November 20, 2016

Don't be fooled!

It is becoming increasingly common to find stories, often on Facebook and other social media, that are just flat out fake.

I worked in IT for 25 years, the last seven years as an internet programmer. I want my friends to be safe and smart. So here are some ideas to help defend yourself against fake news.

There are several ways to check on their validity, and it's really important to do so. If we don't stop sharing fake news, the consequences will be grim for our democracy. 

A free press, beyond being a First Amendment right, is an important way to preserve our other rights. If fake stories continue, the real journalism that we depend on will cease to exist.  Why would an organization pay correspondents to write and fact-check real, dependable stories?  It just wouldn't pay.

There are three ways I check my news:

1. If you want to get the real news, you have to read stories that have been written by real journalists. In my mind, the best way to do that is to depend on the time-tested web sites of news organizations that have been around a long time. 

Remember back in the day when you mostly saw the domain extensions ".com" and ".org"? Those are the domains I look for to get my news. Here are some that I personally consider reliable:
There are many more, including other newspapers, TV networks, and magazines. In addition, there are plenty of sites that report real news from their own particular slant; I won't even try to name them here. And, of course, don't forget your local home-town paper and TV news sites.

Unfortunately, there are phony sites that end with ".com" too. One of those is ""  This is a Russian propaganda outlet. Just don't go there.  If you aren't sure about a ".com" site, see suggestion 3 below.  There are so many bogus sites; I won't try to name them here. But you can find other articles out there that list the bad ones.

It is shockingly easy to replicate these sites; that's why you have to look carefully. You cannot depend on the appearance of a web site, because it's very easy to grab the logo and layout of a legitimate site and use it on your own.

So always be sure to look at the web address of the site you are reading. That will be the "Uniform Resource Locator" (URL) in the address bar at the top of the screen on your device when you get to the web site. It could also be the link you click on to get to the story.

It can be tricky, because it's not always displayed the same way. It may start with "http" or "https." Or it may just start with "www." Or sometimes it's "naked," without any of these.

It may also be between a set of slashes.  In other words, between the double slash "//" and the single slash "/" that comes next. But always, if you think you're looking at a legitimate ".com" site, the ".com" must come right before the first single slash, or there must be nothing after it.

Take a look at these addresses. Look very carefully, because they look good. But if you see something like these:

               (".biz" follows ".com")  
               (".co" is not part of the New York Times site; it should be ".com") 
               (".site" comes after ".com")  
               (".online" is not part of the Reuters site; it should be ".com")

run far, far away. These sites are not only bogus, they could contain dangerous viruses or try to get you to enter personal information so they can steal your identity.

2. If the story appears to be on a reputable site, go directly to the site to read it. For example, if the story appears to be on the New York Times web site, go directly to their site. Don't click on it; type in and search for the story. If it's breaking news, the story will be right on the front page. If it's an older story, it won't be hard to find; just search for the headline.

3. Search the web for the story. If it's the real thing, other outlets will have reported it, too. If you don't find it on other legitimate sites, forget about it.

Feel free to share this post. Many of you believed bogus stories during the election. Even Trump's staffer Corey Lewandowski shared at least one of these. Take a look at this and see if you can figure out what's wrong with the web site address. The answer is in the caption.

The domain name says "" when it should just say ""
The real ABC News address ends with ".com" not ".co"

One of the publishers of fake news said,  "My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything."

Don't be fooled.

p.s. If you have questions about what I've written, enter your questions in the comments section below and I'll do my best to answer them.

September 10, 2016

Suicide Prevention - Part Two

Well, here I am again.  I've already written a post about suicide prevention. Are you getting tired of hearing about suicide?  Well, believe me, I am tired of thinking about it. It's exhausting. Too bad for both of us: I have some more thoughts that I want to share with you. If you are serious about "suicide prevention," try to tolerate my rant.

I see "suicide prevention" as something the "preventers" do for themselves. I've heard and read lots of stories about how losing someone to suicide affects other people. It's all about the "survivor." And, yes, I actually have lost someone to suicide. But now I want you to think about what the suicidal person is going through. They never seem to talk about that in those stories.

Imagine the intense emotional pain you feel when you lose a loved one, or when a relationship breaks up, or when you have lost your job and livelihood.  Imagine that pain.

Now, imagine you are having that pain FOR NO REASON. And imagine that the pain comes and goes, You never know when or for how long it will be with you. That's how some of us experience depression. That's how I experience depression. Your brain has gone off-kilter. You are unable to carry out the most basic tasks because they are just too much effort. You feel worthless and useless. People try to reassure you that you are a good person and you deserve to live; they tell you good things about yourself, but YOU JUST CAN'T BELIEVE THEM. Besides, you can't stand to live with the incredible pain any longer. The pain that has no reason.  Can you begin to imagine this?

Your loved ones do all they can to help. They take over the tasks you usually perform.  That is wonderful, because you don't feel as if you are falling further and further behind.  But it's also awful, because you know that you are a burden, adding work to their already busy lives. They say it's ok, but you know in your heart that they would be better off without you; they just don't realize it yet.

If you are very lucky, like  me, you have a couple of people in your life whom you trust, who have seen you pull through this before, and who express their confidence that you can pull through again. Nobody else has any credibility.

If you are very lucky, like me, your spouse takes their wedding vows, for better or for worse, seriously. If you're not so lucky, your spouse tell;s you to suck it up, stop being so lazy, you have nothing to be depressed about. Maybe they divorce you. They cause your pain to increase. Think about that.

Maybe you have friends who have learned about "suicide prevention."  They say and do all the right things. But as legal scholar Susan Stefan puts it, it's more like (paraphrasing here) pushing a person out of the path of an oncoming train, feeling relieved that you have done so, but not helping the person figure out how to stay off the train tracks.

Now this may be a shocker: When I hear of a person who has died by suicide, I am happy for them. Of course I am sad and broken-hearted to lose them, but I know they have finally found peace.

Until this country takes some concrete action, suicide prevention is just a pretty phrase.

Here are a few helpful actions we could take:

  • Listen to people who have mental illnesses to learn what will help them.
  • Invest some real money in mental health research.
  • Invest some real money in mental health treatment.
  • Pay our mental health caregivers salaries and benefits they can survive on, so more people will be able to do that work.
  • Hire enough mental health caregivers that they are not continually understaffed.
  • Pay children's services workers commensurate with the incredible stress they encounter in their jobs.
  • Hire more children's services workers so they can give adequate attention to each case they are assigned.
  • Offer free parenting classes so people can learn how to raise their children without causing mental/physical/sexual trauma.
  • Offer free education to family and friends of those who suffer from mental illness to help them cope, and stay, with their sick loved ones.
  • Ostracize politicians who mock disabled people. Yeah, that means Donald J. Trump. 

There are certainly other things we can do; these are just a few things that occur to me right off the top of my head.

Will this be expensive?  Of course it will.  Can our leaders find the courage to make this happen? I have my doubts. But isn't relieving emotional pain as important as relieving physical pain? As treating Type 2 Diabetes? As research on diseases that cause much less disability? As building a fancy sports arena? As space travel? As incarcerating people who smoke pot? You're damned right it is. And it just might prevent some of those suicides people claim to be so worried about.

August 28, 2016

Back from the Edge

UPMC Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic
Two days ago, I returned home from UPMC Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC) in Pittsburgh, and I want to tell you a little bit about my three-week stay there.

I chose WPIC because the limited psychiatric facilities in Erie PA don’t offer the services I need to treat my Serious and Persistent Mental Illness (SPMI) of Major Depressive Disorder - Recurrent Type - Severe.

In addition, no psychiatrists in Erie are accepting new patients.  Dr. Gustin, the wonderful doctor who cared for me from 1985 until 2014, retired abruptly due to health problems, so I found myself an orphaned psychiatric patient.  I was fortunate to find a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner (CRNP), Charlotte Riddle, who has experience with psychiatric nursing and was accepting new patients. Even though CRNPs can practice and prescribe on their own, Ms. Riddle has chosen to affiliate with an M.D. psychiatrist and another CRNP; she says she likes to have colleagues to consult with on occasion.

Char has guided me well so far. As I fell into another suicidal depression earlier this year, she asked if I had ever considered ElectroConvulsive Therapy (ECT), what they used to call “Shock Treatments.”  Ya know, like in those old movies The Snake Pit or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. You may cringe, but I had actually given serious consideration to ECT long ago. Here's why:

My mother received ECT in the mid-twentieth century, back when it was far from the gentler procedure it is today.  And even though it was unpleasant, even brutal, for her, she preferred receiving “shock treatments” over playing the anxious game of waiting for medications to work.  Or not work.  Mom said that, unlike meds, the “shock treatments” helped her mood right away.

So off I went to Pittsburgh. What a great bunch of professionals they are at WPIC, providing care with respect from the moment I set foot in the facility.

After evaluation and assignment to the appropriate unit, I settled in. WPIC is everything I could hope for in a psychiatric facility. Clean facilities, decent food, caring professionals, structured group therapy conducted by people who "get it," and skilled medical treatment. And my fellow patients were generous with their moral support and friendship.

There's a mix of patients there, from old birds like me to college students, and from patients who are spending weeks there to those who are only there for a couple days. If you are up to joining in, there is also music therapy, art therapy, and pet therapy. I thought I had received every kind of therapy possible over my 50 years of recurring depression, but I learned that they are still developing new therapies and that even this old dog can learn new tricks.

I have so far received eight ECT treatments. It wasn't all smooth sailing, but around my fifth treatment I noticed definite improved mood. At no time did I observe smoke or sparks spewing out my ears from my fried brain. I will continue with several more weeks of outpatient ECT, then we'll reassess to determine if and/or what kind of further ECT to pursue.

Don't get me wrong; I am still struggling and have more to learn, but I am no longer actively suicidal, and I feel as if I may be able to continue to live with this chronic illness. My next tasks are to make some decisions about whether I am able to return to work and what kind of work I could do. But the biggest factor in my decisions will have to be in regard to how I stay well. I want to contribute to this world, but I'm guessing I won't do anybody any good once my ashes are spread across its surface. Well, except maybe compost.

I'm going to lie low for a while now to allow myself to rest and recuperate. I would be honored if you shared your thoughts or questions on this post and/or shared this post on your favorite social media platform. The way I see it, we can only encourage suffering people to get help if we talk about mental illness and help eliminate the stigma attached to it.

God bless you all and thank God for the professionals who do the very difficult work of caring for people who have mental illnesses.

July 30, 2016

Facebook asked me what's on my mind. Here's what I said:

What's on my mind, Facebook asked.  Plenty. Let me tell you about it.

I am sick and tired of people talking about depression when they haven't had it or haven't had repeated serious suicidal episodes. Or who think psych meds are bad. Or that the meds are just some kind of happy pills. Or who think depression can be "cured" with some herbal remedy.

I'm also sick of the little platitudes about how you just need to think positive. Positive thinking is nearly impossible when you are suicidal. All these little slogans just make a severely depressed person feel even worse because they can't just "think" themselves better.  That's like telling a person with diabetes to control their blood sugar by positive thinking. I'm sick of it.

And I'm sick of people explaining away gun violence by saying the perpetrator had "mental health problems." Hey, here's a novel idea:  maybe we should take more care in who can buy guns and how they store them.  But that won't happen because the NRA (read gun manufacturers) owns all our legislators.

I have 50 years of battling severe depression. I think about suicide every day of my life. If you haven't experienced something like that, take care not to say shit that just makes the suicidal person feel worse. Like "You have so much to live for," or "practice an attitude of gratitude, or "just think about so-and-so and what they have overcome, " or say you know how we feel, or advise us to "give it to God. Or tell us to use our "coping skills." Believe me, we've heard it all and tried it all before.

And above all, don't call Crisis Services, because they'll either try to put you in the hospital or just humiliate you. Hospitalization, since the insurance companies now control it, is pretty much worthless. They'll just throw some different meds at you and send you home before they can see if the meds help. Because the insurance companies won't pay for a hospital stay beyond their criteria. And they don't give a rat's ass about your doctor's opinion. There's a perfect example of "death panels."

And that, I told Facebook, is what's on my mind.