Tuesday, October 17

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite News readers. In today’s Daily: A look at a program in L.A. that helps unhoused older adults and others park and sleep in their cars overnight – and tries to get them into actual housing. The FDA issues a warning on ketamine that comes down to this: Don’t buy it online or use it at home. Plus, healing from religious trauma and… that scary movie might actually be good for you.

As number of homeless seniors rises, LA program provides a safe place for them to sleep in their cars

Photo: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times Via Twitter

At 69 years old, what David Mays dreams of most is lying flat on his back to sleep. “That’s when my health automatically improves, the swelling in my legs goes down,” he told Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez. “That’s going to be a momentous day.” He’s missed that experience for nearly two years, living in his Chevy Malibu. Every evening, Mays settles in at one of 200 parking spaces reserved by Safe Parking LA, a nonprofit founded in 2017 to provide unhoused people a safe and legal place to park overnight. More than half of the clients are older adults – 44% are over 55 and another 21% are 62 and older. 

Safe Parking LA’s internal statistics match what’s happening in the region and across the state. Older adults are a swiftly growing segment of LA’s homeless community, with the Times reporting an 11% increase from 2022 to 2023. A report released in June found that almost half of the state’s homeless are over 50. Many live in their vehicles. In the parking structure where Mays sleeps, his neighbors include a 72-year-old unemployed chef, a 64-year-old healthcare worker, and an older couple – Eduardo, 73, and Reina, 69 – who get little sleep living in their Chevy Cruze. “We don’t want to get into the car; it’s terrible,” Eduardo said.

Safe Parking LA does more than provide free parking. The organization also employs case managers to help clients find a way home. They get paperwork in order, present viable housing options, and connect people to resources for healthcare and vehicle maintenance. But the program’s leaders know it’s not enough. “We’re providing a valuable service,” said Emily Uyeda Kantrim, Safe Parking’s executive director. “But these are not living conditions that we would say are acceptable, and we understand we have to find a way to provide them a pipeline into affordable housing.”

The FDA issues a warning: Home use of ketamine poses serious risks

Via Twitter

With the exception of esketamine (brand name Spravato), a nasal spray cleared for treatment-resistant depression, the FDA has not approved the drug ketamine to treat any mental health condition. Yet In recent years, the drug’s popularity has soared among people seeking relief from hard-to-treat mental health conditions like PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Because the drug is FDA-approved as an anesthetic – its original use – prescribing and using it “off-label” for other purposes is legal. 

But just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s safe. And on October 10, the agency issued a warning about the risks of taking ketamine at home, unsupervised, in formulations produced by compounding pharmacies and sold by online vendors. The agency says it has become aware of reports of adverse events like increased blood pressure, psychiatric reactions, respiratory depression and urinary tract problems among people using the drug without direct clinical support.

Appropriate dosing is unclear since rigorous clinical trials have not yet established safe and effective doses. And the agency is also concerned about the risks of abuse. Ketamine can be highly addictive, and the explosion of telehealth treatment during the pandemic saw online prescribers issue ketamine lozenges, tablets, or nasal sprays after one brief video interview. Some companies dispensed up to 30 doses after one session, which experts say heightens the risk for misuse. 

“Our concern is that these online sellers are going to ruin it for everybody,” said Peter Koshland, who runs a compounding pharmacy in San Francisco, in an interview with the New York Times. “Our fear is that regulators, if they perceive a threat to public health, will move to take this amazing medicine away and leave patients at risk.”

“Whenever you have something new, there may be people who run ahead with it,” said Joshua Berman, medical director for interventional psychiatry at Columbia University. “And there will be people who do things based on less evidence rather than more.”

In other news…

Scary movies might actually benefit the mind: This one sounded a little wild to me, especially since the scariest movies I can watch during Halloween are certified Disney classics like Hocus Pocus and Twitches, but Salon magazine found some philosophers and psychologists who say horror films might help us prepare for scary experiences in our own lives.

Photo illustration: Shutterstock

“That is kind of wired into us,” said psychologist Frank T. McAndrew. “We like stories. We like to learn through the experience of other people. We learn valuable lessons that might be kind of costly to learn on our own. So we gravitate to horror movies and horror experiences because by watching other people deal with scary things, we can mentally practice strategies that will make us better prepared for dealing with that ourselves in the future.” 

An atlas of the brain: Scientists believe they’ve achieved a major breakthrough in understanding how the brain helps us walk, talk, and think. In this 3-minute listen from NPR’s All Things Considered, Ed Lein, a senior investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle and one of hundreds of researchers who developed the atlas, explained its utility: “We really need this kind of information if we’re going to understand what makes us unique as humans or what makes us different as individuals, or how does the brain develop.” It also helps explain neuropsychiatric conditions including Alzheimer’s disease and depression, Lein added. “You can use this map to understand what actually happens in disease and what kinds of cells might be vulnerable or affected,” he said. 

When religion is the root of your pain: Religious trauma occurs “when a person’s religious experience is stressful, degrading, dangerous, abusive, or damaging,” according to the website therapist.com. Nashville therapist Laura Anderson noticed that her clients were experiencing religious trauma, but lacked support to address it. She founded the Religious Trauma Institute to provide mental health professionals with training to counsel survivors of religious hurt. Her book, When Religion Hurts You: Healing from Religious Trauma and the Impact of High-Control Religion, works to help people understand that religious trauma is real and often requires professional help to heal. “Religious trauma is trauma and that means it lives inside your body the same way sexual trauma does or trauma from war,” Anderson told The Tennessean. “We don’t need special diagnoses, labels, treatment modalities in order to work with this; we just need professionals that are trained in how to handle trauma.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Type of work:

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...