Fight Mental Health Stereotypes for a Happier Halloween

pumpkin

Halloween is coming! Children and adults alike are carving pumpkins, dressing in costumes, and getting ready for an exciting evening of trick-or-treating. For those suffering with mental health issues, however, this can be an especially difficult time of year as they are reminded of the heavy stigma associated with their illness. A drive through your city or a stroll down the aisles of your local department store is all it takes to confirm that offensive stereotypes are alive and well when it comes to the mentally ill. Billboards and advertisements depicting “Haunted Asylum” or “Psychopath Sanctuary” attractions are hard to miss. “Mental Patient” costumes, complete with straightjackets, perpetuate the stereotypes further.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is an advocacy group that is fighting these stereotypes and pressuring businesses to remove offensive attractions and costumes. “NAMI loves Halloween as much as anyone else,” says Bob Corolla, NAMI Director of Media Relations, in a recent blog. “But would anyone sponsor a haunted attraction based on a cancer ward? How about a veterans’ hospital with ghosts who died from suicide while being treated for posttraumatic stress disorder?”

NAMI encourages its members to help raise awareness about the problem in their own communities. Corolla says that the first step is to personally contact sponsors of “insane asylum” attractions or stores that carry offensive costumes. In some cases, small changes to the attraction or its marketing can make a big difference. Further steps include enlisting others to make calls and write emails of protest. Local television stations and newspapers can be educated about the problem—and many are willing to cover a protest as a news event.

Will it make any difference? In response to protests from mental health advocates, the U.K. superstore Asda (a Wal-Mart company) and major grocery chain Tesco were persuaded to remove offensive costumes from their shelves. Both stores apologized for their insensitivity; Asda called it “a completely unacceptable error” and has donated £25,000 to the U.K. mental health charity Mind.

Corolla cautions that you should be prepared for a backlash when people feel that you are criticizing their fun. But even then, you may be more effective than you know. “Even if it seems that too many people disagree with your position,” he says, “you win simply by raising awareness.”

Visit the NAMI Web site to learn more about what you can do to fight the stigma against mental illness.

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Music “Reawakens” Alzheimer’s Patients

A remarkable transformation is taking place in nursing homes around the country as elderly patients are reconnecting with life through music. The brainchild of social worker Dan Cohen, a program called Music & Memory has created personalized iPod playlists for residents of elder care facilities, many of whom have Alzheimer’s type dementia. The results have been truly life changing for patients as they are “reawakened” by the music of their youth.

Cohen is now working with renowned neuropsychologist Oliver Sacks (author of Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain) on a documentary about Cohen’s program and the elderly patients who are responding so positively. In a clip from this documentary, a man reacts to hearing music from his past:

 

 

“Our approach is simple, elegant and effective,” says Cohen on his Music & Memory Web site. “We train elder care professionals how to set up personalized music playlists, delivered on iPods and other digital devices, for those in their care. These musical favorites tap deep memories not lost to dementia and can bring residents and clients back to life, enabling them to feel like themselves again, to converse, socialize and stay present.”

What do you think? Has music helped your clients with dementia to access memories and engage more positively in daily life? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

Psychology News by the Numbers

$4 Million: The fine Kaiser Permanente will face for failing to provide mental health treatment in a timely manner.

1 in 4: The number of stroke survivors who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a new study from Columbia University Medical Center.

70%: The ability of a computer to accurately guess a person’s emotions in a new study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.

85.8%: The percentage of gang members diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder in new research from the Forensic Psychiatry Research Unit at Queen Mary, University of London.

49.4%: The number of adolescents reporting zero mentally unhealthy days in 2010 (a significant decrease from 60.9%, which was reported in 2005-2006).

Stress levels highest for youngest adults, study shows

A recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that the generation known as Millennials, defined as 18- to 33-year-olds in the U.S., reported the highest stress levels along with the most stress-caused ill effects among the four groups surveyed.

On a 10-point scale, Millennials reported an average stress level of 5.4, the same as that reported by individuals in Generation X (ages 34-47 years). However, more than 52 percent of Millennials reported stress-induced sleeplessness, compared to 48 percent of Generation Xers, 37 percent of Boomers (ages 48-66 years) and 25 percent of Matures (67 years and older). In addition, more Millennials and Generation Xers reported anger and irritability due to stress than Boomers or Matures.

Stress is a risk factor for many health conditions, including high blood pressure, headaches, sleeping problems, heart disease, ulcers, and stroke.

It’s not hard to understand why young Americans are on edge. Work was named as a “somewhat or significant stressor for 76 percent of Millennials,” and the U.S. unemployment rate is 7.9 percent. Thirty-nine percent of Millennials have experienced an increase in stress over the past year. And despite efforts to reduce their stress (i.e., 62% have made attempts to decrease their stress levels over the past five years), 25% of Millennials believe they’re not doing enough to manage it.

The good news? Apparently, we experience generally lower levels of stress as we age—Matures’ average stress level was 3.7 out of 10—and we get better at dealing with stress: 50 percent of Matures think they’re doing an excellent or very good job at managing their stress.

What do you think? Does maturity play a big role in handling stress? What can be done to reduce stress in Millennials and in general? Leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Results of 2011 National Survey on Mental Health Released

brain_gearsAccording to the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, one in five adults in the United States suffered from a mental illness in 2011. This federal government report defined mental illness as a person having a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder, and included more than 65,000 Americans aged 12 and above.

The rate of mental illness was found to be twice as likely in the 18-to-25-year-old age group, close to 30 percent, than it is in those age 50 and above (about 14 percent). Furthermore, women were more likely to have suffered a mental illness than men (about 23 percent versus 16 percent).

Of the 45.6 million people with a mental illness, about 11.5 million reported a serious mental illness, about 5 percent of the adult population. About 38 percent of adults with a mental illness in 2011 received treatment during the year – and about 60 percent of those with a serious mental illness sought help during that time.

Youth also were studied, and it was found that 2 million adolescents between age 12 and 17 had a major depressive episode in 2011, about 8 percent of the population. Young people who had a major depressive epsidoe were more than twice as likely to use illicit drugs than those who did not (36 percent versus 17 percent).

Rates of mental illness remained stable from the prior year.

PAR Supports Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, an annual event hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), will be celebrated on Wednesday, May 9, 2012.  PAR has always been a strong advocate for children’s mental health, and we are delighted to announce our participation as a “Champion Level”

co-sponsor of this year’s program.

On May 9, PAR will be joining SAMHSA for a special evening program at the George Washington University Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC.  This program will be a tribute to honor children and youth who have demonstrated resilience after traumatic experiences, as well as their “Heroes of Hope,” people in their lives who have helped and inspired them along the way.  The American Art Therapy Association has put together a unique exhibit featuring artwork from students all across the country, which will be displayed during the event.  Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will present a Special Recognition Award to artist, advocate, and Awareness Day Honorary Chairperson Cyndi Lauper, whose work with her True Colors Fund and the True Colors Residence exemplifies the “Hero of Hope” spirit. Live performances by youth from around the country will also honor the young people and their heroes.

Since its inception more than 30 years ago, PAR has been giving back to our community in the form of volunteer time and financial support. We understand the importance of children’s mental health, and we are proud to work with organizations like SAMHSA to promote awareness of this vital issue.  Children and wellness have always been priorities, and through the years we have supported organizations that help families including the United Way, A Brighter Community, the PACE Center for Girls, the Children’s Home of Tampa, and many others.  To learn more about PAR’s community service work, please visit our Community PARtners page.

More than Six Years After Katrina, Trauma Remains

According to a new study conducted at Princeton University, many survivors of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina are still struggling with poor mental health even today, years after the storm.

Lead researcher Christina Paxson and her team began this project in 2003 as a study of low-income adults enrolled in community college. They used sites around the country for their research, three of those sites were located in New Orleans. Their original questionnaire asked participants for their opinions on topics related to education, income, families, and health.

After Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, the researchers decided to continue to track the New Orleans-based participants because the type of information they had was very rare in disaster studies, as they already knew much about the individual’s mental and physical health. In most disaster studies, researchers are never able to determine if the participants are suffering because of the disaster or because they already had underlying conditions that would have led to poor mental health even before the disaster hit.

With data collected one year before, 7-19 months after, and 43-54 months post-Katrina, they found that although symptoms of posttraumatic stress and psychological distress declined over time, these symptoms were still high 43-54 months after the storm. They also found that damage to the home was an especially important predictor of chronic posttraumatic stress symptoms, with and without symptoms of psychological distress. Those individuals with higher earnings and better social support reported better outcomes in the long run, but results indicate that mental health issues still remain a concern for hurricane survivors.

Even four years after the storm, researchers found that about a third of participants still reported high levels of posttraumatic stress and about 30 percent reported suffering from psychological distress.

According to Paxson, “I think the lesson for treatment of mental health conditions is don’t think it’s over after a year. It isn’t.”

To read more about the study, see January’s issue of Social Science & Medicine.

What do you find most beneficial in working with survivors of traumatic events?