Friday, 5 September 2014

Being a mum means less pay and rise in anxiety levels

Not so steely: ex-PM Margaret Thatcher, dubbed the Iron Lady, wept when her son, Mark, was lost in an African desert

Here's a new phrase to conjure with: the 'motherhood penalty'. It is being advanced by the Fawcett Society, which has campaigned for women's rights since 1866.

The 'motherhood penalty' refers to the fact that a woman's income often declines when she becomes a mother. Men and women may be at level pegging in the job market when they are young and childless. They compete with a reasonable degree of equality for promotion and advancement.
But then – ping! When a baby arrives, a woman becomes less competitive, less likely to be promoted, and she is earning less than her male cohorts.
For every child she bears, it is calculated that a woman loses 13% of her earnings. That's the 'motherhood penalty'. And the Fawcett Society is resolved to eliminate it from all areas of employment, public and private, large and small.
Yet, I have news for the Fawcett campaigners: it's a lifetime condition.
There's a 'motherhood penalty' when a beloved child wrestles with painful situations, be it depression, mental illness, alcoholism or suicide. It's the mothers sitting up late at night, worrying; the mothers lighting candles and praying for succour and moving heaven and earth to help an afflicted son or daughter.
Go to any group counselling session for families with problems and you will be sitting in a circle with mothers desperate to rescue adult offspring who have gone off the rails.
That's a 'motherhood penalty', too: the lifelong sense of anxiety for a child brought into the world. I don't say that fathers don't have such feelings too. They do. But there are plenty of studies which show that men, for whatever reasons of brain-wiring, are better able to compartmentalise their thinking and concerns.
Almost every woman I know of my own vintage – most of them now grandmothers – still has sleepless nights over their adult children: the son who has gone on a motorbike ride through the Rocky Mountains; the daughter who has just had a bruising relationship break-up (and the girl is now middle-aged); the son who has come back home to live because of an impending divorce, or who has lost his job, or is drinking too much; the beloved only child who has decided to emigrate to faraway New Zealand?
Yes, the 'motherhood penalty' is an apt phrase, indeed, for a condition which will last a lot longer than questions about whether your pay packet is keeping up with the guys.
I wouldn't want to disparage the Fawcett Society's campaign to support equal pay for mothers; they are only trying to be helpful and encouraging to women with children. And that's a good thing to do. Sheryl Sandberg sought to do likewise in her book Lean In.
We hear plenty about "unwanted pregnancies", but rather less about pregnancies which would be dearly wanted if the circumstances were supportive.
But I do believe that some of the issues arising from the 'motherhood penalty' come not just from social structures around either career organisation or child-care, but from Nature itself.
It's been well established that as soon as a woman has children, she drives more prudently – I'm talking about averages, not the odd female petrol-head, addicted to speed. I remember watching a niece by marriage strap her young children into car safety seats with such attention to detail she checked every element of the apparatus before setting off behind the wheel. There's a mother's protective care, I thought. It comes directly from her instinct.
Even in my own case – reckless and feckless though I was by temperament – once I had children, I lost a certain edge for risk. As a journalist, I turned down foreign assignments that would take me away from home base for too long, or might be more dangerous. I cannot say that any employer was discriminatory towards me: the 'motherhood penalty' came from nature's own promptings, not any patriarchal system. I became less tough in some ways, and certain scenes brought me more easily to tears.
Remember Mary Robinson when she visited a famine-stricken Ethiopia – this self-assured lawyer in floods of tears at the sight of starving children? That's another side of the 'motherhood penalty': it prompts pity and compassion.
Even Margaret Thatcher, who kept her Cabinet in a state of apprehensive submission, wept openly when Mark, the son who seemed to embody the spoilt-brat syndrome, was lost in an African desert. That, too, was the 'motherhood penalty'.
It is true that many women, overall, lose income and job promotion, which is a key to income, when they become mothers. And it is evident that mothers worry about their children all their lives – "until you go down into the grave" as I was once told by an older mother.
But in the face of the responsibilities and 'penalties' of motherhood, what is miraculous is the number of women who will move any mountain, go to any length and pay any price, to become mothers. The women having four cycles of IVF, the women imploring overseas orphanages to adopt an abandoned child, the women who will agree to a dodgy deal on surrogacy.
Penalty, maybe; also immeasurable reward.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Will Social Anxiety Keep Your Child From Succeeding in School?

Will Social Anxiety Keep Your Child From Succeeding in School?
With the ringing of the first classroom bell to signal the start of a new school year, two images often come to mind: children excited about seeing old friends and their favorite teacher, or the endearing scene of a shy child clinging to his mother’s leg.

But what if the latter scenario is not as innocent as popular culture depicts? In the most recent Care For Your Mind (CFYM) series, experts associated with the Anxiety and Depression Association of America shed light on a debilitating but little known disorder, social anxiety disorder (SAD) that effects 12% of youth. Often first appearing in grade school, this disorder can be treated and managed with the right support and professional help.

Mark Pollack, M.D. president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America believes lack of awareness about the disorder among medical providers and the general public prevent people from getting help for this treatable condition.

Parents can play a primary role in getting the support their children need, but only if they recognize the symptoms. In a CFYM poll 71% of respondents stated they did not think most parents would recognize SAD in their own children. Anne Marie Albano, Ph.D., Director, Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders underscores the need for parental recognition when she states that, “social phobia is a gateway disorder to depression, substance abuse, and lifetime impairment.” In her post she provides warning signs and symptoms parents should be aware of.

Dr. Albano also suggests that parents unwittingly exasperate the situation when they step in and speak for their children. For example, when unable to answer a question addressed to them, parents might make excuses, such as “Johnny is shy.” While well-intentioned, by managing a stressful situation for their children, parents inadvertently enable them to avoid dealing with the emotions and anxiety these situations provoke.

As the school year begins, we must also ask whether or not there is a role for schools in helping parents recognize the symptoms of SAD in their child and provide therapeutic support. Dr. Albano points out that the very place that is causing the stress, could be the best place to learn how to deal with it.

Many schools offer screenings and teachers are taught how to identify the disorder. Once permission has been obtained from parents, schools provide in-school or after school therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is considered to be one of the more successful tools to support children living with SAD. The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) describes CBT as a “form of treatment that focuses on examining the relationships between thoughts, feelings and behaviors.” CBT is usually associated with an end date. The goal is not long protracted therapy, but rather brief intervention to provide the child with tools to help them manage stressful situations that trigger SAD symptoms.

Teaching about SAD in traditional health classes is another way to create awareness about the disorder. Unfortunately, however, the symptoms of the disorder such as fear of talking to adults or authority figures can prevent a child from seeking help.

Given these facts, positioned alongside the positive results of early intervention, seeking funding for in-school screening and treatment is an idea that is long overdue. Why not bring it up at the first parent teacher organization or school council meeting? Talk to school administrators and teachers to gain support. Make it your calling to be an advocate for children.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Obsessive compulsive disorder: When does an obsession cross the line?

Many of us have obsessions. But what's the difference between a healthy obsession and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

"It's part of every single activity I do, day in, day out. I'm never free."
Adelaide woman Sandra Pritchard is talking about her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
For a long time, Pritchard was in denial about her illness and hid it from people.
"It's humiliating when people see. When people notice something's a bit off," she says.
The 30-year-old told Insight she always knew she was an anxious person, but her condition worsened after the birth of her second child in 2009. She has since been diagnosed with OCD.
"I started probably when I was about six or seven, I used to sort things ... I started labelling toys and buckets of toys and that was when I was very young. I didn't have a choice; I wasn't doing it deliberately. It's been on-going and it's been chopping and changing ever since and just gathering steam."
"OCD has become a little bit fashionable in certain areas. The OCD itself, it's something that is significant and it's severe."
Everyday, Pritchard is plagued by invasive thoughts about dying, being sick, and worries about germs and contamination to her skin or food.
These fears drive her compulsive behaviour, which varies from excessive hand washing, rearranging and sorting things, pacing around the house, checking items for uncleanliness and even avoiding situations like social outings or using public transport.
"It's become so entrenched in my life that there is pretty much nothing that I do the normal way."
For the stay-at-home mum the condition is extremely debilitating and prevents her from completing simple tasks.
She is consumed by her illness - it takes a lot of effort just to get dressed in the morning and make a cup of tea.  
"I feel because of my OCD it stops me enjoying life and I am now having to relearn how to do everything."
She also struggles with eating chicken due to a fear that it may not have been cooked property and she will contract salmonella.
She doesn't buy chemicals and cleans everything with baking soda and vinegar and avoids driving which is problematic as it means she sometimes can't take her child to kindy classes.
Pritchard says she has lost a lot of friends, and prefers to be at home, so that has turned her "into a bit of a hermit".  
"I don't want my kids to have the same problem I have because it takes life from you … It has taken pretty much everything that I have. It's just consumed everything, it swallows everything to the point where you're just – you're hollow and you just exist and you say: what's the point?"

Around three per cent of Australians experience OCD in their lifetime, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The BBC reported that until the 1980s, experts thought two in every 1000 people were affected by OCD. Recent studies believe it is more common, affecting 2 per cent of the population.
Despite those numbers, a psychiatrist from New Zealand's University of Otago says OCD is an illness that is being over-diagnosed.
Dr Christopher Gale said there are misconceptions about what the condition is. He is worried the term is being applied too loosely between people who have obsessions and those with obsessive personalities.
"OCD has become a little bit fashionable in certain areas. The OCD itself, it's something that is significant and it's severe."
"If you've got thoughts which make you very passionate … even if they're taking over a fair amount your life, that's not an obsession. But when it's unwanted, it's intrusive, it's often repulsive, [and] that's when it becomes an obsession."
Dr Gale said he's dealt with patients who take eight hours to get their OCD stuff done. He said it becomes a health problem when it becomes uncontrollable and "starts ruining people's lives".
"Of all the anxiety disorders, and about one in 10 people have an anxiety disorder, this is the rarest and it's the most disabling anxiety disorder. People who've got OCD are tremendously challenged in what they're doing and they have huge difficulties in getting on with life … I've seen people who had very good careers have them completely destroyed as a consequence of this", Gale says.  

Jessica Grisham, senior lecturer from the University of New South Wales, believes Dr Gale is too rigid with his definition of OCD. She sees OCD as a "dimensional symptom spectrum", and thinks people can have "a little OCD" in them.
"Like most disorders it is dimensional. So in its severe clinical form, you really see it impact across spheres of life, but we can see that in the community there are people who experience some kind of a little bit compulsion, some sort of repetitive behaviours, or some intrusive thoughts that don't quite reach the threshold of what we would consider a fully-fledged clinical disorder," she said.  
Grisham was part of the first longitudinal study of OCD following 1000 kids since birth, and said the disorder can be developed later in life as well as being triggered by a traumatic or stressful experience.
"I think there's still more that we need to know and certainly stress can impact. There's people who have vulnerability to OCD and experience events that exacerbate or bring that OCD out."
"I think there's pretty strong evidence that there is a genetic basis for the disorder. It tends to run in families and I agree with my colleagues that relative to some other anxiety disorders, there's a reasonably strong building base of evidence about the neurobiological foundations of the disorder," Grisham said.
"It's a horrible thing to live with."
Looking past the conflict between psychologists and psychiatrists on causes and treatment options for OCD, Pritchard just wants people to know how overwhelming the disorder is.   
"I get a lot of misconceptions about what people think OCD is … it's a horrible thing to live with. You feel like there is someone shoving you towards doing these compulsions and it's such a fight and you can't give up," she said.
"One part of your head's going this is probably not sane' and another part's going oh but you've, just once more, just wipe, wipe once more, wash once more, go and check that thing one more. There's only so much you can do. It's tiring, it's distressing."
"I want people to know and I would hope that people would go out and seek help if they can, if it's not terribly far along."
She has been in and out of care services in Melbourne, Canberra and has made some progress recently working with Adelaide's Women's Health Statewide.