The Trauma Lines Blog

Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists

Posts Tagged ‘Mental Health

Gulf Oil Spill: One Year Later

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When a disaster like the Gulf oil spill happens, it’s easy to think that things may never get better. Yet as the months pass and the clean-up effort intensifies, hope begins to spring forth that businesses will recover, environmental habitats will slowly improve and new spawns of wildlife will repopulate the waters and the wetlands.

However, one year later, several issues still remain…

According to National Geographic, scientists say they are still documenting animal deaths and deformaties that are likely related to last year’s spill:

On the first anniversary of the Gulf oil spill, scientists are observing strange deaths and deformities in animals that could be related to the disaster, experts say.

In the past six months, the numbers of dolphin and sea turtle deaths in the Gulf of Mexico have risen, and some fish that inhabit the Gulf’s coral reefs have developed abnormalities.

But others say the biggest concern one year after the spill is mental health:

Now, a year after the Gulf oil spill, there are concerns that even though the ecological effects of the accident aren’t as great as initially feared, residents along the coast might suffer the same fate their predecessors in Alaska did. A forthcoming study of Gulf Coast residents affected by the spill — conducted by Picou, Liesel Ritchie of the University of Colorado and Duane Gill of Oklahoma State University — found that one-fifth of respondents qualified as being under severe stress, and one-fourth were in moderate stress. Those numbers are comparable to stress levels in the Prince William Sound area a few months after the Valdez spill.

What’s especially disconcerting about the Gulf oil spill and the mental health recovery effort is one of the main mechanisms set up to repay residents for time and money lost, has been said to be one of the main causes of continued mental stress in the Gulf:

The irony in the Gulf is that the one measure that was put in place specifically to reduce stress and get the community back on its feet quickly — the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), which pays out damages from the spill — seems to be a major source of distress. The GCCF, which is run by Boston lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, was set up to disburse the $20 billion in funds put aside by BP to make the Gulf right, but since it began operations last August, residents have complained about slow payments, baffling paperwork and unfair settlements. There is confusion about whether lawyers should be involved, and anger over the fact that any resident accepting a final settlement from the fund has to forswear the right to sue BP or anyone else connected to the spill. The operation clearly isn’t perfect, but it’s “doing what’s intended,” Feinberg told reporters on April 18. For Gulf Coast residents, however, those good intentions are taking too long to play out.

Unfortunately, it is all too evident that the recovery effort in the Gulf is still fully underway, and the mental health recovery from this traumatic event still has a long way to go.

Click here to read all our previous posts on the Gulf spill and its impact on mental health.

Written by traumalines

April 20, 2011 at 5:34 pm

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Anonymous Mental Health Self-Assessment

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The self-assessments are a series of questions that, when linked together, help create a picture of how an individual is feeling and whether they could benefit from talking to a health professional.

The primary goals of the program are to reduce stigma, raise awareness about mental health, and connect those in need to available resources. The self-assessments address depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder, alcohol use and bipolar disorder. After an individual completes a self-assessment, s/he is provided with referral information including services provided through the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

While the screening won’t provide you with a diagnosis, it does review your situation and will inform you if your symptoms are consistent with certain mental health conditions.

Click here to take the anonymous assessment-

For those who think they may want to take the assessment but are hesitant, remember that it’s completely anonymous, you’re not required — or even asked — to fill in any personal information. The screening doesn’t take long at all and the questions are simply stated and easy to understand.

At the conclusion of the assessment, offers several related articles and videos, resources for further evaluation as well as other screening options.

Written by traumalines

February 7, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Mental Health Assistance Continues for Victims of Oil Spill

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I have to say, I get the sense that all too often after a major traumatic event or large-scale disaster, widespread aid and assistance never seems to stick around long enough.

That said, I was rather surprised this week when I heard a radio commercial telling the story of how BP paid for all the business one Louisiana fisherman lost during the oil spill. Sure, that was likely an older story, a less-than-typical story about the assistance that the oil company doled out to the individual victims. But what isn’t an older story, what is an example of how long-term aid is still being provided to the victims of the spill is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s ongoing and expanded assistance to the spill’s victims:

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in collaboration with the Ad Council today expanded efforts to continue to provide information, support and resources to individuals and families affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Emotional distress resulting from traumatic events can surface years after an incident occurs.

“While the immediate crisis is over, many Gulf Coast residents continue to need support as they work to rebuild their lives after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It is natural for some people to need help over time in dealing with the emotional trauma and distress experienced from such an event and associated losses,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D.

The campaign is designed to raise awareness of the early warning signs of serious emotional distress, and to provide access to free resources to those affected in the Gulf state region. The television PSA, featuring Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, and other PSAs aim to help those living in the Gulf states get the assistance they may need to treat and alleviate long term psychological distress.

“For many who live on the Gulf Coast, this disaster has affected us very deeply,” said Dr. Benjamin. “We want anyone who is feeling distressed to know that getting help can be as simple as making a phone call or sending a text message.”

How can an oil spill affect mental health?

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.

For more information:
Oil Spill’s Impact on Mental Health
BP pledges $52 million to support mental health

Written by traumalines

February 1, 2011 at 8:55 pm

LIVE at ATSS’ 2010 Conference: Day 2

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It’s the start of day two here in Toronto at ATSS’ 2010 conference. During this morning’s announcements, ATSS President Kent Laidlaw acknowledged several dedicated people for their tireless commitment to not only this year’s conference, but for fulfilling the ongoing mission of the organization.

After a few preliminary announcements, Kent wanted to honor a few individuals from the Mental Health Association of New Jersey (MHANJ). MHANJ has been contracted to manage ATSS, and has dedicated so much time and effort into managing the day-to-day operations of the orgainzation in general, as well as the 2010 conference. Renee Burawski, Lauren De Poto and Bob Kley were all presented plaques in a symbol of appreciation.

ATSS also recognized Ron Mellish for his efforts in organizing regional ATSS meetings here in Canada. The regional meetings are so important, explained Laidlaw. They’re what keep our outreach going and our membership growing.

Finally, Kent wanted to present a special gift to a person who has really helped to steer this year’s conference. Linda Hood, a self-proclaimed chocoholic, was presented with a 10-pound chocolate bar from a confectioner here in Canada.

It’s without the efforts of people like the ones who were honored this morning that events like this year’s conference would not be possible. Job well done.

Coming Up…

Lieutenant Colonel Stephane Grenier will be today’s keynote speaker. LCol Grenier will be delivering his presentation “Giving Purpose to Lived Experiences by Having Consumers Become Part of the Solution” from 1:00-2:00 this afternoon.

Written by traumalines

October 1, 2010 at 10:17 am

Tips for Improving Mental Health Reporting

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The School of Social Work at the University of Washington has a great website for anyone who reports and/or writes about mental health issues. Sure, journalists have strict stylistic and ethical codes that they must adhere to when they write, but shouldn’t all of us — professional journalist or not — take the same care when we write about topics such as mental health? I say “absolutely”:

Journalists recognize the power of words and images used to define and characterize a subject.  At least since the civil rights era, reporting practices have encouraged reporters and editors to avoid stereotypical language and ensure careful use of images when referring to ethnic and racial minorities and people with disabilities. Unfortunately, there are no widely used guidelines for journalists when reporting includes a person with mental illness.

The purpose of this website is to provide tools and information for news organizations, journalists, journalism educators, and a broad coalition of news story informants on ways to improve reporting on mental health issues.

Whether you’re a journalist, a medical professional, non-profit organization, law firm or just a blogger, understanding the protocol, guidelines and information surrounding whatever you’re writing about is paramount.

The University of Washington’s website offers tips on how to improve your writing on topics such as violence, mental illness and suicide. The website helps writers eliminate stigmas and stereotypes in their writing, as well as providing tips on how to interview a person with a mental illness and ways to improve the accuracy of your writing.

Part of the root problem — which has cultivated the need for websites like this one — is that we’re not always experts on the subjects we’re writing about. To help solve that problem, the website also provides facts about mental illness.

Every so often an incredible resource comes along that I think most of us — mental health professional or not — need to know about: this website is one of them.

Written by traumalines

September 2, 2010 at 9:02 pm

BP pledges $52 million to support mental health

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The sun shined a little brighter today down in the Gulf. Shrimpers in Louisiana reported their first clean day of fishing, and the states affected by the spill will be getting millions from BP to support mental health services:

Funds will go to one federal and four state agencies to provide support and outreach services for mental health programs in the Gulf of Mexico region. In what appears to be its first nod to the mental health challenges from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP announced Monday, Aug. 16, it will provide $52 million in funding for one federal and four state agencies to provide support and outreach services for mental health programs in the Gulf.

Here’s a breakdown of the federal and state funding:

AMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) – $10 million

Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals – $15 million

Mississippi Department of Mental Health – $12 million

Alabama Department of Mental Health – $12 million

Florida Department of Children and Families – $3 million

Besides the physical ailments that have surfaced after the spill — rashes, respiratory discomforts, etc. — mental health concerns skyrocketed. Why do mental health issues surface so fast after a natural disaster like an oil spill?

Dr. Farris Tuma of the NIMH explains: “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. (Click here to view a video in which Dr. Tuma discusses the “Mental Health Concerns from the Gulf Oil Spill.”)

Related Posts:

Oil Spill’s Impact on Mental Health
VIDEO: “Mental Health Concerns from the Gulf Oil Spill”

Written by traumalines

August 17, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Mindfulness: Eastern Medicine Travels West

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The post we wrote last Thursday was about how one Army general came out and said that the Army has still not paid enough attention to the mental health issues concerning our soldiers and their devastating consequences. reports of one ancient mental health exercise that’s being utilized by some in the armed forces to help sustain mental health during stressful times (such as deployment) and to help treat certain mental illnesses such as PTSD. That “ancient mental health exercise” is known as Mindfulness.

According to

The Army is moving toward developing stress coping methods, [Army Maj. Victor] Won noted. Mental fitness is similar to physical fitness, he explained. Just as running or lifting weights can improve physical fitness, a daily routine of mindfulness will help to strengthen coping mechanisms, making it easier to recognize and react to negative emotions so they don’t grow stronger, he said.

“Rather than dwelling in the past or the future,” Won said, “mindfulness is learning to work in the present moment in a less reactive, less judgmental manner.

What exactly is mindfulness? One definition from UCSD’s Center for Mindfulness says the following:

Mindfulness is non-judgmental and open-hearted (friendly and inviting of whatever arises in awareness). It is cultivated by paying attention on purpose, deeply, and without judgment to whatever arises in the present moment, either inside or outside of us. By intentionally practicing mindfulness, deliberately paying more careful moment-to-moment attention, individuals can live more fully and less on “automatic pilot,” thus, being more present for their own lives. Mindfulness meditation practices seek to develop this quality of clear, present moment awareness in a systematic way so that the practitioner may enjoy these benefits. Being more aware in each moment of life has benefits both to a person doing specific spiritual practice, and also to the same person in everyday life.

Despite all the benefits associated with Mindfulness, Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., warns that the meditative practice can have equally as negative an effect if you let it:

This focus on self-awareness and emotions is an important piece of research in understanding how we “give in to feel good” and procrastinate on the task at hand when it’s difficult (for whatever reason). It’s certainly food for thought as each of us explores the kind of self-talk and self-awareness we aspire towards or cultivate in our lives. Negative self-talk (part of the irrationality of procrastination) can undermine our task pursuit. Mindfulness can keep our attention focused on the task at hand rather than absorbed in a ruminative process that undermines us.

Readers: Do you consider Mindfulness a useful and proactive approach to mental health?

Written by traumalines

August 9, 2010 at 8:39 pm