Article: This Is What Stress Physically Feels Like

Can we all just release a collective sigh over how annoying stress is?

Beyond the inconvenience of feeling stressed out, regular bouts of anxiety can seriously mess with your health. Persistant, daily stress can lead to increased risk of chronic diseases, heart problems and changes in the brain. Workplace stress also results in approximately $125 billion to $190 billion in U.S. healthcare costs each year.

A little stress is inevitable — and luckily there are ways to reduce it — so we can all take solace in the fact that we’re not alone in feeling this way. We asked our social community to explain what stress physically feels like for them and illustrated some of their responses. Although worrying is universal, the experience isn’t exactly one-size-fits-all.

“Like a huge knot in my stomach.” — Norine Stauske (via Facebook)

“It feels like being caught in a tsunami; the rolling of the wave keeps you from figuring out which direction to swim.” — Larissa Valkyrie (via Facebook)

“I feel like a shark bit me in the stomach.” — Edu Gonzalez (via Facebook)

“For me stress is like a hazy fog that is so thick it literally slows me down.” — Melissa Petitt (via Facebook)

“It feels like the walls are closing in. A vice grip on my body.” — Carol Smitherman-Marques (via Facebook)

“A volcanic mountain close to eruption [with] lots of pressure building up. Everything is amplified around me.” — Rhonda DeEtte Dostal (via Facebook)

“Stress feels like carrying around a mental cinderblock. You can hold it for a few minutes and not get tired (an actual cinderblock weighs 28 pounds) but if you carry it around for an hour it will fatigue you, carry it around for a day it will hurt you, continue to carry it long term and it can literally kill you.” — John Brubaker (via email)

“I feel like I am an Egyptian mummy wrapped all over and the pyramid is put on top of me.” — TC Bahar Ergun Tunc (via Facebook)

“It feels like a weight on my shoulders, gravity pulling me down and a sense of dread.” — Cherrie L. Page (via Facebook)

“Stress is like being hugged by a giant.” — Monica Mercedes Perez Jimenez 


Article: Lena Dunham Tackles The Stigma Of Mental Health…

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Posted: 04/13/2015 9:49 am EDT Updated: 3 hours ago

Lena Dunham shared a powerful “workout selfie” on Instagram yesterday. “To those struggling with anxiety, OCD, depression: I know it’s mad annoying when people tell you to exercise, and it took me about 16 medicated years to listen,” she wrote. “I’m glad I did. It ain’t about the ass, it’s about the brain.” There’s a lot to take from this selfie, beyond her “slim figure” and the fact that she is wearing a sports bra. Yet again, Dunham is working to combat the stigma surrounding mental health.

Dunham has been candid about her mental health in the past. “I have obsessive compulsive disorder and it started manifesting itself when I was five,” she said in an interview with The National in 2014. “It’s not like I had an opportunity to exist in a carefree way.”

In her book, Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham wrote openly about her experiences. “It’s hard enough to have a child, much less a child who demands to inspect our groceries and medicines for evidence that their protective seals have been tampered with,” she wrote. “I have only the vaguest memory of a life before fear. Every morning when I wake up there is one blissful second before I look around the room and remember my daily terrors.”

These efforts are not confined to interviews and personal essays (and/or selfies). Perhaps her most notable effort has been the nuanced description of OCD featured through her character Hannah on “Girls.”

In Season 2, Episode 9, Hannah’s symptoms flare up when she is stressed by a rapidly approaching deadline. She starts counting (for Hannah, performing activities in sets of eight combats harmful thoughts), eventually traumatizing her ear after applying this tactic to the use of a cotton swab. Instead of reducing her struggle to the all too familiar excessive hand-washing we usually see in pop culture as indicative of OCD, Lena rewards Hannah with a measured depiction of anguish in need of attention.

“Maybe any show that depicts mental illness has to come from a firsthand account in order to do it well,” Dr. Jeff Szymanski, Ph.D., wrote at Psychology Today following the episode. “Lena did a service not only to herself by letting the world ‘see’ what the struggle looks like, but to the entire OCD community at large by showing some of the pain, stigma, and struggle any person with mental health issues has to endure.”

There’s this idea of Lena Dunham as the pinnacle of “over-sharing,” an attention-seeker armed with TMI as a guerrilla tactic for publicity. Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti went so far as to criticize Not That Kind of Girl by saying Dunahm’s “willingness to shock” has the “unfortunate side effect of nullifying the idea that she has something important to say.” But when it comes to discussions of mental health, Dunham cannot be so easily dismissed.

Since information is the most important tool in battling the negative perceptions which categorize mental health, this kind of visibility makes it increasingly difficult for OCD to be dismissed based on fear of that which is different or unknown.

Dunham’s continued efforts to promote an accurate portrait of OCD, both as a celebrity and as an artist, are important regardless of whether or not you agree with her method of transmitting seemingly every bit of personal information for public consumption. Mental health is surrounded by a stigma that leads to a lack of empathy and discrimination. With every thoughtful, accurate image Dunham sends up on HBO or Instagram, she chips away at the shame and the misunderstanding. That’s the kind of over-sharing we can definitely get behind.

on a mission from god… not really

Sorry for the blog delay – I have been ferrying between doctor appointments and family members bouts of influenza. ugh. I also have surgery scheduled for this Thursday.

Please enjoy the elevator music (above) while my life is placed on hold, again.

Article: Open Cases: Why One-Third Of Murders In America Go Unresolved

MARCH 30, 2015 5:04 AM ET

Detective Mark Williams (right) speaks with an officer in Richmond, Va. A decade ago, amid a surge in violent crime, Richmond police were identifying relatively few murder suspects. So the police department refocused its efforts to bring up its "clearance rate."

Detective Mark Williams (right) speaks with an officer in Richmond, Va. A decade ago, amid a surge in violent crime, Richmond police were identifying relatively few murder suspects. So the police department refocused its efforts to bring up its “clearance rate.”

Alex Matzke for NPR

If you’re murdered in America, there’s a 1 in 3 chance that the police won’t identify your killer.

A Story In Two Parts

Martin Kaste reported this audio story in two parts on Morning Edition andAll Things Considered. Listen to Part 1 above. To hear Part 2, click the audio link below.

To use the FBI’s terminology, the national “clearance rate” for homicide today is 64.1 percent. Fifty years ago, it was more than 90 percent.

And that’s worse than it sounds, because “clearance” doesn’t equal conviction: It’s just the term that police use to describe cases that end with an arrest, or in which a culprit is otherwise identified without the possibility of arrest — if the suspect has died, for example.

Criminologists estimate that at least 200,000 murders have gone unsolved since the 1960s, leaving family and friends to wait and wonder.

“It’s like the boogeyman,” says Delicia Turner. Her husband, Anthony Glover, was found murdered — along with a friend — in Boston in 2009. Police never made an arrest. She says the open case preys on her mind. “You don’t know if you’re walking next to the person, if you’ve seen the person … if the person knows you.”

Delicia Turner’s husband, Anthony Glover, was found murdered in Boston in 2009. His is one of at least 200,000 unsolved murder cases in the U.S. since the 1960s.

Courtesy of Delicia Turner

Turner watches a lot of true-crime TV, hoping to see something that could be applied to her husband’s case. She calls her ideas in to the detectives in Boston, who tell her not to be a “TV cop,” she says.

” ‘You can best believe we’re putting our best effort forward,’ ” she says, recalling what they tell her when she phones. But she’s convinced they’ve moved on. “I think that the police just give up.”

Homicide detectives say the public doesn’t realize that clearing murders has become harder in recent decades. Vernon Geberth, a retired, self-described NYPD “murder cop” who wrote the definitive manual on solving homicides, says standards for charging someone are higher now — too high, in his opinion. He thinks prosecutors nowadays demand that police deliver “open-and-shut cases” that will lead to quick plea bargains.

He says new tools such as DNA analysis have helped, but that’s been offset by worsening relationships between police and the public.

“If there is a distrust of the police themselves and the system, all of these scientific advances are not going to help us,” he says.

Since at least the 1980s, police have complained about a growing “no snitch” culture, especially in minority communities. They say the reluctance of potential witnesses makes it hard to identify suspects.

But some experts say that explanation may be too pat. University of Maryland criminologist Charles Wellford points out that police are still very effective at clearing certain kinds of murders.

“Take, for example, homicides of police officers in the course of their duty,” he says. On paper, they’re the kind of homicide that’s hardest to solve — “they’re frequently done in communities that generally have low clearance rates. … They’re stranger-to-stranger homicides; they [have] high potential of retaliation [for] witnesses.” And yet, Wellford says, they’re almost always cleared.

What that tells Wellford is that clearance rates are a matter of priorities.

Wellford says Americans should also understand that while the national rate is in the 60s, the local rates vary widely. But because the FBI doesn’t publish local agencies’ numbers, these differences are often invisible to the public.

NPR had to make a special request for those local clearance rates. You can find them, by city, using our look-up tool, and can learn more about clearance rates —and why local data can be difficult to obtain — here.

That relative invisibility of clearance rates may have played a role in their decline over time. The public is much more aware of overall, national crime rates and the continuing good news about the falling homicide rate.

But even though most people are unaware of clearance statistics, Wellford thinks certain communities have an anecdotal sense that crimes aren’t being solved.

“Those [uncleared] homicides tend to occur in poor communities, minority communities,” he says. “What is the impact of an unsolved homicide when those unsolved homicides are primarily in the very communities [where] we’re trying to build stronger relationships with law enforcement?”

In other words, could the legacy of unsolved murders be feeding a vicious cycle, by undermining the public’s willingness to cooperate with investigators?

Still, it’s easy to see why police departments have become more focused on prevention.

“The emphases change,” says David L. Carter, a criminologist at Michigan State University. The crime waves of the 1970s and ’80s pushed police departments toward prevention strategies — broken-window patrols, more officer visibility in high-crime areas, stop-and-frisk — and solving crimes became secondary. “In some instances, the clearance rates are one of those things that kind of snuck up on people.”

Several years ago, the murder clearance rate in Detroit neared the single digits. To improve, the police have reorganized into local squads and are looking for older cases that might be solved with new techniques.

Several years ago, the murder clearance rate in Detroit neared the single digits. To improve, the police have reorganized into local squads and are looking for older cases that might be solved with new techniques.

Tanya Moutzalias/

Some police departments are now feeling the pressure to reverse the trend. Detroit is an extreme case. When the city was on the verge of bankruptcy a couple of years ago, the murder clearance rate was flirting with single digits. A new chief was brought in, and homicide investigators were reorganized into squads that “specialize” in certain parts of the city.

“Now if we get a case … we’ve had something in that area already,” says Sgt. Mike Russell, who leads one of the squads. “We have a particular family [whose] names come up in several of our cases, and we know to look at them now.”

Williams’ numerous awards for clearing his homicide cases. Richmond, Va., was one of the stars of a 2013 federal report identifying police departments with the best practices.

Alex Matzke for NPR

Cities such as Detroit are also trying to improve their clearance rates by digging into their files, looking for older cases that might be solved with new techniques. Russell points to one on his desk involving a girl who disappeared in 1979.

“A body was discovered in ’92 in the dump, in Monroe County, in cement. And she was just ID’d two weeks ago,” he says.

Russell says he and his squad work on old cases whenever they have time. Solving old murders improves current clearance rates, because under the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting standard, a department gets the credit in the year a murder is cleared, not the year it’s committed.

But old cases can get a department only so far. Once the low-hanging fruit are gone, rates often start to slide back. Carter says that local agencies should try to emulate departments that have made more lasting improvements in their clearance rates.

In 2013, Carter authored a federal report on police departments with the best practices. One of the stars was Richmond, Va.

Williams at his desk in the Richmond, Va., police department. Today, the city's homicide clearance rate routinely hits percentages in the 80s and 90s.

Williams at his desk in the Richmond, Va., police department. Today, the city’s homicide clearance rate routinely hits percentages in the 80s and 90s.

Alex Matzke for NPR

“The chances of you getting caught doing a murder now are a whole lot greater than it was 10 years ago,” says Detective Mark Williams. Richmond was suffering through a surge of violent crime then, and he says some investigators were getting as many as five or six homicide cases a week.

“You were doing assembly-line homicides,” he says. “If there was something there that you could do, to use to get an arrest, you stayed on it. But if there was nothing there [that you could use], you moved on to the next case.”

Instead of accepting low clearances as a byproduct of the murder rate, Richmond refocused its efforts. Williams says the department reduced investigators’ caseloads, and the city gave it money to take care of potential witnesses.

“We move you;we relocate you. There are people out there that want to cooperate, but you’ve got to take care of them,” he says.

Today, Richmond’s homicide clearance rate routinely hits percentages in the 80s and 90s, depending on which reporting standard is used.

The problem, of course, is that all of this costs money. Homicide investigations are inherently expensive, and cash-poor cities are less able to reduce investigators’ caseloads. In Detroit, for instance, each homicide investigator still expects to “catch” a dozen cases a year — well above the four or five that’s considered the national standard.

And each case takes a lot of man-hours as it is. On a freezing afternoon in late February, about 10 Detroit police officers have spent an hour on a fruitless search of a house for a murder weapon — even though investigators don’t expect to find the gun there.

Detroit police officer James Kraszewski stands next to the whiteboard the squad uses to track its cases’ clearance status.

Martin Kaste/NPR

“It’s one of those T’s you gotta cross,” says Sgt. Brian Bowser. He says the suspects are already in custody and talking, so they don’t need the weapon to prove the case. But they have no choice but to take these steps. “When we go to trial, they’re going to say, ‘Well, if you knew the weapon was there, did you search that residence?’ And now we can say, ‘Yeah, we searched it.’ ”

In the modern legal system, even “easy” homicide cases are complex, bureaucratic tasks. In Detroit, a city with one of the worst murder rates in the country, these investigators admit to feeling intimidated by the pressure to keep up.

Bowser’s squad uses a whiteboard to track its cases’ clearance status. Open cases are written in green; cleared cases, in red. But investigators can be superstitious when it comes time to declare a case cleared. Bowser’s partner, James Kraszewski, won’t even pick up the red marker.

“I will not change my own color,” he says. “I feel if I change my own color, my next one, I will not be able to change.”

So who changes the marker color on Kraszewski’s cases? “Whoever wants to do it for me,” he says, as his partner laughs.