How a Breast Cancer Diagnosis Affects Your Mental Health

A woman's hand covered in dried pink paint

Everyone affected by breast cancer knows the physical hardship it can bring. What’s less commonly talked about, but also important, is how breast cancer affects patients’ and survivors’ mental health.

A history of mental illness can be exacerbated by a breast cancer diagnosis, and the rigors of treatment — while life-saving — are difficult, leaving many women depressed, anxious, or feeling alone.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to recognize women affected by breast cancer and raise awareness about breast cancer prevention. Many breast cancer survivors have spoken up about their struggles with mental illness. To honor their voices, here’s what you need to know about breast cancer and mental health.

Continue reading How a Breast Cancer Diagnosis Affects Your Mental Health

Male Survivors of Sexual Assault Face Unique Challenges to Recovery

Athletic man resting after a run outside

According to a Center for Disease Control (CDC) National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, one in six U.S. men have experienced sexual violence, and 17% of those men develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In my years practicing therapy, I’ve found male survivors face unique challenges to recovery, yet hesitate to get the help they need.

The question is why.

For one, we don’t hear much about male sexual assault survivors, although one study found sexual assault history was common among both women and men, reported by 25% of women and 16% of men surveyed. The research participants also faced similar long-term problems, regardless of gender.

Continue reading Male Survivors of Sexual Assault Face Unique Challenges to Recovery

What Is Non-Suicidal Self-Injury?

cut bandage with "HELP" written on it

I remember the day I started self-injuring. It was January my senior year of high school. I was being sexually abused by a teacher and eventually I just snapped — I couldn’t handle anymore. When I got home that day, I grabbed a red-handled paring knife from the kitchen and slashed shallow cuts into my upper left arm until I counted 100. I needed some way to prove I had control of my body, to express the hard emotions I was feeling.

The relief from the pain, confusion, and distress was instant — it immediately calmed the chaos in my mind. Once I started, it was hard to stop. And so I found myself at 21 self-injuring to manage the hearings after reporting my abusive teacher. I was still self-injuring at 28 when I did an interview about my experience with perpetrators; grooming process of victims, and at 30 when I began processing 15 years worth of trauma. And finally, after 13 years of self-injuring, I was finally able to stop.

Through all of it, self-injury served as my friend, my relief, my secret sanctuary — but it also complicated my ability to cope with difficult emotions and to connect with other people. The damage is criss-crossed all over my arms in scars, messages of deep hurt, but also survival. Self-injury is both savior and monster, a complex way to deal with overwhelming emotions. Continue reading What Is Non-Suicidal Self-Injury?

How Therapy Helps You Recover from Childhood Trauma and Abuse

woman client therapist talking

If you experienced trauma or abuse during childhood, you might wonder if you should seek therapy. But maybe you are too busy to commute to appointments. You don’t even have any time to feel everything, much less talk about it.

Then there are the plethora of worries people sometimes have when they consider working with a therapist. You might think, “What if I end up feeling worse? What if the therapist thinks I don’t have any problems? Am I exaggerating my experiences?”

Then you start wondering why everyone else seems so happy, while your head swims with worries and you slog through each day. You are not alone, and there are ways to feel better. Continue reading How Therapy Helps You Recover from Childhood Trauma and Abuse

It’s Time To Retire These Self-Harm Alternatives

red marker cap off

I started self-injuring when I was 17-years-old, the result of not knowing how to manage the overwhelming emotions accompanying years of sexual abuse by a teacher. Self-injury became my way of expressing extreme feelings of fear, anger, sadness, hopelessness, shame, and a complete loss of control. Over time, self-injury became the only way I knew how to deal with emotions, and I didn’t know what else to do.

When I decided I wanted to stop self-harming, the only information I could find advised me to color on my arms with markers, snap a rubber band on my wrist or hold an ice cube. If I was angry, the suggestions were to “get it out” by punching pillows, ripping magazines or throwing ice against a wall.

Well, in short, drawing on my arms with red marker only increased my desire to see real blood and holding ice cubes didn’t hurt enough. At the end of the day, all I wanted to do was cut or burn for real. And I still felt overwhelmed.

It turns out I’m not alone in this experience, and these popular substitute self-injury alternatives are partly to blame. Continue reading It’s Time To Retire These Self-Harm Alternatives

The Global Refugee Mental Health Crisis

syrian refugees mother child

Even when refugees remove themselves from the imminent physical dangers of war zones, their problems are far from over. If refugees relocate to camps within their own country, they often face issues like poverty, and physical and sexual abuse. If they flee abroad, racial and religious discrimination, along with cultural isolation, are often added to their list of woes.

Less talked about than physical and social issues, mental health problems are extremely prevalent in refugee populations, whether they are located in their home country or abroad. Civilian experiences in a war zone can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and physical manifestations of stress like the loss of the ability to move parts of the body. According to a report by the German Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists, more than half the number of refugees from war zones suffer from some kind of mental illness.

The Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011 and has so far displaced over 12 million people, with 4 million seeking refuge abroad in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, has brought about a greater awareness of the mental issues experienced by refugees, especially children. Around half of Syrian refugees are under 18 years old, and around 40 percent are under 12. Three major reports — Save The Children’s March 2017 report, “Invisible Wounds,” the Migration Policy Institute’s (MPI) 2015 report,  and a 2015 UNHCR report focus on the mental health issues of Syrian refugees. Continue reading The Global Refugee Mental Health Crisis