Monthly Archives: July 2011

Suicide rates among middle-aged women increase

Heather Rudow July 27, 2011

A new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows a dramatic increase in suicides among middle-aged women, and experts are wondering what has caused the startling jump.

According to the report, women aged 50 and older showed a 49 percent increase in emergency room visits for drug-related suicide attempts. And, according to research that breaks down suicide rates between 1998 and 2007 by age, women between the ages of 40 and 69 were more at risk of killing themselves than women of any other age range. In 2007, they made up 60 percent of all female suicides.

Experts are speculating why this portion of the population has become so vulnerable to suicide, and many are pinpointing substance abuse, sleeping disorders and depression, as well as the sizable portion of the population in this age group (a la the baby boomers), as some of the reasons for the sudden spike.

Everyone’s best friend

Heather Rudow July 26, 2011

Pet ownership is beneficial for mental health. (Photo: Flickr/yuko_ppp2501)

In its August issue, Counseling Today delves into the merits of animal-assisted therapy and how a four-legged colleague can help break down barriers with counselors’ toughest clients. But new studies reveal that pet ownership provides similar emotional and social support for people who aren’t necessarily facing physical or mental health challenges.

Psychologists at the University of Miami and Saint Louis University conducted three different studies that explored the benefits of pet ownership for what they termed “everyday people,” or people who owned pets for a nontheraputic use.

In this study, 217 people (79 percent women, mean age 31, mean annual family income $77,000) answered surveys aimed at determining whether pet owners in the group differed from people who didn’t have pets in the areas of well-being, personality type and attachment style. Several differences between the groups emerged, and in all cases, pet owners were happier, healthier and better adjusted than were non-owners.

A second experiment, involving 56 dog owners (91 percent of whom were women, with a mean age of 42 and average annual family income of $65,000), examined whether pet owners benefit more when their pet is perceived to fulfill their social needs… This study found greater well-being among owners whose dogs increased their feelings of belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence.

The last study, comprising 97 undergraduates with an average age of 19, found that pets can make people feel better after experiencing rejection. Subjects were asked to write about a time when they felt excluded. Then they were asked to write about their favorite pet, or to write about their favorite friend, or to draw a map of their campus. The researchers found that writing about pets was just as effective as writing about a friend when it came to staving off feelings of rejection.

Overall, said lead researcher Allen R. McConnell, PhD, of Miami University in Ohio, pet owners had a better overall well-being than persons who did not own a pet.

“Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.”

The study also found that pet owners remain equally close with their human companions, indicating that animal ownership does not hinder relationships.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for CT Online and Counseling Today. Contact her at

Teenage boys especially vulnerable to parent’s military deployment

Heather Rudow July 25, 2011

In its June issue, Counseling Today discussed the ramifications military deployment has on couples, and new research continues to emerge showing how a parent’s deployment affects children’s mental health, particularly that of teenage boys.

Photo By Staff Sgt. Liesl Marelli Source: U.S. Army

According to a study by researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health, adolescents with a deployed parent are more likely to have suicidal thoughts than are children of civilians. The study also found that male adolescents, particularly those who are older, are more sensitive to the stress of having a parent fighting overseas.

A survey called the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey was filled out by more than 10,600 eighth, 10th and 12th grade students in the state, and was the basis for the research.

Among the study’s findings:

“Forty-four percent of 10th- and 12th-grade boys who reported having a parent serving in uniform overseas felt they had a low quality of life. Among civilian families, 20 percent of boys in those age groups reported a low quality of life.

Thirty percent of 10th- and 12th-grade boys whose parent had deployed felt depressed compared with 20 percent of boys in civilian families.

Twenty-six percent of 10th- and 12th-grade boys with a deployed parent reported suicidal, whereas 14 percent of boys in civilian families reported having those notions.”


The study will be published in the American Journal of Public Heath.

A separate study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine produced similar findings. According to research, children with a parent deployed for lengthy periods in either the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have more mental health problems than other youths.

Among the youths examined, (all between the ages of 5 and 17), the study found the most common mental health disorders were stress, depression, behavior disorders, anxiety and sleep disorders.

Researchers said the longer a parent was away the more likely a child was to develop mental health problems. As with the University of Washington study, this study showed that older male adolescents were more susceptible to developing problems than was any other demographic.


Heather Rudow is a staff writer for CT Online and Counseling Today. Contact her at

Counselors weigh in on importance of helping youths maintain a positive outlook

Heather Rudow July 22, 2011

A recent Northwestern University study found that a teenager’s outlook on life can affect his or her health for years to come. Because of this, American Counseling Association members say it is important for counselors to help foster a positive sense of well-being in young people before they reach these formative years.

It is important to foster a sense of well-being in youths before they hit their teenage years, say counselors. (Photo: Flickr/daftlikealex)

The study, published in the July issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that adolescents who maintained a positive outlook during their teen years reported better overall health during their adult years. And as they got older, said researchers, these teens were also at less risk of engaging in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, binge drinking, drug use and eating unhealthy foods.

School counselor Tedman Martinez, a member of ACA, works with high schoolers in New London, Conn., and says having teenagers in positive environments is key to cultivating a positive sense of well-being. However, he says, that job can’t fall solely on counselors.

“I find that there is a sense of well-being if it’s fostered at home, at school and in the community,” he says. “If they don’t have that safeness, they don’t [develop] that internal locus of control, and there is a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.”

Martinez says developing this sense of well-being can be especially difficult for youths who live in high-crime areas, where they don’t always experience that sense of safety within their communities. And being young, it is sometimes difficult for them to process negative events, he explains. “They tend to internalize what they see,” Martinez says.

Martinez emphasizes that it is important for parents, counselors and community members to work together to provide safe, comfortable places for teenagers, thus helping them to develop a positive sense of well-being.

Tom Spiwak, the guidance counselor at Eli Whitney Elementary School in Enfield, Conn., says it is equally important to promote steps to positive well-being early in life so that the mind-set will already be established by the time the student reaches his or her teens. Spiwak, an ACA member who also counsels middle schoolers and high schoolers in his private practice, has already seen examples of this where he lives.

“We had just started to see students in high schools who had counseling experiences in elementary school, but juniors and seniors had not,” he says. “And when they [the younger high school students] were having problems, instead of looking to their peer groups, we found more of them were going to their counselors. Even those who had only been in elementary school counseling for a year, we noticed they were more willing to talk.”

Spiwak says these students saw the value in a non-biased opinion, and many of his former elementary school students have returned to him for counseling upon reaching their college years. “They seem very happy to reconnect and have that relationship,” he says, “which I think definitely says something.”

Spiwak says his school and some others in the area have begun a self-referral method for counseling in which children can schedule time with a counselor if they feel they need it. He believes keeping the lines of communication open at such a young age will help the youths maintain a positive sense of well-being throughout their teen years.

“They understand they have this resource and they can use it,” he says.


Heather Rudow is a staff writer for CT Online and Counseling Today. Contact her at


Positive body image helps weight loss

Heather Rudow July 21, 2011

It turns out a positive body image is one of the most effective weight loss aids one can have, Psych Central reports.

Portuguese researchers conducted a yearlong weight loss program with overweight and obese women, and discovered that women who attended 30 weekly group sessions to help improve their body image lost more weight than those who didn’t. The women in the study who attended discussions regarding exercise, emotional eating and improving body image lost about 7 percent of their starting weight, whereas the control group lost on average 2 percent.

Research has shown a positive body image is linked to weight loss. (Photo: Flickr/puuikibeach)

The women with improved body images were also more successful in controlling their diets on their own, weight loss, and positive food choices, researchers said. There was also a strong correlation between improvements in their body images, as well as less anxiety over other peoples’ opinions of their bodies, they said.