Degree of Writhing

She was impaled by a person. Along with the act, she was informed that she would remain there and that the means to remove her would be withheld. She was informed that should she appeal to others who would contact the impaler for collateral information, that she would be described as malign, foul and unwanted. A few others who knew what was in store for her promised their support and help.

She was impaled for all to see.

She writhed and contorted and struggled to reach something that could be used to wrench herself loose. Those who promised help disappeared and did not answer her calls for support. They did not help, and they did not call on others to help.

She found herself alone.

The pain, the agony and suffering were unbearable, just as the impaler intended.

But the place of impalement was strategically designed to cause the slowest dying possible, and was designed not to make death come earlier. It was executed to cause the maximum degree of suffering with full realization of the fate and future of the impaled writher.

One by one, and sometimes concurrently, the impaled person used up her means of escape. She learned that to struggle was futile. To writhe more actively only increased pain and fatigue. She couldn’t get to sleep, couldn’t stay asleep, and she awoke very early. Sleep soon became no escape and provided no rest.

Years passed, and on she writhed and agonized.

At this point, she realized that she was out of all resources, and she called out for help from learned helpers.

The highly credentialed, learned helpers poked and prodded and caused even more agonizing pain as they slowly and methodically assessed her symptoms. Although she repeatedly told them that she was impaled – Look! I need people who are qualified to remove what’s holding me fast to free me – they ignored her begging and pleas.

The learned helpers decided that her writhing and grimaces and pleas for help could all be treated as symptoms of depression. She was told that she was going to be treated for her pessimism and refusal to believe in hope. She was forcibly medicated and restrained so that the writhing was contained. She was told that treatment was to keep her safe.

As she adjusted to the medication, she saw her body react to the derangements done it by the sedating, restraining chemicals. She struggled to writhe and react to the agony of the raw and festering wound. But she learned to be silent and to deny that suffering to the learned helpers lest they inflict more restraint, punishment, containment and contribute to her agony.

Some helpers came only to stare. Some to ridicule. Others to condemn. A few saw opportunities for sadism, and they kicked her, made open fun of her and reported to the treating learned helpers falsities designed to induce the learned helpers to inflict more treatment and up the induced agony.

Some of her treatment involved being instructed on how her thoughts were negative and to employ strategies to replace negative thoughts with hopeful ones. Another treatment involved instruction on maintaining distress tolerance. Both of these considered writhing as something to be abolished. Neither strategy dealt with removing the wounding weapon and treating the gaping, festering, infected wound.

It was apparent that this situation was permanently incompatible with life. She decided that instead of struggling any longer to free herself, that she would instead, simply try to find a means to achieve a painless and peaceful death.

But the learned helpers decreed that this was evidence that she was psychotic. Therefore, she would be contained until she was deemed “safe”. But the definition of safe was solely that she would not try to end her life.

Safe did not apply to all of the others who were content to have her suffer or to contribute to her agony and suffering. Safe did not mean a secure home, safe did not equate with a means by which to support herself, safe did not mean acceptance and welcome by others she deemed potential neighbors, coworkers, friends, physicians.

She was told that there are many treatments for her symptoms. She learned that they conflated treatment with efficacious, benign, therapeutic and beneficial. She learned that treatments were risky, dangerous, caused temporary and permanent harm, and did not address the causes of the symptoms.

She was told that the learned helpers decided on treatments based on their professional judgment. She learned that treatments are determined largely on the whims and beliefs of the learned helpers, and often they are chosen to punish the person for their audacity to exhibit distress and to admit that their underlying problems are not being helped.

And so she remains impaled, actively looking for the means by which to give herself a painless and peaceful death while all around her, the means to remove her from being impaled are withheld.

She remains a freak, a pariah, and an untouchable. Indeed, when she was contained and forcibly medicated, no one touched her except to wield a needle and crowd her into a locked cell sans furniture – no window, a security camera, a cage. Just herself impaled.

No one spoke to her except to poke, prod and exacerbate her awareness of her suffering by ongoing clinical assessments, each designed only to elicit symptoms and to ignore root causes.

So as the means to achieve a quick and painless death are not within reach, she has decided to passively bring about her death by no longer eating.

She remains out of sight knowing that no one will look for her. No one wants to see because when they do catch a glimpse, it angers and disgusts them to see her writhing in their midst. It is not pretty, being associated with her could cause a risk of social or work harm (guilt by association), and she has been deemed worthless.

She can’t wait until it’s over, and she looks forward to being too weak to writhe, too weak to comprehend the agony and too weak to care. Those signposts mean that the total and permanent end of her hell at the end of the learned helpers’ road of good intentions is finally within reach.

Dogs that do not bark: ostracism, psychache and suicidality

The Way Out, or Suicidal Ideation: George Grie...

The Way Out, or Suicidal Ideation: George Grie, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1 boring old man referenced this historical and alarming analysis on the evolution of melancholia to major depressive disorder.  Science?  Evidence?  Fuggediboudit.

MDD, the most influential diagnosis of the past 30 years, emerged from intraprofessional pressures and the ability of research-oriented psychiatrists to gain dominance within the profession. Most importantly, psychiatry needed a credible classificatory scheme to maintain its legitimacy in both the broader medical profession and the culture at large. As prominent depression specialist Gerald Klerman (1984:539) succinctly summarized: “The decision of the APA first to develop DSM-III and then to promulgate its use represents a significant reaffirmation on the part of American psychiatry to its medical identity and to its commitment to scientific medicine.” Medical legitimacy required easily measurable and reliable diagnoses. The diagnostic criteria grounded in the Feighner measure that emerged in the DSM-III to resolve the many unsettled diagnostic controversies—and that have remained mostly unchanged until the present—did produce a far more reliable system of measurement than the amorphous criteria they replaced. Yet, this particular diagnostic system was not tested against the many alternative classifications that were available during the 1970s that might have been as good or even superior to the Feighner criteria. Instead, their adoption resulted from the shared commitment to a view of psychiatric diagnoses and the path that the psychiatric profession should follow among the research-oriented psychiatrists who controlled the development of the DSM-III classifications.

The developers of the MDD diagnosis did not foresee the profound consequences it would have. They inadvertently developed criteria that encompassed what had previously been viewed as a number of distinct types of depressive conditions. Endogenous, exogenous, and neurotic forms of depression could all meet the expansive criteria of the MDD diagnosis. Moreover, because it could incorporate short-lived responses to stressful conditions, MDD was the most suitable label for many of the heterogeneous and diffuse complaints that many primary medical care patients present. Likewise, depression became the most prevalent form of mental illness measured in epidemiological studies because so many community members suffer from common symptoms such as sadness, sleep and appetite difficulties, and fatigue that need only last for a two-week period to be considered disordered (Kessler et al. 2005). The sweeping qualities of the diagnosis also made it the most attractive target for the vastly popular SSRI medications that came on the market a few years after the publication of the DSM-III. Primarily through pharmaceutical advertisements, ubiquitous messages associated the most common forms of distress with major depression. This condition became psychiatry’s most marketable diagnosis, driving mental health treatment, research, and policy. Ultimately, the Age of Depression that has engulfed the United States and much of the Western world since 1980 resulted from relatively esoteric changes in diagnostic criteria.

It’s all about c.v. building by a chief resident of a backwater psychiatry program.

Then there’s this – relational ostracism – an unwanted enforced state of thwarted belonging.  It can take many forms, and its effects are severe, persistent and devastating.

The impact of stranger-ostracism is strong and painful,and has been shown to lead to aversive psychological responses (i.e., a threat to four primary human needs—belonging, control, self-esteem, and meaningful existence; see Williams, 2001), and a rangeof detrimental behavioral responses such as social susceptibility (e.g., Maner, et al., Carter-Sowell & Williams, 2007), inappropriate mate choice (e.g., Winten et al., 2006), risk-taking behavior (e.g. Daleet al., 2006), and anti-social behavior (e.g., Warburton, Williams, & Cairns, 2006).Despite the prevalence of ostracism in interpersonal relationships, ostracism research to date has not systematically investigated relational ostracism (i.e., the silent treatment, or ostracism carried out by one partner on another).

What’s missing in both of the above?  Their relationship to suicidality and psychache.

There is such a dearth of literature about ostracism – and virtually none about clinical intervention, treatment and support for people who are targets – that it isn’t surprising to find it absent.

But Kipling Williams, Thomas Joiner and C Fred Alford’s work can form a pillar by which to build a clinical and research model to aggressively address unbearable psychache, develop strategies (which may include public health and social justice policy and programming) to minimize and remove ostracism in all of its ugly forms, and to reformulate how suicidality is assessed and addressed.

The highest priority items for me would be to deep six “suicide assessment” in favor of distressors as described by Joiner’s three domains of perceived burdensomeness, thwarted belongingness and the capacity/rehearsal to tolerate self-inflicted death.

The second is to couple all assessment with immediate and adequate distress reduction which does not entail threats of or actual involuntary confinement, intrusive observation, forced medication, any type of restraint or anything other than active multi-sensory comfort, safety and mutually deemed appropriate and acceptable interventions, resources and supports.

One more thing that is never addressed in relation to psychache:  the extraordinary amount of physical and psychological energy toll it takes.  The relational ostracism study illustrates that for many, being a target is permanent as long as the “source” is present.

When one is powerless to escape ostracism, has no ability to affect a preferred future, and is effectively trapped, suicide becomes more salient as an alternative to put a permanent ending on an intolerable condition.

Here I discovered a study about people with severe/terminal illnesses who wish to hasten death – WTHD. Of course it doesn’t include people with psychiatric diagnoses (those people are nuts, donchaknow), but it fits right in with Joiner’s theory:

WTHD as a way of ending suffering

Among participants in the studies included, the WTHD also emerged as a way out, and in some cases [45][69] as the only way of ending their physical and psychological suffering. Death was not considered as an aim in itself, but rather as an escape. Indeed, the idea of putting an end to their life brought a sense of relief to some patients.

In the study by Schroepfer [71] the WTHD was regarded as a way out or as a means of relieving loneliness, fear, dependence, a lack of hope and the feeling that life was no longer enjoyable. The study by Nissim et al.[69] suggested that in the face of oppression and despair, death could be seen as the only alternative, with the WTHD being the essence of a plan to relieve suffering. Similarly, Lavery et al. [45] reported that the WTHD was seen by participants as a means of limiting disintegration and loss of self.

In five of the studies reviewed [14][46][69][70][71] the participants also described the WTHD as a way of reducing the suffering being caused to family and carers. Coyle and Sculco [14] interpret this as a gesture of altruism, since the WTHD is motivated by a desire to relieve the family of the burden of care and of witnessing their relative’s progressive deterioration. However, although the WTHD was driven by such a motive in some patients [71], in others (or simultaneously in the former patients) the desire to cause no more pain to their relatives led them to precisely the opposite conclusion, i.e. they repressed the WTHD. As such, their wish to protect their family took precedence over their own wish to hasten death [71].

And so we circle around to Alford’s “knowledge as disaster” concepts. See the About page for a listing.

Until the key elements of this circl(ing the drain) are interrupted permanently and predictably, suicidality will go on unabated, unaddressed and just as vicious.

The strangest part?  Psychiatry, with all of its disorders, doesn’t ever mention suicidality, psychache, thwarted belongingness, perceived burdensomeness and rehearsed capacity for self-inflicted death.

But suicide is on the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5) radar – and of course, its proposed listing as suicide behavior disorder is nonsensical and is made up à la the Mad Hatter.

Controlling healthcare costs

Despite trying to engage in distractions and diversions during every waking moment and engaging in supposedly cognitive and memory stimulating reading (I can’t concentrate, can’t comprehend and can’t retain much info, so consider everything I write with a healthy dose of skepticism), I am increasingly experiencing noticeable memory lapses and episodes of confusion.  The memory lapses are annoying and disheartening.  The confusion is frightening.  Because no one was interested in learning about those problems and instantly dismissed them as “due to the depression”, I am left to my own devices to manage them. Enter Google.  There are self-assessment tools which purport to distinguish between dementia and depression in memory loss.  I tried them out and came away with a 100% alignment with depression.  However, these tools, and the physician feedback I received, conflated correlation with causation.  The real answer is that no one knows. After a winter of experiencing much more back and joint pain, the inability to self-plan and perform even a basic yoga practice, and a months long stretch of not leaving the bed except for bodily functions needs, I find myself so fatigued, dull, and slow that forcing myself to stay alert, attentive and mobile is a monumental task.  And really, since I do not have any obligations to work, socialize or contribute in any way, no one cares or is affected, which brings me a perverse sense of relief of not failing anyone.  When all of society yanks those away and sends you off to a life of dying and social death, this apparently is the benefit. (For all of you psychiatrists who found your “EBM” on that most medically scientific principle of false hope and optimism serving as a default component of “insight”, this is it for optimism and flexible thinking.  Insight I’ve got in spades.) I have struggled to attend scheduled volunteer activities.  But I think I am bringing a poor benefit/risk ratio to the organization.  I can’t perform much of the physical work, and sometimes I can’t remember the very simple instructions to carry it out. The people I’ve met are seriously smart, wise, witty, knowledgeable and committed to the goals and work.  The leaders lead well (coming from me, that’s the equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize).  Two of these people are dealing with immediate end of life issues, and I try to be a reliable and comforting presence.  That, at least, I can offer and carry out. So back to self management.  I started looking around again for resources and strategies to try.  Because I root around in PubMed, am located in a city where a vast amount of clinical research is occurring, and have a sense of what I need in the way of outcomes, I called the HMO and asked to speak with the mental health case manager.  The marketing and sales people weren’t happy with that.  The person I spoke with was sullen and only after repeated requests and my refusal to give her clinical info was I transferred.  And I got the same woman who when I first called to find a psychologist with expertise in both PTSD/trauma and depression gave me four names where either the person was no longer in the plan or was outside my ability to travel. When I called to report this and ask for appropriate options, she became belligerant and defensive, and so I ended the call since I had already been through the provider list and discovered that there weren’t any at all who met the above criteria. This time, I asked her if she knew of any research or clinicians who dealt with ketamine for severe depression, or with rapid responses to severe depression.  She started in on the spiel that it wouldn’t be paid – it was experimental.  After a few minutes of this abuse – no referrals, no answer,  I told her I’d had enough and hung up. Ten minutes later the police were at my door.  Luckily, my computer screen was on and open to the complaint and disenrollment line, the coffee pot was full, and no weapons were    in sight (that last one is a joke).  The sergeant grilled me about what I had said that “would make her call”.  I explained about inquiring about the ketamine research.  I offered him the phone number to call the woman.  He couldn’t get past the telephony.  I had to sign a form declining emergency transport to the ED. The officers declined coffee, inquired as to the rent I pay for this attic dump, rolled their eyes at the response, and then changed the conversation to “we have to do our jobs.” I replied that experiencing public humiliation (lovely lights, multiple police cars and ambulance in the drive and street) and terror (nothing like having 5 uniformed and armed men on your doorstep banging on the door and demanding to be let in.  NOW.) was obviously what the HMO’s objective was, and they agreed. Which is just the latest experience which illustrates why I still have no health support, no trusting relationship with anyone, and no hope of finding same. What I ended up doing was perusing the research studies for chronic pain and finding several that are non-pharmacologic and low risk to enroll in. I was assigned to the treatment arm of two, and two more are simply looking at different biomarkers and immune responses.  I’m an easy stick, so I’m happy to donate a little serum to that cause.  However, one study requires a combo PET/MRI along with an arterial lineinsertion.  Having been on the managing end of those before as a critical care nurse, I think receiving one (they are uncomfortable at best) is a dose of my own former medicine. I wasn’t permitted to disenroll from the HMO.  The abusive case manager is still a “valued employee”, and I effectively have no health insurance, because there I will not provide any information to, use any provider affiliated with, or voluntarily use any aspect of that HMO’s products and services.  They really have the keeping costs controlled portion covered.  Abuse, terrify and threaten enrollees, collect their premiums and watch the profit margin soar. And the research compensation (for “subject “expenses”) will pay for dental and vision exams.  At least those don’t come with threats of imprisonment and assault and battery. (Optimism and hope, psychiatrists.)

Confound Conflation!

In dipping into the literature on suicide and suicidality, two conflations appear over and over again.

  1. Assessment equals treatment
  2. Distress equals depression (alternatively that the treatment for symptoms of depression will alleviate suicidality)

As far as I can ascertain through my jaunts through the journals, there is no standard of care and treatment for suicidality.  The treatment as usual for imminent suicide is to remove the stated means from the person, to keep them in visual contact until they are deemed not at risk to take suicidal action, and to incarcerate them – in a hospital room, jail cell or home until an external authority figure decides to release them from confinement, voluntary or otherwise.

Today’s latest suicide research press release contains the same errors of conflation:

“We know that asking teens about suicidal ideation does not worsen their problems,” said Dr. McCarty. “It’s absolutely crucial for a teen who is having thoughts of self-harm or significant depression to be able to tell a helpful, trustworthy adult.”

 

“These findings underscore the need for clinicians to be aware of the potential for suicide in adolescence,” added Dr. McCarty. “Primary care physicians and healthcare providers should be specifically assessing suicidal ideation in the context of depression screening for teenagers. Effective screening tools are available, as are effective treatments for depression.”

 

It seems to me that this will result in not much.  Instead, why not invite adolescents to share their thoughts and concerns about belongingness, self worth, and their views of their developing futures?  Joiner’s work – the interpersonal theory of suicide – is largely based on work done with adolescents and young adults.  The two greatest risk factors expressed by people who attempted suicide are the percpetions of thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomness.

If distress is assessed in those domains, it can lead directly to interventions that can help alleviate acute short term distress and to build social skills for navigating the complicated and complex path to successful adulthood.  Instead of simply affixing a stigmatizing and problematic label of self harm, suicidal, clinical depression, etc. to a troubled youth, why not instead, guide, counsel and eventually partner with that person-in-progress to explore, discover and build character strengths, behavior strategies and social skills development?

Who should be assessing and intervening?  Parents, teachers, coaches, counselors, spiritual leaders/advisors, physicians, nurses – all of the usual cast of adult characters in adolescents’ lives.  Just because teens are trying on independence for size and fit and so most likely won’t initiate these discussions doesn’t mean that they should be held.  And it certainly doesn’t mean that they aren’t important.

I suspect that it would uncover a lot of perceptions of social exclusion, of externally imposed loneliness (cliques and bullies, exclusive teams, clubs and competitive organizations’ closed memberships) and of feeling of failure, inadequacy and uncertainty.  The adults can help youth to identify where actual and potential social connections lie and coach strategies to achieve them. They can monitor and intervene in the situations where youth are at risk (bullying, discrimination, sexual/gender identity, learning problems, disabilities, violence), and they can be stable and predictable lifelines in a world that is neither.

A long time ago a very wise animal trainer explained to me that if “you want the puppy to come to you, quit hitting it on the nose when it does.”  We need to find ways which encourage, entice and reward people for sharing distressors and for engaging in the very hard work it takes – often a lifetime’s worth – to alleviate distress to tolerable levels and find at least minimal satisfaction in belonging and contributing.  The last thing that adolescents need is to have their distress offloaded onto mental health providers who will only intrusively assess and confine them (talk about ostracism!) while not addressing the underlying distress and distressors and who really aren’t the right folks to treat problems of living.

Demoralization

This post is essentially an interim reference list. Demoralization is arguably the most important concept in suicidality that you’ve never heard of.

Demoralization and remoralization: a review of these constructs in the healthcare literature Margaret J Connor, Jo Ann Walton

Nursing Inquiry

Nursing Inquiry

Volume 18, Issue 1, pages 2–11, March 2011

The Social Separation Syndrome
Reprinted from Survival International Review Vol. 5, No. 1(29):13-15, 1980.
G. N. Appell
Brandeis University

Engel and his collaborators have been concerned with the related question: Why do people fall ill or die at the time they do? And they have identified a psychological pattern that appears associated with disease

onset that they call the Agiving up–given up complex@. Five characteristics are identified with this complex (Engel 1968): (1) the giving up affects, i.e. helplessness or hopelessness; (2) a depreciated image of the self; (3) a loss of gratification from relationships or roles in life; (4) a disruption of the sense of continuity between past, present, and future; and (5) a reactivation of memories of earlier periods of giving up.

Pubmed search for demoralization

The term demoralization was first used in the psychiatric literature by Jerome Frank in the 1970s (i.e., “the chief problem of all patients who come to psychotherapy is demoralization . . . the effectiveness of all psychotherapeutic schools lies in their ability to restore patient morale”)1(p271) and represented a persistent failure of coping with (internally or externally induced) stress; Frank believed demoralization left one feeling impotent, isolated, and in despair. This conceptualization was congruent with the psychodynamic approach of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Second Edition (DSM-II),2 in which all disorders were considered reactions to environmental events. Frank defined the symptoms of anxiety and depression as direct expressions of demoralization.1
However, in 1975, Schildkraut and Klein3 defined demoralization as a state separate from depression. Whereas patients with depression experienced anhedonia, patients with demoralization lost their sense of efficacy. In the 1980s and 1990s, Frank and De Figueiredo further refined the meaning of demoralization.4 The term demoralization remained distinct from depression and was characterized by 2 states: distress and a sense of incompetence that results from an uncertainty about which direction to take. Individuals with depression and those with anhedonia cannot act (even if they know the proper direction to take).
Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2010 Jun;12(3):229-33.

Differentiation between demoralization, grief, and anhedonic depression.

Source

Department of Veterans Affairs, Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, 4300 West 7th Street, 116T/LR, Little Rock, AR 72205-5484, USA. marcus.wellen@va.gov

Abstract

Demoralization is a phenomenon in which a patient reaches a state of subjective incompetence, hopelessness, and helplessness that can lead to that devastating moment in which he or she feels the only recourse left is to give up. This article reviews the medical literature regarding the current understanding, importance, and impact of demoralization. In addition, using the key characteristics of demoralization, this article attempts to compare and contrast demoralization with anhedonia and grief.

 

TO THE EDITOR: Dr. Slavney’s stimulating article, “DiagnosingDemoralization in Consultation Psychiatry,” is a valuable additionto the ongoing debate on demoralization.1 Dr. Slavney statesthat demoralization is a normal response to adversity and thathe disagrees with my proposal to substitute “demoralization”for “severity of psychosocial stressors” as Axis IV in the DSM.Although demoralization may, at times, be understandable, asin the cases described by Dr. Slavney, the view I proposed isthat demoralization is always abnormal. It is because demoralizationis abnormal that it requires treatment (psychotherapy). I proposedthat demoralization be conceptualized as involving two states:distress (which some other authors have called “demoralization,”incorrectly in my opinion) and subjective incompetence. Althougheach of these two states may be normal by itself, their overlapwould constitute demoralization, which is always abnormal. Demoralizationis thus viewed as a boundary phenomenon, that is, a state thatoccurs within the individual and at the boundary with the environment,something akin to inflammation.

World Psychiatry. 2005 June; 4(2): 96–105.
PMCID: PMC1414748
Copyright World Psychiatric Association
DAVID M. CLARKE,1 DAVID W. KISSANE,1 TOM TRAUER,1 and GRAEME C. SMITH1

What Protects?

I’m working a bit sideways and backwards since I haven’t developed a more comprehensive explanation of suicidality prompts.  But there have been several studies in the news which address compensatory mechanisms and adaptation, so the time’s right to get them out there for people to consider.

To experience external physical warmth which approximates human or possibly mammalian warmth is a basic human need. It turns out that when lonely college students were queried on bathing behaviors, those reporting higher degrees of loneliness had significantly different habits.  They bathed/showered more frequently, for longer periods of time and they used warmer water temperatures.  The authors postulate that this is a self-soothing strategy which serves as a rough proxy for human warmth.

The Ohio State University published a study demonstrating an association between particulate pollution and clinical depression.  Given the inflammatory involvement in depression, these finding serve as more fuel for this fire.  It might be worth trying room-based air filters to see if people get any anti-inflammatory effects. More research needs to be done in essential quality of life factors.

The website, Ostracism Aware, has a resource listing which seems to be fairly comprehensive.

What do you find helps to relieve the feelings of isolation, loneliness, not belonging, depression or being a burden? What doesn’t help?  What do other people do that helps?  And what do other people do that makes things worse?