“Life coaching” for the poor?

What if the poor need more than disposable income to escape poverty? What if they need a life coach?

According to Slate.com, “That’s the position of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, who in his new anti-poverty plan wants poor families to work with government agencies or charitable nonprofits to craft “life plans” as a condition of receiving federal assistance under his proposed “opportunity grants.” “In the envisioned scenario providers would work with families to design a customized life plan to provide a structured roadmap out of poverty,” Ryan writes. At a minimum, these life plans would include “a contract outlining specific and measurable benchmarks for success,” a “timeline” for meeting them, “sanctions” for breaking them, “incentives for exceeding the terms of the contract,” and “time limits”—presumably independent of actual program limits—for “remaining on cash assistance.”

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Mental illness and life expectancy

According to Oxford University researchers, about one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem sometime during the year, while fewer than that smoke cigarettes — around 21 percent of men and 19 precent of women.images

PsychCentral reports that “Many mental disorders have a higher mortality risk than smoking. Yet despite these statistics, say the researchers, mental health still lags behind as a public health priority, especially compared to smoking.

“The study, published in the journal World Psychiatry, was based on the best systematic reviews of clinical studies reporting mortality risk for a whole range of diagnoses: mental health problems, substance and alcohol abuse, dementia, autistic spectrum disorders, learning disability, and childhood behavioral disorders.Twenty review papers were identified, including over 1.7 million individuals and over 250,000 deaths.

“The findings showed that the average reduction in life expectancy inbipolar patients is between nine and 20 years, 10 to 20 years forschizophrenia, between nine and 24 years for drug and alcohol abuse, and around seven to 11 years for recurrent depression. The loss of years among heavy smokers is eight to 10 years.

“People with mental health problems are among the most vulnerable in society. This work emphasizes how crucial it is that they have access to appropriate healthcare and advice, which is not always the case,” said Dr. John Williams, head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust.

“We now have strong evidence that mental illness is just as threatening to life expectancy as other public health threats such as smoking.”

All diagnoses had an increase in early death, though the size of the risk varied greatly. Many had risks equivalent to or higher than heavy smoking. Continue reading “Mental illness and life expectancy”

Life coaches for the wealthy

IN 2005, Ali Riaz, then president of a search technology company that would eventually be sold to Microsoft, was having dinner with one of his board members when he admitted that he was struggling with managing everything that running a fast-growing, cutting-edge company entailed, as reported in the New York Times.images-1

“I said, ‘I feel like there must be a better way to deal with the inflow of pressure,’ ” Mr. Riaz said. “Kids getting bigger, parents getting older, business is growing — just using hard work and natural-born talents was getting hard. I wondered if there were techniques I could use.” The board member suggested he get a coach and offered to make an introduction. Mr. Riaz, a smart, driven entrepreneur, thought this was a horrible idea.

“I was a little like, I don’t need a psychologist, buddy,” he said. “We Type A entrepreneurs don’t talk about this kind of stuff. We solve problems and push ahead.” Mr. Riaz quickly saw that she had some insight into how entrepreneurs think and how to help them. “I realized at the end of our first conversation that in order to work with her meant work,” he said. “In my 25-hour day of work, I realized I didn’t have time to work with her.” A few months later, he changed his mind.

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Caregivers live longer

The common wisdom in the fields of medicine and social work has held that those who care for a long-term seriously disabled person have their lives shortened as a consequence. Compensating anecdotes are often rendered about increased empathy, fulfillment, and so on. But the overriding narrative is generally rather grim.

Now a new study tells the opposite story, as reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology: a large new study shows that caregivers live as long or longer than non-caregivers, although the kind of care (which seems crucial in such a discussion) it not directly discussed in the abstract available online.

“Previous studies have provided conflicting evidence on whether being a family caregiver is associated with increased or decreased risk for all-cause mortality. This study examined whether 3,503 family caregivers enrolled in the national Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) Study showed differences in all-cause mortality from 2003 to 2012 compared with a propensity-matched sample of non-caregivers. Caregivers were individually matched with 3,503 non-caregivers by using a propensity score matching procedure based on 15 demographic, health history, and health behavior covariates.

“During an average 6-year follow-up period, 264 (7.5%) of the caregivers died, which was significantly fewer than the 315 (9.0%) matched noncaregivers who died during the same period. A proportional hazards model indicated that caregivers had an 18% reduced rate of death compared with non-caregivers (hazard ratio = 0.823, 95% confidence interval: 0.699, 0.969). Subgroup analyses by race, sex, caregiving relationship, and caregiving strain failed to identify any subgroups with increased rates of death compared with matched non-caregivers. Continue reading “Caregivers live longer”

Robots stole my life

“The robots are coming! Word is they want your job, your life and probably your little dog, too.” This is how a piece by Catherine Rampell begins in yesterday’s New York Times. This is hardly a new worry, as the piece continues to discuss:

“Robots have once again gripped the nation’s imagination, stoking fears of displaced jobs and perhaps even a displaced human race. An alarmist segment on “60 Minutes’ was only the most vivid of a recent series of pieces in respected magazines and newsoutlets warning about widespread worker displacement.Professors at Cambridge University and a co-founder of Skype

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are creating a newCenter for the Study of Existential Risk, which would research a ‘Terminator’-like scenario in which supercomputers rise up and destroy their human overlords, presumably plotting the whole caper in zeros and ones.

“In New York alone, there are four plays running this month with themes of cybernetics run amok. One is a revival of ‘R.U.R.,’ a 1920 Czech play that was the granddaddy of the cybernetic revolt genre and that originated the current meaning of the word “robot.” Continue reading “Robots stole my life”

Fewer chainsaws in award season

imgres-1Conventional wisdom has held that the entertainment industry has largely caved in to a teenage market demanding superficial thriller movies of the “chainsaw” variety.

But it seems that award season is painting a different picture.

Not a chainsaw was visible at the Golden Globes. And this year’s Oscar nominations seem to be going the same way. Leading Academy Award contenders like “Lincoln,” “Les Miserables,”and “Life of Pi” represent both a more serious tone and show a refreshing diversity further manifest in leading nominees like “Silver Lining Playbook” and “Amour.” A.O. Scott remarks on this trend in the year’s movies in a recent article briefly excerpted below, observing  that “ the Academy’s choices confirmed that 2012 was not just a strong year for movies, but also for precisely the kind of movies that are supposed to be nearly obsolete.” Continue reading “Fewer chainsaws in award season”

Better life for the kids? Who knows?

American polling is a funny business, especially at a time when that nation seems unable to make up its mind on just about anything.

Today the Gallup organization reported that Americans have no idea whether their children will be better off in the future or not. According to Gallup,

“Americans are evenly divided about whether it is likely (49%) or unlikely (50%) that the next generation of youth in the country will have a better life than their parents. That is a slightly more positive assessment than in early 2011, when the slight majority, 55%, thought it was unlikely the next generation would achieve this goal.imgres

“Still, views today remain depressed compared with 2008 Continue reading “Better life for the kids? Who knows?”

Life-hacking: Saying thank-you

If you’re not familiar with the phrase, “life-hacking” is a tech savvy term for something between productivity enhancement and self-help. What follows is a an item highlighted in the recent post of lifehacker.com, originally appearing in the Harvard Business Review, on the importance and strategic value (it’s business, after all) of saying “thanks.”

“John, the CEO of a sales organization, sent an email to Tim, an employee several levels below, to compliment him on his performance in a recent meeting. Tim did not respond to the email.

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“About a week later, he was in John’s office applying for an open position that would have been a promotion into a management role, when John asked him whether he had received the email. Yes, Tim said, he had. Why, John asked, hadn’t he responded? Tim said he didn’t see the need.

“But Tim was wrong. John’s email deserved, at the very least, a ‘thank you.’ Continue reading “Life-hacking: Saying thank-you”