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Archive for November, 2010

I got back yesterday from the QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program which was held in Brisbane. It was a very intense experience, and one of my fellow retreaters, Rebecca Freeborn, has written a post on her blog about the details.

One of the main highlights of the program for me was the opportunity to have time with publisher Vanessa Radnidge from Hachette Australia, who had read my full manuscript. Getting feedback from someone in the industry was absolutely fantastic. I also had feedback from two other industry professionals who had read the first 50 pages of my manuscript: author Kim Wilkins, and literary agent Benython Oldfield from Zeitgeist Media Group.

One theme that came up for me was that the subject matter of my novel may be too difficult to get published as it is confronting and sad. That’s not to say it’s impossible of course, but it may be a challenge. In one discussion, I was asked to think about potentially changing  my story so that there is a different outcome for one of characters which would make the novel have a happier ending. This is something I’ve thought long and hard about. It would change much of the second half of my novel, which in a selfish way means a lot more work. I also worry that in doing so, I collude with society in avoiding talking about the potential tragedies of mental illness.

However, if it makes my work more palatable to publishers, is it worth it if it allows me to bring up the issues of perinatal mental health issues and start a conversation about them? It has certainly given me something to think about. For now, I will continue editing the first half and backstory of my novel and let my subconscious work through it.

The other highlight for me was meeting six other writers at the same stage of their careers as me, and hearing readings from each of their work. While we are all writing quite different manuscripts, I was amazed by the quality of their work, and was proud to be sitting amongst them. It gave me a real sense of validation as an emerging writer. So thanks to Rebecca, Rebekah, Charlotte, Heather, Alison and Darryl (as well as, of course, Queensland Writers Centre, Hachette, and the individuals who gave up their time to work with us.)

The challenge now is to keep that momentum and inspiration going. I have given myself an absolute deadline of 6 months to have the manuscript redrafted and polished, ready to resubmit. And there’s nothing like a deadline to make me work.

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I don’t often link to other blog posts, but I have just read this one on writing and depression by James Bradley, on his City of Tongues blog (it was published in Griffith Review Edition 23: Essentially Creative). I think it is fascinating reading for not only writers, but also mental health professionals and those who have suffered from mental illness. I think he uses his skills as a writer to very eloquently and clearly discuss his own experience both of depression and recovery.

Definitely worth a read.

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I just wanted to say thanks to nursingschool.net who have listed this blog as one of ’50 Excellent Therapists Who Blog” which can be found here. It’s also been helpful for me to find a list of some other therapists who write blogs, and I’ll certainly be reading a few of them!

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I am delighted to introduce a guest blog post by Dr Philip Tam, a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist based in Sydney, Australia. Philip has an interest in ‘internet addiction’  in young people, and has appeared in the media discussing this subject. He has written a fantastic post below. Please do comment: it would be great to get a discussion going on this controversial topic…

Problematic Internet Use – A 21st-Century Affliction?

In recent months, there has been much interest in the Australian media and in the broader public about the modern phenomenon of ‘problematic internet use’, or internet addiction as it commonly termed. In my own clinical practice, and that of some colleagues, we have been seeing young people – generally male, but often female – presenting to us for about the past 5 or 6 years; it may come as a surprise that the first ‘cases’ of problematic internet use, or PIU, were being described in the psychiatric literature back in 1996 in the USA. As with other modern-day afflictions with a ‘pop-cultural’ element, such as ‘sex addiction’ and ‘shopping addiction’, there is heated debate within my profession as to whether this a real mental condition, deserving of diagnosis, research and treatment, or simply a form of human behaviour responding to the huge changes brought about by the ‘internet revolution’ of the past 2 decades. Diagnosing a mental condition requires a concise definition, so here is one suggestion : PIU is the pervasive, long-term and heavy use by a person of internet and computer-based technologies, including gaming, which is out of keeping with one’s educational, social or occupational role, and which results in a clinically significant negative impact on schooling, work, relationships or general well-being and health.

As a colleague of Dr. D, and also as another ‘Psychiatrist Parent’, I’d like to start a new discussion thread about this issue if anyone is interested. I’d be keen to hear of anyone’s clinical experience with the condition, or even if they could share any personal/ family experience of the problem! As I note below, we still don’t know much about the phenomenon, let alone how best to address it, and the best way is to listen to people’s own stories.

The 3 questions I am most commonly asked by concerned families, other clinicians, or media commentators are: How extensive is the problem in Australia? How do we recognise the signs of a problem in a teenager or young adult? What can be done to assist these people? Unfortunately, the short answer is: we don’t really know. While formal research has been done for some years in China, South Korea and the USA, Australia appears to lag behind in investigating the issue at a ‘population-based’ level. Good quality surveys are expensive, time-consuming and require major commitment, a situation which has affected attempts to investigate mental conditions such as depression and anxiety in the Australian community. And, as some readers will know, there is currently no official recognition of PIU in the ‘bible’ of psychiatry and classification, the DSM-IV – though it is possible it may be included in the 5th edition, due to come out in 2012.

I am also well aware that many sceptical members of the public may accuse clinicians such as myself of scare-mongering, or indeed of disease-mongering, and that the issue is primarily one about personal responsibility and common-sense, and decent, firm parenting. I must state unequivocally that I agree that, for most people with problems spending too much time online, it is about better time-management and discipline; however, there is a small percentage (probably around 5% of regular users), who do tip into true PIU as defined above, and who often do not recognise that they have a problem. Analogous to other disorders of impulse-control such as pathological gambling and alcoholism, the sufferers themselves often are oblivious that they have a problem; it is concerned family members or their teachers who refer them to specialists. Since clients with more severe PIU are at risk of dropping out of school, affecting their physical health, or losing their job, it would be unethical not to address their problems in a professional manner. In my personal experience, the key to successful treatment is getting the client to fully recognise that they have a problem – what we term ‘gaining insight’.

Clearly, the internet has brought about immense changes in human society, affecting business, recreation, education and science; it is almost impossible now to imagine going through daily life without the great benefits that it has given us. However, there are clearly a few less-desirable effects of this revolution, and since technology is likely to continue to expand rapidly, and in ways we cannot yet imagine, we need an open, active and informed debate as to how we best manage these issues! Thanks for any input you can provide.

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