Ignoring the iLL

Smashing the Stigma

We all have or had that one not-exactly-right family member that we not-so-secretly wished didn't make it to those family gatherings each time. Or maybe we did, because we were nihilists and it would make the typically boring get-togethers a whole lot more interesting and unpredictable.

More than 1 in every 6 American has a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That's 17.9%, to be exact. A stat that doesn't even account for our homeless population. When you add in that the low estimates diagnose 1 in every 5 of our homeless as mentally ill, you're talking about very safe estimates of over 43 and a half million of us that suffer from a mental illness.

And it's not surprising to see why less than 15% of Americans seek help for their mental health. The stigma is real. The perception of weakness behind acknowledging any kind of mental health help is strong. The labels are tattoos on your name with no option for laser removal.

If we as a society are serious are about making our cities safer, making our mentally ill healthier, more financially independent and therefore all of us in a better place, some things need to change.

What Needs To Change

Make mental health a part of the regular societal dialogue. And not just when there's a mass shooting. Not just when gun enthusiasts hijack the gun regulation narrative to blame a tragedy solely on our mental health system. (Instead of redirecting the talk from gun rights to mental health to demonize it, how about we just collectively make it harder for those diagnosed with severe mental health disorders to obtain a firearm?) People stigmatize and demonize those of which they are not knowledgeable about. Let's educate the public and make it socially acceptable to recognize, empathize and understand mental illnesses. With the number before of about 1 in 6, the odds are fairly high we all encounter someone on a regular basis struggling with their own mental health.

Not have such itchy ink fingers for signing off on psychotropic prescriptions. Psychotropic medications are those most commonly prescribed with a mental illness. Millions of people are on psychotropic medications every year. More than 78 million Americans, to be more clear. And while many of those are absolutely needed and beneficial, just as many are not. 

Courtesy of Beyondmeds.com

Courtesy of Beyondmeds.com

For our nation's foster care system specifically, a report by the inspector general at Health and Human Services found quality of care concerns in more than two-thirds of claims for psychotropic drugs paid for by Medicaid, the health insurer for most children in foster care. That included too many drugs (37 percent); wrong dose (23 percent); poor monitoring (53 percent); or wrong treatment (41 percent).

We do the tens of millions of Americans that are treated for a mental illness a great disservice when they're shuffled recklessly through a healthcare system that is deeply rooted in the interests of a privatized pharmaceutical industry making over $10 billion a year in profits ensuring we're all medicated. Needed or not. Safely or not.

Return the funding to mental health treatment. Federal funding for mental health services has been dropping since the '80's. Government monies spent for private industry like Big Pharma and our medical providers has led to mass exploits due to a lack of transparency. Any amounts of money, let alone millions, spent to private industries with no oversight, will lead to corruption 101 times out of 100. And no one's naive enough to think there will ever be a budget without waste. But more transparency can go a long way to more efficient allocation of funds.

To possibly invest in more clinical psychologists, or as they're typically called, therapists. The way the system currently operates, is you're paired with a psychiatrist and a therapist. The initial psychiatry visit will follow right after your initial therapy visit. That psychiatry appointment will often be both an opportunity to meet you and decide to prescribe you a medication within that first visit. The fact that this is common means that psychiatrist needs to be incredibly accurate with their diagnoses and pin-pointing the most appropriate medications for that individual. But far too often, that is not the case.

"There is a huge financial incentive for psychiatrists to prescribe instead of doing psychotherapy," he says. "You can make two, three, four times as much money being a prescriber than a therapist," says Daniel Carlat, MD, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Tufts University. Instead of incentivizing psychiatrists to churn out as many pill-dependent customers as time efficient as possible, the treatment model should be re-evaluated to seek therapy, first and foremost. And because short term, once a week, outpatient treatment is often not enough, more frequent sessions for therapists, when the clients can, should be welcomed. Only after a series of therapy appointments, when necessary, should a psychiatry appointment be made.

Courtesy of Rehabs.com  Combined, psychiatric medications account for just shy of 50% more deaths than heroin.

Courtesy of Rehabs.com

Combined, psychiatric medications account for just shy of 50% more deaths than heroin.

The incentive for insurance companies are there, as well. Many studies have shown the trend of over-prescribing medications has grown with increasing medical costs. Medical costs that they are looked to cover. Lower medical costs can lead to savings on premiums for them in the long run.

The mentally ill aren't all a bunch of people that hear voices. They're not pariah's. They're your brother, friend, mother, neighbor, cousin or co-worker. And by making some changes to the way we treat the term and process of mental health, we can make it a much more comfortable experience for everyone going forward.

Weekly Randoms - 4/10/17 - 4/16/17

- United Airlines deserves everything that it has coming to them after the way they treated that passenger. That was horrendous. To view your customers as nothing more than just numbers is a nice way to lose your customer base in droves.

- Nothing in that man's past, criminal or not, has any justification in how he was treated by law enforcement in a moment when no authority had prior knowledge about his past any more than so many unarmed black man's criminal histories are dug up when they're killed by an officer.

- And speaking of the United Airlines debacle, the way the police handled that situation is something we've seen far too often: suspicions of possible use of excessive force.

- Rest in peace to the innocent souls lost this week to more gun deaths: 2 from the San Bernadino school shooting and the roughly 180 total gun deaths nationwide this week alone, as per http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/last-72-hours

- Let's not pretend that these latest reports of Bill O'Reilly's sexual harassment and its subsequent $13 million settlement are the reasons for the mass exodus of advertisers. He's settled before and has a history of misogynistic, violating behavior. The advertisement outrage came from potential bad p.r., not any kind of moral awakening.

- Though the downward spiral into irrelevance couldn't have happened to a better guy. Maybe he should just pick himself up by his boot straps.


- President Trump has now decided to attack two separate countries in the span of two weeks. After firing 59 missiles into Syria, we have now dropped a bomb into Afghanistan that has never been used before, because, well, you know.. we used to give a damn about civilian casualties.

- Never has there ever been a U.S. President impeached during wartime. We see you, Don. You're not fooling anyone.

- The politicians and everyone else complicit in purposely poisoining over a 100,000 residents in Flint, Michigan during this water crisis should be forced to drink that same toxic water. All day. For the rest of their imprisoned lives. Hell, I'd even pay to watch those bastards struggle to choke that shit down on pay-per-view and have all the proceeds go towards the poor families' astronomical medical bills.

- These Yankees may not be any good this year, but I'm more stoked for this season than in at least the last 4 or 5 years because of their youth infusion.

- Come back, sleep. I miss you. We can talk this out.

Why What New York Just Did Is So Important

Throwing NYC a Lifeline

Each month, the average student loan holder experience is the same: each payment is made with a mix of anger and a certain sense of hopelessness at the massive amounts still owed. We as a country have done a hell of a job digging ourselves into debtor purgatory. $1.3 trillion in national student loan debt hell, to be exact. About a billion dollars of that are from defaulted loans. Loans from those that are drowning in their finances.

And even after earning those degrees, how many of us know someone that is working in a job completely unrelated to their field from failed job search after failed job search? That could be many of us reading this right now.

So you make your monthly payments. You get pissed off. You watch your money leave your account. And you wonder to yourself "was going to college even really worth it?!"

As it turns out, there's a study for that. Current Issues in Economics and Finance in 2014 found that even though students are paying more than ever for college, average wages were 15% higher for Associates and Bachelors degree holders than for those with a high school diploma. That while wages decreased across the board from 2001 - 2013 (it will never not hurt my brain to read that), high school graduates experienced more drastic wage dips. And this study juxtaposes full time employees only, with that gap almost certainly to be larger if taking into consideration part time work; as the job pool shrinks and employers' leverage for cheaper compensation goes up.

Ok, so, back to square one. You're screwed if you go to college and collect mounds of debt. And you're even more screwed if you don't. Great. What gives!?

Profiteers off such a backwards system, other than the numerous privately contracted companies hired by the federal government to handle the student loan industry, is the federal government themselves. They alone have collected $66 billion dollars off interest from loans they issued out. And the new Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, put in place in part to address the student loan issue, stands to profit off the current broken system: she owns a management firm, RDV Corp., that has financial ties to a debt collection agency hired by the Education Department. Because of course she does.

Even when the financial crisis hit in 2008 and banks ceased lending for many for a while there, student loans were still being given out at risky levels. Anything too easy to get should be questioned. Always. In every aspect of life.

Closer to home, it continues to get more and more expensive to live in NYC. The rent's go up. The property taxes go up. The cost of living is constantly going up. The tuition's go up. But the wages, on average, continue to stagnate. New York state alone saw their total student loan debt double in the last ten years and the median NY student debt holder amount higher than that of the national average. With more debt there's less money to put into the local economy. With more debt there's less opportunities for frivolous purchases. Less money for a home, an apartment, a car. For every new condo complex being built, every middle class or poorer family sees less of an opportunity in NYC to make a living. That's why it behooved New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to announce what he did on April 7, 2017.

"With a college education now a necessity to succeed in today's economy, I am proud to sign this first-in-the-nation legislation that will make college accessible", said Governor Cuomo. This will be available to any family that makes less than $100,000 a year. In two years, the threshold will stretch to any family making less than $125,000 a year. The legislation is for all CUNY and SUNY schools for up to four year programs.

With this bill, one can hope that no longer will someone's decision to pursue an undergrad degree be squashed purely by a fear of living in perpetual student loan debt. This bill should also open up opportunities for those interested in pursuing graduate level degrees, as they may be afforded the opportunity to accrue a savings that will now not be needed to be put towards once hampering undergrad loans.

Millennial's have huge spending power and for years have been crippled by these student loan debts. Starting this fall tuition under the threshold will be covered, leaving the opportunity for big cash flows into New York's economy. And that benefits all. The cynic in me sees this as Governor Cuomo's chance to put forth a legacy he can refer back to while pursuing a more prestigious political seat. But in a political climate where there's misery and gloom at every turn, I'll take a win any way I can.

Multi-Millionaire Hands in Your Pockets

Welfare Kings

Have you ever looked at your check? I mean really looked at it. Take a look at your gross pay, then drag your eyes over to your net pay, and wonder 'where the hell is all my money going'?!

Me too. For at least one destination, let's trace the money steps.

A recent Gallup poll suggests that approximately 59% of all Americans self-identify as sports fans. And why not; they're fun, a reason of gathering for millions of people each year and trigger that inner competitive spirit in so many of us. Not to mention they make it that much more socially acceptable to yell at the t.v. than most plot twists on Game of Thrones (outside of the Red Wedding, that was BANANAS). Despite only a little over half of us being sports fans, all 100% of taxpayers fund, funded and will continue to fund most of the country's NFL, MLB and NBA complexes.

Citi Field - Courtesy USA Today

Citi Field - Courtesy USA Today

In 2006, deals for the financing of Yankee Stadium and Citi Field were agreed upon. A few years later, the Barclays Center followed. The financial terms of these specific complexes are particularly insidious and exploitative to the public.

The Barclays Center received $122 million in federal bonds. Citi Field received $185 million in federal bonds. And Yankee Stadium received a crazy $431 million in federal bonds, by far the most federal funding of any U.S. major sports complex. That money has to come from somewhere. And that somewhere is all of us. The country as a whole is on the hook for that $738 million.

That's enough to cover what the White House wants to cut for funding of pre-disaster money for mass disasters like Katrina or Hurricane Sandy, affordable housing units, and counter-terrorism combined.

To dig deeper, Barclays Center will collect $183 million of New Yorker money in city and state taxes. Citi Field? They will collect $234 million of your city and state taxes. And Yankee Stadium, you ask. They've got their hands in your pockets for the amount of $528 million of your city and state taxes.

Yankee Stadium - Courtesy USA Today

Yankee Stadium - Courtesy USA Today

This money comes straight out of your paycheck from the line labeled NY State Income Tax. When taking into consideration New York State's population and the historical inflation adjusted median household income for New York (1) (try saying that 3 times fast), the average New Yorker paid $1,596 in NY income tax in 2006. After the three aforementioned sports complexes were firmly established on New York State's books, the average New Yorker paid $2,383 in 2015.

All of this while experiencing a $945 DECREASE in median NY inflation adjusted household income during those years. On average, we made $945 less in 2015 than we did nine years earlier.

That's $1,772 less a year you have to spend on groceries. To spend on your wife, husband, girlfriend or boyfriend. $1,772 you could've spent on a really nice family vacation. To buy pampers or formula for your baby. More than enough to buy monthly MTA cards for the entire year.

Instead it's being funneled to help pay for sport complexes their owners could have more than afforded to pay for themselves. Let me just say this for the record: I don't ever want to hear another person queue up the tired 'welfare queen' narrative ever again.

Barclays Center - Courtesy USA Today

Barclays Center - Courtesy USA Today

And New York isn't the only state that's gotten played like this, just one of the more recent. An interesting study done in 2007 (2) suggests something called group identity theory. In this theory, the fan sees himself as not just a consumer, but a member of the organization. Some of us fans, we go hard. So when the owners want a new stadium and it's not precisely on their terms that saves them as much money as possible while costing the generic, significantly less wealthy, fan more, it's more or less a 2 step process. The owner threatens to move the team outside the city. The fans freak, the politicians cave, and they cost the taxpayers millions in the process. Happens just about every time. Wash, rinse and repeat. And when the owner, or their spokesperson is asked why the taxpayers should take on such astronomical costs, the default response is that the new stadium would generate heaps of jobs and money for the local economy. That, many times over, and as detailed in a 2015 Stanford study, (3) has been proven false. Publicly funded stadiums, arenas or complexes almost always cost the taxpayers more money than the new revenues generated.

To tie this all up into one hell of an expensive knot, keep in mind the next time you glance at the breakdown of your paystubs where everything goes. Take a look at the amounts automatically deducted for your federal and state income tax, and just know that you're doing your philanthropic part to help fund sport complexes for decades to come for struggling majority owners worth a combined $2 billion. With a capital B.

1. http://www.deptofnumbers.com/income/new-york/new-york/

2. http://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/abs/10.1123/jsm.21.3.319

3. http://news.stanford.edu/pr/2015/pr-stadium-economics-noll-073015.html

Social Media and our Youngins

The Positives and Anxieties of Parenting in this Internet and Social Media Consumed Society

I feel fortunate to have grown up in a time frame where as kids we played outside all the time. I mean ALL the time. To the point when we were younger that you knew Manhunt was over when your mom yelled your name throughout the neighborhood to get inside. Or, if you were feeling particularly froggy and chose to ignore those calls to get that last round or two or five in, you were re-introduced to the wooden spoon. Or the belt. Or the throwing of random shoes. Let’s just say there’s no excuse for reflexes this bad after a childhood of regularly making it a point of pissing off my parents and subsequently needing to dodge flying objects.

Even with all that outdoor goodness, my age group grew up during the dot-com boom. I was about 11 when the internet craze started to hit, 13 when we had our first computer. And while there was AOL messenger and some chat groups (some seedier than others), it didn’t consume my or most of my friend’s lives. It was just a thing to do to kill time in between pick-up football or basketball games. Yet because we were introduced to computers in our teenage years, most of our generation are now tech savvy enough to know our way around a computer, which has helped to set us up for the future as things become more and more digitized.

As with all technology, time gives way to new advancements and improvements. The internet has been no different. As AOL, dial-up (lol) and Netscape (double lol) went by the wayside, along came the advent of social media platforms like Myspace, Facebook and Twitter. People, especially younger people, were now more connected yet more detached to more people than ever before. As a father of two, this has some benefits but also some potentially terrifying consequences.

Pro: The real world can sometimes be a shitty, cruel place. Being able to escape it with a crap ton of cat video's and whatever else online can be good for your mental if done in small doses.

Con: When not done in small doses, it can be real easy to get caught up in all things social media. For anyone. And more time spent behind a screen and less time spent with face to face contact can lead to a whole crap load of kids socially stunted. We all know that person. That one that can text back and forth all day, but can't even put a couple sentences together when you see them In person. Or they can't keep consistent eye contact because they're too busy constantly glancing down at their phones. That can not only affect friendships, but relationships, prospective job or promotion opportunities, etc. We're all different degrees of that mess today, now imagine that multiplied by the upcoming generations younger introduction to all things social media related.

Pro: Getting a head start on the latest electronic technology can help our little one's prepare for the future in the way the dot-com boom helped those born during my time frame. As was stated earlier, our society is becoming more and more computer-dependent. Having your mini-me typing 40 words a minute by 8 or 9 may not be such a bad thing when they'll probably need that skill for almost all aspects of life going forward.

Con: And for kids and young adults online that often that can be highly impressionable, that could mean living and dying by each Facebook or Instagram 'like' or comment. This has played a part in a spike in teen depression. An increase of over 11% of the national youth population by 2014, an almost 40% rise in the last 3 years alone; recorded by the federal SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). And that doesn't account the scores more that go unreported. Depression and impulsivity is a dangerous mix.

Pro: Which is why it is encouraging to see stats showing that teen use of most drugs has declined, or at the very least plateaued, over the last few years. Researchers studying that data attribute this trend from the NIH to teens spending more time online and less time experimenting with drugs.

Con: However, tragically, suicide and suicide attempts among youth are rising, as well. More than 13 youth a day (ages 15-24) now take their own lives, as per the CDC. A heart-breaking more than one 10-14 year old a day now will take their own life. A complete lack of privacy and higher possibilities of public shame or bullying through social media plays a (large?) part in this. What used to be a few of the neighborhood kids knowing that one ridiculously stupid or regrettable thing you did, is now captured and viral for the entire school to see within hours. Getting passed that becomes that much harder when everyone knows. Escaping this can be a hellish nightmare for some kids, one that is increasingly seeing suicide as the only way out.

Pro: To escape, some adolescents and teenagers can turn to online to serve as a bit of a safe haven. If you don’t fit in with the cliques in your school or neighborhood, being that age could be a lonely and frustrating time. Having access to like-minded kids from outside your town can help any possibly lost kids feel a sense of belonging and could very well be the thing that saves them from some incredibly terrifying alternatives.

So in summary, keep your kids in bubble wrap and only let them only experience the good parts of the internet, right?! Look, I don't know what I'm doing parenting. I'm just making it up as I go and hope each day I'm not permanently screwing them up for the future. What everyone does or how they raise their children is ultimately up to them. I just know that some of these stats are pretty damn sobering to me. They serve as a stark reminder for me to always try to be as aware as possible just as much about what they're doing outside the home as what they're doing online.

Don't Do The Thing

Focusing on What's Most Damaging to Us All and Working Our Way Down with this White House

It's easy to see or hear about this President's daily embarrassments and get so overwhelmed that you shut everything out. After all, all that negativity every day isn't fun or healthy for anyone. Nobody wants to be that guy, miserable all the time, yelling at the clouds shaking a clenched fist.

It's also real easy to be caught up in the ongoing media ratings monster storyline of the Trump/Russia involvement. It could be corruption, it could be collusion, it could be blackmail or something else. But even if you think they'll be a fair and unbiased investigation into it all (lol?), it likely won't start really unfolding for at least several months from now. In the meantime, this administration is attempting and doing some real insidious and damaging things to this country.

Let's briefly break down what's come to the light in the last few days and why it may piss you off.

In terms of the proposed 2018 White House financial budget:

Slashing $9 billion from education and pre and after-school spending.

Slashing funding to the nation's medical research agency that does major cancer research and provides training to our nurses and other medical professionals - the Institutes of Health - by $5.8 billion, 20% of it's entire budget.

Cutting financial aid for college tuition. 

Completely eliminating the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program - which helps heat the homes of the poorer in the winter.

Completely eliminating the Community Development Block Grant Program - which helps fund projects related to affordable housing, Meals on Wheels, community development and homelessness programs.

Stripping $2.6 billion from the agency charged with keeping our environment from being further destroyed and researching climate change - the EPA.

And where does this money get redistributed:

Over $4 billion will go to help building that wall we were all told Mexico would pay for, as well as hire over 1,500 new border and Immigration and Customs Agents.

Also, a ridiculous $54 billion MORE in defense spending for the country that spends at least as much on defense spending than the next 6 nations COMBINED.

In terms of the new TrumpCare Healthcare Bill Proposal in the next 10 years:

Hands $145 billion more to the health insurance companies.

Hands $25 billion more to the drug companies.

Hands $20 billion more to the medical device companies.

Those people earning $200,000 a year or more stand to save approximately $346 billion in tax cuts.

Allowing and incentivizing health insurers to give their top executives raises and use it as tax deductions. (How is that even legal?!)

All the while: 

A whopping 18 million people would not be insured next year under this proposed health care plan as opposed to the current Affordable Healthcare Act.

$880 billion will be cut from Medicaid - seeing expected losses of insurance by some 14 million Americans.

An absurd amount of 26 million less people would be insured by 2026.

Insured individuals will see their premiums jump by 15%-25% for most, and as much as 700% for the oldest and poorest Americans.

So to recap:

Funding for your kids schooling is getting slashed. That wonderful after school program they attend so that you can still work to pay the bills and not worry how to pay for watching your kids? Slashed. Those tens of millions that depend on a program that gives them a warm meal a day, gives them a little something to help makes ends meet with their heat or provides funding for our homeless shelters? Left to fend for themselves. Funding to help clean our environment and keep it as healthy a place as possible to live in and research the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change? Unimportant. Just a Chinese hoax. And that'll all suck just that much more when tens of millions won't have that Medicaid to find out why they're sick. And even for those that can afford health insurance in the future, you better hope you're making damn good money or it might just be too expensive to invest in.

And howcome?

To help stuff the pockets of private defense contractors. To watch our already bloated defense spending budget balloon and our administration instigate war each and every day to justify its absurdity. To hire more ICE agents to break up and indiscriminately deport immigrant families. To give his well to do buddies more and more tax breaks so that the rich get richer.

Is any of this a surprise? Of course not. What else should we expect from a career con-man? 

Here's the point and how we help to start righting the wrong: we focus on the details and don't get distracted by the shiny things. The tweets, the attacks, they're all meant to be diversions from screwing everyone over and fattening his and his buddies pockets. Stay the course. I know it's mentally exhausting at times. But stay educated and understand that collectively, our voices of dissent hold more weight than you might realize.