Immigration and Mental Health

By Tim Fromla

As more than 2500 children are separated from their parents, and as far as several thousands of miles, the toll brought upon the children can leave a lasting scar. Because of the zero-tolerance policy by the Trump Administration, folks seeking asylum.

The effects upon these children are mind-numbing as you hear a cacophony of fear and anger as the children are screaming for their mothers and fathers, while in custody. Click. Even the APA (American Psychological Association) is imploring the Trump Administration to return the kids to their parents, as long-lasting damage is done to those who cannot comprehend why they were separated.

Even children as young as one year old will experience PTSD. Imagine being a one-year-old in front of a judge during a federal hearing? As an adult, it can be never-wracking. Now imagine being a five-year-old alone in a court with no rights to an attorney?

There is a report of adoption after the parents are deported, according to the Intercept. Many times the family came here seeking asylum from violence, but because, Attorney General Jeff Session said that victims of gang violence or domestic violence are no longer qualifiers for those seeking shelter, the children will no longer see their birth parents and live with some stranger with whom they do not know.

It’s sad to see this happening. Many are saying that these people came here illegally, and the President said that the people are rapists and murderers, but the immigrants seeking refugee did not break the law and are doing everything legally. While those in D.C. are violating the Constitution, it is the children who are suffering.

According to DSM-5 diagnostic code 309.21, the definition of separation anxiety is:

Separation and anxiety disorder is a DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Ed.) diagnosis assigned to individuals who have an unusually strong fear or anxiety to separating from people they feel a strong attachment to. The diagnosis is given only when the distress associated with the separation is unusual for an individuals developmental level, is prolonged and severe. The need to stay in close proximity to caretakers can make it difficult for children with this disorder to go to school, stay at friends houses or be in a room by themselves. In adults it can make normal developmental activities like moving away from home, getting married or being an independent person very difficult.

Symptoms of Separation and Anxiety Disorder

  • Unusual distress at the discussion or experience of being parted from their attachment figure.

  • Excessive fears that harm will befall their attachment person.

  • Persistent worry of an unexpected event that could lead to separation from the attachment figure.

  • Refusal to leave the attachment figure.

  • Excessive fear of being alone.

  • Nightmares about separation.

  • Anxiety about sleeping and being separated from the attachment figure.

  • Physical complaints when separation is immanent.

There are also accusations of children given antidepressants to calm them down. It took me six months to get my prescription after six months of cognitive behavior therapy, and as an adult, I feel much better because of this. The anxiety these children are facing is separation, but to calm them down, they are forced to take meds without the possibility of therapy? Meds that were not designed or tested to be used for children?  The source of their problem is separation and prescribing powerful antidepressants would not be necessary if they were never separated.

Psychologists and psychiatrists warn that even if the children are back together with their parents, it would take years of therapy to treat these kids and who knows what will happen if they are released.

 

Mental Health First Aid

By Michelle Wagner

Most people are familiar with CPR, the lifesaving technique that is taught throughout the world and learned by medical professionals as well as lay people. Working as a nurse for nearly two decades, I have recertified in CPR, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, time and time again. While I have always been grateful that we pay such close attention to helping in this emergency situation, it was only after my two older sons were diagnosed with bipolar disorder that I recognized how crucial it is to be able to support individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. I have realized how unfair and damaging it is that have we overlooked this equally critical aspect of health.

In this picture, I am standing at a busy intersection in Concord, New Hampshire. It is the same intersection where my oldest son was in 2010 when he was having a manic crisis. Just before ending up in that street, he had emptied my medicine cabinet of over the counter medication and supplements, downing as many of the pills as he could take. He was in crisis, as real and critical as someone having a heart attack. He knew he needed help, but because of symptoms, he was unable to effectively let people know that. Instead, he went to Main Street and started throwing CDs at cars and yelling. Most motorists swerved around him, and some yelled back. He could have been hit. An accident might have occurred. There was only one woman who stopped and offered help. She sat and talked with him until the police arrived. She was exactly what my son needed that day. He was in crisis, and he needed someone who cared and knew what to do. What I learned from that incident is we need more people like that good woman, those who are willing and able to offer help. There is a way to get people trained to provide assistance in just such a situation, and it is available through Mental Health First Aid.

Similar to CPR, Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour training people can attend to learn how to assist those who are experiencing mental health and substance use crises. Through a campaign I posted on our Unitarian Universality crowdfunding website, Faithify, I was able to raise the $3000 I needed to attend a Mental Health First Aid instructor training in Savannah last month. The reason I wanted to become an instructor is so I can teach the 8-hour class in our churches and community groups. Statistics show that ministers are often sought out first when someone is experiencing a mental health issue, yet the training ministers have received is sometimes inadequate. Our churches are the perfect place to start shifting the view of psychological health. By welcoming conversation about mental health and intentionally including the topic throughout our church platforms, we can help make a real difference in dissipating stigma.

It is easy to talk about a person’s physical health. Sympathies run high when someone divulges that they have any one of a myriad of diseases: a heart attack, stroke, insulin dependent diabetes, cancer. These are respectable illnesses, talked about in polite company and even with strangers. There is no stigma attached to these diseases. The same is not true of mental health conditions. I found this out sharply and soundly eight years ago when my oldest son developed symptoms of psychosis. Nobody showed up at my door with a casserole. And there were only a few brave souls who would cross the threshold of the locked unit he was in. Hospitality, like that shown when my father developed cancer, did not abound, and I learned that I would be met with judgment and awkwardness if I brought up the topic with any but a few safe and trusted friends.

This is not ok. Judgment, skepticism, and criticism have no place when a person is experiencing any type of illness, and that includes mental health conditions. We need to bring mental health out of the shadows and into the light, recognizing that illnesses “below the neck” are no different, no less important, than illnesses that affect our brain chemistry. Through supporting Mental Health First Aid either by taking a class or becoming a trainer, we can help increase education and ensure that those who need our care receive it. Nobody should be ignored when they are suffering, and that includes psychologically. When Mental Health First Aid becomes a nationwide standard, just like CPR, we will know we are well on our way to overcoming stigma by finally supporting those who have been marginalized for far too long.