“Reporters often begin in the dark, uncertain about the meaning of the events or issues that they must chronicle or explain. At least once during this confusing journey, the reporter hears — or reads — something that produces a moment of sudden clarity.”
He further quotes Bruce DeSilva of The Associated Press:
“It should stay with you and make you think a little bit. The very best endings do something in addition to that. They surprise you a little. There’s a kind of twist to them that’s unexpected. And yet when you think about it for a second, you realize it’s exactly right.”
This will (realistically) be the last Disorderly Media blog post.
And, while I have primarily focused my attention on the negative stigmatization of mental illness in the media, I would like to end on a positive note, a future action quote, “an eternal flame,” as John McPhee of The New Yorker once put it. I feel the need for some optimism and catharsis.
“Chirlane McCray Promises Millions of Dollars for Mental Health and Social Service Programs”
The “promise” is made on May 5, the first day of Governor Cuomo’s newly proclaimed Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
McCray, wife of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, announced a proposal to increase funding for the city’s mental health programs.
“Over 80 schools would get mental health clinics, every police precinct would have a victims’ advocate, and social workers would arrange psychological care for thousands of families in homeless shelters,” writes Jennifer Peltz of The Associated Press.
While money can only go so far to change public perception, McCray’s poise and openness regarding mental health subjects and their great significance in her life is truly empowering. Her words will serve as my outro.
“It comes from the heart. It’s my family. My parents suffered from depression. Our daughter recently talked about her struggles with anxiety and depression and addiction. But also in my life, I feel as though it’s the one thing that no one ever talks about…There’s a huge stigma. It’s something that needs to come out of the shadows.” -McCray
What I did not expect was that its representation was lurking within films that I had seen and not noticed it.
In the post, writer Ryan Rivera makes the following comment about the French film Amélie:
“The main character in Amélie has a clear social anxiety disorder, but the character herself is still a good person that wants to improve the lives of others and pursue her own romantic interests. Amélie overcomes her shyness through friendship rather than therapy (which is wishful thinking for many social anxiety sufferers), but the character herself does a good job of portraying her shy/nervous character.”
Although Rivera’s comments on Amélie’s behavior are accurate, in all of my viewings of the film, I had not thought to consider her someone with social anxiety. Instead, she comes across as merely quirky. His analysis of her as such, and my own unawareness, speak to the subtleties of anxiety disorders.
The ADAA defines social anxiety disorder as “the extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations,” adding that it “is not simply shyness that has been inappropriately medicalized.”
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) further qualifies: “Social anxiety disorder is about more than just shyness and can be considerably disabling. A diagnosis requires that a person’s fear or anxiety be out of proportion—in frequency and/or duration—to the actual situation.”
The most common treatment methods for social anxiety are psychotherapy and medication, according to PsychCentral.com.
In Rivera’s commentary on Amélie, he describes that the lead character foregoes these methods, instead forming friendships, a sometimes unrealistic coping mechanism.
The downplay of formal treatment is not uncommon in media portrayals of mental illness. Within the movie alone, Amélie’s father also overcomes his own anxieties about leaving the house when she has a traveller photograph is garden gnome in various places across the world.
Despite such problems, the lighthearted and cute quirks that embody Amélie’s supposed disorder do present an interesting spin on social anxiety, and, according to one commenter of Rivera’s work, can serve as an aid to those who also might be suffering.
User ‘Over Shyness‘ writes, “I’ve spoken to people who said Amélie helped them realize they had social problems of their own…”
And, unlike other media portrayals, being compared to the adorable French protagonist is far from undesirable.
Tonight, ABC will air Diane Sawyer’s interview with former Olympian and current celebrity Bruce Jenner.
It is widely believed by the media that Jenner is transitioning from male to female, and that the two-hour special will confirm and discuss this journey.
Media coverage of the Jenner interview has opened up a larger conversation about how society understands and views transgender individuals.
While education regarding this topic has always been important to me, I have hesitated to associate it with this blog for two reasons.
First, as someone who frequently writes and researches media stigma toward mental disorders, I desired not to attach that attitude to the already highly scrutinized subject of gender identity.
Second, it should not be understood that all individuals who undergo gender or sex transitions are mentally ill.
“‘Look at the media. Look at TV programs…I look at article after article and… they appear to get it…’ that being transgender isn’t a mental illness…but a medical one that can lead to mental issues.” -Norman Spack, MD (Brenda Goodman, MA, WebMD.com)
This last idea is one that is often difficult to understand. It wasn’t until I read information directly addressing this concept that I truly felt comfortable blogging about it.
“Some — but not all — trans people experience gender dysphoria, a state of emotional distress caused by dissatisfaction with the gender designated to them at birth and how it conflicts with their gender identity. This is a temporary, treatable condition — not a permanent mental disorder that all trans people struggle with for their entire lives.”
“For a person to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, there must be a marked difference between the individual’s expressed/experienced gender and the gender others would assign him or her, and it must continue for at least six months. In children, the desire to be of the other gender must be present and verbalized. This condition causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”
Both Lopez and DSM-5 go on to say that gender reassignment through surgery, hormone therapy, legal means, etc. helps to treat gender dysphoria.
DSM-5 offers that the gender dysphoria affects between 1 in 71 and 1 in 200 men and between 1 in 333 and 1 in 500 females.
According to a recent WebMD.com article, the number of children seeking medical help for gender dysphoria is growing. However, medical experts attribute this to an increase in facilities willing to treat the condition and in social acceptance of transitioning.
“[Norman Spack, MD] and other experts say an important factor driving the trend is the growing visibility of transgendered lives in the public eye, including a highly anticipated interview with Bruce Jenner,” writes Brenda Goodman, MA.
Goodman also references the great success of transgender actress Laverne Cox of Orange is the New Black (pictured right).
Although the visibility of trans individuals in the media is increasing, the way in which they are discussed does not always promote acceptance.
This week, Poynter.org published excerpts from a letter that the National Lesbian and Gay Journalism Association (NLGJA) sent to journalists in preparation of tonight’s Jenner interview.
The letter specifically warns against the usage of gender-specific pronouns in referencing Jenner.
Lauren Klinger quotes an e-mail from NLGJA executive director Adam Pawlus to Poynter, which states:
“We hope these tools help answer the questions many reporters and editors will have before them and to help improve the overall quality and accuracy of coverage in this Bruce Jenner news cycle and the continuing coverage of all transgender individuals.”
GLAAD (formerly Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) has similar resources for the media on its website. It states:
“[O]nly 8% of Americans say they personally know someone who is transgender. Given this reality, most Americans learn about transgender people through the media. So when the media talks about transgender issues – it is imperative that they get it right.”
Multiple online resources, like GLAAD, exist to help promote trans acceptance and advocacy. In fact, the Internet and social media have been hubs for support long before doctors and other medical experts were.
In her WebMD article, Goodman quotes Maja Marinkovic, MD, who states that prior to seeking medical attention, many trans individuals would go to the Internet, particularly YouTube, for information on transitioning.
It is through such sites that I have been able to develop a better understanding of gender dysphoria and trans issues. However, my knowledge of these topics is by no means complete. In writing this, I sought to collect as much outside information as possible, so as to present the most comprehensive picture that I could.
I whole-heartedly welcome those with additional information and varying perspectives to broaden my understanding of this issue and assist me in presenting a more accurate depiction of these topics. Thank you.
Identifying and categorizing one’s feelings, he writes, not only helps to “diffuse their charge and lessen the burden they create,” but also allows the individual to begin addressing them.
Incidentally, Disney Pixar’s new animated movie Inside Out takes this idea one step further.
The animated film, which is set to hit theaters in June of this year, personifies the emotions of joy, anger, sadness, fear, and disgust to create a comedic dialogue between the outer and inner selves.
But, what Inside Out is actually (and, perhaps unknowingly) demonstrating is the Internal Family Systems (IFS) Model of psychotherapy.
Like the movie, the IFS Model explains that an individual’s “self” is comprised of multiple sub-personalities. While these personalities do not necessarily manifest themselves as multi-colored blob creatures in our brains, they do each contribute to the person we outwardly project.
“[W]hat I heard repeatedly were descriptions of what [clients] often called their ‘parts’ — the conflicted sub-personalities that resided within them,” writes Dr. Richard Schwartz, PhD, on his development of the IFS Model. “I began conceiving of the mind as an inner family and experimenting with techniques I had used as a family therapist.”
Rather than joy, anger, or sadness, Robert Schwartz identifies the family members as managers, exiles, and firefighters.
Where managers work to control interactions with the outside world, exiles are suppressed because of the emotional trauma they stir up. Exiles are often parts of a person’s past that trigger painful memories. Firefighters “come to the rescue” when exiles emerge. Although they work to distract the Self from its pain, these distractions can take on the form of very negative habits, such as drug and alcohol use.
“[T]his third group tries to douse the inner flames of feeling as quickly as possible, which earns them the name firefighters,” Robert Schwartz writes. “They tend to be highly impulsive and strive to find stimulation that will override or dissociate from the exile’s feelings.”
But, as Schwartz admits, he isn’t the first to dissect the psychological mind into parts. Any Psych 101 course would affirm that Sigmund Freud had considered this concept decades earlier.
Freud identified the id, ego, and superego.
And, as demonstrated in the right picture, the dialogue between these parts is not at all unlike that between the animated feelings of Inside Out.
So, what does this mean for the world of psychology?
First, a mainstream depiction of the musings of the mind teaches an important lesson about how all individuals operate.
Where all people are capable of every emotion, some feelings speak louder than others.
And, second, as Tony Schwartz writes:
“[W]e can’t change what we don’t notice. Denying or avoiding feelings doesn’t make them go away, nor does it lessen their impact on us, even if it’s unconscious. Noticing and naming emotions gives us the chance to take a step back and make choices about what to do with them.”
Recognizing that your ‘Disgust’ is a bit more vocal than usual can help you to quiet him, and to allow for a little more ‘Joy’ in your life.
One can scarcely watch an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians without witnessing a doctor’s visit of some sort. In the most recent episode alone, an addiction counselor was called for Rob, Kim underwent surgery, and Kris spoke to her therapist.
Television, especially reality television, is no stranger to counseling services. Whether the rich and famous are seeking an in-home venting session, or Dr. Drew is hosting the reunion special, viewers are exposed firsthand to various (sometimes glamorous) mental health treatment options.
The Iowa State University study was conducted following a 2008 episode of The Sopranos in which a leading character sought psychological help.
“They found that the more comedy and drama programs, which frequently feature plots involving psychological or psychiatric treatment, students watched, the more they associated negative stigmas with seeking psychological or psychiatric help,” the American Psychological Association reported. “These high-exposure students also reported that they anticipated little benefit from consulting a therapist. Consequently, they were less willing to seek mental health services.”
David Vogel, PhD, who authored the study, contextualized this information:
“One of the things that’s important to note about this particular study is that we showed that TV exposure was related to your perceptions of the stigma associated with seeking help, which has been found to be one of the main factors found from inhibiting people from seeking that help,” said Vogel in an article for Science Daily. “So you perceive that yourself, and other people, would be crazy to go (to therapy).”
Analysis of therapy within reality television is still new. Seth Meyers, Psy. D, for Psychology Today has mixed feelings.
“I can see both positives and negatives to showing excerpts of therapy sessions, provided that the client and therapist and doing it for the right reasons: plain and simple, to help themselves and show the viewing audience that they can get good help, too,” Meyers wrote.
This, unfortunately, is not always the case, and television viewers witness counseled celebrities fall into old habits despite psychological guidance.
Despite these lacking outcomes, the anti-stigmatization of therapy is progressing. Within the past decade, studies have found that Americans are more open to the idea of getting mental health even though they may not always follow through.
Continued representation of positive counseling experiences will undoubtedly allow this trend to continue, and enable mentally ill individuals to gain the help they require.
Yesterday, as people across the globe recognized Autism Awareness Day, many individuals took to the Internet to share their personal experiences with the disorder.
According to the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), autism spectrum disorder (ASD) “is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.”
ASD manifests itself in various ways, as can be seen in the accounts of two different mothers, both of whom shared their stories for its international day of recognition.
O’Brien paired anecdotal stories with factual information before offering her own “Wish List” for the world in its treatment of ASD.
“We hope ‘awareness,’ on this day and every day, means that more children around the world will be able to access the therapy that will help them communicate and reach their full potential,” she said.
The Washington Post also featured the voice of a mother. Unlike O’Brien, however, the word “gratitude” is no where near her headline.
Author and mother to three autistic daughters Kim Stagliano writes: “I dread April, which has been designated as Autism Awareness Month.”
Her exact headline phraseology is actually “despise.”
Stagliano, whose children aged 14 to 20 each display different ASD behaviors, candidly describes some of the most simple and painful realities of caring for autistic individuals.
“For me, this should be a month of solemn acknowledgement and education about a global crisis.”
Her least favorite thing about Autism Awareness Day? Light It Up Blue, a campaign by Autism Speaks to illuminate “[t]housands of iconic landmarks, communities, businesses and homes across the globe” in blue (the color designated for autism awareness), according to its website.
The Empire State Building, Tower of Pisa, and Sydney Opera House have all been participants.
“The feel-good frippery of Light It Up Blue cloaks an often debilitating disorder in an air of festivity, with balloons, sparkling lights and pep rallies,” Stagliano says. “The campaign implies autism is a party, rather than a crisis. For families living with autism, reality is far more sober, and their needs extend far beyond ‘awareness.'”
Despite her general dislike of ASD awareness activities, both Stagliano and O’Brien agreed that education of the disorder and its implications is important.
As parents, both writers noted that 48 percent of autistic children wander or flee from familiar environments. O’Brien referenced a specific instance when her son had left their apartment, while Stagliano spoke to the general danger it poses to ASD individuals.
Autism affects one in every 68 children, yet, adequate resources for parents of ASD individuals and those individuals themselves are often difficult to come by.
“If you’re born with autism, where you live makes a big difference,” wrote O’Brien, who felt fortunate to be raising her child in New York. “Nationwide and worldwide, access to early treatment is a challenge.”
Improvement of such resources as health care and insurance were accompanied by plans for inclusion and employment on O’Brien’s wish list.
Stagliano echoed these hopes, calling for Autism Awareness Day to be more active than passive.
“Instead of attending pep rallies and wearing blue bracelets, give to an organization that provides service dogs for autistic children or volunteer as an autism buddy. If your child has a classmate on the spectrum, invite that classmate to your child’s next birthday party,” she wrote. “The best way we can support Autism Awareness Month is to turn it into Autism Action Month. People with autism deserve a bright – not just a blue – future.”
For more information on autism, read O’Brien and Stagliano’s pieces, or search the Twitter tag #AutismStories.
This week, I sat in on two lectures by internationally-recognized forensic trauma expert Dr. Halleh Seddighzadeh.
Dr. Seddighzadeh works with victims of torture and shock through her non profit organization ARMAN (Asylee, Refugee, Migrant Assistance Network). Her presentations focused primarily on cases of human trafficking and its psychological implications.
According to a 2010 report, victims of human trafficking develop a wide range of mental illnesses.
“The majority of research related to the mental health needs of this population focuses on the significant levels of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” the report says.”In addition to PTSD, victims of human trafficking have been found to suffer from other anxiety and mood disorders including panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder.”
In each of these cases, as Dr. Seddighzadeh explained, the anatomy of the brain and its functions are physically altered, a fact that many fail to take into consideration when perceiving these disorders.
But psychological assessment of human trafficking is not limited to the victim. Public perception of trafficking can also be understood through studying the mind.
Victim blaming in cases of human trafficking, as well as in domestic violence, is extremely common, holding that individuals are willing sufferers.
Fear of shame often prevents victims from reporting incidents. Dr. Seddighzadeh referenced statistics that estimated 94 percent of human trafficking cases go unreported.
So, what psychological phenomenon permits the degradation of an exploited individual?
Juliana Breines, PhD, for Psychology Today offers that the notion of victimization is threatening to us.
“Victims threaten our sense that the world is a safe and moral place, where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people,” Breines writes in a 2013 article. “When bad things happen to good people, it implies that no one is safe, that no matter how good we are, we too could be vulnerable.”
And, according to Dr. Seddighzadeh and many other advocates, media coverage only encourages this practice.
Although no unified definition of human trafficking exists, many descriptions still refer to victims as “prostitutes,” a term synonymous with “whore,” “harlot,” and “call girl.”
“Where in that definition is exploitation acknowledged?” Seddighzadeh asked.
It boils down to linguistic relativity, an idea that suggests that “[t]he structure and lexicon of one’s language influences how one perceives and conceptualizes the world, and they do so in a systematic way” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
In the TED Talk video below at 3:06, anti-sexism advocate Jackson Katz varies the language of a sentence to show how our understanding shifts.
The sentence begins “John beat Mary” and transforms into “Mary is a battered woman.” Like the use of the word “prostitute,” the aggressor is eliminated from the statement altogether.
Lack of open conversation about such illnesses was listed as her last lesson.
“When my brother first got sick, I didn’t know anyone else who had a serious mental illness. It was all very scary and confusing. Mental illness is all around us, but most people, myself included for many years, don’t feel comfortable talking about it.”
While promoting her book, Flannery Dering said that her dialogue about mental disorders has increased, but that others’ stories are often communicated to her “in a whisper, as if there was something to be ashamed of.”
Addressing this silence is part of a campaign by Stamp Out Stigma. According to its website, Stamp Out Stigma is “an initiative spearheaded by the Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness (ABHW) to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and substance use disorders.”
Their motto “Talk About It” is carried out in a series of videos on their website, which feature multiple individuals sharing their personal stories surrounding mental illness.
This concept is also evidenced on their highly active Twitter account (@StampStigma).
On March 19, Stamp Out Stigma hosted a Twitter chat, urging users to tag #SOSChat in their tweets regarding “Media Portrayals of Mental Illness.”
Stamp Out Stigma offered eight questions to prompt conversation about the topic. Tweets ranged from the effects of the media on mental illness to how media can be used to reduce stigma.
Common responses included more accurate and sympathetic representation on television and in the news. Some recommended that media correspondents, producers, and writers be trained in proper language and treatment of mental illness.
Others urged those within the community to contact media outlets directly to correct any miscommunication.
It's easy to give feedback via social media. Every news outlet has Facebook and Twitter. Use them to say what's appropriate. @StampStigma
The main objective, however, was creating discussion about a “hush-hush” topic. And, although the Twitter chat was only modestly successful in its attempt at rousing conversation, their message has gained recent attention in other ways.
Other sites and groups seek similar conversation, including The Anti Stigma Chronicle, a media-based resource aimed at raising mental health awareness, and Bell Let’s Talk, a Canadian-based mental health program and charity.
Such communities aid in the destigmatization of mental illness through unadulterated, unapologetic conversation, which provide those affected with a means of gaining and sharing information independent of the mainstream media.
Social media has undoubtedly made this process easier, connecting individuals with similar and helpful stories to one another.
A new French bill, which sought to regulate “too-thin” models, was rejected this week. Despite its failure, such a proposal displays an understanding by legislators that people are profoundly influenced by what they see.
And, as many lawmakers have come to understand, the media’s depiction of beauty as being very small only exacerbates one’s anxieties.
Sparks, in analyzing various bills proposed internationally, writes: “Medical experts around the world have warned against the dangers of ultra-skinny catwalk models, and images airbrushed to make girls look thinner, which they say encourage anorexia in girls as young as six.”
Sarah Jackson for The Conversation, a nonprofit media website, adds: “Research shows women view their bodies more negatively after viewing media images depicting the so-called ‘thin ideal’…Exposure to images of extremely slender models has been shown to produce depression, stress, guilt, shame, insecurity and low self-esteem.”
The ‘Thin Ideal’ refers to the glamorization of a slim female body, and subsequent desire by women to achieve it. Although awareness of this media issue has risen, progress has been slow.
According to the magazine, today’s models weigh 23 percent less than the average woman, a steep increase from the 8 percent difference which existed a decade ago.
Additionally, 50 percent of women are a size 14 or larger, while today’s plus sized models are typically sized 6 to 14.
The result, according to a Psychology Today article, is that between 50 and 70 percent of young girls are unhappy with their bodies.
However, the focus of Alexis Conason’s article is not on the problem, but rather psychological solutions.
Conason is a clinical psychologist in New York who specializes in overeating and body image issues. She references a 2014 study, which used cognitive dissonance (CD) to treat body dissatisfaction.
The theory, Conason explains, plays on human desire to be consistent. In the case of body image, women desire to be consistent with the media’s portrayal of beauty, and experience stress and discontent when they fail to meet such standards.
“CD interventions for body image involve engaging participants in counter-attitudinal activities that require them to speak out against the thin ideal of beauty,” she writes. “This creates dissonance because the individual is acting in a manner inconsistent with his or her belief. The hope is that participants will change their beliefs about the thin ideal to correspond to their actions.”
The study, which consisted of over 100 girls aged 12 to 13, did show “lower levels of body dissatisfaction and internalization” in those who participated in active rejection of the ‘thin ideal.’
As public conversation continues to question images of women in the media, cognitive dissonance may become a more accessible tool for all women to use. However, without a more unified effort to represent real women, the ‘thin ideal,’ and disorders that come with it, will continue to weigh heavy.
A case with the insanity defense is also extremely difficult to win.
“Of 5,910 murder cases completed in the last decade statewide, only seven defendants have been found at trial to be not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services,” a 2013 New York Times article states.
Writer Russ Buettner explains that in order for such a case to succeed, lawyers must prove that the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the crime prevented he or she from fully understanding the repercussions of his or her actions, “or that the [crime] was wrong.”
He further notes that the insanity plea would likely be used in the defense of James E. Holmes, the accused gunman in the 2012 Aurora, Colorado movie theater killings.
Nearly two years later, jury selection has begun in the case, for which Holmes has in fact pleaded insanity.
When it comes to gun violence, mental illness is the number one cause of blame by Americans, according to a 2013 Gallup poll.
‘Failure of the mental health system to identify individuals who are a danger to others’ trumped ‘easy access to guns,’ ‘drug use,’ and ‘violence in movies, video games, and music videos.’
But lack of adequate attention to the mentally ill extends beyond crime scenes and courtrooms, making its way into US jails.
A USA Today feature noted that over one million imprisoned individuals suffer from mental illness.
“Though the report included a broad definition of “problems” — from mere symptoms to severe illness — the numbers represented 64% of those in jails, 56% of state prison inmates and 45% in the federal prison system,” Kevin Johnson wrote.
Law enforcement officials bear a large burden when it comes to caring for such individuals. Police officers are responsible for transporting the mentally ill to psychiatric facilities if necessary, and prisons must attempt to treat individuals with limited funding and necessary counseling resources.
“From police departments and prisons to courthouses and jails, the care of those who are mentally ill weighs heaviest on law enforcement authorities, many of whom readily acknowledge that they lack both resources and expertise to deal with the crushing responsibility” Johnson said.
Linda A. Teplin for US Newspresents this dilemma within the context of several 2014 incidents in which mentally ill individuals were killed by police officers, as they were considered to be threatening.
“Arrest is the default option to manage persons with severe mental disorders. Because we lack proper facilities, funding, and a basic understanding of mental illness, we treat persons with mental disorders like criminals,” Teplin writes.
Through historical research of mentally ill individuals within the criminal justice system, Teplin found that the need for education and resources to address such problems is higher than ever.
Not only are there more reported cases of mental disorders nationwide, but funding has been cut by more than one billion dollars.
“Much has changed in three decades, but the core problem remains the same,” Teplin writes.
Mental illness is still largely misunderstood, and the stigma surrounding such individuals makes them automatic targets in criminal activity and arrests.
Further, current correctional facilities often breed mental and emotional setbacks. Reintegration of institutionalized individuals is largely problematic, and unresolved cases result in repeat offenses.
According to Teplin, three steps must be taken to mitigate the issue: housing and care, specialized trials, and police education.
“Implementing these recommendations is not without cost,” Teplin admits. “However, to date, we have merely shifted the burden, and the expense, from the mental hospital to the jail. Too often, the way we treat the mentally ill is criminal.”