January 31, 2022

Good morning, MindSite readers! In today’s newsletter: How kids’ shows talk about the COVID vaccine without scaring the bejesus out of their young viewers. New research examines links between chemo brain and COVID brain fog. Plus, California’s Superintendent of Schools rolls out a film and curriculum to shore up mental health for students, teachers, bus drivers and administrators.

How to make Covid vaccine PSAs that don’t scare the heck out of kids

No kid is crazy about getting a shot, so when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the COVID vaccine for kids as young as 5, kids’ shows carefully avoided fear-inducing messaging, according to The Atlantic. One strategy shared by many in the kids’ programming biz is formulating content based on questions about the vaccines that children themselves have. “My mask makes me hot. Do I still have to wear one?” one child asked U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on the kids’ news program Nick News. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta has talked to Sesame Street muppets to talk about COVID vaccines, who were enthusiastic about getting their shots.

“If Big Bird does it, it will be okay; I will be okay,” is the message that gets across, said Sandra Calvert, the director of the Children’s Digital Media Center at Georgetown University. When Sesame Street reps at a CNN town hall said that kids who get the vaccine were akin to superheroes for showing kindness to other people, a father relayed how that message reassured his 6-year-old son, who donned his Captain America cape when he went for his vaccines. 

Striking similarities between ‘chemo brain’ and long COVID brain fog

Months after experiencing COVID infections, up to a third of long haulers experience brain fog. A team of researchers studying the long-term effects of COVID found similarities between COVID brain fog and chemo brain, the term used to describe cognitive impairment among cancer survivors following chemotherapy, according to STAT. Stanford neuro-oncologist Michelle Monje has studied the neurobiological changes associated with chemo brain for two decades. She and colleagues from Yale and Mount Sinai’s long COVID clinic conducted preliminary research in mice and the brains of people who died from COVID and found patterns of neuroinflammation similar to those seen with chemo brain.

“While the link is not immediately obvious, in light of the roles that neuroinflammation plays in the neurobiology of ‘chemo brain,’ it makes a lot of sense that there would be these similarities with the cognitive impairment after an inflammatory challenge like Covid,” said Beth Stevens, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, who was not involved in the research.  

Easing stigma so doctors can seek mental health care

Doctors are often asked to fill out applications for licensing and employment that ask about a history of mental health struggles. To reduce the stigma about mental illness in doctors, such forms should be changed to only ask about current impairment, according to an article by the American Medical Association. In fact, asking about prior treatment or mental health diagnoses goes against protections enshrined in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some states are already taking action, including Minnesota, which in January began asking applicants only about current impairment. Indiana, Virginia and South Dakota  enacted legislation in the last two years making it easier for doctors to access support confidentially through wellness programs. 

Doctors can also receive confidential help from state physician health programs when they’ve been referred by their workplace, licensing board or a colleague without being subjected to disciplinary action – unless the referral stemmed from a threat to public safety. Federal legislation named for Dr. Lorna Breen, an emergency doctor in New York City who died by suicide during the pandemic, would create “a national campaign to encourage health professionals to prioritize their mental health and establish grants to train physicians, medical students and other strategies to reduce and prevent suicide, burnout and mental health conditions,” the article reported.

347 people referred for inpatient psychiatric care are languishing in Colorado jails 

Ann Kosolapova/Shutterstock

Steven Miller, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager, has been locked up in a jail in El Pueblo County, Colorado since October waiting for a bed to open up at the state’s psychiatric facility, according to KOAA News of Southern Colorado. Miller was deemed not competent to stand trial for assault and harassment charges. His mother, June Miller, says her son had been doing well until he stopped taking his medication. After that, she said, he lost his job and ended up losing his marriage. To expand access, the governor has released emergency funding to add 64 inpatient beds at other hospitals. The Colorado Department of Human Services has also set aside funds to add 30 private psychiatric beds and is working  on identifying community-based programs that can provide care. About $1 million has been given to county jails to improve behavioral health services. 

In other news:

You don’t have to go through this by yourself. American service members in Japan who want some tools to manage the pandemic can take a course to help boost their resilience, according to the US Army Garrison Japan website. The classes “are very interactive, and they allow you to see that you are not going through the same thing by yourself,” according to ACS specialist Lucinda Ward, who teaches the course. Adds Terry Owens, a former service member: “I think it’s imperative that we, as community members, shore each other up,” she said. “Because all we really have, especially now with (pandemic) restrictions and everything else, is each other.”

Children of service members stationed at the US Army base (Credit: USAG Japan)

My Octopus students: You Out Loud, a program created by writer and artist Suzi Mitchell, aims to transform youth mental wellness in Routt County, Colorado, by integrating public art projects and the community, according to Steamboat Pilot & Today, a newspaper and website serving the Steamboat Springs area. Its current “Octopus Project” segment is inspired by the Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher and its message of resilience, self-awareness and relationship-building. In an eight-week session, students will work toward their first public art show in March, using the octopus “as a metaphor to explore individual personalities and inspire a sense of place in community,” Mitchell told the paper.

California streaming: California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced in a press release the rollout of a new film for California educators and school staff called “A Trusted Space” to promote mental health and social-emotional learning for students traumatized by the pandemic. The film and its curriculum “will help educators and staff—including bus drivers, teachers, and administrators—feel heard, validated, and supported and will provide strategies for schools to be better equipped to support the students they serve,” he explained. Registration for the free program is available here

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.

Are Deputies Discouraging LA Inmates Getting Vaxed?

Mental health workers at LA’s Twin Towers jail describe a lawless environment in which unmasked deputies try to convince inmates not to get vaccinated.

Rx for Better Mental Health? M-O-N-E-Y

Money beats therapy. Setback for prevention as intervention. Pregnant inmates grappling with addiction have limited access to medication. It’s the Friday Research Roundup.

Biden Admin Takes on Insurers Over Mental Health

The Biden administration began a push to compel U.S. health insurers to equitably pay for mental health services.

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