Tuesday, December 13, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. Forget losing weight and being nicer to your spouse or children. As 2022 nears a close, the most common New Year’s resolution people seem ready to make involves a different kind of self-improvement. Elected officials are increasingly seeking to force mentally ill people off the streets while in Virginia, a state report pointed to a different impediment to people getting mental health services: low pay and high turnover rates among mental health counselors and social workers.

Top New Year’s resolution this year? Improved mental health

Image: Shutterstock

The most frequently mentioned New Year’s resolution for 2023, according to Forbes, is better mental health. The Forbes Health/OnePoll surveyed 1,005 U.S. adults in mid-November and 45% listed it as one of their top New Year’s resolutions, followed by improved fitness (39%), losing weight (37%) and a better diet (33%).

Better mental wellbeing was an even more popular pick among Zoomers in the 18-to-25 range (50%) and Millennials 26 to 41 (49%) but fell to second place among GenX’ers 42 to 57 (39%), who put a higher premium on losing weight (41%). Curiously, Baby Boomers are not even mentioned as having been surveyed on this question. In perhaps another sign of the times, among the least-mentioned of 14 resolutions listed was to perform better at work (8% and under among all age groups).

“The survey findings suggest a cultural shift in what Americans value when it comes to wellness, pushing back against the idea that health is measured simply by the number on the scale,” the story said.   

Don Sapatkin

Portland, Oregon mayor latest to call for easing involuntary commitment standards

Another major city leader is advocating forced treatment as a way to respond to the large numbers of unhoused people grappling with mental illness. This time it’s Mayor Ted Wheeler of Portland, Oregon. Noting that he would be “resoundingly excoriated” for his comments, Wheeler told a room full of business owners during a meeting to address crime that he thought it was time to lower the bar and make it easier to force a person into treatment – even if they haven’t committed a crime. Attendees supported the declaration, reported Oregon Public Broadcasting, marking a shift in sentiments in a city historically seen as progressive in its approach to helping the unhoused or those struggling with addiction.

“We are in the middle of a shift from where the majority of people who were once sympathetic to the homeless are now angry,” said Jason Renaud, co-founder of the Mental Health Association of Portland. “And people are angry at the homeless and blame them. It’s a shift that comes from the county, the city and the state not doing anything about this problem, to the point where people get mad.”

Wheeler is implementing a “90-day reset” in the Central Eastside district that includes increased law enforcement and more sweeps of homeless camps. He wants to ban unsanctioned camps and move the unhoused to city-run encampments that aren’t yet built. “All of us need to recognize that our mental health and substance abuse treatment services in Oregon are woefully inadequate,” the mayor’s spokesman wrote in an email to OPB. “The mayor believes nothing should be off the table in identifying solutions.”

But critics say that since both housing and services are severely lacking, such actions only exacerbate the problem. “It’s hard not to feel exasperated at the shortsightedness, at best, and cruelty, at worst,” noted Kaia Sand, executive director of Street Roots.

Changing the civil commitment standards would be a “Herculean task,” the broadcaster reported. State law would have to be changed, agencies would have to resolve the lack of available space in psychiatric hospitals or other inpatient and outpatient programs, a massive staffing shortage among mental health care workers and an equally critical lack of housing for people to live upon their release.

A long-time advocate for forced mental health treatment finds his ideas gaining traction

Via Twitter

As more public officials move to make it easier to involuntarily commit severely mentally ill people into treatment, the New York Times put a spotlight on 85-year-old psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey. Torrey has spent decades arguing for the reopening of psychiatric hospitals and, through the organization he led for decades – the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) – has compiled and publicized hundreds of cases of mentally ill people committing acts of violence.

Torrey and TAC have been the most prominent advocates for laws that allow the government to compel severely mentally ill people into treatment. For much of his career, Dr. Torrey was a lonely voice, criticized by patient advocacy groups and organized psychiatry alike. But his ideas are now animating major policy shifts, including the announcement by New York Mayor Eric Adams last month that city officials would send people with untreated mental illnesses to hospitals, even if they posed no threat to others. Torrey calls the Adams plan “the largest single attempt to change the thing that we said we wanted to change.”

Brian Stettin, TAC’s former policy director, is now Adams’ adviser on mental health and the chief architect of the new policy. He called Torrey “the single greatest influence on my thinking about the role of law and policy in ensuring the medical treatment of severe mental illness.”

In other news…

What’s a bigger priority: therapy or home heating?  Hedydd Elias has struggled with her mental health since age 11. Three years ago, she faced a stark choice. The 28-year-old resident of Ceredigion, Wales, found herself at a hospital emergency department and was told there was a two-and-a-half-year wait for therapy through the National Health Service. She spent six months saving money and then began paying £100 per week for private therapy. She doesn’t earn enough in her job to afford the therapy and the heat in her home, she told the BBC. “If I’m cold, I’ll fill a hot water bottle up, just boil the kettle once,” she said. “It’s everything else I need to cut back on because this, for me, is essential. I need this therapy to survive.”

Increasing compensation to mental health professionals topped a list of things Virginia can do to improve the state’s behavioral and substance abuse services in the midst of a ongoing mental health crisis, according to WVTF, Virginia’s Public Radio. The recommendation came in a report requested by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission. Leaders and staff of mental health agencies cited low wages as a cause of widespread job turnover, jobs remaining vacant – and long wait times for people seeking mental health services.

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...