Categories
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders

PTSD in First Responders

First responders are the first people to arrive at the scene of an emergency. We rely on them to be the first to bring us to safety and take control of the situation, whether through administering medical aid or helping people evacuate the situation. They are integral to our communities, but having such an intense, fast-paced job can take its toll. Many first responders are responding to high-risk, high-stress situations that are often traumatic not only to the victim, but to anyone on the scene. Having to experience these traumatic emergency situations on a daily basis is difficult for anyone, and can lead to several stress and trauma-related disorders. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness that can be triggered by either experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, and often results in symptoms of flashbacks, avoidance and depressive moods (Mayo Clinic, 2018). First responders who are witnessing these traumatic events often are at high risk for developing PTSD. In fact, approximately “30% of first responders develop behavioral health conditions including…depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, as compared with 20% in the general population” (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2018). 

PTSD in first responders is especially concerning because several aspects of the job can exacerbate the symptoms associated with the disorder. For example, many first responders such as EMS personnel and firefighters have erratic schedules with long shifts. Because they are first responders, they have to be ready to go at any time when there is an emergency. As a result, many first responders suffer from lack of sleep and fatigue. These are two conditions that are detrimental to mental health and can result in issues with being able to regulate emotions (Kelley, 2019). A common symptom of PTSD is changes in emotional reactions such as irritability, aggressive behavior, fear, suspicion, or overwhelming guilt or shame (Mayo Clinic, 2018). Lack of quality sleep can make this symptom even worse, and first responders with PTSD are especially at risk for this. Furthermore, many first responders turn to alcohol for comfort after a stressful experience at work. There is a sense of camaraderie and support that comes with getting a drink with coworkers after work. This is normal for many individuals, not just first responders; however, another symptom of PTSD is substance abuse and drinking with coworkers can easily turn into binge drinking. Alcohol abuse along with an erratic sleep schedule can make symptoms of PTSD worse and make it very difficult for first responders to keep from spiraling into depression or suicidal tendencies (Kelley, 2019). This is why it is increasingly important to spread awareness about PTSD in first responders and how their jobs can affect them.

Many first responders often suffer in silence. They prioritize their job first, helping those in need, but are unable to help themselves. There is a stigma surrounding PTSD and they are unable to speak up comfortably about what they are experiencing (Fitzpatrick, 2020). There is an attitude that mental illness is weakness—that by being affected by the atrocities they are witnessing everyday, they are somehow inferior to others. This fosters a negative environment where first responders are forced to bottle up and push aside their emotions or avoid seeking help lest they be looked down upon. This stigma against mental illness and PTSD in first responders is so pronounced that in a survey of 2,000 first responders, 40% stated that they would have faced negative repercussions at work for seeking help (Ebersole, 2019). Preventing our first responders from getting help services no one. By damaging the mental health of our first responders, they will not be able to do their job effectively and more importantly, they will be more at risk for exacerbating their symptoms and suffering. It is vastly important that the stigma against mental illness in emergency workers is eradicated and resources are being offered for help. Our first responders sacrifice so much to help society; it is only fair that they receive help and support in return when they need it. For anyone who knows a first responder, be aware of the symptoms and signs of PTSD and encourage the individual to seek help if needed. Above all, offer your support and be aware of triggers. First responders often receive questions about the worst emergency they have been called to or if they have experienced a highly dangerous situation before (Kelley, 2019). These can be triggering questions and bring up painful, traumatic memories. Although the intention is innocent, the effect on the individual can be devastating. 

First responders are more at risk for developing PTSD compared to others due to the stressful nature of their job and their constant exposure to traumatic events. PTSD can develop just from witnessing a traumatic event, which is something these individuals do almost on a daily basis without having enough time to fully process and recover from it. Reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness in first responders and offering resources and support is incredibly important to allow first responders to heal from the traumas they are witnessing. 

 

References

Ebersole, R. (2019, October 26). First responders struggle with PTSD caused by the emergencies, deaths, tragedies they face every day. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/first-responders-struggle-with-ptsd-caused-by-the-emergencies-deaths-tragedies-they-face-every-day/2019/10/25/9c4c9a0e-d4b8-11e9-9610-fb56c5522e1c_story.html

Fitzpatrick, A. (2020, July 28). First responders and PTSD: A literature review. Journal of Emergency Medical Services. Retrieved April 8, 2021, from https://www.jems.com/administration-and-leadership/first-responders-and-ptsd-a-literature-review/

Kelley, R. (2019, October 28). America’s first responders’ struggle with PTSD and depression. EMS1. https://www.ems1.com/ptsd/articles/americas-first-responders-struggle-with-ptsd-and-depression-LsgD4lAsb0ycVuQH/

Mayo Clinic. (2018, July 6). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – Symptoms and causes. Retrieved April 8, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018). First responders: Behavioral health concerns, emergency response, and trauma. https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/dtac/supplementalresearchbulletin-firstresponders-may2018.pdf

Categories
Paraphilic Disorders Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders

Trauma and Paraphilic Disorders

With the constant hustle and bustle of everyday life, it is easy to fall into the habit of taking everything at face value. That’s how our brains have evolved in order to cope with the insane amount of information that we are constantly being exposed to. However, this adaptation is not best suited for interpersonal and intrapersonal interactions. Have you ever felt strong emotions about something or someone, but you couldn’t really figure out why you felt that way? Rather than contemplating it, most people would just assume that “that’s just how I am” and move on with their life. In some people, those strong emotions show up as biases, which in turn, affect how they interact with the outside world. In others, these strong emotions present themselves as mental illnesses which can often be linked to past traumatic experiences.

The link between the development of mental illness in someone and the past exposure to a traumatic event has been researched at length over the past century. The overwhelming consensus is that trauma experienced at any point in someone’s life increases their odds of developing some form of mental illness. Now that might seem like common sense to some people, as the concept of trauma has to do with something that affects us both physically and emotionally. However, one aspect that is not as well-known is that mental ailments that are linked to trauma are not just depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. Other mental ailments can include paraphilic disorders, which are now beginning to be linked to past traumatic events.

Paraphilic disorders (mainly pedophilia) are often the topic of debate (similar to how serial killers were discussed in the 1970s & 1980s) as to whether these people’s mental illnesses are products of nature or nurture. The easiest line of thought that most people subscribe to is that the ones who have these disorders and commit morally reprehensible acts are merely just one bad apple out of a large good bunch. However, this way of thinking only shifts the blame away from society and onto these people. Now, there are plenty of cases where people who commit such terrible and catastrophic acts are truly mentally ill or impaired from the time that they are born. The important distinction that should be made is that people who have paraphilic disorders have not necessarily committed a crime; rather, they just have an insatiable urge to soothe whatever fixation they have, leading them into potential legal trouble. This inability to properly soothe their urges is believed to devolve from the lack of coping strategies with traumatic events. As a result, deviant sexual fantasies are their only means of coping, thus resulting in the insatiable urge, which is characteristic of a paraphilic disorder (Maniglio, 2011).  

The biological specifics regarding how trauma affects the brains of people who are diagnosed with a paraphilic disorder are relatively unknown. The most studied group of individuals with a paraphilic disorder are pedophiles, and much of the research that has been done regarding them cannot be used to draw a definite conclusion (Freund et al., 1990). However, one case study surrounding a patient with a “Sleeping Beauty” paraphilia highlighted a potential link between sexual aggressive behavior, neurological disturbance, and self-representation (Bianchi-Demicheli et al., 2011). The patient suffered neuronal damage to a section of the frontal lobe and developed a fixation with sleeping women and their hands. The sexual attraction to hands had to deal with an incomplete self-image stemming from a post-accident trauma, which could only be appeased while touching a sleeping woman’s hand. 

It is critical that people understand that in the same way that trauma can lead to depression, anxiety, and other “less taboo” mental illnesses, paraphilic disorders are not just a product of “a couple of bad apples.” Accepting this possibility allows for less demonization of people with paraphilic disorders; just like people with anxiety, they cannot control how they feel. It may seem like an extreme stretch to think this way, but it truly is the only route to getting people the help they need. What’s the incentive to seek help for your mental illness if you are just going to be met with hostility and disdain?

 

References

Maniglio, R. (2011). The role of childhood trauma, psychological problems, and coping in the development of deviant sexual fantasies in sexual offenders. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(5), 748–756. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2011.03.003 

Freund, K., Watson, R., & Dickey, R. (1990). Does sexual abuse in childhood cause pedophilia: An exploratory study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 19(6), 557–568. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf01542465 

Bianchi-Demicheli F;Rollini C;Lovblad K;Ortigue S. (2011). “Sleeping Beauty paraphilia”: deviant desire in the context of bodily self-image disturbance in a patient with a fronto-parietal traumatic brain injury. Medical Science Monitor : International Medical Journal of Experimental and Clinical Research, 16(2). https://doi.org/

Categories
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders

The Effect of PTSD on Relationships

Relationships can be hard for anyone especially when it comes to communication, trust and intimacy. However, for individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it can be especially difficult to maintain healthy relationships due to the debilitating symptoms of the disorder. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in those who have either experienced or witnessed a traumatic event (Torres, 2020). These traumatic events can range from natural disasters to abuse and the impact they have on the individual can be devastating, making it very difficult to sustain healthy relationships. 

Individuals with PTSD often experience symptoms such as flashbacks or nightmares about the trauma they endured, avoidance of situations relating to the trauma, and increased feelings of anxiety or depression (Bridges to Recovery, 2018). These symptoms are difficult to deal with on a daily basis, and as a result can affect the relationships of the individual. Survivors of trauma dealing with PTSD may go to great lengths to avoid any potential triggers of traumatic memories (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2020). This can involve refusing to go outside in fear of experiencing any triggers or even withdrawing completely from social interactions. Increased avoidance compounded with feelings of depression and anxiety can place a strain on relationships, as individuals with PTSD struggle to trust the people around them and enjoy social interaction. The negative change in their behavior as a result of their trauma can in turn affect their loved ones and elicit negative responses to their actions. A lack of understanding or frustration from their close relationships can further exacerbate symptoms in those with PTSD and a cycle of negativity begins to form (Bridges to Recovery, 2018).

Although it can be hard to maintain relationships, especially after experiencing great trauma, social support is incredibly important to the road to healing. Creating a personal support network will help one cope with PTSD and the trauma that they suffered from. Communication and understanding are very important and, in a relationship, it is important to establish boundaries. If an individual with PTSD is surrounded by people who understand them and support them on their journey to dealing with PTSD, then this can help speed up the healing process and make it easier to maintain a healthy relationship despite their symptoms (Axelrod, 2016). In addition, to people who know someone with PTSD, it is vital that you are giving them space for recovery while showing that you still love and care for them. Do not blame them for their symptoms or minimize their trauma (Villines, 2020). PTSD is a serious and very real condition that they are not at fault for. Empathy and patience is crucial to ensuring a healthy relationship and that they know they can trust and rely on you. 

The symptoms of PTSD can be hard to deal with individually and even harder to deal with when in a social setting. The loss of control and fear can make one too anxious to continue relationships as they had previous to their trauma. However, support from friends, family and loved ones is essential to healing from the trauma and learning to live with PTSD. Those with PTSD, do not lose hope and be patient with yourself. Take time to slowly heal and gradually learn to rely on others. For those who know someone with PTSD, just being there, empathizing with them, and supporting them through their journey are simple things one could ask for. 

 

References

Axelrod, J. (2016, May 17). PTSD & Relationships. PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/lib/ptsd-and-relationships#Keys-to-a-Successful-Relationship

Bridges to Recovery. (2018, October 10). PTSD and relationships. https://www.bridgestorecovery.com/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/ptsd-and-relationships/

Torres, F. (2020, August). What is PTSD? American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2020, January 14). Relationships. PTSD: National Center for PTSD Home. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/family/effect_relationships.asp

Villines, Z. (2020, May 27). Relationships and PTSD: What to know. MEDICALNEWSTODAY. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/relationship-ptsd#helping-a-partner

Categories
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders

The Effects of PTSD on the Brain

Nightmares, flashbacks, distorted thoughts and overwhelming emotions. These are all symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This disorder occurs not only in those that experienced a traumatic event such as war, rape, or an extreme accident, but also those witness to them, such as a cop studying harrowing cases. 

Individuals with PTSD tend to experience severely unsettling thoughts and feelings long after the traumatic incident has occurred, reliving the event and the emotions that came with it. People suffering from PTSD may even feel disconnected from others, remaining estranged and detached (Torres, 2020). Not everybody diagnosed with PTSD experiences the same symptoms, but scientists have discovered observable patterns through a method known as “neuroimaging” (Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, 2019). It was found that symptoms of PTSD can be a behavioral manifestation of stress-induced changes in brain structure resulting from previous trauma (Bremner, 2006). 

Scientists have found that long term changes caused by PTSD to the brain mainly occur in the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and hippocampus. The amygdala is in charge of your fear response; during a stressful event, the amygdala sends a signal to release stress hormones that trigger your innate alarm system. Individuals with PTSD often have an overactive amygdala, causing fear responses to harmless events such as a loud noise. This effect on the brain is responsible for the onset of panic attacks and overwhelming emotions in circumstances that one wouldn’t normally consider a threat. In addition, studies suggest that an impaired prefrontal cortex further exacerbates symptoms. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for decision making and differentiating between fears and actual threats. Normally, the prefrontal cortex would halt fear responses once the idea of a threat is removed. However, in service members with PTSD, researchers found that the prefrontal cortex failed to carry out this function. An overactive amygdala coupled with an underactive prefrontal cortex forms a dangerous combination, as there are no mechanisms in place to slow the onslaught of stress responses. Other PTSD symptoms, such as flashbacks and distorted thoughts, are related to the hippocampus, the area of your brain dealing with memory. Due to the unbearable impact of a trauma, the stressed hippocampus fails to code information correctly, resulting in a faulty memory. This causes gaps when recalling details of the traumatic event, and individuals may constantly think about what happened because their hippocampus is working to make sense of the memory  (Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, 2019). 

Post traumatic stress is commonly expected with trauma, and is a typical response to something distressful. However, PTSD is a far more serious condition, changing the structure and functions of your brain. If you’re suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, it is very important to understand how your brain may be affected and is responding to your trauma. The affected areas of your brain— the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and hippocampus— all involve functions relating to memory, cohesive thinking and decision making, as well as the feelings and actions associated with fear. Understanding how these parts of your brain function can also aid in figuring out which therapies can help you work through PTSD.

 

References

American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.). What is PTSD? Home │ psychiatry.org. Retrieved March 7, 2021, from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd

Bremner, J. D. (2006). Traumatic stress: Effects on the brain. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 8(4), 445-461. https://doi.org/10.31887/dcns.2006.8.4/jbremner

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. (2019, May 7). How PTSD affects the brain. BrainLine. Retrieved March 7, 2021, from https://www.brainline.org/article/how-ptsd-affects-brain

Categories
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders

Pain Through Passage: How Immigration Leads to Trauma

Starting a new chapter in your life can be exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time. Whether it’s preparing for college, entering the workforce, moving out of your parent’s house to live on your own, or moving to a completely different state or country, it is completely normal to feel multiple emotions all at once. Now, imagine traveling to a new country on your own where you don’t understand the native language and you’re separated from everything that is familiar to you.

Many immigrants migrate to America for various reasons. It can be due to their low socioeconomic environment, wanting to provide a better life for themselves or their family, educational purposes, or political conflicts. According to scholars Krista M. Perreira and India Ornelas, “Approximately 37 million immigrant adults and 3 million immigrant children (ages 0–17) live in the United States” (Perreira & Ornelas, 2013). 

Assistant professor at Michigan State University Farha Abbasi states, “In many respects, immigration is trauma. It is a complete loss of identity and familiarity, and immigrants are often left without the proper tools or resources to help them cope in a new environment. That transition in itself, even if it ends well, can leave deep scars” (Abbasi, 2020). Whatever stage of migrating to a new country, it has been reported that immigrants are at risk for experiencing traumatic events. According to the DSM-5, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined as “the development of char­acteristic symptoms following exposure to one or more traumatic events” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). 

Upon migrating to America, immigrants may have been faced with many obstacles. “Entry to the US without legal authorization can involve arduous journeys with exposure to extreme physical hardships as well as violence” (Perreira & Ornelas, 2014). This is especially prevalent in immigration detention centers and how ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) treats immigrants. 

The role that ICE plays in society involves preventing cross-border related crimes and enforcing legal immigration. While there may be good intentions to maintain law and order and preserve the safety of the citizens, this has negatively affected many families who come from immigrant backgrounds. Some families had their loved ones removed from their home by ICE without ever hearing from them again, not knowing where they are or if they’re even alive, which can be traumatizing. 

Children who come from immigrant families in particular can be emotionally traumatized by the separation of their parents, and depending on their age, they handle the disappearance of their parents differently. The psychological impact on separation affects younger children in a sense that they believe their parents simply “disappeared.” “The parents left behind struggled over whether and how to explain the disappearance, as well as how much hope to offer for a resolution” (Capps, 2007). 

Trauma affects people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures, race and ethnicities differently. Seeking counseling as an immigrant can often be difficult, however. Thankfully, great strides are being made to accommodate immigrants’ mental well being with organizations such as Immigration Counseling Services (ICS).

 

References

Abbasi, F. (2020.). Immigration, Trauma, and the Power of Faith. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://careforyourmind.org/immigration-trauma-and-the-power-of-faith/

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Publisher.

Capps, R. (2007). Paying the price: The impact of immigration raids on America’s children. Washington, D.C.: National Council of La Raza.

Perreira, K., & Ornelas, I. (2013, December). Painful Passages: Traumatic Experiences and Post-Traumatic Stress among Immigrant Latino Adolescents and their Primary Caregivers. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3875301/

Categories
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders

Psychological Reactions to COVID-19

It would be an understatement to say that 2020 has been a rollercoaster of unpredictable events –– beloved celebrities passing away unexpectedly, riots and protests becoming increasingly violent, and the president’s questionable decisions impacting the United States. However, the most unpredictable of all that has affected people all over the world – mentally, physically, emotionally, and socioeconomically – is COVID-19. The pandemic has changed the way we live and function in which schooling and jobs were moved to virtual settings and potential milestones such as weddings, birthdays, and other gatherings, were missed.

Through scientific research and evidence, symptoms of the coronavirus have been confirmed to include the following: shortness of breath, fever or chills, fatigue, a painful chest, and congestion. Some individuals are asymptomatic, meaning they wouldn’t show symptoms even if they contracted the virus.  Furthermore, though some victims are fortunate enough to recover from the virus, the effects of COVID-19 are usually long term. In fact, the COVID-19 aftermath can potentially affect your mood, cause fatigue, and instigate organ damage to the heart, lungs, and brain, as well as blood clot issues.

 According to a study from the American Psychological Association, “Although large numbers of people throughout the world will show resilience to the profound loss, stress, and fear associated with COVID-19, the virus will likely exacerbate existing mental health disorders and contribute to the onset of new stress-related disorders for many” (Brown & Horesh, 2020).

The coronavirus has proven to be a traumatic experience for some individuals in different ways. It is possible to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to the experience of COVID-19. The DSM-5 defined Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as “the development of char­acteristic symptoms following exposure to one or more traumatic events” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Psychiatric Times says that “The coronavirus has already led to diverse mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other trauma and stress-related disorders” (Czapla & Tucker, 2020). Different groups have been traumatized by the events of the coronavirus. This includes people who have experienced COVID-19 and potential near death experiences, or individuals who had to witness a loved one go through COVID-19 due to the virus. Front line care responders such as healthcare workers and medical examiners may have been exposed to multiple patients suffering and dying from the coronavirus, which can be traumatizing as well. 

Furthermore, upon adding more stress to individuals, the coronavirus has also been emotionally traumatizing. Being socially isolated, experiencing economic hardship and unemployment, or working from home while caring for your children may all seem foreign and overwhelming. 

The comorbidity of having COVID-19 and PTSD at the same time isn’t common, but it does occur in patients. According to health officials, one of the ways to address COVID-19 if you have contracted the virus is to stay at home and recover, isolating yourself from family and friends so that you do not spread the virus to anyone else, avoid public areas at all costs, keep in touch with your doctor, and taking over the counter medicines such as acetaminophen to help you feel better.

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Publisher

CDC. What to Do If You Are Sick. (2020). Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html

Horesh, D., & Brown, A. D. (2020). Traumatic Stress in the Age of COVID-19: A Call to Close Critical Gaps and Adapt to New Realities. Retrieved from https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2020-25108-001.html

Tucker, P., & Czapla, C. (2020). Post-COVID Stress Disorder: Another Emerging Consequence of the Global Pandemic. Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/post-covid-stress-disorder-emerging-consequence-global-pandemic

Categories
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders Uncategorized

The Battle Between Trauma and Social Justice

For several decades, even though there were good intentions, some peaceful protests turned into riots which resulted in traumatic experiences for many people, with some losing their lives in the process. Only days after George Floyd’s death, there was a global outcry demanding justice not only for George Floyd, but for all of Black lives that were lost from police brutality. While many people have been severely injured or died from partaking in protests which involved harsh forces executed from police officers, rubber bullets, or exposure to tear gas, many reports overlooked the violence on protestors and only focused on the looting.

For example, when a protestor is exposed to chemicals such as pepper spray, not only do they have little or no time to react, but the aftermath can be traumatic. The Physicians of Human Rights have stated, “The physical symptoms of chemical irritants often result in disorientation and agitation, which can lead to a state of fear, anxiety, and panic” (Sheppard, 2020). Clinical therapist Ashley Parks says, “A lot is happening very quickly, too quickly for our minds to be able to create a cohesive narrative, in addition to there being a real or perceived threat of serious injury” (Sheppard, 2020).

According to the DSM-5, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined as “the development of char­acteristic symptoms following exposure to one or more traumatic events” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Earlier this month, I was afforded the opportunity to speak with Stony Brook University senior Goka Lee Maeba, who serves as a social activist and vice president of the NAACP. She shared her intersectional experiences as an activist, international student, and woman of color who is attending a university known for having a predominantly white demographic. Maeba has done tremendous work on the Stony Brook campus by organizing a BLM rally with her organization. 

I was compelled enough to ask why she thought it was necessary to participate in a BLM rally, especially on the Stony Brook campus of all places. She responded by saying that, “Stony Brook has had different situations of being racist and tries to put themselves on a pedestal of diversity and inclusion which is, I guess, their ‘motto.’ But we see that it’s not right,” she stated. Maeba went on to say, “It was just important to use our voice and I know a lot of people like me couldn’t go protesting in the city because I’m not a citizen and it’s hard. Because I’ve seen people get their visas revoked because they’re protesting” (G. Maeba, 2020). Even though Maeba revealed it to be a scary moment in her life as an international student, she found ways to still contribute to the cause and used her voice to spread awareness about the Black Lives Matter movement on her campus, giving students a platform to allow their voices to be heard.

Black women’s exposure to witnessing the news about Breonna Taylor’s death can lead to anxiety and developing secondary trauma, which has been defined as “the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another” (Peterson, 2018). It is possible that while some protestors may not have been directly affected by being subjected to physical abuse, witnessing fellow protesters get injured in advocating for social justice is enough to be traumatizing as well. I asked Maeba if she felt as though she was exposed to secondary trauma due to her involvement in protests and staying updated on social justice news. She responded by saying, “Yes. Because again, it’s easy to put yourself in that situation because it really could have been you,” she stated. Maeba went on to explain, “I feel like, that’s what a lot of us took away from that because Breonna was just a regular person in her house sleeping and she got killed and it’s just a reminder that people don’t care about us” (G. Maeba, 2020). 

Stress and anxiety is also known to contribute to trauma of all types. ZaDora Williams, a Black activist, operates a private counseling practice in Portland called the Sankofa Center for Healing. She is known for taking on patients who have participated in the Black Lives Matter Movement. She has mentioned that ever since the protest began in light of George Floyd, more of her clients are experiencing symptoms of hypervigilance, panic, and anxiety. (Pollard, 2020).  My final question to Maeba was if she had experienced any of these symptoms during her involvement in such vital organizations or at any point in her life as a woman of color, and if she did, how she coped with it. I also asked what her advice to other Black individuals who might be experiencing something similar be. 

“I feel like, when I do feel anxious, from all of what you’ve mentioned, would be anxiety because just thinking about going to a certain place or stepping outside or being surrounded by a certain group of people have made me feel anxious,” she admitted. “Especially as a woman stepping into certain places does make you feel anxious…I never really thought about that. I feel like there are moments where I would just sit down because my heart wouldn’t stop racing because there was so much going on―especially with what was happening with the protestors as I’ve mentioned before, it would sometimes be too much.” It hadn’t occurred to Maeba that current events pertaining to the endangerment of Black lives contributed to her anxiety until I had asked her that question. 

With police brutality becoming more frequent in the midst of the pandemic, I asked Maeba if she felt she was under any physiological and psychological stress. I also asked how she copes if she does suffer from any sort of stress as well. Maeba agreed that she does find herself being stressed and she is still learning to cope with it. She explained by saying “It’s easy to say ‘oh, it’s self care,’ but it takes a lot in order to put your mindset into that,” (G. Maeba, 2020). One of the things that does help her relax, however, is playing Among Us with friends and watching shows and movies on Netflix. 

In conclusion, so many young people are putting their lives on the line in order to ensure the lives of Black people are being spared. It is doable to actively participate in protests and rallies while maintaining social distance by also reaching out to professional therapists. Protesting that Black lives matter is important, but it is crucial to prioritize your mental well being since your life matters, too.

 

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Publisher.

Pollard, J. (2020, August 14). Psychological impacts of this moment are overwhelming, Black mental health care providers say. Retrieved November 02, 2020, from https://www.streetroots.org/news/2020/08/09/psychological-impacts-moment-are-overwhelming-black-mental-health-care-providers-say

Sheppard, S. (2020, June 17). Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets Take Their Toll on Mental Health. Retrieved November 02, 2020, from https://www.verywellmind.com/experiencing-trauma-during-protests-5024898

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders

What Just Happened? How Anxiety Impacts Memory

Feelings of extreme anxiety commonly present themselves in high-intensity situations, leading to a sensation known as stress. These feelings are manifested during events like cramming for a test, learning a skill, or talking to a new group of people. As a result, we become flustered and overwhelmed when we are trying to accomplish a daunting task or forget basic information in extreme situations. 

Many people see memory loss as a symptom of generalized anxiety, but they do not know the reasons behind it. Memory is important for problem-solving and controlling the intake of information, so impaired memory function could lead to problems concentrating and completing tasks (Morin, 2019). Long-term memory can be severely impacted by prolonged periods of stress and anxiety, so your brain won’t be able to retain more valuable pieces of information. 

Having anxiety and bouts of stress can impact day-to-day functions as well. If you suffer from any form of anxiety disorder, heightened stress, and worry, these behaviors can lead to an inability to complete tasks as efficiently, which can often lead to more stress and frustration. Events that can trigger these emotions are known as stressors, and according to NCBI, “Stressors are stimuli, generally aversive and potentially harmful, that exert impacts on individuals.” Stressors can cause physical and psychological reactions, and can also trigger fight or flight responses as a coping mechanism. 

Temporary side effects from increased stress can include losing things, short-term memory loss, and attention problems. Scientists have concluded that there is a correlation between increased memory problems and stress. In one study, stress manifests during a dangerous or emotionally taxing situation. The amygdala (the part of your brain that governs your survival instincts) may take over, leaving the hippocampus, which is the part of your brain that helps store memories and perform higher-order tasks, with less energy and ability to get their own jobs done (Harvard, 2018). Anxiety disorder commonly leads to some of these symptoms, and further exposure to stressful situations can have negative consequences on the brain long term, like the aforementioned memory retention issues. Excess stress can also indirectly lead to other health problems.

Since memory plays an important part in day-to-day life, work performance might be affected by increased stress levels (Morin, 2018). Prolonged stress can be very harmful to the brain, so it is important to manage stress in certain ways so that your brain is not negatively impacted in the long run. This includes activities such as getting good sleep and managing reactions to certain situations. The same Harvard study found that reaching out for help is really important, but so is changing your perception of stress because viewing stress in a healthier way can help you manage it better (Harvard, 2018). The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) lists several tips that can be useful in combating anxiety, such as exercising, which can release endorphins to combat the body’s stress response, along with other activities such as eating well and having a balance between personal and professional life.

Memory is a critical part of our lives in more ways than one. It helps us remember special occasions, assignments, and most importantly, it helps us organize and store information. Experiencing stress in large amounts can interfere with our body’s ability to store complex memories, and reverts us back to primitive fight or flight thinking. Many people are not aware of how stress impacts memory, but studies have shown that there is a correlation between the two. However, it’s important to recognize that stress is not a permanent state of being, so by actively doing things that bring your stress levels down, these negative consequences won’t affect you. 

 

References

Sandi, C. (1970, January 01). Memory Impairments Associated with Stress and Aging. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK3914/

Publishing, H. (2018, August). Protect your brain from stress. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/protect-your-brain-from-stress

Meek, W. (2019, December 01). Generalized Anxiety Disorder Can Negatively Impact Your Memory. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.verywellmind.com/anxiety-and-memory-1393133

Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://adaa.org/tips

Categories
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders

The Invisibility of Black Women’s Pain and Secondary Trauma

In his 1962 speech “Who Taught You to Hate Yourself,” Malcolm X said, “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” Unfortunately, this statement still rings true decades later even after the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panther Party, where efforts have been made to end the cycle of being treated as nothing more than subhuman. In response to Trayvon Martin’s death in 2013, three Black women formed a new generation of the Civil Rights Movement called the Black Lives Matter movement in response to police brutality, and seven years later, the social movement is expanding with more activists joining the fight. 

Recent current events have impacted people on a global scale enough to join the Black Lives Matter movement during a massive pandemic in an effort to advocate equality, eradicate systemic racism and police brutality against Black people, and finally end the ongoing cycle of oppression and systemic racism. Such events include the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Aura Rosser, and many other Black lives that were killed by the hands of police officers within the span of nine months this year. This kind of exposure can be strenuous and traumatic, whether it is on a first or second hand basis.

With television and newspapers becoming less common as first place news sources, social media has become a very powerful tool that serves as both a blessing and curse for this generation. Under huge platforms –– such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and many others –– there are countless videos of Black people being lynched by the hands of police for anybody to view. This kind of exposure alone can be traumatizing to anyone, which in turn can develop into something known as secondary trauma. 

Secondary trauma is defined as “the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another” (Peterson, 2018). For every time a Black person encounters a video of another Black person being harassed or killed by a police officer, it can increase their paranoia about falling under the same fate of being lynched by law enforcement and becoming the next dead body that ends up “going viral.”

The fact that Breonna Taylor’s murderers still roam free with little to no consequence is not only a testament to how the system has little value for Black women. It is also one of the many examples of Black women being actively disrespected by the media, society, and in their own communities. These intersectional experiences can accumulate and Black women may begin to reflect on their own mortality and develop stress due to exposure to both direct and indirect traumatic experiences.

Northwestern University professor of psychiatry and licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Inger Burnett-Zeigler suggests that vicarious or secondary trauma can manifest into emotions such as anger and emotional fatigue. Zeigler went on to say, “That event of hearing that news and watching the circumstances unfold over the past several months can be experienced as traumatic to people in general, but particularly as Black women who might see themselves and relate to Breonna Taylor” (Holmes, 2020).

Furthermore, Black women’s intersectional experiences impact their mental wellness.  For centuries, they had to bear the burden of actively being silenced, dismissed, and negated; thrusted into cultural assimilation after being discouraged from wearing their natural hair; and labeled as nothing more than angry and irrational women for expressing themselves. This becomes intersectional experiences that are unique to Black women which can manifest into stress and trauma. According to a study conducted by several scholars, “African American women are at a greater risk for exposure to multiple traumatic events and are less likely to seek mental health services than White women” (Stevens-Watkins et al., 2014).  Black women do not seek mental health services for several reasons. Earlise C. Ward and other scholars used the Common Sense Model (CSM) to measure coping strategies, barriers to treatment seeking, and belief systems. One of the main factors that prevent Black women from seeking mental health counseling are “poor access to care, stigma, and lack of awareness of mental illness” (Ward et al. 2010). 

As demonstrated in the Black Lives Matter movement, Black women have also been known to be on the forefront of protecting and advocating Black men, but who is protecting Black women? How are we able to advocate for Black women’s mental health and understand their intersectionality? Attending protests and rallies and holding a banner that says Black Lives Matter simply isn’t enough. Actively listening to Black womens’ stories by attending rallies and joining organizations that pertain to activism and social issues can make people become more aware of various social issues.

Secondary trauma is just as impactful as direct trauma such as PTSD, ASD, and other stressor related disorders and should be taken as seriously as Black women’s struggles. Despite socioeconomic, cultural, and emotional barriers, there is an awareness growing for Black women’s mental health. There is more scholarly research being conducted to understand intersectionality, and establishments such as Therapy For Black Girls provide resources people can use. 

Even though great strides are being made to address systemic racism and Black mental health, we still have a lot to learn. Staying informed about current events is beneficial. However, there is coverage that can be deemed as harmful for somebody’s mental health. Some suggestions to cope with secondary trauma or exacerbating pre-existing secondary trauma is taking a break from social media or going for a jog, walk, or bike ride. If the weather isn’t looking too pleasant, you can seize the opportunity to meditate or catch up on reading. Recharging your mental wellness before delving back into these issues is acceptable, and you’ll be able to do more good with a balanced self.

 

Resources

Holmes, E. (2020, September 25). Breonna Taylor decision triggers trauma for Black community, other victims of police violence. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://abc7chicago.com/breonna-taylor-decision-police-shooting-violence/6546769/

Peterson, S. (2018, October 22). Secondary Traumatic Stress. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.nctsn.org/trauma-informed-care/secondary-traumatic-stress

Stevens-Watkins, D., Sharma, S., Knighton, J., Oser, C., & Leukefeld, C. (2014, July). Examining Cultural Correlates of Active Coping Among African American Female Trauma Survivors. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4149226/

Ward, E., Clark, L., & Heidrich, S. (2009, November). African American Women’s beliefs, coping behaviors, and barriers to seeking mental health services. Retrieved September 29, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2854663/

X, M., & Haley, A. (1965). The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Grove Press.

Categories
Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders

The Miseducation of Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders

First kisses, graduations, awards for well-deserved accomplishments. All of these events have something in common ⎯ they’re life’s memories. Usually, when we go down those brief trips on memory lane, we remember them with fondness and feel warm. At a certain point in our lives, we do experience a feeling that’s less pleasant. For example, when we mourn the loss of a loved one, whether it’s a family member, a friend, or even a pet, we are bound to experience a moment of sadness when we think about them. However, with the support of friends and family, you learn to cope. Some people, however, endure events so painful and severe to the point that it becomes difficult to complete everyday tasks–even ones that seem simple such as going outside and getting errands done. This is what we would call trauma. 

Trauma is defined as the reaction to an event that distresses the individual and prevents their ability to respond or function normally to certain situations. When someone experiences trauma, they will usually experience a wide range of symptoms and emotions. Everybody copes with trauma in different ways — some internalize their feelings, while others exemplify them through emotions such as sadness, anger, or denial. In addition, every day tasks may become a chore or just difficult to do. This includes, but is not limited to, feeling a sense of hopelessness, developing depression, nightmares, insomnia, and difficulty in maintaining a relationship with your friends, family, or significant other. If the individual does not cope with their trauma or seek out professional counseling, it can consequently manifest into unhealthy habits –– substance abuse (drugs and alcohol) and alienation, for example. 

Director of Research and Education Karen Onderko introduces the different levels of traumas which are broken down to two categories: large T traumas and small t traumas. Large T traumas are described as impactful experiences that contribute to long stressors. An example of a T trauma would be enduring a painful experience such as being sexually assaulted, experiencing child abuse, being part of an abusive relationship, or natural disasters. 

Small t traumas are known as “circumstances where one’s bodily safety or life is not threatened, but cause symptoms of trauma nonetheless” (Onderko, 2020). In other words, while you are not harmed in a physical manner, contrary to large T traumas, small t traumas deal with the turmoil your mental health undergoes in everyday situations. This includes events such as a severe breakup, a divorce, getting separated from a loved one, financial struggles, work stress, and even stress that pertains to school. 

When people think of trauma, they are quick to associate it with an event that has impacted an individual physically and develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Although PTSD is the most common mental illness in the trauma and stressor related disorders group, not every individual develops it. Other traumatic and stressor related disorders include the likes of acute stress disorder (also known as ASD). Acute stress disorder is caused by traumatic stress and can last at least up to three days. ASD is the exposure to unfortunate events such as death, sexual abuse and severe injury, and it can be directed towards others or even from your own personal experience. 

Granted there are more trauma and stressor related disorders, PTSD and ASD are just the tip of the iceberg. For example, people experience what we call unique traumatic events on the basis of their race and ethnicity. For example, a Black person’s negative experience with a police officer will most likely differ from a white person’s experience with a police officer due to the underlying intergenerational trauma. 

Even though there isn’t a cure for people who’ve experienced trauma, there are many treatments; specifically cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and counseling, that provides opportunities for the people to help integrate their emotional response to trauma and focus on any resulting mental health conditions. Even though trauma isn’t just limited to physical impact and can also damage somebody emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, there is always room for healing and growth.

 

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596

Onderko, K. (2020, April 22). What Is Trauma? – Definition, Symptoms, Responses, Types & Therapy. Retrieved from https://integratedlistening.com/what-is-trauma/