June 30, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s edition, service members are still waiting for the Brandon Act that promises confidential mental care to be rolled out. Veterans Affairs doctors are researching psychedelics to treat PTSD and other ills. How to support your LBGTQ child’s mental health. Plus, the promise of equine therapy, journaling, and more.

Also, we won’t be sending a newsletter this coming Monday, since it’s July 4th. Have a good holiday, and we’ll be back with more news on Tuesday. See you then!

Service members still waiting for confidential mental care

In Peoria, Arizona, Teri and Patrick Caserta hold a portrait of their son, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Caserta, who died by suicide in 2018. The law is named after him. Photo via Twitter.

It’s been six months since the Brandon Act was signed into law by President Joe Biden, but the US military has not yet rolled out the measure that aims to make it easier for service members to seek mental health care. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., who authored the law, told NBC News that he’s been told military officials are “currently establishing implementation policy,” a process that will take two more months. Moulton is dissatisfied with the response. “I still fail to understand why it has taken so long” if it is a priority, Moulton said.

The impetus is the alarming number of military suicides in recent years, including three in one week just this past April aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington. The military currently requires service members to inform their superiors of their desire to seek mental health support – and it is that step, psychologists say, that reinforces military culture stigmatizing mental illness and leading service members to fear they’ll be set back in their careers. The Brandon Act is designed to speed up this appointment and offer active duty personnel a confidential way to seek mental health care.

Veterans Affairs doctors explore the therapeutic use of psychedelics

Photo via Twitter

Back in the early 1960s, the federal government was a booming center of psychedelics research. The CIA explored using LSD as a mind-control tool against enemies and Veterans Affairs studied how it might treat alcoholism. But as recreational use of hallucinogens grew, so did the war on drugs, effectively halting research, according to the New York Times. Now, almost 60 years later, four doctors at the VA are leading studies examining the clinical effectiveness of the psychedelics MDMA and psilocybin to treat mental illnesses that have been notoriously resistant to current therapies.

“It’s brand new to a lot of people and yet it’s been around longer than most of our psychiatric medications have been around,” said Christopher Stauffer, whose research looks into psilocybin’s power to treat veterans addicted to methamphetamine. His colleagues are studying MDMA as a tool to treat combat veterans with PTSD who don’t respond to traditional treatments and a way to make intimate couples therapy more effective. “It feels like we’re approaching it this time with a lot more knowledge and a lot of more rigorous research practices that didn’t really exist back in the ’50s and ’60s,” Stauffer said.

The psychology of (dis)information

As humans evolved, writes research analyst and scholar Megan K. McBride, we developed psychological mechanisms to deal with incoming information. But in the disorienting current media environment, she says, “some of these time-tested tools make us dangerously vulnerable to disinformation.”

Her post on Psychology Today’s Deep Analysis blog examines how hard-to-trace sources of persuasion, from to memes and images and online content, make it easier for disinformation campaigns to exploit normal information-processing mechanisms in the brain. Relying on a report she coauthored last year, McBride discusses how these mechanisms work. They make it easier, for example, for us to be fooled by fake websites that look like major media organizations such as Bloomberg News.

The same mechanisms also help us appreciate clear and consistent narratives that, even if they are untrue, protect us from the uncomfortable cognitive dissonance that we normally experience when confronted with competing ideas. In addition, information that creates intense emotions – awe, amusement, anxiety – grabs our attention more easily than details that provoke ”less-arousing emotions” such as sadness or contentment. (An accompanying report presents case studies of real-world (dis)information campaign successes.) – Don Sapatkin

Parents: Tips from experts on protecting your LGBTQ child’s mental health

Christian parents march in support of their gay children at the Gay Pride-Pink Saturday Street Parade-Festival in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, on June 18, 2022. Photo: Shutterstock

Pride month is coming to a close, but many LGBTQ teens need emotional and mental health support all year long. Almost 10 percent of high school-aged youth identify as part of the LGBTQ community, according to a 2020 survey from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, and other surveys have shown they are more likely to be bullied at school. Significantly, however, a 2022 national survey from the Trevor Project revealed that LGBTQ youth who feel high social support from their families are less than half as likely to attempt suicide as those who do not.

But what if you feel lost on how to help? “When a child comes out, parents don’t always know what to do and what to say, and that’s OK,” Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project told CNN. “The main thing is that you are there for your child.” Here are what some experts suggest:

  1. Listen to your child and encourage open dialogue. “You don’t have to be an expert to support your LGBTQ child, “you just need to discuss LGBTQ issues openly and respectfully,” said Trevor Project CEO Amit Paley. 
  2. Whether you understand their identity or not, affirm and respect it. Using a child’s chosen name and pronouns is especially important.
  3. Make an effort to learn and advocate for your child. Ryan said, “There is a lot of misinformation about sexual orientation and gender identity, and that can lead to some parents rejecting their child when they come out.” 
  4. Realize that being LGBTQ is not a choice. Justine Larson is the mother of a transgender son who didn’t know what being trans meant when her son came out. She’s learned a lot along the way. “Your kid is going to take their journey, whether you approve or not,” Larson said. “You can help them and support them with it, or you can make it harder for them.”

In other news…

Photo: Shutterstock

Horses and humans for better mental health: At Reach Therapeutic Riding Center in Waco, Texas, patients struggling with conditions like PTSD, depression, and anxiety are treated with equine therapy. Executive director Shannon Smith told ABC-25 that some people just find it easier to talk to animals than humans. “[Horses] aren’t going to make you feel bad about yourself, they aren’t going to gossip behind your back. They are just going to meet you where you are and support you and love you unconditionally,” Smith said.

Journaling for self-esteem: Often presented as a way to just dump your big feelings, journaling can be a powerful tool for self-care and building confidence, according to licensed marriage and family therapist Danita Thompson. “It is an expressive coping mechanism,” Thompson said. “Writing about the positive and negative things you feel or have experienced helps release what is pent up on the inside, and gratitude journals are scientifically proven to increase positive moods.” Thompson shared five prompts with Essence designed to help you reflect on your experiences, engage in positive self-talk, and improve self-esteem.

People with higher levels of anxiety and depression make less reflective and “information-seeking” choices, according to new research reported in Psychology Today. This can lead to avoidance behaviors, including not making a choice at all, resulting in sustained depression and anxiety.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889. Services are free and available 24/7.

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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...