March 8, 2022

Good morning readers. In today’s MindSite News: It’s tougher than ever to get mental health assistance. Adults and children are waiting months to see a therapist. Nebraska’s Medicaid program has stopped paying for interpreters to help mental health clinicians communicate with clients. Plus: Mindfulness for migraines and the relief of knocking items off your “needle list.”

Is this the new normal? Demand for mental health services leads to 10-month waiting lists

Two years of stress and grief from the COVID-19 pandemic has caused enormous mental anguish – and severely overtaxed the country’s already understaffed mental health system, the Washington Post reports. The result: All across the country, people seeking help from therapists or other mental health providers are facing waiting lists up to 10 months long, even in large cities like Los Angeles and Boston.

Child psychiatrist Christine M. Crawford told the Post that Boston Medical Center, where she works, has just begun bringing in children who were placed on a list last April after a 10-month wait for services.

Referrals to the federal government’s mental health and substance abuse line jumped by more than 168,000 from 2020 to 2021 alone. In a survey last fall, psychologists said they were besieged by patients needing help for anxiety, depression and trauma-related conditions – yet  65 percent of them said they had no capacity to take on new patients. 

Some people unable to access counseling services have searched for other ways to alleviate stress such as yoga, meditation, journaling and online support groups. 

Online therapy has grown dramatically almost everywhere and is popular with many clients and providers. Some providers say it has decreased the number of no-shows and dropouts because clients are now able to access counseling at the touch of a button. But that too has its downside: Clients are staying in therapy longer, so clinicians are less able to take on new clients, further compounding the problem.

Nebraska revokes funding for in-person mental health interpreters

The state of Nebraska has pulled the plug on paying for in-person interpreters who assist mental health providers to communicate with non English-speaking clients enrolled in Medicaid. “It just came out of nowhere,” licensed psychologist Megan Watson told the Lincoln Journal Star. She has been working with more than two dozen patients who depend on an interpreter to effectively communicate their experiences and needs. Now she and her colleagues can no longer serve a population whose access to behavioral health care was already limited due to language barriers.

The change has had a swift and negative impact on those requiring services who are no longer being served – and also on their former interpreters. Haji Ali is a member of the Yazidi ethnic group and a former English teacher in Iraq who worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army for years after the 2003 invasion. He came to the U.S. in 2012 and continued working as an interpreter, helping other Yazidis who settled in Lincoln, where more Yazidis live than in any other U.S. community. Now, he told the Journal Star, patients he once interpreted for are calling him, angry at being cut off from services.

“The state could, if it chose to, cover these services under Medicaid,” said James Goddard, a program senior director at Nebraska Appleseed, a Lincoln-based nonprofit that advocates for immigrants’ services. “But the state and DHHS have chosen not to do so.” And that leaves providers like Watson with a terrible choice: pay for the interpreters out of their own pockets, or stop using them.

Want to ease your anxiety? Cross some items off your “needle list”

Here’s a life hack that may help some people overcome irritating sources of anxiety: Create a “needle list” and start expeditiously knocking items off the list. What’s a needle list? The little, often piddling tasks that “live rent-free in the back of my mind and just NEEDLE me on a daily basis,” says Serena Wolf, a chef and author. She wrote a post explaining the concept and HuffPost picked up on the idea in an article published yesterday. 

A needle list consists of tasks that take 15 minutes or less to complete, but that your mind interprets as major undertakings because of how long you’ve been putting them off. Think things like making a doctor’s appointment, uploading a receipt to a reimbursement portal, or even returning a clothing item that doesn’t fit. For people struggling with depression and anxiety, doing any task can feel like pushing a boulder up a mountain. But the act of writing out the needle list and crossing off items on it effectively “declutters the brain.”

Beat migraines with mindfulness

Migraines are far more than a headache. Plaguing as many as 29.5 million Americans, they are the second leading cause of disability worldwide and are associated with depression, anxiety and other mental health woes. Mindfulness exercises may be an effective way for some migraine sufferers to create their own relief, according to a story in Inverse magazine.

“Relaxation exercises like guided meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation can all be helpful when practiced daily in reducing migraine and helping a migraine attack when it occurs,” Jessica Ailani, a clinical professor of neurology at MedStar’s Georgetown University Hospital, told the magazine. Biofeedback, a mind-body treatment that uses electro sensors to help patients monitor changes in their bodies, may also reduce migraine pain by allowing patients to change their breathing or relax certain muscles to calm the pain. 

More enlightenment on the subject may follow. Elizabeth Seng, an assistant professor at Yeshiva University in New York, recently received a $1.8 million grant to conduct more research on the impact of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in easing migraines.

In other news…

Last July, Geovani Galvez thought that he wanted to die. But the failure of his suicide attempt has now made it possible for him to donate bone marrow to his 6-year-old son, Levi, as he seeks to beat acute lymphoblastic leukemia for the third time. “That day I didn’t want to live because I didn’t know what the purpose of my life was,” Galvez told Indiana University Health. “But there was a reason I stayed alive.”

For 12 years, Sue Gandhi has run Sue’s Pantry, a food bank, out of her garage in Vernon Hills, Illinois. The Daily Herald told the story of her work – and the volunteers who help her feed some 200 families in need.

It’s tough to be transgender, especially in Texas. One thing that can help, according to a story from 94.9 WSJM radio, is having a family of choice to provide support. Chosen families are those that are cultivated rather than inherited, says trans activist D. Ojeda. “Even when outside forces want to make sure that we don’t exist – that’s going to be an impossible thing to do,” they said. “Because our community is resilient.” Jessica Parker suppressed her identity for years, afraid that people in her conservative, central Texas town would reject or attack her. Then she finally felt safe enough to come out and identify publicly as a woman. Now, she says, “I feel more myself than ever.” 

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.

Finally, an American President Gets Serious About Mental Health

Guest Essay: In the face of pressing economic issues and foreign policy crises, President Biden delivered a State of the Union address this week that offered important recognition of our mental health and addiction crisis.

A Historic Week for Mental Health

Research Roundup. A new look at the extent of mental illness and use of mental health services in children.

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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...