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 Bruce Cheadle, The Canadian Press - Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 7:44 AM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – Mental health professionals from across Canada are banding together during Mental Health…
OTTAWA – Mental health professionals from across Canada are banding together during Mental Health Week to ask the Harper government to rethink its latest crime bill.
Nine different organizations, including their multiple provincial organizations, say changes to the Not Criminally Responsible regime for mentally ill offenders have been made without evidence or input from mental health workers.
They’re offering to help the government redraft bill Bill C-54 so that it continues to help victims but doesn’t undo years of progress.
They say Bill C-54 has been framed by the Conservatives in such a way that it stigmatizes millions of Canadians who will never commit a crime.
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 Rosemary Counter - Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
New online games offer an alternative to the therapy couch
Imagine you’re a mid-twenties human with a partner named Alex. It’s Monday morning and you didn’t sleep well. You struggle with motivation issues at a boring job. By Friday you’re exhausted, but Alex wants to take you to a party. Your choices: 1) shake off your funk and go have a blast; 2) agree to go, reluctantly; 3) say you’re not feeling well and can’t make it. Positive thinkers might want to choose 1), but in the online game Depression Quest, you cannot. Since you haven’t been seeing a therapist or taking your meds, having a blast just isn’t an option.
Launched on Valentine’s Day—a hat tip to the most depressing day of the year—Depression Quest makes it clear it is not a game like most others. “This game is not meant to be a fun or lighthearted experience,” it begins, sad piano music playing over a grey background. Instead, it presents 150 unique encounters to the 200,000-odd gamers who’ve played it online. Content is generated by your decisions, which affect your depression level, which then limits your choices. Its creators, Boston-based developers Zoë Quinn and Patrick Lindsey, are both serious gamers who struggle with depression. Neither saw their experiences reflected in the community. “It’s a topic most games don’t explore, and those that do dress it up with layers of metaphor and imagery,” says 26-year-old Lindsey, a transplanted writer from Toronto.
Their game is one of a slew of recent ones aimed at exploring issues of identity and mental health. Richard Hofmeier’s Cart Life, an exploration of poverty among food-cart workers, won top prize last month at San Francisco’s Independent Game Festival. Dys4ia, developed by a gamer who calls herself Anna Anthropy, is an autobiographical game about the experiences of a transgender woman. And Actual Sunlight, from Toronto creator Will O’Neill, explores “depression and the corporation.”
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 The Canadian Press - Friday, February 8, 2013 at 7:34 PM - 0 Comments
VANCOUVER – The Conservative government is providing courts with new powers to lock up…
VANCOUVER – The Conservative government is providing courts with new powers to lock up people found not criminally responsible for their crimes due to mental problems.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the government’s latest tough-on-crime legislation targets people who are found to be too dangerous to be released.
“The new legislation introduced today focuses on victims and places public safety at the forefront of decision-making,” Harper said in Metro Vancouver, where he was joined by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Heritage Minister James Moore.
“This will ensure that ‘not-criminally-responsible’ accused people found to be too dangerous to be released are no longer a threat to their victims or Canadian communities.”
By Emily Senger - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 10:54 AM - 0 Comments
Rise Asset Development has graduated 22 clients with loans and not one has defaulted
Getting approved for a small business loan is a difficult process, but all the clients at Ontario micro-loan provider Rise Asset Development have an additional challenge: they have a history of mental illness, addiction or both.
With a staggeringly high unemployment rate among those with serious mental health issues—between 70 and 90 per cent, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association—Rise sees self-employment as a key strategy to get people working again. This year, it partnered with the credit union Alterna Savings to administer the loans. Rise has graduated 22 clients (with loans ranging from $3,000 to $25,000) and not one has defaulted. “We don’t want to have a high default rate. We want to make sure our loan portfolio continues to grow,” says executive director Narinder Dhami. Applicants need a business plan, and an external committee gives final approval on the loans.
Though banks can’t discriminate based on disability, many of the group’s clients are on social assistance, which is not considered as income in applying for a loan. And securing any loan for a start-up is hard, as most banks don’t see much potential for return, says John Lahey, the president and CEO of Alterna. “It’s true for anyone who wants an entrepreneurial start-up loan. The reality is that, in most cases, the banks in this country are not in that business,” he says.
One of the program’s success stories is Michael Mazzara. A loan from Rise allowed him to add credit-card processing to his online cellphone-unlocking business. Prior to starting his business, a history of anxiety and panic attacks made it impossible for the college graduate to work in a traditional setting. “I can’t just work in an office, like a traditional job, which I’m qualified for,” says Mazzara. “So what do you do when you want to be productive, when you have something to offer and want to do something?”
Dhami says employment can lower the re-hospitalization rate for people with mental illness. “When people are employed, there is an additional layer of self-confidence, social inclusion, the list goes on,” she says.
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 Colby Cosh - Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 7:50 AM - 0 Comments
The history of the insanity defence, from M’Naghten to Hinckley, is a history of hard cases. The case of Jared Lee Loughner is turning out to be the latest—yet this evolving history appears to be beneath the notice of the American press, for the time being. Loughner is the 23-year-old schizophrenic who wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people in a January 2011 shooting spree at a Tucson parking lot. He was a massive nuisance as an undiagnosed free man attending community college, and he is a major problem now. There is no doubt he committed the act with which the U.S. justice system is trying to charge him criminally. But what do you do with him? As things stand, Loughner is, or has the right to be regarded as, a sick person who has been found guilty of no crime.
The enthusiasm for Giffords’ story of incremental recovery has been much greater than that shown for the legal puzzle Loughner poses. He cannot, according to the most ancient traditions of Anglo-Saxon justice, be put on trial until he is able to understand the proceedings and assist in his own defence. The system self-evidently does not want to let go of Loughner and turn him over to the healing professions, but the pretence that he is likely to become lucid while still in pre-trial custody may be crumbling.
On March 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a decision by federal prison officials that Loughner could be involuntarily medicated for his own safety and for the convenience of his jailers. The two-judge majority in the case accepted that the prison had to meet a pretty low standard for due process: what they did, basically, was have a couple of head-shrinkers look at Loughner, without a judge or lawyer present, and say “Yep, the dude’s cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.” (Loughner obliged them, of course, with the schizophrenic’s full repertoire of addled, destructive behaviour and obscenities.) The judges took an attitude of deference to medical expertise: legal training, they essentially ruled, had no place in determining or adjusting Loughner’s relationship with his captors and his doctors.
But in a stinging dissent, Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon pointed out that there are two potential, quite separate purposes for medicating Loughner: (1) prison policy and safety, and (2) restoring Loughner’s ability to participate in a trial. To the degree that involuntary medication might affect Loughner’s future criminal defence, she argued, it should probably be agreed to by a judge in the first place, and a high standard of due process should be observed. The prison officials and the shrinks constantly conflated the two goals in medicating Loughner, and were left to restore or try to restore him to a state of triability without judicial oversight. There is a danger here, Berzon argued, of railroading:
“The tendency of psychotropic medications to flatten or deaden emotional responses” could prove particularly damaging if the government seeks the death penalty, as it very well might in this case, because “the jury would then be especially sensitive to [Loughner's] character and any demonstrations of remorse (or lack thereof).” …Even the intended effects of psychotropic drugs may infringe Loughner’s fair trial rights. Assuming Loughner will put on an insanity defence, manifestations in court of how his mind works may well be his own best evidence. …The government’s decision to restore Loughner’s trial competency may therefore prevent him from putting on his chosen defence by altering the material evidence for that defence.
…There is no point in restoring a defendant’s trial competency, through commitment to a medical facility and involuntary administration of psychotropic medication, if the means necessary to effect restoration will so infringe the defendant’s fair trial rights as to render the trial itself unconstitutional.
This goes to show what huge difficulties the concept of legal insanity creates for the justice system. Berzon’s point could not possibly have more urgency, and her dissent’s logic runs circles and does a few figure-eights around the majority decision. Yet her reasoning does have a tendency to reward the cultivated appearance of insanity. After all, she is literally saying that an accused who wishes to deploy the insanity defence has a right to display convincing insanity in court. Really?
As Bill James observes in his 2011 book Popular Crime, there were a fair number of American criminals in the period between 1945 and 1980 who basically specialized in making themselves impossible to try. (By 1970 the U.S. courts were experimenting with shackling and gagging “recalcitrant defendants”—surely the awkward “due process” hack to end all due process hacks. This solution was used most notoriously against Bobby Seale in the trial of the Chicago Seven, Seale being the ultra-recalcitrant Eighth.) The situation eventually became too objectionable to tolerate; yet the equally objectionable solution, at least from the looks of how Loughner is being handled, seems to be to let prison officials fudge due process a little so they can drug five-alarm nutbars into a complacent stupor. (And maybe that is in fact the best practical solution.)
On Tuesday the 9th Circuit refused another petition from Loughner asking the court to stop the medical treatment. His condition is to be reviewed by a district judge on June 27. If Loughner has not improved, and there are indications he hasn’t, then the judge may have to commit him to a mental institution—with the alarming possibility of a sudden improvement in his mental state, and subsequent release. At some point, one way or another, this story is going to get a lot more interesting.
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 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 Brian Bethune - Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 18 Comments
Brian Bethune in conversation with Nassir Ghaemi
NASSIR GHAEMI is a physician and professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. In A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Health, he argues that in times of crisis, a lifetime of sanity can be a serious liability for political and military leaders, while the lessons and legacy of madness have proven invaluable.
Q: To put your counterintuitive thesis in a nutshell, would it be that too much of anything, including normality, is a bad thing?
A: You could put it that way. I would add that mentally normal leaders, who often have enormous success in normal times, often do not have the personal resources to cope with crisis change. But those who have struggled with mental illness—not outright psychosis or delusions, but the common mental illnesses of bipolarism or depression—have often developed just the traits that crisis leaders need and demonstrate: realism, resilience, creativity and empathy.
By Ken Macqueen And Julia Belluz - Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 8:28 AM - 14 Comments
Each year, seven million of us experience mental illness. Many can’t get help.
On March 29, Maclean’s hosts “Health Care in Canada: Time to Rebuild Medicare,” a town hall discussion at the Winspear Centre in Edmonton. The conversation on health care, held in conjunction with the Canadian Medical Association and broadcast by CPAC, continues in coming months in Maclean’s and at town halls in Vancouver and Ottawa.
Mental illness, and what passes for Canadian mental health policy, has been called the “orphan of health care,” and perhaps that’s true. It’s also been called an invisible disease, but that’s not really the case. The mentally ill have many faces. They are in our schools, our homes, our emergency wards. They are in our jails, in our graveyards; they are on our Olympic team.
They are people with names. Jack Windeler, a Queen’s University student of great promise, began to miss classes, skip assignments, withdraw from friends. A year ago on March 27, he killed himself in his residence room. He was 18. BobbyLee Worm, a deeply troubled 24-year-old Aboriginal woman from Saskatchewan, has spent some three years locked in solitary confinement in a B.C. prison, counting the bricks of her cell. Speed skater and cyclist Clara Hughes overcame a troubled adolescence to compete for Canada at the 1996 Olympics. Afterwards, she fell into a profound depression, slogging “through quicksand and hopelessness.” She sought help. She fought back to become one of Canada’s greatest athletes, and the kind of role model who can shatter stereotypes and stigmas surrounding mental illness.
By Julia Belluz - Sunday, September 26, 2010 at 8:45 AM - 0 Comments
Though the Metis leader didn’t agree, madness seemed the best defence against charges of high treason
When Joseph Boyden read a National Post op-ed in July entitled “Louis Riel Deserves No Pardon,” the author of Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, the latest in Penguin Canada’s Extraordinary Canadians series, fired off a letter (it was never published) to the newspaper about what he says were “untrue and blatantly false” statements in the piece.
One of those falsehoods, says the Giller Prize-winning author of Through Black Spruce, is that Riel—Metis leader and father of Manitoba—tried to take land from the Indians and put it in the hands of his people. “Riel is one who very much believed in inclusion,” says Boyden, a regular contributor to Maclean’s. “He knew that the northwest was big enough for all the races living there.” In fact, the writer feels that Riel’s forward-thinking notions about a cohesive society should define his legacy: “He was one of the first to push for inclusion.”
Boyden is less resolute about another topic of the Post’s op-ed: Riel’s alleged insanity. Boyden thinks he was “somewhere between” sanity and madness. “One day he’d feel in control, the next day he was questioning himself down to his core,” he says. “This fragility mixed with absolute hubris is what’s so interesting about Riel, and part of why many people say he was crazy.”
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, November 25, 2009 at 2:39 AM - 38 Comments
I realize nobody has all that much interest in being strictly fair to insurance companies, but I’m sort of horrified by the way the Nathalie Blanchard story is being handled in the press and electronic media. The evidence for the notion that Ms. Blanchard lost her long-term disability benefits “over Facebook photos” appears to amount entirely to “She says she was told that’s what happened.” Now, she could be quite right. Manulife admits it does use Facebook to investigate disability claims, as anyone would expect them to do. Here’s a news flash for particularly naïve children and desert-dwelling stylites: an insurance company following up a suspicion of a false claim uses every kind of evidence it can scrape up. Its hirelings will quiz your neighbours, co-workers, and friends! They will rummage through your garbage! They will engage in photo and video surveillance! They’ll Google you until the cows come home!
In short, this is, like this spring’s “Craigslist killer” news story, a narrative to which the supposed cynosure of attention really has no special relevance. At all. It would be nice if news organizations could get together, run one last banner headline announcing that THE INTERNET EXISTS, and be done with these trumped-up technology angles for all time.
Anyway, since we don’t know what other evidence Manulife’s investigation turned up, and they are bound not to tell us, it seems inappropriate for the headlines and the secondary commentary on the story to take Blanchard’s version as the gospel. Which is exactly what everybody is doing, even though Manulife may have had a dozen other reasons for cancelling the claim.
I’m not suggesting, mind you, that they necessarily do. An insurer makes decisions like this with hypothetical litigation in mind. That’s not necessarily conducive to clear thinking: it’s conducive to thinking like a juror, which may well be the diametrical opposite. It would not be surprising if some excitable junior associate had been shown Blanchard’s Facebook pictures of fun in the sun and thought “Well, well, well. These will be awfully hard to for her to explain to a jury.” You would have to be an idiot to think that such pictures are, in themselves, good evidence that Blanchard is not depressed. And, unfortunately, the world is full of idiots.
The key question for an insurer, however, is not whether Blanchard has depression, but whether she is making bona fide efforts to return to her job. Her duty isn’t to stop being ill, but to do what she can to get as well as she can and start earning her paycheques again. There are plenty of seriously depressed people who still manage to drag their butts out of bed and punch the clock most days. Blanchard’s statements to the CBC leave me wondering a little about her self-understanding, and since thousands of bloggers and editors apparently have no trouble questioning Manulife’s credibility, I feel quite licensed to wonder.
She says, for instance, “that on her doctor’s advice, she tried to have fun, including nights out at her local bar with friends and short getaways to sun destinations, as a way to forget her problems.” I suppose that a physician treating depression would recommend, in a general way, that his patient should try to get exercise, seek pleasant new experiences, maintain strong social networks, etc., etc. On the other hand, I can’t see any doctor having a display of travel brochures on the wall of his office, or publishing a guide to Eastern Townships nightlife. Again, pictures of Blanchard at a bar cannot possibly demonstrate that she is not depressed. But they could show that she was defying a doctor’s advice concerning the safe use of psychiatric medication, or the consumption of alcohol itself, if she were at risk of co-morbidity from substance-abuse problems.
Blanchard also says, by the way, that she “doesn’t understand how Manulife accessed her photos because her Facebook profile is locked and only people she approves can look at what she posts.” I hope that since this interview, someone has taken her aside and gently explained the Sherlockian maxim that “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” In this case, the compelling conclusion is that somebody Blanchard trusted snitched on her to the insurer, perhaps in a spasm of dudgeon over her insurance-subsidized lifestyle. It happens. In fact, it was known to happen before there was such a thing as Facebook.
By Scott Feschuk - Friday, June 12, 2009 at 12:40 PM - 18 Comments
Psychiatry now calls it an illness, but if being bitter is wrong why did God create blogs?
The world’s authoritative text on mental health is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Updated by psychiatrists since the 1950s, it lists all the ways in which humans can be nuts, and therefore features many big words and several photographs of Gary Busey.
The book—known among mental health professionals as the DSM, because that’s quicker to say than Big Book of Crazy—is currently being revised and expanded by the American Psychiatric Association. Eight new mental illnesses are being considered for inclusion in the next edition. This is very controversial, and not just because marrying Sean Penn isn’t one of them.
By Cathy Gulli - Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 11:47 AM - 11 Comments
When people are suffering through a problem, they go see religious leaders for help…
When people are suffering through a problem, they go see religious leaders for help more often than psychologists or counsellors. But a new study by Baylor University researchers shows that church clergy often dismiss or deny mental illness—even after it’s been diagnosed by a health professional. And sometimes they encourage people to stop taking medication.
Of 293 Christians who sought support from their local church after they or someone they love were diagnosed with a mental illness, nearly one third of them were told that the real problem was entirely spiritual—they sinned too much, didn’t have a strong enough faith, or the devil was involved.
The consequences for the individual are huge: interrupting treatment can be dangerous, says one of the study authors. Mental illness is generally not a problem that goes away by itself. And to make matters worse, the comfort or encouragement people would otherwise get from their faith may be compromised in these situations. The study shows that people whose mental illness wasn’t taken seriously by their religious community actually stopped going to church as often and said their belief in God was damaged.