General Articles

Suicide prevention: When the Second Amendment trumps the First

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Last week a federal appeals court ruled that the Second Amendment trumps the First.

The case involved a Florida pediatrician who routinely asks the families of his patients if their are guns in their homes. He also asks if they use car seats, smoke or have a pool in the backyard. Dr. Tommy Schechtman does this as part of his message to keep kids safe in the home.

Then, in 2011, the Florida legislature – with the blessing of the NRA – decided that doctors inquiring about access to guns is not appropriate and passed a law restricting conversations between doctors and their patients about their access to guns. Schechtman sued, arguing that the law violated his First Amendment right to free speech.
pistol
The case made its way to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Last week the appeals court upheld the Docs vs Glocks law and ruled that it  “simply acknowledges that the practice of good medicine does not require interrogation about irrelevant, private matters.”

Because Schechtman is a pediatrician – also the president-elect of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics – debate has focused on preventing children from being injured or killed by a gun.

What has been overlooked in the debate  is suicide and a doctor’s ability to ask of suicidal patient if they have access to a gun. Why is this important? Because about half the people who kill themselves do so with a gun.

Will a doctor asking a suicidal patient about access to a gun prevent a suicide? I don’t know. It might. What I do know is a doctor has as much right to “interrogate” a patient about access to guns as texting while driving.

In my last major depression my nurse practitioner suspected I was a candidate for suicide. In college I had two prior attempts. She asked whether I had thought about suicide. Then she asked if I thought about how I would do it.

For me – as with most women who commit suicide – the answer was pills. She then asked if I had the pills or considered how I …


Dealing with alcoholism and depression with a text message

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

The last thing an alcoholic wants, besides a hangover, is to be reminded that she has a “drinking problem.”

I know. Back in my drinking days I would avoid conversations about last night’s festivities – especially if I had been in a blackout most of the night. Which is why I think this will work: Txt message from the ER cuts binge drinking.

shutterstock_100665064Young adults who screened positive for a history of hazardous or binge drinking reduced their binge drinking by more than 50 percent after receiving mobile phone text messages following a visit to the emergency department, according to a study published online in Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Researchers enrolled 765 young adult emergency patients with a history of hazardous drinking in the study. Hazardous drinking is defined as five or more drinks per day for men and four or more drinks per day for women.

For 12 weeks, one-third received text messages prompting them to respond to drinking-related queries and received text messages in return offering feedback on their answers. The feedback was tailored to strengthen their low-risk drinking plan or goal or to promote reflection on either their drinking plan or their decision not to set a low-risk goal.

One-third received only text message queries about their drinking and one-third received no text messages.


Flori-duh: Don’t bet on managed physical and mental health care for the poor

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

This month Florida became the first state to offer a Medicaid health plan designed for people with serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorders.

shutterstock_187286405This is remarkable because Florida is not known for its progressive and humane treatment of people with serious mental illnesses. In fact, Florida is the state that last year executed John Ferguson, a 65-year-old man with schizophrenia who believed that he was the immortal prince of God and was being executed because he could “control the sun.”

Ferguson’s attorneys unsuccessfully argued that he lacked a “rational understanding” of his execution, which violated the eighth amendment to the U.S. constitution. Did that stop Florida? Hell no. Florida is also ranked 49th of the fifty states in per capital funding for mental health.

So, what should we make of the news reported by Kaiser Health News that Connecticut-based Magellan Complete Care wants to coordinate physical and mental health care for Florida residents on Medicaid? Should we believe that the skies parted and Florida policymakers realized that the brain is connected to the rest of the body and that it only makes sense to provided coordinated care?


Take off your watch. It’s making you depressed.

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

I don’t wear a watch. I have watches, very nice watches, in fact. I don’t even know where they are – probably in a drawer somewhere.

I don’t wear a watch because I have a thing with time. I learned early on in my recovery from alcoholism and depression that “time” was a problem for me. A very big problem.

I didn’t realize my “time” problem until a friend in recovery asked me one day, “What time is it?” I looked at my watch and told him the time. Then he asked again, “what time is it?” shutterstock_164743622And I looked at my watch again and told him the time.

“No,” he said. “What TIME is it?”

I looked at him like he was crazy and said, “I don’t know. You tell me, what time is it?”

“Now,” he said. I had a D’oh Homer Simpson moment and then understood what he was trying to tell me. I was not in the present. “That’s why I don’t wear a watch,” he said.


60 hours without my antidepressants?

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

I went to visit my daughter this weekend. She lives about 2-1/5 hours away. Half way there I realized I had forgotten my medications.

I take three medications, two antidepressants and mood-stabilizer. I have been taking them for 7 years. Every day. Morning. Night. I don’t mess around and skip a day here or there. I take them without fail.

I did the math in my head. I took my last dose at 7 am Friday. I was not planning on getting home until at least 7 pm on Sunday. That would be 60 hours without my medications. Once I forgot to order a three-month supply of one of my antidepressants and ran out for about three days so I knew what it felt like to skip a few days without one of the medications.

shutterstock_151831541I had a headache – like my head was simultaneously going to implode and explode. My thoughts were thick, like I was thinking in mud. I was tired.

I had never gone as long as 60 hours without all three. I knew I would feel some kind of withdrawal. I just didn’t know what to expect.


Depression and anger Part 2: How I vanquish my anger

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Apparently, there is a correct way to swing a sledge hammer and an incorrect way.

I was doing it incorrectly, although it still felt pretty good. Luckily, Tommy, one of the coaches at my CrossFit gym, witnesses this old lady swinging a sledge hammer the wrong way and – without a snicker – taught me the correct way to swing a sledge hammer.

At my age, 55, I don’t expect I will swinging many sledge hammers. Still, it’s good to know. Why? Because sometimes I get mad. Really mad. I need to physically release my anger.shutterstock_194511182

For a long time I didn’t know how much anger I was carrying around. Invisible baggage accumulated over decades. Then, a major depression right-sized me and I asked for help. I learned anger was a part of my depression, even though I felt numb. I would not be well until I learned to deal with my anger.

Women don’t get many chances to express their anger. Unlike men, who grow up playing sports like football, hockey and rugby, we don’t have many sanctioned activities that allow us to release our anger. Sure, we can get gnarly on the tennis court or golf course, swinging away at the balls.

But other than that, what do we have? Bridge? Book club? Scrap booking?


Get me a sledge hammer: Depression as anger turned inward

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

About 8 years ago, during my last major depression, I was told that depression was anger turned inward and that if I did not get rid of my anger, I would not get better.

This baffled me because at the time I felt nothing but hopelessness. I had emotionally flatlined. I didn’t feel angry. I felt exhausted. However, the people who told me this – my psych nurse and therapist – knew what they were talking about. They had spent decades treating people with depression. If they said I would not get well until I got rid of my anger, then I would get rid of my anger.shutterstock_178702403

My therapist gave me a whiffle bat and wanted me to beat a pillow. Really? A whiffle bat? A pillow? I figured that if the amount of anger in me was enough to reduce me to a listless, despondent lump of flesh, a whiffle bat was not going to do the trick.

I put on my steel-toed work boots, found a metal baseball bat in the shed and drove to a junkyard. I asked the guys if I could have a few minutes alone with one of their vehicles. They raised their eyebrows and took me to a green truck. They left me alone.


Justifying late-term abortions: Mother’s mental health is not enough

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Last week Florida lawmakers passed a law banning most abortions during the third-trimester. A doctor who performs an abortion during the third trimester and anyone who assists can be charged with the third-degree felony.

shutterstock_152763305However, the law makes an exception when a “physician certifies in writing that, in reasonable medical judgment, there is a medical necessity for legitimate emergency medical procedures for termination of the pregnancy to save the pregnant woman’s life or avert a serious risk of imminent substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman other than a psychological condition.”

Without wading into the debate over abortion, I would like to weigh in on the exception in the exception of  “a psychological condition.”


Mentally ill now and forever…amen.

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

Every now and then I get a glimpse of what my mental illnesses look like.

It’s been a long time. I have taken my medications without fail for years.  I exercise, eat healthy foods, get as much sleep as I can, visit my psych-nurse practitioner every three months and I get on my knees every night and thank God for my sobriety. In other word, I do what I am told – an unnatural act for me.

But for the last two weeks I have been under an unconscionable amount of stress. I say “unconscionable” because I allowed it to happen.shutterstock_176869352

As a reporter for a daily newspaper, I am accustomed to stress. For nearly 30 years I have lived with a deadline hanging over my head. I took six weeks off to have a baby, 8 weeks for my last major depression but other than the one- or two-week vacations, I have had a deadline over my head.

Recently, I accepted  an assignment which today I realize I should not  have done. I agreed to leave my home and my dog, suspend my exercise routine and healthy eating habits and forego nights of 8-hours of sleep to cover the Florida legislature’s last two-weeks in session.

I did this once before, nearly 30 years ago when reporters were only expected to write a story for the newspaper. Now, we must also Tweet, blog and make videos. Despite my degree in political science, after 30+ years in journalism, I’m kinda disallusioned with politics.


Gluten and depression: Is there a link?

Monday, April 14th, 2014

People who don’t eat gluten are a lot like people who do CrossFit. They talk about it incessantly.

I am both gluten-free and a CrossFitter. I don’t talk about either unless asked or I am around others who are gluten-free or do CrossFit. Or both. It’s gotten to the point where we have be become so annoying that we have become the butt of a really funny jokes:shutterstock_129962030

  • Ten percent of the population is gluten-free and the other 90 percent are sick of hearing about it.
  • Do you know the correct term for gluten-free brownies? Compost.
  • I hope your birthday is filled with lots of gluten-free treats that aren’t disgusting, just like everything else that is gluten-free.

Gluten-free is considered the Nehru jacket of nutrition trends: Hip for about 20 minutes, then profoundly ridiculous. Which is why I rarely talk about either.

When depression has pinned you to the mat and you cannot get up, you will risk being the butt of a joke to feel better. Short of getting drunk or stoned, I would stick Tootsie Rolls up my nose if I thought it would help my depression. It’s that simple.


Hoping for a Happy Ending
Check out Christine's book!
Hope for a Happy Ending: A Journalist's
Story of Depression, Bipolar and Alcoholism
Christine Stapleton

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