Weekly news round-up
• R.I.P. Fido: Grief groups grow as American society views pets as family members
Writes Barbara Pash:
Cathy Bury holds dual titles at the animal hospital. She is reception supervisor and pet loss grief counselor. She was certified as the latter in 2012 by the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB), a New Jersey-based nonprofit group that began offering the designation in 1998.
“People grieve for dogs, cats, birds, lizards, snakes — they get attached to their pets. The biggest reason I got certified was because I don’t want them to feel alone. People say, ‘It’s just a dog, just a cat.’ But it was more than that to them,” Bury said.
“To most people, especially if they don’t have children,” she added, “their pets are their family, even their children.”
Bury’s clients are not alone. In a recent nationwide survey, 83 percent of pet owners consider their pets members of the family. The result is growth in the pet industry that is evident in many markets.
There are dog walkers, cat groomers, house sitters, veterinarians who make home visits and doggy bakeries that turn out custom-made dog biscuits. Resorts for dogs feature individualized gym sessions and Reiki massage. Any number of hotels and resorts will accommodate pets.
The trend extends to pet bereavement. “Pet cemeteries are more accessible. You have pet loss cards, pet hospices, pet grieving groups,” said Coleen Ellis, a Texas-based expert on the pet industry. (Baltimore Sun)
• Children and young people's mental health – policy, CAMHS services, funding and education
One in four people on average experience a mental health problem, with the majority of these beginning in childhood. A report by the Chief Medical Officer in 2014 found that 50 per cent of adult mental health problems start before age and 75 per cent before the age of 18.
The Government has committed to improving mental health provision and services for children and young people. The Government’s 2011 Mental Health strategy, No Health without Mental Health, pledged to provide early support for mental health problems, and the Deputy Prime Minister’s 2014 strategy, Closing the Gap: priorities for essential change in mental health, included actions to improve access to psychological therapies for children and young people and to publish guidance for schools on supporting pupils with mental health problems.
This note outlines the commitments for children and young people’s mental health in Government policy. It sets out the current provision for children and young people’s mental health services (CAMHS), recent funding commitments, and describes concerns that have been raised around levels of access and provision.
The note also identifies efforts to improve mental health provision in schools, including new guidance for teachers on mental health, access to schools-based counselling, and recommendations for mandatory mental health education on the national curriculum.
The note also sets out recent discussions on funding and investment in CAMHS services. (Parliament UK)
• You can download the report here.
• Child adversity and psychological troubles may speed up aging
Maturing early may not be the only way children who face adversity age. Researchers have found that children who experienced childhood adversity or psychiatric disorders when young may age faster at a cellular level. Stress is also linked to health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
The study, published online in Biological Psychiatry, was conducted by researchers at Butler Hospital. They discovered that both telomeres and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) change, which can speed up physical aging, according to Science Daily.
“Identifying the changes that occur at a cellular level due to these psychosocial factors allows us to understand the causes of these poor health conditions and possibly the overall aging process,” Audrey Tyrka, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, told Time magazine. (The Herald-Times)
• The mental health of needs of gang-affiliated young people
A briefing on the burden of mental illness faced by young people involved with gangs, part of the 'Ending Gang and Youth Violence' programme.
This briefing aims to understand and address the mental health needs of gang-affiliated young people, and outlines the:
--extent of mental illness in gang members;
--relationships between gang-affiliation and poor mental health;
--shared risk factors that contribute to both.
It also emphasises the need for a life course approach to prevention that:
--addresses risk factors;
--promotes resilience in young people;
--provides appropriate support for vulnerable young people.
The briefing summarises evidence of the types of interventions that can:
--protect children from antisocial behaviour and poor mental health;
--treat mental illness in vulnerable young people. (Gov.uk)
• You can download the briefing here.
• Scottish ministers under fire over huge drop in mental health research
Despite a growing consensus that psychological conditions should be given the same priority as physical illnesses, new figures have revealed that a declining fraction of Scottish Government research budgets are spent on increasing understanding of conditions such as depression and dementia or developing new drugs and therapies.
The findings have led to demands that ministers back up their rhetoric over the importance of helping patients with mental illnesses with action. A recent survey revealed that more than a quarter of Scots have experienced a mental health problem.
In the two years after the SNP won power in 2007, around £7m of Government cash was invested in mental health research. However, last year just £860,000 was spent on projects specific to mental health from a budget of £69m.
In the current financial year, spending fell further with £526,000 so far allocated, the lowest annual total in eight years. (Herald Scotland)
• Los Creativamente Inadaptados: The alternatives to psychiatry movement in Chile/Argentina
Writes Sascha Altman Dubrul:
At some point, after a few days, amidst the heat of the city, and all the stories I had heard from my new friends, and my time riding the subways and the buses, looking into stranger’s eyes, looking at the familiar slick advertisements and chain stores everywhere, the palm trees planted to mimic the city of Miami, it hit me like a hard slap in the face: this country, Chile, this “economic miracle,” this “neoliberal experiment,” is the perfect way to explain everything that’s wrong with the biomedical model of “mental illness.”
Where I live, back in the United States, it’s so common to use the language of “mental illness” to talk about people’s individual problems. We take it as a given, as some kind of scientific truth that if we are depressed, it is because we have a chemical imbalance in our brain. We assume that someone who is “schizophrenic” is so because of some genetic flaw. There is something wrong with our neurotransmitters, our personal biology, something that can be cured with a pill. But this is culture, not science. Even if some us are born more sensitive and different, and even if some of us use pills to take care of ourselves in this crazy world, that doesn’t make us “sick.” The whole idea of “sickness” comes from the culture we live in. And it’s a culture that has a political origin.
You can’t get a more stark example of how neoliberal politics and psychiatry work than in the country of Chile. (Mad in America)
The Guardian published a moving extract of Laurel Braitman's book Animal Madness, featuring a homesick gorilla, a heartbroken otter, a bereaved schnauzer, a tiger with a nervous tic, and Braitman's deeply disturbed rescue dog called Oliver.
People who talk about the emotional lives of animals sometimes get accused of anthropomorphism but it's patently obvious that animals feel, and if you don't believe it, spend Guy Fawkes night or New Year's Eve with a nervous dog when fireworks are going off all around.
An undergraduate professor, John Crook—a wise and enlightened Buddhist—used to talk to us about the evolutionary survival benefits of emotions. He wrote the book on the evolution of consciousness. It doesn't start and end with humans. In the book The Feeling of What Happens, Antonio Damasio describes a continuum: animals first developed instinctive, emotional reactions (reptilian brain), then they evolved to experience inner feelings around those emotions (mammalian brain), followed by an ability to have knowledge of those feelings, to think about them (human brain).
Along with emotions and feelings emerges the possibility of animals developing mental health problems. There are dogs who are anxious, narcissistic, schizoid. Paranoid dogs, OCD dogs, psychotic dogs. Dogs that were abused as puppies and suffered lifelong post-traumatic stress. I know a dog called Daisy, a lovely rescue from Battersea Dogs' Home, who sometimes gets the blues. Peter Singer argues that we all have a responsibility to examine the amount of suffering that we are directly or indirectly responsible for, or complicit in—that's the yardstick. It's hard to live ethically, but we do what we can. Humans are at their best when they're being humane. We need to treat animals with great care, especially our fellow mammals. Partly to save them, and partly to save ourselves.
Bridging the animal-human divide works both ways. We are animals, too, and we forget that at our peril. So often our human brain takes over and tries to rationalize away emotions or deny them, or repress them, to overrule our reptilian and mammalian brains, with unfortunate results. InWaking the Tiger, Peter Levine writes that by cutting ourselves off from our "primitive, instinctual self, humans alienate their bodies from their souls." As a result, we exist "in a limbo in which we are neither animal nor fully human." Ignoring our animal responses is akin to taping over the warning lights on the dashboard of your car. Eventually you blow a gasket, run out of fuel, or your engine melts down. The car stops. Time to call a breakdown service and get help.
1. What is a psychopath?
John Barton is a counsellor, psychotherapist, blogger and writer with a private practice in Marylebone, Central London. To contact, click here.