June 6, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers! In this edition, find out how Gen Z-ers are helping drive a surge in flip phone sales to avoid the harm of mainlining social media 24/7. (Said Apple News of the new phenomenon: “Who would’ve thought?”). We also feature stories about a Utah chief death investigator’s empathetic quest to find out the gender and sexuality of state residents who died by suicide, in part to document whether discrimination or bigotry played a role in them.

Also in this edition: Women with ADHD may be diagnosed later than their male counterparts. How studying nature helped a gay man embrace his identity. And more.

Unplugging in a tech-dominated world

The “Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out” mantra from Timothy Leary was a rallying cry of the 1960’s hippie counterculture movement. Updated to Gen Z, the mantra (for a small but growing slice of that generation, at least) might well be “Tune in, Unplug, Drop Out.”

Only the current generation isn’t dropping out of society, just incessant social media. As reported by CBS and Apple News, Gen Z-ers appears to be contributing to a surge in sales of “feature phones,” or ones that only allow basic calls and text messages. The flip back from smartphones to flip phones is part of some young folks’ effort to avoid the pitfalls of social media that US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently warned about.

“People themselves are kind of censoring and saying, ‘I don’t really need the negative mental health and social harms that come with an always connected life,’ Greg Hoplamazia of Loyola University told CBS News. Here’s more in this 2-minute listen.

“No One Knows How Many LGBTQ Americans Die by Suicide”

Relatively few death investigators inquire about sexuality or gender while investigating a suicide, but Cory Russo does. As the chief death investigator in Utah, she says that information can be relevant to why a person died. Russo, herself a lesbian, told the New York Times that it’s heartbreaking to hear when suicide is connected to a queer person’s identity. She shared the story of one young man who died by suicide after being kicked out of his family home for being gay and then struggling with addiction. “In that case, it was very relevant to understand that piece,” she said.

Research shows that LGBTQ people do have high rates of suicide and suicide attempts, but definitive numbers don’t exist. That makes it hard to target the LGBTQ community with suicide prevention efforts, know who is at greatest risk, or measure which prevention programs even work, experts say. In the current political climate, with anti-trans laws popping up across multiple states, not having numbers on the risk of suicide also makes it harder to demonstrate the life-threatening nature of banning gender-affirming health care. 

“Lacking in data, it is all too easy to dismiss us,” said Casey Pick, director of law and policy at the Trevor Project, a nonprofit dedicated to suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth. “I have heard it too many times: Lawmakers and public witnesses in hearings suggest that the LGBTQ. community is crying wolf on suicide because we don’t have this data to point to.”

How common is undiagnosed ADHD in women?

Catri Barrett never knew she had ADHD until last year at age 33. Though she showed symptoms like inattentiveness or difficulty concentrating for years, the condition went undiagnosed, as it does in many women. Barrett told Newsweek that, as a teenager, she always felt like she was underperforming and not reaching her potential. “I compared myself to others and just felt, ‘I’m not good enough,’” she said. In high school and college while struggling with emotional dysregulation and low self esteem, she developed an eating disorder and a serious drug problem, both which she feels were related to her undiagnosed ADHD. “I was self-medicating, but I understand why my tutors may have thought that I just didn’t care about my degree by not showing up properly,” she said. “This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It just spirals.”

Experts believe ADHD is often missed in girls and women because it’s expressed differently than in boys and men. Typically, girls have inattentive ADHD, rather than the hyperactive type. As such, symptoms are less easy to observable, neuropsychologist Rosemarie Manfredi explained. “They may be exerting a high level of effort in order to appear attentive, which can be exhausting over time and result in emotional costs. Their symptoms may not become evident until the environmental demands begin to exceed their ability to cope with and compensate for their areas of difficulty,” she said. In some cases, women don’t realize they have the condition until they have a child who exhibits the same symptoms, said Manfredi. 

Now with a diagnosis and some treatment, Barrett said she’s proud of how much she was able to do before knowing she had a disability. She encourages other women who find themselves diagnosed in adulthood “to extend compassion to themselves, embrace dopamine-releasing exercises and surround themselves with understanding people.” And although it makes it harder to navigate life in some ways, Barrett says having ADHD isn’t all bad. It’s helped her be more creative, she said.

In other news…

Studying nature helped Jason “Journeyman” Wise to celebrate his gay identity. Wise told the Los Angeles Times,that growing up as a teen in the early 1990s, he “felt like a freak, afflicted, and wrestling against sin as Satan whispered in his ear.” Everything changed when he learned about “queer ecology” in the natural world. “There are so many ways of existing and creating new life on our planet … but our cultural constructs and Western way of thinking have tried to erase those as much as possible, and put everybody in a nice little box,” said Wise, now an environmental educator and certified California naturalist. “Just seeing examples of homosexuality in nature, for instance, might have given me a little bit of relief. Because if penguins are doing it, maybe I’m not such a bad person. Seeing it in other animals, in nature, would have felt more normal to me.” 

Just a little zap to the brain during sleep may help improve memory, research suggests: Of course, it’s not that simple, but a study published in Nature Neuroscience found that brain stimulation during sleep in a small sample of 18 people with epilepsy helped them remember things they’d learned in a memory test the previous day. Electrical pulses were sent to the brain during non-REM sleep, which is when sleep experts believe the brain reinforces memories it expects to need in the future. The experiment was intended to align activity in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, both of which aid in ‘memory consolidation,’ the process by which an unstable memory becomes cemented. Itzhak Fried, a neurosurgeon at UCLA and co-author of the study, told NPR participants showed memory improvement from 10 to 80 percent — something that might have implications for people with dementia, among others. 

Could erectile dysfunction be the canary in the cognitive coal mine? Researchers told Health Day News that erectile woes could be related to subsequent cognitive decline. Why? Scientists don’t know for sure, but they theorize that “it is likely related to microvascular changes [in the walls of the small blood vessels] that are important to both penile and cognitive health,” said Tyler Reed Bell, a co-author of a study recently published in The Gerontologist that suggests as much.

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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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...