Childhood mental illness

This sounds fascinating and important. And the quote below offers a good critical thinking exercise too!

A hundred years ago it was rarely diagnosed in children. In the intervening timespan the number and type of diagnoses have exploded. Moreover, the number and type of treatments have also exploded. The favored treatment usually involves powerful medications with serious side effects. Big Pharma has made a fortune from these medications and is constantly searching for new variations to patent and sell.

I’m talking about childhood cancer, but I bet you thought I was talking about childhood mental illness. After all, everyone in contemporary society knows that childhood mental illness is over-diagnosed, that drugging children is the preferred method for dealing with the normal problems of childhood, and that normal children are being treated with powerful psychotropic medications simply because they are quirky and authentic.

That’s what Judith Warner (author of “Perfect Madness”) thought, too, when she sold a proposal back in 2004 for a book that would explore the over-diagnosis of mental illness and over-treatment of children with psychiatric medication…[S]he came to write a book that is 180 degrees opposite of what she initially intended. It happened because she talked to parents and psychiatrists and looked at what the medical literature actually shows.

Pacific APA hotel boycott

Workers at the St. Francis in SF have asked that the public boycott the hotel, which is where the upcoming Pacific Division meeting is scheduled.  The University of San Francisco has stepped in to provide an alternative location for sessions, and a list of non-boycotted hotels one might choose.

All  the needed information is available on this web site.  I understand that the last time USF provided such a service, it was very successful.  Having visited the campus recently, I can vouch for its being a much more pleasant place than any downtown hotel.

Thanks, JT!  And thanks to USF.

Fascinating transformation

We had an extensive and remarkably cordial discussion with the founder of a Facebook site devoted to jokes about punching women. That site has now been transformed. Those jokes are still there, but rather hard to find– what’s prominent, and all over the place, is anti-domestic-violence messages, and links to relevant resources. They now clearly see it as part of their mission to change the minds of people who think that domestic violence is acceptable.

It’s fine to tell a joke, and it’s fine to be offended by that same joke or to laugh, But it’s not fun to think it’s just a joke. Imagine this, If for every 3 people who joined this group 1 person thought it was real, then there are 10,000 people who believe domestic violence is acceptable, If just one of those people change their mind because of this group, then we’ve done more than ever imagined.

Admittedly, this is a somewhat unusual way to try to get an anti-domestic-violence message out. And many of us probably still have problems with it. But it is an improvement. (And maybe it *is* a good idea to have a site that offers domestic violence jokes then bombards the viewer with anti-domestic-violence messages. It may be a good way of reaching people who might not otherwise be reached.) However, I think it’s worth giving credit where it’s due: to Lekan, who made these alterations, and also to all of you who joined in the discussion that brought this about. (I say this even though I still think the jokes are hate speech. An interesting question is whether, in full context, surrounded by anti-violence messages, they can still be seen as legitimating violence.)

It’s worth noting also, though, that the some of the original site’s fans are not well pleased by this development and have set up a new version. (Thanks, T and Bakka!)

Stanley Fish on “secular reasons:” Name the Fallacy

How should we decide issues about abortion, same sex marriage or the permissibility of abortion?  Can we do it without appealing to religion or at  least higher powers?  Looking at a the recent book, The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse, by Steven Smith, Fish says in today’s NY Times:

It is not, Smith tells us, that secular reason can’t do the job (of identifying ultimate meanings and values) we need religion to do; it’s worse; secular reason can’t do its own self-assigned job — of describing the world in ways that allow us to move forward in our projects — without importing, but not acknowledging, the very perspectives it pushes away in disdain.

So it looks as though secular thought cannot provide us with any normative assessments.  We need religion!  Thus:

If public reason has “deprived” the natural world of “its normative dimension” by conceiving of it as free-standing and tethered to nothing higher than or prior to itself, how, Smith asks, “could one squeeze moral values or judgments about justice . . . out of brute empirical facts?”

So values apparently have to come from something higher or prior to oneself.  And, Smith and Fish maintain, one person who clearly saw this was Hume:

Smith does not claim to be saying something wholly new. He cites David Hume’s declaration that by itself “reason is incompetent to answer any fundamental question” …

Mind you, what Hume actually said –  Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them – doesn’t exactly serve Fish’s purposes.  Still, that’s a detail.   And, of  course, Hume also had very strong words for texts that weren’t truths of reason or matters  of fact.  Something about burning them.  But no matter, we’ve got enough for the conclusion:

But no matter who delivers the lesson, its implication is clear. Insofar as modern liberal discourse rests on a distinction between reasons that emerge in the course of disinterested observation — secular reasons — and reasons that flow from a prior metaphysical commitment, it hasn’t got a leg to stand on.

Anyone want  to have a go at evaluating Fish’s  argument here?  I think I see one large fallacy, and perhaps there are more.  What do you think?

And, wouldn’t it be nice if the higher powers that  get invoked actually thought women’s decisions  about their bodies are at least as sound as those groups of men want to make for them?


Depression, Serotonin, and the Reliability of high-class journalism

Let me say at the start that I take very seriously the idea that many things we count as “mental disorders”  may be in large part the result of society’s finding ways to express pain.  There may be a sense in which they are not “real” the way a burn or a burst appendix may be real, for example.  But I also think that there may be a very genuine underlying pain and that, more generally, some so-called mental problems can ruin lives.  Further, I’m pretty sure some lives have been saved from ruin by medication.  I hope this counts as a nuanced take on the issues addressed below.

The topic of discussion is an article in the current New Yorker.  It is by Louis Menand, and it is on the current state of psychiatry.


I take it that the New Yorker is undeniably a high-class publication.  Among other things, it  is supposed to have really good fact checkers.  So what should one say about the following quote?

  There is little agreement about what causes depression and no consensus about what cures it. Virtually no scientist subscribes to the man-in-the-waiting-room theory, which is that depression is caused by a lack of serotonin, but many people report that they feel better when they take drugs that affect serotonin and other brain chemicals.

I  think Menand’s comment is really difficult to understand, but it seems to imply that the fact that people feel better is not indicated by the scientific evidence.  Well, that’s not the evidence I saw coming from many, many journals.  If that’s what he was saying, it is startlingly false.

Having heard of the article because of Dan Weiskopf’s tweet,  I went on the web to my university library’s Web of Science and decided to search for  “depression” and “serotonin” in the titles.  And what I found were thousands of articles on depression and serotonin.   A lot of them were about gene-evironmental interactions, and quite frankly beyond my understanding, though almost all of them seemed to be looking at the positive correlation between  serotonin irregularities and depression, along with other ‘mobidities’.  So after wading through about 30 abstracts, I went over to Academic Search, where I expected to find less technical articles.  Representative of what I was reading is this from (Pharmacology; 2010, Vol. 85 Issue 2, p95-109, 15p):

Serotonin (5-HT) is a monoamine implicated in a variety of physiological processes that functions either as a neurotransmitter or as a peripheral hormone. Pharmacological and genetic studies in humans and experimental animals have shown that 5-HT is important for the pathophysiology of depressive disorders. The 5-HT system is thus already a main target for the therapy of these diseases.

So why care about this?  Unfortunately, severe depression, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder run in my family.  We are not here talking about some shy people.  Rather, we are talking about people who will stay away from all social gatherings, or people who sit in movies and can’t hear the movies because they think their bodies are being so noisy.  In fact, most of my relatives are ordinary, fairly cheerful people, but then there NN, who had for some time a life blighted by severe depression.  Until around the mid-80s, most psychiatrists NN saw  believed what the New Yorker article is suggesting; anti-depressants may not be exactly a placebo,  but they really shouldn’t have much of a role in mental health.  So, because people  move around and so on, NN saw  three different doctors for severe depression  and a pattern eventually became  clear.  Severe depression then pills then recovery then tapering off then horrible breakdown.   Of course, it would be said that the breakdown was due to the failure of the previous psychiatrist, but to recover, pills were prescribed.  And once NN recovered, tapering off started, to be followed by severe  breakdown, etc.  NN was typically impaired for most of a decade, since we need to add that since no one really believed in the pills effectiveness, he didn’t get the dose he needed.

Severe depression is very, very horrible, and it can include quite disordered thinking that too often can lead to suicide.  It is very alarming that Menand article will reinforce the beliefs of the doctors whom NN saw and who are probably still practicing. 

But what is Menand going to say to someone like NN, who is a very gifted, creative artist who has put his life back together finally?  He does consider people just like that:

The recommendation from people who have written about their own depression is, overwhelmingly, Take the meds! It’s the position of Andrew Solomon, in “The Noonday Demon” (2001), a wise and humane book. It’s the position of many of the contributors to “Unholy Ghost” (2001) and “Poets on Prozac” (2008), anthologies of essays by writers about depression. The ones who took medication say that they write much better than they did when they were depressed. William Styron, in his widely read memoir “Darkness Visible” (1990), says that his experience in talk therapy was a damaging waste of time, and that he wishes he had gone straight to the hospital when his depression became severe.

This is his comment:

What if your sadness was grief, though? And what if there were a pill that relieved you of the physical pain of bereavement—sleeplessness, weeping, loss of appetite—without diluting your love for or memory of the dead?

I’d say that  counts as changing the topic.  However, perhaps we should say that the article has many topics.  One is whether we should try to medicate ourselves out of the human condition, with its ordinary pains, even the very severe ones.  What I am concerned about, though, is NN and others like him, who still are fortunate if they can get adequate treatment.  Their state is not simply ordinary; it is more horrible than humans should have to endure, though hospitals have had, and do have, many who do.  We do not need an article that appears to say no scientist thinks pills are a  good response to depression.

Blue Collar Men and Childcare

We noted a while ago the statement by historian of marriage Stephanie Coontz that 20%  of working class men do more housework/childcare than their wives.  So we should be prepared for this anecdote from the NY Times “Metropolitan Diary”:

It was a damp and cold morning on the Hudson as the ferry made its way to Lower Manhattan. As the large brawny deckhand, clad in a hefty blue anorak, a knit cap hugging his head, closed the sliding exit door, he continued a very intense discussion with his co-worker, a fellow of similar build and dress. Both were right out of central casting as Exhibit A for life on the docks.

Eavesdropping, I was hoping to be treated to a colorful story about a dramatic recovery, or some other novel talk of the sea. The beginnings of their conversation were promising.

Big burly sailor No. 1, authoritatively: “It’s a struggle, but you will know when they are ready. Just wait.”

Big burly sailor No. 2: “But that’s the question: How do you know when they are ready?”

I strained to listen closely over the noise of the engines.

Big burly sailor No. 1: “You lift them up and put them on the potty and tell them that’s where big girls go.”

Big burly sailor No. 2, incredulously: “And after that, no more diapers? It’s that easy?”

Knowingly, big burly sailor No. 1 took the time to share his strategy and to explain that it was not that easy.

Sailors discussing potty-training techniques — who would have guessed?

Special Issue of Phil Papers on Rape

This may be old news to some, but I just noticed this special issue of Philosophical Papers, on Rape and its Meaning/s.

And it’s free to access at the moment.

Philosophical Papers, Volume 38 Issue 3 2009

Rape and its Meaning/s

Introduction: Meaning/s of Rape in War and Peace
Louise du Toit

Exploiting the Dignity of the Vulnerable Body: Rape as a Weapon of War
Debra Bergoffen

A New Epistemology of Rape?
Lorraine Code

Rape and Silence in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace
Graham St. John Stott

In Defense of Self-Defense
Ann J. Cahill

A Heinous Act
Don Berkich