Mental Wellness for the Police

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Flashing the sirens on police brutality… Refuse to let these acts of violence become a repeat offender.

Take a stand to end the mental health stigma within our law enforcement agencies. Dissolve the mental health stigma and demand mandatory mental health evaluations and routine checkups of each and every officer. Law enforcement officers are sworn to serve and protect the community, not to bully and intimidate. Peace of mind shouldn’t come at price.

Watch out for signs of mental distress in your children

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(This post originally appears at miamitimesonline.com as a part of the “A Local Voice on Mental Health” column)

Discussions about mental wellness should be shared with our children. Suicide rates among Black children have doubled in the last two decades. U.S. suicide rates have been higher historically amongst whites of all ages, but the rates of suicides amongst Black boys and girls continue to rise.

Most Americans are uncomfortable discussing mental illness, and especially in certain communities. My first experience with mental illness was during junior high school. A very close friend struggled with personal identity and felt she did not fit in. She would avoid attending school on some days by telling her mother that she was sick. She would isolate and was withdrawn – not attending after-school functions and not socializing in popular teen hang out areas. Eventually, she attempted to kill herself by overdosing on medications.

The most difficult years of development is the adolescent period. It is the bridge between childhood and adulthood. The transition to the teenage period is complicated by puberty, further gender development, sexual identity, concern about how one appears to others and creating one’s identity in society. Peer pressure to engage in sexual activity or use substances such as cigarettes, alcohol and drugs is common.

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Mental Injury of the Negro: Ending a History of Silence & Shame

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Where do we begin in trying to understand the mental injury of the Negro? African Americans are a lineage beget from thievery, hatred, greed and trickery. One should never minimize the power of the brain, specifically its ability to create physical and mental manifestations of mental duress, even while in the womb. How many generations of Negroes developed in a womb while receiving the vibes and energy of a somber, scared and sometimes angry black slave? What about the Negroes born to a mother who was raped and had been continuously? Negroes lived a daily life, hour to hour, of constant fear, condemnation and uncertainty. What effects have these emotions had on the brains of African Americans?

Black History Month is an anamnesis of our heritage to recall the timeline and plight of the Negro. This timeline is one filled with trauma and simultaneously one that has created strengths, bonds and dynamism that some races will never achieve. Names like Osborne Perry Anderson, author of, Voice from Harper’s Ferry, Harriet Tubman, Octavious Catto, Thomas Bowers, Martin Luther King Jr, James Madison Bell, Robert Bogle, Benjamin A. Boseman, William Hooper Councill and many more created a standard of creatively enduring the difficulties, while devising a plan to overcome.
Psychological traumas were produced by the brutal kidnappings, centuries of enslavement, the fight for freedom which alone included several agonizing steps such as the Emancipation Proclamation, establishing the Thirteenth Amendment, multiple Civil Rights Acts, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and Jim Crow laws. Watching loved ones receive beatings, undergo violent amputations and be sexually assaulted also created mental anguish for those made to observe. In addition to these insults, Negroes were illiterate until the 1900’s, rendering them unqualified to perform a host of occupations and subsequently impoverished in many cases. Segregation, riots which included the mass killings of African Americans, the lynching of innocent brown faces and the overuse of force by law enforcement all created a climate of paranoia, angst, somber moods and in general, emotional turmoil. These emotions have been shared from one generation to the next either via witnessing events or hearing about these stories.

Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and the inability to manage anger are the results of this timeline. In addition, the inability to love or seek love in a healthy manner was created by the insecurity amongst family units during slavery. For many decades, African Americans could not safely love or be loved. Rape was a common occurrence for men and women. The humiliation felt from one decade to the next has made us guarded and leery of others. Also, negative treatment has resulted in a mistrust of authorities.

Slavery and racism have created socioeconomic disparities which are associated with poor health, including mental. Adult blacks are more likely to experience psychological distress than adult whites. Based on statistics, adult blacks are more likely to experience symptoms of hopelessness, somber moods and worthlessness. During a national survey on clinical depression, an overwhelming number of African Americans indicated that depression is a personal weakness and perceived to be a “normal” variant of life. African Americans are not as likely as other races to seek medication treatment or other treatment for mental health.

Every person deserves to feel a sense of contentment during most days. Low or somber moods are just one indication of a possible mental health problem. Psychological stress or mental health symptoms are not a sign of weakness. We should share information with our children, siblings, parents to educate them on the signs of a possible mental health problem, AND we should encourage them to receive and participate in treatment. Not having access to health care and being forced to find comfort amongst our families and the church was a way of life for several decades but no longer. We should empower ourselves with information, access care and not suffer in silence.

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Holiday Blues

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The Grinch is an intriguing character, always appearing to have a broken heart and dispiritedness, even during the holiday season, which according to many songs, is the most wonderful time of the year. With all of the happy songs describing how we should be merry and bright, the holiday season can still bring about melancholy for some.

While shopping in the department store on Christmas Eve 2014, the speakers were blaring Silent Night by the Temptations. I began to cry uncontrollably. I found a corner in the back of the store and turned my back to the sales floor while I allowed the tears to create a river down my face. Christmas is one of the happiest holidays of the year because of the many Christmas Eves and Christmas days that my mother single handedly transformed into magical days. For nearly two decades, I watched her begin planning for our Christmas feast, following the Thanksgiving holiday. I marveled at how she would purchase and acquire presents several weeks preceding December. She would hide the gifts in her bedroom closet and wrap them the night before. My mom passed away in 2005. I have never gotten over the pain of missing my mother and her holiday ‘swag’. I cry every year during the November and December holidays.

The holiday blues wraps his arms around me every fall. He shows me mental images and photographs of my dearest mother smiling and enjoying herself as she dices onions and peppers for her cornbread stuffing, mixes flour mix for homemade pie crusts, prepares cookies, pies and cakes, all prepared a few days before Christmas Day. He sings in my ear as he reminds me about all of the holiday carols sang by the Motown artists, like Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and Smokey Robinson. My mother would begin listening to carols the week of Thanksgiving, as she prepared Thanksgiving dinner.

The holiday blues should not be confused with more serious illnesses such as Major Depressive Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder or types of anxiety illnesses. These illnesses have specific criteria that include the symptoms or signs experienced which also cause social or occupational dysfunction, such as missing days from work, not interacting with family members or friends or a change in habits such as indulging in cigarettes or alcohol more than usual. The cause of my holiday blues is the untimely death of my mother.

Other causes of holiday blues or stress could be due to the inability to meet certain obligations such as buying gifts for children, family and or loved ones. It can be caused by a relationship break-up, being isolated from loved ones during the holiday, for example, college students who cannot make it home for Thanksgiving, soldiers deployed overseas who have to spend their holidays without their spouses and children. Moving to a new location for the sake of starting a new job can result in holiday isolation due to the inability to take a vacation or afford a trip back home during the holiday season. The cold weather and the decreased amount of sunlight can worsen one’s mood. Holiday stress or the ‘blues’ can be produced by having unrealistic expectations, overextending one’s self, and too many financial obligations. Somber moods or crying may occur but so can headaches, sleep difficulties, low energy and overeating.

My ‘blues’ are remedied by staying involved in holiday preparations for my family and friends. I maintain contact with my social network and plan for most of the same traditions I watched my mother create. Maintaining a social network does not require socializing with a large group of people. For some, being with an intimate, small group is more helpful in attenuating the sadness. I try to make the memories of my mother and the holidays a happy one, but also do not fear my own tears. Reframing our holiday story to create a more positive picture is an effective intervention to managing our blues. Exercise is always a great way to naturally release endorphins, our feel-good chemicals made in the brain. Maintaining a regular exercise schedule PRIOR to the holidays will ease the transition into this difficult time period. If possible, sexual activity can be quite useful as it too can increase our ability to produce endorphins. Intimacy is vital because it makes us feel wanted, needed and not alone. The most helpful intervention is staying busy and not allowing one’s self to be idol or feel alone.

Do not allow the upcoming holiday season to subjugate you. Focus on the true meaning of the holiday based on your own religious beliefs and maintain your family traditions. Although man has created a holiday that promotes overspending and superficial ideas, we can be true to ourselves and embrace the holiday for its legitimate meaning to life, which is the birth of Christ. Christ is the indubitable, unwavering meaning of love, loyalty, selflessness and hope.

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Relationships 101: Issues

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(This post originally appears at miamitimesonline.com as a part of the “A Local Voice on Mental Health” column)

Steve Harvey and I agree on some things.  We should all take at least 90 days to get acquainted with someone before we categorize their role in our lives. It is okay to feel a certain way about that person early but one should label these feelings accurately – sexual attraction, infatuation, great friendship quality, lover, relationship potential. If you are someone who requires labels in your life, label and then wait on it.

In mental health, we believe that 90 days is an adequate amount of time to spend with someone to assess personality quirks as characteristics, such as seeing if the person is a giver or a taker and observing them to learn how they interact with others. When we are younger, most of us are not taught much about personalities, personality traits, such as bad or negative traits and that personality disorders exist. Spend 90 days hanging out with someone and it will reveal these things, which may include red flags.


 

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Experiences past, present prove life isn’t ‘normal’

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(This post originally appears at miamitimesonline.com as a part of the “A Local Voice on Mental Health” column)

Apparently, life in one particular decade is full of similarities to another.  There have been many tragedies and horrific stories in the last few years. Media itself can sensationalize a lot but now with social media and its role in disseminating information, we learn about things faster and learn about situations that may have not made the local or national news.  Some things never change and appear the same from decade to decade — sin, love and relationships.

One day while doing rounds at the nursing home, I interviewed a new patient. She was born in November 1923.  I was asked to see her because she was prescribed a sleeping pill. At 91 years old but appearing more like 71, she was vibrant and very engaging. She spoke freely to me during our first visit about death and finding romance a second time in her life. She didn’t volunteer information but my inquiries were well answered. I learned that when she was 42 her two daughters, ages 18 and 23, were murdered by the 23-year-old daughter’s husband.  He murdered her on their first wedding anniversary.  He killed her, her 18-year-old sister, their father, and then killed himself.  My patient asked if I wanted to see pictures of her daughters. The 23-year-old daughter’s picture was a solo portrait from her wedding day.


 

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Are you ready for football? Learn head trauma signs

By | By Dr. Thomas | No Comments

(This post originally appears at miamitimesonline.com as a part of the “A Local Voice on Mental Health” column)

The best time of year for some of us is the fall. Whether it’s the delight of seeing the leaves turn their rainbow of colors or the smell in the air of cooler days, fall is a beloved season.

It is also the time of year for football and soccer, two highly watched sports. If you’re a fan or someone who follows the news, you’ve heard about the lawsuits and concerns surrounding the highly debated disease of the brain, namely Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE.

CTE is a very serious brain injury that occurs due to repetitive blows to the head or actions that can cause shaking of the head. CTE was originally identified in boxers but now is associated with any contact sport such as soccer, wrestling, ice hockey, football — any sport that could cause repetitive blows to the head. It is a diagnosis that can be made only postmortem. It is important to note that not every person exposed to repetitive brain injuries will develop CTE.


 

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Anxiety can overwhelm your life in so many different ways

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(This post originally appears at miamitimesonline.com as a part of the “A Local Voice on Mental Health” column)

I walked out to the study to escort my next patient into the office. He was 19. When I walked to the study, I expected to see him waiting alone.  He sat with his parents — a Black male appearing his stated age, of Jamaican and Haitian descent. He was dressed in basketball shorts and T-shirt.  He looked at me directly, maintained eye contact and followed me back to my office.

Before I could begin the assessment, he began to detail his ordeal.

“I don’t know what to do anymore. I can’t seem to make it. I’ve tried to handle this and nothing is working,” he said.


 

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When it comes to diseases of the brain, #IamStigmaFree

By | By Dr. Thomas | No Comments

(This post originally appears at miamitimesonline.com as a part of the “A Local Voice on Mental Health” column)

Growing up with two parents who were natives of Mississippi taught me a lot about mental illness — unbeknownst to me — until I was a student studying to become a medical doctor. I realized that my father was a narcissist and my mother endured depression as a result of being reared in Jonestown, Mississippi. I was a daddy’s girl, and my parents were married until my mother died at age 51, from a succession of illnesses as a result of her diabetes, hypertension and cigarette smoking habit.

At age 23 when I matriculated in medical school, I had dreams to deliver babies. However, something else stole my attention. During my rotation in psychiatry and neurology, I found illnesses that afflict the brain much more intriguing. The patients seemed helpless and this tugged on my heart. I felt pity that for some of these brain diseases, like schizophrenia, there was no cure, but only ways to keep them calm and less psychotic.


 

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