Thursday, September 3, 2015

Top Ten Things to Know About a Depressed Person

Of the two, bipolar disorder is probably easier for people to take seriously. A person in the manic, or even less severe hypomanic, stage is clearly in the grip of something strange. A person suffering from depression, or in the depressive swing of bipolar disorder, on the surface appears to be experiencing what everyone goes through from time to time. The blues. Some sadness. Even -- for the less charitable -- laziness.

Disclaimer: is depression over-diagnosed, and are anti-depressants over-prescribed? Without question. Many general practitioners will dash off a prescription for a patient who claims to be down. This does not, however, take anything away from the undeniable reality of true, clinical depression.

The Bear has ten points in mind for dealing with people who are truly depressed.
  1. Clinical depression is real. It is both ignorant and unkind to dismiss the pain a person may be going through by calling it a "fad disease," or a "scam by the drug companies." You might as well say there's no such thing as cancer. Just because it is a mental illness you can't see doesn't make it any less real.
  2. The symptoms of depression are real. The depressed person may not be able to get out of bed, experience enjoyment, or anticipate pleasure. He or she is likely mired in a grief out of nowhere, and trapped in a leaden body. He or she is not "weak," but suffering from an illness that reaches both mind and body.
  3. These are some medical terms that apply to depression: avolition -- inability to initiate goal-directed activity; anhedonia -- the inability to experience pleasure; apathy -- the inability to care about anything; suicide -- the decision to take one's life since anything seems preferable to what one is experiencing.
  4. All the things you take for granted -- the pleasure at a loved one's voice, a hobby, looking forward to dinner, the ability to feel happiness -- are impossible for a depressed person. As the symptoms of depression go on and on, day after day, eventually, hopelessness sets in.
  5. Tough love is the last thing a depressed person needs. If you watched a person get sliced open, would you say -- as his intestines spooled around his ankles -- "just shake it off?" If you want to tell a depressed person, "I don't really care about you or what you're experiencing," use tough love. Just make sure to lock up the firearms and razor blades first. Chances are the person already thinks he's worthless. The last thing he needs to hear is that he ought to be able to somehow "shake it off."
  6. You may imagine it's like the time you got the blues, or even that it's like the time your cat died, but it's not. It's not even like that only a thousand times worse. It is as much different in kind as in degree. If you are fortunate enough never to have been clinically depressed, it is not like anything you have ever felt, not even profound natural grief, although that, perhaps, is the closest. Come to grips with the fact that you don't have the frame of reference you think you do.
  7. Don't use platitudes. "It's always darkest before the dawn." Or, "God never gives us more than we can handle." Or, "This, too, shall pass." Job's friends sat with him seven days before saying the first word. (And then they totally screwed it up when they opened their mouths.) Above all, don't ask "Why?" The why probably lies within mysteries of neurotransmitters in the brain, but for all intents and purposes, there is no why.
  8. Don't try to spiritualize depression. It's a disease. It's not "The Dark Night of the Soul," (shows a misunderstanding of St. John of the Cross) or what Mother Theresa experienced. (If it was, then surely the most saintly -- and miraculous -- thing she ever did was to keep on going through a clinical depression.) Saints such as Bernard of Clairvaux and Theresa of Avila distinguished "melancholia," from spiritual conditions.
  9. Don't suggest home remedies, or worse, tell anecdotes about someone you know who knew someone who licked depression by walking, or yoga, or drinking tea made of St. John's Wort. Again, that tends to trivialize the here-and-now pain the sufferer is in, and herbal remedies can dangerously interact with prescription medicine.
  10. Take seriously any talk about suicide. Be suspicious if a depressed person suddenly seems better, especially after having made any sort of unusual arrangements with regard to personal effects. Often, before a person attempts suicide, he will feel better after having made the decision. Finally -- in his diseased mind -- he has found a way out. Make the environment as safe as you can and keep an eye on the person. Make sure he has means to easily contact the suicide prevention hotline. And, if necessary, intervene by calling the authorities to get him the help he needs.
That's about all the Bear has to say about this serious topic. As we approach autumn, some people are more vulnerable as less sunlight triggers depression. They should ask their doctor about Seasonal Affective Disorder and a full-spectrum "happy light." For others, depression is a wraith that lurks just beyond the circle of their lives until it attacks for no apparent reason. Still others experience depression as one pole of the bipolar dance between depression and mania.

Some people recover on their own, and never become depressed again. Others face a long slog through the pharmacy, until the right combination of drugs is discovered. People who are prone to depression should not neglect therapy, either. God help those who must suffer this debilitating condition alone. 

For a more extensive treatment of suicide, read the Bear's article A Catholic's Guide to Suicide. One last thing to note: the typical suicide is not an angsty teen, but a burnt-out man in his fifties.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Confession Is Good for the Soul, But Not for the Defendant

The Bear is suffering from the distemper.

The Bear never got around to publishing this "True Law" piece. The Bear has the distemper. He will be seeing what other articles might do for plugging the holes until he is feeling better. He asks for prayers from his friends.

Police now have very effective psychological techniques taught by John E. Reid and Associates, Inc. The problem is, it is based on some dubious assumptions, such as interrogators can always tell what a person is thinking by his body language. The biggest problem is counter-intuitive, though: it is hard to accept the idea that innocent people confess to crimes they didn't commit. But once they do, it's all pretty much over for them.

In fact, innocent people do -- rarely -- confess to crimes. How do we know? DNA allows us to reopen many cases and find people who had confessed and been convicted despite their innocence. False confessions are involved in about 25% of mistaken convictions.

The Bear had one case involving a false confession, and it was a death penalty case. His client's co-defendant put the murder weapon in his hands, and he wound up with stolen items from the victim's house. There was no forensic evidence against him like fingerprints or DNA. Worst of all, he had made a tearful videotaped confession. However, nothing he said matched the other evidence in the case until the detective coached him on details through suggestive questioning.

It was a lousy interrogation.

Imagine, then, how the Bear's heart rose to his throat when the jury came out to ask for the videotaped confession during deliberations. Obviously, there was a holdout, and the other eleven jurors were going to beat him over the head with the confession until he voted guilty.

Fortunately, it was the other way around. The jury understood, with the help of expert testimony from Dr. Richard Ofshe, how the young man had come to confess to a murder in which he wasn't even at the scene, they acquitted him of all charges. (There was some other evidence that established an alibi.)

It was the Bear's greatest triumph, his Penge Bungalow Murders, for readers familiar with the delightful old Masterpiece Theater series, Rumpole of the Bailey, based on John Mortimer's stories. (If you want to know who the Bear is, you could do worse than imagining him as Horace Rumpole.)

The Bear went on to become something of an expert on false confessions himself, presenting with Dr. Richard Leo, one of the top two experts in the field in the U.S (along with Dr. Ofshe).

This is why the Bear is against the death penalty. Not even confessions are always reliable, and juries almost never discount a confession. Jurisdictions like Illinois disgracefully refuse to allow expert testimony on the issue. (Unless the defense lawyer is a Bear, apparently.)

How many innocent people have we put to death in modern times? Nobody knows. Certainly not a lot. One, we're pretty sure, in Texas. On the other hand, we do know that Illinois' death row inmates had a 50% exoneration rate when the gold standard of DNA was applied to their cases. (One of the reasons the death penalty was eliminated in Illinois.)

Why would someone confess to a crime they didn't commit? Police interrogations are very lengthy (many hours) and stressful. Some suspects can be convinced they will be better off going along with the police. In fact, one of the major techniques is to minimize the offense and suggest that the punishment can be relatively mild, while threatening a very severe punishment for non-cooperation. Police are taught to make up evidence and lie to suspects -- it's perfectly legal. Some suspects are of a low IQ, or suggestible, or have other disadvantages in an interrogation.

In short, a hopeless, stressed-out person may not act in his rational, best interest.

But, Bear, what about Mirada? Don't these people know they don't have to talk to the police?

Yes, yes they do. But nobody asks for a lawyer, except on TV. They're scared and curious. They want to know what the police have on them -- or think they have on them. They think the police will think they're guilty if they ask for a lawyer. Of course, the joke is, the police already think they're guilty, as they are not in the habit of interrogating people they believe to be innocent.

What could police do better? Scrap the Reid technique. Interrogations can be effective without all the pseudoscience. Videotape interrogations. (Now the law in Illinois homicide investigations.) Continue the interrogation after the "I did it" statement to make sure the suspect knows stuff only the real perpetrator would know. Now that's only  reasonable, isn't it?

What could courts do better? Allow expert testimony on the heavily studied phenomenon of false confessions so juries could determine a confession's reliability in a valid social science and psychological context.

False confessions don't happen in many cases. But the cases they do happen in tend to be serious ones with heavy penalties, even death.

Speaking of confession, when is the last time you went? Fortunately for us, we can never get ourselves into trouble with a good confession!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Bear at First Things

First Things, normally a respectable journal of religion, is celebrating Catholic Earth Day by publishing one of the Bear's Dear Reinhard pieces, with commentary.

Speaking of which the Bear has intended to do another installment of "Dear Reinhard," but can't get it in edgewise what with Piccolo Uovo getting the Vatican equivalent of the Newberry Award or whatever.

Catholic Earth Day

The Bear, even as a Bear, must respectfully object to Catholic Earth Day.

It puts "The Earth" on the calendar with our saints, not to forget Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is faddish, and institutionalizes the hoax of Global Warming. It subtly suggests that the Earth is in the hands of man, instead of being sustained by God, and that man's all-powerful actions extend to its destruction or preservation.

Now, the Pope says he's just doing what the Orthodox are doing. After all, who could complain about the orthodoxy of the Orthodox? However, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has long been the engineer on the environmental wacky train. If the Bear were stuck in Istanbul as one of 120,000 Christians surrounded by 75 million Turks, he'd probably pick some pagan hobby horse to ride, too. Pope Francis doesn't have that excuse.

Worst of all, the Church is now stuck with this silliness forever.

It would be as if Pope Paul VI declared Pet Rock Day in 1976, and here we are, in 2015, still having to blog about pet rocks once a year. How embarrassing.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

"Birds of a Feather" Book Scandal Rocks Vatican

If you have no idea what the Bear means by "Egg-gate," you should probably read this first.

The author of a children's book advocating race separation has revealed a letter from the Vatican which seems to signal Pope Francis' approval.

Dirk Waldmark showed the letter, signed on behalf of the Pope by a high-ranking official in the Secretariat of State, Peter B. Wells, to reporters on Monday. Waldmark has been embroiled in controversy since the Mayor of Philadelphia banned his children's book, "Birds of a Feather," from public libraries in his city in June.

The letter says, in part:
His holiness is grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings which it evoked, hoping for an always more fruitful activity in the service of young generations and the spread of genuine human and Christian values.
Waldmark had sent to Pope Francis copies of a number of his children's books, seven or eight of which deal explicitly with race. They included, "Uncle Adolph," a sympathetic portrait of Hitler through the eyes of his niece; "Ride Forrest, Ride," which tells the story of former Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest's founding of the Ku Klux Klan; and "Birds of a Feather."

In "Birds of a Feather," a cardinal named "Little Red" has encounters with families of robins, bluebirds, and other birds, including black birds. The theme of the book is that just as birds of the same type mate and raise young, so people should marry members of their same race.

Waldmark's letter to Pope Francis asked the "whole hierarchy of the Church" to get behind his books.

Waldmark found an  unlikely ally in the American Civil Liberties Union, which objected to "censorship or banning on the basis of content, no matter how distasteful we may find it." However, the controversy escalated when First Lady Michelle Obama called the book "racist and horrible."

The Vatican Press Office was quick to issue a terse statement in response to Waldmark's revelation. "In no way does the letter from the Secretariat of State mean to endorse behaviour and teachings not in line with the Gospel." It also said the letter from the Secretariat in Pope Francis' name was supposed to be private.


The above, of course, slightly changes the facts of Egg-gate to make a point. Dirk Waldmark is fictional, his books (thankfully) are not in print, and the Vatican never commented on that matter. The Bear cast the issue in terms of race, rather than homosexuality, to provide the sense of a supernatural perspective to those who might lack one, and to demonstrate what a fiasco the scandal really is.

In the scale of worldly norms, racism is considered far worse an offense than homosexuality, which is tolerated if not actually celebrated. 

In the Bear's little tale, would people shrug off a letter in the Pope's name sent by his Secretariat of State blandly encouraging an author of racist books? Would the response by the Vatican Press Office be considered sufficient? (If you really want to blow your mind, set this in Pope Benedict's reign!)

Of course not. Pope Francis himself would have to gather reporters, lecture everyone on the evils of racism, utterly disavow any knowledge of the deed, and remove Peter Wells from his position.

The reason people are accepting the official narrative in Egg-gate is not because it is compelling, but because even if the Pope told Wells to send the letter it's no big deal. It would not be a violation of the secular norms and priorities we associate with this papacy. 

The Bear sees Egg-gate in the shocking light that most people would see his fictional "Bird-gate." What the Vatican did is unthinkable, the response of its Press Office is insulting, and the silence of the Pope is disappointing, but, sadly, not surprising.

The Bear will entertain no criticism that he is somehow equating one thing to another. He's not. He is simply translating the scandal into terms understandable by most people.