The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive – Stephen Fry

This is such a deeply, insightful documentary about the struggles a person goes through with Bi-Polar. It will go down a more tragic path as the film continues walking through these dark corridors into the psyche of various persons with this diagnosis. In between you hear from various psycho-professionals who treat this disorder. When he says “We do love our manic periods,” this is something I have heard many times from various clients or people I have known. In fact, this is the infamous stage when these people often do not believe they need medication because they are feeling themselves again. This is normal for a Bi-polar and one of the symptoms – not wanting to take their “meds.” It is normal because they don’t want to feel abnormal, which is what the medications cause them to feel.

It is important that he added the genetic aspect to this mental illness. Evidently the DNA researchers he went to and the brain scans don’t show a link from that perspective. However, research does seem to show that it runs in the family. I see this all the time with people and in fact, if they tell me they have it (from reading something online and w/o a diagnosis) but seem to have no family mental illness, I become suspicious. Generally, I will ask people if they ever had a “Crazy Aunt Sally,” or a family member who disappeared for awhile or who was known to be a little off. This is how I can find a possible mental illness connection. In the past, people might have been locked up or family would have joked about it (to avoid discussing the reality). I ask this with all my clients when doing a family history, not just people who’ve been reading about diagnoses online. Most people think “mood swings” mean they are Bi-Polar and generally these are people in their young twenties who are going through a difficult period in early adult hood or even teenagers who are frustrated with their family life.

I was pretty shocked to hear Stephen Fry say, at the end, that he hasn’t been on medications since his first diagnosis many years prior to making this film. Apparently, the end of Part 1 made him realize he should re-think this. What I think is very important is to have a psychological evaluation if you believe your child has some serious mental health issues to find a diagnosis. Then, I think it is important to re-test and get a new psychological evaluation when that same person is an adult. This is because it is often difficult to be sure about childhood mental illness (sometimes psychological professionals have a “go to” diagnosis) and because you test differently as an adult and you are a little more aware of yourself and your symptoms.  If you DO have a mental illness, you should have a psychiatrist that prescribes and monitors your medications (NOT a primary care physician). A psychiatrist specializes in mental illness, a PCP does not. This is why they are called a “general” practitioner. This also can prohibit being wrongly diagnosed and going through an even longer series of trials and tribulations with medications. I have heard stories of a family doctor asking five or six questions and then labeling the person with a diagnosis. A psychological evaluation is generally three sessions and ends up with a 13 page report based on the conclusions from the tests that were run. The “psych eval” as I call it, includes input from your psychotherapist, family, and other support people involved in the child or adults life. Another reason to go to a psychiatrist is that sometimes they will have psychotherapists on staff who partner with them. If not, it is best that you find a psychotherapist who specializes in your mental illness.

 

Stephen Fry has also made a Part II of this documentary, also available on YouTube and I have also seen a “Ten Years Later” after the making of this film.

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Social Services – Did you ask the children, alone?

Before the police informed us that Jennifer Hart was the one with her foot on the accelerator I already knew from this photo it was her. When the story first broke, this was one of the photos we were shown and it hit me immediately. I could see the narcissistic tendencies begging to be shown as if to say “Look at me!” She is leaning forward asking for the most attention while her partner is leaning back, wanting less of the light. Her brood of four (out of six are under her) and you can see the command she holds over them. Sure you might say, it is easy for me to say now that we know all the details.

I am an ex-social worker with eight years at CPS (Childrens Protective Services) in California. Now I work in private practice and specialize in working with victims and survivors of emotional abuse (from a Narcissistic parent or partner). I always tell my clients and I will say this about Jennifer Hart as well. I am not diagnosing your parent or partner (or Jennifer). I am just saying that it sounds like this person has narcissistic tendencies. It is not ethical to diagnose someone we have not met. Most often my clients come in and tell me their parent or partner is narcissistic based on what they read online. I always check their stories out by looking for the tell tale signs. The language of the perpetrator (they all seem to use the same phrases, like they all speak Narcissistic French), the walking on eggshells of the victim, it is always the victims fault and the perpetrator is never sorry or never takes responsibility. The victim/survivor has lost their sense of self after years of emotional abuse and being told it is their fault and trying desperately to make their parent or partner right or hold them up on a pedestal of some sort. Sometimes there is violence and this usually occurs when the narcissistic person has been pushed up against the wall (metaphorically) by their pathology by the victim or in Jennifer Harts case, her perceived threat of her ego by CPS. The violence happens to re-assert their power.

These perpetrators have been working on their externalized stories and behaviors since early childhood, sometimes even infancy.

In this case though, what bugs me even more is whether or not CPS even spoke to these six children, ALONE. In the last article I read, which came from the New York Times  they mention the reports from CPS being released in court. I see in this article where CPS spoke to the parents but I see know mention of speaking to the children. Maybe they did and it is not shown here but it begs the question.

The reason I speculate this lack of efficiency is that these children, we have been told in several articles, had no problems going to teachers or complete strangers (neighbors they did not know personally). One photo shows the little boy going up to a police officer in “the famous photo.” Why was he crying that day? People had all kinds of comments about this before he was killed but now, looking back, why was he crying to a police officer? The children, we have been told, went to these neighbors asking for food. They told these people that they were being starved or abused. In the NY Times article the teachers have stated that they got tired of telling CPS because of the retaliation that the children would face as a result of their home visits. This again begs the question: “Did CPS ever speak to any of these six children alone?” They should have spoken with all of them alone and even separately. I am not just saying that because now we know they are dead. I am saying this because this is their JOB.

Obviously a parent or caregiver is not going to say “Sure, I beat my kids,” or “Sure, I starve my children when they are bad,” or “Yeah, I have sex with my children.” This is the reason you always talk to the children alone. You talk to them at school, you talk to them in their bedrooms or take them for a walk outside their home or sit in your car. Anything to get them away from their parents ears and give the child a chance to feel as if they are not going to be in trouble. Then, you don’t go back and tell the parents, “Well your kids said …” and walk out the door.

In this case, the parents (according to NY Times reports of CPS statements) punished their children for having a penny in their pocket and lying about where they got it. The kids were punished for five hours (forced to lay on their beds) for lying about eating all the pizza. What made me think again of the narcissistic behaviors was this statement:

In a 2011 episode, Hannah told a school nurse that she had not eaten. Jennifer Hart then became angry and shoved a banana and nuts into the child’s mouth. When confronted about this, Sarah Hart argued that Hannah was “playing the food card” and should just be given water.

All of this is serious neglect because it is out of the ordinary or unusual punishment. The paragraph above screams out narcissistic language, but all alone would not. However, most people in our profession don’t put a lot of their attention on the subject of narcissism. What she was doing here was shutting her adopted daughter up for what she said, to keep her from speaking again. What her partner was doing was placating her partner (agreeing with her to save their marriage). Sarah, however long she had been with Jennifer, had learned to keep the peace by keeping her happy.

So why, with all these reports, with Jennifer taking the six children out of school and then home-schooling (to have more control), did CPS never take the children out of the home in three states? It still begs the question – Did CPS ever talk to the children alone? If so, why didn’t they believe them? It is pretty rare that a child is going to lie when confronted by an authority figure and in this case, they had already gone to someone who made a report to CPS. They were brave kids, begging for help and no one ever did anything to help them except the mandated reporters and neighbors.

Hint: This is the reason CPS, that mandated reporters and neighbors often don’t report, because they see you are not doing anything about it. Hint: To mandated reporters and neighbors, don’t give up because you are starting a paper trail and eventually CPS will do their job when their hand is forced. AND, if it is not too late.

In my practice, here in Ohio, so many times my clients (who are adults now but some who are still children and had dealings with social services) tell me they never once spoke to the social worker. I often hear “They spoke to my parent,” or “They spoke to me in front of my parent (s).” One young person said to me “What is a social worker?” when I explained this they said “I never spoke to anyone.” I of course spoke to the social worker about this and made it clear that they needed to speak to the child, alone. What are they afraid of? If the social worker is intimidated by the parent, parents, or caregiver, call your supervisor and ask for support or contact the police and ask for them to “keep the peace.” I found you often had to tell the police exactly what they were supposed to do, even though they collaborated with us all the time. Sorry, I am not bashing them but that is what we had to do. Social workers get intimidated by these calls that they make, when confronted by the perpetrator. They are not policemen and are not always strong or street smart and sometimes are newbies.

In this case, there was mention of Jennifer drinking. Narcissism is a character trait of addictions. Obviously, since their only priority is getting a fix (drink or drug). Ironically, the last photo of Jennifer is in a convenience store buying food (bananas – again bananas – it appears) and two other items which I can’t make out from a video surveillance camera. She has a look of disdain on her face. Unlike the other photos of her, where she is aware she is getting publicity that she wants, she is unkempt (like most people are these days). She is not wearing a bra, she doesn’t have her hair fixed nicely, she has her hand in her pants (to feel secure when you feel insecure). CPS had now been trailing them for three states. She had the kids in home schooling but still they were onto her. It sounds as if the day or days before (the murder) the car was in the driveway but no one answered the door. You can’t knock the door down or even have the police go in unless of course there is perceived danger at that moment. They might have called out a “health and safety check” which the police do when you know they are there and not answering the door.

In all these states mandated reporters were doing their jobs. The neighbors were being a “village” and protecting the children in their own defenseless ways and calling CPS and making anonymous reports. Still nothing happened.

Narcissistic violence is generally spontaneous, not planned out. When I hear clients talk about these scenarios where they had confronted the perpetrator, it is an act on the victims part of standing up for themselves or saying the truth but not expecting it to have any effect on the perpetrator. Usually they would hear “You don’t know what you are talking about,” or some other type of criticism. In these circumstances where violence occurs, the victim continues to push the button (or in this case, CPS doesn’t give up). Violence can be accidental even, such as throwing something and it happens to hit the victim. They could be pushing the victim and they fall down and hit their head on the corner of a table or dresser. Spontaneity means it is not pre-meditated and so they haven’t planned the attack.

In this case, I am reminded (as many adult survivors of abuse can recall) of my parent slamming on the breaks to get us to behave. There were instances of pulling the car over so they could effectively reach back and slap you or wail on you if it was really an annoying behavior. But, Jennifer stopped the car and then here is what I imagine. My theory is she made some last remarks to the children that probably sounded like this “If it weren’t for you…, I have had it with you kids. This is all your fault.” Then with all her self-centered egotistical pride she pushed down on the gas and let it rip.

For all of you, who, like me focus on the “Why didn’t they open the car door and jump out?” The children and partner were probably too paralyzed in the moment to do anything because they were in shock those brief seconds and then it was too late. If they could live to tell us, they would probably say “It all happened so fast.”

 

Special Note: I have since been given a copy of a report that was put together by OR CPS. This was thanks to another social worker who read this article. Yes, they did in fact talk to the children alone (in this state) but still felt compelled to say “insufficient evidence.” I have since shown it to another social worker whom I once worked with. It is hard to understand what another social worker is thinking or know how much experience they have had in the field or how much training they received (or what their degree is). Hard for me to read the mother stating that she held the child’s head under water, while the other mother helped and think “insufficient evidence.” This is an inappropriate punishment for a little girl. She admitted this. Along with other information given above, there were countless reasons why these parents needed the children removed, court involvement and then decide whether or not they should be returned. Yes, they spoke with the children alone but as the Minnesota teachers said, every time they contacted CPS, the children suffered more abuse. By the time they got to Oregon, they probably weren’t quite eager to talk to someone who wasn’t listening. Obviously OR wasn’t. The children didn’t even admit to the abuse that they had already told people before, which the social worker new about, as it is stated that they did in the report. This would have been a red flag for me. But reading this entire report, about 13 pages and then seeing the conclusion, I am dumbfounded that the children weren’t removed for that report alone.

Support for Partners of Vets, Desperately Needed

The film, “Thank you for Your Service,” is an outstanding movie. It is informative and directed more like a documentary rather than a blockbuster film with special effects and big names. This is essential to make it raw and to create an illusion that you are in the midst of someone’s private life. And you are because even though these are all actors, they are portraying real people and these events did happen.

So I would like to use this film as a spring board into the issue of support for partners of vets, which is not the intention of this film; though it is there begging to be the subtitle. All of this film caused me to be at the edge of my seat because the male soldiers were so emotionally unstable; I felt afraid of what they were going to do next. The ending hit with a bomb as the main soldier told the story of how a woman’s husband was killed. Yet what stuck with me the most was this line, which says so much about women today “Would you like a blow job,” she says thinking this will comfort her husband. He isn’t communicating with her and this is all she can think of. This comment and the woman’s fixation on sex (to get him to talk) during the entire movie is just one of the reasons it is imperative to have support for partners of vets.

Back in the early 80’s, my then husband was a sailor enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was about to be deployed on a West-Pac (aka tour of the Western Pacific) for six months. The families were brought in for a meeting prior to their departure to help couples understand what to expect, or what was normal. They told us about the departure, a little bit about what was going to happen and when we should expect the men to return. They also talked to us about relationships and sending letters, and about the fact that the Captain’s wife would be our ombudsman, available to us while the men were gone. This woman, whose name I cannot recall, met with the ladies during the six months on at least a monthly basis. We got together to chat, have coffee, discuss the letters we were receiving, any news we might need to know and ask questions about our housing, our money or any other issues of concern. It helped to build comradery, alleviate isolation and perhaps depression, but also to develop respect for the military and our spouses.

As I work with the military now, as a contracted civilian psychotherapist, not one single person has understood what an ombudsmen is nor do they recall such intimate gatherings taking place as I assumed was typical. There are yellow ribbon ceremonies that take place months after a return from deployment. At these presentations it is nicknamed “death by power point,” which means there isn’t a lot of concentration on what is being said. The meeting I attended with my ex-husband in the 80’s was approximately 30 people with our Captain speaking to us directly. The ceremonies today can be anywhere from 70-300 and sometimes even more than this. My psychotherapy table is the least visited booth on the breaks. Once the ceremony is over, people race to get out the door first. It is very sad to me because this is too little, too late and I feel as if it is nothing more than a checkbox being ticked; rather than attention to the mental health needs of men and women both soldiers and their partners. When I talk to people about this, the only thing I ever hear is “it would cost too much money.” This essentially means a person’s life is not worth it. What we see in the movie noted above is the main character being told by the VA that he won’t be able to see a mental health person for a number of weeks. He responds that he could be dead [by suicide] by then.

Going back to the issue of partners in the military, the point is that women today have no self-respect (nor do men) and look at themselves as sexual objects rather than partners and team players. What can we expect though when we live in a sexualized society where people are overly focused on what your sex type is and are confused about what gender they want to be? Where women believe that a date means you need to have your breasts hanging out, heavy make-up and six inch heels rather than a time to dress like a woman with the intention of getting to know the man in front of you.

Many children today are raised by single parents and sometimes they don’t even know their father or their paternal family. Often I see that they are pacified by technology. The teen girls and young adult women I talk to don’t use birth control and so many are desperate to trap the guy with a baby. Others use feeble excuses as to why they don’t use protection such as the doctor said they couldn’t get pregnant or it has been so long without a pregnancy they thought they couldn’t. These guys are happy to become “gamers” today and the girls stand idly by wondering why they won’t pay attention to them. They don’t need a war to ignore.

Since everywhere a woman turns she is being portrayed as a sex object, in the media and society, what else is there for her to think? Parents are not educating their children on sexuality nor are they teaching standards (I see this moreso with one parent families because there is no time to have quality time). Parents often race to get home to cook dinner while they check FB or Twitter and start chatting with someone else who is not there. Thus the kids are following their intended role models.

Once women were groomed to be married and the talk of sex was the last thing they would learn (if they had a talk at all). They learned about courting men which meant being a good conversationalist. They learned to dress appropriately so as not to tease. They learned to behave like mature ladies rather than silly girls. They understood that at times men needed their space and to walk away and self-soothe if need be like attending to a personal project or hobby. Women used to be self-sufficient. They were involved in women’s groups, charities/fundraisers, raising their children, running a household. Their days as teens were not spent hoping they would get laid but hoping they would find a suitable match. Their parents didn’t allow them to shop at a store such as “Victoria’s Secret” and purchase thongs or push up bra’s (when I was a teen even, this was a store for adult women not teenagers), it was a time of restraint and modesty.

We have come to a place where we have no standards. There are no rules in society. We are career women yet many go to work thinking about some guy they will see there. We don’t dress like women who want to get ahead because we have lost a sense of dignity and integrity. More and more companies are adopting a work culture with no professional dress policies.

Therefore, how can we expect a young woman whose husband or partner comes home from war to think of nothing more than sex? The soldier is coming home from war without their mental health as a top priority, even though they are a ticking time bomb. The partner has no support, the soldier has no support and so it is the blind leading the blind. I’ve seen so many resources available to give the post-deployment folks free this and free that and incentives for one thing or another. All this money could be utilized more effectively by supporting them with psycho-education and mental health services that are mandatory and respected.

In the movie the soldier is told (by his superior), to not allow his men to see him as a weak person getting services from mental health. This is not an isolated situation as I hear this time and time again from vets and their partners. We are all too aware of the problems with the Veteran’s Administration. What some people don’t realize is there is not enough staff and people are backlogged and no one gets preferential treatment. The staff are not treated fairly or with respect in some cases, no different than corporate America. Essentially, they are government workers no different than at the Department of Motor Vehicles. I learned recently it is not run by the military but by a corporate boss who is assigned to head the VA but this is not necessarily based on merit, experience, or military background.

In Britain, after a woman gives birth, a health worker follows her for a year to teach her how to care for her new child. In Britain, when soldiers return from war, they are held on base for 30 days before reintegration into society (as I’ve been told by an officer) and have a much lower suicide rate than the U.S. When astronauts land back on earth, they too are held before being reintegrated back in society. Why do we choose to ignore the people we have trained to kill, knowing full well that more than 30% will come back with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Worse than this is that 20 veterans die by suicide daily. The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists have been fighting with the military for years to hire us to work with soldiers on base. The jobs currently only recognize social workers.

What I would like to see is an independently licensed clinician, who serves as a family support worker. Someone who is assigned to a household that they follow for a year pre and post-deployment on a monthly basis. Someone who goes to the home weekly post-deployment, and then monthly once services are set up and followed through on. We do this with foster children as this was once my job. While in the home, the worker would be responsible for psycho-education first and foremost, secondly helping the family to fill out forms and explaining the importance of these services. Their job would be to assess and monitor follow-through on mental health support (not to provide it, i.e., not be the actual therapist as you cannot be in a dual role but offer counseling support). This job would then write reports to provide to a supervisor who is monitoring the clinicians in the home. No confidential information need be provided to anyone with exception to that which is a limit to confidentiality (which already exists for clinicians in the military). The records that pertain to mental health would be held by the supervisor. The supervisor could provide demographic information in the way of statistics so that the information gained could be utilized effectively within the military.

You would need a licensed independent clinician handling this assignment in the home as they would be qualified to assess major vs. minor psychological concerns that a simple case worker with only undergraduate knowledge would not have. Obviously, these clinicians would need special training to have more knowledge of military life, family needs as well as advanced training in PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorders), TBI (traumatic brain injury) and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) symptoms.
If this type of support were made available to families, I suspect (common sense) that one would see lowered rates of death by suicide, homicide short-term and long-term, military divorce post-deployment, and a better quality of life overall to be had by military families.

We are in a pro-military society now and have gained so much psychological knowledge about the effects of battle since World War I. Why are we wasting this valuable information? Why are we spending so much money on war and then spend money on incentives rather than quality support? Why is a soldier’s life valuable but his/her partner’s is not especially when the family unit is imperative to the success of the soldier’s return? The success rate of person’s who struggle with PTSD is partly dependent on how it is managed within the family (believability, validation) and what support systems they have available to them in the community as well as through mental health and other adjunct resources (i.e., books, workshops, groups).

What we are essentially saying to a soldier and their family is “Thank you for your service and hey, Good Luck to you!” Isn’t this a bit hypocritical? I think they deserve better.