Aug 18

Bullying, Hate, Etc.: Up to Date Mental Health News

Bullying and hate have been frequent topics in the news these days. Also Trumpism, white supremacists, etc. See a thread?

I. He Ruins Everything: Trump Is Having a Negative Effect on the Workplace. Kali Holloway, Salon

Nearly 46 percent of Americans believe that ‘the brutish 2016 election campaigns negatively impacted the workplace,’ according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. In an abstract subtitled ‘Trump Toxicity,’ the organization notes that as a candidate, Trump ‘modeled bullying and [gave] license for others to forego norms of interpersonal civility and kindness.’ The trickledown effect is leading to increasingly inhospitable workplaces and an increase in inappropriate behavior.

II. How to Survive a Jerk at Work. Robert Sutton, Wall Street Journal

Author of the upcoming The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt, Dr. Sutton offers the following tips. Refer to the article for elaboration on each point.

  • Keep your distance.
  • Slow down. “…(R)espond as slowly and infrequently to the jerk as possible, and when you do respond, stay as calm and composed as you can…”
  • Early-warning systems. “In many workplaces, people spread warnings when powerful jerks are in vile moods (and it is best to avoid them) or are ‘incoming’.”
  • Look at it another way. “…entails ‘reframing’ the jerk’s behavior in a more positive and less threatening light.”
  • From enemy to friend. “As psychologist Robert Cialdini documents in his classic book ‘Influence,’ flattery, smiles and other signs of appreciation (even if not entirely sincere) can win over strangers, critics and enemies.”

III. Democrats in Congress Explore Creating An Expert Panel On Trump’s Mental Health. Sharon Begley, Scientific American

A closed meeting is scheduled for September in which mental health professionals will offer opinions to interested legislators, some of whom have also “co-sponsored a bill to establish ‘a commission on presidential capacity’,” which relates to the 25th Amendment.

IV. The Psychology of Hate Groups: What Drives Someone to Join One? Elizabeth Chuck, NBC News

A significant factor is “implicit permission” enabled by such activities as “watching a hate group rally or reading members’ comments online,” reports this article. Since Trump’s candidacy, moreover, we’ve had a rise in hate group formation and activity. Read more for details.

V. How White Supremacists Use Victimhood to Recruit. Olga Khazan, The Atlantic

Sociologist Mitch Berbrier, reporting on his research in 2000, found the following about the beliefs of those who affiliate with white supremacist groups:

  • that whites are victims of discrimination
  • that their rights are being abrogated
  • that they are stigmatized if they express “pride”
  • that they are being psychologically affected through the loss of self-esteem
  • that the end product of all of this is the elimination of “the white race”

VI. The Dark MInds of the Alt-Right. Olga Khazan, The Atlantic

“A psychology paper put out just last week by Patrick Forscher of the University of Arkansas and Nour Kteily of Northwestern University.” states Khazan, “seeks to answer the question of just what, exactly, it is that the alt-right believes. What differentiates them from the average American?”

It’s not about the economic anxiety. But it is, apparently, about a belief in a particular hierarchy of social groups.

The alt-right participants were more likely to think men, whites, Republicans, and the alt-right themselves were discriminated against, while minorities and women were not. This is in line with past research showing that white supremacists have a victimhood mentality, in which they consider whites to be the real oppressed people of American society.

Another interesting finding breaks the alt-right itself into groups:

Some were ‘populists,’ who were concerned about government corruption and were less extremist. The more extreme and racist among them, meanwhile, were the ‘supremacists.’ The authors speculate that people who start out as populists might become radicalized into the supremacist camp as they meet more alt-righters.

Aug 16

Current Headlines in Mental Health News

Current headlines about mental health, in chronological order of their appearances. Click on each link to read pertinent articles.

I. Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? Jean M. Twenge, The Atlantic

Smartphones have certainly changed what the youth today do with their time and social interactions. An introductory excerpt:

Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.

II. Many Avoid End-of-Life Care Planning, Study Finds. Michelle Andrews, NPR

“Even though advance directives have been promoted by health professionals for nearly 50 years, only about a third of U.S. adults have them, according to a recent study.”

III. So Lonely I Could Die. American Psychological Association

“Loneliness and social isolation may represent a greater public health hazard than obesity, and their impact has been growing and will continue to grow, according to research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.”

IV. Finding the Right Medication: Gene Test May Help Treat Depression. Shamard Charles, MD, and Lauren Dunn, NBC News

A promising new development: special genetic testing can help those whose bodies don’t respond well to antidepressant medications.

The Avera Institute for Human Genetics (AIHG) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is among several institutions exploring the role of pharmacogenomics — the science of how our inheritance and genetic makeup influences the way we metabolize medications.

AIHG’s pharmacogenomics research has led to the development of Genefolio, a genetic test that uses an individual’s unique DNA to predict how that individual will respond to medications. The test offered by Avera is $179 and is often covered by insurance.

V. Travel Addiction Is Real, Science Says. Paul Gaita, The Fix

Also known as “vagabond neurosis,” this dependency has “even earned mention in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which described it as an ‘impulse-control disorder’ characterized by ‘an abnormal impulse to travel [in which sufferers] are prepared to spend beyond their means, sacrifice jobs, lovers, and security in their lust for new experiences’.”

VI. Debunking Neuromyths: Eight Common Brain Myths Set Straight. Christopher Bergland, Psychology Today

Bergland highlights eight myths that recent research can debunk. For the facts that counter these myths, see the article.

  1. Some of us are ‘left-brained’ and some are ‘right-brained’ and this helps explain differences in how we learn.
  2. Brain development has finished by the time children reach puberty.
  3. Learning is due to the addition of new cells to the brain.
  4. A common sign of dyslexia is seeing letters backward.
  5. Mental capacity is hereditary and cannot be changed by the environment or experience.
  6. We only use 10 percent of our brain.
  7. When we sleep, the brain shuts down. 
  8. Listening to classical music increases children’s reasoning ability.
Aug 14

Four Secrets in Plain Sight (About Mental Health)

The “secrets” I believe that are there for all of us to see and apply are: 1) Behavior serves a purpose, 2) The power of attachment, 3) As a rule, less is more, and 4) Chronic stress is the enemy. Psychiatrist Lloyd I. Sederer, HuffPost, author of Improving Mental Health: Four Secrets in Plain Sight

When Lloyd I. Sederer, MD, wrote last year’s Improving Mental Health: Four Secrets in Plain Sight, he “was inspired by a (short) book by the Pulitzer winning Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Laws of Medicine: Field Notes from an Uncertain Science, about nature, medicine and three rather counter-intuitive laws.”

Intended for both patients and practitioners and only 109 pages, some with photos, Sederer’s book is indeed, as he describes it on author Pete Earley’s website, “mercifully short.”

Also in the above-cited post are the “secrets” Sederer has gleaned from decades in the psychiatry field:

  • Behavior serves a purpose. The search for meaning and the identification and communication value of a behavior are too often overlooked aspects of mental health care and a lost opportunity with and for clinicians, patients and their families.
  • The power of attachment. The force of attachment as a human need and drive must be harnessed if we are to change painful and problem behaviors. Relationships are the ‘royal road’ to remedying human suffering—both individual and collective.
  • As a rule, less is more. Mental health treatments, both medical and psychosocial, have too often been aggressive, from high doses of drugs to intensive sessions and psychic confrontation in individual and group psychotherapy. Unfortunately, these usually well intended but high risk efforts infrequently provide help. And they can have unwanted and problematic effects. Primum non nocere—first, do no harm—is the first law of medicine. 
  • Chronic stress is the enemy. From adverse childhood experiences to post-traumatic stress, chronic stress can be an underlying factor in the development of many mental and physical disorders. Chronic stress shortens our lives and fosters a host of physical illnesses. However, chronic stress can be understood and contained, thereby reducing its damage.

Notes On Each “Secret” By Two Reviewers

Secret #I: Annette L. Hanson, MD, Psychiatric Times, highlights “Sederer’s observation that understanding these behaviors ‘replaces darkness with light, distortion with reason, blame with tolerance, dismissal with discussion, and powerlessness with problem-solving’.”

Secret #2: Hanson says the book’s second chapter “presents a historical overview of attachment and object relations theory from Klein and Freud to Henry Harlow. This is followed by a discussion of attachment styles and an explanation of how disruption of attachments in early life creates adult dysfunction. An excellent discussion of the therapeutic alliance explains how a stable and mature attachment can overcome childhood neglect and trauma.”

Secret #3: Not only about medication but also therapy. “This chapter,” states Hanson, “is a cogent reminder that the wrong psychotherapy, or even an established therapy given for the wrong purpose, can be harmful.”

Secret #4: ACES, or adverse childhood experiences, are addressed in Sederer’s discussion of chronic stress, says psychiatrist Carol W. Berman, HuffPost. “He wisely associates multiple ACEs as risk factors for addictions, depression, heart, lung, and liver disease, STD’s, intimate partner violence, smoking, suicide attempts, and unintended pregnancies.”

Aug 11

“The Glass Castle”: From Best Selling Book to Film

 A young girl comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother who’s an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father who would stir the children’s imagination with hope as a distraction to their poverty. IMDB description of The Glass Castle

Home goes wherever we go. Tagline to The Glass Castle

Long-term best seller The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeannette Walls, now has an eagerly awaited movie version.

THE BOOK

Book critic Francine Prose, New York Times, stated about it that “…what’s best is the deceptive ease with which she makes us see just how she and her siblings were convinced that their turbulent life was a glorious adventure.”

More book details from Publishers Weekly:

…Walls’s parents—just two of the unforgettable characters in this excellent, unusual book—were a matched pair of eccentrics, and raising four children didn’t conventionalize either of them. Her father was a self-taught man, a would-be inventor who could stay longer at a poker table than at most jobs and had ‘a little bit of a drinking situation,’as her mother put it. With a fantastic storytelling knack, Walls describes her artist mom’s great gift for rationalizing…The Walls children learned to support themselves, eating out of trashcans at school or painting their skin so the holes in their pants didn’t show.

Kirkus Reviews: “The author’s tell-it-like-it-was memoir is moving because it’s unsentimental; she neither demonizes nor idealizes her parents, and there remains an admirable libertarian quality about them, though it justifiably elicits the children’s exasperation and disgust. Walls’s journalistic bare-bones style makes for a chilling, wrenching, incredible testimony of childhood neglect.”

THE MOVIE ADAPTATION

Peter Debruge, Variety, introduces Destin Daniel Cretton‘s film, which features the highly regarded Brie Larson as the lead:

‘The Glass Castle’ catches up with Walls at the moment in her life when she finally came to terms with her father (which has taken a bit of creative fictionalization, but remains remarkably true to the book): She’s engaged to a successful investment banker (Max Greenfield) and looks like a character out of ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities,’ with her fancy high-society hairdo, pearl necklace and stiff-shouldered blouse. No one would guess that this charming, seemingly cultured woman once ate a stick of butter and sugar because there had been nothing else in the house — a house without running water or electricity.

The trailer:

 

Critics are divided over whether the movie does the book justice. Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter, believes, on the one hand, that The Glass Castle “successfully captures the essence of the memoir, with exceptionally potent work by Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts as the spirited, self-involved and willfully impoverished bohemians who subjected their four kids to a peripatetic, hardscrabble life but also, in the process, taught them to fend for themselves.”

Claudia Puig, The Wrap, concludes, though, that it’s “a far better book than movie” and “feels like a cloying, one-note Hollywood tale, the beastly trauma all tied up with a pretty bow and de-fanged.” Likewise, Peter Travers, Rolling Stone, states that The Glass Castle “gets the mediocre-movie treatment.”

Other Selected Reviews

Tomris Laffly, Time Out: “Reflective and cumulatively poignant, Destin Cretton’s The Glass Castle lays bare the utmost truth about families: You will eventually morph into your parents.”

Eric Kohn, IndieWire: “For a while, the movie generates a fascinating juxtaposition between Jeanette’s childhood efforts to improve her family’s circumstances and the tragic results, a mystery unfolding piecemeal. However, the movie becomes ever more familiar as it moves along, giving way to a tale of father-daughter estrangement.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “Cretton captures the incidents of Walls’ childhood (too many of them, to be honest, as the film really ought to be half an hour shorter), but struggles to connect them to the grown woman Larson plays in the present. Here is a successful New York gossip columnist whose own story was juicier than practically any she uncovered in her day job, and yet, despite its running time, it offers at best a fragmented portrait of how she was personally shaped by having a father as unique as Rex Walls.”

Aug 09

“Maudie”: How Her Folk Art Bloomed from Within

 ...(A) story of art rising from adversity. Kate Taylor, Globe and Mail, about Maudie

Director Aisling Walsh‘s Maudie was inspired by the true story of Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis (1903-1970), who lived with a form of progressively debilitating arthritis and struggled to find love, independence, and inner peace.

A few brief descriptions of the portrayal of Maudie:

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times: “Sally Hawkins turns a crumpled misfit into an affecting figure of fortitude and optimism…”

David Sims, The Atlantic: “Hawkins plays her as always possessing a kind of coy, rueful smile, but it’s one that betrays a hardscrabble life marked by trauma and abuse.”

Thelma Adams, New York Observer: “…an obscure figure who couldn’t stop her arthritic fingers from painting the world around her in vibrant colors on whatever surface she could access, from walls and windows to boards and post cards.”

Early in the film’s timeline we learn that Maudie has lost both her parents to death and has been abandoned by her only sibling. When she abruptly leaves the home of her unwelcoming aunt, Maudie is in dire need of a job and place to live. She applies to be a live-in maid to Everett (Ethan Hawke), the “crabby, orphanage-raised, antisocial misfit who makes what passes for a living peddling fish and chopped wood” (Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter).

For various reasons, their challenging coexistence quickly evolves into a marriage; their challenging marriage gradually evolves, over the course of many years, into a deeper, though awkward, love.

Watch the trailer below:

Maudie and Everett

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “Despite his meager circumstances, grumpy Everett makes it clear Maud rates only third in importance in the household, after his dogs and chickens.”

David Sims, The Atlantic: “Maud and Everett Lewis’s relationship can be tough to watch—he’s at times plainly abusive (physically and emotionally), and at other times hurtful and dismissive.”

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times:

Between Everett’s blunt insistence on traditional gender roles and Maud’s patient long-game to blur those lines and fill the space with who she is — literally too, since their painted house is now on display at an art gallery in Halifax — ‘Maudie’ is like a charmingly cracked domestic play about waiting the other person out. As she blossoms — just enough, not too much — he grunts and softens, just enough, not too much. Unlike the thick directness in Maud’s work, the movie about her is almost pointillist in detailing the tiny steps that make up an enduring marriage.

Selected Reviews

David Sims, The Atlantic: “This is neither a forgettable biopic nor a piece of shameless Oscar-bait; it’s a film that feels no need to make easy judgments about its subject, or any vague assumptions about the origins and meaning of her work.”

Manohla Dargis, New York Times:

How much of it is true…remains unclear; certainly the movie deviates sharply in sweep and detail from some accounts…
Like many screen biographies, ‘Maudie’ vacillates unsteadily between the brute realities of a difficult existence and its palatable imagery. The movie doesn’t erase the hard edges of Lewis’s life. Instead, it attenuates them — a brutal slap across the face, you suspect, stands in for more instances of physical abuse — and casts many of Maud and Everett’s difficulties as personal ordeals, playing down the institutional forces, like an orphanage, that discreetly hover in the background. There’s an argument to be made against such softening, though, as Lewis’s work suggests, there’s something necessary about the fantasies we make of our lives as we spin beauty and hope from despair.

Thelma Adams, New York Observer:

Maudie celebrates the capacity to appreciate the world that lies framed within a window, to see the cruel beauty of the everyday and transform it into art. This wedding of craft and imagination also describes Walsh’s textured filmmaking, connecting frame after frame of gorgeous vistas to an emotionally rich female-driven narrative about art’s healing power and the potential for redemption in everyday acts of grace.