We know people in pain. Members in pain, leaders in pain and even organizers in pain. While there is the joy and relief that can come from a strong campaign victory, there are some battle wounds that endure. Standing on the shoulders of healers from past generations, a new cadre is emerging, integrating trauma and healing work into the everyday campaigns for social justice. Org Up’s Sushma sat with Tanuja Jagernauth, who enriches her organizing work in Chicago with young women and domestic violence survivors with trauma and harm reduction, skill sharing, and collective healing.
Q: What departures does healing / health justice work take from past practices?
I want to start with a working definition of healing justice. According to Cara Page, who wrote on Incite!’s blog about the Healing Justice work during the Detroit United States Social Forum (USSF), healing justice is “a framework that identifies how we can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence and bring collective practices that can impact and transform the consequences of oppression on our bodies, hearts and minds. Through this framework we built two political and philosophical convergences of healing inside of liberation.”
Also, let me also make healing justice more distinct from health justice. For me, the two are inseparable but for others they are very different. Health justice is very much about access to health care, modalities that accessible, harm reduction, and having a race, class, gender, ability, etc. analysis. But, health justice is not specifically targeted toward healing generational trauma and violence, nor is it specifically about developing community practices and visioning.
The way I understand it, healing justice acknowledges and addresses the layers and layers of trauma and violence that we have been living with and fighting for generations. And, it asks us to bring collective practices for healing and transformation INTO our work. It recognizes that we HAVE bodies, minds, emotions, hearts, and it makes the connection that we cannot do this work of transforming society and our communities without bringing collective healing into our work. People have been asking more and more questions about “sustainability” in the work. I think that working within a healing justice framework is a way to institutionalize sustainability in our work.
So, we are asking ourselves after and before actions, for example, what was the impact on our bodies, minds, and emotions? What came up for us? What tools do we need or do we have to address what came up and the impact? And the actions themselves address trauma and violence as they are addressing systemic oppression. So the work is necessarily creating intersections between what tend to be separate issues.
Q: What openings has the national debate on health care created for this work? What opportunities have closed?
At first, I thought that the national debate on health care would facilitate some awesome discussions on preventative health care and bring preventative and holistic health care into the national picture because it has been shown to be cost-effective to practice good preventative and holistic medicine. However, the debate ended up centering around access to emergency care, which we all do need because one night in the ER for a catastrophic event will bankrupt your family for sure. However, prevention and access to complementary and alternative modalities did not come into the discussion in a meaningful way, and I think a major opportunity was missed.
At the same time, at the 2010 USSF in Detroit, healing justice showed up in 2 amazing practice spaces and in one amazing PMA or People’s Movement Assembly (which you can read about in Cara’s Incite! blog). I was able to see first hand how awareness of healing justice elevated the discussion around making organizing work sustainable and I got to see within the Healing Justice Practice Space that people were transformed and restored and nourished on many levels by having access to various healing modalities WITHIN a week-long conference that can be triggering, very heady, and overwhelming for a lot of people.
Q: What are some exciting innovations taking place now?
I can speak to what I see in Chicago. The Young Women’s Empowerment Project, as part of their Street Youth Rise Up campaign, is focusing on Healing in Action. We are training the youth staff and outreach workers at YWEP in evidence-based herbal first aid and self care. Youth are documenting the harmful and unhelpful interactions they have with social services and hospitals and clinics via their Bad Encounter Line, which publishes a zine quarterly to describe and hold accountable the service providers. The Chicago Healing Justice Network is a network of people interested and invested in shaping what healing justice might look if taken to organizations and movement work within Chicago. Finally, I am working with a collective of four healers to create Sage Community Health Collective, a worker-owned and run healing collective. Our work will create access to health care services for everyone, but it will also include addressing the generational violence and trauma of our communities, within and without non-profit organizations and groups. We have the opportunity to partner with existing orgs to address family and community violence and systemic oppression, bringing health care and healing to the same table where housing rights, racism, food security, worker rights, feminism, disability, gender and sexuality, the environment and everything else is discussed.
In Chicago, as we build Sage, we will include acupuncture, shiatsu, herbology, nutrition, and yoga plus workshops and skillshares as services but our healing justice practice will include working with the community to support struggles we collectively identify, offering skillshares, and asking questions of ourselves and the healing community that challenge all of us to reconsider the ways in which we do health care and healing.
Writing will be a huge part of our work as we further define and tease out what we mean by healing justice. Community visioning will be part of our healing justice practice. In fact, we are putting together focus groups with organizations in our target region to ask what it would look like to them to have a health care system that works for them, and what would it look like to apply healing in their community to address violence and trauma. In some places, folks will work with Reiki or craniosacral therapy; in other places they will use sound and vibrational healing or somatics but what is the most important thing is the application of the underlying framework of healing justice: healing generational and community trauma and violence and, because we are organizers, the needs and desires and interests of those with whom we work are paramount, so what modalities we offer and bring will be informed by our community needs. Healing justice does not exclude allopathy or more mainstream health practices but for sure would try to be non judgemental, harm reductionist, respectful, etc within the use of those modalities. I think healing justice seeks access for everyone to holistic healing as part of the healing of generations of trauma and violence but also honors where people are at today, so it would not exclude antibiotics, etc. Healing justice would, however, ask questions about who has access and what modalities are more harmful to people and what modalities enforce violence and trauma and which ones are even culturally appropriative.
Q: Where and how does health justice work need to inter face with other sectors of the movement?
Healing generational trauma and violence demands an inter-sectional, inter-generational approach. One way that we saw this in action in Detroit was that the Healing Justice Practice Space was shut down for one day so that the healers could participate in an action targeting the large incinerator in Detroit, which was actually shut down recently. Making the deliberate choice to involve healers in the action made the statement that not only do we need to be active in supporting folks to heal their individual asthma and respiratory disorders, but we need to be involved in fighting the sources of their asthma and respiratory disorders: the structures that pollute the air they breathe and the people in power who keep those structures running. Healing justice intersects with every sector of the movement, and I am excited to see how we will collectively tease out the ways in which the intersections and collaborations happen. Sustainably.
Tanuja Jagernauth is a licensed acupuncturist and writer working in Chicago with the Young Women’s Empowerment Project, Devi Health, and Sage Community Health Collective. For fun and self-care, this November she is participating in National Novel Writing Month. You can check out her blog atwww.devihealth.blogspot.com or follow her on Twitter @tanuja_devi
A spike in diagnoses of ADHD and other mental disorders has fueled an unprecedented reliance on pharmaceutical medications to treat children, with long-term effects that remain unknown. We speak with Canadian physician and best-selling author, Dr. Gabor Maté. He argues that these responses are treating surface symptoms as causes while ignoring deeper roots. Dr. Maté says children are in fact reacting to the broader collapse of the nurturing conditions needed for their healthy development.
Katrina’s Toll Includes Rise in Suicide, Mental Illness
Thursday 26 August 2010
Biloxi, Miss. – The last five years have been a mental health roller coaster for many among the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s post-Hurricane Katrina population.
Suicides are up since Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005. More people are seeking treatment for substance abuse, therapists say, and post-traumatic stress disorder is on the rebound.
Though suicide numbers were higher in 2004 than in the years immediately after the storm, they have climbed in the years that followed. In Harrison County, the largest county on the Mississippi Coast, the number of people who committed suicide has increased since the storm from 30 in 2005 to 32 in 2006, 36 in 2007 and 44 in 2008.
The number dropped to 25 in 2009, then accelerated by mid-2010 to 23, almost matching last year’s total, based on records by Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove.
Because of the impact of Katrina, people haven’t gotten their lives back, said Dr. Sherman Blackwell, the executive director of Singing River Services in Pascagoula, which serves Jackson and George counties.
“Katrina not only changed the face of the Gulf Coast,” Blackwell said, “but the soul of it, the way people live. That impacted population has an increased risk for suicide and other risk-taking behaviors: alcohol and drugs, especially among middle-age men and adolescents.”
The people who kill themselves, however, are generally not the same people who receive mental health treatment, said Jeff Bennett, the director of the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center, which serves four Mississippi counties.
“About 99.9 percent of the time (suicides) are not involved in the mental health center,” Bennett said. “They see no resolution in treatment and put an end to it. People who are at the greatest risk for suicides are substance abusers … not thinking clearly, they put inhibitions aside.”
Gulf Coast Mental Health saw a spike in new cases following the hurricane, said Michael Maxey, the director of the crisis-stabilization unit. He said the increase was “largely caused by anxiety over Katrina, over future storms, over the oil spill, over economics.”
Its residential treatment center grew from an 18-bed program before the storm to a 40-bed program today, though the population of the four-county area it serves has decreased to approximately 296,632 today compared with a pre-Katrina 308,312.
Across time the stressors that trigger PTSD continue. Three years into the area’s hurricane recovery, the economy plummeted. Just when that was looking up, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened, followed a little more than a month later by the uncertainty of another hurricane season.
“Think about PTSD like the water level in a river,” said University of Mississippi Medical Center researcher Dr. Scott Coffey, who was part of a research team that undertook a two-year study published in 2008 on Katrina-related PTSD in lower Mississippi.
“If the river is running high and there is a rainstorm, the river may flood because there is very little room for error,” he said. “That’s kind of how it is with PTSD. Your stress is high, then when a little rain comes along, it goes over its bank. With PTSD the river is constantly running high.”
“With the current stresses going on,” Coffey said, “it may make it more likely they will continue to have PTSD. Predictors include financial stressors and significant social stressors, which are particularly relevant right now for folks on the Coast.”
“A large number of parents report that kids are still having mental health issues, ongoing problems,” said Dr. David Abramson, who’s the director of research for Dr. Irwin Redlener’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. The center’s ongoing Gulf Coast Child and Family Health Study follows 399 households in Mississippi’s lower six counties in the aftermath of Katrina.
“It’s not just that a child in him- or herself is having a psychological consequence that is entirely internal to the child,” Abramson said. “We suspect it’s not just the kids; it’s everything around them. Kids within households within communities within systems that are not back up to speed enough to support the family as they might in a normal situation.”
Behaviors that might have been triggered by the hurricane have been made worse by ongoing circumstances, including the chaos that followed for a number of years. The lack of stability in people’s lives played a huge role.
“We had the economic recession and now you’re going to have another looming economic effect with the oil spill,” Abramson said. “It can have an equally devastating effect on the population as Katrina did and it may be longer lasting.”
I feel sad, anxious and a little hopeless. These feelings are stemming from two places.
1.) The start of Grad School and teaching, which is causing me to feel overwhelmed.
The things I am saying about myself are:
- I can’t do this
- I can’t handle this
- I’m going to mess up
- Maybe this wasn’t the right choice
- I’m not going to meet anyone
- I will be lonely and sad
- This is all too hard
What I would like to change this thinking to:
- I can do this and am capable of doing this in a balanced way
- I am embarking on a new experience, my largest task since I got sick about a year ago, so it feels bigger then it is
- I made this choice to go down this path because it felt most healthy and nurturing for me
- It will take time for me to meet people, but I will meet people because I am a kind, compassionate, intelligent and interesting person
- I can do anything I set my mind to – I manifest my destiny
2.) Last night I talked with my ex-partner who I intentionally distanced myself from for about a year. In some ways it was really nice to re-connect, but was still really hard and hurtful.
The things I am saying about myself are:
- I will always be alone
- I will never meet anybody
- I am weak
- I will never truly be happy
- I will never find love again
What I would like to change this thinking to:
- I am alone right now because I need the space, but will find many more people to share love with
- I am strong because I have fallen into the deepest and darkest depths of depression and pulled myself out – I am the divine as is everything around me
- I love all the time everything and will continue to do so
This was helpful to write. I feel much better. It is pretty amazing what I have learned in therapy that allows me to reframe my thinking and retrain my mind. Just moments ago I felt pretty horrible about myself and the thought of suicide crept into my mind. I felt like crawling into a ball and disappearing into the dream state of consciousness.
It is a reminder though that even when I think I have things figured out that I still fall, that I am still fragile and need to give myself permission to feel sad; but more importantly that I have the skills, knowledge of self love and care to alter my thinking and distance myself from my emotional panic to bring light and clairvoyance.
This is a worthy exercise to try.
Stigma is such a significant barrier on so many fronts for people with mental illness. I know for myself, that I felt so helpless because of deep embarrassment around my mental illness. I did not want people to know I had a mental illness and did not want to ask for help because to me it was a sign of weakness. As a result of the stigmas around mental illness we don’t talk about it openly and people feel more isolated and afraid to ask for help. I have realized that now that I am in remission it is part of my responsibility to make people confront the reality of mental illness, to break down isolation so people know they are not alone and feel more comfortable about sharing and asking for help.
From the Newark Advocate:
Stop making mental health problems a stigma
BY MARY BETH SILLS • August 1, 2010
Abraham Lincoln and I have this in common. What is this social stigma between this great man and one insignificant Licking County resident? Depression. For me, it is bipolar disorder with depression.
It started as sleepless nights and a sudden lack of interest in the things I used to enjoy. It then moved to extreme feelings of worthlessness, and it capitulated with me sitting on my bed thinking about ending it all. I felt alone, sad and a waste of the oxygen I was breathing.
What saved my life? A photo of my mother and the thought of the pain I would inflict upon her. I went to my doctor the next day and was referred to a psychologist, then a psychiatrist. Oh the social stigma. Only crazy people went to that type of doctor. After several counseling sessions with my psychologist and the help of medication, I once again feel like a productive member of society. Yet many still tease and harass me about seeing a psychiatrist and the fact I, like so many Americans, have a mental disorder.
According to the National Institute of Mental Heath, 26.2 percent of Americans 18 years or older are diagnosed with some form of mental illness each year. Yet there is this social stigma to speak out and about these disorders and, worse, to suffer from one of them. I have heard it all. You’re crazy! You can control it! It’s all in your head (duh!)! And the worst for me: You just need to suck it up and deal with it.
I’ll be honest — the last one hurts the most. Let’s face it, you don’t tell someone suffering from a terminal illness to suck it up and deal with it. Then why must mental illness be a social stigma?
Thousands of Americans, me included, often hear the above teasing. I am one of the lucky ones. I have a strong support system that listens and
understands what exactly I suffer and what they can do to help. For many of these people, their first move was to recognize that mental illness is not a social stigma but a real, life-affecting disorder.
Once this is established, they learn to recognize the different types of mental illness and what the triggers (episodes that cause people’s depression or other mental disorder) are in their loved ones lives. After learning of the triggers, they then learned what they can do to help. For me, my support system listens to my needs and can recognize what my triggers are. They then know it might either be something they can help me with, or if it is something my mental health professional might need to tackle.
So, dear Advocate readers, I hope you are now thinking, what can I do? First and foremost, stop making mental illness a social stigma! If you don’t understand something, research. Licking County has a wonderful mental heath support system. There are wonderful websites and resources out there that can be the jumping point for learning. Then teach others what you have learned and share information. And please, what ever you do, don’t tell someone to suck it up and deal with it — that, to me, is a social stigma.
By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY
Last year, 1,224 soldiers with a mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, received a medical discharge. That was an increase from 745 soldiers in 2005 or about 7% of medical discharges that year, according to personnel statistics provided to USA TODAY.
The trend matches other recent indicators that show a growing emotional toll on a military that has been fighting for seven years in Iraq and nine years in Afghanistan, the Army and veterans advocates say.
“These numbers really just validate the mental health communities’ concern about multiple deployments,” says Adrian Atizado, who specializes in health issues as assistant national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans. “Mind and body are both taking a beating.”
Soldiers discharged for having both a mental and a physical disability increased 174% during the past five years from 1,397 in 2005 to 3,831 in 2009, according to the statistics.
Army Lt. Col. Rebecca Porter, an Army behavioral health official, says research shows “a clear relationship between multiple deployments and increased symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD.”
Aggressive efforts to identify and treat mental illnesses by medical officials, Porter says, are also why more soldiers are being discharged.
But veterans groups argue that the failure of early detection and treatment allow mental illnesses to fester into problems so severe that a soldier must be discharged from the service.
“The military is excellent at treating visible wounds,” says Joe Davis, a spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars. “The military and entire medical community at large still have a long way to go to effectively and reliably screen and treat wounds to the head and mind. Before discharging troops for behavioral reasons, it is absolutely imperative that commanders first ask ‘What caused this?’ ”
A Pentagon analysis in May reported that in 2009, for the first time in 15 years, mental health disorders caused more hospitalizations among U.S. troops than any other medical condition, including battle wounds.
Obama: New PTSD rules ‘long overdue step’
Washington (CNN) — The Department of Veterans Affairs is making it easier for veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder to get benefits, a development President Barack Obama calls a “long overdue step.”
In his weekly address Saturday, Obama said Veterans Affairs will launch new rules for easing PTSD documentation requirements starting next week.
Current department rules require veterans to document events like firefights or bomb explosions that could have caused the disorder. Such documentation was often time-consuming and difficult, and sometimes was impossible.
Under the new rules a veteran need show only that he or she served in a war and performed a job during which events could have happened that could cause the disorder.
“… for years, many veterans with PTSD who have tried to seek benefits — veterans of today’s wars and earlier wars — have often found themselves stymied. They’ve been required to produce evidence proving that a specific event caused their PTSD. And that practice has kept the vast majority of those with PTSD who served in non-combat roles, but who still waged war, from getting the care they need,” Obama said.
“Well, I don’t think our troops on the battlefield should have to take notes to keep for a claims application. And I’ve met enough veterans to know that you don’t have to engage in a firefight to endure the trauma of war. So we’re changing the way things are done.”
Under the new rules, no benefits will be passed along until a Veterans Affairs psychiatrist or psychologist confirms that a veteran actually suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Department officials say that should reduce the risk of fraudulent claims.
One congressional analysis reportedly put the cost of the new changes at $5 billion.
A senior department official said the cost is “relatively small” because under the older, much longer process, most vets eventually were granted benefits. The new process, while likely granting benefits to more veterans, will be quicker and easier and therefore less costly per case, officials said.
Obama says the new process “will help veterans not just of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, but generations of their brave predecessors who proudly served and sacrificed in all our wars.
“It’s a step that proves America will always be here for our veterans, just as they’ve been there for us. We won’t let them down. We take care of our own.”
CNN’s Larry Shaughnessy contributed to this report.
From Yoga Village Blog (which also happens to be my favorite yoga studio in Baltimore):
Breathing exercises are used to balance the mind, body, and emotions, and prepare the yoga practitioner for meditation. The disciplined and faithful practice of pranayama (proper breathing) allows one to control the prana, vital energy, which is essential in order to control the mind.
At Baltimore Yoga Village, in traditional hatha yoga classes, we learn breathing first, because proper breathing is the key to combatting many of life’s physical, emotional, and mental struggles.
Full Yogic Breath is a three part breath, in which the abdominal, thoracic, and clavicular areas of the trunk expand as one inhales and contract as one exhales. Babies naturally breathe this way, as do most people when they are asleep. The breath itself is rhythmic, calming, and nourishing. The abdominal area seems to rise and fall, as the diaphragm muscle lengthens and contracts.However, as we grow into adults, the fight or flight posture (hunched upper back and shoulders) solidifies in our bodies, our breath becomes shallower, and we use only the top portion of our lungs to breathe.
Full Yogic Breath is an essential component of every yoga practice, because it engages the body in deep inhalation and exhalation techniques so that the blood is fully oxygenated, internal organ systems thoroughly cleansed, and the mind relaxed. It is an essential part of daily life as well, in order to live a balanced temperment.Have you ever noticed your breath at the moment when a small animal jumps out in front of your car, or when you hear an unnerving sound at night, or when someone suprises you with some unfortunate news? A quick inhalation, a gasp of breath enters the lungs. Even as you move on unharmed, how often do you consciously exhale that moment’s suprise? Many of us take in this panicked breath several times per day but never exhale completely, allowing only for a shallow breathing for the rest of the day, and a habitual shortened breath over time. Our bodies remain tensed, and we subconciously carry the stress of the past throughout the day and into our relationships.
Next time you feel feelings of drained of energy, mild sadness, and anxiety, take note of your breath. You will likely find that the exhalation is very short in comparison to the inhalation; in fact, you may find that you are barely exhaling at all. Exhaling completely is the key to “taking a deep breath”, and an easy way to feel more energized and relaxed. Learning to exhale completely is the beginning of learning to breathe the full yogic breath.In traditional hatha yoga classes, taught at Baltimore Yoga Village, students learn to deepen breath using age-old breathing techniques like full yogic breath, “kappalabhati”, and “analoma viloma”, so that over time and with practice, breath control becomes a tool for stilling the rapidly shifting mind and emotions, and preparing the student for meditation.
I have been thinking a lot about what I have been working on in therapy; which is some really deep and revealing parts of my childhood, thoughts, patterns and ways of relating.
We are using EMDR, which I must say I was a bit skeptical about at first, but now am totally hooked and find that I am able to tap into parts of myself that I am not readily able to reach without much meditation.
Some of the larger issues revolve around emotions like fear, anxiety and scared. Also, negative views of myself such as, I am not strong enough to do things on my own; I need someone else to make me happy; I am incapable of having relationship (friendship or romantic); I’m not good enough the way I am;
Most importantly, I have begun to discover where these feelings and negative conceptions of myself are coming from. They are largely rooted in my experiences when I was younger and have shaped how I see myself.
A side note: before we engage these emotions and thoughts, my therapist has me identify what are the feelings I am experiencing and the ways I view myself. I then identify I would like to see myself – this often serves as a counterbalance to the negative conceptions. Two of the most reoccurring counterbalances are: I am a competent, strong and capable person; and my new favorite, I have everything I need already within me.
When I think back to my childhood and even adult years, I am overwhelmingly filled with feelings of fear. I see myself as a little boy, hidden behind my mother, arms wrapped tightly around her legs. This symbolizes so much for me, very literally and symbolically of how this fear manifested and was nurtured throughout.
Much of this fear revolves around my co-dependent relationship with my mother:
- shy – mom talks for me
- Dad and others don’t understand you like I do
- Felt like I had to protect mom
- Took on here anxiety and fears
- Bear the weight of hers and the world on my shoulders
- Fears were reinforced – stayed home all 3rd grade; 6 grade was in counselors office;
- Didn’t develop friendships
- Sought out co-dependent relationship
- Sought out people who were traumatized to take on their burden
- In school was encourage that I was not good enough