This News in Mentalists – The Pandora is a Crap Editor Edition

Good evening TWIMmers! Pandora here.

First up, an apology for the dearth of TWIM at the weekend. This is my fault entirely; I had got a fellow mentalist lined up to write it, but I’m presently in a Twitter hiatus (apologies if anyone has tried to contact me there – I go through phases where I may still tweet, usually via text message or bit.ly links, but never check @s or DMs, and this is one of them), and as such I completely forgot to remind her. Sorry. Normal service will be resumed this weekend.

So, before I fail even more as this site’s co-Editor, let me bring you the news. Please be aware of possible triggers relating to suicide, NHS “reform” and The Daily Mail.

Mental health charity Mind have picked up on a story about how magic mushrooms – yep, those of the illegal, arguably hallucinogenic variety – may help depression.

Today’s news includes research from Professor David Nutt, the former government drug adviser, and his team, on using psilocybin, the active ingredient of magic mushrooms, for depression. He suggests that such substances should not be banned from research just because of their legal status.

…we need to be cautious. LSD was used in the 1960s and ‘70s to ‘facilitate’ psychotherapy. In the ‘90s a number of people rang our infoline to say that they had been given LSD in this way in the past, they felt that they had been damaged by it and had never recovered, and the reason they were ringing Mind was to find out who they could sue for the long-term harm they had been caused.

So my feeling is that all substances that we know to be psychoactive should be open to further investigation as to their therapeutic potential, regardless of their current legal status.

Bad trips will happen; we don’t want them to join the list of dreadful memories that many people have been damaged by and are trying to come to terms with. And using psilocybin to help people with depression recall happy memories does first of all rely on the supposition that they have some to recall.

Singer Sinéad O’Connor has been in the media a lot recently regarding her mental health problems. This week, The Guardian reports that she has been admitted to hospital for treatment for her depression.

O’Connor has been open about her mental health problems, asking over Twitter for referrals to a psychiatrist. She reportedly attempted suicide earlier this month. “God obviously wants me around – though I can’t think why,” she told the Sun. “I just had to make a cry for help.” Over the past week, O’Connor has written almost 3,500 words on her blog, meditating on fame, family and depression. “I find it terribly lonely being ‘Sinéad O’Connor’ in Ireland,” she wrote. “I’m 45 yrs of age. All my life I [have] been beaten up for being me, and beating myself up for being me. [And] causin a whole lot of fuckin trouble. An [feeling] like im a total piece of worthless shit and good for nothing but fucking everything up.”

I’m intrigued to read that The Grauniad seems to think 3,500 words constitutes a long blog post. I’m not surprised my site has as yet failed to get anything other than a passing mention then ;) Anyway, here’s hoping that her stint in hospital will help to give the long-suffering O’Connor some relief.

The Guardian also asks whether politicians should be regularly ‘screened’ as regards their mental health.

Now Dr Ashley Weinberg, senior lecturer in psychology at Salford University, suggests politicians should be regularly screened to test their psychological health and ensure “they are in the best position to make decisions in the national interest”.

“Decisions that mean people will lose their lives are very painful,” he says. “They are bound to take a psychological toll, and it will be down to a politician’s coping strategies as to how they deal with it.” Only a small proportion of MPs go on to high office, but even the average constituency MP has to be aware that their votes on broader policy issues such as benefit levels and healthcare priorities may cause hardship for some people.

Most other professionals undergo a comprehensive medical before being confirmed in post, but MPs simply get themselves elected, turn up to the Commons and start voting – whatever their state of physical and mental health, says Weinberg.

The Daily FMail, very unusually, brings us something of a scare-mongering scoop.

Toddlers who miss out on afternoon naps are more stressed, unhappy and at greater risk of lifelong mental health problems, new research claims.

Findings reveal that young kids who miss just one daytime nap become more anxious and less interested in the world around them. They were also less excited by happy events and found the slightest stressful event hard to cope with.

U.S. researchers say this is because missing naps ‘taxes the way toddlers express different feelings.’

And long-term sleep deprivation could even lead to ‘lifelong, mood-related problems,’ they warn.

Gah! That explains it all! I must ring my solicitor in the morning to see if I can pursue litigation against my parents.

CNN columnist comments on the proposed revisions to diagnoses of autism in the forthcoming DSM-V.

I suspect you can see the problem immediately. If nature does not provide clear guidelines for where normal stops and mental illness begins, how does the line get drawn? The quick answer is that it gets drawn in much the same way the voter redistricting lines get drawn: based on some data, a lot of fighting, and finally some not entirely satisfactory compromise.

So back to autism. Like all other mental disorders, it runs along a spectrum from people who most of us would have called nerdy when I was a kid to people who spend their lives unable to speak, rocking back and forth for hours on end. We all agree that the silent, rocking folk are ill and need care.  But where does extreme nerdiness and social awkwardness give way to Asperger’s syndrome? When is someone autistic enough to deserve the label?

This is the rub. As with all spectrum conditions, there are far more people with mild autism than with its more severe forms. Again think of blood pressure.  Lots of us run 150/92 – not many of us run at 200/110 (and those of us who do often don’t live to tell about it).

What the new DSM proposes to do is make it harder to meet criteria for autism, so that probably the majority of people who fall on the mild end of what people often call simply “the spectrum” will now be declared non-autistic.

Proponents of this move argue that much of the autism epidemic that has been observed in the last several decades may result at least in part from the fact that less and less severely affected people are being diagnosed.  Making the criteria stricter will reverse this trend.  It will also reduce the risk of stigmatizing people who in former times might have been viewed as eccentric, but non-diseased.

Opponents of the changes argue that many young people have been helped by receiving the diagnosis and that this help will vanish if they are no longer considered to have a “real” and “billable” condition.

Although this is not specifically about mental health, it does affect most UK mentalists. The Independent reports on how Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has tried to defend himself after a number of NHS professionals very clearly voiced their opposition to the government’s “reforms” to the service.

“I think the select committee’s report is not only out of date but it is also, I think, unfair to the NHS, because people in the NHS, in hospitals and in the community services are very focused on ensuring that they deliver the best care to patients and that they live within the financial challenges that clearly all of us have at the moment,” Mr Lansley told ITV Daybreak.

In a stinging criticism of Mr Lansley’s reorganisation, it [a report from the Commons Health Select Committee] said the process “continues to complicate the push for efficiency gains”.

There was a “marked disconnect between the concerns expressed by those responsible for delivering services and the relative optimism of the Government” over achieving cuts, the committee noted.

The attack is especially wounding as the committee is chaired by one of Mr Lansley’s Tory predecessors, Stephen Dorrell, and is dominated by Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs.

Ah, the good old government, eh? Let’s ruin an already-stretched health service to pay the bankers’s bonuses for the good of the country. I’m glad the dissent has reached the Commons anyway.

The Huffington Post has an article urging emergency departments to take mental health crises more seriously. Oh, to have them listen…

In the first week of 2012, the Toronto area has witnessed two likely examples of what the U.S.-based Treatment Advocacy Center calls preventable tragedies in the treatment (or lack of treatment) of serious mental illness. These are two current examples of what I called Society’s Shame in the title of my own book on schizophrenia. Two people are dead and their families and friends devastated.

The first example is that of Cindy Ciarafoni, a mother of two and a grandmother of four. Ms. Ciarafoni had schizophrenia and had been, her family reports, taking her medication irregularly of late resulting in a return of her symptoms.

…The family thought she was safe in the care of the hospital until they received a call from police the next day. Ms. Ciarafoni was struck by a car on busy Highway 7 about 10 kilometres north of the hospital possibly trying to walk back to her Woodbridge home. The only identification she carried was a piece of paper with the family phone number on it. She later died in surgery after being rushed to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

What happened in hospital is a question the family wants answered. All that is known is the ambulance personnel turned her over to a triage nurse 30 minutes after reaching the ER. A physician then tried to interview her six hours later but she did not respond. What happened next is a mystery and the hospital is not talking.

According to Dr. John Grohol, the founder and editor-in-chief of the popular U.S. website PsychCentral in his report of this incident, “while most ERs are setup to handle people with a serious mental illness fairly well, ERs aren’t exactly known for their warm-fuzzy, emotionally-supportive environments. So people slip through the cracks.”

In another all too familiar incident, a young man on suicide watch at another Toronto area hospital, Southlake Regional Health Centre, was discharged back to his family. The next day, 22-year-old Seneca College student Andrew Roelink was charged with first-degree murder after his mother was found dead. Police had originally taken him to the ER on a mental health warrant.

As observed, these tragedies were most likely avoidable, which makes them all the more tragic. RIP to Ms Ciarafoni and Mrs Roelink.

Staying on the topic of suicide, and finally for this week, Al Arabiya laments a lack of education and adequate treatments for people with mental health problems in the UAE.

Although decriminalized in many parts of the world, suicide remains a crime in many Arab states. The manner in which UAE law deals with suicide, both considered and attempted, perpetuates the problem. The crime is punishable by a short prison sentence, a Dh5,000 fine, or both.
 Meanwhile, doctors who seek to treat patients who have threatened or attempted suicide must inform the authorities or face prosecution for, in essence, aiding and abetting the victim. And in doing so they breach doctor-patient confidentiality.

Anecdotes of people considering suicide being turned away by medical professionals for fear of punishment are becoming more and more common, and doctors and other medical professionals who have long criticized the fact that discussions about suicide and its causes are discouraged, increasing calls for greater safeguards and support for mental health patients.

According to statistics cited in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry, in 2011, seven times as many foreigners committed suicide in the UAE than did UAE citizens.

Of those, three-quarters were Indian nationals. According to figures released by the Indian consulate published in The National, about 100 Indian expatriates committed suicide in the UAE in 2011.

Statistics show suicides are increasingly prevalent among professional married men, debunking the lower-class single laborer stereotype as the main population affected by the issue.

The article reiterated a call from 2000 for “public education on risk factors for suicide (i.e. depression, substance abuse, previous suicide attempt) and about where to obtain help in suicidal crisis (i.e. hotlines).”

Hat-tip to The Mental Mouth who posted this week’s wildcard on her blog several weeks ago. This inoffensive but nevetheless light-hearted look at borderline personality disorder made me smile.

Enjoy. Tally-bye…

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About Pandora

Award-winning ex-blogger. Complex PTSD, (predominantly depressive) bipolar disorder with psychotic features, and a side order of severe anxiety. So basically mental.

5 Responses to “This News in Mentalists – The Pandora is a Crap Editor Edition”

  1. Pandora is not a crap editor, she is awesome for keeping TWIM running. So there ;) *goes to find magic mushrooms*

    • Aww, shucks :) Thank you!

      If David Nutt is listened too, maybe we could all get magic mushrooms on the NHS! YAY!

      Oh wait…the government probably won’t even let us get painkillers on the NHS in a few months. Oh well :(

    • Here here! :)

  2. sanabituranima 26 January 2012 at 8:28pm

    Indeed you are not crap.

    Thanks for the round-up, esp. the video.

  3. occasionalwallflower 28 January 2012 at 8:48am

    You are definitely not a crap editor. You keep this place going despite going through a great number of things,

    Also, what the shit, Daily Mail? Excuse my language, but really? Lack of naps? Of course they are less interested in the world around them if they are tired! I have a magical cure for that- sleep. Will prevent lifelong mental health problems.

    I rather enjoyed the wildcard, by the way :)

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