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Skeletons in the closet. To know or not to know. That is the question.

What do you know about your family history? Often difficult or traumatic things are not talked about, this was particularly so in the past. These things then become the skeletons in the family closet. Is it worth the effort of finding out about the previous generations?

Some of us would prefer to leave the past in the past. This is understandable, it can be anxiety provoking and painful to explore family history and build the connections we need to do so. Not only that but often there is the belief that what is done is done and that the influence from the past is fixed and unchangeable.

The study of trauma has documented ways that human biology carries stress reactions into future generations. Trauma can lead to disturbances in stress hormones, the immune system, metabolism, the development of inflammation and disruption in brain connectivity. These effects play their part in the symptoms of depression and anxiety, obesity, heart problems, diabetes, autoimmune disorders and other chronic illnesses in adult survivors and their descendants.

So yes the past of your family has an effect.

However the effect of the past is not fixed. Research on epigenetics has looked at the various ways that stress reactions are passed down over generations through biology, as well as through the ways family members relate to each other. This processes in the relationships of the family members’ influences whether these genes associated with vulnerability to stress are expressed or silenced. The expression of these genes then influences the next generation.

Ok what have we got so far, trauma in a previous generation can affect the current generation, however these effects can be moderated through family relationship and epigenetic processes. What are the kinds of family relationship processes that can moderate the effect? Well that is a big question.

One of the things that plays a part is knowing about the family history. Researchers have looked at the intergenerational impact of trauma. Eileen Gottlieb has done work with the descendants of Holocaust survivors. Katherine Baker has studied the descendants of the survivors of Stalin’s purge. Both have found that those who were able to get in contact with family and know the facts of the family history had better health and healthier family lives that those who remained cut off from their family and past.

Knowing about the skeletons, the trauma’s experienced in previous generations certainly seems to be helpful. How it is helpful is a topic for a future blog.

What I would like to explore next is whether there is value in knowing about family history, generally, even if you don’t find too many skeletons.

 

Nicole Hinchcliffe 

Psychologist

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How to Support your Teenager with Depression

As a parent, you are used to taking care of your children, especially when they are ill. But when kids are transitioning to their teenage years the parenting role changes to a more supporting role. This can be difficult and is even more so for teens who are struggling with depression. Depression is a serious mental health condition that has an impact on someone’s social life, work and physical and mental health. The number of children that are diagnosed with depression has been increasing every year. Statistics show that in Australia, one in 35 young Australians aged 4-17 y old have experienced a depressive disorder. Teenagers who experience depression need support, though they have to want that support.

So how do you know if your teenager has depression? The following are signs that your teenager might be depressed:

  • Your child has lost interest in the things he usually enjoys doing.
  • They have been sad or irritable most of the day, and most of the days for at least two weeks.
  • Eating or sleeping habits have changed.
  • His/her energy levels have dropped, and they experience a lack of motivation.
  • Your child is feeling worthless, hopeless about their future and experiences feelings of guilt.
  • Your child struggles at school caused by difficulties in concentrating.
  • He/she might have experienced suicidal thoughts. If this is the case, it’s key to have your child evaluated by a mental health professional.

Professional attention is advised when your teen has more than a few of the signs above. As a parent, there are a couple of things that you can do to support your teen. The most important thing is to simply be there for them and be accepting. So, how can you achieve this?

Strengthening your relationship
Strengthening your relationship with your teen is one of the main things that you as a parent can do for your child. This can be achieved by validating their emotions, instead of their unhealthy behaviours. In order to be able to validate their emotions, it’s important to be empathic, listen to your teenager and try to understand them by putting yourself in his shoes. For instance, you can say to your child: “I sense that you have been really down the last couple of weeks, is that right?” Key is to make it clear to your child that you are willing to understand what’s going on for them without trying to solve their problems.

Positive reinforcement
It’s important to focus on the positive things that your teenager does. These can be small things such as going to school, doing their home-work or cooking a meal. It’s key to notice these positive behaviours and to praise your child for doing them as this will ensure that your child feels valued and experiences a feeling of achievement. Similarly, avoid reinforcing your child in a negative way by highlighting their downfalls or the things that they are not able to do anymore because of their depressive mood as this can cause your child to feel more frustrated and down.

Find professional help
When you suspect that your child has depression, it’s advised to seek professional help. However, some teenagers will be resistant at first to the idea of therapy. If this is the case, try to be patient and acknowledge them by addressing that they must be going through a difficult time and that you have some ideas that could help them. Also, let them know that they can talk to you about these options whenever they feel the need to. Eventually, ifyour child agrees to see a therapist, it’s key to find a therapist that your child is feeling comfortable with as this usually leads to better therapy outcomes.

A variety of evidence-based treatments are available that can reduce the symptoms of depression. For instance, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Family-based Interpersonal Therapy have all been shown to be effective for teenagers who suffer from depression. While therapy alone might be effective for teenagers who have mild to moderate symptoms of depression, evidence has shown that a combination of medication and therapy usually obtains better results. In order to receive medication, a specialised child psychiatrist needs to be consulted first.

Self-care
Finally, it’s necessary that you also take care of yourself by making sure that you receive support from your friends or other family members and also keep on doing things that you enjoy, as it can be emotionally challenging to be a parent of a teenager that deals with depression.Know that you are not alone and that you can find the support you need. 

If you or your teenager would like to receive help book an appointment with Wendy or another psychologist at Drop of Life! 

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Dog with a Blog: Don't Leave Me

Hi it’s me again! Dog with a Blog is getting too much fun and I have so many things to say. Not long ago my human left me for what felt like a year, but someone said it was a week, (it’s okay though the human you know well, Claudine, took amazing care of me). When my human first left I felt a little bit scared and definitely very sad but once I warmed up to my new human I had the best time, she even gave me extra special treats. She took me to work and I got to hang out with all new humans in her sessions so my human being away wasn’t all that scary after a while. I remembered back to something my human is always talking about… separation anxiety.. woof! My human explained it looks a little like this;

-          Recurrent excessive distress when anticipating or experiencing separation from home or from major attachment figures.

-          Persistent reluctance or refusal to go out, away from home, to school, to work, or elsewhere because of fear of separation.

-          Persistent and excessive fear of or reluctance about being alone or without major attachment figures at home or in other settings.

-          Persistent reluctance or refusal to sleep away from home or to go to sleep without being near a major attachment figure.

Sometimes I even wait at the door when my human goes to get lunch while we are at work. I loved being with a new human, but my human is my favourite and she understands me. I am very thankful she left me with a super nice human that I was comfortable and familiar with! My human always makes really cool videos for other humans to listen to or learn from (posted on Facebook, along with cute pictures of me). Speaking of my human leaving, she’s just left me in the office so I am going to wait at the door for her to get back.. woof!

 

Benji... woof x

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Don’t be Cruel, Be Kind: Developing Self-Compassion

In reflecting on my own experience growing up, and also reflecting on the personal histories that many of my clients have shared with me, I have noticed a common thread – a shared experience for many of us. I have noticed that for many of us the development of virtues such as being responsible individuals, being goal-oriented, hardworking and motivated towards success, came with the indirect message that we needed to be hard on ourselves to establish these virtues and keep them alive. We confuse the good practice of holding ourselves accountable with punishing ourselves for our inherent imperfections. We lose compassion for ourselves, though we maintain compassion for others. For many of us, our suffering is a result of the poorly developed relationship we have with ourselves; we have either forgotten or we never learned to be kind to who we are. In my own life’s journey and with the clients I see for psychotherapy, I often integrate the good practice of developing self-compassion.

Self-compassion is the act of being kind and understanding toward yourself. Rather than being highly critical of yourself because of shortcomings and mistakes made, Self-compassion encourages you to accept that you are human and imperfect. It seems strange that we would struggle to be kind to ourselves, but part of the reason for this struggle may be our misunderstanding of kindness to self as a code phrase for self-pity; which many of us are understandably averse to. But self-pity is, what self-compassion is not! When individuals feel self-pity, they become immersed in their own problems and forget that others have similar problems. They ignore their connections with others, and instead feel that they are the only ones in the world who are suffering. This takes the “normal-ness” out of the experience you are having, and this tends to make the suffering worse.

Many people say they are reluctant to be self-compassionate because they are afraid they would let themselves get away with anything; being overly indulgent. Being kind to yourself also means holding yourself accountable and doing what is healthy for your present and your future self! Remember that being compassionate to oneself means that you want to be happy and healthy in the long-term. In many cases, just giving oneself pleasure may harm well-being (so we definitely would not want to confuse having an entire tub of ice cream with the process of self-compassion).

The truth is many of us already know how to be compassionate, because we are to others. With others, we are able to see their suffering and then respond to it with kindness and help. This is the process we must engage in with ourselves – noticing our suffering, identifying where it is coming from and then helping ourselves as we would a good friend.

These things I leave for you to contemplate, and until next time – Be kind to yourself and look out for your neighbour. If you would like further support on your journey to self-compassion, contact our team at Drop of Life Psychology Clinic.

 

By: Matthew McKenzie, B.Sc. (Hon.), M.Sc. (Dist.)

Psychologist, Drop of Life Psychology Clinic

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How to Help Your Child Cope with Bullying

Friday the 15th March is the national day of action against bullying and this gives us the opportunity to think about this harmful activity at schools that unfortunately a large amount of children have to deal with on a daily basis. Statistics indicate that 1 in 7 school aged children report being bullied at some point in time during their school years. Nowadays, cyber bullying has also become a common phenomenon, which has led to children not only being bullied at school but also in their home environment.

For parents it is often a difficult situation to manage as every parent wants to protect their child from harm but usually it will happen when they are not physically present and therefore parents are not always aware of the bullying. In order to recognize, prevent and respond to bullying in schools, it’s important to understand what bullying actually is and what the warning signs are to look out for.

The national definition of bullying is an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm. This can include a group or an individual mistreating and violating someone else’s rights. This usually involves people that feel as if they can’t stop it from happening. As mentioned above, bullying nowadays happens not only in person but also via various digital platforms and devices and it can be obvious (overt) or hidden (covert). What separates bullying from being mean is that bullying behaviour is repeated over time.

For children, bullying can be extremely traumatising and can therefore have immediate, medium and long-term effects on them, including bystanders. For example it can impact on their sense of self, their self-esteem and they are at greater risk for both mental health and behavioural issues such as anxiety and depression.

Children who are being bullied often are reluctant to tell their parents or teachers about it as they may think it’s their own fault and/or that adults won’t do anything to stop the bullying. For that reason, it’s key to learn to recognize the following warning signs that might indicate that your child is being bullied:

  • Has frequent nightmares
  • Acts aggressively
  • Loses or has damaged possession
  • Doesn’t want to go to school
  • Has no friends or party invitations
  • Gets hurt or bruised

So, what do you do when you notice that your child is being bullied? Watching your child struggle is one of the greatest challenges of parenting. It can be easy to feel helpless as a parent when it comes to helping your children with bullying whether it is  at school or online. There are different tools that can be applied to help you support your child to deal with bullying:

First of all, try to remain calm when your child is ready to tell you what has been happening for them at school as you want your child to feel comfortable. Questions such as “What happened next?” are helpful to let your child feel heard. Try to avoid negative comments by telling them to stand up for themselves.

As a parent, discuss with your child what reactions bullies are looking for, which are for example getting angry or upset. Develop a plan together with your child of how to respond in a way to defuse the situation. Practice makes perfect and therefore role play is a useful tool to  allow your child to practice their responses and to gain confidence doing so.

Another important point is that it helps your child to understand why someone bullies as this externalises the problem and will give them that reassurance that the bullying has nothing to do with them. Explaining your child that the bullies might need attention to make themselves feel better or copies other children’s behaviour will contribute to your child’s self-esteem.

Another step to take is to talk to your child’s teacher or a school psychologist about the bullying.

Besides being bullied at school, bullying may extend now through social media. Therefore, it’s important to keep a watchful eye on your child’s online activities.

A psychologist can provide you additional emotional support and tools to get your family through this challenge. Psychologists can help with: realizing and acknowledging the damage and humiliation that has occurred, dealing with the events associated with the bullying and making sense of what has happened.

If you feel that your child may need to speak to a professional about their experiences being bullied or if you need support on how to navigate this situation in where your child is being bullied, book an appointment with Wendy or one of our other wonderful psychologists at Drop Of Life. 

 

Wendy Pol

Registered Psychologist Drop of Life Psychology Clinic

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