Petiton to Google Inc. for stronger effort to connect users to mental health resources

Sign the following petition HERE.

Active Minds at Ithaca College is petitioning Google Inc. for a greater and more prominent inclusion of mental health resources upon searching potentially harmful terms.  There are three main components to our appeal, all of which we believe are essential in protecting the mental health of Google’s vast body of users.

1. On Tumblr.com, a microblogging platform and social networking website, when users search for potentially harmful terms such as “suicide,” and “pro-ana,” the screen fades, still displaying search results behind it, and a dialog box emerges offering various mental health resources available for those who may be interested or in need.  The window reads, “If you or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder, self harm issues, or suicidal thoughts, please visit our Counseling & Prevention Resources page for a list of services that may be able to help.”  It then requires the user to select “dismiss” before continuing to their results.  This system offers people potentially in need resources that could be beneficial to them or even save their life, while still maintaining a level of transparency over search results for lack of censorship.   While we understand the Google already provides a hotline for the “suicide” search, we believe the alternate system described would be most beneficial.  We would like Google Inc. to implement this, or a system resembling it, to their search results for the benefit of its users.

2. The search result window, along with “dismiss,” includes a “Tell me more” option.

If you choose the latter, you are brought to a page of Counseling and Prevention Resources.  This is a relatively expansive list of free and confidential resources organized by country.  This is a page we would like to see Google incorporate, and have available to anyone who might be struggling with various mental health issues.

3. Google Inc. will need a list of potentially triggering search terms to implement the prior two suggestions.  The following is a list of these search terms, and we encourage readers to include their own in the comment section (click “more” to view list; general trigger warning):

Continue reading

Royce White: The most important story in sports?

Royce White tweet

When Royce White was picked in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft by the Houston Rockets, he already had years of hype behind him, having led the Cyclones in points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocked shots during his sophomore years of college, and carrying his team to a perfect record in his senior year of high school. Now the Rockets are 25 games into the regular season, and their potential new star hasn’t played a single minute of a single game, instead becoming the poster boy for the complicated relationships between mental health and employment and mental health and masculinity.

Even before the draft, White came forth to admit that he is living with an anxiety disorder, becoming the first prospect to do so, according to Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo S. Torre. The potential NBA superstar did so, he said, because he wanted to “start helping people.” If bringing light to an issue in a community that’s never really talked about it before constitutes helping people, and it does, then he’s definitely accomplished what he set out to. But is he bringing real change?

Royce White was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder a few years ago. Let’s just say he can’t stop talking about it. Take a look at his Twitter. Read any of the (very few) interviews he’s given. His goal is one that he shares with myself and many others, including most of my readers: raising awareness. And he’s definitely done that. The high-pressure hyper-masculine world of sports, where mental health is almost never talked about, is talking about it now. The understanding that mental illness, like mental illness, is not a personal weakness or failure is being made, slowly.

I had the pleasure of meeting sports journalist Pablo Torre about a month ago and hearing him speak about the ways that sports culture feeds into mental health stigma. First, athletics and masculinity are almost synonymous. In both, people are expected to fight through the pain, revealing no emotion or fear. A man who shows signs of weakness or imperfection runs the risk of being seen as less of a man, and the same is true of an athlete. We see that physical injury is celebrated: an athlete who gets hurt and gets back on the field is a hero. The hit he took- his moment of fearlessness- is played again and again. The same is not possible in the case of mental illness; that “tangible proof”, which Torre described as “necessary” in the sports culture, simply doesn’t exist. This leaves fans, fellow athletes, and policymakers to create their own explanations: is the illness just an excuse, they wonder. A cry for pity or attention? A sign of weakness?

So for all the support that White is getting as an outspoken mental health advocate, there’s plenty of hate going around, too. And confusion. And well-meaning belittlement. And it begs the question: Is White really going about this the right way?

I’m 100% ready to give him the benefit of the doubt on his approach to raising awareness. I can’t say that I know how the Rockets are treating him, or how much effort is actually being made on both sides of the situation to come to an agreement about how White’s anxiety should be handled by the NBA. I’m in no position to say who’s right or wrong, but personal experience tells me that most employers and institutions, especially larger ones, are highly under-equipped to accommodate for mental health needs.

Which is why I’m troubled by unforgiving reports like this one that accuse White of “playing the martyr” with his diagnosis, and gives full credit to the NBA. “Most teams in the NBA would never give White this kind of special treatment,” the writer says. But what White is asking for isn’t “special” treatment; it’s fair treatment. He’s asking for mutual respect, and the understanding that he’s operating under limitations. He’s asking that the NBA implement a protocol for players living with diagnoses like his.

To be fair, though, he’s been vague about what this “protocol” really means. This piece, which also displays some pro-NBA bias, makes light of White’s anxiety while making much of his Tweeting. It’s true that the athlete hasn’t been particularly specific about his expectations from the NBA, but again, we here on the outside of the situation don’t really have the necessary information to judge whether White and the NBA have been fair to each other. One thing we do know is that his team has demanded that he see their therapist, rather than his own, who he has been seeing for years.

The Royce White situation has some people wondering: are certain careers outside of the reasonable realm of possibility for people with certain conditions? As a mental health advocate, my instant answer is no. But many insist that the risk should not have been taken on drafting White. We all have limitations for which we must account in any choice we make in life, but these distinctions are ours to make. Whether Royce White is currently capable of fulfilling his contractual obligations to the NBA is not something I can know, but I applaud him for his courage in openly discussing his diagnosis. I sincerely hope that his story leads to greater workplace accommodations for people living with mental illness, and that, should playing for the Houston Rockets remain his dream, he is able to fulfill it.

I Watched C-SPAN Once

… or, What Our Representatives in Congress are Saying About Mental Health

Reps. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) and Tim Murphy (R-PA) appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Today to discuss the state of federal mental health programs post-Newtown. The two Congressional House representatives are the co-chairs of the Mental Health Caucus, a 89% Democrat faction of Congress working to educate and advocate to their colleagues and the the nation on issues related to mental health. The one-hour segment, in which the two congresspersons answered questions from callers and the host whose name I have no interest in looking up, left me with mixed feelings.

First things first, I think Grace Napolitano is awesome. She drafted the Mental Health in Schools Act of 2011, which was referred to a congessional committee on February 17 of that year, where it’s been sitting around collecting co-sponsors (56 so far, all Democrat), waiting for a possible vote. She’s outspoken about mental health issues, and incredibly well-educated about them. All things considered, she’s one of the best allies we’ve got.

Tim Murphy, with three decades of experience as a psychologist behind him, also provides the mental health expertise that Congress needs if it’s going to make any progress.

While bipartisan consensus on the importance of mental health has not yet been achieved, the two co-chairs were in agreement that mental health services are not meeting our current need. $4.5 billion have been cut from state mental health budgets in the past five years, and while some of this has been the result of financial necessity, it is possible to work within budget limitations without cheating those in need, the representatives contend.

I applaud Napolitano for mentioning and explaining stigma. She blamed the fear and confusion that surround mental health for Congress’ failure to get together on the issue. She clearly had a greater understanding of that fact than did Murphy, who repeatedly implied that violence was the primary reason for the importance of mental healthcare.

Obviously, talking about violence was inevitable: the Newtown tragedy was, after all, the focus of the discussion. But Napolitano was able to bring viewer attention to the “big picture,” so I was instantly turned off by Murphy’s unwillingness to do the same. As I said in a previous post, tragedies like that in Newtown have a way of making people “miss the point” in the national mental health conversation, so I’m skeptical of any media coverage of Newtown insisting on discussing mental health just because of Newtown.

Murphy expressed that he’s very interested in taking a line-by-line look at the federal mental health budget. Taking a very serious look at where money earmarked for mental health is probably absolutely necessary at this point. Beds are closing, employers aren’t always able to provide insurance coverage for mental health services, educators and police officers who deal with mental health every day don’t have the proper training. It’s possible, if not definite, that the money we’re already spending can mitigate some of this if we get it sorted out and headed in the right direction. Whether this will actually happen, though, is anyone’s guess.

Other areas of reform mentioned in the interview included prisons, where the majority of inmates need, but don’t receive, psychological services. The complicated interplay of biology, education, parents, media, and government in mental health was briefly discussed as an area needing more understanding and research. Above all, the chairpersons agreed, the public needs to be educated.

That an active mental health caucus in Congress even exists is a positive sign. That there are officials voting on our laws who care about mental health, and know what they’re talking about, should help me and advocates like me sleep a little better at night. The changes we need can only happen, though, if we all want them for the right reasons.

(Watch the Washington Today interview here: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/RPAR)

(Track Napolitano’s Mental Health in Schools Act (HR-751) here: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr751)