Saturday, July 30, 2011

"In Times of Crisis, Mentally Ill Leaders Can See What Others Can't"

A professor of psychiatry writing for the Wall Street Journal holds out hope for people with depression who question their ability to lead:

When times are good and the ship of state only needs to sail straight, mentally healthy people function well as political leaders. But in times of crisis and tumult, those who are mentally abnormal, even ill, become the greatest leaders. We might call this the Inverse Law of Sanity...

When not irritably manic in his temperament, Churchill experienced recurrent severe depressive episodes, during many of which he was suicidal. Even into his later years, he would complain about his "black dog" and avoided ledges and railway platforms, for fear of an impulsive jump. "All it takes is an instant," he said.

Abraham Lincoln famously had many depressive episodes, once even needing a suicide watch, and was treated for melancholy by physicians. Mental illness has touched even saintly icons like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., both of whom made suicide attempts in adolescence and had at least three severe depressive episodes in adulthood.

Aristotle was the first to point out the link between madness and genius, including not just poets and artists but also political leaders....

An obvious place to start is with depression, which has been shown to encourage traits of both realism and empathy (though not necessarily in the same individual at the same time).

"Normal" nondepressed persons have what psychologists call "positive illusion"—that is, they possess a mildly high self-regard, a slightly inflated sense of how much they control the world around them.

Mildly depressed people, by contrast, tend to see the world more clearly, more as it is....

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cloak of Anonymity Brings Out the Dark Side of People

The Guardian (U.K.) describes a phenomenon well known to bloggers and those who frequent social media. People who post on these sites anonymously will write things that they will not say to that person face-to-face.

Take the case of comedian Stewart Lee, who collected pages of anonymous comments about his TV show. Many of them, like the ones listed below, were disturbing or threatening:

"I hate Stewart Lee with a passion. He's like Ian Huntley to me." Wharto15, Twitter
"I saw him at a gig once, and even offstage he was exuding an aura of creepy molesty smugness." Yukio Mishima,
"One man I would love to beat with a sh*t-covered cricket bat." Joycey,
"He's got one of those faces I just want to burn." Coxy,
"I hope stewart lee dies." Idrie, Youtube
"WHAT THE HELL! If i ever find you, lee, i promise i will, I WILL, kick the crap out of you." Carcrazychica, YouTube
"Stewart Lee is a cynical man, who has been able to build an entire carrer [sic] out of his own smugness. I hope the f**king chrones disease [sic] kills him." Maninabananasuit,
"I spent the entire time thinking of how much I want to punch Stewart Lee in the face instead of laughing. He does have an incredibly punchable face, doesn't he? (I could just close my eyes, but fantasizing about punching Stewart Lee is still more fun than sitting in complete, stony silence.)" Pudabaya,

The psychologists call it "deindividuation". It's what happens when social norms are withdrawn because identities are concealed. The classic deindividuation experiment concerned American children at Halloween. Trick-or-treaters were invited to take sweets left in the hall of a house on a table on which there was also a sum of money. When children arrived singly, and not wearing masks, only 8% of them stole any of the money. When they were in larger groups, with their identities concealed by fancy dress, that number rose to 80%. The combination of a faceless crowd and personal anonymity provoked individuals into breaking rules that under "normal" circumstances they would not have considered.

Deindividuation is what happens when we get behind the wheel of a car and feel moved to scream abuse at the woman in front who is slow in turning right. It is what motivates a responsible father in a football crowd to yell crude sexual hatred at the opposition or the referee. And it's why under the cover of an alias or an avatar on a website or a blog – surrounded by virtual strangers – conventionally restrained individuals might be moved to suggest a comedian should suffer all manner of violent torture because they don't like his jokes, or his face. Digital media allow almost unlimited opportunity for wilful deindividuation. They almost require it. The implications of those liberties, of the ubiquity of anonymity and the language of the crowd, are only beginning to be felt....

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Did You Know that Anorexia Is the Deadliest Psychiatric Disorder?

WebMD reports that - Anorexia is the most lethal psychiatric disorder, carrying a sixfold increased risk of death -- four times the death risk from major depression.

The odds are even worse for people first diagnosed with anorexia in their 20s. They have 18 times the death risk of healthy people their age, according to an analysis of the medical literature by Jon Arcelus, MD, PhD, of the University of Leicester, England, and colleagues.

The study found anorexia to carry twice the death risk of schizophrenia and three times the death risk of bipolar disorder. Although anorexia is by far the deadliest eating disorder, death rates are also higher than normal in people with bulimia and "eating disorder not otherwise specified" (EDNOS, a common diagnosis for people with a mixture of atypical anorexia and atypical bulimia)....

EDITORIAL NOTE: Read the whole article - it has some startling statistics.

Customer Loyalty, or "Lunatic Behavior?"

FOX News has an article about the lengths to which fast-food fanatics will go to score their favorite meals.

Adam Moore once drove 500 miles just to eat a burrito at a Chipotle he'd never been to. So far he has visited all 71 of their restaurants in Colorado.

Alan Klein is working on a smartphone app to help fellow enthusiasts track down the transient McRib sandwich.

John Ruck, an 82-year-old retiree in St. Petersburg, Fla., has road-tripped to 48 Chick-fil-A openings - not for the coupons but for the camaraderie. He went to his first in January 2006, while grieving his wife's recent death, and found them therapeutic.

He said he doesn't mind sleeping in parking lots because he brings a comfy chair. The only time he suffers is during the karaoke. "I've never been subjected to such torture for 52 meals," he said with a laugh.

Call it fanaticism or simply dedication, but these are the type of ultra-enthusiastic fans that every restaurant craves. Restaurant groupies have always been around, but they're more valuable at a time when the economy is forcing consumers to choose carefully when they eat out, and a few online posts can inform the opinions of thousands. While there are no known statistics on these fanatics or even agreement on who qualifies as one, restaurant chains realize that influencing a few hyper-excited fans with free food and T-shirts can sometimes be more effective — and much cheaper — than a big advertising campaign.

"You really can't buy publicity like that," said Chris Arnold, spokesman for Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., referring affectionately to "lunatic customers" who do things like dress up as burritos to score free meals at the Colorado-based chain. He adds that the company tries to cultivate "loyalty and, in extreme cases, even evangelism."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Depressive Advantage

Sure, I heard of The Bipolar Advantage, but this article in brings up the intriguing point: depression isn't all bad, if you happen to be a depressive realist.

Many psychologists and researchers have something to say about this intriguing theory. In 1988 psychologists, Shelley E. Taylor and Jonathon D. Brown, reviewed evidence that non-depressed individuals held positive illusions in three domains:

• The non-depressed view themselves in unrealistically positive terms.

• They believe that they have greater control over environmental events than is actually the case.

• They hold views of the future that are more rosy than data could justify.

In essence, this theory proposes that the typical non-depressed person uses happy illusions to maintain their self esteem and get through the day. In comparison, the individual having mild to moderate depression is reported to have a more realistic perspective of his or her image as well as in interpreting information from the external world. Some would caution to not extrapolate that all happy people are necessarily delusional nor does it mean that people with depression are not sometimes distorted in their thinking. Yet this theory does seem to give a silver lining to having what some people call a depressive personality....

EDITORIAL NOTE: As one with personal experience with depression, I frankly confess it's something I wouldn't wish on my own worst enemy. On the other hand, it has forced me to learn patience, and during my days in the intelligence field, I did not let political correctness or false optimism deter me from reflecting on the evil that man is capable of.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Beware of the Sugar Blues

Therese J. Borchard wrote an article in Psych Central, "Why Sugar Is Dangerous To Depression," that provides practical guidance to avoid overdosing on sugar.

"People who suffer from depression are especially vulnerable to sugar’s evil power. I am so sensitive to white-flour, processed foods that I can practically set an alarm to for three hours after consumption, at which time I will be cursing myself for inhaling the large piece of birthday cake at the party because I am feeling so miserable. That doesn’t stop me from eating dessert at the next gathering, of course, but the awareness between sugar and mood does help me better understand some of my crashes."

Monday, July 11, 2011

How to Spot a Psychopath

That's the kind of title that grabs your attention. Jon Ronson in The Guardian (U.K.) describes his encounters with a mental patient named Tony who had been diagnosed as a psychopath.

Tony said the day he arrived at the dangerous and severe personality disorder (DSPD) unit, he took one look at the place and realised he'd made a spectacularly bad decision. He asked to speak urgently to psychiatrists. "I'm not mentally ill," he told them. It is an awful lot harder, Tony told me, to convince people you're sane than it is to convince them you're crazy.

"When you decided to wear pinstripe to meet me," I said, "did you realise the look could go either way?"

"Yes," said Tony, "but I thought I'd take my chances. Plus most of the patients here are disgusting slobs who don't wash or change their clothes for weeks on end and I like to dress well...."

The article mentions the Robert Hare Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R), which is used to identify psychopathic personality disorder. The test looks at 21 different traits:

Factor 1: Personality "Aggressive narcissism"

Glibness/superficial charm
Grandiose sense of self-worth
Pathological lying
Lack of remorse or guilt
Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
Callousness; lack of empathy
Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Factor 2: Case history "Socially deviant lifestyle".

Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
Parasitic lifestyle
Poor behavioral control
Lack of realistic long-term goals
Juvenile delinquency
Early behavior problems
Revocation of conditional release

Traits not correlated with either factor

Promiscuous sexual behavior
Many short-term marital relationships
Criminal versatility
Acquired behavioural sociopathy/sociological conditioning (Item 21: a newly identified trait i.e. a person relying on sociological strategies and tricks to deceive)