February 24, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s newsletter, you’ll learn about a remarkable project in Chicago that trained young men of color to do mental health research with peers in their communities – and is helping shape a 10-year plan for community change. Plus, the risks of too much worry, the overuse of “trauma-informed” and Selena Gomez’s funding for mental health.

In Chicago, young men of color conduct mental health research with their peers

Two years ago, a group of researchers and advocates in Chicago began working together to help young men of color conduct mental health research in their own communities. The result was the Ujima Project, a group of Black and brown men 21 years and younger, all trained in research ethics and techniques. Swahili for collective work and responsibility, the idea behind Ujima is that the young men themselves are best equipped to research their peers’ mental health experiences and make recommendations for change.

Cover of new report on youth mental health in Chicago

In the two years since, Ujima researchers have conducted surveys, focus groups, and interviews. This week, they released their first results, which received widespread media coverage, including in the Chicago Tribune. The team found that nearly two-thirds of youth surveyed struggle with their mental health. One in four feel anxious, constantly worried, or extremely nervous four days or more per week. They also found that for young men of color, “trauma is often normalized,” – meaning that it’s so common, it has become a regular feature of life. These young men often feel seen as stereotypes, rather than whole human beings with value to contribute to the world.

Butt for the Ujima participants, conducting the research created a sense of safety and moved many to seek out their own professional mental health support. “The research wasn’t just to know our situations, but how it connects to other boys of color and leading them to help themselves,” Jermal Ray, a 17-year-old Ujima researcher told the Tribune. “It gives me confidence to show up for myself.”

Ujima was spawned by Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, and Communities United, a grassroots racial justice organization, to create a new model of participant-driven research. Ujima’s findings will help inform a 10-year plan called “Healing for Justice,” a youth-led movement for personal and community healing in Chicago’s most underserved communities.

“Lurie Children’s has always been youth-focused…but we haven’t always listened to kids in the community,” John Walkup, MD, chair of the psychiatry department of Lurie Children’s, told the Tribune. “We’re listening and listening hard now. Even when we may not like what they have to say.”

The hope now is that the youth will continue to be listened to – and that the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which provided an initial grant of $1 million, will choose the project to receive $20 million in funding as part of its Racial Equity 2030 project.

We’re all trauma-informed…aren’t we?

Trauma-informed care has become an oft-used buzz word that is supposed to mean providing people with more effective care by recognizing the trauma they’ve experienced and responding in a way that doesn’t re-traumatize them. In the mental health arena, social workers, psychologists and other professionals have long been trained in the approach. They understand that trauma can impact the way that people perceive, experience, and behave in the world. 

But now yoga instructors, lawyers and photographers are describing themselves as trauma-informed, The Washington Post reports, though there’s no agreement on what that means or on how to vet people making that claim. Plenty of non-mental health professionals call themselves trauma-informed without receiving training, and no governing body regulates programs or professionals calling themselves trauma-informed.

Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist, researcher and author of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, told The Post he is heartened by the “quite important and quite revolutionary” growing awareness of trauma ­– but thinks the term is being overused.

Your parents were right: Too much worry can make you sick

Being “worried sick” may be a real thing. Stress and physical illness have long been linked, and stress and worry are strongly correlated. And now there’s more evidence to connect worry to physical sickness, writes Graham C.L. Davey, a British psychologist and columnist for Psychology Today. 

Illustration: Shutterstock

He writes that worry is often associated with negative mood, and negative mood can lead to lowered immune response and greater risk of disease and infection. Recently, researchers at Leiden University in The Netherlands and Ohio State University found that worrying increases the potency of “wear and tear” on the body during stressful periods by increasing the amount and time the body is releasing stress hormones like cortisol into the system, weakening the response of the immune system.

Interestingly, Davey also says that ongoing, everyday stressors like losing things, being frustrated in a traffic jam, arguments and disappointments, or even a lack of sleep, are far less harmful than what happens in people’s thoughts. Ruminating on a stressor can trigger damaging physical responses, especially in the heart and nervous systems. So if you’re wont to worry, breathe in deep, consider cognitive behavior therapy, or take a hike – but try to find a healthy alternative to worrying.

In other news…

Integrated Services of Kalamazoo was granted $550,000 from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance to fund a new police-mental health collaboration center in Kalamazoo County, Michigan. The center will be staffed 24/7 with emergency mental health clinicians to offer the police a place other than jail or a hospital emergency room to hold people during a mental health crisis, according to MLive, a digital publication. Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller III told MLive: “Sometimes reported criminal activity involves someone having a mental health emergency. While we have a high level of trained law enforcement responders in Kalamazoo, the need exists for highly trained and experienced mental health workers responding with law enforcement.”

Selena Gomez is using star power and beauty brand to give back. In 2020, the 29-year-old actress and singer told the world she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Later that same year, she founded Rare Beauty, a makeup brand, right alongside the Rare Impact Fund, according to Allure.com. The foundation donates 1 percent of gross profits from Rare Beauty to mental health and education-focused causes. In its first year, the foundation granted $1.2 million to eight organizations, including the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Los Angeles-based Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, which provide services such as suicide prevention training and mentoring programs.

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.

There Is Only One Bus: Reflections on a New Path to Mental Health

As with the fight for civil rights or climate change, it’s going to take a movement. We need to reframe this crisis as more than a medical challenge: It is an issue of social justice. —An excerpt from Tom Insel’s new book, Healing.

Covid’s impact on mental health

Covid-19’s long-term mental health effects, a surprising finding about suicide prevention, a new discovery on how your gut affects your brain, and the long-term impact of Housing First.

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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...