Categories
Down Syndrome

Representation of Down Syndrome in the Media

On February 7th, Gerber announced that their new “spokesbaby” will be Lucas Warren. Lucas will be Gerber’s first spokesbaby to possess down syndrome in the brand’s 91-year history. Bill Partyka, chief executive and president of Gerber, said, “Every year, we choose the baby who best exemplifies Gerber’s long-standing heritage of recognizing that every baby is a Gerber baby,” (Klein, 2018). Representation of down syndrome is essential as it provides an opportunity for the public to gain more insight into the disorder. Not only that, but it also allows people with down syndrome to be seen as individuals rather than a group or stereotype.

Those with down syndrome have often been narrowly viewed as compassionate, helpless, and oblivious. BBC Three recently did a segment titled “Things People With Down Syndrome Are Tired of Hearing,” which covers the various stereotypes associated with down syndrome. This includes the beliefs such that adults with down syndrome act like children, people with down syndrome can’t live independently, and people with down syndrome can’t hold down jobs. The lives of those with the illness have changed in many ways as a result of medical and social advances. This change incorporates the hiring of special education teachers and new treatments that alleviate the physical obstacles that come along with down syndrome. Journalist, David Perry speaks against the two-dimensional view of down syndrome. When strangers or even relatives learn that Perry’s son has down syndrome, they often say things like “‘Downs kids’ are God’s angels sent down to Earth” (Perry, 2012). While Perry agrees that people with down syndrome can be amicable and cordial, he knows that his child is no angel; he’s just like any other kid. He asserts, “Most parents who have spent time changing diapers, dealing with tantrums or trying to get a sleepy child, with or without Down syndrome, getting him/her ready for the school bus in time know that ‘angel’ doesn’t always cut it” (Perry, 2012). In the past few years, there have been shifts in the representation of down syndrome in the media. The television series Life Goes On was the first major series to have the main character played by someone who possesses down syndrome. The show’s central character, Corky, is an 18-year-old teenager in high school. He undergoes heartbreak, difficulties studying, and social pressures like any other student (Gee, 2012). Another portrayal of the illness includes the musical-comedy Glee. The show possessed a major supporting character who had down syndrome and went against many stereotypes. Not only was she independent, but she pursued a relationship, and also possessed a fierce personality.  

The way that down syndrome is represented in the media shapes how we view the people who possess it. Lucas’s mother says, “We know Gerber chose him [Lucas] because of his cuteness, but it also is spreading awareness of acceptance of people with disabilities of all kinds. No matter if we have a disability or not, we’re all just humans” (Klein, 2018). Although people like Lucas are impacted by Down syndrome, it is important to think of them as individuals over their syndrome. While the portrayal and representation of people with down syndrome are expanding and changing, there are still a number of stereotypes and misconceptions being perpetuated about the syndrome.

References:

Gee, C., & Everbach, T. E. (2012, December). Down syndrome and self-esteem: the media’s portrayal of self-esteem in characters who have Down syndrome. University of Northern Texas. https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc177198/m2/1/high_res_d/thesis.pdf

Klein, A. (2018, February 08). Lucas was just named 2018 Gerber baby. He has Down syndrome. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2018/02/07/lucas-was-just-named-2018-gerber-baby-he-has-down-syndrome/?utm_term=.f3a348b8f3f4

Perry, D. M. (2012, November 17). Don’t label people with Down syndrome. Retrieved March 07, 2018, from https://www.cnn.com/2012/11/16/opinion/perry-down-syndrome/index.html

Categories
Personality Disorders

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Fact or Fiction

We all have that friend who can’t stop taking selfies. That sibling that must look at themselves every time they pass a mirror. That co-worker that can’t stop talking about themselves. The truth of the matter is we all have traits and behaviors such as these that we indulge in once in a while. We often label these people “narcissists,” but we need to ask ourselves: are they really “narcissists?” Unfortunately, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a Personality Disorder distorted by myths.

Like most Personality Disorders, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) stems from an early childhood trauma that left the sufferer with an “unstable self-esteem, the inability to regulate their self-esteem without external validation, and low empathy” (Greenberg, 2017). In other words, NPD is typically classified as having an overwhelmingly inflated self-esteem, sense of entitlement, sense of perfection and ego. NPD is an exceptionally uncommon disorder, which makes every selfie-loving, mirror obsessed, self-bragging person unlikely to be a “narcissist.” According to Webber (2016), it is believed to affect only about 1% of the population, whereas disorders like depression and anxiety affect about 4.5% and 3.5% of the population, respectively.

As mentioned earlier, a grandiose sense of specialty, perfection, and entitlement are major factors that indicate NPD, however, these aren’t the only signs associated with the disorder. While these are the most well-known symptoms and signs of NPD, this is only one sub-group of it. Those grandiose feelings for themselves are considered High-Status Narcissistic Personality Disorder. There is also a Low-Status NPD where sufferers struggle with feelings of worthlessness for themselves, thinking lowly of themselves and depressed thinking. This juggling between Low Status and High-Status NPD, often, interferes with relationships.

On the contrary to many beliefs, sufferers of NPD are able to find happiness in relationships and care for others, besides themselves. However, due to their symptoms, it makes maintaining a relationship difficult. Often, sufferers require their High-Status feelings to be confirmed by the people around them, as a way to feel venerated. Since there are High and Low-Status sub-groups to NPD, sufferers typically alternate between feelings from each subgroup when they are in a relationship with someone. For example, a person struggling with NPD may find someone they adore but once they find a flaw in that person, they struggle to see past that flaw and may see them as nothing more than any other random person on the street.

It is commonly believed that when it comes to a narcissistic personality, people are a full-blown “narcissist” or they are just another “normal” person. This is actually quite the opposite. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not a discrete, all-or-nothing category of either one or the other; it is a spectrum. According to Rebecca Webber, The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) is a test that measures a sufferer’s level of narcissism that can lead to a professional diagnosis. NPD is an actual disorder that must be diagnosed by a professional and can have different intensities on those struggling with the disorder.

It’s understandable why Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be such a misunderstood disorder when it is such a rare one. However, it is heartbreaking to see the confusion from the false beliefs that people struggling with NPD face due to the misunderstanding of “narcissists.” It is important to educate ourselves on this disorder so that we don’t mislabel those struggling with the disorder and we then have the capacity to understand and relate to them. When we understand the disorder, we can feel empathy to help those suffering to push through the disorder. This will give us the ability to advocate for those struggling, based on our new knowledge of NPD, rather than succumbing to the many myths that accompany a diagnosis of NPD or NPD-like behavior.

References:

Greenberg, E. (August 11, 2017). The Truth About Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/understanding-narcissism/201708/the-truth-about-narcissistic-personality-disorder

Vogel, C. (January 1, 2006). A Field Guide To Narcissism. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200601/field-guide-narcissism

Webber, R. (September 5, 2016). Meet the Real Narcissists (They’re Not What You Think). Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201609/meet-the-real-narcissists-theyre-not-what-you-think

World Health Organization (2017). Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates. World Health Organization. Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/254610/1/WHO-MSD-MER-2017.2-eng.pdf

Categories
Videos

Through another’s eyes: Capgras Syndrome

Through Another’s Eyes is a video series that explores how different individuals perceive the world. Capgras Syndrome is very rare, but it reminds us how much our brains do behind the scenes, and is a helpful reminder to be patient with others.

 

For more about Capgras Syndrome:

When a ‘Duplicate’ Family Moves In by Carol W. Berman, M.D. in The New York Times

Seeing Imposters: When Loved Ones Suddenly Aren’t by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich on Radiolab

Categories
Eating Disorders

A Victim of Anorexia: How to Tell

As outlined by DSM-5 guidelines, anorexia nervosa includes restrictive energy intake even lower than daily requirements, extreme fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, and denial of increasingly lower body weight. What does a victim of anorexia look like and how can you tell?

Easy. Look at what is on magazine covers, television screens, and fashion runways: a severely underweight, starving young woman.What is more shocking is that over 1 million women in the United States suffer from anorexia in their lifetime, with 1 in 5 anorexia deaths resulting from suicide (Arcelus et al. 2011; Hudson et al. 2007). While database statistics can better represent an affected population, popular media continues to emphasize that most people who suffer from anorexia are women, women who are young, white, and middle-to-upper class. Elders, minority groups, men, gender non-conforming, the poor–all silently suffering, and current statistics are not enough to emphasize the prevalence of anorexia in these subgroups of society.

Still trying to figure out how to tell if someone is a victim of anorexia? In a world domineered by Western culture, the face is a young white woman. A mere Google search shows you almost nothing else. If other subgroups are affected by this mental disorder, why are we only beaming our eyes towards one angle and averting all other angles?

Media. One of the most influential powers of Western society, media comes in a variety of flavors, from television to Internet to the radio. In between all the sitcoms, news, and movies, commercials can subliminally speak to our hidden insecurities and inner fears, particularly those that target women’s physical appearance. What we do not realize is that others that are not directly targeted are also deeply affected.

TJ’s “nine-year nightmare” ended at the age of 22, when he died in the middle of doing sit-ups. The 2015 tragedy flooded news stations and circulated on the Internet, claiming that he was the “New Face of Anorexia.” TJ, a young white college-student with excellent grades, dreams, and manners did not “want to be skinny. He wanted to have muscles. He wanted to have a six-pack, like the health magazine covers that he had, about 100 of those under his bed. He wanted to be quicker and faster and stronger, and look good,” his mother, Susan, explained. People might be quick to blame Susan for her lack of intervention, but she did monitor him for years until he went off to college. He began lying to her because he was afraid of showing weakness or worry and giving up on his goal. TJ’s demise can be perfectly attributed to the influence of media, those magazines eventually convincing him that he had to be muscular and thin or that he would not be considered a man.

On the other hand, Ahani Ortega, a 25-year-old Latina woman, had found herself trapped in the shadows of the “white anorexia.” Ortega shares with us that as part of her traditional Mexican lifestyle, her family would only eat two meals a day, and skipping meals was even easier at her California high school because no one was watching. Her anorexia escalated into self-harm and bulimia, and at the age of 15, she was hospitalized for overdosing on diet pills and nearly suffering a stroke. She began group therapy, but she was the only Latina “in a room full of white girls.” Her group therapy failed, and her doctors then diagnosed her with EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) because she did not meet the standards for anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. Surprisingly, EDNOS is the most common diagnosis in Latina women because like Ortega, many are not focused maintaining “the perfect thin,” defined as curvy, but not too much; thus, because anorexia’s diagnostic requirement is a “preoccupation with thinness,” she fell away from the possibility of receiving the treatment appropriate for her.

Darcy, too, found herself battling with anorexia after her husband died. She stopped eating, dropped fifty pounds, and, one day, the 66-year-old widow living in an “active retirement community” found herself hospitalized after a fainting spell on the golf course. The events leading up to her collapse were a mix of her depression, other women complimenting her on her figure the more weight she lost, and her own desire to lose her “chubby belly,” although she was a 5-foot-5, 90-pound woman. Who was telling her that she was “chubby,” and who knew that she was no longer eating?

More advertisements portray what young white women should represent, but nobody talks about TJ’s starving himself to death, Anahi’s misdiagnosis because she is Latina, or Darcy’s mid-life struggle with her husband’s sudden passing. Nobody talks because the facts are wrong. Most statistics we have are recorded based on self-reported questionnaires, with questions that target specific populations and create the young white woman bias we see (Streigel-Moore and Franko, 2003).

Given what I have discussed in previous other articles I have published about eating disorders, you can recognize that the experiences of eating disorders are spectral and range from one extreme to the other. To solve part of the bias portrayed in the media, Favaro et al. 2004 suggests to conduct personal interviews across several communities; furthermore, population-based data are needed to ascertain the prevalence in not only anorexia nervosa, but also bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder (Favaro et al. 2004). From these interviews, we will be better able to assort the data on age-of-onset, duration of the illness, and association with sociodemographic factors (e.g. race, gender, class).

Note that many of the sources in this article date back to approximately ten or more years ago, which demonstrates the evident knowledge gap in anorexia prevalence, pathology, and treatment. On the greener side of research, data analyzed from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R) by Hudson et al. 2007 identifies a wider range of factors to consider, such as the association of anorexia with other mental disorders, the degree of disability, and the history of mental health treatment (Hudson et al. 2007). Other work contributed to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) reveals that researchers have found that, on the whole, eating disorders are caused by “a complex interaction of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors.” Just from these studies alone, we can start to understand that anorexia does not look the same for every person who lives with the illness.

We like to think that we know the in’s and out’s of anorexia, but we only know what anorexia should look like because the media tells us what to believe. As serious as anorexia nervosa is, a black cloud of social issues still hovers over the mental disorder. Media portrayal of positive body image, self-love and acceptance, and mental health wellness and awareness can lead to profound changes in how we view others and ourselves. TJ, Ahani, and Darcy did not get the help they needed when they were most vulnerable, all because they were not young white women, but emphasizing the level of destruction that a disorder such as anorexia can sustain on an individual can aid in the advocacy of urgent intervention, treatment, and management.

As Gayle Brooks, vice president and chief clinical officer of the Renfrew Center, the country’s first residential treatment facility for eating disorders, says, “When eating disorders were first being recognized, people seeking treatment were young white girls, so the belief developed early that nobody else suffers from them. When that became the core of our understanding, we stopped looking at diversity being an issue. We missed a lot.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorders Association has useful information and resources. Do not hesitate to get help.

References:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Feeding and Eating Disorders. Retrieved from http://dsm.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.dsm10

Arcelus J, Mitchell AJ, Wales J, Nielsen S. (2011). Mortality Rates in Patients With Anorexia Nervosa and Other Eating Disorders: A Meta-analysis of 36 Studies. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 68(7):724-731.doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.74

Cartwright, Martina M. (2013). Does Grandma Have an Eating Disorder? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/food-thought/201310/does-grandma-have-eating-disorder

Favaro A, Ferrara S, Santonastaso P. (2004). The Spectrum of Eating Disorders in Young Women: A Prevalence Study in a General Population Sample. Psychosom Med, (65):701–708.

George, J. B. E., & Franko, D. L. (2010). Cultural Issues in Eating Pathology and Body Image Among Children and Adolescents. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 35(3), 231-242. doi: 10.1093/jpepsy/jsp064

Hudson, J. I., Hiripi, E., Pope, H. G., & Kessler, R. C. (2007). The Prevalence and Correlates of Eating Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biological Psychiatry, 61(3), 348–358. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2006.03.040

Kloepfer, Chivon. (2015). Friends for Life: Nine-Year Nightmare. WLNS 6 News. Retrieved from http://wlns.com/2015/11/23/friends-for-life-nine-year-nightmare/

Konstantinovsky, Michelle. (2014). Eating Disorders Do Not Discriminate. Slate. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2014/03/eating_disorders_and_women_of_color_anorexia_and_bulimia_are_not_just_white.html

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. (2016). Eating Disorder Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/

National Institutes of Mental Health. (2016). Eating Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml