Monday, March 30, 2015

After the Germanwings plane crash, remember not to stereotype those with depression

Andrea Lubitz
The vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness, the American Psychiatric Association reports.

And only 5 percent of violent crime is attributed to mental illness, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Jillian Peterson, PhD, said in an article by the association, “When we hear about crimes committed by people with mental illness, they tend to be big headline-making crimes so they get stuck in people’s heads. ... The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, not criminal and not dangerous.”

I am bringing up these facts in light of last week's Germanwings plane crash. Black box recordings suggest that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked the lead pilot out of the cockpit. And the co-pilot suspected of purposely crashing the jetliner — killing all 150 passengers and crew members aboard — was previously treated for suicidal tendencies and had a background of clinical depression.

When tragedies like this happen, it makes some people fear those with mental illness. And many are asking the question, "Why was he allowed to fly the plane in the first place?"

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls even called Lubitz "criminal, crazy, suicidal" — as if those three adjectives are synonymous with each other.

Julie Beck of The Atlantic wrote in an article, "Suicidal doesn’t equal homicidal. Criminal doesn’t equal crazy. And crazy is an unkind thing to call someone who’s suffering."

In response to the crash, there are musings of mental health exams being mandatory for those in the aviation field.

I agree wholeheartedly with what Robyn Urback of the National Post wrote in a column.

"A pilot’s mental health is just as important to a safe flight as is his or her physical health. But there is also some concern — valid concerns, in my view — that such assessments will further stigmatize those suffering with mental illness, and only encourage pilots to keep their conditions private, lest they risk losing their jobs," she said.

Urback writes that most medical professionals agree that people with mental illness are more likely to self-harm than they are to injure anyone else.

"Those who are determined to do harm to others will often find a way, though it’s important to recognize that those suffering with depression are not overwhelmingly among them," she wrote. "More than 350 million people suffer with depression. Only one guy crashed a plane."

Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, told The Atlantic, "If I could wave a wand and magically cure (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression), the overall amount of violence in society — any minor or serious violent act, pushing and shoving or using a weapon —would go down by about 4 percent ... 96 percent of it would still be there.”

People with all different characteristics have committed unthinkable acts. Saying that people with mental illness cannot be trusted because of this one event is about as logical as saying that all white men or all Germans or anyone in their 20s should not be trusted — which are also all characteristics of Lubitz.

One in four adults experience mental illness in a given year, the National Alliance of Mental Illness reports. That's a lot of people! And, with the appropriate treatment, those with mental illness can lead the same kind of life and achieve the same goals as those without mental illness — including being able to fly an airplane.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hugh Hefner's ex Holly Madison admits she contemplated suicide

Although women's rights have come a long way, there are still men who view women as property or as an object. And there are women who view other women as their competition. In both of these situations, women aren't treated like actual human beings with feelings and emotions.

Almost every woman I know, including me, has had at least one experience in her life (probably several) where she was treated this way by men or judged by other women who didn't
even know her.

Now imagine having a job solely based on your looks — how small your waist is and how big your breasts are — with an expiration date based on your age.

For Playboy bunnies, it was probably flattering and glamorous in the beginning. But after a while, I could imagine it being degrading to know that men across the globe viewed them solely as sexual objects, and that women across the globe envied and even hated them. For “The Girls of the Playboy Mansion,” they were degraded even by the man and the other girls they lived with.

Holly Madison, who used to be known as Hugh Hefner's #1 girlfriend, is revealing what it was actually like to live with Mr. Playboy in her new memoir “Down The Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures And Cautionary Tales Of A Former Playboy Bunny.”

According to a release by publisher HarperCollins, "After losing her identity, her sense of self-worth, and her hope for the future, Holly found herself sitting alone in a bathtub contemplating suicide."

“What seemed like a fairytale life inside the Playboy Mansion … quickly devolved into an oppressive routine of strict rules, manipulation, and battles with ambitious, backstabbing bunnies.”

If ever a person — man or woman — makes you doubt your own self-worth or treats you like you aren't even a person, then that person shouldn't be in your life, as a friend, a lover or even an acquaintance. Holly proves that, even though on the outside she lived a rich and glamorous life, this is not what made life worth living. And, in reality, this lifestyle actually made her want to die.

Thankfully, instead of taking her life, Holly got out of the situation. And, in time, she found true love that was more than just about looks and fame — a love which gave her reason to get up in the morning.

She is now married to Pasquale Rotella, a man who calls her his “better half,” and the couple has a 2-year-old daughter together.

If she would have taken her life, then this future wouldn't have been possible.

Even when it feels like you have no hope, you can still get out of the situation. Things may not get better right away but, when you don't give up on life, you are also giving yourself the chance of having a better future.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Help cheerleader with Down syndrome meet actress Lauren Potter

Two years ago, I had the priveldge to meet actress Lauren Potter, known for her role on "Glee" as Becky Jackson, a cheerleader with Down syndrome.

It broke my heart when Lauren told me, "(Students) would call me the R-word. And they would push me into the sand. ... I want to tell people to stop bullying because it really hurts."

Desiree Andrews
Through her role, Lauren has inspired so many people — most recently, Desiree Andrews, a Lincoln Middle School eighth grader. After watching the Fox TV show, Desiree, who also has Down syndrome, decided that she too wanted to be a cheerleader.

She told her dad, "If she can be a cheerleader, I can be a cheerleader," Kenosha News reports.

But, during a basketball game, some members of the crowd started making fun of Desiree. Thankfully the team has more than just "basket" balls. One of the kids stepped up and said, "Don't mess with her," the News reports, and the rest of the team banded together in support of Desiree.

Now, the gym has been renamed "D's House" in Desiree's honor and Kenosha News reports that, before the game starts, the boys on the team run over to Desiree for high fives and fist bumps.

Both Desiree Andrews and Lauren Potter teach us that, no matter how many cruel people there are in this world, there are even more kind and brave people who are willing to stand up and make a difference. The girls also teach that, no matter the struggles we may face in our lives, that doesn't mean that we should stop fighting for our dreams. Desiree and Lauren have inspired millions by their refusal the listen to other people's taunts.

Now, I would like to take this a step further. Lauren Potter, if you're reading this, I would encourage you to call or, even better, meet with this girl who considers you a hero. Deneen Smith, the Kenosha News reporter who wrote this story, can be contacted at

To get Lauren's attention, tweet to her @TheLaurenPotter.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Facebook releases new features to help friends who may be suicidal

Amber Cornwell
Hours before Amber Cornwell, 16, of North Carolina killed herself, she posted on her Facebook page, "If I die tonight, would anyone cry?"

According to Daily Mail, one of Cornwell's friends said, "(Bullies) were really mean. They’d say stuff to her face, behind her back. ... They’d message her on Facebook."

Cosmo magazine reports that bullies would tell Cornwell she had no future and she had nothing going for her.

I feel like bullying has grown since the birth of social media. Many people, while hiding behind their computer, will say things they would never say in person.

But now Facebook is fighting back — adding a feature that may save the lives of people like Cornwell. If you see a worrying status by a friend on Facebook, there is now new tools on the social media platform to report this.

Buzz Feed reports that Facebook has teamed up with a number of suicide prevention groups. If you flag a post by a friend, you are given the option to message that friend, ask another friend for support, or chat with a trained helper at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The friend will also receive a pop-up that says, "A friend thinks you might be going through something difficult and asked us to look at your recent post."

Next, the person will be given the options to talk to a friend or helpline worker or get tips and support. They will be able to chat online with a prevention volunteer who is on Facebook at that moment and can also view a video which talks about overcoming the urge to kill oneself.

I think it's great that Facebook is doing this. And it makes me wonder — if this option was available three months ago, when Cornwell died, could this have saved her? Maybe if a friend would have reported her Facebook status, she would have realized that people actually did care about her. She would realize that they would cry if she died.

StoneCrest, a psychiatric service provider in Detroit, released this statement about Facebook's new feature: "The idea behind this new Facebook feature is to be able to improve how they respond to threats of suicide and to be able to provide better information to those in need."

"Furthermore, by providing people with more ways to identify those who are in danger, we can all be more successful at preventing suicide. Suicide is a tragic act, but it can be prevented."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Academy Award winner Graham Moore: 'Stay weird'

I thought the best part of Sunday night's Academy Awards was the very brave acceptance speech by "The Imitation Game" writer Graham Moore.

When he accepted the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, Moore said, “When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now I am standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she's weird or she's different or she doesn't fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. Stay weird, stay different. When it's your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person that comes along."

I also felt "weird" when I was a teenager, and I got chills as he gave his speech. It felt like he was talking directly to me. And I'm sure of the 36.6 million viewers, many other people felt the same way.

The 33-year-old said at the Governor's Ball after the Oscars that he never publicly talked about his depression before. Moore said that he was a computer nerd when he was growing up and looked up to Alan Turing, the subject of "The Imitation Game."

Moore, who previously served as First Lady Michelle Obama's chief of staff, told Entertainment Weekly, “Unlike Alan, I’m not the greatest genius of my generation. Unlike Alan, I’m also not gay, but I have my own things that make me feel different. ... It’s always what drew me so much to Alan’s story—the outsider’s outsider, the guy who will never fit into his own time, but precisely because of that, was able to accomplish what he did.”

The thing as a teenager that kept me going was knowing that many accomplished people were considered "weird" when they were growing up. And, now, Moore is another person to add to this list. I am so thankful that Moore's suicide attempt didn't work. His speech was not only moving but I wouldn't be surprised if it saved at least one person's life, someone watching the Oscars who was considering suicide who changed his or her mind right that second.

If you feel different and think death is the only way out, instead take on Moore's challenge. Work that much harder to accomplish your dreams so, one day, when you are honored and when you are up on a stage giving your speech, you can pass on Moore's message.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

'Fifty Shades of Grey' doesn't romanticize abuse

I went to see the movie "Fifty Shades of Grey" over the weekend with my friends, and I, honestly, felt guilty going. I have read several articles stating that the movie promotes domestic abuse and that going to see this movie is detrimental to modern relationships.

Read a review of the film on Yes/No Films.

Now, I am glad that I went because I am able to give my actual opinion on it — instead of assumptions most people give by just watching the commercials.

When the movie was over and the credits were rolling, the first thing out of my mouth was, "I don't understand how that promoted abuse at all!"

I know multiple people who have been abused in relationships, physically or emotionally. And I honestly feel like, when people say that "Fifty Shades of Grey" romanticizes abuse, this belittles what abuse actually is. If anything, I think the film shows what it wrong with abuse, not the other way around.

 Reasons this movie does not promote abuse:

• Before he does anything, the character Christian Grey asks permission, usually multiple times.
• He and Anastasia Steele discuss, in-depth, what she is comfortable with.
• Anastasia also stands up for herself when she feels she is mistreated.
• And when Ana gets hurt, she yells at Christian, asking him if he enjoys seeing her in pain.
• Christian never once forces himself on her, and, when she says "No," he listens.
• Christian never puts her down. Instead, he compliments her all the time. He tells Ana she shouldn't be ashamed of her body. I think this is even something men in relationships could LEARN from.

I know that the character Christian Grey is on the controlling side, and I personally wouldn't want to date him. I am definitely not saying they have a "healthy relationship. But I think saying this movie "promotes abuse" is a little extreme. And, when Christian is controlling, Anastasia does a good job at telling him off. The viewer can see the pain she is going through by being treated this way, and, in no way, does it look "romantic."

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the following are tactics of physical abuse:

• Pulling your hair, punching, slapping, kicking, biting or choking you
• Forbidding you from eating or sleeping
• Damaging your property when they're angry
• Using weapons to threaten to hurt you
• Trapping you in your home or keeping you from leaving
• Preventing you from calling the police or seeking medical attention
• Harming your children
• Abandoning you in unfamiliar places
• Driving recklessly or dangerously when you are in the car
• Forcing you to use drugs or alcohol

These are tactics of emotional abuse, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline:

• Calling you names, insulting you or continually criticizing you
• Refusing to trust you and acting jealous or possessive
• Trying to isolate you from your family and friends
• Monitoring where you go, who you call and who you spend time with
• Demanding to know where you are every minute
• Threatening to hurt you
• Humiliating you
• Blaming you for the abuse
• Accusing you of cheating
• Serially cheating on you and then blaming you for his or her behavior
• Attempting to control your appearance
• Telling you that you will never find anyone better

People who are experiencing these things may not even realize it because their partner is brainwashing them and making them think it was somehow their fault. It is not your fault and you do not deserve to be treated this way. If someone doesn't respect what you want and how you want to be treated, then it is abuse.

Resources can be found by calling 1-800-799-SAFE. There are also chat services available on the National Domestic Violence Hotline's website for those who do not feel safe using the phone. For people who live in Oakland County, Mich., HAVEN offers help to those suffering from abuse. For 24-hour support, call 248-334-1274.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What 'The Imitation Game' teaches about the history of LGBT rights

Alan Turing in 1951 (left) and actor Benedict Cumberbatch (right)
as Turing in 'The Imitation Game'
Imagine if it was illegal to love the person who you love.

That's exactly what it was like in the United Kingdom until the late 1960s when homosexual acts were considered criminal offenses.

Under the Buggery Act 1533, same-sex sexual activity was outlawed and punishable by death (and later changed to life imprisonment by the Offences against the Person Act 1861). By the end of 1954, there were 1,069 gay men in prison in England and Wales, according to the Oxford Human Rights Hub.

The Oscar nominated movie "The Imitation Game" gives a look into the treatment of homosexual men in the 1940s and 50s with legendary mathematician Alan Turing's story.

It's been estimated that Turing's work shortened World War II by at least two years after he determined a technique for breaking Germany's ciphers.

How was Turing thanked for saving the lives of countless people by ending the war early? After all he did for the country he loved, Turing was chemically castrated. And if he refused to take these estrogen injections, which reduces libido and sexual activity, he would have been sent to prison.

Because of the government taking away such a significant part of his identity, Turing ingested cyanide and died. His death was determined a suicide.

Obviously, the world has come a long way since then. But, still, gay men and women are not treated as equal to straight men and women. And this is proven by research which shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are twice as likely to report being physically assaulted at school than their heterosexual peers, in a survey of 10,000 teens by the U.S.-based Human Rights Campaign. They are also four times more likely to attempt suicide, according to the nonprofit, the Trevor Project.

There is an important quote in the movie "The Imitation Game" that anyone who is considering suicide should remember — "Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine." No matter your race, gender or sexual orientation, you do have the ability to change the world, despite how others may treat you.

If still alive, Turing would be turning 103 this year. But, instead, he died at age 41 — 16 days before his 42nd birthday.

Who knows how long he would have lived if he wouldn't have died from cyanide poisoning. But, with all Turing was capable of, this world certainly would be very different if just this one man would have lived.

You too have the ability to change the world, just like Turing did. You just need to keep on living.

To watch inspiring videos on how, unlike in Turing's time, victimization is shown to decrease as LGBT adolescents grow up,  visit