Depression – social or chemical?

A recently-retired couple asked their doctor for a prescription for the husband; the wife said that her husband was depressed. After a lengthy consultation, the doctor advised them to sit by the sea, about 5 minutes away, as often as possible. He would not write a prescription. The claimed depression soon evaporated.

A young doctor had prescribed medication for clinical depression. A more experienced doctor, however, found no evidence of clinical depression. The younger doctor’s explanation was that the patient had told her that she felt sad from time to time. After losing 2 sons in succession and a pregnancy mid-term, who wouldn’t? She displayed great sadness on the dates of her losses; but then reverted to her normal happy family life.

Against these experiences, psychiatrists seem to have identified an increasing number of psychiatric maladies. The recommended treatment involves a pharmaceutical product, expected to control or treat a chemical imbalance in the brain.

According to an article “Blue by you” by Johann Hari in the ‘Good Weekend’ magazine of the Sydney Morning Herald of 3 Feb. 2018: In the US, “… if your baby dies at 10 am, your doctor can diagnose you with a mental illness at 10.01 am and start drugging you straight away.” The article also said “Between 65 and 80 per cent of people taking chemical anti-depressants become depressed again.” “There is a real effect – but, alas, for many users, it is not enough to lift them out of depression.”

The article quotes Dr. Joanne Cacciatore of Arizona State University thus: “… a key problem with how we talk about depression, anxiety and other forms of suffering; we don’t … “consider context.” “When you have a person with extreme human distress, we need to stop treating the symptoms.”

The author of the article ‘Blue by you’ states that “… human beings have natural psychological needs too – but, Australian society, and the wider Western world, is not meeting those needs for many of us, and that is the primary reason why depression and anxiety are soaring.” “There has been an explosion in loneliness.”

To that, social researcher Hugh Mackay adds “The biggest contribution is fragmentation.” “Humans are social animals. We need communities.”

Doctors in Cambodia told African psychiatrist Derek Summerfeld that “finding an anti-depressant didn’t mean finding a way to change your brain chemistry. It meant finding a way to solve the problem that was causing the depression in the first place.

Comparably, a doctor in London (Dr. Sam Everington) ‘prescribed’ participation in a group activity. It is a successful approach.

Johann Hari’s book is ‘Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and Anxiety – and the Real Solutions.’


University degree vs. vocational training.

Forty-five percent of all Australian youths should attend a university – so decided the federal government. Such a move would obviously keep the job-seeker level low for a while. Yet, the same government allows the entry of a very large number of immigrants and refugees each year. The belief-theory underlying this entry policy is that the consumer demand generated would benefit the economy. What of development?

Australia is already deficient in necessary infrastructure and needed housing. Development, however, requires investment by entrepreneurs and qualified tradespeople. Would the 30 or so universities which are re-badged vocational colleges produce the needed tradespeople?

An article in the 28 Feb. 2018 issue of the Sydney Morning Herald by Ross Gittins is pertinent. Ross is an account who explains economics more clearly than many of the economists I have read. In his article ‘Back to school with job training,’ he wrote “Don’t be so sure that going to university is the best way to get a good job.”

He points out that:
• Less than 10% of the increase in employment forecast by the government will be for those with no post-school qualifications
• 43% of the jobs will require a bachelor or higher degree (In what?)
• 47% will therefore require trade qualifications
• Median pre-tax earnings by employees with a bachelor degree was $1280/week whereas an employee with a trade qualification would earn $1035/week.
• While funding for trade training was reduced, university entrance was ‘demand-driven.’ “The vice-chancellors couldn’t believe their luck. Particularly, those at regional and outer suburbs unis went crazy, lowering their admission standards and admitting largely increased numbers.” (And competing with one another.)
• “It’s likely that many of those extra students will struggle to reach university standards – unless, of course, exams have been made easier to accommodate them.” (Multiple-choice questions for first degrees, and no essay for a postgraduate degree?)
• “Those who abandon their studies may find themselves lumbered with … debt without much to show for it.”
• Trade and related training was then exposed to “competition from private providers of ‘vocational education and training.’ To attract … more entrepreneurial for-profit training providers, the feds extended … a version of the uni system of deferred loans to cover tuition fees.”
• “… the supposed trainers could get paid upfront by a federal bureaucracy that took an age to realise it was being done over.”
• “Far too little is being done to get TAFE (Technical & Further Education) training properly back in business after most of the for-profit providers have folded into the night.”
• There is a need for a “thoroughgoing review of our malfunctioning post-school education arrangements.”

(Comment: Could a nation which has no forward plans be expected to avoid the mess its bureaucrats had allowed to happen?)

Parallel pharmaceutical treatments

“Balance aggravated Vata”; “Tonify aggravated essence”; “Enrich kidney Jing”; ‘”Promote water metabolism”; “Engender fluid”; “Disinhibit water”; “Soften hardness”; “Open body orifices”; “Extinguish Damp-Cold”; “Expel stagnant heat”. These are some of the permitted indications (claimed purpose or benefit) from which complementary medicine companies must draw when registering, and later labelling, their products.

An article by Esther Han, Health Reporter, on 9 Feb. 2018 in the Sydney Morning Herald states that:
• On advice from its Therapeutic Goods Administration, the federal proposes legislation to ‘restrict vitamin and herbal medicine companies to making only government-approved health claims on their products.’
• When lacking scientific evidence, ‘traditional use complementary medicines would be required to carry mandatory statements such as ‘traditionally used in Chinese medicine.’’
• ‘Australia has endorsed the WHO (World Health Organisation) … that traditional medicines have a valid function in modern medicinal frameworks.’
• Doctors and consumer interests have criticised the proposed approvals.

Other considerations in this matter are:
• Whether Australia’s trade agreements require minimal interference by participatory governments in any inter-country trade which reflects cultural practices and their underlying values.
• How effective are some prescriptions by doctors which may have been influenced by pharmaceutical company representatives? (‘Try this’ has been said to me by more than one Aussie doctor.)
• Just as some approved medicinal treatments are not equally effective on all patients, some complementary treatments can, and do, benefit the consumer.
• Are foreign nations influencing, if not dominating, Australia’s national policies through trade and/or defence agreements?

Aftercare for children

Is this what child bearing and caring is about? ‘Aftercare’ is also such an innocuous word. After-what care? After-school, of course. Children in aftercare would presumably spend all day in an institutionalised environment. Why? Because mothers are at work. Strangely, the government seems to want mothers to go to work. Why? Isn’t mothering the most valuable job in society?

How does a child feel about being educated and minded hour after hour outside the home? A 3-week old baby brought to childcare in a basket may not – never – know the difference between growing up in the care of the mother and growing up in an institutionalised setting. Children growing up in the comfort-surround of their mothers will know, both experientially and subconsciously, the difference between a mother’s hug and other equally-caring hugs.

When I was responsible for federal government policy in migrant hostels – there were 13 such hostels then – I noticed that motherly childcare workers, with no university degrees, provided both care and mothering to such a high level that little children from Chile, Poland, and Vietnam were attempting to talk to one another while in the childcare room.
Absolutely fantastic! I used to point out that these children, guided and loved by our childcare workers, represented the future of a multi-ethnic Australia. These children did not, however, spend all day in childcare.

In the recent past, much has been written in the media about the rights of women, and an acceptance of marriage break-up as reflecting the needs and rights of adults. There does not seem to be much emphasis on the psychological needs of children in split families.

I note that Francis Fukuyama had written in depth about the societal deterioration in the USA associated with marriage collapse of considerable magnitude.

Who is responsible for the future of society, when the family is not valued for its contribution to stability in the community, and the psychological needs of children, especially the very young ones, are seemingly ignored?

The myth of racial discrimination (2)

Instead of the confusing use of the semantically misleading terms race and racial, as argued in my previous post, statements of prejudice, as well as acts of discrimination, can sensibly refer to skin colour – a major trigger of hate (or stupidity). There could, however, also be an inherited cultural sensitivity associated with ignorance.

I do admit to being sensitive about colour in one instance. I will not eat beetroot because I do not like its purple colour.

Returning to reality, being a foreigner (or outsider) can be accepted as another trigger for prejudice and discrimination. This would include entering not only ‘white space’ but also British white space (although the latter is now seemingly superseded).

Another trigger is tribal superiority and prejudice. This would cover religion (a major source of claimed superiority); cultural values and practices (eg. the taboo in Australia against killing a goat in one’s backyard for a festival); and social mores (eg. spitting in public) – quite a catchall! Using ethnicity as a marker for abuse can have no future when there is so much cross-ethnic marriage (including partnership and cohabitation).

Countering prejudice and discrimination through the law is available only to the wealthy; or to those with access to pro bono lawyers. Education? The ignorant will probably ignore any media campaign (if they are aware of it); while the opportunists will do what it takes to achieve their ends. Morality (like Grace) needs to be bestowed; although it may of course be learned.

In the sphere of international relations, where there is no place for morality, there is a strange assertion about racial discrimination. Anyone criticising Israel for one of its policies (while clearly not anti-Israel) can be accused of being ‘anti-Semitic’. Yet Western Asia has speakers of a range of Semitic languages who subscribe to a variety of religions; they are all equally Semitic!

There is clearly a need to get rid of the concept of ‘race.’ Which government will dare take necessary action? A recent attempt to go part of the way foundered on a confusion of semantics, politics, human rights, free (but responsible) speech, egoism and exceptionalism. There were hidden ‘sacred cows’ behind some of the waffle.

Is modern Australia lacking the necessary intellectual depth to deal with human rights and free public expression? When voluntary euthanasia is described during a recent debate as ‘killing’ (reflecting only a particular theology), I wonder whether there is a place for not only compassion but also for honesty in public policy.


Periodic tests or continuous tracking?

“Focusing solely on academic achievement as measured by final results reveals little about how much a student has actually learnt during the year. Tracking academic progress, on the other hand, paints a much clearer picture.” Peter Goss and Jordana Hunter (Sydney Morning Herald)

“Academic achievement is influenced by many factors, including prior achievement and socio-economic background. By contrast, academic progress, while not perfect, provides a better indication of how much students have actually learnt.”

“Our focus should be on the academic progress we want students to make, rather than the final mark.”

“Great teachers use high-quality student assessments to identify where each student is starting from. They teach based on what students are ready to learn next. They monitor progress over time and adjust their teaching strategies along the way. This approach needs to become systematic, including being embedded in teacher training courses.

Growing numbers of schools analyse student progress over time to identify and fix problems individual teachers might miss. A few schools are increasingly clear-eyed about their challenge and target two years of learning in one. They know exactly where each student is at, and track progress relentlessly to stay on target.”

“Tracking academic progress is vital. It tells teachers and schools when their approach is working. Recognising and celebrating great progress helps sustain motivation.”

(These are extracts from the SMH article.)

Comment: Successful continuous tracking should remove the fear of tests. To avoid misleading our youth about their viability in a globalised community, teachers would surely want to ensure that school leavers have achieved the requisite level of competencies. Hence the need for nationwide tests.

Why is periodic testing in schools being decried? Obviously, students, teachers, and policy makers in the education system would have a spotlight shone on them. Effective effort should be a basal requirement for all participants in the education process.

Thus, a casual assessment of entrants to a kinder class would identify the approach to be taken. Those who complain loudly about this may need to be asked “Is kinder a parent-free playground?”

Those who complain about the periodic testing of competence at various points during school will want to ensure that continuous tracking occurs in their school, and that the competence levels to be achieved each year have been met.


Delaying learning through fads in education

Teaching a young child (say, 3 to 5 years old) or adults learning a new language has been successful through the phonics method. I learned my mother tongue, Tamil, as a 4-year old, and English as my second language from age 7 in British Malaya, through phonics. As an adult, I taught Indian shopkeepers in Singapore necessary English through phonics. Before that, I taught Chinese high school students basic English through phonics.

hen the pronunciation varied from the norm, all of us accepted the variations through memory. Yes, bough/ bought/rough/cough, row/row, and similar temporarily confusing sounds were memorised as idiosyncrasies in a slightly confusing foreign language. That the letter ‘a’ has a variety of sounds was no problem to me or to those I taught.

My wife and I taught our 3-year olds to read without difficulty in distinguishing between ‘sight’ words and ‘memory’ words. There are not that many ‘memory’ words in the English language of common usage. One can learn these without recourse to semantically unclear and confusing jargon phrases. I once read a short paper by a professor in education whose phrases were so abstract that a barrage of anvils was needed to be attached to them to obtain any operational meaning.

Then, when I found that my granddaughter could not read, even near the end of her second year at school (Year 1), I admit to having been disgusted. She had been taught by the whole-of-word method for 2 years, and could not work out the word ‘kingfisher’. I put her on the right track to reading, learning and enjoying books in two 20-minute sessions. How could a school hold back any child because of a sacred fad?

This bright child had been held back by a fad – which had been inflicted on little children for about 25 years, with the teachers bound by the edicts of their trade union, academics in education, and a certain arrogance by some teachers, when the right of teachers to decide how our children are taught had never, to my knowledge, been challenged. This arrogance did lead to a claim by some teachers that they should be free to decide what is taught. What arrogance! How would they know about the nature and needs of the society into which our children grow; and how our youth are enabled to fit into this future society?

We live in a global and competitive environment. Our children need to be as educated and as prepared for the real world as will be children from other nations, and who will be fluent in English. I do not detect that emphasis on excellence which is required to equip our youth for the real world, although a few educators and some politicians do their best.