February 15, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s news: An exhausted human rights investigator finds joy by channeling her passion for justice into playtivism – using play as an antidote to burnout. Lobbyists flock to Capitol Hill to battle parity in mental health insurance. Plus: Farmers and mental health and the death of a ballerina.

A Burned-Out Activist Finds Solace in Play

Yana Buhrer Tavanier is a Bulgaria-based human rights activist who spent years undercover investigating institutions across Eastern Europe for people with intellectual and mental health disabilities and the children who died in them. She got burned out. “It was waking up, going to work because you have to,” she says. “I felt that I don’t matter at all.”

Tavanier came up with a solution she calls playtivism – using play as an antidote to activism burnout, as she describes it in an interview with journalist and podcaster Manoush Zomorodi for NPR. Research has already demonstrated the benefits of play therapy for kids, humor for anxious and depressed elderly people and laughter to reduce stress and anxiety. A Fulbright scholar and TED senior fellow, Tavanier says she knows it’s weird to talk about play and human rights together. “But here’s why it’s important. When we play, others want to join,” says Tavanier, who gave a TED talk on the topic several years ago.

One of her playtivism projects tackled disinformation. Her team created an actual bakery named Fakery that was publicized in a press release full of lies that got picked up by multiple media outlets across Bulgaria. They invited professional taste-testers to sample their cupcakes. They looked delicious. The fillings: stinky cheese, salami, and fish and Tabasco sauce. “There were some actual tears because of the unexpected, horrible taste,” said Tavanier. “Every single person laughed afterward when they realized how they had been tricked by the fake news they consumed.”

Insurance lobbyists flock to Capitol Hill to battle over parity 

Photo: Shutterstock

Insurance representatives are descending on Congress in a “lobbying frenzy” in response to Democratic bills which would crack down on health plans that deny mental health and substance abuse coverage, according to Politico. Part of the impetus is a federal report on mental health parity released two weeks ago that uncovered a wide range of restrictions and treatment exclusions placed on behavioral health coverage. These findings represent the strongest effort by federal regulators to date to enforce federal laws requiring that mental health coverage be on par with medical and surgical coverage, as MindSite News has been reporting.

The two parity proposals on Capitol Hill may be folded into a broader mental health package later this year, Politico reports, or added to a revamped version of Democrats’ social spending bill. One would give states resources to step up enforcement against insurers. Another would give the Labor Department the ability to impose monetary penalties on plans that don’t comply with parity laws. Both are backed by mental health providers, whose lobbyists are also gearing up for a struggle. Mental health parity “is the big issue for us on the Hill,” American Psychiatric Association CEO and medical director Saul Levin told Politico. “If you can’t provide care, what are we here for?”

Inspiration for Young Dancers Dies By Apparent Suicide

Stephanie Selby was 10, taking lessons at the prestigious ballet academy co-founded by George Balanchine, when she leapt onto the pages of the best-selling 1976 picture book, A Very Young Dancer, inspiring young dancers everywhere. Then she disappeared – only to be tracked down decades later in Wyoming by a New York Times reporter who chronicled her difficult life dealing with depression, perhaps partially born of immense fame and pressure at a very young age. And now she has died, of complications of an apparent attempt to end her life at age 56, The Times reported on Saturday.

“I remember poring over every word and especially every photograph in the book,” Dena Abergel, who read it when she was 7, told the Times in an email. “I completely identified with Stephanie and hoped to live in her ballet world one day.” And she did, becoming a dancer with the New York City Ballet and now its children’s repertory director. Young Stephanie’s impact, in words and pictures, lives on nearly a half-century later. “This is so sad,” said Courtenay Harris Bond, a freelance journalist in Philadelphia. “I was obsessed with the book as a child.” 

Nine Times Hollywood Got Schizophrenia Right: MovieWeb

Hollywood has a long history of negatively portraying mentally ill people – but it also has the capacity to bring us inside the mind in a powerful way, according to an article in MovieWeb that presents nine films that attempt to “​​destigmatize and represent the effects” of schizophrenia.

Russell Crowe. Photo: Shutterstock

There’s Jeff Nichols’ 2011 masterpiece, Take Shelter, about a man suffering from nightmares of an impending storm, as well as delusions, hallucinations and headaches as he obsesses over building a storm shelter in his backyard. It costs him job, his money, and nearly his family. Roman Polanski’s 1965 Repulsion, a striking and surreal nightmare about one woman’s descent into madness, stars Catherine Deneuve, who must deal with justifiable fears after her landlord makes lewd advances and she has nightmares of rape. The list includes the 2011 film A Beautiful Mind, in which Russell Crowe plays a real-life mathematician who creates a false reality, and 2016’s Bullet, with Tupac Shakur playing a drug dealer at war with “Bullet” Stein, a heroin user played by Mickey Rourke, whose older brother is ostensibly a paranoid schizophrenic.

In Other News

Better than flowers: Flowers for Dreams — an online flower delivery shop – has donated more than $990,000 to organizations that address housing, homelessness, mental health and other issues, with a goal of a $1 million Valentine’s Day milestone, the Chicago Tribune reported Friday. College buddies Steven Dyme and Joseph Dickstein intended just to make a little summer cash 10 years ago. “It’s the little flower company that could,” Dyme says.

Launching with autism: Dr. Mai Pham has devoted her life to easing the struggle that children with autism face in adulthood, NPR reports. The strongly reported story traces the life of her son, Alexander Roodan, as he prepares for his gap year in college, and the efforts by his mother to change the world that children with autism and their families must contend with.

Mind Your Head: Climate change, the pandemic and inflation have hit farmers particularly hard. A new survey in the UK found that 92% of farmers under age 40 view poor mental health as the biggest hidden problem facing them today. A farm safety foundation there is about to start its fifth annual Mind Your Head campaign, the Swansea Bay News reports from the southern coast of Wales. Farmers in Pennsylvania dealing with mental issues now have a new, round-the-clock resource: the AgriStress HelpLine, according to Fox43

Mental health investment tips: The U.S. neurofeedback market is expected to account for $60 million in select countries globally by 2028, Digital Journal reports, while noting separately that telepsychiatry software will experience “astonishing growth by 2029” worldwide. More broadly, the global behavioral health software market is expected to more than double to $5.2 billion in six years, according to a Medium post based on Vantage Market Research. And the much bigger mental disorder treatment market will top $75 billion around the world in five years, according to MedGadget


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.

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Don Sapatkin

Don Sapatkin is an independent journalist who reports on science and health care. His primary focus for nearly two decades has been public health, especially policy, access to care, health disparities...