May 3, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers. Today, we share an in-depth story about the flood of teachers leaving the profession in the face of hostility, burnout and lack of support. We also look at wrongfully convicted men, now exonerated and released, who are working to provide loving support to each other. Prince Harry argues for an end to labeling people with mental health struggles. And Texas and some other states have made fentanyl test strips – which can detect the contaminating presence of the deadly drug in other substances – illegal.

Anxiety, burnout and hostility against them pushing teachers to quit the profession

Teaching has long been a stressful profession, one that’s also as essential and demanding as healthcare. But the pressure of the pandemic has made it unbearable for many, according to a June 2021 survey from RAND, which found that teachers were nearly three times more likely to exhibit signs of depression than other adults. And in January of this year, 90% of 3,600 teachers surveyed said burnout is a serious issue. In that survey, commissioned by a teacher’s union, more than half said they were planning to leave the profession – a noticeable increase from the 37% who said they wanted to leave back in August 2021. 

The New Republic looked at this issue for a special report and heard from dozens of teachers who described a political climate turned increasingly anti-teacher, with attacks coming from parents, administrators and politicians. Lesley Allen taught for 14 years before severe anxiety and her third panic attack led her to retire from the classroom. Special education teacher Emily McMahan told her therapist that teaching felt like being in a prison. Stephanie Hughes felt so much anxiety and exhaustion she broke down sobbing in her principal’s office. All three have now left the profession.

“It was very clear that the situation wasn’t going to get any better or slow down to allow me to take care of myself mentally and emotionally,” said Hughes, who taught elementary school until last year. “You’re always told as a teacher, ‘You’re doing it for the kids. It’s hard, but you do it for the kids.’ And I was just coming to realize, I’m doing them a disservice by staying in the classroom. I’m not able to give them what they need, because I’m not taking care of myself.”

Released and exonerated, a network of wrongfully convicted men work to support each other

“It feels like a trillion bucks; it’s joyful. It’s sad. It’s painful, and it made me realize it’s not over.” Even in the triumph of exoneration, freed from prison after 41 years for a murder he did not commit, James Watson understood he had more work to do. Watson was one of 111 wrongfully convicted people, collectively stripped of 2,459 years of their lives, who were recently honored at the Innocence Network Conference. Many of them were freed with no notice or preparation – years of incarceration suddenly ending after a brief court hearing.

There’s great fraternity among them – who else can understand standing at the foot of the bed in the early morning or late evening, preparing to be counted, or feeling deep anxiety when trying to choose basic hygiene supplies, like soap or toothpaste? Their freedom is welcome and deserved, but with so little preparation or support, it can feel impossible. 

“I haven’t been able to find words to articulate the emotional wonderfulness and terror of that,” Ray Champagne, who was wrongfully imprisoned for more than 40 years, told The Boston Globe. “You don’t have a dime and now you’re free. Free to do what? Where do you go? Not everybody has family or friends. What do you do? That’s the fear aspect. How am I going to go to sleep tonight? How am I going to eat?”

Some states provide compensation to people who were wrongfully incarcerated but payment can take a year or longer. The Exoneree Network works to help bridge that gap by providing them with $500, a cell phone, and a laptop almost immediately after they’re released. Plus, they get a knowledgeable extended community. Cofounder Sean K. Ellis said, “There’s definitely a fellowship component to it, but there is so much more. It’s kind of like working with a recovery coach because this person has gone through what I’ve gone through.”

Prince Harry on redefining mental health problems as injuries, not disorders

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex

If you love the British Royal Family, Harper’s Bazaar offers another reason to like the Duke of Sussex. In a conversation with LinkedIn Cofounder Reid Hoffman on his Masters of Scale podcast, Prince Harry opened up about the mental health gap between the U.K. and the U.S. and his thoughts on changing the way we think about certain mental health conditions, especially post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To Prince Harry, changing the language used to describe mental illness is critical to helping people heal.

“Why do we keep calling it ‘PTSD?,’ he asked. “Why do we keep calling it a ‘disorder’? If you’re going to turn around to someone and label them with a ‘disorder,’ that’s them screwed for the rest of their life. Why are we not calling it ‘PTSI?’ It should be an injury. And if you’re telling someone that they’ve got an injury, then guess what they’re going to do? They’re going to try and get better.”

Since 2021, Harry has served as the chief impact officer of BetterUp, a company that focuses on executive coaching, but also advocates for mental fitness – helping people build skills to manage and overcome hardship. “Ninety-nine point point percent of people on planet Earth are suffering from some form of loss, trauma, or grief,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what age you are, but the majority of us have experienced a lot of that in our younger years; therefore, we’ve forgotten about it. Now, the body doesn’t forget, the body holds the score, as we know.” He ended with a British turn of phrase – “Mental fitness, as far as I understand it, is more a case of getting on the front foot” – which for us Yanks means you take initiative.

Fentanyl test strips may save lives, but they’re illegal in Texas and numerous southern states

Fentanyl, the lethal synthetic opioid that has sent overdose deaths soaring, can be 50 times more potent than morphine and halt breathing in seconds. It also has become ubiquitous, contaminating street versions of heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamine, even counterfeit Xanax. The hopeful news for people struggling with addiction is that low-cost fentanyl test strips can help drug users detect if the drug they’re about to take is laced with fentanyl before they consume it. They use the same technology as an at-home pregnancy test and are both affordable and effective at detecting the presence of fentanyl. To test a drug, a user dilutes the substance they’re about to use in water and then dips the strip before consuming it. 

But these life-saving tools are currently classified as drug paraphernalia in Texas and several other states, making them illegal to possess, as reported by the Dallas Morning News. Anyone caught with the strips in Texas could be found guilty of a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500. That’s making it tough for officials who want to combat overdose deaths by freely distributing the strips. Dallas Democratic state Rep. Jasmine Crockett told the paper: “This is just about being smart. Like, you’re not stopping people from their addiction because you’re making it a Class C ticket, right? Addiction should be treated as an illness, not a crime.” 

Crockett sponsored a bill last year that would have decriminalized possession of drug paraphernalia in Texas, but the measure didn’t pass. The bill’s opponents included all of the state’s major police groups. Assistant Police Chief Ronnie Morris of Grand Prairie made this argument: “Removing law enforcement’s responsible discretion in enforcing drug-paraphernalia laws is just another step similar to defunding the police and the slow dismantling of proactive policing that keeps our communities and state safe.”

In other news…

In an op-ed for the Seattle Times, Crow Delavan, a non-binary high school sophomore, argued that schools should include up-to-date instruction about gender identity in the classroom. Delavan wrote: “Some adults say gender identity conversations are confusing for children, but trans kids often understand more about their gender than the adults in their life do. It only causes children more harm when adults, including parents and teachers, avoid the subject and create an environment where kids are forced to hide who they are. Schools are meant to be educational environments where students learn, among other things, who they are. So why shouldn’t schools actively encourage and support students in learning about the identities of themselves and others?”

Public libraries are open to all, and welcome a microcosm of humanity in the cities they serve. That makes the experience of working in them anything but uneventful. The Albuquerque Journal reported on the regularity with which public librarians find themselves helping one patron check out a book, while preparing to direct another to emergency resources because they are unhoused or struggling with substance abuse. It’s an issue facing libraries across the nation.

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. And if you’re a veteran, press 1.

Black Communities Vow to Ban School Paddling

Corporal punishment is disproportionately inflicted on Black children and is higher in areas with histories of lynching.

Student Activists Take Lead to Curb Suicide

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death on college campuses. Student leaders are working hard to combat it.

Crying on the Subway: A Journalist Explores Her Trauma History

Talented journalist Stephanie Foo thought she had conquered her demons from an abusive childhood. She’d become a successful journalist and prestigious audio producer. But even in her 30s, turmoil kept creeping into her relationships. 

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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...