Thursday, 31 January 2013

Real Fiscal Responsibility

Once more we are seeing cuts to services for mental health problems in our province.  This time the cuts have been kept under wraps by the Ministry of Child & Family Development [MCFD].  A directive went out late last year for local managers to cut “full-time equivalency” by 8%.  What this means is that as positions come vacant within MCFD, managers are not to hire new staff until staffing levels across BC are reduced by 8%.

What this also means is that Social Workers - who already have case loads ridiculously high - will now be expected to take on more cases and services to families in crisis will suffer.

The evidence of how this is shaking down can be found in my own hometown of Summerland.  As of January 1st, 2013, the local MCFD office no longer performs intake for children and families in need, nor will they respond to crisis or child or spousal abuse reports.  Children and families who are in crisis must apply for services in the nearby town of Penticton.

Penticton is only a 15 minute drive away, but if a family in crisis doesn’t have a vehicle or can’t convince someone to drive them, they are out of luck – there is no rapid transit between the towns and Greyhound - the only commercial transportation available - just drastically cut their services in the region.

Centralizing investigations and intake at MCFD was attempted back in the 90s and failed miserably.  And it’s starting to fail this time already; A local community leader was approached by a child who had tried to get help from MCFD in Penticton and has been passed between five different Social Workers in the past two weeks.  And nothing has been done for this child.

Please don’t get me wrong; This isn’t an indictment of our Social Workers.  They are on our side - They are just as frustrated and heartsick with the ongoing cuts as we are.  As one Social Worker told be recently when I asked how things were going at MCFD; “Chaos.  Utter chaos.”

Both our Federal and Provincial governments have been playing the “fiscal responsibility” card when explaining the cuts to needed services over the past eight years.  To put it bluntly; They are full of crap.

Here are some startling facts about the financial impact of mental health issues, released last year by the Mental Health Commission of Canada;

  • 1 in 5 Canadians have a diagnosable mental health problem
  • Every day, 500,000 people miss work because of mental health problems
  • Mental health problems cost the Canadian economy a staggering $50 billion each year – No, that isn’t a typo: $50 BILLION per year
How does cutting services that can reduce those numbers be called fiscally responsible?

A study by Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMA) estimated that in British Columbia, the current financial cost to taxpayers for services to homeless people with severe addictions and/or mental illness is $55,000 a year per person. In contrast, providing these people with adequate housing and supports costs $37,000 a year per person. This would save taxpayers $211 million dollars a year in direct costs.

Here’s another angle that I can provide;

In my private practice I specialize in anxiety & mood disorders including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder [OCD] among others.  I am surprised at how many of my clients arrive at my office in crisis with OCD and I’m pleased to report that by using a client-specific tailored treatment plan my clients have found relief from their symptoms [without medication] by the second session and are able to manage their disorder within 10 – 12 sessions.

I also offer a greatly reduced rate [$30 per session] to anyone referred through three local non-profit outreach agencies who see low income individuals and families on a daily basis.  I do this because I believe in the Civic Humanist ethical tenet that if one makes a living within a society, one must give back to that society.

I also am willing to do home sessions in some cases.

With that in mind, I’d be willing to offer the same to children, youth, and families in crisis referred by MCFD.

So let’s do THAT math; If an individual was referred to me by MCFD who was struggling with debilitating OCD [as an example] and I worked with them for 12 sessions to relieve their symptoms and they were then able to manage their disorder and return to normal functioning within the workforce, it would cost MCFD a whopping $360.00.

And I'm pretty sure I could convince many of my colleagues with the Canadian Professional Counsellors Association to do the same.

So if MCFD and other government agencies across Canada chose to stop making excuses for the cuts to their budgets and take advantage of effective mental health professionals offering some real solutions, we could make some solid headway in reducing that $50 billion annual loss.

And that, my friends, would be true fiscal responsibility.

Aaron D. McClelland, RPC –

Sunday, 13 January 2013

When The Boss Is A Psychopath

A colleague who works in an administrative position within a mental health agency, recently told me about a crushing defeat she’d suffered while pursuing a dream some years ago.

She’d always wanted to work in the creative side of advertising and had been told by a number of industry peers that she had true talent for the job and was urged to apply for a position with a large advertising firm.  My colleague was thrilled when she got the job, and was put into the print media department under a manager who was praised for the results his team produced.  She truly thought she’d landed her dream job and would be mentoring under a seasoned veteran who would teach her the skills she needed to advance in the field.  Little did she know that her dream would soon become a nightmare of bullying, abuse, and intimidation.

“I would go to him [her manager] to ask advice and was told to go figure it out myself or find another job.” she said, “I ended up working 10 - 12 hours a day, not only doing my job, but his as well.”

And when she produced excellent work; “... he would take it from my desk and present it to upper management, claiming it was his.” and when she confronted him on it, he responded with threats to fire her and the intimidation and bullying increased.

“It was a huge blow to my self-esteem.” she confessed, stating she felt at the time that she wasn’t good enough to live up to her manager’s demanding standards, and feeling lost in a corporate world she didn’t understand; No matter how hard she worked, she never got credit for a job well done, while her manager basked in the praise from upper management for producing excellent work.

“You couldn’t win.” I told her, and went on to list some characteristics her manager may have had;

  • Grandiose - believing he was smarter and more talented than anyone else
  • Lack of skills relating to the job while taking credit for the work of others
  • Lack of positive leadership skills
  • “Managing” his staff through threats, bullying, and intimidation
  • Blaming others for his own failings
  • The ability to feign emotions while in the presence of superiors, but being callous otherwise
“EXACTLY!” she exclaimed.

The reason my colleague couldn’t win with that manager was that she was dealing with psychopathy.  In popular vernacular, her manager was a psychopath.

Though there is no sanctioning psychiatric or psychological body for a diagnosis of psychopathy, our criminal justice system uses screening tools to assess for psychopathy.  Dr Robert Hare, the world’s leading authority on psychopathy, created a checklist of signs to identify someone as a psychopath;

Factor 1: Personality "Aggressive narcissism"
  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Conning/manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
  • Callousness; lack of empathy
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
Factor 2: Case history "Socially deviant lifestyle".
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioral control
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Early behavior problems
  • Revocation of conditional release
  • Traits not correlated with either factor
  • Promiscuous sexual behavior
  • Many short-term (marital) relationships
  • Criminal versatility
  • Acquired behavioural sociopathy/sociological conditioning (Item 21: a newly identified trait i.e., a person relying on sociological strategies and tricks to deceive)

When we think of a “psychopath”, we typically think of a violent criminal or serial killer.  Now it can be argued that all serial killers are psychopaths, but not all psychopaths are serial killers.  In fact, through his lifetime of research, Dr. Hare discovered that there is a higher percentage of psychopaths in the corporate world than there are in the criminal justice system, and even co-authored a book about it; Snakes in Suits - When Psychopaths go to Work

Psychopaths play by a different set of rules and they are very good at it.  They spend their time observing human emotions and behaviours and devising ways to use those to their advantage.  They are constantly “sizing up the prey” and many believe that everyone thinks like they do, so they maintain a “get them before they get me” belief system.

I’m sure many of us have experienced what my colleague did; working for a boss who was a psychopath.  Though my colleague was relieved to hear that it was her boss' psychopathy and no fault of her own, her lost dream remains lost.

If you find yourself working for someone who meets the criteria for psychopathy, find another job as fast as you can.  The lesson here is - You can’t win.

Aaron D. McClelland, RPC -