Psycho Donuts: Q’est-ce que c’est?

Psycho donuts via The Trouble with Spikol. There’s a donut shop in Northern California that uses mental illness and an insane asylum as it’s theme. Here’s a sampling of news stories from Fox News AOL, and  ABC News. In addition to naming donuts after various mental illnesses and brain conditions (e.g. “bipolar donut” and “massive head trauma,” the latter of which has incensed veterans groups), the store also has a “padded cell” and “group therapy room” where one can consume the donuts, and offers customers the chance to be photographed in a straightjacket.  What fun (not)!

What annoys me the most is that the company calls itself  “progressive” — sorry, if you don’t get why persons with mental illness and mental health advocates are offended, you’re not progressive.  Would you have a donut called “little black Sambo”?  I don’t think so.

Liz argues that there are more important things to be concerned about than donuts.  But isn’t battling stigma and fighting for better health care, legal rights, and so forth all part of the same movement?  Here’s an excellent article from Stigmanet that puts this is in the context of campus mental health issues.

So, q’est-ce que c’est? (what is it) — offensive marketing campaign or not?

Added later:  more on protests, from Media Dis&Dat.

Lizzie Simon at CCSU: Stigma Busting Par Excellence

detour Wednesday night I had the pleasure of attending a talk by  Lizzie Simon

author of Detour: My Bipolar Road Trip in 4D.  The talk was organized by the Central Access and Student Development office at CCSU, NAMI On Campus, and the Farmington Valley Chapter of NAMI-CT.   She started with describing how she explained mental illness to a hockey team — the person with mental illness is like the goalie, but instead of one team charging towards him/her, there are three: the disease itself, the mental health system, and stigma.  So, the goalie needs support from the rest of his/her team.  Great analogy!

I wish some of my students from my disability history class had been able to attend.  I think it would be helpful for them to see a young person  who is more typical of the majority of students with mental illness — i.e. neither violent nor weird.  Maybe her book will be as useful as Clifford Beers’ memoir from the early twentieth century.

Heath Ledger and Bipolar Disorder

In yet another shameless effort to boost my blog stats, here’s a comment on Trouble With Spikol’s recent post on the possibility that Heath Ledger had bipolar disorder.  According to a new biography, Heath’s uncle Hadyn has bipoloar disorder and suggests that the young star may have been as well.  Spikol says she hates these speculations, but I think that Hadyn makes a good point when he says that the diagnosis is nothing to be ashamed of. He told the author of the biography,  “I don’t mind people knowing I have bipolar disorder, and it’s a shame that it took this long to be diagnosed.”   You got it.  As the blogger at Mental Health Humor writes, there’s much we can learn from this example.

Rethinking the Drinking Age: a historical perspective

Once again, Historiann has beat me in posting on a hot political topic — the Amethyst Initiative, initiated last month by a group of college presidents who argue that the National Minimum Drinking Act (1984), which imposed a penalty of 10% of a state’s federal highway appropriation on any state setting its drinking age lower than 21, has been a disaster.  Not only has it not solved the problem of alcohol abuse among college students, it has actually exacerbated it by creating a “clandestine culture of binge drinking.”

[See this article from the Hartford Courant for local news on this issue]

I commented briefly on Historiann’s blog, but since this falls squarely in my area of expertise, I think a blog post of my own is in order.

As I argue in my recently published book, Student Bodies, concerns about undergraduate alcohol use and abuse date back to at least the early twentieth century. Many college presidents supported prohibition as a great solution to the problem of drinking on campus.  Even after prohibition ended in 1933, college administrators supported total abstinence even as alcohol became a normative part of adult sociability. Most states at this time established a minimum drinking age of 21.

At the same time, mental health experts classified excessive drinking as a disease.  Researchers at the Yale University Center for Alcohol Studies (later relocated to Rutgers), working closely with the Yale Mental Hygiene department in the health services, in 1949 conducted a survey of twenty-seven colleges around the country, encompassing both public and private, coeducational and single-sex, white and black, non-sectarian and religious (including Catholic, Jewish, and one Mormon college), and different regions of the country. Reports in the popular press made fun of the study, joking “Yale will get its facts about student drinking ‘At a table down at Mory’s,’” a New Haven bar popular among undergraduates.  The results of the study were that drinking was not a major problem at colleges and universities, and that patterns of drinking were no different in colleges and universities than in other parts of society.  They concluded that the key to prevention was not “scare tactics” that emphasized the pathological consequences of excessive drinking, but education that helped students make responsible choices about whether or not to consume alcohol.

During the early 1970s, partly in response to student movements of the period — many states lowered the drinking age to 18 — the thought being that if a young man could be sent to war, he should be able to legally purchase and consume alcohol. It was also at this time that the voting age was lowered to 18. In short, what happened at this time is that college students demanded, and received, the same constitutional rights as adults — e.g. to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, rights to privacy (including access to contraception, and abortion), etc.

This consensus was challenged by the College Alcohol Study started by a group of researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, led by social psychologist Henry Wechsler, who began exploring the problem of college drinking in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Their work in part led to the passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age act of 1984. It also led to the construction of “binge drinking” as a disease and social problem particular to young adults in higher education settings.  I was an undergraduate at the University of Vermont while all this was going on — the state was a holdout on keeping the drinking age at 18 but was eventually forced to raise the drinking age to get those federal highway funds.

More recently still, the abstinence approach bolstered by the College Alcohol Study has been challenged by research conducted by the Social Norms Institute, who argue that the “health terrorism” perpetuated by the “binge drinking” model has not solved the problem of campus drinking, it simply has created an underground culture of drinking. They argue that by focusing on the most egregious cases, prevention efforts have exaggerated the extent to which most college students drink.  Their approach is remarkably similar to that proposed by the Yale Center in the 1940s — i.e. emphasize wellness, resilience, and informed decision making.  To illustrate how their approach differs:

NOT social norms marketing:

Social norms marketing:

So, to summarize — it seems to me that Historiann is asking the wrong questions, and perpetuating notions of 18-21 as “others” who need to be controlled by older adults, especially if they enroll in colleges and universities.  Earlier this week, I sent a colleague in Scotland an article by local columnist and radio host Colin McEnroe regarding a recently imposed curfew in the city of Hartford.  He replied:

“I find our politicians approaches to ‘young people’, as they are called, as
if they are a   separate breed from humanity, rather contradictory.  Young
people like to congregate on street corners.  It doesn’t mean they are doing
any harm.  Some get up to mischief, but most of the more serious crimes are
perpetuated by not-so-young people.  The curfew experiment was carried out
in Hamilton, a town in the county of Lanarkshire.  The latest plan to
control ‘young people’ is to prevent them from buying alcohol if they are
under 21.  The problem that I have with this is that people under 21, carte
blanche, are being considered irresponsible in their consumption of alcohol,
while those over 21, carte blanche, are considered responsible.  This idea
is occurring at the same time as it is considered OK to send teenagers in
the military to Iraq or Afghanistan (they are responsible enough to be
entrusted with that!), while there is also a wish by the present governing
party in Scotland to reduce the voting age from 18 to 16 so as to include
and engage young adults in the political process.  ‘Young people’ are our
nation’s future, the responsible citizens and decision-makers for tomorrow,
but I think that today you would be hard pushed to convince them of that.”

I couldn’t have said it better.  Thanks Iain!

P.S.  After I wrote this, I saw an excellent post by Kittywampus — amen, sister!

Nostalgia Time: Bob Newhart and Mental Illness

This past Sunday, I took a break from Olympics coverage to watch the excellent PBS American Masters episode on Bob Newhart.  The documentary reminded me how much I loved the original “Bob Newhart Show” (the later one, not so much, even though it was set near my home town in Vermont).  I was also struck by Newhart’s recollections on why the producers decided to make Bob Hartley a psychologist:

“Then they wondered what kind of occupation would that be and suggested psychiatrist . . I said, I think psychiatrists really deal with more disturbed patients, and I don’t think we should get our humor from schizophrenics and multiple personalities and bipolar people.  So I suggested a psychologist.”

Playing a psychologist also appealed to Newhart because “when dealing with patients, no matter how ridiculous they are, you can’t let on that they are ridiculous.”

As I recall, the series did humanize persons who sought help from psychologists, but I’m wondering just how much the weekly “parade of crazies” really improved public understanding of mental illness.  Thoughts anyone?


I just completed the training module for MentalHealthEdu, an online program to raise awareness about college mental health issues .  I found the website was very accurate, drawing on material from the American College Health Association.  It also gave  good practical information for faculty, staff, administrators on how to help students in distress. However, it doesn’t really offer any concrete suggestions on how to accomplish one of its major goals, i.e. reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.  Still it’s pretty good at presenting basic information.