March 9, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s newsletter: California’s governor proposes expanding use of court-ordered treatment aimed at unhoused people with severe mental illness. A community healing team in Minnesota’s Twin Cites offers care and support to the Black community. And a college professor offers tips to other educators on ways to support students’ mental health.

California governor proposes mental health “CARE Court”

California Governor Gavin Newsom has put forth a sweeping proposal to address the overlapping mental health and homelessness crisis facing Los Angeles and other cities. The proposal  – more concept than plan – is called Community Assistance Recovery and Empowerment, or “CARE Court.” It would enable people with severe untreated mental illness or substance use disorders to be placed under court-ordered psychiatric care at the request of family members, clinicians, and others who work closely with them.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, May 31, 2020, in Sacramento. Matt Gush/Shutterstock

Newsom has framed the conversation as a proposal to tackle the huge number of severely mentally ill people living unhoused on the streets. “What’s happening in the state is unacceptable,” he said last week at a press conference announcing this proposal. “There’s no compassion in stepping over people on the streets and sidewalks. There’s no compassion in reading about someone losing their life under I-280 in an encampment” – a reference to a fire that recently claimed the life of a woman sleeping near a freeway in San Francisco.

The proposal, summarized in a fact sheet by the governor’s office, would bring people with untreated mental illness to courts, which could impose a plan for 12 to 24 months that would be managed by a “care team” able to provide medication, support services and a “housing plan.” A public defender would be part of the team to advocate for their clients’ needs and rights.

Newsom’s proposal has the support of the state’s big-city mayors, but is certain to stir controversy and raise questions. ACLU representative Kevin Baker told CalMatters that his organization is “keeping an open mind” but noted “there are a million questions and a million things that could go wrong.” A representative for Disability Rights California criticized the plan as “coercive” in a story by Oaklandside

Community Healing Team in Twin Cities promotes Black mental health

It started with wanting to support Black people in the Twin Cities of Minnesota who were experiencing trauma following the killing of George Floyd. Marika Reese and Leslie E. Redmond determined that the community needed healing, but were also aware that Black people struggled to seek therapy and counseling services. So they formed something called the Community Healing Team, a group of roughly 30 community leaders trained to offer the public emotional support during particularly stressful public events. While they’re not necessarily licensed to provide mental health services, they are trained to support people in distress and help them develop useful coping skills.

The Community Healing Team includes respected members of the African American community, including barbers, political activists,and faith leaders. Reese explained to MinnPost that non-mental health professionals are key because the fields of social work and psychology have historically excluded African Americans. “Social work or psychology wasn’t created to help Black people. It was for other people,” she says. “So we’ve found alternatives that we can utilize.”

Dressed in bright yellow hoodies, Community Healing Team members are visible at public meetings, events, and protests. They were outside the courthouse during the Derek Chauvin trial and at community meetings following the killing of Daunte Wright by police officer Kimberly Potter. They continue to go wherever they are invited. Reese says the team serves 50 to 100 people at each gathering and that individual team members serve 75 people each month. Recently, the group has begun to provide equity-focused services to public schools and colleges in the Twin Cities region.

Professors encouraged to support the mental health of their students

Professors can support the mental wellness of their students by encouraging them, and asking them to do a little mental health homework, says Norman Eng, an education lecturer at Brooklyn College. In an article for Faculty Focus magazine, he outlined a short but practical list of actions educators can take as they develop their courses. Eng is also the founder of EducationxDesign, Inc., which provides professional development training for faculty. 

The list of actions includes asking students to prepare personalized plans for getting help should they encounter mental distress or burnout; checking in with students periodically, especially those who may be missing class or assignments; bringing in external experts such as campus counseling services so that students know how to find them; surveying students to find out how they want to be supported; and lightening the workload whenever possible. 

What student wouldn’t want to receive an email like this, especially if they’re struggling: “Hey [Name], I noticed that you’ve missed a couple of assignments for this class. Just wanted to check in with you and make sure everything’s OK. While learning the material is crucial, your wellbeing is even more important. If there’s any way I can help, I will make it a priority.”

Activists in Maine call for an end to solitary confinement in prisons

Advocates in Maine rallied for support around LD 696, a bill that could eliminate solitary confinement in Maine’s prison system. Defined as the isolation of an inmate for 20 hours or more  per day, psychiatrist Janis Petzel told WXFX that five days in solitary confinement can lead to mental illness. Furthermore, advocates say, isolation does not promote rehabilitation and sets offenders up for recidivism, rather than a successful life outside of prison. Jan Collins, assistant director for Maine Prisons Advocacy Coalition, told the station, “When they’re released, we don’t want them to be in a situation where they’re going to end up back in prison again. We need to give them the skills to survive…. They’re going to be out here living with us, and when they do, we want them to be good neighbors. So you can’t keep re-traumatizing them.”

In other news…

Gun purchase rates by Black American adults have increased in recent years, growing from 14 percent in 2015 to 25 percent by 2021. And since 2012, the suicide rates of young Black men have jumped by 50 percent. Scientists wonder if the two changes are related, a question explored in this report from North Carolina public radio station WUNC

If you’ve been wondering if handshakes are sure to make a return after the pandemic finally subsides, the answer is most likely yes, anthropologist and author Ella Al-Shamahi told National Geographic. “The beautiful thing about the handshake is that it’s so egalitarian,” she said.

“If you think about the middle ages in Europe, there were so many hierarchical greetings, because the society was really hierarchical and sexist,” Al-Shamahi continued. With democracy and gender equality on the rise, greetings like curtseys, bowing and kissing on the hand “are falling by the wayside. The only ones that remain are these really egalitarian ones.” 

Conversion therapy intended to transform people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer costs society billions of dollars and causes serious emotional harm to LGBTQ people, leading to suicide in some cases. A 2019 study found that almost 700,000 LGBTQ adults in the U.S. have undergone conversion therapy, about half of them as children. Now CNN reports on a research review in JAMA Pediatrics, which analyzed 28 studies and found that if LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy instead received affirmation therapy to validate their sexual and gender identities, it could save the nation $40,000 per person. With data showing more than half a million LGBTQ youth at risk of conversion therapy in 2021 alone, the authors report, the estimated savings could reach nearly $6.19 billion over their lifetimes. 

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.

When Positivity Becomes Toxic

We are in the #GoodVibesOnly age, and it’s kind of a bummer. In her new book, Toxic Positivity, psychotherapist Whitney Goodman argues that we miss out on a lot of life and understanding of others if we are constantly trying to jump from one lily pad of joy to the next, avoiding the perpetually churning void beneath. 

Finally, an American President Gets Serious About Mental Health

In the face of pressing economic issues and foreign policy crises, President Biden delivered a State of the Union address this week that offered important recognition of another issue that is impacting all Americans – our mental health and addiction crisis. 

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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...