Archive for category Mental health

Are We Doing Young Persons a Disservice by Teaching them No Means No?

I’ve been teaching sexuality education to teens for a decade now.  In that time, I’ve seen a huge shift in the way young women respond to the issue of date rape, although almost no change in the way young men respond.

The date rape lesson in Our Whole Lives for high school students takes the form of the story of a date told from the perspective of each person.  Participants divide into two groups, each with one version of the story, which they read aloud.  The basic facts of the date are the same in each account – they go to dinner, drink a bottle of wine, go back to his room at the frat house, drink some more, play music, dance, get partly undressed, make out.  It’s at this point the stories diverge radically – his version ends with them having sex, her version with her being raped.  After reading the story, participants answer a series of questions which include “What could he/she have done to change the outcome of the evening?”

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The Republican Base is the Identified Patient in our National Family System

The American right has transformed from conservative to reactionary to revanchist in an incredibly short period of time.  Today’s Republican base voters feel a toxic mix of anger, frustration, and isolation.  The general perception of America outside their communities is almost entirely negative.  They are keenly aware of themselves as the last holdouts against a rising tide of racial pluralism and cultural tolerance.  The forces at work are complex, but at the same they are the same enemies liberalism has always opposed – the forces of social order which presume that some people are ‘more equal’ than others.  Today’s Republican party has been transformed from a political party to a fundamentalist movement with all that implies about in group and out group dynamics; organized around the ideas of Constitutional purity, American exceptionalism, and traditional culture, this political fundamentalism movement is motivated by fear, anger and loss.

On October 3, Democracy Corps published Inside the GOP, their findings from a series of focus group discussions with Republicans.  They identified the GOP’s three key constituencies – evangelicals, Tea Partiers and moderates and held focus groups in various cities around the country. The memo as a whole makes for depressing reading – it describes a group of Americans who see themselves as socially, culturally and political isolated, a faithful remnant fighting to restore the America they understand and value against a devious and largely victorious enemy.  The average member of the Republican base feels besieged, angry and frustrated.  Their sense of isolation within contemporary culture cannot be overstated.  Tellingly, the members of the focus groups reported that the focus group time was a unique experience of being around like-minded people: Read the rest of this entry »

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College Life, Rape and Public Discourse

There’s a major discussion happening right now about sexual assault on college campuses (i.e. it’s made the NY Times; some other posts and articles here, here, here and here).  The basic shape of the conversation can be described fairly simply:

Rape and sexual assault are already underreported crimes.  Students on college campuses are victims of rape and sexual assault on a regular basis; college campuses nationwide engage in efforts to minimize reporting of sexual assault on campus and take minimal actions against perpetrators.  New regulations are shining a light on the situation.

The consensus seems to be that colleges aren’t doing enough to protect students from sexual assault and aren’t doing enough with regard to punishing perpetrators; it seems to me the worst a college can do is expel a perpetrator and even then they run risks they may prefer to avoid.  As I think about this issue, it seems that colleges are trying to thread the needle with regard to legal liability – in the absence of specific knowledge about specific threats to a student from/by another student, they can’t take any action; they can’t expel a student because he might rape someone.  Without evidence, they can’t punish a student.  In many cases, victims can’t identify the perpetrators. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ten Years Ago Today . . . And No It Was Not Worth It

I hate looking back.  Ten years ago today the US invastion of Iraq began. 

The push for war with Iraq felt like a time of public madness.  The American media has never been less absolutely incompetent than in those months.  Yeah, the media pretty much sucks now, but back then they were awful beyond the telling of it.  The largest peace rallies in history got no coverage.  American media has spent the last decade hoping no one reminds them how bad they were, how gullible, how insanely biased for the Bush administration they were and how they mindlessly lapped up any lie they were told. Read the rest of this entry »

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Do They Know How Crazy They Sound?

Today’s Senate committee hearing on gun safety began with a surprise appearance by Former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), grievously wounded during an assassination attempt two years ago that left six others dead.

“Thank you for inviting me here today,” she said. “This is an important conversation for our children, for our community, for Democrats and Republicans. Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important.”

She continued: “Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”

But later in the hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) bragged about having an AR-15 at home.

“You could find yourself in this country in a lawless environment from a natural disaster or a riot,” he said… The Republican senator added that he would carry his assault rifle around his neighborhood in the event of “a law and order breakdown.”

And then it got weirder.

One of the witnesses at the hearing, Daily Caller writer Gayle Trotter, head of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, argued that limiting magazine capacity would particularly affect women, who she claimed believe the AR-15 to be their “weapon of choice.”

“An assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon, and the peace of mind that a woman has as she’s facing three, four, five violent attackers, intruders in her home, with her children screaming in the background, the peace of mind that she has knowing that she has a scary-looking gun gives her more courage when she’s fighting hardened, violent criminals,” she said.

I’m almost 60 years old. I never had even one “hardened, violent criminal” attack me at home. Not one time. Do these people know how crazy they sound to most Americans?

More info:
Gun advocate tells Senate: AR-15 is the ‘weapon of choice’ for women with crying babies
Lindsey Graham: GOP-Forced Budget Cuts Will Mean Fewer Cops, So People Need To Arm Themselves
Senator Catches NRA Head In Epic Flip Flop

UPDATE:
Gayle Trotter’s Fantasies of Fighting Off Violent Men Don’t Have Anything to do With Women’s Realities

The fact of the matter is that more guns put women in danger. The Harvard Injury Control Research Center has found that states with more guns have more female violent deaths. Their research also found that batterers who owned guns liked to use them to scare and control their victims, and would often use the gun to threaten the victim, threaten her pets or loved ones, clean them menacingly during arguments, or even fire them to scare her.

Trotter’s organization, the Independent Women’s Forum, opposes legislation aimed at curbing domestic violence including the Violence Against Women Act.
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Mass Shootings and Mental Illness and Life and Death

At Freethoughtblogs, Ashley Miller wrote:

But I’m asking you–begging you, really, to not decide that Lanza had a mental illness. I’m asking you not to make “being a good person” the standard for mentally healthy.

Do not try to rationalize this away with mental illness. Stop talking about how it could have been schizophrenia, stop saying he had to have mental health issues. You do not know.

All of which is reasonable.  She expands her argument:

I don’t want them [people with mental illnesses] torn up with worry that they could be the next shooter, to isolate themselves because they ‘could be dangerous’. I don’t want their friends to worry for their lives. People with mental illness are four times as likely to be the victims of violence. They are more likely to suffer than perpetrate.

You want to care for the living? You want mental health care to be better? Stop making mental illness the scapegoat. You are causing stigma. You are making it harder. You are part of the problem. If today, seeing a therapist was free, treatment was covered as long as it was needed, do you think everyone who needed it would go? If the dominant narrative is that only ‘crazy people’  shoot schoolchildren?

I worked in a research lab developing and testing therapy for schizophrenia when I was 18, where in part, I interviewed participants and tagged along on treatment sessions. To this day, when I mention it–one of the best experiences of my studies–the common reaction is to ask about my safety. My safety from people who patiently let a teenager ask them incredibly personal questions for hours, who let me into their homes and lives. People with mental illness are not inherently dangerous. These attitudes are.

All of which I agree with.  Stigmas about mental illness often prevent people from seeking treatment.  Our mental health care system doesn’t work.  But . . .

The argument cuts both ways though.  The stigma around mental illness means people don’t seek treatment when they should so at least some folks who are mentally ill end up doing horrible things, which creates even more stigma.  Even people who have actual diagnoses often can’t get treatment.  Lots of people who should receive treatment, and get a diagnosis, don’t get it.  So Adam Lanza may well have had an undiagnosed mental illness, which means he got no treatment, simply because our mental health care system operates so poorly.  We can’t say, “Oh we was mentally ill.”  But it’s also fair to argue our system works so poorly that even if he were mentally ill, he probably wouldn’t have been diagnosed or received treatment.

For me, there’s a struggle between recognizing that clearly someone who commits a mass shooting is not in their right mind and knowing, as Ashley Miller argued, that I can’t know that they’re mentally ill.  The what ifs are vast and varied – otherwise psychologically healthy people can do extreme and even shockingly immoral things under the right circumstances.  That’s the whole point of Philip Zimbardo’s book The Lucifer Effect.  Zimbardo takes the metaphor of the bad apple and flips it around – what happens when you put a good apple into a bad barrel.  To put it more simply, someone like Adam Lanza could be entirely psychologically healthy but immersed in a situation so toxic that his moral choices are distorted by it.  People who are abused – physically and pyschologically – are affected by it.

Years ago, I was told that by a psychiatrist friend that many mental health professionals consider someone who is suicidal mentally ill by definition – wanting to your end your life is regarded as evidence of a mental illness.  Someone who commits suicide by cop or someone who guns down others then themselves, that certainly seems coherent with evidence of some sort of mental illness. And yet, even that behavior may not be evidence of authentic mental illness.  Back in the day, crowds would gather to watch lynchings and have a picnic with the kids in the shade of the tree while the victim was strung up and choking to death in its branches.

In a case like the mass shooting at Newtown, there are multiple tragedies playing out and multiple systemic failures – everything from lack of adequate gun licensing laws to a dysfunctional mental health care system to a culture which valorizes guns and redemptive violence.  In a very real sense, blaming mental illness is simplistic.  Dorothy Otnow Lewis documented the histories of many convicted felons and found that many of them were victims of severe abuse, suffered from the after effects of abuse and many had physical injuries which impaired their abilities to make decisions and predict outcomes of their actions.

By itself, if the Newtown shooter was mentally ill, by itself that’s not enough to lead to a mass killing.  Other things play a role as well.  It’s difficult for me to look at the shooter’s actions and not believe he was almost by definition mentally ill, but even if he were, that doesn’t mean he was also dangerous.

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Republicans Uncover A UN Plot to Conquer the US Using Bike Paths

You may not have caught the passage in the Texas GOP platform:

United Nations Agenda 21 -The Republican Party of Texas should expose all United Nations Agenda 21 treaty policies and its supporting organizations, agreements and contracts. We oppose implementation of the UN Agenda 21 Program which was adopted at the Earth Summit Conference in 1992 purporting to promote a comprehensive program of sustainable development projects, nationally, regionally and locally. We oppose the influence, promotion and implementation of nongovernmental organizations, metropolitan and/or regional planning organizations, Councils of Government, and International Council for Local Environmental initiatives and the use of American (Texas) citizen’s taxes to promote these programs.

On the American right, paranoia about the UN is old hat.  Whether it’s imaginary schemes to take over America using UN treaties or steal our children by imagining they have rights, the UN is a favorite bogeyman.  So what is this sinister Agenda 21?

Jim Galloway:

 Agenda 21 is also known as the“Rio Declaration on Environment and Development,” and was adopted in 1992 at a conference in Brazil.

In most languages, the report is a vacuous U.N. document that declares the need for a “sustainable” world environment.

Okay so?

But to a certain segment of those who speak Republican, it is a secret declaration of war.

At the state GOP convention in Columbus last month, delegates overwhelmingly condemned Agenda 21 as an attempt to “outlaw private property and redistribute wealth.”

At a debate in Paulding County two weeks ago, state Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, criticized Republican challenger Bill Carruth for labeling Agenda 21 a mere “conspiracy theory.”

“It’s not a conspiracy. This is the real McCoy,” said Heath, in dead earnest. “Their vision is to essentially conquer the world through limiting everything we do, incrementally taking our liberties away from us.”

Revolution through rezoning and land-use restrictions, in other words. In these circles, “sustainability” is no longer a friendly word.

Hat tip to Ed Kilgore.  Agenda 21 is apparently cropping up in Republican platforms all over the country (I’m afraid to read Utah’s!).  Let’s review.  20 years ago, a bunch of delegates at a UN conference adopted a largely boilerplate document in favor of sustainability.  I doubt any one has given it much thought since then.  Now, tea baggers all the country are worried that the UN is behind a sinister plot to take over the US using bike paths and zoning ordinances.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

 

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Vinyl Album From 1967 Crosses Three Racial Boundaries

Americans used to care about equality. At least I did because I was steered that way by the culture that I loved. We believed in hard work and honesty. The media today only rewards wealth.

The album is called “Forever Changes” and the band is “Love”. There is no way an album or a CD like this could be released today. Buy it!

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The background aspect of gun control

Today, there was an officer near Virginia Tech who was shot and killed by a gunman while hours later, there was another dead body near VT. As we all know, Virginia Tech was the college where the deadliest one man massacre in the US took place. In regards to the recent shooting, it’s hard to ignore the massacre that took place in 2007 and see what we learned from it. What did we learn? A few things. For one, multiple clips are bad. That was the biggest issue and states like Utah ignore that lesson. But the issue about gun control is an issue that has been done to death, but there is one issue that everyone ignores. The advocates at the NRA ignore it, the people who are for gun control ignore it, everyone ignores it and it may be the single most important topic in gun control: Mental Health.

 

In a society where killing sprees are common, it’s surprising that the issue of mental health is never brought on the table. Seung-Hui Cho was someone who was considered insane. His psychological profile spans from threats, to counselors who viewed him as a threat to the public. Then four years later, a guy named Jared Loughner went on a shooting spree. What was the difference? Surprisingly not a lot. Both used a 9x19mm round, both were semi-auto-pistols, both had no intention of living, but more importantly, both bought guns legally, both passed a background check and both were insane. Now it’s kind of contradicting what gun advocates say. They say that guns should only be in the hands of law-abiding citizens and yet when I propose the idea of a sturdier background check, they are not too thrilled with that idea. But when we live in a society where civilians can have guns, then it’s important to make sure that guns do not end up in the hands of people who are mentally unstable or willing to use the weapon to hurt the innocent. The most important similarity between Loughner and Seung-Hui is that both had warning signs of their instability and yet they both passed a background check to get a concealed weapon that neither should have had in possession.

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The Line Between Sane and Not Sane is Awfully Thin

Thousands, possibly millions, of people were convinced that May 21st was the end of the world.  Among the stories that emerged were a man who used his life savings to pay for a truck to drive around warning people, a mother who gave up everything to travel around warning people, going so far as to tell her daughter she wasn’t going to be raptured; at the most extreme end a man killed himself rather than suffer the Tribulation and a woman took her children to a friend’s house and attempted to kill them and herself to save them the coming suffering.  Here in Salt Lake, I saw billboards warning us about May 21st and a motorhome painted with warnings (I saw it parked across from the Trax stop on 400 South and 600 East).  Caught up in religious fervor, the most devout of these believers gave up many of the day to day activities that make up most of life.

It’s easy to mock Harold Camping and his followers.  I suspect, though, if you were to give most of them psychological profiles you’d find them surprisingly normal.  This finding would correspond to the findings of people who believe in alien abductions and visions of the Virgin Mary or ghosts and the paranormal.  To put it more simply, aside from their belief that the world was ending on May 21st, I’d suspect Harold Camping’s true believers (most of them) are as normal and functional as you and I.  They hold down jobs, they have families, they have friends.  So what’s wrong with them?

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From Boys Into Men

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this article in The New Yorker.

Based on what Justin says, one might predict that this is a friendship bound to last, but as Way points out in the book, boys tend to become more distrustful, lose their friendships, and begin to feel increasingly isolated and alone as they reach “manhood.” 

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2011/03/ask-an-academic-the-deep-secrets-of-boys-friendships.html#ixzz1HBRL6AyJ

The subject of the article, Niobe Way worked as a school counselor and what she saw sparked an interest in studying the emotional lives of boys.

My interest in boys’ development grew out of listening to my younger brothers and the boys I met while working as a counselor. I became fascinated by the discrepancy between the stereotypes of boys and what boys actually sounded like. I wanted to learn about their social and emotional developments, particularly during adolescence—the age during which boys are most heavily stereotyped as stoic and only interested in one thing (i.e., sex). I discovered that while boys do sound and act like stereotypes at times, they also often implicitly challenge such stereotypes especially in the context of their closest male friendships.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2011/03/ask-an-academic-the-deep-secrets-of-boys-friendships.html#ixzz1HBS9Lb7n

And this:

Many of the boys in our studies spoke about feelings of loneliness and isolation during late adolescence and how they missed their formerly close male friendships. We heard these patterns of loss and distrust right at the moment in development that the rates of suicide among boys in the United States jumps up to become four times the rate of girls.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2011/03/ask-an-academic-the-deep-secrets-of-boys-friendships.html#ixzz1HBSQtgoV

To make the obvious connection, it is late adolescence when boys start thinking about what it means to be men.  At which point, their friendships with other boys collapse, their mental health collapses.  This is also the age at which boys begin to think about long term romantic relationships – at which they start seeking their emotional fulfillment with their partner.  The web of male friendships which they had had up to that point begin to fray and disappear.

As I look at the men I know, the healthiest of them have friendships beyond their spouses; the least healthy seem to expect their spouses to meet their emotional needs.

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Do planes need a kids-only section? Yes, it’s called the ground.

From an article in USAToday:

Nearly 60% of more than 2,000 travelers polled by Skyscanner, a fare-comparison website, say they want airlines to create such a section. In addition, nearly 20% said they’d prefer child-free flights. [snip]

Skyscanner spokeswoman Mary Porter says results of the unscientific poll are not surprising. A previous poll found that young children are the “most annoying” factor on flights. “I can still remember that feeling of dread when you found yourself seated next to a baby on a long flight,” Porter says.

It’s bad enough being trapped in a tin can soaring through the sky at 500 miles an hour without having to listen to your kid screech and scream and carry on the entire time.  Keep your screaming, misbehaved bundle of joy at home and spare the rest of us.  Either that or sedate the little monster before you put it on the plane.

Of course it’s not all kids and it’s not all parents and that’s the problem.  I’ve been on flights where some parent is doing everything they can to calm down their distressed and hysterical child; they give them a bottle, they give them snacks, they hold them, they comfort them and still the child shrieks and shrieks and shrieks; seeing a parent who actually is trying to do something about it you can suffer through it – you suck it up and deal.  I’ve been on flights where some drooling moron obviously doesn’t give a shit that their kid is emitting an ear-splitting shriek that probably has dogs on the ground barking in response.  A while back, I was on a flight with a woman who plopped in her ass in her seat and slept while her child shrieked at the top its lungs until I literally thought blood was coming out of my ears.  I was ready to toss both the woman and her monstrous offspring out the plane at 30,000 feet.  Someone actually cheered when the child STFU for a minute.  The flight attendant finally had to wake the mother and tell her to do something – and the mother was rude to the FA about it. Read the rest of this entry »

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