November 12, 2021

Hello, MindSite News Daily Readers. In today’s newsletter, you’ll read about students in Los Angeles asking the district to provide them with mental health support and learn about a new pilot project rolling out in Orange County, modeled after a nationally recognized crisis intervention program. And you can check out an intensive therapy program for veterans that offers art, tai chi, fitness, and camaraderie.

Massachusetts program uses art to help veterans who feel like they’re on the brink

Masks painted by veterans taking part in the Home Base program. The outside represents how they project themselves to the world; the inside: what they’re really feeling. (Photo: Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Veteran John Hicks of Weymouth, Massachusetts, is fashioning a mask out of papier mache that looks smooth and calm on the outside. His plans for the inside of the mask go in the opposite direction: “kind of raw and not so put together,” he said in a radio and print story with WBUR Radio. The exercise is part of a program known as HomeBase, which offers art therapy as well as intensive inpatient group therapy, tai chi, yoga, fitness classes and camaraderie to veterans in Massachusetts.  

Hicks served in the Air Force as a language specialist in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2010. His job was notifying troops on the ground where “the enemy” was, which he said was a lot of pressure. “Like, knowing that those guys were getting put in danger,” he recalls. “And if you didn’t do your job well enough, then maybe some little kid’s finding out Daddy’s not coming home, you know?” 

Hicks left the battlefield, but depression and posttraumatic stress followed him home. Last summer, he had a breakdown. “All of it was kind of crashing down on me, and I realized, like, I’m either going to pull myself out of this or I’m going to die.” That’s when Hicks reached into his pocket and found the card a fellow vet who does outreach for HomeBase had given to him a couple years before. “I still have my issues, but I’m dealing with them a lot better,” Hicks says. “I feel hopeful toward the future, and that’s something I haven’t been able to say for years.”

After recent police shootings of mentally ill men in Orange County, mental health workers will respond to 911 calls

Following the police shootings of three mentally ill men in Orange County over the last year, the City Council of Irvine voted unanimously on Tuesday to begin a year-long pilot to send medical workers rather than police to calls involving mentally ill residents,  the Los Angeles Times reports. The program was launched by  Be Well OC, a new integrated mental health program that opened its doors early this year and is funded by local hospitals and the county. 

The teams, which include mental health and medical providers, will be dispatched to 911 non-emergency calls related to mental illness, homelessness and substance use from 10 am to 10 pm. “A significant benefit of this model is that it relieves our officers from handling non-police-related calls so they can focus their time on activities like proactive policing, crime prevention, community outreach and being available for emergency calls for service,” said Irvine police Lt. Dave Klug.

The model of the program is based on a nationally-recognized mobile crisis intervention program known as CAHOOTS, which was first rolled out in Eugene, Oregon, three decades ago. The same model has been adopted in cities across the country, including Denver and Oakland. Three other Orange County cities are or plan to begin using the Be Well OC mobile crisis program. 

Doctors’ hypervigilance, exhaustion signal a need for help

Credit: Deliris/Shutterstock

Read the headlines of newspapers around the country and you’re bound to find articles talking about the mental health toll exacted on health care workers during the pandemic. In a recent article on the website of the American Medical Association, Dr. Reggie Mason, a pulmonologist, said that the nature of doctoring itself predisposes physicians to be hit hard by COVID-19. “Physicians are human too, and our training sets us up to be hypervigilant” – something that increased during the pandemic, said Mason, a physician at the Southeast Permanente Medical Group in Georgia. 

Mason was one of three physicians participating in a podcast hosted by Permanente Medicine about how the pandemic affected the mental health of doctors. “The fundamental distrust in science and government made the last 18 months particularly exhausting in the healthcare field,” said Dawn Clark, MD, chief wellness officer for the Southern California Permanente Medical Group. Physicians were also worn down by what she described as a feeling of “moral injury” experienced by those who witnessed and were unable to save untold patients who died from COVID-19. 

Mason said that doctors have to shed the stoicism that’s deeply rooted in the medical profession and acknowledge that it’s okay to ask for help. The American Medical Association provides tips to help doctors move in the direction of selfcare: Eat healthy, get enough sleep and exercise. But the AMA goes further,  urging doctors to monitor themselves for symptoms of depression, talk to a trusted colleague or supervisor if symptoms continue and be unafraid to seek professional help. 

Los Angeles students tell school authorities that they need mental health support

With grief and stress from the pandemic engulfing them, students in Los Angeles report that they are suffering and need help with their mental health. That’s according to a survey of 769 middle and high school students,  the Los Angeles Times reported. Support at school often starts with a caring adult who students can reach out to, but for one in three students of color, there was no one at school they felt comfortable talking to, according to the survey. Students were also worried about the mental and physical health of themselves and their parents, friends and families, with Latino students expressing 10% more concern in this area than non-Latino students. 

Evelyn Flores, who attended high school in the Boyle Heights section, was familiar with such anxiety. She said she spent the last year juggling remote learning from her living room while cooking for her siblings and paying the bills. When her parents came down with COVID, she got a food service job to supplement family income. Meanwhile, her attempts at keeping up with school were hampered by a poor internet connection, a problem shared by many of her peers, according to the survey. 

Flores’ experience of caring for family was not unusual. Some 13% of students had to take care of adult family members, and 29% had to take care of younger siblings, according to the survey. “We need to treat this as the same (level of) emergency as when the pandemic began because it is the same level of seriousness,” said LA school board President Kelly Gonez, who took part in an online briefing about the survey. Students taking the Los Angeles survey and participating in focus groups agree, responding that providing more support for mental wellness is “nonnegotiable.”

As days get shorter, some people are plagued by seasonal depression

Lexi King, a 27-year old Midwesterner from Michigan, is a sun worshipper. But as the days get shorter and darkness casts its shadow over more of the day, she feels a distinct shift in her energy and her ability to focus. “When it’s cold and dark after work, I will go home, shower and put on my pajamas. I rarely leave the house once I’m home,” she says in an article in USA Today. “It feels like I drop off the face of the earth for three or so months.”

There’s a name for what King suffers from: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It strikes about 5% of the general population, typically in the fall and winter, and it’s more common in women than men. Symptoms run the gamut from low energy and difficulty sleeping to oversleeping, depression and changes in appetite, according to Dr. Steven Powell, a psychiatrist for telehealth platform Hims & Hers.

“Oftentimes, hopelessness and even thoughts of self-harm, all come into play,” Powell told the newspaper. He says SAD is preventable: “If you know that you’re prone to this, preparing to make sure that you find ways to get as much outdoor exposure as you can will be very important.” Sun exposure – whether from outside or sitting near the window – helps boost serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter responsible for stabilizing mood. Therapy and meditation can also help, he added.

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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