September 26, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite News readers! It’s officially fall and just days from the launch of California’s CARE Court, which we’re discussing today. In other news, scientists find links between poor oral health and dementia. Mental health is a big topic as hip hip turns 50. And scientist Roland Griffiths was a lead researcher on a new study that reinforces earlier findings on psychedelics’ potential for “profound awakening experiences” in healthy people.

“We have the potential to awaken to a sense of freedom, peace, joy and gratitude that sadly, most of the world, I think, finds unimaginable,” Griffiths told the publication Lucid News. “It may ultimately be important to the survival of our species.”

Plus: Stephen King’s latest novel features a main character whose mental illness serves as her best crime-solving tool.

Forced mental treatment comes under scrutiny as CARE Court nears launch

March 24, 2022: California Governor Gavin Newsom speaking at a press conference outside Napa State Hospital after the CARE Court Roundtable meeting. Credit: Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock

On October 1, California’s CARE Court – short for Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment Court – will officially launch. Its premise is simple enough: Family, first responders, and mental health workers will have the authority to request that a loved one with severe mental illness, like untreated schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders, be compelled to enter mental health treatment. It’s a controversial concept – and complicated in practice, as the experiences of San Diego residents Tom Dillree and Adam Philip make clear to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“Forced treatment really was what saved my life,” said Tom Dillree. “I probably would have eventually succeeded in killing myself if not for that.” Back in 2011, his mental health went into rapid decline, with the onset of paranoia and inner voices that told him he was a horrible person. Feeling like an embarrassment to his friends and family, Dillree made several attempts to end his life. But then, his ex-wife and her husband made him go to the hospital for help. Despite worrying that he’d “be locked up for life,” Dillree spent 2 weeks in Sharp Mesa Vista, San Diego’s largest psychiatric hospital, before leaving with a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. All these years later, he continues to take his medication and attend therapy with the support of family. 

“Before, I had felt that mental health was a shameful thing,” said Dillree’s mother, Nancy. “This convinced me that, no, anybody can suffer. You can’t just keep battling it and it will go away. It’s not something you can do on your own.”

Adam Philip has a markedly different perspective. Once thought to have bipolar disorder, he found his diagnosis was later changed to autism. “I hate to say this out loud, but I’ve wished I was dead since I was thirteen,” Philip told the Union-Tribune. “It’s not that I have the desire to take my life — I just don’t enjoy being alive.” It’s a feeling he believes everyone has from time to time on account of our deeply imperfect world, even if they don’t admit it. 

Moreover, Philip’s relationships with family are strained. One Facebook interaction with a stepsister eventually led to his arrest and an involuntary psych hold. Philip had sent his sister a direct message that accused one of her brothers of beating him as a child and added that his “livelihood” should be taken away. Taking the message as a threat, the sister reported it to police, who arrived later in the evening to arrest Philip on a 5150 hold. Section 5150 of California law allows anyone deemed a threat to themselves or others to be held against their will – even if no crime has been committed. Philip was held overnight in the hospital ER. 

Four years later, the memory of being handcuffed, driven by police to a psych ward  and held against his will still haunts him. “Don’t go knocking on someone’s door assuming you understand their personal history, psychology, the words they choose to use,” he said. “It was one of the most violating experiences of my entire life.” 

Poor dental health is linked to dementia

It’s little secret that poor oral health is associated with other physical health problems, including cancer and diabetes. It also tracks that, if left untreated, the physical pain caused by certain dental challenges can trigger mental distress. However, new research suggests that poor dental health can actually increase our risk for dementia. There’s not full clarity on how periodontal bacteria increase the risk, but scientists believe it’s linked to the body’s inflammatory response to fighting the bacteria that latch onto dental plaque, or the biofilm that builds up when we do a poor job of brushing our teeth. “The whole body is fighting against this bacteria,” Anita Visser, a geriatric dentistry researcher, told the Washington Post. “The immune system is really provoked and alert and working really hard against these bacteria.”

A 2007 longitudinal study that followed the dental health of 144 nuns found that those with severe tooth loss were 6.4 times at greater risk of dementia than their counterparts who lost fewer teeth. Ten years later, a Taiwanese study with 28,000 participants found that people with periodontal disease for a decade or more were 1.7 times more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease. And a 2016 study of 60 patients with mild to moderate dementia found a link between periodontitis and a “sixfold increase in cognitive decline.”

“Raising awareness among the population about the increased risk of Alzheimer’s associated with tooth loss and periodontitis can lead to heightened attention towards oral health,” said dental researcher Mario Dioguardi. While we plan to upgrade our flossing and brushing routine based on these findings, we wonder whether poor dental hygiene could be a symptom of cognitive decline rather than its predecessor.

New clergy study appears to confirm psychedelic researcher Roland Griffith’s earlier findings

Dr. Roland Griffith via Twitter (Credit: Lucid News)

Despite his terminal illness, groundbreaking psychedelics researcher Roland Griffiths is continuing his work in psychedelics. Though yet unpublished, his latest study conducted with teams at Johns Hopkins University and New York University administered psilocybin to 24 healthy members of the clergy, including rabbis, priests, chaplains and seminary professors, with little to zero experience with psychedelic substances. The intent: To examine and record the spiritual encounters they experience as a result of the drug, Lucid News reports.

After verifying their fitness for the study, each participant was given two doses of synthesized psilocybin in a safe, comfortable, and supervised setting. While Griffiths said the team agreed not to discuss the study’s ultimate findings until their paper is officially published, he did say that preliminary results confirm his 2006 research on the spiritual experiences of healthy people during psychedelic use. The three common components that transformed their worldview, according to the story: “a sense of interconnectedness, that the experience is precious or sacred, and that the awareness is absolutely true or more real than everyday consciousness.” Their experiences were “among the most spiritually and personally meaningful experiences of their lifetime,” said Griffiths at this year’s Psychedelic Science Conference. 

“Weeks, months, years after having their experience, our volunteers were attributing enduring, fundamental, and positive changes to that psilocybin experience,” Griffiths added in an interview. “It was completely different from the many other psychoactive drugs that I have studied.” It is Griffiths’ belief that despite their risks, psychedelics –when used appropriately – can help end needless human suffering.

In other news…

Mental health in hip hop: It’s the 50th anniversary of hip hop and one of its promoters, Shanti Das, recently launched the mibo show podcast to address the mental and physical health of artists across the art form. The show’s name is the joining of “mi,” signifying the mind, and “bo,” representing the body, Das told Essence magazine. “I hope to inspire our culture and community to take charge of their lives and make the mind and body their first priority,” she said.

In horror writer Stephen King’s latest book, the protagonist’s mental illness is an asset: Holley Gibney, first introduced as a character in the 2014 novel Mr. Mercedes, is the star of her own story now. Titled Holly, the book shows the character’s “laundry list of problems,” but her OCD isn’t causing them. Instead, says Salon in this book review, Holly’s learned to channel her anxiety and OCD “into a healthy and functional purpose, aiding in her ability to solve crimes.”

Forgo the stiff upper lip? MindSite’s Monday edition of this newsletter pointed out a recent study from Cambridge University that suggests suppressing negative emotions may actually be good for your mental health, in contrast to longtime psychiatric belief. But London-based therapist Lucy Cavendish says not to run with that advice just yet: Therapy isn’t just confiding your traumas and negative emotions. There’s a purpose, Cavendish argues, and it’s to move you to healing and transformation. “Not having a stiff upper lip doesn’t mean to say we evacuate our emotions whenever we choose,” she writes in The Guardian. “While it may feel good, just splurging our inner selves all over everyone doesn’t actually help, because it hasn’t moved anywhere…The key is to tell ourselves a different story. We need to strengthen our positive neural pathways and weaken those that tell us bad things about ourselves.”

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...