September 12, 2022

By Don Sapatkin

Good Monday morning, MindSite News readers! If you’re a parent or teen, you may be interested in registering for a free Mayo Clinic webinar, “Empowering Families to Strengthen Youth Mental Health,” on Wednesday from 6 to 7 p.m CT. 

In today’s edition of the Daily: A MindSite News Original on how tragic personal losses helped lead to the creation of a mental health legislative caucus. What Serena Williams can teach us about resilience. A disturbing look at the mental health toll of climate change in Texas. And across the pond, the suppressed-yet-roiling-cauldron of British emotion in the wake of a  monarch’s death. Be sure to read through to the end of the newsletter, where a pleasant tidbit awaits.


Congratulatory messages to Daniel Thatcher for his work on the federal law that led to the 988 crisis line. Photo courtesy Daniel Thatcher.

Family Tragedies Inspire Legislators to Form National Mental Health Caucus

Daniel Thatcher’s group of four best friends shrank to three when Travis took his own life during their junior year of high school in Utah. That traumatic event started Thatcher on a many-years journey to deal with his own mental health struggles and to start thinking about how to help others. Now the three-term state senator is a founding co-chair of a new mental health caucus made up of state lawmakers from across the country. MindSite News’s Josh McGhee and Rob Waters trace his transformation from a troubled teenager to mental health leader. 

And here’s something you probably didn’t know: Thatcher’s  idea for a three-digit crisis phone number in Utah led directly to the new national 988 Lifeline. Thatcher is just one of 42 legislators from both parties and 20 states who have founded the caucus, hoping to fix the broken mental health system. Read the full story here.


988 crisis calls are up 45% from a year ago

Calls answered by the new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline increased by almost half in August, its first full month of operations using the new three-digit 988 number, compared with the same month last year, according to data released by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Contacts via text and chat were up even more.

The amount of time needed to be connected to a regional call center with a trained counselor – a critical measure for people in the midst of a mental health crisis – dropped to an average 42 seconds from 2 minutes and 30 seconds last year for calls, texts and chats combined. Still, 12% of calls were abandoned before being connected to a counselor, for reasons such as the person in crisis changing their mind or not being willing to wait for an answer, according to government data

“988 is more than a number, it’s a message: We’re there for you. The transition to 988 is just the beginning,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in an HHS statement. The three-digit number is a work-in-progress which the Biden administration is working to build out with additional crisis care services. While the lifeline runs through a national network of call centers, it essentially functions as a state-run system – and state funding to operate the lifeline varies widely.

HHS also announced several specific grants, previously allocated by Congress, including $35 million to support the hotline in tribal communities. The Associated Press reported on that from Santa Clara Pueblo (Khaʼpʼoe Ówîngeh in Tewa), an Indian reservation in north-central New Mexico.

The lifeline “has been instrumental in getting me through dark nights, long nights, scary nights,” Kellene Diana, a 41-year-old mental health advocate and Baltimore resident, told NPR. She says she use this the suicide prevention line several times during the pandemic and has also called 988 recently to help loved ones and community members in crisis.

Serena shows us what mental toughness really means 

Serena Williams reacts during a 2015 match at the US Open Championship, which she won. Photo: Shutterstock

Serena Williams — the 23-time Grand Slam champion who told Vogue that she was “evolving away from tennis” well before losing in the U.S. Open’s early rounds —  is retiring as the greatest women’s tennis player of all time, according to the Washington Post. She’s become a “mental toughness icon”  as well, as Everyday Health puts it.

“Some people may be ‘broken’ by a crisis, while others emerge from a stressful experience sometimes even stronger than before,” says Eric A. Zillmer, a licensed clinical psychologist, professor of neuropsychology and former athletic director at Drexel University. Rather than cower in the face of competition or opposition, Williams just keeps showing up. “The not-so-secret ingredient is mental toughness, or resilience, which enables people to actually grow through adversity,” Zillmer  told Everyday Health.  

Find out more about the traits of mentally strong and resilient people in this story from Psychology Today.

In Texas, the emotional toll of climate change is steep

via Twitter

Diana Jones, 61, walks through the gray-blue house in Houston she’s lived in for decades. The flooring is bent, a bit warped. Jones, too, feels warped, five years after Hurricane Harvey forced her to wade through waist-high water to escape. It took her a month to find somewhere to live, so she lived out of her truck. The thing she fears the most is having to flee her home again. When it rains, she cries. She hyperventilates. She can’t sleep. “It’s destroying me.”

The Texas Tribune explores the mental health impacts of climate change, present and future. In Texas, this means storms and their catastrophic floods. Wildfires and drought make a cameo appearance; scorching heat and freezing cold, both of which have devastated Texas in recent years, aren’t even mentioned. Storms are enough.

An international group of leading scientists concluded in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that extreme weather events are followed by increased rates of mental illness. In a small sample of Hurricane Harvey survivors surveyed in the weeks after the storm — which dumped more than 60 inches of rain across the Houston region in 2017, causing catastrophic flooding that followed 500-year floods in 2015 and 2016 — researchers found that  46% of Houston-area participants met the threshold for probable PTSD symptoms, 39% experienced symptoms of depression and 54% had anxiety. 

“With other kinds of anxiety problems, you might want to try to get people to realize that their fears are overblown, but that’s less likely to be the case with climate change,” said Susan Clayton, who researches climate change and mental illness and was a lead author of the Sixth IPCC Assessment report. “In some cases, their fears are not overblown.” The Tribune also published a detailed sidebar with its story: “How to care for your mental health in the age of climate change and worsening natural disasters.”

MindSite News dug into this issue earlier this year in a story headlined: “Eco-Anxiety: The Real Tsunami of Climate Change.”

Plumbing the depths of British emotions unleashed  by the Queen’s death

Queen Elizabeth II reigned for more than 70 years. Here, a young Queen Elizabeth II when she lived in Malta between 1947 and 1951. Photo: Shutterstock

Britain has a complex relationship with its emotions, Marina Hyde writes in her column for The Guardian following the death of Queen Elizabeth II: “I always think politicians and many of our institutions are most frightened of the public having emotions. Perhaps they have a vested interest in portraying emotions as a kind of weakness, lying as they do in some uncharted realm beyond their control. The display of emotions is frequently regarded as a defeat. They are something to which we ‘give in.’ It suits many people for us not to do so. And yet, why? Is this in our interests or theirs? Maybe we already know the answer.”

Yes, this item will make more sense if you’re a Brit. “The emotional moment of the Queen’s death is only just beginning but will be far-reaching; its short-, medium- and long-term implications are fascinatingly — and for some, frighteningly — unpredictable,” Hyde continues. “But the Queen’s long and constant chapter has closed at a moment of great uncertainty and gathering struggle for the country she reigned over for 70 years.” 

When the compassionate and endearingly emotional Princess Diana died in a high-speed car wreck after she and her boyfriend were chased by paparazzi in 1997, a year after her divorce from now-King Charles II, the outpouring of mass grief was a landmark event. Indeed, it so spooked and unnerved many people in Great Britain that politicians and institutions eventually tried to put a lid on it.

And now? “The public reaction to the Queen’s death began the moment it was announced. That and the reaction to that reaction… [is] only just beginning to unfold.”

In other news….

Shayan Rab, a street psychiatrist with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, practices an emerging specialty of psychiatry, as the Los AngelesTimes shows us: He immerses himself in homeless people’s environments and improvises on normally routine tasks (a nurse makes runs to the pharmacy to fill Dr. Rab’s prescriptions). A new count found nearly 42,000 people experiencing homelessness in the City of Los Angeles, up 4% from two year ago, CBS Los Angeles reports.

More than a fifth of adults received mental health treatment last year, the National Center for Health Statistics reports in a data brief, up about a tenth from 2019. The 2021 overall rate for adults was 21.6% but the report focused on ages 18 to 44. In that group, 23.2% of people were treated, the highest of any age group. Within the 18-to-44 group, gender disparities were strong – 17.8% of men and 28.6% of women received treatment. The gaps were even stronger along racial and ethnic lines: 10.8% of Asians, 12.8% of Hispanics, 14.8% of Black and 30.4% of whites received mental health treatment.

An Atlanta jury awarded $77 million in a lawsuit against an addiction treatment center, the Associated Press reported. The wrongful death suit alleged that the center had stopped the 29-year-old resident’s lithium despite warnings from his family and therapist, then released him when his condition deteriorated two weeks later. Three days after that, he lay down naked on I-85, was hit by several cars and died. (No alcohol or illegal drugs were detected in his body.)

Orgasms are good for your mental health — as if you didn’t know!according to a story by The Friendly, which cited research findings on hormone releases during sex.

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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Don SapatkinReporter

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...