April 14, 2022

Good morning MindSite News reader. With today’s newsletter, we take a trip to the courthouse – or at least the legal department. We examine three stories involving the law: An Ohio State professor in the midst of a mental breakdown resigned her job with an “f-you” email, then tried to backtrack two weeks later. The Buckeye school won’t reinstate her. A Texas mother with a history of severe abuse and trauma is slated to be executed for the death of her 2-year-old daughter, although her confession was reportedly false. And the BBC looks at the continuing impact of discrimination based on weight. Plus, a photographer makes portraits of unhoused people – and lets them tell their stories, in their own words. And more.

Firing of professor raises tricky questions about legal protections for the mentally ill

If you quit your job during a period of involuntary hospitalization and psychosis, does the resignation still count? That’s the crux of a dispute between Angela Bryant and her former employer, Ohio State University. Bryant was a tenured associate professor of sociology for more than 10 years when she was declared incapable of caring for herself and ordered to a psychiatric hospital in late 2020 by the Franklin County Probate Court. Two days before her hospitalization, Bryant sent an email to her superiors which read, “I resign! Go f*** yourselves bc you are about to PAY UP!”

Was she competent to decide to quit? “The law would say if they were involuntarily institutionalized, the answer would be no,” Luke Russell, deputy director of the Ohio chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told ABC affiliate News 5-Cleveland. “That’s a court action; that is a legal action – it’s pretty severe. They wouldn’t be able to make any rational decision.” 

Officials in OSU’s sociology and human resources departments argue their decision to accept Bryant’s resignation wasn’t based on the email, but rather on her failure to submit medical documentation to verify her need for disability/ medical leave. In a phone call with News 5, an OSU representative said that University HR and Disability Accommodations made multiple attempts to help Bryant complete the required documentation, even extending the deadline. 

Bryant and her defense team disagree, saying that not only did she submit the paperwork while emerging from psychosis, but she was caught in a “Catch-22” situation. “Due to her condition, Dr. Bryant was unable to process and comply with requests for documentation and information, but no one else was allowed to answer such requests on her behalf unless Dr. Bryant provided documentation authorizing them to do so,” her defense team wrote to the commission.

The OCRC ruled in the university’s favor in a 2-1 decision from the five-member commission. Two members recused themselves from the vote. With OSU also refusing mediation, Bryant’s last option is to file a claim in court against the university. “I’m not seeking any compensation,” Bryant said. “My sole goal is to be reinstated to my position. I honestly think that we could repair the harms that were done.”

A photographer is using his art to forge solutions for Chicago’s unhoused

For his seventh book, Faces of Homelessness, Jeffrey Wolin partnered with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “I’m not just telling about people’s suffering,” Jeffrey Wolin told the Chicago Tribune. “I’m trying to make these beautiful portraits, these environmental portraits that show the interaction of the person in their space.”

Each image in the book is accompanied by the person’s story in their own words. Wolin chose a book rather than a gallery show because he thinks books have greater power to influence the popular discourse. A portion of all sales of the book are donated to the coalition and other organizations that work with people who are homeless.

Will Texas execute a traumatized woman who says her ‘confession’ was false – and coerced?

Melissa Lucio is slated to die by lethal injection on April 27, convicted of murdering her two-year-old daughter, Mariah Alvarez. Her case is of particular interest to psychiatric and forensic experts, because they believe it’s a prime example of the phenomena in which survivors of trauma confess to crimes they did not actually commit. Lucio had initially reported that Mariah fell down a staircase outside the family’s apartment in Harlingen, Texas. After five hours of interrogation by members of the Texas Rangers, she admitted that she spanked her daughter – but not that she killed her. 

Lucio’s supporters, including the Innocence Project and the filmmakers of a Hulu documentary, The State of Texas vs. Melissa, contend Lucio’s past physical and sexual abuse by several men, starting when she was 6 years old, made her fearful of the men who interrogated her. “They just kept pointing fingers at me and threatening me and telling me that I was going to spend the rest of my life in prison, that I wasn’t going to be able to see the rest of my children grow up and get married,” Lucio said in the documentary. “They just kept throwing so many words at me, and I just told them, ‘I’m responsible for Mariah’s bruises.” 

Among her supporters is Lucy Guarnera, a University of Virginia psychiatry professor who studies false confessions. She told The Marshall Project: “Anyone is going to feel stressed in the interrogation room, but for someone with PTSD it’s ramped up to 1,000. A woman who has experienced domestic violence is now trapped in a room with men who are intimidating.”

Guarnero and other researchers have found 80 cases of women who may have falsely confessed to crimes and about half of them had reported a history of abuse or trauma. They believe the use of lies and manipulative language in police interrogations leads many people to confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

Weight-based discrimination at work is still largely legal

It seems like a story from the 1980 film 9 to 5 starring Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, and Lily Tomlin. Instead it’s a BBC news story. Courtney, an employee of a Canadian fashion company, gets praised for her work by her manager and then ripped for her weight during a 2018 performance review. “He point-blank told me that he thought I was too fat to be in the position I was in,” said Courtney, who asked that her last name be withheld. ”He told me he was embarrassed having me around our vendors in meetings, and that it ruined his reputation.” Courtney says the experience caused her continual anxiety and negatively affected her performance. 

Unfortunately, weight-based discrimination at work isn’t illegal in most of the world, despite its impact on employee’s mental well-being and career progression. Overweight job applicants are viewed as “less conscientiousness, less agreeable, less emotionally stable and less extroverted than their ‘normal-weight’ counterparts,” Rebecca Puhl, a professor at the University of Connecticut told the BBC. Mistreatment based on weight can lead to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and disordered eating. For Courtney, it led to a two-year sick leave from work.

In other news…

The University of Arizona has launched a suicide prevention website in response to the growing mental health crisis on college campuses. It offers a directory of resources for people struggling with their mental health and those who want to offer support. “Talking thoughtfully about suicide and suicide prevention is essential,” Leslie Ralph from UA’s Counseling and Psychological Services told Tucson.com. “This website is one more way we can help the campus and the community do that.” 

Want to solve the “happiness gap” between childless workers and those with kids? Give paid leave to both moms and dads of newborn children. That’s the gist of a commentary by two researchers, Kristen Schultz Lee and Hiroshi Ono, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times and The Conversation. Working parents, especially those with young kids, are increasingly stressed and less likely to be happy than their childless colleagues, surveys show. One big reason: The U.S. remains the only advanced economy without paid parental leave on a national basis. Providing it could boost happiness and lead to “more fulfilling family relationships,” Lee and Ono write – but only it’s equitable. “If only mothers take family leave, then gender inequality in housework increases,” they say. “But when fathers take paid leave, couples share their housework responsibilities and child care more equally.”

If “No, your other left” is a common refrain you hear when being told to make a turn, you’re probably one of the many people who struggle with “left-right confusion,” a well-documented condition that affects 10% to 30% of all people (including my editor, who tells left from right because he can only wink his left eye). Yes, it’s true, lots of people struggle to distinguish their left from their right. This essay in Philadelphia magazine takes a closer, historical look. 

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.

Revolution From the Inside Out  

A new generation of activists from the Young Women’s Freedom Center is working to change themselves and transform the system.

We Interrupt This Program to Bring You #BlackJoy

We Black people—Black Americans in this case—know hard times, but our lives also sparkle with joy.

Librarians’ Mental Health Threatened By Book Bans, Abuse And Harassment

Some librarians used to make jokes about Fahrenheit 451 as they pushed back on threats. No longer.

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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...