Wednesday, September 27, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite News readers. In today’s Daily: Activists in Maine are working to remove a provision in the state constitution that bars mentally ill people under guardianship from voting. Harm reduction experts say making Narcan available over the counter is only a “baby step.” And TikTok influencers urge you take a silent walk – without your phone! Plus, shift work is an occupational hazard unto itself, and Hollywood star Kerry Washington opens up.

In Maine, tackling another form of stigma against people with mental illness

Via Facebook

For more than 200 years, Maine’s state constitution has prohibited people “under guardianship for reasons of mental illness” from voting in state and local elections. It’s not typically enforced these days – ever since a 2001 federal court found the restriction disenfranchised voters and violated the U.S. Constitution. Now voting rights advocates want to remove the language from Maine’s constitution and align it with the court’s ruling, according to a report in Bolts, a nonprofit news outlet focused on criminal justice and voting rights.  The existing language creates “a subset of mentally ill people under guardians who can’t vote,” Democratic State Senator Craig Hickman told Bolts. “I think it’s important to ratify this amendment. [We need to] make it clear that in this state we have no reason to disenfranchise.” 

That existing language is a bit surprising, since Maine is one of the few states in the nation that allows people to vote from prison and maintains the voting rights of people with intellectual disabilities and brain injuries. “People assume folks can’t make their own decisions, people must be making them for them. They think people are going to be taken advantage of,” says Hickman of opponents to the ballot measure. But, he asserts, “you can’t disenfranchise based on a feeling.”

If approved by voters, the outdated provision of the state constitution will be removed. Practically, that is the only change Maine residents will see, but disability and voting rights advocates told Bolt the decision could have impact beyond the state. Ultimately, universal suffrage is what they aim for, making voting possible for all adults, unless they are verifiably unable to communicate with or without appropriate accommodations.

“Voting is…a fundamental right,” said Lewis Bossing, an attorney at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, which defends adults and children with mental disabilities. “We would like to see a world in which there is no competency standard for voting, because we don’t subject people generally to proving somehow that they can make a choice.”

Narcan goes over the counter. Will it reduce opioid overdose deaths?

With opioid overdose fatalities reaching record highs in 2022, addiction specialists and other community leaders shifted into overdrive in an effort to prevent further loss of life.

One strategy is to try and boost access to the overdose reversal medication Naloxone, which blocks the effects of opiates on the brain and restores breathing. Last month, a nasal spray formulation of Narcan, the brand name of the drug, became available over-the-counter in pharmacies. But in and of itself, this “baby step” is unlikely to make a big difference, experts told NPR.

One problem is that many pharmacies are placing it behind the pharmacy counter. “It needs to just be on the shelf and someone can take it,” said Shoshana Aronowitz, a family nurse practitioner and professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “Having to go talk to the pharmacist who may or may not know you, it’s not comfortable for people and that’s a barrier that this is supposed to eliminate.”

The suggested price tag – $45 – is also a barrier. For Aronowitz, over-the-counter naloxone is a step in the right direction, but it will fall to community health workers trained in harm reduction to educate and get the medication in the hands of more people. “We need to be moving in this direction, we just need to be doing it faster.”

In Los Angeles, health officials have begun an effort to get Narcan into the hands of an overlooked demographic — Latino immigrants. The rate of fentanyl deaths among Latinos in L.A. County jumped by 721% in just seven years, according to the county Department of Public Health.

Walk this way…

Here’s a new TikTok craze we can get behind. Influencers are encouraging their followers to go on silent walks, as in – gasp! – no podcasts, no music, no phone conversations. In a video viewed 500,000 times, Mady Maio told her followers that the idea first gave her anxiety, but once she submitted, her mental “mayhem” pivoted to a “flow state” and her brain fog gave way to new ideas. Content creator Arielle Lorre also sings the praises of silent walks as a way for people to counteract being tethered to their devices.

Research has consistently shown walking to be a mood-booster. The Times points to studies that suggest ten minutes of walking per day can extend your lifetime and a 30-minute walk can reduce symptoms of depression. Walking has also been shown to spark creativity. And while it may seem silly that social media is treating walking like something people recently evolved to do, the harms of being constantly connected to our devices cannot be understated. Attention spans have nearly evaporated over the last 20 years, researchers say, and the societal pressure to “be productive” has us “so distracted that we aren’t present at all,” said David M. Levy, Mindful Tech author and professor at the University of Washington. “There is great beauty and aliveness in the world outside of whatever it is we’re doing on our devices.”

In other news…

Notoriously private Kerry Washington opens up: Kerry Washington knows how to keep her business to herself. Even as an A-list celebrity, she managed to keep her entire dating relationship and wedding to NFL star-turned actor Nnamdi Asomugha a secret until after their marriage.

But in her new memoir, Thicker than Water, the Emmy Award-winning storyteller shares intimate details about her life, including her journey to overcome an eating disorder and the revelation that her father and biological father are not the same person.

“It felt like I’d been wandering through a library my whole life, looking for a specific book about myself,” Washington told the New York Times. “My mom and dad were these librarians who said, ‘There’s a room we haven’t shown you.’”

In Maryland, an “urgent care” for mental health: In response to the growing needs for mental health support, Sheppard Pratt, a renowned Maryland mental hospital, has created a psychiatric urgent care model accessible to all ages. Communities across the country are taking note, CBS News reports. Last year the urgent care served 6,000 patients and leaders expect to reach 10,000 by the end of this year. About one-third of visitors are placed in the hospital, but many others receive a referral for a therapist. “You look at adults with mental illness, about a third of them never get any treatment at all,” said Harsh Trivedi, Shepard Pratt’s president and CEO. “Kids with depression, about 60% of them receive no treatment at all. That’s what’s leading to so many more suicides.” Trivedi and his colleagues are trying to help other facilities to open simialar programs.

Depression and anxiety linked to shift work: “Shift work is an occupational hazard” according to a recent study, the Washington Post reports. Researchers defined shift work as any job schedule outside of traditional 9 am to 5 pm work hours. According to the study, the risk of developing depression is 22 percent higher for shift workers than those who work a regular daytime schedule.

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...