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Cara Santa Maria Explains It All for You

Dec 12 2011 | Comment 1

Over at Huffington Post (I know; clearly you can tell what I’ve been reading lately), Cara Santa Maria is doing a series called “DSM Diagnosis: How Do You Know If You Have Mental Illness?”

Isn’t she cute? I think she’s completely adorable, though I can’t wait until she grows out of the lip ring. She’s obviously trying to do a serviceable job here, and though I’m not entirely comfortable with the setup (invoking abnormal psychology), her explication of the DSM is solid enough. I think a lot of people are unaware of the way the axes work within diagnostic criteria and it makes a big difference to how they’re treated. (If your medical records are seen by more than one person — if you’re in the System for a long time — and that Axis II diagnosis included mental retardation in 1976, it probably included it in 2006, even if that diagnosis was a mistake due to your language barrier or hearing loss. I’ve seen that happen.)

Obviously, as with anything of this type, there are problems. Some of the imagery is a little goofy (note the photo of the schizophrenic person) but if you think about it, what else can you use? Santa Maria is going to be talking about this subject for a month, but you know how these things go: the real conversation is in the comments section. Please consider taking a minute or two and correcting some ill-informed opinions over there. People are saying really stupid shit and we should educate them.

liz | 8:05 AM | depression, media, meds, cara santa maria, dsm-iv, huffington post

Me at First Person Arts

May 19 2010 | Comments 7

Hey, check it out!

liz | 12:35 PM | media, philadelphia, random

My New Hero: Glenn Close

Oct 27 2009 | Comments 10

Not because she’s a phenomenal actor, which she is, but because she’s just initiated a new project to banish stigma. The project is highly personal, as she explains on Huffington Post:

As I’ve written and spoken about before, my sister suffers from a bipolar disorder and my nephew from schizoaffective disorder. There has, in fact, been a lot of depression and alcoholism in my family and, traditionally, no one ever spoke about it. It just wasn’t done. The stigma is toxic. And, like millions of others who live with mental illness in their families, I’ve seen what they endure: the struggle of just getting through the day, and the hurt caused every time someone casually describes someone as “crazy,” “nuts,” or “psycho”.

What’s remarkable is not her frankness about this personal history, but her motivation to act, which seems almost like a wholesale rethinking of her career and what it’s meant in popular culture. In Fatal Attraction, for example, she played a woman obsessed with Michael Douglas (those were the days, right Michael?). She loses control of the obsession and becomes terrifying. As Close writes, the movie was a great success, and audiences loved to hate her character.

Alex Forrest is considered by most people to be evil incarnate. People still come up to me saying how much she terrified them. Yet in my research into her behavior, I only ended up empathizing with her. She was a human being in great psychological pain who definitely needed meds. I consulted with several psychiatrists to better understand the “whys” of what she did and learned that she was far more dangerous to herself than to others.

The original ending of Fatal Attraction actually had Alex commit suicide. But that didn’t “test” well. Alex had terrified the audiences and they wanted her punished for it. A tortured and self-destructive Alex was too upsetting. She had to be blown away.

So, we went back and shot the now famous bathroom scene. A knife was put into Alex’s hand, making her a dangerous psychopath. When the wife shot her in self-defense, the audience was given catharsis through bloodshed — Alex’s blood. And everyone felt safe again.

The ending worked. It was thrilling and the movie was a big hit. But it sent a misleading message about the reality of mental illness.

This is a bold admission from a woman who derived so much success from this role, but there’s no escaping what she says. It has long bothered me — and, I suspect, other advocates — that the message there is one of terror and fear.

Not only does Close take on her role in that film, she assesses the entertainment industry as a whole:

Whether it is Norman Bates in Psycho, Jack Torrance in The Shining, or Kathy Bates’ portrayal of Annie Wilkes in Misery, scriptwriters invariably tell us that the mentally ill are dangerous threats who must be contained, if not destroyed. It makes for thrilling entertainment.

There are some notable exceptions, of course — Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, or Russell Crowe’s portrayal of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. But more often than not, the movie or TV version of someone suffering from a mental disorder is a sociopath who must be stopped.

I like to think that her speaking out will change this. As she so eloquently says, silence is the problem. Read more of her elegant prose here. It is well worth it. There you’ll find links to the initiative she’s promoting.

Thank you, Glenn, for speaking out against silence. You rock.

liz | 10:30 AM | SCHIZOPHRENIA, bipolar disorder, celebrities, depression, media, meds


Aug 28 2009 | Comments 16

Hoo boy, that shit is powerful. I’ve been having trouble sleeping due to anxiety and my doctor prescribed an antihistimine, Atarax. I like it because it sounds like a planet dreamed up by L. Ron Hubbard. I also like it because I slept, slept, slept — until right now. My dog has been loving this unemployment thing. We just bask in the nap-ness of life. Here’s a little something from a dedicated reader who has a finger on the pulse of the Ancora mess, especially in the context of accreditation:

Despite the Dept. of Justice’s [scathing] report on Ancora it maintains full Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations accreditation . The kick in the head is that JCAHO did its site inspection on January 9, 2009 and the DOJ did its inspection from January 12 to January 15, 2009. Apparently JCAHO perceived a completely different institution. Kings County Hospital’s Behavioral Health Department maintained full JCAHO accreditation despite the death of Esmin Green, its 2009 DOJ report, and a lawsuit filed in 2007 . Connecticut Valley Hospital similarly maintained full accreditation despite its August 2007 DOJ report .

Someday a reporter will consider what JCAHO accreditation means when it comes to mental hospitals and whose interests JCAHO is putting first, i.e. the hospitals who pay for the accreditation or the patients whose misfortune it is to be in these institutions.

liz | 12:44 PM | hospitals / hospitalization, media

Mind Freedom and Icarus on ABC

Aug 24 2009 | Comments 15

Tomorrow night at 10 p.m. EST, the show Primetime will feature the Mad Pride movement. Mind Freedom International (MFI) has worked hard to make this show happen, so everyone set the Betamax to RECORD.

To get a sense of what it’s going to be about, go here for the article, which offers an online video interview with Joe Pantoliano, who’s featured in the story. (Full disclosure: I was interviewed for the show, but I don’t think I’ll be mentioned.) On the page with Pantoliano’s story, there’s a poll: “Should people with mental illnesses be required to take medication?” Now, why the hell would that be the question related to this piece? Here are the potential answers:

No. It should be a patient’s choice whether or not to accept medication.

Yes. When people refuse to take medications, it can be dangerous.

I’m distressed that even 28 percent would agree to that fatuous statement. But then again, that’s a big focus of the piece that’s online right now: whether Mad Pride is “safe.” I’m not going to comment further until I see the TV show; maybe that false dichotomy — Mad Pride vs. taking meds — won’t be the setup. I hope not, because it’s really kind of stupid.

liz | 9:57 PM | depression, media

The Donut Thing Won’t Die

Aug 6 2009 | Comments 12

I don’t know what’s going on, but suddenly the site is getting a lot of comments on the Psycho Donuts dust-up. To fill you in, there’s a donut shop in California called Psycho Donuts that uses mental illness as its theme to sell donuts. Here’s how the store’s website describes the theme:

Psycho Donuts has taken donuts to the next demented level. We bid a fond farewell to the tired, round ring of lameness, and the drab, time-weathered environment of donut past. Psycho Donuts has taken the neighborhood donut and put it on medication, and given it shock treatment.

Psycho Donuts are very unique and, well, crazy. Our name comes with a commitment to not only be the craziest/fun donut experience you’ll ever have, but one of the most unique places in the South Bay (see blog).

Try our signature Smores Donut; or for something different, how about a Green Tea Donut? Even if you’re not certifiably insane yourself, you’ll still find a handful of donuts from the past.

As a donut lover, this is an issue close to my heart. I mean, a Green Tea Donut? Is that even legal? I’ll stick with Boston Kreme, thank you, and yes, I’ll spell it that way until I die.

But the “Nutcase” display case and the padded cell in the store don’t sit well with many mental health advocates, who fear the store is stigmatizing, especially the folks at NAMI’s StigmaNet. Yet to tell you the truth, the more I think about it, the less I care. Wait — don’t hate me. It’s just that there are so many other things that are more important, I think, and the fact that this, of all issues — a single store in a single town — is generating so much controversy, seems kind of limited to me.

For instance, I got some other mental-health-related news from some people via email while I was on vacation, and without blogging about it further, I’ll just give you the broad strokes (no attribution because I’m not sure if my tipsters want it):

Also in California, L.A.’s homeless lose out in settlement

Recent news quote: “The secretary of defense is required to have a plan in place by September 2013 to increase military and civilian mental health personnel available to our troops and their families.”

Antidepressant use doubles in US, study finds

N.J. psychiatric hospitals to release 300 patients under lawsuit settlement

Suicides rising in US military

American Medical Association study: Adults near WTC disaster still being diagnosed with asthma, PTSD

I could go on and on. Every day I see headlines I worry about, and get emails from people who are suffering right now. Those people don’t give a shit if there’s a “bipolar” donut (pictured). They just want to know: Is there anything that’s going to ever make me feel better? Can I survive this? Why can’t I get out of bed? Can you help me? Can anyone help?

Personal urgency and large-scale issues slap me in the face in a way this donuts thing just doesn’t. Yet the comments keep coming. I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong.

liz | 1:55 PM | Funny or Offensive?, media, stigma

Pimping My Friends: A.D. by Josh Neufeld

Aug 5 2009 | Comment 1

I think I’m allowed, kinda. One of my oldest, bestest friends, Josh Neufeld, has a book out, and it’s a winner. It’s called A.D., and it follows the seven real-life stories of people enduring Hurricane Katrina. As it’s not related to mental health, I’ll quickly post a link here to the original web comic, published by Smith magazine. But I will say this: Josh and I caused each other no end of emotional stress in college, so you could make an argument for relevance. Also, he’s the one who got me hooked on comics, which have been one of the chief joys and antidepressants in my life.

liz | 12:19 PM | media, random

U.S. News & World Report, Did You Have Layoffs Too?

Jul 23 2009 | Comments 28

Because someone is not doing their homework over there. Here’s the headline/subhead from a recent USN&WR article:

ECT, checkered past and all, is making a quiet comeback

Doesn’t that sound kind of familiar? That’s because you’ve read it before — numerous times. I’d say the most recent comeback article was last year in Newsweek:

Shock therapy makes a quiet comeback

Or how about the AP:

Despite Infamy, Shock Therapy Makes a Comeback

How about this article from Maclean’s from a couple years ago:

Electroshock Therapy Making a Comeback

How about Time magazine in 1979?:

Comeback for Shock Therapy?

Or the New York Times in 1990?:

Health; The Quiet Comeback of Electroshock Therapy

This one is from four years ago:

Shock therapy makes comeback but remains controversial

You get the idea.

What do all these articles have in common? The suggestion that despite its gruesome reputation, due to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (a PR nightmare the APA still can’t get wake up from), it’s safe and — here’s the kicker — enormously effective. The signposts in the articles are all the same. There’s very little deviation from the boilerplate, which you can see in the headlines alone.

When is someone going to write an honest article about ECT that stuffs the “comeback” nonsense up the APA’s ass, where it belongs? Oh, wait, someone wrote a book about it, published by Rutgers University Press.

Folks, if you want to understand this industry, read Doctors of Deception by Linda Andre. ECT is just as fucked up as Big Pharma, if not more so, as big business goes.

Sorry I sound cynical; we had some layoffs here today, and pay cuts and furloughs and the other crap that goes along with a dying industry (journalism, not ECT). So I’m feeling down. But hey, if I can turn it into righteous anger, why not? It has to be good for something.

liz | 5:19 PM | electroshock (ECT), media

Lost to Illness?

Jul 13 2009 | Comments 9

This film came out in 2007, but I haven’t heard much about how the subject of the film is faring. The filmmaker can still be found, but where is Sam?

liz | 12:03 PM | bipolar disorder, media

Goodbye, Anti-Sacred and Profane Writing Machine

Jun 25 2009 | Comments 2

After a long battle with cancer, PW staff writer, Guardian columnist, punk-rock novelist, NME gadfly, gender-twisting rebel comedian and poet Steven Wells has gone on to other things. Well, not really. According to Steven, there’s no such thing as the afterlife, and if there is, I guarantee he’s really, really pissed off right now. I can just picture him at St. Peter’s Gates, saying, “Fuck me! This shit actually exists?”

We’ll all miss Steven so much, and I’ll say more about that later. For now, I’m wishing the best to all family and friends who are hurting. That’s what Steven really cared about in the end, though he was very passionately annoyed by knitting, as well.

Steven was often told he was anti-American. I loved his passion, and he cracked us the fuck up every day. This video was part of a series he did for PW called Steven Wells’ America, in which he took sacred cows and basically grilled them for dinner. Below, he reflects on the religiosity of an America that voted for Bush a second time (Steven was a staunch atheist). Toward the end he smiles a bit, so you know that he knows he’s being ridiculous. And that’s part of what was so cute about Steven — he’d rant, but then laugh at himself.

liz | 10:41 AM | BIG PHARMA, Funny or Offensive?, GLBT, Song of the Day, alternative treatments, anxiety, celebrities, children, cute fix, depression, hospitals / hospitalization, media, meds, military, philadelphia, phobias, politics, random, religion, suicide, violence

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