Friday, September 23, 2022

Is U.S. Really Suffering From A Mental Health Crisis - Or A Political Crisis AFFECTING Mental Health?


For the first time ever-  the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended anxiety disorder screening for U.S. adults in the primary care setting, and even with no symptoms. Anxiety disorders are often unrecognized and under-detected in primary care: One study cited by the task force found the median time for initiating treatment for anxiety is a staggering 23 years.   (The task force said there wasn’t enough evidence to determine the accuracy of screening tools in older adults, which may not be sensitive enough to distinguish between anxiety symptoms and conditions of aging.)

Global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25 percent during the first year of the pandemic, the World Health Organization reported earlier this year. By the end of 2021, the WHO said, “the situation had somewhat improved but today too many people remain unable to get the care and support”. 

Meanwhile,  a study published in 2021 in The Lancet estimated that the pandemic had caused an additional 53.2 million cases of major depressive disorder and 76.2 million cases of anxiety disorder globally. Less well known is that referrals for psychosis have increased as much as 29 percent and shows no sign of stopping as political division,  animus - driven by lies, QAnon and Trumpism- continue to ramp up.   (Psychosis involves seeing or hearing things that other people don’t (hallucinations) and also developing beliefs that aren’t based on reality, such as Democrats being a ring of pedophiles who sacrifice children to Satan).

But the Covid -19 pandemic, has also been fingered with one health official saying outright: 

"Covid has taken a tremendous toll on the mental health of Americans,

However, the overuse of social media must also be reckoned as a factor, especially as lockdowns proceeded during the first year of the pandemic.  People then depended excessively on their devices for support and social interaction with negative results on many mental health fronts.  

We know, based on earlier research, that brains take a mega hit when locked into cell phones, their assorted apps, and other devices.  Look no further than the sort of idiocy recently portrayed on Tik-Tok, cooking chicken in Nyquil.  What sounds 'cool' is actually a deadly form of social stupidity given the amount of acetaminophen in the latter is enough to permanently damage the liver.  This, of course, is as lamebrained as the foolishness of  teens challenging peers to eat TIDE laundry pods some five years ago, e.g.

Tide pod challenge: What is it, and why is the viral video dare dangerous? - The Washington Post

These may seem like frivolous examples to some, but the exposure to such videos creates impacts on the developing brain.  We already know, based on research conducted at the Univ. of California - San Francisco  (UCSF) some years ago - that even a transitory anomalous stimulation can extensively alter neural circuits.  A kid who partakes in a stupid social media dare or stunt - say on TikTok- can then have his sensory cortex sufficiently reorganized as to create a new mental map.  A kid who merely views such a video can suffer the same fate. In the words of one UCSF researcher: 

"The long term effect  on the quality of intellectual life can be deadly.'  

The effect on the intellectual apparatus of adults is no less severe, especially in terms of attachment to certain politically oriented social media sites.  Sites like 4chan, 8chan, 'The Donald' and Trump's Twitter knockoff are all prone to spread QAnon lies, psychotic conspiracy ideations, and Trumpian aspirations to political violence.  Again, the very sight of others at rallies chanting allegiance or giving hand salutes can re-order the brains of vulnerable viewers already open to mischief, lies and disinformation.

Depending on the mainstream media to filter facts from outpourings is no use, since as WaPo columnist Jennifer Rubin has written,  the media can't see beyond its false equivalence trope.  As she observed: 

The cynical GOP leaders who know that Trump is unfit for office and that many of his cult followers have become violent should not be treated as ordinary party hacks. They are enablers of a dangerous movement. Yet they continually evade persistent, aggressive questioning.

 Compare this with the mainstream media’s response to Biden’s recent speech condemning the MAGA movement. Yet many in the mainstream media turned up their noses. “Biden should have been more welcoming,” they said. “He’s too divisive!

It seems to be very deep in the mainstream press’s DNA to strain for equality when none exists,” said Margaret Sullivan, media critic and author of the upcoming memoir, “Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) From an Ink-Stained Life.” She adds, “Maybe journalists just don’t have the language to truly get across how disturbing and abnormal some of this stuff is. If so, it’s high time to grapple with that.”

In light of the mainstream media's total incompetence the combination of social media exposure and what is called reification, cannot be discounted.  (Reification is the process by which the effects of a political arrangement of power and resources start to seem like objective, inevitable facts about the world.)  QAnon  psychotic drivel reinforced by Trump at his rallies- like the one in Ohio, e.g. 

by David Badash | September 20, 2022 - 7:16am | permalink

 Then has the effect of reification to make the adherents and participants actually believe what he says has objective reality. This kind of dangerous twaddle is then reinforced on Trumpian -friendly social media with the result that adherents' mental maps are re-arranged as well as their cognitive sensory apparatus overall.  As our German friend Marlies observed, "This is not too different from Hitler's rallies in Nuremberg."  (Marlies was alive at the time of Hitler's reign, and saw her nation descend into madness in the 1930s.)   

The real danger is via repetition of the lies and nonsense. not only on degenerate sites like 8chan and 'The Donald" but by the likes of Trump and his GOP knob polishers (e.g. Lindsey Graham) as well. Like when Trump asserted night before last on Hannity that he had the power to declassify documents merely from thought. Repeated often enough tens of millions of his QAnon and other zombies will believe it owing to a phenomenon called the 'Illusory truth effect' whereby misinformation repeated often enough becomes the truth.  Of course, Nazi Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels knew this as early as 1931 - see his famous quote about lies at the top.

The near total failure of our mainstream media to make things clear, i.e. call out Trump and GOP lies for what they are. means millions are in danger of being hostage to reification.  This presents a political source for mental anxiety and disorder in an already hyper-polarized nation, as opposed to evidence for a specific mental illness.  In this case one must be wary of the tendency toward Medicalization. 

Medicalization shifts and distorts the language by which we try to figure out what caused a problem, and what can be done to fix it. It generally puts the focus on the individual as a biological body, at the expense of factoring in systemic and structural conditions.  In a way it is similar to the fundamental attribution error from psychology. defined as:

The tendency to blame individuals for their level of failure or success without considering the aspects of the social structure that impel or impede their progress. 

Examples of psychological "medicalization" were abundantly obvious in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual (DSM) - V, where one beheld such chestnuts as:

  Intermittent Explosive Disorder (or IED) - "recognized by bouts of explosive anger out of all proportion to the cause."

- Temper Dysregulation Disorder with Dysphoria - a new definition "for all children with outbursts of temper", i.e. any brat or rug rat pitching a temper tantrum in a store because mommy won't give him a Snickers bar

The point is that the process of medicalization alters the basis of a real problem from a politically systemic to a medical one by the use of clever language manipulation. Treating the root cause of the “epidemic” of diabetes effectively, for example, would  require serious changes to the available diet and activity levels of a population, not by slinging medications (like Metformin) at it.

Treating the current "mental health" crisis requires an end to the political violence, propaganda, and discrimination that amplifies the probability that an individual will develop a given psychological diagnosis, from anxiety disorder to depression to schizophrenia.

In the case of the current U.S. anxiety and depression epidemic we are faced not with a serious medical issue or problem, but rather a crisis in our politics (dysfunctional political system) which has adversely affected the mental health of millions.  That is why people are lined up to get appointments at therapists' offices, even via tele-meets.

The failure of the mainstream media to be honest and forthright about our deviant political system means a prop for stability, recognition and self-reference is absent.  This has  allowed too many to be gaslighted into questioning their own mental balance. The more vulnerable then risk becoming FOX followers or QAnon adherents for the sake of preserving personal identity.   Thus we have really a crisis affecting mental health as opposed to a mental health crisis. The unstable, hostile and divisive political environment - especially now with 40,000 poll watchers being recruited by the GOP to scan voters at the polls -  invites incalculable stress which triggers diverse psychopathologies.

This crisis is compounded via  an added brain dysfunction - traced to over exposure to media which endlessly repeat the lies.  The cumulative effects of the disinformation barrage - often daily- then dramatically change mental maps and neural connections in adverse ways.

Among the foremost real ill effects is that personal attention spans are devastated.   A Neilson research finding some years ago was that the average American spent 56 seconds glancing at a web page.  Deeper reading for understanding, say from appropriate books and news sources, is almost unheard of.   Instead of neural links being forged and strengthened they've become frayed and fragile.  As my now tenure track Psychology niece Shayl puts it: 

"I can confidently say that up to 90 percent of our mental health issues are directly traced to time online and the inability to separate fact from political fictionThank God for websites like your blog!"  

But my blog  (or similar ones) should not be the only oases in a fact-challenged news media desert landscape. And, truth be told, if more of the mainstream media did its job my blog would be redundant. We'd already have sources that 'tells it like it is' as opposed to saying what people want to hear.  Shayl, not surprisingly, checks  my blog content each day to see if there's something she can use and writes back "in almost every case there is, even in the stuff to do with economics or Covid."  Well, I appreciate her vote of confidence - even if I see attention somewhat slipping in reads of political posts - as we approach the midterm election.

But I trace that to the difficulty of sustaining the mental discipline to read difficult (and even politically challenging) posts in an environment replete with political division, toxicity and yes- reification.  After all, to quote one Cornell psychologist: "The Web never encourages us to slow down.  It keeps us in a state of perpetual mental locomotion."

See Also:

by Thom Hartmann | September 28, 2022 - 8:11am | permalink

— from The Hartmann Report


Donald Trump is still insisting he won the 2020 election, despite having lost by about 7 million votes and being wiped out in the Electoral College.

Science, it turns out, is on his side.

Not the science of elections: the science of propaganda.

New findings from psychologists at universities in California and Georgia and published in the journal Cognitive Research show that the more often a statement — regardless of its truthfulness — is repeated, the more emphatically it’s believed.


by Robert Reich | September 27, 2022 - 7:02am | permalink

— from Robert Reich's Substack


Last week, a panel of medical experts recommended for the first time that doctors screen all adult patients under 65 for anxiety disorders. The advisory group, called the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, said the guidance was intended to help prevent mental health disorders from going undetected and untreated for years or even decades. It made a similar recommendation for children and teenagers earlier this year.

Appointed by an arm of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, the panel has been preparing the guidance since before the pandemic. Its recommendation highlights the extraordinary stress levels that have plagued the United States in recent years. Lori Pbert, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, who serves on the task force, calls mental health disorders “a crisis in this country.”

What’s the answer to this extraordinary rise in stress, anxiety, and depression?


by Thom Hartmann | September 22, 2022 - 7:56am | permalink

— from The Hartmann Report


Donald Trump has built a cult around himself. This is dangerous to America and dangerous to democracy.

Cults of personality in governance are broadly incompatible with democracy. They usually erupt in dictatorships where the Great Leader’s face and sayings are splashed all over public places. Think Mao’s China, Stalin’s USSR, Hitler’s Germany, Kim’s North Korea.

On a smaller scale and in a different context, we see how destructive such personality cults can be with the deaths around Jim Jones’ Jonestown, David Koresh’s Branch Davidians, and Charles Manson’s Family.


by Will Bunch | September 22, 2022 - 7:38am | permalink

— from the Philadelphia Inquirer


If you are a political fanatic, you've surely heard the old saying that when fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. That's been proven true in this fraught year of 2022 as Christian nationalism rises to our extreme right, but no one predicted this:

That U.S. authoritarianism would also come with a bat-guano crazy musical soundtrack—music that sounds like a Bible Belt altar riff but is actually tied to the weirdly popular QAnon conspiracy theory whose legion of followers believe there's an elite global cabal of child-trafficking, baby-blood-drinking liberal politicians and movie stars.

This terrifying crossing of some kind of autocratic Rubicon happened—where else?—at a Donald Trump rally in Youngstown, Ohio, on Saturday night.


by Amanda Marcotte | September 21, 2022 - 7:32am | permalink

— from Salon


It's telling how normalized events like this have become; they barely make ripples now in the national news. On Monday, Tucker Carlson of Fox News used his massive cable news audience — an average of over 3 million viewers a night — to spread a QAnon-style conspiracy theory and encourage people to commit violence against teachers and health care providers. Media Matters collected the clip. It's hard to follow for those who aren't already well-versed in the right's mythology accusing LGBTQ people and their allies of "grooming" children to be victims of sexual abuse. But what is undeniable is that Carlson is calling for violent vigilantism in response to his false accusations against doctors and teachers.


by Thom Hartmann | September 21, 2022 - 7:01am | permalink

— from The Hartmann Report


Last week a very reasonable sounding fellow called into my show and said, essentially, “I voted twice for Trump and would again. Why do you think I’m a threat to America?”

We ended up debating tax policy and I never did fully answer his question (I’m a sucker for “reasonable”), so here’s my shot at it.

*Trump and the GOP are endorsing Tucker Carlson’s “Great Replacement Theory” that argues, in most of its various iterations, that wealthy international Jews (“George Soros”) are collaborating with Black and Hispanic people to replace white people at all levels of society.

This has led to an explosion of antisemitic, anti-Black, and anti-Hispanic violence and the murder of numerous people, both Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Jewish, in venues from synagogues to supermarkets to churches.

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