Last year, I attended the American Psychiatric Association, or APA, conference in Atlanta, Georgia, with the only psychiatrist in South Sudan. She was presenting a program developed and taught by Dr. Richard Brown and Dr. Patrica Gerbarg on a breathing technique. (You can learn about it at They added to the presentation this year, and it was very informative. Breathing in a special way can really change the lives of people living with post-traumatic stress.

This year, with so much press about the opioid crisis in the United States, I was curious to see if the APA would address it. The APA is really a bellwether into current research and activism. Most people don’t imagine psychiatrists as activists, but they are, especially the younger generation of physicians.

There are 11,000 participants at this year’s meeting, and innovations are being made, such as Internet interventions and smartphone apps for mental health. There is even a contest for the best new app.

In addition, there are topics that delve into some of society’s most intractable problems. Some of the presentations included how to develop competency for medical students and residents on intimate partner violence, how to use integrative therapies such as mindfulness and several sessions on “the least of these,” including refugee populations and developing resiliency among those who escape brutal treatment and starvation. Another topic addressed is how to work in prison mental health, including with those in solitary confinement. This is a debated and hot issue.

Post-traumatic stress, especially among veterans, is also being addressed at the conference. In World War I, it was called “shell shock.” Now research has uncovered new ways of treating it.

There is always the problem of substance abuse and alcohol problems – with the fancy word comorbidity as it relates to suicide discussions – as well as the uses of buprenorphine in treating opioid addition.

The APA doesn’t shy away from tough topics. One presentation is titled, “Islamophobia: Social, Religious and Clinical Perspectives.” Another focuses on how to help trans patients who are in the U.S. military, as well as how to conduct advocacy in the “era of a Trump administration.” In fact, there is an entire group that works with psychiatrists on how to advocate in their communities, their states and with the federal government.

One intriguing question that most of us have never thought about was brought up by the Council on Geriatric Psychiatry: “Can I Still Have Sex with My Spouse? Sexual Intimacy and Decision-Making Capacity in Cognitively Impaired Older Adults.”

Most intriguing is some of the newest research. On Saturday, research was presented on several topics, and the crisis in Syria was just one. The research “analyzed information from 59 children, an average age of just over 11 years old, from 20 families. Based on the screening, 61 percent of children had probable anxiety diagnosis and 85 percent had probable separation anxiety diagnosis. PTSD symptoms were common among all adults and more common among mothers than fathers.”

Researchers also found that, even years after a natural disaster, people still experienced trauma. One was related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and Hurricane Katrina. They found: “Adolescents who were highly exposed to Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill had higher levels of alcohol misuse and emotional trauma compared to their peers with lower exposure to these disasters.”

The researchers conclude that social support to help adolescent disaster victims with feelings of depression, anger and loneliness may reduce alcohol use in these populations.

The research has not shied away from topics most on the minds of parents – and, in fact, also on the mind of first lady Melania Trump: The issue of cyberbullying. A study found: “Ten participants (20 percent) had been victims of cyberbullying, while only three (6 percent) admitted to partaking in cyberbullying. Cyberbullying victims reported that several media outlets were used (Facebook 6/10, Instagram 6/10, Twitter 4/10, chat rooms 3/10). None of the victims reported bullying via email”

It continued: “Cyberbullying was associated with symptoms of depression and dissociation, and with anger. Previous experience of emotional abuse was significantly correlated with cyberbullying. Other types of early life trauma, including physical and sexual abuse and physical and emotional neglect, were not associated with cyberbullying. Saltz and colleagues suggest educating adolescents about healthy use of technology may be helpful.”

The APA is not only reflective of America and the world now, it is at the forefront of changes that need to be taking place. It is not your grandfather’s psychiatric organization; it is a modern reflection of what needs to happen now.

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