Friday, November 23, 2007

Psychotherapy: Humbug?

As depression becomes a public health issue, how can an increasingly skeptical public benefit from the fruits of modern psychotherapy?

By: Vanessa Uy

If one dares to point a finger on who destroyed the credibility of modern / contemporary psychotherapy, then the blame should be directed at the current American pop culture. Ever since the TV series “The Sopranos” gained it’s legions of fans, the folks who mistrust modern psychotherapy finally gained a platform in which their “statement” finally got the “sex appeal” it badly deserves. Or is it the “Soprano” – spoof movie “Analyze This” and the sequel “Analyze That” where the Italian-American community’s mistrust of “shrinks” finally got worldwide mass-media attention. And what about the famous actor Tom Cruise airing his views on the science of psychology as a whole during his appearance on the TV talk show “Oprah”. It seems like America has abandoned her faith on psychotherapy, but it isn’t always been this way.

Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s - friends of mine who are old enough to have experienced first hand the worldwide cultural phenomena called Guns N’ Roses - lived through a time where shrinks / counselors / psychotherapists were held in high regard by American pop culture and the American society. My older friends also remembered on how the practice of seeing shrinks / psychotherapists / psychoanalysts became fashionable back then even though those who visit one are not currently suffering any known mental illness. Back to Guns N' Roses circa 1989, the band’s mercurial frontman – W. Axl Rose – never forgot to mention during his press interviews about his personal opinion on the virtues of “shrinks” i.e. psychotherapists. Back then, it’s even fashionable to visit to shrinks and “chill out” with one even though it was (is) a somewhat expensive proposition at 75 to 100 US dollars- an- hour. At that time, Newsweek and Time even criticized the peoples growing over reliance on shrinks. There’s even a blurb about talking someone out of his or her diabetes (!). But during the same time (1989) in the Philippines, the existing sentiments on shrinks are pretty much like / mirroring the TV series “The Sopranos”. Back in 1989- era Philippines, only “crazy people” i.e. the mentally ill went to shrinks. Even though this is my view, I know of native New Yorkers of Filipino ancestry who say that Filipino’s distrust of shrinks / psychotherapists are born of “repressed Catholic anti-Semitism”. Is this because of what Sigmund Freud said that he is Jewish- by- race- and- not-by-religion as an expression of Jewish pride in defiance of Nazi-era Germany? By the way, the New Yorkers of Filipino descent who I am frequently in contact with via "WEB 2.0" are very critical of this "Makati-Corporate-World-Metro-Manila-Castelian-Catholic-Colonial-Chauvanism" that is "conveniently" overlooked (in the name of money) by the Tagalog Media / Cultural elite.

Today, the Filipino society – in general – don’t trust modern psychotherapy. The existing idea that only the mentally ill visit shrinks is still the norm. Ironically, the practice of astrology, fortune telling and other Gypsy / Roma / Romani style mysticism are used as substitute for legitimate psychoanalysis by the very rich and local celebrities i.e. the "Tagalog Cultural Elite". To me, that’s their loss.

Depression: An Overlooked Public Health Crisis?

From famed artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Edgar Allan Poe to a steadily rising part of the general public, should we adopt a pro-active rather than a reactive response in dealing with this mental health crisis?

By: Vanessa Uy

The inevitability for urgent concern might be a long time coming but a World Health Organization (WHO) study shows that mental health issues like depression is largely ignored by healthcare providers around the world. A WHO report aired in November 13, 2007 shows depression had already reached parity with other “preventable” public health concerns like coronary heart disease and even AIDS. The existing lack of urgency when it comes to dealing with mental health problems like depression is largely due to the pre-existing stigma attached to most mental health disorders in addition to general mistrust of the general public on the science of psychology.

Depression by itself is generally harmless, since most of us live in the Northern Hemisphere and when winter season comes the daylight hours gets shorter and shorter. This gives rise to a melancholic feeling commonly referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The more serious form of depression that could lead to suicides are usually a product of manic – depressive disorder also known by its modern more politically correct name of bipolar disorder. Sufferers of bipolar disorder usually resort to suicide during the depressive part of their mental illness. While in their manic state, the sufferer could be manifesting his or her creative genius in various art forms like music, literature, and other creative outlets in ways far beyond the abilities of “normal” people.

With the aid of the latest existing mental health diagnostic tools like the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s handbook, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, referred to as the DSM-IV, had made analyzing mental illness across cultures much more easier and accurate. The latest WHO report also shows that mainland China probably has 100 million undiagnosed sufferers of depression that if left untreated could lead to suicide. Local studies have shown that rural parts of China has a much higher rates of suicide that urban areas due to increased isolation and hardship in day –to –day living.

Even though the basic facts in overcoming depression rest’s on the individual sufferer, to me, it still takes a skilled psychotherapist / counselor / social worker to bring back someone from the brink. Many of us –including me – had been taking for granted that every time we suffer from “the blues” we don’t wind up killing ourselves. As someone with above average creative skills, it always pays to keep close tabs with one’s selves. After all, you’ll know things are getting out of hand when you become your own worse enemy.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Divorce Insurance: Equitability in Marriage?

In today’s post-modern society driven by capitalist consumerism, could a divorce insurance with really good provisos be the answer in keeping “modern love” equitable?

By: Vanessa Uy

Ever since Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as a Red Letter Day in honor of St. Valentine back in year 496, anyone from bards to scientists and even lawyers had lend a hand in gaining insight on this thing we call love. Although gaining insight means different things to different people, in this day and age, gaining insight on love usually means making the damned thing equitable to the parties involved. Love used to be the business between two loving couples, but in our present age, greeting card companies and those “weird people” who claim to be close to God by virtue of celibacy all lay claim to be the sole authority on love and marriage. I think these two camps are what’s been making Valentine’s Day a very interesting holiday for over a millennia.

When capitalist consumerism declared that it knew the price of everything – including devotion and obligation – did it made equitable ground rules? Or are we now so cynical that nothing free has value anymore? How could Calvinism put a price on one’s own devotion and obligation? Only the Anglo-Saxon God knows and He’s not talking. To me, this makes it a situation where only lawyers have free reign on arbitrarily deciding what’s equitable or not. I just hope that more prenuptial agreements be offered in pro bono flavor.

To me, it’s just sad that the thing we call money – whose value is backed up by our increasing materialism - is also the very thing that could get us out of this specific dilemma. In this day and age, divorce insurance with proviso for legal separation and prenuptial agreements really has existing demand. Divorce insurance really has legitimacy because the element of gambling – the first essential factor in insurance – is not present. This is so because countless people get married on a regular basis with the knowledge that over half of it will end in divorce and currently divorce proceedings are always messy affairs by judicial standards. Then, only a couple of things are left to be studied to make divorce insurance an integral part of most insurance companies’ / providers’ retinue. Like the possibility in making accurate and scientific calculations of the extent of the hazard, so as to charge a fair premium. Remember, irreconcilable differences causes stress and stress leads to ill health mental or otherwise. The other is the cost of divorce insurance must be within the reach of a large number of people.

Forgive me for being too cynical – even by “Michael Moore Documentary” standards – but divorce insurance, in my opinion, could really revolutionize how our present generation look at and approach “Romantic Love”. Divorce insurance could end once and for all the blatantly ithyphallic way young couple decide to get married – by whim – with utter disregard to the hardships that they will certainly encounter in marriage. Just something to think about during Valentine’s Day.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Remembering Lucky Dube

A singer / performer with enough clout to temporarily stop on – going civil conflicts, the world and Reggae fans now mourn the passing of Lucky Dube.

By: Vanessa Uy

When the Reggae star Lucky Dube was shot in front of his children on October 18, 2007 after an attempted carjacking, the ongoing epidemic of violent crime in South Africa gained worldwide attention. This incident even casts doubts on South African government’s ability to keep peace and order on the coming 2010 World Cup. Despite meeting an untimely end, Lucky Dube lived a life that’s way more interesting than his death.

With a music career that spans 25 years, Lucky Dube has recorded 20 albums. He sang in Africaan, Zulu and English. Strangely though, he is more famous overseas than in his homeland of South Africa. During the 1980’s Apartheid-era South Africa, Lucky Dube used his music to inspire Black South Africans for a non- violent struggle against Apartheid rule.

Lucky Dube’s finest hour came during the 1990’s when his fame had earned him enough clout to temporarily suspend on-going battles in African conflict zones like Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In June 1999, Lucky Dube performed one of his famed 3-hour long shows in Monrovia, Liberia where the said show allowed a cessation of hostilities between the warring factions. The warring factions are willing to temporarily suspend their fighting just to attend a Lucky Dube concert. These fighters really are dedicated fans. Lucky Dube is also big in the US. He frequently played venues in Miami, Florida and in Atlanta, Georgia.

Despite being regarded as the current “gold standard” when it comes to Reggae music, and Lucky’s fans swear that he’s the spiritual heir of the Reggae legend Bob Marley. Lucky Dube’s allegiance to the Rastafarian faith was more academic than spiritual because in interviews he says he doesn’t use marijuana / cannabis. To the uninitiated, the spiritual side of the Rastafarian faith revolves around Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia (the one deposed from power on September 12, 1974) and the Emperors lineage to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba plus the “Lion of Judah” references.

Ever since releasing his debut album “Rastas Never Die”, Lucky Dube has indeed come a long way. When he played in the Live 8 Concert in Johannesburg, South Africa, Lucky Dube indeed took Reggae music back to Africa – the music’s spiritual homeland. I just hope that his latest album “Soul Taker” won’t be used by Lucky Dube’s fans as an epitaph of his music career but rather a celebration of his artistry and his quest for a better world. The official Lucky Dube Website is at .

Toilets for the Third World: Necessity or Extravagance?

The chronic lack of clean and safe drinking water coupled with the ever- growing spread of water – borne diseases. Will the ubiquitous “modern” toilet be the solution to the Third World nation’s water problems?

By: Vanessa Uy

When I heard about the Inaugural World Toilet Summit 2007 and Expo discuss their plans to alleviate the sanitation problems of 2.6 billion people who don’t have access to proper –i.e. hygienic – toilet facilities, I asked myself Why did the “affluent” West took so long in addressing this problem? Is it hard to figure out the link between keeping the communal groundwater safe by keeping the communal toilet hygienic by modern standards? Nonetheless I just hope that the summit achieve it’s “lofty goal” of providing toilets for the Third World “poor”.

One of the problems that needs to be tackled in the World Toilet Summit 2007 so that their goal would succeed is the design of a low-cost toilet design that uses less water than typical toilets used in the “Industrialized West”. A typical Western toilet uses 1.6 gallons of water to flush 250 grams of fecal matter safely. But this kind of toilet needs to be supported by an existing sewage system which most Third World countries don’t have or existing ones are in need of repair. A “modern” toilet that uses the fraction of the water for flushing than a typical “Western” toilet is in the pipeline. And with a cost of US$30 or less, this could well be the “appropriate technology” needed to meet the demands of Third World conditions.

In the past, the peasants of the Orient had used their rice paddies as the communal toilet. Even though this practice has the advantage of using human fecal matter as a source of free organic fertilizer, in densely populated communities the practice could easily initiate cholera epidemics or other water borne diseases. Composting type toilets had since been in current use in some parts of Vietnam and China, but it safely works only in sparsely populated communities.

In affluent societies, we frequently take the humble modern toilet for granted. Since it’s a necessity when it comes to a vital –albeit relatively disgusting – part of human metabolism, toilets are somewhat a taboo topic in the industrial world. The industrialized world’s Victorian-era perception of the ubiquitous toilet had made the affluent citizens of our planet had forgotten that the humble toilet could be a lifesaver in the Third World.