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.

Honoring St. Patrick With Moderation

When we look at the calendar and see that St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner, many of us may salivate knowing that our local pubs and bars will be decorated and playing Celtic music, with Guiness and green beer flowing endlessly like the great falls of some romantic Irish waterfall, and when the day comes, we celebrate even more the week before and the week after the holiday. And then the following morning you find yourself staying in bed sick. Most of the adrenaline in your body has vacated the premises, leaving only a small amount to get you to roll around under the covers in desperate search of a position that will calm the heavy throbbing in your head, or to get up and rush to the bathroom or the nearest trash can to vomit. It’s highly doubtful that St. Patrick--one of the most popular and highly recognized Catholic saints in the world--would’ve expected that kind of celebration of his feast day. Born in Roman England, he first entered Ireland as a captive of pirates as a fourteen-year-old, and wasn’t able to escape and return to England until he was twenty. [caption id="attachment_645" align="alignleft" width="240"] St. Patrick often used a clover when teaching about the Holy Trinity.[/caption] In his memoir, The Confession of St. Patrick, he describes experiencing a vision that prompted him to study for the priesthood. He was eventually ordained a bishop and, in the year 433, was sent to preach the Gospel in Ireland. Throughout his 40-year stay in Ireland, he converted thousands of people, built churches throughout the country, and performed many miracles up to his death on March 17th, 461. Approximately 33 million people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day each year, and with his feast day falling within the season of Lent, Catholics and Christians are able to set aside their Lenten restrictions and are able to indulge in whatever they gave up, e.g. if they gave up snacks and stout. The day also became a celebration of not only the holy man, but also Irish heritage, culture, history and traditions around the world. According to Wallethub, over 55% of Americans plan to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and are expected to spend a collective estimate of $5.6 billion. “For some, any reason to drink more is a good enough reason,” said Divine Mercy University Associate Professor Dr. Stephen Sharp, a specialized instructor for the Addictions Counseling course (COUN 650). “But for others, it may simply be part of the ‘spirit’ of the holiday, in this case St. Patrick's Day. It could as well be Christmas, New Year (even Chinese New Year), or the 4th of July.” Today, St. Patrick’s Day is ranked the third most popular drinking day of the year. According to WalletHub, 152.5% more beer is sold and 13 million pints of Guinness consumed (an 819% increase from the rest of the year), and 32% of men admit to binge drinking on St. Patrick’s Day.    “I'm not sure we can say that binge drinkers ‘go out of their way’ to drink more when there is a social opportunity to do so,” Dr. Sharp said. “They may just simply take advantage of the socialized opportunity to celebrate using alcohol. In ways, a culture of drinking on holidays has contributed to problems created by over-imbibing.” But with greater consumption comes a greater need for greater responsibility. Seventy-five percent of fatal car crashes over St. Patrick’s Day involved a drunk driver, and 59 people were killed in St. Patrick’s Day drunk driving crashes in 2017. Between 2013-2017, 44% of people killed in drunk driving crashes during the St. Patrick’s Day holiday were between 21 and 34 years old.   “Law enforcement recognizes the patterns,“ Dr. Sharp continued, “and often has a bigger presence, and has also helped to sponsor the idea of ‘designated drinkers’ and the use of services for transportation to keep drinkers from behind the wheel of an automobile. With or without the cultural influences of alcohol consumption, those choosing to use alcohol have the ultimate challenge of drinking responsibility on these celebrated occasions.” Unfortunately, it seems to be a difficult challenge for many. Alcohol abuse is currently one of the largest public health crises in the United States, and it kills more people each year than overdoses. According to the Center for Disease Control, six people die from alcohol poisoning every day, and further research shows that alcohol consumption will only grow in 2019, even as population growth is expected to slow.     “Too much of almost anything can be harmful,” said Sharp. “Extended over-use is probably the most hazardous to your health. Our bodies are remarkably able to recover from the occasional over-drinking simply by remaining abstinent from it for a period of time.” When we don’t allow our bodies the chance to recover, our drinking may contribute to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other organ damage, especially the liver, which is the organ charged with keeping our bodily system clean by removing toxins. When we regularly overload our liver, we may pay the price over time. But as mentioned before, our body is a remarkable system capable of near miraculous recovery, but only when given the opportunity to do so. But the risks are not just bodily. Poor drinking habits can be destructive enough to damage our relationships that often do not recover, including those within our family. “Behavior problems resulting from alcohol use and abuse can stretch the limits of those who love us, and that we love,” said Dr. Sharp. “Moments and phases of intoxication may result in engaging in other risky and damaging behaviors and in having a lifelong impact on the quality of our life and those precious relationships. This also often takes a toll on children of alcoholic parents as binge drinking may be part of a bigger cycle, and is often an unpleasant experience for the child.”    According to Dr. Sharp, it is also widely observed that concurrent mental disorders will accompany a substance use disorder. It is not uncommon to see depression, anxiety and substance use co-occurring in an individual. “Did the anxiety appear before the depression,” he said, “and were they present prior to the onset of substance use? Or, did the substance use begin and the other mental disorders begin subsequently? The answer is that this is highly individualized in differences, distinctions, and similarities to others. It depends on the person, their history, and the narrative of their life story. “A short and simple answer is often right beneath the nose, though,” he continued, “and that is if using alcohol is creating problems in your life at any level such as work, relationships or legally, then you may have a drinking problem and should seek the help of a professional.” As we celebrate the life of St. Patrick and everything Irish in communion with each other--whether it be in person or in spirit--let us do so in safe, moderate and healthy fashion for ourselves and each other.    

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.