Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rock On... Religion and Mental Health

Beyond all the dogma and traditions, faith is the cornerstone for religious beliefs of all creeds. When those beliefs are positive, an individual can feel confident to do all things through a deistic being (e.g., God) with it as their strength. As a result, one can improve their mental health simply by putting their faith in faith. However, in a secular field of study like psychology, positive religious beliefs have been criticized for being narrow, subjective, and abnormal. Even various polls and studies have provided checkered results for the psychological benefits of religious beliefs. But with an ever-growing acceptance of religion as part of an individual’s lifestyle, disciples of psychology must recognize the potential for productive mental change of Biblical proportions as a result of religious beliefs.

The main reason positive religious beliefs can help one’s mental health is because it provides an individual with a sense of hope and meaning in life. By believing in a higher, deistic order, one can put confidence in that being for spiritual guidance, in both this life and the afterlife. The best part is that an individual need not belong to a religious community to feel better about their life. For example, one study conducted on 271 male and female psychiatric patients, who also met the criteria for major depression or bipolar disorder, found a negative correlation between an increase in religious beliefs and depression/hopelessness (Murphy 1104). In fact, during Murphy’s study, church attendance and private practice - the other two independent variables - actually increased depression and hopelessness, albeit by a few degrees (1104). While not clearly indicative of the entire population, this particular study does corroborate one thing: faith alone is powerful enough to positively influence an individual‘s outlook on life.

Still, it is not merely enough for an individual to have religious behavior; religion must also become one’s way of living in order to achieve greater psychological benefits. By attending more formal religious services in life, one develops a stronger religious social identity, thereby maintaining “higher levels of subjective psychological well-being” than those whose participation in the religious community remains stagnant (Greenfield & Marks 255-6). In addition, having a strong faith can keep people from being swayed by less commonly accepted beliefs. One study conducted by Kia Aarnio and Marjaana Lindeman of over 3,000 individuals found a negative correlation between having strong religious convictions and believing in “paranormal claims” (5). Like many things in life, hard work is necessary to achieve success, and enlightenment in religion is no different.

Historically speaking, though, religion and psychology were incompatible for the longest time. This dissonance came about because religion depends primarily on faith and hardly, if any, on objective findings. In the twentieth century, for instance, clinicians saw individuals with an adamant sense of religious beliefs as “more suspicious, irrational, guilt-ridden, and unstable than others and were less able to cope with life‘s difficulties” (Comer 73). Their school of thought wanted nothing to do with hypothetical claims religion brought upon by society. Likewise, religious leaders wanted nothing to do with hypothetical claims psychology brought upon by society. In fact, Agostino Gemelli, an Italian psychiatrist, fell back on his background as a Catholic priest to denounce any form of psychological treatment, specifically Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis (Farr et al. 1825). But as the twentieth century progressed, religion became a viable force once again, and the field of psychology had no choice but to embrace its impact.

Nowadays, religion has been accepted into the field of psychology, though discrepancies remain. The big objection comes from clinicians, who have remained skeptical about religion in mental health because religion provides highly subjective viewpoints into an already soft science. In 1990, for instance, the American Psychiatric Association Committee on Religion and Psychiatry released a set of strict guidelines so psychiatrists could not impose their own religious beliefs toward their patients (O’Connor 611). The amendment kept personal beliefs incognito while still openly discussing a patient’s choice of religion in their rehabilitation, if needed. Even then, experts remain divided on how to address the issue of religion in the professional setting. For example, one study of psychiatrists in the United States show that while 90% of respondents are okay about discussing religious beliefs with patients, 82% feel religion and spirituality can cause “increased patient suffering” (Eichelman 1774). Such an anomaly sounds farfetched, but this paradoxical notion is preferred when exploring diverse issues within different religions practiced in various cultures. The irony of it all is that psychology thrives on controversies like these, so when the debate over religious beliefs became more commonplace, it was sacrilegious to not discuss this issue with conflicting viewpoints. Call it an intellectual purgatory, but this amicable stalemate between religion and contemporary psychology appears to stay until the end of time.

(Academic) Works Cited
[1] Aarnio, Kia & Marjaana Lindeman. “Religious People and Paranormal Believers: Alike or Different?” Journal of Individual Differences, Vol. 28 (1), 2007. pp. 1-9. PsycArticles. Web. 13 Sep. 2010.

[2] Comer, Ronald J. Abnormal Psychology: Seventh Edition. Worth Publishers, New York, 2010: Chapter 3.

[3] Eichelman, Burr. “Review of Religion, Spirituality, and Medicine.” American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 164 (12), Dec., 2007. pp. 1774-1775. Web. 12 Sep. 2010.

[4] Farr, Curlin A., Ryan E. Lawrence, Shaun Odell, Marshall H. Chin, John D. Lantos, Harold G. Koeing, and Keith G. Meador. “Religion, Spirituality, and Medicine: Psychiatrists’ and Other Physicians’ Differing Observations, Interpretations, and Clinical Approaches.” American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 164 (12), Dec. 2007. pp. 1825-1831. Web. 12 Sep. 2010.

[5] Greenfield, Emily A. & Nadine F. Marks. “Religious Social Identity as an Explanatory Factor for Associations Between More Frequent Formal Religious Participation and Psychological Well-Being.” International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, Vol. 17 (3), Feb. 2007. pp. 245–259. Web. 11 Sep. 2010.

[6] Murphy, Patricia E., et al. "The relation of religious belief and practices, depression, and hopelessness in persons with clinical depression." Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 68 (6), Dec. 2000. pp. 1102-1106. PsycArticles. Web. 13 Sep. 2010.

[7] O’Connor, Shawn & Brian Vandenberg. “Psychosis or Faith? Clinicians’ Assessment of Religious Beliefs.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 73 (4), Aug. 2005. Pp. 610-616. PsycArticles. Web. 13 Sep. 2010.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What In The World Is Growing In My Front Yard?

Yes, it's been a week and a half since my last post.

Yes, I've been busy with schoolwork all this time.

No, I haven't completely forgotten about this blog.

However, I finally got around to asking myself what's the name of a certain plant or flower or whatever it is growing in a garden of mine. I don't know what it is because it was here before I moved to my current residence. It would surprise me none if it's a southwestern variant, especially considering it's growing in a field that resembles cacti, but again, I haven't clue.

So I've decided to take to the World Wide Web (old school, I know) and ask you, the reader, if you know a thing about the thing that's been budding up a lot in recent memory. I've attached some photos below to help in this... investigation.

Drop a line or several if you know what it is, and many thanks for any helpful suggestions!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 11, 2001

What else is there to be said on the tenth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil?

It's almost incomprehensible to think that they've happened, but so much so that it's been ten years since it happened, and it's devastation has impacted our lives to this very day, from an ongoing war in the Middle East to heightened security measures when going through airports.

I bet you've no doubt seen, read, and heard countless of tales regarding what happened on September 11, 2001, so I won't bore you to tears about how the attacks is my generation's equivalent to the Vietnam War, or something along those lines. So I'll say this.

If you're reading this and you remember where you were when 9/11 happened, feel free to leave your account below in a response to this post.

I'll start off by saying that ten years ago for me, I was attending fifth grade in Florida. I stayed home from school for a second consecutive day because I had a relentless fever, and I was ready to go back to school the following day. I was watching Oswald on Nickelodeon when my mother came in the room a little after 9 AM and changed the channel to some news program. I didn't understand the severity of two towers with smoke billowing out of them until I saw them collapsed and realized nearly 3,000 people died in those horrific attacks. That, to me, was the end of my childhood innocence. From that day onward, I was thrust into the cold harsh realities the world has to offer. That was how I saw it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rock On... Mass Madness

For as long as there have been superstitions and uncertainties about the unknown, mass madness has been prevalent. It is a phenomenon both documented in the field of psychology and popularized by contemporary media. Threats such as weapons of mass destruction and end-of-the-world speculations have helped fuel bouts of mass madness in recent memory. Other isolated, minor incidents have resulted in scores of people become physically sick from these overblown events. In addition, technological advancements have been used to perpetuate the hollow claims of fear found in the preceding examples and in cases yet to develop. Due to its sensitivity, treating mass madness has become an arduous task, but it can be handled appropriately by seeing these events as just psychological abnormalities toward changes of unfounded magnitude.

One of the first outbreaks of mass madness of the twenty first century came shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. When the United States of America declared war on al-Qaeda, talks for the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) took precedent. WMDs soon dominated newsprint, news television, and other forms of news media throughout the country. However, talks of these nuclear weapons brought forth a fear through the media and governmental agencies that WMDs would ultimately be used to arbitrarily annihilate untold numbers of people. Upon closer inspection, this mindset of Armageddon fails on two levels, psychologically speaking. First, history had shown little, if any, significant impact on civilians when faced with WMDs. Before and after World War II, for example, the British government and U.S. Civil Defense planners (respectively) assumed German bomb raids would bring about chronic mass madness in various European countries. In actuality, research on individuals who lived through these attacks in England, Germany, and Japan provided “little evidence of mass panic incidents” (Pastel 44). Second, long-term mass madness based on weapons alone proves to be nothing more than a fa├žade. Professor Simon Wessely of the Institute of Psychiatry once remarked that “when psychological weapons [of mass destruction] lose their novelty, they lose their primary potency, which is their capacity to cause fear” (Moscrop 1023). In time, this realization came to light as the United States braced itself for war in the Middle East. The hype surrounding WMDs came to pass and was relegated as a hollow threat.

A more dynamic form of mass madness today involves the alleged apocalypse to occur on December 21, 2012. After the Y2K scare went out with a whimper rather than a bang at the turn of the millennium, the next end-of-the-world event focused on the year 2012, which is the final year according to the Mayan calendar. Various rumors and studies have led to conflicting results about this finding, and the attention this supposed event should occur allowed for the media and pop culture to capitalize on its potential, going so far as to release a film in 2009 based on this event. But, by trivializing a topic of serious matter into tabloid fodder, a sense of uneasiness comes upon the general population in the form of moral panic through the media. News outlets understand the only way to entice their audience is to lure them into a psychological threshold, even if it means using moral panic as the “central means” through which to transmit events (Hier 331). In the long run, this strategy will lose steam when this event passes, nothing happens, and the exponential growth of mass madness sharply declines. Like many other doomsday tales before it, the 2012 phenomenon is set to become the next failed prophecy.

Unlike the two preceding examples, certain events as the cause of mass madness can cross over and affect a collection of individual’s health and well-being. These typically remain isolated to a particular region, and the physical ailments that befall this group are indicative of a phenomenon called mass sociogenic illness. In one instance, a group of over 800 schoolchildren in Jordan became ill from what they believed were side effects of a tetanus shot, even though a substantial amount were affected more from a psychogenic illness than they would with a shot (Weir 36). Yet, this is not uncommon. Approximately 50% of all episodes of mass madness leading into mass sociogenic illness take place in schools, and “nausea, vomiting, headache, and dizziness or lightheadedness” are the primary symptoms for these incidents (Pastel 44). The cause for these outbreaks remains largely unknown, but after a few days, normalcy returns.

Regardless of the effect, the main difference between episodes of mass madness then and now is the medium with which it travels. Historically, the most notable example of mass madness came about during the Middle Ages when people claimed to have suffered from either tarantism or lycanthopy and acted as if they were possessed by the devil (Comer 10). Like the sun rising in the East and setting in the West, this should come as no surprise when taken into context. As the church grew into power, they began to oversee all facets, including what influenced individuals to behave abnormally. If people were productive, they were deemed good stewards of the Lord. If not, and they behaved in certain manners detrimental to society, they were seen as lunatics and ostracized from the rest of a God-fearing society. Fast forward several hundred years into the twenty first century and things have become much different. Now, the church has taken a backseat to mainstream media for control of the status quo. And unlike the church in the Middle Ages, the media can transmit information within seconds across the globe. This new wave of distributing news through various forms of modern technology has proven to be more of a blessing than a bane. But when used to broadcast fear under suspicious circumstances, mass madness gets passed down to an unsuspecting public quicker than ever before.

Explaining mass madness is no easy task either, since individuals who go through these episodes have difficulty remembering what they did. For example, a sample assessment was conducted on patients who suffered from delusions at an intervention center in the United Kingdom. 75% of the participants reported no alternative responses toward their delusion because it “was their only explanation” for why they believed in what got them into an intervention center in the first place (Freeman & Garety, et. al 677). This is a scary number to take into consideration because this shows that, typically, the only people that believe in their delusions are themselves. The fact then that large numbers of people can potentially share the same case becomes coincidental. Broadening the horizons to incorporate every delusionary individual into the same realm for further psychological analysis would be downright crazy. Thus, it is important to treat each person suffering from mass madness under individual circumstances.

(Academic) Works Cited
[1] Comer, Ronald J. Abnormal Psychology: Seventh Edition. Worth Publishers, New York, 2010: Chapter 11.

Freeman, Daniel & Philippa A. Garety, David Fowler, Elizabeth Kuipers & Paul E. Bebbington, and Graham Dunn. “Why Do People With Delusions Fail to Choose More Realistic Explanations for Their Experiences? An Empirical Investigation.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 72 (4), Aug. 2004. pp. 671-680. PsycArticles. Web. 6 Sep. 2010.

Hier, Sean P. “Conceptualizing Moral Panic through a Moral Economy of Harm.” Journal of Critical Sociology, Vol. 28 (3), May 2002. pp. 311-34. Web. 6 Sep. 2010.

Moscrop, Andrew. “Mass Hysteria is Seen as Main Threat from Bioweapons.” British Medical Journal, Vol. 323 (7320), 3 Nov. 2001. pp. 1023. Web. 11 Sep. 2010.

Pastel, Ross H. “Collective Behaviors: Mass Panic and Outbreaks of Multiple Unexplained Symptoms.” Military Medicine, Vol. 166 (12 Suppl.), Dec. 2001. pp. 44-46. Web. 11 Sep. 2010.

Weir, Erica. “Mass Sociogenic Illness.” Canadian Medical Association Journal, Vol. 172 (1), 4 Jan. 2005. pp. 36. Web. 11 Sep. 2010.