Impact News

Responding to Violence, Suicide, Psychosis and Trauma

Where Fear Is Stored In The Brain

ScienceDaily (July 8, 2009) — Fear is a powerful emotion, and neuroscientists have for the first time located the neurons responsible for fear conditioning in the mammalian brain. Fear conditioning is a form of Pavlovian, or associative, learning and is considered to be a model system for understanding human phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders.

Using an imaging technique that enabled them to trace the process of neural activation in the brains of rats, University of Washington researchers have pinpointed the basolateral nucleus in the region of the brain called the of amygdala as the place where fear conditioning is encoded.

Neuroscientists previously suspected that both the amygdala and another brain region, the dorsal hippocampus, were where cues get associated when fear memories are formed. But the new work indicates that the role of the hippocampus is to process and transmit information about conditioned stimuli to the amygdala, said Ilene Bernstein, corresponding author of the new study and a UW professor of psychology.

The study is being published on July 6, in PLoS One, a journal of the Public Library of Science.

Associative conditioning is a basic form of learning across the animal kingdom and is regularly used in studying how brain circuits can change as a result of experience. In earlier research, UW neuroscientists looked at taste aversion, another associative learning behavior, and found that neurons critical to how people and animals learn from experience are located in the amygdala.

The new work was designed to look for where information about conditioned and unconditioned stimuli converges in the brain as fear memories are formed. The researchers used four groups of rats and placed individual rodents inside of a chamber for 30 minutes. Three of the groups had never seen the chamber before.

When control rats were placed in the chamber, they explored it, became less active and some fell asleep. A delayed shock group also explored the chamber, became less active and after 26 minutes received an electric shock through the floor of the chamber. The third group was acclimated to the chamber by a series of 10 prior visits and then went through the same procedure as the delayed shock rats. The final group was shocked immediately upon being introduced inside the chamber.

The following day the rats were individually returned to the chamber and the researchers observed them for freezing behavior. Freezing, or not moving, is the most common behavioral measure of fear in rodents. The only rats that exhibited robust freezing were those that received the delayed shock in a chamber which was unfamiliar to them.

“We didn’t know if we could delay the shock for 26 minutes and get a fear reaction after just one trial. I thought it would be impossible to do this with fear conditioning,” said Bernstein. “This allowed us to ask where information converged in the brain.”

To do this, the researchers repeated the procedure, but then killed the rats. They then took slices of the brains and used Arc catfish, an imaging technique, which allowed them to follow the pattern of neural activation in the animals.

Only the delayed shock group displayed evidence of converging activation from the conditioned stimulus (the chamber) and the unconditioned stimulus (the shock). The experiment showed that animals can acquire a long-term fear when a novel context is paired with a shock 26 minutes later, but not when a familiar context is matched with a shock.

“Fear learning and taste aversion learning are both examples of associative learning in which two experiences occur together. Often they are learned very rapidly because they are critical to survival, such as avoiding dangerous places or toxic foods,” said Bernstein.

“People have phobias that often are set off by cues from something bad that happened to them, such as being scared by a snake or being in a dark alley. So they develop an anxiety disorder,” she said.

“By understanding the process of fear conditioning we might learn how to treat anxiety by making the conditioning weaker or to go away. It is also a tool for learning about these brain cells and the underlying mechanism of fear conditioning.”

Co-authors of the study, all at the UW, are Sabiha Barot, who just completed her doctoral studies; Ain Chung, a doctoral student; and Jeansok Kim, an associate professor of psychology.

Journal reference:

1. Sabiha K. Barot, Ain Chung, Jeansok J. Kim, Ilene L. Bernstein. Functional Imaging of Stimulus Convergence in Amygdalar Neurons during Pavlovian Fear Conditioning. PLoS ONE, 2009; 4 (7): e6156 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006156

Adapted from materials provided by University of Washington.

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Filed under: Other Mental Health, trauma, , , , ,

Writing After Terrorist Attack Has Positive Medium Term Effects

ScienceDaily (Mar. 18, 2009) — A new study has analysed the expressive writing of terrorism victims to analyse their psychosocial processes following the terrorist attacks in New York and Madrid. Despite the cultural differences of the people involved, the results show that the feelings and thoughts experienced following this type of traumatic event are universal.


The people who experienced the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and the March 11 2004 train attacks in Madrid needed to be able to express their feelings, thoughts and emotions. The aim of the study published in the International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology was to compare how people from both nations reacted to such violent acts through expressive writing.

“After the Madrid attacks we were unfortunate enough to be able to ask people who had lived through this experience, either directly or indirectly, what they thought and how they felt following the terrorist attacks,” Itziar Fernández, the study’s author and a professor at the National University of Distance Education (UNED), told SINC.

“Following the attacks, there was a great fear that people would be affected by post-traumatic stress disorder. In the end, however, although they were in shock, people were able to deal with had happened and adapt to the situation,” says the researcher.

Based on the comments recorded by 325 people living in the United States and 333 in Spain, the researcher and her team looked into how both groups put their feelings and thoughts into words.

A linguistic analysis of the texts, carried out by using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) programme, showed that the victims who benefited most from recording the traumatic events were those who use more cognitive words (introspective and causal ones), use a high number of positive emotional words, and changed the use of pronouns and references to themselves.

The results show that feelings about the events (anger, impotence, fear) were similar between the two countries during a period between the third and eighth weeks after the attacks, both inclusive.

However, the data collected does show a significant difference. “While the Americans had a more individualistic view of events, the Spaniards talked more about social processes.” For example, there were not the same enormous public demonstrations following September 11 as there were following the attacks in Spain.

The study concludes that writing about a traumatic event can have positive effects over the medium term (from two months afterwards). Although the participants’ symptoms worsened over the short term (relating an event makes people relive it, and worsens their negative emotions), they felt better and paid less visits to the doctor over the medium and long term.

The effect was the opposite in the case of excessive consumption of media coverage of such an event, however. Data about news consumption throughout the population following the attacks showed that, over the long term (two months after the Madrid attacks), people who were repetitively viewing images of the attacks felt worse than those who rarely watched the television.

Tackling post-traumatic stress

The benefits of talking about traumatic events forms part of cultural belief systems. Therapists always seek to make people reconstruct a narrative and a testimony about what has happened. They are asked to talk about their lives before the traumatic event, and to reconstruct images and their sensations and feelings in order to give them meaning (why and how the event took place).

The first studies of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were conducted following the Vietnam War (1958-1975). It is a psychological illness classified within the group of anxiety disorders, which arises as a result of exposure to a traumatic event involving physical harm.

PTSD, which is diagnosed two months after a stressful life event, is a severe emotional reaction. It is characterised by symptoms such as loss of appetite, sadness and disturbed sleep, and lasts for more than two months after the event.


Journal reference:

  1. Itziar Fernández, Darío Páez y James W. Pennebaker. Comparison of expressive writing after the terrorist attacks of September 11th and March 11th. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, Vol. 9, Nº 1, pp.89-103, 2009
Adapted from materials provided by Plataforma SINC, via AlphaGalileo.

Filed under: Other Mental Health, trauma, , , , ,

How Brain Remembers Single Events

ScienceDaily (Mar. 18, 2009) — Single events account for many of our most vivid memories – a marriage proposal, a wedding toast, a baby’s birth. Until a recent UC Irvine discovery, however, scientists knew little about what happens inside the brain that allows you to remember such events.


In a study with rats, neuroscientist John Guzowski and colleagues found that a single brief experience was as effective at activating neurons and genes associated with memory as more repetitive activities.

Knowing how the brain remembers one-time events can help scientists design better therapies for diseases such as Alzheimer’s in which the ability to form such memories is impaired.

“Most experiences in life are encounters defined by places, people, things and times. They are specific, and they happen once,” says Guzowski, UCI neurobiology and behavior assistant professor. “This type of memory is what makes each person unique.”

It is well known that a brain structure called the hippocampus is critical to memory and learning, but many questions exist about how brief experiences trigger the physical changes necessary for memory. In his study, Guzowski set out to learn how neurons in the hippocampus react to single events – particularly in the CA3 region, which is thought to be most critical for single-event memory.

Guzowski and postdoctoral researcher Teiko Miyashita put groups of rats on a rectangular track. Some rats took one lap; others did multiple laps. Inspecting the brains of rats that took one lap, they found that 10-15 percent of neurons in the CA3 region activated. The same percentage of CA3 neurons fired in the brains of rats that walked multiple laps.

Though previous computer simulations predicted that brief and repetitive experiences would activate CA3 neurons similarly, this is the first study to actually show that is the case.

Miyashita and Guzowski arrived at the percentages by examining the activation of a gene called “Arc” within hippocampal neurons. Past studies have shown that turning on Arc is required to convert experience into long-term memory.

“Together with our past findings, this study provides key insight into how fleeting experiences can be captured by the brain to form lasting memories,” Guzowski says.

Arc activation is disrupted in mouse models of mental retardation and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our findings on Arc regulation in CA3 neurons should prove useful to researchers testing new therapies for Alzheimer’s disease,” Guzowski says. “If you understand how the hippocampus works, it is much easier to understand and potentially treat diseases that affect memory.”

UCI researchers Stepan Kubik, Nahideh Haghighi and Oswald Steward also worked on this study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience. The National Institutes of Health supported this research.


Adapted from materials provided by University of California – Irvine.

Filed under: Other Mental Health, trauma, , ,

New Strategy To Weaken Traumatic Memories

ScienceDaily (Mar. 17, 2009) — Imagine that you have been in combat and that you have watched your closest friend die in front of you.  The memory of that event may stay with you, troubling you for the rest of your life.  Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is among the most common and disabling psychiatric casualties of combat and other extremely stressful situations. People suffering from PTSD often suffer from vivid intrusive memories of their traumas.

Current medications are often ineffective in controlling these symptoms and so novel treatments are needed urgently.  In the February 1st issue of Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier, a group of basic scientists shed new light on the biology of stress effects upon memory formation.  In so doing, they suggest new approaches to the treatment of the distress related to traumatic memories.  Their work is based on the study of a drug, RU38486, that blocks the effects of the stress hormone cortisol.

Using an animal model of traumatic memory, investigators at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine show that treatment with RU38486 selectively reduces stress-related memories, leaving other memories unchanged.  They also found that the effectiveness of the treatment is a function of the intensity of the initial “trauma.”  Although this particular study was performed in rats, their findings help to set the stage for trials in humans.

Cristina Alberini, Ph.D., corresponding author on this article, explains how their findings will translate into developing clinical parameters: “First, the drug should be administered shortly before or after recalling the memory of the traumatic event. Second, one or two treatments are sufficient to maximally disrupt the memory. Third, the effect is long lasting and selective for the recalled memory. Finally, the time elapsing between the traumatic experience and the treatment seems to be an important parameter for obtaining the most efficacious treatment.”

Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry and affiliated with both Yale University School of Medicine and the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, discusses the significance of the findings: “When treating PTSD, clinicians often attempt to reduce the negative distortions of traumatic memories so that people can better cope with their traumas.  The new study by Taubenfeld and colleagues suggests that blocking the effects of cortisol may be one strategy to promote the ‘normalization’ of traumatic memories.”  Dr. Alberini agrees, noting that “these results suggest that carefully designed combinations of behavioral and pharmacological therapies may represent novel, effective treatments for PTSD or other anxiety disorders.”


Adapted from materials provided by Elsevier, via AlphaGalileo

Filed under: Other Mental Health, trauma, , ,

Tiny Brain Region Key To Fear Of Rivals And Predators

ScienceDaily (Mar. 15, 2009) — Mice lose their fear of territorial rivals when a tiny piece of their brain is neutralized, a new study reports.

The study adds to evidence that primal fear responses do not depend on the amygdala – long a favored region of fear researchers – but on an obscure corner of the primeval brain.

A group of neuroscientists led by Larry Swanson of the University of Southern California studied the brain activity of rats and mice exposed to cats, or to rival rodents defending their territory.

Both experiences activated neurons in the dorsal premammillary nucleus, part of an ancient brain region called the hypothalamus.

Swanson’s group then made tiny lesions in the same area. Those rodents behaved far differently.

“These animals are not afraid of a predator,” Swanson said. “It’s almost like they go up and shake hands with a predator.”

Lost fear of cats in rodents with such lesions has been observed before. More important for studies of social interaction, the study replicated the finding for male rats that wandered into another male’s territory.

Instead of adopting the usual passive pose, the intruder frequently stood upright and boxed with the resident male, avoided exposing his neck and back, and came back for more even when losing.

“It’s amazing that these lesions appear to abolish innate fear responses,” said Swanson, who added: “The same basic circuitry is found in primates and people that we find in rats and mice.”

The study was slated for online publication the week of March 9 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Swanson predicted that his group’s findings would shift some research away from the amygdala, a major target of fear studies for the past 30 years.

“This is a new perspective on what part of the brain controls fear,” he said.

He explained that most amygdala studies have focused on a different type of fear, which might more accurately be called caution or risk aversion.

In those studies, animals receive an electric shock to their feet. When placed in the same environment a few days later, they display caution and increased activity of the amygdala.

But the emotion experienced in that case may differ from the response to a physical attack.

“We’re not just dealing with one system that controls all fear,” Swanson said.

Swanson and collaborators have been studying the role of the hypothalamus in the fear response since 1992.

Because of its role in basic survival functions such as feeding, reproduction and the sleep-wake cycle, the hypothalamus seems a plausible candidate for fear studies.

Yet, said Swanson, “nobody’s paid any attention to it.”

The PNAS study is the most recent of several by Swanson on fear and the hypothalamus. The few other researchers in the area include Newton Canteras of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, who collaborated with Swanson on the PNAS study, as well as Robert and Caroline Blanchard of the University of Hawaii.

The other authors on the PNAS study were Simone Motta, Marina Goto, Flavia Gouveia and Marcus Baldo, all from the University of Sao Paulo.

The Brazilian government funded the study.

Journal reference:

1. Simone C. Motta, Marina Goto, Flavia V. Gouveia, Marcus V. C. Baldo, Newton S. Canteras, and Larry W. Swanson. Dissecting the brain’s fear system reveals the hypothalamus is critical for responding in subordinate conspecific intruders. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0900939106

Adapted from materials provided by University of Southern California.

Filed under: trauma, Violence, , , , ,

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

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.

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Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release.
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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.”

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Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release.
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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

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

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Army suicides at record high, passing civilians

– January 29, 2009

WASHINGTON – Stressed by war and long overseas tours, U.S. soldiers killed themselves last year at the highest rate on record, the toll rising for a fourth straight year and even surpassing the suicide rate among comparable civilians. Army leaders said they were doing everything they could think of to curb the deaths and appealed for more mental health professionals to join and help out.

At least 128 soldiers committed suicide in 2008, the Army said Thursday. And the final count is likely to be even higher because 15 more suspicious deaths are still being investigated.

“Why do the numbers keep going up? We cannot tell you,” said Army Secretary Pete Geren. “We can tell you that across the Army we’re committed to doing everything we can to address the problem.”

It’s all about pressure and the military approach, said Kim Ruocco, 45, whose Marine husband was an officer and Cobra helicopter pilot who hanged himself in a California hotel room in 2005. That was one month before he was to return to Iraq a second time.

She said her husband, John, had completed 75 missions in Iraq and was struggling with anxiety and depression but felt he’d be letting others down if he sought help and couldn’t return.

“He could be any Marine because he was highly decorated, stable, the guy everyone went to for help,” Ruocco said in a telephone interview. “But the thing is … the culture of the military is to be strong no matter what and not show any weakness.”

Ruocco, of Newbury, Mass., was recently hired to be suicide support coordinator for the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. She said she feels that the military has finally started to reach out to suicide survivors and seek solutions.

“Things move slowly, but I think they’re really trying,” Ruocco said.

At the Pentagon on Thursday, Col. Elspeth Ritchie, a psychiatric consultant to the Army surgeon general, made a plea for more professionals to sign on to work for the military.

“We are hiring and we need your help,” she said.

Military leaders promised fresh prevention efforts will start next week.

The new suicide figure compares with 115 in 2007 and 102 in 2006 and is the highest since current record-keeping began in 1980. Officials expect the deaths to amount to a rate of 20.2 per 100,000 soldiers, which is higher than the civilian rate – when adjusted to reflect the Army’s younger and male-heavy demographics – for the first time in the same period of record-keeping.

Officials have said that troops are under unprecedented stress because of repeated and long tours of duty due to the simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yearly increases in suicides have been recorded since 2004, when there were 64 – only about half the number now. Officials said they found that the most common factors were soldiers suffering problems with their personal relationships, legal or financial issues and problems on the job.

But the magnitude of what the troops are facing in combat shouldn’t be forgotten, said Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., a former Navy vice admiral, who noted he spoke with a mother this week whose son was preparing for his fifth combat tour.

“This is a tough battle that the individuals are in over there,” Sestak said. “It’s unremitting every day.”

Said Dr. Paul Ragan, an associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and a former Navy psychiatrist: “Occasional or sporadic visits by military mental health workers are like a Band-Aid for a gushing wound.”

The statistics released Thursday cover soldiers who killed themselves while they were on active duty – including National Guard and Reserve troops who had been activated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the suicide rate for U.S. society overall was about 11 per 100,000 in 2004, the latest year for which the agency has figures. But the Army says the civilian rate is more like 19.5 per 100,000 when adjusted.

An earlier report showed the Marine Corps recorded 41 possible or confirmed suicides in 2008 – about 19 per 100,000 troops.

The military’s numbers don’t include deaths after people have left the services. The Department of Veterans Affairs tracks those numbers and says there were 144 suicides among the nearly 500,000 service members who left the military from 2002-2005 after fighting in at least one of the two ongoing wars.

On the Net:

Army suicide prevention http://www.armyg1.army.mil/HR/suicide/default.asp

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