Archives for Stigma

Alcoholism

How my depression nearly killed my sobriety

This month I celebrate 17 years of sobriety. Let me say that again. This month I celebrate 17 years of sobriety.

I can't believe I just said that because it seems so impossible and sounds so weird coming from my mouth.

17 years.

How the heck did that happen?

One day at a time. I also followed suggestions, especially from a doctor friend who told me about 12 years ago that I was in a major depression and needed antidepressants.
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Coping with Depression

Crying to prevent my depression

My life improved when I accepted crying as a body function - like blowing your nose or peeing. I never worried that someone might think I was a wuss because I blew my nose. So, why is water coming from my eyes considered a weakness and peeing is not?

I got to pondering this enigma after a major depression that followed the death of my parents - 16 months apart - and then the death of my dog 8 months later. It took a couple years after these losses for the depression to really kick in. But when it did, it kicked in hard.

What I learned in my recovery was that I hadn't grieved properly. When sorrow smothered me, I stuffed it. When sadness came on me at work, I flung myself at a project to stop the tears. I was not going to cry - at least not in public. Of course, it's okay to cry right after someone dies or at the funeral. But not two months or two years later.

Get a grip. Suck it up. Enough already.
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Alcoholism

Government scrubs substance-abuse data but doesn’t tell researchers

What if the government decided to withhold the data it gathers on an insidious mental illness that affects nearly one in ten Americans and did not bother to tell researchers it had done so?

It happened. The data are collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The mental illness - substance abuse.

The New England Journal of Medicine exposed these shenanigans and explained the consequences in an article published in April: Protection or Harm? Suppressing Substance-Use Data, by Austin B. Frakt and Nicholas Bagley. According to the authors, the CMS began to withhold from its data sets, called the Research Identifiable Files, any Medicare or Medicaid claim with a substance abuse diagnosis.

Why? Patient privacy concerns. Why didn't the CMS tell researchers? Good question.
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In My Experience

Should airline pilots – and lawyers – reveal their mental illnesses?

As the world ponders the sensibility of psychological testing of airline pilots before we even know the diagnosis of GermanWings pilot Andreas Lubitz, comes word that the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Florida Supreme Court for the state Board of Bar Examiners' policy of evaluating applicants for mental health diagnosis or treatment.

According to the South Florida Daily Business Review, the investigation began in December and focuses on the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, an agency of the Florida Supreme Court, which oversees bar admissions and determines whether applicants should be admitted to the Florida Bar by reviewing lengthy character and fitness files.

Among the questions asked: Has the applicant ever been diagnosed with a mental illness, such as bipolar, depression or psychosis, according to the article.

Florida isn't the only state that asks mental health questions and the Justice Department has made it clear it doesn't like the questions.

The Justice Department has gone so far as to write a letter to officials Vermont and Louisiana - states that also ask such questions - saying the questions are illegal. While questions about conduct are appropriate, "questions based on an applicant's status as a person with a mental health diagnosis do not serve the court's worthy goal of identifying unfit applicants, are in fact counterproductive to ensuring that attorneys are fit to practice and violate the applicable civil rights laws," the letter stated.
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Coping with Depression

Can depression help your career?

A good headline, like a lot of good things in life, will suck you in. This one got me: "How business leaders can use fatigue and depression to their advantage."

Do tell, I thought, because I've been in the working world for more than 30 years and I've yet to meet a boss, supervisor or leader who has used fatigue and depression to their advantage. On the planet where I live, depression and fatigue are weaknesses.

Come to think of it, I have never encountered a boss supervisor or leader who ever had to take time off from work because depression or fatigue. That's only something us worker bees do. So, I had to read this article by Andrew Cave, published on the Forbes web site on Wednesday.

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Alcoholism

I have depression and alcoholism. So what?

I find people generally have three reactions when I tell them I am a recovered alcoholic with Bipolar II. They either tell me that they or a loved one has struggled with a mental illness, begin talking about the weather or look at me like I just told them I have a stripper pole in my bedroom - which I don't.

I can pretty much tell how they feel about mental illness by their reaction. When someone responds with their own experience, I listen. It's such a comfort to have someone else willing to share their own experience. As for the weather response, I chime in with my own thoughts about the weather.

The last thing I want to do is make someone uncomfortable discussing mental illness. I figure I've planted a little seed in their mind that it's okay to talk about mental illness. It's their responsibility to let it grow - or die.

The stripper-pole response? Well, that's a little trickier. I take into consideration the context in which the topic arose during our conversation and the person's attitude before I made my revelation.

If they were being a smart-ass about someone else's mental illness or treatment, I throw it right back at them. I've always been what my father called a weisenheimer, (think Curly in the Three Stooges.)
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In My Experience

How the Media Covers Suicide: Day 2

Covering Suicide and Mental Illness is a three-day seminar for journalists sponsored by The Poynter Institute, The McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute and the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Here are my thoughts on issues covered during today's session. #suicidereporting
Today we learned some really wonderful techniques on how to cover suicide. Unfortunately, they aren't very practical.

For example, it was suggested that we not use the word "suicide" in a headline. Really? Not only does it become impossibly difficult to write a headline about a suicide and not use the word "suicide," in these days of SEO-driven journalism, you must put the word "suicide" in the headline or your editor will.

Headlines are no longer about the sexiest verb we can find. Headlines are about SEO and using words that Google Trend tells us will attract readers. Suicide is one of those words.

We were also given suggestions on how to speak with family members at the scene. First of all, if you go to a suicide scene and there are any family members present, the cops aren't going to let you speak with them until they have ruled the death a suicide and not a homicide. This means you won't have a prayer of getting an interview with a family member until the cops have finished their interviews.

I've been doing this for 30+ years and the chances of  family members wanting to speak with you after what they have been through - the suicide itself and then an interview with the cops - are slim to none. With homicides, you can often get a family member to talk and even give you a photo of the victim. But suicide - no way.

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General

How the media covers suicide: Day 1

Covering Suicide and Mental Illness is a three-day seminar for journalists sponsored by The Poynter Institute, The McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute and the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Here are my thoughts on issues covered during today's session. #suicidereporting
What the DSM is to mental health, the AP Stylebook is to journalism. The Stylebook is our Bible. It not only tells us where and when to put our commas, it provides journalists with a uniform set of rules for grammar, principals and practices.

The Associated Press first published the Stylebook in 1953 and updates it every year. On March 7, 2013 - three months after the Sandy Hook school shooting - the AP added an entry on mental illness to the Stylebook. Below is an excerpt from the guidelines, the new industry standard:
mental illness Do not describe an individual as mentally ill unless it is clearly pertinent to a story and the diagnosis is properly sourced.

When used, identify the source for the diagnosis. Seek firsthand knowledge; ask how the source knows. Don’t rely on hearsay or speculate on a diagnosis. Specify the time frame for the diagnosis and ask about treatment. A person’s condition can change over time, so a diagnosis of mental illness might not apply anymore. Avoid anonymous sources. On-the-record sources can be family members, mental health professionals, medical authorities, law enforcement officials and court records. Be sure they have accurate information to make the diagnosis. Provide examples of symptoms.

Mental illness is a general condition. Specific disorders are types of mental illness and should be used whenever possible: He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to court documents. She was diagnosed with anorexia, according to her parents. He was treated for depression.

Do not use derogatory terms, such as insane, crazy/crazed, nuts or deranged, unless they are part of a quotation that is essential to the story.

Do not assume that mental illness is a factor in a violent crime, and verify statements to that effect. A past history of mental illness is not necessarily a reliable indicator. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, and experts say most people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness.

Avoid unsubstantiated statements by witnesses or first responders attributing violence to mental illness. A first responder often is quoted as saying, without direct knowledge, that a crime was committed by a person with a “history of mental illness.” Such comments should always be attributed to someone who has knowledge of the person’s history and can authoritatively speak to its relevance to the incident.

Avoid descriptions that connote pity, such as afflicted with, suffers from or victim of. Rather, he has obsessive-compulsive disorder.
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General

How the media covers suicide and mental health

I am on a plane, flying to Washington, DC. For the next three days I will be immersed in suicide - specifically, how the media covers suicide and mental health.

The seminar is being sponsored by The Poynter Institute, the McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute and the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. As a journalist, this is a topic that is especially dear to me: I know people who have killed themselves, I’ve attempted twice...
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Living with Depression

Robin Williams: Celebrity vs non-celebrity suicide

Robin Williams.

Ernest Hemingway. Kurt Cobain. Marilyn Monroe. Vincent VanGogh. Sigmund Freud. Spalding Grey. Frida Kahlo. Shakir Stewart (Def Jam). Cleopatra. Junior Seau. Roy Raymond (founder, Victoria's Secret). Socrates. Sylvia Plath. Hunter S. Thompson. L'Wren Scott. Virginia Woolf. Abbie Hoffman. David Carradine. Wendy O. Williams. Mary Kay Bergman (SouthPark voices) Robert Enke (soccer).

These are the suicides you hear about in the media. Because of their accomplishments and talent, their suicides supercede the hushed rule in newsrooms throughout...
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