Tag Archives: mental illness

Gun Violence and Mental Health

It’s a depressingly familiar pattern here in the United States. Social media blows up with news about the latest shooting. Whether it’s at a school, a bar, a movie theater, or literally anywhere, it is always the same story. A white man walked into a place and opened fire. Numbers start climbing. 2 dead, then 5, then 10, then 21 until finally the numbers plateau at one that is too high and too depressing. Finally, the shooter is identified, a white man with a deranged look in his eye.

The pattern continues as we discuss the tragedy, and try and make sense of the pain. Lots of people, conservatives and liberals both, start a discussion about mental health. Because only a crazy person would use an AR-15 on an innocent crowd of people, right? Maybe the shooter is a lone wolf, or maybe he was in the boy’s scouts. Maybe he was bullied. But he was certainly mentally unwell, deranged. Mental illness is thrown around as the one true cause for this horrible tragedy.

But here’s the deal. Those shooters aren’t mentally ill. According to the American Psychiatric Association people with serious mental illness represent less than 1% of all yearly mass shootings. It’s not the crazy people doing this. It’s the angry, privileged, white men who see others as deserving of their violence.

There’s a serious problem with equating mental illness with violence. It produces an awful stigma for people diagnosed with mental illnesses, making getting help and treatment difficult. People with mental illnesses need our support, not the constant stream of news that tells them they are the problem. Mentally ill people cause about 3% of all violent crime annually, and very little of that involves guns.

It makes no sense to have laws that target the mentally ill when it comes to gun control. It won’t change anything. Keeping guns from them won’t stop the real perpetrators. We need comprehensive gun control; laws that will keep everyone to the same high standards for gun ownership. Targeting the mentally ill only increases the stigma around these disorders and lets the problems with gun violence in America continue unchecked. It doesn’t help anyone.

Waiting Room Blues

We’re all sitting in a makeshift waiting room.

A drug treatment facility masquerading as a fidcus emporium

The doctor is late

It’s as if having a medical degree comes with a broken watch

All of us are here for the same reason

Our brains flood us with that feel-good chemical

Get my heart racin’ baby

We shift uncomfortably

Unsure as to whether or not we’ll get our fix

waiting room
“The doctor is late. It’s as if having a medical degree comes with a broken watch.” Photo from: www.juiceforskin.com






They leave us in twos

Some cross the threshold and never come back

Gone into the zone of white lab coats and Zoloft

‘Not I’ said the bipolar

‘Not me’ said the schizophrenic

We shift and stare

Trying to find the drug addict among us

Only to find that we’re all addicts,

Getting high off serotonin.

No “special inferno:” Why I support inclusion

I’m a special education major, and a recent op-ed in The New York Times tried to convince me that some of my students should be prisoners.

Let me explain.

Most of us are familiar, at least in passing, with the concept of the asylum. Maybe you’ve been to St. Albans or another haunted hospital. Maybe you’ve watched movies like “Shutter Island” that leverage the creepy clinical aura of mental institutions for suspense. It’s a well-established trope — but I wonder how many of us know about the historical realities behind institutionalization.

Christmas in Purgatory, I think, is the most compelling single example. Published in 1966, it revolutionized the national conversation about then-current treatment of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The pictures alone will shock you; the report, if you have a heart, will probably break it. Children and adults  spent years — lifetimes, even — abused, naked, uneducated, and unloved in the name of “treatment.”

“Children and adults spent years — lifetimes, even — abused, naked, uneducated, and unloved in the name of “treatment.””

“The staff has to believe that their ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ are human beings who can learn,” the authors explained almost 50 years ago, and that’s true. No matter how profound a person’s disability may be, I believe — deeply, personally, professionally, truly — that he or she is capable and deserving of an education. But as the authors go on to emphasize, “even more important is the fundamental belief that each of these residents is a human being.”

This is the key. Humane treatment is not necessarily equivalent treating people as human beings. We can be as thoughtful and ethical as can be — but unless we believe, deep in our bones, that humanity transcends disability, we’re lost. It’s not enough to merely maintain people — and that’s what institutions do.

I don’t intend to tar all mental health facilities with my anti-institutionalization brush. Mental health care is vital; we should absolutely fund and support facilities that serve people with mental illnesses. What I’m against — and what the article in question advocates for — is the functional incarceration of people with disabilities.

You have to understand that we’re really talking about two distinct (but sometimes overlapping) populations here: people with mental illness, and people with disabilities.  While many of the same historical  trends apply, we can’t automatically assume that what we know about institutionalization involves both groups. When someone with a mental health concern enters some sort of care facility, the goal (in most cases) is to reach the point where the person can manage their mental health in the real world. Conversely, the point of institutionalization for people with disabilities has more often focused on indefinite containment and maintenance outside of the community.

This is a distinction that Christine Montross, the author of the op-ed, doesn’t make. Based on her own psychiatric practice, she suggests that reintroducing institutionalization would fill current gaps in “care” for people with disabilities. She wants to provide sensory stimulation rooms and vocational skills training. She thinks that’s enough.

It’s not.

What if I told you that a solution to the concerns Montross raises already exists? What if I also told you a peculiarly excellent example exists here at Radford University?

I refer to the idea of inclusion, which essentially asserts that people with disabilities have a right to participate as fully and meaningfully as possible in their communities. This concept has gained particular traction in schools, because of federal mandates to place students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment possible to receive special education services. The goal of inclusion is to integrate all students — those with disabilities, those without, students who are gifted — into classrooms that both challenge and support everyone.

This is a good and necessary thing — but what’s the point of promoting inclusion in schools if it doesn’t exist in the community?

This is where the On-Campus Transitions Program comes in. A partnership between Montgomery County Public Schools and Radford University (there’s also a program at Virginia Tech), OCTP puts students with disabilities who have graduated from high school where many of their peers are: on a college campus. Students take classes, work on-campus jobs, and spend academic and recreational time with both paid peer mentors and student volunteers from a wide variety of majors. It’s inclusive. It’s beneficial to students and mentors. Speaking from my personal experiences volunteering junior year, it’s excellent fun.

Johnna Elliott, the current director of RU’s OCTP, wrote her own response to Montross’ article. She advocates, naturally, for inclusive community-based models of support. “It takes money…for sure,” she explains. “But it takes MUCH MORE money to fund the dark, isolated hallways of an institution.” People can be supported “adequately, even fabulously, in their home communities” when we focus our energies and resources on including them in those communities.

“There is a hell on earth, and in America there is a special inferno,” the authors of Christmas in Purgatory asserted. This is a fire we have started to put out. Why bring back the torches?

Limbaugh’s commentary on Williams’ death & credible news sources

A couple of weeks ago, we lost a legend. Robin Williams was found dead in his home, due to an apparent suicide. Scrolling through Facebook and various other forms of media, it was easy to see that his loss affected everyone in some shape or form. I’ll openly admit, to ugly-crying a few times watching tribute videos.

But, of course, in the sea of praise for Williams, there were also many negative voices. One of those voices belonged to the infamous Rush Limbaugh. In one segment of his radio show, Limbaugh began by reading a question from one of his listeners that asked, “what are the politics in Robin Williams’ death? Limbaugh began to explain that Williams’ death was somehow connected to the “general unhappiness of the left.”

“I was, however, very shocked that Limbaugh would be so trashy and distasteful as to tie a suicide to politics.”

Even though I’m definitely a left-winger, I wasn’t terribly offended by Limbaugh’s comments about how “miserable” the left is. After all, Limbaugh is a right-winger; he doesn’t know my level of happiness. I was, however, very shocked that Limbaugh would be so trashy and distasteful as to tie a suicide to politics. It’s especially offensive that Limbaugh would attack someone who was so very loved and brought nothing but joy to his audience just days after their death. No matter what your political preference is, there’re certain things that should be left unsaid. Suicide has nothing to do with politics. Williams lived a great life, but he was ill. He died of depression, not his political standpoint.

Limbaugh wasn’t only offensive in saying this, but he was also making a very far reach. What makes him think that he can tie two very different things together? Limbaugh has proven over and over again that he isn’t a credible source, though many would argue differently. His opinion is his opinion, but with logic so blurry, I can’t help but wonder how this man was given a platform. With so many talented young professionals looking for jobs, why do we allow this guy to have any platform?

A few people may agree with Limbaugh, which is sad. But why do we continue to give people such as him, or Bill O’Reilly for that matter, a platform? People like Limbaugh and O’Reilly make these far reaches just for the shock factor. But it seems that people believe them just because they have a platform. No matter how big of a platform they have, they may very well have no credibility or anything that makes them qualified whatsoever. The fact that Limbaugh isn’t categorized as a satirist is shocking to me. We need to stop making these people famous, and start looking into what makes a real, credible news source.

Health: It’s not just physical

Photo from Creative Commons.

Susie Ramsland is a senior psychology major at the University of Mary Washington who lives with a variety of psychological illnesses. She has a panic/anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and major depressive episodes, and she chooses to go without any medication. She is majoring in psychology because she wants the people she encounters to be able to relate to her and learn from her experiences.

“At one point my panicking got so bad that I couldn’t even get behind the wheel of a car,” Ramsland said. “I was the only 17-year-old at my high school who wasn’t learning to drive, and I was too afraid to tell people what was going on because I knew they would see me differently — I mean, it’s high school.”

This is when Ramsland decided it was time to see a psychologist, and she said therapy did wonders for her. After her first few visits, Ramsland started working with her therapist to discover the root of her fears, and after several sessions her therapist started to walk her through different ways to deal with her anxiety.

“She told me that she has a lot of patients my age and that I should get comfortable with everything I have because it’s a part of who I am, and it doesn’t make me any less of a great person,” Ramsland said. “She also said that the people who really care about me wouldn’t care. I was really determined to be confident again so I swallowed my worry and I became really open about everything. I ended up being really surprised because it turned out the more I talked about it, the more people wanted to know.”

Mental illness isn’t the terrifying diagnosis it used to be, and in today’s society more college-aged people are seeking therapy and answers.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five college students is living with a psychological illness, so at a school like Radford University with a population of about 10,000 students, around 2,000 are living with a psychological illness. NAMI provided other statistics that said one out of three college-aged people said they have lived with “prolonged periods of serious depression” and one out of every four said they have had suicidal thoughts.

National Alliance on Mental Illness logo. Photo from Creative Commons.

NAMI has recently begun a push for parents to talk to their teens about mental illnesses so they are aware and prepared for the independence and psychological stress that accompanies college life. The main point is to keep an open dialogue with young adults in order to identify what they are feeling and whether those feelings are signs of something bigger. Almost half of college-aged people polled by NAMI reported that they have poor mental health, while only 25% of parents reported any behavior that they thought could be a warning sign.

The biggest issue is awareness; parents are often unaware, so they don’t know how to prepare their children, and in turn, their children go away just fine and come back with an undiagnosed case of depression or anxiety, and neither parent nor student knows how to handle it.

Many universities are becoming more aware of the conditions their students are affected by and have stepped up their support programs and the availability of university-employed counselors.

Schools like Radford University and Virginia Tech offer student health and counseling services to their students for little to no charge in hopes that students will take advantage of the opportunity to get help early.

As reported in a previous article, Radford University’s Director of Student Counseling Services Erin Sullivan said the number of students seeking counseling with her department increased by nearly 48% from the 2007-2008 year to 2009-2010.

The programs offered by schools are not usually meant to be long term, but they are able to refer students to long-term therapists and psychologists. Radford University offers counseling for individuals, couples and groups in hopes that therapy will relieve the stress that many students experience every day. They offer medication evaluation and management, so students can have a professional available when they have questions and concerns about their personal health. Radford University also provides educational services to its students for free. This service informs students about a variety of subjects from mental health issues to stress management, anxiety, depression, sexual health, alcohol and substance use, and nutrition.

Jennifer Simpson, a Resident Assistant at Radford University, said that she has had her fair share of experiences with mental illnesses.

“Even before I was an RA, I knew residents with mental illnesses,” Simpson said. “One of my good friends suffered from OCD, bipolar disorder, insomnia, paranoia and addiction, but she was a great person. She had episodes, and I was there for her during those […] It was rough, but I was her friend and I wasn’t going to abandon her when she needed me.”

Simpson’s friend left Radford University, but her experience taught her a lot about mental illness and what some people go through in silence.

“I became an RA because I wanted to be the person someone could come to, trust and confide in,” Simpson said. “My residents know I accept them, I’m here to help them and I want them to succeed. I like being the catalyst for some of them; I don’t push them, but I make sure they all know what resources are out there and that I am willing to personally take them if they need me to.”

Many schools like RU are working to provide the services that will keep their students healthy, both mentally and physically; and according to the statistics, more students are taking advantage of those services than ever before. The issue is being addressed by schools, but according to NAMI, the dialogue has to start at home and awareness needs to start early. An open atmosphere will foster healthier more successful individuals and the first step is knowledge and understanding.

From our perspective: It’s an illness, not an infection

Mental illness is becoming more diagnosable and prevalent in today’s society, yet it is still considered taboo. Our question is, why?

Photo from Creative Commons.

A mental illness is not usually a disability that can be prevented. It can also affect people at any age and of any race, religion or income. They aren’t the result of personal weakness, flaw in character or upbringing, and yet many people are outcast and displaced because they live with a mental illness. This would be like outcasting someone with cancer or diabetes. These people can’t prevent their illnesses just as much as a person with a mental illness can’t, but those diseases are far more socially acceptable.

Mental illness is widely misunderstood, so the general public tends to be afraid of the individuals who have this type of ailment. Thus, they shun people who are considered to be mentally ill. Unfortunately, the people who live with these illnesses are the ones who need the most support.

Serious mental illnesses include autism, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder.

The Whim staff feels that our society would be healthier if we were able to easily accept what a mental illness means, instead of just brushing it under the rug.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines mental illnesses as “medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.”

If more people understood that with support these people would be better able to function then it would be easier for everyone to live happy and healthy lives.

We also think that if mental illness weren’t such a taboo subject, then people wouldn’t be so afraid of being diagnosed with one. Thousands of cases of depression and panic disorders go undiagnosed every year because many people do not want to be associated with the disease and they don’t want their peers to think there is something wrong with them. This reaction could potentially be dangerous to the disposition of those going undiagnosed. Untreated depression can, in some cases, lead to suicide and substance abuse. Untreated panic disorders can lead to fear of public situations and anti-social behavior.

The National Institute of Mental Health recently reported that one out of every four adults experience a mental illness every year; that’s about 57.7 million people a year. It doesn’t just influence adults either. The U.S. Surgeon General reported that 10% of children and teens have a serious emotional and mental disorder that causes “significant functional impairment in their day-to-day lives,” and it affects their lives at home, their work in school and their relationships with peers.

There are all kinds of resources that are available to people who think they may be living with a mental illness, and those people are usually the ones who need the most help but are instead told to “get over it.” A mental illness is not something to just get over, and it cannot be overcome by willpower alone. We, as a society, need to step up and lend a hand to those in need instead of standing in their way.