14 July 2017

Suicide and Mental Health Amongst Children and Youth in the USA

I am conducting a little research on the mental health of children and youth  in the USA. Just putting up some of what I found here. First, a history of suicide rates then historical data in other mental health indicators.

The one above is historical data extracted from a chart that had other age cohorts included. The next one is from a separate paper by the same lead author in the same year but breaks out the same data into two age cohorts.

Next I grabbed data from the CDC and plotted the charts myself. The first two are basically updates on the above charts with the data going from 1981-2015.

Above is the 15-24 data to match the top chart, below is the matching cohort data except with the addition of 10-14 data.

Finally, I wanted to see the detail on the children aged 10-14.

Finally, I want to note the major trend points:

Ages 15-24: 
1900 to 1994 less than 2.5 UP to 13.6 (peak)

Ages 15-19
1990 to 2007- 11.1 (peak) DOWN to 6.9
2007 to 2015- 6.9 UP to 9.8

Ages 10-14: 
1981 to 1996- .89 UP to 1.7, 
1996 to 2007- 1.7 DOWN to .89, 
2007 to 2014- .89 UP to 2.1 (peak)

Here is some more data on a different measure of the mental health of youth. Locus of control is an important measure of how a person perceives their situation. A more internal locus of control is healthier while a more external locus is unhealthy. These charts are from meta-studies conducted by Jean Twenge. Source: It’s Beyond My Control- A Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis of Increasing Externality in Locus of Control, 1960–2002 by Twenge, Zhang, & Im (2004)

The reference to "children" in the second LOC chart below the authors are referring to high school students.

Here is an excerpt from another Jean Twenge meta-analysis:

"Two meta-analyses find that self-reports of anxiety/neuroticism have increased substantially from the 1950s to the early 1990s. Thus, the larger sociocultural environment—an influence on personality beyond genetics and individual family environment—has a considerable effect on a major personality trait. Samples of college students between 1952 and 1993 show increases on four different measures of anxiety and neuroticism. Study 2 replicates this increase for samples of schoolchildren, showing that sampling bias was not responsible for the college-student results. Both meta-analyses find that self-reports of anxiety increase about one standard deviation over 30-40 years, explaining about 20% of the variance (considerably more than family environment explains in most studies). The birth cohort change in anxiety is so large that by the 1980s normal child samples were scoring higher than child psychiatric patients from the 1950s (Levitt, 1959). In both studies, anxiety levels are correlated with low social connectedness and high environmental threat; economic conditions do not explain the rise in anxiety, even among the socioeconomically diverse samples in Study 2." 
Source: The Age of Anxiety? Birth Cohort Change in Anxiety and Neuroticism, 1952-1993 by Twenge (2000)
From this Quartz article:

Another chart from that Quartz article.

New England Journal of Medicine article on Medication.
Source: Trends in Mental Health Care among Children and Adolescents by Olfson, Druss, and Marcus (2015)

28 December 2016

Bald Eagle vs. Chicken, Who's winning on evolutionary terms?

[C]onsider how to answer the following question: which bird, species A or species B, has been more successful in the evolutionary process of natural selection? If you are like us, we suspect that your first thought would be to compare the relative numbers of the two birds. With a little more time, you might decide that you would also like to know about relative sizes since at equilibrium the environment could probably sustain fewer large birds than small birds. Controlling for habitat needs you would seem to have a simple, but fairly accurate, measurement process.

Now let us make the question a little more concrete: which bird, the bald eagle or the chicken, has been more successful in the evolutionary process of natural selection? Shall we do the math? There are approximately 70,000 bald eagles in North America, a number that is up considerably in recent years following the bald eagle's near extinction. It is a little harder to know just how many chickens there are in this country at any given moment, but our rough calculations put the number somewhere between 1.75 and 2 billion. That means that for every bald eagle there are twenty to thirty thousand chickens.

Even discounting the figure slightly to take into account the eagle's larger size and habitat requirements, the numbers are clear: the standard farm chicken is the bald eagle's evolutionary superior. But that finding seems absurd. We know the bald eagle as our national bird, a symbol of strength and power. Eagles are extremely well adapted for survival in nature, given their superb flying, hunting, and nest-building abilities. For centuries, bald eagles thrived, and according to one history, they may have once numbered half a million .

“They existed along the Atlantic from Labrador to the tip of south Florida, and along the Pacific from Baja California to Alaska. They inhabited every large river and concentration of lakes within North America. They nested in forty-five of the lower forty-eight states. One researcher estimated an eagle nest for every mile of shore along Chesapeake Bay. They congregated on the lower Hudson, and were extremely abundant along the coast of Maine.”

So then we have missed something. In determining that chickens are more fit than eagles to withstand nature's trials and challenges, we have ignored critical situational influences. Why are there so many more chickens than eagles? The more obvious and correct explanation is that humans value chickens in a way that they have not valued bald eagles.

Indeed, there are robust markets in both chickens and eggs. According to a recent industry-sponsored survey, Americans consume, on average, eighty-one pounds of chicken per year—a figure that appears to be going up and that represents “the highest per capita consumption of any of the major meats.” They also consume approximately 260 eggs per year. Unsurprisingly, market pressures ensure that there are many chickens alive at any given moment.

Well, if bald eagles are so fit, why did they nearly go extinct and why are there still so few of them? The following history of the bald eagle helps to shed light on a different sort of situational influence on the bald eagles' stature than is imagined in any idealized, unrealistic "natural selection" script.

“There is no single cause for the decline in the bald eagle population. When Europeans first arrived on this continent, bald eagles were fairly common. As the human population grew, the eagle population declined. The food supplies for eagles decreased, because the people hunted and fished over a broad area. Essentially, eagles and humans competed for the same food, and humans, with weapons at their disposal, had the advantage. As the human population expanded westward, the natural habitat of the eagles was destroyed, leaving them fewer places to nest and hunt, which caused the population of bald eagles to decline sharply by the late 1800s.

“By the 1930s, people became aware of the diminishing bald eagle population, and in 1940 the Bald Eagle Act was passed. This reduced the harassment by humans, and eagle populations began to recover. However, at the same time DDT and other pesticides began to be widely used. Pesticides sprayed on plants were eaten by small animals, which were later consumed by birds of prey. The DDT poison harmed both the adult birds and the eggs that they laid....

“More than 100,000 bald eagles were killed in Alaska from 1917 to 1953. Alaskan salmon fisherm[e]n feared they were a threat to the salmon population.”

According to that history, the threat to eagles was not that they were ill-equipped to survive in nature, but that their success as a species did not appear to serve the interests of humans. Indeed, the eagles competed with human interests, including commercial interests.

As a result, the grand, and once ubiquitous, bald eagle was pushed toward extinction. Meanwhile, chickens were raised in huge numbers to meet the increasing demand for their eggs and meat. The relative success of chickens over bald eagles, then, has little to do with the survival of the fittest and a lot to do with "the survival of the tastiest" or "the survival of the profittest."

In light of that competition among birds, look again at how … scholars tend to measure the success of various schools of thought. … [A]cademics generally assume that they are competing in some neutral tournament wherein ideas evolve and good ideas become more prominent while bad ideas disappear. According to this view, the tournament benefits the outside world by generating and announcing the winning ideas, which are then relied upon to help make effective and desirable policy. Thus, when some ideas are more commonly accepted, are attracting larger audiences and are having more influence … , the assumption is often that those ideas, like the bald eagle, soar above their ground-bound, clucking competitors.

But here is the problem: the competition among ideas may have much in common with the imagined competition between chickens and eagles. That is, in both contexts there appear to be very significant demand-side factors that help determine which ideas will be most prevalent and seemingly most successful. For reasons that we have already highlighted, the "winners" will be those ideas that are valuable to the more influential participants on the demand-side of the marketplace—specifically, pro-commercial interests.

from The Situation: 
An introduction to the situational character, critical realism, power economics, and deep capture.
By Jon Hanson and David Yosifon
University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 152, p. 129, 2003-2004

18 October 2016

Why not Drumph?

Drumph’s central message seems to be that there are lots of evil people doing bad things to America and he can save us from them.

My concern is that he is actually setting up self-fulfilling prophesies that ensures he will have a constant stream of bad people creating crises from which he will have to try to save us.

I am not willing to play that game.

I will elaborate on this in four parts.

Part 1 of 4, Evil outcomes not evil people.

I don't know about you, but I do not live in a world of evil people. I live in a world of flesh and blood human beings who are frail and flawed. Their frailties and flaws make them susceptible to being pushed towards good or towards evil. In my religious upbringing I was taught that sin is a perpetual problem that we have to deal with. As I matured in my spiritual and psychological understandings I realized that sinful acts are an outcome of how frail and flawed human beings make choices under the influence of situations. Evil is not a state of being, it is an outcome of situations that have shaped the choices people make.

I suggest that this election is about the world we live in. If you truly believe that we live in a world that is populated with evil people who are hell bent on doing bad things to America, then I honor your choice to vote for Drumph. I, however, do not live in that world. And since I do not live there, and do not ever want to live there, I will not vote for any political party that assumes that world is the one we live in.

If, on the other hand, you share my confidence that the world is actually populated with flesh and blood human beings who have the potential to be either good or bad, then I invite you to find a candidate that recognizes the frailty and flaws of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. Please press your favorite candidate to talk about the world they live in. What is the story behind how they realized the importance of expressing our caring through systems, instead of saviors.

A wall? Deporting people? Excluding believers because we don’t agree with their theology? Every one of these proposals assumes that a trivial difference between people (nationality or theology) makes some of them bad and, logically, the others good. First, I believe God is the only authority that gets to make the judgement call on who is good or bad. Second, when a man makes that call under the influence of enormous power and privilege (POTUS) then he will cause more problems than he solves. The United States was designed by the founders to have checks and balances to systematically help both citizens and leaders to be better than we are. We need the system to point us in the direction of goodness. Building walls, deporting productive workers who are contributing to our national prosperity, and arbitrarily denying sanctuary to afflicted people because they happen to have a different belief are all reliable invitations down the path of evil instead of good. Taking actions to implement these plans will invite some of our most powerful and privileged people to, in their all-too-human moments of weakness, arbitrarily hurt innocent people. And invites us all to participate in allowing unnecessary pain and suffering to continue due to our system’s indifference to human beings who are just as frail and flawed as we are.

While it is a practical necessity for us to create a system in which judgments about pubic safety must be made, it requires a SYSTEM because individuals are so notoriously unable to be fair and impartial. No human is perfect, no system is perfect, but approaching perfection can only occur within a system. Individuals can’t do it unless they have the systematic support of other humans like us.

Electing a president should be about choosing a servant who will express the values we hold dear, which includes responding to the world we live in while aspiring to a world that is better. The world I live in does not include evil people, just normal people who have been driven to act badly, to enact evil. Everyone who behaves badly needs to be held accountable for the consequences of their behavior, but that accountability needs to recognize their potential to behave well when their situation gives them the right opportunities.

Please help your candidate articulate the values behind their policies. In fact, encourage them to talk a lot less about policies and more about the human values that motivate them to get wonky. More stories about how our systems help us express our caring and compassion.

Why not Drumph? Part 2 of 4, On people doing bad things:

The rules and laws of our society push people in a variety of directions. When we treat people as if they are evil, there will often be a small minority who oblige us by behaving according to our expectations. Even though a majority of us will still behave well, our system creates pressure to fulfill the expectations of those who designed the system. I don't know about you, but sometimes I get tired or have a stressful day. If, in that moment of stress or exhaustion, I happen to be insulted or just treated with a little disrespect I might react with anger. I just might give up on myself for a moment and let my guard drop for an instant. That is when the pressure of the system has an opportunity to sway my emotions in the direction of evil. I just might lash out.

I happen to be a man of numerous privileges, so the odds of my being in a position in which my lapse of judgement could cost me my job or my life is probably remote, but I know that other people do not share in my advantages. Their moment of weakness might get them arrested, killed, or raped. Drumph lives in a world in which every individual regardless of their circumstances should be held to the behavioral expectations of the most privileged, like him.

Our systems of governance (both public and private) should reflect the fact that we are frail and flawed human being who need systems to help us navigate towards goodness in the complex society we have created. My litmus test is how we treat children. If the children are well, then we are on track, if not, we need to do better.

Why not Drumph? Part  3 of 4, On being saved:

I do not share the view that a president or any other individual can save us. No matter who gets elected they will be subjected to the limitations of the system. I figure the best we can hope for is that the next president can push those limitations towards expressing the values of compassion and caring more than the values of exclusion and hatred. Presidents of this country are not all powerful, just very powerful. They are heavily constrained by how the system works. I have contended ever since I became aware of Obama that his best years will be after he is no longer president. The records of good works by former Democratic presidents and vice presidents is truly impressive and I look forward to what Obama can do when he is free of the burden of being POTUS. He still will not save us, but he'll be a lot more capable of exercising his best judgment in bring about a world that reflects his values. And I suspect that they are good values. I can hardly wait to find out.

This view of the system also means that I don't believe that any president, no matter which party they belong to can deliver on most of the promises they make. The best they can do is communicate the set of values they want to bring to doing the job and we have to trust them to nudge the system towards expressing those values as best they can. Drumph is great candidate in this regard. He clearly expresses the values that he will bring to the job. He does not introduce any meaningful policy details that might confuse us about what he will be trying to do. I find his values to be severely misguided and his lack of policy details that could supposedly express those values is utterly mystifying, but at least we know the moral direction he intends to go.

Why not Drumph? Part 4 of 4, On Drumph:

You will notice that I used a euphemism for Donald Trump. That is because I don't know him. I have no idea what kind of person he is. I have heard exactly opposite accounts from people in positions that would have given them access to him. Given his long history as an entertainer I assume that everything that is done in public is probably calculated to generate an advantageous image (notice I did not say a positive image). Everything I have said applies to the public image I have seen about presidential candidate Donald Trump, not to the man.

Why not Drumph?

Here's my summation of the Drumph phenomena: he is playing a game of self-fulfilling prophesies about evil people doing bad things to America so that he can save us from them.

That game forces us to identify some people as evil and that guarantees some of those people will fulfill our expectation that they are evil. I don't play that.