I previously talked about how scores on an IQ test are developed, and what they mean mathematically. Now, I’ll look at what they can mean for individuals.
IQ could be described as the BMI of the mind. Although both numbers can provide useful information for a typical mind or body, they should still be regarded with caution especially in an atypical mind or body. BMI is near-useless for athletes, who will often score as overweight or obese due to their increased muscle mass. Similarly, IQ measurements may be helpful to understand a neurotypical person in a familiar situation, but they are flawed for people with neurodevelopmental disorders, or people who are unfamiliar with standardised testing.
3) IQ tests cannot always measure someone’s ability accurately. Health conditions and neurological differences result in people having uneven patterns of ability, which confuse IQ tests.
(This is the second post in this series; my first post discusses the most popular current theory of suicide as well as some statistics on it, and my third post discusses some assumptions made by suicide prevention initiatives)
In the lead-up to WSPD 2019, I’ve seen many videos aimed at individuals who currently feel suicidal, encouraging them not to act on that feeling. But that can’t be the full story for such a large goal as preventing suicide. So, my question for today is; what does “suicide prevention” actually mean? What areas does it cover, and how does it work?
According to Wikipedia, suicide prevention is “the collective efforts of citizen organisations, health professionals and related professionals to reduce the incidence of suicide”. This is centred on direct intervention, and accompanied by four supporting parts: treating depression, improving people’s coping strategies, reducing risk factors for suicide, and giving people hope.
Theresa May’s mental health reform speech on Monday was the first time I’ve heard her say more than a soundbite, and also the first time I’ve heard her talk about anything other than Brexit, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
At the opening of her speech, I wanted to support her. I wanted to believe she would say something genuinely meaningful and compassionate. I also hoped (perhaps naively) that she would make reference to the effect of austerity upon mental health. May is in a good place to acknowledge the negative impact of previous political choices, after all. While she is maintaining many of those choices, she didn’t instigate them. She has mostly inherited the bad decisions made by others, most obviously David Cameron, becoming essentially the country’s largest-scale supply teacher.
Initially, her opening discussion of the overt and covert injustices present today were impactful, leaving her actual reform strategies as arguably the weakest element of her speech. Similarly, while her view on reducing stigma (below) says all the “right” things, it does so without providing anything tangible or practical, or any awareness of where the Government themselves have been guilty of removing that attention and treatment.
If you have a smartphone, then right now you could be taking part in the world’s largest mental health study. Sounds interesting? Then head over to http://howistheworldfeeling.spurprojects.org/ to join in.
If you need a bit more convincing, then read on.
The survey is called How Is The World Feeling?, and it’s aiming to get a snapshot of how everyday people around the world are feeling during this week (October 10th- October 16th). The target is to have 7 million people taking part, and 70 million emotions logged.
Everyone has a level of physical health which changes over time and as a result of circumstances.
A minority of people are at their peak of physical health, the healthiest they could possibly be.
The majority of people are generally healthy: they don’t have to worry about their physical health as everything is working well enough to live their life.
Minor physical health issues such as colds or aches and pains, are common. They temporarily make life doable but more difficult. People with longer-term minor issues learn to adapt and accommodate around what is tougher for them- perhaps they can usually function at 95% of the generally healthy level .
Major physical health issues can make normal life very difficult, requiring someone to change how they live for a bit and often need a recovery time/ gradual return afterwards.
Then a small percentage of people have chronic, severe physical health issues that mean they either cannot function in a typical life at all, or they need to adapt almost everything about their life to live and function.
Why did I just write that? Everything I’ve just said is common sense. It doesn’t need saying.
But try it again, swapping physical for mental…
In 1994, Dr Phillip Long founded www.mentalhealth.com aiming to create a cross-cultural encyclopaedia of mental health conditions. The site is looking a little archaic now, using older DSM categories not commonly used now, and containing diagnostic ideas that didn’t really catch on, such as analysing all mental health symptoms through Greek personality dimensions.
While the site may not be entirely relevant these days, it’s a fascinating and detailed read. Moreover, it’s attached forum has been consistently running since 2005. In internet terms, this is an incredibly long time. Imagining friendships possibly extending for 10 years, its easy to see the best part of forums; their ability to connect people with others across time and space, providing friendships built on common experience and support.
Of all the major social networks, Tumblr is the one I wanted to write about the most, because its a dramatic difference from the stoicism of Twitter and the envy-inducing highlight reel of Facebook. Just like most of its users, its young, bold, and easily misunderstood.
For the uninitiated, Tumblr is a microblogging site with a very “anything goes” attitude towards content: drawings, videos, music, gifs, longform text, links and pretty much anything else you can think of are all found there. Its major feature is reblogging, which is reposting someone else’s content onto your own feed and adding commentary, opinions, or a visual response- a cross between a Twitter retweet and a standard blog’s comment chain. Content is organised and collected using hashtags, which are essential for posts being discovered and read.
Part of Tumblr’s appeal is how it conveys the impression of a private, almost clandestine association. Continue reading
Compared to Facebook, I didn’t think of Twitter as a useful place for discussing mental health issues. This was partly due to the 140 character limit; I couldn’t see the use of tweets for in-depth discussion compared to something like a blog post or video.
However, when I looked through my twitter feed more closely, there was a lot of talk about mental health. Most of the people talking were advocates; either they wanted to start conversations, to support mental health organisations, or start their own campaigns. And most of these advocates were survivors, using their experiences with mental health to show others why researching mental health matters.
Twitter doesn’t have the same kind of scare-headline news stories as Facebook, and there isn’t any research saying it affects people negatively. However, there is some research on responses to individual hashtags. Shepherd et al studied the #DearMentalHealthProfessionals thread, a conversation set up by Amanda O’Connell in August 2013, and found there were four main types of discussion:
Everyone, their mum, and their cat has Facebook, or so it can often seem. As one of the most subscribed-to places online, and perhaps some people’s only online connection, looking at what Facebook has to do with mental health could be important on a large scale.
Simply searching for “Facebook” flags up a New Yorker headline- “How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy”. Narrowing it down to “facebook and mental health” adds BrainBlogger’s “Facebook is no friend to mental health”, and “7 Ways Facebook is Bad For Your Mental Health, from Psychology Today.
The BrainBlogger and Psychology Today articles were almost uniformly negative, showing research that connects Facebook use to envious friendships, jealous relationships and decreased life satisfaction.
The New Yorker article included its fair share of research on the unhappy consequences of Facebook usage, but also included some optimistic findings. Their best answer was: it depends what people are actually doing on Facebook. People actively using Facebook to keep in contact and engage with loved ones benefit from the social connection. People passively browsing their timelines, however, are often left feeling worse after using Facebook.
Facebook as a mental health resource
If actively participating on Facebook is generally beneficial, does that make Facebook a good resource for people with mental health issues?
On February 25th, Facebook’s safety division announced an extension of their suicide prevention initiative. They describe the initiative as being based on work with suicide prevention organisations, clinical research, and lived experiences from mental health survivors.
From what I’ve seen so far, parts of this initiative seem beneficial, and useful for helping people through a bad night or self-destructive impulse. However, there are still some concerning areas, and there has already been at least one example of just how this initiative can be dealt with wrongly.
Firstly I’ll go through its helpful aspects. The idea of pointing out that the post suggests someone is upset or distressed could be effective. Receiving this message might be the shock that lets someone realise they are having difficulties beyond typical ups and downs, and so might encourage them to see what the offered help is.
From the other side, allowing people to send an anonymous “someone thinks you might be in trouble” message reduces one of the barriers people often have in talking about mental health issues. It starts the conversation in a low-risk way, without requiring the face-to-face questions that many people just don’t know how to carry out.
Facebook’s post showed some pictures of the support options. The support page offers the following message:
When talking about treating mental health issues, it’s important to look at what medical staff, researchers, and people with mental health issues consider to be successful treatment. As its a lot harder to measure and accurately define mental health symptoms than physical ones, it is harder to accurately judge treating them. To show what kind of terms are used when treating mental health conditions, I’m using some hypothetical case studies. Imagine that each of these patients has just been diagnosed as being in their first Major Depressive Episode, and this is their first mental health issue. Each patient starts with a score of 18 on the PHQ-9, representing moderately severe depression using that system, is treated with an antidepressant, and is followed up six months later.
After a six-week course of medication, Patient A retakes the PHQ-9 and scores 14. Six months later, their score is 15. Because their score has stayed lower, Patient A has had a treatment response. Their diagnosis would not change. In a purely medical sense, this is progress. An academic study testing the effectiveness of patient A’s antidepressant would be happy with a 3-point response, and would consider this a successful response. However, the patient themselves won’t see it that way.
I’ve been looking forward to writing this blog for ages, as it’s on one of my favourite psychologists; the humanist Abraham Maslow. The reason I like Maslow so much is that he was different from the psychologists before him: he did not use psychology for looking at people’s symptoms, but instead for looking at the healthiest and most whole people- for example, he studied only the healthiest 1% of college students in most of his experiments.
Maslow continued Rogers’ optimistic approach to psychology, seeking to understand what drove the most successful and productive people. His theory was that people were driven by needs at 4 different levels, which correspond with the 4 ways of seeing the world that Existential Psychology talked about. Unfortunately, I have no idea if this was coincidental or not. These levels formed his moderately famous Hierarchy of Needs, where the lower needs have to be met to enable later needs to develop and be met. However, there are flaws with this theory, such as why people who temporarily reach self-actualisation are able to ignore their other needs…a good example of this is the stereotype of the “starving artist”.
As I mentioned last week
, Humanistic Psychology is based on aspects of life specific to humans, which borrows from Christian thoughts about the uniqueness of humans. The main areas of study include personal responsibility, values, and freedom, and it also studies the process of conscious experience (known as phenomenology, which is a very fun word to pronounce).
The Humanist psychologists believed that people were basically good, and everybody naturally wanted to be the best person they could. Rogers named this best version the “real self”, but later Humanists had different terms for it. For Rogers, people already have the ability to grow and solve their problems, they just need to be made aware of that. Related to that, he believed psychological problems weren’t inbuilt in a person but were caused by incongruence– the gap between their real self’s “I am…” and their learned views of “I should be…”.