Presidents As Patients: An Interview With Dr. Connie Mariano

Eleanor Concepcion “Connie” Mariano has quite an impressive resume -- even for a doctor. Not only was Dr. Mariano -- or, Dr. Connie, as she’s more intimately known by a few -- the first Filipino-American to become a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy, but she was also the first American woman to be appointed the Director of the White House Medical Unit.

In June 2010, Dr. Mariano released The White House Doctor: My Patients Were Presidents: A Memoir (Thomas Dune Books, 2010).

I was able to speak with her recently about the psychology behind spending nine years caring for three Presidents of the United States through everything from surprisingly panic-inducing blisters to that sex scandal heard 'round the world.

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How to Reach Members of the Military and their Families?

As I was researching The Happiness Project, I was struck by the fact that I often found it more helpful to read about one person's idiosyncratic happiness project than to read about general principles applying to all humankind or studies applying to large populations. For some reason, reading about Thoreau's very individual decision to move to Walden Pond, or St. Therese's struggle to stay patient with the nun who made clicking noises during evening prayers, was what taught me most about myself.

I've heard from people whose lives are very different from mine, on the surface -- but it turns out that we face many of the same challenges in our happiness projects.

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Remembering Those Who Died for Us, 2011

It's hard to repay the debt of a human life. Yet today in the United States, we remember those who died for us, fighting in wars to keep our freedoms safe from those who would take them away from us.

War still rages around us, soldiers still fight today. And every month, soldiers die fighting for us. For our democracy. For our country.

I'm not sure how to repay that debt. All I can do is remember and give thanks to those who fell in battle, because without their sacrifice, I'm not sure I'd be here living in one of the world's greatest democracies.

Memorial Day's roots can be traced back to the Civil War, when people who honor those who fought in that bloody war by decorating the graves of the dead. After WWI, it was expanded to recognize the sacrifices given by those who fight in any war.
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VA Mental Health Care is So Bad, It’s Unconstitutional

So says a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, after reviewing the evidence about the ability of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to offer an appropriately level of mental health care and treatment to returning soldiers.

In this way, the costs of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been grossly underestimated, because they don't take into account the increased needs and costs of the vets' ongoing and increasing mental health care. The longer we're at war, the worse it's going to get.

According to the article on about the recent ruling, not only do some vets have to wait weeks to get in to see a mental health professional at many VA medical centers, but there's often no significant triaging done. Actively suicidal vets may not get the care they need, before it's too late.

The result? Nearly one-third of the vets who end up committing suicide do so while under VA care. But two-thirds aren't even being seen by the VA for a mental health concern.

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Psych Central Roundup: The Death of Osama bin Laden

By now, you know the news: Osama bin Laden is no more. Whether he died in a blazing gunfight or was taken out by surprise (the reports are a little vague here), Seal Team 6 completed their mission.

And for some people, that completed mission was cause for celebration.  Last Sunday evening and Monday morning, American flags were hoisted into the air, people stood out on the streets cheering and the internet was buzzing with elation. If you owned a Twitter or Facebook account, you saw it. 

I certainly did.  In fact, I learned about bin Laden's death before the President even announced it: I was Facebook chatting with the very friend who was sitting next to me almost 10 years ago when the twin towers came down and suddenly, status updates were exploding.

"I think Osama bin Laden was just shot," I typed to my friend who had been in the same English classroom on September 11th, who had rushed to the phone at the same time as me, our fathers both frequent passengers on that particular flight across the US, "I can't be sure but Facebook is freaking out."

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Should You Tell Your Boss About a Mental Illness?

Many people struggle with the question of whether or not to tell their bosses about their mood disorders at work. Washington Post columnist Amy Joyce wrote an excellent article on this a few years ago. I have included the first few paragraphs below, but urge you to read the rest of her article, as it gives no straight answers but explores that terrain with great depth.
If you have depression or some other mental illness, what do you do about work? Hope no one notices? Disclose your illness early on and trust that your boss will understand?

Should You Tell is a complicated question.

There is no right answer, and there are some risks to consider.

I discovered this years ago after watching a movie at home with two friends. One of them looked up, scared. She hesitated. And then she let it out: "Do you hear them? The helicopters. They're coming for me, guys."
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Brain and Behavior

Nidal Hasan Exactly the Man Many Knew Him to Be

Army Maj. Nidal Hasan was exactly the kind of man many people knew him to be. And that's why they continually promoted him and sent him some place else. Because nobody, apparently, was willing to intervene despite many warning signs about his behavior.

Those are the findings from the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. They found that the massacre allegedly carried out by Nidal Hasan could have have been prevented.

Had just one person acted on the information many different people had, the tragedy that occurred at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009 may have been prevented.

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Children and Teens

In Honor of Those Who Serve, 2010

Today is Veteran's Day, and we'd like to take a moment to honor those men and women who have chosen to serve our country in military service. With an all-voluntary armed forces, our country is at the mercy of individuals who, for little reason other than a desire to serve their country, willingly risk their lives and put their entire ordinary lives on hold (especially those in the National Guard and reservists). For you and I.

We should do all that we can to ensure these folks come back to a country who welcomes them home, is thankful for their service, and provides them with all the necessary health and mental health care humanly possible. That's our duty, as ordinary citizens, to recognize the sacrifice these men and women have made.

I'd also like to take a moment to recognize a number of organizations that were present this year at the 26th annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy this year, who offer help and mental health services to returning veterans.

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Honoring Soldiers When They Come Home

Last week at the 26th annual Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Policy Symposium, I came away from the two days feeling like there are a lot of people who know and care about the issues discussed. This year's topic was on helping returning soldiers -- especially the National Guard and Reservists -- reintegrate within their family, the workplace, and the community.

It seems timely to talk about some of these issues to honor tomorrow, Veterans Day.

The most moving stories for me came from the day's first panel discussion, focused on the family. Ron Capps, a 25 year veteran of the U.S. Army and Army Reserves, told his story of dealing with the realities of war, and then of coming home and dealing with his feelings.

"At the end of the day, I found myself categorizing myself as 'All right, vaguely not all right, and seriously not all right.'"

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Thomas Bornemann, Ed.D. on the 26th Annual Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy

Psych Central will again be partnering with The Carter Center to bring you media coverage of the 26th Annual Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy. This year's symposium focuses on the unique challenges for mental health care and community reintegration faced by National Guard and reserve veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The event will also be webcast live on The Carter Center's website.

Recently, I had the pleasure to sit down with Thomas H. Bornemann, Ed.D., the Director of the Carter Center Mental Health Program to talk to him about this year's symposium agenda.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.:  So talk to me a little bit about the theme of this year's symposium. I understand it has to do with policy surrounding helping vets gets access to mental health care?

Thomas H. Bornemann, Ed.D.:  That's correct. This is our 26th Annual Symposium on Mental Health Policy, so we have been at it a while. Each year we try to focus on an issue that has come to our attention of major national importance from a public policy standpoint. And we certainly think the long conduct of these wars warrant that kind of attention. We are now into one of the longest conflicts in American history with around 1.7 million veterans who have gone over there.

We are certainly seeing a number of mental health consequences of the type of warfare that these people are exposed to, the frequency with which they are exposed, and such other risk factors. So we thought it was an opportune time to raise some attention to these issues.

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