Fourth quarter blog post

Here is my fourth quarter blog post

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Stigma: An American Trend For Over Two Centuries

This past week I have continued researching depression in young people in great depth for my Junior Theme. One very interesting aspect of this topic that I researched just this weekend was the history of depression, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries. Before beginning my research, I believed that my "why question" (Why are so many young people with depression not seeking treatment?) would be even more relevant in the past than it is today (and it is extremely relevant today, with over half of young people with depression not getting treatment), and after some research it appears that this was correct. According to Dr. Ellen Holtzman, in the late-19th century, "Patients at public [mental] hospitals were usually involuntarily committed, and they typically displayed...suicidal behavior before their hospitalization". The fact that patients were "usually involuntarily committed" means that typically people with mental disorders like depression were not seeking treatment at this time in history, and "suicidal behavior" is a tragic symptom of untreated depression, meaning that many people specifically suffering with depression were going untreated until their illness advanced to this point. A probable cause to people not seeking treatment for their depression in the past was how depression was viewed at that time, and some of this seems to have carried over into American society today. 

In the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a horrible stigma against depression. For example, in the beginning of the Enlightenment period "it was thought that depression was an inherited, unchangeable weakness of temperament, which lead to the common thought that affected people should be shunned or locked up". This attitude toward depression in the past matches up perfectly with the definition of stigma: "a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person". In this case, the "mark of disgrace" was associated with depression, and specifically was that people suffering with this disorder had a "weakness". Certainly this attitude towards depression barred many people from seeking treatment, as nobody wants to be viewed as having a "weakness" and be "shunned" by society because of a medical condition they are suffering from.

Although the attitude towards depression in our society today may not be as extreme as it was three hundred years ago, some of it still remains and affects people suffering with depression. Right now I am reading an autobiography called Monochrome Days about a woman named Cait Irwin who suffered with depression when she was a teenager. When she was suffering with this disorder, she felt that it was a flaw to her character, or a "weakness of temperament". For example, she compared herself to her brother, stating that: "there was no possible way he would ever let a dark cloud settle upon his brain" (Irwin 5). The fact that "his" is italicized and that she says that there was "no possible way" he could develop depression both show that she believed her depression was her fault, a weakness of hers, even though depression can happen to anyone. This is highly reflective of the stigma against depression that existed over two-hundred years ago and appears to still exist today that keeps young people like Irwin from seeking treatment.

This made me wonder, why does stigma still exist in American society today after all of this time? I believe it is because our society can never seem to accept people who do not fit into the majority, who are "different", even when it comes to health issues. This is similar with racism, which has existed in American society since its birth, as well as many other forms of discrimination and hatred that have done nothing but hurt the people that they have targeted. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

For Depression, Poor Treatment Leads To No Treatment

Over this past week, I have refined my topic for Junior Theme and began more extensive research on this topic. After finding a shocking statistic--that in 2013 only 38.1% of adolescents who had an episode of major depression in the past year were receiving treatment for it--I knew that I wanted my why question to be: Why are so many young people with depression not receiving the treatment they need? One answer to this question that I have found especially interesting and saddening is that poor quality of depression treatment is deterring people from getting themselves or their kids treated.

The poor quality of treatment for depression is detailed in the memoir Prozac Nation, about Elizabeth Wurtzel's experience with treatment for her depression. Wurtzel describes her psychopharmacologist, who gave her her main form of treatment and who she visited when she was experiencing a bad episode of depression: "all he really does is write prescriptions and hand out pills...He's the pusherman, and it's in his interest to see that I stay loaded" (4-5). According to the Mayo Clinic Website, "[A] primary care doctor or psychiatrist can prescribe medications to relieve depression symptoms. However, many people with depression also benefit from seeing a psychologist or other mental health counselor". If all the treatment Wurtzel was getting was "perscription" and "pills", she was lacking the other part of treatment that many people "benefit from". Especially since she was still experiencing bad episodes of depression while receiving treatment from Dr. Ira and did not want to take one of her medications because she worried about it affecting her health, the other talk therapy aspect of depression treatment should have been referred to her by Dr. Ira. Instead, Ira appeared to be more concerned about his own financial interests than her mental health, as he was the "pusherman" and would make more money if she simply stayed "loaded" on the drugs that did not appear to be enough to fully treat her depression. Wurtzel received very poor quality treatment for her depression by Dr. Ira, and therefore she did not want to continue with treatment and at times even stopped taking her medication, going completely untreated due to the poor quality of the treatment being given to her.

The article "'Many' Teens Struggle With Untreated Mental Illness, But School Screening Still Lacking" by Kelli Kennedy supports this idea of treatment consisting of only medication and no other kind of support, which makes it of poor quality and undesirable. In the article, a woman whose son was perscribed Prozac after being recommended by his school to seek psychiatric treatment states: "It just seems like [the schools] want to medicate rather than provide education support" (Kennedy 3). When schools succeed in identifying children struggling with mental disorders, which is not always the case, they do not go about getting them treatment the correct way. Good quality treatment shoud include various forms of support specific to the individual in need of treatment, such as talk therapy, and in this boy's case, education support, but the treatment given to this boy was simply medication, just like Wurtzel's treatment. People like the mother mentioned above do not want to put the children into treatment after witnessing how bad quality it is. In fact, the mother did pull her son out of treatment due to its poor quality.

If treatment for depression could be bettered in America by including all of the neccessary aspects, than most likely a lot more people would actually seek treatment for their depression. Hopefully someday this will happen and this cycle of poor treatment for depression leading to no treatment for depression will end.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Untreated Mental Illness

When we first started thinking about topics for Junior Theme, one of the general topics I was thinking of doing my paper on was mental illness. I have always found treatments for mental illness in American history, such as histerectomies and ice-pick lobotomies, to be horrifying and wrong, and I knew that if I did a Junior Theme on mental illness I would want my "look back" to include how mental illness was treated in the past. Then I began to wonder why mental illness was treated so horribly in the past. I thought this could be a result of stigma in society against mental illness, or this could be a cause of the stigma. This is what led me to the first topic that I wanted to do: Why is there a stigma against mental illness in American society?

This seemed like the perfect topic for my Junior Theme: I am passionate about it, and already had ideas for a historial look back. The problem with it was that it was too broad and also could not be quantified. It is difficult to find statistics directly dealing with stigma against mental illness; I did find some statistics about if people with mental illness felt that others were "compassionate and understanding" towards mentally ill people (only 25% of mentally ill people felt this). This does show stigma against mental illness, but it seemed too general and subjective to be the basis of my entire paper.

After further research on stigma against mental illness, I found that a huge outcome of stigma is people not seeking treatment for their illness. This effect of stigma seemed like it could be a good topic for my paper, so I continued searching for statistics about people with mental illness that have not been treated for it for whatever reason. I found a few statistics that I thought I could base my "why question" on: in any given year, 20% of mentally ill children are identified and actually receive treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and in 2012 59% of adults with any mental illness were not receiving treatment and 37.1% of people with serious mental illness were not receiving treatment.

These statistics led me to the "why question" that I am currently basing my research on: Why are so many people with mental illness not receiving treatment? I am still working to refine this so it can be more specific, possibly by basing it on serious mental illness, which is defined federally "having, at any time during the past year, a diagnosable mental, behavior, or emotional disorder that causes serious functional impairment, that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities". This includes bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depression, among others. 

One more way I may refine my topic is by possibly focusing on what happens to people with serious mental illness when they go untreated. Therefore, I may look at if many people with untreated serious mental illness end up in prison or homeless. If after some research I find a trend that I can base my paper on, I may make that my why question instead of what I have now. For now, though, I am basing my research on my current "why question".