Wednesday August 15, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite News readers. In today’s Daily: A MindSite News investigation digs into Florida’s practice of taking kids to mental hospitals against their will. A photo essay looks at efforts to help Ukrainian soldiers’ mental anguish. Regulators halt psychiatric trials at New York State Psychiatric Institute following a patient suicide. A mentally ill woman’s death in a Texas jail spotlights a cruel national reality. Plus, how to plan for a mental health crisis.

Florida’s Baker Act Has Seized Kids & Adults for Forced Mental Health Holds Almost 2 Million Times in Past Decade. Are Advocates Finally Forcing Change?

Illustration: Eric Turner

In Florida, seizing children and adults and placing them on involuntary mental health holds happens so frequently, it has become a verb: Baker Acted – a reference to a 1971 law. That law was intended to reduce the horrors of asylum care while allowing mentally ill patients to be forcibly evaluated and treated. Instead, it has become a dragnet of sorts that brings hundreds of thousands of adults and children to mental health facilities.

Read the full story here.

Ukraine tries to attend to the ‘crisis of wounded psyches and broken bodies’ among soldiers

Amidst the sea of soldiers with needs, Andriy Remezov is an anomaly. Nine years ago, he fought against Russian proxy forces in Eastern Ukraine. He returned from the experience addicted to drugs and alcohol and contemplating suicide. He secured treatment, got sober, and became a psychologist. Last year, he joined the army again and now relies on his wife for support.

He also practices his own form of conscious compartmentalization. He sits in quiet reflection at the end of each fight on the front, “so I can put [the experiences] on a shelf in my mind.” If not, he said, “all this information can just destabilize me.”

Still, Remezov knows that this time, he can’t just tough it out and manage the horror alone. He also knows that his needs, and those of his fellow soldiers, are massive – and that Ukraine’s mental health system can handle only a fraction of the need. 

Remevoz was just one of the Ukrainian soldiers highlighted in a photo essay in the New York Times that examines the devastating emotional and psychological impact of the war. As is the case with so many others across the globe, Ukrainian soldiers seeking mental health support face a huge shortage of available resources for treatment — one that is expected to remain for years. 

In Texas jails, ‘people are being punished for having mental illness’

Georgia Kay Baldwin had a history of schizophrenia when she began leaving bizarre, threatening phone calls against a police officer. She was arrested but was so severely mentally ill that a judge ordered her to be removed from prison and sent to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. But facing a waitlist thousands of people long, Baldwin never made it out. Instead, she died of suspected dehydration just inches away from a water fountain that was in her cell, according to KERA News.

“What is happening in Tarrant County and so many other jails across Texas, is people are being punished for having mental illness,” said Dean Malone, an attorney who is suing the county on behalf of Baldwin’s family. “I think that a jail has an obligation to assure that severely mentally ill people are eating and drinking.” 

The issues go beyond food and water, and even beyond mental health care in jails, said Beth Mitchell, an attorney with Disability Rights Texas. “Even if the jail does provide some mental health care, the environment is not suitable or conducive to helping somebody who has a mental illness,” she said. “They need constant interaction, not just sitting in a solitary cell where all they’re doing is hearing, potentially, the voices in their head.” 

Can you plan for a mental health crisis?

Apparently, yes. When I first read a similar headline in a column published by the Los Angeles Times, I thought it meant I could schedule a total mental shutdown, which I perhaps could pencil into my calendar from time to time. But, I quickly learned, that’s not what was meant.

One of the things this column shared is the concept of a psychiatric advance directive (PAD), a document “you put together when you’re healthy to prepare for what might happen when you’re not.” It lets your loved ones, medical personnel, and other members of your care team know about your unique needs and desires. The mental health organization Painted Brain partnered with USC’s Gould School of Law to create this FAQ brochure to raise awareness about PADs for the public. And here’s a handy template from the National Resource Center on Psychiatric Advance Directives to guide you in the creation of your own. 

Suicide of study participant leads feds to halt all human trials at New York Psychiatric Institute 

All research trials involving human subjects at the Columbia University-affiliated New York State Psychiatric Institute have been temporarily halted following the suicide of a research participant, The New York Times reported. The suspension of trials was ordered by the Office of Human Research Protections of the Department of Health and Human Services. The patient who died was enrolled in a study using levodopa, a drug traditionally used for Parkinson’s disease, to treat depression and reduced mobility in older people. The story was first reported by Spectrum, a news outlet that provides news and analysis about autism research. The levodopa study was led by Bret R. Rutherford, an associate professor of psychiatry who, according to the Times, resigned his Columbia post on June 1.  

The study, which began five years ago and received almost $737,000 in funding from the National Institute of Mental Health, aimed to recruit 90 adults over 60 with both depression and slowed gait but was only able to recruit 31. It was suspended before its completion, Spectrum reported. The participant who died by suicide was assigned to the placebo arm of the trial, according to Emily Roberts, a former research assistant for Rutherford who managed the trial during its first year, told Spectrum that the trial recruited patients who were not well off economically and paid them for their participation. “In a study that is difficult to enroll for, you’re going to stretch the boundaries of who is eligible for it,” she said.

Rutherford and his colleagues published several articles reporting that levodopa was helpful in reducing depressive symptoms and improving mobility. But three journals ran retractions of articles earlier this year after finding methodological flaws in the study, the Times reported. One, Biological Psychiatry, noted that some study subjects went off antidepressants they’d previously been taking abruptly – in 10 days or fewer, instead of the planned 28. Rapid tapering can cause withdrawal and other symptoms. The practice is a source of tension in psychiatric studies, said Jeffrey Kahn, director of the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University. “There isn’t another category of drug trial where you ask someone to go off something they are on,” Kahn said. “It’s a violation of a standard of care. You can’t tell someone, ‘Stop taking your chemotherapy so we can compare it to a new chemotherapy.’”

The move by federal regulators to halt all trials at the institute is unusual and, according to the Times, “suggests that investigators are concerned that potential violations of safety protocols occurred more broadly within the institute.” Carla Cantor, the institute’s director of communications, told the Times the institute had voluntarily stopped human trials two weeks before receiving the order. 

In other news…

Detroit police to add 11 mental health responders. The move comes after the shooting deaths of two mentally ill citizens by Detroit police officers in fall 2022. Last December, Police Chief James White announced plans to add more social workers and behavioral health specialists to DPD’s Crisis Intervention Team to reduce the risk of violence during mental health runs. In this 14-minute segment from WDET, local public health experts, a crisis intervention researcher and a crisis response worker speak with hosts about the moral imperative to respond with greater care to the needs of people in a mental health emergency.

As the U.S. bakes in an unrelenting heatwave, Axios looked at the plight of the farmworkers, mostly Latinos, who grow and harvest so much of our food. Although farmworkers are more likely to die from heat stress than other outdoor workers, no federal laws require employers to provide them with breaks in the shade or to supply drinking water, Axios noted. Research also points to the impact inescapable high temps can have on the psyche, causing memory issues, sleep problems and suicidal behavior. 

The evidence inspired Monica Ramirez, founder and president of Justice for Migrant Women, to pilot a mental health program for farmworkers in California and Florida that provides workers with group therapy and regular check-ins. She says legislation is desperately needed to protect workers from the heat. “We need to draw the connection between not just heat and physical wellbeing, but other consequences,” she said. “If someone is working in sweltering weather and they are in need of water and need a break that has a toll on the psyche.”

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.

Recent MindSite News Stories

The Dental-Mental Connection: A Clinic in Oakland’s Chinatown Brings Mental Health Care to Dental Patients

Dentistry and the medical profession have long been siloed. But eight years ago, Asian Health Services in Oakland pioneered a new practice: screening dental patients for depression. Other clinics across the country have now adopted the practice.

Continue reading…

For Transgender Youth, Conversion Therapy Brings Greater Suicide Risk Than Hormone Treatment, Researchers Say

A research team finds that supportive family environments and hormone replacement therapy that affirm a transgender child’s gender identity decrease their risk of suicide or running away from home. Unsupportive family environments and conversion therapy that denies their gender identity increase these risks.

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...