Breaking the Mental Illness Stigma

  “Well, why don’t you just try focusing on the positives?” “Why can’t you just, be a little happier?” “How are you depressed, your life isn’t that bad?” “Anxiety and depression aren’t real, you just need to feel happier.” “You’re too depressed all the time, it rubs off on us if we spend too much time together.” These are just a small sample of the thoughts and feelings of millions of people around the world who have friends or loved ones with mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. There is a certain, difficult to break stigma that comes with a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or any other mental illness. Stigmas that surround issues like these are neither beneficial to the sufferers nor those who have friends who suffer from mental illness. The stigmas are the reason that some people feel genuinely uncomfortable around those with depression. They feel as though every last mentally ill person could be at a tipping point, and any word or phrase, something from “you’ve got some ketchup on your shirt,” to “your shirt’s on backwards,” could set them off, spiraling into a deeper depression. And while depression is hardly a one-size-fits-all illness, it’s incredibly important to realize that it’s entirely possible for people to be fully-functioning members of society while they live with otherwise debilitating mental illnesses like anxiety or depression. Some of the most successful people that this planet has seen walk on its earth have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Astronaut Bull Aldrin, talk-show host Ellen Degeneres and billionaire author JK Rowling have been diagnosed with depression, while... read more

A Brief History of Mental Health Treatment

Mental Health Today If you’re over the age of 18 and live in the United States of America, there is a roughly 18 percent chance that you suffer from some form of anxiety disorder according to the National Institute of Mental Health. With almost one-fifth of the population suffering from a form of anxiety or depression, the proper treatment of the people with these conditions is of paramount importance. Depression and related disorders are, in a way, almost an epidemic in the US, as the disorder continues to sweep its way through people regardless of age, sex, race or any other factors. Regardless of this, the rate of mental illness is still rising. As we’ve written before, studies have shown that the rate of depression and depression-like symptoms is monumentally higher than it was in the 1980s. TIn particular, teenagers are 74 percent more likely to have trouble sleeping and twice as likely to have seen a specialist for mental health issues than those in 1980. These numbers, while alarming, call for improvements and analysis of the treatment of mental health issues, as the need to prioritize and amend them continues to grow. But treatment methodology hasn’t always been viewed this way, and neither have those who suffer from mental illness.   Early Mental Health For a time, mental health disorders ranging from depression and anxiety mentioned above, to schizophrenia and other serious forms of intellectual or developmental disability were not viewed as treatable brain conditions. Instead, in ancient times, some believed that religion or spiritual contact were the only ways to properly cure someone of their illness. Starting... read more

Why Is the Incarceration Rate so High in the US?

According to commonly cited statistics, the United States has about 5% of the world’s population, but houses 25% of the world’s prison population. Most people agree that this percentage is too high and it has turned into a bipartisan issue to determine how the statistic can be lowered and what are the root causes for the high amount of people incarcerated. Much debate occurs over what caused this high incarceration rate, which has drastically increased since the 1980s. Below are various sources people attribute the high incarceration rate to.   The War on Drugs   Since the 1980s, the United States government has cracked down on drug-related crimes. If someone is found with just a small amount of illegal drugs on their person, they may go to prison for several years, even if they’re a minor. Anyone involved in drug smuggling and production can also be charged at the full level of the crime, even if their role was incredibly small or a one-time involvement. The law has become tougher on drug-related crimes in an effort to reduce drug abuse in the country. Whether or not this method works is a hotly contested issue.   Longer non-violent crimes sentences   In addition to long sentences for drug-related non-violent crime, other non-violent crimes now come with more serious sentences. Recently, California reduced certain non-violent crimes to misdemeanors instead of felonies, which resulted in 2,700 non-violent criminals being released from jail. More and more crimes are being labeled as felonies, which result in longer sentences, even when the crimes themselves are victimless or non-violent.   Trying minors as adults   Another... read more

The Celebrity Treatment Behind Bars

The life of celebrities, to an outsider or everyday person, seem lavish, filled with glitz, glamor and glory, and far and away better than anything the layman experiences. There are the Hollywood parties, the name-recognition, the status and the endorsements that bring in money with relatively little effort. It’s not all Hollywood living for most celebrities, though. Multiple celebrities have described their status as something they’d give up if given the opportunity, citing paparazzi harassing them at any given opportunity and living a life under a microscope, their every move being documented for the world to see via social media. However, when it comes to breaking the law, being in the public eye can be both a gift and a curse. The curse comes with being in the public eye. Getting a DUI, to a normal person, means serving time behind bars and carrying a criminal record for the next years or few decades, depending on your state and how many prior offenses you carry. If it’s your first offense, there is a reasonable chance that you’ll avoid time spent behind bars and instead be given some combination of a license suspension, a hefty fine and probation. For celebrities, however, even a minor charge means the world will know about your misdeed, with websites like TMZ or E! News constantly covering celebrities who break the law. Being in the public eye may seem like a large drawback of celebrity status, but the potential benefits when it comes to criminal activity may very well outweigh the drawbacks. The fact remains that, according to most, the cells and treatment that celebrities... read more

Can we Predict (and Sentence For) Future Crimes: Part III

This is the third and final installment of the series by Correctional Medical Care about the potential for risk-assessment based sentencing in the United States. While the role of risk assessment in the justice system is limited thus far, the potential for expansion has opened the eyes of lawmakers and critics of the idea itself. Future Crimes Part III: Last entry  we touched mainly on the analytical tools used in the risk assessment measurement for use in criminal sentencing. While Pennsylvania has already made moves to include the measure in its sentencing procedures, the question of ethics–and of just how predictable recidivism truly is. The idea of using risk assessment to predict recidivism–while catching fire now as risk analysis tools improve–is certainly not a novel idea. A study in the Forums on Corrections Research was published in 1989–that’s 27 years ago now–detailing the predictability of recidivism in inmates. The study, titled “Recidivism is Predictable and Can be Influenced: Using Risk Assessment to Reduce Recidivism,” was one of the first in-depth studies on the ideas of “risk, need and other characteristics” that may contribute to how an inmate could be sentenced, and have their treatment managed. The study looked into the risk factors that were already in high use, and explored the option that many factors, including sex, may not be inherently bad characteristics, but are still risk factors. In the conclusion of the paper, researcher Don Andrews states that his research shouldn’t serve as a definite be all and end all, as it’s a largely limited base of study. Actuarial sciences–the idea of using mathematical assessment to evaluate risk,... read more

Can We Predict (and Sentence for) Future Crimes: Part II

This is the second of a multi-part series about the potential for risk-assessment based sentencing in the United States. While the role of risk assessment in the justice system is limited thus far, the potential for expansion has opened the eyes of lawmakers and critics of the idea itself.   Future Crimes Part II: Though it may not have the direct preventative powers that were on display in the movie Minority Report or the television show Futurama, right now risk assessment is king when it comes to the possibility of using the future to determine sentencing for those found guilty of crimes in America.    As we discussed in Part I of the “future crimes” two-part series, certain aspects of the criminal justice system in America are already determined in part by risk assessment. Bail, for one, is determined partially by the determination by the judge of whether the accused is likely to commit a crime or flee the country if he or she is released on bail. While this calculation might not be as methodical as some may like, the debates continue within Pennsylvania as the options regarding risk assessment are weighed. Factors similar to those used when determining bail could soon begin becoming tools of use for sentencing in PA, though they have been met with criticism and controversy already. The system will use risk assessment tools that factor in psychological evaluations, family background, demographic information, similar crimes and criminals from the past, and more to spit out a rough estimate of how large the risk of the perpetrator reoffending is.  Some question the ethical concerns of... read more

Can We Predict (and Sentence for) Future Crimes?

This is the first of a multi-part series about the potential for risk-assessment based sentencing in the United States. While the role of risk assessment in the justice system is limited thus far, the potential for expansion has opened the eyes of lawmakers and critics of the idea itself.   Future Crimes: Part I There is no question anymore that big data is booming, and is beginning to infiltrate its way into everything around us. The trend of gathering, analyzing and interpreting large-scale sets of data has seen its way into the likes businesses everywhere as a means of tracking purchasing trends, consumer behavior and the public’s opinion on a business or idea. More recently, big data has elbowed its way into the world of sports, utilized to analyze player performance vs others or the league average. One of the most useful aspects of big data, though, is its ability to predict the future. Though it may seem questionable at first, predicting the future is becoming more and more of a reality in recent years. Ignoring the questionable validity of suburban palm readers and fortune cookie lotto number suggestions, making accurate statements on future events is entirely possible when big data is properly analyzed and interpreted. Now, this future-predicting, trend-based analysis is being explored for its potential in the justice system. The 2002 film “Minority Report” gave its viewers a roughly two and a half hour look into the future of crime-reporting, the justice system, and future crimes. In it, three mutated human beings were able to see the future, predict future murders and allow the “precrime police” to... read more

How Writing Can Help an Inmate

Think back to your high school English classes. Amidst the reading and breaking down the whole lot of Shakespeare’s works and writing essays on your hero, you probably took some time learning about poetry. Everything from haikus and couplets to sonnets and limericks were reviewed, perhaps in haste by your English teacher. Perhaps you enjoyed it, but maybe you didn’t. Others though, never got the chance to learn about poetry or the arts whether it was because they dropped out of school, never attended, or were incarcerated for part of their youth. The power of poetry, however, can’t be held back forever, as poetry programs within prisons are catching on across the country as a means of helping patients with psychiatric and emotional mental health issues to better express themselves. Wally Lamb was one of the first prominent figures in bringing poetry to women’s prisons across the country. It started in 1999 at York Correctional Institute in Connecticut when budget cuts lead to a drastic cutback in mental health services provided by the prison. Lamb, a writer, poet and former creative writing professor at the University of Connecticut offered to step in. He offered to teach creative writing and poetry workshops within the prison for one 90-minute session. In that session, Lamb talked to the prison inmates about writing and poetry and offered to listen to their works and give his feedback. Now, two different programs are offered by YCI, one for newcomers and one for seasoned writers offered weekly. Lamb still participates, teaching the courses every other week while his co-facilitators fill in for him on the off-weeks.... read more

Coping with the Incarceration of a Loved One

  It has been well-established that the effects of incarceration aren’t limited to the person who finds him or herself facing hard time. Parents and friends, not to mention spouses and children, are immensely affected by their loved ones being given a prison sentence, and often in ways you wouldn’t necessarily expect. We’ve covered in the past the effects of parental incarceration on children. In short, children of all ages, but particularly those in the developmental stages, suffer both mental and emotional consequences from having a parent behind bars. Their grades begin to plummet as their attendance and ability to focus in school-settings drops dramatically. They find themselves ostracized at school and embarrassed by their home life. This can cause a vicious cycle at home in what can only be described as a cruel circle of negative impacts on everyone involved. As the children struggle to adapt to their parent or guardian’s incarceration, the spouse of the incarcerated has the responsibility of taking on the full burden of raising and caring for the child. Depending on the child’s age, this can be an incredibly difficult task, and a drastic change in responsibility depending on income and employment status. Coping with a loved one’s sudden incarceration can be mentally taxing. While the prison and legal system does its work without the courts, the family is often left out to dry both mentally and fiscally. Acceptance is a large part of the process. Understanding that the mistakes made by your loved one do not reflect on you, your children, your friends or your life. However, these facts aside, the prison stay... read more

How Do Video Games Affect our Mental Health?

When Atari released the now iconic game “Pong” in 1972, they never expected the controversy that would surround video games 40 years in the future. In fairness to Atari, Pong hasn’t been at the forefront of the “video games cause mass violence’ arguments that have been tossed back and forth almost endlessly in recent years. Instead, shooting games like Call of Duty, Halo and Hitman have had the blame for Columbine-style mass shootings placed on their shoulders. However what’s often missed in these arguments is the potential for games–very similar games at that–to be not a cause but a treatment for mental illness. While you may not find too many doctors who will jump at the opportunity to whip out a prescription pad and scrawl “Playstation 4,” the idea behind using video games has been tossed around in recent years. We’ve mentioned in previous blogs the potential of virtual reality as a treatment for PTSD, anxiety and depression. They are just one of a number of new and emerging forms of technology that have been used as a form of mental health relief. Video games, however, weren’t on that list; though now new medical and scientific insight has shed light into the world of video games as mental health treatment. Numerous sources have named video games as anxiety-relieving devices. When your pong game is tied at 9 and you and your friend are both breaking out in a cold sweat, “anxiety-relieving” may not be the phrase that comes to mind. However video game developers have programmed a hefty list of “brain games” that have been shown in studies to... read more