Category Archives: Mental Health

Giving the mentally ill a green light toward violence

This is the headline over a story in Al-Jazeera:

I don’t want to seem too reductive, since the answers to that question are complicated underneath any seemingly simple answers.

But the short answers as they relate to the Portland stabbing incident seem IMHO to be:

  1. Jeremy Christian, the confessed prime suspect in the Portland incident, is clearly not a well person mentally. That does not excuse what he did. But people like him used to be forced to wander the streets and scream their paranoid nonsense to nobody in particular. Now they have their dangerous views reinforced by InfoWars and Fox News.
  2. The election of Donald Trump has, despite how anyone might feel about why he might or might not have been the best candidate, has unleashed a torrent of uncivil behavior in America. Trump is, whatever his strengths or weaknesses, a man who shows people that being rude and, well, basically immature in public is a strength. If the President can do it, why not the rest of us?

Jerk-y behavior has always been with us. It’s just been given a public platform by the current resident of the White House. That is pretty much unprecedented in our presidents, from whom both sides once expected at least a minimum level of maturity and public restraint. 

Not any longer. 

If you’re mentally ill and you already have InfoWars telling you that “they” (whomever “they”might be in your worldview) are coming to get your guns. give your job to immigrants, and take away your free speech, you’re already primed for uncivil behavior in public.

Now, for the first time, throw in a president for whom saying and doing whatever he wants, regardless of the circumstances, is a virtue and not a flaw, why in the world would anyone think that the Jeremy Christians of the world would not be more likely to act on their crazy impulses?

I’m not the first person to point any of this out. But I do think all of this needs to be repeated and stressed every time one of these incidents happens. 

Words and actions have consequences, especially for those who are already battling mental illness and/or alcoholism and drug abuse.

If those of us who are not mentally ill are screaming at one another in public, why should the mentally ill feel any need to restrain themselves at all?

“Free speech or die”: Portland stabbing suspect yells in court.


Feeding crime and the prison system with failed mental health care

Photo: The Oklahoman
Photo: The Oklahoman
While there may not be as much excellent investigative journalism going on in Red State America as, say, on the coasts, this currently ongoing series in The Oklahoman is very good stuff.

It details the failures in a state with one of the lowest levels of spending on mental health care in the nation and the result: making being mentally ill a crime, with out-of-control spending on prisons instead of treatment.

Years ago, when Oklahoma closed its large psychiatric hospitals, the state inadvertently turned patients into inmates.

For decades, Oklahoma has spent among the least in the nation on its mental health system.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of adults with serious mental illnesses. Only one of three Oklahomans who need treatment receives it.

Oklahoma has, instead, chosen to spend its dollars on the least effective, costliest form of “treatment” — the criminal justice system.

The cost of a year of state-funded mental health treatment: $2,000.

The cost of a year in prison for someone with serious mental illness: $23,000.

At last count, 60 percent of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ population, 17,000 people, have either symptoms or a history of mental illness. It’s the equivalent of jailing 20 percent of Edmond.

State Health Commissioner Terry Cline said the state of Oklahoma has prioritized funding its criminal justice system over mental health and addiction services.

“What does it mean when jail is better than being at home?” Cline said. “That is a real symptom, to me, of a broken system where people don’t have access to those services in the community.”

This system of incarcerating the mentally ill, repeated in places across the nation, is particularly cruel in Oklahoma:

A months-long investigation by The Oklahoman, including the examination of hundreds of pages of jail inspection reports, found that mentally ill inmates are dying at an alarming rate, leaving their families and the taxpayers with the burden.

In the first of a four-part series, The Oklahoman examines how four Oklahomans died in jails across the state. Their families share a common experience: not giving up on the people they loved. Collectively, they’ve driven hundreds of miles across the state in search of care, and they’ve faced many of the same barriers. And despite their best efforts, they all got the same phone call.

The 77 county jails sprinkled throughout Oklahoma are providing medical and mental health care in 77 different ways, if they’re providing care at all. Some jails train staff to some degree about mental illness. Others provide nothing, which can lead to the mistreatment of people with mental illnesses who often are viewed in the eyes of an untrained officer as an inmate who won’t follow instructions.

“We celebrated the closings of these large hospitals — we were proud of it, and it was the right thing to do,” said Brose, of Mental Health Association Oklahoma. “But what we’ve done is basically replaced it with a system that’s worse. Now it’s incarceration, and there are not mental health professionals treating people and caring for them. It’s correctional officers, being asked to do something they’re not properly trained to do.”

Part One and Part Two can be found here. Part Three and Part Four are upcoming on Nov. 27 and Dec. 4.

Don’t be too judgmental of Oklahoma’s situation. This is the way things are done across America and the rest of us — including law enforcement — pay the price because so many crimes are committed by people who are cycling through the revolving doors of the prison system without effective, ongoing treatment options — in or out of incarceration.

Stop suggesting Donald Trump is mentally ill

Donald Trump mocks disabled New York Times reporter Serge F. Kovaleski at a campaign rally in November 2015.
Donald Trump mocks disabled New York Times reporter Serge F. Kovaleski at a campaign rally in November 2015.

There seems to be a meme of sorts starting among many members of the mainstream media trying to blame Donald Trump’s complete inability to follow norms of civilized behavior on some sort of mental illness.

During the primary season, as Donald Trump’s bizarre outbursts helped him crush the competition, I thought he was being crazy like a fox. Now I am increasingly convinced that he’s just plain crazy.

I’m serious about that. Leave aside for the moment Trump’s policies, which in my opinion range from the unconstitutional to the un-American to the potentially catastrophic. At this point, it would be irresponsible to ignore the fact that Trump’s grasp on reality appears to be tenuous at best.

Begin with the fact that he lies the way other people breathe. Telling a self-serving lie — no matter how transparent, no matter how easily disproved — seems to be a reflex for him. Look at the things he has said in just the past week.

On Wednesday, at a news conference in Florida, Trump said he has never met Russian President Vladimir Putin. “I never met Putin, I don’t know who Putin is,” he said.

Last November, he claimed that he “got to know [Putin] very well because we were both on ‘60 Minutes.’ ” That made no sense; while the two men were featured the same evening on the CBS newsmagazine show, they were interviewed in different cities and would have had no interaction. But there’s more: In 2014, speaking at the National Press Club, Trump said, “I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer, and we had a tremendous success.”


So was he lying last week, when he was trying to deflect criticism of his admiring words for the Russian strongman? Or was he lying two years ago, when he was trying to convince everyone what a big shot he was?

The answer? He was lying then and he is lying now. And he has been lying all the times in-between.

Stop saying he is mentally ill. Stop writing it.

Trump clearly has mental issues, most notably the worst case of narcissism ever seen outside of the ruling family that has long tormented North Korea. Although one suspects Trump might even give Dear Leader a run for his money in this department.

But to suggest that he is mentally deficient in some global way is to excuse what he is, what his party now represents, and those who are partly responsible for the making of Donald Trump and his rise to power.

First of all, the mental illness argument lets off the hook every single member of the mainstream media who laughed at, and excused, his childish, narcissistic lies all these years. Barbara Walters. Tom Brokaw. The entire casts of the Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning. Every entertainment news show ever created. 

None of them can act shocked now at that which was plainly in front of their faces for so so long, yet ignored by them because they wanted, they needed to be on The Donald’s guest list in New York and Florida.

Are you a member of the MSM who attended one of his parties or fundraisers instead of covering the real story — that he is a racist, sexist, homophobic lying pig who inflates everything about his life? Then you helped create him and, no, you cannot now credibly maintain that he has some mental illness you never noticed before.

Second, to say he is globally mentally ill ignores that Donald Trump is the living embodiment of more than four decades of the grubby, brazenly hateful Republican id. He is what happens when lies and self-aggrandizement are allowed to run their course in a human being without anyone around to tell him the truth of the horrible person he is becoming. He is the ultimate spoiled brat all grown up.

To say he is mentally ill ignores all these years of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. It’s as if both of those media entities mated and had a child named Donald. This is not mental illness. This is the perfect conception of greed and ignorance.

Stop saying he is mentally ill. He is not. He is the GOP nightmare come to life. And none of those people can now blame mental illness for that which they have created and nurtured themselves.




Aversion to gambling could be hard-wired in your brain

Gambling addition problems risk taking

You’re the careful type when it comes to financial and life planning. You reject risky get-rich-quick schemes in favor of long-term, safe plans for savings and investments. A trip to the local riverside casino or playing the state lottery are the last ways you’d spend your leisure time.

Yet you know someone — a sibling or best friend perhaps — who can’t seem to stay away from the lottery or slot machines or any number of other high risk activities designed to part fools from their money.

You’ve tried everything to stop this other person’s risky ways. You’ve cajoled, you’ve argued, you’ve stopped giving them money in an attempt to keep them from from gambling away what little financial security they attain.

It might be small comfort for you (or your friend who tries to stop but hasn’t yet) but researchers at Stanford are investigating one brain pathway that they think might be involved in a person’s propensity for many risky activities, from gambling to drug addiction.

One person’s risky bet is another’s exciting opportunity.

The difference between those outlooks comes down to more than just disposition: It turns out that people with a stronger connection between two brain regions have a more cautious financial outlook.

“Activity in one brain region appears to indicate ‘uh oh, I might lose money,’ but in another seems to indicate ‘oh yay, I could win something,'” said Brian Knutson, associate professor of psychology. “The balance between this ‘uh oh’ and ‘oh yay’ activity differs between people and can determine the gambling decisions we make.”

Researchers have tracked activity in those two brain regions – known as the anterior insula and nucleus accumbens – for the past decade, but Knutson was curious how the two work together. Are they directly connected, or do they both influence a different brain region that makes the ultimate decision?

Knowing this could help scientists and policymakers who want to better understand risky decision-making in the context of gambling and addiction and develop more effective interventions.

Knutson’s team employed a technique developed at Stanford that identifies tracts of neurons that connect brain regions and measures the strength of those connections in terms of how well insulated they are.

Using that technique, called diffusion-weighted MRI, Knutson and graduate student Josiah Leong found a tract that directly connects the anterior insula and nucleus accumbens – something that had been seen before in animals but never in humans.

What’s more, they found that the thicker the sheath of fatty tissue insulating the bundle – an indicator of the strength of the connection – the more cautious the study participants’ decisions were in a gambling test. The neuronal connection appears to be a conduit for the more cautious brain region to dampen activity in the more enthusiastic region.

“Most people love the small chance of a huge win,” Knutson said. “But people vary. Some people really, really like it. But people who have a stronger connection don’t like it as much.”

I know people who’ve gone to Las Vegas for a conference and played the slot machines once and walked away bored and never gambled again. Many people might dabble in Powerball lottery drawings as a lark only when the payouts approach record sums, but never play any lottery at other times.

Yet for others, the draw is too strong. The feeling that, if they only keep playing the lottery or hitting the blackjack tables, their lucky break is going to come.

Research into why some people might be inclined toward risk-taking behaviors such as gambling could one day point toward therapies of some kind.

Clinically depressed Yoda

Poor Yoda. Even with a new movie coming out he’s in a bit of a slump.

Quote from the very funny Sarah Cooper.

Yoda Clinically Depressed jefferly
Down in the dumps Yoda.

Howard Brown Health Center to add Rogers Park location

Gerber Hart Howard Brown Health Center
The location in Rogers Park where Howard Brown Health Center will open an additional office, where the health center will share space with the Gerber Hart LIbrary.

Who would have thought way back in 1974 when this institution started with, in its own words, “a coffee pot, a portable kitchen table [and] a room above an old grocery market,” that it would become what it is today?

Howard Brown Health Center (HBHC), Chicago’s much-respected community health center which already operates out of three locations in Uptown (Buena Park) and Lakeview, along with its Broadway Youth Center, announced big news today about a new location on the far North side:

Today, Howard Brown Health Center (Howard Brown) announced plans to open a medical clinic in Rogers Park by the end of 2015. Howard Brown’s new facility will be co-located with Gerber/Hart Library and Archives (Gerber/Hart) and is one of the new opportunities resulting from Howard Brown’s recent designation as a Federally Qualified Health Center.

“We’re thrilled to have an opportunity to better meet the needs of LGBTQ people in Rogers Park, a vibrant neighborhood on Chicago’s far north side and one of the most diverse communities in the city,” said David Ernesto Munar, President and CEO of Howard Brown Health Center. “The new site, located in an emerging hub for LGBTQ culture in Chicago, furthers Howard Brown’s mission to eliminate the disparities in healthcare experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning people. Sharing a space with Gerber/Hart also gives us an exciting opportunity to provide a robust wellness experience that impacts a visitor’s body, mind and spirit.”

Located at 6500 N. Clark Street, the new facility will open its doors and begin providing limited healthcare services by the year’s end. At almost 15,000 square feet, the clinic will offer complete healthcare services by early 2016, featuring primary healthcare services including a sliding scale, behavioral health services, wrap around support services, educational opportunities, and a meeting/event space. The facility will display Gerber/Hart’s unique collection of LGBTQ artifacts and memorabilia from Chicago, giving a rich, contextual experience to visitors and clients.

HBHC (which, incidentally is holding a big Halloween costume ball fundraiser) notes on its web site:

Howard Brown Health Center (HBHC) was founded in 1974 and is now one of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) organizations.

With an annual budget of over $22 million, the agency serves more than 18,000 adults and youth each year in its diverse health and social service delivery system focused around seven major programmatic divisions: primary medical care, behavioral health, research, HIV/STD prevention, youth services, elder services, and community initiatives.

HBHC serves men and women, infants, youth, and children through a multi-site operation based in Chicago that includes a main health and research center in the Uptown neighborhood (Sheridan Road), Aris Health by Howard Brown Health Center, the Broadway Youth Center, and three Brown Elephant resale shops in Chicago (Lakeview and Andersonville neighborhoods) and Oak Park.

I regularly visit the Brown Elephant resale store in Andersonville. It’s a great place if you like to rummage around for bargains.

I also use HBHC as my health center and my primary care provider there is easily the best doctor I’ve ever had.

You should note also that HBHC does not limit itself to LGBT health care, providing services to anyone regardless of ability to pay. 

You can read the rest of HBHC’s announcement about the new location at the link below.

Rogers Park is one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods, bounded on the North by Evanston, home of Northwestern University. As it is home also to 16,000-student Loyola University, Rogers Park has a large number of college and university students, faculty and staff while still retaining its diversity from being the northern edge of Uptown.

Source: Howard Brown : Announcing New Clinic in Rogers Park

Howard Brown Health Center Sheridan Road
Howard Brown’s location in Uptown’s Buena Park neighborhood.

Illinois bans gay conversion therapy by licensed professionals


Good news here in my home state. A lot of people worked very hard on this “gay conversion therapy” legislation, not least the many state residents who contacted the governor and their state legislators to voice support for the measure. It was not clear that it would pass, nor that Rauner would sign it.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday signed legislation banning therapists from trying to change a young person’s sexuality. Under the new law, those under 18 years old can get counseling to discuss concerns or thoughts about their sexuality, but professionals licenses by the state may not try to change the minor’s orientation.

“These so-­called ‘therapies’ treat homosexuality as a disease,” Evanston Democratic Sen. Daniel Biss said in a statement after Rauner signed the bill Biss sponsored with state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat. “They’re out of date and can be deeply destructive to youth. Outlawing these practices is a small step in our pursuit for LGBT rights, but it’s an extremely important step in protecting young people in Illinois.”

Backers of the measure were unsure how Rauner, a first-­term Republican who has kept his stance on several social issues private, would act.

Rauner has refused to discuss his views on same-­sex marriage. After announcing the bill’s signing, spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said Rauner has no social agenda and believes the measure protects the children’s interests.

“The administration carefully reviewed this legislation to ensure it would not prohibit or otherwise interfere with religious freedom or family access to religious counseling,” Kelly said in a statement.

This legislation is a big deal. It brings state law into line with every reputable professional organization — including the major psychiatric and psychological groups — which state unequivocally that being LGBT is not, in itself, a mental illness. 

If there are LGBTs with mental health issues, there is a good chance that those non-organic mental health issues are created by the very people who think they should be cured of something evil.

A new day in the fifth largest state in the union.

Source: Illinois enacts gay conversion therapy ban for young people – Chicago Tribune

Can a website help people cure social anxiety?

Social anxiety disorders are among the most debilitating of mental health problems because they affect nearly every part of a person’s life. One San Francisco start-up wants to use the internet the help sufferers change their lives.

Brett Redding felt like he was out of options.

“It started with little things—having trouble making eye contact,” he told me.

Soon it got worse. Redding, a 28-year-old salesman in Seattle, found himself freaking out during normal, everyday conversations. He worried any time his boss wanted to talk. He would dread his regular sales calls, and the city’s booming housing market—he works in construction—seemed to make his ever-increasing meetings all the more crushing. He was suffering social anxiety, a common but debilitating mental illness.

“I was afraid of losing my job because I couldn’t do it,” he says. His meetings with a therapist weren’t working, and he didn’t “want to mess with antidepressants.”

“I’ve always been so social—I’ve never had issues with looking people in the eye and talking with people,” he says. That’s when Redding’s girlfriend saw an ad on Craigslist that promised an online program could help treat Redding’s social anxiety through methods proven by science.

“I had nothing to lose,” he says—so he signed up.

Mental health treatment through the internet? Read on:

That service is now called Joyable. I first saw Joyable when an ad for it appeared in Facebook on my phone. “90 percent of our clients see their anxiety decline,” said the ad, next to a sun-glinted, bokeh-heavy photo of a blonde woman.I clicked on. Joyable’s website, full of affable sans serifs and cheery salmon rectangles, looks Pinterest-esque, at least in its design. Except its text didn’t discuss eye glasses or home decor but “evidence-based” methods shown to reduce social anxiety. I knew those phrases: “Evidence-based” is the watchword of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, the treatment now considered most effective for certain anxiety disorders.

Joyable dresses a psychologists’s pitch in a Bay Area startup’s clothes.

Which makes a certain kind of sense, because Joyable is based in the Bay Area. Peter Shalek, its CEO, says he’s always wanted to be a therapist but has ended up founding and running companies instead. During his undergraduate years at Columbia, he founded and sold a laundry delivery service. After that, he worked as an analyst at Morgan Stanley and went to Stanford Business School. And it was there, he says—with consultation from university psychologists—that he and his cofounder created Joyable.

“I believe mental health is the single biggest waste of human potential in the developed world, and there’s quite a bit of statistics, unfortunately, to back that up,” Shalek told me. “Our mission is to cure the world of anxiety and depression.”

There are detractors in the mental health provider community, of course. As there should be. But if you know anyone afflicted with this condition — prisoners of a mindset from which they feel they cannot escape — their desperation can lead them to try just about anything.

Read the linked article for a more complete picture.

Who knows? Perhaps Joyable is onto something.

Source: The Startup That Wants to Cure Social Anxiety – The Atlantic


The choice is simple: treat drug addiction now, or pay for it later


Drug addiction fuels so many other societal ills — homelessness, mental illness, crime, child abuse and neglect, and a host of other health problems — that you would think as a society we’d have come to terms with it as a problem that requires solutions that are complex yet relatively cheap compared to what it costs us down the road. A recovering drug addict is often a better parent. A more compliant parolee. A better student. A tax-paying citizen. An employee with health insurance that pays for their health care rather then leaving taxpayers with the bill.

Yet despite simple and overwhelming scientific evidence, it is a never-ending source of confusion for me when I hear people say, “The solution is simple. Someone just needs to be smart enough to stop abusing drugs” — as if having a PhD somehow inoculates someone from being an alcoholic or coke addict.

This article from the New York Times highlights just one part of a very large problem: how ignorant many judges and prosecutors are about addiction, or how their hands are tied by laws that restrict the types of punishment or treatment at their disposal.

WHEN an old offense caught up with 28-­year-­old Robert Lepolszki last year, he had a full­-time job and had kicked heroin. But Frank Gulotta Jr., the Nassau County judge assigned to his case, forced him to end the only treatment that had ever worked: methadone maintenance.

Judge Gulotta said that methadone does not enable a defendant “to actually rid him or herself of the addiction.” Complete abstinence programs were the only treatments his court allowed.

Not long after stopping the medication, Mr. Lepolszki was dead from an overdose.

The judge’s position on methadone is common among those who administer drug courts, which are aimed at helping defendants get treatment and avoid prison. Only a third allow maintenance use of methadone or a newer medication called buprenorphine (Suboxone) and 50 percent ban maintenance outright.

But they are ignoring medical evidence showing that maintenance is the best approach to opioid use disorders, which involve drugs in the same class as heroin, like OxyContin and Vicodin.

1920s --- A close up of a young woman snorting cocaine during the 1920s. --- Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS
A close up of a young woman snorting cocaine during the 1920s. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS


I am just one person, and I know of several people — good, kind, funny, intelligent people who were working and paying taxes and often making the world a better place — who have died of drug-related overdoses and incidents. I think of at least one of them every day.

Every dollar an addict spends on drugs is a dollar that will most likely cost society much more in the future.

The day most of us start responding that this is a medical problem rather than an issue of character or sheer will for incarceration to “solve” but often make worse is the day we start saving money and lives.

(An aside: Yes, I know that incarceration after a drug binge has been what is widely termed as “rock bottom” for many people — the point where they know they are messed up and finally seek help. I am not implying that incarceration never works. But our personal stories are not scientific data nor proof of anything other than the fact that incarceration works — some times. But if you look at data about those same people who quit and then did not enter into any sort of counseling or treatment program to keep them safe and sober, you’d discover that the recidivism rate is dismal. The problems that brought them into substance abuse are still there, waiting in the shadows, to snag them again. Drug treatment is not simply about stopping drugs. It’s also about figuring out what caused you to start abusing in the first place and then learning to deal with those issues either psychosocially or medically or both.)

via Every Drug Court Should Allow Methadone Maintenance — New York Times.

The return of Xanax for gay summer weddings

Not new, but an appropriate repeat.

xanax for Gay summer weddings from MisterB on Vimeo.