Tag Archives: substance abuse

Having Vision


“Background checks!” “Assault rifle ban!” “Mental Health Registry.” I can’t be the only person completely flummoxed by the latter of these gun control cries. There’s been plenty of chatter and innuendo but little if any real explanation as to what in the world is actually meant by a mental health registry. How will illness be identified and categorized? Is the inclusion of a mental health codicil simply a way of saying ‘a registry of people who have exhibited violent behavior in the past and had treatment.’? If so, that is quite the branding overreach. People who commit violent acts are by definition violent. People who harm strangers are not of sound mind. But neither are people who commit white-collar crimes.

Mental health and violence are only linked in terms of a one-way relationship: people who commit violent acts=unwell. But the vast majority of people who are unwell do not commit violence (to others anyway.) A glance through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM) will (takes quite some time but) will result in concluding there is simply no single mental disorder commensurate with violence towards others. If we were to analyze mass murderers we may see similarities. They might have social phobias or a narcissistic personality, they may even have hallucinations. Those are three distinct disorders that are also symptoms of several other disorders. What of people with substance-related disorders? They very well may have induced psychotic disorder, or not. And all psychosis is not the same. Psychotic episodes rarely result in shooting up a pharmacy.

So what do we really mean when we talk about a mental health registry? Even if we scrape away the Pollyanna delusion that the majority of unwell people seek and obtain good mental health care, we are still left scratching our heads. Are we saying that mental health professionals need report when a patient vocalizes intended harm? That already is the case, so if that’s what we mean we should just stop talking about this. Will mental health professionals be asked to expand the reporting paradigm to include those patients they suspect will do harm? Even if that type of Ouija board, tea leaf reading were possible, we’d still be left with a tiny population of people who are on a path of violence and are actively seeking help. In this magical scenario where therapists with any and every kind of training and credentials can see into the future and place someone on a registry; what exactly is the goal? Perhaps (in this lollipop and unicorn made for T.V. scenario) a violence prone person will be prevented from buying a new gun. Fabulous, great. Does it prevent him or her from accessing their mother’s stockpile? Does it stop them from using the guns they already own?

Focusing on the mentally ill is very much needed in this country. People are suffering and need care. Those in a fragile state shouldn’t be expected to do battle with insurance companies or general practitioners. We need to stop whispering when we speak of mental health issues. There is nothing shameful about needing help; but there is much shame to be shared in turning our backs. It shouldn’t be challenging to find good help, it shouldn’t be financially out of reach either. The path towards help shouldn’t be so opaque that people have to ask, “where do I find a therapist.” Professionally staffed mental health clinics, offering consistent and continuing care should be as ubiquitous as LensCrafters. There is no shame in needing help; most everyone needs glasses at some point.

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Posted by on February 9, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being


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A New Year’s Resolution


January is not the cheeriest of months. Unless you celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in an exceptionally festive manner, there’s not much to break up the long cold dark month. February has Valentine’s Day, March has St. Patrick’s Day and (depending on the year) some festive religious holidays. April has hope that the winter is over, and so on. But January is tough. It lands right at the shortest day, longest night time of the year and after months of anticipation of frivolity. Depending on the degree of anticipation or frivolity, January 2nd can be quite the bummer.

The noisemakers have hushed, the streamers swept and the glitter has flaked from our party hats. The decorations have been put back or tossed and it’s just the same old home again. Gone are the pretty distractions and “I’ll think about it tomorrow”-ness. We look around and the world (our own and the larger one) is crying out for our attention. Our work misses us, as do the mundane chores of our lives. The world is desperate for our attention both internationally and right here. We wake refreshed from our New Year hangover having to give serious thought to realistic gun control, mental health policy and fiscal matters. We toss out stale holiday carbohydrates as we consider local lives still upended by disaster. It is all quite sobering particularly after weeks of festivity.

There are those (during any time of year) who choose not to face the sobering reality; their tolerance level cannot bear it. They tuck deeply into their work, focus on family members and/or employ their substance of choice and manage the best they can. But somewhere between being swallowed up by the world’s ills and responsibility for repairing them, and turning away (literally or figuratively) is a sweet balance. Humans are responsible for the world they inhabit. People are also responsible for their own happiness. There are people whose very definition of happiness is caring for others and/or repairing the world, and we are grateful to them. For the rest of us we are most happy when are lives are a mix of internal/external and work/play. There is no greater feeling than doing something (anonymously) for others. But going out to lunch with a dear friend can be a kick in the pants too.

As we go forth in this new year let’s commit ourselves to being near and far-sighted in our view of the world. Let us be kind to ourselves, but never at other’s expense. Let us find ways to repair the world; at home, in our neighborhood and worldwide. Let us also find reasons to celebrate regularly. Let the calendar guide you (a full-blown MLK birthday party) or just your mood (take-out pizza is only to be eaten in formal dress.) Every month (if not every week and every day) there’s a reason to celebrate the fact that we’re still here! And everyday there are countless reasons to help to create the world we want to inhabit.

Happy New Year!


Posted by on January 2, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Holiday, Well-Being


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