December 27, 2021

Good morning, loyal holiday readers! A soon-to-be new law promises change in a military culture that fails service members experiencing mental health crises. Is God the secret to psychedelic treatments? A depressed cop on a submarine makes for riveting television. Scroll down for these stories and more in today’s MindSite News Daily.

‘Mental health’ and ‘doomscrolling’ rank high on  Google search charts for 2021

Grayscale 3D animated hand holding smartphone with liquid falling from the phone
In 2021, ‘doomscrolling’ was searched more than ever. Image credit: Google

Good news or bad? More people searched for the phrase “how to maintain mental health” than ever before on Google search ­– more than double the annual number from any previous year, according to an NBC10-Philadelphia story. “Doomscrolling” had a big year too (as illustrated by Google’s really creepy image above). These numbers are a reflection, of course, of deep anxiety and distress linked to the pandemic ­– but they also hint that people are at least looking for answers.

A death not in vain: Brandon Act on verge of changing how military addresses mental health

Before taking his own life in 2018 following years of relentless bullying by his Navy supervisor, Brandon Caserta wrote six suicide notes pleading with his parents to try and change the military’s culture so that others could live. “They told him to suck it up and get back to work,” said his father, Patrick Caserta. He and his wife, Teri, took up the mission and three years later, the Brandon Act is part of a defense bill on President Biden’s desk and about to be signed, Inside Edition reports. Among other things, it will allow service members to seek mental health treatment confidentially – bypassing the traditional chain of command. The Casertas hope the new law will also rein in toxic leaders who mock, and even block, soldiers and sailors seeking mental health treatment.

A lot are in need. Suicides by active duty members increased 41 percent from 2015 to 2020, when there were 384 (580 including the reserves and the National Guard), according to the most recent Pentagon report. And 2021 is looking pretty bad as well, at least among members of the Texas National Guard assigned to protect the southern border. An Army Times investigation found four suspected suicides in the past two months among members tied to Operation Lone Star. Private First Class Joshua R. Cortez was found dead 36 hours after his commanding officer rejected his request to be released from a redeployment so he could accept a civilian job.

Operation Lone Star, which is separate from federally controlled National Guard border efforts, has been criticized as politically motivated and lacking purpose. Gov. Greg Abbott, who faces a tough primary challenge this Spring, ordered involuntary activations with less than two weeks’ notice to raise troop strength by 5,000 in September and October, according to the Army Times. Meanwhile, the Texas Guard acceded to the Legislature’s demand for budget cuts by reducing tuition assistance that some troops were counting on, further worsening morale.

Psychedelic effectiveness: great chemistry or ‘the work of God?

Photo: Shutterstock

When Seth Wilson was injected with 110 mg of the dissociative anesthetic ketamine on his late mother’s 77th birthday, he immediately felt her presence. “This is the answer; this is what it feels like to be beyond Earth,” his mother said to him. In a story titled, “How Seeing God Might Be The Secret To The Most Cutting-Edge Mental Health Treatments,” the Chicago sommelier told Forbes that the experience, along with multiple therapy sessions in the following weeks, helped him deal with his long-term anxiety and depression – especially the trauma of his mother’s death – by showing him there is more to life than the physical world.

Interest in psychedelics for the treatment of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions is increasing fast, yet scientists still don’t fully understand how they work. Some believe the drugs may signal the 5-HT-2A receptor, which help the brain form new neural connections. Lars Christian Wilde is co-founder and president of Compass Pathways, a U.K.-based company that is developing a form of psilocybin – the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms” – to be used in conjunction with therapy to treat depression. He told Forbes that  patients with different beliefs describe their mystical experiences in different ways:  “Some people say, ‘Wow, I met God,’ while others say, ‘Wow, I understood that my ego is an illusion.’” Either way, he said, intense psychedelic experiences “have a bigger reset effect on the brain.”  

Is the police-reform movement dying?

Eighteen months after George Floyd’s murder sparked a movement to re-invent policing, the drive for reform is dying, columnist Will Bunch laments in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Exhibit one: New York Mayor-Elect Eric Adams’s announcement that he would bring back solitary confinement for prisoners at the city’s infamous Rikers Island jail. (Adams, a former police captain, reportedly never used the word “solitary” but more than half of incoming City Council members did, in an open letter urging him to reverse his position.) Other examples: police budgets are increasing, departments around the country are refusing to submit information to the FBI for its fledgling National Use-of-Force Data Collection, and police officers in the U.S. are arresting more journalists.

Long-term incarceration, not to mention solitary, especially hurts children, Ebony Underwood writes in a USA Today commentary, listing the 33 Thanksgivings, Christmases, and other holiday dinners that she missed her father, who was released last year. “The holiday season came to represent pain, uncertainty and devastation,” she writes. “We are suffering. Children with incarcerated parents are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, toxic stress and post-traumatic stress disorder due to the shame of being separated from a parent and the lack of support. Even the help we do receive carries a stigma, which is traumatizing.”

About 10 million children in the U.S. have experienced the incarceration of a parent. If having an imprisoned parent was considered a chronic health condition, it would rank No. 2 for children under the age of 18, just behind asthma.

Depressed detective stuck on submarine: perfect role for Suranne Jones, in British mini-series

Suranne Jones as Alex Silva in Vigil. BBC Publicity photo.

The BBC’s “Vigil,” now streaming on Peacock, drew more than 10 million viewers for the first of six episodes when it premiered overseas in August. While there are twists and turns aplenty, much of the thriller’s appeal owes to Suranne Jones’s ability to inhabit complex, troubled characters, the New York Times writes in a profile of the British actress, who has been open about her struggles with anxiety and depression.

“A lot of my characters have been through trauma,” Jones said. “But ‘Vigil’ has you on the edge of your seat, and you just remember how much fun it can be watching things like that.”

In other news:

The Oregon Justice Resource Center asked the state appeals court last week to prevent the Corrections Department from sending inmates to solitary confinement for more than 15 days for disciplinary reasons, arguing that the practice amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The Medicaid Reentry Act, a little-known piece of the Democrats’ big social policy bill that’s stalled in the Senate, would allow people to get enrolled in Medicaid starting 30 days before being released from jail or prison. That would be a big step forward since it often takes newly released inmates weeks or even months to get health benefits, the Boston Globe editorialized.

Drug overdoses overwhelmingly killed white people in the early days of the opioid crisis, and then spread to people of color, with Native Americans dying at the highest rate during the 12 months ending in April, according to a beautifully written Associated Press dispatch from Ojibwe reservations in remote northern Minnesota.

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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Type of work:

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...