April 13th, 2009
01:20 PM ET

Is economic stress causing violence?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/04/08/gun.control.poll/art.binghamton.civic.cnn.jpg caption="The site of a recent shooting in Binghamton, New York."]

Dr. Gail Saltz
AC360° Contributor

At least 47 people have been killed in this past month due to mass shootings. Hospitals are reporting higher numbers of shaken baby syndrome and injuries from domestic violence. Is there a connection between this recession and the growing numbers of violent crimes?

Job loss and economic desperation leads to anxiety and even depression. It causes many people to live on the edge; to question whether or not their life is worth living and find it difficult to control their hostile and aggressive impulses. In two of the recent shootings, there were indications that the perpetrators may have been affected by a job loss.

Traumatic events, such as a job loss, can tip these people over that edge. Perceived humiliation – like being unable to support a family – can also create feelings of hopelessness. Many folks are finding themselves in this terrible boat with no source of support. They may feel they cannot afford to get help or treatment for their terrible feelings and some may be unable to ask friends or family for help out of shame and anger.


Filed under: Gail Saltz • Gun Control • Gun Violence
March 5th, 2009
05:35 PM ET

Why Rihanna would go back to Chris Brown

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/SHOWBIZ/Music/03/05/chris.brown.charged/art.rihanna.brown.gi.jpg]Dr. Gail Saltz
AC360° Contributor

The police report of what transpired between Chris Brown and Rihanna was just released and the attack was far more vicious, violent and disturbing than anyone imagined. The explosion is said to have started over a text from an ex-girlfriend that she read on his phone.

Jealousy and domination often play a role in domestic abuse. In fact jealousy has been at the root of many crimes of passion, including murder. Details in a criminal complaint released by authorities today indicate this was not a sudden seconds-long lashing out, this was a continued and escalating attack complete with verbal threats that it was only going to get worse. When she tried to call for help, the threat allegedly turned to murder.

Weeks later, they are back together. Why? Why would a highly successful woman in her own right go back to a man who had so brutalized and terrorized her?

The truth is that this is really quite typical for the pattern of abuse. One partner (and the abuser can be a woman) maintains power over the other by isolating them, hurting them emotionally and physically, belittling them and convincing them that the abuser is the center of their world and the only one who will love them. The victim loses self esteem and feels emotionally dependent on their abuser.


Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Gail Saltz • The Buzz
February 24th, 2009
01:28 PM ET

Children capable of murder

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Dr. Gail Saltz
AC360° Contributor

Jordan Brown, an 11-year old from Pennsylvania, is accused of planning and killing his father’s pregnant girlfriend while she slept. Months ago, an 8-year-old boy shot and killed his father and a tenant in their home.

The idea that a child could actually murder is terrifying and, thankfully, rare. However, children have intense emotions like jealousy and rage…just as adults do. What they don’t have is a fully-developed superego (a moral compass), nor the full understanding of the permanence of death and the consequences of murder.

What makes matters worse is that certain children grow up with access to guns. Some are even taught how to shoot. They do not have the same fear of weapons as children who have never been exposed to guns – and warned of their danger- often have.


Filed under: Gail Saltz • Gun Control • Gun Violence
February 13th, 2009
05:09 PM ET

Psychology of an airplane crash

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/02/13/plane.crash.new.york/art.buffalo.crash1.bee.jpg caption="Only a few pieces of the Continental Connection Dash 8 turboprop were recognizable after the crash. "]

Dr. Gail Saltz
AC360° Contributor

Practically on the heels of the triumphant success of the US Airways flight ‘splash landing’ in the Hudson River, comes the tragically opposite outcome of the plane crash near Buffalo, NY last night. As if the fragility of life needs to be underscored any further right now, many Americans are struggling with various fears about the precariousness of their situations. They are hoping that this new President will find a way to provide protection and solutions. This crash is a sad reminder that life contains inherent risk and that try, as we all might, sometimes bad stuff happens anyway.

It is tragic that 50 innocent people have lost their lives….but what we all need to remember is that this is truly a fluke. This is the first fatal crash since 2006. Airplane crashes are actually rare, much more unusual than fatal car crashes. Yet plane crashes play on our most instinctual fears. People are often afraid of heights and the idea of being high in the sky in a heavy piece of metal leaves us all feeling scared and amazed that this doesn’t happen more often.


Filed under: Clarence Plane Crash • Gail Saltz
January 16th, 2009
01:41 PM ET

Miracle on the Hudson – Boy, we needed that!

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/01/15/newyork.crash.passengers/art.survivors.nydn.jpg caption="The New York Fire Department rescued passengers from the downed plane in the Hudson River."]

Dr. Gail Saltz
Psychiatrist and AC360° Contributor

2008 has been a dismal year for so many and 2009 is shaping up to be very difficult as well. Most people have been engrossed in the economic impact, which is huge. But what of the impact on the nation's psyche?

I have watched with great concern as we have been bombarded by “systems” not working. Whether it be financial institutions, corrupt politicians and businessmen, the failure of accountability for money, for military action, there has been a constant message that our system is broken, nothing works right, certainly not the way its supposed to.

And trust has been shattered by money mangers who absconded with others' money, by politicians who lied and cheated their constituents, by companies who put their own needs so before those of employees and stockholders that they were willing to devastate their victims.

When our national trust is so violated, the tenor of our people risks becoming cold, cynical and despondent.

The incredible story of the US Airways flight is that it is a shining example of just how well an American System can work.

There was skill, heroism, humanism, organization, use of incredible training and professionalism. Professionals in various arenas did a superb job, and people involved were kind to one another, helpful, caring deeply about their fellow man and willing to be brave to do so.

This is the America we have all been missing, this is the America we all want to see return.

That's why I see this as a real “shot in the arm” for our national psyche. We all really needed to feel there is someone you can trust, particularly each other.

This was no doubt a terrible event and a near tragedy which I hope, like everyone else will never happen again. But curiously it is also a boost for our nation’s mental health, an example that the system can work and that we are good competent people at heart who will help each other.

We all needed some optimism back. And the genuine heroism demonstrated in that rescue gave it to us.

Filed under: Airline Safety • Gail Saltz
January 15th, 2009
07:34 PM ET

Plane Crash…all our worst nightmares

Editor's Note: Tune in to hear more from Dr. Saltz on today's plane crash tonight on AC360° at 10pm ET.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/01/15/new.york.plane.crash/art.plane.pukelis.irpt.jpg caption="iReporter Julie Pukelis put a camera in front of a telescope to get this view of the scene in the river."]

Dr. Gail Saltz
Psychiatrist and AC360° Contributor

Most people have some apprehension about flying. Despite the fact that many more people die in car crashes, people are far more afraid of flying…which is related to heights, something we are almost hardwired to fear.

This means that people involved in the US Air crash as well as others who are learning of or viewing the crash are potentially going to have psychological aftermath. There will be those who fare well, who feel in fact elated to have come out of such a tragedy and won’t be afraid to fly. There will however, be those who felt terrified, thought they may die and they are going to need attention and follow up because they are more likely to develop post traumatic stress disorder.


Filed under: Airline Safety • Gail Saltz • Top Stories
January 7th, 2009
07:38 AM ET

Despair after the downturn? Get help now

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Editor's Note: German billionaire Adolf Merckle, one of the richest men in the world, committed suicide on Monday after his business empire got into trouble in the wake of the international financial crisis, Merckle's family said. Police said Merckle, 74, was hit by a train. His family said the economic crisis had "broken" Merckle.

Gail Saltz
AC360° Contributor

Another highly successful and wealthy man devastated by the financial crises has taken his life. This is so tragic on so many levels. It is a demonstration of some people seeing their self worth measured in dollars. If the dollars are gone, then the feelings of shame and worthlessness take over and result in being too overwhelmed to go on.

It is also a reflection of the lack of understanding of depression and the treatments available. Those feelings of shame and hopelessness that some people are experiencing as a result of financial loss may be part of a bigger picture of major depression, a disease that can result from a traumatic loss and that can be treated and resolved. As many as 15% of people with a major depression do kill themselves and once dead, of course, there is no treatment.


Filed under: Economy • Gail Saltz • Raw Politics
December 10th, 2008
10:23 AM ET

Power and Corruption... Here we go again

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Editor’s note: Dr. Gail Saltz is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at The New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Dr. Gail Saltz

Here we go again. Another politician front and center for accusations of breaking the law. Not just breaking the law, but specifically abusing the power he has because he is a politician and taking advantage of others who don’t have the same power.

We could be talking about Foley, Spitzer, Clinton or Nixon for that matter. Men who also had everything to lose by breaking the rules and so we are all left wondering why they did it. There is a likely a combination of biological temperament combined with the experiences of life that is to blame. Many people in politics are risk takers.

In some ways this serves them well. It makes them driven, charismatic, able to act on creative thinking and able to come to solutions which might be outside the box. But it still makes them risk takers and when that trait is combined with a lacking moral compass…you run into rule breaking. Power is heady stuff and once attained leaves many people thirsting for more. If fueled by narcissism, a deep insecurity which is fended off in the mind by grandiose fantasies, then power can become highly corrupted. In other words, these guys start to believe their own desperate wishes that they are above the law and entitled to what they wish for.

Filed under: Gail Saltz • Raw Politics • Rod Blagojevich
December 2nd, 2008
06:17 PM ET

Trampling the holiday spirit

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/12/02/art.bestbuycrowd.jpg]
Editor's note: Dr. Gail Saltz is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at The New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Dr. Gail Saltz

Over the weekend a group of waiting shoppers trampled and killed a temporary Wal-Mart worker who was standing at the door to let shoppers in. How in the world could this happen? How could anyone do such a thing?

This was sadly a case of the effects of group dynamics, or in other words mob mentality. When you put people into a group you tend to increase their level of arousal and excitement. Another phenomena of a group is that of shared responsibility, that each individual feels less directly responsible and “delegates” his own superego (conscience) to the group. The particular group in question here were people feeling the effects of this recession and fearful that they will not be able to get enough stuff for the holidays, thinking they NEED the sales to make their family and themselves happy. This added to the feeling of rationing, that there is a limited commodity of stuff, money, sales items and if they don’t get it now then they never will. This is of course untrue and in no way justifies anyone’s actions, none the less it is this desperate perception that likely fueled extreme behavior.

Mobs can incite all kinds of awful behavior. “Fans” have set fires and destroyed property at sporting events. Concert goers have groped women and jumped on top of and hurt people. Gangs have robbed and destroyed stores in city blackouts. Taken as individuals many of these people would never ever have done something so amoral. But put together they incite each other, embolden the crowd and lose their moral compass.

This weekend’s horror was likely done by a group of anxious, excited shoppers who individually would never have done this and are likely feeling tremendous guilt and remorse that they were in anyway involved. Some will feel so uncomfortable that they may be in utter denial they were involved at all. It speaks to the power that one psyche can have upon another and to the immense power and loss of boundaries in a group. It is also evidence of the tremendous anxiety people are feeling in the face of the economic pressures and the unknowns that financially lay ahead. We need to be aware of the ability of such fears to move us, to make us behave in ways that we will regret. Desperation can mess with your conscience and so we all need to be on the alert to remember there is no material thing worth hurting someone for. Although a group can have a negative impact, it can also have a positive one. What we need is for people to gather together in support of each other, to lend a hand to your neighbor, be a listener to your friend, be compassionate to your loved ones. And remember grouping together for support requires no stuff.

Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Gail Saltz • Wal-Mart