Working Through Trauma and PTSD

Trauma can be experienced in a number of ways, whether it is from an abusive relationship, experiences in combat, or from unprecedented experiences such as an attack, an accident, or a natural disaster.  According to the American Psychiatric Association, approximately 1 out of 11 adults in the US develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychiatric condition in which the feelings associated with the traumatic event stay present in a person’s life after it is over. Long term effects of PTSD can be debilitating, and those affected with it experience symptoms such as flashbacks, distorted and unpredictable emotions, and avoidant tendencies. Because of the mental anguish it causes, PTSD is a tough subject to tackle for those who have experienced it.

Last Monday, the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City hosted an event as part of their Brainwave series that tried to do just that. The talk, Trauma and the Power of Resilience, featured Oscar and Golden Globe nominated actress Rosie Perez and trauma specialist and psychotherapist Diane Poole Heller, Ph.D. During the talk, Perez and Heller delved into the ways in which trauma can be unraveled and reckoned with.

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Rosie Perez (L) speaking with psychotherapist Diane Poole Heller (R). Photo credit: Asya Gorovits 

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National Stuttering Awareness Week: May 13-19

In 1988, an act of Congress established National Stuttering Awareness Week. This year, the observance runs from May 13-19, and is geared towards getting the 70 million people worldwide who stutter to “speak out, fluently or not” and to help spread more information about the communication disorder. In the US, about three million people are affected; many have struggled with the disorder since childhood, when it often first develops.

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Addressing Gender Bias in Medicine for National Women’s Health Week

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Yesterday marked the first day of National Women’s Health Week (May 12-18, 2019), and as such it is important to discuss the inherent gender bias in medical research and treatment and the ways in which the medical community are attempting to rectify said bias.

Many women, particularly women of color, often report feeling dismissed or undermined by medical professionals regarding a variety of physical or mental issues. This can and often does have dangerous consequences. Examples include how women of color are at least three times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes, and how women, in general, are less likely, in comparison to men, to survive a heart attack..

According to the “Women in Pain” survey conducted by National Pain Report in 2018, 65 percent of women patients felt doctors took their pain less seriously because they were female, and 84 percent felt they had been treated differently by doctors because of their sex. Many women would often report that they were told that their issues were psychosomatic or stress-induced, with many symptoms being chalked up to poor diet and exercise. While it certainly is possible for stress or anxiety to cause physical problems, that certainly is not the case every time—and even when it is, the underlying mental issues need to be taken seriously as well. Continue reading

Rise in Youth Suicide After Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why

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From the 2001 Cerebrum essay, “Suicide in the Young” by Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D.  Illustration © Kristina Swarner

On March 31, 2017, a controversial series called, 13 Reasons Why premiered on Netflix. The show tells the story of a young high schooler who commits suicide and leaves behind a series of 13 cassette tapes for the people she held responsible. In the month following the show’s 2017 release, mental health experts, superintendents, and school counselors criticized the series for its glorification of suicide and worried it would lead to an increase in copycat behavior of self-harm among vulnerable individuals. After researchers examined data from the past five years, the show was found to be linked to a spike in suicide rates among US youths aged 10-17.

The National Institutes of Health published the study earlier this week, conducted by researchers at universities, hospitals, and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). They examined whether the show’s release impacted rates of suicide, based on annual and monthly data on suicide-related deaths of individuals between ages 10 and 64 that occurred between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2017—a time span encompassing the period before and after the show’s first 13 episodes. Continue reading

Recognizing the Therapeutic Benefits of Dance

Dance is a great form of exercise that can also be a great way to stay social–two important lifestyle factors we often cite in our Successful Aging & Your Brain program for maintaining better brain health. But it offers additional therapeutic opportunities for those with movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, which can affect functional mobility and mood.

Dance for PD, launched in Brooklyn in 2001, offers specialized dance classes for Parkinson’s patients to address some of the disease’s symptoms. Though small in scale, published peer-reviewed studies on the program have reported improvement in areas such as gait, mobility, and even mood. The popularity of the program has led to its expansion to 25 countries.

Medical treatments and therapies aren’t often something one enjoys, but the creative expression, music, and social connections can make dance therapy seem less like work and more like fun.

Two recent “On the Mind” events I attended, one focused on Parkinson’s disease and the other on Huntington’s disease (another progressive movement disorder), presented research on dance therapy, but also showcased the dance talents of people with those diseases, who went beyond dance classes to join performance groups. In the clip below, Manny Torrijos, who has Parkinson’s, dances with Erin Landers, his partner from the Dnaga dance company, based out of Oakland. Continue reading

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