Monthly Archives: June 2018

‘Mental health myths you wouldn’t believe still exist’

myth mental heath care

Mental health issues are more common than you would think. And in fact, mental health problems are amongst the leading causes of disability worldwide. Astoundingly, 1 in 4 of people in the United Kingdom alone will experience mental health issues a year.

So when you look at the world overall, that is an awful lot of people.

Regardless of the universality of the problem, many people still labor under false beliefs. So we hope that by breaking some of these myths down that we can not only eliminate some undeserved stigma, but encourage a community driven empathy toward those who ask for it.

And with that in mind, I have invited some wonderful friends along with me to spread the message of what we have learned. I have also talked to psychiatrists and other medical professionals who have been kind enough to lend their time.

It is my belief that through knowledge we can really make a difference and, hopefully. together we can shine some light.

mental health depression compassion

By correcting misunderstandings we can build a community around empathy. Image courtesy of Flickr.

1. Mental health problems only affect ‘weak people.’

Being diagnosed with a mental health problem, be it depression or any other, can make one feel fearful and insecure about themselves and their future. This is a natural response, as any drastic change to our lives and sense of structure will influence our emotions.

‘Everyone can have a mental health disorder. If I were to lose someone, I would suffer and could get depression. I would not consider myself a weak person. We are all human, we are all built the same way.’ – Scott McGlynn, Present and LGBT+ Activist.

But let’s not confuse sadness with weakness, it is simply human. And since we know that the commonality of these issues is so great, it’s fair to say that just about anyone can suffer.

And from what we know about the causes of these problems, be they social, biological, psychological or a combination, we can say confidently that a ‘person’ is only part of the recipe for developing a problem. Some predisposing causes include childhood abuse, social issues and adult trauma, as well as genetic or biological antecedents

myth mental health

Even those that society elevate as heroes can feel the same pain as the rest of us. Image courtesy of Flickr.

And although there are many more factors prevalent in developing a disease, you would be hard pressed to conclude that a personal ‘weakness’ is solely to blame for somebody becoming unwell, or that a mental health issue is a sign of that weakness.

These issues can strike anyone, from military leaders to doctors, from artists to authors and beyond. Much like any disease, the human at the centre of it is who matters, not their job or what society demands. And many with mental health issues become world leaders. This is despite what society tmay wrongly consider a flaw.

Incredibly, they do this knowing that some members of society would reject them simply for their diagnosis. Former US President Abraham Lincoln and War-time UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill both presided over tumultuous times, but both were alleged to have suffered with mental health issues. 

depression stigma myth

Winston Churchill famously battled depression whilst leading the British war effort during WW2. Image courtesy of Flickr.

So instead of considering those with mental illness as ‘weak’, we would better reconsider what we define as making a person ‘strong.’ I think you would agree that Churchill’s tenure was one requiring a tremendous personal strength.

And on a personal note, living with depression requires more resilience and strength than you would realise.  And to make a difference in the world, to enrich the lives of others, whilst battling every day, that is true strength by any definition.

2. People with ‘mental health problems’ are a ‘drain on society.’

A particularly uncomfortable idea, some believe that those with mental health issues are simply faking it. Or worse still, doing so with the intention of sponging ‘off the state.’ This is a particularly divisive attitude worsened by some social media commentators going as far to claim that depression isn’t a real condition.

depression stigma myth welfare

To some, Depression is not considered a real disease. But to the patients, the story is very different. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Although it is true that in acute episodes of some mental health issues people may require time off work, it is important to note that the vast majority of patients work regularly. In fact this can be as high as 70% in those with anxiety or depression.

Furthermore, the idea ignores the very fact that: patients want to get better and businesses have a legal obligation to provide ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure an unwell employee can return to work. It is clear that many wish to return to a relative normality, and work with their employers to facilitate this. According to the Health and Safety Executive UK (HSE);

‘Most people who have ongoing mental health problems continue to work successfully. But when someone needs support, managers can work with them to ensure flexibility to suit their health needs.’

Being unwell is as simple as being unwell, and it seems that ‘mental health issues’ are viewed as a less legitimate to need time to recover than a more obvious physical illness. And where those with conditions like cancer are given worthy encouragement, those with depression may not be extended the same courtesy by the public.

medicine chemo depression mental health myth

It seems that ‘mental health’ problems are viewed as less legitimate than other ‘more medical’ problems. Image courtesy of Flickr.

By comparing the statistics we can see the bigger picture. Although the total number of work days lost to mental health was around 40% of the total during 2016/17, the vast majority of time off was due to other problems. So, we are forced to ask why the minority cause of time off receives such disproportionate stigma.

Are people with cancer a drain on society? What possibly makes people think that an illness of the mind makes you lesser than anybody else? We need to realise that mental health is not a failing. The connotation is that these problems are some sort of societal betrayal. – Mike Stuchbery.

Instead of considering those with a mental health issue as a ‘drain on society,’ the truth is rather different. Like patients with all diseases there will always be a relative loss of work, and this is necessary to their recovery.

Even better, since most with mental health issues do choose to work, it is clear that the problems are taken in hand where possible. So you may ask why people would attack those with mental health issues when the evidence is so clear?

work myth drain on society mental health

Despite the myth, the majority of those unwell continue to work. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Personally,  I think it’s because content creators recognise just how financially powerful encouraging that stigma can be for their channels, or perhaps that because stoking division is an effective political move. If this is true, then the problem does not lie with the patients themselves.

“Cinema, radio, television, magazines are a school of inattention: people look without seeing, listen in without hearing”  – Robert Besson.

If society can be so easily hoodwinked, then combatting the stigma is that much more important.

3. ‘All people with mental health problems are dangerous’

Another dramatic misconception is that ‘all people with mental illness’ are dangerous, and when the public are repeatedly told that those committing mass shootings are ‘mentally ill,’ you can understand why there is a concern.

But the fact’s don’t support the sensationalism. In fact, the Canadian Mental Health Association reassures us;

Mental illness plays no part in the majority of violent crimes committed in our society. The assumption that any and every mental illness carries with it an almost certain potential for violence has been proven wrong in many studies.

Although it is true that some people may commit a crime while unwell, only 1% of people in a recent survey believed that individuals with mental health issues pose a threat. There is something lost between the public and some of the papers here.

But thankfully, many in print media are very aware of the misconception.

In my time as a journalist I met a good number of people who could be described as violent. Some were guilty of some shocking deeds. Yet, I cannot recall a single one who had a recognisable, distinct mental health issue. But I think when it comes to misconceptions, it’s not just journalists making the leap but society as a whole – Andy West, Broadcaster and Writer.

crime myth mental health

The majority of violent crimes committed in the UK and US are not committed by those with Mental illness. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Given that an estimated 7 million people in the UK have a mental health disorder, the average homicide rate is just between 50 -70. And over 2016-2017,  this represented a tiny fraction of the 790 homicides in the UK (8.9%.)

This means that 91.1% of UK murders are committed by those without a mental health issue, and when it comes to acts of violence,  those with mental health problems are responsible for only 3-5 % of crime compared to 96% (approximately,) within the general population in the United States.

In addition, within mental health overall, those with schizophrenia have a only slightly higher risk, mostly associated with substance abuse. But in the same vein, the vast majority will never commit a violent crime.  But what of psychosis itself?  During a psychotic episode, where in some psychiatric conditions a patient may lose contact with reality, only 6% may present any risk.

What about mass shootings? Well, less than 1% of all gun related deaths in the United States are due to those with a mental illness, and in that small number, the majority are suicides.

suicide harm

Contrary to popular belief, those with mental health issues are more likely to harm themselves than someone else. Image courtesy of Flickr.

So, why the overinflated preoccupation with risk? Perhaps misconceptions about serial killers being insane, the vilification and over-dramatisation of mental health in movies and television, and most insidiously, the use of mental health patients as scapegoats.

Let us consider the US, where gun laws are under constant scrutiny. It is much easier to blame a mass shooting on a ‘mentally unwell lone wolf’ than admit that you may have a culture problem and access to firearms. For some gun advocates, perpetrating this horrible myth serves them well.

So all in all, those with ‘mental health’ problems commit less violent crimes than the rest of the UK (and US,) and are a greater risk to themselves than others.

scapegoat mental health violence

It seems sometimes that those with mental health problems are made scapegoats by those who should know better. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Although there is some risk, the data bears out nothing significant beyond specific cases to a population level. The very idea that everyone with a mental health issue is dangerous is demonstrably false, stigmatising and worryingly, seemingly deliberately sold.

‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ – Franklin D Roosevelt

4. There is ‘no getting better’

‘People succumb to an idea that things don’t get better. You can’t see mental health, it’s not like a broken leg. There is an ‘end point.’ It’s clear, but with mental health its a lot more difficult for people to believe that there is a definitive fix.’ Ralf Little, Health Advocate and Actor.

For some, a mental health problem can last a long time, but for others, they may only brush with it briefly, once in their lives. Everybody’s experience of life is different and with that comes a different experience of mental health issues. It can be easy to feel trapped in disease, only to wonder why you felt so helpless months later.

Mental health disease future

A mental health problem can seem like the end of the world. But for most, if not all, the veil is lifted with time. Image courtesy of Flickr.

It is often with the benefit of hindsight that the truth becomes clear. When it comes to mental health, this often shows us that recovery may require lifelong treatment to maintain. or nothing at all – it all depends on the person and their journey. In fact mild to moderate depression may need drug treatment for no longer than a year, if at all.

The misconception that these issues are ‘permanent’ or ‘inescapable’ is very much hyperbole, and does not take into account how different people define their quality of life. Or indeed, what people consider being ‘unwell.’

It is up to the patient to decide when they have escaped the disease, which for many is the cessation of its symptoms, and for others, never feeling them again.

Personally, I view my depression as companion who raises it’s head from time to time, and during those periods inbetween I consider myself ‘better.’

For me, its about assigning value to the moments and realising my choice in doing so. Perhaps many of you will understand this.

myth value life

Sometimes a mental health problem can reveal what is truly valuable to us. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Yet somehow, society forces a double standard when comparing mental health issues with more physical ones. A cancer remission is treated as ‘getting better’ whilst many would say recovery in a depression is ‘only temporary.’ Both have a chance of returning, but we consider the time without illness as being ‘healthy again.’

While appreciating the complexity of the comparison, its fair to say that both have periods of being unwell and less unwell. Or not unwell at all, with a potential with recurrence or not. But in most cases, there is some level of improvement.

Have faith that on the other side of your pain is something good. – Dwayne Johnson

Whether this improvement is enough is up to you, but from personal experience and the stories of others, life can be just as good, if not better than before, when a condition is well managed. For me, my depression has added such value to my life that I appreciate living it all the more.

So, by using a medication, therapy, or lifestyle changes (or some combination of them), we can have great success in treating a wide variety of conditions. And, although many years ago these conditions could be something lifelong and debilitating, today’s patients can live rich and fulfilling lives.

life mental health myth

It is up to us as individuals to decide what matters to us, and when life is worthwhile. Image courtesy of Flickr.

What is important is realising that each patient is an individual, that treatments may need to change over time and that each step back can be regained. To suggest that there is ‘no escape’ poses only one limitation, on how well you understand human life.

5. ‘Mental health only matters when you are unwell.’

If you are reading this through twitter,  you may have already seen the ‘I have mental health’ campaign. And for those who haven’t, the grassroots movement included people from all walks of life holding up a sign with the statement.

But why?

The idea was to make normal what many do not consider reasonable: that mental health is a constant and ongoing entity, one that we all share and one we can all lose. This idea is uncomfortable to some. But why?

mental health myths all of us

All of us have mental health, and it can waver just like our bodies. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Perhaps because of the idea of ‘weakness’, some societal expectation, or fear, many do not like to entertain the idea that their mind is like the rest of their body. Something that can become ill, and requires maintenance to work well.  Just like our skin that can become itchy and red, things can change in an instant.

‘Mental health isn’t all of me, but it’s a massive part of my journey and a massive part of my whole being.’ – Adwoa Aboah

It seems that many only realise the fragility of our minds when something breaks. But unlike a precious vase, we rarely handle our minds with care. We expect them to be indestructible, when in fact all of us have our limits.

Since 75% of mental health problems begin before the age of eighteen,  it is clear just how beneficial teaching people how to take care of their mental health can be.

When we consider the theories around mental health disorders, we can see that many explain problems as the result of misbalance. Either too much work, too little sleep, a significant life event, a loss of purpose or one of another million things. It can take just one extra thing to tip the scales.

myth mental heath care

Mental health can be fragile, so it must be valued and taken care of. Image courtesy of Flickr.

In addition, when we consider treatment, the same can be said. Whether it be medication or therapy, a change is made to tip the scales back to equal. Mental health is an ongoing and organic process, the sum of our experiences and way of thinking.

It deserves as much kindness as our greatest treasure. And with that, it may be of huge societal benefit for all of us to embrace our own mental health, learn how to manage it and ensure that this is done from an early age.

6. You can ‘just snap out of it.’

I am sure many of you reading this will have heard a statement just like this, and for many, it will be very frustrating. There seems to be a belief that you can just ‘buck up’ and ‘snap out’ of mental health issue.

‘The idea that you can ‘positivity your way out of it’ is ludicrous. Its strange to believe that those unwell are just ‘being silly’, there is a real issue happening. Why do we collectively believe that such issues can dismissed so easily?’ – Ralf Little.

Almost as if its something flippant, volitional and subject to change at your whim.

From what we know about mental health conditions, this is not true, and often problems like depression can be pervasive, and take some time to sort out. This is also true for anxiety and a wealth of other issues.

clock mental health

Mental health issues may not be solved quickly. They can develop over a long time, so treating them may take a while. Image courtesy of Flickr.

The very complexity and individual nature of these conditions dictates that the right amount of time be taken.

The primary misconception lies in the general understanding of the problem, and that comes from familiarity. But if you have never had a disease, you simply don’t know as much about it as someone who does. That is forgivable, I wouldn’t personally understand how it is to live with heart disease.

However, there is information out there, it is just a process of making it available. I feel rather than ensuring everyone experiences a mental health issue first hand (although 1 in 4 do,) we can explain the problem instead. Most people are incredibly empathetic once talked to, it is the silence between conversations that breeds misunderstanding.

“I’m here to tell you that if you get broken, it’s possible to put yourself back together. I’m here to tell you that if you get lost, it’s possible that a light will come, dancing, on the horizon, to lead you home.”  – Nick Lake

According to Health Communities, depression itself can take weeks to truly manifest and if untreated can last up to 18 months on average –  and with treatment, can still take a number of weeks or more to even out.

therapy time treatment

Therapy can take a number of weeks to months. But the time is important. Image courtesy of Flickr.

When it comes to anxiety, those with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD,) the treatment process can take up a number of months before you see results. After that, continued treatment may be necessary. These are just two examples, but the same is true across the spectrum.

So, if we can help others to understand that mental health issues are not a quick fix, we can change their expectations. I feel that this would help both those with a mental health issue and without.

7. ‘Everyone will think I am crazy!’

 ‘People with mental health conditions are worried that others will judge and be afraid of them just because they are ‘different.’ Awareness needs to be brought forward that people with diagnosed conditions should never be ashamed of who they are. And just because someone is different doesn’t mean that they are dangerous in the form of being ‘crazy’. Never judge a book by its cover. – Paul Manners, Recording Artist and Influencer.

There is a lot of confusion around ‘psychosis’. But what is psychosis? According to the National Health Service (NHS);

Psychosis is a mental health problem that causes people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them. This might involve hallucinations or delusions.

Put simply, and it isn’t quite as simple, psychosis is a loss of touch with reality manifest in either some hallucination (seeing, hearing or otherwise sensing something that others cannot,) and/or delusion (believing in something that is in conflict with reality.)

media misconception drama

The fear of being seen as ‘crazy’ is one based in hyperbole and insensitive media portrayals of mental health issues. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Psychosis can occur alongside numerous psychological issues when they become severe, including depression and schizophrenia. It can also be caused by medications, other organic illnesses such as dementia, and can relent when treated. Insanity is not necessarily permanent and resolves when the cause is dealt with. In each case it is important to not that a trigger can precipitate an episode, or that something can come on gradually. 

So, now we know what ‘actual medical insanity’ is, we can remind ourselves that the symptoms of a depression or anxiety disorder (amongst others,) do not mean that you are ‘crazy’. The fear is very much in the mind, but that is understandable.

“Perfect sanity is a myth propagated by straitjacket salesmen. – Rebecca McKinsey

Given that society is so demanding, and that mental health issues are so emotionally depicted in media, people often associated mental health problems with psychotic symptoms. However, this is only relevant in the small fraction of people with psychosis. 0.7 % of those over 16 years old in 2016. And, unless you work in a psychiatric facility, your chances of meeting a psychotic person are vanishingly low. The issue lies with expectation, not reality.

fear crazy myth

Most people who are mentally unwell would not stand out from a crowd. So you shouldn’t worry about it. Image courtesy of Flickr.

So, when you compare this 0.7% percent with the number of those with active mental health problems (25% approximately,) you can see how rare actual ‘craziness’ is. It’s up to us to convince the public that the 25% are not the 0.7%.

If you perceive crazy as ‘abnormal’, i.e to exhibit the symptoms of a mental health issue, then it is worth reminding yourself that we all experience mental health symptoms. It is the duration and strength that differs, and how they affect our lives.

By realising that, the idea of others judging you can go away rather quickly, all it takes is a conversation to correct a misunderstanding.

8. It’s ‘all made up’

‘Nobody thinks that the pharmaceutical industry is completely above board. But problems with big pharma do not equal that everyone is lying. The idea that psychiatric diagnoses are made up is incredibly dangerous.’ Ralf Little.

One of the more insidious claims made is that ‘mental health’ conditions are not real, and worse still, they have been invented by ‘Big Pharma‘ or ‘government agencies’ to control people and make money.

Having already dealt with the logical fallacies inherent in conspiracy theories in my work on climate change, we can surmise that conspiracy relies on misconceptions and fiction to be believed. Where science relies on evidence, conspiracy relies on imagination.

conspiracy big pharma fake

Conspiracy theories rely on fantasy and the ignorance of evidence to persist. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Instead of accepting any evidence to the contrary, a conspiracy theorist will say that ‘it’s all part of the conspiracy.’ There are simply some people that are harder to convince. But when asked to provide evidence of their conspiracy, it often falls apart. As journalist and author Christopher Hitchens once said;

What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
To truly understand why people purvey this myth, we need to consider motivations. Some may have had bad experiences with the pharmaceutical industry (and rightly so, it needs improvement!), and others may wish to manipulate the unwell to offer them some ‘alternative’ treatment for money.

Others may point to the apparent difference between psychiatric diseases and more ‘common physical ones.’ They claim a paucity of verifiable evidence for these diseases, and when comparing them to the more easily believed metrics of physical disease, that the proof simply isn’t there.

This is what we call an argument from incredulity, the idea that the complexity of an explanation undermines its truth. And within psychiatry, there are physical changes in certain conditions we can demonstrate objectively, but diagnosis is a complex process looking at behaviours over time.

diagnosis psychiatry

A psychiatric diagnosis is made on a patients behaviours, as well as other factors. Image courtesy of Flickr.

But those changes are real, and to suggest that things are being made up is quite a leap. Whilst we hazard to claim that Einstein’s equations are untrue,  most of us won’t understand them. So why the double standard?

Personally, I suggest that when it comes to psychiatry there is a huge personal and societal stake involved. When emotions are riding high, people are more likely to make snap judgments, and when it comes to identifying with an idea, or joining a group, the idea becomes a sense of identity.

Being part of a movement fulfils basic psychological needs.

group identification myth

Being part of a group, or one believing in an idea, is a powerful and comforting thing. Image courtesy of Flickr.

For many, their belief in a conspiracy becomes part of who they are – they may think they are ‘in the right’ and ‘helping’, so don’t judge them too harshly. But there are those who knowingly manipulate, and they are a different story.

So in the end it comes down to which is most plausible;

  1. Psychiatric conditions are complex and individual problems require expertise to diagnose and treat. There are replicable behavioural and physical changes that can be used to aid this process. There will always be some financial gain to those producing medications, but that is a separate issue to the truth of the disease.
  2. Psychiatric issues are made up, the evidence is ‘false’ and it’s all done to ‘make money’ or ‘control people.’

I think when you view the two side by side, one looks rather less believable.

9.  Mental health issues are ‘simply biological problems’

‘There are reams of papers and journals dedicated to the idea that things like upbringing and trauma can have a remarkable effect on health. To say its just ‘chemicals whizzing around in your brain’ is just ludicrous. Demands on life are often unworkable, and this can lead to problems. It is important to realise that environment and behaviour factor heavily in mental health disease.’ – Mike Stuchbery, Writer and Broadcaster.

From what many understand about disease, this myth is an understandable one. We are brought up to only recognise diseases in terms of physical problems (a sneeze, runny nose, a painful stomach,) and it makes sense that we would attribute biology to their causes too.

These ideas are developed early on in our lives, and are hardwired.

With a move within psychiatry to reconcile behaviour with neurology, one could be forgiven to treat the two as one – but it is a little more complicated than that.

biology mental health

Although it may be tempting to reduce mental health issues to purely biological problems, the fact’s say otherwise. Image courtesy of Flickr.

What we know from medicine places a larger influence on psychological and social factors than you would realise. For example, we know that patients with depression are more likely to suffer from heart disease, and that mental health problems find some cause in social factors.

Disease is the result of an interplay between biology, psychology and the environment. Some diseases are a tad more ‘biological’ in nature, and others seem to be purely ‘genetic’, but most fall between the categories, where one factor is just part of their makeup.

‘To study the phenomena of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all.’ – William Osler.

To dismiss mental health issues as ‘purely biological’ sells them short. Crucially, it means we are missing vital information in helping us treat them. If we can recognise the psychological and social determinants of disease, and understand their contribution, it gives us more avenues for treatment.

As such, psychiatrists and other doctors use a ‘Bio-psycho-social’ model of disease in their diagnoses.

freud mental health

Sigmund Freud was one of the first to popularise the idea of past experiences being part of mental health issues. Image courtesy of Flickr.

With depression for example, although there are genetic factors and talk of biological antecedents, we know that stress, sleep deprivation and trauma are highly predictive. And for anxiety, childhood experiences of fear and hopelessness play a role.

So when we treat psychiatric issues we combat each domain, where therapy and medication can be just as important as each other. To separate psychiatric diseases from biology is incorrect, just as saying that they are ‘only’ biological.

‘Doctors and patients need as much data as possible to make an informed decision about what treatment is best’ – Ben Goldacre.

The truth is somewhere inbetween, and with it, our best chance of making people’s lives better.

10. ‘Mental health issues are rare.’

The final myth is particularly pervasive, and you may have already been convinced otherwise of its assertions. Mental health problems are extremely common, it is the severity that differs.

global burden disease

Mental health problems are a global issue. And extremely common. Image courtesy of Flickr.

All in all, 1 in 4 people in the UK will suffer from a mental health issue at some point in their lives.

Depression is the leading cause of disability for women across most of the world and will be the lead the world in disease burden by 2030.

The very idea that these issues are rare can be traced to a misconception about what they are. Many consider mental health issues to be exemplified in rare cases of psychosis, or those dramatised in media. But mental health problems are not always as dramatic.

I don’t think it’s a healthy way of living to assume mental issues are a rarity, everyone will probably stumble across a mental issue at some point in there life, it’s how we deal with it that determines our outcome and if we’re prepared to accept it. ‘ – Charlie Parsons.

But they are worth knowing about. Considering just how common they are, and that they are becoming more common, we can build a community that wants to recognise why and do something about it.

learning mental health

By learning the truth of mental health problems, we can become wiser and more empathetic as a society. Image courtesy of Flickr.

By correcting the idea that ‘mental health’ issues convey only the extremes of behaviour, we miss the vast majority of people who suffer. We owe them the time to recognise not just how common mental health issues are, but how they affect each and every one of us.

There is no standard normal. Normal is subjective. There are seven billion versions of normal on this planet.” – Matt Haig.

One in four is a big number, so next time you are out shopping consider just how many around you are suffering in silence.

Let’s end the stigma.

For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”  – Carl Sagan

I hope that this work has explained why some of these myths exist, and what the real truths actually are. And I hope that by taking the time to explain them that we can correct some of the harsh inequalities experienced by those with mental health problems.

Crucially, we can see that whilst each myth can be debunked,  there is always some believable idea behind it. It is what happens next that builds a misconception into a commonly held belief.

stigma learning together

Learning is the first step in ending the stigma that drives us apart. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Stigma against mental health problems, like any stigma, is founded on misconception and fear. And like any stigma, it disappears as the truth of the matter becomes well known. We have seen it time and time again, but it takes work from the ground up.

When it becomes clear that the public will no longer tolerate the abuse of the mentally unwell, (and why should they?) the financial and political motivations will die along with the stigma itself.  People are generally good, so if we can respect each other and work together the sky is the limit.

‘Mental health stigma is killing a lot of people, especially men. This is not addressed in dialogue, men try to ‘power their way through.’ Mental illness is ‘not a challenge to be overcome’, it’s a whole load of added pressure. It’s an illness.’ – Mike Stuchbery.

I hope that in some way I have given you something  that you can discuss and share. Together we can end the stigma, so here is as good a place as any, So please help by sharing, and let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

In memory of R.O

If you wish to reproduce this article, in full or in part, please get in touch.

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The opinions above represent those of Dr Janaway alone and do not necessarily represent his affiliates. Any quotation or contribution made by a third party (signposted in text,) has been done under volition and without financial compensation. There is no direct financial gain to either the author or contributors from the publication of this work, it is all done for free in our own time to help others. All text has been discussed and reviewed with senior mental health professionals to ensure accuracy. There are no concerns of breaking patient anonymity or confidentiality.

Several twitter posts were originally going to be used, but due to the confusion noted of others in questioning the users intent these have been omitted out of courtesy. Apologies to those wishing to be featured, but your responses were incredibly valuable. And to those I was not able to get back in touch with, I appreciate your willingness to help and look forward to new opportunities to work together in the future. If you are concerned about your health please see your local healthcare provider. Featured image referenced above.

A special thanks to; Scott McGlyness, Paul MannersAndy West, Ralf Little, Charlie Parsons, Mike Stuchbery, Ayden Callaghan , Stephen Ritchie and Chloe Whichello and my twitter community for providing such great feedback. And not forgetting Ashleigh Howells for her patience in reading and editing, as well as much needed encouragement, as well as Dr David Denton for his keen insights.

Transgender equality moves a step forward as World Health Organisation rethinks ‘mental illness’ stigma

In a move that will be welcomed by transgendered people and the LGBT community inclusive alike, the World Health Organisation has announced that it will be removing ‘transgenderism‘ from its classification of ‘mental health disease.’

But it may be no coincidence as the decision comes hot off the back of a new study linking stigma of the group with significant stress and other problems.

A study in social repression

Published in The Lancet Psychiatrythe study evaluated the quality of life of some 250 transgender participants. Areas reviewed included stress, social rejection, ‘functional impairment’ and exposure to violence.

Most individuals reported problems with academic and family life, as well as negative outcomes associated with social rejection and violence. The paper went on to suggest that reclassifying the lifestyle could help to reduce stigma and associated issues.

stigma transgender

The transgender community is significantly affected by stigma. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Old Label, Old Stigma

The decision made this week has been hailed as a positive move toward removing stigma. Director Lale Say said in The Guardian;

We think it will reduce stigma so that it may help better social acceptance for these individuals.

But others are questioning why the lifestyle was ever considered a problem in the first place. Geoffrey Read, senior professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said;

“The definition of transgender identity as a mental disorder has been misused to justify denial of health care and contributed to the perception that transgender people must be treated by psychiatric specialists, creating barriers to health care services.

The definition has even been misused by some governments to deny self-determination and decision-making authority to transgender people in matters ranging from changing legal documents to child custody and reproduction.”

It seems that the decision may not just be a step forward toward much-needed recognition, but an actual avenue for equal healthcare treatment, legal rights and even family life.

Transgender people have a right to be proud of who they are. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Reclassification as ‘gender incongruence’

Whilst this move will resonate with a community long deserving of fairer treatment, there is still the question of whether the lifestyle should be medicalised at all.

So far the WHO has declared that although ‘transgenderism’ will no longer be classified as a psychiatric problem, it still exists within the medical field as a type of ‘gender incongruence’

Perhaps this is one step forward with many more still to come. So is this enough? Or should the WHO be doing more?

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Featured image referenced above. 

10 Common Logical Fallacies And How To Fight Back

We have all been in arguments on social media. And sometimes your opponent may begin to twist your words and place you in seemingly ‘unwinnable’ positions. For example, you may argue that ‘legalising medicinal cannabis is a good idea’, but are then asked to comment on ‘so you think all illegal drugs are fine.’

Obviously, this is not true, so you are unlikely to agree with it.

This is a strawman argument, and by making any concession the opponent will then erroneously signal your defeat. And because debates are often won or lost on emotion or ‘strength’, this can be a crucial difference in conveying the truth.

But with strawman arguments, as with many other logical fallacies, there are ways out.  Often the very argument raised is illogical, dishonest or weak.  So all you have to do is spot and declare the common errors.

So let’s list our top 10 logical fallacies, teach you how to spot them, and how to dismantle them.  In each case, we have included a comprehensive retort for you to use. And you can skip to the end for the biggest argument destroyer of all.

1. ‘Black and White’ Fallacy (False dichotomy, False dilemma.)

This common fallacy presents an erroneously limited number of outcomes for any given argument. And in doing so, limits your answer to either agreeing with or refuting a single point using an incomplete set of alternative explanations.

In short, you are forced to pick an outcome you don’t agree with from a list without all the answers. This may illegitimately misrepresent the truth of a situation, your own view and further the dishonest cause of the person involved.

So let’s look at the fallacy simply;

  • Black White Fallacy; Premise ‘A’ must be explained by outcome ‘1’ or’ 2′.
  • Correction:  Premise ‘A’ is explained by neither ‘1’ or ‘2’, both, partially, or by something else entirely.

So to make things a little more useful, let’s present a common use of the fallacy

  • You can either believe that humans cause climate change or that it’s due to volcanoes.

And although volcanoes do contribute to climate change, we know that humans do. The statement asks you to agree with either side, dismissing the other. But in practice, both humans and volcanoes contribute to climate change.

An easy way to spot this fallacy is to simply look for a question or statement that forces a narrow set of options or explanations, and then consider whether the answers provided are exhaustive. If not, then the advocate is making a black-white fallacy. Look for words like ‘which, pick one, must, is and either.’

So now that you know how to spot it, what can you say back? I would recommend copying and pasting this answer;

‘The options presented do not capture the truth of the situation at hand. You have deliberately limited our possible responses to further your own agenda. I will not entertain a false dilemma.’

You can then provide your argument, having both recognised their dishonesty and called the person out.

false dilemma

A ‘false dilemma’ asks you to choose between two extreme views, when the truth lies elsewhere. Image courtesy of Flickr.

2.   ‘False Cause’ Fallacy (False Association, induction error.)

A false cause fallacy presents an erroneous association between two variables. The user will link two or more different ideas to form a dishonest or incorrect conclusion. This could be comparing data, or someones past actions with their current (although this is not exhaustive.)

In each case, the link between the variables is erroneous, confounded by a third factor (or more,) or not as straight-forward as the person would wish others to believe.

So let’s look at the basic idea;

  • False Cause Fallacy:  Since A is ‘true’ and B is ‘true’, then ‘C’  must be true.
  • Correction:  ‘A’ and ‘B’ may both be true, but do not explain or cause ‘C’ at all, entirely or alone.

A common example oft used to demonstrate this is ‘Storks and Babies.’ In a study comparing the number of breeding pairs of ‘Storks’ in a country with the number ‘human births,’, finding that with more storks came more births;

  • Since Stork numbers increase in proportion to human births, babies must be delivered by Storks.

Here we can see how the conditions addressed (correlation in stork numbers and human births,) do not explain their relationship. The conclusion itself is erroneous, as we know how babies are born. There is a third factor involved, the size of the country, which also predicts an increase in stork numbers and birth rates.

An easy way to spot this fallacy is to note any argument made using data or a premise to justify the conclusion. At this point you may question whether the conclusion can be explained fully by the argument offered, or the data/premise presented. Look for words like ‘since, as, showed.’

And what can you say back?

The argument presented is incorrect. The variables that you have presented do not provide evidence to justify your conclusion. This is a false cause fallacy.’

You can then post the truth.

cause fallacy babies

A ‘False Cause Fallacy’ suggests a direct link between things that doesn’t exist. Image courtesy of Flickr.

3.  Appeal To Nature Fallacy (Naturalistic Fallacy.)

An appeal to nature fallacy presents the idea that something is only true if it appears ‘natural.’ Conversely, anything that does not fit someone’s view of ‘natural’ can be dismissed. The argument places an undeserved omnipotence in the ‘natural world’ as a source of truth when it comes to any subject, and an arbiter of its ‘morality.’

  • Naturalistic Fallacy;  ‘A’ is’ unnatural’, so it must be ‘incorrect’ and/or ‘morally wrong.’
  • Correction: The natural world has no moral precepts, and the efficacy or truth of a statement or intervention must be judged on means other than ‘what is natural.’

So let’s look at a common example;

  • Medicines are unnatural, it is much safer and morally preferable to use herbal remedies.

In this scenario, medicines are argued to be ‘unnatural’ and therefore ‘not safe’ and morally ‘bad.’ The advocate assumes that ‘natural is best’ and that any abrogation is morally and functionally wrong. But we also know that medicines save lives in situations where their avoidance would mean death (i.e antibiotics, chemotherapy.)

From a logical standpoint, the moral judgment must be made on the effects of medicines compared with our shared precepts of ‘right and wrong.’ You could easily argue that using antibiotics to save a child’s life is more morally agreeable than using a herbal remedy that won’t make a difference. Here nature is neither superior or morally ‘better.’

To spot this fallacy look for any argument where the person refers to nature or what is commonly accepted. Look for words like ‘natural, better way, holistic, homoeopathic, folk wisdom, alternative medicine or big pharma’.

So now you can spot the argument, here is our perfect retort;

The statement presented assumes a ‘natural’ omnipotence and moral authority. Neither is true, as nature is neither moral or universally effective. This is a weak appeal to nature. We must consider an argument on several attributes before making any judgement in either domain.’

You can then post your counter argument and any relevant evidence.

appeal to nature mosquito

An ‘appeal to nature’ fallacy asserts that ‘natural’ is better. Not sure I would agree when it comes to mosquitos. Image courtesy of Flickr.

4.  The ‘Strawman’ argument

A favourite of keyboard warriors, the ‘strawman’ argument switches the focus of the debate to untenable grounds.  Often the person will ask you to extend your premise to account for another situation, where it is either limited or not applicable at all. It is designed to distract from the core argument.

Crucially, it creates a false or imaginary situation constructed to force you to agree. It is a conscious attempt to misrepresent both your views and the reality of the situation;

  • Strawman argument: Since you support ‘A’, you must support ‘B.’
  • Correction: Supporting ‘A’ is not necessarily coherent with ‘B’, context matters.

Often people will then concede on the new subject, and the concession be cited as ‘evidence’ that their original point is no longer valid;

  • How can you possibly support ‘A’ if you cannot support ‘B’? I guess you don’t believe in ‘a’ at all!

So let’s review a topical example;

  • You say that guns shouldn’t be used by civilians. So you are happy for people to be robbed?

In this situation, you can be unhappy with both civilian firearm use and theft. The two are not intrinsically related, and your reasons for not supporting civilian firearm use are nothing to do with theft. The person insists that you must accept their faulty reasoning to validate your own.  Look for phrases like ‘so you’re saying, so you must think.’

So what do you say back?

This is a strawman argument. Do not assume to generalise my point beyond it’s original context. My argument stands on it’s on merit in the domains in which it is presented. Refute that before you invent an imaginary scenario to your favour.

straw man argument fallacy

A ‘strawman argument’ tries to pull you off topic, and make you concede a different point. Image courtesy of Flickr.

5. Begging the question (circular argument, circular reasoning.)

This particularly dishonest approach presents an argument that includes its own conclusion as a premise. In short, it assumes that you won’t spot the trick. You are forced to agree with the statement because it is logically valid, even if untrue.

In this situation you have no choice to agree with the conclusion if you agree with the premise, and therein lies it’s weakness;

  • Circular Argument:  ‘A’ proves ‘B’ and ‘B’ proves ‘A’
  • Correction: Neither proves either. You need alternative evidence.

A common example is the recognisable ‘Proof of God’;

  • The beauty of nature is proof of God.  Since nature is beautiful, then God exists.

In this situation, the premise deductively inextricable from its conclusion. But you can dismiss the argument by pointing out that the ‘beauty of nature’ does not prove anything, and therefore it ‘being proved’ by ‘what it asserts must be true’ as a consequence is simply invalid. But how do you spot it? This one is a little trickier, but look for when someone includes synonyms in a statement, repeated terms or words like ‘proof, since, then or must be true.’

And what can you say back?

This is circular reasoning and provides no actual proof of your assertion. You are not highlighting a distinct relationship between two variables, but merely presenting them as one logical entity. Unless you can provide a third proof, then this argument can be dismissed.’

‘Circular reasoning’ is a trick designed to use a premise as its own proof. Image courtesy of Flickr.

6.  The ‘Slippery Slope’ (absurd exploitation, domino fallacy.)

The basic design of this argument is to take a premise and extend its consequences beyond context to something catastrophic. It presents the ‘worst case’ scenario as grounds to dismiss any suggestion, conveniently ignoring any sense of restriction or limitation. Simply put, it takes your argument beyond your intended situation into realms most would find it disagreeable, and likely never have to encounter.

In this situation you are forced to recognise the theoretical risk, which appears to others as if agreeing with it. But as Aristotle said

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

It essentially says;

  • Slippery slope: If ‘A’ causes ‘B’ and ‘B’ causes ‘C’…. (ad nauseam until uncomfortable conclusion drawn.)
  • Correction: ‘A’ may cause ‘B’, but does not inherently cause an unstoppable sequence of events. We have choice and means to exercise restraint on the conditions considered.

A common example often encountered on Twitter is;

  • If we elect the democrats this will lead to communism, and before you know it there will be mass executions.

In this unfortunately non-hyperbolic example, all you need to do is point out the inaccuracies in the original premise and the important of context in disrupting the chain of causation. For example, the democrats are not communists, and communism is an ideology. Mass executions performed under communist regimes were not a result of the ideology, but the dictator.

So how can you spot this approach? It’s quite simple, just look for anyone extending your argument toward anything emotionally tumultuous, topical or disagreeable. The weakness of the approach is it’s appeal to tragedy, which although powerful, makes it easy to spot. Or you can look for words like ‘if, will lead to, next, before you know it, consequence’ or any historically significant abomination ‘Nazis, racism, executions, etc.’

And in response you can say;

This is a nonsensical slippery slope argument designed to paint the worst case scenario. In reality it makes a number of unsupported links and assumptions and ignores our ability to recognise poor outcomes. There is no unavoidable chain of consequence here. You are not just being dishonest, but underestimating and insulting both your readers and myself.

slippery slope

A ‘slippery slope’ argument tries to convince you that ‘what can go wrong,’ ‘will go wrong.’ Image courtesy of Flickr.

7.  Anecdotal Argument (personal experience, hearsay’)

A rather personal bugbear of mine is the anecdotal argument. This is where somebody uses one or more limited examples of ‘experience’ to extrapolate their view beyond the examples.  In short it compares the conclusions of one person with the combined data for all applicable situations, and favours the former. Within science, this is the lowest form of evidence as it is prone to error, misinterpretation and confounded by other variables.

In this case the person may not be aware of their error, as the result is ‘true to them’;

  • Anecdotal Argument: I know that ‘A’ does not cause ‘B’ because I know someone who does ‘A’ and doesn’t have ‘B.’
  • Correction: Individual examples of the relationships between variables may differ from large-scale observations. There may be other factors involved, or you have  experienced a case within the margin of negative probability. 

This one is a little wordy, so let’s use a common case;

I don’t vaccinate my children because my friend Jane’s son has autism, and she says it’s because of the vaccine.

In this situation it is clear where the fallacy lies. There is a misconception (that vaccines cause autism, they don’t,) and the child’s diagnosis is used as proof of the misconception (this is somewhat similar to circular reasoning.)  Here the person is using a single unverified case to generalise to an entire field of study, ignoring the wealth of contradictory evidence.  Look out for words like ‘hear, my friend, but didn’t, this one case’ or worse still, people posting links to anecdotal opinion pieces.

And how do you respond?

‘Anecdotal accounts are unreliable due to either a paucity of supporting evidence, the presence of confounding variables, a misconception and undermined by the larger data. Opinion pieces are worthless compared to large-scale studies. Unless a relationship is replicable beyond one scenario, it’s ‘truth’ is unlikely replicable beyond that case. There are sometimes exceptions to the rules, but these are often predictable and accounted for.

anecdotal argument hearsay

An ‘anecdotal argument’ places the opinions of once over an entire evidence base. Image courtesy of Flickr.

8. An ‘Appeal to Emotion’ (playing on emotion, ‘for the children’.)

You may have heard the term ‘won’t someone think of the children’, usually used in jest within comedy. But this approach, often used in good faith by well-meaning individuals, can be used by politicos to manipulate the public into supporting their personal causes. It may be used in conjunction with the ‘slippery slope’ fallacy, as it disregards logical discourse in favour of moral judgement.

You are forced to agree because not doing so give you the appearance of being callous, evil or worse. It essentially asks for the ‘rules to be bent’ because of a real or fabricated ‘special case/’

Simply put;

  • Appeal to emotion: If we don’t do ‘A’ then ‘B’ will happen (B being something negative, emotional or pulling on heartstrings.)
  • Correction: The relationship between ‘A’ and ‘B’ isn’t logical, defined or likely.  Emotional ploys are being used to manipulate and divide people.

And a common example;

  • If you don’t allow this person to travel to a different hospital then you want him to die, you Nazi.

This is a common medical scenario. But this argument makes faulty assumptions about a persons moral standpoint and intentions. It also appeals to the common sensibility of ‘wanting people to live (which we all do.)’ It then goes a step further to assert that ‘you wanted a person to die.’ This is just one example, but others could include discussions about criminal activity, euthanasia (if criminal,) abortion or other contentious topics.

Now, this one is difficult. As people will genuinely believe what they are saying, and be saying it in perceived good faith, this cannot always be taken as intentional manipulation. These are very hard to debate, as the emotive aspect is so powerful and the accusation so strong. I have seen many doctors pushed to breaking point debating the finer points of decisions around life and death. Furthermore, you make yourself the fictitious enemy of an often justified moral crusade.

Look for words like ‘children, women, forced, infringement, fascism etc’, or emotive images and one-sided opinion pieces being used.

So, aside from leaving it to the official authority involved, you could say;

This is a very difficult situation. But before we make quick judgements about what may be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, it is important to get a full picture of what is going on.  You may very well be right, but there may be information that you are not aware of that complicates things.’

But when it comes to this one, less engagement is more. Personally I only debate subjects where avoiding the argument puts others at risk.

appeal to emotion

An ‘appeal to emotion’ makes you consider fear over logic. Image courtesy of Flickr.

9. The ‘Ad Hominem’ (abusive, name calling)

Personally, the use of personal insults or use of character traits within academic discourse is enough cause for me to withdraw from debate. An ‘ad hominem’ is where someone begins either casting aspersions on their opponent (he is x or y,) or bringing up past actions (he used to do x, he once y) to try and undermine their argument. The insult or characterisation may be completely unrelated, but infer some blanket moral judgement.

Of course, there are cases where someones character or past actions may predict the validity of their argument, but to assume so is foolhardy.

Often the nature of the person is irrelevant to the argument, where the approach insists that a ‘bad’ person cannot make a ‘valid or true’ statement because of their nature;

  • Ad hominem: ‘A’ must be wrong because he did x
  • Correction:  The likelihood of being wrong must be taken on the evidence presented, not his character.

This is easier to present with a common example;

  • The surgeon-general says that burgers are unhealthy, but he is really fat so whatever.

In this example an ‘ad hominem’ attack is made to question the validity of the surgeon-generals advice based on his appearance. It infers that if burgers were really unhealthy, then he/she wouldn’t be fat. Therefore, he/she is lying and he/she is a bad person. Worse still, it presents being overweight as some kind of moral shortcoming.

This usually signifies that the argument has been lost and may reveal something about the character of who you are dealing with. On a personal note, often these ‘trolls’ thrive on attention, so don’t waste your time beyond one response. You are not convincing them, you are convincing bystander readers.

The important point missed is that burgers are unhealthy if even to extreme, regardless of who says it. This is an easy one to spot, just look for adjectives or insults.

i.e ‘Crooked Hillary.’ 

So what do you say?

A person’s character or personal attributes must be taken second to the evidence presented. To use insults to undermine an argument or person is both a departure from debate and an underhanded manipulative tactic. It suggests to me that you cannot provide a reasoned refutation of the point.

ad hominem

This guy is a total loser, so ignore what he says. Image courtesy of Chloe Howard.

10. ‘Personal Incredulity’ (argument from astonishment, misunderstanding.)

Not to be  confused with an ‘argument from ignorance’ (where someone is simply unaware of the facets of their argument,) this approach portends that the complicated nature of an idea renders it false. Basically, it says that because something is complicated, or beyond someones understanding, it can be dismissed either in favour of something more simple or not solved at all;

  • Personal Incredulity: ‘A’ seems too complex to be true, so it can’t be.
  • Correction: The complexity of an idea has no bearing on its validity, and a personal misunderstanding does not change the truth.

A recent example, featured in my work on The Flat Earthis as follows;

  • I cannot see the curvature of the earth, so it must be flat.

The problem here is a misunderstanding of optics and what can be expected. As well as being a ‘common sense’ fallacy, you may also treat it as an ‘argument from ignorance’ if you were to appraise what might be common knowledge. But here I am addressing the somewhat complex idea of the evolutionary limitations of human vision and the fractional curvature defined by distance.  Look for words like ‘complicated, nonsense, made up, theory and elite.’

In response you can say;

The truth of this matter is inherent in its complexity, which is understandably beyond many people’s comprehension. But to assert that the statement is wrong because you don’t understand it is erroneous. Simple is not always correct.’

personal incredulity

A ‘personal incredulity’ fallacy asserts that the truth is wrong if too complicated. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Moving forward

So there we are, our top 10 common fallacies and how to fight back. You may have noticed a common theme, which is either the misrepresentation of information, assumption of terms and intention, or glossing over the finer details in favour of emotive manipulation. Each is obvious once spotted, but in the sphere of social media often it is not the most logical who wins, but the most emotive.

And unfortunately, on the battlefield of ideas, this does cost lives. The public understanding of concepts directly influences our behaviours, so people refuse medication, avoid vaccination and place others at risk. This can often be traced back to the poor argument or dishonest actions of a charlatan or ‘influencer’ whom uses these tricks to confound and manipulate others.

But I wish to offer you one more retort, which you can use almost anywhere. Whenever someone makes an unsubstantiated claim, for example ‘vaccines cause autism’ or ‘flu shots cause Alzheimers’ you can respond with what I call the Sagan-Hitchens Razor, as it combines the aphorisms of two great logicians. I have added my own pithy knockdown at the end, but I feel it arrogant to place my name amongst the greats’;

‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. So put up, or shut up.’

So let me know how you fare, and if you come across any spectacularly poor arguments let me know in the comments or social media.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Featured image courtesy of Flickr.



5 Quotes that make Carl Sagan Unforgettable

sagan love quote universe

If you haven’t heard of Carl Sagan then you are missing out. Not only was the renowned astrophysicist a pioneering scientist, but a leader in the field of public science communication. And personally, one of the greatest people to have ever lived.

Without him, it is unlikely that many of us would know much about the universe beyond basic education. And without his television show Cosmosa generation of scientists may have never come to be.  But Carl’s greatest contribution to humanity was his unending patience, empathy and personal charge toward empowering people with knowledge.

sagan top 5

On his ‘ship of the imagination’, Sagan traversed the stars. Image courtesy of Flickr

Even now, his profound insights into human life ring true in arenas ranging from politics to social reform. So let’s count down our top list of his most enduring quotes, perhaps you will find something that you love.

1. On understanding and knowledge.

People are not stupid. They believe things for reasons. The last way for skeptics to get the attention of bright, curious, intelligent people is to belittle or condescend or to show arrogance toward their beliefs.

Throughout his career, Carl was persistent in his pursuit of public empowerment. By treating us all as friends, capable of the greatest feats, he established a paradigm of education by right.

sagan carl quote top 5 universe

Carl Sagan’s Universe was one we could all explore, and he tried to be the greatest guide. Image courtesy of Flickr.

But with some controversy, he took what was privy only to a select few in academia and made it not just palatable, but wondrous to the rest of us. For Carl, you were not just deserving of the universe but enriched for understanding it.

And as an avowed skeptic of common wisdom and conspiracy, he approached each subject with evidence, understanding, and compassion. Simply, he forgave people human mistakes, where others would simply dismiss them.

We should do the same.

2. On the transience of human life and the immortality of words.

One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.

During one episode of his poetic homage to humanity, Cosmos, Sagan visited the ancient library of Alexandria. It was here, for a short while, that the world’s greatest minds came together in a shared mission of understanding.

sagan quote books

Books are nothing less than a voyage of discovery, be they history. science or fiction. Our words stay behind when we leave. Image courtesy of Flickr.

And although much of Alexandria’s history was lost, small amounts remain in collected writings. An enduring legacy of another time. But for Carl words were more than just communication between friends and colleagues, but a version of immortality.

Through the written word we learned to overcome death, share the wisdom of our time with those who would come after. The ‘information-organism’ of humanity finds feet in ink over millennia.

3. On the fragility of understanding and the wonder of creation

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

In this short epithet, Sagan reflects on the vast gulf between human knowledge and the nature of the universe. And depending on your interpretation, he is either jocularly revealing a comedy of nature, or providing a deep insight into the linearity of thought.

supernova sagan star

All that we are was formed in ancient furnaces. Including apple pie. Image courtesy of Flickr.

To make an apple pie requires the ingredients created from the formation of our universe. All that is once was in the bellies of ancient stars, cast into our universe and eventually mealtimes by cosmic forces and eons of time.

But to understand the world we must first invent a way of understanding, and for that the best we have is science. It is through a skeptic and imaginative mind that we may create our universe.

4. On the humility of human life in an infinite universe (see video.)

In his famous soliloquy, Sagan reduces human accomplishment, greatness, cruelty and misunderstanding to the tiny significance it has in the greater universe.

Within his poetic testament he not only shows us just how small we are, but hints at how pointless our self destruction is.

And at the same time he conveys a message of hope disguised in a eulogy. He warns us that our future is down to us, and that hopefully by realising what we have, as tiny as it is, that we may create a better future.

Earth is our only home.

5. On the saving grace of companionship.

For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.

For all his poetry, lessons and foretelling, Sagan hits on something truly profound. Upon recognising the inescapable truths that are our mortality and ineffectual existence beyond a pale blue dot, he returns to what unites us all.

love sagan universe

In the infinite abyss of a dark universe hides rare moments of light and love. Image courtesy of Flickr.

By embracing love we can overcome any distance. And in that the paucity of meaning is rendered mute, bearable and even empowering, as through love we can find meaning in an ocean of irrelevance. Where science can bring humility, love can bring back purpose.

Throughout his career it appears to me that Sagan’s underlying driving force must have been a deep and powerful love for the universe and his fellow man. To continuously fight for public empowerment, against governments, critics and even himself, Sagan had a heart much greater than even his ‘ship of the imagination’ could explore

But to encapsulate Sagan in five quotes is impossible, so we encourage you to explore his work further.

So which was your favourite? What have we missed and what did you take away? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found yourself touched, please help us reach out  by sharing.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Featured image courtesy of Flickr.

R.I.P Carl.

Could phages be the Answer to the Antibiotic Apocalypse? New study raises hopes.

A  recent study, awaiting publication, may have raised hopes for a way to combat the Antibiotic Apocalypse.  And as bacteria become more resistant to our current medications, there is a real risk that soon we not be able to treat infections.  Worryingly, this means that we could see death rates soar.

But by using ‘phages’, it seems we could attack bacteria in a new way.

phage coli infection antibiotic

Bacteria can cause severe health problems. But our ways of fighting back are failing. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Phages Study Reveals New Attack

Whilst many bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, the use of phages is promising. These tiny organisms are viruses that attack, kill and reproduce inside bacteria. But can we train them to attack what we like? This new study conducted by Dr Taylor Wallace claims so. He says (as reported);

“(Phages) are a wonderful alternative to antibiotics…These are selective, you don’t have any problem with bacterial resistance … and they are safe.”

In a landmark investigation, 16/32 patients with bowel symptoms were given a cocktail of phages designed to attack e.coli (a common but often nasty bacteria.) The remaining 16 were given a placebo. The patients then swapped regimens two weeks through the four week study.

Surprisingly,  the patients showed lower levels of uncomfortable symptoms, a reduction in an inflammation related protein and most importantly, a decrease in the levels of targeted bacterial species. And this was all without any side effects noted.

Still More To Be Done

However, the study still requires further review.  It remains to be clear whether the patients’ symptoms were due to e.coli or not,  if their drop in e.coli was due to a uncharacteristically high base level, or whether the effects seen would persist beyond four weeks.

However, with further study the promising findings of this experiment may provide a clearer motive for phage-based treatments.  And with antibiotics facing a short future, it may be that phages are just what the doctor ordered.

So what do you think? Are we doing enough to fight back against bacteria? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, if you found this interesting then please help us out by sharing.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of  Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Featured image courtesy of Flickr.


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