Tag: mental health

9/11, Hurricane Season, and disaster-related Secondary Traumatic Stress

Yesterday was the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 Terror Attack, and like many Americans I can easily recount where I was at when I saw the coverage of the attack. The event dominated news media for weeks after the events unfolded, and became enshrined as a defining moment of 21st century America.

I cannot even begin to fathom the first hand experiences of people who directly impacted from the attack, but for many, the day is a permanent memory of the way they felt, perceived, and witnessed everything unfold.

Secondary Traumatic Stress occurs when an individual hears the recounting of another’s traumatic life event. Often, the symptoms are similar to that of the more commonly known Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. In recent years, there has been more research being done to see the effects of disasters that affect those beyond those immediately experiencing an event.

In the wake of the recent disasters of Hurricane Harvey and Irma, we have seen coverage of their destruction everywhere from major news sources to the social media that we consume for updates from loved ones. A recent New York Times piece noted that the Weather Channel, being the only network to provide 24/7 access to coverage of the recent Hurricanes, had seen its audience increase nearly tenfold. The coverage of these storms has been vast, because the scale of the destruction of these storms has been unprecedented.

Covering these events is vital, it is important that we do not sensor the news that we receive just because of the harmful effects that it may have on us. But, by being more aware, and staying informed, we can acknowledge the way that having information so freely available can help us to cope, and hopefully heal, together.


Sources –

New York Times Piece: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/09/business/media/weather-channel-hurricane-irma.html?_r=0

Secondary Traumatic Stress: http://www.nctsn.org/resources/topics/secondary-traumatic-stress

The Fault in Our Stars: What the Movie Didn’t Tell Us about Childhood Cancer

There are numerous movies about adolescents living with cancer and overcoming it; The Fault in Our Stars, Me Earl and the Dying Girl, etc. Typically, they include a heartwarming love story or  a monumental last hurrah and then receive a promising prognosis. The audience walks away after shedding a few tears and laughs and moves on with their own lives. However, what these movies don’t tell us is what happens after the credits roll and these adolescents continue their lifelong journey as a “cancer patient”.


Research has shown that adolescent cancer survivors tend to report lower quality of life compared to peers such as more general health concerns, mental health concerns and physical activity limitations. Additionally, many of them experience difficulties such as academic problems, low self esteem, anxiety and depression. Luckily, we are starting to see a trend of programs created specifically for this population to help ease the transition of cancer patient to returning to a “normal kid/teen lifestyle”. Dana- Farber and Boston Children’s Hospital have a unique program called the “Transition to Survivorship Program” to provide resources and opportunities to help ease this transition for children and adolescents and their families and caregivers. While the movie’s show a happy ending, for many of these patients it’s a quite a long road before arriving at their happy ending.





Narrative Reconstruction: a Lesson we can learn from Taylor Swift

This past Sunday, Taylor Swift premiered the music video for her latest single, Look What You Made Me Do, at the MTV Video Music Awards. The video went viral upon release, and subsequently has been the subject of a number of internet think pieces breaking down the star’s critiques on different personas of herself in the public eye over the course of her career. In case you missed it, you can find it here.

 But beyond providing a tongue in cheek look into the perceptions of a widely successful pop artist, the idea of reconstructing narratives for self-affirmation can be key to those who have suffered previous traumatic experiences.

 A study recently published in Qualitative Social Work studied the effect of narrative construction, or having an organized and logical story of their previous traumatic experiences, along with a clear sense of self throughout and a sense of how that experience has shaped them. They found that compared to those who had not constructed a narrative, those with a higher level of narrative construction noted an increased acceptance of their experiences, and being more likely to perceive life experiences as positive and significant. Those with an elevated sense of narrative construction credited their success to strategies such as reflective writing, informal conversations with supportive friends and family, and seeking professional help such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

But often, the stressors of daily life are somewhere between trauma and celebrity feud. As summer is ending and the school year here again, it’s a great time to begin to regularly process emotions, especially with the seemingly constant stream of news and celebrity gossip. With September being Self-Awareness month, taking the time for some reflective journaling, or simply maintaining a strong support system of friends and family can set you up for success. If you feel like talking to a professional, the university has wonderful Counseling and Psychological Services, with walk in services regularly available. Beyond that, if you need additional help for figuring out to find a therapist, or if you’re curious about what therapy could look like, check out this article published by the New York Times – How to Find the Right Therapist.


For CAPS Walk-In Services:

Go to the 3rd floor of the Campus Health Services Building.

MON-THURS: 9 am – noon or 1 pm – 4 pm

FRI: 9:30 am – noon or 1 pm – 4 pm.



Qualitative Social Work: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1473325016656046

New York Times Article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/17/smarter-living/how-to-find-the-right-therapist.html?mcubz=1&_r=0

Study Drugs Limitless? More Like Limited: Know the Risks

By: Shauna Ayres MPH: Health Behavior candidate 2017

There has been much attention on the opioid and heroin epidemic in the last several years. Appalachian states in particular have suffered a great deal from a sharp rise in addiction and overdoses caused by opioid drugs. However, like many other addictive behaviors, there is silent rise in rates of “study drugs” on college campuses across the nation. Study drugs are prescription drugs, such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse, that are used to treat Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Those with ADHD suffer from a brain abnormality that causes difficulties in concentration and increases impulsivity; but, college students without ADHD are using them to increase focus, sleep less, or do more academic, professional, and/or social activities.

The strong marketing and pressure by drug companies to prescribe and sell new ADHD drugs has resulted in more youth being diagnosed with this disorder and more prescriptions being written. There are currently 2.5 million Americans prescribed ADHD drugs and manufacturing of prescription stimulants has increased by 9 million percent in the past decade! I think the real questions are: Do more Americans suffer from ADHD? Or, has American’s need for drugs increased? The sad reality is that the more drugs available, the more opportunities there are to abuse those drugs.

It is estimated up to one third of college students have used study drugs. Common characteristics of users include being white, belonging to a fraternity or sorority, and having a grade point average of a B or lower. Interestingly, these drugs may keep students awake longer, but do not increase cognitive ability or capacity, or said another way, they do not make students smarter and are not like the magic pills in the movie Limitless. Most college students report getting or buying these types of drugs from a friend or peer with ADHD and a legit prescription.

Just because a drug is approved by the FDA, does not mean it does not have side effects, especially if it was prescribed to someone other than the person actually consuming it–every drug comes with risks. Some of the more common consequences of ADHD stimulant drugs are increased blood pressure, irregular heart rate, restlessness, anxiety, nervousness, paranoia, headache, dizziness, insomnia, dry mouth, changes in appetite, diarrhea, constipation, and changes in sex drive. Hallucinations, cardiac arrest, and death have been reported among people with prior heart conditions. In addition, ADHD stimulants are classified as a schedule II drug due to being highly addictive and the suggested sentence for distribution of schedule II drugs is 20 years in prison and a fine of 1 million dollars.

So, if you are using or considering using these types of drugs, please seek support from Campus Health Services or another health professional.

If you have these drugs for ADHD, do not share them with others. Here is a link to ways to “Protect Your Prescription”.


Cherney, Kristeen (2014). ADHD Medications List. Healthline. http://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/medication-list#Stimulants2

University of Texas at Austin, University Health Services. HealthyHorns: Study Drugs. https://healthyhorns.utexas.edu/studydrugs.html

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Campus Health Services: Home. https://campushealth.unc.edu/

Drug Enforcement Administration. Federal Trafficking Penalties for Schedules I, II, III, IV, and V (except Marijuana): https://www.dea.gov/druginfo/ftp_chart1.pdf

Center on Young Adult Health and Development (n.d.) Nonmedical Use of Prescription Stimulants: What college administrators, parents, and student need to know. University of Maryland School of Public Health. http://medicineabuseproject.org/assets/documents/NPSFactSheet.pdf

Aberg, Simon Essig (2016). “Study Drug” Abuse by College Students: What you need to know. National Center for Health Research. http://center4research.org/child-teen-health/hyperactivity-and-adhd/study-drug-abuse-college-students/

The Brain Controls the Body, But Can the Body Control the Brain?

We all know our moods can affect how active we are, but did you know how much you move can also have an affect on our mood?

That’s right, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School, the connection between your brain and your body is a two-way street. They found that consistent exercise, such as running, cycling, and aerobics can affect your mood by increasing a protein found in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or simply BDNF, which aids in the growth of nerve fibers.

Other studies have shown that those with ADHD can reduce their symptoms (although only temporarily) by doing 20-minutes of exercises such as cycling. Afterward, participants were motivated to do tasks that required thought and were less depressed, tired, and confused.

Forms of meditation, such as yoga, qigong, and tai chi were all shown to be helpful at alleviating depression, by allowing people to pay closer attention to their bodies and not on external factors. These changes in posture, breathing, and rhythm have all shown to affect the brain in a positive way. In some cases, people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) no longer met the qualifications for it once they began practice meditative movement.

Additionally, another study has shown that while exercise is beneficial for well being, self-esteem if further improved when moving synchronously with someone else. Moving along with someone else also showed signs of cooperation and charity toward others, as well as improved memory and recall skills.

Ultimately, these findings only stress the close connection held between your brain and body, and show that how much you move can not only help you stay physically fit, but can also affect the way you think and feel. These findings also present an alternative remedy to more traditional treatments for depression, such as psychotherapy and medication.

So next time you find yourself exhausted and completely overwhelmed, put on your sneakers and take a few minutes to get some exercise. You’ll not only sleep better, but in time, you may find yourself feeling more positive about life as well.

The New Suicide Prevention App Designed to Save Lives.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 800,000 people in the world commit suicide each year, and many more attempt it. While suicide is often preventable, those at risk don’t always have access to care when they need it the most. Because of this, developers have created MindMe, a new mental health app designed to put the resources and care needed right on your phone.

The app, currently in it’s beta stages, hopes to use the emerging idea of telemedicine to address the critical need for healthcare delivery to become more accessible for individuals in times of crisis. The app is not meant to replace a therapist, but rather allow therapists to use technology to provide real-time support.

So, how does the app work? Well, during a time of crisis, the app first suggests exercises to users that are preset by the users’  therapist and vary depending on intensity of the situation. These exercises can range from playing a game on a phone to watching a video pep-talk from a therapist, and are overall tailored to what has previously worked best for the user.


Users can also use the app to log triggers of suicidal thoughts, and emotions felt throughout the day. This information can be accessed by therapists in order to monitor well-being and progress over time.

Developers of the app are currently crowdfunding to raise money for a large clinical trial that will help prove the app is successful in leading to fewer suicides and better mental health care. If you wish to donate money to help them reach there goal, you can do so here.

If you or someone you know is in danger of harming themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1 (800) 273-8255.

I’m one in a million, are you?

The American Heart Association’s CPR & First Aid training has become a common certification. In fact, I first became certified when I was required to complete the training as part of my 8th grade health class. Chances are that you or someone you know has gone through the training at some point in time. Much more recently, however, I also learned about and was trained in a newer form of first aid that you probably haven’t heard about, and that’s mental health first aid.

Mental Health First Aid, a training course offered by the National Council for Behavioral Health, teaches participants how to help a person who is experiencing a mental health crisis or problem. This is incredibly important since 43.6 million Americans met the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness in 20141, a far greater number than the 359,400 Americans who experienced cardiac arrest in 20132. But despite the high prevalence of mental health issues in our society, most Americans receive little to no education or training regarding mental health disorders.

The National Council for Behavioral Health is trying to reduce this training gap and has set a goal to train 1 million mental health first aiders in the U.S., hoping to make the training as common as CPR certification.

Visit this website to learn more about Mental Health First Aid or to find a course near you. Or follow #1in1m on Twitter.




New Year, New You. Why Mental Health Is Just As Important.

At the start of the new year, my conversations with friends and social media feeds are usually filled with people talking about their New Year’s resolutions. Every year it seems people wait for January 1st to make big changes in their life, usually health-related, whether it’s losing weight or vowing to eat healthier. While these goals (if followed through) can be beneficial to your overall physical health, most people tend to neglect mental health along the way.

However, mental health can be just as, if not more, important to our overall well-being and one in four people worldwide will experience a mental health issue at some point in their life. So this year, I challenge everyone to go back and add at least one mental health resolution to their list. If you can’t think of any, here are a few examples:

1.) Compliment yourself more. New Year’s resolutions usually involve pointing out the things you don’t like about yourself, or want to “fix”. To counter this, try to find one thing every day to compliment yourself on. Whether it’s how great you look in the new sweater you bought or reminding yourself how smart you are, the more you begin to love yourself, the better you’ll feel.

2.) Try meditation. Meditation has been shown to have a variety of mental health benefits, including improvements in memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress relief. And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t require a large time commitment. Try beginning or ending each day with just five minutes of meditation.

3.) Say yes to new things, but also learn to say no when you need to. Go to that new spin class with your friend, enter that essay contest you’ve always wanted to, and don’t let your anxiety get in the way of pursuing new opportunities. At the same time, saying “yes” to everything can bring more harm then good, so make sure to learn your limit and find a good balance between the two.

What is Movember?

My boyfriend has always been a fan of No-Shave-November, mainly because of his love for his scruffy beard all year-long. But this year, he told me he was doing something different. He was shaving his beard on November 1st to instead grow out a mustache all month long. While at first I cringed at the thought of him sporting a dying 1970s trend, once I learned more about the organization behind this attempt at a mustache comeback, I became more supportive.

Movember, the month formerly known as November, marks a month where men and women join together to bring men’s health issues, a topic often neglected, into the spotlight. Men, called “Mo-Bros” sign up and grow and groom a mustache for 30 days. The organization has also made efforts to get women (called “Mo-Sistas”) involved, so they can also raise money and awareness to support the men in their life (without growing the mustache). 

You may be wondering, how does a mustache help with men’s health issues? Well, the idea behind the Movember Foundation is that a mustache is nature’s billboard. The founders discovered that the mustache is a powerful way to start conversations and decided to use that idea to get men more comfortable talking about their health. What most people don’t realize is that the state of men’s health is in a crisis, and on average, men die six years earlier than women. Some of the main causes of death in men (suicide, prostate cancer, and testicular cancer) are a result of the stereotypical forms of masculinity that prevent men from seeking help or getting preventative care.

Since the foundation of the project in 2003, the organization has grown from just 30 “Mo-Bros”, to 5 million “Mo-Bros” and “Mo-Sistas” worldwide. They also have raised $649 million and have funded over 832 men’s health projects since 2003.

So no, mustaches are not making a comeback (thank god), but they are making a significant contribution to men living happier, healthier, longer lives. For more information about the foundation, or to sign up for your own Movember (it’s not too late!) visit www.movember.com.

A Psychologist at Your Fingertips

Researchers in England are studying the utilization of an iOS smartphone depression app—Depression Monitor. The end goal of such an apps is to provide depression sufferers with the ability to screen for depression with more anonymity, track depression scale scores, self-monitor scores over time, and get instantaneous feedback about their scores. However, this study was primarily aiming to understand if people would use the app, how the app was used, and if the app was really needed.

Depression Monitor assessed user demographics and depression history anphoned administered the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). After completing the PHQ-9 users received an explanation of their results; and if depression scores were high, they were provided with links to depression information on the internet and advised to consult a healthcare professional. The app reminded all users to retake the PHQ-9 weekly and archived them for later access and self-monitoring.
Interestingly, the study revealed that many users had high depression scores, but were undiagnosed and many of these users had lower education levels. This is an important health disparity and with the increased prevalence of smartphones, apps like Depression Monitor may be helpful in reaching such vulnerable populations. Although this type of app requires people to have some sense of self-awareness and proactively download and utilize the app, it shows promise as a mental health screening and intervention tool. However, more work needs to be done so the app is available for other operating systems, is offered in more languages, and is marketed to target populations at risk for depression.

Would you download this app? Why or why not?

Reference: BinDhim, N. F., Shaman, A. M., Trevena, L., Basyouni, M. H., Pont, L. G., & Alhawassi, T. M. (2015). Depression screening via a smartphone app: Cross-country user characteristics and feasibility. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association: JAMIA, 22(1), 29-34. doi:10.1136/amiajnl-2014-002840 [doi]

Image Source: Flickr.com, Pixabay.com