Facebook’s bid to help prevent suicides
Facebook is introducing a new initiative aimed at reducing suicides. The social media site is partnering with Now Matters Now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Save.org and Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention, to offer help and support to Facebook users in distress.
Here’s how it will work: If someone on Facebook posts something concerning, indicating thoughts of suicidal intent for instance, any of that person’s Facebook friends will be able to click on an icon to contact the friend in need, contact another of their friends for support, or contact a suicide helpline.
Facebook, too, will be alerted, and if the post is sufficiently distressing, it will send the distressed person messages of support and useful resources.
It's all a bit Big Brotherly, something devised by the "thought police." And yet, even if it is generated by a programmed bot in a vast, humming underground computer bunker somewhere in Silicon Valley, a well-timed message of hope really can make all the difference. It’s a helping hand, a voice in your darkest hour, a reminder that you’re not alone in this world.
There are 1.4 billion active Facebook account users. That’s about a fifth of the population of the world.
Preventing suicide is a difficult undertaking because it’s an action that’s carried out swiftly and desperately by those struggling to deal with their mental anguish alone, even if they may lead a seemingly normal life. However, not all cries for help are silent — especially on social media, where you may come across melancholic statuses from friends on your newsfeed.
Now, Facebook wants to capitalize on the confessional nature of its platform. The social media giant is rolling out a new suicide prevention tool — which it created in partnership with a few mental health organizations — that allows users to reach out to their troubled loved ones virtually and connect them with online resources after spotting the first sign of trouble.
While mental health experts believe that the app could better help concerned family and friends spark much needed conversations and connect distressed people with resources, some warn against overly depending on the social media platform for help with these sensitive matters when direct contact may prove more effective.
With the suicide prevention app, users who are concerned about a friend’s post can directly “report” it by contacting their friend, another friend for support, or a suicide prevention hotline. Facebook then examines the reported post to see if warrants intervention. If so, the friend in question will receive a message that gives him or her the option of reaching out to a friend, calling a suicide hotline, or looking over a host of suicide prevention materials, including video messages and relaxation techniques.
Julie Andrews: Counselling led me to love
From Film News:
Julie Andrews went to therapy to "get rid of some garbage" and ended up meeting the love of her life.
The actress is famed for her appearance in 1965's The Sound of Music and four years after it was released she married Blake Edwards. The pair met because they were both seeking counselling at the same place, with Julie explaining she needed help coping with her sudden rise to fame.
"We actually, our cars - I was going one way and he was going the other and Blake rolled down the window after smiling a couple of times and said, 'Are you going where I just came from?' And I was going to a therapist and he was coming from. Very corny, sorry about that!" she explained to British TV show Good Morning Britain.
The future of mental health in the UK: an election manifesto
Following on from the Royal College of Psychiatrists mental health manifesto for the next UK Government, Making Parity a Reality, comes this “secret manifesto” in The Lancet with further suggestions:
It is disheartening that half of the things we called for— proper liaison psychiatry services, a minimum unit price for alcohol, and investment in parenting programmes— have such robust evidence bases that they should have happened years ago. It is disgraceful that the remainder— adequate numbers of hospital beds for people with mental health problems, a maximum waiting time of 18 weeks to receive treatment for a mental health problem, and safe and speedy access to quality crisis care that does not often involve police cells—would just lift mental health up to the level of physical health care.
Children's services hit rock bottom – so what's next?
The government has fuelled a rise in mental health problems in children while at the same time dramatically slashing services designed to help them, as I’ve written before. Here Simon Newitt in the Guardian assesses the dire way we are treating our children, our future, concluding: “If we are going to continue to organise our society in such a way as to make the incidence of poor mental health more likely, then we can’t ignore the human and financial cost of not providing adequate public services to mitigate the consequences”:
It’s encouraging to hear leading politicians now talk and pledge openly about mental healthcare. In the past year or so, the state of our services – particularly for children and young people – has slowly risen up the political agenda. It’s a scandal that it has taken near systemic collapse to achieve this, but when even Norman Lamb, minister of state for care and support, is able to conclude that children’s mental health services “are not fit for purpose”, it is clear we’re about to hit bottom. Maybe we already have.
Multiple investigations and reviews have found the same failings, which might be summarised as the result of chronic long-term underinvestment in the face of growing demand. Mental health issues represent about a third of our overall burden of disease in the UK and cost more than £100bn a year.
Spending on services represents only 13% of the total NHS budget, with 67% of clinical commissioning groups spending less than 10% of their budget in this way. Worse, given half of all adult mental health problems (excluding dementia) start before age 15 and three-quarters by 18, it’s hard to understand why only 6% of these already limited funds go toward child and adolescent mental health. These are services which have also had to manage cuts of £50m since 2010. Funding for mental health research represents 5% of overall health research spending.
• Scotland: child mental health wait increases 'are horrifying'
From BBC News:
The number of young people waiting more than a year to be treated by mental health services has increased 10-fold in a year, according to figures released by Scottish Labour.
The party said the Scottish government "is letting down some of the most vulnerable children in Scotland".
“The Troubles” linked to half mental health cases in Northern Ireland
From BBC News:
A new study has claimed the Troubles are linked to half the cases of mental health issues in Northern Ireland.
The research was conducted by Ulster University on behalf of the Commission for Victims and Survivors.
It found almost 30% of the NI population suffer mental health problems, and nearly half of those are directly related to the Troubles.
The Department of Health said it had no official figures on "the level of directly associated mental illness".
However, it said "emerging evidence indicates that Northern Ireland has high levels of, often untreated, post traumatic stress disorder as a result of decades of violence".
Michelle Obama promotes awareness of mental health
From U.S. News & World Report:
Mental health care is not just a policy and budget issue for America, but also a cultural issue, Michelle Obama said on Wednesday.
The first lady said more than 40 million Americans experience a diagnosable mental health condition— like depression or anxiety— and there should be no stigma around mental health care.
"At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country," she said. "Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it's still an illness, and there should be no distinction."
Mrs. Obama spoke at a mental health summit and the national launch of the campaign to "Change Direction."
Kenya: How one woman is “fighting the funk” by helping others
From Public Radio International:
Sitawa Wafula had two strikes against her. But the Kenyan woman is making a huge difference for thousands in her nation in an area that receives scant attention: Mental health. Despite suffering from bipolar disorder and epilepsy herself, Wafula has been able to create a route to help others.
According to the Africa Mental Health Foundation, there are only 79 working psychiatrists in the East African nation. That’s one for every 500,000 people. Short of training more, Wafula wanted to find a way to make mental health resources more widely available.
In September 2014, Wafula launched an SMS-based helpline called “My Mind My Funk.” People can text in for free from any mobile network. General inquiries get an automated response, but desperate or suicidal messages are answered with a call from a licensed therapist.
Wafula knows all too well what it’s like to have no one to turn to for help. She was diagnosed with epilepsy, a condition that's often stigmatized in Kenya, when she was a teenager. Then a sexual assault sent her into a downward spiral.
“I got really, really depressed. I was suicidal. I didn’t have anyone to talk to tell what had happened to me,” Wafula says, speaking at her small, bare office in Ngong, a town on the outskirts of the capital city Nairobi.
Israel: 350 soldiers received psychiatric counseling after Gaza War: report
More than 350 Israeli soldiers who took part in last summer's military onslaught on the Gaza Strip have since received psychiatric counseling for post-traumatic stress, an Israeli report has revealed.
The report, published Wednesday in the Israel Today newspaper said that soldiers had undergone treatment for symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress, including disorientation, low productivity and recurring nightmares.
The newspaper quoted a senior Israeli official as saying that the number of soldiers to receive psychiatric treatment following last summer's onslaught on Gaza was higher than those who did so following previous operations.
For 51 days this summer, Israel pounded the Gaza Strip by air, land and sea. More than 2,310 Gazans, 70 percent of them civilians, were killed and 10,626 injured during unrelenting Israeli attacks on the besieged strip this summer.
According to the UN, the Israeli military killed at least 495 Palestinian children in Gaza during “Operation Protective Edge.” The al-Mezan Center for Human Rights puts the number at 518, while the Palestinian Center for Human Rights puts it at 519.
All three figures exceed the total number of Israelis, civilians and soldiers, killed by Palestinians in the last decade.
Saudi Arabia: counseling helps 2,950 extremists mend ways
From Arab News:
Maj. Gen. Nasser Al-Mutairi, director of the Mohammed bin Nayef Center for Counseling and Care, said that his facility has reformed 2,950 young men who are now all fully integrated in society.
Nasser made these remarks on Monday, during a lecture at the headquarters of the Muslim World League, where several Saudi experts talked about the experience of fighting terrorism in the Kingdom. However, the center's success of retrievals of youth in danger of becoming extremists currently stands at 13 percent.
Despite the grim data, 120 individuals coming from Guantanamo Bay were successfully integrated in society thanks to the center, with 98 percent of them giving up extremist ideas.
Al-Mutairi said the center has a five-year strategy based on three propositions: psychological treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
Australia: Large gap between rich and poor areas in use of mental health services revealed
From The Guardian:
Large socioeconomic and geographical inequality exists in patient use of mental health services, despite Medicare’s aim of providing universal health care.
Using substantial data obtained through freedom of information requests, researchers from Melbourne’s Monash University assessed more than 25m instances of mental health care over the four years to June 2011, undertaking the largest ever national study into mental health services.
The most highly qualified mental health staff – psychiatrists and clinical psychologists – were used up to three times as much by people in wealthier areas compared to those in the most disadvantaged ones, they found. However, use of less qualified mental health staff, like general practitioners, general psychologists and social workers, was more equitable across the country. Out-of-pocket costs to the patient are significantly less for these services compared to that of clinical psychologists and psychiatrists, for which a larger co-payment gap exists.
With research consistently showing higher rates of severe mental illness in the most disadvantaged areas, it was concerning that people living in those areas were accessing specialist services less, the authors of the research published in the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday said.
The developing world: When mental health is the best investment
Report on the global cost of mental health problems in GOOD Magazine:
Mental health disorders are among the most common debilitating afflictions in the world. This reality is almost certainly exacerbated in poorer countries, given a lack of mental health resources and the demonstrated linkage between poverty and the risk of developing adverse psychological conditions. Yet pervasive social stigmas about mental health still make it difficult to convince governments, businessmen, and donors to invest in campaigns for greater resources, especially in economically struggling countries. Fortunately, there may be a way to convince hardheaded people all over the world that contributing to mental health provision efforts will be in their interest. Even if they don’t participate out of the goodness of their hearts or the recognition of the realities of mental health’s personal ravages, there’s a good argument to be made that providing these service just makes practical business sense. Because these days, a growing body of literature suggests funding improved mental health resources is one of the best economic investments a country or company can make.
Among its constituent countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development conservatively estimates that up to four percent of national GDP can be lost in a given year to mental health’s blow to productivity. In the U.S., these direct and indirect costs make mental health issues perhaps the most expensive chronic health issue in the nation. Thanks to a lack of data or serious investigations in many developing countries, we often don’t know what the equivalent numbers would be. But some estimates put the global costs of mental health at $2.5 trillion per year, with two-thirds of that amount coming from indirect expenses. And up to 45 percent of that global impact seems to be concentrated in the developing world. So the numbers may be fuzzy, but we’re still looking at hundreds of billions of dollars a year in preventable losses to the national economies of a collection of limited, small, and fragile nations.
Two opposing views
Looking for meaning in your life?
From psychotherapist Dr Aaron Balick on Huffington Post UK:
Finding the right therapist for yourself is important, and your progress with them will depend a lot on chemistry. If you don't click with the first one you meet or speak to, try someone else. If you're meeting a therapist in the real world, you might want to book a session in with a few different people, so you can get a taste before you decide.
And then you can begin your journey - now, more than ever, we need to access the deeper parts of ourselves, so we can operate better and more authentically in this fast moving world. A depth psychotherapy is a bit like slow food in a fast food culture. Once or twice a week you slow down, chew slowly, and taste all the flavours. It's you're life, as far as we know you've only go the one, so make it count and find out who you are.
“It just exacerbates everything”
Creator of Seinfeld, Curb your Enthusiasm, and king of neurosis Larry David, via Mia Farrow (former partner of the kind of neurosis Woody Allen, on twitter.com:
Larry David on psychotherapy: “I think it just exacerbates everything. Then you just become more focused on yourself. It does no good at all."
We’re in the middle of the U.K.’s first-ever Children’s Mental Health Week, launched by the charity Place2Be, which for 20 years has provided counselling in schools. According to Place2Be:
• One in 10 children aged between 5 and 16 years (three in every classroom) has a mental health problem, and many continue to have these problems into adulthood. Half of those with lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms by the age of 14.
• Among teenagers, rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 70% in the past 25 years.
• One in five children have symptoms of depression and almost a third of the 16-25-year-olds surveyed had thought about or attempted suicide.
• Ten years ago, detailed estimates put the costs of mental health problems in England at £77 billion, including costs of lost productivity and the wider impacts on wellbeing. More recent estimates suggest the costs may be closer to £105 billion.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, recent research shows child adversity and psychological troubles may speed up aging leading to poor health and earlier death.
The 7-month-pregnant Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, 33, lent her support to Children’s Mental Health Week in this video message. "Both William and I have seen that many young people are struggling to cope with the impact of bullying, bereavement, domestic violence, family breakdown and more," Middleton says. “Without support, the effects of these challenges can be traumatic, leading to serious issues such as anxiety, depression, addiction, and self harm.”
We should all support the work of organisations like Place2Be. The 30 percent of parents who are “embarrassed” by the idea of child counselling need to get over themselves.
The Government, too, claims to be committed to improving mental health provision and services for children and young people. A recent report sets out the current situation, recent funding commitments, and identifies new initiatives, including new guidance for teachers on mental health, access to schools-based counselling, and recommendations for mandatory mental health education on the national curriculum. You can download the report here.
But what governments say and do, as we know, can be quite different. Sometimes they are exact opposites. So in Children's Mental Health Week, we learn of the children’s mental health “timebomb” caused by massive budget cuts (£50 million slashed from child and adolescent mental health services since 2010), the shocking, ballooning number of children showing up at A&E in the grip of a psychological crisis, and the generally toxic climate we have created for the next generation. Writes the Mirror: “We revealed how savage cuts to early intervention services had led to alarming numbers of mentally ill youngsters falling seriously ill with rising numbers being hospitalised ... Today’s new A&E figures highlight why children’s mental health services urgently need a cash injection
“They show there were 17,278 admissions at A&E involving patients aged 18 and under with a diagnosis of ‘psychiatric conditions’ in 2013/14 - an 85.2% increase from 9,328 in 2010/11.
“Of the 17,278 young patients, only 5,367 were admitted to a hospital bed within the same trust or provider. Others had to be shunted to other hospitals because of a lack of specialist mental healthcare at the hospital where they were admitted to A&E.”
The legacy of former education secretary Michael Gove, reviled by parents, teachers and commentators across the land (and even described as a “monster” by admirers), is taking its toll. With relentless testing and pressure to meet ever-changing targets, we are robbing our youth of their right to be youthful, turning children into stressed academic battery hens instead. Childline has witnessed a dramatic rise in the number of children receiving counselling for exam-related anxiety—a tripling in just one year, with 43 percent under the age of 11.
Perhaps the government will belatedly realize it’s continue-flogging-until-morale-improves approach to education might not be working that well. A report released today announces an attempt to paper over the gaping stress fractures by introducing weekly “happiness” lessons. Writes the Telegraph: “Former ministers and Government advisors are calling for radical changes in the way British pupils are brought up, with accusations of a ‘grossly inhumane’ failure to care for children’s wellbeing. Their report, due to be presented to a global health summit this week will say mental health problems among children and teenagers have become ‘a massive problem’ with one in 10 now suffering from diagnoses such as anxiety and depression.”
The report proposes that school pupils from the age of 5 would spend at least one hour a week discussing their emotions, setting positive life goals, and learning how to cope with everyday pressures and social media. “Increasingly in many countries, schools are becoming exam factories,” the report warns.
Happiness lessons? Fine. But this feels like much too little, much too late. Children need to be allowed to be children—to play, to make a mess, to be spontaneous, to create (grown-ups should try it sometime, too). And above all, starting long before school, what children most need is love.
When a child is born
When you look into the eyes of a baby, you see not a blank slate but a kind of ancient wisdom and intelligence. More than 20 involuntary reflexes have been identified in newborns; we have subjective and intersubjective skills from birth. Then the brain more than doubles in weight in the first year of life. Says Sue Gerhardt in the classic “Why Love Matters”: “What needs to be written in neon letters lit up against a night sky is that the orbitofrontal cortex, which is so much about being human, develops almost entirely post-natally.” And that development occurs through social interaction.
The development of the architecture of the infant brain is a kind of ongoing process of downloading software from the environment. Even a simple smile from a parent can set off a biochemical chain reaction of physiological pleasure, and the creation of new neural pathways in the young brain. So love your children. It doesn’t cost anything. Babies who are loved develop better brains than those who aren’t.
There is a small window of opportunity for optimal brain growth to occur. The right hemisphere in particular shows a dramatic growth spurt during the first year and a half of life as the preverbal, emotional landscape is defined. Early trauma can flood the system with stress hormones that can lead to a “developmental overpruning” of the corticolimbic system, compromising that person’s ability to respond to stress in later life. Studies of Romanian orphans, deprived of early human interaction, show they had gaps in their brains—their orbitofrontal cortexes did not fully develop. They never will.
But these patterns are not ccompletely immutable. The brain—with a hundred billion neurons which together form a million billion connections—retains a degree of plasticity, an ability to develop and grow, like a muscle, throughout life. Software upgrades—and learning—are always available through good experiences, which can come from education, practising skills, overcoming challenges, or, above all, through relationships—including counselling and psychotherapy. The brain continually changes in response to the people and the environment it meets, and so do you. The branching, connecting and withering of dendrites in brains, through lifelong interactions within and between individuals, families and communities, is what makes our world.
How are you with love? Maybe you haven’t had enough of it in your life. Maybe you’ve experienced the opposite of love. Well, it’s not too late. It is never too late to love, be loved, and to grow.
Three days after Christmas, at 2.30 in the morning, 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn was walking along Interstate 71, a few miles from her home in Ohio. She stepped out onto the tarmac, was hit by a truck, and killed.
She had arranged for her suicide note to be posted on her Tumblr account that evening. “I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound,” the note said. “I'm never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I'm never going to have enough love to satisfy me.” Alcorn described in the note how she had felt “like a girl trapped in a boy's body” since the age of four, and at 14 came to identify herself as a transgender female, when she discovered, to her immense joy, that such people existed, and she was not alone.
In the aftermath of Alcorn’s death, a lot of criticism was levelled at her parents, described as conservative Christians who could not accept their little boy’s sexuality and desire to be a girl. It's understandable that such a scenario would be difficult, potentially devastating, for any parent. But Alcorn's parents responded to her coming by taking her out of school and enrolling her instead in an online academy, cutting off all her access to social media, and taking away her phone.
The note continued: “Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There's no winning. There's no way out.”
The suicide note went viral—until the family asked for it to be removed from social media a few days later. It inspired vigils for Alcorn in cities across America and internationally, too, including in Trafalgar Square last month. It sparked a general raising of consciousness of the plight of transgendered people the world over.
• Although the word “transgender” wasn’t invented until 1971, transgenderism is not some contemporary fad—it’s as old as humanity. Elagabalus, Roman Emperor from 218 to 222, was said to be transgendered, and in ancient civilisations, “two-spirit” people were often called on to perform religious or cultural ceremonies;
• An estimated 2 to 5 percent of the population experience some degree of gender dysphoria;
• About 1 in 12,000 males and 1 in 34,000 females undergo gender reassignment;
• 90 percent of transgendered adults have experienced discrimination at work;
• 50 percent have been raped or assaulted by a partner;
• 41 percent have attempted suicide;
• 20 percent are homeless;
• Trans women have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered—or 1 in 8 for trans women of colour.
One of Alcorn’s despairing parents’ strategies to make their child “normal” was to send her for “conversion therapy,” which claims to be able to change a person’s sexual orientation.
This kind of thing was quite common back in the day, when techniques included hypnosis, testicular transplants, electric shocks to the genitals, masturbatory reconditioning, spiritual damnation, and prayer. It was as effective then as it is today, which is to say not at all. It’s a practice that’s fuelled by a certain kind of religious fundamentalism and has been derided as a ridiculous and doomed attempt to “pray the gay away.” A consensus has finally emerged that homosexuality is not some kind of aberrant pathology, an abnormality in need of a cure, though this took a long time: It was only removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as recently 1973, and even made a brief reappearance—“ego-dystonic homosexuality”—in 1980.
Says the American Psychological Association: “The idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder or that the emergence of same-sex attraction and orientation among some adolescents is in any way abnormal or mentally unhealthy has no support among any mainstream health and mental health professional organizations ... efforts to change sexual orientation through therapy have been adopted by some political and religious organizations and aggressively promoted to the public. However, such efforts have serious potential to harm young people because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”
Conversion therapy is already illegal in New Jersey and California; attempts to ban it in other states—Virginia, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Washington, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Hawaii and Rhode Island—have thus far been voted down or withdrawn. Oklahoma has recently been vying to position itself as the nation’s most homophobic state by proposing a law that would protect the right of its citizens to waste their money on attempting to force their children to stop being gay.
Even China is more enlightened: a court in Beijing recently ordered a private counselling center in Chongqing to apologise and pay compensation to a 30-year-old man for providing him with “gay cure” treatment, and ordered all ads for similar services to be removed from Baidu, China’s equivalent of Google.
In the U.K., an alarming 2009 study found that out of 1,328 therapists surveyed, 222 (17 percent) had attempted to change the sexual orientation of at least one client, and 55 of them would continue to do so. The issue received much greater attention with the case of Leslie Pilkington, a Christian counsellor who attempted to “cure” undercover journalist Patrick Strudwick; in 2012 she was struck off the register of her professional body, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. The following year, health minister Norman Lamb called conversion therapy “abhorrent,” something that has “no place in a modern society,” but said there were no plans for a ban.
Last month, NHS England and more than a dozen leading organisatons released a memorandum of understanding on conversion therapy. Guidelines will be published—GPs are not to refer patients for conversion therapy and no-one employed by the NHS can provide it. And just this month, a consensus statement was released, a unanimous condemnation of thee practice from all the leading counselling, psychotherapy and psychology bodies. Lord Black, the Executive Director of the Telegraph Media Group, has campaigned for a ban, and a 2013 motion calling for a government ban on conversion therapy for under-18s was signed by 55 MPs.
Some more stuff:
• Stephen Fry meets the founder of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, Dr. Joseph Nicolosis: click here.
• “Pray the gay away—exposed”: Amusing sex education vlogger Laci Green speaks out: “Gender and sexual orientation exist on a broad spectrum,” she says. “There’s no normal. There’s only more common. Failure to accept this simple fact has serious consequences”: click here.
• Some experiences of conversion therapy in the U.K.: “It’s really sad I spent three years of my life trying to do something that was impossible”: click here and click here.
Leelah Alcorn’s suicide note ended: “My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that's fucked up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
Alcorn’s story does mean something. So do recent stories like the gender reassignment of Olympic gold medal decathlete Bruce Jenner, and former boxing promoter Frank Moloney, and the stories of famous trans people like Chaz Bono, Eddie Izzard, Danny La Rue, Chelsea Manning, Jan Morris and Grayson Perry—to name just a very few.
On January 20, 2015, Barack Obama became the first American President to mention transgender people in the State of the Union Address: “Condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.”
If you or someone you know might need help with transgender issues, there is now plenty of good information online, starting with the NHS, the American Psychological Association; for further information, here’s a list of useful resources.
As for conversion therapy, a change.org petition to ban it in America—called “Leelah’s Law”—now has more than 340,000 signatures; another White House petition received more than 100,000 signatures in January, meaning President Barack Obama’s administration must formally respond to the request. The #BornPerfect campaign took their case to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. One way or another, conversion therapy seems to be inexorably heading for retirement in the therapeutic curio cabinet, along with skull drilling, lobotomies, leeches, and various treatments for “female hysteria.”
Therapy (and life) isn’t about trying to make yourself become someone you’re fundamentally not. It’s not about trying to change other people, either. Better to be who you are—and let other people be who they are, too, as opposed to who you think they should be. Whether we’re part of the mainstream or we live more towards the margins of one bell curve or another, we all want acceptance and freedom. We all want to live in a fair, inclusive and peaceful society rather than a prejudiced, oppressive and violent one. A society that doesn’t condemn some of its teenagers, consigning them to life and death on a very lonely highway.
• R.I.P. Fido: Grief groups grow as American society views pets as family members
Writes Barbara Pash:
Cathy Bury holds dual titles at the animal hospital. She is reception supervisor and pet loss grief counselor. She was certified as the latter in 2012 by the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB), a New Jersey-based nonprofit group that began offering the designation in 1998.
“People grieve for dogs, cats, birds, lizards, snakes — they get attached to their pets. The biggest reason I got certified was because I don’t want them to feel alone. People say, ‘It’s just a dog, just a cat.’ But it was more than that to them,” Bury said.
“To most people, especially if they don’t have children,” she added, “their pets are their family, even their children.”
Bury’s clients are not alone. In a recent nationwide survey, 83 percent of pet owners consider their pets members of the family. The result is growth in the pet industry that is evident in many markets.
There are dog walkers, cat groomers, house sitters, veterinarians who make home visits and doggy bakeries that turn out custom-made dog biscuits. Resorts for dogs feature individualized gym sessions and Reiki massage. Any number of hotels and resorts will accommodate pets.
The trend extends to pet bereavement. “Pet cemeteries are more accessible. You have pet loss cards, pet hospices, pet grieving groups,” said Coleen Ellis, a Texas-based expert on the pet industry. (Baltimore Sun)
• Children and young people's mental health – policy, CAMHS services, funding and education
One in four people on average experience a mental health problem, with the majority of these beginning in childhood. A report by the Chief Medical Officer in 2014 found that 50 per cent of adult mental health problems start before age and 75 per cent before the age of 18.
The Government has committed to improving mental health provision and services for children and young people. The Government’s 2011 Mental Health strategy, No Health without Mental Health, pledged to provide early support for mental health problems, and the Deputy Prime Minister’s 2014 strategy, Closing the Gap: priorities for essential change in mental health, included actions to improve access to psychological therapies for children and young people and to publish guidance for schools on supporting pupils with mental health problems.
This note outlines the commitments for children and young people’s mental health in Government policy. It sets out the current provision for children and young people’s mental health services (CAMHS), recent funding commitments, and describes concerns that have been raised around levels of access and provision.
The note also identifies efforts to improve mental health provision in schools, including new guidance for teachers on mental health, access to schools-based counselling, and recommendations for mandatory mental health education on the national curriculum.
The note also sets out recent discussions on funding and investment in CAMHS services. (Parliament UK)
• You can download the report here.
• Child adversity and psychological troubles may speed up aging
Maturing early may not be the only way children who face adversity age. Researchers have found that children who experienced childhood adversity or psychiatric disorders when young may age faster at a cellular level. Stress is also linked to health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
The study, published online in Biological Psychiatry, was conducted by researchers at Butler Hospital. They discovered that both telomeres and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) change, which can speed up physical aging, according to Science Daily.
“Identifying the changes that occur at a cellular level due to these psychosocial factors allows us to understand the causes of these poor health conditions and possibly the overall aging process,” Audrey Tyrka, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, told Time magazine. (The Herald-Times)
• The mental health of needs of gang-affiliated young people
A briefing on the burden of mental illness faced by young people involved with gangs, part of the 'Ending Gang and Youth Violence' programme.
This briefing aims to understand and address the mental health needs of gang-affiliated young people, and outlines the:
--extent of mental illness in gang members;
--relationships between gang-affiliation and poor mental health;
--shared risk factors that contribute to both.
It also emphasises the need for a life course approach to prevention that:
--addresses risk factors;
--promotes resilience in young people;
--provides appropriate support for vulnerable young people.
The briefing summarises evidence of the types of interventions that can:
--protect children from antisocial behaviour and poor mental health;
--treat mental illness in vulnerable young people. (Gov.uk)
• You can download the briefing here.
• Scottish ministers under fire over huge drop in mental health research
Despite a growing consensus that psychological conditions should be given the same priority as physical illnesses, new figures have revealed that a declining fraction of Scottish Government research budgets are spent on increasing understanding of conditions such as depression and dementia or developing new drugs and therapies.
The findings have led to demands that ministers back up their rhetoric over the importance of helping patients with mental illnesses with action. A recent survey revealed that more than a quarter of Scots have experienced a mental health problem.
In the two years after the SNP won power in 2007, around £7m of Government cash was invested in mental health research. However, last year just £860,000 was spent on projects specific to mental health from a budget of £69m.
In the current financial year, spending fell further with £526,000 so far allocated, the lowest annual total in eight years. (Herald Scotland)
• Los Creativamente Inadaptados: The alternatives to psychiatry movement in Chile/Argentina
Writes Sascha Altman Dubrul:
At some point, after a few days, amidst the heat of the city, and all the stories I had heard from my new friends, and my time riding the subways and the buses, looking into stranger’s eyes, looking at the familiar slick advertisements and chain stores everywhere, the palm trees planted to mimic the city of Miami, it hit me like a hard slap in the face: this country, Chile, this “economic miracle,” this “neoliberal experiment,” is the perfect way to explain everything that’s wrong with the biomedical model of “mental illness.”
Where I live, back in the United States, it’s so common to use the language of “mental illness” to talk about people’s individual problems. We take it as a given, as some kind of scientific truth that if we are depressed, it is because we have a chemical imbalance in our brain. We assume that someone who is “schizophrenic” is so because of some genetic flaw. There is something wrong with our neurotransmitters, our personal biology, something that can be cured with a pill. But this is culture, not science. Even if some us are born more sensitive and different, and even if some of us use pills to take care of ourselves in this crazy world, that doesn’t make us “sick.” The whole idea of “sickness” comes from the culture we live in. And it’s a culture that has a political origin.
You can’t get a more stark example of how neoliberal politics and psychiatry work than in the country of Chile. (Mad in America)
Art therapy may help kids with behavior problems
Begun in 2002, The Art Room program is aimed at children between the ages of 5 and 16 who have been identified by their teachers as needing emotional and behavioral support.
Currently there are nine Art Room programs in UK schools. More than 10,000 children have been through the Art Room program since it started.
In a study published in the journal The Arts in Psychotherapy, researchers found that children emerged from the 10-week Art Room program with less depression, fewer behavioral problems and improved self esteem. (Reuters)
Headteachers believe pupils are ‘let down’ on mental health
Demand for mental health services among the young is increasing. Economic pressures, parental separation and the impact of social media are all cited by headteachers as factors behind the rise in behavioural and emotional problems among pupils.
But when schools in England do refer pupils to mental health services because their needs are considered too complex to be managed “inhouse”, more than half, 54%, report that the referral system is ineffective. (The Guardian)
Bisexual women are ‘more likely to suffer mental health problems than lesbians’
The largest British survey of its kind found bisexual women are more likely to feel depressed, self-harm, and develop eating issues. Bisexual women were 64 per cent more likely to report an eating problem and 37 per cent more likely to have deliberately self-harmed than lesbians, according to the research published in the Journal of Public Health. (Daily Mail)
Why is America’s mental health the worst in the world?
The rate of mental illness is growing in lockstep with our failed economy. There is a definite correlation between the growing rate of mental illness and our obvious failures as a country. Over 20% of Americans have a diagnosable mental illness. Anywhere from 35-40% are receiving no treatment. This means that when the economy collapses, millions of displaced people with a significant mental illness will greatly exacerbate the coming civil unrest. There is now evidence that Americans are far more mentally ill than our foreign counterparts. (The Common Sense Show)
Tears of Ishtar: women's mental health in Iraq
Iraq was the seat of culture, knowledge, and art in the ancient Arab world. In the past few decades, Iraq has dealt with a large share of violence in the region due to three major wars: first the Iraq–Iran War from 1980 to 1988, then the Gulf War in January, 1991, and most recently, the US-led invasion in March, 2003. These conflicts have had a serious effect on women in Iraq, yet mental health services are generally inadequate. (The Lancet)
Study challenges notions of Australian men’s openness to counseling
Australian men have a reputation for being macho and practical, but when it comes to using phone helplines most men just want to talk about their feelings, according to researchers at the University of Adelaide.
“It’s widely believed that men don't like to seek help, and that this behaviour typically stops them from visiting the doctor or using face-to-face counselling services,” says Dr Rebecca Feo, a Visiting Research Fellow in Psychology at the University of Adelaide.
“Until now, past research in this area has suggested that when men do seek help, they need practical advice and solutions only, because that's the kind of people they are. However, our research has told quite a different story.” (Medical Xpress)
Voodoo priests, doctors on frontline of Haiti's mental healthcare
Mental illness is still a taboo in the Caribbean nation, which had no functioning mental health system in place before earthquake. In Haiti, it is common for people with mental illnesses to be locked up in hospital psychiatric wards or, believing they are possessed, to seek help from voodoo priests.
Yet plagued by guilt, fear, trauma and grief, mental illness remains a reality for many Haitians still struggling to cope with the loss of their relatives, homes and even, limbs, in the aftermath of the Jan. 12, 2010 quake. (Reuters)
Download New Year, New You
Download the free ebook New Year, New You: Tips and Strategies for Self-Improvement. Brought to you by Routledge, it's made up of hand-selected excerpts from some of our leading experts and resources.
New Year, New You is designed to help you stick to your plans and achieve your goals. With concrete tips and practical advice to make positive changes in 2015, New Year, New You offers you the tools you need to stick to some of the most common New Year's resolutions, addressing areas in which we could all benefit from a little help. (routledgementalhealth.com)
Children with mental health issues 'should learn the violin'
Learning to play an instrument may be more effective for treating childhood psychological problems than pills, a study has found.
Children who play musical instruments are more focused, emotionally controlled and less anxious.
Brain scans found playing music altered the motor areas of the brain, because the activity requires control and coordination of movement.
But even more important were changes in the behaviour-regulating areas of the brain. (Telegraph.co.uk)
7 mental health resolutions for 2015
When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, our self-improvement efforts often focus on getting a better body. And we ignore that other, equally important part of our wellbeing: our mental health. This year, prioritize your mind as well as your body, and make a resolution for better mental health. (Time)
Couples therapy: The envy of lost youth
Couples with teenage children are at risk of breaking up because they suffer from “lost youth envy,” experts say.
Many people become unhappy when they see their children dating and partying because they can no longer do so themselves, according to a study. And this causes some parents to become dissatisfied with their own relationships.
Susanna Abse, chief executive of the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, which conducted the research, said the risks are even greater over Christmas. (Independent Online)
Demi Lovato campaigns for mental health awareness
Demi Lovato is not just a talented singer. Recently, she campaigned for a cause inspired by her own dark experiences.
According to E! News, Lovato, in partnership with The Mental Health Listening & Engagement Tour, aims to spread awareness about bipolar depression.
The former “X Factor” judge announced she had bipolar disorder. She claimed she had “some dark times” during the depressive phase of her condition. However, she shared there is still hope for those who are experiencing the illness. (Movie News Guide)
Meeting Africa’s mental health needs
According to a 2003 WHO report, close to 90 per cent of those in developing countries who need treatment for mental health problems receive no assistance. Across Africa, there is only one psychiatrist for every million people. As a result, doctors throughout the continent are realising that if they want to widen access to mental health, they can't wait until there are more psychiatrists. (SciDev.Net)
How Argentina's 'Loony Radio' is changing attitudes about mental health
Silvina and Eduardo know too well the difference between “inside” and “outside.”
As former inpatients of Argentina's largest psychiatric hospital, they have experienced the stigma attached to those who are confined inside it, and the difficulty of building a new life outside.
But once a week, they go back inside the hospital for a few hours to present a radio show, and the difference becomes blurrier. (CityLab)
Ten essential psych studies of 2014: Making narcissists empathise, memory boosting spice and more…
A fun roundup from PsyBlog. My favourite was research by the charity Action for Happiness into the habits that make you happier. Writes PsyBlog author and founder Jeremy Dean: “A survey asked people which happy habits they actually practised and how they felt. This found one of the largest associations between happiness and self-acceptance, despite the fact that people performed this habit the least."
Here are 10 habits for happiness, arranged to spell out GREAT DREAM. The scores are the average ratings of the 5,000 survey participants on a scale of 1-10, as to how often they performed each habit:
• Giving: do things for others — 7.41
• Relating: connect with people — 7.36
• Exercising: take care of your body — 5.88
• Appreciating: notice the world around — 6.57
• Trying out: keep learning new things — 6.26
• Direction: have goals to look forward to — 6.08
• Resilience: find ways to bounce back — 6.33
• Emotion: take a positive approach — 6.74
• Acceptance: be comfortable with who you are — 5.56
• Meaning: be part of something bigger — 6.38
1. What is a psychopath?