February 8, 2022

Good morning MindSite News readers. In today’s newsletter: Stressed-out college students in California get a change to go pass/no pass and remove some pressure. Stressed-out women are facing a surge of “broken heart syndrome” that cardiologists are working to understand. And a ketamine trial in France found the drug eased suicidal thinking in patients with bipolar disease – at least for a few weeks. Plus a Brooklyn rapper pens an homage to his uncle and his struggle with mental illness.


Cops face ‘unmatched stress’ and need mental health services, says Nassau police union head

Mental health services for officers have to be a priority, said Tommy Shevlin, a 16-year veteran of the Nassau Police Department in Long Island and new president of the Police Benevolent Association. Shevlin called on the department, elected officials, and the public to break the stigma against officers openly seeking mental health support at a recent breakfast that was covered by Newsday.

Photo: Shutterstock

“Police officers risk their lives when they leave their families to protect you and your family,” he said. “The stress they have on a daily basis is unmatched. We need to make it OK to get help and not treat people like they’re broken.” Shevlin previously worked as a counselor in the police department’s Employee Assistance Office and has spoken publicly about his own struggles with mental health. 


New clinical trial bolsters case for ketamine – for bipolar disorder

Image: Shutterstock

The ketamine boom may roll on, with new clinical trial data suggesting that the anesthetic once known as “Special K” can rapidly reduce disturbing thoughts in people hospitalized for their suicidal thinking. A clinical trial in France published in the British Medical Journal and covered by Healthday News found that ketamine outperformed the placebo and brought about rapid relief for people with bipolar illness at risk of harming themselves, sometimes within as little as three days. Six weeks after the trial began, there was no difference in the improvement of people taking ketamine over those taking a placebo. 

Researchers don’t know exactly how ketamine – which gained fame as a mind-altering club drug – works in the brain, but they do know it targets areas not typically treated by standard antidepressants. They suspect it helps regrow brain synapses, connections between nerve cells that are sometimes depleted in people with long-term major depression. In an accompanying editorial in the journal, Riccardo De Giorgi, a psychiatrist and training fellow at the University of Oxford, noted that the benefit in the study came “almost exclusively”  from patients with bipolar disorder and that researchers observed no benefits for people with major depression or other mental illnesses. More research is needed to understand this point, De Giorgi told Healthday, but the results do suggest that the drug may be helpful. “Even when life seems at its darkest, help is available,” he said. “If suicidal thoughts are the issue, please do call for help.”

Stress-induced “broken heart syndrome” rising 

Image: Shutterstock

“Broken heart syndrome” – technically known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy – is surging, with cases rising 10 times faster among middle-aged and older women than younger women and men over the past decade, ABC News reported. This rare but potentially deadly condition is brought on by severe stress. Doctors believe it occurs when a sudden flood of hormones triggered by intense emotional or physical distress shock the heart into pumping inefficiently. 

Broken heart syndrome places the brain-heart connection into greater view for researchers – a focus of research for Noel Bairey Merz, a cardiologist and director of the Barbra Streisand Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. “As cardiologists we always think the heart is the most important organ,” Bairey Merz told ABC. But in this case, she said, “it’s the brain and the brain controls everything.” While many do recover from Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, Bairey Merz said that one in five broken heart sufferers have another attack within ten years. One key to maintaining recovery is developing skills to process intense emotions and take care of your own mental health, she said.

For some college students, pass/no pass may ease some pressure

The California Community Colleges system has adopted a pass/no pass credit policy to help students at risk of dropping out. Jessie Ryan, executive vice president of the Campaign for College Opportunity, told the LA Times: “We know that when a college student steps out, they often drop out never to return. That could be the determining factor in what they pursue in terms of their career and life path.”

The pass/no pass policy was created as a temporary salve to address declining enrollment during the pandemic, but it is now also seen as a way to help remove barriers faced by students experiencing economic hardship and mental stress. In practice, students have until the last day before finals to select pass/no pass to be recorded on their transcripts, rather than a letter grade. The move can protect a student’s GPA at their community college, but still comes with risks: It could impede their ability to transfer to four-year colleges such as those in the University of California system.

In other news:

A song for Uncle Mark: In this brief review for NPR Music, DJ and writer John Morrison reflects on “Uncle Mark,” a track from “Moor Chores,” the recently released album from Brooklyn rapper Lord Kayso. Undergirded by a jazz-infused beat, the song describes the beautiful struggle embodied by the artist’s uncle who lives with severe mental illness within a neighborhood rife with its own symptoms of systemic inequality.

Lord Kayso’s Moor Chores album cover

Teen suicide awareness through a play: By staging playwright Joey Madia’s No One Hears Unless You Scream, students at Colorado’s Pueblo County High School are sparking much needed conversations about teen mental health  – and perhaps even connecting some students to mental health support. The Pueblo Chieftain reported that the play has been revised to address eating disorders, bullying of LGBTQIA students and isolation during the COVID pandemic. Most practically, licensed therapists from Spark the Change Colorado are available for audience members to receive immediate counseling after every performance. 

Healing after surviving a war: What are the mental health effects of living through a civil war? That’s just one question raised by The War After the War, a documentary from the Pulitzer Center examining the mental health struggles of South Sudanese youth now living in the Midwest. 

A $55 million gift from the estate of Audrey Steele Burnand will help open a new center dedicated to the study of depression at the University of California Irvine. The center is expected to open within three years and cover “the entire spectrum” of research on that mental illness, according to the Orange County Register. 

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.


Bringing Sistas Together to Protect Our Mental Health and Save Black Lives

I knew I had to do something to protect the life of my child – alongside people who had the same interest in ending police violence.

When Does Cedric Lofton Get a Chance to Stand His Ground?

When I heard there would be no charges in the death of Cedric Lofton, I was heartbroken but I wasn’t surprised. Cedric, a teenager in the midst of a mental health crisis, died while being restrained at a juvenile detention center in Wichita, Kansas.

Intergenerational Trauma and Healing: Why Disney’s Encanto Resonates with Latinx First-Gens

An enthralling film for both children and adults, Encanto features a cast of Latinx females attempting to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma. As a Nicaraguan American, I know that most of us who identify as First-Gen often relate to “ni de aqui ni de allá” …

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Courtney Wise

Courtney Wise Randolph is a writer and creative based in Detroit, Michigan.