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Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists

Archive for July 2010

VIDEO: “Mental Health Concerns from the Gulf Oil Spill”

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Earlier this month we wrote about the oil spill’s impact on mental health:

“Now, as the oil spill fiasco in the gulf continues with no end in sight, the psychological damage to Gulf residents is beginning to outweigh the toll taken on the land.”

Thanks to Facebook, I came across a great video today from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) that discusses the “Mental Health Concerns from the Gulf Oil Spill.”

There’s “an entire region struggling emotionally from the stress and uncertainty of this tragedy,” wrote Louisiana Congressman Charlie Melancon.

“One of the tragedies that we have seen over and over again after large scale disasters, is really a spiraling downward of people who were, maybe, managing to keep their lives together, to keep their emotions and behaviors under control, but with some additional stress and some added disorganization in their community — really became quite disabled by their anxiety, depression and psychosis,” said Dr. Farris Tuma of the NIMH.

Check out the video below to learn which “action steps” Dr. Tuma suggests Gulf Coast victims take to battle this additional stress:

CLICK HERE to view the video.

Written by traumalines

July 29, 2010 at 6:36 pm

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ATSS’ Trauma Lines Newsletter is All New

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The latest issue of our Trauma Lines Newsletter has been published. Unlike last issue which focused almost primarily on our upcoming conference, our speakers and presenters, the July edition of Trauma Lines covers a wide range of topics from the healing power music brings to our soldiers, to how to help your teen driver use their brain when they’re behind the wheel.

Got an idea for the newsletter or the blog?
Leave us comment; let us know all about it!

That said, our upcoming conference, “Safely in Our Hands: Helping Our Helpers Stay Healthy,” is rapidly approaching. This year’s conference will feature over 29 workshops in three days. Still haven’t registered? Click here to register for this year’s conference in Toronto.

At its core, Trauma Lines is a newsletter for ATSS members, by ATSS members. Not a member? Click here for more information on becoming a member of the Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists.

So, tell us what you thought about the July edition of Trauma Lines. What topics would you like to see addressed in future editions? Are you interested in submitting an article of your own?

Written by traumalines

July 27, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Incredible Resource for Military Spouses

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I discovered a great new resource today via Twitter: My Military Life (MML): is a unique place for military spouses that concentrates on motivation, leadership and education for spouses.  Our mission is to motivate and encourage spouses to what they love and follow their dreams. features a social network, internet radio show, podcast, group blog featuring posts from military spouses representing all five branches, and message forums.

Home to Navy Wife Radio (est. 2007) and (est. 2002), provides military spouses a location to network and learn from another, not to mention provide a much needed distraction to the stresses of everyday military life.

The website is full of great information — from a blog, to message boards, to even a radio show — that not only supports the military family structure, but it also encourages the bond and communication between military spouses.

When a husband or wife leaves their family to serve away from home, it’s not just the soldier’s life that is filled with pressure and anxiety. Behind most good soldiers is a strong family foundation; a foundation that’s made and preserved at home. 

If you know someone who’s the husband or wife (son or daughter even) of someone in the military, I strongly suggest you check out

Written by traumalines

July 26, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Is Haiti Ready for Another Natural Disaster?

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Back in early June we asked our readers, “Are you ready for hurricane season?” Hurricane preparedness is vitally important, even in countries as  technologically savvy as the United States and Canada. We have state-of-the-art detection systems, the best building materials as well as the ability to provide our citizens with advanced warning. But what about a country like Haiti who is less privileged, less savvy, less advanced? Think about it; is Haiti really ready for another natural disaster?

Here’s another question, before the massive earthquake that rocked the small island just months ago, were we even aware of the previous natural disasters in Haiti?

[Maria]Charles adds that the hurricanes of 2008 wiped out her home and fields. An estimated 800 Haitians died, and 60% of the country’s harvest was destroyed. In 2004, Hurricane Jeanne led to more than 3,000 deaths — 2,800 in the Gonaïves area alone. Severe floods and mudslides washed away fragile infrastructure precisely because of Gonaïves’ bowllike geographical location and years of deforestation that made the hills melt with the huge rains. Without trees acting as sponges to absorb the moisture, the water rushes down mountains in free fall, collecting crops, houses and people. Before the Jan. 12 earthquake, hurricanes were the disaster that Haiti knew it would face again and again. “Only God knows how Gonaïves will survive — how we will survive,” says Charles, peering into the future.

So how prepared are the Haitian people in 2010, a hurricane season the experts are predicting to be worse than normal?

The Haitian government has yet to come up with a unified contingency plan for the hurricane season, says Pascale Lefrançois, United Nations humanitarian-affairs officer, who concentrates on planning for disasters.

“I will never say we will be entirely ready,” says Sarah Muscroft, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Haiti. “But if you can minimize the risk, that’s the best way you can prepare.” At the very least, she says, evacuation procedures must be drawn up.

While Haiti says they’re more ready than they were in 2008, the truth is, all they can do is wait and see.

Written by traumalines

July 22, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Think Twice About Skipping That Vacation!

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If we haven’t heard the typical excuses before, we’ve likely said them ourselves: “I can’t get away from work; I’m way too busy; I really should save that money.”

With the summer season well underway, some of us have been able to take some time off, while others of us are in desperate need of a reprieve. Recently I came across an article in Psychology Today that says we all should think twice about skipping that next vacation. Researchers say that taking a vacation can greatly help to improve your mental and physical health:

It’s clear that, especially in this moment of national stress overload, skipping vacation can actually put your physical, mental, and fiscal health at risk.

“National stress overload” — what could that possibly mean? How about our overseas conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, rampant unemployment, falling home prices, foreclosures, bankruptcy, and on and on. Our country is barely making its way out of a recession that was classified by some as the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Despite all the stresses, despite the fact that many feel now more than ever that this may be the best time to skip the days off in lieu of the long hours, you may be wrong:

That’s right: the research is in and the experts have spoken. The consensus: based on the benefits it confers and the consequences of skipping it, vacation, often considered an indulgence, needs to be rethought as a basic right and a priority, just like saving for retirement, exercising, and getting a yearly physical…Indeed, studies show that vacation is good for your cardiovascular health and your waistline, lowers your cortisol levels and your blood pressure, and may aid in recovery from diseases like cancer.

The famous Framingham Heart Study followed approximately 12,000 men ages 35 – 57 at risk of heart disease, for nine years. Researchers wanted to know if there were ways to improve the men’s longevity. The participants were asked about a number of lifestyle topics, including vacation. “The more frequent the vacations, the longer the men lived,” says researcher Karen Matthews of the University of Pittsburgh Body-Mind Center, who analyzed the data to assess the benefits of vacations. This held true even when controlling for variables like higher education and income (which are predictive of longer lifespan); the link between vacation and longevity, Matthews and others tell us, is undeniable. As a follow up, State University of New York at Oswego researchers crunched the Framingham data yet again, and discovered that men who take vacations every year reduce their overall risk of death by about 20 percent, and their risk of death from heart disease by as much as 30 percent.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Mind-Body Center also surveyed nearly 1,400 subjects who had participated in four other studies on breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. They were asked how often they’d spent the previous month doing something they enjoyed. Leisure, including vacation, Matthews says, contributed to a more positive mindset and dramatically lower levels of clinical depression. And our mental health is a crucial part of our arsenal for fighting disease.

If you can’t afford a getaway or a vacation just isn’t in the cards, researchers are quick to point out that simply spending time in nature can help to improve your mental health:

Even trading your office cubicle for a hike in the woods can help. Getting away to someplace green, surrounding yourself with natural beauty, can actually increase immune function, a series of studies recently found. How can this be? Certainly stress reduction has something to do with it. But as the Science Times recently reported, scientists believe that nature heals us with phytoncides, airborne chemicals emitted by plants that are good for what ails us. 

Written by traumalines

July 19, 2010 at 7:39 pm

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Oil Spill’s Impact on Mental Health

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“Now, as the oil spill fiasco in the gulf continues with no end in sight, the psychological damage to Gulf residents is beginning to outweigh the toll taken on the land.”
Gideon Pine, The Huffington Post

Each day when we turn on the news, open a newspaper or log onto the internet, we can’t escape the latest updates on the Gulf oil spill. There are the disturbing pictures of the oil-drenched wildlife, the glossy surface of the incoming brown tide, not to mention the live video feed of the never-ending volcano of oil, erupting from the depths of the ocean, floating all the way to our nation’s shores.

But as we try and grasp the devastating toll this oil spill has taken on our nation’s wildlife and the surrounding economy, we need to understand the spill’s impact on the mental health of its victims, and act quickly to help them:

Two months since the deadly explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, mental health professionals in the region are preparing for the worst, citing the potential for depression, domestic violence and even suicide. Dr. Elmore Rigamer, medical director for Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, told Huffington Post that he and his colleagues are prepared for a multi-pronged approach and anticipate challenges, since many of those most afflicted do not have the financial means or time to seek counseling.

Mental health care is crucial in this period, [Rigamer] emphasizes, noting that in general there is only a three-to-four month window in which the victims can adequately cope with hardship, followed by worsening depression and a sense of hopelessness.

Much of the stress is tied to concerns about the future economy of the region and the disappearance of fishing and shrimping jobs that have been handed down for generations.

Corrosive Community

The experts fear that the Gulf Coast will experience the same mental health issues as the residents in certain parts of Alaska following the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989:

Dr. J. Steven Picou, a sociology professor at the University of South Alabama and one of the foremost experts in mental health issues related to oil spills, is worried that, much like post-Valdez Alaska, cities like New Orleans will devolve into a “corrosive community.” In his 1996 study “The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and Chronic Psychological Stress”, he describes Cordova, Alaska, the area most adversely affected by the Valdez, as a community marked by loss of social capital — meaning loss of trust, family, friendships, networks and the sense of belonging within the community. As Cordova’s sense of community “corroded,” there was a rise in domestic violence, self isolation and medicating and depression. He also noted that prolonged exposure to an oil spill will cause many to dwell on the horrifying realities of the disaster, eventually leading to more severe mental health conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Besides the intervention of thousands of volunteers, what can be done to help the victims of the Gulf spill? Dr. Rigamer offers a very interesting solution that really seems to make sense:

It is well-documented that the infrastructure of the Gulf wetlands is in need of a massive overhaul, yet there have been no efforts to do so in the last 40 years. Rigamer suggests that BP, in an act of good faith, set aside funds for the rehabilitation of the wetlands and hire displaced workers and the unemployed to carry out the task.

READERS: What do you think of Rigamer’s idea?

Written by traumalines

July 6, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Remembering Buddy

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The Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists (ATSS) lost a member of its family this week: Buddy, a disaster relief canine. Buddy and his owner Frank Shane were committed members of ATSS, dedicated to serving and assisting victims of trauma-related incidents like natural disasters. Rarely does an animal, in this case a Golden Retriever, join in the cause right alongside his master.

Buddy was the very first canine used by FEMA in disaster relief efforts:

Buddy’s visit to the Panhandle represents the first time the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has officially included a disaster relief canine as part of its disaster work force.

Buddy’s trainer, Frank Shane, of Upper Montclair, N.J., teaches courses in Canine Disaster Relief and Critical Incident Stress Management. He calls Buddy “a live teddy bear”, emphasizing that “Canine disaster relief is psychological first aid and does not involve therapy”. Frank participated in 9/11 canine disaster relief efforts at ground zero in New York.

With Buddy on hand to nuzzle people – young and old – and distract them a bit from their immediate concerns, they can gain a renewed sense of possibilities for a time when disaster won’t be such a prominent factor in their lives.

Buddy will surely be missed dearly by all of us at ATSS, all those he helped along the way and especially by Frank.

Written by traumalines

July 1, 2010 at 8:47 pm