November 16, 2021

Hello, MindSite News Daily Readers. In today’s newsletter, you’ll learn about a worrisome trend – parents who are lambasting school boards for offering mental health programs at school – and hear why a retired general in the US military decided to reveal that he has bipolar disorder. You’ll also read about how a mobile needle exchange program reduces detectable HIV by building trust (and is ranked as the most successful HIV suppression program in the country).

Opponents of ‘critical race theory’ want to stop schools from teaching students about mental health

Last September, Tara Eddins, a parent in Southlake, Texas, lambasted the school board, demanding to know why the Carroll Independent School District was paying counselors “90K a pop” to provide lessons to students in suicide prevention, according to a story by NBC News. She told them they’re “advertising suicide” and charged that parents in the upscale district had to hire tutors because counselors weren’t helping their children prep for college. It wasn’t a one-off protest: A couple days later, Southlake Families PAC, which had fought a school diversity plan, sent emails to parents with the battle cry: “Leave parenting and mental health to parents.”

The email infuriated parent Christina Edmiston, who had pulled her son out of the district earlier that month when he told her he was having suicidal thoughts after being bullied at school. “You can’t expect just to teach kids arithmetic (and) expect them to be decent human beings,” Edmiston said. “I personally cannot understand why a parent would not want their children to have knowledge of what depression looks like, what anxiety looks like.”

The move to target mental health programs at schools is part of a national push by conservative groups to brand such programs as a liberal attempt to brainwash kids, according to NBC. Social emotional learning (SEL), which teaches children empathy and coping skills, is one target. An August 2021 study suggests that parents on both sides of the political spectrum embrace the tenets of SEL, but that Republicans think SEL replaces academics. Yet mental health support for students is sorely needed. A report from the Gaggle, a company that monitors school computers for safety, found nearly 9,000 threats of suicide or self-harm among its 1,500 client schools that “required immediate intervention” last year.

Depression, anxiety on the rise among UK youth

The United Kingdom’s economy is causing depression and anxiety among young people there, according to a Planet Radio story. “I just read all these headlines about unemployment rates, and graduates and how they struggle to get jobs,” Zoyah, 16, told the Mental Health Monday podcast. She said reading news headlines about the UK’s tanking economy and rising unemployment leaves her worried about her future and uncertain that she could justify the expense of a university education to her parents.

Zoyah’s concerns appear widespread. A survey by a UK-based youth support organization called The Mix found that 51% of young people were anxious about their financial future and that 35% felt the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative effect on family finances and mental health. Nearly a quarter said it was difficult to concentrate at school and 41% feel depressed. A spokesperson for The Mix says that the survey showed young people are struggling to pay rent and feed themselves, adding, “It’s actually about survival, and we want to make sure our young people are well equipped to deal with that.”

A needle exchange program reduces detectable HIV by building trust

Dr. Hansel Tookes has a method for combatting the spread of HIV and helping patients who are opioid users stay healthy in the midst of a pandemic, according to a feature story in USA Today:  by “discarding one dirty needle at a time.” He hands his clients medications for suppressing HIV – along with a stash of clean needles – and they in turn dump their used syringes in a container that Tookes will take and dispose of.

In less than two years, “Tookes’ hybrid needle exchange, telehealth and HIV medication outreach program has become the most successful HIV suppression campaign in the nation,” USA Today reported. The program has put nearly 2,000 people in touch with medical treatment, recovery counseling and access to supportive housing. Its successes have brought national attention – and an $2.3 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Alex Kral, an epidemiologist specializing in syringe exchanges and drug use, told the newspaper that the program works because it provides easy access. “For people struggling with mental health to get the necessary care, you have to overcome the high costs, transportation, administrative hurdles and also culturally inappropriate workers and structures.”

The IDEA exchange, which stands for the Infectious Disease Elimination Act, breaks down barriers by removing the conventions that make patients feel inadequate and mistrustful and building human connection. “When I was in the lowest of the lows, they helped me where I was at,” 50-year-old Adam Pearson said about Tookes and his staff. “My family had given up on me. But they haven’t given up on me.”

General with bipolar disorder combats the stigma of mental illness

Gregg Martin excelled in high school athletics, was voted by classmates as the student most likely to succeed and went on to West Point and MIT, where he earned a PhD. He became a Major General in the US Army admired for his unstoppable energy, which earned him the nickname “Mad Martin.” In 2003, Martin led his brigade in a “terrifying” mission in Baghdad, which he also experienced as an ultimate high. It turns out he was in the midst of a manic episode, part of his undiagnosed bipolar disorder, according to a story by WBUR, Boston’s NPR affiliate. “I had a delusion that I was Superman, and I was able to lift up off the ground and fly and see the battlefield from up above,” Martin told WBUR. “That’s pretty strange. And it probably should have been some sort of a trigger.”

The highs of mania put you at a “biochemical advantage” over everybody, he said. “You’re solving problems faster. It’s wonderful until you go too high, and then you become destructive and a problem — or until you’ve crashed into depression.” Weeks after the battle Martin descended into depression. It took years to get treatment and find a medicine that worked, he said. Martin, who retired from the Army in 2015, said that even though some of his subordinates suspected he was having mental health problems, chain-of-command practices kept them from reaching out to a superior officer to get help. He hopes talking about his experiences can help lead to change, and he wants to tell others with mental illness there is reason to hope. “Bipolar and many or most of these mental health conditions are treatable medical conditions,” he said. “That’s the good news.”

A Community Safety Dept. in Albuquerque has nothing to do with police. Could it work nationally?

Together, Walter Adams and Leigh White make up half of the entire roster of the only standalone Community Safety Department in the country, the Christian Science Monitor reports. But Adams and White aren’t cops. They’re mental health specialists that respond to non-violent calls. Its employees are regarded with a mix of curiosity, suspicion and gratitude by the people they encounter.

The impetus for the department’s formation was the Albuquerque Police Department’s troubling record of police shootings: Between 2010 and 2014, 27 people were killed, including James Boyd, a homeless man with schizophrenia. The killing of Boyd led to an investigation by the Department of Justice, which found that the department “too often uses deadly force in an unconstitutional manner,” including against “individuals who posed a threat only to themselves.” 

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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