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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Is It Real?

in Mental Health by

Someone I know very well was a soldier, and a brave one. He saw and did things nobody should see or do. He left home an idealistic young person determined to do what he thought was right. He came home a damaged, changed, and a very much older man.

There were flashbacks. Bursts of anger. Alcohol abuse. Reclusiveness.

It was clear that his terrible wartime experiences were tearing apart his essentially sensitive self and that he was suffering what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In addition to his more obvious symptoms, he had become emotionally unavailable, untrusting, and secretive – quite unlike his previously gregarious nature.

Now, the reason that PTSD is written as a proper-noun phrase – with first letters capitalized – is that it is a formally recognized mental health condition and appears in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, otherwise known in its current edition as DSM-5. It was not always so.

For years, PTSD and its symptoms were recognized as a species of anxiety disorder that were treatable by various means. But, like depression, there were strong currents of disbelief. PTSD, some said (and still do today), was and is a false diagnosis made by therapists with professional reputations and money to be made. A cure in search of a disease, as Kurt Vonnegut once remarked.

There have been two major areas of contention. The first is the reality that not all people who experience terrible things go on to suffer from PTSD-like symptoms. The second is that symptoms vary so widely in extent and severity, that PTSD cannot be considered a singular condition – that the capital letters are undeserved.

These, in my view, are specious objections.

It will be news to nobody with an even passing understanding of disease – physical or mental – that individuals respond differently to potentially causative agents of illness.

I’ll give you an example.

I grew up at a time when the waters of Georgia Straight were full of poisonous effluent from Port Mellon and were more than once fouled by oil spills. We ate the salmon and cod we caught in front of our place at Roberts Creek, and as well dined on the oysters, clams, and mussels we gathered at the rocky point at Stephens Creek.

None of my family got sick, though other folks eating the same food did. Does this disparity invalidate the fact that certain kinds of industrial waste cause disease? Hardly.

But, medical quibbling aside, the real harm done by PTSD skeptics is social.

To cast doubt on the reality of certain mental illnesses – depression being one – is to create stigma. Those of us who contend with mood and emotional ups and downs, however severe, are more deeply injured by the largely silent opinion that these states of mind are the product of weakness.

“Pull up your socks,” it is said by some. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Get it together.”

Another old friend, another former soldier who served with an elite Canadian unit, could not live with the reality that his society viewed his PTSD as no more than weakness and self pity. He was a true warrior who loved a good fight. But his trauma was moral. He could not live with the offenses to human decency he witnessed and took part in and the social shame he experienced. He hanged himself.

Billy’s death by his own hand was unnecessary, and it both saddened and angered me.

I lost a friend, brave, loyal, and true. But he died, as his distant family and friends know, mainly because he could not live with the moral trauma he experienced during his time as a soldier, obeying his orders and commanding others to do likewise.

He also died because few would accept the mental health consequences of his understanding – that he had taken part in an injustice, no matter what the political underpinnings.

PTSD is real, and it can be brought on in myriad ways – from witnessing a traffic accident to fighting in war. We must understand this and reject the social stigma that attends all forms of mental illness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homelessness and Well-Being On The Sunshine Coast

in Mental Health/Social Justice by

At long last, a replacement for the old cold weather shelter at St. Hilda’s Church has been found. As readers will know, the Old Upper Deck Guesthouse has morphed into a 20-bed homeless shelter. Also, there is talk of creating a shelter in Gibsons. Both of these are excellent developments.

It seems, then, like a good time to talk about the relationship between mental well-being and homelessness.

But first, an observation: On the Sunshine Coast, homelessness and demand for social services like the food bank are on the rise, and the “typical” client base of 10 – even five – years ago has changed. The death spiral of unaffordable rentals and meager employment means we now see folks lining up for services who arrive in minivans with kids in tow.

This means we must look at homelessness both as a consequence of mental illness and also as a cause of emotional and mental harm.

Folks living with a mental illness face huge housing challenges. The first significant barrier to finding safe and dependable accommodation is financial. If a person’s health challenges are cyclical – that is, if there are occasional bursts of crippling or severe symptoms – steady employment is a virtual impossibility.

But the greater barrier is bias – a chain of discrimination that begins in the job market and extends to housing. Given the choice, many employers would rather not hire a worker who lives with a mental illness, and many landlords would prefer tenant with no medical issues. The economic insecurity that results plays out as a housing issue. No money; no home.

(I should note that there are several enlightened employers here on the Coast who fully accept employees with mental, developmental, and physical challenges.)

For the “new” faces of homelessness, the folks that have been driven to social services by an unaffordable housing market and disappearing job opportunities, the effects of losing a home can be devastating and lead to a severe downturn in mental well being.

Imagine this: Last year you worked in an office, had a family who you were more than able to provide for, and a wide circle of friends. This, broadly, was your social network. Now, take away your job and your house; what do you see and feel?

First there is shame, brought on by the sudden and unfamiliar inability to provide for your family. And embarrassment, too, at the perceived loss of status so hard-won by a lifetime of education and work.

Next, there is isolation and loneliness. Schools, the workplace, and activities that a reliable income can buy create a web of social connections. When this shared support structure and the folks who populate it vanishes, so do the social interactions with friends and like-minded people that give life much of its meaning.

Solitude and social separation, according to recent study, are a health hazard and can lead to a surprising number of ailments. These may include dementia, autoimmune and cardiovascular disorders, and even cancer – all very expensive to treat.

The list of the causes and effects of homelessness is a long one, and the human and financial health care consequences unacceptable.

If we take a harm reduction approach to housing, if we realize that a commitment to the creation of affordable housing mitigates these human and financial costs, then we will have taken a meaningful step towards a solution to a problem that looks to get worse in the future.

 

 

 

The Regulation Of Mental Health Counseling Therapy

in Local heroes/Mental Health/Social Justice by

Imagine this:

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Mental Well-Being And Higher Truths: The Christmas Piece

in Mental Health/Spirituality by

At this time of hope, joy and awe, it is good to recognize spirituality and its role in mental health – everybody’s mental health, not just the few suffering from illness.

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Wisdom, From Janice

in Mental Health/Wisdom by

Whoa, here’s a rant! I’m really glad to see people discussing the issue of sexual harassment and assault generally. The abuse of women by women in power-differential positions has been a particular issue for me, as it deeply impacted my life. This is why I’m still determined to help bring regulation of counselling therapists to BC. At present there’s no way a person whose life has been severely damaged by this form of betrayal, spiritual sodomy, and psychological assault can bring the abuser to accountability, if the ‘therapist’ is unregistered and/or the complainant lacks financial means. I was subjected to ridicule, disbelief, shaming, indifference, and outright hostility, when I sought help; many professionals implied I’d simply been stupid, or naive about being ‘hit on’ by ‘a lesbian’. Their humiliating, spirit-destroying, creativity-crushing, personality-altering reactions left me cynical and bitter for years. My experiences were all the more destructive because I’d originally sought help through therapy in rebuilding my life after leaving a violent husband. To add to this, because I’d sought help in the mental health fields, I was further discounted by being labelled a person with ‘mental health issues’ (of PTSD following abuse). The unsupervised, incompetent, unregistered ‘therapist’ who almost destroyed my life had never felt the need to examine their own drives and motives, so had a ‘clean record’. I believe that gender in sexual assault and harassment situations is less relevant than the power imbalances themselves, and the potential abuse that such unequal relationships invite. I see a need to fully safe-guard issues of accountability and respect, whether it’s speaking respectfully to a person with less political power who’s trying to express opposing viewpoints in a town hall meeting, to listening seriously to a child who’s distraught about being bullied, to comforting and defending a person who’s been raped, whatever their gender. Attempts to categorize, divide, and isolate abuses by various factors doesn’t seem as helpful compared to confronting core elements of all power-imbalance abuses. An iron-clad, law-enforced, school-taught respect for all living beings, adopted as the bottom line, would help ensure that we no longer re-victimize victims who miraculously find the courage to speak out. End of rant. Whew. Sorry about that–yet not.

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