847-869-1500 ext. 233

Yellowbrick Blog

Monthly Archives: March 2016

Sexual Assault on College Campuses: A major cause for mental health problems

Sexual assault

A college student goes to a party. She’s drinking, hanging out with her friends, flirting with a cute guy. They go back to her dorm room and start kissing. Then the guy forces her to have sex, even though she doesn’t want to, leaving the young woman feeling immense amounts of fear, anxiety and shame.

Though this might sound like a typical scenario, it is actually a crime, and it’s one that can leave deep emotional scars on victims for years to come.

According to a 2015 survey from the Association of American Universities, 27.2 percent of all college students — more than one in four — experience unwanted sexual contact, from kissing to touching to actual intercourse. And although incidents are more common among women, men can also be victims of sexual assault.

Robbie Bogard, Director of Integrative and Group Services at Yellowbrick, says these kind of incidents can have a serious impact on college students’ mental health. After a sexual assault, many students suffer from symptoms of PTSD, which include having intrusive memories of the event, mood instability, feeling fearful, and being triggered by certain sights, sounds and smells that remind them of the incident. They can be hyper anxious or feel numb or disconnected from their feelings altogether.

“There can be a lot of shame and self-blame. That’s very common,” Bogard says.

Bogard says college students often blame themselves for what happened, thinking if only they hadn’t been drinking, or hadn’t been friendly with the person, or if they had fought back more it wouldn’t have happened.

“It’s important for people to know that you can make yourself vulnerable to sexual assault, but you’re never responsible for other people’s behavior,” Bogard says.

Bogard says students also feel shame if they were sexually aroused by the incident, even if it was unwanted, and these mixed emotions can cause them to have increased shame about their bodies.

Unfortunately, the repercussions of sexual assault aren’t short-lived. Bogard says sexual assault may cause some students to avoid dating or being in a situation with someone of the opposite sex for years to come. Others may actually become more promiscuous to try to prove to themselves that they have power over their own bodies.

Someone who is assaulted is at greater risk of using alcohol or drugs more heavily to numb their feelings, leading to increased chance of substance abuse.

Luckily, women who report the incident and seek mental health treatment quickly have a better chance of overcoming these emotional roadblocks.

Here are some of Bogard’s tips for college students who have experienced a sexual assault:

  1. Trust Your Own Experience
    Often, women tell themselves that what happened wasn’t a big deal or that it wasn’t serious enough to tell someone about. Bogard says don’t listen to your doubts. “Trust your own experience,” she says. “If you feel that it wasn’t right, listen to that.”
  2. Tell Someone You Trust
    Bogard says telling someone about what happened is key. She suggests going to a campus counselor, women’s center, or even a resident assistant. Keeping it a secret will only prolong your suffering.
  3. Get Mental Health Treatment
    Bogard says it’s essential that students seek out mental health treatment to process the complex emotions that come from sexual assault and to reduce feelings of shame. And, she says, the earlier you get help, the better.
  4. Understand That It’s Not Your Fault
    Remember, no matter what you had to drink, what you were wearing, or what you didn’t say, sexual assault is never your fault.
  5. Get Supported Exposure To Things You Want to Avoid
    If the thought of going on a date or walking to a certain part of campus fills you with dread, get friends to come with you as you experience these things. By having new, positive experiences, you can learn to overcome old triggers.

Hold Off Before Hooking Up

Hooking up

Commitment seems to be a word many Millennials struggle with. Traditional dating has been replaced with hooking up, and for many young adults, the idea of being able to have a physical connection with someone with no strings attached seems ideal.

But when commitment is unclear between two people who are being intimate with one another, anxiety is a common side effect. Many young adults are plagued with questions like, “What are we?” “Is he/she seeing other people?” “Do I text him/her or is that being too much of a girlfriend/boyfriend?” “Why haven’t I heard from him/her?” “Am I lovable?”

In an uncommitted relationship, doubts like these can have a snowball effect and cause a great deal of anxiety and take a toll on one’s self-worth.

Although young adults may be resistant to being in a committed relationship, Dr. David Daskovsky, senior psychologist and director of training at Yellowbrick, says young adults should think twice before hooking up with someone:

Yellowbrick: Why should young adults think twice before hooking up?

Daskovsky: I think that sex usually has more emotional meaning than some young people may allow themselves to recognize. Though someone may say to him or herself, “This is just casual,” more often than not, there is a lot more at stake. It is usually true, if we are honest with ourselves, that having sex with another person taps into our deepest yearnings and our deepest insecurities: Am I attractive? Am I desirable? Am I capable? And of most concern, Am I lovable?

Yellowbrick: What are the repercussions of hooking up?

Daskovsky: Hooking up certainly can have significant consequences. For instance, if I hook up with someone because I’m afraid I’m unlovable, I’ve likely caught myself in a trap. To the degree I believe I’m dependent on another person to prove my self-worth, I will actually lose self-respect and almost always will become resentful of the other person to whom I’ve given the power to judge me. Dependency of this sort, e.g., “I need you here with me to feel safe,” or, “I need you to show you are attracted to me to feel I’m good enough,” saps our strength, erodes our confidence and tends to leave us anxious and preoccupied about the availability of the one upon whom we depend.

Yellowbrick: Does hooking-up leave a scar on the hearts of young people?

Daskovsky: I’ve spoken to many young people who bear another kind of scar from casually hooking up. To the degree that someone cares more about the encounter than they let on, or recognizes that they are using the other person or allowing themselves to be used in this way, people frequently say that they end up feeling guilty or ashamed. “What kind of person am I,” they ask, “if I sleep with someone just so they won’t leave me or if I take advantage of the other person’s dependency?”

If you notice that your child struggles with their self-worth because of a noncommittal relationship or constantly checks their phone to gain some type of self-assurance from their hook-up buddy, it may be time to intervene.

Daskovsky says parents should start by asking their son or daughter about their feelings, thoughts and beliefs about hooking up. Questions to consider include: “What does hooking-up mean to you?” “Do you yourself have doubts or concerns about whether this is ok for you?”

For more information information, visit: www.yellowbrickprogram.com.

Why Sleep Is Good for Your Mental Health

Sleep for your mental health

We’ve all heard that getting enough sleep is important, but did you know that lack of sleep can actually affect your brain?

According to the National Institute of Health, teenagers should sleep nine to 10 hours a day, and adults need seven to eight hours a day. Why? Because your brain, like any other machine, needs to power off, recharge and reboot. If not, you’ll experience some serious neurological malfunctions.

What does a lack of sleep do to the mind? Yellowbrick’s staff psychiatrist Dr. Marc Sandrolini says chronic lack of sleep impairs thinking, alters emotions, and interferes with social abilities.

“Poor sleep can make it hard to judge other people’s emotions and reactions. Sleep deficiency can make you feel frustrated, irritable or anxious in social situations,” he says. “A sleepy brain is an anxious brain.”

Chronic lack of sleep is comparable to being under the influence of alcohol. In both cases, inhabitations are in utter disarray. The intoxicated individual and sleep-deprived individual are both out of sorts in their minds, unable to make rational decisions that they otherwise would make when sober or well rested.

“Chronic poor sleep has been linked to increased risk for depression, suicide, and reckless behavior,” Sandrolini says. “It is difficult to exercise good judgment and impulse-control when sleep-deprived.”

Sleep is a commodity that modern society has deemed unproductive. But in reality, the less sleep we get, the more unproductive we become.

Young adults are the biggest demographic of people not getting enough sleep. In fact, when Sandrolini asked young adults why they do not value sleep, they told him that sleeping is a waste of time.

“They feel that they’re so busy that the late evening is the only time they have for themselves,” Sandrolini explains. “They want to get the most out of their time, and sleep seems to get in the way.”

Many young adults think they can stay up late some nights and make up for it by sleeping at other times, but Sandrolini says this doesn’t work.

“A common myth is that one can ‘catch up’ on sleep by napping or sleeping in on weekends,” he says. “This is unfortunately not the case. Nothing can take the place of regular nighttime sleep.”

Sandrolini explains that your brain is a machine that continuously processes information. Sleep is the time where your machine sorts the day’s informational overload into labeled files. Look at it this way — your brain is your own personal computer that stores things in an orderly filing cabinet for easy retrieval. So do not overwork your machine. It needs a break, too.

“We sleep best when we disconnect our brain a little from the fireworks of daily life,” Sandrolini says.

At Yellowbrick, staff members teach young adults how to develop healthy sleep habits so they can be at the top of their mental game. Here are some healthy habits and tips that ensure you stick to a sleep routine:

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including on weekends. Staying up late and sleeping in on weekends can disrupt your body clock’s natural rhythm.
  • Spend the hour before bed doing quiet, relaxing activities. Avoid heavy exercise and bright light, such as from a TV or computer screen. The light can trick the brain into believing it is time to be awake.
  • Avoid big meals and alcohol just before bedtime.
  • Minimize nicotine and caffeine. Caffeine can last as long as 8 hours, so a late afternoon coffee can interfere with falling asleep at night.
  • Spend time outside every day.
  • Exercise regularly, even if just a walk.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark.
  • A brief nap can enhance alertness and performance. But multiple naps or naps longer than 20 minutes can disrupt normal sleep cycles.

Find out more about Yellowbrick’s Neuropsychological Testing of Cognitive Functioning.