June 29, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. With deaths by overdose continuing to escalate, why are we failing to address the crisis effectively? A women’s soccer champ has become a mental health advocate. And Dad can struggle with postpartum depression, too.

More Americans than ever are dying of overdose. Why are we not doing more?

Overdose awareness march in New York, 2018. Photo: Shutterstock

About 300 Americans died of overdoses every day in the first half of 2022, and more will continue to die daily, even though we know what to do to keep most of them alive. That’s the gist of a thorough and scathing critique from The New York Times editorial board about the “consistent and rigorous choice” our health systems make to not treat addiction as seriously as afflictions like cancer, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s, despite its similar prevalence.

The op-ed opens with the heartbreaking tale of Harris Marquesano, who died of an overdose at age 19. For years, Marquesano, who was diagnosed with ADHD in middle school, struggled with mental health providers who ignored his substance abuse or used it as a reason to classify him as “too much to handle,” referring him elsewhere. In rehab, he’d land with substance abuse providers who simply ignored his mental health issues, taking him off medications necessary to treat anxiety and ADHD. In his life, it created the perfect storm. 

Despite the American Medical Association’s pronouncement in 1987 that addiction is a disease, the condition is still widely viewed as a failure of morals or willpower, more often treated in the courts. With this problem in mind, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University outlined effective co-pharmaceutical and psychotherapy treatments for addiction in 2012 — but 10 years later, they’re still not being put to use. As Dr. Sarah Wakeman, medical director for Substance Use Disorder at Mass General Brigham, said, “We’ve known for a long time what works, but it looks nothing like what’s actually happening.”

Briana Scurry: World Cup champion – and now an advocate for mental health

Back in 1999, the US Women’s Soccer team won the World Cup and solidified their place in sports history. Goalkeeper Briana Scurry was a crucial component to the victory; a save from her made the game-winning penalty kick by Brandi Chastain possible. Now, Scurry is back in the spotlight with a memoir, My Greatest Save, detailing her recovery from a traumatic brain injury, the depression that accompanied it, and her reclamation of a life purpose.

“The choice that I made to be an advocate for mental health, (traumatic brain injuries) in particular and all that entails: it chose me,” Scurry told the Boston Globe. “I had a concussion, which led to a three-year long odyssey, issues with everything, the basket of physical symptoms [and] the emotional side. That’s what was missing in the conversation.” 

Scurry went on to explain that she’s noticed that men and football players are at the center of discussions on TBI mental health and concussions. But she’s learned that roughly half of advanced women soccer players suffer a concussion. It made her want “to paint a new face” on the topic. “I had so many issues with doctors, treatments, misdiagnoses” she said, “I’m a two-time gold medalist and world champion. If I had all this trouble, I can only imagine what it was like for others.”

A 24/7 center for the homeless expected soon in Sacramento

In response to Sacramento’s growing homeless population, Mayor Darrell Steinberg has announced his desire to keep the city’s homeless weather relief center open 24/7, the Sacramento Bee reports. “I’m not going to allow a vacant city asset that is large and that is perfect for city (homeless services) to just lay fallow,” Steinberg said. The center with space for 50 people is housed inside of a former science center and currently only opens when it’s too hot or too cold to be without shelter. Steinberg’s plan is expected to go before the city council for consideration on July 19.

According to his proposal, the mayor expects that having the center open around the clock will enable unhoused people to have greater access to social services support, like being connected to housing, obtaining legal ID cards, and certain medical and mental health care. In addition, it would free up competition for city or county shelter beds, which are typically full and hard to come by. The Sacramento Bee reports that the council was previously open to a 24/7 center at the same site in 2021, but Councilman Sean Loloee blocked it after complaints from the nearby Children’s Receiving Home, a nonprofit in his constituent area.

In other news…

The number of women included in clinical trials remains too low, especially in trials related to mental health. “Sixty percent of people with psychiatric disorders are women, but just 42 percent of participants in trials for psychiatric drugs were female,” The Washington Post reports.

Dads can struggle with postpartum depression, too. That’s the latest from a study published this month in JAMA Network Open. “We know from previous research that when mothers are depressed, there is a higher chance for fathers to be depressed as well,” study co-author Kara Smythe told US News & World Report. “Paternal perinatal anxiety is associated with maternal depression, and the risk of anxiety for new fathers increases by more than three-fold when mothers are depressed,” she added. Smythe and colleagues at University College London analyzed 23 past studies including some 29,000 participants and found that about three in every 100 couples experienced late postpartum depression – when their child was 3 to 12 months old. 

Talk about your grief. Take your pick of stressors: COVID, mass shootings, economic instability, the reversal of Roe v. Wade – there’s no shortage of things to grieve or feel overwhelmed about these days. So how to manage it? It’s all about balance, says Gabes Torres, a psychotherapist, activist, and artist. She suggests in Yes! magazine that “we stay present enough with the grief to confront, reflect, and talk about it, but not to the point where we are too overwhelmed or overcome by it that it debilitates us.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889. Services are free and available 24/7.

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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...