Trigger Warning: PTSD, Rape, and the Media

I remember vividly the first rape scene I saw on television. I was 9 years old, home alone surfing channels when I stumbled upon the incredibly disturbing, sexually violent scene. My hand was frozen on the remote, fearful of and in shock of the images on the screen. I could not understand why someone would do that to another person, or what that pain and violation must feel like. It was a kind of violence unknown to me, at the time. I remember being unable to sleep that night.

This past Monday, I was catching up on the current season of Game of Thrones. I’ve learned to expect plenty of fighting and the occasional beheading, so I try not to get too attached to characters. A more disturbing theme I’ve begun to notice throughout the show however, is the prevalence of rape.

This season alone has included multiple scenes of attempted or completed rape. Episode 6 “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” featured a highly disturbing scene in which Sansa Stark was raped by her new husband Ramsey. The scene passed the point of suggestive and left little to the imagination, showing Sansa’s clothes being torn off, panning out the final shot of the episode with the sounds of her struggle in the background as a servant looked on and watched. If that didn’t fill in the gaps enough for you, the following episode showed Sansa again covered in bruises and cuts.

Years later, I am reminded of the overwhelming feelings I felt as a 9 year old watching that scene. Only now, I watch with a personal understanding of what that violence looks and feels like. Even with the volume on mute, the scene left me distraught and disturbed. Once again I found myself unable to sleep, my mind reeling over emotions and memories.

Sexual violence is not new to Game of Thrones, however. Rape is normalized on the show, woven into the plotline as a tactic of war, a right of husbands and brothers, and demonstration of domination and ownership. Someone actually quantified sexual violence on the show, and totaled 50 instances of rape and 29 victims of sexual violence to date. Something about this particular incident really struck a chord with me.

Absent from the show are details of the survivor’s recovery, or legal or moral ramifications for the perpetrators or the victims. Instances of brutal violence are witnessed and seemingly forgotten about. Yet, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is a reality for survivors of rape, with the chances stacked high at 50-90% (Population Reports: Ending Violence Against Women, 2000.)

The instances of sexual violence featured on the show are not explored in detail, integrated into character development, or examined more closely later, but rather exist as standalone events. Not only are these violent images reinforcing concepts of sexual objectification, domination and subversion, but they are triggering for survivors. Detailed and explicit sexually violent images—as well as sounds, sights, smells, stories, visuals– can remind a survivor of their assault and may elicit symptoms of PTSD. A more sensitive depiction of sexual violence is needed, and not just in Game of Thrones. Audiences must demand more from the media, to be thoughtful about the way sexual violence is used as entertainment and what effects it may have on real life survivors.


Megan Staudenraus is a Youth Mental Health First Aid Liaison at Mental Health First Aid Colorado. Be sure to read (or reread) her previous post here for more information on this important topic.

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A Song in Your Head: Connecting Music and Mental Health

Okay, so here’s where we’re at. It’s Friday. Tomorrow starts a long weekend (for most). You’re feeling the afternoon slump. We’re with you. So, as your afternoon pick-me-up, take a few minutes to connect with Emily Haller, one of our Youth Mental Health First Aid Liaisons, on the connections between music and mental health! No cute dog photos here, but there may or may not be a song at the end to send you into the weekend.


Close your eyes. [Okay, so you’ll probably have to read the paragraph first before you close them, unless you’re taking a mini nap, which is totally cool too]. As you close your eyes, I want you to think of YOUR song. You know, the one that rattles around your head when you’re not thinking about anything else. The one that your coworkers probably know by heart too because you hum it all the time. The one you absentmindedly flip on when you can’t seem to shake a bad day. It’s okay if you’re thinking of several, as you might find that each situation calls for a specific set of tunes. A solo dance party as you’re getting ready in the morning might sound different than the end of a stressful day at work.

Try to play one of your selections in your head. If it helps, you can even turn it on in the background as you read. Now think: what is it that makes this my song? Maybe it was it the people you were with when you first heard it. Maybe you listened to it on repeat on your favorite trip. Maybe there is no specific reason except that it makes you smile every time. Regardless, it’s yours.

Now, you might be wondering why I’m asking you to think about music for a blog about mental health. That’s a fair question, as it might seem like a stretch. I promise, it’s a stronger connection than it might seem like at first. I studied music and psychology in college and I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of the two, especially the ability of music to impact and often improve a person’s psychological well-being.

Few things surround us or occupy our environment in the way music does. In fact, the average American spends over four hours a day listening to some form of audio. This probably isn’t surprising considering how quickly you came up with a song just a few moments ago. Music doesn’t have to just come out of a speaker either – think about the incredible music made by birds in the morning, rain hitting a roof, or waves crashing on the shore. It’s all around if you just listen.

Anecdotally, we could talk about the impact of music on our well-being all day. You know how much better you feel when that song comes on the radio. The most exciting part though? The research agrees. Music has been shown to benefit our physical and mental well-being in countless ways – everything from relieving stress and symptoms or depression to improving sleep quality. And, there’s even an entire field of study and practice dedicated to this important connection. According to the American Music Therapy Association, “music therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals.” Using music to address the whole person, now how amazing is that? I agree, SO amazing.

Luckily, the benefits and importance of music are far too numerous to fit in one blog post, and I can’t wait to have more conversations with you about music and mental health. In the meantime, I challenge you to continue to find your music and find out why it’s yours. Whether it’s a music therapy session, a really beautiful bird call, or hearing your favorite song on the radio at the store (go ahead, dance in the aisle), it’s yours, and that’s what matters most.

And, in case you need a send-off to Saturday, here’s one that’s rattling in my head today. Plus, meaningful Colorado-filmed music videos are the best kinds of music videos. Happy Weekend!

Tomorrow is the day and YOU can still register!

The day for what, you may ask? A fabulous question. Tomorrow is our annual Stepping Up For Our Communities Event – a celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month and Children’s Mental Health Day!

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What we’re most excited to share with you though is that you can still register today! We have space left in both the Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid courses, and we’d love to see you there. Also, events like these are always more fun with a friend, so please share the love (and the registration links). Please click the appropriate link below to register:

Youth Mental Health First Aid

Adult Mental Health First Aid

When:  Tuesday, May 19, 2015

7:30 am Registration, 8:00 am – 5:30 pm Event

Where:  Arapahoe Community College, 5900 S. Santa Fe Dr., Littleton, CO 80120

We can’t wait to see you there!

Special thanks to our Youth Logo Contest Winner, Dennis H. for the awesome event logo at the top.

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This event was developed under the grant 1H79SM061884-01 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The views, policies, and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or HHS.

What do the behaviors we see in our students mean? Part 2

We’re guessing you were waiting for it, so here it is: Part 2 of Evan Page’s post about the behaviors we see in our students! In case you want a refresher, here’s where you can find Part 1. Thanks again, Evan!


I spent a few years working at a specialized residential treatment center. Our typical student had been struggling significantly in the home and at school. They had bounced from outpatient therapy to other residential centers and wilderness boot camps before coming to us. To get to that level of care, the behaviors have to be really rocking the boat especially in terms of relationships.

The students worked hard to keep distance between themselves and people who tried to help- and they were very good at it. Cussing, disrespect, and a general “screw you” attitude was fairly pervasive and, if you allowed yourself to get caught up in the onslaught on the surface, it would be easy to become hardened and resentful, building your own walls for protection.

However, I was able to avoid that trap each time by remembering their history and looking at the background that formed their lens. Abandonment, abuse, and neglect and the earliest of ages, when their lens was most vulnerable, formed a worldview that people were unsafe– even, and especially, those that said they wanted to help.

I share this to clean up your lens a bit. To wipe off that little smudge left by a former collogue, student, or bully from your past and to allow a clearer picture of what is happening. Our clients, students, and families are hurting in our communities. They have difficult home lives, lots of stress, little support, and feel insecure about who they are and their value to us. When we are able to have a clear understanding, we can have a softer heart and a more gentle approach. And that is what they really need.


Evan Page has specialized in providing therapy for families and teens struggling with trauma, attachment disorder, and mood regulation issues. Evan is currently a therapist with North Range Behavioral Health, serving as the School-Based Engagement Specialist.

Faith and Mental Health: A Natural Connection

If the snow this past weekend has you a little confused, don’t worry. We’re feeling it too. Regardless of Colorado’s weather, it is still May, which means we are still celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month and preparing for Stepping Up For Our Communities! As you’re thawing out this Monday morning, we hope you’ll take a few minutes to connect with Rikke Siersbaek, Program Associate at Mental Health First Aid Colorado, on the crucial connection between faith and mental health!


The intersection of mental health and faith is a busy place. For some, mental health challenges are made easier by their faith but for others their faith stands in the way of truly understanding mental illness and treatment options. Research shows that the most common source of help for people developing mental health issues is clergy, not mental health professionals.

Sometimes this is a good thing – in fact sometimes faith leaders are the first to see a change in a congregant and might help steer the person toward recovery. And a study from 2012 showed that “people with a moderate to high level of belief in a higher power do significantly better in short-term psychiatric treatment than those without belief.” However, other faith leaders dismiss mental illness as spiritual weakness and recommend prayer and religious study as the only solution.

The challenge that mental health advocates face, then, is to encourage people’s faith to be a part of their recovery because we know that it helps. But at the same time, it is important to continually work to reduce stigma and promote expanded knowledge of mental illness and its many causes among clergy and congregants alike.

Mental Health First Aid is one tool faith communities can use to expand basic mental health literacy and learn the how to help. Around the country, many clergy and lay people have been trained in Mental Health First Aid adding practical skills to complement their spiritual abilities. In one pastor, Nathan Krause’s, experience, MHFA has empowered him and the lay members of his congregation’s health ministry. When talking to MHFA US he said that he and his congregants feel like: “I do have something to offer. I can understand this at my level.” And he says, “when you have the actual tools and resources for additional help at hand, it makes a world of difference. Mental Health First Aid is a real powerful tool in the hands of church members to enhance their skills and ability to offer a health ministry.”

In Colorado, we are lucky to have hundreds of fabulous MHFA and YMHFA trainers, and many have experience working with faith communities. If your faith community is interested in having an instructor train your congregation, your clergy, your lay leadership or a combination of folks in MHFA, let us know! We will be happy to help!

Contact us at registration@mhfaco.org or 720-573-3590. We look forward to hearing from you!

What do the behaviors we see in our students mean? Part 1

In the continued celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month, we would like to celebrate a very special day today — May 7, 2015 is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day! And, we could think of no better way to celebrate than by introducing our first guest blogger — Evan Page, the School-Based Engagement Specialist at North Range Behavioral Health. This post is part one of a two-part series, so be sure to check in next Thursday to see part two. Thank you, Evan!


While negative behaviors may be concerning in and of themselves, it is important to remember that they are beacons, sending out pings of hidden distress. Tracking the signal backwards, behaviors we see are indicators of a hidden issue- a cause behind the symptoms. As community leaders and MHFA instructors, you have a fantastic view of behavior and, if you know what it translates to, you have a great head start toward deeper empathy for the people in your sphere of influence and you will be able to experience better self-care.

We are constantly communicating with ourselves, giving internal feedback for every action we take. The way we speak to ourselves is determined by how we view ourselves and the world. Different people will have different perceptions of the same situation as a result of how they take in and process information.

We can’t process all the information that happens in an event, so we subconsciously pick out bits and pieces that seem important and categorize them in our mind. What we select and categorize is heavily influenced by our past experiences and forms our beliefs.

The central belief about who we think we are (acceptable vs. unacceptable) is reflected in what we say in this inner dialogue. That dialogue then naturally flows out into our behaviors. Someone who constantly berates herself is going to act differently than the person who is happy and content with who she is.

Early life events — Beliefs — Inner dialogue — Behaviors

We all see life through a lens and no one has a crystal clear, unbiased picture of interactions in which we partake or events that we witness. We have smudges, cracks, and dust on the glass between us and the world as a result of our past. For a young man who has had traumatic experiences on the battlefield, a situation that may be harmless to others may send him into a flashback. The idea of the holidays arriving may bring up feelings of joy and excitement for some people, while dread and weariness fill others depending on the damage that has been done to their lens in past experiences, and the effectiveness of efforts to repair that damage.

So behaviors mean that something is going on beneath the surface– no surprise there. Having the knowledge of exactly what is going on is where you personally benefit.

(part two continued next week)


Evan Page has specialized in providing therapy for families and teens struggling with trauma, attachment disorder, and mood regulation issues. Evan is currently a therapist with North Range Behavioral Health, serving as the School-Based Engagement Specialist.

Mental Health and Addiction: Starting the Conversation

As you dive into your Monday afternoon, we hope you’ll take a few minutes to engage with Britta Johnson, our Implementation Specialist, on the important topic of mental health and addiction.


As I sit in my office looking out at the beautiful green and bright colors of our emerging Colorado spring, I contemplate how to start this conversation. Typing and then deleting my starting sentence over and over I was left with a blank page and a blinking cursor.

So what is it about substance use that makes it difficult to start the conversation.  Could it be the culture of anonymity that has taught us not to speak up about it?  Is it the countless television shows and mass media coverage of celebrity rehab scandals that marginalizes this serious health condition?  Or perhaps its years of being silent that has stigmatized individuals to remain silent on the issue.

Understandably, some people in recovery are reluctant to go public.  But when someone does put a face and voice on recovery with his or her personal story, the general public and policymakers can finally access the powerful message of hope that has resonated for years in underground communities of recovery.

A recent documentary, The Anonymous People, was released that addresses this very topic.  The film features the 23.5 million Americans living in long-term recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. Deeply entrenched social stigma and discrimination have kept recovery voices silent and faces hidden for decades. The vacuum created by this silence has been filled by sensational mass media depictions of people in active addiction that continue to perpetuate a lurid public fascination with the dysfunctional side of what is a preventable and treatable health condition. Just like women with breast cancer, or people with HIV/AIDS, courageous addiction recovery advocates are starting to come out of the shadows to tell their true stories. The moving story of The Anonymous People is told through the faces and voices of the leaders, volunteers, corporate executives, and celebrities who are laying it all on the line to save the lives of others just like them. This passionate new public recovery movement is fueling a changing conversation that aims to transform public opinion, and finally shift problematic policy toward lasting recovery solutions.

The good news is that through open conversations regarding mental health and substance use, we are starting to see a shift in focus on how we approach these.  Integrated care models are becoming more prevalent to allow for the joined treatment of physical and mental illnesses at the same time.  Politicians are supporting increased government spending on strategic initiatives that directly focus on mental health and substance use.

By opening up and allowing ourselves and others to start the conversation, we are able to make positive progressive change and impact lives around us.