Tuesday, December 10, 2013
As a college football fan, I have become a listener of former Ohio State Quarterback turned broadcaster Kirk Herbstreit. He presents himself as a level-headed, objective journalist who is respected for unbiased reporting. On a recent twitter exchange, he replied to another fan with "...You're right about the debate culture, but debate is healthy and doesn't require ugliness".
I have never been shy about being a Clemson fan, which occurred by default because of family connections. I enjoy frequent trips to Death Valley and over the years, have witnessed some exciting games. This is in stark contrast to my complete lack of respect for Ohio State after the shameful way they treated a teaching assistant, Norma McGil. This transpired during the scandal plagued years of past coach Jim Tressel but more on that later. With all of that as a backdrop, now we learn that the wisdom of Kirk Herbstreit in illuminating the ugliness of debating in today's culture.
It all started on twitter, when I responded to a tweet of someone from Ohio State saying they could not understand what happened last Saturday in the Michigan State game. Sensing lively spirited banter, I answered, by saying, the better team won! No doubt, an argument or debate, could be made to the validity of my declaration, as they did score more points. A sign of old fashioned sportsmanship would be teams and fans, being gracious in both victory and defeat. Surprisingly, what ensued was more of a pack of rabid dogs smelling distress and the attack began.
However, I must admit, I did have a small amount of civil dialogue with some of the members of "Buckeye nation", which is how they refer to themselves. Some pointed out that the insults came from a "lunatic fringe" of fans that seem to overwhelm many sports programs. However, those belligerent ones, who most likely never attended college, much less a major university, eliminated any semblance of civility that existed. In these ugly exchanges, I felt like a bait dog at a pit bull fight. Sadly, this incivility is a microcosm of what exists within society today.
During these attacks, it was pointed out that I was a hater, an idiot, geezer and a few more colorful alternative words. It did not last long for the attacks to escape my football beliefs and move on to the mental health advocacy that I volunteer a great deal of time. This work is prominently displayed on my twitter homepage. With the words, mental health as a target, I understood more of what Norma McGil faced on that campus back in 2002-03
One classy fan said "Go p--s yourself old man". Another one was more blunt by telling me to "Go back to the nursing home!" A player even got in on the act by making another derogatory comment about my age. My reply was yes I am getting older, but I am far from being ready for nursing home. With a bit of luck, all of the people flinging those vile comments, including that player, will one day live to be my age or older. They may even be as active as I am even after numerous operations.
What I witnessed, besides ugly dialogue, was the psychology of mob mentality in social networking, which individuals associated with Ohio State seem to relish. Few were debating the merits of my benign statement, the better team won, they set their sights on me personally. It was as if I had attacked their mothers or shot their dogs as their demented hatred permeated this "dialogue".
During some speeches I have given, I have been asked when this school become so arrogant and begin to show utter contempt for others? Ohio States cheap arrogance has its origins in its Former President Gordon Gee living vicariously as a bully through his football team. His actions as a role model, and a pathetic one at that rubbed off on the people associated with the school. Specifically, his demeaning behavior towards other schools and some religious bigotry that Buckeye Nation finds acceptable.
I must admit that as the comments came in, I threw some gasoline on the fire, when I asked if other teams should hide their cheerleaders, in reference to Carlos Hydes inappropriate behavior this past summer. However, I clearly did not need to do that, as their depraved appetite to spew venom was on full display. All because I made an innocent comment after a game.
Over the years, many have asked me why do I hate Ohio State. I respond by reminding people I do not hate the school, but I do not respect what they did. I remind many that if we judge a society on how they treat their most vulnerable, then Ohio State should be ashamed and condemned for their treatment of the earlier mentioned Norma McGil.
To refresh everyone's memory, Miss McGil was a teaching assistant at Ohio State, who excelled academically, and was working on an advanced degree. She made allegations that some football players were given preferential treatment in class, and it created a firestorm of allegations, not against the player, but directed at her. Shortly thereafter, she came face to face with a modern day lynch mob and became a true victim of the same repugnant hatred many others have experienced or witnessed from this school.
A obvious example would be Columbus radio station WBNS, a flagship station of OSU, who once employed a sportscaster by the name of Ian Fitzsimmons. This person found entertainment by calling her "Norma the Mental Freak" and even cheered on a caller who referred to her as a "Crazy black bitch". Another member of "Buckeye Nation", called the Vanilla Gorilla, who claimed to be a graduate student at the school, at that time wrote, "Until Norma has her ugly insane ass circulating in public...". He went on to make even more offensive comments such as turning her into a transsexual. All of these narratives became comical fodder for members of Buckeye Nation. Shockingly, the school administration and Coach Tressel witnessed this persecution in chilling silence.
In reflection, Norma was just a hardworking woman, trying to get an education and become a role model for younger African American women. She had three strikes against her; She was female, African American and had a mental illness. The same illness that afflicted many prominent leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and many others. She lost her dreams and hopes because when she spoke up, Ohio State attacked her illness, not the merits of her claims.
It bears pointing out that though her illness was besieged by this lynch mob, no one on campus was ever able to point to any "bizarre behavior" of hers as evidence that she was unstable.
Where was Buckeye nation during all this? As many can ascertain, they were defending the actions of Maurice Clarret and mocking Norma Mcgil. They were also defending head coach Jim Tressel, who has proven to be a liar on the magnitude not seen since the dark days of Richard Nixon. During that Clarret scandal, nobody stood up for Norma, and few, if any, were concerned that Maurice had serious issues. Disgustingly, many found his actions okay simply because he could score touchdowns. Strangely, that opinion of Clarret lingers to this day, even after spending three years in prison for armed robbery.
We should all find disheartening that onslaughts from Buckeye Nation come with such viciousness, and stupidity, but when one of their fellow students came under a barrage, they stand back and laugh. That is nothing for any group to hold up with a sense of pride. If they simply do love their school, if they genuinely had the best interests of their classmates at heart, why did this school crucify Norma? To them, the football game became more valuable than the individual and best interests of her, and once again, that is not a source of self-glorification.
If there was ever an example of people losing their moral compass, Kirk Herbstreit's tweet spelled it out thoroughly. He was referring to the current disrespectful behavior of many sports fans. Sadly, that is just a microcosm on the values of society as people take stupid things like a football game and make them life or death. Ohio State thought it was okay to destroy the life of a defenseless woman, simply because she interfered with their ability to win some football games.
I have some advice for these members of buckeye nation. Start doing something productive with your lives. Go out and do volunteer work to witness firsthand how the less fortunate live and fight for an existence. Who knows, some may one day realize that there are more problems in the world then defending the loss of a football game. However, based on what I witnessed, I doubt that many of them can pull themselves from behind their masks of shallowness and ignorance to do anything truly valuable! That is nothing for Ohio State to wear as a badge of honor!
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
In a story that is becoming a frequent reminder, it was reported that another young student ended her life by means of suicide. The victim was a 16 year student from Keystone High School in Lagrange. She becomes another reminder that this silent epidemic plaguing society continues to attack with reckless abandonment.
When I read the obituary and saw the picture of this young lady, it is heart wrenching. She looked like your typical 16 year old with the promise of a bright future and happy life. It is clear that she had a family that cared deeply for her, who now find themselves searching for answers that they may never learn.
As of now, little is known about the what was going on with this student, but like the recent ones in Medina, Sheffield and Vermillion suggest, the public reacts with the anticipated how could she or why did she commit this act. Disappointingly, that outcry is only temporary until the death fades from memory, and inevitability another one occurs. In spite of many local deaths, there is never the sustained outcry demanding changes in schools and community to intervene before the tragedy occurs. However, in almost every case, the schools insist that grief counselors will be available for the ones left behind. My question is simple; Why not create more intervention programs to help prevent the deaths rather than provide assistance for the survivors?
Charlie Neff, the Executive Director of the Lorain County Board of Mental Health spoke about this tragic death. He said; "We recognize the tragedy of teen suicide is not just a problem for the schools to address alone. Rather it is a community-wide problem and all of us, educators, medical and mental health professionals, parents and youth, have an important role to play in eliminating it."
Mr. Neff is correct in pointing out that this is a problem in which everyone needs to be an integral part of the solution. Not only must educators be open to training to identify at risk kids, but the students themselves need to be included in its solving. They must be made to feel free to approach someone when morbid thoughts of death becomes relentless in their minds. Also, they must feel free to approach a teacher to let them know that a friend is in crisis and then the school must intercede and make a strong effort to protect that young person. Finally, the schools need to be proactive in every case, and never discount the efforts of students when they ask for help.
Currently, Mr. Neff has announced that two network clinicians are in the process of becoming certified in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASSIST). They will enhance the region's efforts to educate the public in community intervention programs. These trained specialists will be invaluable in Lorain County and will make an immediate impact. Kudos to the Lorain County Board of Mental Health for the effort they are putting onward with educating the public.
Though I am witnessing a slow thaw in the ignorance surrounding the public's acceptance of the deadly consequence of untreated mental illness, we have a long way to go. I have written about many similar tragedies such as this one, and the responses that I have received have been mixed, and in some cases, outright hostile. It is as if many people in positions of power that can enact real change to provide the necessary support to students, dislike the idea that what they are doing is not working! It is time for everyone involved ensuring that immediate corrective measures take place. The work being done in Lorain should stand as an example of how to begin to make the necessary transformation.
Hopefully, with further information on mental illness, the stigma associated with these disorders will continue to be diminished. With that education, a larger part of the public will realize that mental illness is a treatable physical condition and with treatment, the suicidal ideation will disappear, and one suffering the disease can recover.
I have been asked on numerous occasions as to why do people commit these acts. The best response I can give is that individuals finally decide that, with their clouded thoughts that ending the suffering is a much better choice then waking up and experience it once again. I know firsthand as I lived with that domineering pain for many years, and with the constant fear that it will one day reappear. In her book, "Night Falls Fast", the noted Psychiatrist and Author, Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison said, "Suicide will have seemed to its perpetrator the last and best of bad possibilities,..." In essence, though many will fight the demons of their conditions, when the firm pain becomes unyielding, then self-murder appears to be the only solution.
To be clearer, anyone who has fought the pain associated with excessive depression, life is not viewed with the same enthusiasm as those who live within the realm rational thinking. To draw a comparison, many people have the irrational fear that when they go to sleep at night, they will not wake up. Conversely, when someone with an untreated mental illness goes to bed, the overriding fear is that they "will" wake up and be confronted with that emotional pain once again. Few people realize the magnitude of that agony, but once someone experiences it, they never forget it.
There are so many words associated with mental illness and suicide. Depression, bullying, ostracize, stigma, ignorance and the index are never ending. They seem to be a crucial element of every suicide that we read about. Fortunately in Lorain County, it is clear that some leaders are taking corrective measures to address the causes. I have discovered that efforts such as theirs are rare throughout most communities, so it is imperative that the Lorain County Board of Mental Health continue to open eyes on this invisible killer.
On numerous occasions, people have asked what can be done to help those afflicted. The greatest advice I can give everyone in helping to reverse the trend of ever increasing numbers of suicide are three simple words. These were from a book whose author is a remarkable young woman named Lizzie Simon, whose personal battles with mental illness and suicide were chronicled in her biography, "Detour, My Bipolar Road Trip In 4D". The words are simple, but deliver a powerful message. To assist your loved ones and to help prevent suicide, never forget to "JUST BE THERE!"
Friday, August 2, 2013
Like most people who have followed the dramatic rescue of the three woman held captive for over ten years in Cleveland, we all breathed a sigh of relief to see justice finally being done. The media have not been shy in exploiting this situation and the court proceedings of the perpetrator, Ariel Castro. During the sentencing hearing, we all witnessed the dramatic testimony of one of the girls, Michelle Knight, who showed immense courage in standing up her abductor and rapist in the courtroom.
In the ensuing evening, it was Brian Williams of NBC news, who during his nightly broadcast, dropped a disgusting bombshell regarding the reporting of this case. It was here that he referred to Ariel Castor, as the "face of mental illness!" I have heard many degrading comments used to describe those of us with mental illness, but this falls into the category of a cowardly cheap shot at vulnerable people who are struggling with one of these socially unacceptable disorders. Additionally, it was blatantly false.
Numerous questions come to mind that need to be asked about Mr. Williams communication and they would start with; How stupid is he? My last question surely would be; Is Mr. Williams on crack or something? Seriously, I wonder why he would play into the long ago disproved stereotypes associated with mental illness that those afflicted are violent criminals? Finally, why would he sacrifice a significant number of people for ratings boost? Good questions, that may never be fully answered. However, his narrative can be easily falsified.
To begin with, a Forensic Psychiatrist, Gregory Saathof testified at the sentencing that Castro had "NO mental illness whatsoever". This in itself should have prevented such an delinquent account to be made by a national journalist, but, as they say in modern day journalism; never let facts stand in the way of a possible ratings boost!
That doctors comments aside, I have other examples that disprove Mr. Williams visceral statement and the first would be an introduction of one of the greatest news journalists of this era, the late Mike Wallace. This man became synonymous with professionalism and was well respected in his field. Also, he was honest about being both mentally ill and suicidal, but never once kidnapped three women and held them in a basement for ten years. Perhaps, as a future goal, Mr. Williams should strive to develop the integrity that Mr. Wallace displayed in the many decades he reported the news.
Another compelling example would be former Today Show host Jane Pauley, who disclosed several years ago that she had been hospitalized because she suffers from bipolar disorder. Additionally, Mrs. Pauley has been an outspoken advocate on spreading awareness of these misunderstood afflictions. She encourages others to "Get the Science" out on the biological nature of mental illness as a way to combat the ugly stigma associated with a diagnosis. Her efforts have been invaluable in bringing acceptance of these conditions and standing up to ignorant comments, such as those uttered by Brian Williams.
To give this man a more serious taste of awareness, I will explain the real faces of most of the other fifty million plus Americans who suffer from these disorders. They are your average citizens who wake up every day, go to work, raise families, and because of imbecilic statements like his, sometimes feel a need to live in a social cave out of fear others will discover their affliction. They do not have the same income level that Brian Williams has, conversely, they do not possess the arrogance and superiority complex that he is afflicted with either. However, his irresponsible comments just make the path to wellness that much more difficult for these genuine people, as they struggle to gain acceptance. So many of them strive to be defined for whom they are, not by the psychological symptoms of a disease.
The damage that these statements cause is catastrophic. As the public begins to believe these false descriptions, more people will feel the need to apologize for being sick. Many could retreat back to shadows of loneliness and despair that are a hallmark of disorders of the brain. With that comes depression, and in some cases, suicide appears to be the only answer a sick mind can comprehend. It is known that over ninety percent of suicides are directly linked to one of these disorders.
NBC needs to step in and make a bold and dramatic presentation to show they truly are a network that does not discriminate. First, they need to apologize publically for Brian Williams falsehood. Next, they need to install an internal program of awareness on these conditions, to avoid damaging stereotypes. Perhaps a beer summit is even in order.
It is no secret that the mainstream media is losing credibility on a daily basis, and this situation is a treasured example as to why. Former Alaskan Governor and Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin constantly refers to them as the "Lame-stream media", and this is more evidence that her label does have significant merit. Sadly, the true victims in this situation are those that are most vulnerable, the mentally ill.
I have made attempts to contact NBC news, and Erika Masonhall the communications director for NBC Nightly News responded to me via twitter. "...Brian changed the wording and removed that phrase for later feeds of the Broadcast." We soon discover that inside the fortress known as the NBC news studios, a well known anchor insults a group of innocent citizens with discriminatory comments based on ignorance, and all they can say is that he changed the wording after the fact.
This brings to mind the recent controversy involving the former TV chef Paula Dean. Many years ago, she made some inappropriate and racist comments that were caught on camera. When this became public, news outlets, such as NBC and their sister station MSNBC, went on a rampage and publically hung Paula Dean, resulting in her losing everything. When compared, is what Brian Williams said any less hateful? After all, the mentally ill are a minority, and an hidden one at that.
Brain Williams was looking for a reason that Castro acted the way he did, and he used something easy and misunderstood, mental illness. He could not believe the possibility that some people are just pure evil, with a pathology of cruelty and violence towards women, which causes them become serial rapists. However, spineless comments, done in the name of ratings, can have devastating effects. Their recklessness remind me of William Shakespeare, who wrote "A coward dies a thousand deaths, but the valiant taste death but once." To those at NBC, specifically Brian Williams, their number of symbolic deaths will be many, but their calloused ignorance could contribute to the actual deaths of other less fortunate souls.
Friday, July 19, 2013
We just do not get it!
I just finished reading Associated Press writer Dan Elliott's article on the tragedy in Aurora Colorado; "A year after the shooting, James Holmes still an enigma". Instead of opening my eyes to something new, it brought a sense of both frustration and of resignation in that it focused only on James Holmes the Individual. Along with that, a feeling of dejection because knowing that even after several high profile tragedies, the public just does not have a firm grasp on the root causes and what can be done to prevent future mass killings!
In this editorial, Mr. Elliott tries to explain the question regarding how this seemingly intelligent young man suddenly became a notorious killer. He went on to provide brief glimpses into the little we do know about James Holmes, but not enough to understand why he committed this atrocity. Here and now, I am going to provide Mr. Elliott his answer and it is he did not just become this killer, it is something he was born with which is severe mental illness. Additionally, the true culprit in this case is the American people's accepting that people afflicted do not have the same social value as the so-called, "normal people" possess!
The one area that Mr. Elliot and others constantly ignore is that this country has a barbaric sense in how to treat those with mental illness. We do not provide the necessary treatment, or modernized laws that are needed to allow people the right to live everyday fulfilling lives. None of that was pointed out in the column. Additionally, in spite of that tragedy, and others such as the one in Tucson Arizona, no significant changes have occurred to correct the inequities in the mental health system.
To his credit, Mr. Elliott did explore a question that begs answering, is that James Holmes made homicidal threats towards a Psychiatrist who then properly reported them to the University of Colorado Denver campus police. Here was an opportunity, within the confines of the archaic civil commitment laws, to take him into custody and finally begin a mental health evaluation. What is distressingly obvious is that this department never acted properly on those threats. That campus police department has not answered that bombshell, and unless there is a trial, they never will.
After this mass murder unfolded in that theater, I wrote that it was imperative that we focus on the causation factors in this case, not James Holmes himself. This young man was clearly disturbed, and yet, few people took steps to support him with the seemingly much needed help. Little had been made of the apparent symptoms that he displayed even before he was reported as a potential homicidal man.
It must be pointed out that I am not trying to victimize James Holmes, quite the contrary, he will be punished to fullest extent of the law for his actions. However, I am putting the mental health system on trial, and their failures deem a verdict of guilty as charged. Complicit in this verdict is the political leaders across the country from both parties. They have allowed people to live in appalling conditions brought on by these afflictions, and in response, cut the budgets to make treatment even more scarce for those in need. Instead of solutions, they take the position that "never let a good tragedy go to waste" and blame the other party for what happens. In this case, twelve people were killed and seventy wounded.
During speeches, I have been asked, what can be done to protect ourselves from people Like James Holmes and Jared Loughner, the gunman from the Tucson Tragedy. My answer is direct to the key issue, take action before they become psychotic killers. To begin with, we need to open the door for easier civil commitment. Then provide the required number of facilities to support that treatment, and finally, create more awareness of the symptoms of mental illness to eventually remove the shameful stigma that acts like a Scarlett letter on those who suffer in silence.
As easy as this sounds, it is a monumental task to bring true change. In Ohio, efforts to expand the Medicaid program to provide significantly more treatment for mental health care faces vigorous and powerful opposition in Columbus. The indications are that, once again, nothing of any substance will change, and people will be left desperately searching for proper care.
One issue that needs to highlighted is that generally, people with mental illness are not violent homicidal maniacs which is how many are portrayed. In fact, only about ten percent of all homicides are committed by people who are mentally ill. However, ninety five percent of all suicides are directly linked to those afflicted with mental illness.
As the one year anniversary of this tragedy has now arrived, there will be renewed, but brief interest in this case. Many will follow the lead of this Associated Press writer, and focus on exploiting the perpetrator. What is failed to be mentioned is that the true enigma is not people like James Holmes or Jared Loughner, it is the apathy and ignorance of the American political leaders. They have floundered many opportunities for change, and because of it, we await the next tragedy. Not if, but when.