January 11, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Happy Wednesday, MindSite News readers. In today’s newsletter, check out Mashable’s choices for best mental health books of 2022. We share a Seattle Times investigation into the sharp rise in psychiatric hospitalizations ofWashington youth. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot finds her failure to reopen mental health clinics in the city may come back to bite her as she runs for reelection.

Also: “Tranq dope” presents a new horror to ravaged U.S. drug zones. Pandemic-related stress may cause teen’s brains to age too fast. And learn about the Navy’s discovery that chaplains aboard ships boosts the mental well-being of sailors.

Mashable’s top 11 mental health books from 2022

Mashable’s Rebecca Ruiz is out with a list of 2022’s best books on mental health. Ruiz, a former Carter Center mental health fellow, follows this area closely and has put together a terrific and informative list of titles, some of which we have written about in the MindSite News Review of Books. (These include Healing: The Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health by former NIMH director and MindSite News cofounder and advisory board member Tom Insel, and What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma, a harrowing memoir by radio producer and author Stephanie Foo.)

If you’re interested in digging into some of the other great books on the subject – whether your interest is trauma, mental illness, social media, mass shootings, social-emotional learning or even rest – Mashable’s list of 11 top reads is the perfect companion.

Caught in Washington’s Youth Mental Health Disaster, a Teen with Nowhere to Go

Jack Hays, 17, is one of a surging number of Washington children facing mental health challenges so severe that they require hospital stays. Between 2015 and 2021, the total number of hospitalizations nearly doubled among youth whose primary diagnosis is psychiatric, an investigation by The Seattle Times found.

Chicago Mayor Lightfoot takes flack for failing to reopen shuttered mental health clinics

Mayor Lightfoot in Marquette Park. Photo: Lonnie H. Chambers/Shutterstock

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot played defense during a candidates’ forum last weekend as her challengers took her on for failing to reopen mental health clinics closed by her predecesso, reports Block Club Chicago. The forum, attended by seven of nine mayoral candidates vying for election next month, centered on issues important to the city’s disabled community. 

Former Mayor Rahm Emmanuel closed half of the city’s 12 mental health clinics a decade ago, a move that dogged him throughout his tenure. Community organizations and progressive members of the city council have pushed to reallocate funding and reopen the clinics. “We have a crisis of mental health in this city, and the public mental health clinics are a fundamental piece of making sure we are providing it,” council member Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez said last year.

Lightfoot says her plan to boost funding for the five remaining clinics and other community-based services through her Trauma-Informed Centers of Care Network is a more effective approach. “There was a lot of conversation about reopening the mental health clinics,” Lightfoot said. “But then what I heard from the experts and what I heard from patients is that they didn’t want clinician care that our clinics offer. What they wanted was to be able to go to culturally relevant services in their neighborhood.” 

Congressman Jesus “Chuy” García, one of Lightfoot’s principal challengers, didn’t specify whether he’d reopen the clinics either, though he did say he’d make efforts to increase the number of mental health workers and access to available health care. A recent survey from The Daily Line and Crain’s Chicago Business shows Lightfoot trailing Garcia and two other challengers, according to Block Club Chicago

Tranq dope adds adds new horror to already ravaged drug zones

If the threat of a fentanyl overdose wasn’t enough, users of street drugs now have an alarming new threat. “The tranq dope literally eats your flesh,” Philadelphia-based tattoo artist Brooke Peder told the New York Times. Xylazine, a veterinary anesthetic, has infiltrated Philly’s drug supply and was found in more than 90% of the city’s lab-tested street fentanyl in 2021. The drug was also found in the street-drug supply of 36 states and the District of Columbia, according to an October study

The sedative used to bulk up street fentanyl has devastating effects that physicians don’t yet know how to counteract. Where opioids have been researched extensively in humans, there are few such studies on xylazine. And, because it’s a sedative and not an opioid, it resists treatments like Naloxone that reverse opioid overdoses. 

Worse yet, “tranq dope” or “zombie drug” – as the anesthetic-opioid cocktail is known – triggers a blackout daze that leaves users more vulnerable to robbery or sexual assault, and causes disfiguring wounds that, left untreated, can lead to amputation. The 38-year-old Peder lost her mother, sister, wife, and a leg to tranq and still injects several times per day into her forearm. She now wants to avoid the drug’s agonizing withdrawal and warn others of its danger.

Educating people who might be exposed to the drug is the most practical goal for now, some experts say. Others argue that nothing will change without sufficient support programs and staff. But there is a way to immediately reduce the number of deaths and amputations that deserves more consideration, harm reduction experts say: Supervised injection sites across the country, where people can use in safe conditions, or at least have their drugs tested. Only two such sites exist in the country today – both in New York. There, people can learn within 10 minutes if their drugs are mixed with xylazine.

In other news…

Has COVID-related stress caused young brains to age faster? A study led by researchers at Stanford University suggests it might, according to Inverse. Using imaging, the study assessed the brains of 163 adolescents living in San Francisco during the 2020 pandemic shutdowns. Compared to youth examined before the pandemic, participants showed signs of lower cortical thickness, larger hippocampal and amygdala volume and more advanced brain age – all signs of accelerated aging. Still, it’s not clear these changes are permanent and study author Ian Gotlib says stress-reduction techniques like meditation “can slow the rate of brain aging.”

Chaplains improve sailors’ mental health. Navy Times reports that the Navy’s initiative to add chaplains as a permanent part of guided missile destroyers’ crews has been good for sailors’ mental health. “I think the chaplain initiative was one of the best things we’ve done,” said Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener. “The feedback I get from commanding officers, ships that have chaplains on board – we tend to see less unplanned losses and less issues.” Sailor mental health is of great concern following the suicides of three service members aboard the aircraft carrier George Washington over the course of six days in April 2022.

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 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...