Category Archives: Mental health

Sloppy Thinking: Exhibit #5

leo-tolstoy

From time to time, I’m responding to various ideas that I think are prime examples of sloppy thinking. Such as:

All happy families resemble one another,                                        each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

-Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

This is one of the most memorable opening lines in all of world literature. It’s right up there with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” and “Call me Ishmael.”

But, memorable as it may be, it’s just not true. In fact, the opposite is true.

All unhappy families resemble each other because the few components that go into making a family unhappy — impatience, selfishness, bitterness, resentment — are all self-centered. All self-serving people look pretty much alike. Under the same roo, these people can only take their family into places of misery and more misery. And misery — however you arrive — just looks miserable.

The components that produce a happy family, such as love for each other, the desire to support each other, efforts not to offend, the willingness to forgive when offended, hoping the best for each other… are all other-oriented.

And when these are active, the individual members are free to flourish into their own unique personalities. Mix and match those flourishing personalities together and you get a family that is like no other.

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Needs vs. Desires

There are needs and then there are desires.  We do well if we keep the two separate and distinct in our minds.

Needs are essentials. Desires are extras that we long for.

Needs are universal. Desires vary from person to person; some legitimate, some not.

When we take a desire for a need we’re likely to begin to think we deserve what we desire; that it’s not fair that we should do without.

We begin to focus more and more on what we want, losing sight and appreciation for what we have.

For example, you may look at your floor and say, “I need a new carpet.” Well, no, you don’t. You may want one. You may desire one. But nobody needs a new carpet. Nobody needs a carpet, period.

I would suggest that there are only six things a person actually needs:

  • God
  • Loving relationships
  • Meaningful work
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Shelter

Beyond these, everything else is “gravy”.  Extra blessings.

To the extent we are willing to embrace this, we’ll begin to relax about what we lack, appreciate more the abundance of blessings we have – and be better equipped to survive this season that does more than any other to confuse our desires with our needs.

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Introducing NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Never solicit advice about a difficult matter from anybody who doesn’t agree that the matter is
difficult.

The above is sound counsel. Take it from one who knows. As I deal with bouts of depression and anxiety I know the importance of talking with people who I know know what I’m talking about  –  and who take my struggles seriously. This is why NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is such an important organization.

If you’re not familiar with NAMI, let me share with you their operation here, where I live, in Greenville, SC:

NAMI Greenville, SC is a non-profit, grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives and treatment for those who suffer from mental illness. NAMI Greenville provides free education, support and advocacy for the mentally ill and their families.

NAMI Greenville’s programs fall into two general categories: support or education. Each program is intended for a different population. All programs are led by individuals who have been trained by NAMI. They are not professionals, but are individuals who have dealt with mental illness either themselves or with loved ones.

SUPPORT GROUPS are ongoing with no registration and no fee. These are referred to as peer support, and are not psychotherapy. Meeting last either 1 or 1½ hours.

  • Caregivers Support Group is for adults who have family members with mental illness.

-Every Monday at 6:15 pm, Westminster Presbyterian Church, 2310 Augusta St., Greenville, SC 29605.

– 2nd & 4th Thursdays at 6:30 pm, First Presbyterian Church, 200 W. Washington St., Greenville, SC 29601 in a joint meeting with Connection (see below).

  •  Connection Support Group is for adults with a diagnosed mental illness such as major depression, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective, schizophrenia, OCD, borderline personality disorder, PTSD, etc.

-Every Monday at 6:15 pm, Westminster Presbyterian Church, 2310 Augusta St., Greenville, SC 29605.

-2nd and 4th Thursdays at 6:30 pm, First Presbyterian Church, 200 W. Washington St., Greenville, SC 29601 in a joint meeting with Caregivers (see above).

– Every other Wednesday at 10am, Veterans Outpatient Clinic, 3510 Augusta Rd., Greenville, SC. Open to veterans only.

The general public is welcome to attend:

  •  Monthly Education Meeting  –  speakers on mental health issues.

-2nd Mondays, 7:30 to 8:30 pm, Westminster Presbyterian Church, 2310 Augusta St., Greenville, SC 29605. Open to the general public regardless of individual or family mental health status.

NAMI Greenville offers the following  EDUCATIONAL programs:

  • Family-to-Family Education: This course consists of a series of 12 classes for families of persons with psychiatric disorders. The course balances basic education about the disorders along with skill training, self-care, emotional support and empowerment. For 1st degree adult relatives only (parents, spouse/significant other, sibling or adult child).
  • Peer-to-Peer Education: Through a combination of lecture, interactive exercises and structured group process, this ten-week course addresses the topic of recovery for any person with serious mental illness who is interested in establishing and maintaining wellness.
  • Basics: A six-week session education program for parents and other caregivers of children and adolescents (up to 21 years of age) living with mental illness. Program provides education concerning diagnosis and symptoms, as well as school issues and support.
  • Parents & Teachers as Allies: This two-hour presentation for schools is a great program to get teachers to identify children early who are at risk for mental illness so they can get them on the right track in school to be successful.
  • Provider Education: This 5-session Continuing Education Unit program has been developed for mental health care professionals and providers (doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, etc.) to provide information about the hardships that families and patients face so as to appreciate the courage and persistence it takes to live with and recover from mental illness and to make them part of the treatment team.
  • Crisis Intervention Training: This Continuing Education Unit program is designed to educate and prepare law enforcement officers and other first responders to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness and to respond effectively and appropriately to people who are experiencing a psychiatric crisis.
  • In Our Own Voice: Two people living with mental illness share compelling and personal testimonies of living with and overcoming the challenges posed by mental illness. Tailored to 60-90 minutes for churches, civic groups, schools and other organizations.

NAMI Greenville, SC does not charge for any of these programs or services.

They are a non-profit with 501(c)(3) status.

 The majority of funding for NAMI Greenville comes from donations made by members of the local community, individuals and corporations alike. While grants supplement their mission, they still rely heavily upon community monetary support to sustain their level of commitment to those in need in the Greenville area.

For membership, donations, and other information see http://www.namigreenvillesc.org

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A Short Glance at Schizophrenia

This past Thursday at an event I moderate, Movies Worth Talking About, we screened and discussed the 2011 feature Take Shelter, starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. Bill Carolla, the Director of Media Relations for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has described the film as “a nuanced, accurate portrayal of the onset of schizophrenia and the impact on a man’s family” and also pointed out how rare such film treatments are.

In a nutshell (also drawing from Carolla’s article), here’s what happens:

“In a small town in Ohio, Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) has nightmares that he tries to hide from his wife. He has apocalyptic visions of storm clouds and lightning – and growing paranoia. He loses himself building a storm shelter in his backyard. His strange behavior strains family relationships; he loses a friend; he is fired from his job.”

It is a serious, engaging film about a crucial subject that I highly recommend.

Fletcher Mann, Director of the Greenville chapter of NAMI, wrote me a note, offering seven important facts that help put perspective on the scope of the problem:

  • We don’t know for certain the causes of schizophrenia, but there does appear to be a genetic component.
  • About 40% of individuals with the illness will recognize the symptoms before family and friends do.
  • A) People usually seek help from a family physician first. B) Most of those physicians are not able to treat schizophrenia, but they can help rule out other causes of the symptoms and then make a referral to a psychiatrist. C) But there is a great deal of stigma associated with going to a psychiatrist.
  • There is a significant shortage of psychiatrists in this country, especially in rural areas. Even Greenville County, the most populous in the state, has the lowest per capita rate of psychiatrists in South Carolina. SC is the first nation that is experimenting with “telepsychiatry”. Emergency Room or other hospital personnel examine a person and then call in to the Medical University of South Carolina, which has a 24-hour on-call psychiatrist. The psychiatrist makes a more detailed examination via phone or video-conference and then prescribes immediate medication.
  • Most of these medications are expensive. The older, cheaper generics cause all kinds of side effects (some temporary and some permanent), which then require additional medications to treat the side effects, which then have their own side effects and might require a third medication. The better, newer medications are more effective with fewer side effects, but much greater expense. Insurance might cover the costs but co-pays are usually high. Public mental health centers rarely have or prescribe these newer medications due to the costs.
  • Sleeplessness is very common with most mental illnesses, and it is one of the biggest triggers for psychosis. Think of the stress of lack of sleep on a “normal” healthy person and then magnify that for a person with mental illness. Sleep deprivation is one form of torture. People die from lack of sleep.
  • Losing one mental health provider and having to start over with another provider happens frequently in public mental health centers, and it is a very big setback to treatment. I can’t think of any other area of medicine where knowing a person’s history and establishing a doctor-patient rapport is more important, especially with schizophrenia and even more especially with paranoid schizophrenia. With the lack of funding for mental health systems, the increase in population, and the shortage of psychiatrists, then the system is overloaded.

If you, a family member or friend is struggling with any form of mental illness and you don’t know where to turn, let me seriously recommend NAMI as a good starting point. Each local chapter provides its own resources and can also refer you to additional resources in your area. Their web address is www.nami.org.

If you have observations to add to this small article, I’d really appreciate them.

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Filed under Film analyses, Film analysis, Health Care, Mental health

Sloppy Thinking: Exhibit #2

I’ve begun, from time to time, to respond to various ideas that I think are prime examples of sloppy thinking. The following is a quote from Scottish inventor, Sir James Dewar:

 

 

The problem with a mind that is always open is that it never reaches any conclusions or establishes any convictions.

The minds that function best are those whose owners have asked crucial questions, gained knowledge and reached understanding. They have insight and wisdom.

With a well established, comprehensive, cohesive belief system, there are then a number of ideas and concepts and propositions that come along to which they are no longer open; and a variety of pronouncements and proposals will be summarily and thoughtfully rejected.

I much prefer the thinking of John Jay Chapman, an American essayist and social commentator:

In making up one’s mind, one closes one’s mind.

Or G. K. Chesterton, English author and critic:

The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.

 

 

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Rembrandt, Pt. 3 – Lessons from the Master: Rembrandt’s Self-Portraits and Me

This month of July marks the 406th birthday of Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn(July 15, 1606 – October 4, 1669), a Dutch painter and etcher. He is generally considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art history and the most important in Dutch history.

To commemorate, guest blogger, Julie Silander, has offered posts for three weeks, exploring various aspects of this genius’ work. See July 2 post for her first; July 9 for her second.

Ms. Silander lives in Charlotte with her husband, David, and the four of their five children still at home.

Art was one of those classes I took to offset my load of “real” course work. The teacher was straight out of the textbook. Perhaps my memory is tainted, but he really did look like Van Gogh, minus the bandaged ear. He was a quirky, melancholy, disheveled man who became highly animated when he talked about artwork. I don’t remember much from class other than sketching leaves, a tennis shoe, and shadowed 3-dimensional blocks. The most lasting instruction I received from Van Gogh was: “Don’t ever say that a painting is pretty.” The humble beginnings of my art appreciation education.

One of the perks of our homeschooling lifestyle is the freedom, flexibility, and capacity to step out of the mainstream pace of life and delve deeply into whatever we’re studying. We’ve begun a (one-sided) relationship with Rembrandt Van Rijn. As with any relationship, we’re in the early stages of turning over various pieces of the puzzle of his life and artwork, and studying them individually. Each gives a glimpse of the larger, finished project. As a side note, I’m struck that even if we had lived down the street from him, shared dinners and holidays, and had the ability to talk with him over a hot cup of Dutch koffie, we’d still limited in how well we could know him. That’s just the way we’re created – as a bottomless box of puzzle pieces. No matter how many are plucked out, studied, and meticulously rearranged, only the Creator has the vision to see us in our entirety. I find it somewhat humorous that we think we have each other “figured out.”

But back to Rembrandt… One of the puzzle pieces we’ve pulled out of the box is his uncanny use of light and shadow. Another is his tendency to buck the convention of the time when painting groups of people. Rather than paint a series of portraits all on the same canvas, he created a storyline of characters. His paintings evoke emotion and questions: “What were they talking about?” “Who was the man in the shadows?” “What was she feeling?” The famous Night Watch was one of those controversial paintings in which Rembrandt created a compelling scene rather than a string of flat portraits. Not all of his subjects were pleased. Some actually demanded their money back.

Personally, one of the most compelling pieces of the Rembrandt puzzle has been his remarkable insight into human emotion. His paintings draw you to the souls of the subject. This unique characteristic of his artwork leaves us with an obvious question: How did he know so much about the nature of people?

In the 50 years of Rembrandt’s career, he produced more than 90 self-portraits. He became a student of himself – not only studying the detail of his physical being, but also exploring the complexities and diversity of human emotion. His discovery of self was not rooted in self-absorption. Artists who were narcissistic tended to paint themselves repeatedly in their best form. Rembrandt, however, exposed his heart as both kind and enraged, his mind as both theatrical and analytical, and his disposition as both carefree and pensive. He used self-study as a tool to gain insight into the full range of the human condition. And the result was his remarkable ability to capture an extensive range emotional and psychological aspects on canvas. He deliberately explored and discovered self for the purpose of gaining in-depth insight into others.

So what lesson can we learn from the master?

We live in a society that has written reams of self-help books, booming syndication of Dr. Phil and Oprah, and promises fulfillment if only you can identify and achieve whatever it is that makes you happy. Self-examination and self-help are in vogue. However, I’d argue that the motivation and methodology behind most of today’s approaches to self-exploration differ greatly from Rembrandt’s. And from the Master’s as well.

How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:4-5

Having an accurate self-assessment is one of the first steps to loving others well. We all have some form of plank that blocks our view. The plank can take the form of arrogance or shame. It can masquerade as intellect, discernment, religion, or volunteer service. It’s anything that distorts the Truth of who we are, and it in turn distorts our view of others. If we’re willing to acknowledge the plank, then to have it removed bit by bit, the process is painful yet the result is freeing. I’ve shared a bit of my own journey here, and I hope to continue undergoing the process of log-extraction as long as I have breath. Although there will always be remnants of the log this side of heaven, our eyesight can be greatly restored.

As we begin to see more clearly, we are enabled to love others in a way that more closely resembles the love of the Father. We can begin to get ourselves out the way, and let Him love others through us.

[If you apprecate Rembrandt’s self-portratits, check the short video at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_H71aiz290]

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(podcast) On Apprehension

Three years ago I had the opportunity to speak to a group of men in Greenville, SC concerning apprehension. It’s something we all deal with from time to time, and it’s different from fear.

I hope these observations will be helpful.

Please feel free to add any insights, or ask any questions, you may have.

The recording runs 29:30.

***You can now access, download and/or subscribe to all of our podcasts through itunes. Just go to the itunes store. In the horizontal menu toward the top, click podcasts. Then type into the search box johnnypricemindfield. Click and there you are. Thanks, again, for checking all this stuff out.

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