Confronting the Problem of Mental Health and Guns

A youth rally against gun violence

With every mass shooting, commentary about mental health is quick to follow — the mental health community starts bracing itself as soon as the first panicked tweet from someone on scene hits the internet. “Only a madman would do something like this.” “This is insane!” “Why can’t we stop these crazy gunmen?”

Today, at a Santa Fe, Texas high school, at least ten have been killed with numerous other casualties reported. This most recent mass shooting incident, the 22nd in the United States in 2018, shows how unfortunately common these events have become in modern American society.

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Loss of a Pet: How to Cope With the Death of Your Animal Friend

Dog looking up to the heavens

If you share your life with animals, it’s easy to think of them as part of the family — like the cat who occupies my desk whenever I’m working, patiently waiting for me to take a break and play. Dogs were domesticated nearly 14,000 years ago as working animals but undoubtedly developed a role as pets at the same time, while cats appear to have domesticated themselves multiple times, possibly as early as the Neolithic era. Sixty-eight percent of households keep animals, including not just cats and dogs but rats, hamsters, rabbits, fish, horses, and more.

But with the benefits of pets comes an inevitable dark side: What happens when the beloved animals who have become important parts of our lives pass away, leaving us with urns on our desks instead of warm bodies?

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How Does Acquiring a New Disability Affect Mental Health?

Man on crutches

“I don’t have the life I expected to have,” says Shayla Maas, a disabled woman who was an adolescent psychiatric nurse before her Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome progressed to a point that made it difficult to work. When a series of injuries then left her transitioning to light duty and eventually forced her out of the workplace, it was a total sea change.

According to the U.S. Census, nearly 20 percent of Americans are disabled. Some have congenital disabilities they’ve lived with their whole lives. Others have faced traumatic accidents, diagnoses of chronic conditions, and other life changes — sometimes at the height of a busy career, or while pursuing dreams with tremendous physical demands. A newly-acquired disability — or the diagnosis of a previously unidentified chronic condition — represents a tremendous life change, one that can be very isolating.

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Birth Trauma — Perinatal PTSD — Isn’t Unusual, and You’re Not Alone

woman giving birth doctor and nurse treating her

Giving birth can be one of the biggest events in a person’s life, and it’s a loaded experience. Everyone has expectations about what a “good birth” looks like, but birth doesn’t always go as planned. For some parents feelings of disappointment, fear, or stress about the events surrounding the birth of a beloved child can transition into something more serious: birth trauma, also known as perinatal PTSD. This condition is a lot more common than you might think.

Our expanding understanding of psychological trauma has highlighted the fact that PTSD is an issue much broader than the emotional aftermath of experiencing combat. Any intense traumatic experience can have psychological ramifications, whether someone has a history of mental health conditions or not, and no matter how well-prepared someone might be. Birth, accompanied with intense physical and emotional experiences, is no exception. But the myths surrounding pregnancy and childbirth can make people uncomfortable when it comes to speaking out, or uncertain about whether what they’re experiencing is normal. Continue reading Birth Trauma — Perinatal PTSD — Isn’t Unusual, and You’re Not Alone

Why We Don’t Talk About Miscarriage

teddy bear in empty child room

Miscarriage and stillbirth are emotionally intense and very unique forms of grief and trauma, ones that often occur in privacy and silence. For parents eagerly anticipating the arrival of a new family member, fetal death — whether it occurs early or late in pregnancy — can be devastating. The shroud of secrecy that hangs over these topics may make it challenging to talk about, but it’s critical to bring these conversations into the light.

I talked with two experts, Boston-based psychologist Aline Zoldbrod and Doctor Elizabeth Fitelson of Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry, about the emotional and cultural issues surrounding miscarriage and stillbirth — and how to approach this very distinctive life experience. Continue reading Why We Don’t Talk About Miscarriage

Finding Help for Complicated Grief

sad woman looking into sunset

Grief is one of the most intensely personal emotions we experience, and also one of the most public; not for nothing does every culture on Earth have rituals associated with grieving. Many of those rituals unfold over a series of days or months — Shiva in Jewish tradition, prayers in Buddhism — reflecting the fact that grief takes time. In a fast-paced society, there can be tremendous pressure to “get over it” as quickly as possible, and those who take more time than others may be viewed as suspect.

When does mourning cross the tipping point between a natural and healthy response to an intense life event and into something more dangerous? That’s a question that challenges researchers interested in a phenomenon called “complicated grief” or “difficult grief,” in which people become “stuck,” as Talkspace therapist Cynthia Stocker terms it. Whether an adjustment is related to the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or another dramatic change like something that affects someone’s sense of identity, some people have difficulty processing and moving through their grief. It can become overwhelming, and that’s when grief may transition into something harmful. Continue reading Finding Help for Complicated Grief

Why Aren’t We Talking About Postoperative Depression?

woman in hospital bed hands over face after surgery

Surgery can be a life-changing event, whether you’re treating an emergency medical condition or finally getting a procedure that changes the way you look and feel about yourself. In the whirlwind of presurgical paperwork and meetings and consultations, though, there’s one issue a care team may skip over: postoperative depression.

It’s a strange problem for people to forget to mention, because it’s not uncommon. In a 2000 feature for Harvard Magazine, surgeons described it as an “understandable complication.”

So why aren’t we talking about it? The answer is complex, and it involves a number of stops along a rabbit hole of twists and turns that leave patients unprepared for the emotional aftermath of surgery. While depression may be “understandable,” that doesn’t mean it should be ignored; and refusing to acknowledge that it’s a risk doesn’t resolve the problem.

It’s also very treatable. Prepared patients, particularly those with underlying mental health conditions, can be more proactive about managing it if they’re forewarned.

Clinical Health Psychologist Steven Tovian, who works at Northwestern University in Chicago in addition to maintaining a private practice, told Talkspace one reason postoperative depression falls by the wayside is limited research into the subject. Theories about what causes it may abound, but they aren’t backed by detailed, substantial research that explores the phenomenon and delves into ways to treat it.

Without that information, it’s both harder to treat and more difficult to convince surgical care teams that advising patients could be advantageous for recovery. Cultural attitudes within the medical profession also create a barrier to frank discussions about mental health for surgical patients, which is bad news for those at risk. Continue reading Why Aren’t We Talking About Postoperative Depression?