November 2, 2022

By Josh McGhee

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s edition, the pandemic kids are all grown up and starting college – and it’s off to a rocky start. We also stop by the forensic unit at a state hospital in Pennsylvania that uses emergency psych meds 80% more than the state average. Plus, police reforms passed in the wake of George’s Floyd murder have faced pushback all over the country. What’s happening in Virginia?

Covid kids go to college – and they’re struggling

School is back in session and the students are struggling. They’re struggling in math. They’re struggling with reading. The college students are even struggling to go to the parties, according to new reporting from the New York Times.

At Benedict College, a historically Black school in South Carolina, the football team is 9-0 for the first time, but student attendance at games is down. President Roslyn C. Artis said she’s seen a change in the students who spent their last years of high school online. 

“We have had students — for the first time in my 10 years as a college president — say to me, ‘Do we have to attend parties?’” she said. “There’s almost anxiety associated with coming back into a social setting.”

While math departments are making adjustments like simplifying their math courses, writing and literature professors have seen fewer issues with student readiness. Their concerns instead are anxiety levels and an unwillingness to find support like tutors. Perhaps the biggest risk is students taking more time (and spending more money) to get their degree — or not getting one at all. 

Bedlam in Norristown, Pennsylvania

When Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, toured Norristown State Hospital’s forensic unit — one of two in the state that treats people deemed incompetent to stand trial — seven or eight years ago he was struck by how much better it was than the “bedlam” of the jails, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer

Now a new investigation by the newspaper cast the hospital in a less positive light. Current and former employees describe staff members bringing in contraband like cell phones and alcohol and sleeping or watching pornography on the job. Some patients who have been incarcerated there said they’d feel safer in jail or prison. “I thought I was going to die there,” Elvis Roja told the Inquirer from a Philadelphia jail.

Numbers from the state show high levels of violence compared to other state-run psychiatric hospitals. From May 2021 though April 2022, patient-on-patient assaults were 75% higher than the average of other hospitals, and injuries from patient-on-staff assaults were 43% higher. There were 20 allegations of abuse and records show staff members gave emergency injections of psychiatric medicine in April 2022 at rates higher than any other state psychiatric hospital — and 80% higher than the state’s average.

Dept. of Human Services Press Secretary Brandon Cawlina said the heavy usage of emergency injections reflects the patient population, which includes new admissions “who present with higher acuity.”

Psychedelics & Mental Health Live Conversation Series

Tomorrow, Rob Waters will be in conversation with journalist and Asian Psychedelics Collective founder Simran Sethi. They’ll discuss disparities in mental health, Sethi’s interest in psychedelics and mental health and her experience with the Fireside Project, a nonprofit psychedelic peer support line.

At our YouTube channel, you can watch a recording of last week’s conversation with Double Blind Magazine, Minority Trip Podcast and Lucid News.

YouTube video

The limits of co-response in Virginia

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, legislators in many states introduced bills aimed at reforming the police. The Associated Press took a look at how those bills have fared, in the face of opposition from conservative politicians and police unions. 

In Virginia, legislators passed a law aiming to increase the use of mental health clinicians – and minimize the role of police – in responding to mental health crises. Five regional pilot programs began last year that use co-response teams composed of clinicians and officers. Mental health calls were assigned different levels of priority, from those that could be handled by crisis call centers to those that required a co-response team or a police response.

In Richmond, there are signs of progress: Sixty-nine calls came in from Aug. 15 to Sept. 30, when the first co-response team began working. None resulted in arrests, the use of force or injuries. Nine people were taken into custody for involuntary hospitalization, and 87% were given referrals to community mental health providers. 

But Republican lawmakers have also pushed through an amendment allowing small cities with less than 40,000 people to opt out. Some localities argued that the $600,000 authorized by the legislature for each regional program was not enough to hire mental health workers and set up a new response system to operate across sprawling areas. 

Princess Blanding, the sister of Marcus David Peters — an unarmed Black man fatally shot by a Richmond police officer during a psychiatric crisis — said the law named after her brother has been “watered down to the point that overall it is ineffective.” Allowing each region to decide how to respond to mental health crises creates inconsistency and danger, she said, and “could be the difference between life and death.” 

In other news…

Physicians and physician assistants face similar mental health challenges: New research from Idaho State University suggests physician assistants are suffering from depression, anxiety or thoughts of suicide at about the same rate as physicians. Many people choose to become physician assistants because they think their quality of life will be better, Talia Sierra told Medscape Medical News. “They think they’ll be able to avoid burnout and not have the same problems we see in physicians, but our research shows that’s not always the case.”

A walk down good memory lane: Feeling nostalgic can improve your psychological well being, according to a new study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. The study looked at more than 2,400 participants from the United States, China, and the United Kingdom. It found experimental and correlational evidence to support their hypothesis: that personal well-being is increased by the sense of authenticity brought on by nostalgic thinking.

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:

Josh McGhee

Staff reporter Josh McGhee covers the intersection of criminal justice and mental health with an emphasis on public records and data reporting. He previously reported for Injustice Watch, the Chicago Reporter,...