Saturday, November 14, 2015

Understanding "Disaster Reactions"

When news of a disaster hits, it can cause suffering not only to those at ground zero, but others who witness the aftermath.

Watching a traumatic event unfold on television, radio, the internet or social media sets into motion a variety of psychological reactions, called Disaster Reactions. These psychological reactions have physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral presentations

The list below shows you some of the many kinds of experiences children, teens and adults can have. 

Psychological Reactions

• Anger
• Anxiety
• Apathy, diminished interest in usual activities
• Appetite change
• Avoidance
• Blame
• Confusion
• Criticalness
• Decreased sexual interest
• Denial
• Depression
• Difficulty concentrating
• Difficulty making decisions
• Difficulty using logic
• Difficulty naming objects
• Difficulty focusing
• Disorientation
• Distortions in time perspective
• Exaggerated startle reaction
• Excessive worry about safety of others
• Emotional numbing
• Fatigue
• Faintness or dizziness
• Fearfulness
• Feelings of being unappreciated
• Feelings of inadequacy
• Feelings of loss
• Feelings of gratefulness for being alive
• Feelings of isolation or abandonment
• Feeling high, heroic, invulnerable
• Feeling a “lump in the throat”
• Feeling uncoordinated
• Forgetfulness
• Frustration
• Grief
• Guilt
• Headaches
• Helplessness
• Hyperactivity or an inability to rest
• Increased heartbeat, respiration, blood pressure
• Increased alcohol use or substance abuse
• Intense concern for family members
• Inability to express self verbally or in writing
• Irritability
• Letdown
• Loss of appetite
• Loss of objectivity
• Lower back pain
• Memory problems
• Muffled hearing
• Nausea, upset stomach, diarrhea
• Nightmares
• Numbness
• Pains in chest
• Periods of crying
• Persistent interest in the event
• Persistent or obsessive thoughts
• Sense of being in a bad dream
• Sense of unreality or being in a movie
• Shock
• Sleep disturbance
• Slowness of thinking, difficulty comprehending
• Social withdrawal, limited contacts with others
• Soreness in muscles
• Stomach and muscle cramps
• Strong identification with victims
• Strong identification with survivors
• Sweating or chills
• Tremors, especially of hand, lips, eyes
• Trouble catching breath
• Visual flashbacks
• Withdrawal

Tips for Coping with Disaster Stress

1. Stay active. Falling into passivity can worsen psychological and physical disaster reactions.
2. Stay on track. Resume a normal routine as soon as possible. Tending to your daily schedule helps ground you in normalcy. For children, this is especially important.
3. Understand trauma. Remind yourself that it's expected to have these kinds of reactions in the face of the disastrous event. It's especially important to teach children that reactions like these are normal.
4. Don't numb your pain. Be aware that reducing or avoiding pain with drugs or alcohol will only lengthen your traumatic response. 
5. Express yourself. Whether it's talking about your experience or expressing it in other forms, releasing your thoughts and feelings about the disaster will help you heal. 
6. Reach out to others. While it's expected that you may want to be alone to deal with the trauma you've witnessed, studies shows that connecting to others helps us recover more quickly from disaster. 
7. Unplug from media. When disaster strikes, the media tends to over-report and over-saturate the public with images, misinformation and high anxiety information. Limit your internet, television and radio experiences to help shield yourself from over-exposure.
8. Be patient with others. Realize that those around you are also under stress and may not act or react in a manner you would normally expect. 
9. Watch your caffeine. Avoid caffeine as its effects can amplify anxiety and disaster stress response. So limit your intake of coffee, tea and chocolate.
10. Celebrate goodness. Remind yourself that there is exponentially more good in the world than bad. Celebrate kindness and beauty, and revive your connection to humanity so your mind, body and soul can heal.

Friday, November 06, 2015

November is Family Caregivers Month

November is National Family Caregivers Month, honoring all those who care for loved ones with physical and mental health issues. 

Here are some statistics for caregivers: 
  • There are more than 65 million people in the US alone who spend an average of 20 hours a week caring for a loved one.
  • 1.4 million children ages 8 to 18 provide care for an adult relative.
  • Approximately 66% of family caregivers are women. 
  • 14% of family caregivers care for a special needs child with an estimated 16.8 million caring for special needs children under 18 years old. 
  • Stress of family caregiving for persons with dementia has been shown to impact a person's immune system for up to three years after their caregiving ends thus increasing their chances of developing a chronic illness themselves.
  • 20% of caregivers over 50 years old report symptoms of depression compared to 8% of their non-caregiving peers.

Being a family caregiver takes patience, dedication and love. Make sure you celebrate those in your life who look out for you and your well-being - and if you're a caregiver, it's vital to make time to care for yourself.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mental Illness Stigma and Halloween

Halloween is one of the oldest recorded observances.

The tradition started over two thousand years ago with The Celts, who believed that the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred on October 31st. On that "Hallow's Eve" they built bonfires and wore ghostly costumes to drive the evil spirits away. Some carried a lantern crafted out of potato or turnip to intimidate the demons around them.

The National Alliance For Mental Illness reminds us that not only is it the season for ghosts and goblins, but also stigma. Costumes and seasonal attractions that feature psychos, mental patients, and insane asylums perpetuate stereotypes. Intended as fun, these violent stereotypes serve to perpetuate stigma -- which as reported by the U.S. Surgeon General as an enormous source of prejudice and discrimination for children and adults who live with mental illness. 

Tips to Help Reduce Stigma
NAMI recommends the following tips to help raise awareness of mental health stigma at Halloween time. 
For costumes:
  • Let family, friends and local community groups know your concerns.
  • Post comments on company or store Facebook pages.
  • Send a message through website “contact” features—or after a little sleuthing, to the company’s CEOs or public relations executives. Their email addresses are sometimes listed under “corporate” or “investor” information.
  • Contact the managers of local stores to ask that politely that costumes be removed from shelves and that they share your concern with regional managers to be communicated up the corporate chain.
For asylum attractions:
  • Alert your local NAMI Affiliate, family and friends to phone or email the sponsor of an attraction. Post on the company Facebook or Twitter pages.
  • Contact sponsors. Ask that offensive parts of an attraction or advertisements be removed. Changing a name and using “haunted castle” and generic “monster” themes may be all it takes.
  • Ask for as group meeting. Be flexible and patient. In some cases a sponsor can’t make changes immediately but will agree to do so in the future. If so, ask for a public statement or letter. Use it also as an opportunity to find ways to work together looking forward for community education.
  • Large commercial attractions may be difficult or slow to change because of the amount of financial investment.
  • Local civic organizations, high school clubs or similar community groups have greater desire to resolve controversy--they often have no awareness of stigma issues and did not intend to offend.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

5 Late Life Depression Myths Everyone Should Know


Late Life Depression, clinically called geriatric depression, affects an estimated 15% of Americans ages 65 and older. The World Health Organization estimates that late life depression effects 7% of older people worldwide. Given their advanced age, many mistake this mood disorder for other conditions associated with getting older like memory loss, muscle/joint weakness or side effects from medications. As a result, upwards of 90% of seniors don’t receive adequate care, with 78% not receiving any treatment at all.

Learning the myths that surround geriatric depression can help you identify it in yourself or a loved one. Remember, depression is a serious, but treatable disorder.

·        Myth: Depression is a normal part of aging.
·        Fact: Depression is not a normal part of aging. This is the biggest myth of aging and mental health. Depression at any age is not a normal part of the aging process.

·        Myth: Depression in later life is not a major health concern.
·        Fact: The World Health Organization has stated that depression is a global crisis. Late life depression occurs in about 15% of seniors ages 65 and older. In the United States alone approximately 7 million older adults meet the criteria for a depressive disorder. However, over 90% of seniors are not being diagnosed or treated for this illness, which places them at enormous risk. Depression in the most common mental health problem for the elderly.

·        Myth: Depression will go away on its own.
·        Fact: A serious mental illness cannot be willed away or brushed aside with a change in attitude. Ignoring the problem doesn’t give it the slip either. Depression is serious, but treatable illness, with a success rates of upwards of 80% for those who seek intervention.

·        Myth: Depression affects seniors in the same way it does younger people.
·        Fact: Depression is not a one-size-fits-all illness. It actually presents differently in seniors than in younger individuals. Studies suggest seniors experience more structural changes in the brain and vascular issues, and aren’t aware that they’re feeling depressed. Seniors report more somatic complaints and irritability than sadness or despair as do younger people.

·        Myth: The risk of suicide in the elderly is greatly exaggerated.
·        Fact: The population for the greatest risk of suicide is the elderly, with men, age 85 and older having the highest death by suicide rate of all. Though suicide rates for seniors varies across countries and cultures, data shows that 85-90% of persons aged 65 years and over who died by suicide had a diagnosable depressive disorder. Also, 2/3 of seniors who died by suicide were seen by primary care physicians within a month of their deaths, and up to 1/2 half were treated by a primary care doctor within one week of their deaths.  These statistics makes the need for identifying at-risk seniors urgently crucial.

·        Myth: Seriously depressed people cannot lead productive lives.
·        Fact: Seniors with depression can live full, productive lives. In fact, many high profile people – even now in their golden years - are doing incredible things despite living with depression. Consider senior celebs like Rocker, Bruce Springsteen, Actor Harrison Ford, Talk Show Host and Writer Dick Cavett, Comedian Stephen Fry, Entrepreneur Richard Branson, Tennis Legend Cliff Richey. How about the greatness of President Abraham Lincoln, Choreographer Alvin Ailey, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Film Director Akira Kurosawa and Artist Michelangelo. It’s considered that depression helped all of these significant icons achieve greatness.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Are You Medicine Smart?

If you're someone who takes over the counter medications or prescription medicines, you need to become medicine smart. What does this mean? For starters, you should know what your medications are ... but also what they are treating, why a particular one has been chosen uniquely for you and how to use them.

According to The National Council on Patient Information and Education,  here are the most important things to know:

1. What is the name of the medicine and what is it for? Is this the brand name or the generic name?

2. Is a generic version of this medicine available? If so, it may be more cost effective to ask your doctor to prescribe it for you.

3. How and when do I take it - and for how long?

4. What foods, drinks, other medicines or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine? Adverse reactions are serious things, so learn what goes and doesn't go well with your medications.

5. When should I expect the medicine to begin to work - and how will I know if it's working?

6. Are there any side effects? What are they and what do I do if they occur?

7. Will this medicine work safely with the other prescription and nonprescription medicines I'm taking? Will it work safely with any supplements like vitamins, for instance?

8. Do I need to get a refill? If so, when?

9. How should I store this medicine? Some medicines must be refrigerated. Others need to be in a dark cool place. Other can't be stored near sunlight.

10. Is there any written information available about the medicine? Is it available in large print or a language other than English?

I always encourage children and adults I work with to become medicine smart. It makes treatment all the more effective when you know all the whys, whats, whens and hows about medication. One last thing I recommend:  Keep a list of all the medications you take available in your wallet, handbag or on your cellphone. In case of an emergency, the medications you take will be at-the-ready should the information be needed.

Friday, September 04, 2015

World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10th

Every 40 seconds someone dies by suicide. 

Every 41 seconds someone's left to make sense of it.

That's over 1 million people who die by suicide each year. And millions more who grieve and mourn the loss of their loved one.

Suicide is THE most preventable kind of death. Education, resources, intervention and outreach can help children and adults who struggle with staggering sadness, hopelessness and despair.

World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10th sponsored by The International Association for Suicide Prevention, The World Health Organization, The United Nations and many more grass root health organizations and agencies world-wide.

This is the 10th anniversary of the World Suicide Prevention Day. Ten years of research, ten years of prevention, ten years of education and dissemination of information. This year's theme is "Suicide Prevention across the Globe: Strengthening Protective Factors and Instilling Hope."

  • To learn about the warning signs for suicidal behavior go here.
  • For suicide resources in the USA use this link - and for global resources go here.
  • And remember, there is always someone ready to talk to you any day, any time at 1 800 273 TALK