May 17, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers. Today we mourn the loss of lives taken by hate, violence, and guns in the mass shootings in Buffalo and Southern California. We also examine the roots of the long-brewing youth mental health crisis, learn about a powerful bond between a man and a dog, and share some investigative reporting about a Colorado mental health clinic so desperate for funding that it falsified patient information for nearly a decade. Plus, a study finds that being denied an abortion results in worse mental health for women.

A dog-saves-man story

The Northern Virginia Daily shared the story of a man and a dog who may just have saved each other. After physical and mental health challenges condemned a man named Scott to homelessness for six years, he met Harley, a puppy who was adopted by staff at the Winchester Rescue Mission where he lived. The two immediately formed a special bond. 

Staff at the mission told the paper that whenever Scott was away, Harley became morose, especially when Scott was admitted for an extended hospital stay earlier this year after contracting COVID-19. When he returned, said staffer Vickie Culbreath, Harley “knew she had to be real gentle with him. She would leave his room long enough to go outside for short walks, but otherwise she stayed with him in bed while he was recovering.”

After realizing that he had finally become stable enough to move out of the mission, Scott asked shelter staff, “Does Harley get to come with me?” Having witnessed Harley help him overcome clinical depression, they didn’t hesitate to say yes. These days, Harley is officially certified as Scott’s emotional support animal, and the two moved into their very own Winchester apartment not long ago.

Brewing for years: The current crisis in youth mental health

Blue Planet Studio/Shutterstock

The current youth mental health crisis is often linked to the pandemic, but it didn’t start in March 2020. Although social isolation, stress and grief over deaths from Covid has exacerbated the problem, experts say it’s not new. According to the CDC, the number of youth who reported having a suicide plan jumped an alarming 44% between 2009 and 2019. In this 13-minute listen from NPR’s Consider This, Michele Martin spoke with journalist Judith Warner about her essay, “We Have Essentially Turned a Blind Eye to Our Own Children for Decades,” and what needs to happen to make a difference.

“There is a consensus among experts about what has to happen,” said Warner. “And it turns around access and affordability and also diversifying the mental health workforce, (and) the school counseling workforce.” It also requires parents to increase their awareness of the need to get kids access to mental health support, says Warner. She’s cautiously optimistic that things are changing.

Millennial parents demonstrate greater awareness, and are more willing to discuss mental health with kids than their boomer parents. Yet many challenges remain. Incorporating social-emotional skill-building into schools and providing youth access to consistent, qualified mental health care is crucial, Warner concludes.

Colorado mental health center falsified patient records to hold on to state funding

Photo: Shutterstock

Twenty-nine current and former employees of the community mental health center Mind Springs Health told the Colorado News Collaborative that they “made up” assessments of patients’ conditions for at least nine years to maintain state funding. Under Reggie Bicha, director of the Colorado Department of Human Services from 2011 to 2019, the state began to tie exclusive contracts with community mental health centers to patient outcomes. During one year, Mind Springs stood to lose more than a $250,000 in state funding if patients’ assessments didn’t show their depression was easing with treatment.

“They had us flat out making stuff up, then came down on us for asking if it was legal or even ethical,” said Amy Jenson, a former case manager who admitted to falsifying as many as 1,000 patient assessments between 2014 and 2018. “I felt like I was in the ‘Twilight Zone.’ Like, am I nuts? Why does everybody think this is OK?” Jensen added that she waited so long to report her complicity due to a lack of confidence in state authorities and her fear of losing her career and license.

After whistleblowers shared accounts of false reporting at Mind Springs, the News Collaborative launched its investigation, which also found that Mind Springs employees assigned diagnoses to patients in order to have them qualify for expensive, Medicaid-funded treatment they didn’t need. After earlier stories in the series appeared, Gov. Jared Polis’s administration announced a surprise audit of Mind Springs but, according to the News Collaborative, didn’t reach out to any of the current and former Mind Springs workers who revealed illegal practices to reporters.

How does being denied an abortion affect mental health?

For more than 10 years, a team of researchers led by Diana Green Foster at UC-San Francisco conducted a study to understand how receiving or being denied an abortion affect women’s mental and economic well-being. The findings have recently been published in a book, ​​The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, A Thousand Women, and the Consequences of Having – or Being Denied – an Abortion. Foster sat down with NPR’s Short Wave to discuss what she learned. Compared to women who received the abortions they wanted, women who couldn’t get them had worse physical health, worse economic outcomes, and worse mental health.

Although retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy speculated in a 2007 case that abortion might undermine women’s mental health, Foster and her team found the opposite. Not only was mental health better for women who received the abortions they wanted, but it improved over time. “People can experience the emotion regret and still feel like they made the right decision about having an abortion,” she said.

In other news…

Recovery Cafe Lexington serves up meals to help people overcome. Lots of cafes offer hot food, but this one also offers basic needs support, recovery coaching, recovery circles, mental health support groups and a computer lab. Administrators say it succeeds because its employees have been there, too. “Everyone who works here has experience with substance use disorder,” Aaron Guldenschuh-Gatten, Recovery Cafe’s assistant executive director, told Spectrum News 1. “I myself am in recovery with five years of recovery. We make space by providing radical hospitality for people who society otherwise may not want to make space for.”

For people struggling with depression or anxiety, a study from the University of Bath in England found that turning away from social media for at least one week could reduce symptoms. “If you’re feeling like you use too much social media and this is negatively impacting your mental health, then taking a break may be worth a try and give you at least some short-term improvements,” lead author Jeff Lambert told US News and World Report.

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. And if you’re a veteran, press 1.

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Type of work:

Courtney WiseReporter

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...