a can of ice tea) in the pockets of his hoodie.

Could, based on this research, Mr. Zimmerman think that the probability of Trayvon being armed was very likely which may have been another reason he was more willing to shoot?

In another research done by psychologist Joshua Correll, groups of college students were placed in a simulated situation where images were flashed across the screen, similar to the research mentioned above, instead these college students were asked to either shoot or not shoot the individuals that flashed across their screen depending on if they were armed or not, a situation known as Police Officer’s Dilemma. 

Some of the targets that flashed across the screen were holding an aluminum can, a wallet or a cell phone for instance. Participants who choose correctly to shoot an armed suspect were rewarded 10 ponts, if they correctly didn’t shoot an unarmed suspect they received 5 points. Shooting an unarmed person deducted 20 points and not shooting an armed suspect was deducted the most points, 40, because in reality that could mean paying the ultimate penalty of death.

As each target flashed across the screen, participants were asked to decide as quick as possible to shoot or not so shoot by pressing “shoot” or “don’t shoot” buttons. What the participants didn’t know was that some of the targets would be White and some Black.

Would the color of the suspects skin change the likelihood of shooting an unarmed suspect?

Over the course of four studies, researchers found what they termed shooter bias. Participants were quicker to correctly shoot an armed suspect if he was Black and to correctly not shoot an unarmed suspect if he was White. However, the alarming and sad discovery was that participants were consistently more likely to shoot an unarmed suspect if he was Black.

Why is this? Is this because those participants were racists who believed in the negative stereotypes of Black people being more dangerous, aggressive and likely to be armed? If this is the case, then participants who considered themselves to not be racist, to be fair and equal to all people, would have lower incidents in the research of shooting unarmed Black targets, but that wasn’t the case. Across the board, regardless of the level of racism, the same results could be predicted.

Outright levels of racism didn’t matter, but what did matter was- the participants’ level of awareness that there is prejudice towards Black people in American society, even if the participant adamantly did not support those stereotypes. 

What does that mean? It means that simply being aware that there are cultural stereotypes and prejudice towards a group, even if you personally do not believe and disagree with them, makes it more likely that in a split-second decision in an uncertain conditions, you are more likely to make a biased mistake such as shooting an unarmed, non-threatening person. This bias is likely to be depended on the person race, ethnicity, age, sex, etc.

This doesn’t mean that you are racist. I speak a lot in my group work about how we have all been brainwashed to various degrees by society and most of us have been brainwashed to believe that Black men are armed and dangerous. Even if you don’t believe this to be true, under uncertain conditions where you have to make a split- second decision, those subconscious thoughts come roaring into your consciousness and may make you respond irrationally.

We all live in a culture that embraces certain stereotypes and you don’t even have be aware of it, or think that it effects you for it to become imbedded into your cultural knowledge base. Even without you knowing, they will impact the way you interact, think and behave, sometimes in ways that are shocking.

In the article I wrote about some Black females wanting to have light skinned babies, I talked about the Clark Doll Test. This is another form of brainwashing where without even knowing it, little Black girls had been taught through social cues that Black= ugly and stupid while White= beautiful and smart. No one “taught” them this, it was ingrained into their cultural knowledge base by society.

By the way, when Black participants were given the same test, to shoot or not shoot, they were just as likely to shoot an unarmed Black person as White participants were. Cultural stereotypes affect all of us.

Cultural stereotypes can become automatically activated and influence our behavior, even without us knowing that is what is happening. Most of the participants in the study for instance would have probably been angry and disagree if it was suggested that the race of the target played a role in their decision to shoot or not to shoot, even when faced with the evidence.

Is Mr. Zimmerman a racist? Again, I can not say, but I do believe race played a role in this. However, I don’t think racism alone explains what happened and it is more complex. The fact that Mr. Zimmerman was carrying a gun of course played a role in this tragedy and definitely cultural stereotypes played a major role.

I think this tragedy definitely should open up conversation about many issues including the consequences we and our children have to deal with, growing up in a culturally stereotypical and racist society that affects all of us, even when we don’t realize it.

Childhood PTSD AND Trauma: Part 1

BW portrait of sad crying little boy covers his face with handsImagine a four-year-old child found covered in blood, lying over her mother’s naked, dead body, whimpering incoherently. She’s witnessed her mother being raped and murdered, and her own throat had been cut, twice in an attempt to leave behind no witnesses. She’s alone with her mother for approximately eleven hours before she is discovered.

After being hospitalized she is released as a ward of the state and put into foster care with no follow up treatment for the trauma she experienced.

How will she go on through life with those images etched in her mind? How will she survive psychologically? How will her mind protect her from such traumatic experiences?

This story is unfortunately a very true story, one of several stories of childhood trauma that can be found in the book, The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavaitz.

Tragedies like this occur across our nation and the world everyday, leaving behind sometimes physical, but always emotional and psychological scars.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that 30 or so years ago was reserved only for soldiers who had experienced traumatic events at war. It was later recognized that rape survivors, people who had been through terrible accidents or natural disaster, also exhibited symptoms of PTSD including flashback, hyper-vigilance and avoidance behaviors.

When it came to children however, the mental health and medical fields were slow to realize the impact of trauma on their lives.

Children were thought to be naturally resilient and would “bounce back” without the aid of any type of support or treatment. Those same children who had experienced trauma would often later develop psychiatric problems, depression and attention issues that would sometimes led to medication.

We know  now that children who have live through tragedies, are just as affected as adults, perhaps even more so. This is evident in the great way the mental health community around the nation responded to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.

What Causes PTSD?

PTSD can occur in anyone who has lived through an event in which they could have been killed or severely hurt or where they witnessed someone else getting killed or severely hurt. These can include violent crimes, physical or sexual abuse, someone close to them committing suicide, car crashes, shootings, war and natural disasters just to name a few.

Approximately 40% of children by the age of 18 will experience a traumatic event, which includes the loss of a parent or sibling and domestic violence. In the United States, child protective services receives an estimated 3 million reports of abuse and neglect yearly, involving approximately 5.5 million kids. About 30% of all those cases show proof of abuse:

  • 65% neglect
  • 18% physical abuse
  • 10% sexual abuse
  • 7% psychological (mental) abuse

This of course doesn’t include the estimate 66% of child abuse cases that are never reported.

The Likely Hood Of PTSD Developing

Girls are more likely than boys to develop PTSD symptoms. Approximately 3-15% of girls and 1-6% of boys who experience a trauma will develop PTSD. The chances of developing PTSD are higher depending on the type of trauma experienced. Some of the risk factors for PTSD include:

  • How severe the trauma was
  • How the parents react to the trauma
  • How close or far away that child is from the trauma

Of course children who go through the most severe traumas have the highest level and severity of PTSD symptoms. Incidents where people are hurting other people such as assault and rape, tend to result in PTSD more frequently. Children who have healthy support systems tend to have less severe symptoms.

The age of the child during the traumatic experience doesn’t seem to effect rather PTSD symptoms will develop, however PTSD looks different in children of different ages.

What Does PTSD Look Like In Children Ages 5-12?

  • children may not have flashbacks or problems remembering parts of the trauma like adults with PTSD often do.
  • Children might, however put the events of the trauma in the wrong order.
  • They might also think there were signs that the trauma was going to happen and thus they think that they will see these signs again before another trauma happens.
  • They think that if they pay attention, they can avoid future traumas which can lead to hyper-vigilance.

Children around this age may also show signs of PTSD during their play. They may keep reenacting part of the trauma. For instance, a child who has seen a shooting may want to play video games involving shootings or carry a gun to school.

Teens (ages 12-18)

In teens, some of the PTSD symptoms may be similar to those of adults including flashbacks, reoccurring nightmares about the event, hyper-vigilance and exaggerated startle responses. Teens are more likely than children or adults to show aggressive and impulsive behavior.

What are the other effects of trauma on children?

Other effects of trauma on children from PTSD comes from research done with children who have been through sexual abuse. They include:

  • fear
  • worry
  • sadness
  • anger
  • feeling alone and apart from others
  • feeling as if people are looking down on them
  • low self-worth
  • not being able to trust others
  • undesired behaviors such as aggression, out-of-place sexual behavior, self-harm, and abuse of drugs or alcohol

For many children, PTSD symptoms go away on their own after a few months. Yet some children show symptoms for years and possibly a lifetime  if they do not get treatment.

How Is PTSD Treated In Children?

For some children, the symptoms of PTSD will go away on their own with healthy supports and when they aren’t being re-traumatized by anxious parents or the media. For others, they may need professional help including:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Psychological first aid/crisis management
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Play therapy
  • Special treatments may be necessary for children who show out-of-place sexual behaviors, extreme behavior problems, or problems with drugs or alcohol.

What Can You Do To Help?

Educated yourself on PTSD and pay attention to your child for signs such as anger, avoidance of certain places and people, problems with friends, academic changes and sleep problems. If you need professional help, find a therapist in your area that treats PTSD and that your child feels comfortable with.  Where to Get Help .

 

Sources: The National Center for PTSD

The Sandy Hook School Shooting, Mass Murder And Mental Health Reform: Parts 1 and 2

istock_000005543513smallWhen I was in undergrad, I took a class called Mass Murder in the United States.

I picked up that book today and perused through it. It was published in 2000 and due to the number of mass murders that have taken place over the last

12 years, it felt severely outdated (although much of the psychological information in it remains relevant).

Unfortunately our country has a long history of mass murder with the number of incidents and victims increasing over the years, especially in the last 10.

After tragedies like the one that happened Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it’s common that many people start wanting gun reforms and bands on assault refiles. Something that often gets overlooked, but now is finally getting some attention, is mental health reform.

According to research done by Mother Jones in November, no less than 80 percent of mass shooters obtained their guns legally.

In the 61 cases they looked at in the United States over the last 30 years, at least 38 of the shooters displayed signs of mental problems before the shootings.

This happens way too often. While assault rifle bands get the attention during terrible mass shootings, the mental health component often goes largely ignored, despite the fact that it often plays a crucial role.

Many of these perpetrators in the study done by Mother Jones had acute paranoia, delusions, hallucinations and/or depression.

At least 35 of the 61 perpetrators killed themselves at or near the scene with 7 others appearing to have committed suicide by cop.

Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 and injured 23 during the Virgina Tech shootings in 2007, was found mentally ill and in need of hospitalization during a psychiatric evaluation in 2005.

Jared Loughner, who shot 19 people including former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, had displayed signs of mental illness many years before the shooting, including yelling out in class and complaining about hearing voices. Still, he was able to purchase a gun and ammunition without a problem.

One of the bystanders who helped subdue Loughner that day after he stopped to reload, Patricia Maisch stated, “That beautiful day, our mental-health system failed us.”

Could many of the mass shootings we’ve seen over the past few years (at least 26 in the past seven years alone) been prevented with better mental health reform?

That’s not an easy question to answer because it takes into account the issues of civil liberties, medical ethics, and gun laws.

In our country, we want to make sure that everyone has the same rights to bare arms, even those with mental problems, but we have to try to figure out a way of keeping guns out of the hands of those likely to use them to inflict horror on our society.

At the minimum we need to look at how we are treating those with severe mental problems.

Our mental health system is broken, plain and simple. I’ve worked in many facets of the mental health system to know that it’s the truth.

Look around you. I am sure you know someone who has fallen through the system, needs help and is walking around with a mental illness that isn’t being addressed properly if at all. If not, just take a look at our staggering homeless population, many of which suffer from mental illnesses that are not being treated.

Too many states are cutting funding for those with mental illnesses and many people that need to be hospitalized, simply aren’t because so many mental institutions have been closed down due to lack of funding.

In the United States you are allowed to be mentally ill, which means that you can be diagnosed with a severe mental illness and allowed to not take medication, not see a psychiatrist/therapist and pretty much be ignored unless you draw attention to yourself.

It’s your right.

As a licensed mental health counselor in the state of Florida, I have the right to involuntarily hospitalize someone that is an imminent danger to them self/others or is at risk of self harm (i.e., running through traffic in a manic rage), but not the right to involuntarily hospitalize someone who is actively hearing voices or hallucinating, as long as they are in touch with reality and aren’t a danger to themselves or others, even if I know that person needs treatment.

Of course not all mass murders are done by people who are mentally ill. Some do it to seek revenge or have other troubles, but I can’t ignore the role that mental illness, including depression in young men, plays in mass murders.

Part 2: Stima Associated With Mental Illness May Increase Chances For Violence. depressed-teen-istock

I hate when tragedies like this happen because it often puts a stigma on those with mental illnesses who already have enough stigma.

Most people with mental illnesses, including schizophrenia are not violent. However, having schizophrenia makes a person twice as likely to be violent than a person without schizophrenia.

A person who has schizophrenia and a substance problem is about 20 times more likely to kill a person than someone without schizophrenia, so we can’t ignore the statistics.

The stigmatization of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, often make it worse for those with it, causing exacerbation of existing symptoms of delusions, disconnection from reality, social withdrawal and lack of emotions.

I’ve talked previously about how many men with depression don’t seek help because of the stigma that goes along with a man seeking help for his problems (check out my post on Javon Belcher) and how that can turn deadly in the form of suicide, murder or in rare cases, mass murder.

A patient with schizophrenia, a former academic wrote anonymously about her experience with social stigma from her disease (via writer David Dobbs at Wired):

“I was diagnosed with schizophrenia just a month after Steven Kazmierczak (quickly identified as “schizoaffective”) shot six people to death on the campus of [Northern Illinois University] … Undoubtedly primed by this shooting, wary, uncertain, without enough time to think, my doctoral adviser suspended my graduate assistantship, banned me from the university, and alerted all faculty, graduate students and staff to forward all emails [from me] to her and, under no circumstances, respond.”

Her adviser unfortunately thought that she was planning to plant a bomb on campus, and although the decision to suspend her was reversed in about a week, the damage was already done:

“Friends — my doctoral cohort, as is often the case, were a close and tight-knit group — abandoned me overnight. Students and faculty passed me in the halls, staring ahead blankly as if I were an undergraduate they had never seen and would never see again. Parties were announced, talked about, and I was never invited. Never again.”

The social rejection exacerbated her illness. She became afraid to be around people, stopped attending classes and functions on campus:

For a while I struggled through classes, overwhelmed, perhaps in equal measure, by delusions and this new and unprecedented isolation. Voices took the places of both professors and friends. Following a hospitalization (and consequent withdrawal from a semester’s worth of classes), I descended into a state of the most stunning dysfunction, unable (or simply unmotivated) even to walk from my bed to the bathroom.

Eventually she was dismissed from her program:

Everything I have ever been told was a lie. My one way out — of poverty, desperation, madness — was never more than an illusion. And then disbelief. And then, how will I ever explain this to anyone, to family, to old mentors? And then betrayal. No language this time, no thoughts; crying, crying for hours. Alcohol, unconsciousness, unbidden dreams. Even there: repeating their words, over and over and over again. Isolation so intense, there is no way I will ever bridge it. I am lost. Days go by, weeks.

Eventually her thoughts turned to violence and self-destruction:

I fixated on a single vision, me, sometimes hanging, sometimes with gun in hand and a pool of blood on the floor, outside [her former adviser’s] office. Suicide, yes, obviously, but also something more: revenge.

This person never went through with murder or violence, but she says that she understands how someone in her situation would want to commit mass murder. This is sometimes the spiraling down process of someone with a mental illness who commits mass murder.

We have to do something about our mental health system if we don’t want to see a continuation or rise in the amount of mass murder in our country.

Maybe we need stronger gun laws that don’t allow someone who has been involuntarily committed to a hospital because of a mental illness or found mentally incapacitated to purchase guns without a thorough psychiatric evaluation and extensive cooling off period, if at all.

It’s time for the leaders of our states, our country, to sit down and have a serious conversation for the well-being of our nation’s mental health.

For more information on the Mother Jones research, check out the site below: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map