Monday, January 25, 2016

Why Women and Trauma?

"Why do you want to work with women and trauma?" is a question I get asked. In graduate school, a professor once said, "I could never work with victims (of intimate partner violence)." And, I get it (I think). What I believe people are getting at is that it's tough.

There are easier things to work with than violence against women- but it's many of our reality. So, the questions I'm more interested in answering are: Why is being a woman a risk factor for developing PTSD? *Why do women experience nearly twice the rates of anxiety, depression, and PTSD as men? Where we go from here, I believe, lies in the answer to these and other questions. 

Let's look at the why... According to the Veteran's Administration (VA), half of women will experience a traumatic event. Half. The most common traumatic events in our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, and friends lives (about one in three of us experience this) are sexual assault and child sexual abuse. Outraged? Good! It's is a healthy reaction to this reality. 

Now, here are 3 things you can do, now, to help channel that anger into a better world:
1. When we say that we or someone we know well as been impacted by violence against women, believe it. Having our experience questioned or belittled from the jump does not build trust and safety. We need to start from a place of inner safety to begin to talk about things.
2. Understand why women are more than twice as likely as men to experience PTSD, anxiety, and depression- and then help change it. The VA suggests women are more likely to blame ourselves. Raising our girls to know their worth and not to take on other people's problems, then, is key.
3. Keep asking questions- but ask effective questions. Instead of: Why didn't she leave? Is it really that bad? Or, why work with women and trauma? Ask: Why do people assault and abuse others?  What can be done about it? And, how can I help the women in my life feel safer?

*The binary view of gender found in my online research and expressed here (limited to women and men) doesn't match many peoples' experience of gender as more fluid; this warrants a longer blog post so check back, soon!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Coping with College Anxiety

Ah, college... A time of working hard and playing hard, learning who you really are as you fall in love, choose a career path, and post selfies on Facebook documenting it all. First "real" relationships, jobs, and other "adult" accomplishments. Striking out on your own and breaking just enough rules to forge a confident stable self-identity... If this description doesn't sound like your college experience, you're not alone. 

College is not the best chapter of everyone's life. In fact, this time of life when many serious behavioral health conditions appear can be the hardest one has experienced. When this is the case- when college is extremely challenging for you- the disparity between where you are and where you feel you "should" be makes things even worse. And, the many mixed messages college students receive about what constitutes the "right" decisions don't help either. So, what's a college student to do? 

First, let's consider some statistics about today's college students. The American College Health Association's Spring 2015 Reference Group Executive Summary, which states that it is "the largest known comprehensive data set on the health of college students," reflects a harsh reality. Consider these figures, describing students' past 12 months:
  • 74%, of college women don't feel "very safe" on their campus at nighttime
  • 22% of college women and 17% of college men "felt things were hopeless" 
  • 22% of college women and 20% of college men "felt very lonely" 
  • 48% of college women and 38% of college men reported "academics" had "been traumatic or very difficult to handle" 
  • 31% of college women and 27% of college men reported "intimate relationships" had "been traumatic or very difficult to handle"
  • 29% of college women and 17% of college men reported "personal appearance" had "been traumatic or very difficult to handle"
Add to this image the statistic that many of us are aware of, that 1 in 4 college women experience sexual abuse or assault (which many allege is an underreport), and you have a pretty grim picture... 

Now, take a deep breath because... there's hope! It gets better! There are things that we can do. Becoming aware of an issue allows you to get help, which means feeling better faster. Sometimes this looks like getting a mental health diagnosis and prescription medications from a psychiatrist. Sometimes it's talk therapy. Counseling is available on and off campus and provides a safe and confidential space where you can discuss what's going on. A primary goal of therapy will be to come up with new skills and confidence that you can take with you in your daily life in the classroom and beyond to live the life you want.

Many counselors, including myself, are here to assist college age clients with:
  • social and classroom anxiety 
  • body image and self-esteem
  • depression and loneliness
  • accessing academic support services
  • relationship conflict
I also assist clients of all sexualities and gender identities with issues of coming out and other lgbt concerns. 

If college has been difficult for you or someone you know, I hope you will find reassurance in the fact that you're not alone and perhaps for you the best is yet to come. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Celebrating the B in LGBT!

A lot has been written (like this piece and this piece) about biphobia, lately. And, for good reason! It might surprise folks to know that people who identify as bisexual or bi experience the worst mental health outcomes among people who are lesbian, gay, and bisexual. But, why? Why haven't we heard more about it? And, why don't we know more bisexual folks in our personal and professional lives? 

The answer lies in the fact that people who are bi face a high level of prejudice. The so-called double stigma facing people who are bi includes experiencing social rejection not only from the larger heterosexual society but from within the LGBT community, as well. Common reactions folks experience upon coming out as bi include having their sexuality questioned ("so, you're gay/straight, now?" depending on the gender identity of their current partner) and being labeled as "confused" or even "selfish" for not "making up their minds." Is it any wonder, then, that most of the bisexual community (if we can call such a fragmented invisible group that!) chooses not to come out?

The cost of remaining in the closet is high. We all need to be seen for who we are and our mental health suffers when we cannot. It's traumatic to feel as if who we are is wrong or bad. And, we all suffer when so many of us don't feel safe enough to share who we are with each other. So, what do we do about all this? Let's end biphobia by celebrating all sexualities- especially bisexuality! Because we all want the same thing- to be happy, which involves loving and being loved in return.

When someone comes out to you, trust their words. Respond with a, "thank you so much for sharing with me!" And, even if you don't see many examples of happy, healthy, and out bisexuality out there, trust that you know yourself. I tend to agree with the old saying, "even the most difficult truth is better than living a lie." But, safety comes first. You and only you know how "out" you wish to be. Whatever you decide and to the extent that you are able, I invite you to join in celebrating yourself and others because of who they are. The world is a richer place when we can be ourselves in it.