Halloween is coming! Children and adults alike are carving pumpkins, dressing in costumes, and getting ready for an exciting evening of trick-or-treating. For those suffering with mental health issues, however, this can be an especially difficult time of year as they are reminded of the heavy stigma associated with their illness. A drive through your city or a stroll down the aisles of your local department store is all it takes to confirm that offensive stereotypes are alive and well when it comes to the mentally ill. Billboards and advertisements depicting “Haunted Asylum” or “Psychopath Sanctuary” attractions are hard to miss. “Mental Patient” costumes, complete with straightjackets, perpetuate the stereotypes further.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is an advocacy group that is fighting these stereotypes and pressuring businesses to remove offensive attractions and costumes. “NAMI loves Halloween as much as anyone else,” says Bob Corolla, NAMI Director of Media Relations, in a recent blog. “But would anyone sponsor a haunted attraction based on a cancer ward? How about a veterans’ hospital with ghosts who died from suicide while being treated for posttraumatic stress disorder?”
NAMI encourages its members to help raise awareness about the problem in their own communities. Corolla says that the first step is to personally contact sponsors of “insane asylum” attractions or stores that carry offensive costumes. In some cases, small changes to the attraction or its marketing can make a big difference. Further steps include enlisting others to make calls and write emails of protest. Local television stations and newspapers can be educated about the problem—and many are willing to cover a protest as a news event.
Will it make any difference? In response to protests from mental health advocates, the U.K. superstore Asda (a Wal-Mart company) and major grocery chain Tesco were persuaded to remove offensive costumes from their shelves. Both stores apologized for their insensitivity; Asda called it “a completely unacceptable error” and has donated £25,000 to the U.K. mental health charity Mind.
Corolla cautions that you should be prepared for a backlash when people feel that you are criticizing their fun. But even then, you may be more effective than you know. “Even if it seems that too many people disagree with your position,” he says, “you win simply by raising awareness.”
Visit the NAMI Web site to learn more about what you can do to fight the stigma against mental illness.
New research out of the National University of Singapore may explain why your food tastes the way it does, and why that flavor may have nothing to do with your taste buds. After a series of experiments, researchers have concluded that people correlate love with sweetness and romance may help people perceive food to be sweeter, as well.
In one experiment, participants were asked to communicate how emotions related to different tastes. For example, would jealousy taste sweet, spicy, bitter, or sour? In a second experiment, participants were asked to write down two different answers to the open-ended question of “If love were a taste, what would it be?” A third group was asked to write about either romantic love, romantic jealousy, or (a control) about landmarks in Singapore before eating and rating the taste of sweet and sour candy and bittersweet chocolate. Finally, a fourth group was asked to write about either love, jealousy, or happiness before taste-testing a “new product,” which was actually a simple glass of distilled water.
People who wrote about love rated their samples as sweeter, whether they were sampling the chocolate, candy, or water. Those in the jealousy groups didn’t report their samples as tasting more bitter or sour compared to the control group.
Researchers believe this can be attributed to the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region that anticipates reward and is activated by romantic love and the taste of sugar. Thus, the brain may associate love and sweetness, even when there is no actual external sweetness.
For more on this study, see the journal Emotion.
A remarkable transformation is taking place in nursing homes around the country as elderly patients are reconnecting with life through music. The brainchild of social worker Dan Cohen, a program called Music & Memory has created personalized iPod playlists for residents of elder care facilities, many of whom have Alzheimer’s type dementia. The results have been truly life changing for patients as they are “reawakened” by the music of their youth.
Cohen is now working with renowned neuropsychologist Oliver Sacks (author of Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain) on a documentary about Cohen’s program and the elderly patients who are responding so positively. In a clip from this documentary, a man reacts to hearing music from his past:
“Our approach is simple, elegant and effective,” says Cohen on his Music & Memory Web site. “We train elder care professionals how to set up personalized music playlists, delivered on iPods and other digital devices, for those in their care. These musical favorites tap deep memories not lost to dementia and can bring residents and clients back to life, enabling them to feel like themselves again, to converse, socialize and stay present.”
What do you think? Has music helped your clients with dementia to access memories and engage more positively in daily life? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
Here at PAR, we are delighted by the positive response to our new Self-Directed Search®, 5th Edition. One of the most widely used career interest inventories in the world, the SDS® has been revised to meet the needs of today’s clients.
To help spread the word about the new SDS® 5th Edition, we created a humorous video about college planning—or rather, what happens when there isn’t a plan! This video is making its way around the Internet as students, parents, teachers, and counselors are sharing the message that students need reliable tools to help them explore careers and find their future.
So take a moment to enjoy this short video, and if you like it, please share it through e-mail or your favorite social medium.
Introducing the (ahem!) four-year plan…
PAR is proud of our ongoing relationship with United Way. During mid-September, employees took part in our annual fundraising campaign. For more than 20 years, 100% of staff members have participated in our annual United Way drive, and this year was no different. We exceeded our fundraising goal, resulting in $120,135.12 being donated to United Way to help continue its mission of helping others in our community.
Want to learn more about how you can help United Way in your community? Visit www.unitedway.org.