Doing Life Together

soldier 1Memorial day is supposed to honor men and women who died in all wars. This is why many of us visit the graves of our fallen loved ones and fly the American flag at half-staff until noon. Others march in parades, visit monuments and pray.

And while many of us have lost loved ones in the service of our country, there is another war going on within that is taking our soldiers lives as well. It’s war against hopelessness and depression. According to NBC news correspondent Bill Briggs, in 2012 more soldiers took their lives by suicide than died in combat. Last year, the New York Times posted an article about the “baffling” rates of suicide in the U.S. military.

Since 2002 the suicide rate among soldiers has risen dramatically. The U.S. Army Public Health Command reported that from 2004-2008, the suicide rate of active duty military increased by 80%! Last year, the AP reported that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it took an average of 4 years to fully provide the mental health benefits owed veterans. It also noted that is often took weeks for a suicidal veterans to get a first appointment. Obviously, suicidal people can’t wait weeks to be seen for help. Additionally, the report mentioned the flood of post traumatic stress disorder that were handled with “unchecked incompetence.”

So why are we seeing this rise in suicide?

1) Suicide is still a stigma in the military where you are not supposed to be weak. The message is suck it up and do your job.

2) A report by the Pentagon on suicide noted that half the troops who killed themselves in 2011 had a failed intimate relationship and about a quarter experienced substance abuse.

3) During war, recruitment changes. You tend to get those who really want to fight or those who are desperate for a job. The two groups are very different with the latter being more at risk.

4) With constant war, recruitment standards are lowered because you need more people, thus, you get a more at risk population. A new study (JAMA Psychiatry) showed that almost 1 in 5 soldiers had a mental illness like depression, panic or ADHD before they joined the military. The question is how did these recruits get past the screening?

5) Another JAMA study found those with multiple concussions were more likely to report suicidal thoughts.

6) The strain of war takes a toll, especially when there are extended tours.

7) Rapid deployment and exposure to combat act like a catalyst to worsen existing problems.

8) Untreated Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and PTSD are risk factors.

9) Delay in services and treament. The federal government does not have a handle on how to deliver prompt and efficient services.

10) Officers are busy and do not always pay attention to their soldiers, especially first-termers. Thus, the signs of suicide can go unnoticed.

The military has initiated suicide prevention programs. Soldiers are taught to “Ask, Care and Escort” anyone who talks about suicide. The idea is to get those at risk to a provider and not leave them alone. There is also a prevention lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK.

We have to do better when it comes to the care of our soldiers. They risk their lives for us. We need to be there to help when they need us.


love addictedSome of you remember singer Robert Palmer’s well-known music video, Addicted to Love. The chorus repeats the line, “Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love.”

What if Palmer was on to something here? Can people be addicted to love?

Psychiatrist Vineeth John at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, thinks this could be possible.

He and his colleagues are studying  neurobiological love to see if love could indeed be addictive. They defined love addiction as “a pattern of maladaptive behaviors and intense interest toward 1 or even more romantic partners at the detriment of other interests and resulting in a lack of control and significant impact on functionality.” In other words, love addiction would be harmful, destructive or dangerous to a person and cause much distress.

In the study, Dr. John noted that the same parts of the brain associated with substance abuse were activated when a study participant was shown a picture of his/her love. The neural circuits associated with attachment and addiction disorders were shared.

Because of the neurobiology involved, Dr. John wonders if this reflects attachment problems. He speculates that love addiction could be a form of attachment disorder that goes beyond the average person falling in love. Specially, love addiction might come in to play when a person can’t get over a broken relationship  or stays in a relationship despite danger.

Most of us can think of someone like this–a person who just can’t let go of a relationship that is not healthy.

Dr. John believes that people who might become love addicted have these qualities:

1) They have an immature concept of love.

2) They have high levels of impulsivity and anxiety.

3) They are in a maladaptive social environment.

4) They have an anxious-ambivalent attachment style.

5) They experience structural affective dependence.

Love addiction is only in the process of being studied. It is not a mental disorder or a condition psychiatrists treat with medications. It is one of those conditions that we see with people who can’t seem to let go of an unhealthy relationship and move forward with life.

In those cases, maybe he or she is addicted love!

ID-10067330“No, you can’t play with us! ”

When children are left out of activities with their peers, it is painful. No one likes to be the child that isn’t picked in P.E. or the one who didn’t get invited to a birthday party.

Researchers have looked at why some kids are rejected. Here are some of their findings related to boys:

About half of rejected boys tend to be aggressive, argumentative and disruptive. Others (up to 20%) are shy and withdrawn or socially awkward. Their immature, sometimes awkward behavior, can cause rejection, or rejection can bring out their immaturity.

Still others try to be funny but don’t understand the nuances of humor and can come off annoying.  Some kids don’t read the cues of others well enough to know when to stop talking or be less aggressive. Those kids need help recognizing “stop” signals, e.g., the person is looking or walking away.

Other kids are a poor sport, try too hard to impress others by bragging, or isolate too much.

So if your son is struggling with rejection, think about what may be driving the rejection in terms of his behavior. Also, you may want to ask his teacher since he/she observes his peer interactions and could provide feedback.

Once you have a handle on the cause, you can work on teaching more socially appropriate behavior, targeting specific areas. Finally, I have found that when a rejected child has one friend to call his own, it takes the sting out of needing acceptance from the group.

child runningA mom notices that her three-year-old son eats dirt, paper and sand. She wonders if this is normal and if he will eventually grow out of this behavior.  

A child who persistently eats nonnutritive substances like dirt, sand and paper for a period of over a month could be suffering from pica.

Pica is more common in children with autism and developmental delays, but affects other children as well. About 10% to 20% of children, ages one to six are affected by this disorder.

Pica is a type of eating disorder that needs to be evaluated by a medical doctor who can rule out anemia, intestinal blockage or possible toxins or bacteria ingested from the items consumed.

Pica can be triggered from a nutritional deficiency in which the child craves iron or zinc. So checking low iron, zinc and other nutritional deficiencies through a blood test is a first step. A physician will also look for health related problems that may arise from what is ingested.

A child therapist can then work with the child using behavioral strategies aimed at stopping the consumption of nonfood items.

Parents should monitor eating at home and put items commonly eaten out of sight. Play areas should be regularly cleaned and vacuumed often. It is also a good idea to provide activities that keep a child’s hands busy. Finally, reinforce eating appropriate items, talking about the differences of nonfood and food items.

Sometimes this problem lasts several months; others times, it can disappear on its own. However, in some cases, it can continue into the teen and adult years, but this is more common when pica is related to a developmental disorder.