Remembering the Virginia Tech Shooting

The small town of Blacksburg in Southern Virginia was, at one point, only that: a small town, nestled along the New River Valley. The trip from the cities of the north will lead you witnessing the significant change of scenery as you cruise down I-81, from cityscapes to treelines, from city streets to nature trails, from Smithsonian Museums to the Blue Ridge Mountains, from the boisterous white noise of a congested population to the melodies of the rural countryside. And, of course, it will lead you to the spirited Hokie Nation. But this little Virginia gem was not brought under the eyes of the new millennium by its quaint charm. It wasn’t Blacksburg’s or Virginia Tech’s spirited community or the university’s technological innovations or successes in science and agriculture, nor was it Beamer Ball that brought it under the spotlight of the world. It was a 23-year-old English major from northern Virginia, and the 32 people he murdered on campus that brought the spotlight to Virginia Tech and an issue that continues to be debated to this day. The beautiful campus and its community was eternally scarred by the violence of that April day of darkness fourteen years ago. Today, there is still a certain, strange air carried on the winds throughout campus that leaves one keeping an eye open and scanning their surroundings, and there’s rarely a day where students do not pass or visit the memorial at the top of the drillfield in front of Burruss Hall: 32 stones for the 32 taken from us too soon. April 16th always brings back the pictures of that tragic day: students evacuated from campus, huddled together in a circle at a local church; sheriff officers carrying survivors from the scene by their arms and legs; tearful mothers holding tight the child who just left their nest for the first time; other mothers searching frantically among the large crowds of bloodied faces for their children, praying that they are not one of the many carried away in body bags; President Bush, a father himself, addressing the university, seeking to comfort a confused, sorrowful student body of 25,000; Resident Poet Nikki Giovanni absorbing all that sorrow into her pen and converting it into prose of flourishing inspiration as she cries out, “We Are Virginia Tech!” The date also brings back to remember the student and shooter Seung Hui Cho, who was described as an isolated individual preferring to be by himself. He hardly spoke in class and, when he was called to do so, he spoke barely above a whisper. The content of his written assignments and projects at Virginia Tech caught the concerning attention of his professors, and the videos and manifesto he sent to NBC left people anxiously asking questions about his mental stability. What could have led him to commit such a seemingly random act of carnage? What could have been done to stop it? School shootings have been well covered and documented over the last several years. As a result, studies have shown that there are a number of common risk factors that can indicate if someone is at risk of harming themselves and/or others. Risk factors commonly associated with school shooters include creating or engaging in content--writings, drawings, etc.--depicting violence or violent fantasies, difficulty controlling anger, suicidal and homicidal ideations, social isolation and social deficits, victim/martyr self-concept, paranoia and interest in other shooting situations. “I think those are very good starting points,” said Dr. Suzanne Hollman, Academic Dean and Director of Divine Mercy University’s Psy.D. Program, in an interview on EWTN after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. “The research right now is all over the place. But what we do know is that all of these things are risk factors. All of these things can predispose someone to making a decision or planning something that dramatic. A lot of it stems from social isolation--not being seen in the world--and then trying to find these mechanisms to ensure that they are noticed.” After the attack, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine assigned an independent panel to review the events leading up to the tragedy and how they were handled. The panel was also charged with developing a profile and investigating the life of Cho leading up to April 16th, including his mental health records, which showed that Cho displayed all these red flags during his last two years at the university. But the panel didn’t just shed light on the indicators that developed during his final two years. The panel discovered other details in Cho’s life that could also have been contributing factors.    According to their review, Cho was a shy boy who rarely spoke and, when he moved with his family from South Korea to the United States, he became more withdrawn. He allegedly resented the pressure of speaking in public, and would avoid speaking both at home and at school. When called to speak--particularly if his family had a visitor--Cho would freeze on the spot and grow incredibly anxious. He would become pale, develop sweaty palms, and in some cases, begin to cry and resort to nodding yes or shaking his head no.     Cho’s parents tried to urge him to become more involved in different activities and local sports because they worried he was becoming more isolated and lonely. On the other hand, transportation to any event in general was a challenge in itself, as Cho’s parents worked long hours during the week and were not able to take him or his sister to any extracurricular activities. His father was stern on matters of respect, which is something the two would argue about. According to one of the records reviewed by the independent panel, Cho’s father would not praise his son, and one of his writings later included a father-son relationship where the father was always negative. Eventually, Cho’s parents decided to “let him be the way he is” and not force him to interact and talk with others. Doing so may not have been in their son’s best interest. Extreme social deficits is not just a key indicator of a serious mental health issue. According to 2018 Divine Mercy University Psy.D. graduate Amanda Aulbaugh Faria’s dissertation entitled “Mass School Shooters: Psychosocial Characteristics in the Lives of the Perpetrators,” it’s also a common characteristic among school shooters. Nine out of the nineteen school shooters that Faria studied had significant social deficits. One shooter was quiet, was disliked by her peers, walked around by herself and did not participate in class at school. Another shooter suffered significant social anxiety and was seen as “odd, goofy or weird.” Twelve of the nineteen studied also displayed antisocial characteristics. “The negatives have already been identified,” said Dr. Paul Vitz, Divine Mercy University Senior Scholar and Professor, who has recently begun researching school shootings and their perpetrators, from elementary school to high school. “They were depressed, or they came from dysfunctional families, or they were all obsessed with violence. They had a variety of negative characteristics.” In his own research of school shooters, Dr. Vitz found that one thing common among the shooters is not merely a variety of negative risk factors, but also a lack of positive things in their lives. “None of them seemed to have a goal in life,” he said. “None of them wanted to be a star musician, no one wanted to be an athlete, none of them talked about being businessmen or have success at college. Second, none were involved in any pro-social organizations. None were in scouts or 4-H. None were in a civic society or were helping the poor, none were involved with any of the virtues or active in any faith.” In Faria’s study, many of the shooters were involved with different activities as younger children, but as they grew older into middle school and high school, they began to withdraw from social activities. Others, including Sandy Hook shooter Bill Lanza, had no social interests or did not engage in any social activities from the beginning. “It isn’t just the overwhelming presence of many negatives,” continued Vitz. “It’s the absence of the positives too.” A second factor discovered was that Cho, who had been receiving psychiatric treatment prior to attending Virginia Tech, stopped his treatment before moving to Blacksburg, and the university had no knowledge of his mental health history. According to the panel report, Cho’s middle school teachers noticed suicidal and homicidal ideations in his writings after the 1999 Columbine shootings. On their recommendation, Cho received psychiatric counseling and medication for a short time, and special accommodations were made to help Cho achieve top scores and honors in his coursework all through high school. “Cho exhibited signs of mental health problems during his childhood,” the report reads. “His middle and high schools responded well to these signs and, with his parents' involvement, provided services to address his issues. He also received private psychiatric treatment and counseling for selective mutism and depression.” By the time Cho was preparing to leave home for college for the first time--entering as a business major before making the switch to English--neither he nor his high school revealed that he had been receiving special education services as an emotionally disabled student. As a result, no one at Virginia Tech ever became aware of his pre-existing conditions until it was too late, leaving him to carry on without the critical helped that assisted him to cope and flourish. Since that tragic day in 2007, colleges and universities across the country have taken steps to both help those individuals with anxiety and mental issues. Many have added mental health professionals and university police officers to their campuses; faculty and staff members are being trained on how to spot worrisome behavior and reach out to those students in a preventative manner. Virginia Tech even became the first campus in the nation to be certified by an independent non-profit organization that established rigorous national standards for emergency planning.   A question still lingers: is it enough? That question may never have an answer. But it’s the reverberation of gunshots that still faintly linger in the winds of Blacksburg, and in the tears that stain the 32 stones in front of Burruss Hall that pushes us to keep trying and keep innovating ways to help our mentally ill and, in doing so, trying our hardest to prevent another April 16th. If you’re passionate about helping those who have witnessed or suffered serious trauma, or if you want to help those with serious mental illness, consider the M.S. in Psychology, M.S. in Counseling or Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology at Divine Mercy University.   Work Cited: “Mass Shootings at Virginia Tech, April 16, 2007, Report of the Review Panel”. Presented to Governor Tim Kaine, Commonwealth of Virginia, August 2007. https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/prevail/docs/VTReviewPanelReport.pdf Faria, A. A. Mass school shootings: Psychosocial characteristics in the lives of perpetrators (Doctoral Dissertation). Divine Mercy University, 2018. Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2100701144). Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/2100701144?accountid=27532 Friedman, Emily.  “Va. Tech Shooter Seung-Hui Cho's Mental Health Records Released.” ABC News, 19 Aug. 2009, https://abcnews.go.com/US/seung-hui-chos-mental-health-records-released/story?id=8278195 Hausman, Sandy.  “Lessons Learned at Virginia Tech: What Went Wrong?.” WVTF, 13 Apr. 2015, https://www.wvtf.org/post/lessons-learned-virginia-tech-what-went-wrong#stream/0 Langman, Peter. School Shooters: Understanding High School, College and Adult Perpetrators. Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2015. O'Meara, Eamon. “Virginia Tech shooting may have changed how mental health was treated.” ABC WDBJ7, 14 Apr. 2017, https://www.wdbj7.com/content/news/Virginia-Tech-shooting-may-have-changed-how-mental-health-was-treated-419513643.html Potter, Ned and David Schoetz, Richard Esposito, Pierre Thomas. “Killer's Note: 'You Caused Me to Do This'.” ABC News, 7 Apr. 2007, https://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=3048108&page=1

Staggering Suicide Statistics

Suicide is not a topic we all like to talk about. But recent incidents have brought more attention to this unfortunate event that's often linked to severe depression. At Divine Mercy University, we strive to educate our students and the general public of ways to prevent suicide and provide adequate mental health services. Recently, we hosted an on-campus lecture entitled "How to Understand Suicide and its Aftermath: From a Scientific & Faith Perspective," presented by Melinda Moore, Ph.D., a Licensed Psychologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Eastern Kentucky University. Her interest in Posttraumatic Growth emerged from her own experience with suicide and the changes that experience created within her allowing for her current career path and personal interests and relationships. Watch the recording of the suicide lecture to learn how a faith-based approach to mental disorders can help save lives. We also wanted to share suicide prevention resources with you, in the case that you or someone you know may need help:
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
In our psychology and counseling programs, we teach students how to act effectively in situations where de-escalation, negotiation, and crisis intervention are needed, such as suicide attempts. The courses also train students on the best ways to diagnose and treat common psychological problems to prevent severe disorders from developing. Sign up to learn more.

Fostering Inclusivity in Eating Disorder Awareness

Did you know that an eating disorder is a physical AND mental illness that affects people of ALL backgrounds? Instead of pigeonholing this condition to one particular category of people, National Eating Disorders Association's Awareness Week (February 25-March 3) is fostering inclusivity this year to show how this disease impacts "individuals at all stages of body acceptance and [to emphasize that all] eating disorders recovery .... stories are valid." This message matches the association's 2019 theme: Come As You Are. To gain more insight on eating disorders for this week of awareness, we reached out to clinical psychologist Laura Cusumano, Psy.D., who specializes in eating disorder treatment. She is also an alumna of Divine Mercy University and currently provides treatment through Potomac Behavioral Solutions in Arlington, VA. Dr. Cusumano has extensive experience working with people suffering from eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). In her 2017 dissertation for the Psy.D. program, she integrated the virtues of humility and temperance into Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO DBT) to develop a Catholic adaptation of RO DBT for those with anorexia nervosa. "I found the RO DBT material to be well suited for this adaptation," she said "and I would like to expand upon it in the future." In an email response, she shared detailed answers to questions about eating disorders, their causes/effects, stigmas still associated with them and more! Read on to gain a deeper understanding of the disease that's estimated to impact 20 million women and 10 million men in America at some point in their lives. Q - How can someone detect if their friend or loved one has an eating disorder, and how do you safely address it? Dr. Cusumano - There are several subtle signs that may indicate that a person is struggling with an eating disorder. You may notice that your friend or loved one has started to talk about eating "clean" or going on a diet. The person may make negative comments about his or her body, express a desire to lose weight, and/or compare his or her body to other people's bodies. You may observe your friend or loved one making changes to his or her exercise routine, and the person may become anxious or upset if he or she misses a workout. Your friend or loved one may decline invitations to go out to dinner or prepare a separate meal when eating with others. During a meal, your friend or loved one may engage in unusual eating behaviors, such as cutting food into very small pieces. The person may also stop sharing meals with others altogether. You may also notice a change in your friend or loved one's mood and energy level. If you are concerned that your friend or loved one may have an eating disorder, I encourage you to share your concerns privately with that person. Spend some time doing research on eating disorders so that you have information to share. Use "I" statements to express that you feel worried and to share things that you have observed about the person's behavior (e.g., "I'm worried about how frequently you're going to the gym."). Your friend or loved one is more likely to be receptive to what you have to say when you phrase things in this way. Having this discussion may feel awkward and uncomfortable for both of you, and that person may have a negative reaction or deny that something is wrong. Let your friend or loved one know that you are here to talk whenever he or she is ready and offer to provide the person with resources. Encourage your friend or loved one to seek professional help. Q - What are common resources that you are confident in providing to men and women with an eating disorder? Are any resources gender specific? If so, why? Dr. Cusumano - I really like the National Eating Disorder Association's (NEDA) website: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org. It has a wide breadth of information about the spectrum of eating disorders and how they typically manifest. The information on the website ranges from general (e.g., "What are Eating Disorders?") to specific (e.g., the "Identity & Eating Disorders" section). It is important to note that eating disorders can affect people of any race, ethnicity, sexual identity, or gender. There is gender-specific information on the NEDA website. This is because eating disorders manifest differently across different populations. For example, most women with eating disorders desire to have bodies that fit our culture's thin ideal. In contrast, many men with eating disorders have a drive for increased muscularity. Body image distress varies between men and women, and this should be taken into consideration during treatment planning. The Academy of Eating Disorders, a professional association dedicated to eating disorder research, education, treatment, and prevention, also has a variety of useful resources available on its website: www.aedweb.org. Q - How are therapists currently working with physicians to diagnose and prevent eating disorders? Dr. Cusumano - When a patient starts therapy with me, I refer him or her to a dietitian for nutrition counseling and a physician for medical monitoring. Eating disorders can be life-threatening, so it is extremely important for the patient to work with a treatment team. Medical complications can include dizziness, fainting, dental problems, electrolyte imbalances, arrhythmia and other heart problems, muscle weakness, organ failure, and menstrual irregularities in women. It is essential for therapists to consult regularly with physicians about their mutual patients to ensure that patients are being treated at the correct level of care. A patient may underreport symptoms, and if medical stability is not assessed, he or she may not receive the proper intensity of treatment. With regard to prevention, therapists encourage physicians to promote positive body image when talking to their patients and to educate them about nutrition and healthy amounts of physical activity. I have worked with patients who have reported that the only strategy their physicians recommended to address their health problems is to lose weight. Even though physicians may have good intentions when they make this recommendation to patients, the recommendation could backfire and trigger body image distress and an eating disorder in people who are predisposed to develop them. Therapists work to educate the physicians with whom they share patients in order to craft an approach that is both empathetic and direct about the dangers of eating disorders in an effort to prevent them. Q - How can someone with an eating disorder reframe their thinking patterns so they do not consider themselves overweight or undesirable?  Dr. Cusumano - Enhanced cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders (CBT-E) is an evidence-based treatment that has demonstrated to be effective in treating a transdiagnostic range of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Treatment consists of helping a patient establish a regular pattern of eating and challenging the factors that maintain the person’s eating disorder, such as dietary restraint and overevaluation of shape and weight (i.e., body image distress). Through the use of cognitive reframing, patients learn how to challenge their unhelpful thinking patterns in an effort to develop a more balanced way of thinking about themselves. The process of challenging one’s cognitive distortions about body image is often difficult, and it can take a while for patients to recognize that their worth is not dependent on their appearance. It is often helpful for patients to participate in group therapy that focuses on body image so that they can support one another through this process. Q - What is a misconception about eating disorders you'd like to be dispelled? Dr. Cusumano - Most of the time, when people think of anorexia nervosa, they imagine that all those who suffer from anorexia are underweight. Anorexia nervosa is diagnosed when a person restricts his or her energy intake to less than what his or her body needs to function (based on factors including age, height, and gender), resulting in low body weight. Anorexia is also characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, and body image disturbances are also present. Despite the diagnostic criterion regarding low body weight, anorexia can affect people of all shapes and sizes. The intense fear of being fat and body image distress can occur in people who restrict their energy intake and remain in a normal weight range or above average weight range. This is known as atypical anorexia nervosa. Many of my patients who struggle with restriction have a formal diagnosis of atypical anorexia. It is a myth that a person must be underweight to suffer from anorexia. Q - After getting your Psy.D. degree, what other training did you seek to specifically treat clients with eating disorders? Dr. Cusumano - My primary training in treating people with eating disorders actually took place while I was still enrolled in the Psy.D. program in the Institute for the Psychological Sciences at Divine Mercy University. I completed my internship at The Emily Program in Minnesota. The Emily Program is dedicated to providing treatment to those suffering from eating disorders. During my internship, I worked at the outpatient, intensive outpatient, and partial hospitalization levels of care. I had wonderful supervisors who guided me through learning evidence-based methodologies for treating eating disorders. I learned how to support patients during therapeutic meals and to challenge them to use skills effectively so that they could work toward recovery. My time at The Emily Program was extremely valuable to my development as a therapist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders. Currently, I work as a postdoctoral fellow at an outpatient practice that specializes in providing evidence-based treatment of eating disorders. I have gained training in family-based treatment (FBT) for anorexia nervosa, which is the primary evidence-based treatment for adolescents. I hope to continue my training and may pursue certification as an eating disorder specialist later in my career. Q - What advice would you give to parents who think their child or teenager has an eating disorder? Dr. Cusumano - As a parent, recognizing that your child is exhibiting signs and symptoms of an eating disorder can be frightening and leave you feeling helpless. If you suspect that your child has an eating disorder, it is important to discuss your concerns with your child in a compassionate, not critical, manner. Remember, your child is suffering from an illness, and he or she is not completely in control of his or her behaviors. When you talk to your child, focus on the behaviors you have observed, rather than your child’s appearance. Use “I” statements when sharing your concerns. Gather information from resources such as the NEDA and AED websites, and seek professional support. Many parents will find FBT to be the best treatment option for their child. From an FBT perspective, parents are the best equipped at providing the care that their child needs to recover from an eating disorder. An FBT therapist will guide and empower parents to take control back from their child’s eating disorder so that their child can recover. If your child is struggling with an eating disorder, know that recovery is possible! Treatment outcomes are generally positive when eating disorders are detected early. Learn more about the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology program offered at Divine Mercy University to gain skills to treat those who suffer from eating disorders.

Stigmas Still Scare People From Counseling

What happens when we’re confronted with a problem? What do we do when we have an issue we’re trying to fix at work or trying to solve a problem in our schoolwork?  What do we do when we can’t fix something at home--a jammed window, a dislodged door, a flat tire on the car? What can we do when we’re having difficulty figuring something out on our own? Clearly, the expected solution would be to look for help from the outside. We reach out to our supervisors and co-workers to help address issues or to help complete projects at work. We research online for do-it-yourself remedies, or hire a specialist to fix problems with our home or vehicle. We call upon our professors, tutors and academic peers to conquer the hurdles of education. In facing our most personal troubles, we typically call on those closest to us or people we trust for guidance and assistance. We lean on our spouse, family and close friends for support when facing a personal crisis or emergency; we look to our pastors and ministers for spiritual guidance, and mental health counselors to help overcome mental or emotional blockades.     Or we don’t. We may continue to go solo, taking breaks away from the task before returning to find the solutions ourselves, or we may give up and move on to different things. Still others may choose to endure or continue enduring whatever issue they’re facing, refusing to acknowledge the possibility of needing help facing the issues they face. For some, asking for help is difficult. For some us, admitting that we need help feels like a sign of weakness and uselessness, which can be detrimental to the individual, especially in the case of mental health issues.   [caption id="attachment_578" align="aligncenter" width="540"] The hit show “The Sopranos” circulates around a New Jersey mob boss’s sessions with a psychiatrist, highlighting the perception of weakness as well as the dangerous suspicions of spilling crime family secrets to outsiders.[/caption] According to the National Alliance on on Mental Illness (NAMI), millions of people face mental illness and mental health challenges in the United States each year, and the stigma that surrounds mental health--the fear and the lack of understanding, which can lead to isolation, shame, harassment, and even bullying and discrimination from others that can turn violent--can still be felt.   “When my husband asked me to keep his secret, I didn’t hesitate,” said Carolyn Ali in her New York Times piece, Alone With My Husband’s Secret. Carolyn and her husband worked to battle his depression on their own, taking care to avoid telling their families and loved ones. But the secrecy and the severity of his depression wreaked havoc on the two. As Carolyn attempted to navigate their way through the channels of the mental health system, her husband dropped out of the master’s program he was enrolled in and spent the majority of his days sleeping. When they did tell their family, he downplayed the severity of his depression and, after mustering every ounce of energy to appear upbeat through birthday gatherings and Christmas dinners, would crash for days once they returned home, utterly depleted. For Carolyn, maintaining the secret of her husband’s depression was costly for her as well. “Because it was his illness,” she wrote, “and he didn’t want to talk about it, I felt as if I had no right to talk about it either. So outside of my family and a few close friends, I didn’t talk about it with anyone. I didn’t talk about my frustrations in trying to find him proper medical care. I didn’t talk about how helpless and hopeless I felt as I tried to lift his mood. And I definitely didn’t talk about that leaden, sickening feeling I had every day after work as I pulled open the front door of my apartment: I’d check every room one by one, not knowing what I would find.” Two years after he spoke about his depression, Carlyn’s husband began to recover from his depression and, today, he is open about his history of mental illness and challenges the stigma himself, recognizing the impact the silence had on him and Carolyn, both individually and as a family. Today, the grip that the stigma of mental health seems to hold has been loosening in the U.S. A 2017 report from the Barna Group showed that approximately 42 percent of adults in the U.S. have met with a counselor at some point of their lives, and at least another 36 percent saying they’re at least open to seeing a counselor. That being said, the fear of seeing a counselor is still prevalent to this day. Dr. Benjamin Keyes is the Director of Training and Internships for the Eastern States for Divine Mercy University’s School of Counseling, Director for the Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies, and has spent his career helping people in the U.S. and around the world recover from traumatic or stressful situations while providing organizations with counseling and training, including Charlottesville Virginia following the of the White Supremacist Rally. “The stigma of having to go see a counselor or a psychologist is the perception of being seen as crazy or psychotic,” he said. “People think this true with their family, at work or the other people they may see on the day-to-day. The reality is that there are a lot of reasons as to why people meet with counselors.” Dr. Keyes has also worked with many individuals whose jobs put them in stressful environments and situations regularly, including firefighters and members of the military and police forces. “There’s a perception of ‘going to the shrink,’” he said, “and there’s a fear that this stigma may have a negative effect on their careers or hurt their chances at promotions so they may be more inclined to avoid counseling to avoid that appearance.”     Outside the U.S., the stigma of mental health still holds an even tighter grip, causing thousands of people around the world who need treatment for mental health issues to avoid seeking treatment altogether. Mental illness has a long history of being stigmatized around the globe, from being considered a sign of demonic possession in its early history, to being seen as a shortcoming or a sign of weakness today. For instance, in Korea, the concept of mental health simply does not exist. “In Korea, there is no such thing as mental health,” said Jin-Hee, a Korean-American mental health professional in an interview with the University of Washington’s Forefront Suicide Prevention center. South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and it’s been attributed to pressures relating to conformity for those in their 20s and 30s, loneliness, cultural dislocation, and lack of social connection for the elderly. But there’s still an aversion to accepting mental health treatment. According to Jin-Hee, depression is perceived as a sign of personal weakness instead of a clinical issue in Korea. Instead, it’s seen as a burden on a family’s reputation. “One is seen as ‘weak’ if they have a mental health issue,” she said. “People with mental health issues are seen as ‘crazy’ and the issue is something that must be overcome.” In Africa, the absence of treatment is the norm rather than the exception. In the face of many other challenges like conflict, disease, maternal and child mortality and intractable poverty, the importance of mental health is often neglected or overlooked typically due to a lack of knowledge about the extent of mental health problems, stigmas against those living with mental illness and beliefs that mental illness cannot be treated. The proportion of people with mental illness in Africa who don’t receive treatment ranges from 75 percent in South Africa to over 90 percent in Ethiopia and Nigeria.   “The stigmas are very pervasive in places like Eastern Europe and Africa,” said Dr. Keyes, “but the church in these nations and elsewhere is really making the inroads to address this, with pastors and clergy receiving education and counseling training to help their congregation and countrymen. Education goes a long way in rectifying these stigmas.” Research shows that tens of millions of people throughout the world will at some point in their life experience a mental health illness or disorder. It’s estimated that only half of those people will receive treatment, and the stigma and silence of mental health is a critical barrier that holds them back, leaving the individual without the critical help they need, and their loved ones--their spouses, siblings, parents and children--from receiving the essential support they need. “There are many different reasons people receive counseling,” Dr. Keyes said. “Some may be trying to help or save their marriage. Some may need an outlet for their anxiety while others go to address and treat depression. As counselors, we try to normalize the experience as much as possible.”   “If I could go back to that fall morning in our kitchen,” Ali said, “I would tell my husband this: ‘I know what you’re going through feels unbearable. It breaks my heart. I so desperately want to make things better. But we can’t keep this between us. We need as much support as possible to get the help you need. You are not alone.’”

Sharp Divide Overrules Mental Health

Written by Eric Kambach, Marketing Associate at Divine Mercy Universtiy. Sitting in a hospital room during an emergency, waiting to speak with a doctor builds a great anxiety that makes the heart race while simultaneously petrifying the body. Words of comfort fall over and around you like acorns in autumn, and thoughts bounce around inside your head of all things that have gone wrong and could go wrong, all followed by a great fear of not knowing what lies ahead. My wife had been admitted into the hospital’s high risk pregnancy unit just a week and a half before Christmas. The day before, we had met with the sonogram specialist at the pregnancy center we were visiting to try and discover the gender of our baby. All indications showed that our child was as healthy as can be, with all limbs accounted for and all organs developing well, but we were unsuccessful in learning if we were expecting a boy or a girl. Instead, we learned that my wife’s amniotic fluid levels were dangerously low and, later, that the reason for the low fluid levels was due to a rupture in the amniotic sac. My wife was immediately put on bedrest and began to drink gallons of water every day to supplement for the loss of fluids for the baby inside. In meeting with one of the doctors at the hospital, we discussed what our situation was and what our different options of care were with this fresh, frightening setback, which ranged from remaining in the hospital under constant monitoring--doing everything possible to keep from delivering too early--to immediate induced delivery via c-section if an infection was detected. As we went over everything, the doctor reminded us: another option is termination. Abortion is one of the most hotly contested and controversial issues in the United States. An electoral candidate can rise up or fall from the political landscape depending on views and affiliation of abortion, as it’s become one of the top three topics of discussion at political election debates, and your own opinion on the matter is almost considered a battle-cry declaration of your political and social affiliation. Movements and annual marches organized by proponents of both sides of the issue are attended by hundreds of thousands of participants. On one side, it’s a highly complex and difficult choice that’s accepted as a right and a means of protecting a woman’s physical, emotional, financial and social health based on the circumstances of the pregnancy. It can even be a means of saving the mother’s life in the case complicated pregnancies as a result of rape. It’s also considered as protection of the unborn child from a potentially difficult life, especially if any complications like disability and disorders are detected early on. In our case, our child’s death would mean us avoiding the financial burdens of a potentially extensive hospital stay, as well as any hardships that our child’s premature birth could bring about, including physical, intellectual or developmental disabilities or conditions.  On the other side, the right to terminate the pregnancy is a cold infringement on the child’s right to live, a dangerous shortcut escape from responsibility as a parent or certain anticipated hardships, a naziesque means of extermination and a multibillion dollar, government-funded industry of legalized murder. For us, it meant losing an otherwise perfectly healthy child. There are hundreds of surgical and medical procedures that are standard or common, but none are without their own risk of complications. No matter what side of the issue you’re on--whether you believe in the legitimacy of the practice and are trying to stand up for women’s rights or you believe the practice is murder that was wrongfully legalized--abortion itself is not a risk free operation. According to the abortion recovery nonprofit Ramah International, the procedure carries many different health risks that could cause serious complications, including scarring and injury on the uterine wall, blood clots in the uterus, pelvic infection and cuts or tears of the cervix. The procedure can even make it more difficult for the mother to get pregnant again. But in considering risks and complications of abortion, what’s very rarely touched on are the potential psychological and emotional repercussions that can hit those who have had the procedure. According to Dr. Priscilla K. Coleman, professor of human development and family studies at Bowling Green State University, researching any connections between abortion and mental health is incredibly difficult due to how sensitive the topic is. “Perhaps even more serious than this,” she said in her 2017 article, Post-Abortion Mental Health Research: Distilling Quality Evidence from a Politicized Professional Literature, “are the well-entrenched, seldom-discussed professional gatekeepers, who encourage agenda-driven research and ignore fundamental scientific principles in order to fill journal articles with ‘evidence’ that abortion poses no risk to women’s health.”         But studies do show that mothers who have an abortion put themselves at risk of experiencing psychological and emotional repercussions of the procedure, a condition that’s been unofficially tagged Post Abortion Stress Disorder (PASS). One report released in 2017 from the European Institute of Bioethics--The Psychological Consequences of Abortion--found that mothers may experience different states of mourning or grief as a result as a result of having an abortion. Like mothers whose pregnancies end in miscarriage, mothers who abort can experience a similar denial and anger. They’ll then experience doubt over their decision and guilt over the loss. It can then lead to anxiety and depression in many different forms, such as eating disorders, loss of self-esteem, sleep and relationship trouble, and thoughts of suicide. Both the abortion and the emotional experiences that follow can lead the mother to mistreat those closest to her, creating psychological strain on family members. "When I became pregnant at 18, I had an abortion," said Michaelene Fredenburg on her website. She is the founder of AbortionChangesYou.com, an online refuge for those trying to recover from their abortion experience. "I was completely unprepared for the emotional fallout. I thought the abortion would erase the pregnancy. I thought I could move on with my life. I was wrong. I experienced periods of intense anger followed by periods of profound sadness. When my feelings became too difficult to deal with, I reached out for help from a trained counselor. With counseling and the help of supportive friends, I was able to enter into a healthy grieving process. In addition to grieving the loss of my child, I slowly became aware of how my choice to abort had impacted my family. I was surprised and saddened that my parents, my sister, and even my living children struggled to deal with the loss of a family member through abortion." For us, in weighing the risks and complications between alleviating possible short-term and long-term hardships of delivering prematurely and the risks of termination, we respectfully declined the doctor’s proposition and were admitted for the long run. Termination just wasn’t an option.  A week and a half into our hospital stay--exactly 24 weeks into our pregnancy--our son Jude was born (pictured above at two weeks old in the incubator). It's a fact of life today: not all pregnancies go according to plan, and not all pregnancies are planned. This can create a great fear of the decisions we'll have to make and of not truly knowing what challenges wait for us along the way. We look at abortion as a decision to eliminate those decisions; a resolution to a dire moment of fear; a restoration to a pre-pregnant identity; an easy fix to complicated health or circumstances; the safer alternative to a harder road ahead. But just as a pregnancy changes a mom and dad forever, so too does abortion. I look at my son, recovering from his early entry into the world--hooked to ventilators to help develop his lungs, lying in the incubator for the long haul to his original due date in April--and my mind drifts to an alternative scenario, if we had chosen to let him go. The very thought drives wounds into my heart to depths I, otherwise, would have never known existed.
About DMU
Divine Mercy University (DMU) is a Catholic graduate university of psychology and counseling programs. It was founded in 1999 as the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. The university offers a Master of Science (M.S.) in Psychology, Master of Science (M.S.) in Counseling, Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology, and Certificate Programs.