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Mental Illness vs Terrorists – What’s Usually Left Unsaid

I normally don’t post mainstream stories because Earthpages is an alternative news source. We can switch on CNN and see the most visible stories any time of the day. But today I want to talk about something that has been nagging me for a while. And looking through the headlines, I thought I would say a few words about the concept of mental illness vs. that of terrorism.

“He wasn’t a terrorist, he was mentally ill” we’re now hearing. So… people belonging to terrorist organizations are not mentally ill?

What’s the difference between these two concepts?

The difference is that mental illness, the concept of mental illness that is, almost always targets the individual. The discussion on terrorism and heinous regimes like Nazism or Stalinism usually focuses on the group.

So what? you might say.

The point, as I see it, is that the idea of mental illness almost always overlooks the larger social and spiritual issues that contribute to someone behaving as if they have some particular medical illness.

To take a hypothetical example, consider organized crime wives who sit in church all day with a visible frown on their faces. Maybe they also see a psychiatrist and take antidepressants. Are these individuals mentally ill? Or does the fact that they’re all wrapped up in a system of violence, lies and, let’s not forget, cheating decent, qualified people out of work—might this not contribute to their angst?

Sure, these people can give to the charities of their choice to make themselves feel a bit better. But this is only a band-aid solution. They’re still complicit in swindling good, honest people out of their livelihoods (what has been called a white martyrdom). Not to mention killing anyone else who stands in the way (what has been called a red martyrdom).

As long as these people maintain a good cover and manage their connections to skirt the justice system, they’re not seen as mentally ill. In fact, some of these people are regarded as societal exemplars and treated accordingly. And let’s face it, organized crime isn’t just about the Hell’s Angels. White collar and clerical organized crime and corruption is just as prevalent. But we don’t hear about it so much because of what I’ve said in first line of this paragraph. So basically we have elements of the so-called upper classes bullying aspects of the so-called lower classes.

However, the lone individual who deviates from current social norms, even if she or he harms no one, is quickly given a label and viewed as mentally – that is, medically – ill. And all the “friends” of the so-called mentally person ill group together in organizations to support one another. In essence, society trumps the individual.

As one of my student friends once said, true individuals are often persecuted, and I would add, while groups can get away with murder.

The picture is far more complicated than what is outlined here. And it should be stressed that I’m not judging. But I think it’s time we peeled back the glossy veneer and started seeing our world as it really is. Ignorance is not always bliss. More often than not, it’s just ignorance. And that can do real harm.


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What do you value most?


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Mother Teresa – the reality and the myth


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India wants to maintain wealth gap?

After reading this article I got the sneaking suspicion that some major players in India did some cool calculations indicating that it was more profitable for them to keep things the way they are.

While a student in India, it seemed that some of the so-called elite didn’t give a hoot about the poverty around them. There were noble exceptions from some truly exceptional people, but many take the Hindu religion to say that poverty is mostly due to karma. The poor did something bad in a past life so “deserve” their fate. At least, that is the explanation I often got from those apathetic about social justice.

The country is, for the most part, in dire need of development and it’s choices like this that will probably keep it that way.

80s_6

Me at the Canada Dam, a Canadian funded dam in India.


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How the homeless population is changing: it’s older and sicker

Margot Kushel, University of California, San Francisco

On any given night in the United States, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, over half a million people are without a home. That number may have decreased nationwide in the past few years, but California remains on the forefront of the problem, accounting for 20 percent of the country’s homeless in 2014.

With the winter’s freezing temperatures and El Niño’s massive rainstorms, what to do about the thousands living in our city streets has been making headlines on both the East and West coasts.

What policymakers and the general public need to recognize is that the homeless are aging faster than the general population in the U.S. This shift in the demographics has major implications for how municipalities and health care providers deal with homeless populations.

In the early 1990s, only 11 percent of the adult homeless population was aged 50 and over. That percentage was up to 37 by 2003. Today half of America’s homeless are over 50.

In fact, people born in the second half of the baby boom (1955-1964) have had an elevated risk of homelessness compared to other age groups throughout their lives.

So how have people aged 50 and over become homeless? And what happens to them and their health after they are homeless?

These are the questions my research team, funded by the National Institute on Aging, has been asking 350 participants in a study we’ve been conducting since July 2013 in Oakland, California.

Oakland’s older homeless

Our results have shown that a large proportion of the older homeless population in Oakland first became homeless late in life, and once they become homeless, their health declines precipitously.

Oakland, like most places in the U.S., has a problem with housing costs, particularly for older adults. In the United States, more than 30 percent of renters and 23 percent of homeowners aged 50 and older spend more than half of their household income on rent. This makes it hard to pay for food and medicine, and puts them at high risk of becoming homeless.

California has the highest housing costs of any large state, and they are rising faster than elsewhere. It is not surprising that Oakland has a large homeless population.

The common perception of homelessness is that it is a problem that afflicts only those with mental health and substance use problems. But this description doesn’t describe the experience of older adults, particularly those who first experienced homelessness late in life.

For the most part, these are men and women who worked throughout their lives in low-skill, low-wage jobs. They are also disproportionately people of color: Oakland’s population is 28 percent African American, but 80 percent of our study participants are.

The stories they have told us follow a similar pattern. One of our participants spoke of the shock of losing his job after 27 years:

I had lost my job and just could not … find another one. So in that 27 years, you know, I worked, you know, paid bills, and pretty much tried to enjoy…the things that life gives you when you go out and earn. But when I became homeless it was like a little, it was like a little shock at the time…

Another described losing his housing after being evicted when his wife had had a stroke and his daughter went back on her promise to let them stay:

After we moved out of the place, turned in the keys and everything we went over to her house and she said, “Y’all can’t stay here.” And I said, “I got $9 in my pocket …at least let your mother spend the night because we don’t have enough money to get a motel room.” She said, “No.” So that was the beginning.

Their lives became derailed by job loss, illness, a new disability, the death of a loved one or an interaction with the criminal justice system. Often, it was a combination of these factors that led to homelessness.

The other half of the older homeless we surveyed had been homeless on and off for years. Much of this time was spent cycling through jails, prisons and hospitals.

For these people, life has been difficult from their childhood.

One participant described how abuse had caused him to flee his family, beginning a lifetime of homelessness:

“Next time you, if you run away, I’ll beat you with a car chain or I’m going to throw you out the window.” […] Then I looked out the window and said – we lived on the 13th floor – I said, “I ain’t playing with this man.” He went to work, I had whatever I had on me, I was out the door.“

In many cases, participants’ drug and alcohol abuse started early, as did mental health problems.

Shared health problems

All our study participants, whether newly homeless or homeless for many years, faced challenges with their health once they lost their home.

Sheltering from the cold in Brooklyn.
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

As research shows, homeless people in their 50’s and 60’s have similar or worse health problems than people in the general population who are in their 70’s and 80’s.

There are many causes for this discrepancy. High rates of smoking, alcohol and drug use; poor access to health care, poor nutrition and high stress are just some of the factors that take their toll.

People who are homeless also have a hard time getting medical care. They may qualify for public insurance, but they often don’t have the wherewithal to get to a clinic or to contact a health provider. Others prioritize obtaining food and shelter or don’t seek health care because of shame around being homelessness or fear of how health care providers will treat them.

When the homeless population was made up of a majority of younger adults, health care providers focused on treating substance use and mental health disorders, traumatic injuries and infections, many of which could be treated with short-term care.

Now, with an older homeless population, health care providers have the difficult task of managing chronic diseases like diabetes and heart and lung disease.

People with chronic diseases need to make repeated visits to their health care provider and adhere to complicated medication regimens, specific diets and physical routines. None of these are easy to stick to, but doing so becomes almost impossible for people who are homeless.

Add to this high rates of cognitive impairment (problems with memory, information processing and following directions), functional impairment (the ability to manage daily tasks such as dressing, bathing, toileting), mobility impairment (the ability to walk), and deteriorating hearing and vision.

These problems further complicate the older homeless person’s ability to manage chronic diseases, access services and exit homelessness.

It is hardly surprising that only about one in five of our participants were housed one year after we first met them.

Systemic change needed

The point our study highlights is that the systems set up in the 1980s were not designed to serve an aging population.

Cognitive impairment, for example, makes it difficult to follow through with instructions to come to appointments, fill out complicated paperwork for disability benefits or housing applications, or adhere to treatment regimens.

People with mobility impairments are not able to walk miles between service providers, carrying their belongings with them. People at high risk of falls are not well served by bunk beds or by bathrooms in shared facilities that do not have grab bars and slip-resistant floors.

Shelter and housing providers are grappling with the need to provide clients with personal care assistants to enable them to handle activities of daily living, like bathing and dressing. They are reporting difficulty with clients whose cognitive impairments make them unable to understand or follow rules.

Many Medicaid programs will cover the costs of personal care via the Home and Community Based Services Program, which is designed to keep Medicaid recipients living at home and in the community instead of in expensive institutional care.

However, it is nearly impossible to arrange these services for people living in temporary shelters or in the street.

While there are few data, our study suggests that many older homeless adults will require nursing home placement, some of which could have been avoided with housing and home-based services.

Two years into our study, many of our participants have already spent extended time in nursing facilities.

Death on the street

We have known for years that homeless people are likely to die prematurely.

When the homeless population was younger, these deaths were mostly attributable to substance use, violence and infectious diseases.

Older homeless adults die at a rate four to five times what would be expected in the general population but die from different causes than do younger homeless adults. They die from the same causes as do other people – heart disease and cancer – but they do so 20 to 30 years earlier.

In the course of our study’s two years, for example, 14 of our 350 participants have died. Others are very ill and, we fear, will die soon.

To put it bluntly, as a society, we face the specter of older adults dying on the streets.

So, what is to be done?

Our argument is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

An individual who has spent 30 years rotating between institutional care and the streets requires different services than a 54-year-old man who has become homeless for the first time after a period of extended unemployment.

To solve the problem of homelessness among older Americans, we will have to find answers to two questions.

How do we adapt existing programs for homeless adults to meet the needs of an aging population?

And possibly even more intractable but fundamental: how do we stop older people from losing their homes?

The Conversation

Margot Kushel, Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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Five Million Free Kid’s Books

Purim: Attack of the Happy Kids by Flavio~ via Flickr

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

You would think that Jews, who are called “The People of the Book” by the Qur’an, would have lots of Jewish books for their children.

But there are many Jews whose homes lack even a few Jewish kid’s books. This is especially true for Jews who live in remote areas or have a spouse who is not Jewish. But for them things are changing.

A recent report carried by the Religious News Service relates how more than 10 years ago, Harold Grinspoon learned that Dolly Parton, who grew up in a poor home with no books, gives away thousands of books each month as part of her “Imagination Library” literacy project.

Grinspoon signed on to help her, sending books to kids in western Massachusetts, where he lives. Then he decided to start his own free book project, the PJ Library, for Jewish kids who might not know much about Jewish values or Jewish holidays.

“I love the Jewish people,” said Grinspoon, 84, who worries about rising rates of intermarriage among Jews. “If I can bring something warm and fuzzy in the form of the PJ Library into the homes of Jewish children, then that’s a good place for me to be,” he said.

Now 9 years old, the PJ Library — which stands for “pajamas,” because many PJ books are read at bedtime — recently gave out its 5 millionth book in North America. Grinspoon delivered it himself to a 4-year-old named Jake in Natick, Mass.

That book was one of 130,000 books the PJ Library mails to homes across North America each month, for which the Harold Grinspoon Foundation pays approximately $4 million a year. Those funds are matched by local Jewish organizations in each community served by the PJ Library.

These include many areas with tiny Jewish communities, such as Zion National Park where my granddaughters, the only Jewish children in 50 miles, live.

A Spanish version of the PJ library just started in Mexico and Grinspoon wants to bring the PJ Library to Russia — a country with a large Jewish populations where Jewish children were cut off from Jewish education for over 70 years.

In Israel, both Muslims and Jews receive books; in Arabic for the Muslims and in Hebrew for the Jews.

In the U. S. many of those who sign up for the PJ Library, are non-Jews who are or were married to Jews.

The sign-up form asks for little more than an address and the ages of the children in a household, so that the library can send them age-appropriate books. Anyone can sign up online.

Marcie Greenfield Simons, the PJ Library’s director, said a new study commissioned by the Grinspoon Foundation of 20,000 American Jewish families that receive the free books shows they are doing their job.

Nearly 58 percent said the program has moderately or greatly influenced their decisions “to build upon or add a Jewish tradition to their home life.”

And more than 62 percent said it “increased their families’ positive feelings about being Jewish.”

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com


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Events to help raise money for local charities in the UK

Zoe Willsdon is raising funds for a charity event – to cover costs for Hall hire, DJ, tickets, etc, she’s offering 30 Ebooks + 3 bonus books on the famous “Law of Attraction”for just £1.00 on her blog zoewillsdon-positivethinking.com.

She’s also set up a blog for this event zoeandlauren.wordpress.com.

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