By Josh Dehaas - Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 0 Comments
Two summers ago when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 arrived at the cinema in Ancaster, Ont., Stephanie Kesler took the day off work and lined up for 12 hours to make sure she got a good seat. Afterward, Kesler, now 23, says she felt “a little bit sad.” Growing up she had eagerly anticipated each of J.K. Rowling’s books and films. “That was my whole childhood.”
But last semester, the third-year English student at Western University in London, Ont., realized that the end of the series didn’t mean saying goodbye. In her children’s literature course, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban was on the syllabus.
For her class assignment, Kesler presented to her peers on the symbolism of Rowling’s Dementors, dark creatures that suck the life out of people, and the Patronus Charm, the only thing that can fight them off. She likened the Dementors to depression and the Patronas to overcoming it through positive thinking.
Not far away at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo Ont., dozens of wizarding fans had a similar idea. Emma Morrison, a third-year Medieval Studies and Religion major, had started a chapter of The Harry Potter Alliance, a global network of campus and community clubs where Potter fans jointly work for social justice. The Laurier chapter’s first big project focused on Dementors and depression. After a social media campaign promoting awareness of mental health services on campus, the group held a Yule Ball (a Hogwarts-inspired formal) during February mid-terms. “We wanted to have something fun to allow people to let loose in their time of stress,” she says. More than 220 showed up for butter beer and dancing.
Professor Gabrielle Ceraldi, who teaches children’s literature at Western, is unsurprised by the focus on the Dementors. “Emotional states in the series are always represented through magic,” she says. Hogwarts, the school for witches and wizards, is bewildering, much like university, she points out. “The staircases never stay in the same place from one period of class to the next.”
Ceraldi, who has only just heard about the Harry Potter Alliance, will soon teach what she believes is the first Canadian course fully dedicated to the books. She has also just learned about the Quidditch leagues where students use broomsticks and throw Quaffles, yet another of the ways today’s university students are connecting to each other and to school through Harry Potter.
Harry helps them connect to school by introducing academic themes. One obvious example is the classism Hermione Granger highlights with her Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (SPEW), a group she starts to fight for the underclass toiling in Hogwarts’ kitchens. Harry and Ron first turn up their noses at Hermione, “but, in the end,” Ceraldi says, “grasping the value of house elves becomes pivotal to the triumph of good over evil.”
Morrison, the Laurier student, suggests that the theme of classism was inspired by Rowling’s own life. “Before she published Harry Potter, [Rowling] was a single mom who didn’t have a lot of money and relied on the government for a lot of what she was able to provide her children,” she points out.
Racism is exemplified in the mudbloods, people who come from muggle (non-magic) families and end up being capable of magic. At one point in the series, the mudbloods are accused of stealing wands from true witches and wizards, which leads to (ironically) a witch hunt.
Classism and racism were both considered by the Laurier chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance this year when they learned about child labour on African cocoa plantations and then collected signatures on a petition demanding Warner Bros. use fair trade chocolate in all their Potter treats.
But the Laurier chapter isn’t just for humanitarian work. Morrison says it’s also a place “where fans can get together and nerd out.” One just-for-fun meeting offered tea leaf readings.
Ceraldi says the Potter books offer more than social justice lessons. In her upcoming course they will provide an entry to other genres of fiction, including Gothic, dystopian and detective. Students may be asked to compare one book to a Sherlock Holmes novel and another to a story by Victorian writer Elizabeth Gaskell who, long before Rowling, used a mirror to symbolize self-reflection.
Though it’s not until January, Ceraldi is getting many e-mails from students wanting to sign up. They’re keen, she says, writing things like, ‘I am the person I am today because of those books.’
That, she says, is unsurprising. “They know these stories have incredible power and meaning.”
By Emily Senger - Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 3:34 PM - 0 Comments
‘Patients with mental disorders deserve better,’ writes Dr. Thomas R. Insel
The American government’s top psychiatrist is questioning the forthcoming fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is sometimes referred to as the psychiatric’s bible.
Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, told The New York Times that the manual, which will be published in coming weeks, has a scientific “lack of validity.”
He went on to say that the manual is the best tool that physicians have at this time, but that is doesn’t reflect how complex many mental disorders are. “As long as the research community takes the DSM to be a bible, we’ll never make progress,” Insel told The New York Times. “People think that everything has to match DSM criteria, but you know what? Biology never read that book.”
Insel’s comments to The New York Times come a week after he wrote a blog post, saying that the National Institute of Mental Health will move away from DSM-5 — which he likens to a “dictionary” rather than a bible. Continue…
By Josh Dehaas - Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 3:40 PM - 0 Comments
I met Anna Drake, a University of Waterloo assistant professor, at a recent event in Toronto and asked: what are professors talking about these days? She said they’re discussing how many students are presenting with notes from counsellors or doctors saying they’ve been mentally unwell or extremely stressed and are in need of extensions or exam deferrals.
Drake, a political scientist, doesn’t recall this being an issue when she was an undergraduate or when she started teaching as a master’s student in 2001. But a few years ago, a professor warned her and other teaching assistants at Queen’s University that “it seemed to be fairly easy for students to get notes of this kind.” Too easy, perhaps.
Later, teaching her own course at the University of Victoria, she was surprised when four students out of roughly 40 presented with notes near the end of the term asking to defer their semesters.
At Waterloo, where she was hired last July, she’s only had one course deferral, but a handful of students in each class during each term ask for extensions. Drake sometimes suspects these students have faked extreme stress or illness to get out of their work, but she would never accuse.
“It would be a very risky move to tell a student, ‘I think you’re lying,’” she says, “because if you say that it might become this whole horrible issue.” If they’re telling the truth, there could be terrible consequences. And she does not want to stigmatize asking for help, she says. She makes clear that there is a real problem with mental health on campus and that many of the claims are legitimate.
Still, the awkward truth is that as more awareness is built around mental health, students may be shifting their strategies for getting out of school by faking extreme stress or anxiety. And how is anyone to know whether a student’s stress is normal or something more pathological?
This week, McGill University published a report on the huge increase in the number of students seeking various types of mental health services on campus: about 20 per cent year over year.
One figure that’s up even more dramatically—57 per cent in a single year—is the number of emergency drop-in visits during final exam months. In December 2011 there were 176. In December 2012 there were 277. Figures aren’t yet calculated for April, but Dr. Robert Franck, McGill’s Mental Health Services Director, says there’s been a comparable increase.
What’s causing the flood of exam-time emergencies? “[Students] are more interested in seeking help when they’re running into trouble and I think that’s great,” says Dr. Franck. “At the same time there are a number of students who think ‘this may be a way for me to defer an exam,’” he adds.
Sometimes Dr. Franck gets the sense that students, “read up the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] on some diagnosis and give you all the classic symptoms,” he says. “Do they get the note? If they’re good enough liars,” he says, “but I think that’s the vast minority.”
Whatever the number of fakers, it comes at a price. In December when the number of emergency drop-ins swelled so too did the waiting list for regular counselling appointments. It grew to four or five weeks long as regular appointments were cut back to deal with the emergencies.
That people who need help might not get it is concerning for Prof. Drake. Still, since each syllabus spells out that there will be no extensions for high workloads, it would be unfair to give some students more time without proof of an illness. She also thinks it’s best to send students to be assessed to make sure that people who are overwhelmed get the help they need, and also in the hopes that others would think twice about going to an overburdened counselling service.
Of course, not every student who wants to delay an exam presents an excuse note. “There are students who can be really clever about avoiding the need to get notes,” says Drake. “[Professors] will say, ‘go to the doctor and get a medical note,’ and they’ll say, ‘I called the doctor, he said you have Norwalk Virus, you’re contagious and you can’t come in.’ There’s nothing a professor can do.”
The truth is, says Drake, “if students want to cheat the system they don’t have to rely on mental health notes to do it.” Still, she says, it’s a shame when students use services that others truly need.
By Anne Kingston - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
A look at the new psychiatric guidelines that are pitting doctors against doctors
Every parent of a preteen has been there: on the receiving end of sullen responses, bursts of frustration or anger, even public tantrums that summon the fear that Children’s Aid is on its way. Come late May, with the publication of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), however, such sustained cranky behaviour could put your child at risk of a diagnosis of “disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.” This newly minted condition will afflict children between 6 and 12 who exhibit persistent irritability and “frequent” outbursts, defined as three or more times a week for more than a year. Its original name, “temper dysregulation disorder with dysphoria,” was nixed after it garnered criticism it pathologized “temper tantrums,” a normal childhood occurrence. Others argue that even with the name change the new definition and diagnosis could do just that.
“Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder” isn’t the only new condition under scrutiny in the reference manual owned and produced by the American Psychiatric Association (APA)—and lauded as psychiatry’s bible. Even though the final version of DSM-5 remains under embargo, its message is being decried in some quarters as blasphemous. Its various public drafts, the third published last year, have stoked international outrage—and a flurry of op-ed columns, studies, blogs and petitions. In October 2011, for instance, the Society for Humanistic Psychology drafted an open letter to the DSM task force that morphed into an online petition signed by more than 14,000 mental health professionals and 50 organizations, including the American Counseling Association and the British Psychology Society.
Of fundamental concern is a loosening and broadening of categories to the point that everyone potentially stands on the brink of some mental-disorder diagnosis, or sits on some spectrum—a phenomenon the American psychologist Frank Farley has called “the sickening of society.” One change summoning criticism is DSM-5’s reframing of grief, that inescapable fact of life, by removing the “bereavement exclusion” for people who’ve experienced loss. Previously, anyone despairing the death of a loved one wasn’t considered a candidate for “major depression” unless their despondency persisted for more than two months or was accompanied by severe functional impairment, thoughts of suicide or psychotic symptoms. No longer.
By Julia Belluz - Friday, December 14, 2012 at 10:48 AM - 0 Comments
The year 2012 brought with it many opportunities for wielding a big, debunking stick and pointing it towards outrageous attacks on science. From the Science-ish archives, to be read with a festive beverage, here are the worst offenders from 2012:
1. DR. OZ, FAITH HEALER
Though he may have started out as one of America’s most-trusted MDs after earning a seal of approval from none other than Oprah Winfrey, the medical community has long known that Dr. Mehmet Oz can be a font of pseudoscience. This year, when he was in Toronto to give a motivational lecture about the “biology of blubber,” I had a chance to sit-down with Oz and grill him about his use of medical evidence. In particular, when asked about his promotion of raspberry ketones for weight loss—a dubious supplement—he said it was “an example of where I’m trying to give you hope.” Needless to say, he didn’t pass the evidence test. I’m pretty sure I was the only reporter in the room he didn’t hug that day.
Related link: Dr. Oz, faith healer
By Julia Belluz - Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Modernizing mental health care in a land where priests are often on the front lines
On a recent visit to Debre Libanos, a 13th-century monastery outside Addis Ababa, one of Ethiopia’s few psychiatrists found 17 people in chains. Suffering from serious mental health issues ranging from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder, they’d somehow ended up at the monastery with other sick Ethiopians, seeking blessings from the Christian priests.
But the chains were not meant as a deliberately cruel measure, explains psychiatrist Dawit Wondimagegn; the monks were attempting to ensure the mentally ill didn’t “end up on the street,” where they would be in danger, a harm to themselves and others. The chains are a desperate, stop-gap effort to keep patients safe, says Yonas Baheretibeb, a professor at Addis Ababa University. In a way, they are emblematic of the state of psychiatry in Ethiopia today—there are only 44 psychiatrists in the mostly rural Horn of Africa country, where the population tops 85 million. Due to the shortage of health workers, and a centuries-old belief that possession by evil spirits or supernatural forces are to blame for afflictions of the mind, priests often end up on the front lines of mental health, treating the sick with prayers and holy water.
Yonas and Dawit know there is another model of mental health-care delivery. They’d both studied psychiatry with a team of Canadian physicians thanks to the Toronto Addis Ababa Academic Collaboration (TACC), a nine-year-old partnership between the University of Toronto and Addis Ababa University. They recognized that the patients simply needed antipsychotic medication.
After months of back-and-forth meetings with the priests, where the doctors gently suggested that psychiatry could supplement—but not replace—religious healing, Dawit and Yonas talked the priests into a pilot project; priests still provide spiritual guidance, but medical staff are now allowed to visit the monastery every two weeks, where they administer medications and practise psychotherapy.
“Now no patient is chained,” says Dawit. Indeed, they now help with the day-to-day running of the monastery—“fetching water, doing gardening.”
The Addis Ababa-based doctors are working to extend this model throughout the Ethiopian capital, where a network of thousands of religious healers now treat the mentally ill. Eventually, the program could be expanded elsewhere in Africa, where mental health care is rudimentary or non-existent. Last week Grand Challenges Canada, a government-funded non-profit, provided a $1-million grant to assist TACC, part of a $20-million investment in 15 mental health projects in the developing world. The reason for the push? According to the World Health Organization, more than 75 per cent of the world’s mentally ill live in developing countries—and fewer than one-fifth of the sickest patients receive any care at all. “It’s better to go where patients are and try to help them,” says Dawit. Even if that’s in the church.
By Alex Ballingall - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 12:39 PM - 0 Comments
Workplace mental health is as important as physical safety, say experts
Monday morning—time for another work week. But it’s raining. You feel numb, sluggish and burnt out. The days roll by without lustre, and, at the worst of times, you feel alienated and powerless in your job.
Sound familiar? Don’t be surprised. These are common feelings associated with work-related mental health issues, symptoms of a problem that is much more widespread in Canada than you may think. A survey of employees and managers published last summer by the Conference Board of Canada found that 44 per cent of respondents had personally experienced a mental health illness, whether it be anxiety, depression or work-related stress. In 2007, Ipsos Reid released a study showing that 26 per cent of Canadian workers suffer from depression.
It’s a problem that, until recently, hasn’t received adequate attention, says Ian Arnold, professor of occupational medicine at McGill University and an expert on psychological health in the workplace. ”Very few workplaces in Canada have systems in place to deal with mental health,” he says.
That’s something many hope to change. Michael Kirby, a former senator and past chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, helped launch a campaign this month called Not Myself Today. The campaign’s website calls on Canadians to share stories of how mental illnesses have affected them or their loved ones, and invites them to sign a pledge to push for improvements in mental health. More than 13,000 people have signed on so far, and the organization behind the campaign, Partners for Mental Health, has raised $5 million in the past six months, mostly from private sector donations, says Kirby. His ultimate goal is to mimic the success of campaigns to fight breast cancer by creating a grassroots initiative to combat mental illness.
By Julia Belluz - Friday, February 10, 2012 at 8:29 AM - 0 Comments
“One in five Canadians experiences a clinical mental illness and many more struggle with stress or grief.”—Globe and Mail, 02/07/2012
One in five of us has or will suffer from a mental illness: for years, we’ve peppered our news stories, health pamphlets, and advocacy campaigns with this statistic about the goings on in our heads. There are even entire mental health websites dedicated to it, such as OneInFive.ca courtesy of Dalhousie University.
It’s a number that knows no boundaries. In the U.S., a new national report found that one-fifth of American adults experienced mental illness in the past year.
By Jason Kirby - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 3:00 PM - 16 Comments
With 25 million out of work or underemployed, the U.S. is in the grips of a jobs depression
Eight months ago, Deborah Burnley, an administrative assistant in Baltimore, suddenly found herself among America’s growing army of unemployed. Losing her job at a cash-strapped non-profit was a demoralizing and debilitating experience, she says, and to keep her spirits from crashing she’s sought solace in, of all things, the bleak arithmetic of her job hunt: 226 positions applied for, six temp agencies engaged, and countless miles travelled across the region for interviews. “I try to think of it as a numbers game, that each day is basically one more step closer to being employed,” says Burnley, 52. In other words, if she applies for enough positions, and meets enough prospective employers, some day— eventually—she’s bound to find work. But even as she clings to that hope, Burnley acknowledges she and her husband, who also lost his job as a facilities manager six weeks ago, have depleted their savings and almost maxed out their credit cards. “It can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Two-and-a-half years after the Great Recession was deemed officially over, that light has never seemed dimmer for the close to 25 million Americans who are either out of work or underemployed today. Like a gaping wound at the heart of the economy, the U.S. job crisis has cast a vast swath of the population into a state of semi-permanent unemployment. At the same time, America’s housing market is in a shambles and poverty is on the rise. Even if economists weren’t already once again warning of another global recession, a realization is slowly setting in: the United States is suffering from an outright economic depression, and it threatens to leave a deep scar on the American psyche for decades to come. As Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and a former secretary of labour, put it recently: “America’s ongoing jobs depression, which is what it deserves to be called, is the worst economic calamity to hit this nation since the Great Depression.”
By Emma Teitel - Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 11:05 AM - 0 Comments
‘Assigning a number [from one to 10] to how you feel doesn’t give the whole picture’
Pediatric nursing and video game development don’t usually appear in the same sentence. But University of Manitoba professor Roberta Woodgate has brought them together in the same laboratory. A seasoned nurse and professor, Woodgate teamed up with Winnipeg tech company Complex Games five years ago to create a “virtual computer environment” (she is hesitant to call it a game) that gauges the psychological moods of child cancer patients. EMÜD—pronounced “e-mood”—is an online adventure that allows young people with cancer to create their own avatars and explore up to seven virtual fantasy worlds—complete with bridges, mazes and imaginary pets—while at the same time answering specially engineered questions about their psychological state. Woodgate says her motive is to assess the mental health of patients in an interactive and diversionary way, rather than subject them to a series of questions in a doctor’s office. Or as she puts it, “Assigning a number [from one to 10] to how you feel doesn’t give the whole picture.” Her ultimate goal is for kids “to communicate how they’re feeling in a fun way.” EMÜD will undergo a pilot test in the new year. If all goes well, Woodgate hopes it will become a tool used by people suffering from “any life-changing event.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 11:59 AM - 1 Comment
Bob Rae talks about his experience with mental illness.
The recent debate in the House of Commons on the need for a national suicide strategy was an eye-opening experience for all of us. Members came forward and shared their own experiences, there was no name calling, partisan chippiness or the usual antics that go with a House debate. There was a sense that we are all in this together.
So that was progress. The next step is to match the words with even more deeds. There is a desperate shortage of help out there, and families with children all too often feel they are on their own. It will take a greater commitment of dollars and resources to make things happen, and that’s harder to do in tough times. But it can and must be done. The problems won’t go away on their own. My grandmother Nell had a wonderful expression whenever she encountered a mountain of a problem. “Take the human footsteps”. That’s what we can and must do.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 4, 2011 at 4:01 PM - 43 Comments
The Liberals used their opposition day to move a motion calling on the government to formulate and fund a national strategy on suicide prevention and they used all nine of their opportunities in Question Period to press the government on various facets of the problem. In an op-ed this morning, interim leader Bob Rae laid out the reasons for concern.
Today, 10 Canadians will take their own lives, a per capita rate three times that of the United States’, largely due to the staggering number of suicides among aboriginal Canadians. In fact, suicide is the leading cause of death in men ages 25 to 29 and 40 to 44, women ages 30 to 34, and the second cause of death among adolescents.
It is no surprise, then, that all of us have been touched by suicide, have lost friends and loved ones, and have tried to figure out why lives that seemed together and well-focused are suddenly ended. But the bewilderment of silence and pain that surrounds mental health has to end. It is no longer just a personal question; it is now a political question.
By Cathy Gulli - Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 6:00 AM - 15 Comments
FULL STORY: Eric Lindros and other pro hockey players on their depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts
Before there was Sidney Crosby, there was Eric Lindros. Both were hockey prodigies as young teenagers. Both were drafted first overall into the NHL. Both won the league MVP in their early 20s, both were captain of Team Canada at the Olympics, and both were hailed as the next Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux. And then, in a fraction of a second, both fell victim to devastating concussions. The toll on Crosby, who has been sidelined since January, remains to be seen. But most fans know that Lindros was never the same after a series of blows to the head—at least eight by the time he retired in 2007. What few know, however—what he’s never talked about publicly before—is the psychological and emotional toll of those concussions.
That a Herculean hockey legend such as Lindros (he is six foot four and 255 lb.) is speaking out with disarming candour about the panic and desolation that he has endured is unprecedented. “You’re in a pretty rough-and-tumble environment with this sport. Talking about these things—you don’t talk about these things,” says Lindros. So while he was playing in the NHL, Lindros mostly kept his game face on. “You got to understand, you want to wake up in the morning and you want to look at yourself and say, ‘I’ve got the perfect engine to accomplish what I need to in this game tonight.’ You are not going to look in the mirror and say, ‘Boy, I’m depressed.’ ”
But there were signs that the concussions had transformed him, both as a man and a hockey player, for the worse. “I was extremely sarcastic. I was real short. I didn’t have patience for people,” says Lindros, 38. That rudeness mutated once he stepped on the ice into fear that the next concussion was just one hit away. “That’s why I played wing my last few years,” he explains of changing positions late in his career. “I hated cutting through the middle. I was avoiding parting the Red Sea.” Off the ice, Lindros developed a paralyzing sense of dread at the very thought of public speaking or of being in a crowd—once routine activities for the sports superstar. “I hated, absolutely hated, that. I’d avoid those scenarios. I didn’t like airports. I didn’t like galas. It would stress me out.”
By Barbara Amiel - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 2:00 PM - 23 Comments
Barbara Amiel on why mental illness can’t be treated with legalities
Back in the 1960s I had “Charlie.” Charlie was a derelict living in Toronto flophouses. I was a CBC researcher living in a highrise studio apartment. My assignment was a documentary on skid row lives, and Charlie was one of the three winos I had selected. All of them had mental disorders of varying degrees. They heard voices or suffered from paranoia. The day before shooting, Charlie went AWOL, ending up in the drunk tank. I bailed him out on CBC expense money.
Charlie didn’t have a golden voice, but he heard lots of voices and had conversations with them all. He wanted a regular job, he told me. After filming, I bought him a clean T-shirt and took him to a centre hiring hourly labourers. When I came home, an inebriated Charlie was waiting. He preferred working on camera and thought that was his true calling. I took him into my apartment for coffee and a talking-to. Afterwards he left—taking some small sterling silver items of mine.
My excuse was plain stupidity and youth. I’m not sure what excuses the enthusiasts behind the golden-voiced, down-and-out Ted Williams who, in a predictable arc after discovery by a journalist, gained worldwide fame, was arrested for an altercation, took part in an intervention on television’s Dr. Phil show, and disappeared into rehab. His sob story was watched by millions, when they weren’t watching people with utterly no connection to victims of the Tucson killings (except nearby zip codes) sobbing their eyes out. Heaven knows, Americans can go on “healing” and “counselling” and “intervening” until every last person is in therapy. But the problem when a popular culture goes barking mad is that complicated problems get reduced to cartoons.
By macleans.ca - Monday, January 17, 2011 at 1:41 PM - 28 Comments
Depression, anxiety and social phobia result
A study published the journal Pediatrics suggests that children who become addicted to video games are more likely to be depressed, anxious or have social phobias. It also found that teens who have trouble fitting in with other kids are more likely to become addicted in the first place. But the “real surprise” of the study, according to researchers, was that once addicted children who qualified as depressed stopped playing altogether, their depression lifted. The study included data on 3,034 children in Singapore over two years. The average time spent playing video games was 20.5 to 22.5 hours per week. About 9 per cent of the children surveyed qualified as “addicted.”
By macleans.ca - Monday, January 17, 2011 at 12:05 PM - 15 Comments
“Clawing” marks found on nearby screen door
A 66-year-old Toronto woman with dementia froze to death within a block of her house Monday morning. Neighbours heard screams, and, according to police, one looked outside and noticed someone stumbling, but none tried to help or call 911. The woman, whose name has not been released, was wearing winter clothes but had removed her jacket and glasses. Her body was discovered by a woman delivering newspapers at about 5:30 a.m. “It’s a circumstance where we should have been notified to attend. That’s what we do,” said Sergeant David Dubé. ”Could it have saved a life? I don’t know. I would think so.” The woman, whose name has not been released, was last seen by her husband shortly before 2 a.m. He called police at 4:45 a.m. when he awoke and found she was missing.
By Julia Belluz - Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 11:40 AM - 0 Comments
The generation now entering university is the most anxious since the 1930s
By the time Victoria Ciciretto left her family’s home in Kleinburg, Ont., to live and study at the University of Toronto, the 18-year-old was already a seasoned world traveller. “I’d gone away for a month in Europe for summer school in Grade 10,” she says. “I took a Grade 12 course in Greece,” she adds. “And the year before last, I studied English in England.”
Presumably, moving 40 km away from home would be easy, but instead the arts and science student was filled with anxiety. “For my first week, I was like, ‘Oh my god, why would people say this is the most amazing time of your life?’ ”
She was nervous about living in a dorm, about classes and homework, about what major to choose and if she would make friends. There was a reason she could handle summers overseas, but was scared of university. “I had really good friends with me when I went travelling,” she says. “When I went to university, I didn’t know anybody.”
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 4:00 PM - 0 Comments
A Harvard-trained M.D. talks about going ‘crazy’ and the struggle to stay sane
When Mark Vonnegut sat on the Harvard Medical School admissions committee, he used to ask the congenital overachievers who came before him a simple question: what is being a doctor going to do for you? Conditioned to talk about saving lives, advancing science, or just making the world a better place, the candidates frequently struggled to articulate what the more selfish gains from their chosen profession might be. But after more than three decades of practice as a Boston pediatrician, Vonnegut has a ready response when the query is turned back on him—stability. “Being a doctor has been enormously grounding,” he says.
“Having to go to work and deal with a rash or a 102-degree fever snaps me out of my own head. It allows me to be in the world in a useful way.”
Maintaining a daily presence in the here and now is no trifling concern for the 63-year-old son of the late author Kurt Vonnegut. In 1971, at the age of 23, he suffered three major mental breakdowns while living on a hippie commune in British Columbia. Diagnosed a schizophrenic, he found himself locked in a Vancouver psychiatric hospital while he conversed with Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain and Fyodor Dostoevsky, painted with Van Gogh, and played sax with John Coltrane. Four years, and much medication later, he wrote The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity.
By Dan Hill - Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 10:40 AM - 0 Comments
Dan Hill on the craziness of families, fame—and therapists
“Before we can get properly started, there’s something I really need to disclose.” This was my new therapist’s opening gambit in 1999. I leaned back, enjoying the role reversal: the shrink unloading a bombshell on his patient.
“Sure, doctor. What’s up?”
Dr. Tony (not his real name) breathed in dramatically and rolled his leather chair closer.“I’m extremely attracted to your wife,” he confessed, the words tumbling out in one fevered exhalation. “She’s the classiest, most charismatic woman I’ve come across in all my years as a therapist.”
At 53, Dr. Tony was seven years my senior, and appeared vaguely athletic, not unlike an ex-NHLer who’d downed a few too many beers. Exuding a jousting alpha-male presence that verged on self-parody, he was hardly a threat to my marriage. Still, the doctor’s confession left me discombobulated.
By Kate Lunau - Monday, October 11, 2010 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
Around the world, happiness dips in mid-life. But how Canadian boomers experience it may be very different.
Everybody knows the stereotype: a person hits age 40 and trades in the minivan for a red convertible. Maybe they quit a high-paying job, leave a long-term spouse for a younger partner or obtain an unusual piercing. They’re the classic signs of a mid-life crisis, and the punchline for countless jokes.
But jokes and stereotypes aside, there’s some truth to the notion that our middle years can be tough ones: studies have found that happiness levels dip down at mid-life, and it seems to be affecting baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1965) more than previous generations. In Canada and the U.S., the boomer experience can be starkly different: one survey found that, while middle-aged Canadians felt relatively in control of their lives, Americans were close to panic. There, boomers have contributed to a startling rise in the suicide rate. Still, a number of studies show that, after age 50, happiness levels begin to climb, a period many boomers are now entering. In the third and final instalment of a series examining the well-being of baby boomers, Maclean’s takes a look at the “mid-life crisis,” and how baby boomers—who make up nearly one-third of our population—may well redefine it.
By Andrew Potter - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 9:21 AM - 0 Comments
Even NASA sees it as a case study in isolation
Reflecting on his trips down a Lancashire coal mine, George Orwell wrote that aside from the lack of ﬁre, “most of the things one imagines in hell are there—heat, noise, confusion, darkness, foul air, and above all, unbearably cramped space.” If Orwell found a few days in a coal mine just this side of hell, imagine what it must be like for the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped 700 m underground since the main shaft of the San Jose gold and silver mine collapsed on Aug. 5.
When the miners were finally discovered on Aug. 22, rescuers quickly realized that it could take as many as four months to bore a hole wide enough to pull the men out. As a result, a great deal of attention has been paid to the urgent need to secure not only the miners’ physical well-being, but also their mental health. In addition to the food and water being sent down through the four-inch-wide boreholes, rescuers are sending down movies and games, notes from friends and families, and instructions for sanity-preserving measures such as the need to establish a clear night-and-day cycle.
By Brian Bethune - Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 1:40 PM - 10 Comments
Americans were told their president died of a sudden stroke. Not true, says a new book.
Dwight Eisenhower’s heart attack, LBJ’s gallbladder, Kennedy’s many ailments, even George Bush Sr.’s bout of nausea in Japan: ever since the occupant of the White House became the Most Powerful Man in the World, the health of U.S. presidents has been of consuming interest. Much of that concern is pure finger-on-the-nuclear-button angst, but a significant portion derives from the fate of president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. When the first leader of superpower America died in office in 1945, it was a shock to most of his countrymen, who were largely unaware of just how sick FDR was. In fact, according to neurologist Steven Lomazow and journalist Eric Fettmann, authors of FDR’s Deadly Secret, they are the first to crack wide open the secrecy that has shrouded Roosevelt’s health until now. FDR, they write, died of cancer, a disease that had deleterious effects on his mental as well as physical health. In concealing the cancer from the American people, the authors argue, Roosevelt was “rolling the dice with history”: he won (mostly), but it was a very close run.
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 8:50 AM - 6 Comments
We put the mentally ill in jail. Now they’re ending up in solitary.
Alan Nicolson hung himself in his prison cell at Manitoba’s Stony Mountain Institution back in 2003. A ﬁrst-time inmate, Nicolson, 34, was facing four years of incarceration after holding up a convenience store. Suffering from anxiety, depression and drug addiction, he was being held in a special segregated unit called the “mental health range.” But two years later, an inquest into his death found the solitary cell where Nicolson spent his last hours to be a “mental health range” in name only. “There is no programming. There is no treatment,” the report reads. “The mental health staff has no special responsibilities to those housed in this ward.”
The mental health range has since been shut down, but Nicolson’s death still bothers correctional investigator Howard Sapers. It’s a prime example, he says, of how Canada fails inmates—especially the mentally ill. Sapers cites the case of Ashley Smith as well, a New Brunswick teen who killed herself in a prison in Kitchener, Ont., in 2007. Smith, who’d acted out and threatened suicide, was held in isolation up to 23 hours a day before she was found dead in her cell. (An inquiry into her death is planned, although a date hasn’t yet been set.)
By Cathy Gulli - Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 4:49 PM - 10 Comments
More than half of parents report that their child’s pediatrician doesn’t ask if they…
More than half of parents report that their child’s pediatrician doesn’t ask if they have any worries about the mental and emotional well-being of their kid.
This study by University of Michigan researchers puts in perspective how little attention is paid to the anxieties that plague children. They suggest that doctors often don’t ask because they aren’t equipped to deal with mental health issues.
Proof that a dialogue between pediatricians and parents is useful: among parents who do talk with a doctor about their child’s problems, 62 per cent seek additional help from mental health professionals.
Unfortunately, the report showed that many parents don’t know where to turn. They either couldn’t find a provider, the services were too expensive, or they couldn’t get an appointment soon enough.