Regressive Disease Attacks the Mind, Body & Soul

In the spring and summer of 2014, another viral social media trend was born. People around the world began recording or streaming themselves dumping buckets of ice and cold water over their head, and then challenging others to do the same. The trend has been performed each summer ever since, with participants ranging from community gatherings and individuals in their backyards to celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Lebron James and Cristiano Ronaldo. The trend also had a purpose: to raise awareness and encourage donations toward fighting and finding a cure to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. But for Therese Kambach, a 57 year-old woman of Warrenton, Virginia, that awareness came too late. It was a dark and stormy evening in 2010--your typical setting to proceed something bad--when a large storm with the risk of tornados came through the area. When it had passed, Therese heard the voice of her best friend, Cheryl, who was the same age and lived in Greenbelt, Maryland. The two had been best friends since they were kids and, after the storm had past, Cheryl was calling to make sure everything was okay. Therese immediately knew that something was terribly wrong. “Cheryl developed a very noticeable slur in her speech,” she said. “At first, the doctors thought she had a stroke, but she had no other stroke symptoms. I often had to ask her to repeat herself. But when she learned the doctors wanted to test her for ALS, she learned all she could about it, and prayed with all her heart that the test would show she did not have ALS.” [caption id="attachment_732" align="alignleft" width="316"] Therese Kambach, right, with Cheryl on her wedding day. The two had been best friends since childhood.  [/caption] Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder where the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscles gradually die, resulting in the muscles weakening throughout the body. This leads to paralysis and seriously inhibits the patient’s ability to communicate.    ALS, which is rare and affects approximately 30,000 people in the United States with no known cause, is the traumatic change in life that no one either expects or wishes to face. When her diagnosis was confirmed, Cheryl--who had also battled and defeated breast cancer not long before--was terrified for herself, worried about her ailing husband Frank and who would take care of him and, like her best friend, was angry that the future she had hoped for would never happen. Patients who receive the ALS diagnosis are initially given an estimated 2-5 years before the disease kills them, and are advised to get their affairs in order. “Everything about ALS is bad,” said Therese. “It's hard to determine what is the worst experience. Early on, it’s probably the loss of independence. One needs help walking, using the bathroom, bathing. Later on, the inability to communicate is probably the hardest part. The patient becomes trapped in a body that refuses to do what the brain tells it to do, but doesn’t lose touch with reality. The disease robs a person of independence, comfort, means of communication, ability to eat and ultimately the ability to breathe. During the journey, the victim of ALS tires easily (due to less oxygen taken in with each breath) and experiences stabbing pains throughout the body. They come and go at random times with no warning, and there’s little anyone can do to relieve them.”   The disease can also have different, heavy affects on the mind. Patients can experience frontotemporal dementia, which can change how the victim thinks, communicates, behaves or makes decisions, and can even lead to aggression. Another condition they may experience is called pseudobulbar affect, which causes them to display outward expressions of emotions that they are not really feeling. Patients can burst into sudden episodes of laughing or crying without warning. The diagnosis of ALS is also emotionally devastating for both the patient and their loved ones. All must adjust to a new way of life with the disease. Without a job to go to every day, shopping, outings, and housework, one's days and nights become one. There were the doctors appointments and places one can go in a wheelchair if one has a vehicle to transport the patient in the wheelchair. Eventually, and all too soon, moving from the wheelchair to car and back becomes an exhausting adventure for both the ALS patient and the person helping. These traumatic changes and the symptoms of the disease can cause patients to fall into isolation, withdrawing from social interactions and situations, which can lead to anxiety and depression. Symptoms of depression in ALS patients is even more difficult to identifiy due to the disease's affect on the mind and the patient's ability to express emotions. According to Therese, the worst thing a friend or family member can do is avoid the ALS patient because he or she is afraid or feels inadequate to handle what is happening. This causes an ALS patient incredible grief even if the patient says he or she understands. Usually, ALS patients do understand, but time is short for them so words that need to be said and feelings that need to be expressed may go unsaid or unexpressed. Cheryl's own brother went with her to the first couple of doctors appointments, but then avoided her as the disease progressed until Therese called him to say that if he wanted to see her alive, he'd better get over to the apartment. Her sister didn't show up until a couple of hours before she passed. This caused Cheryl great and unnecessary pain during a time when every day was filled with suffering. “I was heart-broken,” Therese said. “We had always hoped to grow old together. Then I researched ways to help.” According to Therese, the best thing to do to help alleviate some of the trauma all around is to be present for your friend or family member, and listen to them. Do research and offer to help in any way. This may involve help with bathing, personal hygiene, household chores, yard work, transportation, shopping, etc. In addition, encourage the patient to take advantage of any support, programs, or ALS-specific devices as soon as the patient becomes eligible. In the beginning, Cheryl was loaned a text-to-speech machine so that she could type what she wanted to say. When she lost the use of her hands and couldn’t type, Therese made a speech board so that all Cheryl had to do was point to words, but she would tire easily and become frustrated. As the disease progressed and she couldn’t move her arms, they resorted to yes and no questions where she could give a thumbs up or down to answer, or blink yes or no.      With advancements in technology and the help of their caregivers and loved ones, many ALS patients are able to manage the symptoms and to live fulfilling lives. Some have even gone on to do great things in arts and sciences. Jason Becker was a rising guitarist when he was diagnosed in 1990. Tony “Temp One” Quan, an iconic graffiti artist out of Los Angeles, was diagnosed in 2003. Both are completely paralyzed and require 24-hour care, but that hasn’t stopped them from their work. They use eye-tracking technology that allows them to draw, type and speak simply by moving their eyes. Becker released a seventh solo album this past December. And, of course, there’s the acclaimed physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking.      Though she had no aspirations of releasing a metal album or study the stars, ALS didn’t not stop Cheryl from living the rest of her days as best as she could. Experiencing and sharing love became her primary work, and she did everything she could to make her ALS journey as easy as possible for both her and her husband. She set all her affairs in order while she was still able to sign her own name. She learned about all the resources available to those with ALS and, with Therese’s help, moved to an apartment in Stafford, Virginia, where it was easy for both her and Frank to move around. When the funds from her retirement plan became available, she even planned and paid for her funeral, her husband Frank's funeral and Jerry's (Frank's brother) funeral so all Frank had to do when she died, was call the funeral home. On Christmas Eve, 2012--after she had passed--her husband Frank returned home to find a Christmas ham that had been ordered and delivered to his front door...from his late wife. “Cheryl was a very faith-filled person,” said Therese, “and she lived for visits from family and friends. She, more than almost anyone I know, radiated love. She prayed a lot, but she was a doer. Not actively being involved in people's lives was very hard for her. She accepted that there was no cure, but she fought hard to live every moment she could. I would say visits and prayer helped her, but she really had no choice but to go through it.” “Prayer and the courage Cheryl demonstrated also helped me,” Therese continued. “Watching her suffer certainly made it easier to accept her passing, and knowing she was free also helped.” [caption id="attachment_733" align="aligncenter" width="350"] Cheryl Parkes-Ray
April 25th, 1961-December 10th, 2012[/caption] If you have a friend or loved one who is struggling through this horrible disease, you can find information and resources through the ALS Association and Team Gleason. Consider the Online M.S. in Psychology, M.S. in Counseling or the Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology if you want to build the skill set to help ALS patients and their families through their difficult journeys.  

12 Grads On a Mission to Counsel the World

During this time of year--where young men and women across the nation donne their gowns and tassels with big smiles and walk before their friends and families to receive the degrees they worked so hard for over the last four years--many of those undergraduates will find themselves at a loss, unsure of what their next move is, doing things they never expected themselves to do, until they find the light that shines on the journey they’re meant to take. Abby Kowitz, from St. Paul, Minnesota, was one such undergrad. After graduation, Abby headed to Denver, Colorado, to serve as a missionary with Christ in the City, which seeks to encounter Christ in the poor and show Christ to them in return. “While the purpose was beautiful,” she said, “I couldn't help but think that something was missing. What I grew to realize was that, while the poor needed to encounter Christ as well as learn how to sustain their physical needs, mental health issues such as addictions, trauma, depression and anxiety often got in the way. I didn't know how to address those elements. My desire to serve the holistic person in mind, body and spirit is what led me to pursue a degree in counseling.” She searched for two years for graduate-level counseling programs that addressed the human person from a Catholic perspective, until her mother saw a promotion on EWTN announcing the new Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Divine Mercy University (DMU). The rest, as Kowitz put it, is history. This past weekend--Mother’s Day weekend--she made her mother proud again, donning her own gown and tassel as a one of twelve students in the very first graduating cohort from DMU’s School of Counseling. “We are grateful for being at this point of the journey with our first students graduating,” said Dr. Harvey Payne, Academic Dean for the School of Counseling, “that we completed every course, and how well the students have done in their practicum and internships, which is really the proof in the pudding. Without our founding faculty--Dr. Steve Sharp, Dr. Benjamin Keyes , Dr. Matthew McWhorter, and the program development team lead by Dr. Stephen Grundman--there would be no program. They all have gone above and beyond for our program to create and deliver a high quality program for our students.” For many of the students who enroll, including Marion Moreland of West Virginia, the M.S. in Counseling program is a means of adding and improving upon the gifts and services they provide in helping others. Moreland feels that providence helped in leading her to the counseling program at DMU. “Four years prior,” she said, “I was at a parish doing pastoral counseling and grief counseling. I think I had a misguided view of what counseling was versus pastoral counseling-type work, and how that involved integration of faith. When I learned about the Master’s in Counseling, I saw that it was more of what I was looking for.” Another student, Anthony Flores, was formally employed at an inpatient psych unit for about three years, working one on one with different patients. Though he found the experience rewarding, he always felt a sense that he could do more. The potential to be able to walk alongside other people in the darkness and brokenness that they’re experiencing drew him to his degree in counseling and, ultimately, Divine Mercy University. [caption id="attachment_716" align="aligncenter" width="633"] Anthony Flores of Michigan receives his M.S. Degree in Counseling while shaking the hand of DMU's School of Counseling Academic Dean, Dr. Harvey Payne.[/caption] “I’ve always been a devout Catholic,” he said. “It’s such a central core of who I am. So, in terms of moving forward in my life and my career, I wanted to be really intentional about incorporating my faith into my work. DMU made that easy by introducing the Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person (CCMMP), a faculty publication explaining the relationship of the Catholic-Christian Meta-Model of the Person with the integrations of Psychology and Counseling. That really became our lense by which we view our clients through. I think that gives us a huge advantage over other institutions or universities that strictly take a secular view and don’t look at the spiritual aspect of people.” One of the requirements of the program that every student must do is be supervised at an approved practicum-internship site for a minimum of 750 hours. After completing their practicum-internships, each student from this year’s graduating cohort received something that many graduates may find hard to come by so close to graduation: job offers. “All of the offers have come through their internships,” said Dr. Payne. “What that means is that the individuals supervising them and the individuals directing the sites have recognized the high quality of their character and their work that they have done as practicum-internship students.” “In the human service world,” he continued, “and true across different occupations, how one fits into the culture of the workplace is a critical determining factor as to whether people want you to stay, and I can’t help but think that that is part of what has gone on. Our students have been able to fit in to a wide variety of settings from hospitals, to private practices, to Catholic Charities, to a wide range of different environments and most not having a specific Catholic-Christian worldview.” Moreland’s internship was with Highland-Clarksburg Hospital--a psychiatric hospital--in her home state. While gaining critical experience through her internship, Marion saw how DMU’s training differed from other graduate programs for mental health professions. “I think what stands out the most is the way we look at people,” she said. “In some ways, it’s employing [a] Catholic [Christian vision of respecting how people flourish], but in a practical sense. Even if you take the faith aspect out of it, our training is more person centered as opposed to technique and diagnosis centered. It’s about ‘who is this individual in front of me’ as opposed to ‘there’s a border line; there’s a schizophrenic.’ It’s more focused on the human side of who we are.” In addition to their internships, both Moreland and Flores attended and assisted with workshops offered through DMU’s Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies (CTRS), becoming certified facilitators. For Flores, that meant a long drive each month from his home in Saginaw, Michigan, to the Virginia campus. But it wasn’t until Flores joined Dr. Keyes and a group from CTRS to Beirut that he understood the true weight and significance of the work of CTRS. He understood why he was pursuing such a career while having breakfast with a Syrian woman he met during that deployment. Flores listened as a woman told him the story of her birthday. She was studying at the university in Aleppo when, all of a sudden, she heard a whistle outside, and then a huge explosion. The large window in front of her shattered and sent her flying back a few meters. As she laid there on the floor, stunned, another classmate came up to her and asked about a question on the upcoming exam, as if nothing had happened, almost completely oblivious and disassociated from the event. Afterwards, they went to a local cafe to call their families and made it home a few hours later, and learned on the television that night that over 100 students had been killed in a missle attack. “As she’s telling me all this,” Flores said, “she’s smiling and laughing about it, as a way for her to deal with what happened and to tell that story. That struck me in such a way that I felt compelled to learn more about that--about trauma--about how, maybe, I can do something for these people that are suffering.” For these students, the M.S. in Counseling at Divine Mercy University has been one of their greatest and most difficult challenges they have ever endured--a real journey full of great challenges, obstacles and setbacks. But, in the end--having overcome those challenges both individually and as a group--this journey towards the first School of Counseling graduation in DMU history has proven to be a rewarding experience that will remain with them for the rest of their days. “Receiving my Master's in Counseling from DMU has been one of the most influential experiences of my life,” Kowitz exclaimed. “DMU has challenged, strengthened, and fine-tuned beliefs I already held as a practicing Catholic while teaching me how to implement them in a very practical and necessary way. DMU has provided me with a tangible set of tools and path to walk in the pursuit of my call to holiness. Through deepening my understanding and knowledge of the human person I am equipped to respond in a truly helpful way to whoever it may be that I encounter through both my clients but also in my personal life and relationships.” “We are all created good and that goodness is indelible,” Dr. Payne said. “Our students are really people that are seeking to grow and be good for the service of others. A number [of people] having some real struggles and difficulties in life that we all have, and keeping their goal in mind and persevering, having grit to persevere to reach their goals. It has been great seeing how each one of the students in their own uniqueness have found their niches, if you will, for how God will be using them in the field of professional counseling.” If you’re passionate about helping those who have witnessed or suffered serious trauma, or help those with serious mental illness, consider the M.S. in Counseling at Divine Mercy University.

Acts of Kindness is a Two-Way Street

Homeless. Unemployed. Hungry. Single parent, homeless. Veteran unemployed. Will work for food. Please help me. We see these words written on pieces of ripped up cardboard boxes, held in the hands or lying by the tired bodies of the most destitute of our fellow man. They're in the largest and busiest of cities, between the never-ending congestions of cars in the streets and pedestrians along the sidewalks: men, women or children sitting at the base of tall buildings or lying on the sidewalks next to lamp posts, covered in whatever they can find to protect against the weather. We see them sleeping on park benches or walking along the country road of small rural communities, carrying their life’s belongings in sacks over their shoulder or in shopping carts. Whether it’s complete strangers living on the streets to survive, people struggling within our own community, our inner circle or our own families, our world is never in short supply of people in dire situations. But many of us today feel overly stressed or too busy to worry about helping others, as we try to maintain focus of taking care of ourselves and our own families, or we say we’ll dedicate some of our spare time to good deeds and helping others. Other times, when we come across these unfortunate souls while living our own lives, we may feel fear, suspicion, sorrow, empathy or contempt as we pass by, turning our eyes away to snuff out or avoid those feelings. But when we do the exact opposite by turning to those who need help, it comes with tremendously positive returns for your own personal health. Whether it’s being there for someone when they need someone to talk to, bringing gifts to children in the hospital, dropping cash in a homeless person’s cup or joining the Peace Corps, performing acts of kindness has proven to be a two way street. According to the Mental Health Foundation in the U.K., doing good does you good. We know the good feeling we experience when we extend a helping hand or do some form of charitable act. But research shows that helping others is actually beneficial for your own mental and physical health, aiding in reducing stress and depressive symptoms while improving your morale, self-esteem, happiness and overall emotional wellbeing. In the Mental Health Foundation’s 2012 report, “Doing Good: Altruism and wellbeing in an age of austerity,” functional MRI scans showed that altruistic behaviours--acting in the interest of someone else--activated the brain’s mesolimbic reward system, an area that is activated when we are rewarded, implying that such behaviour may give us a euphoric physical sensation, or a ‘helper’s high,’ which can improve emotional wellbeing and reduce stress in the long term. A poll conducted by the foundation also showed that, of 2,037 people, 80% agreed that being kind has a positive influence on their own health, and 87% percentage said that they felt good after being kind, adopting a positive self-identity as a ‘good’ person. Reasons for this include increased social support and encouragement to lead physically active lifestyles. Doing so also distracts from one’s own problems and engages them in meaningful activity. Volunteering can also be a great health benefit. As our world is never in short supply of people down on their luck who need help, there is no shortage of opportunities to bring love and comfort to their lives. Volunteerism can be your means of helping them improve their wellbeing and longevity as well as yours. Volunteering as an adult is more common in people who either work part-time or who are retired. Socially isolated older adults gain most from volunteering as it helps improve mood and confidence, reduces isolation and helps give them a sense of purpose. Younger people, such as students, also benefit greatly from volunteerism, as the experience helps them develop higher future aspirations, self-esteem and motivation toward school work than non-volunteers. The Knights of Columbus (KOC) is one of the top organizations that generate and provide assistance and opportunities who struggle for or are without the means to do so themselves. You’ve probably seen them during their Intellectual Disability Drive, where they meet and greet people outside different restaurants, stores and churches wearing their yellow vests and holding large coffee cans collecting donations for The Arc and the Special Olympics. Many KOC councils throughout the United States organize and provide other services to their community’s poor and impoverished. Council 5561 in Warrenton, Virginia, hosts a variety of events throughout the year to help fund their charitable efforts, which include helping families enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas by providing food baskets. They have even hosted a Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Day.   “The thanks we receive are nice,” said Seth McQuillan of New Jersey. “During these types of activities we receive a lot of ‘attaboys’ and ‘thanks for what you do.’" McQuillan is a Past Grand Knight (PGK) who has been with the Knights of Columbus Council 5730 in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, for about six years. In addition to the Intellectual Disabilities Drive, his council also hosts a rose sale that funds Several Sources Shelters, a home for unwed mothers in New Jersey that was featured in the film, Gimme Shelter. The council also presents the Shield Award to first responders and members of the local police, fire and rescue departments every year, and coordinates with St. Bartholomew Academy students in writing letters of encouragement to seminarians from their archdiocese.    Their most significant event is “Coats for Kids.”  The parishioners from both St. Bartholomew and Immaculate Heart of Mary churches in Scotch Plains dig deep to generate more than $11,000 towards purchasing $20 coats for kids. “The thanks that we receive are nice,” said McQuillan.  “When those thanks are from the ultimate recipient, it is even more special. Most of the kids that receive the coats have never had a new garment. The coats are all brand new and have tags. The smiles on their faces are brilliant. One smile makes it all worthwhile.” As we focus on providing and caring for ourselves and our own families, taking time out of our already busy lives to volunteer and help complete strangers may seem like less of a priority with little to no return. But when someone comes to you pleading for your guidance, or you pass by an old lady struggling with handling groceries or you see someone lying by the lamp post, try to take that time to the walk that two-way street of caring for yourself by caring for another.     Work Cited: Robotham, Dan and Isabella Goldie, Lauren Chakkalackal, Chris White, Kirsten Morgan and Dr Eva Cyhlarova. “Doing Good? Altruism and wellbeing in an age of austerity”. London, England: Mental Health Foundation, 2012. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/doing-good-altruism-and-wellbeing-age-austerity Nordstrom, Todd. “Science Says Kindness Can Make You a Better Leader. Here Are 3 Reasons”. Inc.com, June 4th, 2018. https://www.inc.com/todd-nordstrom/research-says-kindness-can-make-you-a-better-leader-here-are-3-reasons-why.html “Does Charitable Activity Help Improve Mental Health?”. Vantagepointrecovery.com. Date accessed, May 3rd 2019. https://vantagepointrecovery.com/giving-back-improves-mental-health/ Stossel, John. “Real Charity”. Creators.com, December 4th, 2013. https://www.creators.com/read/john-stossel/12/13/real-charity Macmillan, Amanda“Being Generous Really Does Make You Happier”. Time.com. July 14th 2017.  http://time.com/4857777/generosity-happiness-brain/

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

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.’”
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.