Politics

Politics is a dangerous territory to discuss. Especially since there’s much emotion and fervor regarding this presidential race. I don’t normally discuss politics on this blog but this is something that has been bugging me as of late. I’d like to share my view with my readers so people can get a black woman’s perspective on this issue. By the way, I said “black” intentionally.

At this time, Senator John McCain is (pretty much) the Republican nominee. The Democratic nomination could go to either Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator Barack Obama. (I personally think Obama will end up winning the Democratic nomination, but that’s beside my point.)

This post addresses the highly popularized contest for the Democratic nomination between Clinton and Obama. In recent news, Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to ever run for vice president, said the following:

“If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”

Here’s my brief disclaimer: If you are so passionate about politics that my opinion might cause you to stop reading this blog, I suggest you don’t read any further. I also don’t plan on engaging in long debates about politics either; it’s too much of a merry-go-round. But, since you’re human, you’re probably going to click the link below anyway.

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Depression: Theory or fact?

UPI has an article on a study which finds that the media presents depression's "chemical imbalance" as a fact instead of a theory. According to Jeffrey Lacasse and Jonathan Leo, the DSM says "the cause of depression and anxiety is unknown." Lacasse and Leo asked members of the media to submit evidence that supports chemical imbalance as a fact but no one did. This finding comes after the near-damning U of Hull study that asserts antidepressants don't work much better than a placebo on the majority of depressed patients. If the efficacy of antidepressants are this dubious, how much more are antipsychotics?

This article gets me thinking about the idea of media responsibility. I feel like what we call "news" has reverted to the days of yellow journalism. Sometimes, even worse than that. While the majority of publications strive to adhere to ethical practices and accuracy, many major publications will resort to printing anything that sells — even if it's libelous. But I'm getting off track here.

I can't wholly blame the media for sensationalism on certain topics like depression.  Most of them aren't scientists or research experts – they only report what they're told. Take NIMH's explanation of the way medication works for depression:

Antidepressants work to normalize naturally occurring brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, notably serotonin and norepinephrine. Other antidepressants work on the neurotransmitter dopamine. Scientists studying depression have found that these particular chemicals are involved in regulating mood, but they are unsure of the exact ways in which they work.

NIMH isn't presenting the way antidepressants work as a theory. It's an authoritative paragraph that sounds as though it's fact. If the chemical imbalance that causes depression is only theory then one must conclude the way antidepressants work as a theory as well, no? The NIMH has a section that explains what causes depression:

There is no single known cause of depression. Rather, it likely
results from a combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and
psychological factors.

"Likely results" leaves the door open to interpret the sentence as "maybe it's a combination of…" However, most people aren't scrutinizing words that carefully. Most people see this: "Rather, it results from a combination of…" Yes, I'm being nitpicky but the word "likely" still strikes me with a more authoritative connotation than maybe or perhaps. Here's a quote from a recent report from a local news station News 8 Austin:

Depression is more than just a negative state of mind. There are physical changes that occur in the brain that disrupt that natural balance of chemicals called neurotransmitters. (emphasis mine)

There is no single factor that causes depression. In fact, many experts believe most cases
[sic] of depression are a result of several sources. (emphasis mine)  

Again, I'm being nitpicky. "There are" is an authoritative phrase. People are unlikely to argue with a statement that includes the verb "are." Take for example, "There are people outside" or "There are five cats at the door." There's no question in the speaker's mind about whether people exist outside or the number of cats at the door. With subjects like depression that involve psychiatry and neuroscience, the majority of people aren't going to question these assertions either. I'm surprised that second paragraph didn't read, "many experts say …" Unless you're an expert yourself, you'd be unlikely to argue on what an expert says versus what the expert believes.

While I appreciate Lacasse and Leo's study on the inaccurate way depression is presented in the media, the "authoritative" sources on the issue would be loathe to correct it. Right now,  the big picture of raising awareness about depression is more important than to correct a trivial thing about the chemical imbalance being a theory. Pharmaceutical companies don't like correcting minor nuisances like theories.

To sum it up, I think the idea of a chemical imbalance causing depression is a theory. That's not a dubious statement. Unless it depends on your definition of what is is. 

A classic case of twisting the words of someone who supposedly shot the messenger

The subject title is long, but – I think – apropos.

The Treatment Advocacy Center’s post, “A classic case of shooting the messenger,” has been bothering me all day. I’ve been wanting to do further research on their claim that “patients with schizophrenia were 10 times more likely to engage in violent behavior than the general public.” Funny thing is, I didn’t have to look far.

The TAC links to a summary of the CATIE violence study and surprisingly, it contradicts the TAC’s post. I couldn’t help but chuckle once I realized I could easily debunk their claims from what they considered supporting evidence.

USPRA: “Violence is no more prevalent among individuals with mental illness than the general public”
Fact: The CATIE violence study found that patients with schizophrenia were 10 times more likely to engage in violent behavior than the general public (19.1% vs. 2% in the general population).

MY TAKE:Overall, the amount of violence committed by people with schizophrenia is small, and only 1 percent of the U.S. population has schizophrenia. Of the 1,140 participants in this analysis, 80.9 percent reported no violence, while 3.6 percent reported engaging in serious violence in the past six months. Serious violence was defined as assault resulting in injury, use of a lethal weapon, or sexual assault. During the same period, 15.5 percent of participants reported engaging in minor violence, such as simple assault without injury or weapon. By comparison, about 2 percent of the general population without psychiatric disorder engages in any violent behavior in a one-year period, according to the NIMH-funded Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study.”

This data is a little skewed here. (CLPsych or Philip Dawdy could do a better job at clarifying this for me.) First of all, “about 2 percent of the general population without psychiatric disorder engages in any violent behavior in a one-year period.” How many people does this constitute? The sentence doesn’t specify ‘without schizophrenia’; it says “without psychiatric disorder.” That means Americans who do not suffer at any given time from depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis, anxiety, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, postpartum depression, and the list goes on and on. Can anyone compile complete data of Americans who suffer from a psychiatric disorder? (Why do I have the funny feeling that Americans without psychiatric disorders are becoming the minority?)

In the January 1994 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, results of the National Comorbidity Study were released. Diagnoses from the DSM-III were applied to the participants ranging from ages 15-54. The study found that 50 percent of participants reported “one lifetime disorder” and 30 percent said they had “at least one 12-month disorder.”

That was January 1994. The American population has grown significantly since then, so I have a hunch that there's an increase in diagnosing people with psychiatric illnesses. But like I said, that’s, uh, just a hunch. (Keep in mind that the study does not include children ranging from ages 4-14 who are likely to receive ADHD and/or bipolar diagnoses.)

Humor me: Let’s take the NC study’s findings and apply it to the current estimated U.S. population (assuming that the percentage of those with a lifetime disorder has remained the same). Out of nearly 300 million Americans (July ’06 estimate), that means about 150 million Americans have at least some form of a psychiatric disorder. If 1 percent of the general population suffers from schizophrenia, that comes out to 3 million people. If we apply CATIE’s violence percentages, TAC’s right; 19.1 percent of schizophrenic patients engage in violent behavior of any kind. However, the CATIE study also says that two percent of the general population without psychiatric disorder engages in violent behavior. That means out of the remaining 150 million, 2 percent of that would be —*drumroll please* — 3 million Americans! Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t seem 10 times likely. I could always be wrong.

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Blogs vs. Mainstream Media

“Mr. [James B.] Gottstein, [a lawyer from Alaska, who was pursuing unrelated litigation for mentally ill patients in his state], sends [Dr. David Egilman, a consulting witness in ongoing litigation against Lilly] a subpoena for copies. Hell begins breaking loose.” – Tom Zeller, Jr. in The New York Times

I think Furious Seasons originally linked to this (I can’t remember the source of the post), but I read this on the NYT and had a few thoughts, regarding brick-and-mortar courts vs. “teh Internets.”

Warning: Rant ahead.

I can’t help but think back to the 2004 showdown between Dan Rather and CBS (endearingly named Rathergate) vs. political blogs regarding a memo about George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. From NewsMax:

“Added [Matthew] Sheffield [of RatherBiased.com]: A virtual think-tank was born… Forty-seven posts later, a person who called himself ‘Buckhead’ offered the proposition that he thought the documents were forgeries.’

Sheffield and his Web site jumped on the bandwagon, searching the Web for experts on 1970’s typewriters. Another blogger site, PowerlineBlog.com, raised the question of forgery. ‘Matt Drudge and his DrudgeReport.com then linked to the Powerline piece, and the story took off,’ recounted Sheffield.”

Someone please tell Drudge about Zyprexa, Risperdal, Cymbalta, Seroquel, Abilify, and blah blah blah, psych med, blah blah blah.

“Some media observers now contend the “Blogosphere” is rapidly replacing CBS and the rest of the mainstream media.

“You’ll note that several blogs rank higher than mid-size daily newspapers and some are pushing the sites of papers in the top 50 (by daily circulation). The data suggest that the question isn’t “When will blogs arrive?” but rather “Blogs HAVE arrived, what now?” [said Kevin Aylward of Wizbangblog.]”

I’ll probably have a string of quotes from the newsmax article, but I will eventually get to my point.

I quoted this previously, but it’s worth requoting:

“It’s great that [Philip] Dawdy [of Furious Seasons] has stepped up for a huge, mainly voiceless population, but on the other hand, it’s weird to see citizen journalists so responsible for watchdogging our mental health industry. When we hear newspapers complain about declining readership, we can’t help but think it’s mainly because — gosh, this is awkward — the shit they’re reporting on isn’t newsworthy. And this shit is.” – Seattlest

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Centre Daily Letter to the Editor

I just found this letter to the editor originally published in the Centre Daily. I like to highlight some of the few letters that address the media's missed opportunities to educate the public about suicide.

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YOU Aren’t the Person of the Year

Time's 2006 Person of the Year“We chose to put a mirror on the cover because it literally reflects the idea that you, not we, are transforming the information age.” – Time managing editor Richard Stengel

The LAMEST excuse for a person of the year. Of all the people to choose as Person of the Year, it had to be YOU. (Pun not intended.)

Time’s excuse is because YOU are the reason for the boom of the Information Age. Time cites the rise of bloggers, YouTube-ites, MySpacers, and Wikipedians as a few of the examples that represent why YOU are Person of the Year. (Yes, I will capitalize “you” for the most part throughout this post. It’s annoying, isn’t it? I think it’s annoying too but it makes the point quite well.)

YOU, in Time’s perspective, represent those who are Internet-savvy: from the 8-year-old who pretends to be 13 on MySpace to the 44-year-old predator/creepy guy on MySpace. But if you’re a senior, more than likely, you’re not a valid POTY. I’m sorry, Suri Cruise, as cute as you are, you’re too young to be a POTY because, well, you didn’t really matter like YOU did. (Do you see how ridiculous this is getting?) Time tries to convince YOU why YOU are Person of the Year.

Time fails miserably.

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83-year-old man plunges to his death

An 83-year-old man in India committed suicide after reportedly telling his family that he was tired of dealing with his medical illnesses and "wanted to get it all over with." Babulal Shah suffered from severe depression stemming from failing eyesight, failing kidneys, and diabetes. Shah did not leave a suicide note and Indian police are treating it as an accidental death.

As an aside, I’ve noticed that Indian and Australian news are much more willing to report suicides of citizens much more readily than American news. Trolling through Google News with the search term "suicide" returns many reports of Indian farmers committing suicide over failing crops and money problems (aside from the suicide bombings occuring in the Middle East and Afghanistan). It’s interesting to see the difference among Indian, Australian, and American societies and why reporting suicides of normal people doesn’t induce copycat stories unlike America.