Category Archives: Suicide

The Reality Military Shows Will Never Air

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Janine Boldrin, Contributor

Creative Director, Chameleon Kids

Army Wives: Alaska. Coming Home. Stars Earn Stripes. There’s a lot of interest in the reality of military life. But even with all of these shows, I’m left wondering about what story they are telling because, for the past decade, most of the military families I know have been living a reality that I don’t see on primetime.

Episode one of any show I’ve watched doesn’t feature deployment number five which is a coming attraction over in my friends’ living room next month. Where’s the show called “Leaving Home,” documenting the crying on the front end of a year apart? Note the crying kids in unmatched shirts in the background. Oh, and those beautiful homecomings. Those big, flag draped hangars filled with soldiers. I wish every real life reunion installment ended that way. Maybe I could write an episode for a new series. I’ll pull from one day last week:

Military spouse friends gather with their kids to play on a day off from school. That morning, news flickered across their Facebook newsfeeds that a friend had been killed in Afghanistan leaving behind a wife and young children. Camera pans to their tight circle of chairs, hushed voices, and finally to the women whose talk is interrupted by a text message. It’s from another military spouse. She has received news that her husband who is deployed survived an attack. She was in the middle of Kindergarten orientation when the call came. The guy next to her husband was blown up. His legs may be gone. One mom pulls a granola bar out of her purse. Their discussion turns to the upcoming nine month deployment their husbands leave for on Monday. Most sit up straighter and say everything will be fine. Camera pans away. They leave the falling apart for the middle of the night when they find themselves alone in bed with their own thoughts hoping the kids don’t wake up with fevers.

Beloved. Supported. Championed. The military family has become the darling of reality television along with a sanitized version of our service members’ lives. The love we’re supposed to feel from the networks quantified by the interest in showing our existence. But not by showing our reality.

Because if the entire truth was shown, instead of just pictures of daddy kissing baby for the first time, you’d get to see the young man who is failing in school because he couldn’t come to grips with a father who is struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Or the wife who is struggling with depression and is considering suicide. Veterans without homes. Soldiers who return to broken families. And the spouses, girlfriends, and parents who work to keep a semi-normal life in a very unpredictable existence.

Military families are resilient. We are proud and strong. We don’t like to let the cracks show. Maybe that’s why many military families appreciate being remembered with the shows that make the eight o’clock slot instead of showcasing the drama we have become so used to in our own world; shouldering the burden is kind of our thing.

So I’ll speak for myself when I say that, while the networks sell our daily lives, I hope the public will not be duped by celebrities jumping out of a helicopter with no real bullets coming or wives in high heels cheering on their husbands’ training. We don’t air our struggles and ask for pity regarding our troubles but the public should be exposed to the true, unglamorous sacrifices our service members and their families’ make. Not the staged glory.

Viewers may be drawn to visions of grand homecomings, breathtaking training, or wives in cute dresses and big smiles, but Americans also need to know the gritty reality our military service members and families face. And start tuning into a forgotten program:
The war in Afghanistan.

Even if you hear it may be cancelled, I understand there are a few spin-offs being planned starring our service members and their families for many years to come. I hope you’ll check this old favorite out because, unlike the reality shows that are on now, as fewer viewers click into the show, the longer the program will be on the air.

This is our reality:

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Kristina Kaufmann, Contributor

Collateral Damage

12/02/2015 03:52 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2016

The American public hears stories about the devastating impact that mental wounds of war can have on a combat veteran, and how far too often, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is failing them.

We now have an entire generation of military families who know nothing but war. An estimated 30-35% of the 2.7 million troops who have deployed since 9/11 are struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and/or substance abuse. These are conditions known to affect entire families, and can derail the mental health and development of the over two million children who have had a parent deployed over the past 14 years.

A growing body of evidence indicates that some children of military families — especially those living in PTS/TBI households — have been negatively affected by their parent’s deployments. Research conducted by the University of Southern California found that military connected adolescents have a higher rate of suicidal thoughts than their civilian counterparts, and other studies indicate that military spouses — particularly those serving as caregivers to support their wounded veterans — are more at risk to suffer mental health problems.

To make matters worse, in most cases spouses and children of the over 60% of post 9/11 troops who have left active duty, are not eligible for healthcare from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). No one federal agency is held accountable, and there is no coordinated system to respond to the needs of these families. In fact, for the most part they are invisible to the systems that could be providing them services. While the Department of Defense (DOD) has been directed by Congress to start tracking suicides among active duty family members, the VA has no such mandate to track family members once they leave active duty.

We, as a nation, are failing these families, many of whom feel abandoned by the country their loved ones fought to protect. Helping these families isn’t just a moral imperative, it’s a public health concern. RAND estimates that the lost productivity among post 9/11 caregivers (mostly young wives) will confer a societal cost of almost 6 billion dollars. And the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress reports that poverty, addiction and mental illness are just some of the conditions that have their roots in untreated childhood traumatic stress.

What can be done?

Children and Family Futures, a California based advocacy organization, recommends the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) expand their research program to better assess the behavioral health needs of veteran children. Currently, the bulk of research focuses on active duty families, who have far better access to care. In addition, mental health conditions related to wartime service sometimes take years to manifest, which means hundreds of thousands of veteran family members are at risk of falling through the cracks.

Second, an estimated 350,000 veteran families lack health insurance. This requires a targeted outreach campaign — at both the federal and local levels — to educate and enroll these families in health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Third, the VA must do more to identify and help these families. Currently, there are no screening or assessment protocols used to determine the service needs of veteran caregivers or children. The VA is struggling to keep up with the growing demand in mental health services for veterans, and does not have the capacity (or congressional authority) to provide behavioral health support for family members. But, they can certainly do a far better job of ensuring warm hand-offs to community based mental health agencies.

The fact is, the majority of veteran families in need of behavioral health care will be seen by community based organizations. These agencies will require the funding, cultural competency and education in evidence based practices to expand their capacity and effectively serve veteran families in crisis. The VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, which grants $300 million dollars a year to community based organizations, has been widely credited for helping to drastically reduce veteran homelessness. This same model can be used to support community based behavioral health care for veterans and their families.

The Yellow Ribbon Program’s have faded and the welcome home parades are a distant memory. But there’s a price to pay for outsourcing our national defense to less than one percent of the population over 14 years of war. This isn’t a military problem. It belongs to all of us.

Alex’s mom, Jami, and her remaining son are now getting the counseling they need through a local veterans center. As painful as it is for her to speak openly about her tragic losses, she is committed to raising awareness. It’s too late for Alex, but we can still save hundreds of thousands of families damaged by war, and give them a chance to become whole again.

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Anxiety, Depression and the American Adolescent

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The first time Faith-Ann Bishop cut herself, she was in eighth grade. It was two am, and as her parents slept, , she sat on the edge of the tub at her home in Bangor, Maine, with a metal clip from a pen in her hand. Then she sliced into the soft skin near her ribs. There was blood – and a sense of deep relief. “It makes the world very quiet for a few seconds,” she states. “For a while i didn’t want to stop, because it was my only coping mechanism. I hadn’t learned any other way.”

Adolescents today have a reputation for being more fragile, less resilient and more over-whelmed than their parents were when they were growing up. A closer look paints a far more heartbreaking portrait of why young people are suffering. It’s a phenomenon that cuts across all demographics – suburban, urban and rural. Also those who are college bound and those who aren’t.

Adolescents today have become the post 9/11 generation, raised in an era of economic and national insecurity. They’ve never known a time when terrorism and school shootings weren’t the norm. They grew up watching their parents weather a severe recession, and, perhaps even more importantly, they hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society.

Self-harm, which some experts say is on the rise, is perhaps the most disturbing symptom of a broader psychological problem – a spectrum of anger, worry, apprehension that plagues 21st century teens.teen-pills

“We’re the first generation that cannot escape our problems at all,” says Faith-Ann. “We’re all like little volcanoes. We’re getting this constant pressure, from our phones, from our relationships, from the way things are today.”

“If you wanted to create an environment to churn out really angsty people, we’ve done it,” says Janis Whitlock, director of the Cornell Research Program on Self – Injury and Recovery. Sure, parental micromanaging can be a factor, but so can school stress. Whitlock doesn’t think those things are the main drives of this epidemic. “It’s that they’re in a cauldron of stimulus they can’t get away from, or don’t want to, or don’t know how to,” she states.

It’s hard for many of us adults to understand how much of teenagers’ emotional life is lived within the small screen on their phones. But according to a report done by CNN in conjunction with researchers from the University of California, Davis, and the University of Texas at Dallas who examined the social-media use of more than 200 13-year-olds, they found that “there is no firm line between their real and online worlds.”

Phoebe Gariepy, a 17-year-old in Arundel, Maine, describes following on Instagram a girl from L.A. whom she had never met because she liked the photos this girl posted. Then the girl stopped posting. Phoebe later heard that the girl had been kidnapped and was found on the side of the road, dead. “I started bawling, and I didn’t even know this girl,” said Phoebe. “I felt really extremely connected to that situation even though it was in L.A.”

That hyperconnectedness now extends everywhere, engulfing even rural teens in a national thicket of Internet drama. Montana’s kids, for example, may be in a big, sparsely populated state, but they are not isolated anymore. A suicide might happen on the other side of the state and the kids often know about it before the adults do.

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Parents are also mimicking teen behavior. “Not in all cases, but in many cases the adults are learning to use their phones in the way that the teens do,” says Megan Moreno, head of social media and adolescent health research at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “They’re zoning out. They’re ignoring people. They’re answering calls during dinner rather than saying, ‘O.K., we have this technology. Here are the rules about when we use it’.”

In the CNN study, researchers found that even when parents try their best to monitor their children’s Instagram, Facebook or Twitter feeds, they are likely unable to recognize the subtle slights and social exclusions that cause kids pain. Finding disturbing things in a child’s digital identity, or that they’re self-harming, can stun some parents.

For some parents who discover, as Faith-Ann’s parents Bret and Tammy Bishop did a few years ago, that their child has been severely depressed, anxiety-ridden or self-harming for years, it’s a shock laden with guilt.                                                                                          every-day

Self-harming is certainly not universal among kids with depression and anxiety, but it does appear to be the signature symptom of this generation’s mental health difficulties. It’s hard to know why self-harm has surfaced at this time, and it’s possible we’re just more aware of it now because we live in a world where we’re more aware of everything.

The Idea that self-harm is tied to how we see the human body tracks with what many teens are saying today. As Faith-Ann describes it, “A lot of value is put on our physical beauty now. All of our friends are Photoshopping their own photos. It’s hard to escape that need to be perfect.”

Fadi Haddad, a psychiatrist who helped start the child and adolescent psychiatric emergency department at Bellevue Hospital in New York City states that for parents who find out their children are depressed or hurting themselves, the best response is first to validate their feelings. Don’t get angry or talk about taking away their computer. “Say, ‘I’m sorry you’re in pain. I’m here for you.’” This straightforward acknowledgement of their struggles takes away any judgement, which is critical since mental-health issues are still heavily stigmatized. No adolescent wants to be seen as flawed or vulnerable, and for parents, the idea that their child has debilitating depression or anxiety or is self-harming can feel like a failure on their part.

dealing-with-depression-and-anxietyFor both generations, admitting that they need help can be daunting. Even once they get past that barrier, the cost and logistics of therapy can be overwhelming. Some of the treatment for self-harm are similar to those for addiction, particularly in the focus on identifying underlying psychological issue: what’s causing the anxiety and depression in the first place. And then teaching healthy ways to cope. Similarly, those who want to stop need a strong level of internal motivation as well as a strong support system.

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What Parents Should Do

If you are worried about a child and aren’t sure what to do, heed the advice of Fadi Haddad, a psychiatrist and the co-author of Helping Kids in Crisis.

  1. Talk about the real stuff: sometimes conversations between parents and teens can be all about achievements, schedules and choices. Go beyond that. Find out what keeps them up at night. Ask – “What’s the best part of your day?” Become attuned to their emotional world so that you understand what their dreams are, what they struggle with and how their life is going.
  2. Pay attention, but don’t smother them: give teens space to grow and separate from you. Also watch for changes in their behavior. Are they giving up activities the used to enjoy? Are they staying up all hours of the night or has their appetite waned. Are they withdrawn, lethargic or do they get angry at nothing. If you are worried, say so. Show interest in their internal life without judgement.
  3. Resist getting angry: when parents find out a teen has been hiding something or is having behavior issues, the response is often anger or punishment. Instead, find out what is going on. If a child is acting out, say: “It seems like you are having trouble. I’m here to help. Tell me what’s happening to you.”
  4. Don’t put off getting help: If you are worried about an adolescent, talk to a school counselor, therapist or doctor. It is better to get help early rather than when trouble has firmly taken hold.
  5. Treat the whole family: When a child is in a crisis, many times it’s not enough to just treat the child. You have to change the family dynamic. It’s possible that something about the home environment was causing stress for the child, so, be open to acknowledging that and getting family counseling if needed.

Look, I’m writing this because I’ve spent a lifetime depressed and anxious. According to several psychiatrists and psychologists, I was born depressed. Yes, depression is inherited. Especially if the birth mother had a stressful pregnancy.

So please, don’t take this blog lightly. Find out what’s going on and do what you can to help the child cope with what he/she is going through. And like Dr. Fadi Haddad has stated – “Be open to acknowledging that there is a problem and get help.”