September 12, 2023

By Courtney Wise and Diana Hembree

On the day of September 11, 2001, I remember my shock and horror as a friend woke me up to report there was an attack on New York City. I wept as I watched footage of people in New York running down a street, mouths open in terror as the World Trade Towers disintegrated behind them. At work I learned a colleague’s friend was frantically searching for her father. As she later found out, he had died as one of the twin towers collapsed.

I also remember reading about a group of NYC police officers, rushing up the stairs of one of the twin towers to rescue people when the building fell. After the horrendous collapse and the roar of the crash subsided, they regained consciousness only to find themselves ensconced in a staircase that was miraculously still intact. Moreover, light was filtering through a few cracks in the rubble. In amazement, gratitude and disbelief, they then dug their way out to the light outside. In a way, that’s what we are all doing, every day — digging our way to the light outside.
Diana Hembree

Introducing Fateful Encounters, an investigative series on 911, mental health calls and police response

Fateful Encounters is an ongoing investigative collaboration between MindSite News and Medill School of Journalism, Media & Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University exploring police response to mental health crises.

Part 1. Deadly Consequences: When Police Response to Mental Health Calls in New Hampshire Proves Fatal

More than 60% of people shot and killed by New Hampshire police over the last decade had a mental illness, according to ‘Shots Fired,’ a Concord Monitor analysis published in 2021. Two years later, little has changed. Of the eight people shot and killed by police in New Hampshire since the analysis was published, five had a history of mental illness. (Illustration: Eric Turner)

Part 2. 911 Call-Takers Are Demoralized, Overwhelmed and Dealing With Their Own Mental Health Woes

Dispatchers face debilitating stress and a lack of respect for their crucial work. Plus, exhaustion, poor training on how to handle mental health calls, and a crazy quilt of dispatch codes from city to city puts both dispatchers and callers in crisis at risk.

Homelessness among Detroit’s women and children is on the rise. Even those with vouchers for subsidized housing struggle to secure homes 

Tonya Hogan might be living in a never-ending episode of the 1970s sitcom Good Times. She’s always on the precipice of having enough to be well, like the fictional Evans family. That is, until life happens to her again.

Like James Evans, Hogan’s husband, Danny, died suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving her in financial peril. Being chronically ill, Hogan didn’t work, depending on Danny’s income to cover their primary needs and the household bills. Complications from COVID-19 took him in 2022, just four months after their wedding – exactly 18 years to the day after the death of her mother. Being sick with COVID herself, Hogan was forced to grieve the loss of her husband and their home alone. They’d hoped to buy their home via land contract before Danny’s illness; his death and Hogan’s lack of income meant she’d face homelessness, too.  “I literally was planning a funeral and packing at the same time,” she told BridgeDetroit. Hogan lived in her car and couch surfed until finally landing a room at the Salvation Army, in chronic pain, depressed, and suicidal.

Unfortunately, homelessness statistics in Detroit suggest Hogan’s story isn’t unique. Though she was fortunate to secure shelter in the city, the Homeless Action Network of Detroit reports alarming increases for shelter need. Across Detroit and its nearest distinct enclaves, Highland Park and Hamtramck, shelter residents have jumped 11% since last year, and the percentage of unhoused single women rose 31% from January 2021 to January 2022. The rise in families using emergency shelter over the same time period was an astonishing 133%. Those are just the people able to be counted, said Linda Little, president and CEO of the Neighborhood Service Organization, a Detroit-based nonprofit focused on homeless recovery services, housing development, psychiatric care for older adults and those with complex behavioral health needs, and supporting adults with developmental disabilities. 

“There’s a lot of families living in abandoned homes. There’s children going to school every day, from sleeping on a church stoop or in a car. So, we can’t count homelessness as just what’s in the emergency shelters because there’s so many people living in other places who are homeless,” Little said. 

In other news…

Doctor’s office weigh-ins linked to mental distress: Yes, you read that right. The first few moments of your doctor’s visit, when the medical assistant asks you to ‘step on the scale,’ could be bad for your mental health, according to a study from researchers at the University of Missouri. They found that weigh-ins can negatively impact the mental wellbeing of women, and registered dietician Carrie Dennett writes in the Seattle Times that her personal experiences with clients affirm what researchers found. Truth is, (as a fat person I feel qualified to type this), plenty of physicians assume every single issue fat people bring to their offices can be resolved by losing weight, so visits to the doctor’s office tend to feel like one is talking to whoever the grownups are in Charlie Brown. “Womp, womp, womp, blah, blah, blah.” One of Dennett’s patients visited the doctor needing to resolve strep throat: They told her to lose weight. It kept her away from doctors for 5 years. 

Audio producer and podcaster Ronald Young, Jr. captured such an experience in real time, when he visited the doctor at the start of his most recent weight loss journey. Young knows he is overweight, is working to drop weight, and had successfully lost 20 pounds when it occurred to him to visit the doctor to request a sleep study to resolve his inability to sleep longer than 4 hours per night. The doctor was condescending and dismissive of nearly everything Young said, lecturing him for 20 minutes about his weight before finally ordering the sleep study. The visit left Young angry and humiliated. It’s the subject of an entire episode on his new show, Weight for It.

Breaking through the shame of using medication to treat mood disorders and weight loss: In a revealing essay, Aaron E. Carroll, chief health officer at Indiana University, writes about breaking through thoughts of shame that kept him from using prescription drugs to improve his depressive symptoms and aid in weight loss in the New York Times. He’s now using them with great success and working through his feelings. “Mental health disorders and obesity fall into a bucket of diagnoses that, amid a lack of complete knowledge of their causes, are subject to societal moralizing and stigma,” Carroll writes. “We make assumptions that people with depression aren’t trying hard enough, that people with obesity lack willpower. These stigmas are then compounded by a limited understanding of how their treatments work, leading to further judgments of people who seek them.”

Storing guns away from home during a mental health crisis: To prevent gun suicides, gun enthusiasts are getting creative about gun storage. Mike Hossfeld of Helena, Montana showed off his firearms collection to NPR, with guns from as far back as the early 1900s. He stores more than just his own collectibles though. In an effort to support his friends during a rough time, he also holds their guns in his gun safe until they’re well enough to safely have access to their firearms again. His home state recently passed legislation to protect folks like Hossfeld from legal liabilities while holding someone else’s gun. Other ideas for safe gun storage, including gun shop storage and safe storage maps where individuals with extra space and a willingness to help out during a mental health crisis, are also gaining popularity. 

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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Continue reading…

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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...

Diana Hembree, MS, is MindSite News co-founding editor. She is a health and science journalist who served as a senior editor at Time Inc. Health and its physician’s magazine, Hippocrates, for four years,...