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Responding to Violence, Suicide, Psychosis and Trauma

Burnout Among Police Officers: Differences In How Male, Female Police Officers Manage Stress May Accentuate Stress On The Job

ScienceDaily (Feb. 26, 2009)

When male police officers need to de-stress, they might trade war stories — but likely not with their female colleagues. But the guys don’t necessarily have it easy. They are often discouraged from showing emotion when dealing with stress and are expected to uphold the overtly masculine idea of what it means to be a police officer.

Research by a Kansas State University professor has found that the different ways in which men and women in the police force deal with stress may actually cause them more stress. Don Kurtz, an assistant professor of social work at K-State, studied the gender differences in stress and burnout among police officers.

He said it is the first of his research that has examined gender. While completing his doctorate at K-State, Kurtz said he was taking classes on gender and society and was researching police stress. He noticed that there was no research studying the intersection of these two areas.

“I had come from working in social work, where they were very accepting of men in the women-dominated field,” Kurtz said. “In policing, they tend to be suspicious of the abilities of women in the field.”

For the research published in Feminist Criminology, Kurtz looked at data from a survey of officers in the Baltimore Police Department. As a follow up to this part of the research, Kurtz also interviewed officers from three police departments. He found that male and female police officers have different sources of stress and different ways of dealing with it.

“Telling war stories is almost exclusively a male endeavor,” Kurtz said. “It’s quite often in a group social setting, and officers talk about stressful events that happened. What’s interesting is that they remove the fear and emotion that go along with it and replace it with these superhuman qualities.”

“I found that women felt excluded from war stories. If they started exaggerating the stories in the way that men did, they could be questioned. So it becomes a male-only way of managing stress.”

In the journal article, Kurtz suggests that in some ways women have a better chance to deal with violent cases because it’s more acceptable for women to be upset or vulnerable.

“For male officers to show emotion, it was career suicide,” he said.

Some of the cases that men find the most stressful, Kurtz said, were likely to be given to women.

“One thing I found interesting was that when officers discuss the most stressful things, it’s usually death of a child or the physical or sexual abuse of a child,” he said. “Women are more likely to handle these jobs because large police departments often assign women to these investigative units. However, it’s often seen as lower police work. In large departments where there area lot of juvenile delinquents and child abuse cases, there’s an idea that women are better at managing kids.”

One of the biggest differences Kurtz found was the role that family played in police officers’ stress. Whereas a family life can help male officers deal better with stress from the job, women may not have the same support in their own families.

“Women settle into the role of caretaker and come home to a second shift,” Kurtz said.

The strange hours of police work can be seen as more acceptable for men than women, he said.

“Although family conflicts can be distressful for men, the fact that a male officer is seen as the breadwinner makes it more OK for him to miss a birthday party, for example, so he can go to work.”

Kurtz also looked at how race changes the stress differences between men and women.

“We should expect a difference,” he said. “In American society, race complicates everything.”

For instance, white female officers are more likely to be sexualized, whereas black female officers are often seen as laborers. And, while black male officers report lower levels of stress than white men, they also report a higher rate of burnout.

Kurtz said he hopes his research will help police departments better understand how gender affects stress and that it will spur further academic study in this area.

The work was published in the journal Feminist Criminology in 2008.

Filed under: Other Mental Health, trauma, Violence

Prison self-harm levels revealed

By Neil Puffett
Children & Young People Now
26 February 2009

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been forced to reveal the true scale of self-harm taking place in young offender institutions (YOIs) following a 14-month investigation by CYP Now. The figures reveal there were a total of 2,040 self-harm incidents last year and 914 assaults on staff.

The MoJ was prompted to release the figures by the Information Commissioner after CYP Now made a series of complaints over attempts to suppress them.

The figures reveal that self-harm incidents have remained at a fairly consistent level over the past three years – 1,835 in 2007 and 2,062 in 2006. However, levels have more than doubled in the past 10 years.

Doubled in a decade

Figures collated in May 2000 for a parliamentary question show there were 879 self-harm incidents in YOIs in 1997/98. Meanwhile, the numbers of young people currently categorised as “self-harmers” stands at 892.

The MoJ admits the figures for 2008 are only provisional and could be even higher as there is a lag in reporting.

The figures, which are not broken down by age, relate to a total of 20 institutions and show variations in how successful each unit has been.

Among the worst performing institutions were Feltham, Glen Parva, Rochester, Stoke Heath and Warren Hill – all of which witnessed increases in self-harm figures of 50 per cent or more since 2006.

Glen Parva has plans to build a further large unit to accommodate 15- to 17-year-olds. But Mike Thomas, chair of the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers, said large institutions will not help the issue.

“It is far better to invest the money in small, more locally based establishments, which are in the best position to work through offending
behaviour,” he said.

The best performing institutions included Castington, Lancaster Farms, Portland and Ashfield. Wendy Sinclair, director of Ashfield, said staff attempt to address the issue of self-harm. “Key to this is a weekly child and adolescent mental health service meeting where specialist psychiatric nurses join forces with co-ordinators across areas such as anti-bullying and
violence reduction,” she said.

The success at Lancaster Farms – which saw five self-harm incidents last year compared with 153 in 2006 – comes despite other problems. In January 2008, rioting inmates caused £222,000 worth of damage, apparently triggered by a 24-hour staff walkout.

Safety concerns

The statistics have prompted concern about the safety of young people in prison and fresh calls for different
approaches to be adopted.

Penelope Gibbs, director of the Prison Reform Trust’s programme to reduce child and youth imprisonment, described the figures as “disturbing and unacceptable”. “These numbers indicate the level of mental health problems is too high,” she added.

Thomasin Pritchard, policy and communications officer at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said a different approach is needed: “Levels of self-harm are a reflection of the fact children are not getting enough support but also that institutes are part of the problem.”

An MoJ spokeswoman said: “Safeguarding remains a priority and the Youth Justice Board is working with cross-government partners and secure estate providers to improve the safeguarding of young people in custody.”

Additional investigation by Tristan Donovan.

Filed under: self-harm, Violence

Treating offenders with mental health issues ‘would save £700m’, Monday 23 February 2009 13.14 GMT

The government could shave £700m annually from criminal justice costs if it overhauled the process for diverting offenders with mental health problems from jail to the mental health system, according to new research.

The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health (SCMH) report is the first to put a figure on how much could be saved if the health and justice departments collaborated to direct more offenders in need of treatment to mental health services.

The report concluded that there was an “especially strong case” for diverting people who have committed minor offences and whose mental health problems could be exacerbated by a spell in prison. A spokesman said diversion services had evolved in a “piecemeal and haphazard way” creating a “patchy” and flawed national system.

Mental health diversion services in England and Wales have an annual budget of £20m and are jointly funded by the Department of Health and the Ministry of Justice(MoJ). According to the SCMH, an increased investment of £10m would translate to a £700m saving per year in trial, unnecessary imprisonment and other costs. It would also reduce the risk of reoffending if treatment was made available in the community as early as possible for offenders.

“Too many people with complex mental health needs end up in prison. This is extremely expensive to the taxpayer, it is inappropriate as a setting for mental health care and it is ineffective in reducing subsequent offending,” said Angela Greatley, chief executive of the centre.

“Our report shows that there is a powerful value-for-money case for investing in diversion. Yet most diversion schemes are inadequately or insecurely funded.” Researchers found that many areas had no diversion teams, meaning that people in need of mental health assistance were automatically ending up in the criminal justice system, according to Greatley.

There has been mounting pressure on government to reform the diversion system as prisoner numbers have swelled and the spotlight has been put on the inability of prisons to cope with sometimes serious and complex conditions among inmates. Estimates suggest that around 70% of prisoners have one or more mental health conditions.

In January, a joint report from the Prison Reform Trust and the national council of the Independent Monitoring Boards in England and Wales, the body set up by the MoJ to assess the living conditions of prisoners, concluded that a failure to identify people in need of mental health interventions is leading to avoidable or damaging incarceration. It suggested that too often the courts were using prisons as “a default option” for people who should have been diverted into the mental health system, placing “intolerable strains” on prisons.

The SCMH report, A Better Way For Criminal Justice and Mental Health, makes 21 recommendations for improving diversion, including making sure there is a diversion team for every primary care trust area along with national guidance on good practice. The government’s independent review of mental health in the criminal justice system, conducted by former home office minister Lord Bradley, which was commissioned in December 2007, is expected to be published in next month

Filed under: Other Mental Health

Making Sense Of Sentences: How We Think Before We Speak

This may be very relevant to our understanding of how we process traumtic experiences. IB

23 Feb 2009

We engage in numerous discussions throughout the day, about a variety of topics, from work assignments to the Super Bowl to what we are having for dinner that evening. We effortlessly move from conversation to conversation, probably not thinking twice about our brain’s ability to understand everything that is being said to us. How does the brain turn seemingly random sounds and letters into sentences with clear meaning? In a new report in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, psychologist Jos J.A. Van Berkum from the Max Planck Institute in The Netherlands describes recent experiments using brain waves to understand how we are able to make sense of sentences.

In these experiments, Van Berkum and his colleagues examined Event Related Potentials (or ERPs) as people read or heard critical sentences as part of a longer text, or placed in some other type of context. ERPs are changes in brain activity that occur when we hear a certain stimulus, such as a tone or a word. Due to their speed, ERPs are useful for detecting the incredibly fast processes involved in understanding language.

Analysis of the ERPs has consistently indicated just how quickly the brain is able to relate unfolding sentences to earlier ones. For example, Van Berkum and colleagues have shown that listeners only need a fraction of a second to determine that a word is out of place, given what the wider story is about. As soon as listeners hear an unexpected word, their brain generates a specific ERP, the N400 effect (so named because it is a negative deflection peaking around 400 milliseconds). And even more interesting, this ERP will usually occur before the word is even finished being spoken.

In addition to the words themselves, the person speaking them is a crucial component in understanding what is being said. Van Berkum also saw an N400 effect occurring very rapidly when the content of a statement being spoken did not match with the voice of the speaker (e.g. “I have a large tattoo on my back” in an upper-class accent or “I like olives” in a young child’s voice). These findings suggest that the brain very quickly classifies someone based on what their voice sounds like and also makes use of social stereotypes to interpret the meaning of what is being said. Van Berkum speculates that “the linguistic brain seems much more ‘messy’ and opportunistic than originally believed, taking any partial cue that seems to bear on interpretation into account as soon as it can.”

But how does the language brain act so fast? Recent findings suggest that, as we read or have a conversation, our brains are continuously trying to predict upcoming information. Van Berkum suggests that this anticipation is a combination of a detailed analysis about what has been said before with taking ‘quick-and-dirty’ shortcuts to figure out what, most likely, the next bit of information will be.

One important element in keeping up with a conversation is knowing what or whom speakers are actually referring to. For example, when we hear the statement, “David praised Linda because. . .,” we expect to find out more about Linda, not David. Van Berkum and colleagues showed that when listeners heard “David praised Linda because he. . .,” there was a very strong ERP effect occurring with the word “he,” of the type that is also elicited by grammatical errors. Although the pronoun is grammatically correct in this statement, the ERP occurred because the brain was just not expecting it. This suggests that the brain will sometimes ignore the rules of grammar when trying to comprehend sentences.

These findings reveal that, as we make sense of an unfolding sentence, our brains very rapidly draw upon a wide range of information, including what was stated previously and who the speaker is, in helping us understand what is being said to us. Sentence understanding is not just about diligently combining stored word meanings. The brain rapidly throws in everything it knows, and it is always looking ahead.

Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release.

Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, publishes concise reviews spanning all of scientific psychology and its applications.

Article: “Understanding Sentences in Context: What Brain Waves Can Tell Us”

Source: Barbara Isanski
Association for Psychological Science

Filed under: trauma

Religion and Support for Suicide Attacks

21 Feb 2009

In a new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, psychologists Jeremy Ginges and Ian Hansen from the New School for Social Research along with psychologist Ara Norenzayan from the University of British Columbia conducted a series of experiments investigating the relationship between religion and support for acts of parochial altruism, including suicide attacks. Suicide attacks are an extreme form of “parochial altruism” – they combine a parochial act (the attacker killing members from other groups) with altruism (the attacker sacrificing themselves for the group).

While the relationship between religion and popular support for suicide attacks is a topic of frequent conjecture, scientific study of the relationship is rare. The researchers found that the relationship between religion and support suicide attacks is real but is unrelated to devotion to particular religious beliefs or religious belief in general. Instead, collective religious ritual appears to facilitate parochial altruism in general and support for suicide attacks in particular.

The researchers surveyed Palestinian Muslims about their attitudes towards religion, including how often they prayed and went to mosque. The researchers found that devotion to Islam, as measured by prayer frequency, was unrelated to support for suicide attacks. However, frequency of mosque attendance did predict support for suicide attacks. In a separate survey of Palestinian Muslim university students, the researchers found again that those who attended mosque more than once a day, were more likely to believe that Islam requires suicide attacks, compared to students who attended mosque less often.

A similar pattern of results was found in research carried out with other religious groups. In another experiment, the researchers conducted phone surveys with Israeli Jews living in the West Bank and Gaza and asked them either how frequently they attended synagogue or how often they prayed to God. All participants were then asked if they supported the perpetrator of a suicide attack against Palestinians. Analysis of the responses showed that 23% of those asked about synagogue attendance supported suicide attacks while only 6% of those queried about prayer frequency supported suicide attacks.

In the last experiment, the psychologists surveyed members of six religious majorities in six nations (Mexican Catholics, Indonesian Muslims, Israeli Jews, Russian Orthodox in Russia, British Protestants and Indian Hindus) to see if the relationship between attending religious services and support for acts of parochial altruism holds up across a variety of political and cultural contexts. These results also showed that support for parochial altruism was related to attendance at religious services, but unrelated to regular prayer.

This study indicates that religious devotion does not cause support for suicide attacks or other forms of parochial altruism. However, the findings suggest that regularly attending religious services may make individuals more prone to supporting acts of parochial altruism. The researchers theorize that collective religious rituals and services create a sense of community among participants and enhance positive attitudes towards parochially altruistic acts such as suicide attacks. Although, the researchers note, the greater sense of community, developed via religious services, may have many positive consequences. They observe, “Only in particular geopolitical contexts is the parochial altruism associated with such commitments translated into something like suicide attacks.”

Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release.

Psychological Science is ranked among the top 10 general psychology journals for impact by the Institute for Scientific Information.

Article: “Religion and Support for Suicide Attacks”

Source: Barbara Isanski
Association for Psychological Science

Filed under: Suicide, trauma, Violence

The Liberating Effects Of Losing Control – Perception of Racism

21 Feb 2009

Self-control is one of our most cherished values. We applaud those with the discipline to regulate their appetites and actions, and we try hard to instill this virtue in our children. We celebrate the power of the mind to make hard choices and keep us on course. But is it possible that willpower can sometimes be an obstacle rather than a means to happiness and harmony?

Tufts University psychologists Evan Apfelbaum and Samuel Sommers were intrigued by the notion that too much self-control may indeed have a downside – and that relinquishing some power might be paradoxically tonic, both for individuals and for society.

They explored the virtue of powerlessness in the arena of race relations. They figured that well-intentioned people are careful – sometimes hyper-careful – not to say the wrong thing about race in a mixed-race group. Furthermore, they thought that such effortful self-control might actually cause both unease and guarded behavior, which could in turn be misconstrued as racial prejudice.

To test this, they ran a group of white volunteers through a series of computer-based mental exercises that are so challenging that they temporarily deplete the cognitive reserves needed for discipline. Once they had the volunteers in this compromised state of mind, they put them (and others not so depleted) into a social situation with the potential for racial tension – they met with either a white or black interviewer and discussed racial diversity. Afterward, the volunteers rated the interaction for comfort, awkwardness, and enjoyment. In addition, independent judges – both black and white – analyzed the five-minute interactions, commenting on how cautious the volunteers were, how direct in their answers – and how racially prejudiced.

As reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, those who were mentally depleted – that is, those lacking discipline and self-control – found talking about race with a black interviewer much more enjoyable than did those with their self-control intact. That’s presumably because they weren’t working so hard at monitoring and curbing what they said. What’s more, independent black observers found that the powerless volunteers were much more direct and authentic in conversation. And perhaps most striking, blacks saw the less inhibited whites as less prejudiced against blacks. In other words, relinquishing power over oneself appears to thwart over-thinking and “liberate” people for more authentic relationships.

Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release.

Wray Herbert discusses this study in his blog, “We’re Only Human…” (

Psychological Science is ranked among the top 10 general psychology journals for impact by the Institute for Scientific Information.

Article: “Liberating Effects of Losing Executive Control: When Regulatory Strategies Turn Maladaptive”

Source: Barbara Isanski
Association for Psychological Science

Filed under: Other Mental Health

Risk Factors For Suicidal Events Found Among Adolescents With Treatment-Resistant Depression

19 Feb 2009
Family conflict, drug or alcohol use and pre-existing suicidal thoughts were the strongest predictors of suicidal events among adolescents whose depression treatment was changed after a lack of response to a previous medication.

The findings were reported today in the article “Predictors of Spontaneous and Systematically Assessed Suicidal Adverse Events in the Treatment of SSRI-Resistant Depression in Adolescents (TORDIA) Study,” at AJP in Advance, the online advance edition of The American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP), the official journal of the American Psychiatric Association.

In the study, 334 adolescent patients who had not responded to a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) were switched to a different SSRI or to venlafaxine, with or without cognitive-behavioral therapy. Forty-eight patients experienced a suicidal event-suicidal ideation (new or worsening), a suicidal threat or a suicide attempt. The median time from a suicidal threat to a suicidal event was three weeks. In the AJP article, lead author David Brent, M.D., and colleagues recommend careful monitoring of more severely depressed adolescent patients who have high levels of suicidal thoughts or family conflict.

Treatments that target family conflict and emotion regulation early may help reduce suicidal events. Likewise, since the predictors of suicidal events also predict poor treatment response, targeting family conflict, suicidal ideation and drug use may hasten response and help to reduce the incidence of these events. TORDIA is sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health. Any other funding the authors may have received is disclosed in the article itself.

The American Journal of Psychiatry is the official journal of the American Psychiatric Association. Statements in this press release or the articles in the Journal are not official policy statements of the American Psychiatric Association.

About the American Psychiatric Association

The American Psychiatric Association is a national medical specialty society whose more than 38,000 physician members specialize in diagnosis, treatment, prevention and research of mental illnesses, including substance use disorders. Visit the APA at and

Filed under: Other Mental Health, Suicide, , , , ,

Anti-Social Behavior In Girls Predicts Adolescent Depression Seven Years Later

19 Feb 2009
Past behavior is generally considered to be a good predictor of future behavior, but new research indicates that may not be the case in the development of depression, particularly among adolescent girls.

University of Washington social scientists tracked first- and second-graders for seven years and found that anti-social behavior among girls and anxiety among both sexes predicted depression in early adolescence. Surprisingly, early signs of depression were not predictive of adolescent depression.

“Anti-social behavior has typically been viewed as a big problem among boys, so it tends to be ignored among girls. Boys with early anti-social behavior typically go on to show more anti-social behavior while girls may turn inward with symptoms, morphing into other mental health problems such as depression eating disorders, anxiety and suicidal behavior during adolescence ,” said James Mazza, a UW professor of educational psychology and lead author of the new study. He is currently serving as the past president of the American Association of Suicidology.

“When all the risk factors were analyzed, anti-social behavior and anxiety were the most predictive of later depression. It just may be that they are more prevalent in the early elementary school years than depression.” He noted that depression and anxiety share a number of symptoms.

Mazza said that early adolescence is when the first episode of depression typically occurs and that’s when it has been noted that gender difference occur, with more girls than boys experiencing depressive symptoms. Children can be assessed at 6 and 7 years of age, but depression is not often recognized or diagnosed until the middle school years.

Children in this study were drawn from a larger project looking at the risks for health and behavior problems. That project was conducted by the university’s Social Development Research Group, with which Mazza is affiliated. More than 800 children participated in the depression study. Eighty-one percent were white and 54 percent were boys.

Data were collected annually from the children and their parents and teachers when the children were in the first or second grade. The children filled out surveys that measured their levels of depression, anxiety and anti-social behavior, as well as other measures that were not investigated in this study. Parents and teachers filled out questionnaires about the children’s anti-social behavior and social competency, which measured such things as the youngsters’ abilities to understand other people’s feeling, to make new friends and resolve conflicts. Teachers also rated each child’s academic performance. In addition, parents filled out questionnaires concerning family and marital conflict, family stress and parental depression.

“One finding from this study that is a mind-grabber is that young children can identify themselves as being anxious and depressed,” said Mazza. “When they had scores that were elevated we were a bit surprised because we thought they would say, ‘My life is fun and I play a lot.’ But they are able to understand and report feeling depressed or anxious, and tell us so. This suggests giving health surveys in early elementary school is a good idea and we should talk to kids in the first and second grades because they can give us valuable information.”

Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release.

The research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and published in the online edition of The Journal of Early Adolescence. Co-authors of the study are Robert Abbott, Charles Fleming, Tracy Harachi, Jisuk Park, Kevin Haggerty and Richard Catalano of the UW’s Social Development Research Group, and Rebecca Cortes, a research scientist in the UW psychology department.

Source: Joel Schwarz
University of Washington

Filed under: Other Mental Health

Psychologist Says There Is No ‘Right’ Way To Cope With Tragedy

Article Date: 18 Feb 2009

After a collective trauma, such as Thursday’s crash of Continental Flight 3407, an entire community (or even the nation) can be exposed to the tragedy through media coverage and second-hand accounts, according to Mark Seery, Ph.D., University at Buffalo assistant professor of psychology. “Individuals potentially suffer negative effects on their mental and physical health, even if they have not ‘directly’ experienced the loss of someone they know or have not witnessed the event or its aftermath in person,” Seery says. In this type of situation, it is common for people to think that everyone exposed to the tragedy will need to talk about it, and if they do not, they are suppressing their “true” thoughts and feelings, which will only rebound later and cause them problems. This is not always the case, Seery explains. “Expressing one’s thoughts and feelings to a supportive listener can certainly be a good thing, whether it is to family and friends or to a professional therapist or counselor. However, this does not mean that it is bad or unhealthy to not want to express thoughts and feelings when given the opportunity.” Seery’s perspective results from his research of people’s responses following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He and colleagues studied a national sample of people, most of whom did not witness the events in person or lose a loved one. They did, however, experience the events through media coverage. “We found that people who chose not to express at all or who expressed only a small amount in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy were better off over the following two years than people who expressed more. Specifically, they reported lower levels of mental and physical health symptoms.” From this research Seery concludes there is no single correct or healthy way to deal with a tragedy such as the crash of Flight 3407, which claimed 50 lives. “People are generally resilient and have a good sense of what coping strategies will work for them,” Seery says. “If they need to talk, they will talk, and friends and family can help by listening supportively. At the same time, they should not force the issue or make anyone feel like something is wrong with them if they do not want to talk about it.”

Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB’s more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities. Source: Patricia Donovan University at Buffalo

Filed under: trauma, , , ,

Suicide & Self-Harm – Individual Places Available on Course in Nottingham

There are still a few places available on the “Razor’s Edge” course in Nottingham. If you are interested, the course is on 23-24th March 2009 and is organised by Nottingham HLG. You can book via the HLG website:

Or contact HLG’s Training Co-ordinator on 0115 956 5313 or email

Information about the course can be found at:

Filed under: Impact Training, self-harm, Suicide, , ,