Friday, May 2, 2014

More mental health issues and resources

Next week I am giving another talk on mental health issues for scientists. Since I am doing this more I have been doing a bit more reading. Also, people are starting to send me various relevant articles. Here are a few things I have learnt, in no particular order.

Andrew Lange was one of the world's leading observational cosmologists and Chair of the Division of Physics,  Maths, and Astronomy at Caltech. He was the lead investigator on BICEP, the forerunner of the experiment that recently found evidence for cosmic inflation. He suffered from depression. Tragically, he committed suicide in 2010.

Lewis Wolpert FRS is a distinguished developmental biologist who has suffered through several severe periods of depression. Years ago he wrote an article about his experience in The Guardian newspaper. He says that he received more feedback than for anything he had written in his whole career. This was followed with a book Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression and an associated BBC TV program, A Living Hell.

Doris Iarovici, a psychiatrist at the Duke University Counseling and Psychological Services has just published a book, Mental Health Issues and the University Student. Some of it is depressing reading, as it chronicles the pressures students in the USA are under, and some of the poor ways they try to cope with them. There is a whole chapter on the problem of perfectionism. Although the book is mostly concerned with undergraduates it does discuss graduate students. The author also has a New York Times blog post raising concerns about over-prescription of anti-depressants.

There is a research article The impact of funding deadlines on personal workloads, stress and family relationships: a qualitative study of Australian researchers. It concerns  how much time researchers spend/waste making grant applications, focussing on the case of the NHMRC [the main funding agency for medical research]. It contains the cryptic comment:
Additional impacts on mental health and well-being were identified through comments including ‘incredible anxiety’, ‘depressed’, ‘despondent’, ‘insecurity’ and ‘soul- destroying’. The mental health and welfare of researchers warrants further examination beyond this study.

1 comment:


    1. Yakovenko's work on the 'ideal gas model of income distribution' is actually pretty old---i think 2001 (i've interacted with him). Also, there were similar approaches from even the 50's if i recall (sortuh like the repeated discovery of zipf's law). And, while interesting---the main point being that if you use a 'convolution integral' to transform family income into personal income, then you convert the more commonly cited Pareto (or zipf) law into the boltzmann.

    and, there is a problem with reconciling this with standard economics---the idea of the ideal gas is that due to the ergodic hypothesis over time everyone has the same income, though at any time it will exponential. (Later work from Indian physicists updated to include savings to get the 'long tail'). Maybe over generations this is true---a rockefellor will regress to the mean and a pauper will become a rockefellor (which is often true historically). But are the money exchanges really random? (One can show using standard cobbs-douglas economics of utility maximization, that things like supply and demand, diffferent abilities and needs, etc. will generate the exponential, but only if you also assume the parameters in the utility function are drawn from a randomm distribution). Yakovenko to my knowledge has never addressed this really (though he does have on his web page a paper reviewing his work that points this out).

    So either inequality is like the 2nd law---unavoidable, or else its a more complex process. Stratification may derive from some sort of FPU non or semi-ergodic process, though it may be we really are equal (though temporarily unequal)---'in the long run we are all dead'---boltzmann, tipler, keynes).

    2. Regarding 'mental illness' one thing often not discussed is, such as for depression, 'why are you depressed?' This is like the view of AA (alcoholics anonymnous) or MADD (mothers against drunk driviing.
    (Also Obesity----Science mag had a big collection of articles on obesity, which discussed which genes were responsible, etc. with only one slight mention of the fast food and advertizing industry----the idea seemed to be 'we'll sell you a pill for your genetic problem, and partner with McDonald's so it will be a side order with your big mac, coke and fries , if not embedded in it chemically).

    I remember the 1st lecture I attended at NIH on someone doing 'chaos theory and the brain' (including discussion of addiction and mental illness) had the first powerpoint-type slide giving a 'thank you' to Phillip Morris company for funding. (the dude is now in europe at some science think tank which appears to be 50% wack (sortuh like the Templeton fund).

    One can ask about the 'mental health' of people like Dick Cheney, or Frederick Goodwin (who used to have an NPR show called 'the infinite mind' about mental illness (which essentially was almost a drug pushing operation, just like 'animal jhouse' on NPR---try giving your impulsive dog some prozac because your vet needs an income and you need a dog) ; he was kicked out when it turned out he was receiving tons of money from 'Big Pharma". (but he still had his job at GWU).