Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lesson of Michael Jackson: Child Exploitation Bad for your Mental Health

OK, I will be the first blogger to note the moral story in the Michael Jackson Tragedy. Or, maybe amongst the first 1,000.

Michael Jackson was a victim of child abuse and child exploitation. Many people were aware of the conditions under which he was growing up, but it occurred to no one that the conditions were leading to eventual problems in adulthood.

Ideally, in a proper, fostering childhood, children have the support, guidance and protection as they encounter lessons concerning how to cope and manage the challenges of life. A certain level of work, and discipline, is proper and necessary across the developmental span.

But no child should have the burden of work, with adult-level expectations of productivity and performance, that was expected of the Jackson Five, including Michael, the emerging character of this ensemble.

Research: we know these lessons of nurturance. We need to know more fully so that we can manage things such as child stardom, or how to maximally raise gifted children who might be able to intellectually handle college while socially and chronologically in middle school.
We need to be able to clearly say what level of work, expectation, pressure, travel, et cetera, is too much.

And when that level is exceeded, we need to know how to detect this, and how to help.
Except for Liz Taylor and Uri Geller, we don't know Michael's story. But for those of us who remember all the way from the child star days up to the current day of untimely death, it is not too difficult to believe that the array of odd behaviors and phases were some atempt to address and resolve the traumatic experiences of this unusual, exploitative childhood. I daresay his efforts would not align with the treatment plans of therapists experienced in helping adults address past childhood exploitation and abuse.

I guess that these unusual life experiences somehow led to whatever behaviors might have proximally contributed to this heart failure. At this point, the autopsy is yet to be performed. Dehydration, exhaustion, substance abuse, anorexia, and other conditions can lead to heart failure. It is very plausible that the childhood abuse and exploitation led to these curcumstances, and without proper psychological resolution and treatment, Michael Jackson was on track for a tragedy.

So, from my armchair, I believe that many people failed Michael Jackson. Many people saw him being exploited, pressured, etc., as a child. Many people saw his troubled side and troubled behaviors in his adulthood. It is likely that a troubling history of pain medication dependence may emerge. People knew about this, just as they knew for Anna Nicole Smith.

The point is that we need to increasingly appreciate the impact of these adult-level opportunities and roles on children, and address them when we can. During childhood, or if necessary retrospectively address them when the person figures these things out in adulthood, under the guidance of a decent therapist.

A problem like this does not fit in the DSM very well, and pills do not cure it. These problems are psychological problems, and require psychological assessment and treatment.

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