Posts tagged: suicide

Lifestyle Revisited

ProductImageOnlineTherapyPict1The following article completes a condensation of a literature review by Dr. Roger Walsh.  The review appeared recently in the American Psychologist, a journal of the American Psychological Association.  Dr. Walsh offered numerous Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC), based upon his examination of medical and psychological literature.  It is hoped that these scientifically derived principles for living may benefit those suffering from cognitive and emotional impairments.

Dr. Walsh’s fourth area of consideration was the role of nature as a mediator of mental health.  The psychological cost of indoor living includes disruption of mood, sleep and diurnal rhythms.   Cognitive costs of indoor living include impairment of attention, decreased academic performance in the young and a greater cognitive decline in the elderly.   Dr. Walsh did report that natural settings reduce stress and depression, but the amount of time spent outdoors to secure this benefit was lacking.  Most of the studies he examined appeared to focus on poets and philosophers, such that scientific rigor was minimal. In a normal population, natural settings may enhance cognition, attention, and subjective well-being.

The role of relationships in all social animals is very important.  A strong social attachment to a psychologist is more important than the school of therapy that is utilized.  Said another way, what the therapist says is less important than their bond with the patient.  Good relationships are associated with happiness, resilience, and cognitive capacity.  The health risks of social isolation are believed to be comparable to risks of high blood pressure, smoking and obesity.  Similar to the section on “Nature,” Dr. Walsh’s analysis of the literature did not include any guidelines for what defines a satisfying relationship, how many are sufficient, and the frequency which one must engage in good relationships to be therapeutic.

This ancient practice of meditation ameliorates a wide array of stress-related psychological and psychosomatic disorders.   Mediation has received much more attention from researchers than yoga, and its benefits may overlap with other strategies to induce muscular relaxation.  It is clear that meditation is beneficial for normal populations, as well as multiple clinical samples . Dr. Walsh noted that it is less clear how meditation practices compare with each other, or with other therapies; such as relaxation, yoga and self-hypnosis.

Spiritual involvement may be an important mediator of mental and physical health.  It appears to be most beneficial when centered on themes of love and forgiveness.  Themes of guilt and punishment are less likely to be helpful to one’s mental health.  Those who attend religious services at least weekly live about seven years longer than those who do not attend.  Those who experience a rich spiritual life have reduced rates of mental disorders; such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide.  The only significant link between spirituality and physical health is a reduced incidence of hypertension.  A common criticism of this area of research is that the sample of people who attend church are less likely to smoke, drink and abuse drugs.  Since their lifestyle is inherently different, it would need to be compared to spiritual people who indulged in these common vices.

In the concluding section of the literature review, Dr. Walsh discussed the so-called paradox of happiness.  The nature of the paradox is that spending time helping others may accentuate one’s personal happiness.  A major exception to this category is caretaker burnout.  When family members take care of a demented spouse or parent, the sense of internal pressure and obligation may negate the positive affects of contributing to others.  There is considerable research to link selfless behavior (altruism) with psychological, physical and social well-being.  In some cases, providing social support may actually be more beneficial than receiving the help.

Psychology and the Casey Anthony Trial

Dr. Holzmacher's Business LogoTo view the psychopathology of other people can be alluring.  It makes us feel better about ourselves in comparison.  It may school us on the type of people to avoid.  It can satisfy the disturbing need to view a bloody wreck.  Perhaps it is sheer voyeurism that makes the Casey Anthony trial so fascinating.

Other trials have caught the public’s attention.  Dreyfus, Scopes and even Simpson appeared less concerned with psychological details than the Anthony trial.  The psychological status of the defendant at the moment of the crime seems increasingly important in recent history.  Perhaps it is a mitigating factor that should be considered.  On the other hand, establishing the psychological status of a person in the recent past is difficult, let alone the distant past.

Neglecting the past altogether,  it is difficult to capture the current psychological status of an individual.  The use of multiple tests and informants greatly increases accuracy and reliability.  This is assuming the defendant and informants have no motivation to deceive.  Consider a situation where the defendant and witnesses have strong motivation to lie about their history and  past psychological status.  Now paint an accurate picture of the defendant’s psychological status at a specific moment in their past.  Finally, avoid any bias in the interpretation of the defendant’s behavior, secondary to the awareness of the report’s possible ramifications.

Establishing causal links between past behavior and psychological status is fraught with error.  Factors unknown to anyone, including the guilty, may play a role.  Merely because an action is improbable does not make it impossible, and psychological tests search for the probable. The evidence of forbidden behavior may remain deeply buried within the brain of the guilty.  It may be buried on purpose, or as a consequence of trauma.  Depression and substance abuse may distort recollection, even when well-intentioned.  Unfortunately, psychological tests are not able to completely pierce the fog of deception, examiner bias, amnesia and random acts of criminality.

The Anthony trial is certainly a compelling mystery.  To watch it unfold before one’s eyes is to be quickly seduced.  The public is invited to take a peek through the window of a family in free-fall.  The tension is  pleasant because we will not suffer any consequences.  The public are free to be voyeurs that need not fear the police.  We can slowly view the wreck in progress, without holding up the people in the rear.

Suicide, incest, murder and substance abuse have been mentioned as symptoms of this diseased family.  The focus is not on the treatment of their malady.  The focus is on the eradication or isolation of the pathological agent.  The mission is less one of research and discovery, than one aimed at assigning blame.  Punitive measures are employed rather than reinforcing the healthy bits that remain.  The pathological agent will be destroyed or isolated, and the body of the family will be left to decay.

The Casey Anthony trial is a psychological phenomenon that invites a voyeuristic public to take a peek at this diseased family.  The psychological factors that attract viewers may speak to a disease that infects the public at large.  The degree to which diseased behavior in one person causes subsequent criminal behavior in another person is highly subjective.  Making assumptions about this person’s psychological status at a specific moment in the past is nearly as subjective.  Whether to watch the Casey Anthony trial is the most subjective choice of all.

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