July 13, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Hello, MindSite readers. Today we look at California’s Proposition 63, which taxes billionaires to fund mental health programs — and why the program has not lived up to expectations. Mentally ill prisoners in Dallas, Texas, are being held in jail pre-trial up to two years waiting for treatment to open up, and yet during that period they are considered legally innocent. Also, learn about fishing as a form of healing for PTSD, ways to keep from lashing out in anger, and why nightmares aren’t all bad.

Nearly 20 years later, has California’s Prop 63 made a difference?

Credit: Twitter

Eighteen years ago, California lawmakers and mental health advocates made a vow: If voters passed Prop 63, a measure designed to add a 1 percent tax surcharge on residents earning $1 million or more, the additional funds would be put to use creating new mental health programs. “No one who is mentally ill and now on the street will be on the street in five years,” promised Rusty Selix, the then-executive director of the Mental Health Association of California and a co-author of the ballot initiative. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be homeless. But you will see a measurable decline.”

Since then, voters approved the tax measure,which generated $29 billion, and Rusty Selix died in 2019. But unfortunately, the homelessness crisis in California is worse than ever. Although the additional funds have served to increase early intervention programs in schools and neighborhoods, create wraparound services for severely mentally disabled homeless people and enhance community outreach, the initial promise remains unfulfilled.

But why? The Los Angeles Times found a few reasons, namely the Great Recession of 2008 that led hundreds of millions in Prop 63 funds to be redirected to maintain programs that already existed, an overly complicated bureaucracy that leaves officials confused about what funds are available, and severe staffing shortages for mental health services. “To tax millionaires to support the mental health system, what an extraordinary thing we did,” said Alex Briscoe, the former health director for Alameda County. “But you can’t patch 40 years of bad policy with a single progressive action.”

Mentally ill prisoners in Dallas languish awaiting inpatient help

Crredit: Twitter

Some 400 Dallas County inmates deemed incompetent to stand trial have awaited transfer to state hospitals for an average of 5 months on nonviolent charges to nearly 12 months on violent charges—with some waiting more than two years—according to state data obtained by the Dallas Morning News. They are supposed to have a competency hearing within 30 days after the evaluation to determine whether they’re competent to attend trial, but if that doesn’t happen, they may be imprisoned for months waiting for a psychiatric hospital bed.

Besides impeding the courts, the long waits are likely also a violation of defendants’ constitutional right to due process. “They’re held pretrial before they’ve been convicted of an offense,” said Alycia Welch, associate director of the Prison and Jail Innovation Lab at the University of Texas. “When they’re pretrial, they’re presumed innocent. Yet many of them will spend far longer in jail than if they were convicted of that offense.”

Fishing to heal PTSD

Credit: Twitter

A nonprofit in New Richmond, Wisconsin is using fishing as a way to relieve PTSD in first responders and veterans — a form of therapy now under study from the University of Essex.

The nonprofit, Cast and Hook Fishing, told CBS News that the tranquility of fishing is a healthy way to help people cope with their experiences and their current lives. That’s been the case for Cast and Hook co-founder, Richard Puente, an Iraq War veteran and St. Paul police officer. “Just listening to the sounds, the birds, the water, it’s just healing,” he said. “Dealing with being away, and things in the war, coming home and losing my brother, it was pretty hard on me. It took me about 10 years to get the help I needed. But fishing and being outdoors was kind of my way to cope with the stress.”

Along with his spouse, Lindsay, the Puentes launched the nonprofit last year and lead fishing excursions for veterans and first responders struggling with mental health. Retired Army Col. Doug Stubbe, one of the participants, says even when he doesn’t talk, it helps to be with someone who understands what he’s been through. “It’s what we call in the service ‘battle buddies,’” Stubbe said. “They’re who I can call up and just say, ‘Hey, not feeling good today.’” Since launching last year, the Puentes and other volunteers have served 300 people struggling with PTSD.

Tips to stop lashing out in anger

Do you tend to lash out at the people around you whenever you’re stressed or hurting? CNN has some tips on how you can prevent yourself from doing that and help preserve your most cherished relationships: 

1) Accept that everyone, including you, is fallible and thus deserving of compassion. In other words, when you hurt someone, acknowledge what you did, but be kind to yourself. Don’t sink into shame. 

2) Be honest about your triggers. Identify them and think about solutions you can employ with loved ones to work out the underlying emotions that bring them about. 

3) Heed early physical signs of anger by really paying attention to your body. Do your teeth clench before you explode? Is there tightness in your chest? Do you break into a sweat? Pay attention to what you feel like and what you tend to do afterwards. 

4) Do something different. If your norm is to yell, try walking away. Tell friends or family why you’re doing so. 

5) Act the opposite of your urges. Despite the popularity of wreck rooms, scientists have found that acting out aggression fuels aggression. Conversely, gentle behaviors can lead to calm.

In other news…

How does a safe parking lot work, and what benefit do unhoused people get from it? The LA Times visited Dreams for Change, a lot that allows unhoused owners of RVs and oversized vehicles free parking in San Diego. Owners have to be gone from the lot between 8am and 6pm, but every evening, caseworkers visit the site to help people find employment and housing support.

What responsibility do parents have after their teens commit a mass shooting, especially those who show signs of mental illness? The New York Times asks the question as more parents face scrutiny in the wake of mass shootings committed by young people. 

Nightmares might be helpful – sometimes. At least that’s what a new study published in Dreaming seems to suggest. It all depends on how your mind frames the dream itself. Psychologist Olivia Kuhn said that sometimes bad dreams push us to resolve stress. In that way, they’re a good thing. “Stay curious about your mind, with compassion for its attempts to support your survival,” she told Forbes.“Remember that dreams are uniquely yours. They are not reality but instead are the art on your mind’s inborn canvas. Ultimately, it is the dreamer’s authority to decide what their dreams mean.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Courtney Wise

Courtney Wise Randolph is a writer and creative based in Detroit, Michigan.