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In Case You Missed It – News Roundup – March 27, 2015

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Welcome to In Case You Missed It, our weekly roundup of articles related to psychology, health and mental health, social justice and the public interest.

This week, our stories include what the Germanwings crash tells us about mental health screening of pilots, controversial anti-gay legislation signed by the Indiana Governor, the emotional impact of college admissions on parents sending their kids off for the first time and more.

The disturbing realization that one of the co-pilots of the Germanwings jetliner deliberately crashed it into the French Alps has many asking: “How do we know if a pilot is mentally fit to fly?” The problem, according to aviation experts, is that there’s no uniform consistency across the industry. “The system relies on pilots self-declaring, so unless a pilot is honest about an alcohol problem or a psychiatric disorder, there’s no guarantee a problem would be spotted,” aviation psychologist Diane Damos, whose company specializes in pilot selection and screening told NBC News last year. While the instances of pilots acting bizarrely or deliberately sabotaging their own flights is rare, this story raises many questions about mental health evaluations in aviation.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act Thursday, which permits individuals or corporations to cite religious beliefs as a defense when sued.  This Act is widely believed to potentially legalize discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Groups such as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the GenCon gaming convention, and tech giant Salesforce expressed concerns and the intention to avoid Indiana for their big meetings because of this legislation.  Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow characterized the message from the governor and Indiana General Assembly this way:  “as long as your religion tells you to, it’s ok to discriminate against people despite what the law says.” For more on the impact of discrimination on LGBT health and well-being, read our blog post.

In this article, clinical psychologist, Linda Fleming McGhee, reflects on the emotional impact of the college process — not on the kids but on their parents. While much of the focus around college admissions has been on guiding the prospective college student through the process, McGhee’s focus is on the psychological well-being of parents as their children start the separation process on their way to adulthood and move through college selection. The college process is a part of the long goodbye that parents experience with their children. Parents are so deeply attached to their children that separation is an emotionally–wrenching experience. Love for children makes the last months of high school a bittersweet time for parents, who while excited for their kids to be moving off to college, are also sad to see them go. The college process kicks of an emotional transition for parents as they move from having a child at home to an adult attending college.

Although the February jobs report is the latest in a series that demonstrates that the job market in the U.S. is slowly but surely improving, the problem of long-term unemployment remains to be resolved. During the most recent recession long-term unemployment reached rates as high as 45 percent in 2010, according to Fed data. By February 2015, about 31.1 percent of unemployed Americans had been out of work for 27 weeks or more. While that’s better, it’s still well above normal levels, and leaves about 2.7 million people without work. And various assessments of the long-term unemployed don’t even count those individuals who have been out of work for so long that they’ve stopped looking for work. Research informs us that the long-term unemployed are particularly vulnerable to stigma and discrimination.

Two members of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday voiced support for efforts in Congress to reform the American criminal justice system, criticizing the reliance on mandatory minimum sentences in recent decades and the penal system in general. Testifying before a U.S. House of Representatives panel, Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Stephen Breyer identified problems with the system.

“This idea of total incarceration just isn’t working and it’s not humane,” Kennedy said, referring to the high rate of imprisonment in the United States.

“Solitary confinement literally drives men mad,” Kennedy added.

“In many respects I think it’s broken.”, Kennedy said, regarding the U.S. penal system.

Breyer also described the shift in recent decades toward mandatory minimum sentences – a policy that takes away discretion from judges and sometimes imposes long sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenders – as “a terrible idea.” In February, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation that would abolish mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent drug offenders. The Obama Administration supports the measure. For more on the impact of incarceration on the nation’s poor, undereducated, people of color and individuals with mental health conditions, read this Monitor article.

One of the CDC’s new anti-smoking ads directly takes on e-cigarette use. “I started using e-cigarettes but kept smoking. Right up until my lung collapsed,” a 35-year-old woman named Kristy says in the print ad. She displays a long surgical scar on her right side. Asked about the approach in an interview, Tom Frieden, CDC director, said that “there’s still a lot we don’t know about e-cigarettes, and we have to remember they are tobacco products…There are things we don’t know about their toxicity.” In August, the CDC released a study showing that adolescents who use vaporizers are more likely to try traditional cigarettes. Rather than helping people stop smoking, Frieden said, e-cigarettes may provide a pathway to tobacco use. The $68 million ad campaign also expands on previous efforts by highlighting tobacco’s role in diseases such as colorectal cancer, macular degeneration and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

What do you think of these stories? Did we leave anything out?

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