January 23, 2022

Good morning MindSite News readers! In today’s newsletter: A giant Brazilian retailer is helping employees experiencing domestic violence escape from their abusers. A debate between two journalists over the role of a potent form of methamphetamine in fueling psychosis and homelessness. Also: the tennis player who turned to art to ease his OCD – and is now offering the same option to children.

Brazilian retailer helps employees escape abusers 

Luiza Trajano of Magazine Luiza and colleagues (YouTube)

After enduring a decade of threats and beatings from her husband, a woman in Sao Paulo, Brazil, mustered up the courage to call a hotline for help. Immediately, a rapid-response team jumped into action, providing the woman with a rent-free apartment, mental health support and legal services, according to a story featured in Reasons to Be Cheerful, a nonprofit news site founded by musician, artist and Talking Heads founder David Byrne. That help came from her employer, retailer Magazine Luiza (known as MagaLu), which employs 50,000 people, half of whom are women. The woman that MagaLu helped escape her husband after a decade of abuse – called by the pseudonym Adriana – credits the retailer with saving her life. “Once he knew Magalu was intervening, he knew he was no match for a big company like that, and that played a big role in him stepping back,” says Adriana through a translator. “All the support and information I got has stopped me from becoming a femicide statistic.”

MagaLu began the program in 2017 after one of its store managers was murdered by her husband. Since then, the corporation has helped 700 women extricate themselves from abusive relationships, relocating and paying rent for more than 100 women. The company encourages employees to seek help through its internal television station’s Canal Mulher (Women’s Channel) hotline. For the company’s work enabling employees to flee domestic abuse, chairwoman Luiza Trajano was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2021. 

Two journalists debate link between meth use, psychosis and homelessness – and role of journalism

Is a super-potent form of meth fueling homelessness? A fascinating debate over this question – and over the role of journalists – played out in two pieces by New York Times columnist Jay Caspian Kang. In the first, Kang takes author and journalist Sam Quinones to task over some assertions the former Los Angeles Times reporter makes in his new book The Least of Us, an exploration of the opioid and meth epidemics. Quinones writes that a form of methamphetamine known as P2P (phenyl-2-propanone), is linked to a rapid descent into psychosis, and could be behind the recent surge in homelessness in California and elsewhere. Quinones contends that the accelerated deterioration is the “elephant in the room” – the thing people who work with the homeless know about but don’t discuss because it stigmatizes unhoused people as drug users. Kang pounced: “My criticism centered on the lack of scientific study on the specific effects of P2P meth, something Quinones himself states in his book,” Kang wrote.

Sam Quinones

In a follow-up column, he gave Quinones a chance to respond. Asked whether he thinks there’s enough evidence to connect P2P meth with rising homelessness, Quinones said that while there are many reasons for people losing their homes – including a tattered safety net, unaffordable housing, and job loss – there was “absolutely” evidence “that this meth is leading very quickly to mental illness and that leads then to homelessness, particularly tent encampments.” The evidence comes from interviews, not studies, he says: “I’ve spoken to drug counselors, Skid Row cops, homeless shelter managers and workers, E.R. docs, addicts and recovering addicts, on and on — people all across the country, all saying the same thing, recounting the same story. Why are they wrong?”

Tennis, OCD and art 

PeaceLove’s Healing Workshop

 Ohio State University tennis player Jeff Sparr was grappling with panic and dread associated with obsessive compulsive disorder when he turned to painting – something that changed his life entirely. “I had never painted a day in my life, but when you’re desperate, you’ll try anything,” he told the solutions-oriented website Freethink. His feelings of powerlessness and anxiety lifted with his first painting, replaced by a feeling of vigor. Soon afterward, he bought art supplies for kids who were patients at a local Children’s Hospital and was impressed by the calm and sense of control the children exuded as they painted. In 2009, he and a cousin founded PeaceLove, a nonprofit that promotes art and creativity for mental health. “Wellness and hope sometimes come in the smallest stroke or piece of creativity,” Sparr told Freethink. “What we’ve been able to do is give people an opportunity to maybe have one of those moments. And those moments can change people’s lives.”

In other news

Two studies we recently covered in our Friday Research Roundup were also covered by other news outlets:

Conservatorships, homelessness and long hospital stays: People having severe mental health crises that interfere with their ability to care for themselves are often put on a conservatorship. Those who were homeless tend to languish in psychiatric wards after their mental health crises abate, HealthDay reports. People who’d been homeless made up 6% of 800 study participants but accounted for 40% of hospital days. Reasons cited by the UCLA research team: the dearth of options at lower levels of care and a lack of permanent housing. “Our mental health care systems are falling short in meeting the needs of individuals who are homeless at every level,” said lead researcher Kristen Choi.

Many Americans who attempt suicide aren’t getting mental health care. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that 40% of Americans who’d made suicide attempts in the last 11 years weren’t receiving mental health care. “It is a huge public health problem,” said Dr. Greg Rhee, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, told The New York Times. “We know that mental health care in the U.S. is really fragmented and complicated, and we also know not everybody has equal access to mental health care.”

And here’s something that’s sort of bipartisan: Americans from both parties suffered chronic stress during the last presidency, and a new study proves it. The study, titled “Politics Is Making Us Sick,” by Kevin B. Smith, chair of the political science department at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, found that 40% of Americans identified politics as a significant source of stress in their lives, with one-fifth reporting fatigue, lost sleep and depression. Most surprising: 5% of all respondents had considered suicide as a result. “I assumed it was something that applied to activists and base voters,” wrote New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg. But “the universe of people who find our politics a torment might be much larger than I’d realized.”

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.

Research Roundup – Stem-Cell Clues to Schizophrenia?

Stem cells from people with schizophrenia show features that correlate with symptoms. New research on gender-affirming hormone treatment has implications for policy.

If Build Back Better Dies, the Biggest Losers Will be Kids

Senate Democrats’ inability to pass the Build Back Better plan is a catastrophe for poor families and children.

Eco-Anxiety: The Real Tsunami of Climate Change

Kiersten Little is among the 40% percent of young people who fear brining children into a world threatened by climate change.

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