Poverty and Homelessness

most homeless

Poverty and homelessness are topics that we don’t particularly like to think about or talk about, but they are also topics that we must think about and talk about. We must think and talk about these subjects right here, right in the USA and right in your state, your county, and your city. Whether we are rich and housed, poverty stricken and homeless or anywhere in between, these issues affect us all.

The recession that hit around 2008-2010 not only forced many Americans into underemployment or unemployment, it forced many individuals as well as whole families over the edge into poverty and homelessness. Most of us are aware of the media images of homeless people sleeping in cardboard boxes or on park benches. We’ve seen shameful images of our vets living on the streets. We may have even seen some people standing on street corners holding cardboard signs asking for help. It is true that some people (probably a small percentage) are homeless by choice. There may even be a few people who are poor by choice. Unfortunately there are homeless people who fit the stereotypes of being homeless (addicts, mentally ill individuals, and runaways) but since the recession there has been a growing number of people dealing with poverty and homelessness who never had a choice or a chance; some are children. There is a new face of homelessness in the United States and those faces look just like you or me. These people don’t fit into the media stereotypes. There are people who through no fault of their own have ended up on the streets. Inability to find affordable housing and/or work are just a few contributing factors. There are homeless people who hold down full time jobs, but because they can’t find anything that pays higher than poverty wages, they can’t afford a place to live.

I have blogged before about aspects of poverty, so when my library reading project brought me to books on poverty, I was anxious to read them. Two of the most well known of these types of books are Bridges Out of Poverty by Ruby K. Payne, PH.D, Phillip E. DeVol and Terie Dreussi Smith. A Framework for Understanding Poverty was written by Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D.

Bridges Out of Poverty Framework for Understanding Poverty

Having read both of these books, I have some mixed reactions to them. I think there is great information in these books and they are worth spending some time with. Bridges Out of Poverty was the first book of the two that I read. I found much of it quite enlightening. The purpose of the book seems to be to help professional people who come in contact with people in poverty. The author intends to help workers be better able to anticipate and serve the needs of those living in poverty. According to this information there are two basic types of poverty: generational and situational. Generational poverty is defined as at least two generations of the same family still living in poverty. Much of the rest of the book goes on to make a profile of sorts of those who are in generational poverty. Professionals who would read these books deal with those in generational poverty on a daily basis so I do understand the need to address the issue in depth. I was quite disappointed though that situational poverty was barely addressed and the author(s) appear(s) to assume that everything known about generational poverty also applies to situational poverty. While some characteristics are shared, I think these are actually two (or more) separate issues. In generational poverty behaviors and attitudes may have been actually taught by families to their children as a way of life. In situational poverty individuals are in survival mode and their needs are likely to be temporary. Those in situational poverty most likely possess the skills to get out of poverty, but need temporary assistance. In reading this book, I was often uncomfortable with blanket statements that seemed to assume that those in poverty have no skills, education, resources, or other means of helping themselves although I realize that is true for some people. With those in situational poverty likely being the fastest growing segment of those in poverty, I think the author(s) missed a huge part of the issue.

On a more positive note, there was some extremely helpful information in Bridges Out of Poverty. The author(s) talk(s) about the ability to use language and the ability to relay information as a means of helping people climb out of poverty. Interestingly those in (generational) poverty tend to use more casual language and story telling when relaying information which becomes a problem if they are dealing with agencies (social services, medical, governmental, etc) which tend to use more formal language to give and receive information. It’s as though two different languages are being spoken and the author(s) believe(s) that those in poverty should be taught to use more formal language. Conversely, people who work as intake information gatherers should also be taught about the more casual speech of those in (generational) poverty to be better able to abstract critical information. Also of great value this book identifies some “hidden rules among classes” and does a great job explaining them. By learning the “rules” and teaching them, those in any class (poverty, middle, wealth) can use them to communicate more effectively and also potentially move from one class to another. Several areas are addressed, but as an example attitudes about possessions tend to be the following:

  • Poverty-People are possessions
  • Middle Class-Possessions are things
  • Wealth-Possessions are one-of-a-kind objects, legacies, pedigrees

It is very interesting to see the differences in attitudes about other areas as well such as money, personality, social emphasis, food, clothing, time, education, destiny, language, family structure, world view, love, driving forces, and humor.

A Framework for Understanding Poverty was disappointing to me as a reader. The information in it is good, but it is essentially the same book (but updated) as Bridges Out of Poverty.  Although the front cover says it’s a revised edition, it doesn’t say that it’s a revision of the Bridges book. I spent time comparing graphs, charts, and pictographs between the two books and didn’t find a whole lot of differing information. This was even more disappointing when I realized that the Bridges book was originally copyrighted in 2001 and the Framework copy I had was last updated in 2011. With the rising statistics of those in poverty over the years between 2001-2011, I felt the information in this book was extremely dated. Situational poverty is still not really addressed in the newer version. If I had bought both of these books in a bookstore, I would have been upset that they are the same book but don’t say they are the same book.

I searched for quite awhile for current statistics on homelessness, but the best I could come up with was the map at the beginning of this blog. I believe that this map is new enough to include both generational and situational numbers combined to give us at least an idea of how many homeless people we have in this country and where they are located. I was surprised by Hawaii’s ranking as the state with the highest number of homeless people. I was equally surprised by Mississippi’s ranking as the state with the lowest number of homeless people. (Great job Mississippi!) I am pleased that my state, Indiana, has the third lowest homelessness rate in the country.

Homeless people are in every state and many of them-especially those in situational poverty- know how to blend in and not be seen. That is exactly what The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp is about. Brianna Karp shares her true experience of homelessness.

The Girl's Guide to Homelessness

This book is entertaining and easy to read. The story is a true one of determination and bravery.  I had trouble putting it down. After being laid off of her job and unable to pay rent, Brianna finds herself estranged from her family and homeless. Brianna literally put a face on situational poverty and homelessness. In the process of relaying her story, Brianna addresses the many stereotypical beliefs about the homeless. After unexpectedly inheriting a truck and a trailer, Briana found herself living in a makeshift camp in a Walmart parking lot without access to plumbing, electricity, air conditioning or heat. She was one of the luckier homeless people because she at least had shelter.

WalMart Campers

Some might say Brianna was not homeless because she had a trailer. However the Federal Definition of Homeless, United States Code Title 45, Chapter 119, Subchapter I, SS 11302 says:

General Definition of a Homeless Individual:

an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and

an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill);

an institution that provides temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.

Brianna faced her situation with intelligence and bravery. She details her daily struggles in getting her most basic needs met while searching for a job using the few resources she had retained. Her experiences have led her into her true passion, advocacy for the homeless.

I would love to say much more about The Girls’s Guide to Homelessness, but just about anything else I would say would be a spoiler and I don’t want to give away the entire story. I will just say that I have never met Brianna Karp, but I have immense respect for her. She has an ongoing website: http://girlsguidetohomelessness.com/

Also, some sites that Brianna recommends are:

Change.org http://uspoverty.change.org/blog/category/homelessness

Homeless.us – United States Department of Social Services; Emergency Shelter http://homeless.us

211 National Human Services Information & Referral Hotline http://211.org; http://211us.org or dial 2-1-1 toll-free from any U.S. phone to be connected with an operator.

National Coalition for the Homeless http://nationalhomeless.org

Homeless Blogs Project http://homelessblogs.org

The International Homeless Forum http://homelessforums.org

World Homeless Day http://worldhomelessday.org

A Gift of Hope

Danielle Steel wrote A Gift of Hope to bring attention to the needs of the homeless. Shortly after Danielle’s son, Nick, died by suicide Danielle was looking for a way to make a difference and honor her son at the same time. (His Bright Light by Danielle Steele is the true story of her son’s suicide.) She formed an outreach called Yo! Angel! in which her teams drove around the city looking for homeless people in need of winter jackets, wool hats, warm socks, gloves, and sleeping bags. Later other supplies and some food was added to the items Yo! Angel! distributed. Danielle was hesitant about sharing her activism but then later changed her mind and decided to speak out because she could voice a desperate cry for help for the homeless.

A Gift of Hope is a touching book which details how Danielle Steele and her crew first began to help the homeless, the mistakes they made, the safety precautions they took, and the unforgettable people they met along the way. Many living on the streets truly have been given hope through the efforts of Danielle and her team. For anyone interested in homelessness, I would recommend this book. It is short, a quick read, and loaded with information.

In Danielle Steele’s book she points out that the numbers of homeless at any given time are likely not accurate. She reports an abysmal process of counting the homeless (at least in the San Francisco area) in which the “counters” go out for just one night and count only those homeless that they actually see on the street. If a homeless person happens to be using a public restroom or has scraped together enough money to go get a sandwich or some other needed supply and are in a public place (restaurant, store, etc) they are not counted. Those who are homeless due to situational poverty are experts at blending in and not being seen so they are likely never even counted. According to Danielle we have more accurate counts of birds than we do homeless people. Because of the counting method used, Danielle believes the numbers of homeless people in her area at any given time can be wrong by at least 23,000. She also points out that some states have managed to lower their homeless population by “relocating” the homeless. She claims that at one point the city of New York paid for bus tickets for the homeless to go anywhere but where they were. Some of the homeless were put on a bus and sent to a neighboring state. Therefore, according to Danielle Steele, we need to be leery of the current statistical data. Are we actually making an impact on the homeless problem (which more than likely are economic, employment, health, and education problems) or are we as a society just getting better at hiding it in numbers? Are the homeless just being moved around and therefore not being counted? Are the populations of homeless people being moved actually the mentally ill who should be hospitalized? These are disturbing questions.

Have you ever been homeless? Have you given serious thought to the plight of the homeless? Are you active in trying to help the homeless? I would love to hear about your experiences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Substance Abuse

prescription-drug-abuse-s1-what-is

Substance abuse has become quite a large problem in the US. Roughly 4 years ago, methamphetamine became the illegal drug of choice in Indiana with Fulton County having  the regrettable claim of the highest concentration of meth labs in the state (if not the country) at that time. Law enforcement has cracked down on this problem and as of 2015 Indiana led the nation in meth busts. Law makers have passed stricter laws making it harder to get the precursors for meth production and although meth continues to be a problem, there are unfortunately all kinds of substances that continue to be used and abused.  Heroin use seems to be on the rise  but meth is probably the larger problem in this area of the country which has no doubt affected my choice of books from the substance abuse section of the Fulton County Public Library. It is, however, important to be aware of other illegal substances.

Until reading about designer drugs, I didn’t really understand what they are. Designer drugs are created from synthetic compounds made in a lab. They are not plant based and are often very dangerous. Production of designer drugs in illegal labs is extremely dangerous. Interestingly many of the designer drugs started out in legal labs for medicinal reasons. For instance Meth was originally used as a weight loss product and then in nasal sprays before being pulled from the market when it was noticed that the drug had addictive qualities as well as adverse long term effects. Several other designer drugs were pulled off of the market due to undesired side effects but not before many people got hooked on them. Black markets were born but production quality decreased almost guaranteeing eventual negative side effects and sometimes death. In the book Designer Drugs by Paul Robbins, the author follows drug origins from the (often) legal production to the illegal street versions and explaining along the way who the people are that want to use these drugs and why.

designer drugs

Following these stories was quite interesting and informative. Despite the obvious chemistry and manufacturing that goes into the production of designer drugs, the book is written in an easy to understand format and is very reader friendly. I would even go as far as to say some of the stories are entertaining although unfortunate. Designer Drugs is a small book which is packed with information. With only 7 chapters it covers topics such as the characteristics of designer drugs, the differences between MPTP and Speed, why people choose drugs like Ecstasy  and the Fentanyl Analogs, individual drug use, families and drug abuse, society and drug abuse, and how to get help for drug abuse. The book has fairly short chapters with a few discussion questions at the end of each chapter making the book useful as a classroom textbook or even a support group resource.

IfOnlyYouPeople_FINAL

In If Only You People Could Follow Directions Jessica Hendry Nelson shares her experiences of being in a family dealing with addiction. While I can’t exactly say I enjoyed this book, I did find parts of it interesting. I found the jumbled time sequences hard to follow and had a definite distaste for much of the language used in the book. I nearly didn’t finish the book because of this. Despite these reasons, I continued to read and what emerged was the story of an imperfect family trying to survive addictive behavior related to substance use and abuse. As a child growing up in this environment, Jessica’s experiences and memories do seem to be fragmented always revolving around the current crisis. The jumbled time sequences are likely trying to portray the out of control feeling experienced by families in crisis. Jessica’s family seems to be held together more by crisis than by family bond. Despite it all, Jessica appears to have left her dysfunctional roots and moved on to become a successful writer.

After reading about drugs themselves, the abuse of drugs, and families in crisis because of drugs, the obvious next choice was to read something dealing with how to stop abusing drugs. Given the meth problem in this area of the country, I’ve heard a lot about the issue and know about how addictive meth is. Wondering what it takes for someone to stop using, Quitting Crystal Meth by Joseph Sharp seemed to be the next logical choice for me to read.

quitting crystal meth

Joseph Sharp is a former meth addict who is nonjudgmental and respectful to the reader.  After someone decides to quit meth, Joseph explains how to prepare to quit by trying to anticipate questions a user may have such as “Do I really have to ‘hit bottom’?” and “Should I detox alone or with a doctor?” Several other concerns are also addressed in the “getting ready” phase. The author goes on to explain everything from exactly what to expect during the actual detox, the weeks and months following through the first year and even some time after that. The possibility of relapse is discussed and what to do about it if it happens. Along with all of this, Joseph interjects his own experiences and also talks about the need to establish a good support system and how to get help to quit meth if needed.

Below are some websites which can help you through the process of quitting:

Home

http://crystalmeth.org/

Other sites than may be helpful are:

http://www.na.org/

ww.aa.org

If you Google the words “images faces meth users” you will bring up a series of pictures showing how meth dramatically ages a person and you will see visible damage to the human body. These photos are graphic (so not shared here). View at your own discretion. The majority of the photos are only from the neck up, but they can be difficult to view. In my opinion they are effective deterrents to starting meth. If you or someone you know already is a current user of meth, please view the images to educate yourself on what this deadly drug does to people. I would highly recommend the book Quitting Crystal Meth by Joseph Sharp to anyone struggling with meth addiction. Please seek help. There is hope and the bravest thing a user can do is to seek help.

 

 

Suicide and Survival

suicide survivor

Suicide is a topic I dreaded having to read about and a post I’ve been dreading having to write. There is no way I can write about this and not get more personal about this subject. In 2010 my oldest tadpole died by suicide at the age of 20. Although it’s been 6 years I am just now getting to the point that I can share her story. This is not to say I haven’t been dealing with her death in my own way. It’s just that I was more focused inwardly and now I’m able to begin to outwardly talk about the whole issue. I am actually writing a book which is our family’s testimony about the problems leading up to a senseless death that didn’t have to happen and how we believe God brought us through it all. Ironically I had already begun the book–most of which she read and ok’d as a story of her life–before this tragedy. I write now to keep a promise to her that I had made to somehow get her story heard. Her story is my story. It’s my family’s story. It’s a true story of dramatic twists and turns that none of us could have possibly made up. Although it’s a cliche, truth really is stranger than fiction.  Our story is one of betrayal, secrets, a double life, mental illness, corruption, prejudice, ignorance, survival and death and yet it is a story of faith, hope, love, loyalty, brutal honesty,compassion, integrity, acceptance, education, and forgiveness leading to life. Our lives are an enigma of oxymoron. Having said all of that, I found that when I reached the literature about suicide that I was actually ready to read it and much of it has been extremely helpful and even freeing for me, a suicide loss survivor.

Something amazing happens when we read and keep on reading. We not only learn about individual topics, but all of that knowledge begins to integrate in our minds. Our understanding is opened as if pieces of a jigsaw puzzle are joined together giving us a bigger picture. My previous post about Mental Health and now this one about Suicide and Survival have brought pieces of my own story together in a way that has been very therapeutic for me. Drafted into a club I never wanted to join, I feel uniquely qualified to discuss books and literature on the topic of suicide.

Until fairly recently all available literature pertaining to suicide dealt with statistics after the fact or with ways of trying to prevent it. While I believe this is valuable information, it did very little in helping survivors cope with a suicide. It’s also obviously not enough since suicide rates continue to climb. Some survivors have sought help from psychotherapists and have found that the therapist seemed more interested in the suicide than actually in helping the survivor cope. In many cases survivors are blamed and shamed for the death by the very people who should be able to help them cope. There are over 40,000 suicides in the US every year. Mental health professionals estimate that for every suicide there are at least 6 survivors who were very close to the deceased with many more people affected by the suicide. I’ve seen some figures that estimated that as many as 4 million people a year in the US are affected in some manner by suicide. For survivors closest to the suicide, the risk of suicide increases by 400%. Given that 4 million people can be a 400% higher suicide risk this is a huge problem. There is an enormous need for education and survivor support in this nation.

The first book on this topic that I read in my library read through was Words I Never Thought to Speak: Stories of Life in the Wake of Suicide by Victoria Alexander.

Words I Never Thought To Speak

Victoria Alexander lost her mother by suicide. In trying to make sense of the tragedy, she began to collect suicide survivor stories. The stories are traced over the years after the suicide. In doing so, she discovered that suicide loss survivors have a unique need to grieve differently than people who have experienced loss due to causes other than suicide. There is an almost compulsive need to tell suicide stories over and over often for years. Often support isn’t as available to suicide survivors as it is for any other type of loss. This may be due as much to shock as it is to stigma and shame. Often there is secrecy surrounding the cause of death, making it difficult to mourn in traditional ways. Friends and even extended family members may not understand the need to grieve long after the death and to keep revisiting all of the details.. In many areas of the country survivors have banded together and can offer support to other survivors in ways the “uninitiated” can’t.

With suicide deaths often come stigma, speculation, and judgement. Survivors torture themselves with the “what if’s” and the “if only’s.” Self blame, feelings of abandonment, guilt, and rejection are also common. Families can either be brought together or torn apart by a suicide. Some families splinter between blame and support causing rifts in relationships that can last for years or a lifetime. Storytelling helps survivors to work out their thoughts and emotions. Victoria Alexander has arranged her book in such a manner that you can read survivor stories straight through or so you can read the stories in the stages of  “At the End/At the Beginning,” “In the Midland,” and “Then and Now.” The reader gets a better understanding of the stages of grief that suicide survivors go through–and how they waver between them. This book is appropriate to both survivors and therapists who work with survivors.

Victoria Alexander recommends the following groups [and I’ve tried to find the online versions] for those dealing with suicide related issues:

American Association of Suicidology  http://www.suicidology.org/

American  Foundation for Suicide Prevention https://afsp.org/

The Compassionate Friends https://www.compassionatefriends.org/home.aspx

The International THEOS Foundation http://accesshelp.org/resources/grief-support-orgs/

Children’s Grief Support Network http://www.griefsupportnetwork.org/index.php/community-links/general

Another result of suicide is that it creates unfinished business. Survivors are almost always caught off guard and must not only deal with the shock of an unexpected death, but they are forced to make very difficult decisions concerning everything from final services to legal and financial decisions. On top of this, in the midst of shock, survivors begin to realize that they will have to be responsible for dealing with the remnants of  a life left suddenly behind by the suicide which often involves discovering secret plans and personal facts about the loved one that the survivor would have preferred not to know.

In No Time to Say Goodbye, Carla Fine (a survivor herself) explores all of these unique aspects to dealing with a suicide death. Fine does a remarkable job of explaining why it is so difficult to talk openly about a suicide death. I found this book to be candid and affirming. I highly recommend No Time to Say Goodbye to any suicide survivor.

No time

Because I felt it was a good summary, I have copied and pasted the summary of this book from the Fulton County Public Library card catalog below:

Suicide would appear to be the last taboo. Even incest is now discussed freely in popular media, but the suicide of a loved one is still an act most people are unable to talk about–or even admit to their closest family or friends. This is just one of the many painful and paralyzing truths author Carla Fine discovered when her husband, a successful young physician, took his own life December 1989. Being unable to speak openly and honestly about the cause of her pain made it all the more difficult for her to survive. With No Time To Say Goodbye, she brings suicide survival from the darkness into light, speaking frankly about the overwhelming feelings of confusion, guilt, shame, anger, and loneliness that are shared by all survivors. Fine draws on her own experience and conversations with many other survivors–as well as on the knowledge of counselors and mental health professionals. She offers a strong helping hand and invaluable guidance to the vast numbers of family and friends who are left behind by the more than thirty thousand* people who commit suicide each year, struggling to make sense of an act that seems to seem senseless, and to pick up the pieces of their own shattered lives. Perhaps, most important, for the first time in any book, she allows survivors to see that they are not alone in their feelings of grief and despair.

[*Discrepancy between this figure and the one stated previously is probably due to Carla Fine’s book being copyrighted in the late 90’s. Unfortunately suicide statistics have risen considerably.]

No Time to Say Goodbye is presented in six parts:

Part One: Introduction. This talks about the need to let go of the silence–something many survivors are hesitant to do because of all of the stigma, blame and shame associated with suicides.

Part Two: The Suicide. Very brave  survivors tell their actual stories.

Part Three: The Aftermath. This part of the book deals with a stage most survivors go through in which they search for answers, the helplessness they feel, tumultuous emotions, and dealing with legal and financial problems.

Part Four: The Survival. This is when survivors truly begin the mourning process and deal with the long term effects of the suicide on the family, how to get help for themselves, and forgiveness.

Part Five: Making Sense of the Chaos. This is about learning to live with the facts of the suicide and the life changes it brought while honoring the memory of the person lost.

Part Six: Resources. This one is self explanatory, but because it is so important, I will list some of the resources that weren’t previously mentioned. As above, I’ve tried to find and list the online versions of the groups I’ve listed.

Friends for Survival, Inc. http://www.friendsforsurvival.org/

Heartbeat http://heartbeatsurvivorsaftersuicide.org/

SPAN https://afsp.org/support_group/span-survivors-of-suicide-support-group/

The resource section also lists various material and pamphlets for survivors. There is also a state by state listing of already existing survivor support groups.

The following is an excerpt from “Understtanding Survivors of Suicide Loss”  Psychology Today  by Deborah Serani, Phys.D.

Ways to Help a Survivor of Suicide Loss

If you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, there are many things you can do. In addition, by reaching out, you also help take stigma out of the equation.

  1. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the death. Extend your condolences, express your feelings of sorrow. Make sure you use the loved one’s name. “My heart is so sad that John died.” Many who have lost someone to suicide have a broken heart, clinically called Stress Cardiomyopathy, and really need your empathy, compassion and understanding to heal.
  2. Ask the survivor if and how you can help. Though they may not be ready to accept help, asking signifies that you are there—not avoiding or distancing during this tragic event. The notion of being there if needed is extremely comforting for survivors.
  3. Encourage openness. Be accepting of however survivors need to express their feelings. It may be with silence, with sadness or even anger.
  4. Be patient. Don’t set a time limit for a survivor’s grief. Complicated grief can take years to process. Moreover, don’t limit a survivor’s need to share and repeat stories, conversations or wishes. Repetition is a key factor in grief recovery.
  5. Listen. Be a compassionate listener. This means don’t look to fix things. The greatest gift you can give someone you care about who has survived a suicide loss is your time, reassurance and love.

I think this is a decent list of things that anyone can do. Being a survivor myself, there are a few comments I would like to add. Definitely don’t be afraid to acknowledge the death. However, use a bit of common sense in this practice. In the beginning it is extremely important to acknowledge that there actually has been a death. Sometimes this seemingly obvious fact gets lost amidst police investigations and other legal and bureaucratic concerns. When my daughter died, someone brought up the fact of her suicide EVERY single time I saw that person for YEARS after the fact. This is where a little discretion could be used. While it’s perfectly fine to acknowledge the death, there is no reason for it to be brought up in every conversation. The person who was doing this was totally oblivious to the fact that it was upsetting me. Sometimes the name of the deceased will come up casually and normally in conversation and when this happens, it’s perfectly fine to comment and follow the conversation. Also, if those closest to the suicide like a mother (as in my case) bring it up, it’s ok to talk about it. Survivors have good days and bad days–and will for the rest of their lives so it is really important to follow the lead of those closest to the suicide. Some days survivors may have the strength to confront the facts and other days they won’t. Please do not try to force a survivor to talk about the suicide if they are clearly not ready to do so. They will open up when they are ready.

Listening–if the survivor(s) want to talk–is critical. I’m very fortunate that I had (and have) really great support in my life; wonderful people that I’m blessed to call my closest friends. Unfortunately there have also been a few people that just wanted to attack me. The people who wanted to attack me didn’t (and still don’t) have all of the facts and really do not know what they are talking about. They jumped to conclusions about the why of  my daughter’s death. Some blamed me. Some blamed her. A survivor is already blaming themself (although in the majority of situations the closest survivor couldn’t have stopped the death anyway) and the blaming and shaming that some want to do is not helpful at all. One of these people called my daughter a “coward.” One  attacked me at the memorial service basically saying I’m a lousy person who had a lousy kid. These are not exactly the type of people that a survivor is going to open up to. This type of behavior is extremely hurtful and harmful not to mention apalling and rude. It’s the exact opposite behavior of what should be happening. 

We have a very long way to go in our society in dealing with issues surrounding suicide. I am pleased that the silence is beginning to be addressed. I know there are many writers on this forum and this is a topic wide open. We need more materials to help survivors cope with suicide. Consider this post a challenge for you to bravely and openly talk about this issue.

Mental Health

Stages-of-Mental-Health-Conditions-859x1024

Reaching the 360’s (Social Problems & Social Services) in my library read through coincided with library programming concerning autism education training for staff and autism educational programming for patrons. The program was presented by a man named Stephen Viehweg. He is widely known in Indiana. This was the flyer for the program:

Stephan Viehweg Presentation

Being a former Special Education teacher, I was extremely interested in this topic. When I first reached the 360’s, the first books I picked up were about living with autism so the staff training couldn’t have been better timed for me. There is so much more known about autism now than when I was in the classroom and the current research into this condition is truly amazing.

While I realize that many high functioning autistic people do not think of autism as a mental health problem, the Dewey Decimal System lumps autism into this category which is why I am including it in this blog entry.

Look Me In the Eye Look Me In the Eye by John Elder Robison was an entertaining and very informative book about living with autism. It was also my first introduction to the work of John Elder Robison (who by the way is the brother of Augusten Burroughs, author of Running with Scissors, a book that is about mental illness.) I was so impressed with Robison that I looked for other books he had written. I’m not normally a big fan of books on CD (BOCD), but Robison has two that I checked out.

The first of Robison’s books on CD  that I listened to was Switched On A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening.

Switched On

This BOCD held my attention in a way that few would. It is about an experimental treatment for people with autism (and depression) and how this treatment was life changing for Robison. I highly recommend this book for anyone with an interest in this topic.

The second BOCD of Robinson’s that I listened to was Raising Cubby.

Raising Cubby

This was also  very interesting. Robison’s son is autistic and the book explores a unique father / son relationship and an FBI investigation into Cubby’s interest in explosives. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in exploring the dynamics of families living with autism.

The next group of books in the 360 section pertain more to actual mental illnesses, disorders, and conditions. These are also topics of interest to me since I have studied Psychology.

Amen, Amen, Amen

Amen, Amen, Amen by Abby Sher is a book about a woman who lives with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I like books like this because they show how people are affected in their daily lives by mental illness. Abby Sher does a great job of explaining not only how OCD affects her own life, but the lives of all those around her.

After exploring OCD, I launched into a book about Bipolar Disorder.

A Promise of Hope

A Promise of Hope by Autumn Stringam  is a quick read and informative book. Stringam traces a history of Bipolar Disorder in her family as she describes her life experiences. After some very tragic occurances, Autumn’s father had had enough and set out to find a cure while enlisting the unlikely help of a pig feed salesman. Together the two men come up with a formula that now has the attention of the world. Their formula is completely natural and contains vitamins and minerals. It has a higher absorption rate than over the counter vitamins.  Autumn, who was probably at stage 4, is living proof of the formula’s success. Since Autum’s experience literally thousands of people have benefited from this remarkable product. Anyone suffering from bipolar or who knows someone suffering from bipolar should make this book a must read.

Bearing in mind that only a professional can make an actual diagnosis, if you are concerned that you or someone you know could be at risk for mental illness, there are some online screening tools that you can check out anonymously:

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/mental-health-screening-tools

https://www.mindoula.com/m3-screen/

Moving along, I came to the book American Psychosis: How the Federal Government Destroyed the Mental Illness Treatment System by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D.

Image of American Psychosis: How the Federal Government Destroyed the Mental Illness Treatment System

This is not a book for the faint of heart. Academic in its presentation, it is not an easy read. If one can stick with the book it has some amazing facts to share. Torrey traces the beginnings of the mental health system and the psychiatric profession from the Kennedy administration to present day. This is a topic near and dear to my heart for reasons I don’t have time to get into in this post, but it has been a real eye opener in some areas. For me, this book also helped to fill in some gaps in my understanding of the psychiatric profession. It is essentially an attack on the mental health system and psychiatry both of which actually started out with political roots.

Torrey is doing some definite feather ruffling with this book while pointing out the need for a serious change. Many people can point to the need for change, but Torrey is trying to encourage and participate in major change.  He can’t do it alone though. To serve the most seriously mentally ill among us is going to require major changes in politics, in hospitals, community clinics, psychiatry, jails, law enforcement, nursing homes, board and care homes, and (re)education of just about everyone. All of us need to start somewhere though and this book is a great place to start.

Fitting in nicely with both Autumn Stringam’s and E. Fuller Torrey’s books is a movie called Generation Rx.

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I haven’t made it to the movie section in my library exploration, but I would be remiss not to include a reference to this particular DVD. If you have children or grandchildren, know any child or adult who takes psychotropic drugs (Zoloft, Ritalin, Prozac, etc). You need to view this movie. Generation Rx is essentially a documentary that explores the safety of these types of drugs and the (often) junk science that these medications are based on. By educating yourself on this topic, you may literally save lives.

 

Economics

WorkingPoorCover

Continuing on through the nonfiction books of the Fulton County Public Library, I arrived in the Economics section. This category encompasses broad topics such as labor economics, financial economics, economics of land and energy, cooperatives, socialism, public finance, production, and macroeconomics. Since there is no way I could possibly cover all of those topics in one blog post I’ve chosen to concentrate on the first two-labor economics and financial economics.

The recession that hit around 2008-2010 affected many middle class families causing hardship. Many were forced into underemployment or unemployment. Of those who were able to return to work many were unable to get a full time position or a job that paid anything but poverty wages. Most lost insurance and other job related benefits such as retirement packages. Millions of Americans now fall into a category known as the Working Poor. In 2013 this is what that looked like:

working poor 2013

Although there have been some improvements in the economy in the last 3 years, many former middle class families still can’t make ends meet. Even with minimum wages increasing in some areas (and minimum wage going up at least $1 since the graph was made),  millions of full time, hard working Americans with families still find themselves living at or below poverty level wages.

working poor pictogram

Often people are forced into working multiple jobs just to make ends meet. Many of the books I read in the Economics section focused on this issue. Even more alarming are the number of households headed by women raising children alone and the number of married women who are the main bread winners in their families but still making considerably less money than men doing the same job. The work world tends to discriminate against women with children. Particularly noteworthy books that I read dealing with these subjects follow.

The Betrayal of Work

 

This book, The Betrayal of Work by Beth Shulman, does an excellent job of describing the dead end cycle that many American families find themselves caught in. Shulman follows several full time, hard working people and describes the sorts of conditions they must deal with on a daily basis.

Selling Women Short Selling Women Short by Lisa Featherstone is a book detailing reasons for a class action lawsuit (Dukes v. WalMart ) which exposes many labor and ethical violations in the retail sector. After reading this book,  the reader will have a new appreciation for the need for change in the American workforce.

Overwhelmed Brigid Schulte does a remarkable job in Overwhelmed Work, Love, and Play  When No One  Has the Time of exploring the balance (or lack thereof) that many people (mostly women) experience between work and leisure time. This is especially an important work when one considers that in many cases women must work extra hours just to make up pay differences or split shifts due to needing to take care of children. Although a rather long read, this book has many important points to make and is well worth the time.

About the time I was reading these books, I was handed the following new addendum at work; author unknown.

Employee Handbook

Sick Days

We will no longer accept a doctor’s statement as proof of sickness. If you are able to go to the doctor, you are able to come to work.

Personal Days

Each employee will receive 104 personal days a year. They are called Saturday & Sunday.

Lunch Break

Skinny people get 30 minutes for lunch as they need to eat more so that they can look healthy. Normal size people get 15 minutes for lunch to get a balanced meal to maintain their average figure. Fat people get 5 minutes for lunch because that’s all the time needed to drink a Slim Fast.

Dress Code

It is advised you come to work dressed according to your salary. If we see you wearing $350 Prada sneakers and carrying a $600 Gucci bag, we assume you are doing well financially and therefore do not need a raise.

If you dress poorly, you need to learn to manage your money better so that you may buy nicer clothes and therefore you do not need a raise.

If you dress in-between, you are right where you need to be and therefore you do not need a raise.

Bereavement Leave

There is no excuse for missing work. There is nothing you can do for dead friends, relatives, or co-workers. Every effort should be made to have non-employees attend to the arrangements. In rare cases where employee involvement is necessary, the funeral should be scheduled in the late afternoon. We will be glad to allow you to work through your lunch hour and subsequently leave one hour early.

Restroom Use

Entirely too much time is being spent in the restroom. There is now a strict 3 minute time limit in the stalls. At the end of three minutes, an alarm will sound, the toilet paper will retract, the stall door will open and a picture will be taken. After your second offense, your picture will be posted on the company bulletin board under the “Chronic Offenders” category.

Thank you for your loyalty to our great company.

We are here to provide a positive employment experience.

 

Although I read many books pertaining to financial economics there is one that I favor above all others. It is The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey.

The Total Money Makeover

Dave Ramsey has a common sense, no nonsense approach to money that will benefit anyone.  As he says in his book, it doesn’t matter if you make $20,000 or $200,000 a year this plan will work for you. My husband and I have taken on this particular challenge and we are seeing immediate results. Mr. Ramsey first attacks some financial myths and then redirects areas of thinking. He lays out a basic plan in which participants work their way through 7 baby steps. In my opinion this should be required reading for everyone. Dave Ramsey has literally helped thousands of people improve their financial situations.