Mental Health Awareness Month is Insane

Dr. Keith Ablow

Mental Health Awareness Month is Insane

May 4, 2022

It is Mental Health Awareness Month.  That is insane.  We’re just gladhanding one another, while avoiding the real diagnosis:  We’ve been so pathetically behind bringing people up to speed on recognizing and treating scourges like depression and anxiety that there is a massive epidemic of suicide gripping the nation, while hospitals and outpatient clinics remain fractured to the point of absurdity in delivering treatments that can save lives—like IV ketamine infusions, transcranial magnetic stimulation, expert psychopharmacology and high-level psychotherapy.

The fact is that while we talk about “awareness,” any individual in the United States struggling with symptoms of mental illness should be “aware,” of this:  You will need to take immediate charge of your own treatment, in order to defeat the symptoms plaguing you.  Unless you have lots of money to spend and great motivation to find a psychiatrist worthy of spending it on, no one will serve in the role of dedicated director of the care you need.

Why?  For one thing, the number of well-trained mental health professionals—and here I mean, experts, not hacks—is woefully inadequate to meet the need.  Psychiatrists have been coerced into being “medication visit” doctors who profit from seeing 30 patients a day, 15 minutes at a time, and who routinely fail to see patients as entire people who need a comprehensive approach to healing their disorders.  The same is now true for psychiatric nurse practitioners.  That leaves the gripping, intellectually and emotionally demanding work of deciphering the psychological roots of discontent, anxiety or delusions like paranoia to psychologists (some of whom are also now empowered to prescribe medications at the drop of a hat) or mental health counselors, some of whom have no more than a high school education and a modicum of training, thereafter. 

Secondly, mental health professionals turn out to be passive go-along-to-get-alongers, not incisive self-starters.  If you don’t ask about the newest ways to treat your depression or anxiety or attention-deficit disorder, they will probably take the path of least resistance and not bring it up.  It’s less work, frankly, to refill your medicines and lend an ear to listen to your suffering, than to do what is needed to defeat that suffering.

Thirdly, mental health professionals turn out to be scared of anything new.  That’s right. Scared.  While oncologists might embrace the “right to try” law that makes experimental drugs available as a last-ditch option to cancer patients with dire prognoses, psychiatrists won’t even routinely embrace the use, for instance, of ketamine, which has proven miraculous in defeating mental illness.  They have been far too slow to lobby for the use of psilocybin, despite the fact that it can be life-saving.  And they have been too frightened to push back against the DEA on being completely free to use opiates like the pain reliever Tramadol to treat depression, even though it works in a huge percentage of cases.

Fourth, no political will really exists to change all this.  If it did, you wouldn’t have insurance companies dictating lengths of stay for patients in inpatient units (which they do) and you wouldn’t have them lobbying emergency room clinicians to send patients on the edge of life and death back home because they “contract for safety.”  Imagine how well it would go over to have insurance companies sending cardiac patients home, unless they were likely to die within the next 24 hours.  That’s what will be happening, in emergency rooms all over America today.

The truth is that America doesn’t deserve to observe a Mental Health Awareness Month because we won’t really lift a finger to save lives devastated by mental illness this month or any other month.  We could win the whole battle, but we won’t even join it.

Dr. Keith Ablow

Turning on the Part of You that Turns the Key

Dr. Keith Ablow

Turning on the Part of You that Turns the Key

April 29, 2022

We all know it:  There’s cruising along and then there’s truly going for it.  And it takes an actual decision to switch gears and engage all 12 cylinders of your mental engine.

The cruising along mindset is the way you feel, mindset-wise, when you’re attending a meeting, and you know that you’re really not the one presenting and won’t likely be called upon to offer key insights.  It’s that feeling you may have had when you were in grade school, and another student was the one sharing her project for the next hour, or the teacher announced that he was going to show a movie.  You didn’t walk out. You didn’t fall asleep. But you weren’t laser-beam focused, either.  You felt “free” to glide through what you were listening to or watching, because the material “wouldn’t be on the test.”

Truly going for it, mindset-wise, feels much more like “digging in.”  You can feel it, as you lean into a meeting or really put yourself out there stating an opinion or really devote yourself to a project.  It’s what people mean when they say, “He really brought it.”  

The interesting thing about digging in or leaning in or bringing it is that you can, as I said, decide to do it.  It’s often a conscious choice, rather than a reflex.  You have to call yourself to action, metaphorically make sure that you’re attacking a problem, not just listening to it as a passive observer.  You have to talk yourself into igniting your energy and channeling it in a particular direction.

Here’s an example:  When I give speeches, I tell myself that it has to be a speech that leaves the audience changed, in an important way.  They have to be moved to question things they thought were for sure, or be brought to tears by stories that speak to them at a basic, human level, or get angry because I have very starkly stated something controversial that I deeply believe to be true.  I tell myself that members of my audience are giving me an hour of their time, and that it has to be a really important hour that they remember for a very long time.

Talking to myself in that way—with intention—is a way of immunizing myself from cruising along or “calling it in.”  The self-dialogue triggers neurological circuitry that is “listening” for real marching orders.  And whether through increased activity of norepinephrine or epinephrine or dopamine, those orders translate into more brain activity in brain pathways related to attention and intention.

That circuitry exists in all of us, by the way, but we should use it more.  It won’t ever get used up.  Using it, in fact, will only replenish its power.  

Whatever project or presentation or relationship you are actualizing, I wouldn’t assume that your brain will burn rubber at the starting line and race forward to the win, however many laps away.  You have to tell it too.  Because your brain is actually listening to you.

Dr. Keith Ablow

Begin at the Last Possible Moment

Dr. Keith Ablow

Begin at the Last Possible Moment

April 27, 2022

Before I had published my novels, I was lucky to hire a writing coach named Gary Provost.  One of Gary’s powerful pieces of advice was to begin at the last possible moment.  By this, he meant that novels shouldn’t begin with meandering paragraphs talking about rolling hills, the weather or even the main character’s profession.  They should start with action.  The main character gets a phone call.  The voice on the other end of the line says, “Dude, everything has changed.  We have to meet.”

That’s beginning at the last possible moment.  Everything has changed.  It’s urgent.  It gets your attention.  Why?  For one thing, human beings understand that massive shifts in the plot of a story—sometimes dramatically positive shifts, even life-changing shifts, can and do occur.  And they often occur suddenly, when the characters in stories least expect them.  

Here’s the most important point:  You are that character.  And the sudden shift in the plot can mean that anything or everything suddenly turns in your direction.  You won’t see it coming.  An opportunity visits you that you could never have predicted, or you fall in love, or you’re called upon to help out a friend when no one else can deliver, or your mood and energy rises when you’ve been battling depression, or you get a job you only dreamed of, or you finally sell that movie script after 100 rejection letters, or you find God, or you find yourSELF.  

You can begin, all over, again at the last possible moment.

Why would Gary Provost have given me the advice he gave me?  It certainly isn’t because no one reading a novel would ever will believe it if a riveting event changes everything for the main character in a story.  It’s because people know, deep in their hearts, that that is the way things happen in life.  They see the story as authentic, not inauthentic, when something unexpected spins the action in a whole new direction.  They see it as true to life.

It can be hard to believe that when you’re down, when you’ve lost a friend, when you’ve lost someone you love, when you’ve lost a fortune or when you’ve lost your way.  But I’m here to tell you that you should never lose hope.  Not ever.  Because your true-life story—and the best chapter of all—can begin at the last possible moment, too.

Wait for it.  Watch for it.  That’s sometimes all you can convince yourself to do.  And that’s going to be enough.  Just keep your eyes open in the dark long enough, and I promise you that you will see the light.

Dr. Keith Ablow

Dr Keith Ablow Art

Dr. Keith Ablow

Dr Keith Ablow Art

April 18, 2022

Project Prescription

Artist’s Statement

For decades, I have worked with individual clients to help them bring the truths about their lives into focus and to use those truths to become more loving and more POWERFUL. I believe the same lens I use in the healing art of counseling can be trained on our culture, in a search for insights that will move human beings toward bold thought and action. I reject the notion that counselors, therapists, life coaches, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists should only listen. I think we have a lot to say, given all we have been privileged to hear. If only, I have thought in lighthearted moments, I could write prescriptions to reflect deeply—the way clients will sit back in my office and wrestle with questions I have asked—then perhaps many people could be coaxed a bit closer to living with passion and purpose.

​PROJECT PRESCRIPTION is my way of harnessing the power of prescription writing and the power of art and media to make people think, make them debate (even with themselves) and bring them closer to their heartfelt beliefs, whether those beliefs be in perfect accord with the prescriptions I have written, or in direct opposition to them.

The prescriptions are written large because they are based on large ideas and ideals. They are ones I am willing to shout. I cannot easily step away from them once they exist, nor, I hope, can those who will come into contact with them.

Dr. Keith Ablow

A Pain-2-Power Easter and Passover Message From Dr. Keith Ablow

Dr. Keith Ablow

A Pain-2-Power Easter and Passover Message From Dr. Keith Ablow

April 16, 2022

Since I started, many people have asked me whether there are parallels between God’s teachings and the field of psychiatry psychology. In the end, I believe the two things are very nearly one, but I understand why the question would be raised.

Psychiatry, in its late 20th and 21st century incarnations, has focused a great deal on defining the 300 or so disorders that populate our Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV-TR) and matching medications (which often work) to each diagnosis.

The field has also been understandably intrigued by the promise of new technologies like Positron Emission Tomography, which produces a multi-colored map of metabolism in different areas of the brain, and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, in which powerful magnetic pulses are directed at areas of the brain thought to be involved in major depression, relieving symptoms in many people.

The key truths that people must seek out are those elements of self that define them as individuals—who they really, truly, finally and irrevocably are, deep inside.

Dr. Keith Ablow

Psychology has always had at its core a focus on administering people lengthy examinations designed to evaluate their personality characteristics and mood states and compare the to statistical norms. Cognitive behavioral therapy—in which specific habits and the thoughts associated with them are analyzed and reworked—has been touted as particularly relevant to treating conditions like major depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. And, psychologists, too, noticing how powerful medications can be, and how well we mental health professionals can be reimbursed for dispensing them, have sought prescribing privileges.

With this focus on classification, technology, statistics and medication, it would be easy to lose sight of the heart and soul of psychiatry and psychology, which has always been just this: People suffer to the extent that they are removed from the truth. People are healed to the extent that they embrace it, no matter the cost.

The key truths that people must seek out are those elements of self that define them as individuals—who they really, truly, finally and irrevocably are, deep inside. And in order to do that, they must rid themselves (with the psychiatrist or psychologist’s help) of illusions about all manner of forces that have distracted them and made them afraid, including traumatic experiences from childhood that made them worry about how punishing the world can be, as well as relationships with others who convinced them to abandon their deeply held beliefs or interests.

They must, essentially, reawaken some of what they were born with—the God-given, inexplicable, ultimately undefeatable capacity to move in the direction of their own, unique interests, abilities, beliefs and dreams.

People suffer to the extent that they are removed from the truth. People are healed to the extent that they embrace it, no matter the cost.

Dr. Keith Ablow

This is why the image of Christ on the cross is such a powerful one—in my mind—for psychiatrists and psychologists to keep in mind.

Christ doesn’t give up his core self for anything.

He doesn’t surrender it even when he is in terrible pain on the cross, wondering if he is totally alone.

He doesn’t pretend that those who have hated him for his beliefs are his friends.

He doesn’t fool himself into thinking that they love him.

He doesn’t down three scotches because of the gathering storm that will take his life. He doesn’t eat himself into oblivion.

He doesn’t change his appearance at the plastic surgeon’s office in order to avoid his persecutors or reality.

He doesn’t inject himself with heroin to kill the pain in his hands.

He doesn’t Tweet nonsense about his daily routine to people who say they’ll follow him when they really won’t and never intended to, anyhow.

He doesn’t even let hatred for his oppressors, in the final moments of his life on earth, cloud his vision of who he is and why he has come here.

This is precisely what is required of people who really want to find themselves. Because the way we lose ourselves is by turning away from realities that seemed too painful to bear as we grew up: people who insisted we abandon our feelings, our sense of right and wrong, our talents, our opinions, our most heartfelt goals, our likes and dislikes, our hopes for unconditional love.

This giving up of self is what causes all the suffering. It causes us to be depressed. It causes us to be anxious and panic. It causes us to seek all manner of self-defeating distraction. It even causes us to hear voices and see visions generated by our own thoughts boomeranging back to us as hallucinations because we have denied them an audience in our conscience minds. They’re too threatening, so we disown them, and then they own us.

In this way, psychiatrists and psychologists who embrace insight-oriented psychotherapy are shepherds bringing people back to what was inside them all along—from the moment they were born: Clarity, courage, compassion. And that is enough. That is always enough.

The fact that Christ is resurrected is a powerful fact for anyone seeking to restore themselves to well-being—to life. Because in order to achieve a spiritual or psychological rebirth (one in the same, if you ask me), you must be willing to abandon all the psychological defenses that have kept you from seeing your life story for what it has been. That is including the fact that some people you very much hoped would love you did not love you. That your hopes that the world would be predictable were dashed by unexpected losses. That you followed paths that felt easier when your real path would have been truer, but much harder, and that you are mortal and will have to say goodbye to everything and everyone you truly love, which should only immeasurably enhance your very love of those things and those people.

You have to be willing to die to live.

Happy Easter and Happy Passover, My Friends.

Dr. Keith Ablow

Air Force Refueling Tanker Size Matters – PJ Media

Dr. Keith Ablow

Air Force Refueling Tanker Size Matters – PJ Media

April 14, 2022

Psychological principles are the key to understanding any story—whether the story of a person, a business or a new technology.  In the piece that follows, I use them to address product development and deployment in the arena of military equipment where form and function are optimized by the same psychological calculus as products of every kind.  

If you have a business, I can help you see through to the psychology that can fuel it, in the best possible way (in this article, quite literally).

You Probably Don’t Know—Yet—How Strong You Are

Dr. Keith Ablow

You Probably Don’t Know—Yet—How Strong You Are

April 11, 2022

It is a remarkable quality of human beings that our strength is only visible when required.  The human mind and soul isn’t like the human body.  We don’t, of course, develop emotional muscles that telegraph to others (or reflect back to ourselves) how powerful we might be amidst adversity.  The evidence for that only comes during hardship.  But, having listened now to thousands of life stories and been privileged to work to optimize so many, I am convinced that vast reservoirs of strength remain untapped in countless individuals—very likely, including you. 

Each individual’s resume of personal power only gets written as life challenges that person.  The greater the challenges, the bolder the print on the resume.  Those are the entries that end up defining who we really are and stand as evidence, after we leave this earth, as to who we really were.

It is natural that human beings don’t invite pain and suffering upon themselves.  But many of us place ourselves in harm’s way, willingly, whether fully understanding the enormity of the risks, or not.  That’s true of anyone who serves in the military.  It’s true of firefighters and police officers and paramedics and doctors and nurses.  It’s true of those who stand up, against resistance, for what they believe in.  

Yet, aren’t we all in harm’s way?  And aren’t we all, therefore, writing lines of our Pain2Power resume’s, day after day, year after year?  Of course, we are.  When we have children and expose yourself to letting them go forth into this unpredictable, sometimes cruel world, you’re putting yourself in harm’s way.  When you invite a dog into your life, knowing full well that you are likely to grieve its loss, you are putting yourself in harm’s way.  When you tell someone you love him or her and risk that love being unrequited, or only temporarily shared, you put yourself in harm’s way. 

You probably don’t know yet how strong you are yet, even though you will find out.  Life tests all of us—again, and again.  No one completes the journey unscathed or unscarred.  So it is worth realizing that, underneath it all, tested or not, you are made of strong stuff—of steel.  Because if you suspect it, even before you know it, you can achieve remarkable things, stand for what you believe in, resist giving in to temptation or timidity and meet your greatest destiny head on.

You don’t need to wonder about your strength any more than you need to wonder whether your heart is beating at this moment.  But if you take your pulse, your heartbeat is suddenly at the front of your mind.  And if you simply remind yourself that you can carry all manner of metaphorical weight on your shoulders, then you are, in some measure, already Atlas.  

No, when you look in the mirror, the muscles of your heart and mind won’t jump out at you.  

But . . . look closer.  Look yourself in the eyes.  That’s where you’ll begin to see how strong you are.  Think about whether, if push came to shove, you would stand in the way of harm befalling someone you love.  Think about whether, if push came to shove, you would choose to keep on existing, even if you lost your worldly possessions.  Think about whether, if your business were to be on the brink of failure, you would work yourself to the bone to save it.  Think about whether, if push came to shove, you would defend what freedoms we have left in America, even if it cost you your life.  Think about whether you would donate a kidney to save one of your relatives.  Think about whether you would donate both your kidneys to save two of your kids.

Of course, you would.  Otherwise, you’d never be reading what I just wrote, all the way to the end.  

Dr. Keith Ablow

Be Not Afraid

Dr. Keith Ablow

Be Not Afraid

April 5, 2022

We are afraid of too much.  One of the things we fear is our own pain—so much of it rooted in early chapters of our life stories.  So we run from it.  And in running away, we experience anxiety.  We trip.  We fall.  We become despondent.  All those emotions make us panic more, so we lurch left and right, seeking goals that are not true to us, saying things that are not true to us, forming relationships that are not true to us.  If only we were to stop running and retrace our steps, with an open heart and mind, we would find out why we are fleeing from ourSELVES.  And learning about those early wounds would free us from guilt, from anger and from fear.  We would become the people we were meant to be from all time.  I discussed these themes—and more—with a brilliant interviewer, John Warren.  I hope you enjoy his podcast.

Dr. Keith Ablow

“Interesting” Can Be Your Go-To Word During Tough Times

Dr. Keith Ablow

“Interesting” Can Be Your Go-To Word During Tough Times

April 1, 2022

When clouds gather and life seems uncertain, there are lots of words that might come to mind, including, “Oh, no,” or “Oh, my God,” or “This can’t be happening.”  Left to its own devices, the mind wanders and can settle on alarmist language that creates more negative energy—in the form of anxiety, for instance—that adds to the unwelcome events that are unfolding.

I’d like to arm you with a more useful word—interestingInteresting is an ideal word with which to greet a lot of the trouble that appears at your door or in your mail or at meetings of your company or anywhere else, for that matter.  

Why?  Well, for one thing, interesting primes the mind to analyze, rather than panic.  

Think, for instance, that you are told that your competitor has filed suit against your company alleging patent infringement.  If you have the word interesting ready to deploy, you might begin thinking about what the claims actually are, might remind yourself that lots of frivolous lawsuits get filed, might wonder whether a countersuit could actually advance your company’s prospects.  You might also open your mind to wonder whether your competitor has become desperate to find a way to stay afloat or whether there’s an opportunity in all of the seeming conflict to actually end up joining forces with the plaintiff to address the market for the products you both sell.

Interesting is the antidote to becoming paralyzed by fear.  It is part of the diagnostician’s demeanor—preparing to get to the bottom of things, which requires engaging with them, not running from them.  

Interesting not only prepares the mind to analyze and explore, it messages the warrior inside you that you have time to think through options.  You aren’t going to be chased into a corner.  You aren’t going to give up your right to rational thought.  Invoking interesting at the leading edge of a fight should make your opponent run for the hills.  You’re strategizing, not scared.  

Interesting also is inherently suited to the twists and turns of life.  It is, indeed, sad when a relationship of many years ends (and feeling the sadness is important), but it is also interesting.  Interesting brings you into the community of Man.  It’s a nod to the human condition.  Yes, it is disappointing when someone doesn’t stand with you in times of trouble, but it is also interestingInteresting unlocks the pondering mind:  Was my friend who failed to stand by me always relying on me to be the strong one?  Do I always choose friends who look to me for strength?  How rare is it, really, for people to take big risks for other people?  Who else in my life has come through for me, and who hasn’t.

Moreover, interesting, is a great word for leaders.  When you let it take the helm, it tells the whole team that you are engaged in a problem, but unbowed by it.  You’re thinking, not panicking.  And they needn’t, either.

Interesting.  It’s a pretty good word to have up your sleeve in this interesting world, during these interesting times.

Dr. Keith Ablow

Marshall McLuhan Predicted World War III 

Dr. Keith Ablow

Marshall McLuhan Predicted World War III 

March 30, 2022

The late philosopher Marshall McLuhan was famous for saying “The medium is the message,” meaning that the technology used to convey ideas is more important, from a cultural standpoint, than the ideas themselves. 

McLuhan used a lightbulb as an example of how the medium of technology could message a whole culture or even a whole species.  A lightbulb doesn’t have content like a newspaper does.  But the fact that it can illuminate dwellings and factories at night shifted the work and social habits of untold millions of people.  It caused a massive shift in the way we conducted ourselves as human beings.

In his groundbreaking book Understanding Media, McLuhan separated media into either “hot” or “cold.”  He saw film shown in theatres, for instance, as a hot medium, calling for little audience participation, since the experience is so enveloping—with high intensity images, a captivating soundtrack, little light and few distractions.

Television, he argued, was a disruptive “cold” medium that required human beings to unconsciously assemble the myriad pixels that comprise a television image, thus compelling them to join themselves to the technology.  Moreover, lots might be happening while a television was broadcasting programs into a home, requiring the viewer to work to focus on the relatively small screen. 

Cold media, McLuhan explained, were the ones that risked human beings becoming addicted to them and feeling absorbed and homogenized by them.  He theorized that the species would fight back against this absorption and homogenization by becoming more tribal — asserting their national and geopolitical identities through conflict with one another. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States may, in fact, have been partly fueled by the threat that television would dissolve everyone, and all identities, into it.

McLuhan, who died in 1980, had no idea that new technologies, like the internet and its children, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google, would represent an exponential, existential threat of the same kind. Writers for the Washington Post, the New York Times and other publications are only now addressing the problem I identified several years ago: that these new technologies don’t really reinforce individuality and self-expression and identity; they threaten to obliterate it instead.

How? Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google and others seek to monopolize information dissemination and product marketing. They do so by absorbing consumers’ likes, dislikes and patterns of behavior into their sites and hardware, forcing interactions with them by spitting back marketing and social networking prompts and algorithms that trigger more searches, more buying, more socializing and more fingerprinting of the consumers’ inclinations and intentions. Once the consumers are known sufficiently, it could be argued that their psychological DNA “exists” inside the technologies behind such sites and products. The consumers are owned and operated, to an extent, by the media and technology they are using to learn, shop and socialize.

They are “connecting” to the amoeba of a technological society and disconnecting from themselves.

Just as lots of people consciously enjoy using heroin, people may consciously enjoy being depersonalized by technology. But human beings have a safety valve inside their psyches to prevent complete destruction of their free will. This unconscious reflex reasserts their identities, often — as McLuhan observed and predicted — through heightened tribal conflict.

McLuhan no doubt would have assigned the rancor between right-wing Americans and left-wing Americans, the divide between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, the rise of ISIS and of MeToo (equally dangerous, by the way), the feverish tension between the U.S. and North Korea and, yes, the rising tensions between Nato and Russia to the impact of the internet and its offspring.  And it isn’t too much to think that he might well have been correct.

Our species, save for some pockets of resistance like the Amish, has rushed headfirst into our new technologies. But our souls won’t rush into that dark night without a fight. Lots of fights. Maybe even nuclear war. Literally.                    

Dr. Keith Ablow


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