Monthly Archives: October 2012

Self-inflicted cuts on the arm

Cutting is another term or self-mutilation or self-harm  It often involves razor blades or small knives slicing open the skin.  It’s not to be confused with scarification, where scars are purposefully placed on the body to form a special design.  Cutting is often a sign that someone is suicidal, but not always.  People who cut tend to hide their scars (unlike folks who have sacrification.)

So, how can you tell if someone you love is cutting themselves?  Here are some ways to find out, short of spying on your loved one:

  • If they are wearing long sleeves, baggy sweaters or lots of clothes in hot weather
  • If they suddenly start wearing wristbands all of  the time
  • If they suddenly do not want anyone to see their bare arms or legs when previously they didn’t care about showing off their limbs
  • If you find that they are carrying sharp objects or find sharp objects in their room, purse or workplace
  • If they suddenly stop going to social outings and uncharacteristically want to spend most of their free time alone
  • If they start showing signs of depression

Cutting can become a powerful coping mechanism for the stresses of daily life r dealing with past traumas.  It can be difficult habit to break.  Anyone who cuts needs help — do not ignore it, even if the person clearly states that they are not suicidal.  The person may not be suicidal, but does risk accidentally dying from cutting.

Talk to that person and urge them to get help without being condescending.  Explain that you are worried about internal infections or one day the person may accidentally hit a major artery and bleed to death.  This approach is often better than saying, “Are you NUTS??? No one in their right mind would cut their skin open!”


China passed a new law to keep people from being hospitalized against their will and treated when they don’t need treatment in a mental health facility.  About 80% of mental health admissions are involuntary.  Psychiatrists will still be able to recommend a patient for hospitalization, but police, family members or other enemies of an individual can no longer do so.

It took over 25 years to get this new law passed.  The first draft was written in 1985, back when Den Xiaoping was in charge.  Xiaoping would receive Time’s Man of the Year award for 1985 because of his economic reforms. 

Chinese citizens could be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital and submitted to any number of unnecessary and often inhumane treatments for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with mental illness.  People could be re-committed again and again until they actually become mentally ill from the treatment.

For example, a business owner could have a cranky employee committed.  Family members who hated other family members used the Chinese mental health care system instead of hiring a hit man.  Political prisoners and even the more usual type of criminal could be committed in order to quiet a whistleblower or other potential troublemaker.

Hopefully, this new law will free up facilities and hospital beds for people who actually need mental health care.  The stress in on the word “hopefully” because many Chinese ex-pats are unsure how the law can be enforced.  Patients admitted to mental health facilities will be given a right to appeal their admission according to the new law.



Depressed horse

“What use is grief to a horse?”  — Peter Shaffer; Equus

Grief and depression is useful for a horse, but is becoming more useful for researchers of human depression.  A French University studied depression in 59 horses for six months. All of the horses were riding lesson horses, or horses who have to put up with riders of all levels and incompetance.  Most of the horses were members of the Sele Francais breed (French Saddlebreds) but that is because that breed is popular in France than just about any other country in the world.

Depressed horses stand differently from non-depressed horses.  THey also have lower plasma cortisol levels.  The researchers hope that positively determining depression in horses can make horses used as lab animals for human depression.  The researchers also hope that vets and horse caretakers can use these findings to help depressed horses get help.  At least, I think that’s what this means:

Not only could the information obtained in this pilot study provide researchers
with a new model with which to study depression in humans, it could also help
equine veterinarians, behaviorists, and horse owners better assess equine
welfare based on ethologic responses indicative of depression.

I have to admit, I had to scratch my head here.  Horses tend to exhibit “depression” when they are sick or under extreme stress.  When horses are under extreme stress, they tend to show other physical symptoms like being very thin, overgrooming or developing a bad habit like stall weaving or wood eating.  I’m assuming that this study hopes to show behavior of extreme stress before a horse begins a bad habit or stops eating.

But why do we need horses to be models of human depression?  Although we do need more studies on human mental illness, I’m not sure if dragging horses into the lab will help humans any.

If I was a lab animal, I’d be depressed, too.

Many people with depression will not go seek help because

1) They’re too young to seek help

2) They think that they cannot be cured

3) They fear stigma

It’s often concerned friends and family members that finally get a mentally ill patient to seek help.  Don’t ignore signs of depression — in yourself of in someone you care about…

Read the rest of my article at Helium.  Thanks! The page view payments help me keep this blog ad-free.

I’ve always heard that in order to be an artist, you have to be a little crazy.  Mozart was crazy.  Van Gogh was crazy.  Spike Milligan was crazy.  Whether they are writers, painters, singers, actors, scientists — they tend to have the “artistic temperament”  — which is merely the polite way of saying that they are a little crazy.

Now there’s a Swedish study that backs up the popular notion.  It was done by the Karolinska institute looking at over 40 years worth of medical records on 1.2 million anonymous Swedes.  Those folks with schizophrenia, anorexia, autism or bipolar disorder were more likely to be gifted creatively than the rest of Swedish society.

It could be that the results of this study only apply to Swedish creative types.  But Sweden is a “typical” Western country in many respects.

Stephen Fry, in his award-winning BBC documentary, The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, also pointed out that many of his show business acquaintances were bipolar or had major depression.  He also said that a Hollywood producer once told him, “In order to make it, you don’t have to be gay or famous — just bipolar.”

Bipolar disorder seems to the mental illness that is most common in artists and scientists.  Writers, though (such as yours truly) also could have depression, anxiety and/or substance abuse and still be considered creative.  Unfortunately, writers were also 50% more likely to commit suicide.  Or (in my case) attempt suicide and botch the job.  Well — at least it gives me something to write about.

So — do you HAVE to be mentally ill in order to be creative?  The study does not come to that conclusion.  Besides — is it that you make art because you are crazy or the art itself that makes you crazy?  More studies would need to be done to confirm that.

I’ve neer been so glad not to be Swedish.

In his Oscar award-winning film Annie Hall (1977), Woody Allen observed this about Hollywood –“All they do is give out awards.”  There’s a reason for the heavily publicised pats on th backs.  Entertainment is a high-stress business and so giving away awards while a room full of people clap helps keep these folks from going into another business.

I don’t like the Oscars or award shows, but do agree that there is something incredibly gratifying about getting an award.  Our species craves recognition and approval from others.  What better way to get those than from an award that you can show off to your parents?  Awards show others that you managed to do something special at one time or another.

We all just want a little recognition, especially if we have to struggle with mental illness or other chronic ailments.  Some days, just not peeing in your pants is a major accomplishment (such as when you have to pull a 12 hour shift working behind a cash register or if you’re recovering from major surgery).  You should get an award for not peeing your pants.  Is that so much to ask?

But we know we’ll never get an award for our hard work and it can drive us nuts — or more nuts than we already are.  Since no one else will give you an award, give one to yourself.  Print out this certificate of recognition (or Google such a fill-in-the-bank certificate), fill it out and hang it on your wall.  Perhaps opposite the toilet.

There is an interesting legend from the Pacific Coast tribes of Native Americans which explains why life is full of problems. In it, the god Raven was pure white and benevolent. His brother was Black Raven and made many of the bad things in the world. Eventually, Black Raven tried to murder White Raven and the good brother wound up killing the bad in self-defense. But afterwards, instead of fixing what Black Raven broke, the once-good brother chose to add problems to the world instead, because a perfect world bored him…

Read the rest of my article at Yahoo Voices.  Thanks!