May 2, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Hello MindSite News readers! In today’s edition, read why being diagnosed with autism as an adult may not only be a relief – it can be positively freeing. A study of insurance claims from more than 9 million adults show that amphetamines and antidepressants are often prescribed together – something the authors warn could increase the risk of addiction.

In other news, a catchy new song on TikTok celebrating being different is being called our new mental health anthem. Plus: New findings on air pollution and mental health.

Why a late autism diagnosis can be freeing

According to the CDC, about 2 percent of the nation’s adults have autism spectrum disorder, and many of them received the diagnosis recently – in adulthood. Data isn’t clear on why some diagnoses arrived so late, but adults who were diagnosed later in life told the Detroit Free Press that their symptoms weren’t always “obvious.” Being able to speak, doing well in school, and even being a girl caused them to be overlooked. The Freep’s reporting also suggests that social media hashtags like #lateinlifeautism and #actuallyautistic are alerting more adults to behaviors within themselves that inspire them to look into testing.

In all, the Freep spoke with 10 adults, most clinically diagnosed with autism, others self-diagnosed, about their experiences since learning they’re on the autism spectrum. Among their shared experiences: Many did unusually well in school while struggling to find a social footing. They felt they had spent years “masking their true selves, even to the point of exhaustion or breakdown.” And virtually all of them felt a sense of freedom and relief when they finally identified themselves as autistic. 

 “I have been called a drama queen; I have been called crazy; I have been called weird; I have been called stupid; I have been called gullible; I have been called strange; I have been called childish,” said Yulanda Harris. “It was all because I didn’t know how to … manage my emotions or behaviors, and just didn’t know who I was.” 

Diagnosed at 58, Harris said she always knew her brain operated on a different scale. Now 63, she works as a neurodiversity advocate and consultant. “On the other end of the spectrum, I have been called smart, brilliant, intelligent, kind, caring, empathetic, energetic, funny, entertaining, creative, silly… sometimes the life of the party,” said Harris. “So if you were to put all of that into one person, can you imagine? …My autism is one of my greatest gifts that God has given me.”

Stimulants often prescribed with antidepressants, upping risk of addiction: Experts

Correction: This item originally used the terms stimulants and amphetamines interchangeably. It has been updated to address that error. Methylphenidate, the active ingredient in Ritalin, is a stimulant, not an amphetamine.

A recent study finds that a large number of US adults are being prescribed stimulants off-label alongside antidepressants. Researchers analyzed insurance claims data from roughly 9.1 million adults with private health insurance from October 2019 to December 2020. About 3% – 276,000 adults – were prescribed stimulants including methylphenidate, the active ingredient in Ritalin, and amphetamines such as Adderall. Researchers found that 45% were taking the drugs in combination with other psychiatric medications, including antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and opioids. The study’s authors, led by Thomas Moore of Johns Hopkins University, told NBC News they’re concerned the practice could increase the risk of amphetamine abuse and addiction. 

Amphetamines and methylphenidate are defined as controlled substances by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Although prescription amphetamines are used for medicinal purposes, primarily the treatment of ADHD, they have a high potential for abuse and psychological or physical dependence. Doctors sometimes prescribe stimulants to diminish or enhance the side effects of other psychiatric medications, Moore said. “An antidepressant is prescribed for a patient and maybe one of the side effects is sedation, and so they add a stimulant, like amphetamines,” he told NBC News. “We are concerned given the risks of these drugs. We have very little scientific information about whether this practice is safe and effective.”

New mental health anthem ‘If I Were A Fish” song goes viral

If your kids are on TikTok — or if you are — you may have heard the catchy song “If I were a fish and you caught me, you’d say ‘look at that fish’…”

The song, by indie musicians Corook and partner Olivia Barton, celebrates differences. A caption by Corook explains that the pair was having a very emotional day, feeling insecure and out of place” — at least until the duo wrote the tune in 10 minutes “to remember the joy in being different.”

According to the publication goodgoodgood, the song — published on TikTok on April 11 — has since amassed over 2 million likes and over 13 million views.

In other news…

Scientists are still trying to figure out how air pollution affects human brain chemistry, and reporting from Kaiser Health News suggests they’re inching closer to an answer. New understanding is growing from the work of Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas, a toxicologist and neuropathologist with both Universidad del Valle de México in Mexico City and the University of Montana, whose studies on the brains of dogs and humans found that living in areas with high air pollution promoted neurodegeneration in the brains. The result? Dogs that no longer recognized their owner. In humans, an increase in anxiety and depression, as well as a higher risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The problem is particulate matter, Calderón-Garcidueñas said. “Not the big ones, but the tiny ones that can cross barriers. We can detect nanoparticles inside neurons, inside glial cells, inside epithelial cells. We also see things that shouldn’t be there at all — titanium, iron, and copper.” 

How effective is Special K? Through interviews about ketamine with patients as well as researchers Rebecca Price, Colleen Loo, Gerard Sanacora and Fernanda Graciolli, Gimlet’s Science Vs. podcast explored the question in this episode. It’s a 30-minute listen.

One year after the suicide of 17-year-old student Jack Reid in April 2022, the New York Times reports that The Lawrenceville School, an elite boarding school in New Jersey, admitted failing to protect Reid from the bullying that led to his death. “Lawrenceville’s top priority is the physical, social, and emotional health, safety, and wellbeing of our students. We recognize that in Jack’s case, we fell tragically short of these expectations,” reads a statement on the school’s website. “When these behaviors were brought to the attention of the School, there were steps that the School should in hindsight have taken but did not…There also were circumstances in which the involvement of an adult would have made a difference.”

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...