Wednesday, March 15, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News Readers! In today’s roundup, incarcerating people – for the crime of being mentally ill. Experts say we might be losing our pandemic memories. And the Detroit Free Press brings us an artist who overcame homelessness and a bout with mental illness to teach in one of the city’s most celebrated institutions.

Mentally ill, not charged with a crime – and locked in an Idaho prison 

Ben is a 30-something Idahoan with schizoaffective disorder. Diagnosed almost 20 years ago, he usually lives with his mother Diane. But now he’s being held in the Idaho Maximum Security Institution, a prison surrounded by a double-perimeter fence with razor wire and alarms – despite not being charged with a crime, the Idaho Capital Sun reports. Nine cells in the prison are used for “dangerously mentally ill” men who typically are held for four to six months – though they haven’t been convicted of crimes.

This isn’t the first time Ben has been imprisoned due to his mental health. According to his mother, Diane, he often reacts poorly to medications and becomes violent, rather than being calm or sedated. Medical records provided to the Sun by Diane show he was admitted last September, after “allegedly assaulting a nursing staff member” at a state psychiatric hospital. When he sees people in uniforms that “look like a policeman, he gets really afraid,” and can lash out violently, Diane said. Now she fears for his life. “It makes me sick to think that he could end up dying there in a prison cell,” she said.

He doesn’t belong in prison, a psychiatrist at the facility wrote Sept. 6. “I must reiterate (and I have done so by phone several times) to Health and Welfare that this is an inappropriate place for this patient to be treated because it lacks the level of care that he requires,” he wrote. Idaho Gov. Brad Little recently asked state lawmakers to approve $24 million to build a 26-bed mental health facility, along with money to upgrade or repair existing facilities in other parts of the state. 

Are we already losing our pandemic memories? Probably. Here’s why.

Image: Shutterstock

Much like death is woven into life, forgetting is interlaced with memory. “A basic assumption that we can make is that everybody forgets everything all the time,” said Norman Brown, a cognitive psychology professor at the University of Alberta to the Washington Post. “The default is forgetting.” Scientists say our memories work like this: New information is encoded in the hippocampus or – in the case of emotional memories – in the amygdala. When we want to remember something, the hippocampus pulls it up for replay. But each time it does so, our memories are subject to change. The things that we remember best and most vividly are centered on the life experiences that affected us the most.

“I would say the pandemic, for many people, will be remembered as this kind of gray interlude,” Brown said. “For some people,” – like health care workers, long COVID sufferers, or those who lost a loved one to the disease – “it will be a life-changing kind of event or period. And they’ll remember differently.” 

Whatever individual memories we lose, experts hope our collective memories don’t fail us to the point of repeating the same mistakes in another 100 years. After the influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919 struck one-third of the globe and killed 50 million people, society didn’t give it much thought … until, a century later, COVID-19 struck. We have an opportunity to make sure that governments and institutions remember, and work to keep us protected. After all, asks psychology professor William Hirst, ”Do we feel the moral imperative not to let the story end with us?”

Cultivating friendship as an introvert

Everyone needs meaningful relationships with others – even introverts who tend to delight in the cancellation of social plans. “Every single person has the fundamental need for connection,” Kasley Killam, a social scientist and the founder of Social Health Labs, told New York Times writer and self-described introvert Catherine Pearson. “But what varies is how much and what kind of connection.”

It’s not that introverts are antisocial. They just tend to make friends gradually, Killam says, “while extroverts are more likely to have ‘friends at first sight’ experiences.” Pearson writes that although “introvert,” “shy” and “social anxiety” are often used interchangeably, “they are not the same.” Shyness, according to the APA, is the tendency to feel awkward or tense during social interactions, while social anxiety is a debilitating condition characterized by intense fear of being watched and judged by others. 

In a world that prefers extraversion, how can introverts nurture friendship bonds without miming behaviors that feel antithetical to who they are? “Don’t view your introversion as an impediment. Instead, think of it as a style of connecting,” said Marisa Franco, author of Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make – and Keep – Friends. Taking the first step isn’t something extroverts innately know how to do; it’s a learned skill and one that gives them a lot of control in social situations. Introverts can access that power too, Franco says: “If you can embrace being the one to initiate interactions, even if you are an introvert, then you get to choose the activity that is the most restorative to you.”

In other news…

Last week, the British Medical Journal published a study that called the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health “minimal.” I’ll admit I didn’t read it; I couldn’t catch my breath from cackling so heartily at the headline. This here link from NBC’s Today made me feel like part of good company – and might bring you a few smiles, too.

Mississippi makes progress. In July 2022, an average of 24 people a day were being held in Mississippi jails – despite not being charged with a crime – while they waited for mental health beds to open. That number has now dropped to about eight, according to Mississippi Today. “The scope of progress is substantial,” wrote Dr. Michael Hogan, a court-appointed monitor tasked with authoring biannual reports on the state’s mental health system. “But the work is not complete, and some conditions remain that should satisfy no one.”

In this photo essay from journalist Sarahbeth Maney of the Detroit Free Press, readers get a peek into the art life of Ken Jackson, a Detroit muralist and art teacher who overcame a schizophrenia diagnosis, homelessness and incarceration to finally fall into the groove of what he sees as his calling. “I needed time to apply some of my own principles to my own life,” said Jackson, who hopes to make enough income from art to sustain himself and help other artists find their footing. “Anybody that is looking for their calling will see that the thing carrying them through these negative experiences is probably their gift.”

Sleep doctors agree: changing our clocks is a health hazard. But, there are things you can do to help yourself if you’re a lot behind or a little cranky while making the Daylight Savings Time adjustment. NPR offers these tips.

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...