Tag Archives: health

Emotional Impact of the Separation of Children and Parents at the US Border

On June 20, 2018, the American Psychiatric Association (of which I am an Assembly Member) and 17 other mental health organizations joined forces in a letter to the Departments of Justice, of Homeland Security and of Health and Human Services, urging the administration of President Donald Trump to end its policy of separation of children from their parents at the United States border.

The letter states that “children are dependent on their parents for safety and support. Any forced separation is highly stressful for children and can cause lifelong trauma, as well as an increased risk of other mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition, the longer that children and parents are separated, the greater the reported symptoms of anxiety and depression for the children.”1

The separation and detention of minors is a human rights crisis

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child emphasizes the importance of considering “the best interests of the child.”2 These interests include:

  • Protection against discrimination
  • Safety
  • Wellbeing
  • Health
  • Ensuring to the maximum extent possible the child’s survival and development
  • Preservation of the child’s identity
  • Family integrity
  • Protection against the separation from parents against the child’s will
  • Free expression of ideas
  • Freedom
  • Education

The separation of children from their families and their detention under inhumane and deplorable conditions are in direct opposition to all these interests.

The emotional impact of the separation

The negative effects, both physical and emotional, on the children separated from their parents may not be apparent for many years and some may be irreversible.

The short-term emotional effects include:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Behavioral problems
  • Irritability
  • Sleeping problems
  • Changes in appetite
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Poor self-care
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

The long-term emotional sequelae can be reflected in:

  • Developmental delay
  • Poor psychological adjustment
  • Poor school performance
  • Regressive behavior
  • Aggression
  • Increased vulnerability to physical illness
  • Alcohol and drug use

Studies show that no matter how brief the detention, it may cause severe and long-term psychological trauma and increase the risk of mental disorders.3

Parents may also be affected due to the uncertainty of what may be happening to their child, which may manifest itself in:

  • Increase in physical and emotional problems
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Difficulty in their relationships
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

What is Attachment?

Attachment is the bond between the child and his parents, which plays a fundamental role in the social and emotional development of the child. Adequate attachment fosters feelings of security in the child. Poor attachment can make the child grow insecure, with separation anxiety, self-esteem problems, trust issues, behavioral problems, and even extreme dependence on others.

The relationship between parents and children can continue to be affected even after being reunited, which may be manifested in:

  • Attachment problems
  • Reduction in parental authority
  • Poor parent-child relationship
  • Difficulties in child rearing

How can we prevent these negative effects?

  • Putting a stop to the separation of families and to the inhumane conditions in the detention centers. The separation of a parent from a child should never occur, unless there are concerns for the safety of the child at the hands of his/her parent.
  • Early detection of symptoms through mental health assessments and periodic reevaluations (especially when symptoms may arise later as the separation or detention persists).
  • Coordination of services:
      o Physical health
      o Mental health
      o Legal
      o Interpretation in the child’s primary language
  • Psychotherapy and counseling can help the children and their parents to deal with their feelings or negative thoughts, identify stressors, and strengthen coping skills. Therapy can assist in processing emotions and offer support and hope.
  • Psychiatric medications may also control symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or any other mental health condition.
  • Finally, there should be no shame in seeking help, which can improve the lives of the child and his/her family.


Be Smart. Be Safe. Be Healthy. Be Strong.

Until next time!

Dr. Felix


1American Psychiatric Association. (2018, June 20). Mental health organizations urge administration to halt policy separating children and parents at U.S. border. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/newsroom/news-releases/mental-health-organizations-urge-administration-to-halt-policy-separating-children-and-parents-at-u-s-border/

2United Nations. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx/

3Linton, J.M., Griffin, M., Shapiro, A.J. (2017, March). Detention of immigrant children. American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2017/03/09/peds.2017-0483.full.pdf

From Bruce to Caitlyn Jenner… And Why Gender Dysphoria is No Longer a Disorder

Caitlyn Jenner’s transition is, what we would call in this day and age, “trending” in social media. But the transgender struggle has existed long before the times when it would have graced the cover of Vanity Fair. Many transgender trailblazers have come before Caitlyn: World War II era Army draftee Christine Jorgensen, former professional tennis player Renée Richards, LGBT advocate Chaz Bono, Hollywood actress Laverne Cox. We live indeed in a different world. A world more accepting about diversity, yet with deeply engrained prejudices. Let us not forget Brandon Teena.

But, What is Gender Dysphoria?

Dysphoria, from the Greek “difficult to bear,” is a sense of discomfort or distress. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5):

Gender Dysphoria refers to the distress that may accompany the incongruence between one’s experienced or expressed gender and one’s assigned gender.”1

In other words, people with gender dysphoria are not happy with the sex they were born, identify themselves as members of the other sex, and have significant distress because their sexual characteristics are in conflict with how they view, think, and feel about themselves and their gender.

Previous versions of the DSM used the terminology Gender Identity Disorder, which was included in the “Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders” chapter together with sexual dysfunctions and paraphilias. But gender identity disorder is neither a sexual dysfunction nor a paraphilia. Furthermore, DSM-5 recognizes that gender identity is not the clinical problem and shifts the focus of clinical attention to the distress experienced by the individual. The problem is not the identity but rather the mental anguish that the individual may face when dealing with the thoughts and feelings about their gender.


Not that sexuality and gender identity are this simplistic, but let us think of sex as the anatomical characteristics we have from birth (generally speaking, vagina vs. penis, XX vs. XY chromosomes), sexual orientation as the person to whom we are sexually attracted, and gender as our internal sense of self (as male, female, neither, or both).

Gender dysphoria may begin in childhood but may also be seen later in life. It is more commonly seen in men than women, although these statistics are greatly contested. The level of distress caused by gender dysphoria places the individual at higher risk for behavioral problems, substance use, depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Gender reassignment surgery may not necessarily be the personal goal for all individuals with gender dysphoria. Regardless of the decision, it is important to seek help from an experienced mental health professional in order to deal with the distress caused by the gender incongruence, to treat any resulting or co-occurring mental health problems, and to assist the individual in the transition. While family and peer support is essential, family members may also need psychological assistance to deal with their feelings and the perceived loss of their transgender family member.

Caitlyn is not the first and certainly not the last transgender individual. While her life in the public eye will hopefully bring more attention to this important issue, we need to be mindful of the double-edge sword that comes with her fame. Living under the social microscope, with its heightened level of scrutiny, and in our ever-connected world where comments are unfiltered and, at times, intolerant and insensitive, may not only be damaging to Caitlyn’s journey but may actually hurt the transgender cause.

We have come a long way as a society and it is amazing that we are having this conversation. We must continue to educate ourselves because knowledge is not only power but it also fosters awareness, tolerance, acceptance, and respect.


Be Smart. Be Safe. Be Healthy. Be Strong.

Until next time!

Dr. Felix

De Bruce a Caitlyn Jenner … Y Por Qué la Disforia de Género No es un Transtorno

La transición de Caitlyn Jenner está, lo que llamaríamos hoy en día, “trending” en las redes sociales. Pero la lucha transgénero ha existido mucho antes de los días en que hubiera engalanado la portada de la revista Vanity Fair. Muchos pioneros transgénero han forjado el camino antes de Caitlyn: la soldado de la era de la Segunda Guerra Mundial Christine Jorgensen, la ex-tenista profesional Renée Richards, el activista LGBT Chaz Bono, la actriz de Hollywood Laverne Cox. De hecho, vivimos en un mundo diferente. Un mundo más tolerante de la diversidad, y aún así con profundos prejuicios. No olvidemos a Brandon Teena.

Pero, ¿Qué es la Disforia de Género?

Disforia, del griego “difícil de soportar,” es una sensación de malestar o angustia. De acuerdo con el Manual Diagnóstico y Estadístico de los Trastornos Mentales, Quinta Edición (DSM-5):

Disforia de Género se refiere a la angustia que puede acompañar a la incongruencia entre el género expresado y el género asignado de una persona”.1

En otras palabras, las personas con disforia de género no están contentas con el sexo que nacieron, se identifican como miembros del otro sexo, y experimentan gran malestar debido a que sus características sexuales están en conflicto con la forma en que se ven, piensan y se sienten sobre sí mismos y su género.

Versiones anteriores del DSM utilizaron la terminología Trastorno de Identidad de Género, la cual fue incluida en el capítulo de “Trastornos Sexuales y de la Identidad de Género”, junto con las disfunciones sexuales y las parafilias. Pero el trastorno de identidad de género no es ni una disfunción sexual ni una parafilia. Por otra parte, el DSM-5 reconoce que la identidad de género no es el problema clínico y cambia el foco de atención clínica al malestar experimentado por el individuo. El problema no es la identidad sino la angustia mental que el individuo puede enfrentar al lidiar con los pensamientos y sentimientos acerca de su género.


No es que la sexualidad y la identidad de género sean tan simplistas, pero veamos al sexo como las características anatómicas con las que nacemos (en términos generales, vagina vs. pene, cromosomas XX vs. XY), a la orientación sexual como a quien nos sentimos atraídos sexualmente, y al género como nos vemos y sentimos internamente (como varón, hembra, ninguno, o ambos).

La disforia de género puede comenzar en la niñez, pero también puede verse más tarde en el desarrollo personal. Se observa con mayor frecuencia en hombres que en mujeres, aunque estas estadísticas son muy debatidas. El nivel de angustia causado por la disforia de género aumenta el riesgo de problemas de conducta, uso de sustancias, depresión, ansiedad y suicidio.

La cirugía de reasignación de sexo no necesariamente es la meta personal para todos los individuos con disforia de género. Independientemente de su decisión, es importante buscar ayuda de un profesional de la salud mental experimentado para lidiar con la angustia causada por la incongruencia de género, para tratar cualquier problema de salud mental resultante o co-occurrente, y para ayudar a la persona en su transición. Si bien el apoyo de la familia y amigos es esencial, los miembros de la familia podrían también necesitar ayuda psicológica para lidiar con sus sentimientos y con la pérdida percibida de su familiar transgénero.

Caitlyn no es la primera y sin duda no será la última persona transgénero. Mientras que su vida en el ojo público posiblemente traerá más atención a este importante asunto, tenemos que ser conscientes del arma de doble filo que viene con su fama. Vivir bajo el microscopio social, con su mayor nivel de escrutinio, y en nuestro mundo cada vez más conectado, donde los comentarios sin filtro y, a veces, intolerantes e insensibles, podría ser perjudicial no tan sólo para el recorrido de Caitlyn pero podría afectar la causa transgénero.

Hemos avanzado grandemente como sociedad y es maravilloso que estemos teniendo esta conversación. Pero debemos continuar educándonos porque saber no es tan sólo poder sino que también fomenta conciencia, tolerancia, aceptación y respeto.


Sé Inteligente. Sé Precavido. Sé Saludable. Sé Fuerte.

¡Hasta la próxima!

Dr. Félix

Death of a Doctor – Another Victim of Cyber Bullying?

The death of Puerto Rican doctor Gloria Ortiz González is an unfortunate reminder of the power of social media, cyber bullying, the poor conditions of a public health system affecting both patients and their providers, the level of stress and the need for attention to the emotional well-being of healthcare workers, the Hippocratic Oath, and the doctrine “primum non nocere” (“first do no harm”).

Dr. Ortiz González gained notoriety and grew in infamy after a verbal altercation with patients in the emergency room waiting area of Bayamon Regional Hospital in Puerto Rico was recorded on a mobile phone and uploaded to social networks in August 2014. In the video, which clearly begins in the middle of the discussion and does not show the preceding interactions, a patient who is off camera can be heard instigating the physician to the point that she loses her composure and uses language like:

  • “And you’re ignorant, read a goddamn newspaper.”
  • “Who pays for “la reforma de la salud” [Puerto Rican Medicaid] in this country? I do with my taxes.”
  • “Damn it. I have busted myself studying me in the damn Medical Sciences Campus to have to come here and deal with you.”
  • “Bunch of ignorants.”
  • “That is why this country is a mess because what you do is listen to Daddy Yankee. Pick up a goddamn book you ignorant. Pick up a goddamn book.”

The life of Dr. Ortiz González took a huge turn after the video went viral. The doctor was suspended from duty and investigated by the Department of Health of Puerto Rico; an investigation which ceased once she resigned. Although she would later be exonerated of any wrongdoing by the Office of the Advocate for the Patient, the degree of personal harassment and devastating cyber bullying on social media were inescapable.

Even the world famous reggaeton singer Daddy Yankee countered in social networks and through the song “Palabras con Sentido” [“Words with Meaning”], the video of which recreates the moment when the doctor’s outburst was recorded in the waiting room. A young doctor who, in a moment of frustration, lashed out at her patients, whom she swore to treat with “warmth, sympathy and understanding.” A doctor who fell victim to persecution and cyber attacks, chasing her out of her home, affecting her mental health, and possibly contributing to her death.

Although Dr. Ortiz González’s behavior in that moment of anger was unacceptable and unprofessional, we must remember that we are all human and the burnout caused by poor working conditions in a crowded health system marred by inefficiencies, poor pay, and little appreciation, have their weight. While I do not excuse her conduct, as a medical student who walked the floors and hallways of that same regional hospital in Puerto Rico, I understand how difficult it can sometimes be to remain composed under so much pressure.

Now, we should reflect on the impact of the news of her death, the emotional footprint carved out by harassment, and the rampant use of social media to perpetuate a persecution by anonymous abusers behind a keyboard. Many people have fallen victim to this cyber hunt. Harassment, both in person and through social networks, can have lifetime effects on the victim’s personality. The power of demoralization is monumental and erodes at the victim’s self-worth. Anxiety, depression, suicides, and murders. When will it all end?

I hope the death of Dr. Gloria Ortiz González has not been in vain and makes us think twice before casting our hatred on social media, considering the irreversible damage that we may cause.

Rest in Peace, Doctora!


Be Smart. Be Safe. Be Healthy. Be Strong.

Until next time!

Dr. Felix