Talking Batman on DoxCast

We were fortunate enough to make our third guest appearance on DoxCast, a podcast hosted by folks at our favorite comic book store, Paradox Comic-N-Cards!

We talk all about Batman characters in two of them (Batgirl, Robin, The Joker, Harley Quinn, The Riddler, Two-Face, and Scarecrow)! You can check out both on Twitch here and here.

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13 Thoughts on 13 Reasons Why

**WARNING: SPOILERS APPEAR IN THIS POST.**

I watched the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why (based on a book with the same title). This post sums up my reactions, and I am also in the process of recording detailed Jedi Counsel podcast episodes on the series with my co-host. Some people say this is art and entertainment, and therefore, exempt from social responsibility. Nonetheless, many people will watch this series, and that makes it important to view it critically and to consider its implications. My thoughts aren’t fully formed yet, but I wanted to post something as the series came out without waiting until I had it all sorted out. My feelings and opinions may develop more as I process the material for a longer period of time. I’m open and curious about other perspectives.

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  1. The series is set up as a mystery that quickly pulled me into the story. I finished the whole series within a few days. The framework for the series is that an adolescent, Hannah Baker, has died by suicide and left behind audio tapes detailing every component that she believes led up to her death. In addition, she has a methodical plan for the specific people who should listen to the tapes, how they should be listened to, and the order in which people hear them. While this is a compelling way to reveal a mystery, I believe that it contributes to stigma by painting the picture of a woman who ended her life for the purposes of getting attention from the individuals she believed ruined her life. The tone of her delivery is blaming and feels vengeful. I worry this perpetuates the myth that suicide is typically driven by desire for attention, selfishness, or revenge…which it most certainly is not.
  2. There is a scene that is explicitly blaming of one of the few kind (though not perfect) people in the series (Hannah’s friend and love interest, Clay). Hannah’s friend, Tony, tells Clay that Hannah would have been alive if he had acted differently. He later softens his tone, saying it is not Clay’s fault and Hannah is responsible for the choice that she made. Still, the blame message is there in a scene where Hannah tells Clay repeatedly to leave her alone. He reluctantly leaves the room. The show then depicts a parallel universe where the “right” things happened: Clay insists on staying despite Hannah clearly asking him to leave her alone, he turns the conversation around through persistence, Hannah feels loved, and suicide is prevented. In light of the violations of consent elsewhere in the series (including two rape scenes), I was bothered by Clay being painted as having done the wrong thing when he honored Hannah’s wishes to leave her alone.
  3.  Hannah decides, as her last attempt at help-seeking, to reach out to her school counselor about her suicidal thoughts and being the victim of rape. The counselor, insensitively and against best practice guidelines, implies she may be partially to blame (e.g., asking if she verbally said no to the perpetrator, asking if she had been drinking) and jumps right into telling her that her only choices are to: 1) report the assault or 2) to move on. She leaves the office, and he doesn’t follow-up with her in any way. He doesn’t ask for more details or conduct a suicide risk assessment, and he does not try to reach out to her parents to prevent her from harming herself. Of course, there are some counselors out there who might act in this irresponsible way. However, the vast majority would not. In a show that is viewed by a lot of young people, the depiction of the counselor matters a lot. People are already reluctant to reach out to mental health professionals. I worry people would feel even more discouraged from seeking help after seeing this terrible, judgmental, unethical interaction.
  4. The series accurately portrays some of the risk factors for suicide: social isolation, loneliness, and disconnection from others (including in the painful forms of bullying), perceiving herself as a burden (e.g., she describes herself as a “problem” for her parents and especially feels burdensome after accidentally losing some of their money), family conflict (her parents argue about issues including finances), witnessing and then being a victim of sexual assault, and hopelessness about her future (e.g., with regard to college and other plans).
  5. I appreciated the series emphasizing how crucial social connections are for health and talking about different types of loneliness – including individuals truly isolated and those who feel “lonely in a crowd.” It seemed to make the point that even apparently popular people (like Zack) can feel lonely. I believe this sends the message that anyone is vulnerable to loneliness, and we shouldn’t assume people are doing well just because they appear that way on the outside.
  6. One of the themes of the series is that – at any point – one person listening, reaching out, or doing something differently could have prevented Hannah’s suicide. Ultimately, this is a positive message. Unfortunately, I think it’s lost and distorted because it is used to blame people for their failures to save Hannah rather than demonstrating that one person could have made a difference and changed the story to a hopeful one. If the counselor or one of her parents had connected with Hannah and supported her in seeking help for her struggles, this point would have been much more persuasive. Instead, the story feels more demoralizing than inspiring to me.
  7. Hannah’s death scene is a graphic depiction of her cutting her wrists with razorblades in a bathtub. In a documentary-type episode made about the series, they said that it was to show the painful and hard-to-look-at nature of suicide. To me, it feels like a choice to make a dramatic, visually startling conclusion to the story rather than to deliver a lesson. It makes sense – this is a series meant to be watched and to get people glued to their screens- not a PSA. It’s possible that an individual who feels suicidal might see that and be afraid; however, it’s also quite plausible that an individual feeling suicidal might mistakenly view it as an end to all of Hannah’s emotional pain and problems. Anecdotally, there are cases of suicidal individuals watching scenes of suicide building up to taking their own life.
  8. There are warnings in the beginnings of episodes where there are graphic scenes (e.g., sexual assault, suicidal behavior). It would have been helpful if the episodes had information about resources, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, embedded in them too. It would be a simple way to reach a lot of people. Again, the series created a separate short documentary-like episode with mental health professionals and resources in it. However, it appears completely separately from the series (rather than as the 14th episode, for example). It would reach more people if it was connected to the full series.
  9. The pain Hannah’s parents experience after her death is excruciating. I feel this is one of the most realistic aspects of the series. It shows their horror, their confusion, their regret, and their desire to prevent other suicides from occurring. In the documentary afterwards, they suggest that this might show individuals who feel suicidal about the pain that others would experience if they died. I think this may be the case for some, but for certain individuals, tragically, they might imagine that people wouldn’t feel the same way about their death. That’s the cruelty of perceiving oneself as a burden – people struggling with mental health problems may not see how the world is better with them in it.
  10. Related to the second point, several characters clearly violate Hannah. Marcus and Bruce grab her, Tyler and Justin take and share revealing pictures without permission, and Bryce rapes her. When Hannah and Clay are starting to kiss, Clay asks, “Is this okay?” I really liked this scene because it shows how asking about consent is natural and enhances, rather than ruins, the moment. It also shows a welcome contrast in that Clay genuinely respects and cares about her feelings and perspective. Sadly, this positive point gets diminished when the scene turns into Hannah yelling for him to “get the hell out” and the suggestion that if he had only ignored her wishes, he would have saved her life (as described above).
  11. From one perspective, it seems like a point of the series is to teach bullies that their actions can lead to someone dying by suicide. However, most people who are bullied do not die by suicide – people are often remarkably resilent in the face of great adversity. It’s important that people who are on the receiving end of bullying know that. Secondly, most of the people on Hannah’s tapes are more concerned about protecting their own secrets (e.g., that Courtney is attracted to women, that Justin allowed Bryce to rape Jessica, that Ryan published Hannah’s poem without her permission) than how they hurt Hannah. If the message is supposed to be an anti-bullying one, I don’t think it really connects with bullying people in the audience. I guess that it would resonate more with people on the receiving end of bullying who feel a sense of hopelessness about the bullies having any potential for empathy and a sense that there is no help available to them.
  12. On two occasions, two adults (the counselor and the communications teacher) state that the warning signs for suicide include withdrawing from friends and family, changes in appearance, and trouble in group projects. This was a great opportunity to share the real warning signs for suicide, but unfortunately, only the first one really maps onto the list.
  13. A lighthearted, sweet aspect of the series is that Clay is different from his peers in that he cares relatively less about what other people think of him. He still cares what people, including Hannah, think of him to some extent, but he doesn’t try as hard as his peers to be something he’s not. He feels nervous around Hannah, but doesn’t ever really pretend to be someone else. He doesn’t let other people’s opinions make him feel bad about himself. Again, Clay’s not perfect (he says some mean things to Hannah and looks at a revealing picture that Tyler took without consent). But, overall, he’s smart, sensitive, caring, a good student, interested in the world beyond the walls of his school, helps others, takes reasonable caution in his decision-making, and likes geek stuff like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. During one exchange, Hannah says to Clay, “Wow. You’re an actual nerd. There’s courage in that.” Most of the other characters in the series view themselves and their worth in terms of what their peers think of them. This generally rings true with regard to this developmental period in adolescence. It’s refreshing to see someone who has some self-acceptance and a sense of what’s right in the midst of all of the tragedy.

You can check out our first podcast episode on this series here and our second episode here.

If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out. There is hope and help is available here.

Diagnostics with Dwight

PSYCHOLOGICAL REPORT

Name: Dwight Kurt Schrute III
Date of Birth: January 20, 1968
Ethnicity/Race: Caucasian
Education: High school diploma
Employment:  Assistant to the Regional Manager, Dunder Mifflin, Scranton (past)
Paper Salesman, Staples (past)
Beet Farmer, Schrute Farms (current)
Regional Manager, Dunder Mifflin, Scranton (current)
Date of Initial Interview: 09/23/2010
Date of Report: 05/16/2013
Therapists: Brandon Saxton, M.S., Katie Gordon, Ph.D.

Presenting Problem
Dwight Schrute presented as a 42-year-old male who was referred by his boss, Michael Scott, via the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. Michael had some concerns that Dwight was “kind of weird” and seemed to “not get along with others.” We’re not sure of the scientific validity of that assessment, so we decided to continue with an assessment of our own. Behavioral symptoms seem to include a variety of interpersonal conflicts that have influenced Dwight socially and vocationally.

Social/Family History
Dwight comes from a large and eccentric family. He recalls his own birth, stating specifically that his father, Cody Schrute, removed him from the womb and his mother bit off the umbilical cord. Dwight has one brother and one sister. Beyond that, he stated that he also had a twin in the womb, but he “reabsorbed” his twin giving him “the strength of a grown man and a little baby.” Dwight was born weighing 13 pounds and five ounces and performed his own circumcision. Growing up, Dwight reports that, as per family tradition, the youngest child raised the other children.

Dwight did not seem to want to spend much time describing his childhood. He did mention that he was shunned by his family from approximately age four through age six after he failed to save the extra oil from a can of tuna. He also reported losing an elementary school spelling bee by misspelling the word “failure.” This writer wonders whether these negative events created an avoidance in Dwight when it came to discussing his childhood. At any rate, Dwight was quick to begin describing his life as an adult and time working at Dunder Mifflin.

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Currently Dwight lives in a nine-bedroom, one-bathroom home located on a 60 acre beet farm that he inherited from his family. Dwight currently lives with his cousin Mose. Beyond growing beets on their farm, they also operate a small bed and breakfast and host events including weddings and garden parties. Currently, Dwight is employed as Assistant Regional Manager (it should be noted that his boss, Michael Scott, clarified that Dwight’s actual title is Assistant to the Regional Manager) at the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. Dwight has been employed with Dunder Mifflin for several years and is considered one of the top sales staff in the company.

Interpersonally, Dwight seems to have a higher than average amount of conflict with his coworkers. This information was primarily obtained through collateral sources (i.e., Dwight’s coworkers and his personnel file). When asked about some, or most, of these incidents, Dwight seemed to not understand why his coworkers reacted the way that they did. A select list of these conflicts follows (for a more thorough review of these conflicts, please consult the large, surprisingly full, manila folder next to Dwight’s medical file). In one instance, Dwight attempted to test his coworkers’ emergency preparedness by locking them all in the office, simulating a fire, and yelling commands to them through a microphone. His coworker, Stanley, had a heart attack. During a subsequent CPR training, Dwight cut the face off the CPR dummy and wore it a la Silence of the Lambs.

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In another instance, Dwight tricked his coworker Phyllis into coming with him on a sales call. He actually drove her to a bad part of town, took her phone and wallet, and left her to walk home. He did this to help his branch win a corporate weight loss competition by forcing her to exercise. A final example included Dwight asking his coworker, Stanley, to join him on a sales call. Stanley declined. As such, Dwight shot Stanley with a bull tranquilizer, wrapped him in bubble wrap, slid him down the stairs, and loaded him into the car. Dwight then took Stanley, unconscious, with him on the sales call. These three examples are a fairly representative example of the types of behaviors in which Dwight engages at his workplace.

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Psychiatric/Medical History
Dwight has not received any formal psychological assessment or treatment. Despite this, there is some indication that he may have suffered from mental health symptoms in the past. For example, in episode 6.12, “Secret Santa,” Dwight says “… I’m just tired. The days are short. I don’t know. Maybe I’m depressed.” In addition, in episode 9.5, “Here Comes Treble,” Dwight says “You don’t think I have anxiety? I have anxiety all the time. Every waking moment of my life is sheer torture.” Taken together, these quotes suggest that Dwight may have previously struggled with an undiagnosed mood or anxiety disorder.

Diagnostic Impressions
All diagnostic assessment information was obtained through an interview with Dwight, his manager, and his workers. Beyond that, we reviewed his HR personnel file (i.e., we watched every episode of The Office. Multiple times). Based on the client’s history and presenting problems, diagnoses related to Cluster B and Cluster C personality disorders were considered. Diagnoses related to depressive and anxiety disorders were not further considered, as the symptoms related to each appeared very brief and not distressing.

A diagnosis related to Cluster B personality disorders, specifically a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, was considered. Dwight only meets the requirement for two of the five or more symptoms required to make the diagnosis. Dwight does exhibit a “grand sense of self-importance.” One example of this behavior in the way in which Dwight persists in calling himself Assistant Regional Manager as opposed to Assistant to the Regional Manager (much to the chagrin of his boss). Dwight also exhibits “arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.” This seems to occur quite often, with Dwight often commenting on how he is a better salesman than his coworkers.

When fully considered, the symptoms that Dwight Schrute is experiencing are best captured by an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. He exhibits 1) an excessive devotion to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships (Dwight once comments on a sale that he never takes vacations, sick days, nor celebrates any major holidays – a pattern of behavior that is reinforced when he is named Northeastern Pennsylvania Salesman of the Year), 2) is overconscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values (Dwight allows himself to be fired to respect his girlfriend, Angela’s, prioritization of privacy in the office; he instigates a formal investigation, including drug testing of every employee of the office, after finding a small amount of marijuana in the parking lot; he goes to excessive lengths to act consistently with his highest personal value, which is respect for authority and hierarchical systems), 3) is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they submit to exactly his way of doing thinks (do we need to explain this one?? If you’ve watched the show, you’ve seen this!), 4) shows rigidity and stubbornness (Dwight trying to impress a manager for a promotion despite experiencing acute appendicitis and consistently refuses any flexibility in his actions despite extremely reasonable requests from his coworkers).

 Treatment Recommendations
Currently, there are not any well-established treatments for obsessive-compulsive personality disorder that have been tested in large randomized clinical trials (the gold-standard for testing what treatments work best!) It is worth noting that obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is different from obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is a disorder that does have clear evidence-based treatment for it. Approaches that have been used effectively include cognitive therapy, which focuses on challenging maladaptive thoughts related to the disorder. It’s possible that Dwight developed his personality characteristics as a consequence of being raised according the Schrute Family Rules (as Dwight reports, “Schrute boys must learn 40 rules before the age of five. They are told that if they don’t learn their rules, they will be eaten in their sleep.”) Dwight would likely benefit from therapy focused on flexibility and balance to decrease his rigidity with this rule-set.

Status at Termination (last episode)
Sometime later, Dwight returned to our office for a booster session, although this writer wonders whether the session was necessary. It seemed, perhaps, that Dwight more so wanted to share with us his new station in life. He reported having finally achieved the position of Regional Manager at the Dunder Mifflin Scranton office. Dwight reported that he is currently happily married to Angela. The two of them, and their son, Philip, live at Schrute Farms. In addition, Dwight reported that his relationships with this subordinates (yes, he did use that term) had improved dramatically. He said he now considered them all friends (despite firing Kevin Malone). All in all, it seemed that Dwight had experienced significant symptom reduction and was operating and feeling much happier in life.

The Office - Season 9

THE GORDON/SAXTON TEST

Was the portrayal of mental illness accurate?
Full disclosure: some of Dwight’s behaviors are exaggerated. And we’re thankful for it. He is easily one of our favorite fictional characters for this very reason. Despite this exaggeration, some of the behaviors that Dwight exhibits are not entirely out of the question. Oftentimes individuals who grow up in strict, rigid homes develop these characteristics themselves. This does not always lead to the formation of a mental health disorder, but in Dwight’s more extreme case, it certainly seemed to.

Was the character struggling with mental health issues depicted with compassion?
Overall, we do find the portrayal of Dwight to be a compassionate one. Yes, sometimes he is a nuisance to his coworkers. One could even argue that, at times, he is a danger to them! But overall, as the series progresses we see Dwight develop and evolve into a really caring individual and a capable leader. This is the kind of progression that we hope to see with clients in therapy, so seeing it in one of our favorite fictional characters just seems right.

Overall rating:
Overall, from a rating scale from Toby (yuck) to Dwight (oh, yeah!), we would rate the portrayal of Dwight as Dwight K. Schrute, Manager! The Office is one of our favorite shows and Dwight is a main reason for that. He starts off as a rough-around-the-edges kind of person. Throughout the nine seasons, we see him experience a lot and grow into a really lovable character. By the end, Dwight gets along well with his coworkers, has a family, and finally leads the branch!