Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

Meditation Helped Me Survive Death Row and 19 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

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Damien Echols has an interesting article in Motherboard:

I am a magician.

I don’t pull rabbits out of hats, saw attractive young women in half, or wear a tuxedo. I practice magick, spelled with a “k” in order to differentiate it from slight of hand, and once upon a time I was sentenced to death for it.

My name is Damien Echols, and in 1993 I was arrested for three counts of capital murder in the town of West Memphis, Arkansas. Nine months later I was sentenced to death, and spent almost 19 years on death row before being released in 2011 when new evidence came to light.

Prison is a dark and stagnant place. It’s filled with the most cold, horrendous energy you can imagine. It feels like a kind of psychic filth that penetrates into your very soul.

Much of magick is about is learning to change states of consciousness at will. I learned to use meditation and ritual as shields. They prevented the hellish energy of prison from changing me and making me more like the people all around me—people who had given up on even trying to be human.

This is a story about how I kept my sanity.


I fell in love with magick when I was first learning to read and realized that such a thing existed. At about the age of twelve I discovered the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and my life changed forever. The Golden Dawn was an order of ceremonial magicians that lived in the mid to late 1800s in England, and included such luminaries as W.B. Yeats, Pamela Coleman Smith, who painted the artwork we now know as the Rider-Waite tarot deck, and the notorious Aleister Crowley.

Crowley was the person who deigned that magick be spelled with a “k.” He was also a big part of the reason I was sentenced to death.

In 1993, when three eight year old boys were found murdered in my small town, attention immediately turned to me. Why? Because I was the town weirdo. I dressed in all black, had long hair, and listened to heavy metal music. As if this wasn’t enough to make me suspect in a small, hardcore fundamentalist town in the midst of the era of Satanic panic, I also practiced magick. Some of the most damning evidence brought against me during the trial was my love of knowledge of Crowley, and the fact that I owned Stephen King novels.

If you want to know more about the case, watch any of the Paradise Lostdocumentaries about it, as well as West of Memphis, the documentary I myself was a producer on. You could also read my book, Life After Death.

My interest in magick may have contributed to my being sentenced to death, but it was also a huge part of what allowed me to survive for the better part of two decades in the American prison system.


For a huge chunk of my incarceration—nearly nine years—I was in a super maximum security unit prison, where I spent 24 hours a day in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement is like living in a vacuum in which no comforts exist. You spend every single moment alone, with nothing to distract you from the horror of your situation and no contact with anything or anyone that can possibly provide you with a shred of hope. Time ceases to exist, as there is no way to mark its passage. Noon is the same as midnight. Christmas is the same as the Fourth of July. All you can do is sit with your fears, waiting for the next time the guards decide to hurt you.

It was here that I decided to dedicate every single waking moment of my life to delving deeper and deeper into the realm of magick.

I had several teachers I corresponded with, including the priest of a Japanese zen temple who would travel from Japan to the prison in Arkansas to give me ordination in the Rinzai Zen tradition of Japanese Buddhism, the same tradition that used to train the samurai in older times. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2015 at 1:14 pm

Depression-Fighting SAD Lamps Aren’t Just For Your Winter Blues

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Seasonal Affective Disorder affects quite a few people, and it’s interesting that using a bright lamp to combat it also helps with regular (non-seasonal) depression. Jorden Pearson reports at Motherboard:

There’s a familiar ritual for people suffering from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a very real condition that leaves people feeling depressed in the slushy depths of winter: you wake up, the world still dark and frigid, and you flip on a little lamp that tricks your brain into thinking you’re absorbing sunlight. It’s a treatment with some serious techno-dystopian vibes, yet research has shown for decades that it works.

But according to new research, those dorky little lamps aren’t only useful for people with SAD. In a study that tested the efficacy of SAD lightboxes alongside antidepressants on people with non-seasonal depression, researchers at the University of British Columbia concluded that those little lamps can help with regular old non-winter related clinical depression, too.

“We always think of seasonal depression as a different type of depression for all kinds of good reasons, so people haven’t considered light therapy as a way to treat non-seasonal depression,” Dr. Raymond Lam, the psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia who led the study, told me over the phone. “We thought it was time for a good study, so that’s what we did.”

Although some of the earliest studies on the effectiveness of SAD lamps involved people without SAD itself, these studies were small—just seven subjects, in some cases—and unsatisfactory, Lam said.

The study, published on Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry, split 121 subjects into four test groups. The first group got the lamp with a placebo antidepressant, the second got the lamp with a real pill, the third group used a switched-off negative ion generator—effectively a placebo, since it’s hard to fake light—and an antidepressant, and the final group got a real negative ion generator with a fake pill.

Negative ion generators are machines that fill the air with electrically-charged air molecules, which supposedly have an effect that may help with depression. But for the purposes of this study, Lam said, they just had to look fancy and make a nice noise.

After eight weeks of treatment, subjects with the real lamp and fake pills reported feeling much better, while those with the lamps and real pills reported feeling the best out of all the groups. Sorry, folks with ion generators. . .

Continue reading.

Light boxes for treating SAD have come down a lot in price over the past several years.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2015 at 12:51 pm

PPP Uses the Power of Pyramids to Figure Out Which Republican Candidate Has the Weirdest Supporters

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Worth reading: short post plus a chart.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2015 at 11:07 am

When reality fails to respect ideology: Sex-ed division

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Jen Hayden has an excellent post at Daily Kos. From it:

Who could’ve seen this coming? When you don’t teach kids about safe sex, they tend to have sex anyway, minus the safe part: . . .

And later she quotes:

Abstinence-only programs have been an enormous failure, despite heavy funding from the George W. Bush administration and conservative legislatures:

Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs don’t work.

To date, 11 states have evaluated the impact of their abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. None has been shown to reduce teen sexual activity.

Virginity pledgers have found “loopholes” to keep their pledges intact—engaging in risky oral or anal sex—and neglecting to use condoms when they do begin to have vaginal intercourse, according to research from Peter Bearman at Columbia University.

2007 federally-funded evaluation of these programs found that youth in the control group were no more likely to have abstained from sex and, among those who reported having sex, had a similar number of partners and had initiated sex at the same age.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2015 at 10:50 am

John Cassidy has some very good questions about the white-male death-rate statistics

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Just read it. Very good questions.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2015 at 4:49 pm

Religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts

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An interesting finding reported in the Guardian by Harriet Sherwood:

Children from religious families are less kind and more punitive than those from non-religious households, according to a new study.

Academics from seven universities across the world studied Christian, Muslim and non-religious children to test the relationship between religion and morality.

They found that religious belief is a negative influence on children’s altruism.

“Overall, our findings … contradict the commonsense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind towards others,” said the authors of The Negative Association Between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism Across the World, published this week in Current Biology.

“More generally, they call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, supporting the idea that secularisation of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness – in fact, it will do just the opposite.”

Almost 1,200 children, aged between five and 12, in the US, Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey and South Africa participated in the study. Almost 24% were Christian, 43% Muslim, and 27.6% non-religious. The numbers of Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic and other children were too small to be statistically valid.

They were asked to choose stickers and then told there were not enough to go round for all children in their school, to see if they would share. They were also shown film of children pushing and bumping one another to gauge their responses.

The findings “robustly demonstrate that children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions (Christianity and Islam) were less altruistic than children from non-religious households”.

Older children, usually those with a longer exposure to religion, “exhibit[ed] the greatest negative relations”.

The study also found that “religiosity affects children’s punitive tendencies”. Children from religious households “frequently appear to be more judgmental of others’ actions”, it said.

Muslim children judged “interpersonal harm as more mean” than children from Christian families, with non-religious children the least judgmental. Muslim children demanded harsher punishment than those from Christian or non-religious homes.

At the same time, the report said that religious parents were more likely than others to consider their children to be “more empathetic and more sensitive to the plight of others”. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2015 at 10:06 am

Small Towns Face Rising Suicide Rates

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Very interesting article in the NY Times by Laura Beil. It includes some positive steps that can help assuage the problem, and it describes well the situation that creates the problem:

. . . Rural adolescents commit suicide at roughly twice the rate of their urban peers, according to a study published in the May issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Although imbalances between city and country have long persisted, “we weren’t expecting that the disparities would be increasing over time,” said the study’s lead author, Cynthia Fontanella, a psychologist at Ohio State University.

“The rates are higher, and the gap is getting wider.”

Suicide is a threat not just to the young. Rates over all rose 7 percent in metropolitan counties from 2004 to 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In rural counties, the increase was 20 percent.

The problem reaches across demographic boundaries, encompassing such groups as older men, Native Americans and veterans. The sons and daughters of small towns are more likely to serve in the military, and nearly half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans live in rural communities.

The C.D.C. reported last year that Wyoming has the highest suicide rate in the nation, almost 30 deaths per 100,000 people in 2012, far above the national average of 12.6 per 100,000. Not far behind were Alaska, Montana, New Mexico and Utah, all states where isolation can be common. The village of Hooper Bay, Alaska, recently recorded four suicides in two weeks.

In one telephone survey of 1,000 Wyoming residents, half of those who responded said someone close to them had attempted or died by suicide.

In September, mental health experts, community volunteers and law enforcement officers gathered in Casper to discuss possible solutions. Among the participants was Bobbi Barrasso, the wife of Senator John Barrasso, who has made suicide prevention a personal and political mission.

“Wyoming is a beautiful state,” she told the crowd. “We have great open spaces. We are a state of small population. We care about one another. We’re resourceful, we’re resilient, we cowboy up. And of course, I’ve learned it’s those very things that have led to a high incidence of suicide in our state.”

Rural suicide arises from all the circumstances Ms. Barrasso noted and more. Despite a sleepy “Mayberry” sort of image, the realities of small-town life can take an outsize toll on the vulnerable. A combination of lower incomes, greater isolation, family issues and health problems can lead people to be consumed by day-to-day struggles, said Emily Selby-Nelson, a psychologist at Cabin Creek Health Systems, which provides health care in the rural hills of West Virginia.

“Rather than say, ‘I need help,’ they keep working and they get overwhelmed. They can start to think they are a burden on their family and lose hope.”

Country life can be lonely for people in the grip of mental illness or emotional upheaval, and the means to follow through on suicidal thoughts are close at hand. Firearms, the most common method, are a pervasive part of the culture; 51 percent of rural households own a gun, compared with 25 percent of urban homes, the Pew Research Center reported last year.

Experts also note a mind-set, born long ago of necessity, dictating that people solve their own problems. . .

The article does suggest some approaches that can help.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 November 2015 at 2:42 pm


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