anxiety

Gun Safety as a Public Health Issue

By: Elizabeth Pownall, LPC

Gun violence is an epidemic that affects the heart, soul and public safety of all Americans. 

In 2019 alone, 40,000 Americans were killed by gun violence. To put this in perspective: there were 58,220 soldiers killed in action in the Vietnam War. (Vietnam War U.S. Military Fatal Casualty Statistics)

In the year 2019-2020, U.S. gun deaths increased by 35%: (A Year in Review 2020 GUN DEATHS IN THE U.S. 

  • Gun violence was the leading cause of death among children, teens, and young adults under the age of 25. 

Young people under 30 were nearly 10 times more likely to die by firearm than from COVID-19 in 2020. 

  • More than 24,000 people died by gun suicide. 
  • There were 45,222 gun deaths, the highest number of gun deaths ever in the U.S. 
  • Black males ages 15-34 were 20 times more likely to be victims of gun homicide than white males of similar age. 
  • Someone living in Mississippi, which has weak gun laws, was 8.5 times more likely to die by gun violence than someone living in Hawaii, a state that has some of the strongest gun laws in our nation. 

It is easy to jump to a simple answer: just remove the guns. But that response will not work. This is a complex problem interwoven into American culture and history. So what can be done about this? 

Researchers and policy-makers with John’s Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions advocate a public health approach to reducing gun violence and gun death. 

A public health approach looks like this: Stakeholders, experts and institutions come together to define and monitor the problem, identify risk and protective factors, develop and test prevention strategies, and ensure widespread adoption of effective strategies.

What is public health? Public health works to address the underlying causes of a disease or injury before they occur, promote healthy behaviors and control the spread of outbreaks. 

We have a strong track record in the United States, where the public health approach proved effective. It is because of this approach that there is a great reduction in smoking-related deaths, infant mortality, automobile-related death, to name a few. 

Consider this: when I started driving in 1975, there was no seatbelt law, nor was there a big emphasis on drunk driving. We drove with open containers and might or might not wear seatbelts.

By using a comprehensive public health approach to car safety, the United States reduced per-mile driving deaths by nearly 80% from 1967 to 2017. Car safety has been one of the greatest American public health successes in our nation. 

No one thinks twice now about putting on a seatbelt. 

And getting caught drunk driving? One’s social life, professional life and family relationships are threatened when this occurs, such is the humiliation and legal consequences involved, thanks to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the public health approach. To reduce gun violence, a similar public health approach must be applied. 

To repeat, Gun violence was the leading cause of death among children, teens, and young adults under the age of 25. 

This seems highly preventable, unnecessary, and so very tragic. We are an industrialized nation, and we are losing our own to gun violence because there is so little prevention. 

Politicians are talking about the Right to Life these days? Okay, then, let’s talk about the right to live without the fear of gun violence. When a child is shot and killed, they lose decades of potential: the potential to grow up, have a family, contribute to society, and follow their dreams. In 2019, 925,023 years of potential life were lost before the age of 65, more than diabetes, stroke and liver disease combined. 

Here is how a public health approach looks:

  1. Define the problem of violence through data collection; collecting data is essential 
  2. Identify risk and protective factors: why violence occurs, who it affects 
  3. Develop and test prevention strategies and see what works 
  4. Ensure widespread adoption of effective strategies The success of auto safety relied on research, regulations, licensing, registration, preventing risky individuals from driving, manufacturing standards required to make cars safer (installing seatbelts and airbags), age requirements, license renewal, ongoing monitoring and regulation, and liability. 

Without exception, each of these steps can be taken to reduce gun violence. (All information from Learn More about Gun Violence) The lethality and availability of firearms drive our high homicide rate. At this point, there is not a lot of attention paid to the prevention of gun violence. 

In the latest Supreme Court decision on New York State Rifle & Pistol Assoc v Bruen (overturning NY State’s concealed carry permit law), it is reported that in the six concurring opinions, public health was disregarded while the three dissenting justices focused on public health as the way to reduce gun violence. (The Supreme Court’s Ruling on Guns | Johns Hopkins John’s Hopkins leaders

How do we stop gun violence in America suggest the steps our country can take to address the epidemic of mass shootings: 

  1. Make it harder to turn violent thoughts into violence. Violent thoughts are not unique, but easy means to quickly turn violent thoughts into action is. “America suffers more shootings because it is much easier for even fleeting violent thoughts here to be immediately translated into deadly action thanks to easy access to military-grade weaponry”. (Paul Nestadt
  2. More police in schools don’t solve the problem of easy access to guns. While data shows a 10-year decline in reports of students with weapons at school, rates of gun-related injury and death have increased over the past seven years and are currently higher than they have ever been recorded. “Making schools safer requires policymakers to address how young people access firearms”. (Odis Johnson
  3. Focus on humiliation in schools as a driver of withdrawal, confrontation, and violence. Humiliation is a factor in bullying, fear, violence, hate, discrimination, vengeance, and self-harm. It is a barrier to social inclusion, yet it has received limited attention in research, policy, and teacher and administrator education and training. (Sheldon Greenberg
  4. Ensure buildings are secure. “One conversion to emerge (following Uvalde) from this tragic period is how we can make small yet consequential building upgrades to school doors so that every child can be safe and healthy in school”.(Annette Anderson
  5. Leaders who fail to act are culpable. “As a professional working on federal policy to prevent gun violence, I am frustrated by the inaction. Leaders who fail to act are also culpable in these situations.” (Spencer Cantrell
  6. There are policies that work to prevent gun violence —if we deploy them. Public health means prevention. The John’s Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions “will continue to educate policymakers and the public about preventive measures to curb this epidemic”. (Lisa Geller
  7. Turn heartache into action. “We can prevent violence. Through comprehensive firearm licensing policies, large capacity magazine limits, safe firearm storage, and extreme risk protective orders but also hospital-based and community-based violence intervention programs, police reform, addressing social determinants of health and dismantling structural racism. 

But to do this, we must all turn our heartache into action.” (Katherine Hoops) Information from the article: How do we stop gun violence in America?

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Can Scheduling ‘Worry Time” Help Us?

Scheduling our days in advance can be a great thing! It can help us stay on track with our goals and help eliminate procrastination and confusion throughout the day. 

Now, most of us schedule our chores, errands and workouts. 

But have you ever tried scheduling Worry Time? 

Worry Time is a technique that involves scheduling some time during the day to worry. 

Even though this may sound contradictory, Worry Time is actually designed to help us reduce the time we spend worrying about things. 

Ready to learn more? Keep on reading. 

The Schedule 

First, you’ll want to choose a time of day that works best for your Worry Time. Keeping this time consistent is ideal. 

What sounds more pleasant? 

Scheduling 10 – 20 minutes a day to worry about things, or worrying off and on an entire day? 

You can save worries or anxiety for Worry Time by writing them down as they pop up, so you can reflect on them later.

Focus On Being Productive During The Day

Now that you’ve set your worries aside to be tackled later – you spend the day being productive and doing activities that bring you joy! 

This doesn’t mean that every single day will be smooth sailing. We can’t always control what thoughts pop up. You just have to keep reminding yourself that thoughts are not always as they seem, and they can be dealt with later on. 

Reflection

During Worry Time, you can ask yourself questions such as…

  • Is this thought true?
  • Can I absolutely prove that this thought is true?
  • How does this thought make me feel?
  • How would I feel if this thought vanished? 

More often than not, the things we worry about never happen or aren’t true. 

Taking the time to truly reflect and think about our thought patterns can help us think about the situation in a positive light.

You have much more control over your thoughts and actions than you give yourself credit for.

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Enjoying Vacation Comes Down to a Science

Skipping or putting a vacation on hold may feel ideal at the moment. But ultimately, that is far from the truth.

Not only are vacations fun – but they can benefit your mind, body and soul.

Recognizing the Value of a Vacation

Have you ever felt guilty about taking a vacation? 

Have you ever felt like there isn’t much of a point or that your time would better be spent working? 

Vacations are far from a waste of time. They can improve mental health, boost job performance, and increase creativity.

A great vacation doesn’t have to be long or expensive by any means. Taking a mini weekend staycation at a friend’s house or local hotel can deliver all the benefits and then some.

Mixing Things Up

Even if you thrive on routine, mixing things up for even a few days can help increase motivation, energy and creativity.

When we do the same thing day in and day out – the activities we typically love can start to feel less exciting.

Taking a week off of television can help you enjoy it that much more down the line. 

You know what they say – absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Professional athletes schedule recovery days to let their muscles rest.

We need to do the same thing with our minds!

Above, we listed television as an example. But the activity you’d like to take a break from may be different.

What do you feel you need a break from?

Choose the Vacation Best For You

Our dream vacation may be different from yours, as we all have our own interests.

Some may enjoy a vacation full of back-to-back activities, while others may enjoy a few days sitting by the pool reading a book. At the end of the day, all that matters is your happiness and ability to enjoy yourself.

Most of us declutter our homes pretty often – taking vacations can help declutter our minds from stress. What are you waiting for? There is no time like the present to start planning your next adventure! 

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PTSD Awareness Month

By: Betsy Pownall

June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month. PTSD is a complex disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing trauma.

While PTSD was recognized as an official mental health disorder in 1980, it has been part of being human since time began. PTSD has been called many names such as “shell shock” during WWI and “combat fatigue” in WWII. 

However, PTSD does not just affect veterans. It can occur in anyone regardless of age, ethnicity, nationality, culture, or socio-economic status. 

Statistics:

PTSD affects 3.5% of U.S. adults every year. 

One in 11 people will be diagnosed with it in their lifetime. 

Women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD. 

U.S. Latinos, African-Americans and Native Americans are disproportionately affected and have higher rates of PTSD than non-Latino whites. 

The U.S. military is highly affected by PTSD. 

Veterans deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have an 11-20% risk to develop PTSD while veterans of the Vietnam War face a 30% risk of developing PTSD. 

Causes: 

PTSD has a variety of causes and affects individuals differently. It may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a terrorist act/war/active combat, natural disaster, serious accident, rape/sexual assault or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury. 

A diagnosis of trauma usually requires a person to have direct exposure to a traumatic event, but it can also be indirect exposure. It can also occur as a result of repeated exposure to traumatic events. 

Symptoms and Diagnosis of PTSD – Individual Differences: 

Trauma affects people in different ways with varying severity. 

Some people seem to be more protected, or resilient when exposed to trauma while others may be more vulnerable to the effects of trauma. 

Different trauma creates different triggers; it is impossible to know how a severe traumatic event will affect an individual. 

Recovering from trauma is a highly personalized process. 

You have the power to help people with PTSD, even if you are not a mental health professional. 

  • Get familiar with local resources just in case a friend or loved one needs support
  • Listen to the issues and concerns of those affected by PTSD 
  • Read about PTSD to better understand it.

Resources:

The Trauma Healing Project 

VA Benefits 

Local Trauma-Informed Care Resources  

PTSD: National Center for PTSD 

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)  

Books: 

There are a lot of good books on trauma. 

Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, by Judith Herman, M.D.

My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies, by Resmaa Menakem

The Politics of Trauma: Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice, by Staci Haines

When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir, by Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele

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Relieving Stress One Habit At A Time

Stress is a normal part of life.

We may not be able to control every situation, but we can find ways to minimize potential stressful events through our actions.

Be Prepared

Let us know if any of these thoughts sound familiar…

Oh, I’ve got to print out those directions before my hike next week. 

I have that big presentation tomorrow. I can’t forget to email my boss those notes. 

I can’t forget to get gas before my road trip this weekend.

Sometimes those tasks can take a lot longer than originally anticipated.

When time is of the essence, basic activities such as filling up gas can be quite stressful. 

Knocking those chores off the list sooner rather than later can take a huge weight off your shoulders. Every task completed is one less thing to worry about. 

Make a Habit of Setting Reminders

Regularly keeping your eyes on your watch throughout the day can be exhausting and prevent you from living in the present moment.

Setting aside 5 – 10 minutes every night before bed to set alarms for important events the following day is a great habit to get into. 

If you like, you can even set your alarm a few minutes earlier than necessary – in case you need a little buffer time.

Have an Appropriate Backup Plan

Even the most well-thought-out plans aren’t guaranteed to go smooth sailing every time, and that’s okay!

Life is unpredictable and frustrating events do happen.

Even if you leave your house 30 minutes earlier than necessary to get to a meeting, you still might be late.

Brainstorming a few solutions or backup plans in advance can give you some peace of mind. 

For example, if you get stuck in heavy traffic and don’t think you’ll be able to make a meeting on time, you can pull over and do the meeting from the car or let them know you will be there as soon as you can and encourage them to start without you.

Having those backup plans in place ahead of time can help prevent any stress or anxiety on your journey. 

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Alcohol Awareness Month

The month of April marks National Alcohol Awareness Month. The first Alcohol Awareness Month was founded by Marty Mann, one of the early members of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Most adults in the United States who drink alcohol can drink moderately and without any issues. However, alcohol-related problems are the third leading preventable cause of death in the country. Alcohol use disorders affect about 15 million adults in the United States, and an estimated 90,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year.

How do you know if drinking alcohol has become a problem for you or a loved one? Alcohol becomes a problem when it impacts your life in a negative way:

  • Has your personal or work life been deteriorating because of your drinking? 
  • Have you had times when you drank more or longer, than you intended? 
  • Are you drinking to feel better? 
  • Are you drinking to cope with stress or other problems? 
  • Do you feel anxious or irritable without a drink? 

If you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself, it may be time to evaluate the role that alcohol plays in your life. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has some helpful resources, including their Rethinking Drinking page, which allows you to take a closer look at your drinking patterns and offers research-based information to help you decrease or quit drinking. 

Alcohol dependence claims the lives of more than 90,000 people every year. In 1987, and is the most used substance by youth and adults in the United States. For more resources and ways to get help, you can check out the resources below:

Alcoholics Anonymous 

SMART Recovery

 Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder | NIAAA

What Are the Treatments for Alcohol Use Disorder?

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Setting Stronger Boundaries

Setting boundaries is so important – but more often than not is easier said than done.

Saying yes can open the door to new opportunities.

But saying no can help you establish a healthy relationship with yourself which in turn can help you maintain an appropriate work-life balance. 

There will be times when you may not know if you should say yes or no to something. 

Often our emotional response can help lead the way. 

If a specific request makes you feel tense, frustrated or uncomfortable, that is a common sign that a boundary is needed.

Keep on reading for a deeper dive into those emotions.

Tension

Some of us perform better under a little bit of pressure or tension – but too much of anything is not good.

Unresolved and/or intense tension can make it very difficult to relax, recharge and be productive throughout the way.

The next time you catch yourself experiencing tension, take some time to reflect and ask yourself if any event or person may be triggering that feeling.

If you can list one or more, that may be your body’s way of telling you something needs to change. 

Frustration

We all feel frustrated from time to time – whether it be at ourselves, someone else or an event.

Some examples include being stuck in traffic, having a disagreement with a friend or being unable to find a solution to a problem.

Feelings of frustration can sometimes be a sign that your current game plan may need some adjustments.

We may not be able to control everything.

But, we can often control more than we give ourselves credit for.

You can control how you approach things. 

You can control what you say yes to. 

And you can control your thoughts and behaviors. 

Discomfort

Feelings of discomfort are often followed by our gut communicating to us that something isn’t right.

Mild discomfort can be a positive thing and push us to step outside our comfort zone and persevere.

But moderate-severe discomfort can be exhausting and help us realize that a certain situation may be making us unhappy.

Final Thoughts

Our mind and body and very powerful and often have their own uniques ways of communication with us.

Deep down, if something doesn’t feel right to you, you have the power to flip the switch.

You can create new rules that can help protect both your emotional and mental energy.

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When Things Don’t Go According To Plan

Life is full of ups and downs, and things don’t always go our way.

Even the most thought-out plans can go sideways. That doesn’t mean you give up.

It just means you may have to re-route and change your path.

Channel Your Energy in a New Way 

Channelling your energy into a new engaging activity can help get your mind focused on something new and positive. 

Habits are great – however when we constantly do the same thing day in, and day out, we can find ourselves stuck in a rut.

Incorporating activities (big and small) into our day to day can help us look at things in a new way and re-set our motivation. 

Be Kind to Yourself and Others 

“Be careful how you are talking to yourself because you are listening.” – Lisa M. Hayes

The words we say to ourselves are so powerful. Even though it may not always feel like it, you have complete control over the stories you tell yourself.

A negative thought can quickly be transformed into a positive one if you allow it.

Being kind to yourself is just as important as being kind to others.

You have the courage within you to be kind! 

Be Honest With Yourself

Not all feelings are easy to pinpoint.

When there is so much going on, acknowledging how we feel isn’t always easy. 

Feelings such as disappointment, anger or sadness don’t always fade away on their own. 

Often they need to be noticed and reflected upon before they leave. 

The thing is, we can’t manage a feeling we don’t even know we have.

Setting aside 5 – 10 minutes a day to check in on ourselves and be completely honest about how we feel can help us become more in tune with our emotions.

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Eating Disorders Awareness Week

February 28th to March 6th is Eating Disorders Awareness Week which is a time to raise awareness of eating disorders and those who have lived through the experience.  A 2007 study published in Biological Psychiatry, found that 0.9% of women and 0.3% of men had anorexia during their life, 1.5% of women and 0.5% of men had bulimia during their life, and 3.5% of women and 2.0% of men had binge eating disorder during their life.

The consequences of eating disorders can be life-threatening and the stigma often associated with these disorders can impede timely diagnosis and treatment.

This week is meant to provide hope and support to the individuals and families who have been affected by eating disorders. Shining a light on the realities of eating disorders and making way for more visibility of these voices can pave the way for change. 

It’s important to challenge the myths and stereotypes connected to eating disorders as well as being aware of the risk factors for developing an eating disorder, including family history, cultural ideals of thinness, perfectionism and depression or anxiety.

We can learn more about eating disorders by watching videos, reading books, and listening to stories of those who have struggled.

Having these challenging conversations about eating disorder awareness and prevention with family, friends, and peers can help us all explore the importance of self-compassion and self-esteem.

Ideas for self compassion include meditation, mindfulness, gratitude, mirror work, finding joy and asking for help

We can take time to think about body image and how we can promote more kindness to others and ourselves.

You can check out these additional resources below to learn more:

What Are Eating Disorders? 

Eating Disorders Anonymous 

Contact The Helpline | Neda

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How To Adjust To A New Year And New Transitions

There are quite a handful of things in life we can’t control. Change and time are two of those things.

The start of a new year can often feel like a time of transition.

We may not know exactly what lies ahead but can control our attitude and outlook towards it. 

Develop a Sense of Agency

Do you ever feel a little lost going through the motions?

It’s so easy to feel like life is happening to us. But that is not the case.

You have a say in where you want to go in life.

You can make your own changes, both big and small.

Seek Gratitude

Practicing gratitue on a regular basis can help put several situations into perspective.

There is always something to be grateful for. You just have to know where to look. Practice noticing small events of appreciation once in a while.

Before you know it, it will become a habit. 

Be Present

There is no time like the present! Change and transition are inevitable.

Nothing we say or do will change what happened yesterday.

The only moment that matters right now is this very moment.

Time flies so fast – exactly why it is so important to appreciate every moment for what it is. 

“Your life is a story of transition. You are always leaving one chapter behind while moving on to the next.” – Anonymous

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