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mental health mondays :: sick

i was probably around twelve or so when i first saw "one flew over the cuckoo's nest". i know that i'd already developed a thing for jack nicholson and even at that age, i'd become completely fascinated with issues of mental illness and its treatment. one of the things that has always stuck with me from the film are those scenes with the mental hospital employees- not just louise fletcher's deservedly appreciated turn as nurse ratched, but those with the brutish orderlies assigned to impose the physical order that nurse ratched, the ward disciplinarian, insists on.

when i saw the film, i never explicitly thought about how true-to-life the characters were. i was aware that ken kesey, the author of the novel on which the film was based, had been inspired by his own work as a mental institution, but i don't think i ever believed that the story and characters were factual. after all, the point of writing a novel or creating a narrative film was that you could tell the story you felt lay scattered among the facts in your own way, rather than feeling bound to report incidents exactly as they occurred [assuming that people still sometimes feel bound to do that].

but, as many of you may already have seen from the bbc special report that aired this week, it seems like, if anything, the film may have been too kind.


the idea that this sort of truculent behaviour is still not only tolerated but apparently systemic is repulsive, of course, as are all reports of institutions who make common practice of abusing their wards, but to be dealing with this fifty years after kesey's book was first published and decades after such behaviour specifically brought the entire psychiatric profession into disrepute is particularly invidious.

after all, one of the reasons that people fear seeking medical care for mental disorders- whether for themselves or for a loved one- is because the images of zombified victims of drugs, electroshock therapy and lobotomies used as playthings by sadistic "professionals" are too pervasive in the collective memory. [to be clear, patients at winterbourne view were a mix of those with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, brain injuries and mental disorders, so it was not exclusively a mental health institution. you can see details of the services offered at winterbourne view through the web site of their parent company castlebeck.] the revelation that decades of supposed scrutiny and improved knowledge seem to have effected no change whatsoever is not going to encourage anyone to seek help, nor is it going to foster the belief in patients or their families that such service providers have their best interests at heart.

the saddest part of this whole incident may be that, beyond that revelation- that such abuses were happening on a regular basis, at least at this particular institution and that repeated appeals to the authorities proved pointless- there is nothing to be learned. after all, the dangers of putting low-paid, virtually untrained workers in charge of difficult and unruly patients have been known for years. [you can see reporter joe casey and his producer discussing their work here, including the fact that casey was apparently given more training on his patient care job by the bbc as part of his undercover prep work than he was when he was taken on at winterbourne.]

the fact that the decision-making of health care providers is often driven by financial concerns and that, with private institutions, those financial concerns include making a profit, is a surprise to no one. and likewise, the fact that government bureaucrats become mired in process that they lose sight of rationality ['we didn't catch the abuse because it wasn't happening out in the open during our scheduled inspections...'] is so engrained in out minds that the term bureaucrat itself has become a term for someone who is close-minded and irrationally process-driven, incapable of independent thought.

i'd like to think- we'd all like to think- that the furor whipped up by the panorama piece would somehow lead to a restructuring of the health care system to ensure that this sort of thing never happens again. the government, at least, has said that it will start conducting unannounced inspections of such facilities, which is a good step. [whether that happens still remains to be seen.] but history teaches that media creates short memories; chances are that once the criminal charges against the arrested winterbourne employees are dealt with [and i believe we all sincerely hope that they'll get to spend any jail time in an institution where the employees exhibit a similar level of care for their wards], we'll all go back to sleep.

there are ways to prevent these sorts of systemic problems and, sadly, they're not as difficult nor as expensive to implement as one might think. but that's another story, for another week. for this week, i can just hope that the winterbourne story is enough of a jostle to get people to pay attention and, possibly, to think creatively about ways in which things could be made different. surely there aren't enough nurse ratcheds to keep all of the macmurphys down...

[you can read castleback's commentary on the bbc panorama report here.]

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making faces :: fall for all, part 2 [a seasonal colour analysis experiment]

well, installment one was the easy part: coming up with autumn looks for the autumn seasons. now we move into seasonal colour types that aren't as well-aligned with the typical autumn palette. first up, we deal with the winter seasons: dark, true and bright.

in colour analysis, each "parent" season- spring, summer, autumn, winter- overlap with each other season in one colour dimension- hue [warm/ cool], value [light/ dark] and chroma [saturated/ muted]. autumn is warm, dark and muted [relatively speaking], whereas winter is cool, dark and saturated. so you can see that the points of crossover in palettes, the places where you can emphasize autumn's attributes, is in the darker shades.

it's unsurprising that as fall transitions into winter, you get the darkest shades of all. we've seen the warmer equivalent in the dark autumn look from last time, so from there, as with all neutral seasons, we move from the warmer to the cooler cognate...


mental health mondays :: all the monsters are here

i had meant to post about this project much earlier, since it was done during october, but i still think it's very much worth a look. artist shawn coss drew a "portrait" of a mental disorder for every day of october [mental health month], something that tries to convey what the feeling of having that disease is. his work reminds me a little of ralph steadman's iconic hunter s. thompson covers, and especially gerald scarfe's animations for pink floyd's the wall. his figures are somewhere between spectral humans and insectoid aliens, all ravenous appetite and primal destructiveness.

i chose a few favourites to share, but i highly encourage you, if you like what you see, to pre-order the book he's publishing with all the drawings. [you can also get 11x17 prints of individual images.]

autism spectrum disorder

as coss notes himself, asd is not a disorder, per se, but he included it since it's still listed in the dsm-v. autism does very much affect the min…

making faces :: burberry bits

during my brief sojourn in the west last month, i did have the time to stop by the holt renfrew there and
see one of the only two burberry makeup counters in canada. i'm not in the least bit happy that this collection has been limited to the toronto and vancouver flagship stores, especially since we have a beautiful flagship store here in montreal. and now that i've actually gotten to try burberry products, i'm even less happy about the limited availability.

burberry are still newcomers to the cosmetic world, having launched their collection just a few short years ago. they've already become darlings of the makeup mafia, with virtually all of their products garnering rave reviews from ladies who know their stuff. as you might expect from a design house, the products are pricy and even by the standards of prestige brands, their prices are high, but it's worth noting that you tend to get a fair amount of product. which is especially nice when you're limited as t…