May 08

“No One Cares About Crazy People”: As True As Ever

[Ron] Powers intends for the book to comfort families dealing with severe mental illness, to shock general readers with examples of atrocities befalling the mentally ill, to show that “crazy people” are rarely dangerous to anybody but themselves, and to push for significant reform. “I hope you do not ‘enjoy’ this book,” he writes in the preface. “I hope you are wounded by it; wounded as I have been writing it. Wounded to act, to intervene.” Kirkus Reviews, about No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America (2017)

No One Cares About Crazy People was written before all the recent outrageous attempts to decimate the Affordable Care Act. Just imagine the additional things author Ron Powers could say now.

Powers writes about his two sons afflicted with schizophrenia. “For his son Kevin, that struggle ended in suicide, and the heartbreak of that experience (among others) permeates every impersonal date and statistic in the book with sorrow and rage” (Shelf Awareness). Son Dean is still in treatment.

As told to Terry Gross (NPR), “There is no greater…feeling of helplessness than to watch two beloved sons deteriorate before [your] eyes, not knowing what to do to bring them back.”

A brief explanation for the title as well as a book synopsis, per Publishers Weekly:

This resounding rebuke to scornful attitudes toward the mentally ill takes its title from a notably insensitive 2010 email exchange between high-level staffers of Scott Walker during his run for Wisconsin governor. Using that moment as a touchstone of indifference, Powers…weaves a dual tale of the personal and the political. In one thread, he traces the history of public efforts to ameliorate (or, more often, hide) the plight of those living with mental illness, from London’s infamous Bedlam in the 18th and 19th centuries, where wealthy visitors were charged admission to gawk at the inmates, to America’s present-day prison-industrial complex. In the other, he tells his own family’s heartrending story of grappling with disease…

Although drug therapy can be helpful, Powers believes, “(h)e recognizes that ‘Big Pharma’ has made money distributing drugs of questionable usefulness” (Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch).

A couple things Powers deems pointedly not helpful:

  • Deinstitutionalization: Many inpatient facilities closed in the 1960’s in favor of caring for patients in community mental health centers. If well-meaning, it also failed many who wound up in prisons.
  • Anosognosia (“The false conviction within a person that nothing is wrong with his mind”) is ignored by laws that prevent involuntary commitment to mental health facilities.

If indeed “no one cares about crazy people,” Powers means people other than their loved ones, of course. From Shelf Awareness: “For the families of the mentally ill…caring about ‘crazy people’ is a necessity. In roughly alternating chapters, Powers allows us to watch his sons grow up, dealing with the challenges of incipient schizophrenia as well as tragic events that shape their young minds. All the while, Powers movingly relates the joys of raising creatively gifted children.”

The critique by Ron Suskind, New York Times, offers a fitting conclusion for this post:

No doubt if everyone were to read this book, the world would change. But its clumsy title…is painfully correct. The mentally ill are still viewed with fear or suspicion, as broken, as damaged goods or objects of pity. Still, Powers will surely help to correct that perspective; it’s impossible to read his book without being overcome by empathy for his family, respect for his two beleaguered boys and, by the end, faith in the resilience of the human heart.

May 05

What’s Special About Women and Depression?

Women and depression: we are twice as likely to be diagnosed than men. However, it’s not necessarily clear why or whether this statistic really reflects reality. As the Harvard Mental Health Letter stated in 2011:

Some experts believe that both genders are affected by depression in equal numbers, but women are more likely to be diagnosed with this disorder, in part because men are less likely to talk about feelings and seek help for mood problems. It also may be that depression shows up in different ways in men — for example, as substance abuse or violent behavior.

Others theorize that while both genders are biologically vulnerable to developing depression, women may be more susceptible to harm from life stresses and other environmental factors.

Neel Burton, MD, Psychology Today, proposes the following reasons for women’s more frequent presentation of depression, noting that the factors involved are biological, psychological, and sociocultural.

  1. Compared to men, women may have a stronger genetic predisposition to developing depression.
  2. Compared to men, women are much more subjected to fluctuating hormone levels…
  3. Women are more ruminative than men, that is, they tend to think about things more—which, though a very good thing, may also predispose them to developing depression. In contrast, men are more likely to react to difficult times with stoicism, anger, or substance misuse.
  4. Women are generally more invested in relationships than men. Relationship problems are likely to affect them more, and so they are more likely to develop depression.
  5. Women come under more stress than men. Not only do they have to go work just like men, but they may also be expected to bear the brunt of maintaining a home, bringing up children, caring for older relatives, and putting up with all the sexism!
  6. Women live longer than men. Extreme old age is often associated with bereavement, loneliness, poor physical health, and precarity—and so with depression.
  7. Women are more likely to seek out a diagnosis of depression. They are more likely to consult a physician and more likely to discuss their feelings with the physician. Conversely, physicians (whether male or female) may be more likely to make a diagnosis of depression in a woman.

Regardless of the possible causation, how can women heal from depression? Few resources focus specifically on women and depression, but a currently top-selling book on this topic is Dr. Kelly Brogan‘s 2016 A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives.

Antidepressant medication isn’t the best way to treat it, she believes, nor is there any proof for the theory that depression indicates a chemical imbalance in the brain. This is also the stance of such experts as Irving Kirsch, Andrew Weil, and James Davies. (Links will lead to my previous posts on their opinions.)

“Depression is an opportunity,” says Brogan. “It is a sign for us to stop and figure out what’s causing our imbalance.” Possible sources could be “your food, your gut, your thyroid, or even your go-to pain reliever.”

Nutrition is often the key to relieving depression, says Brogan. A free ebook obtainable by giving your email address at this link offers some of her basic prescriptions in this regard.

From reading the ebook as well as editorial and consumer reviews, it seems that Brogan’s approach is better suited to someone who can get totally on board with a holistic, the-food-you-eat-is-medicine-but-not-necessarily-fun-to-eat approach—something many resist.

Moreover, many do still believe that, for whatever unknown reason—placebo effect or otherwise— antidepressant medication not only works but also has saved lives. I’ve seen this too often myself to neglect to mention it here.

And don ‘t forget therapy, of course, as well as physical exercise—both proven to be effective.

May 03

“Gifted” Child: What Happens When She Grows Up?

In the current drama Gifted, the best interests of Mary, a child prodigy (also played exceptionally, I might add, by McKenna Grace), are being considered.

One of the main questions Gifted raises regards the long-term fate of the child: what kind of adult might Mary eventually become? We learn early on, for example, that Mary’s own brilliant mother killed herself. Is it common that giftedness can interfere this extremely with the ability to mature healthily?

Watch the trailer, then read some related thoughts:

As JR Thorpe recently outlined in Bustle, there are several ways giftedness does “change the game a bit.” Click on the link for details.

  • You May Be More Likely To Have Specific Emotional Problems—States expert Dr. Joan Freeman, possibly because of false stereotypes being projected onto you, possibly because of traits such as hypersensitivity and perfectionism not managed adequately.
  • You May Be More Likely To Choose Your Path According To Social Pressures—One study showed kids “weren’t necessarily allowed to go off and figure out paths on their own.”
  • You May Have More Difficulty Picking Between Passions—“Multipotentiality” affects many of this population.
  • You May Have A Hard Time Turning Giftedness Into Adult Achievement—One of the common deterrents involves the labelling that can lead to unrealistic expectations placed on you.

You could be among the gifted and not even realize it. Therapist Lynne Azpeitia, MFT, offers a criteria checklist, adapted from material written by Annemarie Roeper (1919-2012). It includes traits not only in the intellectual realm but also along the emotional, social, moral, creative, and personality spectra.

Although nearly two decades old, Marylou Kelly Streznewski‘s Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential is also a resource of interest. From Publishers Weekly:

According to Streznewski, gifted people constitute 3% to 5% of the population, are inquisitive and energetic, have rapid mental processes and a restless drive to enlarge their world…Streznewski, who teaches gifted high school students, rather artificially classifies the gifted into three types: ‘strivers,’ high-scoring teacher-pleasers who go on to high achievements; ‘superstars,’ sociable scholar-athletes or popular personalities on a trajectory to fame and fortune; and ‘independents,’ inner-directed, creative intellectuals who challenge authority. Her contention that gifted adults ignore the conventional life stages and follow their own special rhythms, changing jobs and careers in spite of the cost to themselves and loved ones, remains speculative…

Another book from that era is Mary-Elaine Jacobsen‘s Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius. A few quotes:

Gifted people cannot escape a sense of calling, a mandate to put their abilities to the test of time and constructive purpose. This is the true legacy of giftedness, the sense of responsibility to leave something valuable behind.

To fully express the true self is at best a calculated risk.

The idiosyncrasies of giftedness are rarely seen as “different = interesting,” but instead are deemed “different = wrong.”

While the last of these statements has hopefully become less true over time, the middle sentiment often remains present. Gail Post, PhD (Gifted Challenges blog), on what’s often seen, particularly with females: “Gifted girls…may hide their abilities, ‘dumb themselves down’ and avoid traditionally masculine fields of study to remain popular.”

Back to the movie. Gifted…:

  • is “(s)chmaltzy as all get out” (EW.com)
  • may not be critic Richard Roeper‘s candidate for this year’s Best Picture “but it just might be my favorite”
  • manages to be “(a) good-hearted entertainment that manages its plot curveballs, and everything else, with a show of compassion” (RogerEbert.com).

But will Mary turn out to be okay? Although the actual (fictional) outcome of the (improbable) adult-Mary sequel will remain unknown, my bet is that you’ll exit the movie with quite a hopeful outlook.

May 01

Conversion Therapy Must Be Banned Nationwide–Here’s How

 Reparative therapy may be a lie, but the lie begins not with the idea that we can change from gay to straight, but with the belief that we are who the culture tells us we are…And no one, no matter what age, is safe from that. Peter Gajdics, The Inheritance of Shame: A Memoir (2017), about conversion therapy

Conversion therapy has to go—and I mean nationwide. Representative Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) agrees. Both Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Corey Booker (D-NJ), moreover, have joined Lieu in introducing the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act of 2017, aimed at having the Federal Trade Commission call conversion therapy what it is: a fraudulent practice.

States Lieu (Washington Post) regarding the Act: “It says it is fraud if you treat someone for a condition that doesn’t exist and there’s no medical condition known as being gay. LGBTQ people were born perfect; there is nothing to treat them for. And by calling this what it should be, which is fraud, it would effectively shut down most of the organizations.”

For a comprehensive list, by the way, of anti-conversion-therapy position statements issued over the years by mental health and medical professional associations, see this Human Rights Campaign (HRC) link.

It should be noted that some states already ban conversion therapy and its practitioners: California, New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, and New Mexico. Also the District of Columbia—and kinda New York in that they have something in place that serves the same purpose.

Several recent memoirs have chronicled the dire effects of being forced into conversion therapy in one’s youth. (See my post “Three Memoirs About Surviving Conversion Therapy.”) But as Steven Susoyev, a reviewer for LambdaLiterary.org, points out, it’s not always about outright coercion or being a minor:

Less common in the popular imagination is the story of a young gay person who voluntarily submits to psychological mutilation. In The Inheritance of Shame, Peter Gajdics, now in his early fifties, takes us into the heart and mind of his 24-year-old self, a desperate young man who believed everything his family and church told him about who he was, and who resolved to become an entirely different person, at any cost.

The Inheritance of Shame will be published in a couple weeks. An early review from author Daniel Zomparelli: “In Peter Gajdics’ memoir, we’re taken into a real-life horror film of malpractice and corrupt psychotherapy, hoping at every turn of the page that our narrator escapes. A shocking, crystal-clear, unsettling book. The Inheritance of Shame is both a necessary and devastating memoir about the trauma of conversion therapy and the homophobia that persists to this day.”

Guess who else recently tried to educate his audience about the weirdness of therapy to change someone’s sexual orientation? Bill Nye the Science Guy. As seen on his Netflix series Bill Nye Saves the World, he uses different flavors of ice cream to parallel various sexual orientations:

Apr 27

“Split” Adds to Dissociative Identity Disorder Stigma

This movie makes people with DID the next in a long line of cultural scapegoats. Audiences will sit through it, shivering delightfully in the dark and be reassured once again that all the evil in the world can be blamed on “the crazies.” lain C, TheMighty.com, who lives with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), about Split

Split, now available to rent, is M. Night Shyamalan‘s latest movie and one that unfortunately contributes to stigma regarding dissociative identity disorder.

A brief synopsis from IMDB: “Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities, [and] they must try to escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new 24th.” James McAvoy plays Kevin, the man with DID.

Watch a trailer for Split below:

One problem: movies such as Split tend to give a grossly inaccurate impression regarding DID and a propensity for violence. The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD) has refuted this myth citing recent research statistics: “…3 percent were charged with an offense, 1.8 percent were fined, and less than 1 percent were in jail over a six-month span. No convictions or probations were reported in that time period” (Kristen Fischer, Healthline).

Moreover, ISSTD extends its objections to Split beyond the scope of DID:

With respect to Mr. Shyamalan’s ability to write and direct truly frightening movies, depicting individuals with this, or any other mental disorder, does a disservice to his artistic ability and to the over 20 percent of the population who, at some time or another, struggle with some form of mental illness. It acts to further marginalize those who already struggle on a daily basis with the weight of stigma.

Not that Shyamalan didn’t receive appropriate consultation. Bethany Brand, a clinical psychologist and professor, responded to his request and offered (free) advice, including that she’d help connect him with individuals who actually live with DID, something Shyamalan never took her up on. He also failed to follow through on a pledge to work on raising public awareness about the reality of the condition (CNN).

Another controversial aspect of Shyamalan’s depiction is explained by Charles Bramesco, The Verge. Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), Kevin’s psychiatrist, “repeatedly spells out her controversial theory that DID grants sufferers extraordinary control of their bodies, citing such examples as a blind woman with a personality capable of vision, or a strongman personality spontaneously developing extraordinary strength.” Research does show that different alters can display different capabilities—But…and the following contains movie spoilers…

Shyamalan extends the concept to a cartoonish extreme when he introduces Kevin’s personality ‘the Beast,’ which has superhuman abilities and a monstrous appearance. By the end of the film, Kevin is exhibiting abilities that amount to superpowers, somehow derived from what professional consensus indicates is his brain’s extreme coping mechanism to a fleetingly shown childhood of abuse…The act of other-ing Kevin as a patient of DID isn’t even incidental; it’s the whole point. It’s hard to imagine a more squarely on-the-nose example of demonizing mental illness than portraying a mentally ill man as a literal demon.

In closing, here’s powerful personal testimony from the writer of this post’s opening quote (TheMighty.com):

What if someone made a movie about you – only you were the villain? Not a brilliant, super-villain who is kind of cool, but someone horrifyingly bizarre and dangerous…
…Once again, people with deep psychological wounds get mis-cast as the perpetrators instead of, more realistically, victims of violence. Along the way, it lowers the odds of us having friends, finding love, working at terrific jobs and getting care. At the same time it ups the odds of abandonment, rejection and someone protecting themselves against us with misguided force. In fact, while people with DID are organized differently inside…we’re no more likely to hurt people than anyone else…