I am a journalist and a programmer. I share raw thoughts, ideas and experiences on this blog.
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#3: Learning about mental health (Introduction): Questions I want to explore

Two people close to me are suffering from mental health issues. To understand what they are going through and help them, I need to educate myself. I have casually read about anxiety and depression over the past few years. But my understanding is very shallow, and I plan to go deeper. I will document my learnings on this blog in a series of posts.

Here are some questions I will explore:

  1. What exactly is mental illness? What are its different forms? Where does it come from?

  2. How to precisely define anxiety and depression?

  3. Apart from the above two, what are the other forms of mental illness? How serious are they?

  4. How to distinguish between ordinary stress and depression? What is the process of diagnosis? What are the major symptoms?

  5. If someone feels they or someone they know is showing signs of anxiety or depression, what should they do? What are the initial steps? Who should they discuss this with? Do they go see a therapist or a psychiatrist immidiately?

  6. What are the paths to recovery? How long does it take?

  7. What exactly is the role of therapy? Can't the person just talk to someone they love rather than have a therapist?

  8. What are the different kinds of therapy?

  9. Why do doctors prescribe medication? What is their role? Who needs it? Are they addictive? If a doctor recommends anti-depressants, how to decide whether to take them or not?

  10. What role does family history and genetics play in determining mental health?

  11. What should caregivers do to help those suffering from mental health issues? What can they do and what can they not do? How to talk to people they are caring about? What should they know to not alienate the people they are caring for?

  12. How do caregivers take care of themselves?

  13. How to know whether the person has recovered? Is there a sure shot way to know? When to stop taking professional help?

More soon!

#2: Why the event-oriented structure of news doesn't help in understanding how the world works

I have significantly decreased the proportion of daily news consumption in my information diet. And I suggest the same to others: avoid news, read books. There are many reasons why, and I will list them in a future post.

Here is one compelling argument from the book Thinking in Systems (by Donella H. Meadows) about the fundamental limitation of incremental news stories:

Systems fool us by presenting themselves—or we fool ourselves by seeing the world—as a series of events. The daily news tells of elections, battles, political agreements, disasters, stock market booms or busts. Much of our ordinary conversation is about specific happenings at specific times and places. A team wins. A river floods. The Dow Jones Industrial Average hits 10,000. Oil is discovered. A forest is cut. Events are the outputs, moment by moment, from the black box of the system.

Events can be spectacular: crashes, assassinations, great victories, terrible tragedies. They hook our emotions. Although we’ve seen many thousands of them on our TV screens or the front page of the paper, each one is different enough from the last to keep us fascinated (just as we never lose our fascination with the chaotic twists and turns of the weather). It’s endlessly engrossing to take in the world as a series of events, and constantly surprising because that way of seeing the world has almost no predictive or explanatory value. Like the tip of an iceberg rising above the water, events are the most visible aspect of a larger complex—but not always the most important.

We are less likely to be surprised if we can see how events accumulate into dynamic patterns of behavior. The team is on a winning streak. The variance of the river is increasing, with higher floodwaters during rains and lower flows during droughts. The Dow has been trending up for two years. Discoveries of oil are becoming less frequent. The felling of forests is happening at an ever-increasing rate. The behavior of a system is its performance over time—its growth, stagnation, decline, oscillation, randomness, or evolution.

If the news did a better job of putting events into historical context, we would have better behavior-level understanding, which is deeper than event-level understanding. When a systems thinker encounters a problem, the first thing he or she does is look for data, time graphs, the history of the system. That’s because long-term behavior provides clues to the underlying system structure. And structure is the key to understanding not just what is happening, but why.

#1: Why this blog

To share:

  1. Notes, thoughts and ideas about new things I am learning

  2. Perspective on how I look at the world

  3. Nuggets from my reporting which did not make it to published articles

  4. Links to interesting things on the web—articles, research papers, videos, podcasts—and what I learnt from it

  5. To think in public. I will write about the uncertainties I battle with and the missing parts in my understanding.