By king or cobbler

Photo by Garret Crawford. Click for sourceA thoughtful reflection on the psychology of the New Year, published in 1895 by the acclaimed essayist Charles Lamb in his collection The Essays of Elia.

Every man has two birth-days: two days at least, in every year, which set him upon revolving the lapse of time, as it affects his mortal duration. The one is that which in an especial manner he termeth his. In the gradual desuetude of old observances, this custom of solemnising our proper birth-day hath nearly passed away, or is left to children, who reflect nothing at all about the matter, nor understand anything in it beyond cake and orange. But the birth of a New Year is of an interest too wide to be pretermitted by king or cobbler. No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference. It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left. It is the nativity of our common Adam.

Charles Lamb was one of the most celebrated writers of his generation although struggled with mental illness for much of his life and directed a great deal of his energies to caring for his sister, Mary, who was similarly affected by mental disorder and an exceptional talent for literature.

Link to Wikipedia page on Charles Lamb.

Undercover in Accra Psychiatric Hospital

Award winning journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas went undercover in Ghana’s Accra Psychiatric Hospital and has published a hard hitting report on the appalling conditions in one of the country’s main institutions for treating mental illness.

In a spectacular piece of investigative reporting Anas posed as a patient, a trader, a baker and a taxi driver and has reported on institution-wide problems that include drug dealing, abuse, maltreatment, thieving, and medical negligence leading to the deaths of patients.

One of the most striking parts of the report is where he notes a few of the staff members who carry out their roles with due diligence and genuine compassion for the patients in the midst of the systemic failure of the institution.

The neglect, abuse and maltreatment of patients by nurses in the hospital remain one of the most disturbing aspects of life within the hospital. On many occasions, this reporter filmed instances where patients suffering severe fits were left to lie at the mercy of the weather, with nurses totally apathetic. Some nurses were captured beating patients who lay on the ground helpless and writhing in pain. On one occasion, a male patient is seen helping a female patient suffering from epilepsy to get on her feet. After many futile attempts to help the ailing girl, the male patient leaves her on the ground close to a nurse’s office and moves on. Minutes later, a nurse passes by without offering any assistance to the patient. Not far from the patient, three nurses could be seen chatting idly as the epileptic patient lies in pain. When help finally arrives, the patient is beaten mercilessly by the nurses amidst shouts of “get up”, “foolish girl”, “if we beat her she would get up”.

The attitude of nurses is generally so outrageous that the hard work and conscientious disposition of Ken Wholley Brantuo, Alex Baah and a few others shone forth like torch in pitch- darkness.

Francisca Ntow, a young nurse at the hospital epitomised the spirit of care and love that accompanies nursing. With beaming smiles each day, she tries her best to give attention to patients and to find out their state of being. Her shining example gives hope to the future of psychiatric nursing in the country.

If you check out nothing else I recommend listening to a gripping interview with Anas where he discusses his undercover investigation on Ghana’s Super Morning Show

His follow-up piece on abuse of people with mental illness by traditional healers and prayer camps is also a powerful piece of reporting.

Probably one of the most remarkable pieces of mental health reporting you are likely to encounter for a very long time. Truly excellent work.

Link to Exposed: Inside Ghana’s “Mad House” (via TWS).
Link to interview with Anas Aremeyaw Anas on his investigation.
Link to ‘Investigative report: Lies of prayer camps and traditional healers’.

A year in science and sex

Photo by Flickr user cobalt123. Click for sourceDr Petra has two great posts, one looking at the best and worst of sex and science stories from 2009, and another revisiting her annual predictions for the year in sexuality and sexual health.

The best and worst include everything from clitorocentric conspiracies, informed sex education, the Ugandan government, female sex drugs and Shakira (who is clearly still too shy to call).

Additionally, Petra will shortly post her predictions for the coming year online, so you can see how 2010 might shape up.

Link to ‘The best and worst sex (and science) stories of 2009’.
Link to ‘Revisiting my sex predictions for 2009’.

Personals from psychologists

Photo by Flickr user _Dano. Click for sourceAdverts from psychologists in the Personals section of the New York Magazine.

Marriage-Minded Jewish Doctor – Successful. 43-year-old behavioral psychologist and entrepreneur. I’m 5’11”, slim, considered handsome, and have many diversified social and cultural interests. More importantly, others judge me to be warm, sensitive, romantic, altruistic and capable of great love and devotion. I’d love to hear from you if you are a highly educated, emotionally mature woman, interested in a relationship leading to marriage. 9896

Slender, Dark-Haired, Very Pretty – Bright, funny psychologist, young 37, blues and jazz fan, seeks witty, sane, attractive man, 30-45. NYM M182

Your Mother’s Dream: 28, handsome, caring Jewish psychologist. Into Jazz, arts, sports. Seeks and interesting attractive woman. Photo/phone. NYM H108

Dynamic, Attractive Psychologist – Seeks secure Jewish man: 30’s. Be sincere, successful and witty. Enjoy NYC and nature. Bio/photo/phone. NYM S910

Tall, Slender, Attractive – Intelligent Black woman, 36, PhD psychologist, seeks warm, emotionally mature, active, successful, professional man, 30-46. Nationality unimportant. Please send letter, photo, phone. NYM B395

Affectionate, Attractive, Caring – Older NJ psychologist seeks attractive woman for a loving, enduring relationship. Please include photo and phone. NYM B341

Beautiful, Slim Jewish Divorcee – 45, successful female media psychologist with private practice, seeks male with usual demographics – but believes in chemistry above all. 9778

Handsome Psychologist – Sincere, down-to-earth, looking for bright attractive woman, 30-45. Photo. 4338

Very Attractive Single Woman – Psychologist / writer, seeks leftist man who is fit, funny and fortyish. NYM P036

Tanglewood anyone? – Lovely picnic, Boston Symphony… Engaging, cheeky LI psychologist, pretty, trim, 60s, understated, seeks like male. 5209

Woman Psychologist – 37, blond, sexy, great sense of humor, optimistic, love to cook and loves the outdoors, down-to-earth, voracious reader, whimsical. I am looking for a sensitive, sexy, successful, witty, generous, smart, kind man who wants an intimate relationship. If this is you, please send a note. 8477

True Romance – Desired by psychologist 44, 5’7″, brown hair, serious artist – with pretty woman, intelligent, passionate, self-reliant, beautiful eyes, sexy smile, any race or age. Please write. 6806

Sensual-Spirited Psychologist – 40something, 5’5″ brunette seeks handsome, humorous, honest professional with strong Jewish consciousness, family values and love of the arts – for joyful, marriage-minded relationship. 4148

Slim Pretty, Jewish Widow – Psychologist, 48; strong cultural interests, liberal politics. Enjoys country, beach. Intelligent, sensitive, emotionally stable woman seeks make counterpart to share life. Photo?/bio/phone. NYM G404

Attractive Psychologist, Male – 38, warm, funny, smart and successful would like to meet a truly beautiful woman (both inside and outside) under 34. Photo much appreciated. NYM G423

Successful Male, PhD, Psychologist – 41, 5’10”, slim, warm, caring, sensitive, health conscious, non-smoker, Jewish (not religious). Seeks vivacious, tender, professionally accomplished woman with depth and emotional resources open to becoming best friend/lover/wife. NYM V320

Pretty School Psychologist – Caring, slim, Jewish woman, 36, with zest for the outdoors, seeks thoughtful, active, attractive, professional man, 35-45, for long-term. Note/photo please. 8624

“How But In Custom – And in ceremony are innocence and beauty born?” Jewish psychologist, 36, bright, verbal, attractive, a lover of Yeats, seeks man with romantic heart and high values. NYM K142

Send No Photo – Warm, loving, attractive, sexy psychologist, mother, 47, seeks professional man, 45-58, who values honesty, closeness, simple pleasures. Appreciate meaningful reply. NYM R372

Ten to know

Photo by Flickr user Anna Gay. Click for sourceThe Brainspin blog has a list of ‘Ten Psychology Studies from 2009 Worth Knowing About’ that covers a mix of well-known studies and hidden gems from the last year.

The descriptions, as you might expect, are a little brief and give just the punchline without some of the possible drawbacks but all are linked to the original study so you can them in full (well, at least as far as your access allows).

One of my favourites was number 7, which provides evidence against the common idea that people who connect better with others might be better at detecting lies:

A study in the journal Psychological Science tested the hypothesis that emotional mimicry—the tendency to mirror the emotions of someone we’re interacting with—makes it difficult to identify liars. Nonmimickers were significantly better at identifying liars than mimickers, and thus were harder to fool with the old flim flam sales routine. The reason is that mimicry reduces psychological distance and lowers defenses. Even if someone probably isn’t lying to you, it’s best to keep the cushion in place just in case.

Link to ‘Ten Psychology Studies from 2009 Worth Knowing About’.

Going gently

The New York Times has an sensitive and in-depth article about the difficult decision to administer strong sedative drugs to terminally ill patients to ease their suffering at the expensive of potentially quickening their death.

It is, in all but one respect, a very good article, however it does contain a monumentally stupid paragraph:

For pain, the guidelines list opioid drugs, including morphine, methadone and fentanyl.

Doctors say that other drugs used for sedation are ketamine, an anesthetic and sedative popular at rave parties, and propofol, an anesthetic, which was ruled, with lorazepam, to have caused Michael Jackson’s death. In very high doses, sodium thiopental is used as a sedative in the three-drug combination used for lethal injections.

You could link almost any drug (or indeed, any substance – table salt – for example) to some nefarious use or lethal outcome. In fact, some of the most demonised street drugs – heroin and cocaine – have common and legitimate medical uses.

Medicine is always a case of balancing the positive and negatives of any treatment for the benefit of the patient. Context-less examples tell us nothing about this balance.

Other than that, the article is very good and really gets to the core of why end-of-life sedation is such as difficult topic, both emotionally and medically.

Link to NYT article ‘Hard Choice for a Comfortable Death: Sedation’.

The isolation contagion

The Boston Globe covers an interesting new study finding, seemingly paradoxically, that loneliness can be spread from person-to-person and can work its way through social networks.

The paradox is resolved by the important point, outlined by one of the study’s authors, John Cacioppo, that ‚ÄúLoneliness isn‚Äôt being alone, it‚Äôs feeling alone”. In other words, it’s not about having social contact but about feeling like you have meaningful relationships.

This feeling, it turns out, was increased or was more likely to occur when one person had contact with a person who already reported themselves to be feeling lonely.

The paper Cacioppo co-wrote with Christakis and Fowler, published in the current issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that having a friend who reports feeling lonely makes a person 52 percent more likely to feel lonely. In another measure, they found that, for each additional day per week a person reported feeling lonely, his friends reported an additional lonely day per month. Not only that, having a friend who has a friend who feels lonely makes a person 25 percent more likely to feel lonely, and at three degrees of separation (a friend of a friend of a friend) the odds are still increased by 15 percent…

The spread of loneliness seems to have its own particular characteristics. Women, for example, seem to be more susceptible than men. Also, the more lonely people a person knows, the more likely she herself is to become lonely. That trait distinguishes loneliness from something like alcoholism: Having an alcoholic friend increases your odds of becoming an alcoholic, but having three alcoholic friends makes you no more likely than having just one…

Distance also seems to matter to the spread of loneliness. The authors found that living close to a lonely friend was more likely to make their loneliness contagious Рif the friends lived more than a mile apart there was no significant effect. This was in contrast to obesity, which, Christakis and Fowler have found, doesn’t require physical proximity to spread. In other work, the two have found that an obese friend who lives in the next state can still make you more likely to gain weight.

Not mentioned by the Globe article was the interesting finding that loneliness spreads most strongly through mutual friends but only weakly through family members.

The study, which you can read the study in full as a pdf, was drawn from data from the famous Framington Heart Study which tracked the health of a small community over many years and, rather fortuitously, asked who was related to and friends with who, initially for the purposes of tracking people down if the researchers lost contact.

Link to Boston Globe article ‘The loneliness network’.
Link to PubMed entry for loneliness study.
pdf of full text of study.