Gaming's #MeToo moment: male fragility versus women's fundamental rights

The latest turn in the Gamergate sage: Zoe Quinn (previously) outed their former partner, game dev Alec Holowka as a sexual and emotional abuser, which prompted others to come forward with their own stories of abuse at Holowka's hands, which led to Holowka being kicked out of his Night in the Woods game project -- and shortly thereafter, Holowka committed suicide. Read the rest

It's possible to be paralyzed by choice

Mental health problems are a pain in the ass. One of the more obnoxious coping mechanisms I used to use to deal with depression and anxiety was shopping.

Having nightmares again? Stressed out? But something new! You earned it, pal! Sometimes, the brief rush of endorphins I'd snag from spending a little dough was enough to allow me to slide through another day without addressing any of the problems I was suffering from. On other days, I'd buy something I knew damn well that I didn't need and feel almost instantly guilty. I'd want to return it, but the shame and embarrassment of walking back into a store and having to explain myself felt like too much to tolerate. I'd find ways around having to return stuff by buying non-returnable items, like digital downloads. Back when I was first confronting my addiction to this kind of rampant consumerism, I figured out that I had spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000 on iTunes downloads over a five-year period.

That's fucked up, by anyone's standard.

I thought that starting into a career as a tech journalist would help to cure me of my desire to buy stuff all of the time: if I get to play with all the latest gear for free, there's no need to invest any cash in it, right? Nah. I hoped that my exposure to new and fabulous things would allow me to tire of them after spending some time with them. Instead, I ended up having a better idea of what I wanted to buy and, as I already knew what a given product could do, was able to talk myself into it, guilt-free. Read the rest

To fight gun violence, Trump proposes detaining mentally ill Americans

The solution to gun violence is putting mentally ill people in those detention camps, too. Read the rest

My Life on the Road — Staying Still

I've been back in Canada since May and I am certain I am losing my mind. It's a certainty that takes hold of me, every year.

We come home because we have to. As Canadians, we can only stay in the Untied States for a maximum of six months at a time. This past year, we stayed just shy of five months in the United States and, another two, down in Mexico. We drove back across the Canadian border with a few days left to spare. This dates-in-da-States wiggle room is important as I sometimes have to head south for work. I'd rather not get into dutch with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Being back in Canada for half the year is , a must if we want to hold on to our sweet-ass socialized medical care (which we totally do.) and for my wife to return to work. While she's a certified dive instructor, she also loves the land-locked gig she works for half of the year. We also come home because we want to. I have few friends and work remotely. Disappointment and distrust have left me happy in the small company of my partner, our pooch and a few well-chosen friends that I seldom see. My missus? Not so much. Community is important to her. Her sister's family—now my family—means the world to her. Reacquainting herself with her people, each year, brings her a happiness that I try hard to understand. I love to see her light up around her friends. Read the rest

Oregon now excuses students for "mental health days"

Oregon governor Kate Brown signed a bill that excuses public school students for taking "mental health days" just as they are excused for other illnesses. The bill was spearheaded by youth activists. From the Associated Press:

(Eighteen-year-old Hailey) Hardcastle, who plans to attend the University of Oregon in the fall, said she and fellow youth leaders drafted the measure to respond to a mental health crisis in schools and to “encourage kids to admit when they’re struggling.”

Debbie Plotnik, vice president of the nonprofit advocacy group Mental Health America, said implementing the idea in schools was important step in challenging the way society approaches mental health issues.

“We need to say it’s just as OK to take care for mental health reasons as it is to care for a broken bone or a physical illness,” she said.

(Image: "Conceptual illustration of mental health" by Quince Media, (CC BY-SA 4.0)) Read the rest

Weekend Tunes: Lustmord - Subspace

The inside of my head is an absolute crap place for productivity. I tend to fixate on old horrors, recent regrets and small shames that swirl around the inside of my brain like greasy water bound down a drain. It makes for a lot of noise while I'm trying to write or focus on my day job--listening to music with lyrics or, on bad days, even a melody, can lead me to distraction. When I'm set up in a coffee shop or another noisy locale and need to churn out some words, I wind up getting nowhere.

Last year, a friend turned me on to Lustmord: it's the working name of Welsh musician, sound engineer and, as near as I can tell, dark wizard, Brian Williams. Wikipedia notes that Williams is often credited with inventing Dark Ambient Music. I credit him with giving me the space I need in my skull to get work done.

In turns, Lustmord's music has overwhelmed me with feelings of calm, dread and and well-being. Played late in the evening in concert with medicinal amounts of Jameson, it helps to distract me from the pain in my body and the dogs barking in my head.

Image via Wikipedia Commons Read the rest

The "ghost networks" of mental health professionals that US health insurers rely on to deny care to their patients

If you've decided to investigate treatment options for your mental health, your health insurer will cheerfully refer you to a list of hundreds of providers -- but as STAT's Jack Turban discovered, this "network" of providers is actually a "ghost network," filled with wrong numbers that ring in McDonald's restaurants and jewelers. If you happen to reach an actual mental health professional, they'll probably tell you they're not accepting new patients. Read the rest

Ketamine rebuilds connections between neurons lost during stress

Ketamine has been used as a horse tranquilizer, infant anesthetic, recreational drug, and most recently, a surprisingly effective treatment for depression (which the US Food and Drug Administration approved last month). Now researchers are starting to understand how ketamine works: by rebuilding connections between neurons lost during stress.

From Chemical and Engineering News:

In a new study, researchers took a close-up gander at neurons in live mice under chronic stress, a condition that models depression in rodents. They found that a dose of ketamine helped first restore electrical activity and then rebuild physical connections between neurons that were lost during stress (Science 2019, DOI: 10.1126/science.aat8078). The observations suggest ketamine has both immediate and more sustained effects on how neurons function in the brain.

Neuroscientist Conor Liston at Weill Cornell Medicine and his colleagues implanted a prism into the frontal region of the rodents’ brains that, combined with a specialized microscope that captures images at extremely high resolution, allowed them to observe branches of nerve cells called dendrites in great detail over several weeks. They could even see tiny nubbins on the dendrites called spines, which form the synapses connecting nerve cells.

Image: Public Domain, Link Read the rest

Brain-zapping implants that change mood and lift depression

Teams of researchers are developing sesame seed-size neuro-implants that detect brain activity that signals depression and then deliver targeted electrical zaps to elevate your mood. It's very early days in the science and technology but recent studies suggest that we're on the path. Links to scientific papers below. Fortunately, the goal is to develop tools and a methodology more precise than the horrifically blunt "shock therapy" of last century. From Science News:

DARPA, a Department of Defense research agency, is funding (Massachusetts General Hospital's research on new brain stimulation methods) plus work at UCLA on targeted brain stimulation. Now in its fifth and final year, the (DARPA) project, called SUBNETS, aims to help veterans with major depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety and other psychiatric problems. “It is extremely frustrating for patients to not know why they feel the way they do and to not be able to correct it,” Justin Sanchez, the director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, said in a Nov. 30 statement. “We owe them and their families better options.”

These next-generation systems, primarily being developed at UCSF and Massachusetts General Hospital, might ultimately deliver. After detecting altered brain activity that signals a looming problem, these devices, called closed-loop stimulators, would intervene electrically with what their inventors hope is surgical precision.

In contrast to the UCSF group, Widge, who is at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and his collaborators don’t focus explicitly on mood. The researchers want to avoid categorical diagnoses such as depression, which they argue can be imprecise.

Read the rest

Instagram to blur self-harm images after Molly Russell's suicide

Molly Russell, 14, took her life in November 2017.

Uber's internal investigators 'overworked, underpaid, emotionally traumatized' with 1,200 cases a week: Report

"A single suicide by an Uber investigator who posts that they could not 'take' the job demands any longer will be fodder for the national if not international news media," the memo said.

Rigorous new scientific study: Link between kids screen time and their well-being is highly overstated

In a heavy-duty new scientific paper published this week, University of Oxford researchers argue that the association between adolescent well-being and digital technology use is tiny. Really tiny. From Scientific American:

(The paper by experimental psychologist Andrew Przybylski and grad student Amy Orben) reveals the pitfalls of the statistical methods scientists have employed and offers a more rigorous alternative. And, importantly, it uses data on more than 350,000 adolescents to show persuasively that, at a population level, technology use has a nearly negligible effect on adolescent psychological well-being, measured in a range of questions addressing depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, pro-social behavior, peer-relationship problems and the like. Technology use tilts the needle less than half a percent away from feeling emotionally sound. For context, eating potatoes is associated with nearly the same degree of effect and wearing glasses has a more negative impact on adolescent mental health...

“We’re trying to move from this mind-set of cherry-picking one result to a more holistic picture of the data set,” Przybylski says. “A key part of that is being able to put these extremely miniscule effects of screens on young people in real-world context.”

Not surprisingly though, your mileage may vary. Not surprisingly, it all depends on the kid and what they're actually doing on the screen.

In a previous paper, Przybylski and colleague Netta Weinstein demonstrated a “Goldilocks” effect showing moderate use of technology—about one to two hours per day on weekdays and slightly more on weekends—was “not intrinsically harmful,” but higher levels of indulgence could be.

Read the rest

Quebec doctors can soon prescribe art museum visits

On November 1, select doctors will be able to prescribe a visit to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts under a new initiative. Physicians who are part of Montreal-based medical group Médecins francophones du Canada will be allowed to send patients -- up to 50 prescriptions a year -- to the MMFA for free. Entry is good for two adults and two children age 17 or under.

Montreal Gazette:

“There’s more and more scientific proof that art therapy is good for your physical health,” said Dr. Hélène Boyer, vice-president of Médecins francophones du Canada and the head of the family medicine group at the CLSC St-Louis-du-Parc. “It increases our level of cortisol and our level of serotonin. We secrete hormones when we visit a museum and these hormones are responsible for our well-being. People tend to think this is only good for mental-health issues. That it’s for people who’re depressed or who have psychological problems. But that’s not the case. It’s good for patients with diabetes, for patients in palliative care, for people with chronic illness. Since the ’80s we’ve been prescribing exercise for our patients because we know exercise increases exactly the same hormones. But when I have patients who’re over 80, it’s not obvious that I can prescribe exercise for them.”

According to the museum, this one-year pilot project is the first of its kind in the world.

image by Thomas Ledl - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 Read the rest

Yale's most popular course ever: Happiness

When Yale psych professor Laurie Santos offered a course in how to be happy -- based on the latest peer-reviewed science -- she hoped that a reasonable number of students would sign up (after all, the literature suggested that there is an epidemic of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation among US college students); the course was the most successful in Yale's history, with one in four students enrolling Read the rest

I owe Anthony Bourdain so much

I’ve always felt the urge to leave. Any place. No matter how beautiful. I want to go. When I was 18 and finished with high school, I attended my graduation ceremony, for the sake of my family, but I skipped my prom – Canada’s east coast was calling. I’d never been there before. I didn’t know what I’d find. But I was going. I made a life for myself out there, with university, work and music. I traveled up and down the coast. Cape Breton feels like a second home to me. I love the people of Maine. New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have a place in my heart.

But eventually, I left the east. Rage, the self-entitlement that sometimes comes from surviving a shitty childhood and a need for control left me very much out of control. I destroyed a fine long-term relationship looking for who I was. I burned bridges. I did terrible things to myself and others. It was time to move on. My travels took me back home to Ontario. My father was dying. I loved and hated him for who he was and what he had done to our family. Coming home was a terror.

Uneasily settled back into my hometown, I fought to push the dogs of my recent past down into the cellar of my soul where their bark did not seem so loud. I’d gone to university for journalism, but felt too shattered by life to write. I took on a job I despised and worked it for years. Read the rest

Teens are cyberbullying themselves as a form of self-harm

Child psychologists have observed an increasing trend in which teens cyberbully themselves, creating anonymous accounts in which they post vicious insults and slurs that seem to be directed to them by strangers. Read the rest

Wil Wheaton's frank, brave speech about his depression and anxiety

Wil Wheaton has publicly discussed his anxiety and depression before; I know several people whose lives were improved by reading what he had to say. Read the rest

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