Wednesday, May 24, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite News readers! In today’s Daily: A look at how racism affects the mental health of Black youth, sometimes at an early age. Scientists challenge the “toxic culture” and mental health crisis in academic science. And grief dreams can help us heal after the loss of a loved one. Plus, journalist Tonya Mosely explores how psychedelics can help Black people achieve personal freedom and mental wellbeing. 

AP Reports: Racism degrades Black mental health, even before children start school

As part of a year-long series on the myriad ways racism has impacted the health of Black Americans, the Associated Press reports that the roots of the mental health crisis among Black youth starts in their earliest years. And once they begin school, data shows that Black youth are often presumed older and less innocent, leading to higher rates of discipline compared to their non-Black counterparts. 

“Anytime you deal with African American mental health, you’re not dealing with one thing,” said India Strother, a high school counselor in Columbus, Ohio. “It is several things. It is trauma that has not been addressed.” That trauma can include persisting through poverty, surviving violence in neighborhoods with deep disinvestment, and everyday racial discrimination. Not even money protects wealthy Black children from racism’s effects. 

Further exacerbating the mental health crisis is that Black teens are less likely than their white peers to seek and secure mental health care. Distrust of mental health providers due to the legacy of medical racism is one reason, but there also remains a shortage of therapists and psychiatrists who share Black identities or are sufficiently culturally competent to effectively meet the needs of Black patients. 

“That legacy has contributed to a mistrust that Black and brown folks have where their experience has been pathologized,” psychologist Steven Kniffley said. “They’ve been over-labeled with behavioral challenges and learning challenges that have very real-world consequences in terms of what type of schooling you get, what type of jobs are accessible to you, how people treat you.”

The problem is serious: In a span of almost 30 years, from 1991 to 2019, suicide attempts among Black adolescents rose 80 percent – more than any other racial or ethnic group.

“A mental-health crisis is gripping science — toxic research culture is to blame”

That’s the headline of a Nature news feature, which asserts that “at all stages and across the world,” scientists are facing threats to their mental wellbeing. Graduate students face poor wages, maltreatment, overwork, harassment, sexual assault and discrimination. Early-career researchers struggle to find permanent jobs. Seasoned researchers navigate demands to win grants, publish in competitive journals and become known in their field. Research demonstrates the urgency, as shown in this graph from the Nature story:

Female scientists and scientists of color also report higher rates of bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination and mood disorders. And in a 2021 survey of 3,200 working scientists, two-thirds said they’ve witnessed bullying and more than 40 percent experienced it. The toxic culture is ubiquitous, says Eric Pellegrini, an astronomer who left academia last year. “They get you to torture yourself by making this work part of your identity – it’s not a job, it’s not even a career, it’s a life choice,” Pellegrini said. “And you buy into that for years until you figure out what it is. Take away a lot of the parts, make it more generic, and it’s just an abusive relationship.”

Others say the situation is bad, but that steps are being taken. “I feel like there was a blind spot in myself and many of us, in that it took this data to wake us up,” said Sharon Milgram, director of the Office of Intramural Training and Education at the National Institutes of Health. U.S. agencies including NASA are diversifying outreach for fellowship programs and must document inclusive work environments when applying for grants.

Milgram’s office provides training on “Becoming a Resilient Scientist” to help junior scientists build good working relationships with senior advisors. Seasoned researchers can take “Raising a Resilient Scientist” to help them cultivate stronger mentoring skills and better care for their own mental health.

Dreaming about the dearly departed may help ease your grief

If you’ve dreamed about the death of a loved one in the years after their passing, you’re not alone. Joshua Black lost his father suddenly while in college and experienced a dream shortly thereafter. It brought him comfort. “I woke up and everything was different,” Black told the Los Angeles Times. “The color returned to my world. And I was like, what was that?” As a psychologist, he’s been able to explore the dynamic. In a 2019 study, he found that 86% of people who experienced the death of a spouse or intimate partner dreamed about them within two years of their death. 

Black believes grief dreams happen to help people get to the other side of personal tragedy. When they’re happy, the dreams ease the stress of loss. When they’re distressing, they push people to confront the loss and address the grief. “Sometimes we need to go there, to really feel the pain,” Black said. “These dreams can help us start feeling our feels.” 

Put another way, grief dreams help us stay connected with those we lost – which is a good thing, said Marilyn Mendoza, a clinical psychologist specializing in bereavement. “You are connected, and you need to be able to stay connected during your grief,” she said. “If that’s how you do it, through dreaming, then that helps with the grief.”

In other news…

Fresh Air co-host Tonya Mosely also hosts her own podcast, Truth Be Told. This season, TBT’s fifth, is an exploration of psychedelics and how they might be used by Black people for liberation and mental wellbeing. She interviews psychologists, shamans, neuroscientists, drug policy experts, and Black people who have used psychedelics under professional supervision and on their own for relief from racial trauma and other mental distress. Episodes are available wherever you listen to podcasts. 

Growing up, Jamie West, 41, had it rough. She cycled through an astounding 94 foster homes as a child, before running away and eventually landing at a camp for unhoused teens. Today, she’s found a permanent home and love, and early this month celebrated it all by getting married at White Castle, the burger chain that offered her hope and inspiration some 25 years ago. Throughout the years, numerous workers at the chain fed her and showed her kindness. It wasn’t just one location where she received good treatment either; she says she experienced such kindness at multiple White Castles. “I was always so grateful to them for treating me like a human being,” West told The Washington Post. “It was a shiny spot at a very bad time.”

CVS MinuteClinics are “moving full-steam ahead” to add mental health services to their menu of treatment options. The pharmacy chain currently runs 1,000 MinuteClinics across the nation that provide non-emergency health care, according to a report from Behavioral Health Business. Now they are adding counseling and mental health screenings and writing prescriptions for patients at MinuteClinics in 14 states, with plans to grow further.

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...