The apparent suicide of Robin Williams sparked a national outpouring of grief, especially since the man who played Patch Adams had played such a significant role in improving the lives of so many suffering people. Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, the CEO and founder of GoodTherapy.org, echoed the feelings many experienced in his piece, Finding Compassion and Hope After the Loss of Robin Williams. Andrea Schneider, LCSW, a GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert on learning difficulties, highlighted the need for excellent depression care in her piece, Depression Doesn’t Have to be a Life (or Death) Sentence. Tonya Ladipo, LCSW, a GoodTherapy.org relational psychotherapy Topic Expert emphasized the ways in which suicide victimizes the loved ones who are left behind in Let’s Not Forget About Suicide’s Unsuspecting Victims.
The story of Robin Williams was not the only tragedy to affect the world of mental health this year. Early in the year, we lost Philip Seymour Hoffman to a heroin overdose, and toward the end of the year, a nationwide conversation on racism followed the shooting deaths of black males by police officers. Whether we’re discussing the unconscious racism that exists not just among police but also in our society at large, or the chronic illness diagnosis and depression that led Robin Williams to take his own life, these are the kinds of discussions that are critical for raising awareness and creating change.
Looking back, we selected some of the most influential stories of the year that have garnered attention and inspired conversation around mental health concerns.
Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay player, was drafted as a seventh-round pick by the St. Louis Rams this year. Sam’s draft was the subject of much controversy, with his own father allegedly expressing concern about a gay player in the NFL. Though gay rights advocates lauded the decision to draft Sam, he is now a free agent and never played in a regular-season game.
At least 200,000 rape kits have been left untested nationwide, and the numbers may be steadily rising. As a result, rape survivors may face a phone call years or even decades later alerting them that their kit has finally been tested. This delayed justice can feel like denied justice, and may undermine the healing process. Untested rape kits can also create the illusion that rape is an unimportant crime and that locating rapists is not a priority for police departments.
Anger in response to police brutality erupted this year, with the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, figuring prominently in the debate. Several recent studies aim to explain how police who feel no conscious bias can still engage in behavior that appears racist. Black children may be perceived as older and less sympathetic than they are, for example, while adult black people are often viewed as less than human, or even supernatural. Officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot Michael Brown, referred to Brown as a “demon.” Though stories about police brutality are often upsetting, some mental health professionals have reached out to the Ferguson community to attempt to help them move past the trauma.
In just a few short days, the ALS ice bucket challenge came to dominate Facebook and other social media platforms. This devastating disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), was largely unknown before this campaign. Though some people had heard of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, once the campaign was underway, millions of people became aware of the degenerative nature of the disease that leads, ultimately, to total paralysis. The campaign asked challenge recipients to donate to an ALS charity or dump a bucket of ice water on themselves. Many participants opted to both donate and dump the bucket of ice.
Meditation and visualization have long been used to soothe anxious minds and improve mental health. But the Seattle Seahawks may have used these practices to achieve their 2014 Super Bowl win. The team relied on the help of sports psychologist Mike Gervais to focus their attention on winning and visualize a win. The team also encourages a collegial environment, offering to team members who are struggling the assistance of support staff.
Between 2002 and 2012, heroin use increased 102%, sparking what the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration called a problem of “epic proportions.” The tragic death of famed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman sparked an outpouring of grief, as well as a resurgence of interest in and concern about addiction. Hoffman himself recognized the role public awareness could play in addiction treatment, allegedly remarking to a friend, “If one of us dies of an overdose, probably 10 people who were about to won’t.”
Racist comments by Donald Sterling, then-owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, sparked a national discussion about the role of racism in sports and the ways in which subtle attitudes affect behavior. GoodTherapy.org covered the ways in which racial microaggressions can create a hostile climate for racial minorities.
In July, GoodTherapy.org reported on a Facebook experiment on its users’ emotions. The study subtly altered the news stories users saw, testing how this affected their emotions. Later, Facebook revealed its involvement in another study, which purported to affect 2012 election turnout. Ethical studies typically require informed consent, so this research deviates from most well-accepted norms for scientific data collection.
After video surfaced of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée unconscious, a massive public outcry encouraged the NFL to change the way it handles domestic violence cases. The league is currently exploring programs designed to reduce domestic violence. After the backlash inspired some bloggers to blame victims for staying with their abusers, GoodTherapy.org covered why some victims choose to stay.
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