June 23, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s edition, you’ll hear more about Cerebral, a digital mental health startup under fire for alleged overprescribing and other claims. You’ll also hear how Wales is testing for possible genetic variants in mental illness, about insensitivity and chaos in the state’s promised mental health aid rollout to Uvalde, Texas, and studies from Europe supporting the 4-day work week.

Cerebral patients speak out 

Cerebral, the digital mental health startup that launched in January 2020, is still under fire. Since its surge during the pandemic amid a high demand for virtual mental health care, it has come under scrutiny for claims of overprescribing medications and failing to keep patients connected with qualified medical professionals, according to CBS News.

Credit: Twitter

Former patient Rachel Costar told CBS News that after she signed up and met with her prescriber online, she got a prescription to help manage postpartum anxiety, all in a single day. But after that, when she had questions about how to safely take the medicine or deal with the rash she said it caused her to develop — a side effect that requires immediate medical attention, according to the drug maker — she couldn’t reach the prescriber. “Every time I needed her help, she was never available,” said Costar. She eventually had to go to an ER for help.

Dr. David Mou, Cerebral’s chief medical officer and new CEO, says the company “saves lives,” taking mere days, rather than months, to connect patients to providers for care. But a dozen patients like Costar told CBS News that providers did not respond to their questions or give them adequate support, and an internal Cerebral company log obtained by the news station confirmed their accounts, with employees flagging nearly 1,200 instances of prescribers being “unresponsive” over the past 11 months. Melissa Butorac, a former client-coach for Cerebral, said the company is akin to a “fast-food restaurant.” The culture is to “Get as many people in as fast as you can,” she said. She’s particularly concerned about how the company works with suicidal clients through the instant messaging app Slack. “It’s chaotic. It’s confusing. It could be extremely dangerous if somebody misses the message or doesn’t follow it,” she said. 

(Note: MindSite News co-founder and editorial advisor Tom Insel is an advisor to Cerebral CEO David Mou. He was not involved in this newsletter item. When this item was first published, it misstated that Insel is a member of Cerebral’s board of directors. That is incorrect; he is not currently a board member.)

Wales: Testing for genetic variants in mental illness

Conwy, Wales, United Kingdom (Leonid Andronov/Shutterstock)

In a first for its citizens in the United Kingdom, the National Health Service Wales has made genetic testing available to patients and families dealing with mental illness in Wales. The hope is that tests will reveal how tiny differences in DNA may influence a person’s propensity for severe mental illness, leading to better care and treatment. The testing isn’t available to just anyone; most candidates can expect to be referred by mental health professionals or geneticists first. People with diagnosed mental illness who aren’t responding to treatment will be prioritized, along with people with a family history of severe mental illness who are concerned about themselves or future children.

“Sometimes in the world of genetics, it takes one person with a particular genetic alteration that unlocks so much… so it might be in five or 10 years time, we might have developed a treatment we haven’t even thought about now,” said Dr. Annie Procter to the BBC. She runs the All Wales Medical Genomics Service, which is the facility conducting the testing. Scientists’ goal is to find small deviations in a person’s DNA code—copy number variants, or CNVs for short. They hope that testing will identify more CNVs that are linked to mental illness. 

Mental health services rollout in Uvalde chaotic

Days after the devastating mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to deliver an “abundance of mental health services to anyone in the community who needs it.” Noting that the services would be provided at no cost, he added, “We just want you to ask for them.” But there is a shortage of mental health resources in the area and the state itself ranks last in the nation for overall access to mental health care, according to a report from the nonprofit Mental Health America.  Uvalde residents interviewed for an NBC News story said they were bounced around on calls to mental health hotlines and that their search for help was marred by chaos and frustration. In addition, one resident was warned people would have to have insurance or pay for individual therapy, despite the governor’s assurance the services would be free.

Memorial for mass shooting victims in Uvalde, Texas, June 5, 2022 (Jinitzail Hernandez/Shutterstock)

Though local organizations are rallying to get mental health support to Uvalde, NBC News reports that help is piecemeal and hard to access. “What the families have been telling me is they don’t want to see one therapist one week, a different one the following and another one yet maybe the next week,” said Texas Sen. Roland Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde. “So, they are having trouble with appointments, with continuity and that’s very, very important, especially when we are talking about young children.” The state government has proposed to send $5 million to purchase a building to use as a long-term services hub overseen by the district attorney, but Gutierrez says that building on the community’s existing resource — a free clinic that has been around for 40 years and serves 11,000 uninsured residents — would be a far better plan. He has requested that the governor send $2 million to enable Uvalde’s existing free community clinic to provide mental health crisis care, but he has yet to hear back. 

Study finds bed-sharing is good – for parents

Image credit: Shutterstock

“Bed-sharing” is usually used to describe sleeping with your baby, which some new moms have found easier than having to get up to nurse throughout the night, or co-sleeping with your toddler or very young child who enjoys the comfort of the family bed. A recent study out of the University of Arizona found that bed-sharing does help improve sleep for adults—when they’re sleeping next to a partner or spouse and the kids are in their own beds. It’s not the finding my preschooler was hoping I’d read in Mom’s digital magazine, but perhaps it may give that extra oomph to parents who are struggling to stop co-sleeping already. Parents who sleep with their children were found to be more stressed, have less control over the amount of sleep they got each night, and tended to report higher rates of insomnia. In contrast, parents who shared a bed with one another showed lower signs of depression, anxiety, and stress.

In other news…

Just yesterday we heard of yet another study that says green space is good for our moods, and mounds of scientific research identifies exercise as an aid to good mental health. So if you want to go outside and get moving, but you’re not sure what to do, Discover has six intriguing ideas that go beyond walking or jogging. 

Dmitry Demidovich/Shutterstock

Building a case for the 4-day work week: As it relates to mental health alone, studies out of Europe have found that workers with a four-day work week had less stress, more energy, better work-life balance and, to the delight of their employers, steady or improved productivity. There’s even more good news for the bottom line, say Joe O’Connor and Juliet Schor in their op-ed for CNN. Fewer hours at work means reduced employee burnout—potentially reducing overhead costs for employers in the areas of health care costs, recruitment, and retention.

In Australia’s Gumbaynggirr Country, Amber Hammer and James Mercy, a brother and sister duo, are using surfing to teach young people about Indigenous culture and mental health. Inspired by their father’s long struggle with depression and subsequent death, the pair decided to channel their grief into a series of surfing camps they call Naru, to teach about the healing power of the ocean. “It’s always been somewhere I could go and debrief, and think to myself and have my own space and sort of catch up mental health-wise,” Mercy told NITV. Hammer added, “Surfing for me is a really important way to connect and get my head clear. It’s that Vitamin D, it’s that fresh air, it’s that saltwater. It’s all the healthy stuff that we essentially need.”

Residents in Prince George’s County, Maryland are celebrating the opening of a new mental health center to serve the county’s one million people. Upon opening, Luminis Health Behavioral Health Center became the second of two such facilities in the county. WTOP reports that iresidet will have access to an outpatient mental health center, behavioral health walk-in urgent care, psychiatric day treatment program, eight-bed addiction residential service area, and substance use disorder intensive outpatient treatment program that will become accessible in just a few weeks. In addition, residents can anticipate the opening of a 16-bed adult inpatient psychiatric unit early next year.

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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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...