the notebook
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Anne Michaud: editor & senior writer
Anne Michaud

Could this course from the mental health community apply to addiction?

May 19th, 2016

overdose pillsJoyce Burland recalls, during one of her first meetings for families of mentally ill people, seeing a silver-haired couple who looked serene. They had twin sons, both with schizophrenia, and had been grappling with that reality for about 60 years.

The couple hadn’t abandoned their sons, and they were very much involved in their lives. Burland, whose 30-something sister with five children had recently become delusional – “it was a mess,” Burland said – wondered how she could achieve anything approaching serenity. She remembers the sight of that couple as “a guiding moment.”

A clinical psychologist, Burland would go on to write a 12-week course for families of people with mental illness, which is used across the United States, and in Mexico and Italy. Her course, called Family-To-Family or F2F, is intended to move people from panic and struggle to living in relative peace with a long-term, debilitating illness.

“Our job is to move the illness to a factor in families’ lives, not the only fact, so they can live with joy and spontaneity while undertaking a really long job,” said Burland, who is now the national director of the Education, Training and Peer Education Support Center for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The organization advocates for individuals and families affected by mental illness.

The success of Burland’s program, which has served about 375,000 people since its start in 1991, made me wonder whether it could help people living with another arduous, life-long problem: addiction. Last year, 442 people died of opiate overdoses on Long Island – a record, up from 403 a year earlier. This is a battle we are losing to heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl.

People in the anti-drug community on Long Island say they have support groups, but nothing as extensive as F2F. Burland agreed that her program could be useful for families coping with addiction – not as a replacement for something else, but as one more tool. More »

Obama turns to African-American issues in his home stretch

May 6th, 2016

Just as Attorney General Loretta Lynch rounded her first anniversary as the nation’s top law-enforcement officer, she was on a national tour to promote her plan to help integrate people with criminal records back into society. As her weeklong tour stopped at the Talladega Federal Correctional Institution in Alabama a week ago, she joked to a group of inmates in a substance abuse treatment program that one of the benefits of being attorney general is “you get to pick a week – and name it something.”

And that she did. Last week was the country’s inaugural Lynch-titled “National Reentry Week.” The Department of Justice issued policies intended to lower barriers to finding jobs, housing, education and treatment for people who’ve served time, been on probation, or who have an arrest in their past.

The AG’s initiative doesn’t address race, which was the right judgment. But to the extent that people of color are disproportionately enmeshed in the criminal justice system, Lynch’s action is an important call for broader civil rights. She picked up the Obama administration’s baton to make it easier for people with records to overcome stigma and bias.

During this presidential campaign, our nation is wrestling with the impact of the 1994 crime bill, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, which resulted in mass incarceration, particularly of black Americans. The prison population rose 628 percent between 1970 and 2005, and black men account for more than 37 percent of the total population. President Barack Obama is using his final months in office – a time of relative freedom for a sitting president – to cement his legacy and to address issues of particular interest to African Americans.

“Yes, more people of color will be affected, because more are pulled into an unfair justice system,” said Monique Dixon, deputy policy director and senior counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, a leading civil rights law organization. More »

Bernie Sanders pushes cost-of-college debate to 2016 mainstream

April 21st, 2016

Bernie Sanders supportersWhen Hillary Clinton won big Tuesday in New York’s Democratic primary, she said it’s not enough to diagnose problems, one must have a way to solve them. Her swipe at Sen. Bernie “Free College” Sanders echoed what she told Newsday’s editorial board last week, when members asked whether she’s disappointed that young women aren’t more thrilled by the ceiling-shattering prospect of her candidacy for president.

Clinton responded that young people were “excited by something new and that is a little different and a little revolutionary and promises free college.”

Aha. The price of a college education is front and center in this campaign in a way it never has been before. Democrats like Clinton and Sanders are speaking to their party’s left-most wing, which wants answers. And once the GOP names its candidate, it’s a good bet that he will have to answer the question, too.

Whether Sanders’ “free” college is really free or practical, he has at least put this issue on the front burner. As a country, we have an obligation to take down barriers to people making better lives for themselves. American history, as Sanders often points out, shows that we have traditionally valued education as a public good – not something people should be priced out of. Let’s return to that inspired impulse. More »

Gay Talese had no female role models? How about these women journalists….

April 7th, 2016

Journalist. News confrence.

When I was in my 20s, a friend challenged me about the books I was reading. He said, they’re all by women authors. Do women (like me) only like to read works written by women?

I thought of this when I heard about the conference on narrative journalism at Boston University last weekend and the ruckus caused by keynote speaker Gay Talese, a pioneer in importing storytelling techniques from fiction to enliven magazine and newspaper writing. Asked whether there are female writers he admires, Talese told the room of about 600 men and women, no, there were none.

He has since said he misunderstood the question, and he thought the questioner was asking whether there were women journalists who had inspired him in his youth. Talese is 84, and it’s true that female journalists in the 1950s were more rare.

Still, his response, while perhaps candid, lacked grace. The greenest of public speaking consultants could have told him to pivot and answer the question as if it were phrased, is there anyone you admire today?

Talese might have mentioned journalist and screenwriter Nora Ephron, author of “When Harry Met Sally.” In a documentary about her life, “Everything Is Copy,” by her son Jacob Bernstein, Talese lavished praise on Ephron, specifically for the phase of her career as a magazine journalist.

Perhaps Talese isn’t as nimble onstage as when he has time to reflect. But I can still manage a pivot. Here is my own list of great women journalists who have influenced me. More »

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