Monday, 27 January 2014

Fighting the Stigma of Mental Illness

One in five Canadians will suffer some form of mental illness during their lifetime. Nevertheless, fighting the stigma of mental illness is an ongoing battle in which victory is long overdue.  Research shows that:

  • Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague.
  • Mental illness affects people of all ages, educational and income levels, and cultures.
  • Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.
  • Anxiety disorders affect 5% of the household population, causing mild to severe impairment.
  • Almost one half (49%) of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem.
  • Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds.
  • Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age.
  • The mortality rate due to suicide among men is four times the rate among women.
 (Statistics are from the Canadian Mental Health Association's "Fast Facts about Mental Illness" at

We can start to help those affected by mental illness by debunking the myths associated with it. For example, many adolescents (and adults) think that depression is just part of “growing up” and will disappear on its own, but we need to appreciate instead that depression may be a life-long challenge. The Kids Help Phone helps youths who are suffering from depression, anxiety, disordered eating, and other mental health concerns or who just need someone to listen to them. The telephone number for the helpline in Canada is 1-800-668-6868. 

One of the underlying causes of depression and suicide in adolescents is bullying.  This topic is finally receiving national attention, and there are numerous resources available.  The Kids Help Phone website at has extensive information on this subject and also has a bullying forum where teens can post questions. In addition, many websites now provide resources to combat bullying, including incident reporting for schools.  See, for example,

In Canada, there are also numerous other Internet and local resources for those of all ages seeking help. For a list of crisis intervention resources in the province of Ontario, please visit For further information and to locate the chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association nearest to you, please visit the Canadian Mental Health Association website at

Tomorrow, on January 28, 2014, Bell Canada is sponsoring its fourth annual “Let's Talk” Day. The four pillars of the Let's Talk initiative are anti-stigma; care and access; workplace health; and research. To download a complete copy of the "Let's Talk" toolkit, please visit Join the campaign tomorrow to end the stigma and contribute to mental health research by talking, tweeting, and texting. The toolkit provides you with the details.

Mental health is a global concern.  Please check your Internet and local resources if you live outside Canada.

Let's help put a human face on this suffering and end the silence.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Tell Me If This Hurts

Over the years, I've had a lot of dentists: ones who piped in music; others who showed videos of an aging James Taylor; and still others who had "new age" ceiling tiles that you could stare at while you were in the chair.

But as you're sitting captive in that chair--your thoughts free-ranging--you recognize that there is nothing quite like a visit to the dentist's office to put things in perspective. Here, then, are some of my more profound observations while sitting in "the chair":

Why is the receptionist so friendly? Is she in denial?

Why are the magazines all two years out of date? Who reads old women's magazines?

Who feeds the fish in the aquarium? Why do they even have an aquarium? What about an office cat or dog to pat to lower your blood pressure?

Why do they always ask you how you are after they put their instruments in your mouth? Do dental hygienists learn a special language to communicate with their patients? And, speaking of dental hygienists, how can a woman who probably weighs less than 110 pounds inflict such a world of pain?

Why do they say "tell me if this hurts" after your gums are already bleeding?

Why do you have to pay someone an exorbitant amount to inflict pain on you if you're not a masochist?

Why does the dentist look like the guy in Marathon Man?

I had one dentist whose Yellow Page ad read: "We cater to cowards." He got you to rate your fear on a scale of one to ten. I think I'm a ten. . .

Monday, 13 January 2014

Can a Computer Algorithm Predict the Success of Books?

The Guardian reports that an assistant professor at Stony Brook University in New York claims to have created an algorithm that uses a quantitative approach to predict literary success with an accuracy rate of 84 per cent. The researchers used Project Gutenberg to identify works (poetry was also included); analyzed the literary style of the first one thousand lines of each work; and correlated the results with the number of downloads the title had received. They then identified the stylistic elements in the successful writings. They also applied their analysis to titles outside the Gutenberg database, such as works by Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Philip Roth, and Dan Brown, and were able to predict successful writings at a rate of 70 per cent. (Their system was apparently confused by Hemingway's minimalist style because the algorithm depends on a "high-level syntactic structure".)

In terms of their findings, the less successful books rely on verbs that are "explicitly descriptive of actions and emotions", whereas more successful books contain straightforward verbs such as "say". The less successful books also contain a higher percentage of verbs, adverbs, and foreign words; topical words that are almost clich├ęs; and extreme and negative words.

The study also found that there is an inverse relation between "success" as defined by the attainment of literary awards and the "readability" of a work.
For the full text of the article from The Guardian, please click here.

If you're interested in reading the academic paper itself, please click here.

Monday, 6 January 2014

New Crime Fiction for 2014

  The Crime Fiction Lover has published a list of the first new crime novels of 2014. Included in the list is Sam Eastland's The Beast in the Red Forest, which is the fifth novel in the series featuring Inspector Pekkala, a Russian cop. The British author Ann Cleeves has a new novel entitled Harbour Street, which features Vera Stanhope. This character has also been re-created in a UK television series. For those who like the thrillers of Clive Cussler, his ninth novel in the Oregon File series (Oregon being a spy ship) entitled Mirage has been released. And last but not least, the Maigret novel entitled The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien by Georges Simenon has been re-published by Penguin. (For my post on the Penguin re-publication project, please click here.)

For the full text of the Crime Fiction Lover article, please click here.

And if you missed my Open Investigations blog on new reading for the holiday, please click here.