Canada struggle to end solitary confinement is "justice deferred"

Until recently, under Canadian law, prison administrators could confine their charges to an indefinite period in solitary confinement. Thanks to a pair of high profile court rulings, this could change in a big way, provided the Federal government can get its shit together.

Last month, the Supreme Court in the Canadian province of British Columbia struck down a law that allowed prisoners to be kept indefinitely in solitary confinement. It was a huge win for prison inmates and society: long-term solitary confinement does nothing to rehabilitate or condition an individual to become a more productive member of society. Worse, as humans are social animals, being locked away from our peers for long periods of time can cause psychological trauma--that's not something you want to do to someone who'll eventually be released back into society. Human rights activists in BC applauded the court's decision. Unfortunately, a similar case, heard in a different region of Canada, is keeping the verdict from changing the country's confinement laws.

This past December, a Superior Court Judge in the province of Ontario handed down a verdict that found that solitary confinement lasting any longer than five days is absolute bullshit, according to the Canadian constitution. But, as the CBC details, the practice of doing so does not violate the constitutional rights of the individual being thrown into solitary.

Both verdicts have merit, but which has more weight?

It's a question that the Canadian government has decided can only be answered by another run through the legal system. Read the rest

British court rules that the inhumane conditions in American prisons mean UK hacking suspect can't be legally extradited

Lauri Love is a British man on the autism spectrum who also has depression and severe eczema, who was facing extradition to America on charges of hacking US military and private agencies. Read the rest

South Korea, gripped by suicide epidemic, criminalizes suicide-pacts

South Korea has one of the world's highest suicide rates -- it has steadily mounted since 2000, rising to 25.6 per 100,000. Read the rest

Social scientists have warned Zuck all along that the Facebook theory of interaction would make people angry and miserable

Since the earliest days of Facebook, social scientists have sent up warnings saying that the ability to maintain separate "contexts" (where you reveal different aspects of yourself to different people) was key to creating and maintaining meaningful relationships, but Mark Zuckerberg ignored this advice, insisting that everyone be identified only by their real names and present a single identity to everyone in their lives, because anything else was "two-faced." Read the rest

Trials confirm the use of psilocybin for depression without the "dulling" effects of traditional antidepressants

The prohibition on psychedelics was memorably described as "the worst case of scientific censorship since the Catholic Church banned the works of Copernicus and Galileo" by former UK Drugs Czar David Nutt, and despite the ban, there has been a consistent, determined, very promising (sometimes surprising) drumbeat of scientific papers about the use of psilocybin ("magic mushrooms") and other psychedelics in treating a range of chronic illnesses, including mental illnesses. Read the rest

Watch this interesting description of what it's like to be bipolar

In the film The Mess, Ellice Stevens presents a compelling look at what it's like to live with a bipolar diagnosis: the dizzying highs and the staggering lows. Read the rest

How technology's built in "engagement maximization" destroys mental health in the Trump age, and what to do about it

We live in a weaponized news-cycle, a political moment in which a cadre of ruthless looters are destroying the world, magnified by technology's design ethic that uses experimental methodologies to maximize "engagement" (that is, how much attention you give to a tool or application), without any regard to whether your "engagement" is driven by pleasure or anxiety.

Algorithms analyze brain scans to identify people with suicidal thoughts

In a small-scale study, researchers have shown that algorithms can analyze brain scans to determine whether an individual has suicidal thoughts. During the study, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University scientists mentioned words like "death," "trouble," and "carefree" to individuals undergoing fMRI scans of their brains. Apparently those kinds of words spur different brain activity in people who have suicidal thoughts compared to those who don't. The hope is that a better understanding of brain function in suicidal people could lead to better tests to assess risk of suicide and improved psychotherapy. From IEEE Spectrum:

For the study, the researchers recruited 34 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 30—half of them at risk, and the other half not at risk, of suicide. They showed the participants a series of words related to positive and negative facets of life, or words related to suicide, and asked them to think about those words.

Then the researchers recorded, with fMRI, the cerebral blood flow in the volunteers as they thought about those words, and fed the data to the algorithms, indicating which volunteers were at risk of suicide and which weren’t. The algorithms then learned what the neural signatures in the brain of a suicidal person tend to look like.

Then they tested the algorithms by giving them new neural signatures to see how well they could predict, based on learning from other subjects, whether someone was suicidal or not. The classifier did it with 91% accuracy. Separately, the classifier was able to identify, with 94% accuracy, which volunteers had actually made an attempt at suicide, versus having only thought about it.

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Some thoughts on whether intelligence is linked to anxiety and depression

In High intelligence: A risk factor for psychological and physiological overexcitabilities, a group of academic and industry neuroscientists survey a self-selected group of 3,715 MENSA members about their mental health history and find a correlation between high IQ and clinical anxiety and depression disorders, an effect they attribute to "overexitabilities" -- "the same heightened awareness that inspires an intellectually gifted artist to create can also potentially drive that same individual to withdraw into a deep depression." Read the rest

Hoarder Barbie trashes her Dream House

Carrie Becker's Barbie Trashes Her Dreamhouse is a detailed 1:16 scale model of a hoarder house, inside a Barbie Dream House, beautifully and hauntingly photographed. I know hoarders (and am related to a couple) and it's not a joke -- and neither is this amazing work of art. (via Waxy) Read the rest

Dissociative psychedelic Ketamine may help suicidal children

Ketamine is a short-acting dissociative anesthetic commonly used on animals and sometimes people. Of course it's also beloved by many psychonauts for its unusual dreamlike or "out of body" psychedelic effects. While Ketamine has been shown for years to help treat depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder in adults, researchers at Yale School of Medicine now report that it has great promise as a fast-acting intervention for children in crisis. From Scientific American:

It was less dramatic to watch than I expected, but the kids were definitely high. There was a lot of giggling involved, and they often said that they felt like time was changing and that their bodies felt ‘funny’ and sometimes numb. Nicole, (a suicidal 14-year-old,) admitted, “I’m not gonna lie. I like the feeling of it.”

Perhaps more dramatic than the trips themselves, which happened in a carefully controlled procedure room with a psychiatrist and anesthesiologist ready to intervene if needed, were the interviews that came after. I could see the weight of depression lifted from these patients within hours. Adolescents who were previously ready to end their own lives became bright and hopeful. Psychiatry has never seen a drug intervention so powerful and fast acting. While most anti-depressants take weeks to work and offer modest improvement, ketamine offers dramatic improvement in less than a day...

Dr. Michael Bloch, Yale child psychiatrist and principal investigator of several controlled trials for ketamine for adolescents, points out that the drug is only used for select patients who have severe mental health problems that have not responded to other medications.

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Text to Save Lives - Crisis Text Line Needs YOU!

Twice in my life I tried seeking help when I was feeling suicidal: once from an in-person counselor, and once from a phone based hotline. Both services failed to provide the support I needed, and I left the experience feeling just as bad, if not worse. Thanks to mobile technology and one great idea, we now have another option — Crisis Text Line — and they need volunteers who can text, particularly late at night, since peak crisis hours are between 8pm and 4am. Read the rest

Barbie reminds kids struggling with depression that they aren't alone

As part of its “Barbie Vlog” series, the official Barbie YouTube channel uploaded a video last year in which Barbie discusses her struggles with depression, or, as she puts it, “feeling blue.” Barbie shares some tips and tricks for getting out of a funk (going on a walk, talking to someone, etc.), but she also emphasizes that it’s okay not to feel happy all the time. As she puts it:

Sometimes I still feel blue. And then I feel guilty about feeling sad because I am supposed to be the upbeat positive one all the time. I mean, I am known as being an upbeat person… But I’m not always. And I started to think, maybe I’m just being really unfair on myself. You know? I don’t always have to be upbeat and positive. And to expect that of myself, it isn’t fair. To camouflage myself to fit into a mold of what I think I should act or feel or think, well that doesn’t help anyone. And it just gets you lost.

The video is powerful, not only because it normalizes discussions of mental health issues, but because its specifically aimed at young girls, who are at a much higher risk of depression than their male peers. In fact, a new study suggests that more than a third of teenage girls will experience depression by the time they’re 17. While the Barbie video may be just a small part of combating that problem, the ubiquity of Barbie as a cultural icon also gives her message a lot of power. Read the rest

The PrEP Diaries: A safe(r) sex memoir

The following is an excerpt from my new book, The PrEP Diaries: A Safe(r) Sex Memoir, now available from Lethe Press. The book chronicles the before-and-after of using Truvada PrEP, a recent breakthrough in HIV prevention that has prompted a new sexual revolution--except that most individuals have no idea it exists. Through sex positivity, explicit openness, and fun, I hope to make many more people aware that PrEP is an option for them in not just preventing HIV but having a better, braver sex life.

John Green discusses mental health and social media curation

In this new Vlogbrothers video, John Green discusses his OCD and the ways in which social media shapes our perception of others and, in turn, our perception of ourselves. To hear Green discuss his mental health in more detail, check out this video he made on his 100 Days channel.

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BBC documentary on LSD microdosing

BBC News has a 15 minute documentary about people who take regular tiny doses of psychedelics drugs to deal with mental health issues, improve productivity, or just better appreciate what life has to offer.

From YouTube description:

Microdosing is when you take a tiny amount of psychedelic drugs - LSD or magic mushrooms usually - as part of your ordinary day. The drugs are illegal, and there is no medical evidence to say what the benefits or harms of it may be. But a small community of people in the UK are doing it anyway, and say it’s improving their lives. Some say it aids creativity and concentration and others argue it helps with their mental health problems. BBC Reporter Catrin Nye has been meeting the people that do it.

Here's my interview with Ayelet Waldman, who microdosed for a month and wrote a book about it called A Really Good Day. Read the rest

Facebook use is a predictor of depression

A pair of social scientists from UCSD and Yale conducted an NIH study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology on the link between Facebook use and mental health, drawing on data from the Gallup Panel Social Network Study combined with "objective measures of Facebook use" and self-reported data for 5,208 subjects, and concluded that increased Facebook use is causally linked with depression. Read the rest

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