November 9, 2021

Hello, MindSite News Daily Readers. In today’s newsletter, you’ll learn how violence interruption programs can help reduce gun violence and address communities’ underlying trauma. You’ll also read about a new pilot program in Missoula that’s diverting patients with mental health and substance issues away from ERs and jail, and learn how one police department found a novel way of defusing intense job stress. It’s called “Ginger the dog.”

Commentary: To turn around gun violence, expand programs that use streetwise community workers (and pay them decently)

Last year gun homicides and shootings rose by at least 25 percent, and this year statistics are heading in the same direction. Such cycles of violence are both a product and a magnifier of anguish, trauma and violence – but they can be interrupted, according to a commentary in Next City. The Biden administration has earmarked $5.2 billion for community violence intervention programs, which the authors – Shani Buggs, assistant professor with the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis, and Lisa Glover, interim CEO of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation – call a “historic first.” For these programs to succeed, they write, workers who “lead with love for their communities” and put themselves in danger need to be respected, trained and decently paid.

For years, cities around the country have, in spurts, implemented a public health strategy called Cure Violence  (formerly Ceasefire). To curb gun violence, it uses “violence interrupters” – street-smart outreach workers with personal experience with gun violence and the criminal justice system – to work with people at risk of being perpetrators or victims of violence. They are backed up by collaborations with therapists, case managers, life coaches and police officers to help youth in the communities build life skills. (See a video on the program from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a key funder.) Buggs and Glover note that gun violence “concentrates in very small social networks within discrete geographical areas, nearly all of them disinvested, high-poverty places where people of color are segregated and have limited access to basic requisites of life such as stable housing, good schools, adequate health care, and living-wage jobs.”

Montana support team reduces jail, emergency room visits

A mobile support team in Missoula, Montana, that includes paramedics and behavioral health providers has reduced unnecessary arrests and unnecessary visits to the emergency room, according to an article in Tulsa World. The team told the Missoula City Council that from November 2020 to June 2021, it prevented 169 visits to the ER and 13 people from being taken to jail, saving taxpayers some $250,000. The behavioral health clinicians who are part of the team assess people for mental health or substance use crises and provide brief interventions. About 32 percent of the calls involve people who are unhoused, and are repeat users of the team’s services. These so-called super users generally have complex medical conditions and are often not enrolled in health plans. “Having this kind of response to someone who’s having a crisis — you can’t always quantify that, but it’s the right thing to do,” Missoula City Councilmember Gwen Jones said.

Traumatized youth in Gaza use music therapy to ease the grip of trauma, anxiety

Psychological distress among Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip is rampant. In response, the Kayan Cultural Center in Gaza is using music, combined with traditional psychological counseling, to address the impact of trauma among young people, mostly university students, according to an article in The Jerusalem Post. Individual and group therapy sessions have helped participants overcome the effects of trauma and improve their mood, according to the center’s CEO, Taghreed Shafout, who is also a therapist. “Our programs include a variety of creative activities, including musical events and regular poetry recitals designed to provide group psychological relief,” she said. “This has led to a remarkable shift in Gazan attitudes toward this type of therapy and helped many to overcome their personal struggles.” 

Shafout recalled one university student who was particularly receptive to the therapy. Since cross-border violence in May, “he described himself as confused and unfocused most of the time, with sleeping and eating disorders,” she said. “All he could hear was the screams of his neighbors who were targeted during Israeli airstrikes.” Through the sessions, she reports, “he started to regain his clarity of mind and his mental health balance…which made me happy and feeling proud of him.”

In the shadow of COVID-19, Indiana’s General Assembly pours money into mental health

The Indiana General Assembly is allocating $100 million of next year’s budget towards mental health, addiction and family social services. The funding comes come as Indiana, like other states, shoulders a high demand for behavioral health and too few mental health professionals to meet it. “We’re woefully underrepresented with psychiatrists, particularly child psychiatrists, and also with therapists,” said Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch, in an article in the Herald Republican. Nationally, the number of people needing mental health care but unable to get it rose from 9.2% to 11.7% from August 2020 to February 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Crouch told the paper that school officials and scouting leaders “tell me that the amount of anxiety, depression, panic, suicide ideation, acting on suicide and self-harm is greater than they’ve ever seen with our young people, and that’s the future of Indiana,” Crouch said. “The human cost of this pandemic is huge, and it’s going to exponentially grow for years to come.” Indiana’s efforts are helped by the $825 million that the federal Substance and Mental Health Services Administration is investing in 200 community mental health centers around the country.

High stress is ubiquitous among first responders. A dog may be the perfect antidote.

Photo: Shutterstock

Santa Clarita Valley Police Captain Justin Diez is among the first to admit that police and stoicism go hand in hand. With the added stress from the pandemic, “we wanted to start a (peer support K-9) program at the station but didn’t know how,” Diez said in an article in the Santa Clarita Valley newspaper. Enter Ginger, the dog of the chaplain for the sheriff’s department, Rabbi Eric Morgenstern. “I thought it would be great for (Ginger) because that’s her personality … she’s very caring and supportive,” Morgenstern said. While a peer support K9 program seems intuitive, there’s also science to back up its benefits. “Interaction with dogs can temporarily affect the release of various neurotransmitters in the brain,” boosting brain chemicals that facilitate a sense of bonding and reward and dropping those linked with stress, according to Blue Line Dogs, a dog-training program for first responders started by a retired police officer. Another Santa Clarita finding that made Ginger a deeply popular addition to the department, according to Diez: “Everyone loves dogs.” Said Sgt. Kristen Deschino, “The coolest thing is you don’t even realize you’re getting the support as it’s happening. … It’s just therapeutic in nature.”

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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Laurie Udesky

Laurie Udesky reports on mental health, social welfare, health equity and public policy issues from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area.