An Inconvenient Truth

inconvenient truthThanks to Al Gore, we have a phrase embedded in the collective consciousness which embodies the act of acknowledging a reality that is painful, unfortunate, or unpleasant. Mr. Gore was, of course, referring to climate change, and how the impact that continuing to deny the science would have consequences far greater than anyone can imagine. The movie of the same name was back in 2006 ~ how right he was. Climate change has been global, devastating, and relentless. As people continue to argue about the science, the world burns.

So it is with the consequences of childhood trauma. Developmental Trauma is an inconvenient truth.

It is Child and Youth Mental Health Day.

This is important ~ there’s not enough recognition of the mental health issues our children face, there’s not enough resources when we DO acknowledge the need for mental health services, and we don’t do enough to prevent the single most significant factor in child and youth mental health.

Episodic, persistent, chronic, or unremitting trauma in childhood (usually in the family of origin, but for many children, in the care of various versions of child welfare, social services, government ministries, or private agencies) has profoundly negative and lifelong consequences. As the work of Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris and Dr. Vincent Felitti have demonstrated, adverse events in childhood are not something children ‘get over.’ Experiencing the degree of chronic stress that trauma induces for an extended period of time fries the nervous system, inhibits brain development, and causes the formation of coping mechanisms or safety-making behaviours which carry on into adulthood.

Child and youth mental health is negatively impacted by these experiences, manifesting as anxiety, depression, suicidality, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, behavioural problems, academic failure, and ever earlier addictions to name only a few ways.

The key to making it different? One caring adult. 

Nearly all of the effects of childhood trauma are mitigated by one safe, secure attachment to an adult through those formative years. A ‘Cookie Person.’ That one adult who listens, takes the time to notice ~ really notice ~ where a child or adolescent is at mentally, emotionally, socially, and physically.  Literally (and metaphorically) having milk and cookies with a child or youth who needs to talk. To be heard. To be safe ~ to know where ‘safe’ can be found.

As this infographic from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows, 64% of American adults have 1 or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and there is a 95% likelihood that additional types of trauma accompany even 1 ACE. This is soooooo disturbing.

Infographic: The Truth About ACEs

How many of our child & youth mental health issues could be prevented if the experience of trauma were routinely assessed of children seeing paediatricians, nurse-practitioners, emergency room personnel, school counsellors, or accessing mental health services?  As Dr. Burke-Harris and her staff proved over the course of twenty years, routinely assessing children, educating parents, creating community resources, and when necessary, intervening for the sake of safety in a timely fashion can have a HUGE impact on mental wellness and health outcomes across the lifespan.

Our children are the future of the humanity.  Educate yourself on childhood trauma. Get involved in your community – here in Kelowna, Canadian Mental Health Association, The Foundry, Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, coaching amateur sports leagues, volunteering at the local school, getting to know your neighbours, and educating yourself are just a few of the ways you can make a difference.

Be that Cookie Person.

Additional resources:

The Deepest Well (Nadine Burke Harris)

CMHA Kelowna

The Foundry Kelowna


Happiness and those damn unicorns

bazaar_medium logoThis month’s bazaar Kuwait is gorgeous. It’s the 200th issue, full of glossy photos and great writing; a lovely window into the Middle East culture I know and love. (I soooooo miss the food in Kuwait. What I wouldn’t give right now for a fresh falafel sandwich from Canary).

Anyway, speaking of “great” writing my article is included (page 50). One and Nothing  Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait. (It’s kind of important to this post.)

Self-esteem can be a tricky thing. We humans seem to have difficulty settling in the ‘Happy Middle’ when it comes to how we think about ourselves.

In other words, how I see myself is primarily dependent on how I imagine others see me, and I adjust my appearance, speech, thinking, and behaviour based on this entirely made-up measuring stick. Emotionally, I’m a wreck, because my perception of myself goes up and down like a freaking rollercoaster. As I point out in my article; Compliments and criticism are like perfume and poop – they both smell and you don’t eat either one. Think about that for a moment (if you haven’t read my article yet, you’re missing the big picture) in the context of what it is actually like to live life controlled by what we IMAGINE others think of us. Not a good recipe for happiness. Nooooooo. If we put too much stock in what we believe others think of us, life SUCKS.

The flip side of caring too much about what others think of me is that I put too much stock in what I think of me. This tends to manifest in one of two ways – narcissism (“Check me out! I know I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread and you have to think that, too.”) or nihilism (“Woe is me. I am but a worm, unworthy to exist. Please, poop on my head and add to the weight of my existence.”) Both perspectives are whacked, and having friends, family, or acquaintances with either one is draining.

Ideally, as we mature, we develop a centred sense of our worth as a human being, which is balanced, and independent of the judgment of others. As unique as I truly am, I am also one of 4+billion human beings. Paradoxically, great self-esteem is a healthy combination of an unshakeable conviction about my individual worth (priceless) and a realistic understanding that I am one of many (not very unique). No individual can replace ME (I’m one-of-a-kind), an individual, but I can be replaced in this moment, by anyone with the same skills, training, education, etc., etc.  It is the tension between those two truths that we struggle to manage all our lives. It’s not a “one-and-done” issue, either. My sense of myself requires mindful care; facing the damage to my development as a result of being part of the human race, as brilliant and as flawed as it is.

Scrounging the global information highway yesterday (something we do in real life as a family activity …scrounge along roadways, I mean), I came across this article which addresses Gen Y peeps specifically, but has great application for nearly any individual. It’s long-ish, but worth the time (and also relevant to this post).

Which brings me to those damn unicorns.

If we distilled some lifehacks from all that wordiness, it might read like this…

  1. The distance between ‘unhappy’ and ‘happy’ is as small (or as big) as the gap between my expectations and my reality.
  2. Happiness is directly related to my thinking – the quality of which is completely MY responsibility.
  3. Comparison is the enemy of happiness.
  4. It is possible to “think myself happy.”
  5. Gratitude is a proven vaccine against viral unhappiness.
  6. Divorcing myself from public opinion will be the hardest AND the most rewarding thing I’ll ever do.
  7. Accepting that the ‘highlight reel’ and the ‘blooper reel’ are all part of the same Life movie will put those Facebook posts into perspective (the former does not exist without the latter) .
  8. I will have to work. Rooting out entitlement (I deserve this… or that… simply by virtue of my existence) exponentially ups the happiness factor.
  9. Identifying my generation’s mindset and the myths created by that mindset will increase the range of choices and options for dealing with the reality of NOW.
  10. If there’s a gap between expectations and reality in my life, I need to go Unicorn hunting.

Life is an ebb and flow of good and bad, happy and sad, disappointment and exultation. Happiness is internally moderated. What would life be like if that were true of you?




Uganda and Screaming Grandsons

Hope North, Okello Kello Sam

Dr. Susannah is going to Uganda. She needs to raise funds for both the trip and resources for the professionals she’ll be teaching. Please… take a moment (well, five minutes) to watch the video, and if you feel led, please slide over to the GoFundMe page (link below) and donate, and/or pass the video around. She’ll be grateful.

Want to be a part of something awesome? Click the link (GoFundMe) below to help support the effort to provide literacy and trauma therapy to the children affected by conflict in Uganda. Thank you!

Iatrogenic Effect: A negative consequence brought forth by the healer.

I have long known that iatrogenic issues are present in the mental health field. I am regularly surprised at the courage of people to continue to try and find help through therapy despite some of the very damaging and/or traumatising experiences they’ve had.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

While the concept of the iatrogenic effect is well known to medicine, it doesn’t receive much attention in the context of counseling. However and if we accept the counselor as a form of healer, emotional, psychological or psychiatric, then it does us well to ponder this concept as applied to counseling.

Counseling tends to be treated at best, something to help overcome emotional, personal or interpersonal problems. At worst, counseling appears to be viewed as innocuous; if not helpful, at least not harmful.

Rarely discussed though are those unintentional consequences, the negative outcomes of well-intended acts. Like any intervention, counseling too has its potential iatrogenic effects even while at some level being helpful.

As much as we rail against the stigma of mental illness and mental health services, it remains such that a stigma exists. As much as a person may be appropriately served and aided by mental health services…

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