November 16, 2022

By Josh McGhee

Good morning, MindSite readers. Did you know it’s Transgender Awareness Week? Each year from Nov. 13 to 19, people and organizations help raise the visibility of transgender people and address issues faced by members of the community. In today’s MindSite News Daily, we’ll look at the continuing push in some states to ban gender-affirming care, examine a controversial story in the New York Times, and highlight some of our own previous coverage of transgender issues. We’ll also look at the role of antidepressants in treating depression and examine the implications of the shortage of Adderall, the widely used ADHD drug.

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Lawmakers “trying to legislate [my son] out of existence” 

In 2022, at least 15 states passed or considered restrictions on gender-affirming care, which provides medical, behavioral and social care to support trans people in their gender identity, USA Today reported. In the case of children and adolescents, the laws often bar access to hormone-blocking drugs that can delay them going through puberty of the sex they don’t identify with. Just days before the midterm elections, a Florida medical board voted at the urging of Gov. Ron DeSantis to ban doctors from providing this care. And in another state, an Arizona parent told USA Today that lawmakers are “trying to legislate [my son] out of the state and out of existence.”

For an estimated 300,000 transgender youth between the ages of 13 and 17, the debate has emerged as a top issue. Activists say DeSantis and other politicians pushing these bans don’t represent a majority of the country and are trying to build and magnify a wedge issue. Most people have no desire to interfere with other people’s parenting, particularly when it comes to the child’s physical and mental well-being, Jen Grosshandler, co-founder and executive director of the GenderCool Project, told USA Today. “Most people in the U.S. don’t care about this conversation,” she said. 

For young people, even talk of the legislation can be physically and emotionally damaging. According to statistics from the Trevor Project, 85% of trans and nonbinary youths say recent debates about laws restricting their rights have negatively impacted their mental health.

A New York Times report  stirs the pot, draws protest and anger

Puberty-blocking drugs can ease anguish and buy time for transgender youths to weigh their options before transitioning, and they have largely been considered safe and reversible in the rare case that a child changes their mind. But a new report by the New York Times created a firestorm by raising an issue that has largely been ignored: Puberty blockers during a critical period of adolescence may limit the normal process of bone development and leave people with future bone-density problems.

The article received harsh backlash on social media. Critics and activists accused the Times of fear-mongering and bias for echoing right-wing talking points. Others questioned why the Times commissioned its own study, instead of relying on previously published work from medical professionals. Some felt the timing, at the beginning of Transgender Awareness week, was particularly vexing. 

The Times story noted that existing research is limited, and highlighted doctors and patients who describe the treatment as lifesaving and the risks as minimal. One risk that must be balanced is the mental health of young people. Denying this care to  teens and pre-teens who don’t identify with their assigned sex, experts say, could add to their despair and mental health struggles and contribute to sky-high rates of suicide and depression among transgender youth, issues explored by Rachel Cassandra in a story for MindSite News this summer.

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My grandfather, the antidepressant pioneer

In 1953, Mark Salzer’s grandfather, Harry Salzer, a Cincinnati psychiatrist, wrote a research paper which found that isoniazid, a medication developed to treat tuberculosis, had a positive effect on two-thirds of his depressed patients. The discovery helped usher in a new era of psychiatric treatment, wrote Salzer, a psychologist and professor of social and behavioral sciences, in an essay for the Philadelphia Inquirer

The findings in that 70-year-old paper were consistent with the belief at the time that mental illnesses are rooted in biology, and led to decades of research to identify those causes and to find medications that address them. But today, the young Salzer argues, it’s time to expand our thinking about the causes and cures for depression and other mental illnesses.

While he doesn’t suggest quitting medications without a “long conversation with their prescriber,” he does suggest looking beyond medications. He notes that in the United Kingdom, clinicians offer social prescribing – recommending activities that provide meaning and enhance participation in society. In Canada, physicians are prescribing nature walks and giving their patients passes to the country’s national parks system.

“I’m proud of my grandfather’s legacy,” Salzer concludes, “but I also believe that, in many cases, depression can’t be treated by antidepressants alone. It’s time to shift focus to a broader range of approaches to effectively treat depression and other mental health issues.”

In other news…

Will Adderall scarcity trigger a repeat of the opioid epidemic? In a LA Times Op-ed, Leo Beletsky, director of the Health and Justice Action Lab at Northeastern University, warns the short supply could set up a public health crisis if patients turn to readily available alternatives, including street supplies of methamphetamines.

Looking for a new way to improve your mental health? Try birdwatching (and bird-listening, as we noted recently in this space). Time Magazine has put together a guide to start finding birds and soak up some of those calming, stress-relieving sights and sounds.

Last week, 75 degrees; yesterday, we got our first snow. But it’s not only here in Chicago that changing seasons can be rough on your mood and outlook. Yes magazine published a guide from psychotherapist Gabes Torres on how to support your mental health during the transition.

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.

Recent MindSite News Stories

Screening Early for Trauma, Learning Disabilities Could Slow School-to-Prison Pipeline, Researchers Say

Many of the nation’s two million children or young teens with a learning disability are diagnosed only in second or third grade, after falling behind their classmates. Without screening or testing, teachers and school staff often don’t spot the need.

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An Oklahoma Home Is Filling A Major Gap In Child Mental Health Services

A lack of treatment options for children with significant mental health needs means that if they get treated at all, they are often separated from their families. Grand Lake Behavioral Health in Oklahoma has developed a new alternative: a short-stay […]

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Ask Barbara: Advice from a Teen Psychologist

A teenage girl hates being overweight and feels all her classmates are judging her. Dr. Greenberg gives her some other ways to think about body image.

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Type of work:

Josh McGhee

Staff reporter Josh McGhee covers the intersection of criminal justice and mental health with an emphasis on public records and data reporting. He previously reported for Injustice Watch, the Chicago Reporter,...