Meaning: Why We Crave It, How We Create It

The Little Book on Meaning: Why We Crave It, How We Create It
by Laura Berman Fortgang

As a prominent self-help author and a pioneer in the field of life coaching, Laura Berman Fortgang has spent decades helping people figure out what they want to do with their lives. And so it was a bit of a surprise when a theme she heard repeatedly from her clients emerged in her own thinking and would not be dismissed: her work didn’t feel as “meaningful” to her as it once had. It was one of those big realizations one has from time to time. The funny thing was, though, that it turned out the solution(s) to her problem were actually quite small . . .

In The Little Book on Meaning, Fortgang reveals that while our hunger for a “meaningful” life can be enormous, our desire for meaning is usually satiated by small, bite-size morsels of meaning — the little, almost incidental events or achievements that make up the fabric of our lives. According to Fortgang, meaning is where you look for it, and through tenderly drawn stories from her own life and the lives of those around her, she shows readers how they too can peek around corners to discover the small elements of their lives that truly matter. Where are some of the easiest places to look? Laura takes readers through five other M words beyond the godfather of them all — Meaning — that will serve as markers on the path:

  • Mystery: Many of us are so busy looking for answers that we fail to consider the questions.
  • Minister: Caring for others can be the best thing we can do for ourselves.
  • Magnificence: If we will just open our eyes — and truly look — beauty and purpose are everywhere!
  • Mind: Tangled up in our thoughts, we fail to experience the moment.
  • Mystic: When we learn to see the world through the eyes of a mystic, suddenly everything holds meaning.

The Little Book on Meaning is an invaluable guide and companion for anyone seeking greater meaning and purpose in their life.

meaning,purpose,psychology,goals,personal growth

Raising Awareness vs. Promoting and Normalizing Pathology

Newsweek recently published an article titled Out of the Shadows regarding the proliferation of so-called “pro-ana” web sites:

A Web page labeled “Ana Boot Camp” recently offered its members a seemingly irresistible proposition: a 30-day regimen designed to help them drop some serious pounds, no exercise needed. The catch was that the group’s members were to vary their daily caloric intake from 500 (less than half the daily minimum requirement for women recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine) to zero. They were supposed to track their progress, fast to make up for the days they accidentally “overate” and support each other as they worked toward their common goal of radical weight loss.

Pro-anorexia, or “pro-ana,” Web sites (with more than one using the “Ana Boot Camp” name) have for years been a controversial Internet fixture, with users sharing extreme diet tips and posting pictures of emaciated girls under headlines such as “thinspiration.” But what was unusual about the site mentioned above (which is no longer available) was where it was hosted: the ubiquitous social networking site The (largely female) users who frequent pro-ana sites have typically done so anonymously, posting under pseudonyms and using pictures of fashion models to represent themselves. Now, as the groups increasingly launch pages on Facebook, linking users’ real-life profiles to their eating disorders, the heated conversation around anorexia has become more public. Many pro-ana Facebookers say the groups provide an invaluable support system to help them cope with their disease, but psychologists worry that the growth of such groups could encourage eating disorders in others.

More recently, I came across an article by John Grohol in which he seems to argue that there is a positive side to such groups:

These groups are a little disturbing, especially as you read through the postings. But no more so than the dozens of self-harm sites online, or the sites devoted to helping people be more successful in suicide. Or a dozen other topics that if you learned you could join a group that was “pro” that, you’d be saying to yourself, “Really? Wow.”

That is, after all, the nature of the Internet. It allows for people with very diverse wants and needs to find one another and hook up with one another far more easily than has ever been possible previously in human culture. The fact that some of these wants and needs are outside of the mainstream norm is not at all surprising.

So what does all of this do for people? Isn’t allowing people to discuss their pro-ana needs just plain harmful and potentially dangerous? Not necessarily:

Marcia Herrin, a Dartmouth professor who has written several books on eating disorders, finds the public nature of the discussions of anorexia on Facebook encouraging, because it shows that teens are less afraid of confronting eating disorders.

The more “out in the open” these kinds of concerns become, the more society learns and can answer the kinds of information (or mis-information) they promote. If more teens feel comfortable talking about eating disorders, then perhaps more will also feel comfortable asking for help when they notice themselves or a close friend who might be going down that road. And while in an ideal world, we’d prefer a teen or child not have to go down that road to learn for themselves, sometimes experience is the only teacher that can make a difference.

I think Grohol is confusing two very different things here.

I would argue that the answer to Grohol’s question, “Isn’t allowing people to discuss their pro-ana needs just plain harmful and potentially dangerous?”, is an emphatic “Yes!”.

There is an enormous difference hetween raising awareness about anorexia and other eating disorders and pro-ana sites, just as there is between raising awareness about suicide and pro-suicide sites.

Raising awareness draws attention to, and potentially political and financial support for research into causes and treatment of, the disorder.

Pro-ana sites not only strive to normalize the behavior but encourage their members to ignore the risks in the pursuit of extreme “thinness”, aka “thinspiration”. How is this any different from the typical antipsychiatry site that promotes the view that illnesses such as schizophrenia do not exist beyond social rejection of the symptoms that characterize the illness?

For those caught up in (or formerly caught up in) the internet pro-ana scene, I would recommend having a look at We Bite Back, a forum community for support in recovery from this sinister online virtual cult world:

This is the site that comes after the madness. Before we came along, there was no place for people to go who found support on pro-ana forums, communities and email lists who didn’t want to do the ana thing anymore. Welcome to the first web site designed specifically for post-pro-anorexics.

We represent a worldwide virtual network of people proactively seeking recovery and happiness with the same dedication that proanas apply to seeking lower goal weights.

pro-ana sites, anorexia, bulimia, recovery, awareness, pathology, normalization

A bad idea. And illegal.

Here in Ottawa, we’ve had an ongoing debate about the rationale for giving free crack pipes to crack addicts, a program that costs several hundred thousand dollars a year when the city doesn’t have the funds to build a badly needed drug treatment facility. Now it turns out these programs are in violation of a contractual agreement signed by the Government of Canada:

UN agency lashes Canada over crack-pipe programs
Thursday, March 6, 2008
CBC News

The United Nations has denounced programs in three Canadian cities that provide safe crack pipes to drug addicts with the aim of curbing disease.

The crack pipe programs in Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto violate a worldwide anti-drug convention signed by Canada in 1988, the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board says in its annual report, released Wednesday.

“The board calls upon the government of Canada to end programs such as the supply of ‘safer crack kits,’ including the mouthpiece and screen components of pipes for smoking crack,” the control board’s report says. Government-funded safe-injection sites, too, violate the UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs, the board says.

Ottawa cut its municipal funding for the city’s crack-pipe program in July — with critics like Mayor Larry O’Brien and police Chief Vern White saying the money could be better spent on addiction treatment — but the Ontario government stepped in in December to fund the community groups that distribute pipe parts to drug users.

The Ontario Health Ministry said the UN drug agency’s report contradicts the findings of another UN organization.  “The evidence shows — and this is evidence that’s supported by the World Health Organization — … that you really can prevent the spread of infectious diseases through safe inhalation or safe injection sites,” said Laurel Ostfield, a spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman.

The Ottawa community centre that runs the city’s safe-pipe program said the UN drug agency doesn’t understand the purpose of the initiative. “This is a health issue. It’s about stopping the spread of HIV and hep C,” Jack McCarthy, director of the Somerset West Community Health Centre, said. “That’s why the province funded our centre.”

No, Mr. McCarthy. If you really want to intervene to limit the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C in drug addicts, intervene at the foundation of the problem: drug addiction in this case. The money being used to fund this program would be far more effectively used to provide addictions treatment, especially in a province that now often has to send its young people to the U.S. for treatment.


Ottawa’s needle-exchange policy too dangerous, shelter says 
Thursday, March 13, 2008
CBC News

One of Ottawa’s main homeless shelters has abandoned the city’s policy of handing out clean needles to addicts even if they don’t have a dirty one to turn in for safe disposal, saying used needles are littering parks and streets and create a danger for the public.

The Shepherds of Good Hope’s new policy is to provide clean needles only to people who turn in dirty ones.

Prompted by Byward Market-area residents who collected more than 1,000 discarded needles, the Shepherds conducted an audit of its program over a 25-day period.

“We gave out just under 2,000 needles, and less than 500 came back. There was so many more going out than coming in,” said Yvonne Garvey, a spokeswoman for the shelter.

Market residents Chris and Lisa Grinham were concerned about the safety of their children when they set out to collect discarded needles in their area. They collected more than 1,000 in a six-week period.

“Because we have such distribution, and because there is such availability of this stuff, now they [addicts] are shooting up and dropping them where they are shooting up,” said Chris Grinham.

The Shepherds of Good Hope is one of 13 agencies distributing clean needles in a program designed to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, and not all of them agree with the change made by the Shepherds of Good Hope.

Rob Boyd, who runs the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, makes no apology for operating what is essentially a needle-distribution program.

“There was mounting evidence that we weren’t getting enough needle coverage throughout the city, and therefore we adopted a distribution model as opposed to an exchange model,” Boyd told CBC News on Wednesday.

The Grinhams and Shepherds of Good Hope fear that approach means addicts have no incentive to dispose of needles properly.

Indeed. Again, why are we focusing on enabling addiction rather than on providing treatment facilities?

addiction, crack pipe programs, treatment, United Nations agreement

Royal College of Psychiatrists gets it wrong again

Royal College of Psychiatrists Disappointed At Government’s Failure To Recognize People’s Capacity To Make Decisions For Themselves

(04 Jul 2007) The Royal College of Psychiatrists is deeply disappointed that government has failed to recognize that most people who suffer from mental illnesses are perfectly capable of making decisions for themselves, and present no threat to anyone. Yet, under the mental health bill, they will still have their choice of treatment overruled.

Nonetheless, the College welcomes a number of significant amendments that were made during the Bill’s passage through the House of Commons, including:

  • no patients can now be detained in hospital for a purpose other than to improve, or prevent, a deterioration in their health;
  • all detained patients will have access to an advocate
  • children will be treated in services which are appropriate to their age.

We welcome these amendments and others which are also beneficial to the care and treatment of mental health patients.

It is essential that sufficient resources are now provided for mental health services to ensure that the legislative changes can be made to work properly.

The College looks forward to continuing to work with Mental Health Alliance to ensure that the Code of Practice guides clinicians and others as to best practice.

“The College has worked very hard to try to ensure that the Mental Health Act 2007 respects the human rights of our patients, with the intention of benefiting their health and protecting them from causing any harm whilst unwell,” said Professor Sheila Hollins, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

“I am pleased with the fact that most of our advice has been heeded, although I remain concerned that so much of the detail has been left to the Code of Practice. The College is proud of its continuing membership of the Mental Health Alliance, an Alliance of 75 member organizations that remained united in representing the needs of people with mental illness and other mental disorders throughout the passage of this Act.”

“Although important and valuable changes have been made to the Bill as it passed through parliament, it is clear we ill have to wait for the next mental health act to see adequate and humane safeguards for both patients and the public,” said Dr Tony Zigmond, vice-president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

We’ve discussed the obstructionist and protectionist actions of the Royal College of Psychiatrists previously. First, the legislation does NOT make it easier to hospitalize people who “are perfectly capable of making decisions for themselves, and present no threat to anyone”. That is absolute balderdash. What the legislation does is extend the number of professions who are legally able to make decisions and recommendations about involuntary treatment in cases of imminent risk or incompetence. And THAT is what the Royal College of Psychiatrists is really opposing – because it will encroach on their historical sole authority in this realm.

Second, the legislation, as the College itself notes, includes provisions to prevent abuse of involuntary treatment. How does this do anything except (1) improve the quality of life for those mentally ill individuals who lack the insight to make informed decisions themselves, and (2) reduce the risk (cf. Kendra’s Law) to other people of untreated mental illness?

Kendra’s Law, mandated treament, mental illness, politics of medicine, Kendra’s Law

Bad logic, bad science, and sensationalism

This is the kind of news release that angers me.

Brian Quinn, LCSW, PhD., Author Of A New Book On Bipolar Disorder, Discusses The Risks Of Antidepressants In Angry, Agitated Teens

It’s ill-conceived, illogical, and dangerous. It starts with the statement that “Dr. Quinn’s new book reviews the most up-to-date research on the use of antidepressants in bipolar disorder” and then proceeds to demonstrate that the author has little grasp of the most basic principles of logic, let alone the principles of research.  His statements are based neither in research nor in logic. They are self-serving and misleading. I get that he wants to sell his new book. I also get that using sensationalism and duplicity as a means to increase sales is perfectly acceptable to him. And that, in my view, is reprehensible.

“Eric Harris, one of the shooters at Columbine, was on an antidepressant when he and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and then themselves. Jeff Weise, who killed nine people and then himself in Red Lake, Minnesota, was also on an antidepressant, and Kip Kinkel was on an antidepressant when he fatally shot his parents, two students and wounded dozens at a high school in Springfield, Oregon.”

Okay. And so? This tells us what? This is selective bigotry and stigmatization of mental illness at its very worst. “One of the shooters” at Columbine was on an antidepressant? And the implication is that caused him to kill people? What about the other shooter? What caused him to kill people? What about all the other historical and emotional characteristics of Eric Harris? Were those factors unrelated to the shootings? What about all of the other people who commit crimes, including mass or serial murder, every year who are not on any medication at all? What about the millions of people world-wide who are on antidepressants and other medications who will live their whole lives without ever killing anyone?

“Antidepressants have been linked to worsening hostility, suicidal behavior and psychosis in depressed children and teens and some people with bipolar disorder. While no one can say that antidepressants caused Harris, Weise, and Kinkel to commit mass murder, all these cases raise the question of who should be given antidepressants and who should not.”

No. This is false. Antidepressants have not been linked to hostility, suicidal behavior, or psychosis in children, teens, or anyone else, except by anecdotal evidence which is increasingly being exposed as hysteria. However, it is the case that hostility, suicidal behavior, and sometimes psychosis are among the symptoms of the illnesses and conditions that various classes of psychotropic medications, including antidepressants, are used to treat.

“‘These drugs tend to be handed out routinely to anyone with symptoms of depression and without a great deal of thought given to accurate diagnosis or the risks involved in using them, especially in young people with agitated depression,’ said Brian Quinn, LCSW, PhD., author of a new book, Wiley Concise Guides to Mental Health: Bipolar Disorder (John Wiley & Sons, 2007). ‘We don’t know what the diagnoses of these kids were, but we do know that they all had angry, agitated depressions — an indication they may have had bipolar disorder or could respond to antidepressants with a worsening of their symptoms. Caution should have dictated that they not be given antidepressants initially.'”

What absolute balderdash. These drugs are certainly NOT “handed out routinely to anyone with symptoms of depression and without a great deal of thought given to accurate diagnosis or the risks involved in using them”. The author is a social worker. He does not and cannot prescribe medications. What evidence is presented to back up the claim that physicians are ignoring diagnostic considerations in prescribing these medications?

“‘Psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers frequently misdiagnose those in the depressed phase of bipolar illness as having simple depression. This often results in them mistakenly being given antidepressants alone,” Quinn said.”

Okay. So people with bipolar disorder are often initially misdiagnosed with depression. Why is that, Mr. Quinn? I can tell you that it’s not a result of incompetence and it’s not a result of antidepressant medication. It’s a result of the nature of bipolar disorder – a fact you should understand as a self-styled expert on the subject. The majority of bipolar patients first present with depression, not hypomania, and the only way currently to accurately diagnose bipolar disorder is on the basis of longitudinal evidence showing recurrent cycles of depression coupled with evidence of at least one hypomanic or manic episode, evidence which is frequently not available when a patient is first being seen by a mental health professional. Given that, physicians do what they should be doing, viz., treating the symptoms of depression. That doesn’t mean that the possibility of bipolar disorder is ruled out. It simply means that physicians, like other men of science, follow the principle of Occam’s Razor: The simplest explanation is often the correct one and one does not proceed to a more complex explanation (diagnosis) of medical-psychiatric symptoms without first eliminating the simpler explanations (diagnoses).

This is the Dr. Phil phenomenon – the confusion of entertainment and marketing with science and professional practice. It is blatantly anti-science and anti-logic. And it worries me because of the potential damage it does to vulnerable people who need help and may be denied it if sensationalist propaganda such as this is believed.

We’re already seeing evidence of rising suicide rates among adolescents and children as a result of the fundamentally unfounded restrictions on the use of antidepressant medications among these age groups. We don’t need more biased sensationalism to make the situation worse.

antidepressants, bad logic, bad research, bad science, bipolar disorder, depression, sensationalism

Petition for children’s mental health

Petition for Children’s Mental Health: Send a message to the Ontario provincial government
by Jennifer Forbes
Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The opportunity to demonstrate your support for 1 in 5 children and youth who are troubled by mental health issues, is still open. Life long mental health difficulties so often start in our young. With your help, our efforts to bring this issue the attention it needs can be achieved.

By May 13th, the end of Children’s Mental Health Week, we aim to have 5000 names on our petition.

So far we are almost 20% along and look for your help in moving this number up.

This petition will not only be sent to the heads of our provincial parties, we can use the strength of its numbers to bolster our messaging in upcoming meetings and other advocacy efforts.

If you have not already signed the petition, you still have time.

Thank you
Consumers and Advocates Committee of the Provincial Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Heath
Parents for Children’s Mental Health
Youth Net

children, parenting, mental health, Ontario, Canada