Breasts, babies, and banishments 5/28/08
Ok, this is really just a “quick takes on current stories” post with a catchier title.
First, the breasts. I was appalled to read about how many girls are getting breast enlargement surgery as a high school graduation gift this year! Now in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that a woman’s breast size isn’t a major factor in my assessment of her attractiveness, but seriously, is this not yet another sign that our culture is headed in the wrong direction? What message are these girls’ parents sending them? And am I the only one who recalls a girl dying from a bad reaction to anesthesia while undergoing elective breast surgery earlier this year? Many girls just finishing high school are motivated by petty popularity concerns and rivalries that are likely to wane as the women mature, and some even suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder, whereby their perceptions of their own bodies are completely distorted and unrealistic. Unless the surgery is necessary to correct some kind of deformity, my general rule is: if someone’s old enough to be making the decision to have cosmetic surgery, that person should be old enough to pay for it herself (and after saving for a couple of years, a lot of young women who originally thought they wanted the surgery probably will change their minds and spend the money in other, hopefully smarter, ways). And for parents who can’t wait to “double down” on their daughters’ graduation gifts, maybe that money would be better spent on a little family therapy.
Next, the babies. Some people are arguing that black children need to be raised by black parents in order to achieve optimal psychological/emotional development, and therefore, that white parents should be discouraged or even barred from adopting black babies. As a psychologist and child custody evaluator, I’ve seen absolutely no evidence to convince me of that. Every adoptive situation has challenges, and it’s certainly true that not every transracial adoption goes as smoothly as it did on “Diff’rent Strokes,” but historically, black orphans’ chances of being adopted have been lower relative to white orphans in the U.S.A. So, when a qualified white couple steps up and wants to adopt a black child who has no other prospects, I’d rather applaud their compassion and wish them the best as opposed to telling them they’re the wrong color and leaving the kid in foster care indefinitely.
And finally tonight, the banishments. A church in Minnesota recently banished a developmentally-disabled teenager from Sunday services after the boy was repeatedly disruptive (spitting, urinating, striking a child, etc.), and a kindergarten teacher in Florida recently took a class vote to banish a developmentally-disabled student from the classroom after that boy was repeatedly disruptive (eating crayons, hiding under desks, talking over others, etc.). Like most people, I feel very sorry for these kids and their parents, and as a psychologist, I think the teacher in Florida handled the situation terribly by subjecting the boy to the humiliating vote. On the other hand, as a lawyer, I do not believe that the rights of these two kids to participate in church and school activities outweigh the rights of others to attend services and classes free of disruption. In other words, I do not believe that because they have disabilities, these two kids are entitled to ruin the church and school experiences for others. As bad as I feel about excluding the developmentally-disabled kids, I don’t believe that “mainstreaming” them (putting them in the same sanctuary or classroom as their normally-developed peers and pretending like they’re all the same) really serves the best interests of any of the children, and as tough as it may be, I think it’s ultimately the responsibility of the developmentally-disabled kids’ parents to realize that.
“See, I told you so” update 5/27/08
If you read my previous post “See, I told you so (regrettably)” back in March, here’s an update: The City of Durham, North Carolina, is now acknowledging that Laurence “Alvin” Lovette, charged in the murder of UNC student body president Eve Carson, should’ve been in jail at the time of her murder. I hope Ms. Carson’s family sues and recovers millions, not because I think money could ever compensate adequately for the loss, and not because I doubt that Lovette’s release was an honest mistake (he was charged with breaking and entering when he should’ve been charged with the more serious felony of burlgary, which would’ve ruled out the plea bargain that resulted in a suspended jail sentence), but because maybe a big judgment will scare “soft” judges and prosecutors nationwide into swinging the pendulum away from giving offenders third, fourth, and fifth chances and back toward holding them accountable; away from concern for criminals’ rehabilitation and back toward concern for law-abiding citizens’ safety. If that happens, maybe Carson at least won’t have died in vain, but no matter what happens, this clearly was a preventable tragedy.
Mental healthcare for veterans 5/26/08
As a grandson, son, and brother of veterans, mental healthcare for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is the subject of this Memorial Day edition of the blog. In the past couple of years, there’ve been intermittent reports of recently-discharged combat veterans committing suicide while waiting for mental healthcare at overcrowded, understaffed, sub-par Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals. Then a couple of weeks ago, the government released a report on the rate of suicide among returning veterans which showed that such incidents have not been as isolated as the public had been led to believe. Then just last week, an internal VA email was publicized, in which a staff psychologist recommended withholding the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in order to reduce financial compensation expenses for that disability. In that email, the psychologist told subordinates that the VA really didn’t have the time or the resources to conduct comprehensive, definitive PTSD assessments sufficient to identify and exclude malingering (faking the disorder to obtain compensation fraudulently). This is an issue about which I have some very specific expertise. When I was completing my doctoral training, I spent a year as an intern in the psych ward of a VA hospital, and using my combined psychological and legal skills, I conducted these exact evaluations — determining whether veterans had PTSD, and if so, how disabled they were by it (which formed the basis of compensation awards under a complex VA system of administrative law). I can tell you that there absolutely are malingerers, and when I was at the VA hospital, I did my level best not to let your tax dollars be spent on someone whose claim was bogus. At the same time, I can tell you that there absolutely are veterans who legitimately suffer from combat-induced PTSD and are disabled by it to varying degrees. Therefore, as a society, we owe it to all veterans to do whatever it takes to make sure that we give world-class care to the ones who truly need and deserve it. While the recently-publicized VA email lamented the cost of properly diagnosing and compensating PTSD, the resources that I saw being expended by the VA on PTSD-related diagnosis, treatment, and compensation combined were dwarfed by the appalling amount of money that I saw being spent on “treating” substance abuse (and, as you know if you’re a regular reader, the quotes around the word “treatment” are there because I think substance-abuse “treatment” is an oxymoron, wherever it’s conducted). When I began my year at the VA hospital, I was looking forward to helping “heroes” returning from deployments with PTSD, brain injuries, societal/marital reintegration problems, etc., and there were a some of those, but it turned out that probably 90% of the patients I saw there had substance abuse as a primary problem! The VA’s substance abuse “treatment” program, as I observed it over that year, cost a ton, didn’t work, and created a “revolving door” of admissions that sometimes actually filled up the psych ward and caused legitimately mentally-ill vets to have to be sent to other facilities. And, most of the drug/alcohol abusers had never even been in combat! If the VA just directed its substance abuse dollars toward real battlefield-related mental conditions like PTSD & TBI (traumatic brain injuries), there would be no problem conducting the needed assessments, delivering the needed care, and paying the needed compensation. If I were in charge though, I’d disband the VA healthcare system, get rid of the payroll, sell all of the equipment and real estate, and purchase private insurance for all veterans to cover any injury or disorder caused by military service. Not only would that be cheaper, but the care would be better in my opinion, and on this Memorial Day, I hope we can all agree that our veterans deserve the best.
Update on the monstrous MySpace mom 5/16/08
If you didn’t read my previous post, “The case of the monstrous MySpace mom and the eggshell skull,” you might want to read that first (Dec. 12, 2007). Now, here’s an update: the monstrous MySpace mom has been indicted by a federal grand jury. After prompting a 13-year-old girl to commit suicide (by making the girl believe she’d been rejected by a fictitious online boyfriend), this despicable woman isn’t charged with murder, but charges of conspiracy and abuse of MySpace’s computer system could land her in prison for as long as 20 years. This is good news! The woman truly was monstrous, telling the now-deceased girl that “the world would be better off without you.” Well lady, I think the world would be better off with you locked up for the next couple of decades!
More evidence that weed is unwise 5/10/08
If you read this blog regularly, the following will come as no surprise, but parents and teens who don’t read regularly should pay extra-close attention and then go back and ready my previous post “Sex, drugs, and lies” (and then start reading the blog regularly!). In addition to damaging the brain, reducing motivation, retarding mental processing speed, impairing judgment, being addictive, and leading to the abuse of even more dangerous drugs, a meta-analysis (aggregated report) of several recent studies found significant links between marijuana use, mental illness (especially depression), and suicidality in teens.
Another questionable suicide? 5/6/08
Earlier this year, it was questionable whether actor Heath Ledger intended to overdose on sleeping pills in combination with other medications (a New York Medical Examiner ruled it accidental). Then just yesterday, I said I thought there might be more to the story of a Connecticut soccer mom who reportedly committed suicide by setting herself on fire (a very rare method of suicide in the western world). Now I’m far from a conspiracy theorist, but unlike Florida authorities, I prefer to wait for toxicology results and handwriting analysis (the authentication kind, not the personality kind) of convicted “D.C. Madam” Deborah Palfrey’s “suicide” notes before concluding that she hung herself to avoid going to prison. I’ve read the content of her reported notes, and it seems plausible to me, but she did run a prostitution ring that catered to Washington insiders, so the woman likely knew things that could’ve brought down some powerful people (think former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer). She probably killed herself, but given the high stakes, and the fact that she’s now the second woman involved in the prostitution ring to have apparently committed suicide, I’d rather not rush to judgment.
Quick takes on three stories 5/5/08
So here it is 4:00 Monday morning, and while I’m still up working on t.v. stuff for this week, here are my quick takes on three stories:
1) The Austrian dungeon guy — you’ve probably heard about the guy in Austria who apparently kept his daughter hostage in a basement dungeon for the past 24 years since she was a teenager, telling his wife that the girl ran away from home. He reportedly fathered seven children by her during her captivity, some of whom stayed in the dungeon and others he adopted as babies, telling his wife that their “runaway” daughter left the infants on their doorstep. First off, the guy’s claiming insanity, but if you’ve ever watched me talk about an insanity case on t.v. and/or if you read this blog, you know that lots of planning, orchestration, concealment, etc., make the insanity thing a total crock. Second, I’m predicting right now that there’s more to this story — there’s no way this guy kept several people in the basement of an apartment building for decades, fed them, clothed them, etc., and nobody else ever knew or suspected that anything weird was going on. I’m especially eager to learn more about this guy’s supposedly clueless wife!
2) The Connecticut soccer mom who supposedly lit herself on fire — this is a real tragedy, a wife and mother of two burned to death in a public park after being doused with gasoline and ignited with a match. There’s reportedly a suicide note, and Connecticut authorities have ruled the woman’s death a suicide, but I can tell you that committing suicide by lighting oneself on fire is incredibly rare, almost unheard of, in the western world. I predict that there’s more to this story as well, but either way, you can’t help but think about how tough this must be on her kids.
3) On a positive note, the suburban Chicago school district of Elgin has implemented a policy requiring its staff members to report any illegal activity that occurs on the campus of a school in the district to local police. Sounds like a no-brainer, I know, but schools often try to keep disciplinary matters between the school and the parents of the student(s) involved. This is a very positive step toward the reduction of bullying (in addition to detentions and suspensions, it gives bullies assault and battery charges to worry about), and it might also help get dangerous teens into the juvenile justice system earlier in their lives (as I’ve said many times, not enough really happens to criminals in this country until they’ve been caught committing a whole series of minor-to-moderate crimes or a major crime like rape or murder, so maybe, just maybe, this will help the “corrections” system to get serious about “correcting” people sooner). In return, the local police have agreed to inform the school district when one of its students is caught committing a crime, which will help school officials to identify potential threats in their hallways (as I’ve also advocated time after time in the wake of school shootings). Wonder if they’re listening to me in Chicago?