Monday, 31 December 2012

Thank you Lady Gaga!

Reposting, because this is awesome:
Lady Gaga Offers Free Mental Health Counseling to Fans Before Concerts

Lady Gaga sure loves her Little Monsters.
The pop star announced Friday that she would offer free counseling to fans before her Born This Way Ball shows.
In a Facebook post, Gaga, 26, described the concert's BornBrave pre-show as "a fun tailgating experience for monsters to unite," but it will also be a place where they can seek help.
"At the BornBrave Bus you have access to professional private or group chats about mental health, depression, bullying, school & friends," she wrote. "There will also be food and games, DJ White Shadow and Lady Starlight will DJ with host BREEDLOVE to keep the experience fun."
She clarified that the BornBrave Bus will be "a place where mental health + depression are taken seriously w/ no judgement, FREE real help available to all.:
"I feel like most kids don't look for help because they feel embarrassed so mom + I wanted to break the stigmas around 'help' and make it fun," she wrote.
Good for you, Gaga!

Find the original article here

Friday, 28 December 2012

Imposed Morality

Prior to the holiday season, a dear friend was alarmed at something she witnessed while visiting Disneyland.  She had watched the Santa Claus Parade on Disneyland’s Main Street and it was the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” that she found – as she put it – “creepy”.

The part of the lyric that bothered her most was;

“He sees you when you’re sleeping,
He knows when you’re awake.”

You see, my friend is Jewish and has had very minimal exposure to Christmas traditions and songs, so imagining a bearded stranger peeking in the bedroom windows of children was disturbing to her.

Beside being charmed by her fresh perspective, her observations got me thinking about imposed morality; moral behaviour elicited through a promise of reward or threat of punishment, and continual monitoring by a supernatural being …

“He’s making a list and checking it twice,
Going to find out who’s naughty and nice.”

Most religions are enforced through a system of reward and punishment in a post-death judgment ritual, and many offer heaven or hell as the two alternative final destinations.  We must answer for our “sins”.  So, the message is; If you are “good” then you will go to heaven, and if you are “bad” you will go to hell.  Catholic-based religions add the third locale of “Purgatory” where your sins will be stripped away through a painful purification process.

In the Islamic faith system, when men die – especially while killing the enemies of Allah - they will be rewarded with 72 virgin sexual slaves and an eternal erection.  Not sure what the women get, although some Islamic Clerics claim that upwards of 95% of the occupants of hell are women.

But can morality that is derived through threat of punishment and reward truly be moral?  If one believes that he must live by rules of conduct imposed by a powerful and judgmental supernatural being, can he claim true morality?   Or is he just following orders out of fear?

There have been hundreds of studies that clearly demonstrate that punishment does not achieve the purpose it is intended for.  Punishing children for “bad” behaviour can result in two probable outcomes; In the first, the child learns to lie about and conceal their actions in order to avoid punishment; In the second, the child becomes so fearful of punishment that they are paralyzed from taking healthy risks that can aid in their development.

On a societal level, the best indicator that punishment doesn’t work is that if it did, we wouldn’t have prisons – all citizens would have learned “right” and “wrong” in childhood through being punished at home and at school.

There is also the question of how we can define “good” and “bad” behaviour in a universal way.  Most religions have a set of rules that dictate these concepts, yet in real life they are often not so clear-cut.

For example; Lying is a sin.  Yet during the Nazi occupation during WWII, if the Gestapo arrived at your front door to ask; “Are there any Jews living here?”  Would you lie?  Or would you tell them about the Jewish family living in your attic whom you had given protection to?

Even more striking are challenges to the 10 commandments such as; “Honour thy mother and thy father”.  What if that mother or father was abusive to their child?  What if a parent sexually abused their child causing long-term psychological harm?  Is that child still required to “honour” that parent?

Dr. Alice Miller had a lot to say about that in her book; “The Body Never Lies – The Lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting”.

There also is the question of interpreting scripture.  One of the prominent arguments by the Christian right is that gay marriage should not be allowed, this according to book of Leviticus.  Yet most Christians don’t follow the rest of Leviticus’ rules; That men aren’t allowed to shave their beards; That they should never work on the Sabbath; That it is okay to own slaves so long as they come from a foreign country; That having bacon on your cheeseburger is a sin.

Historic scholars understand that the laws laid down by Leviticus were an attempt to strengthen the tribes of Israel by protecting individuals from disease, promoting propagation, and ensuring that members maintained their identities as Jews.

But when we are faced with ancient laws that are no longer applicable in our modern world, who among us gets to choose which are imposed and which are left behind in the annals of history where they belong?  Most religions have appointed clerics or religious leaders - [some self-appointed] - who claim authority to make these decisions; Pastors, Reverends, Priests, Rabbis, Mullahs, and so forth.  Yet even with a mortal religious scholar making moral decisions, it is still expected that the individual should comply with that imposed morality.

As a Humanist, not only is morality an active exploration and learning experience for me, I also ascribe to Eric Ericson’s concept of syntonic and dystonic to describe actions or events and their relationship to people.  If something is syntonic, then it is beneficial to a person [such as lying to the Gestapo].  If it is dystonic, it negatively impacts a person.  To live as a Humanist requires thoughtful consideration of all points of view – it is an active philosophic process that does not rely on following an imposed set of rigid moral rules but rather by following one’s reasoning, knowledge and empathy for self and others.

When I engage in this internal debate, I am often reminded of a statement made in “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck; A preacher, who had become disillusioned by the suffering he saw during the Great Depression, came to the realization that he no longer had answers.  He said that all he really knew was; “Anything living is holy.  Anything that hurts it is a sin.”

Personally, I think that’s a pretty good place to start.

Aaron D. McClelland, RPC –

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

How Deep Would You Dig?

The multiple murders at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newton, Connecticut has sparked a wave of dialogue about solutions to prevent future deaths in schools.  Even the National Rifle Association appears willing to join in the conversation.

I too, have thoughts I would like to share;

From the outset, media reports listed 26 deaths in Newtown.  There were actually 27 - the gunman, Adam Lanza killed himself after murdering his last victim.  I understand the natural outrage and hatred of an individual who could commit such a horrible crime as murdering innocent children and teachers, but let’s not discount his death.

We may never know Lanza’s motives.  He murdered his mother then traveled to Sandy Hook school where his mother volunteered to murder the children she worked with.  Perhaps his plan was to murder his mother while she was at the school but didn’t get the chance.  Perhaps he not only wanted to murder her, but to destroy the school she loved.  That knowledge died with Lanza.

But what I’m not buying into is the random media speculation that it was because he may have fallen somewhere on the Autism Spectrum; or that he played too many violent video games; or the latest: That he worshipped the devil.  All of that is fear-mongering and those members of the media perpetuating it should be ashamed of themselves.

What we can believe is that Adam Lanza had some very serious mental health issues.  Try to imagine what level of distress could cause you to do what Lanza did.  How much emotional pain would you have to experience before you decided to not only kill yourself violently, but also murder a family member and over two dozen others?  I think that the one thing we can believe is that Lanza was in a living hell when he decided the only way out was murder and suicide.

We’ll never know the root cause, but what do we do now?

Here’s what I think;

For the last decade in both Canada and the United States, we have elected parties and individuals who promised lower taxes to promote financial growth.  Not sure if you’ve noticed or not - It isn’t working.  But what it is doing is causing financial support for social programs to be cut to the bone and disenfranchising the most vulnerable members of our society, including children and the mentally ill.

We need to alter our priorities, and yes - it will cost us tax dollars.  Maybe we can offset that by no longer being the self-appointed world police and get out of foreign wars and reducing our military spending.  Yes those countries have some serious problems, and so do we.  How about we put our own house in order first?

I believe that next we have to finally have the conviction to address America’s sacred cow; Gun control DOES reduce gun violence as evidenced by statistics gathered by the United Nations and World Health Organization on homicides by country;
  • United States with little gun control: 1.2 homicides per 100,000
  • Canada with some gun control: 0.76 homicides per 100,000
  • United Kingdom  with strict gun control: 0.04 homicides per 100,000
Next, I call on my fellow mental health professionals to speak in a united voice to dispel the stigma surrounding mental health issues. We need to be vocal and actively seek opportunities to normalize mental health issues in the media. In Canada, one in five people struggle with a diagnosable mental disorder, but fewer than 20% of those seek help.

We need to begin a movement toward including mental health care as part of our universal healthcare system and extended benefit plans.  As one of my clients said; “We spend more on shoes than we do on our mental health.”

We also, as a society, need to be willing to fund preventative programs such as Roots Of Empathy in elementary schools -  It works [ask Dr. Bruce Perry of the Child Trauma Academy], and ironically it was one of the first mental health programs cut in our local elementary schools.

We need to address bullying in a meaningful way - not just in schools, but in the home and in the community.  Our little town is; and it is leading the way in British Columbia by being the first town whose Municipal Council officially supports the movement.

I’m sure there are other wonderful ideas out there that are evidenced-based and I’d love to hear about them.

But for now, the above is my contribution to the dialogue, and I know it won’t be popular amongst the pro-business, anti-taxation crowd.  Yes, these things will cost tax dollars, but can anyone tell me the value of each life lost in Newtown last week?

How deep would you dig into your pocket if you could bring them back?

Aaron D. McClelland, RPC -

Monday, 17 December 2012

In The Wake of Another Tragedy ...

One brave and thoughtful mother has said it far better than I ever could, because - you see - she's living it.

Please read her latest blog post ...

Aaron D. McClelland, RPC -

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Human Brain Facts

Some human brain numbers;

  • 644 kilometers of capillaries
  • 160,934 kilometers of axons
  • 86,000,000,000 neurons
  • 10,000,000,000,000 synapses
  • 10,000,000,000,000,000 calculations per second
  • Neural impulses travel at 345 kilometers per hour
  • Generates 25 watts of power
  • Has zero pain receptors
  • Uses 20% of the body's oxygen
  • Its cerebral cortex is 4 millimeters thick
  • Unfolded, the cerebral cortex is 2,500 centimeters square
It has the power to reason, calculate, create, compose, dream, imagine, problem solve, defend, attack, protect, hate, comfort, love, and yes ... to heal.

Aaron D. McClelland, RPC -

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Dying Dogs, Dying Children, and Irony

History repeats and irony is alive and well in British Columbia.

During a week in 2010, two major stories broke simultaneously in British Columbia.  The first was a report by Child Advocate, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond that during the build-up to the 2010 Olympics, 21 children died in BC as a direct result of poverty.  The second story was the killing of 56 sled dogs by an employee of Howling Dog Tours after a slump in post Olympic business.

The deaths of 21 BC children faded into the background while the deaths of 56 dogs went viral and was carried by media outlets around the world.

And here comes the irony ...

This week, two more stories broke in British Columbia; The first was a story out of Vancouver that a group of over 30 impoverished children in the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood had formed a Suicide Pact.  The second story is that Robert Fawcett - the man who killed the sled dogs - received a sentence of 36 months probation and a $1,500 fine.

Once again, the story about the impoverished, suicidal children is being swept aside as news services pick up the Fawcett sentence and editorialists, radio talk show callers, and citizens are screaming foul for such a light sentence.

Now don’t get me wrong - I am a dog lover.  I’ve happily shared my home with dogs all my life. In some cases, I prefer dogs over humans.  Some of the finest critters I’ve met are dogs.

But where are our priorities?

Two years ago, 21 - let’s emphasize that: TWENTY ONE children died in British Columbia as a direct result of poverty.  And they died while our Provincial Liberal government slashed social supports that could have saved them in order to spend $10 Billion on the Olympics.  They threw a party while children were literally starving to death in the shadow of the Olympic Village.

In 2010 Turpel-Lafond called for the Provincial Liberals to take the lead in reducing child poverty in her report; “Fragile Lives, Fragmented Systems: Strengthening Supports for Vulnerable Infants”.  She was ignored then as were the children of British Columbia, and she is being ignored now as I wrote in my last article, Dying Children - Taking a Stand.  Our Province now holds the distinction of having the second highest child poverty level in Canada.

And consider this most recent story out of Vancouver - try to imagine a group of children between the ages of 12 and 15 who see their lives as so hopeless that they consider Suicide as the only escape from their daily pain.  Where are the headlines for these children?  Where are the editorials?  Where are the callers to radio talk shows demanding justice for them?

We live in a society that does not value children.

I’ve taken a great deal of criticism for that statement in the past, but the evidence is in once more;

Dying dogs matter.

Dying children don’t.

Aaron D. McClelland, RPC -

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Dying Children - Taking a Stand

The 61 page report: “Trauma, Turmoil, and Tragedy: understanding the needs of children and youth at risk of suicide and self-harm” was just released this week in British Columbia.  The report was authored by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond and confirmed what I have been predicting for years in private conversations.  I’m hoping that the time is right for me to take that conversation public.

Our governments, both federal and provincial, are killing children through neglect.

Turpel-Lafond’s report focused on 89 cases where at-risk children and youth have either completed suicide or caused themselves physical harm by attempting it.  Of those, 58 were in the direct care of the Ministry of Child and Family Development [MCFD] at the time of their suicide or attempted suicide.  MCFD records show that those 58 youth had been moved 776 times while in care and five of them were moved more than 30 times each.

What is truly heartbreaking is that we had programs in place that helped turn these children and youth around and to find them nurturing foster placements.  But the provincial Liberals have systematically eliminated those programs, leaving these at-risk children and youth with virtually no supports.

I played an active role in such programs within the Okanagan valley until the summer of 2010 when MCFD pulled all funding for them, labeling them as “redundant”.  The irony of the label “redundant” is that when they closed 39 therapeutic beds in the Okanagan region, nothing existed to take their place.  So where was the “redundancy”?

The bottom line is that BC had just spent 10 billion dollars on the Olympics and had to pay the bill.  And who did they look to in order to pay it?  The most vulnerable segment of our society - and not only are they marginalized, children and youth don’t vote, so they have no worth to a politician.

The programs that the government chose to close down all had routinely high success rates.  For many of the youth we served, our programs were their last hope.  Society, and sometimes MCFD themselves classified these children and youth as “behaviour” problems and many came to us with an alphabet of diagnoses; ADHD, RAD, ODD, MDD, etc - but once we started working with them, we discovered that under the multiple diagnoses lay past trauma.  The vast majority of those children and youth had experienced abuse and neglect that the average person would not believe.

The agency I worked with would take these youth into our residential programs, work collaboratively with them to help them overcome the traumatic memories, stabilize their lives, then transition them to foster families that were chosen and recruited by us to be a good fit for each individual child or youth.  And the care didn’t end there - their Key Counsellors would work with the youth and the foster family to make sure the transition was as smooth as possible and offer ongoing support to ensure it lasted.  We enlisted the aid of school staff, other community resources, and even the RCMP to help guide these youth toward a better, healthier life.

That MCFD chose to shut down our proven effective therapeutic residential programs came as a shock to both ourselves and to front line Social Workers who knew the value of those programs.  As one Social Worker put it “You guys are golden.”

So the children and youth who these programs served were removed and followed three tracks;
  1. Some were returned to the family who abused or neglected them
  2. Some were placed in temporary foster placements and bounced from home to home as the foster parents burned out, not having the supports in place to work with such children and youth
  3. Some were turned out on the street where they became the victims of sexual predators who trade meals, a place to sleep, drugs and alcohol for sexual favours.

There was one pre-teen youth who needed special care to calm when they became upset, and was doing well in our program when MCFD chose to shut it down.  This youth burned through a couple of foster placements within weeks and was temporarily placed in a hospital psychiatric unit.  Because of pressure from Interior Health, MCFD moved this youth to a juvenile detention facility out of province.  This youth’s crime: Traumatic brain damage from a vehicle accident made it difficult to regulate their emotions.

Just one tragic story out of scores of tragic stories.

I predicted in July of 2010 that no action to support these children and youth would take place until they began to die and for the press to take notice.  That is now happening.

Our governments have one priority - to get re-elected.  They don’t care about marginalized people in our society, at least not on a political level.  Early in 2012 I met with MP Dan Albas and had a lengthy conversation about the lack of mental health supports in his riding.  At that meeting I told him that as a mental health practitioner with a private practice I was willing to put my money where my mouth is and offer drastically reduced rates to the families of children and youth who are referred by non-profit agencies such as S.A.D.I., the BC Schizophrenic Society, and the Martin House initiative.  I asked him what he was willing to do.  Albas stated that he was going to look into alternative funding for these non-profit agencies and get back to me.

He never did.  Nor did he reply to my emails after that meeting.

But politicians will respond if their livelihood and future career is threatened.  If you care that hundreds of children and youth are suffering neglect and abuse because of funding cuts in the mental health field, let your MLAs and MPs know.  We’re coming up on a provincial election - let’s get the dialogue started before more children and youth reach the point of such hopelessness that suicide is the only option they can see to make the pain stop.

Aaron D. McClelland, RPC -

Monday, 5 November 2012

Finding Your Tears

Therapy and recovery are often accompanied by tears. Some people try to hold back their tears out of fear that if they start crying, they may never stop. Though it may feel that way at the time it is not true ... a bout of tears will eventually come to a natural end.  Those who let go of their control and weep openly will often report feeling better after they cry. There is hard science behind why they do feel better.

During a study at the St Paul Ramsey Medical Center in Minnesota, William Frey found that stress-induced tears actually remove toxic substances from the body. Volunteers were led to cry first from watching sad movies, and then from freshly cut onions. The researchers found that the tears from the movies, called emotional tears, contained far more toxic biological byproducts. Weeping, they concluded, is an excretory process which removes toxic substances that normally build up during emotional stress.

The simple act of crying also reduces the body’s manganese level, a mineral which affects mood and is found in up to 30 times greater concentration in tears than in blood serum. They also found that emotional tears contain 24 per cent higher albumin protein concentration than tears caused by eye irritants.

To put it in perspective, if we take emotional tears and freeze dry them and feed enough of the rendered powder to a lab rat, the level of toxicity in that powder is fatal to the rat.

Tears are therapeutic on two levels; Emotionally they symbolize the acceptance of frustration or sorrow and mark a turning point toward resolution - ‘having a good cry’ or as Dr Gordon Neufeld calls it; "finding your tears". While on a physiological level, they are ridding the body of toxins that without those tears would be reabsorbed into the body and brain.

Aaron D. McClelland, RPC -

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Building Resiliency in Children

The rise in mood and anxiety disorders in children and adolescents plus the concerns over teen suicide - which is now the second leading cause of death for adolescents in Canada - is of growing concern for parents.

Why can some children navigate the hazardous waters of peer pressure, bullying, and academic pressures, while others find themselves overwhelmed or distressed?

It’s all about resiliency, and resiliency in children can be fostered by parents.

Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, PH.D are one team that is leading the way on how parents can accomplish this in their book The Whole Brain Child.

The main message they deliver is that - barring any profound developmental delays -  children have the tools they need to develop a healthy state of resiliency; The ability to bounce back from life’s hard lessons or crises.  The methods they suggest are all about connecting the various parts of the brain; The downstairs to the upstairs, the upstairs to the downstairs, the left to the right, and right to the left.

To understand the science behind their approach, one has to first understand the parts of the brain and their function;

The “downstairs” part of the brain is comprised of our brainstem and our limbic system.  Combined, these organs control our breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.  They also react to changes in our environment, seek attachment, and respond to threats.

The “upstairs” part of our brain is our Cortex.  This is where we live – where our memories are stored and the part of our brain that dictates how we view the world and ourselves, plus how we reason, problem solve, and make all executive decisions.

The cortex is also divided into the “left” region of logic and reason, and the “right” region of emotion – although there is a lot of crossover, we can all agree that we have two distinct ways to approach life; logically or emotionally.

Siegal and Bryson have keyed into the emerging science of Neuroplasticity and applied it to children.  Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change its function and structure.

To help your child become a “whole brained child” we, as parents, have to help them connect all the parts of their brain when facing adversity.

First we connect the right and left, and we can do this by aligning with our child before we correct them.  Dr Gordon Neufeld coined the term “collect before you correct”.  Siegal and Bryson call it “connect and redirect”.

For example, if a child is upset because they can’t have the toy they want, we connect with them emotionally; right brain to right brain.  We acknowledge that they really want the toy and we demonstrate empathy for them not being able to have it.  Second we help them connect to the left side of their brain, by telling the story about what is upsetting them – “name it to tame it”.  In this way their left brain will begin to make sense out of what is upsetting them, and by doing so they can feel more in control.

Next, we must connect the upstairs brain to the downstairs brain and this is a bit of an art form.  The concept is that when in distress, the downstairs of our brain can hijack the upstairs of our brain – that our threat response can be so out of control that we lose the ability to reason.  Again, Siegal and Bryson suggest beginning by aligning with our child; “engage, don’t enrage”.  Instead of playing parental trump cards like “Because I said so”, ask questions, play a “what would you do?” game, even negotiate the situation.  And negotiating doesn’t mean giving in to every whim a child has, it’s about allowing them age appropriate choices; If they can’t have the toy they wanted, which of the other two toys available to them would they like to play with? [If the answer is “none” then we have some more connections to make.]

If a child has lost touch with their upstairs brain, get them moving to help the regain emotional balance by reconnecting with their body – “upstairs to downstairs”.

Another method of this form of upstairs/downstairs connectivity is drawn from Multimodal Therapy and mindfulness by helping your child pay attention to “S.I.F.T.” – Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts inside them while at the same time reminding them that these things will change – that what they are feeling in the moment isn’t going to last forever.  We can help them with the latter by reconnecting them with memories of times when they weren’t distressed.  As Siegal and Bryson put it “remember to remember”.

Another important piece to help children learn resiliency is for us to remember that we are hardwired for “we” – our principal defense against distress or danger is attachment.  Always look for ways to connect with your child – use the word “we” as often as possible when problem solving or helping them face challenges.

The flip-side of the “we” strategy is to help your child in perspective taking; Of helping them see the other person’s point of view in any conflict.

The last part of the “we” experience is to make sure you have fun together; connecting with caring and trustworthy people in their lives will pay dividends as they grow into adolescents and adults.

The Whole Brain Child is an informative read, and don’t think that you’ve missed the bus if your children are into their teens, all of the methods in the book can be scaled for any age.  You might even learn some things about yourself.

Aaron D. McClelland, RPCc -