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Infanticide And Mental Illness

infanticide

What Is Infanticide?

At the severest end of the spectrum of childhood maltreatment lies the extremely rare and tragic act of infanticide which is defined as the killing of the child in his or her first year of life. The main focus of this article will be to examine parental infanticide (i.e. cases in which the infant is killed by a parent) together with how mental illness is frequently associated with this deeply disturbing phenomenon.

How Common Is Infanticide?

Infanticide is extremely rare. In the U.S., it is estimated that approximately 350 to 700 acts of infanticide are committed each year which is the equivalent of between about one and two cases per day on average.

Five Categories Of Perpetrators Of Infanticide :

According to the researchers Meyer and Oberman, there exist five main categories of women who commit infanticide (the sample they used for their study was made up of females from the U.S.). These five categories are as follows :
1) Those who kill their baby during the twenty-four hours immediately following birth (this is technically known as neonaticide). The researchers also suggested that the females in this category can be further divided into two, more specific, sub-categories :
  • those who have kept their pregnancy a secret and do not want it discovered that they had ever had a baby.
  • those who are severely afflicted by the psychological states of denial, dissociation and depersonalization

2) Women who kill their infant, aided and abetted by a physically abusive partner.

3) Women who kill their infant indirectly through gross neglect.

4) Women who have lost control of ‘disciplining’ their infant to such an extreme degree that this has actually resulted in his/her death (e.g. angry and violent shaking of the infant in a fit of frustration and rage).

5) Deliberate infanticide which may be linked to severe mental illness in the mother such as :

  • postpartum depression
  • postpartum psychosis
  • schizophrenia (especially in cases in which the individual has discontinued their medication against medical advise).

N.B. However, it is worth reiterating the fact infanticide is an extremely rare crime and that in the vast majority of cases those suffering from mental illness pose no danger to others.

Infanticide, Mental Illness And Legal Implications :

Spinelli (2004) points out that in the UK the Infanticide Law provides probation and makes psychiatric treatment mandatory in the case of mentally ill mothers who commit infanticide, whilst, in the United States, similar individuals may face the ultimate punishment – the death penalty.
Furthermore, Spinelli informs us, recent neuroscientific research demonstrates that women afflicted by postpartum psychosis and who commit infanticide require treatment rather than punishment and that such treatment is effective in reducing the probability that the individual will repeat her crime in the future.

Conclusion :

Finally, Spinelli concludes that, in light of the above, psychiatrists play a crucial role in diagnosing postpartum psychosis (and similar psychiatric conditions) and then providing appropriate treatment. Additionally, she suggests that there should be greater sharing of knowledge between the psychiatric community and the legal community about the effects of mental illness on behavior so that, where appropriate, punishment of individuals is replaced by effective treatment.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Is Mental Illness Caused By Trauma?

Is Mental Illness Caused By Trauma?

Does Childhood Trauma Cause Mental Illness?

There exists a clear link between the experience of childhood trauma and the development of mental illness in later life ; in other words, the greater the experience of trauma during childhood, the more likely one will suffer from psychological difficulties in the future.

However, if we ask : ‘Is mental illness caused by trauma during childhood?‘ this is too complex a question to receive a simple answer. Whether or not it does so will depend upon numerous factors, the main ones of which are as follows :

  • the type of trauma (e.g. physical, sexual and emotional abuse)
  • the severity of the traumatic experience
  • whether the traumatic experience was a single event or was frequent / chronically ongoing (in general, chronically ongoing trauma is likely to damage psychologically the child more than ‘single event’ trauma)
  • the age / developmental stage of the child at the time of the traumatic event/s (in general, the younger the child at the time the trauma takes place, the more severe the adverse effects of the trauma on the child’s mental health are likely to be)
  • whether or not the harm inflicted upon the child was deliberatethe relationship to the child of the perpetrator of the harmful event/s (if the perpetrator is related to the child – e.g. one of the child’s parents – the more severe the psychological harm inflicted upon the child is likely to be),
  • the level of the child’s resilience
  • the level of psychological support the child receives to help him/her cope with / process the traumatic event/s
  • biological / genetic factors
  • societal / cultural factors
  • the child’s perception and interpretation of the potentially traumatic events

In conclusion, then, we can say that the degree to which an individual is adversely affected by traumatic childhood experiences will depend upon numerous, complex and interacting factors.

 

Factors That Help Make Children Resilient To The Effects Of Trauma :

Children react in different ways to traumatic experiences. Of course, this is partly due to genetic differences (some children are more genetically vulnerable to the effects of trauma than others).

However, the psychologist Perry, an expert in the area of childhood trauma, has identified six key strengths a child needs to possess to maximize his/her chances of coping with traumatic experiences successfully. The six strengths that Barry describes are as follows:

1) ATTACHMENT

2) SELF-REGULATION

3) AFFILIATION

4) AWARENESS

5) TOLERANCE

6) RESPECT

The role of the primary caretaker is, of course, vital in helping the child to develop each of these strengths. This is why a dysfunctional relationship with the primary caregiver can be so profoundly disruptive to a child’s psychological development.

Let’s look at each of the six key strengths in turn :

1) ATTACHMENT – as I state above, the quality of the bond a child forms with the primary caregiver (usually the mother) is crucial. A healthy bond will help ensure that the child is able to develop and maintain other supportive relationships in later life.

2) SELF-REGULATION – this refers to the ability to control feelings and emotions such as fear, anger and anxiety. The ability is NOT innate, but, rather, it is learned as the child gets older.

The provision of emotional support from the primary caregiver (e.g. soothing the child when s/he is frightened) for the child, especially in his/her earliest years, is vital if the child is to learn the skill of self-regulation successfully.

NB : Children who suffer very severe trauma sometimes go on to develop a condition known as borderline personality disorder (BPD), or other psychological disorders, in adulthood. Early therapeutic intervention for those at risk is therefore of the utmost importance. However, always consult a relevant, experienced and well qualified professional when making decisions about therapy.

One of the hallmarks of BPD is an inability to control strong emotions. CLICK HERE to read my article on this.

3) AFFILIATION – this refers to the child being able, successfully, to integrate within groups. This is normally first learned within the family and, later, if all goes well, the child is able to comfortably fit in with other groups.

4) ATTUNEMENT – this refers to the skill of being sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. However, if the child is not properly cared for in early life, this ability may well be severely impaired.

Being attuned to the needs and feelings of others helps the child to affiliate (as described above in 3).

5) TOLERANCE – this refers to the child’s willingness to accept others who differ from him/herself. In a functional and healthy family, this can be learned by modelling behaviour on that of the parents/primary caregiver.

6) RESPECT – refers to valuing, and seeing the worth in, self and others. It has its foundations in the skills already described above.

RESOURCES :

 DEVELOP POWERFUL RESILIENCE : SELF HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS 

 

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RELATED ARTICLES :

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Childhood Trauma and Self-Harm : How it can be Addressed.

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

Childhood Trauma And Self-Harm :

Three key elements to reducing our risk of harming ourselves are:

1) distracting our thoughts away from self-harm
2) reducing the intensity of our emotional arousal to levels which we are able to manage
3) dealing with internal critical ‘voices’ (ie thought processes).

However, as self-harming is often deeply ingrained, we cannot expect instantaneous results. It needs working at.

Let’s look at each of the 3 elements in turn:

1) DISTRACTION: these can be very simple things such as listening to music, watching a movie, going for a walk or a run, reading, calling a friend, browsing the internet, doing something creative like art or craft (eg making a collage), taking a bath, and keeping a journal or diary (including writing down our feelings).

2) REDUCING THE INTENSITY OF OUR EMOTIONAL AROUSAL: one way to do this is to get the painful emotion out. Again, there are simple ways to accomplish this. They include: going for a run, punching a punch bag (or even a pillow), writing a letter to, for example, our parents (without actually sending it), writing out our feelings in a journal, calling a crisis line, going to an online chatline/support group and sharing our feelings, writing poetry about how we feel, playing moving music/crying.

RELEASING ANGER SAFELY:

Sometimes our anger can overwhelm us, so it is important to be able to discharge it in a safe way. Those of us who have experienced childhood trauma have very frequently been taught to blame ourselves. This can result in remaining angry at ‘the child within us’. It is therefore necessary to realize:

a) this child did nothing wrong and does not deserve our anger.
b) the anger needs to be appropriately and safely redirected at those who caused our childhood trauma (in a way which is not destructive to ourselves or them).
c) FEELING angry is not the same as EXPRESSING anger, so does no harm: so we don’t need to fear these angry feelings.
d)we need to stop repressing or misdirecting our anger (at those who do not deserve it – known as DISPLACEMENT in psychodynamic theory) as this can lead to it becoming obsessive.
e) we need to learn to express our anger safely, appropriately and positively. For example, writing a letter we have no intention of sending in order to release our pent up feelings, taking up Judo or a martial art, role playing with a friend or counsellor ( saying to him/her what we would like to say to those who caused our childhood trauma).

SOME DOs AND DON’Ts RELATED TO ANGER:

DO:

A acknowledge anger
N nip it in the bud
G get help for your anger if necessary (eg anger management classes)
E express anger constructively
R release anger appropriately and let it go

DON’T:

A avoid it
N numb it with food/ illicit drugs/alcohol etc
G grin and grit your teeth (ie suppress it as it will just ‘fester’)
E explode
R rationalize it (ie explain it away)

3) DEALING WITH OUR INTERNAL CRITICAL ‘VOICES’: growing up with negative parents leaves many of us with a lot of negative messages running around our heads – we may have had horrible things said about us so often that we have INTERNALIZED them (ie come to see them as true so they form the basis of our self-concept). As adults, we first need to acknowledge that we have these self-lacerating thoughts. This is because the attempt to ignore them can paradoxically make them all the more intense and tenacious.

We may come to notice triggers for these thoughts. For example, if someone is just slightly off-hand with us we may feel we must be a horrible person who everyone will always reject as a matter of course. The root of this may be that we were rejected by one or both of our parents. Being able to trace our self-critical thoughts back to their roots in such a way, and, therefore, understand their triggers, can reduce their intensity of them quite considerably.

In order to retrain the way we think about ourselves, it is helpful, every time we have a negative thought about ourselves, to replace it with a positive one. It can be helpful, too, to write those positive messages down and to keep them somewhere they can easily be retrieved so that we can, on occasion, read through them. It is even possible to make an audio file of them and listen to them occasionally.

As time goes on, it is necessary to let our self-critical messages go and to stop emotionally tormenting ourselves – instead, we need to treat ourselves with compassion.

When individuals come to the point that they are ready to stop hurting themselves with self-critical messages, some make a kind of ritual out of it such as writing down all the negative thoughts they used to have about themselves on a piece of paper and then burning it or tearing it up and throwing it away.

In summary, then, we need to realize that we have absolutely nothing whatsoever to gain, for either ourselves or others, by constantly emotionally torturing ourselves. It is necessary, instead, to start treating ourselves with the love and compassion which may well have been denied us in childhood. We can give ourselves the love and compassion the child within us deserves.

David Hosier. BSc (Hons); MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

My Own Story : A Brief Overview.

childhood trauma story

My own childhood was highly chaotic and traumatic.

I started to suffer severe emotional problems very early on (for example, when I was 8 the teachers at the prep school I was at thought I had gone deaf, so I was taken to see my GP. It transpired, however, that there was nothing at all wrong with my ears, rather, the problem was psychological in origin: I had been ‘retreating into my own inner world’). Psychiatrists term this ‘dissociation’, which is a topic I refer to in my posts in the EFFECTS OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA category.

As an adolescent I became deeply depressed and my behaviour became erratic, compounded by heavy drinking.

In adulthood, I became very ill indeed. I was hospitalized many times with depression so acute in nature I underwent electro-convulsive shock therapy (ECT) during more than one admission.

I made several suicide attempts, one of which left me in a coma on life-support for five days in intensive care.

It is these experiences which motivate me in my study of childhood trauma, its effects and what one can do to help oneself recover. I am fortunate in having a relevant academic background which helps facilitate this.

  borderline personality disorder ebook

Above eBooks now available from Amazon for instant download. Click here for further details. (Other tiles available by same author –see Amazon).
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Repression Of Traumatic Childhood Memories.

repression

repression

Repression Of Traumatic Childhood Memories

Most of us are familiar with the idea that people who have experienced severe traumas sometimes REPRESS the memory of them (i.e. bury them deep in the unconscious where they cannot be consciously recalled). This process is known as REPRESSION.

This is thought to be an automatic process (ie. not under conscious control) which operates as a defense mechanism (when people deliberately try to push disturbing thoughts/memories out of conscious awareness, the process is known as suppression). Freud thought that such repressed memories festered in the unconscious, causing neurotic symptoms or hysteria, and that they needed to be brought back into consciousness and worked through in order for healing to take place.

Psychologists refer to the inability to recall traumatic events DISSOCIATIVE AMNESIA.

Many have claimed that repression of traumatic memories is very common. For example, one therapist, Renee Frederickson (1992), claimed: ‘millions of people have blocked out frightening episodes of abuse, years of their lives, or their entire childhood.’ Indeed, today, many psychotherapists regard uncovering repressed memories as vital to the treatment of their patients.

repression

But what does the research indicate?

Loftus (1993) found that most people seemed to have no trouble recalling traumatic events, up to, and including, the Holocaust. Indeed, such memories disturbed many in the form of FLASHBACKS.

The scientific community has also become increasingly aware that the ‘memory recovery’ procedures some psychotherapists use, such as hypnosis, can generate false memories of traumatic events, due, often, to a combination of SUGGESTION and LEADING QUESTIONS. So, patients can be encouraged to ‘recall’

something that, in fact, never actually happened. Indeed, so powerful can the effect be that the patient may truly believe the ‘recalled’ event happened, despite documentary evidence disproving it.

HOWEVER, NOT ALL RECOVERED MEMORIES (EVEN AFTER DECADES) ARE FALSE (eg. Schooter et al. 1997) SO RECOVERED MEMORIES OF TRAUMA SHOULD BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AND CERTAINLY NOT DISMISSED. Instead, corroborating evidence should ideally be sought.

David Hosier. BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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