March 28, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers. If you thought that high school bullying is an immutable fact of being a teenager, we have some good news. Today we’ll also tell you about two Oscar-nominated short films that we liked but didn’t get a lot of press. Read on for a Catholic view on the Kim and Kanye debacle, data showing a precipitous increase in alcohol-related deaths, and a look at the mental health of librarians under attack for defending the freedom to read.


Librarians’ Mental Health Threatened by Book Bans, Abuse and Harassment

Image credit: Shutterstock

Around the country, librarians are being threatened, doxxed, stalked and cyber-bullied by parents objecting to certain books on the shelves, mainly those about race, racism or different gender identities but also about other hot-button issues in the culture wars. “I was called disgusting, truly sick. There were accusations made that I was a pornographer, a pedophile, that I was grooming children,” said Martha Hickson, a school librarian in New Jersey, about email and social media attacks on her library’s LGBTQ+ titles. As Laurie Udesky reports in a MindSite News investigation, the onslaught of abuse — which some experts say is part of a nationally coordinated political campaign — has undermined librarians’ mental health, leaving many anxious, depressed and fearing for their safety at work and at home. However, they have banded together to defend intellectual freedom in groups like FReadom Fighters, a group of four librarians in Texas who are fighting censorship and encouraging librarians and others to Tweet about their favorite banned book.

“I think people just forget that there’s a human being on the other side of this,” Hickson said. “It’s important for me to try to see this from the point of view of the parents challenging books. I recognize that they think what they’re doing is best for their children. And I honor they want to do what’s best for their children. But they have to stop at their own front door.”

A setback for mental health parity

Last week a unanimous federal appeals court panel undermined what was perhaps the most significant legal success in the decades-long quest to force insurance companies to cover mental health and addiction treatment as robustly as they do medical and surgical care, MindSite News reports. The decision overrode the outcome of an earlier class action lawsuit involving more than 50,000 patients.

The panel decided that it “was not unreasonable” for the behavioral health unit of the nation’s largest health insurer to determine whether a treatment is medically necessary and therefore covered based on its own internal guidelines, which were more restrictive than generally accepted standards of care. The reversal’s impact “could be quite devastating,” said David Lloyd, a senior policy adviser at The Kennedy Forum, a nonprofit that advocates for better mental health coverage.


Oscar nominees we’re (still) excited about

Experiences of homelessness and bullying come to harrowing life in two films that were up for best documentary short last night. “Loneliness so palpable it hurts; nights so cold you can feel them as much as see them. These moments, these sensations, flow off the screen in an unbroken stream in Lead Me Home,” the San Francisco Chronicle’s Kevin Fagan writes. In the short on homelessness, whose trailer you can watch here, Emmy-winning directors Jon Shenk and Pedro Kos filmed in cities up and down the West Coast, none of them identified in this 39-minute film streaming on Netflix. “When you really go into the camps, you realize that what they’re doing is a natural human instinct – people look for a water source; they find shelter under an overpass; a park bench can become a living room,” Shenk said. “These are things we would all do. We look for basic needs. That inspired us.”

Image from Lead Me Home/YouTube

In When We Were Bullies, filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt revisits a nasty incident – he was one of the attackers – at his elementary school in Brooklyn. Rosenblatt tracks down 20 classmates who punched, kicked, spat and yelled at a fifth-grade boy a half-century ago, asking them to look back at their behavior (most didn’t remember it) and their emotions after their teacher caught and shamed them. He did not speak with the victim, he told Stuart Miller in an interview for the New York Times, as he was interested in  themes of complicity, the collaboration of mob mentality and the lasting impact of childhood events like this one. The 36-minute film debuts Wednesday at 9 p.m. Eastern on HBO. (You can view the trailer here).

These may have been Oscar material, but the winner (also excellent) was The Queen of Basketball, which documents Lusia “Lucy” Harris’s unsung accomplishment as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

A Jesuit take on celebrities acting out — and our reaction to them

Kayne West and Kim Kardashian in earlier days/ Shutterstock

“Why Catholics should have compassion for Kim Kardashian — and Kanye West” is the intriguing headline on a piece in America: The Jesuit Review of Faith & Culture, and it doesn’t disappoint. A quick review: West, who has long made beyond-the pale remarks (see: slavery was “a choice”), has been very publicly harassing Kardashian, his ex-wife, leading to online outrage and actual cancellation. (Meanwhile, Kardashian created her own, unrelated scandal.)
The America story, by Keara Hanlon, a fellow at the Jesuit review, takes as its starting point a thoughtful segment for The Daily Show, in which host Trevor Noah argued that the high-octane moment isn’t only about celebrities desperately trying to remain relevant. “Two things can be true,” he said. “Kim likes publicity. Kim is also being harassed.” If one of the wealthiest women in the world can’t avoid horrible treatment at the hands of her ex, Noah asked, “then what chance do normal women have?”

O’Hanlon looks at the scandal through a spiritual lens. “Our faith,” she writes, “calls us to take a step back and see through the nonsense to the whole person. Truly, what does it say about us as Catholics if our reaction to real pain—not simply hysterics—is to sit back and chuckle?” West, too, apparently cannot get the mental health support he needs, she points out.

“As Catholics, we should have compassion for Ye’s plight with mental illness and pray that he seeks therapy and finds healing, both for his own sake and for the sake of his ex-wife and their four children,” Hanlon writes. “At the same time, we also need to support Kardashian in setting a healthy boundary for herself and her family as she tries to distance herself from Ye. Mental illness does not excuse abusive or harassing behavior, and we also should not stand by as Kardashian is harassed, no matter our feelings for her personally.”  

The Trevor Noah video, by the way, is worth a listen.

Can bullying at school be prevented?

Image credit/Shutterstock

Bullying can be prevented, or at least be powerfully undercut, reporters from the Southern California New Group concluded after an investigation of teen bullying rates and the policies and support systems of every school district in the state. In surveys, a third of middle and high school students reported being bullied over a five-year period. But rates ranged from 11 percent to 59 percent, with the lowest in districts that reporters found had made bullying prevention a priority.

The lower-bullying districts tended to emphasize social-emotional learning, which helps students get in touch with their own emotions and mental well-being and prioritizes empathy for others. Research shows that when students have their mental and emotional needs met, they do better academically and graduate at higher rates. Some districts also increased spending on mental health and revamped discipline programs to focus on the roots of problems – getting bullies to understand the impact of their behavior — instead of just punishing the perpetrators.

One school developed a youth court program, putting bullies before a jury of student volunteers instead of suspending them. “It’s basically about giving kids who make mistakes at school a second chance,” said Arely Jimenez, 17, a senior at Jurupa Unified’s Patriot High School, one county up from the Mexican border. “We ask them questions like ‘what do you want to do when you grow up? How do you think this affects your future job prospects?’ And that causes them to reflect and think on their future.” Students who go before the court join the jury in future cases, helping them develop empathy for their classmates.

Alcohol-related deaths jumped sharply in 2020

Image credit: Shutterstock

Deaths from alcohol-related causes spiked more than 25 percent in 2020 compared to an increase of less than 4 percent the previous year, the New York Times reported, based on a short analysis of federal data published in the JAMA Network. Deaths from all causes rose nearly 17 percent in 2020, largely due to the pandemic, although more people ages 16 to 65 actually died of alcohol-related causes than Covid. Overdose-related deaths increased even more — by nearly 30 percent — in 2020, federal researchers reported last fall. Delayed treatment, greater stress and other mental health issues likely contributed to the increases for both, according to researchers.

Drug overdoses and alcohol-related fatalities are among the so-called “deaths of despair,” which have been rising relentlessly in recent years, albeit slower than in 2020. Another death of despair – suicide — declined by 3 percent in 2020, researchers reported last month, in the second annual drop, although suicides remained 30 percent higher than two decades ago. Deaths of despair are often related, with many fatalities involving both drugs and alcohol, and a small percentage of both are classified as suicides.

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...