Welcome to the Signs of the Coming Apocalypse Edition of This News in Mentalists. I’m BD Erline, hosting this week from an undisclosed location in the United States of America. Those few of you who are familiar with my blog know (I think) of my attraction to the weird and fantastic. That attraction must have driven my organization of this week’s news into categories of evidence of the coming Mental Health Apocalypse (following my own Apocalyptic vision, outlined briefly in this post.) I don’t really buy this stuff, I just find it amusing. So, let me spin you a tale:
Across the world, little earthquakes of abuse and neglect push the mentally different (whether the chronic—I refer to us as Natives—or situational [Tourist] types) to the brink of war with the “normal” people (Foreigners). Plagued by Famine (lack of mental health funding), Pestilence (growing numbers of the mentally ill), War and Death (media focus on the mental illness of murderers and other criminals), the divide between Foreigners and Natives grows wider daily, and more dangerous.
Controversy intensifies the conflict: Science, Culture, and Media serve as battlegrounds–What can we do to “eradicate” mental illness? How much should we meddle in the natural order? Where does psychiatry end and politics begin? Does the media make mental illness? Does it portray it in a realistic and helpful way?
And, oh yeah, there’s a little positive news in there, too. Enjoy!
War and rumors of war. The villains in this story of the Mental Health Apocalypse include an abusive mental health care provider, inept government, cultural taboos, and Foreigners who want to shape the law to “protect” them from us.
The Journal News (December 18) of Putnam County, New York, whispers a warning about an evil mental health care outfit in trouble for abusing teenage patients, slinking across state lines to continue its reign of terror. New York State revoked the operating license of this for-profit company–known variably as SLS Residential Inc. and Supervised LifeStyles–and ordered it to find other facilities for its patients by December 31, 2011.
Among the violations were that SLS limited residents’ contact with people outside the facility, violated their privacy by watching as they used a bathroom, punished residents unfairly and failed to conduct incident reviews as required by state law. The state also alleged SLS illegally restrained patients but a court later dismissed that charge.
The company is currently attempting to rise in neighboring Connecticut as the much sunnier Blue Sky Behavioral Health LLC.
In Oregon, the Associated Press (via Oregon Live.com, December 13) reports a big fuss to keep the mentally ill out of “normal” (Foreign) neighborhoods.
The question: Do community members have the right to be notified of a group home for those with serious mental illnesses coming to their neighborhood? Does that outweigh the rights of the group home residents to privacy and equal treatment? This is a hot-button issue in Bend, Oregon, where two five-bed homes “threaten” to lower the quality of life for nice, normal folk. The community wants an opportunity to say Not in my back yard.
In the opinion of the executive director of the nonprofit Disability Rights Oregon,
If you or I or any of your readers aren’t required to notify any of your neighbors that you’re moving in, a person shouldn’t have to do that just because they have a mental illness that is so severe that they have to live in a small group setting.
A majority of High Point City Council voted on [December 19] to rezone the site of a proposed mental health facility to keep it from being built, but due to special rules, it was still two votes short.
The plan: Keep the crazies out by taking a site zoned for health care and rezoning it for, say, retail. Fortunately for those in need of psychiatric care, the council requires ¾ of its members to approve such a change. Still, way to make people with mental disorders feel welcome.
Speaking of group homes, E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., a psychiatrist writing for the conservative Washington, DC-based Heritage Foundation, has some nasty things to say about them in the course of explaining How to Bring Sanity to Our Mental Health System (December 19).
… ironically, mentally ill homeless persons now receive better care in most parts of Siberia than they do in most parts of New Hampshire.
The disgraceful depths to which board-and-care homes can descend was illustrated by Clifford Levy’s 2002 Pulitzer Prize–winning series in The New York Times. Levy described for-profit homes in New York in which mentally ill residents had been raped or killed. At one home, 24 seriously mentally ill residents had been subjected to unnecessary prostate and/or cataract surgery, thereby generating “tens of thousands of dollars in Medicaid and Medicare fees” for the physicians and home owners.
Dr. Torrey blames the federally funded program that, beginning in the mid-1960s, shifted those with serious mental illness from state mental institutions to community-based settings. While acknowledging the good intentions, Dr. Torrey says the program has been a dismal—and expensive—failure. Aside from the abusive group homes, the specific failures of the program include an increase in the proportion of homicides committed by the mentally ill and a clumsy transformation of local law enforcement into “armed social workers” and the prison system into “the nation’s public psychiatric inpatient system.”
Dr. Torrey’s solutions center around returning responsibility for mental health services to the states—an idealogically conservative idea, but not necessarily a bad one. Some of his ideas—such as attaching treatment requirements to welfare checks and creating measurable outcome-based service plans—are a little sketchy, as they depend upon management that balances bureaucratic efficiency with compassionate realism (something American governments have rarely achieved). He also calls for improvements in federal research and in prioritization of mental health programs, however, which are steps in the right direction. (When, oh when, will someone address the need for tolerance and understanding to balance the stigmatization that paints us all [or paints our disorders, which overlap with who we are] as weeds marked for eradication?)
The Boston Globe‘s sunny-sounding story “Summit focuses on children’s mental health” (December 13) brings up a number of problems with no current solutions. The Children’s Mental Health Summit in Boston focused on the overuse of psychotropic drugs for foster children (“nearly four times as likely to be prescribed psychotropic drugs as other children receiving similar Medicaid benefits”), the rising incidence of polypharmacy among children (“an alarming number of children who are on a regimen of five or more psychotropic drugs”), increasing juvenile substance abuse, and access problems for families with mentally ill children.
The last word of the Summit, a rallying cry with a note of caution:
“Serving the needs of children with mental health problems, especially poor children, is not for the faint of heart, or for people overly fond of cheap thrills and immediate gratification,” US District Court Judge Michael Ponsor said … “It is a very long-term commitment.”
Elsewhere, in the wake of recent unforeseen suicide of San Francisco media Jean Yoo, and the separate suicide of a Radio Korea marketing director named Choi, New America Media (December 20) examined how mental health taboos contribute to Korean American suicides. The secret is, high expectations + an unspoken rule of silence on substantive emotional and psychological matters. Taboo kills, people!
HORSEMAN #1: FAMINE
There is obviously not enough mental health care to go around, what with sparse funding, poor education, and other barriers to access. This famine of treatment leads to a growing number of untreated mentally ill, hungry for your neurotransmitters, swarming over the Foreigners like brain-devouring zombies. How’s that for an Apocalypse?
Our first example of the famine: In New South Wales, Australia, a mental health survey has found that many have struggled to gain access to a doctor (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, December 20).
… nearly 60 per cent of those surveyed complained it was too hard to see a psychiatrist on mental health wards [especially after hours].
“There’s a lot of problems around choice. The problem of the drugs that consumers might take, being able to make informed choices and consumers not knowing what their rights are,” Dr O’Shea said.
In Chicago, Mental Health Advocates Call Chicago machine boss (oops, make that Mayor) Rahm Emanuel A Grinch (Progress Illinois, December )
Trina Carpenter, a senior at Chicago State University, says that her family has had a history of mental health trouble and that the mental health clinic she goes to, Beverly Morgan Park on the far southwest side, faces closure.
Southside Together Organizing for Power coalition used the final City Council meeting of the year Wednesday to pillory Rahm Emanuel and the City Council for closing down six of the city’s twelve mental health clinics.
The Mayor’s motivation to close those clinics? To help “generate” $371 million in corporate welfare, of course.
HORSEMAN #2: PESTILANCE
That’s no swarm of locusts, that’s the exploding population of the mentally ill, growing at an alarming rate all over the world. It remains unsettled whether it’s our population or (more likely) the width of the diagnostic net designed to catch us that has grown, but the tone of alarm in the news reports is unmistakeable.
John Gonzales of the California Center for Health Reporting (December 19) warns that mental illness has now reached “Joe and Jane Smith Californians—nearly 8 percent of the state population”. Stigma, not lack of access, proves to be the major barrier keeping “Joe and Jane” from treatment. Now that the problem goes beyond the state’s homeless, hospitalized, and institutionalized, will education efforts finally reduce that stigma?
According to the study a large percentage of report psychological distress and difficulty functioning at home or work. They did so enough times over a 12-month period to meet the Kessler 6, or K6, measure of serious mental illness within a population.
The majority of these 2.3 million adults are receiving inadequate services, or no services at all…
The people who are the subjects of my story are often ashamed of their condition. Despite mental illness being more common than we care to admit, the stigma attached to it cuts across all social backgrounds.
Pakistan is registering a manifold increase in stress and mental illness, according to a report in the Business Recorder (December 15). Leading Pakistani psychiatrist Dr. Rizwan Taj has said
There has been significant rise in the incidence of mental disorders, particularly stress and depression, in the country over the last few years, mainly due to the issues of personal insecurity, poverty, lack of education, rising inflation and ramshackle power supply … apart from genetic reasons; rising incidents of killings, extortion and frequent power breakdowns had aggravated significantly the stress level in Pakistani society. …
Talking about suicide, [Dr. Taj] said: “Over 90-percent of suicide victims have a significant psychiatric illness at the time of their death.
When both mood disorders and substance abuse are present, the risk of suicide is much greater, particularly for adolescents and young adults.”
Mental illness creeps into every corner of the world, every social class … and now, into the workplace! A new study shows that mental illness reduces work productivity. See The Guardian (December 19), The Vancouver Sun, and Fox News (both December 13).
HORSEMEN #3 & 4: WAR & DEATH
Are they warriors for the cause, embarrassments to the assimilationists among us, or scapegoats chosen by the media to make us look bad? (Or just troubled, untreated souls?) Here are the horsemen of War and Death, the violent face of mental illness on the evening news:
Oscar Ortega-Hernandez—the man accused of firing a gun at the White House in a (poorly planned) attempt to assassinate the US President—was determined to be not mentally incompetent to stand trial. Prosecutors wanted a second opinion, citing “bizarre behavior and statements.” (The report linked below sums up the first evaluation: The clinical psychologist who reviewed him says Ortega denied being delusional or having hallucinations. Is it that easy?) However, according to the Associated Press (via Idaho Falls’ Local News 8, December 16), the judge denied a second evaluation.
But is he just a normal guy who (allegedly) decided to kill the President? You be the judge: In a video (via Fox 8 in Washington, DC, via Perez Hilton) intended as an audition for Oprah Winfrey, Ortega-Hernandez said,
You see, Oprah, there is still so much more that God needs me to express to the world. It’s not just a coincidence that I look like Jesus. I am the modern-day Jesus Christ that you all have been waiting for.
In the two months that followed, Ortega-Hernandez became more agitated toward the government and called President Barack Obama the Antichrist. (Silly man, don’t you know that Oprah is the Antichrist?)
Other killers identified as “mentally ill” in the media (as if we need the bad press):
- Stephen Newton, who, during a psychotic break in 2007, killed the father of journalist and documentary-maker Julian Hendy in Bristol, UK, thus drawing attention to the correlation between lack of access to mental health care and the homicide rate
- Schizophrenic teenage ax murderer Richard Wilson, whose brutal Mother’s Day slaying of his grandfather has landed him in a mental institution for life
- Tiffany Burney, 23, suspected of shooting a 74-year-old woman in Tierrasanta, California (she has a vague history of “mental illness”)
The American Broadcasting Company (December 19) reports an increase in juvenile arrests that may indicate an increase children and adolescents with psychiatric disorders
According to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, a nonprofit group, between 50 to 75 percent of incarcerated young people have diagnosable mental health problems.
That’s a lot of little Native (and maybe some Tourist) criminals who now have wonderful opportunities to become big criminals in our wonderful justice system!
UNNATURAL INQUIRIES (FROM THE LAB)
We all know the cliché of the “Mad Scientist,” boldly going where man was never meant to go. Science has always occupied that fractured position, at once our salvation and our downfall. Here are some recent examples of people meddling with natural forces they can’t possibly understand! Bwahahahaha!
ScienceDaily (December 15) shines a light on a Blood Test that Might Predict How Well a Depressed Patient Responds to Antidepressants:
Loyola University Medical Center researchers are reporting what could become the first reliable method to predict whether an antidepressant will work on a depressed patient.
The method would involve a blood test for a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). A Loyola study found that among depressed patients who had higher than normal blood levels of VEGF, more than 85 percent experienced partial or complete relief from depression after taking escitalopram. By comparison, fewer than 10 percent of depressed patients who had low levels of VEGF responded to the drug.
If the finding is confirmed by further studies, it could lead to a blood test that would help physicians tailor treatment. If, for example, a patient had low levels of VEGF, the physician might skip SSRIs and try alternative classes of antidepressants, such as bupropion, or alternative therapies, such as psychotherapy or Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMG).
Meanwhile, a new study, published in Addiction Biology (via Science 2.0, December 20) announces researchers’ success in breeding the first truly alcoholic mice. Previous efforts produced mice who preferred alcohol only when it was the sole option. This does no good for real (active) human alcoholics, who prefer firmented juice, cough syrup, hairspray, or filtered piss from last night’s bender to nonalcoholic beverages. These High Alcohol Preferring (or HAP) mice behave like real alcoholics.
Given a free choice between alcohol and water, the HAP mice drink alcohol at a rate higher than the rate at which they metabolize alcohol. On average, they reach blood-alcohol levels of 260mg/dl daily, which is, translated into human terms, about three times the legal driving limit and approximately the level found in severe alcoholics.
It is thought that this line of mice might prove useful in elucidating the brain mechanisms involved in alcohol consumption, as well as the effects of excessive alcohol on the brain itself. And eventually, this might contribute to treatments and therapies.
OUR MODERN SODOM & GOMMORAH
Controversies surrounding feminism, homosexuality, and abortion have long featured psychiatric claims—or at least political psychobabble—on both sides of the issue. As long as the Culture Wars continue, so will this trend. It’s interesting that psychiatric disorders are no great respecters of political affiliations. There are plenty of us on both sides.
An article in the Journal of Family Psychology (via PsychCentral.com, December 13) claims that Working May Help Mom’s Mental Health.
For example, mothers employed part-time reported better overall health and fewer symptoms of depression than stay-at-home moms, while there were no reported differences in general health or depressive symptoms between moms employed part-time and those who worked full time, the study said.
Investigators discovered mothers employed part-time were just as involved in their child’s school as stay-at-home moms, and more involved than moms who worked full time.
From Dr. Vitelli’s Providentia (December 20), local gay rights groups in Hong Kong have been protesting that city’s government-sponsored sexual orientation conversion therapy program. The case involves rogue psychiatrist Dr. Hong Kwai Wah and the New Creation Ministries, whose ex-gay program is supported by Hong Kong’s Social Welfare Department. Fundamentalist and LGBT groups around the world have weighed in on the seminar program, the basic premise of which flies in the face of both the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV and the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders.
Another hotbed of controversy (between the vast majority of the psychiatric establishment and a mostly ultrareligious minority): Does abortion lead to mental illness or not? The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in Britain squares off against the Pro-Life Movement. (It seems to me both parties are right. It makes sense that abortion, like pregnancy, like giving birth, like any significant event, can have a negative impact on mental health. Why would that be such a big deal?)
The Guardian (December 16) reports that Abortion is not a mental health issue. Citing the recently published “most comprehensive review ever of the impact of abortion on the mental health of women,” The Guardian‘s Deborah Orr claims that “abortion doesn’t really have an impact on mental health.”
The National Right to Life News (December 15) fired back at the Royal College, criticizing them for Hiding Abortion’s Harm to Women. Life News’ Dr. Priscilla Coleman discusses examples of peer-reviewed studies considered but unfairly dismissed by the College, factual errors, faulty conclusions, and others of the review’s flaws. Her contention, of course, is that abortion does lead to worse mental health outcomes than continuing pregnancy to term and delivering.
MEDIA: THE NEW BABYLON
Hollywood, the center of all sin, will be the first to fall. With so many celebrity Natives & Tourists these days, that might actually be a good way to start. Get all the bipolars and borderlines and histrionics and narcissists in Babylon to attack from within! In the meantime, we continue to be entertained (and I continue to collect films for my Mental Movies) …
The Washington Post looks at David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, a film “about Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and the origins of psychotherapy.” The central question: Should psychoanalysts sleep with their patients? Jung did. Or maybe it’s
… whether psychotherapy should simply help a person discover why he or she is disturbed, or also deal with how they can become better. The debate seems to carry down to the present day, which means that confusion about the psychotherapeutic method is still with us.
“When Freud invented this relationship between the analyst and the patient, it was incomparable,” says Cronenberg. “You were going to a stranger who was to be nonjudgmental and is only encouraging you to understand yourself. But then you get the complication of transference, where you project onto the analyst your emotions, and that gets strange.”
Another one for the Mental Movies! … The Tulsa World Scene (December 17) is not that impressed with Young Adult. The film stars Charlize Theron as a train wreck of a young adult author. In the words of the reviewer, she is a deeply depressed alcoholic with no scruples or manners, obsessed with her romantic destiny, totally delusional, a narcissistic nightmare, an egomaniac, a damaged soul without an empathetic bone in her body.
When the story advances to the point that I realize she also has some serious mental health issues, and she’s the point of ridicule from start to finish, it’s not easy to laugh at what I’m seeing.
But approaching the excellence of his “Up in the Air,” “Juno” and “Thank You for Smoking” – three of the best films from the past decade – is impossible when veering off course to poke fun at the mentally unstable.
What do you want to bet we could diagnose her with a personality disorder, maybe a mood disorder, and empathize with her on a level the reviewer can’t even imagine?
More on movies and TV:
- Does Clare Danes get it right or wrong in her portrayal of a woman with bipolar disorder on Homeland?
Stories on the media’s impact on mental health:
- China moves to ban movies that are “harmful to young audiences’ physical and mental health”
- Experts say media should not report on suicides as they “Media reports on suicides may motivate other vulnerable people to follow suit.” Hhmmm. I don’t know about that.
BURIED IN THE BACK PAGES: THE GOOD NEWS
We already knew that Half of Americans have mental illness in lifetime. The important news in this UPI piece from December 18 is a new development in the fight against stigma. The University of Virginia, Harvard University, and University of Washington created a website that helps visitors “examine and gain insight into their associations about mental health topics that may exist outside their conscious awareness or conscious control.”
Visitors at the Web site Project Implicit Mental Health can discover their automatic associations relating to anxiety, depression, alcohol, eating disorders and persons with mental illness, using tasks such as the Implicit Association Test.
How big a deal is this? Depends. How many of the people who really need it will be motivated to use it? In any case, points for good intentions.
From the New York Times (December 19), a recovering dually diagnosed man, After Drugs and Dark Times, Helps Others to Stand Back Up. Is the practice of “allowing” former patients to be counselors “controversial”? The only people who can understand what Natives and Tourists are experiencing are other Natives and Tourists. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
Finally—and I’m not sure how good a news this is—the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (December 19) tell us that Rochester police are improving their response to mental health episodes. Forgive my ambivalence, but … see above on police as “armed social workers”.
Well, that’s all folks! Hope you enjoyed. Happy holidays to all. Remember to celebrate the End of the World all year round!