Does Social Media Have Responsibilities?

The shooting in Santa Clarita, California, rocked the town after a 16-year-old shot five students, including himself, killing two students and the shooter succumbing to his injuries. Many are asking why, was he mentally ill? According to a press conference, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Padilla, he presumed the student was mentally ill, though no evidence proved this. Once again, a murderer is assumed to be mentally ill.
 
Why?
 
There are assumptions made when a person commits a mass shooting that they are mentally ill, but, according to the Secret Service,
 
[A]round half of mass attacks in 2017 and 2018 appeared to be motivated by grievances, or perceived wrongs, related to home, work or another personal sphere. Grievances were more commonly cited than any other motive, including mental illness — which the agency said was a motivating factor in 14% of incidents in 2017 and 19% in 2018. Other motivating factors included ideology, such as white supremacy and anti-Semitism, and an attempt to achieve fame.
 
So when someone shoots up a place of worship, school, a park, or even a gathering, more times than not, the culprit is more likely motivated by hate than being ill when the media shows people running out of a theater or off-campus or yes, a post office. Also, after the attack on 9/11, the 19 hijackers were terrorists and not depressed. One has to ask when a person flies a plane into a building, is that terrorism or is the person crazy? If a white male were to shoot up a Black congregation, is that person a terrorist or mentally ill?
 

Our President said that it’s the ill who kill and not the gun. If that’s the case, why the cut in social services? Why does Congress, who ask for thought and prayers after a massacre, refuse to raise taxes to pay for mental health services? Why must we, who do suffer, be grouped with those who are either religious extremists or a proponent of hate? Because mental health isn’t imperative.

If I were to write on Facebook that I will (blank) the President, the secret service, and every law enforcement agency would be knocking on my door. No one would have to report me as the social media software will find the keywords and point to the I.P. address where I am, and the authorities will visit me. Even if I were to write a threat on a blog that no one has access to, that too could be discovered.
 
But, consider the situation where someone is considering suicide and writes about it online. The expectation is for the writer to seek help, or if the person is on Facebook, Twitter, etc., then a friend could contact the person, or even 911 to prevent someone from harming themselves. The technology is there; these same social media groups have written software to detect certain words associated with terrorism so that they can be red-flagged.  If this were done for suicide, then social media organizations would step in, create an algorithm to find keywords associated with suicide, and report their findings to the proper law enforcement agencies.  The appropriate agency can visit the writer and possibly stop a bad situation from getting worse, and maybe save a person’s life.
 
When someone is depressed and is willing to harm themselves, a therapist, or even a family member can call for help. Still, if their pain is silent, then there could be a social media safety feature that could prevent a suicide.  Social media software,  with technology which can read words at the speed of light, might be the only entity to prevent a suicide.
 
Your thoughts?

You Were an Interesting Case, poetry by Ellie White

 

About the author: Ellie White holds an MFA from Old Dominion University. She writes poetry and nonfiction. She has won an Academy of American Poets Poetry Prize, and has been nominated for both Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Breakwater Review, SLANT, The Columbia Review, Foundry and many other journals. Ellie’s second chapbook, Drift, was recently published by Dancing Girl Press. Her first full-length collection will be released by Unsolicited Press on December 31st, 2019. She is a social media editor and reader for Muzzle Magazine. Ellie currently rents a basement in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia.  To read more of her work, visit her website: elliewhitewrites.com

Ellie White,  is a relative of current UU Mental Health Network board member, Erin White. 

Content Warning:  This poem discusses the experience of being hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital.  

You Were an Interesting Case

i. Going In

The day you looked Death in the face and told it
to fuck all the way off,
a pretty counselor walked beside you through the student center.
The police kindly kept their distance until you arrived
at the car, where the older one helped you fasten your seatbelt
across the gray plastic seat. It was so low,
you barely had to scrunch down.
At the hospital, a nurse took your vitals, and then led you
through a series of push-button doors.
On opening, each one leaned awkwardly away from its partner.
The nurse left you in the observation area and after a while,
the counselor left, too.
A new nurse came and drew your blood. Then, a different one came
with pizza and French fries. The dessert, of course,
was unidentifiable and your roommate laughed at it when he popped by
to say hello. The food nurse wanted a urine sample.
Though you’d never been arrested,
the bathroom reminded you of jail. The steel toilet was smeared
with shit. The handicap rails sported brown handprints.
You thought it best not to complain.
Like a good student, you answered every question, called your family, even emailed
your study partner. Angry and rejected, Death looked on.
You both cried a little bit.
Eventually, you were taken upstairs.

 

ii The Red Woman

Long before Death came into the picture, she was there. The Red Woman: a pure and vivacious rage. On a long and drunken walk home last April, she slipped into your shoe like a pebble from the riverbank. Your mind slid into her like a warm bath. She said Break the mirror. Punch the wall. and your body obeyed. The next morning, you could only finger the bruises as you watched the coffee brew. Summer was a blur. She’d show up, sometimes empty-handed, sometimes with a bottle of cheap Pinot, and the world was only corners. Only knives, and walls, and mirrors, and morning after morning with dried blood and Mr. Coffee. You didn’t bother with band aids or explanations. In late July, you finally let her move in, even got a new tattoo to mark the occasion: a keyhole on your ribs, so she could see out. But when she invited Death into your bed last night, you knew they both had to go. You didn’t know she was here at the hospital until a disheveled woman in a blue nightgown wandered into your supposedly safe room at 5 a.m. Under a blanket that reeked of sour spit, greasy scalps, and piss, you pretended to be asleep. She muttered White bitches. Why are all these white bitches lying in these beds? Just lying. I will set this whole place on fire. I’ll burn every last one of these white bitches up.     

 

iii. Humor

In the event you should like to make a joke,
ask to borrow the red marker. Use it to carefully color in
the letters on your milk carton. Try to imagine you are climbing
the hills of the M, or perhaps they are sand dunes,
or snow drifts. You haven’t been outside
in four days. It’s meditation hour,
so the television screen in the activity room is taunting you
with piney forests, austere mountain lakes, fields of wildflowers, and random deer.
The accompanying music is of the “serene” variety
usually reserved for acupuncturist’s offices.
Speaking of needles, you got this milk carton from an addict.
He drinks at least three milks with every meal,
but has no teeth so it’s hard to tell if he’s absorbing the calcium.
In his honor, and the Red Woman’s too, if you’re being honest, you add
a festive drop of blood just beneath
the straddled legs of the K. You show it first
to the friendly old man who almost killed his brother-in-law last week.
You tell him Hey look, it’s milk for vampires.
Then, you turn to the bearded woman coloring a butterfly who recently mistook her chest
for a knife block and say Got any Kotex?
I think the K sprung a leak.
On the screen, an unidentifiable farm animal (goat? sheep?) grazes
near the base of an oak tree. Behind it, gray mountains rise
like the constant prayers of the pregnant sex worker sitting one table over.
Nobody laughs. It’s not that kind of joke.

 

iv. Valium/Atarax

The Lord doesn’t speak to you like he did to your cousin. Instead, you watch from the flooded floor of the shower room as the Red Woman slithers aboard the dark ship, the one that carried Tennyson’s good King Arthur away. She is a serpent with an apple in her belly. Or maybe she is a ghost like the king. The king is still here somewhere, though poor Sir Bedivere has long since gone home to his grief. The Red Woman rocks with the ship; the night and the water indistinguishable from sleep. She once said she was heartless, so you lent her yours. She returned it seemingly intact save for a single splinter, bright and growing like winter’s dawn. In the galley, the Red Woman taps her foot on a rotting floor, and somehow, this translates as a pulse. She begins to dance a waltz, her bare blue feet finding every corner, brown toenails snapping off one by one, and your mind becomes the air in a car speeding past a country graveyard, prickly and full of gasps.  

 

v. Diagnosis and Discharge

Praise the three wise doctors,
for they have given it a name,
and that name has been fruitful
and multiplied. Now, there’s a word
for the days you spent drifting in and out
on the couch, binge-watching BBC period dramas
and forgetting to eat. A word
for the first two weeks of every quarter
in junior year when you never stopped.
Best of all, a pair of words for the intolerable sharpness,
the screaming thoughts and tapping fingers,
the toe-stubbing agony of sitting through lecture classes.
With this new vocabulary came little white pills,
each one a pure and perfect prayer to stop
the swinging. This is what they sent you home with.
Your mother met you on the other side of the doors,
and you let her hug you, let her see
her youngest and most difficult child
still intact. Your apartment looked like it did
five days ago. True to their nature, the cats purred
as they wound their steadfast and thready love around your feet.
The nose ring they made you take out
slid back in with minimal fuss.
You took a long shower,
conditioned your hair, put on nice deodorant.
You’d missed yourself too much to put on clothes,
so you crawled into bed naked. While you lay there
watching Girl, Interrupted and realizing no one
would believe any of this happened,
Death and the Red Woman sat in your kitchen.

* This poem originally appeared in Barely South Review

Rev. Barbara Meyers Receives Award

On October 10 2019 Rev. Barbara Meyers, president of the UU Mental Health Network Board, received an award  from the California Mental Health and Spirituality Initiative, a program of the California Institute for Mental Health.  It was presented to her at their conference on spirituality and mental health in Walnut Creek.  The award is “in recognition of your dedication and commitment to building mental health friendly communities.”  Two other faith leaders who have long tenures in doing mental health work also received this award.
 
We are grateful that her work is being recognized state-wide in California.

First Board of UU Mental Health Network

We’re happy to announce that the first Board of the UU Mental Health Network has been established. It is:
President: Barbara Meyers
Vice President: Karl Paananen
Secretary: Janet Holden
Treasurer: Carol McGough
At Large Members: Sandy Goodwick, Henry Katzman, Erin White

Thank you to all of the people for their willingness to serve in this capacity until the next election in June of 2020.

UU Mental Health Network is Incorporated!

By Rev. Barbara F. Meyers

Good news! We are now incorporated in Michigan!

We have forwarded the incorporation papers and the bylaws to the UUA for our request to become an official “related organization” of the UUA.

In the incorporation papers, our member Karl Paananen is listed as the registered agent, and the address used as the registered agent’s address is the address of the UU Church of Greater Lansing where he is a member. The church is providing us with a mailbox in the church office.

Now is time to get serious about the business of the organization. The next task is to select officers as specified in our bylaws. Then, we can start having meetings and get busy with our activities. The bylaws state that the core working group that created the UU Mental Health Network will appoint the officers until we have an election in June of 2020, where all members will vote for a full slate of officers.

Here are the members of the core working group: Michelle Wagner, Rev. Katie Norris, Janet Holden, Robert Skrocki, Peggy Rahman, Carol McGough, Tim Hanami, Adam Brown, Karl Paananen, Henry Katzman, Dr. Susan Bartlett Foote, Dr. Pat Corrigan, Dr. Alice Holstein, Rev. Barbara Meyers.

The core working group can appoint people who are not members of the group as officers. This first board will serve less than a year, until June 2020. After June of 2020 when we will have an election where all members can vote on officers, the core working group will disband.

The bylaws specify the following officers of the UU Mental Health Network:
President
Vice President
Secretary
Treasurer
Three Directors without Portfolio

Do you have a desire to serve in any of these positions until next June to get the organization off the ground? You do not have to be a member of the core working group to be considered for these positions. If you would like to talk to me about this, let me know at com_minister @ mpuuc.org. Please let me know by August 16 if you are interested.

Even U.U.s need learning.

by Tim Fromla

I read a post on Facebook and am glad that a member of our group pointed this out

I’m at GA. I just attended UUA GA 2019 Workshop “Combatting Destructive Behavior and White Supremacy Culture”. When a speaker segued from the behaviors to discussion on “destructive behavior policy development”, she inferred some ‘behaviors’ as “… people not taking their meds”.

That did not sit well with me.

During Q/A (just minutes later) I called them on the ableism. The speaker apologized. Another thanked me (that she learned something) and another said MH is a sticky subject for POC.

I get all of that.

I fear, however, that by limiting discussion to racism, ableism is now alive and well.

I do experience mental health issues, am on medication, and a PoC myself. My mental health is the opposite of those mentioned by the speaker. I am, by many, appear to be an introvert and my illness has hindered many opportunities in my life. Most of my work was hard labor, as my anxiety failed me to get that proverbial cushy job. I was in all intent and purpose, a victim of ableism. Even with an MBA, I could not go past the interview phase of any job. Being a PoC did not help much either. So I remained to do the construction job and nearly destroyed my body.

I then decided to return to school and start a new career. I am now majoring in Marriage and Family Therapy. Besides a better paying career, the hiring process is a lot easier as those who do the hiring tend to be more empathetic to those with disabilities.

Not every person who has a mental health issue is an extrovert. There are people who think I’m an introvert when I am a chatty extrovert. When my world collapse around me, I don’t want anyone to know. In class, I can keep my mouth shut and not participate. If I do, I would have an anxiety attack and shut down.

The good thing was, the person I’m quoting brought up the faux pas and the speaker apologized. It’s great to know that our G.A. recognizes mental health issues, but I would hope that our regional and local churches recognize this organization.

I also found out that we have new members too.  The messaging, I hope, will change when someone who is schizophrenic or experience depression would be treated like someone who has the flu or cold and not typecasted like a gun-toting maniac.

It’s great to meet new members and I hope this group expands too.

 

 

Our Covenant

The following is a covenant that the early participants in the UU Mental Health Network created to govern their relationships with each other and those outside the group.  The intent is to have all members of the UU Mental Health agree to abide by it.  Comments and reflections are welcome 

UU Mental Health Network Covenant

Keeping a covenant requires commitment, and work, and includes promise-making, promise-breaking, forgiveness and reconciliation. A covenant means walking together in this process of being human. 

As leaders of the UU Mental Health Network, we covenant to:

  • Offer support to each other, to the UU community, and society at large on mental health-related issues
    • We will be respectful of each other and of UUs and other people who we interface with.
    • If we have differing views we will seek to discuss them peacefully and respectfully keeping the goal of being helpful to and serving individuals with mental health difficulties and their loved ones in congregations and in the wider society.  
    • We will seek to understand problems that people in congregations are living with mental health challenges, and become a voice for them in the denomination and beyond.
    • We will be attentive to mental health-related problems of people of differing ethnicities, people born in different cultures, and people with differing sexualities and gender identities.
    • We will accept that each person’s experience and perception is valid.
    • We will do our best to speak and write openly, honestly, and respectfully, with clarity, and tact, practicing compassion towards ourselves and others.
    • We will do our best to listen carefully, with an open mind and open heart, to what others say.
    • We will do our best to assume good intentions in others.
    • We may talk honestly about our own mental health experience, but we won’t give other people advice on medical or alternative treatments.  
    • We will respect confidentiality.
    • We will highlight problem areas with suggested changes for improvement and for seeking justice.
    • We will look for the ethical/moral/religious aspect in the issues we are addressing, relating them to UU Principles when appropriate.
  • Keep a list of resources available in our local communities and beyond
    • We will give support and use our knowledge of options and resources available.  To give options, we will cultivate a network of referrals to organizations.
    • We will continue learning about the field of mental health, both its history and the new researches in the field.
    • We will reflect on our own accomplishments

 

  • When the covenant has been broken, that is, when one of these promises isn’t kept, we will figure out how to get back into covenant. The person who has broken the covenant will work with others in the covenanted community to determine what needs to be done in terms of forgiveness and reconciliation to get back into covenant.

 

Listening as a Sacred Art

By Alice A. Holstein, Ed.D.

aholstein@centurytel.net  www.aliceholstein.net

The fact that I was asked  to say a few brief words in April about my experience with mental illness to hospital clinicians where I am on an advisory board to the Behavioral Health unit, prompts me to share several of my experiences where the fact that someone listened to me was life-giving if not life-saving.  Listening is such a simple thing, you say?  My experience is otherwise. Instead, we are full of advice, argument and judgment. When we are truly listened to, however, from the heart and sometimes with the specific skills of “active listening,” profound healing is possible. Newfound strength and empowerment can occur.

My experiences suffering with bipolar mood disorder include some dramatic examples, partly because I lived sometimes on the streets when I was really sick (not because I was truly homeless but because I was either separated from my assets or too paranoid to tap them).  One of those times was after I had been released from the hospital after a manic episode. Upon discharge, they did not ask me where I would be staying, and I was still somewhat delusional, so I did not have the capacity to think clearly for myself.  I was on foot, without such things as credit cards or money.

The night (in La Crosse, WI) was chilly and rainy.  I knew I needed help, but newly arrived in my hometown after 40 years absence, did not know how to meet that need. After stopping at one place where there was “no room at the inn,” I was referred down the street to St. Rose convent late in the evening. Fortunately, they let me in through their locked door and then they called one of the Franciscan sisters to the receiving room.  Immediately I told her that I thought I was going to die and needed some help to arrange for some of my possessions, such as valuable jewelry, to be sent back to my Tucson home and the executor of my estate. I think the sense that I was going to die came from two sources; one was that I had been off my thyroid meds for some 5 months, which is life-threatening, and the other was that being back in my hometown signaled the fact that I was dying to an old, sick self that had finally found some safety in this place that had been the last one I had ever wanted to live.

The nun just listened to me.  She did not try to talk me out of that story, nor to give advice.  She merely listened with careful attention, holding my hand at one point and praying with me. She had no solution to my dilemma of a place to stay, but I was somehow strengthened enough to go back out into the rainy night and make my way to a Catholic Worker house nearby.  It was closed, but there was a small children’s playhouse in the backyard where I curled up and fell asleep. The next morning, when they opened, I proceeded to use their phone to begin making arrangements for temporary housing.  I was restored enough to health to begin making rational decisions about how to help myself.

Another time a nurse who knew how to listen silently, with great compassion, made a huge difference to my well-being.  I was in the hospital on a Chapter 51 commitment (where you are judged a danger to yourself or others), dealing with an authoritarian doctor who would NOT listen to me about how sensitive I am to medications, which he was prescribing in heavy doses. He proceeded to threaten me with sentencing to the state mental institution for several months, which would have been a disaster since I lived alone without anyone I could ask to run my life while I would be gone.  Besides that, I felt as though I did not need his solution. I asked for a change in doctors, but he denied the request.

 I ended up sobbing in utter despair at the nurse’s station. The nurse did not speak one word to me. She too just held my hand and merely, but hugely just listened. There was no advice nor direction given, but I could feel and almost taste her compassion. Eventually I was able to return to my room where I had the strength to call for the patient advocate.

With the advocate’s help I was then able to document my situation and the course of these patient-doctor conversations strongly enough that the lawyer who was to assist with the Chapter 51 hearing put me on the stand in my own defense. The judge subsequently ruled that the doctor-patient relationship was broken; I was awarded the opportunity for a new psychiatrist. That nurse saved me from a traumatic, costly, demeaning and unmanageable situation.  I can remember us sitting in the nursing station as if it was yesterday.

Both of these situations speak for themselves.  Listening, without judgement, with compassion and love, is a sacred art. I think it is rare in this world, but whenever I was just listened to in such a way, I was validated and able to “return to my normal self” more quickly. I think we have hundreds of opportunities to listen effectively in a day or a week, but seldom do we realize how healing and life-giving that can be.  Such listening with full presence is somewhat of an invisible thing, and we seldom get thanked for it, yet we usually feel enlivened and understood at new levels when deep listening happens. That requires suspending your own opinions while you are fully “with” another.  It takes discipline, skill, practice and loving intention. When have you been the recipient of such a gift?  How well do you give it to others?

Privileged Kids Fake Disability

By Tim Fromla

As a person who suffers from mental health issues, I am glad I live in California so that when I take a test, I can have extra time or even after I graduate, jobs are required to provide reasonable accommodations for my disability. In school, for example, there is extra time as well as breaks to allay my anxiety. When I do presentations, I can’t get dinged for stuttering or stammering.

Sadly, there are those who take advantage of the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) so that they can excel in school. According to the Hollywood Reporter, “Everybody’s Doing It”: Cheating Scandal Shows How Privileged Kids Fake Disability” is disturbing.

Going back to college, I had to request reasonable accommodation like longer test time or a day extra to turn my assignments in. Also, I had to seek approval to take breaks so that I do not become anxious, and not get dinged for stuttering or stammering while making a presentation. I had to get a note from my psychiatrist, submit it to the disability advocate, and waited for a letter so I can show my professors that I needed help. My anxiety and OCD were going haywire because I thought they would have denied me the accommodation, but I received it, and all is going well.

Today though, after the testing scandal from coast to coast, there are those who fake disabilities to get an upper-hand, thus creating a more massive stigma for those who need assistance. Many of us who do have mental health issues, tend not to want to share their plight with anyone but have resigned to the fact that we do need help.

More than 40 years I kept my illness to myself. I failed because I felt that I did not deserve the help. The failure resulted in me not doing so well in college in the past and going back today; I can make it up by going back to school. Yes, I do need help, and I promise to contribute to society, but at the same time, when those who don’t feel the humiliation as those who have various issues, it takes away the importance of accommodation so that I nor anyone else would rely on others for support.

I prefer not to get on disability and do well like any other student, but because I need the extra help, it can seem kind of embarrassing, but achieving the level playing field is all we ask. When wealthy folks who are lazy take advantage of the system, this can adversely affect our chance in succeeding in life. So what can we do? Go after those who take advantage of the system. I had to go through therapy for six months before seeing a psychiatrist. From there, the psychotherapist had to diagnose me, record my progress and keep a record of everything we did. I did not use my primary physician to write a note asking for an excuse; I had to open myself up to a stranger and explain why I am the way I am.

My therapy session can be prying, and my anxiety and OCD, as well as depression, made me struggle, but because of this, I can say without a doubt that I do need help so that I can be a contributing member to society. I don’t want help, but I realize that I need the support so that I can function in life. Taking advantage of the system though is a detriment to those who need the assistance. 

Stricter regulation must happen so that those who are wealthy enough to bypass the stringent requirements, don’t.   With stricter regulation, I suspect that folks like me will be under the microscope because of the acts of the few, thus creating more anxiety for us.

 

The Unitarian Effort in Helping to Reform Minnesota’s Mental Institutions 1946-1954

by Rev. Barbara F. Meyers

I have recently read a fabulous book that shows what committed religious people can do to reform mental health practices.  It is The Crusade for Forgotten Souls – Reforming Minnesota’s Mental Institutions 1946-1954, by Susan Bartlett Foote, university of Minnesota Press, 2018. 

It tells the fabulous story of how Unitarians in Minnesota helped to reform mental institutions in the mid-1900’s.  After pioneering work for documenting what was happening in Minnesota’s mental hospitals by members of his congregation who were horrified by snake-pit like conditions, the Rev. Arthur Foote minister of the Unity Unitarian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota was able to get the ear and the trust of the governor of Minnesota, Luther Youngdahl, and mental health reform became Youngdahl’s most important political policies.  

The reforms dealt with more funding, lower case loads, better training for workers in the hospitals, getting rid of restraints, better food and more social programs.  The reforms also involved people from the public visiting patients at the hospitals and bringing the true stories of what was happening into the public view – speaking truth to power.  Rev. Foote was very involved in all of the presentations to the governor and legislature to get these reforms identified and passed.

However, many of these reforms were later overturned by tightfisted conservative politicians and bureaucrats after Youngdahl left office.  But, as Susan Bartlett Foote points out, many important lessons emerged and live on:

  • it gave voice to the voiceless;
  • it helped define a modern mental health system to deliver care;
  • it showed what principled advocates could accomplish. 

Important considerations for success were:

  • effective political leadership is essential;
  • realize that the policy process is fickle;
  • trusted voices of citizen advocates are important;
  • the press can play an important and constructive role in shaping public discourse. 

The book’s most important conclusion is a quote from Luther Youngdahl: “The protection of the patient depends on our eternal vigilance.” 

This book should be required reading for all who are interested in mental health reform, and especially for Unitarian Universalists.

I have written to the author and hope to talk with her about the importance of this book to our future.   As a side note, Arthur Foote was the former father-in-law of Susan Bartlett Foote and she came by most of the information in the book from notes that she found in a closet of her house that he had left there.  She also did masterful research on the issue in many archives.  A first class book! 

I wish to thank Janet Holden for pointing me at this book.  I notice that there is a review of the book in the March 2019 issue of The UU World.