Monday, 31 December 2012

Thank you Lady Gaga!

Reposting, because this is awesome:
Lady Gaga Offers Free Mental Health Counseling to Fans Before Concerts

Lady Gaga sure loves her Little Monsters.
The pop star announced Friday that she would offer free counseling to fans before her Born This Way Ball shows.
In a Facebook post, Gaga, 26, described the concert's BornBrave pre-show as "a fun tailgating experience for monsters to unite," but it will also be a place where they can seek help.
"At the BornBrave Bus you have access to professional private or group chats about mental health, depression, bullying, school & friends," she wrote. "There will also be food and games, DJ White Shadow and Lady Starlight will DJ with host BREEDLOVE to keep the experience fun."
She clarified that the BornBrave Bus will be "a place where mental health + depression are taken seriously w/ no judgement, FREE real help available to all.:
"I feel like most kids don't look for help because they feel embarrassed so mom + I wanted to break the stigmas around 'help' and make it fun," she wrote.
Good for you, Gaga!

Find the original article here

Friday, 28 December 2012

Imposed Morality

Prior to the holiday season, a dear friend was alarmed at something she witnessed while visiting Disneyland.  She had watched the Santa Claus Parade on Disneyland’s Main Street and it was the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” that she found – as she put it – “creepy”.

The part of the lyric that bothered her most was;

“He sees you when you’re sleeping,
He knows when you’re awake.”

You see, my friend is Jewish and has had very minimal exposure to Christmas traditions and songs, so imagining a bearded stranger peeking in the bedroom windows of children was disturbing to her.

Beside being charmed by her fresh perspective, her observations got me thinking about imposed morality; moral behaviour elicited through a promise of reward or threat of punishment, and continual monitoring by a supernatural being …

“He’s making a list and checking it twice,
Going to find out who’s naughty and nice.”

Most religions are enforced through a system of reward and punishment in a post-death judgment ritual, and many offer heaven or hell as the two alternative final destinations.  We must answer for our “sins”.  So, the message is; If you are “good” then you will go to heaven, and if you are “bad” you will go to hell.  Catholic-based religions add the third locale of “Purgatory” where your sins will be stripped away through a painful purification process.

In the Islamic faith system, when men die – especially while killing the enemies of Allah - they will be rewarded with 72 virgin sexual slaves and an eternal erection.  Not sure what the women get, although some Islamic Clerics claim that upwards of 95% of the occupants of hell are women.

But can morality that is derived through threat of punishment and reward truly be moral?  If one believes that he must live by rules of conduct imposed by a powerful and judgmental supernatural being, can he claim true morality?   Or is he just following orders out of fear?

There have been hundreds of studies that clearly demonstrate that punishment does not achieve the purpose it is intended for.  Punishing children for “bad” behaviour can result in two probable outcomes; In the first, the child learns to lie about and conceal their actions in order to avoid punishment; In the second, the child becomes so fearful of punishment that they are paralyzed from taking healthy risks that can aid in their development.

On a societal level, the best indicator that punishment doesn’t work is that if it did, we wouldn’t have prisons – all citizens would have learned “right” and “wrong” in childhood through being punished at home and at school.

There is also the question of how we can define “good” and “bad” behaviour in a universal way.  Most religions have a set of rules that dictate these concepts, yet in real life they are often not so clear-cut.

For example; Lying is a sin.  Yet during the Nazi occupation during WWII, if the Gestapo arrived at your front door to ask; “Are there any Jews living here?”  Would you lie?  Or would you tell them about the Jewish family living in your attic whom you had given protection to?

Even more striking are challenges to the 10 commandments such as; “Honour thy mother and thy father”.  What if that mother or father was abusive to their child?  What if a parent sexually abused their child causing long-term psychological harm?  Is that child still required to “honour” that parent?

Dr. Alice Miller had a lot to say about that in her book; “The Body Never Lies – The Lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting”.

There also is the question of interpreting scripture.  One of the prominent arguments by the Christian right is that gay marriage should not be allowed, this according to book of Leviticus.  Yet most Christians don’t follow the rest of Leviticus’ rules; That men aren’t allowed to shave their beards; That they should never work on the Sabbath; That it is okay to own slaves so long as they come from a foreign country; That having bacon on your cheeseburger is a sin.

Historic scholars understand that the laws laid down by Leviticus were an attempt to strengthen the tribes of Israel by protecting individuals from disease, promoting propagation, and ensuring that members maintained their identities as Jews.

But when we are faced with ancient laws that are no longer applicable in our modern world, who among us gets to choose which are imposed and which are left behind in the annals of history where they belong?  Most religions have appointed clerics or religious leaders - [some self-appointed] - who claim authority to make these decisions; Pastors, Reverends, Priests, Rabbis, Mullahs, and so forth.  Yet even with a mortal religious scholar making moral decisions, it is still expected that the individual should comply with that imposed morality.

As a Humanist, not only is morality an active exploration and learning experience for me, I also ascribe to Eric Ericson’s concept of syntonic and dystonic to describe actions or events and their relationship to people.  If something is syntonic, then it is beneficial to a person [such as lying to the Gestapo].  If it is dystonic, it negatively impacts a person.  To live as a Humanist requires thoughtful consideration of all points of view – it is an active philosophic process that does not rely on following an imposed set of rigid moral rules but rather by following one’s reasoning, knowledge and empathy for self and others.

When I engage in this internal debate, I am often reminded of a statement made in “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck; A preacher, who had become disillusioned by the suffering he saw during the Great Depression, came to the realization that he no longer had answers.  He said that all he really knew was; “Anything living is holy.  Anything that hurts it is a sin.”

Personally, I think that’s a pretty good place to start.

Aaron D. McClelland, RPC –

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

How Deep Would You Dig?

The multiple murders at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newton, Connecticut has sparked a wave of dialogue about solutions to prevent future deaths in schools.  Even the National Rifle Association appears willing to join in the conversation.

I too, have thoughts I would like to share;

From the outset, media reports listed 26 deaths in Newtown.  There were actually 27 - the gunman, Adam Lanza killed himself after murdering his last victim.  I understand the natural outrage and hatred of an individual who could commit such a horrible crime as murdering innocent children and teachers, but let’s not discount his death.

We may never know Lanza’s motives.  He murdered his mother then traveled to Sandy Hook school where his mother volunteered to murder the children she worked with.  Perhaps his plan was to murder his mother while she was at the school but didn’t get the chance.  Perhaps he not only wanted to murder her, but to destroy the school she loved.  That knowledge died with Lanza.

But what I’m not buying into is the random media speculation that it was because he may have fallen somewhere on the Autism Spectrum; or that he played too many violent video games; or the latest: That he worshipped the devil.  All of that is fear-mongering and those members of the media perpetuating it should be ashamed of themselves.

What we can believe is that Adam Lanza had some very serious mental health issues.  Try to imagine what level of distress could cause you to do what Lanza did.  How much emotional pain would you have to experience before you decided to not only kill yourself violently, but also murder a family member and over two dozen others?  I think that the one thing we can believe is that Lanza was in a living hell when he decided the only way out was murder and suicide.

We’ll never know the root cause, but what do we do now?

Here’s what I think;

For the last decade in both Canada and the United States, we have elected parties and individuals who promised lower taxes to promote financial growth.  Not sure if you’ve noticed or not - It isn’t working.  But what it is doing is causing financial support for social programs to be cut to the bone and disenfranchising the most vulnerable members of our society, including children and the mentally ill.

We need to alter our priorities, and yes - it will cost us tax dollars.  Maybe we can offset that by no longer being the self-appointed world police and get out of foreign wars and reducing our military spending.  Yes those countries have some serious problems, and so do we.  How about we put our own house in order first?

I believe that next we have to finally have the conviction to address America’s sacred cow; Gun control DOES reduce gun violence as evidenced by statistics gathered by the United Nations and World Health Organization on homicides by country;
  • United States with little gun control: 1.2 homicides per 100,000
  • Canada with some gun control: 0.76 homicides per 100,000
  • United Kingdom  with strict gun control: 0.04 homicides per 100,000
Next, I call on my fellow mental health professionals to speak in a united voice to dispel the stigma surrounding mental health issues. We need to be vocal and actively seek opportunities to normalize mental health issues in the media. In Canada, one in five people struggle with a diagnosable mental disorder, but fewer than 20% of those seek help.

We need to begin a movement toward including mental health care as part of our universal healthcare system and extended benefit plans.  As one of my clients said; “We spend more on shoes than we do on our mental health.”

We also, as a society, need to be willing to fund preventative programs such as Roots Of Empathy in elementary schools -  It works [ask Dr. Bruce Perry of the Child Trauma Academy], and ironically it was one of the first mental health programs cut in our local elementary schools.

We need to address bullying in a meaningful way - not just in schools, but in the home and in the community.  Our little town is; and it is leading the way in British Columbia by being the first town whose Municipal Council officially supports the movement.

I’m sure there are other wonderful ideas out there that are evidenced-based and I’d love to hear about them.

But for now, the above is my contribution to the dialogue, and I know it won’t be popular amongst the pro-business, anti-taxation crowd.  Yes, these things will cost tax dollars, but can anyone tell me the value of each life lost in Newtown last week?

How deep would you dig into your pocket if you could bring them back?

Aaron D. McClelland, RPC -

Monday, 17 December 2012

In The Wake of Another Tragedy ...

One brave and thoughtful mother has said it far better than I ever could, because - you see - she's living it.

Please read her latest blog post ...

Aaron D. McClelland, RPC -