Are Activists at Elevated Mental Health Risk?

We’ve heard of mental health risks for trauma victims, models, high-performance athletes, people in the public eye, soldiers, executives, people living in poverty, and many other social demographics. As a political activist who studies and works in healthcare, is currently on a placement in a mental health unit, and has had personal struggles with mental health issues linked to depression, anxiety and emotion regulation, I have come to believe that political activists may represent another identifiable group at elevated risk for a series of  mental health issues. Read on.

 

 

On the first anniversary of immigration detention reforms, what has changed on the ground?

From Restore Fairness blog. From the Detention Watch Network

On the first anniversary of an announcement that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the enforcement agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)) would overhaul the nation’s immigration detention system, reports show that for the nearly 400,000 immigrants ICE has detained this year, little has changed.

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Weekly Pulse: Nebraska's Sweeping Abortion Ban on Colision Course with Supreme Court

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Yesterday, Nebraska’s Republican governor Dave Heineman signed a sweeping new law that criminalizes almost all abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation and another bill that forces women to undergo extensive mental health assessment prior to obtaining an abortion before 20 weeks.

Intimidating providers

Monica Potts of TAPPED explains that the laws are meant to have a chilling effect on all abortion providers in Nebraska. In the wake of last year’s assassination of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, Dr. LeRoy Carhart of Nebraska began providing late-term abortions. According to Potts, the new abortion legislation is probably designed to run Dr. Carhart out of town.

An anti-choice Catch-22

Robin Marty of RH Reality Check notes the glaring contradictions between the two Nebraska abortion laws: Before 20 weeks of gestation, the state is so concerned about a woman’s health that they will force her to seek a mental health assessment to spare her the trauma of an ill-advised abortion. It seems that Nebraska legislators think women are so fragile that they can’t decide on their own whether an abortion will be unduly upsetting. Yet, after 20 weeks, a woman is not entitled to a “life of the woman” exemption even if a doctor determines that she is likely to commit suicide if she is forced to continue her pregnancy.

The second round of debate was held [Monday] on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a bill created almost entirely as a vehicle for getting anti-choice legislation challenged and potentially reviewed by the Supreme Court.  Unlike every other anti-choice law that has so far passed in this country, LB 1103 refuses to provide an exemption for a mother’s mental health, regardless of the fact that prior to 20 weeks a pregnant woman’s mental health was so valuable that the state wants to advocate mandatory screenings to protect it.

Vanessa Valenti of Feministing writes of the Nebraska law:

The blatant anti-choice and ableist implications in these bills are just atrocious. Not only will some women be forced to carry their pregnancies to term with no mental health exception, but doctors will be terrified to perform abortions in fear of not correctly adhering to obscure these screening rules.

A collision course with Roe?

Gov. Heineman vowed to defend the new laws against any legal challenges. The Nebraska law bans abortion based on the purported ability of fetuses to feel pain, not their ability to survive outside the womb. The Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot ban abortion of pre-viable fetuses. According to the accepted legal reasoning, if a fetus is too immature to survive outside the woman’s body, the woman has the right to withdraw the support of her body by terminating the pregnancy.

Conveniently, anti-choicers say that they have scientific evidence that pre-viable fetuses can feel pain. This dubious evidence isn’t just a pretext for banning abortion earlier, it puts the bill on a crash course with Roe. If the abortion issue is really about a woman’s right to control her body, then the fetal pain issue is a red herring. A woman can legally inflict pain on a full-grown person if she strikes in self-defense to protect her bodily autonomy. Nebraska is launching a full frontal assault on women’s rights. In Nebraska the pain of a non-viable fetus allegedly matters more than a woman’s freedom. We’ll see what the Supreme Court says about that.

How Justice Stevens’ retirement fits in

The wheels were set in motion just as the leading liberal on the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens, announced his retirement. In The Progressive, Matthew Rothschild, the son of Stevens’ former law partner, recalls some of Stevens’ key pro-choice opinions over the course of his long career. For example:

In the 2000 Nebraska “partial-birth-abortion” case, Stevens stated: It is “impossible for me to understand how a State has any legitimate interest in requiring a doctor to follow any procedure other than the one that he or she reasonably believes will best protect the woman in her exercise of this constitutional liberty.”

As we look ahead to a Supreme Court confirmation battle, the Nebraska abortion bans illustrate why the stakes are so high. The Court is losing a leading champion of reproductive choice. President Barack Obama will face intense pressure from the liberal base to replace him with a nominee whose record on choice is equally strong. As Scott Lemieux argues in the American Prospect, only a strong liberal will be able to hold the line against the conservative cadre of Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

IA-Sen: Chuck Grassley Exhibits Symptoms of Frontotemporal Dementia

First thing's first.  I'm not a doctor.  I'm not suggesting that Republican Chuck Grassley has any particular illness.  Simply, I have noticed that Chuck Grassley, over the last many months, has been making increasingly bizarre, aggressive, explicit, and violent remarks - and that such comments coincidentally happen to be early symptoms of dementia, particularly frontotemporal dementia.  It stands out to me because, as a political junkie, I have long considered Grassley to be among the most mild-mannered denizens of the Capitol.  2009 has apparently become the year that the 75-year-old Grassley (he turns 76 next month) has shed his mild-mannered image, perhaps by choice, perhaps not.

In response to the story this Spring about AIG executives receiving exorbitant bonuses after the company was rescued by a massive infusion of public dollars, Grassley said on March 16, 2009:

"I suggest, you know, obviously maybe they ought to be removed, but I would suggest that the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better towards them [is] if they would follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say I'm sorry and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide."

Grassley added, "In the case of the Japanese, they usually commit suicide before they make any apology."

The comment was rude, racist, and extremely aggressive, even violent.

The next day, still critical of AIG executives, but in an attempt to tone down the violent "suicide" comment from the previous day, Grassley went the more sexually explicit route:

"From my standpoint, it's irresponsible for corporations to give bonuses at this time when they're sucking the tit of the taxpayer," Grassley explained.

When talking about government spending, "sucking on the teat" is not in and of itself bizarre rhetoric, but that Grassley used the more sexually explicit "tit" instead of "teat." In fact, such a nuanced difference might have flown under the radar entirely if not for a sexually explicit comment Grassley made at a budget hearing toward the end of the same month as his earlier comments, on March 26, 2009:

But yesterday he [Grassley] regained his bounce on the Senate floor, livening up an otherwise dull budget hearing with a joke about banging another senator's wife. His opening came after he pressed Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad to include an amendment of his to a budget resolution by bringing up the fact that Conrad owed him a favor.

"Oh, you are good," Conrad responded.

To which Grassley replied: "Well, your wife said the same thing."

Sure, this comment, in a vacuum, could be one Senator good-naturedly ribbing a colleague.  But a joke intimating sex with a colleague's wife, told, again, at a budget hearing, seems like bizarre behavior.  Further, when you add up these comments, what you have is a pattern of behavior.

Last week, Grassley's pattern of behavior was reinforced by his take on health care reform:

We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma.

In fairness, this one comment has become a sick talking point of many Republicans shilling for corporate interests.  Nevertheless, it particularly stands out for Grassley given that, when he is not flying off the cuff, he is one of the GOP's key negotiators on health care reform.  He should have had the self-control to avoid such aggressive rhetoric.  But that's been Grassley's pattern lately.

So what we have seen from Grassley in 2009 - and this is just in public; no telling what his comments and actions are in private - is a pattern of bizarre, rude, physically aggressive, sexually explicit, and even violent remarks.  Such a pattern even led The Iowa Independent to the headline: "Grassley: Strategic or just eccentric?" Eccentric may be putting it mildly.

Grassley is not the first Republican Senator in recent years to have his mental health questioned.  During his 2004 re-election bid, the Kentucky media began openly questioning Jim Bunning's mental health after a similar pattern of bizarre comments and actions.  Also, in 2006-2007, Pete Domenici's mental health was questioned after a pattern of erratic behavior including reportedly walking around the Capitol in his pajamas.  Subsequently, in late 2007, Domenici revealed that he had a degenerative brain disease and opted against a 2008 re-election bid.  Domenici was 75-years-old at the time of his 2007 diagnosis, the same age Grassley is now.

Now for the coincidental symptoms.  If you hop over to WebMD.com, best friend of the armchair hypochondriac, you can find a page that lists symptoms of dementia.  Such symptoms include "having trouble finding the right words to express thoughts,""having trouble exercising judgment," and "having difficulty controlling moods or behaviors" while noting that "agitation or aggression may occur." What especially caught my eye was the following passage:

The first symptoms of frontotemporal dementia may be personality changes or unusual behavior. People with this condition may not express any caring for others, or they may say rude things, expose themselves, or make sexually explicit comments.

Agitation or aggression?  Check.  Personality changes or unusual behavior?  Check.  Saying rude things?  Check.  Making sexually explicit comments (again, at a budget hearing!)?  Check.  Lack of inhibition? Check.

Again, I'm not suggesting that the 75-year-old Chuck Grassley has frontotemporal dementia.  I am, however, noting that Grassley's pattern of behavior over the last six months coincidentally happens to match the early symptoms of frontotemporal dementia.  With Grassley turning 77-years-old before Election Day 2010, it would not be unfair or unwise for Iowans to get a clean bill of health from Grassley before signing him up for another six-year term (at the end of which he will be 83-years-old).

For daily news and analysis on the U.S. Senate races around the country, regularly read Senate Guru.

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What's John McCain's Major Malfunction?

I'm not a doctor, I don't play one on TV, and it's been months since I stayed at a Holiday Inn. But it doesn't take an expert to realize that John McCain suffers from a pathology. We've all watched with curiosity as he's wandered off the reservation, but when he used the following remarks on the View to defend his campaign's cynical, perverse and abusive tone, I reflexively feared for Cindy:

I have asked Senator Obama to join me in town hall meetings all across America. I have requested it time after time...If we had done what I asked Senator Obama to do--because I have been at a lot of other campaigns where I have appeared with the opposition in front of the people, listening to their hopes and dreams and aspirations--I don't think you'd see the tenor of this campaign.

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Diaries

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