Trumpcare, Mental Health, and the Goldwater Rule

Back to politics today for  a moment…because there’s something I want to say, and because I’m struggling with something about Donald Trump and the Goldwater Rule.

Content Note: Ableism, Healthcare, Politics, Trump, Mental Health

Senator Susan Collins, a white woman with short red hair wearing a dark blazer, white blouse, and pearls, stands in front of an American flag background. Keyword: Goldwater Rule

Image Description: Senator Susan Collins, a white woman with short red hair wearing a dark blazer, white blouse, and pearls, stands in front of an American flag background.

Although I have Republican friends that I cherish in spite of our differences in opinion, regular readers know that as a group I’m hard on them. I’ve called them out, sometimes by  name (some have told me unfairly.) I don’t believe that I’ve been off-base.

But I also believe in giving credit where it’s due. So, to Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who’ve stood firm in this round of Obamacare repeal deliberations that what’s been included in the proposed repeal scenarios are not good for their constituents, despite bullying from Donald Trump, thank you. Thank you on behalf of my disabled American friends, and the children, families and elderly people of America that not only depend on Medicaid to keep them happy and healthy, but depend on it to keep them alive. Thank you for insisting that America be a country where everyone is taken care of. Your integrity and courage give me hope.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a white woman with short blonde hair wearing a red blazer, a write blouse, and a pendant on a chain, stands in front of some trees. Keyword: Goldwater Rule

Image Description:  Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a white woman with short blonde hair wearing a red blazer, a write blouse, and a pendant on a chain, stands in front of some trees.

Thank you also to John McCain, a man with whom I’ve definitely had my disagreements, who came to Washington in spite of his cancer diagnosis, right after brain surgery, speaking eloquently about bipartisanship and the need to work together to craft a plan for healthcare, pushing himself through the week and into the early hours of the morning last Friday night to cast the vote that brought down Trumpcare. Sir, I salute you.

Senator John McCain, a white male in his 70s with white hair wearing a navy blazer and blue dress shirt. stands against an American flag background Keyword: Goldwater Rule
MESA, AZ – June 4: Senator John McCain (R – AZ) appears at a town hall meeting on June 4, 2010 in Mesa, Arizona.

Image Description: Senator John McCain, a white male in his 70s with white hair wearing a navy blazer and blue dress shirt. stands against an American flag background.

I won’t ever forget what the three of you have done for my American friends.

And to the rest of GOP who are struggling with the idea of single-payer as an idea for health care in the US…on one level, I get it.

Didn’t think I’d say that, did you? Well, I’m nothing if not practical. Single-payer isn’t a perfect system. Not by a long shot. Are there wait times? There can be, for non-emergency issues especially. Is it bureaucracy-heavy? Not any more than the bureaucracy created by the American system having to deal with many insurance plans, I’d argue, but I could be wrong. But even though I waited a couple of months for the functional MRI that the AVM Clinic at Toronto Western Hospital needed to decide how to best treat my AVM, I didn’t have to worry about whether my family could afford to have one of the best neurosurgeons in North America specializing in AVM treatment rooting around in my head for 14 hours.

Take our system and make *your* single-payer system better. Show us up. In fact (if it’ll get you moving on this), I’ll bet that you can’t do it. Go ahead and prove me wrong.

Please! 🙂

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Now…why I’m struggling.

Donald Trump, Mental Health, and the Goldwater Rule

Last week, two friends who work in the mental health field, for whom I have a great deal of respect, said that despite their concerns about the Goldwater Rule, they firmly believe Donald Trump has a mental health condition and needs evaluation to determine whether he’s psychologically healthy enough to continue on as President. The American Psychoanalytic Association officially said recently that members shouldn’t feel restricted by the the Goldwater Rule when discussing Trump.

This is a tough one for me. I don’t like Trump at all, simply because I don’t tend to like people that are lying, arrogant bullies.  But I’ve fought hard against the idea that he’s unfit for office because he’s “crazy” because:

  • Even the most qualified mental health diagnostician would need time and access to Trump to make an accurate diagnosis
  • If the policy is that a clean bill of mental health is required to be the President, then Presidents as far back as Lincoln have been in violation
  • It’s ableist. There’s no reason that a President with a well-managed mental health condition should be treated any differently, in terms of perception of ability to govern, than a President with any other sort of well-managed condition.

And I think that ultimately I still believe that the Goldwater Rule should apply to the position of the President, provided that some other safeguards are put in place (because we do know that Presidents have had mental health conditions, and even degenerative brain conditions, that went largely unnoticed while they were in office):

  • Any President (not just Donald Trump) gets his or her mental health evaluated by an independent mental health practitioner on a regular basis. (I don’t know if this happens, or how often.) The Presidency is an extremely high-stress job, and it’s not unreasonable to periodically check at the very least whether that stress is having an adverse affect on the President’s well-being.
  • Concerns about the President’s mental health are treated like concerns about the President’s physical health – they are quickly, and thoroughly evaluated and, if necessary, treated. The President takes time off work if necessary, but the assumption is that he or she will be able to return to work, and that it will happen as soon as possible. The public is entitled to no more information than it would be if the President had a physical issue.

In other words: If the White House properly monitored the President for mental health conditions and ensured that if there were any conditions that were affecting the President so much that they interfered with his or her ability to govern that the President took time off (if necessary) and received the treatment and education needed to ensure that the condition was well-managed and no longer an issue…then I’d continue to stand on the Goldwater Rule and say, “It isn’t up to people who’ve never spoken to President to make a diagnosis. It’s up to the White House.”

But I don’t have that confidence in this White House. They can’t even make Donald Trump stop using his phone. They’re not going to convince him to let someone do even a simple mental health evaluation, or start treatment if that was deemed necessary – and Donald Trump is not a man that would step down. Not for the good of his health. Not even, I don’t think, for the good of his country.

So, I Struggle…

I’ve struggled as I’ve watched mental health diagnosticians openly break the Goldwater Rule since Trump’s election with their pronouncements in the media that he’s got any number of mental health conditions.

I struggle now, wondering if they were right to break the Goldwater Rule the way they did.

I don’t think that a mental health condition should automatically disqualify anyone from any job – I know too many people with well-managed mental health conditions that are in high-stress positions and that do an excellent job. But, like my friend said:

Whether someone agrees or disagrees with the content of his inflammatory statements, that is not the issue. This is not a matter of attributing mental illness because of disagreement with his views/statements. If you go back and view interviews with him from decades ago, he’s still the same big jerk, but his behavior has changed.”

It’s one thing to be a seventy-year-old civilian man with no insight into behaviour change and perhaps the need for help, and with apparently no one around you who will call you on that blind spot. It’s quite another thing when you’re the most powerful man in the world.

I think I know now where I land on this. If the White House won’t take action when there are indicators that the President needs treatment for a mental health condition, other people with experience and knowledge in the field of mental health need to be allowed to speak without fear of what it could cost them. It’s ableism to say, “People with a mental health condition can’t be President,” but it’s not ableism to expect Presidents that do have mental health conditions to work with their staff and medical team to manage those conditions so that their ability to govern isn’t affected.

To be clear:  Mental health professionals who are worried that Donald Trump isn’t competent to lead need the freedom to speak about it. Someone has to.

 

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Armchair Psychology and Election 2016

So I’ve been working on my post about the Democratic National Convention (which I’m finding very difficult to write, for a number of reasons) and I’m hoping to get it online soon. But something else has come up that I want to talk about: how armchair psychology has entered the campaigning in the 2016 election.
Content Note: Ableism, Mental Health, Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, Politics, Election 2016
The word "crazy!" on a white cloud against a psychadelic background. Keyword: Armchair psychology

Image Description: The word “crazy!” on a white cloud against a psychedelic background.

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Now, I’m certainly not the first to write about this and I won’t be the most eloquent. But I’ve actually noticed this happening since the primaries, when Donald Trump likened Ben Carson’s self-described “pathological temper” to the pathological issues of a child molester (in that neither can be cured, Trump said, but that’s not how the public took his comments.) Nonsense with a recent petition put me over the edge.

Yes, nonsense.

For Clarity’s Sake

Let me say it again, for those that haven’t heard me say it before: I intensely dislike Donald Trump and just about everything he stands for. I think that he’s a bullying, abusive liar and the idea of him as President of the USA is terrifying to me. Despite having some misgivings about Hilary Clinton that I’m finding fairly difficult to navigate my way around at the moment, I’ll still do whatever I can to get her elected, because the alternative is just unthinkable. (And for what it’s worth, the idea of voting someone in to keep someone out doesn’t create any real cognitive dissonance for me — as a Canadian voter, I’ve had to do this several times.)

But despite my dislike for Donald Trump, armchair psychology in the form of speculation about any potential mental health diagnoses he may have has made me uncomfortable right from the get-go, from everybody but a select group of friends and colleagues that I know have a lot of experience in the mental health sector and the qualifications to diagnose someone given the opportunity to spend adequate time with a person. Not that I’m perfect — I’m not qualified to diagnose, and I can remember discussions with these colleagues where, as we’ve speculated on what might motivate some of Trump’s behaviour, I’ve said that it seems like narcissism or perhaps even sociopathy are possibilities. Even those discussions were ones in which I shouldn’t have engaged in, and I don’t anymore. I should have known better than to engage in that sort of speculation.

But I will say this: the difference between this discussion between me, as a person with education about mental health issues and experience in the field and these colleagues presently working in the field and able to diagnose, and the average person on the internet saying, “Trump is such a psychopath” (or “Could Trump Pass a Sanity Test”, where noted media figure Keith Olbermann evaluates Trump for psychopathy using the Hare Psychopathy Checklist) is:

  • My colleagues and I know that it’s dangerous to toss around mental health terminology in the general public arena with regards to a person’s potential mental health diagnoses, especially if you’re someone with the power to influence the way people vote (another candidate, a speaker at a convention, a media person), when you’re not qualified to diagnose people. Armchair psychology has consequences.
  • My colleagues and I are careful to avoid even the suggestion that a mental health diagnosis makes people unfit for certain kinds of work, because that’s ableist bullshit.

And this, which really should be most obvious reason to end all this armchair psychology, and the reason why the internet petition encouraging the Republican party to have Donald Trump evaluated for Narcissistic Personality Disorder is in particular so objectionable: My colleagues and I know that even if a person has the credentials required to diagnose mental health conditions, it’s unethical to do so without meeting the person and spending time with them.

(This petition is still up, but I’m not going to link to it. It’s easy enough to find if you want to look for it.)

Unethical! And the petition’s creator knows this — she said so in the preamble to the petition. The interesting thing about this petition is that while its creator seems to know why asking people to sign a petition saying “Donald Trump is a narcissist and I think it makes him unfit for President” would be inappropriate, and makes it appear like she’s not asking people to do that…she ultimately really is. And if she is a mental health professional (she doesn’t state her qualifications), that makes the petition particularly egregious.

Let’s unpack this.

The Petition to Have Trump’s Mental Health Evaluated

The creator, stating that she knows that it’s unethical for clinicians who haven’t spent time with a person to diagnose them, is calling on mental health diagnosticians who have observed in Trump’s behaviour (in the media, presumably) the nine diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder as listed in the DSM-V (she then lists them) to endorse the idea that the Republican party should evaluate Trump’s mental health fitness to hold office based on what they’ve seen. The petition was specifically targeted (as you can apparently do with the particular company that she used to create it) to clinical psychologists and psychiatrists.

I would imagine that her argument is that she’s not asking anyone to diagnose, but instead asking people with the credentials to diagnose to suggest to the Republicans that they find someone who can ethically evaluate Donald Trump and have it done for the good of the country. But there are a couple of problems with this:

  1. This petition didn’t stay among mental health diagnosticians. I found the link to it in a Facebook group whose members work in all sectors, and a lot of people indicated that they signed. The link to the petition also went out over Twitter using a hashtag that trended. It invited armchair psychology from all over the world.
  2. Even if it stayed in circulation only among mental health diagnosticians, it’s a request with a bias toward the idea that Trump *does* have a personality disorder that will make him unfit to govern. Obviously the creator, despite her acknowledgement that it’s unethical for someone in her position (assuming that she’s a diagnostician; again, she doesn’t state her qualifications) to do so, has decided that Trump has Narcissistic Personality Disorder and is asking other diagnosticians to support her (again, unethical.)
  3. Even if we completely ignored what I said in Bullet #2…she’s asking diagnosticians to support a request to the Republicans to have Trump evaluated for mental fitness based on media footage of his campaign. We don’t see or hear what Trump is like at home, church, in his office every day (at least not unfiltered through the media). We see him in only one facet of his life, and a request to evaluate him based on that is unfair. And unethical.

Story time.

The Unfair Assumption That Unwanted Behaviour is Always Due to Disability

I was in a support position for a family where a 17-year-old male had a developmental disability. The parents came to me at one point and asked if I could arrange for an appointment with a behaviour consultant from a children’s support agency.

“His disability is making him disrespectful, argumentative, and very difficult to deal with,” they said. “We can’t get him to do anything we ask.”

“We can do that,” I said, “There’s a waiting list, but I’ll get the referral started. But keep in mind…him being disrespectful, argumentative, difficult to deal with, and unwilling to do what you ask might have more to do with the fact that he’s a 17-year-old boy than it does with his disability.”

My point? Trump could have an off-the-scale case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Or he could simply be in possession of the “healthy dose” of narcissism that psychology professor Dan McAdams told the Toronto Star “most people running for high office must have.” Adams did go on to say that “It does seem to be the case that he’s kind of off the map,” but also said that he wouldn’t give him a mental health diagnosis.

Trump certainly has been described as a narcissist by many people, and this tendency appears to be accompanied by an inflated healthy self-esteem, a tendency to speak off the top of his head and behave erratically, and a strong dislike of admitting he’s wrong. Inappropriate trait for someone who wants to be President just on their own — why, asks David Perry, the need to further pathologize them? The insistence on doing so without evidence that it’s merited reinforces ideas that:

  1. If there’s something “off” about a person, they must be “crazy”
  2. A mental health diagnosis makes someone unstable and therefore unfit to hold political office (bullshit ableism)
  3. The stigma that continues to exist around having a mental health diagnosis is justified and even rational

Armchair Psychology is Dangerous -Especially During Election 2016

It kills me that I’ve spent over 15oo words talking about why Trump needs to be treated more fairly. But this isn’t merely about defending about Trump. *He* also needs to be called out for how he uses armchair psychology diatribes about Hilary’s mental instability. Questioning the mental stability of those who disagree with him is part of Trump’s modus operundi, as pointed out in Vanity Fair (from the preamble to the the results of Keith Olbermann’s afore-mentioned piece about Trump and psychopathy):

“Except that in his year of campaigning, Donald Trump has called Lindsey Graham “a nut job,” Glenn Beck “a real nut job,” and Bernie Sanders “a wacko.” Trump has insisted Ben Carson’s got a “pathological disease,” and asked of Barack Obama: “Is our president insane?” He called Ted Cruz “unstable,” “unhinged,” “a little bit of a maniac,” and “crazy or very dishonest.” He also called the entire CNBC network “crazy.” He called Megyn Kelly “crazy” — at least six times.”

Here are some recent comments from him attacking Clinton’s mental health status:

This armchair psychology needs to end. We also need to call out people like the speaker at the RNC who explicitly talked about Clinton being unstable (I wish I could remember who this was; I’ve tried to find the clip, but I can’t. Does anyone remember who I mean?) and individuals from the far, far right media crowd like Info War’s Alex Jones who have made “Hilary Clinton is crazy” a stock part of their message.

The campaigns, the media, and people who seek to influence voters need to work in the world of facts, not ableism and messages that contribute to stigma.

Because that really is bullshit.

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Assisted Death and Mental Health – An Unnamed Woman’s Story

The Dutch Euthanasia Commission recently revealed that last year, in the Netherlands, an unnamed woman was granted a death by euthanasia because of suffering brought on by a mental health condition. For people outside the Netherlands, where the debate about assisted death for people with mental conditions is just beginning, it’s a controversial story.

Content Warning: Suicide, sexual abuse, assisted suicide, euthanasia

Yellow caution tape against a black background. Keyword: assisted death

Image Description: Yellow caution tape against a black background.

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The young lady in question was 22 years old. She’d been sexually abused from age 5 to 15. Metro UK reports that she had “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, chronic depression and severe anorexia” and “hallucinations and compulsions.”

Doctors declared her mental health conditions “incurable”, and the suffering that they caused her “unbearable”, and on this basis she was granted the right to the death by euthanasia that she requested.

There’s a lot to unpack here. I understand why, in light of what we know about this young woman’s condition, suicide looked like an option for her. I don’t understand why she was granted an assisted death and I’m not sure that I agree, based on the information that I’ve been able to find, that she should have gotten one.

“Assisted Death”, “Assisted Suicide”, and “Euthanasia”

Let’s get a matter of terminology out of the way. I will use “assisted death” in my discussion in this piece because while we tend to use “assisted suicide” as a catch-all for several types of death in which a doctor is involved, in the Netherlands “assisted death” has a particular meaning and isn’t interchangeable with “euthanasia”.  In Dutch law, a physician prepares a lethal injection for an “assisted suicide” but does not administer it.  The physician administers the injection during “euthanasia”. Media sources are quite clear that that this young woman was euthanized.  I think it’s important, for clarity, to use a third term to speak generally about the assisted death debate…on the one hand.

On the other hand, for the purposes of this discussion, the distinction doesn’t really matter: the fact that any kind of assisted death was approved for a chronic psychiatric condition is dicey even in the Netherlands. It requires evaluation by two specialists, one of whom must be a psychiatrist, and both of whom must agree that the applicant is “incurable” and experiencing “unbearable suffering.” Dutch doctors are somewhat reluctant to make these declarations about mental conditions. (Pg 14)

So there’s *that*.

Thoughts on Suicide Generally and Assisted Death Particularly

I don’t like the idea of people committing suicide, of course, but, bodily autonomy – you have a right to do what you want to your body, regardless of how I feel about it. I’ve been suicidal. I don’t think that I truly wanted to die, just as I think that most people considering suicide don’t truly want to die. I think that they’re people in tremendous pain that want it to stop and that suicide sometimes looks like the only option. That’s part of what makes suicide so sad – if you take that option, not aware that there are there are others or that you can access others, or lacking confidence in the efficacy of other options or your ability to use them effectively, or simply to worn out to give a damn, you can’t change your mind.

But I also think that there’s a very small number of people who have truly decided that they want to die, who have thought it through with a clear head and who fully understand the consequences, and whose unclouded reasoning shows when evaluated by professionals. They want a dignified death that’s under their control, perhaps with loved ones around them, where they don’t have worry about something going wrong and traumatizing loved ones being beyond the grief of the death itself. I can respect that. I support that. I think that there needs to be safeguards around the right to access it, but I think that the access should be there.

People who request an assisted death are generally terminally ill, but not always.

They don’t have to be in the Netherlands.

They won’t have to be in Canada, if the legislation proposed in 2015 is passed as presented.

This woman wasn’t, although she may have died eventually if she’d not found a way to manage her anorexia.

Cause for Caution

There are good reasons to consider assisted death legislation that doesn’t have terminal illness as a criteria, but these are good reasons to  approach it cautiously, too.  Three major concerns come out of this story for me:

  1. Granting assisted death on these declarations sets a dangerous precedent, not just for people with mental conditions, but for disabled people in general. Many  disabled people are (rightfully) concerned about assisted death legislation and the potential for people to make assisted death decisions of behalf of disabled people based on perceptions of what living as a disabled person must be like. What if this young woman had not sought an assisted death, but had ended up in the hospital because of the anorexia, and doctors had deemed her “incurable” and her suffering “unbearable” and put a DNR on her? It wouldn’t be the first time a disabled person had a DNR put in them without their consent in a hospital.
  2. I was an emotional mess to varying degrees until my early twenties. When I finally got on the right meds, and with good therapy on a regular basis, things started to turn around, even as I was adjusting to the major life changes brought on by my surgery and stroke – I’m uncomfortable with doctors throwing around the word “incurable” for a 22-year-old, especially since she’d experienced temporary improvement with intensive therapy. And I’m not a certified counselor, but I know women and men who experienced long-term sexual abuse in childhood. After a lot of therapy and hard work they haven’t forgotten, but are able to live with it as they go about their full, fulfilling lives. What a tragedy if, still in the thick of it at the young age of 22, they’d asked for an assisted death and a doctor had deemed them “incurable”!
  3. I was anorexic and severely depressed when I a teenager, and I remember my thought processes at the time. I couldn’t trust my perceptions on anything, not just because of the lens of  body dysmorphia and depression through which I viewed everything, but because my body was just so malnourished. I  can believe that this woman had convinced herself that she wanted to die and that she maybe even could have presented some cogent-sounding arguments in favour of giving her an assisted death. But do I believe that someone with  active PTSD, severe anorexia, depression, compulsions, and hallucinations was able to look clearly and objectively about whether she truly wanted to die? I wasn’t there, I didn’t talk to her, I’m not a doctor. I’m not saying she couldn’t. But I think that it’s reasonable to question whether she really could.

However.

When Treatment Doesn’t Work

Again, I didn’t know this girl. I don’t know what she went through in those 10 years. I don’t know what kind of work she did to get better since the abuse ended. Maybe she tried every kind of therapy she could get her hands on, and nothing made any lasting difference.

I do know that for some people, medications and therapy don’t work for depression. They try drug after drug, and they keep trying new therapists, trying to find one that they click with, and some even try electroshock therapy, and nothing makes a difference. I imagine myself at my worse, depression-wise, trying everything that I can, and feeling more and more discouraged when nothing seems to work…that would literally be hell on earth. Add PTSD to that, and the physical problems that anorexia causes, and I get it. I get what she’d ask for something drastic.  I won’t – I can’t – judge her asking.

Again, Caution

But the fact that she was deemed “incurable” at a very young 22 years when there still could have been so much about her state of mind influencing that decision and she *had* shown some improvement relatively recently makes me think that it was too early to give her what she wanted. And it’s cemented for me the vague feeling of discomfort that I’ve had around the legislation in Canada’s assisted death law, that allows people to make a request based on mental health conditions.

I’m not well when I’m deeply depressed. I can’t trust what my brain is telling me about my life. I need laws (and people that work with them) that work as much as possible with my survival instincts in those times, not against them.

To be clear: I am not suggesting that people with mental conditions lack the capability or capacity to make important life decisions, even when feeling very unwell. That is simply untrue. Each case is individual, and I can only speak for myself. I am just calling for caution. When it comes to assisted death, we need to proceed with caution, and make sure that everyone who needs protection is protected – including the people that may need protection from themselves.

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Ontario School Board Changes Lice Policy Because Inclusion

Hello everyone! Happy New Year! Let’s talk about lice. Yes, lice – the nasty little bugs that live and lay eggs in the hair of especially schoolchildren, making costly shampoos and treatments and complicated disinfecting regimes in the house a necessity.

Content Note: Stigma, Hypocrisy, Double Standards

White woman with long blonde hair, wearing a beige sweater, examines the head of a white little girl's long, blonde hair for lice. Keyword: Lice

Image Description: White woman with long blonde hair, wearing a beige sweater, examines a white little girl’s long, blonde hair for lice.

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In my province (Ontario) most school boards have “no nits” policies that require that children on whom lice and/or nits are found stay home until they no longer have signs of lice. As a result, some children miss multiple days or even weeks of school.

Several Canadian school Boards have decided to rethink the way they deal with lice, in part due to a recent ruling by the Canadian Pediatric Society that lice are not a medical condition, but a “social nuisance”. They do not cause disease and aren’t a barrier to learning. Richard Pollack, an entomologist, told the Toronto Star that “generally speaking, one out of every 100 kids has lice, regardless of the type of policy the school has toward the insects” and that “the only real thing to fear when it comes to lice is hysterical parents running students out of school.” Read More About The New Head Lice Protocol in the Toronto Star

Mark Fisher: “Public Education is About Equity of Access for Everybody”

In Ontario, the Hastings and Prince Edward County District School Board is the latest board to move away from the “no nits” policy. According to its new policy, children with nits and lice will be welcome at school to continue their learning and so that they can avoid the stigma of being sent home because of lice. Anna Maria Tremonti of CBC Radio’s “The Current” interviewed Board Superintendent Mark Fisher on Jan 14th. The CBC doesn’t provide transcripts of their interviews that I can find, so here is one that I did of that portion of the interview:

AMT: Your school had a “no nits” policy, meaning kids with lice had to stay home. Why did you decide to drop that?

MF: Over the past couple of years I was getting a series of phone calls from parents concerned about the amount of time they were missing work and having to come up and pick their children up and not able to return to school…and we decided to take a look at our procedure, which is something that we review every few years. And when we dug into the issue a little bit we realized, ah, that the medical community said that this was a social nuisance and not a medical concern. And at the end of the day public education is about equity of access for all, and we don’t don’t believe in exclusion anymore for something that we don’t consider to be a serious issue.

AMT: You have also mentioned issues around the stigmatization of students. What’s that?

MF: Yeah, part of my portfolio was promoting positive mental health and well-being. I mean, this is an issue prevalent in  society. So think about how stigmatizing it is, for students to be identified as having head lice, sent to the office, and then having to wait for the parents to come and pick them up, and then not being able to return to school for days or weeks. So really, this is not something that promotes well-being in school, and it’s not a policy we’re comfortable with anymore.

AMT: Are you worried that they’ll be stigmatized if they stay?

MF; I think what we want to do is we want to be very culturally respectful of everybody’s needs. So, it’s not that we are allowing lice to be rampant in our schools – we still have management plans at each school, we’ll still do regular checks, and we’ll respect the rights of the individual by letting them stay for the remainder of the day, sending notification home to parents, along with resources about how to effectively treat this. And if there are some families that are unable to treat this, which has been the case in the past, we have set up mechanisms where they can access  get support, financially and  human, to resolve the issue.

AMT: And what kind of support, then? Like, you would actually pay –

MF: {muffled} counselors that could go into the home, work with the family…and if for some reason, and there are some families really struggle with resolving this issue, we have a charitable arm of our school board which they can make application for funding for some of these agencies to come in and take care of the issue for families.

AMT: You know, in a few minutes I’ll be speaking to Kristy Sinclair, one of the parents who does not want kids with lice attending school. Can you understand the fear some parents have, that their kids –

MF: Oh, I absolutely understand it. I’m a parent myself. I can understand why  parents are worried about this issue, but I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there. We did a lot of research, we checked with a lot of different health units, with the Canadian Pediatric Society…and really what we found was that there’s no evidence that “no nits” policies actually reduced the overall prevalence of nits. And in fact, Anna Maria, we have never excluded students from our high schools for this issue and we don’t have any different rate in the high school versus the elementary school, so…

AMT: Hmm. What kind of rate do you have in your schools?

MF: It’s about, just under 1%, which is I think pretty consistent with the information that we found when we looked at on a larger scale.

AMT: Okay. So what are you doing to help parents understand this decision?

MF: We definitely agree that there’s an education role for us as educators, so we really…we sent home a lot of information about a lot of the health units in our area. We’ve also talked about best practices, about how you actually treat and remove head lice…all of that information is available on our website, for anyone that wants to google “Hastings and Prince Edward County District School Board”, and we also have support staff available in those kind of really problematic cases.

AMT: Just take me through it one more time. You say you’ve done research, and the Canadian Pediatric Society says as well that it’s not a medical condition.

MF: That’s right.

AMT: And it’s not a health problem?

MF: Right. It doesn’t spread disease, it’s not infectious. The information that we have says that it’s a social nuisance.

AMT: Okay. And how much pushback are you getting?

MF: Well, I would say that we’re having a loud but vocal minority. I think, you know, change is difficult at any time, Anna Maria, and at the end of the day, public education is about equity of access for everybody. It’s a great equalizer. And you can’t have equity of outcome for our students when they graduate if you don’t provide equity of opportunity, so if our most vulnerable students aren’t allowed to come to school to learn, to participate, and to resolve the issue with support, I think that’s kind of counter to what we stand for.

Tremonti went on to interview Kristy Sinclair, creator of the “Stop the New Head Lice Protocol” Facebook group, and Richard Pollack, the entomologist that also talked to the Toronto Star. Listen to the full interview here.

The New Head Lice Protocol and Supporting Inclusion When It’s Easy

Here’s the thing.

I have some gut feelings on this on this issue that I admit are based on a very small amount of research and probably more on the idea of having lice than anything else. I think that Fisher makes some valid points. I think that Sinclair’s points about how life infestation *can* become a medical issue when children scratch to the point where they break open skin and give themselves infections, and that the cost of treating lice can over and over and the time at work lost for parents makes the policy economically punitive for families, are also valid.

And for the record, I’ve got no problem with any initiative that reduces stigma for children who get lice. I’m not sure that this policy change will do it, but I could be wrong, of course,

But the main reason that I wanted to comment on this story, and why I wanted to include a transcript of Tremonti’s interview with Mark Fisher, is that I’m fascinated by the co-opting of the language of inclusion as a reason for the policy change.

I’ve never worked in the Hastings and Prince Edward County District School Board, or any of the Boards that have moved away from the “no nits” policy in favour of the one that allows students with lice to return to school. I’d like to see how their inclusion policies for disabled children are working (acknowledging, of course, that perhaps the Hastings and Prince Edward County District School Board has an exemplary record of providing equity of access to everyone, including disabled students). Perhaps all disabled students in the Board do get to attend school and get what they need at school to allow them to learn and participate to the full extent that they can, like their peers do.

If so, congratulations to Hastings and Prince Edward County District School Board – I’m glad that this particular school board has been able to overcome all of the physical, social, and attitudinal barriers in all its its schools that prevent the full participation of disabled students, that they can now focus on making sure that non-disabled students with lice can fully participate while dealing with a (their words) non-medical issue that’s not widely understood socially.

I’m glad that inclusion for students with disabilities no longer seems to be an issue for them, that they can put all this focus on a non-medical issue that that affects one student in 100 at any given time.

I’m glad that all the challenges of families of disabled children in their school are being sufficiently met and in such an efficient way that the board, in its quest for inclusion and for making sure that all children can get an education, can provide counselors in the home and funding to help meet the needs of families of children with lice.

I’m glad that the Board feels that it’s the school’s place to work in partnership with community agencies to make sure families of children with lice are getting what they need, and that they’re willing to be part of education and awareness-spreading. I guess that they’ve got all the partnerships they need when it comes to disabled students and their needs. Good for them.

(In case it’s not coming across, I’m laying the sarcasm on fairly thick.)

Go ahead and call me a cynic, but I think we have a case of, “It’s easy for a school board to believe in  inclusion and providing “equity of access for all” when it doesn’t cost a lot them a lot of extra money.” Again, I have no idea about this particular board’s record on inclusion, and perhaps I don’t even have a right to be skeptical. But we’ve all heard stories and seen stories in action about schools subtly (and not so subtly) demonstrating that inclusion of disabled students and a commitment to equity of access when it comes to their education is *not* their policy even when it’s their policy. I’ve heard far too many stories. I don’t like that I’ve become skeptical, but there it is.

If I was the parent of a disabled child in a board replacing their “no nits” policy, I’d want some assurance that *my* child’s right to equity to access would continue to be preserved, or be preserved at least as well as, that of children with lice. There’s a lot in here that need to apply to *all* students as a general rule, on a daily basis basis – cultural respect of needs, respect for the rights of individuals, and preservation of all students’ rights to learn and participate. If you’re going to go on the radio and say that you stand for inclusion for everyone, you’d better be prepared to stand behind it.

 

 

 

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“Virtually no-one has spent more money in helping the American people with disabilities than me.” – Donald Trump and Serge Kovaleski

Because no one’s heard nearly enough about Donald Trump, let’s talk about him a bit more. Someone asked me this week why I wasn’t blogging about his recent public mocking of disabled journalist Serge Kovaleski. I said that I’ve been filing things away on Trump that I want to address and that this would certainly be one of them, and we talked about the story a bit.

Content Note: Donald Trump, US Election 2016, Ableism, Sexism, Racism, Mental Health, Bullying

Campaign Logo - Cartoon visage of Donald Trump, "Trump" in blue below it, "2016" at the bottom. Three red stars in a pyramid next to slogan. All on a beige background. Keyword: Serge Kovaleski

Image Description: Campaign Logo – Cartoon visage of Donald Trump, “Trump” in blue below it, “2016” at the bottom. Three red stars in a pyramid next to slogan. All on a beige background.

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You know, this election’s crop of GOP contenders makes me miss Mitt Romney. I remember thinking in 2012, “Ugh, the next four years will be unbearable if this right-wing extremist gets in,” but I look at who’s running now and I think, “These guys make Romney look liberal. The next four years will be terrifying if one of them gets in.”

And the prospect of Trump being President scares the shit out of me. I don’t want that for you, American friends, I don’t want that for me as a resident of a country neighbouring America, I don’t want it as a world citizen. You keep him out at all costs.

He’s a liar, he’s a loose cannon, and he’s an abusive bully, and the world doesn’t need any of those things in America’s leader.

Now that I’ve made my feelings on Trump clear. 🙂

I understand why disabled people are upset about Trump mocking Serge Kovaleski, but I really think that disabled Americans need to look at this for what it truly is and then evaluate how they can work it to their advantage, for several reasons:

Reason #1: Donald Trump is a Bully

Let’s first focus on the fact that Donald Trump is truly a bully. Whenever someone doesn’t agree with him, especially when they challenge him, they’re:

  • “incompetent” (New York Times)
  • “a total joke”, “loser”, “dopey”, “all talk no action dummy” (Karl Rove, political analyst)
  •   “…one of the worst Presidential competitors in history. Can’t debate, loves Obamacare – dummy!”, “a total failure” (John Kasich, GOP Presidential candidate, Governor of Ohio)
  • “…one of the worst reporters in the business…wouldn’t know truth if it hit him in the face” (Jeff Horwitz, journalist)
  • “A wacko” (Scott Walker, GOP Presidential candidate, now dropped out of race, Governor of Wisconsin)
  • “…worst mayor in the United States” (Bill Deblasio, Mayor of NYC)
  • “dopey”, “boring”, “broken down” (George Will, political analyst)
  • “a total loser” (Graydon Parker, Editor Vanity Fair)
  • “failed”, “a clown” (Martin O’Malley, GOP Presidential Candidate, Governor of Maryland)
  • “lightweight choker” (Marco Rubio, GOP Presidential candidate)
  • “one of the dumbest political pundits on television”, “dope” (Christ Stitwell, political analyst)

Those are just the really blatant insults from his Twitter timeline…for November.

Other points from the highlight reel include:

  • The first GOP debate, where, when asked about his contentious relationships with women, he made a joke about long-standing feud with Rosie O’Donnell and the names that he’s called her. This led to some terribly inappropriate and sexist post-debate comments about reporter Megyn Kelly being on her period.
  • The news piece where he insulted fellow candidate Carly Fiorina, implying that she’s too ugly to be President.
  • Two occasions where he’s called fellow candidate Ben Carson  “pathological”, likening mental health issues in Carson’s past to those of pedophiles. Trump supporters argue (correctly) that he didn’t say that Carson is a child molester, only that his “pathological” issues are, like those of a pedophile, incurable. But the media picked up on the impact of the comparison (as, I’m sure, did people like me who have experience in the mental health field and find it inappropriate and downright dangerous when unqualified people start diagnosing other people as “pathological”.)

I’ve worked in schools with disabled students who’d cry over things that were said to them in the halls. We’d talk about how what bullies thought of them didn’t matter, and that if they needed something to think of to remind them of that…

“When that person calls you a name, think of them as a bug on your shoulder and just flick them away so that they can’t bother you anymore.”

American friends, be angry if you need to be, but don’t give away your power to this man and his childishness. He doesn’t deserve any space in your head.

I can’t get a good read from media accounts on how Serge Kovaleski is reacting to this (although he seems to be taking it in stride, and good for him). If I was in his place, and people were asking what I thought about what Trump did, I hope that I’d be able to say, “I haven’t thought about it. I’ve got far more important things to think about.”

I’d hope that I could flick that bug off my shoulder. Because I wouldn’t want to give my personal power as a disabled woman away to Donald Trump, and I’d certainly be resolved that my reaction to the whole thing wouldn’t carry me any further toward only being remembered as the disabled reporter that Donald Trump mocked.

I’m better than that, and even just a cursory scan of his career accomplishments indicates that Serge Kovaleski is too – far better:

  • He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for breaking news for his work as part of the team that covered the Elliot Spitzer scandal for the New York Times. He was also a finalist in the same category for a story that he covered with a team in 2008.
  • He covered the Boston Marathon Bombing and  the Aurora, Colorado shootings for the New York Times, and has done investigative reporting for NYT across the US and in the UK
  • He’s worked at The Washington Post, New York Daily News, Money Magazine, and The Miami News.

No one’s talking about those things, are they? Make Serge Kovaleski known for his accomplishments – let’s not let the reason that he becomes a household name be that he was the poor disabled journalist that Donald Trump, in a move that only a monster could make, publicly mocked (because what could be more heinous than mocking the disabled? Please read my heavy sarcasm, in case it’s not coming across).

In the interests of explaining this line of reasoning further, I’m going to make this post extra-long and include a Facebook post by disability advocate Cara Liebowitz, which she’s given people permission to share. She says it much better than I can:

This is not so much about politics as it is about how Donald Trump has inadvertently shown what society really thinks of disabled people, and so I will not be debating the relative merits or lack thereof of candidates.

No one said Donald Trump’s campaign hit an “all time low” when he implied that Megyn Kelly was on her period because she dared to ask him tough questions. No one said it hit an all time low when he said that Muslims should wear special ID badges and then was unable to say how that was different from Hitler’s policies. Yet he makes fun of a disabled person and suddenly the world is up in arms, saying his campaign is at an all time low and this will hurt his chances.

You know what? I’m an actual disabled person and I’m not offended that Donald Trump mocked a disabled person. Do I think he’s disgusting? Yup. Do I think he’s the biggest asshole to ever walk this planet? Absolutely. Am I continually puzzled as to why he’s leading in the polls? You bet your ass I am. But I’m not offended that he made fun of a disabled person, because he makes fun of everyone else. Disabled people should be no different. I’d be more offended if he made fun of everyone BUT disabled people.

What DOES offend me is people’s outrage over this, which is much more than outrage over any of the other bigoted things he’s said. Berating a disabled person is seen as morally reprehensible not because we’re people and people shouldn’t be berated, period, but because we’re seen as weak, incapable of defending ourselves, and on par with a small child or a fuzzy animal. We’re objects of pity, not diverse human beings with our own lives, goals, and ideas. We’re certainly not a voting constituency.

If Donald Trump’s poll numbers go down because of this, when they haven’t gone down because of anything else that comes out of his bigoted mouth, I will actually be disappointed, as much as I despise the man. Because it will show that the American people think disabled people are so special that they’re the one untouchable group. It shows that America thinks it’s totally A-OK for a presidential candidate to abuse and berate women, Muslims, immigrants – but not disabled people. And it shows that for those of us who straddle multiple marginalized identities, disability is the only one that’s ever going to matter.

People, get a grip. Donald Trump is a hateful bigot in the worst way, but at least he’s equally bigoted towards pretty much everyone. The least we can do is be equally outraged.

Bravo, Cara. Bravo.

I also like Bill Peace’s take on Trump and ableism.

Donald Trump is Abusive

Trump’s gut reaction is to belittle, especially when he’s defensive. Later, if it looks like what he’s said is really going to do him damage, he comes back and makes a claim about what a hero he is:

  • He may have called Mexicans rapists and criminals, but clearly he was misunderstood, because no one has more respect for the Latino community than he does.
  • A #BlackLivesMatter protester may been beaten at one of his rallies, but that was about the protester, not the cause – no one has a better relationship with the Black community than he does.
  • Women? He cherishes them. He’s committed to meeting their needs, even when a woman has got blood coming out of her “whatever”.
  • He doesn’t know who Serge Kovaleski is or what he looks like, but “Virtually no-one has spent more money in helping the American people with disabilities than me”

Clearly, we misunderstand what we’re hearing when we’re insulted by what he’s saying, and that makes us wrong and worthy of his scorn.

That’s how an abuser behaves.

I’ve worked with young disabled adults in abusive situations. If they said, “I need out and I need your help”, that became my first priority for support for them – find a way to get them out and safe, deal with the rest of it later.

You’re not in this abusive relationship yet, America – make it your priority to be sure that you stay out of it, because Presidents tend to sit for two terms.

Reason #3 – This Is About More Than Disabled People

I’m going to piggy-back on what Cara has said.

I’m upset that Donald Trump mocked Serge Kovaleski. But not because Serge Kovaleski is disabled.

I’m upset that Donald Trump mocked someone, period. A Presidential candidate should not be running a campaign where his knee-jerk response to disagreement from anyone is belittlement and abuse. If you’re going to be outraged for Serge Kovaleski, you should also be outraged for Megyn Kelly.

And George Will.

And Karl Rove.

And the other Presidential candidates, most of them a great deal more politically experienced than him and who will presumably remain his colleagues should he, God forbid, win the election, that he’s personally maligned. I may intensely dislike what the GOP candidates generally stand for, and I’m all for fair criticism of an opponent’s ideas during a political campaign. But name-calling over Twitter and cheap shots during debates makes a mockery of the political process and takes space away from the table (especially in this election, where how well a GOP contender is doing determines whether they get to be at the big evening debate or the earlier one that gets less attention) for a person with more qualifications than having the money to fund his or her own campaign.

Reason #4: Thanks to Serge Kovaleski, Trump’s Attention is On Disabled People

American friends, harness your anger and use it – you’ve got Trump’s attention. During a rally in Sarasota, Florida on Saturday, Trump really tried to backwalk on mocking Serge Kovaleski.

Here’s all you really need to hear from that article:

“People that have a difficulty, I cherish them. These are incredible people, and I just want to put that to rest.”

Blecch.

Leverage his feeling that he’s made a mistake on this and make him *run* this one back by getting him to come out to the National Forum on Disability Issues (assuming that it’s convened for the 2016 Election – hopefully it will be). Truly, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass if he’s there, and neither should you, but if he comes out, the other candidates will follow – Republican and Democrat. Count on it.

And you want them to know what your concerns as disabled voters are. Disabled Americans are a significant voting demographic, whether the candidates want to acknowledge it or not. When you add on concerned loved ones and caregivers and advocates, it’s a demographic ignored at any candidate’s potential peril. You get Trump even pretending to listen to you, and they’ll all listen to you – they can’t afford not to.

Conclusion

You’ve got power. Use it. Don’t let Donald Trump, of all people, take it from you.

Please.

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