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Monthly Archives: March 2018

“My name is Legion–for we are many.” – Part 1

We’ve all encountered crazy people.  They are the ones howling at the moon or swatting away invisible objects or having conversations with themselves.  They are the ones who hear voices and have hallucinations and are disconnected from reality.  And when we see ‘crazy’, we know what to do–cross to the other side of the street and pull our children a little closer to us because there is something “wrong with them.”

Jesus encountered ‘crazy’ too.  And no one seemed more crazy than the man Jesus and his disciples met upon arriving at the region of the Geresenes.  (See Mark 5:1-9)  This man is obviously deranged.  He is out of his mind.  He lives in a cemetery–completely isolated from the rest of the community and family.  He is out of control.  The community has tried to contain him, but he has broken free every chain and shackle they have used to bind him.  He is self-mutilating.  He is more like an animal than a man, howling in the night.  This man has experienced complete social, physical, mental and spiritual dis-integration. He’s insane.

What is the cause of his insanity?  Mark describes the man as possessed by an impure spirit.  He is under the control of an outside demonic influence.  But rather than avoid the man, Jesus engaged him and sought to help him.  In an uncharacteristic act, Jesus asked the man/impure spirit his name.  And the man/impure spirit identified himself as “Legion–for we are many.”

For many of us who have grown up with this story, we assume that this man had become possessed because of some deficiency in his moral character, some commitment of terrible sins, some omission in his spiritual practice, or worse–some active participation in the occult, opening himself to the Satanic world.  For most of us, Legion is simply a reference to the multiple demons possessing the man as a result of his own multiple acts of spiritual waywardness.

But for the people reading Mark’s gospel, the name “Legion” meant more than just a large number.  The name indicated the real source of the man’s madness.

Tomorrow… Part 2.  “Legion Arrives in Geresa”

Ephesians 3:16-19 (A Paraphrase of Paul’s prayer)

“O God, out of the storehouse of your abundant spiritual blessings, strengthen Your people. Fill our inner being with the power and presence of Your Spirit so our hearts may become a welcome place for Christ himself to reside. May Your love be the rich soil in which our lives are planted, take root, grow and bear fruit. May Your truth be the foundation upon which our lives are built up so that we will fully know and fully grasp that the love Christ has for us is greater and more true than anything we have previously experienced or could believe possible—a love infinitely long, infinitely wide, infinitely high, and infinitely deep that embraces us completely and heals our deepest hurts. God, may Your fullness flood through our entire being—down to the core of who we are—so we will be made holy and whole. Amen.”

Systemic Oppression and Mental Health – Part 3

Given the history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynching, police profiling, and government policies specifically excluding African Americans from access to basic human needs such as housing, it should be no surprise that African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.

While African Americans suffer many of the same mental illnesses as the rest of the population such as depression and anxiety disorders, they often experience them at more severe levels.  In addition, African Americans are diagnosed with schizophrenia twice as often as non-Hispanic whites, and Black/African Americans of all ages are more likely to be victims of serious violent crime than are non-Hispanic whites, making them more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  A full 40% of people who are homeless are African American. 1

A likely cause for the high rates of mental disorders: The stress caused by discrimination because of race.  71% of African Americans report that they have experienced racial discrimination, and 23% say they experience some form of racial discrimination at least twice a week.  2

And studies show that even the anticipation of discrimination can raise stress levels.  Living in a heightened state of alertness constantly damages not only the brain but also the body.

1 Source

2 Source

 

Systemic Oppression and Mental Health – Part 2

LGBTQ individuals often experience marginalization, rejection, and harassment on a regular basis.  They often fear losing their jobs (in some States, you can be fired for being gay), being targeted for violence, or being denied basic human rights.  As a result, they are 3 times more likely than others to experience a mental disorder such as depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, self harm and suicide attempts.

LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than straight people.  At particular risk are those who have experienced rejection from their families after revealing their sexual orientation.  An estimated 20-30% of LGBTQ people abuse substances, compared to about 9% of the general population, and 25% of LGBT people abuse alcohol, compared to 5-10% of the general population.

Groups that are stigmatized are at greater risk of experiencing a mental disorder. Marginalization, rejection and harassment do not fulfill the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love heals.

Source

Systemic Oppression and Mental Health – Part 1

According to the World Health Organization, “Racism or discrimination towards a particular group in society, for example, raises that group’s exposure to social exclusion and economic adversity, thereby placing them at a higher risk of stress, anxiety and other common mental disorders.”

This is particularly evident among American Indian tribal groups. The long history of European colonialism and expansion throughout the United States includes forced removal from land, murder of entire communities, separation of children from their families, forced assimilation, and genocide of whole tribes.  American Indians are the most impoverished subgroup in the U.S.  And the unemployment rate is twice as high as the general population. The impact of past and present oppression can be seen in the mental health of indigenous people.

The suicide rate for American Indian males between the ages of 15-24 is 3 times the national average.  In a small study of adults in the Northwest U.S., 70% of those surveyed indicated that they had experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime and 30% were currently experiencing a disorder.  Substance abuse–often a presenting problem of mental distress– is epidemic among American Indians.

And while the U.S. government provides mental health support services on reservations, 4 in 5 American Indians do not live on the reservations and do not have access to those services.

A history of exclusion and discrimination can still be observed in the present.

 

Is living in the U.S. bad for your mental health?

According to multiple studies cited in Mental Health: Culture Race and Ethnicity, Mexican Americans born outside the United States have lower prevalence rates of lifetime disorders than Mexican Americans born in the United States.  25% of Mexican-born immigrants show signs of mental illness or substance abuse compared to 48% of U.S.-born Mexican Americans.

The studies suggest that there are social dynamics that contribute to mental illness and substance abuse.  Children of immigrants often face unique stresses while navigating a bilingual/bicultural world.  But Dr. David Satcher, a former U.S. Surgeon General, has made the observation that ethnic and racial minorities “face a social and economic environment of inequality that includes greater exposure to racism, discrimination, violence and poverty. Living in poverty has the most measurable effect on the rates of mental illness. (our emphasis) People in the lowest stratum of income…are about two to three times more likely than those in the highest stratum to have a mental disorder.”

If we want to improve mental health, we must also address the social/economic environment in which we live.

 

 

Is it Just Adolescence or is it Mental Illness?

The adolescent years are crazy! Mood swings, emotional tirades (remember Katie Ka-boom?), hormonal surges, DRAMA.  Sometimes, adults look at the behavior and just chalk it up to being a normal teenager–a little crazy, but normal.  But in reality, 20% of teenagers (ages 12-17) have a diagnosable mental disorder–the rates for teenage depression are surging, and self-harm and suicide rates are rising.  Yet, only about 20% of those kids receive help.  In the words of Time magazine, “The kids are NOT alright.”

So, how can you tell the difference between “normal teenage angst ” and a more serious mental health issue? Here are some things that you may observe in a teen that will help to decipher the difference between mental illness and normal teenage behavior. Some concerning behaviors:

• Decrease in enjoyment and time spent with friends and family
• Significant decrease in school performance
• Strong resistance to attending school or absenteeism
• Problems with memory, attention or concentration
• Big changes in energy levels, eating or sleeping patterns
• Physical symptoms (stomach aches, headaches, backaches)
• Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, anxiety, crying often
• Frequent aggression, disobedience or lashing out verbally
• Excessive neglect of personal appearance or hygiene
• Substance abuse
• Dangerous or illegal thrill-seeking behaviour
• Is overly suspicious of others
• Sees or hears things that others do not

It’s important to remember that no one sign means that there is a problem. It’s important to examine the: nature, intensity, severity and duration of a problem. Source

16_Average-warning-signs3

Matthew 10:29-31 (A paraphrase)

“What’s the price of a sparrow?  They are ‘a dime a dozen,’ and yet God cares about what happens to them!  Isn’t that amazing!?  And understand this: God knows you intimately, down to the very last detail, and CARES EVEN MORE ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU!  So don’t believe it when people tell you that you don’t matter or that you are worthless–like scum of the earth.  That is NOT how God feels about you.  To God, you are worth more than a million sparrows.  You are priceless.”

Laughter Heals

“A cheerful heart is good medicine….” Proverbs 17:22

I grew up with Reader’s Digest and I recall laughing uproariously while reading the regular column, “Laughter is the Best Medicine.”  It turns out laughter does indeed have health affects beyond tickling our funny bone.

Studies are affirming the connection between laughter and increased feelings of well-being since laughter produces endorphins in the brain including serotonin.  Laughter also increases vascular function, speeds recovery, and may even increase the activity of NK cells (aka “killer cells”) that attack sick cells within our bodies–including tumors. Laughter has been used as a pain inhibiter and is part of the daily medical routine at the Gesundheit Institute, founded by Dr. Patch Adams.

And research shows that laughter doesn’t even have to be genuine.  You can fake it, and still get the same benefits!  Even a giggle will do you good.

No matter what kind of humor you enjoy, or what kind of laugh you employ, laugh! It’s the best medicine.  Uncle Albert certainly knows how good laughter can be,  and he loves to laugh!

Touch Deprivation and Violence

While doing research on the healing power of touch, I found a fascinating 2002 research study led by Dr. Tiffany Field that showed the link between lack of positive touch early in life and aggression and violence in adolescence and adulthood.

Dr. Field cited a 1990 study by J. W. Prescott that looked at 49 cultures.  Prescott’s research found that that those “cultures that exhibited minimal physical affection toward their young children had significantly higher rates of adult violence, and, vice versa, those cultures that showed significant amounts of physical affection toward their young children had virtually no adult violence.” *

Dr. Field then compared behavior of parents of preschool children in France, which has low adult violence and the United States which has high adult violence, and found that French preschoolers were touched more and were less aggressive than their US peers.  The trend continued into adolescence.

Could the answer to decreasing violence among adolescents and adults be as simple as increasing affectionate touch?  We know that infants who are neglected and given little physical affection do not physically develop and are at risk of death.  We call the condition “failure to thrive.” Now, the research suggests that those same children will be at risk of becoming violent adults.

Parents and caregivers, shower your children with affection. Hug them often. Affirm them with high-fives. Bless them with a hand on their head. Reassure them with a hand on their shoulder. Hold hands.  Cuddle.  It will do wonders for your children’s development AND our society just may be healthier down the road.

* Prescott, J. W. (1990). Affectional bonding for the prevention of violent behaviors: Neurobiological, psychological and religious/spiritual determinants. In L. J. Herzberg, G. F. Ostrum, & J. Roberts Field (Eds.), Violent behavior–Assessment and intervention (Vol. 1). Great Neck, NY: PMA Publishing Co.