Wednesday, May 17, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite News Readers! In today’s daily, new research suggests that gender inequality harms women’s brains, post-traumatic growth may be overhyped, and the limits of talk therapy are up for debate. Plus, new evidence that racism is harming the mental health of Asian Americans. And lawmakers in Alabama look to phone users to help pay for mental health crisis services. 

Plus, a new MindSite News Original, co-published with USA TODAY, on how some elementary and middle-school kids are working to help other kids feel safe – even in the face of school lockdowns and shootings.

Shootings, Lockdowns, Anxiety: Kids Are Not Alright – But They’re Working On It

America’s children are living in a time of anxiety, climate change, lockdown drills and school shootings. Yet some kids are fighting off the worries by spreading kindness, taking action and talking about their feelings. Continue reading…

Is gender inequality damaging women’s brains?

Yes, according to a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers examined MRI scans from 4,000 women and 3,800 men from regions across the U.K., U.S., Latin America, South Africa, China, and India. They found that the right cortex of women’s brains was thinner than men’s in places with greater gender inequality but there was no significant difference in places with more equality, according to The Independent. Differences were most pronounced in areas of the brain that control emotions and are generally affected by stress-related disorders like depression and PTSD, said Nicolas Crossley, the study’s lead author. 

“These results suggest a potential neural connection between gender inequality and higher risks of mental health problems and reduced academic performance – pointing to the potentially hazardous effect of gender inequality on women’s brains,” Crossley added. Though further research is needed to learn how and when such brain changes occur, Crossley believes this recent study can help inform policies that lead to greater equity.

Have we reached the limits of talk therapy’s power?

That question gets a lively debate moderated by New York Times Magazine staff writer and longtime therapy patient Susan Dominus. She talks to therapists and researchers in search of an answer.

David Tolin, director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn. said that enough people respond well to talk therapy to argue the treatment works, but “it is not what I would call a home run.” He wonders if it’s time to focus on other strategies to address maladies like depression. 

Some evidence suggests that therapy plus medication is more effective in treating depression than talk therapy alone, Dominus notes. Tolin wants to see more research into new drugs. “Maybe we have reached the limit of what you can do by talking to somebody,” Tolin said. Psychologist Ellen Driessen disagrees. She thinks researchers are far from knowing the limits of talk therapy’s power and is working to review previous clinical trials to figure out whether certain kinds of people are more likely to respond to certain kinds of therapy. She expects it to take 10 years to follow enough cases to make good conclusions. Dominus is clearly frustrated by the lack of clarity.

“The research seems very…baggy,” she told psychologist Timothy Anderson. “It’s not very satisfying.” “Well, thank you,” Anderson responded. “That’s what makes this research so interesting. That there are no simple answers, right?”

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! Eh, not quite…

The theory of post-traumatic growth grew out of research in the mid-1990s from psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. The pair conducted interviews with people following traumas like the death of a loved one, serious illness, house fires, violence or becoming refugees. Many of them cited the traumatic event as a starting point for personal growth.

“People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life,” Tedeschi has said. Further research has supported these findings, with some studies suggesting that 30 to 70 percent of trauma survivors experience this growth. But psychologist Eranda Jayawickreme thinks the concept leads to a “Pollyannaish” understanding of recovery.

In an interesting Q&A with the LA Times, Jayawickreme said growth comes not from pain, but from reflecting on it with other survivors, and having access to resources and support. Jayawickreme thinks some Americans in particular may self-report growth after trauma because of the “uniquely American…redemption narrative…that we’re always getting better, and that our lives are progressing toward this ideal self.” 

But such concepts are burdensome, he says: “If you are living in America and you’re dealing with systematic oppression or issues related to systematic injustice, there is this cultural narrative that would suggest that, well, some of this is your fault. Because if it’s possible for us to grow in the wake of adversity, why aren’t you?”

In other news…

Half of Asian Americans feel unsafe in the U.S. due to their ethnicity, according to a survey from the Asian American Foundation and PBS NewsHour. And 80% feel out of place, unaccepted and unsafe in public. Their sentiments are not without reason: A staggering 20% of Americans hold Asian Americans partly responsible for COVID-19. “This really has a damaging effect on mental health for our community,” said Norman Chen, CEO of the Asian American Foundation. “Among AAPI youth ages 15 to 24, suicide is the leading cause of death.”

Alabama lawmakers hope to add a 98-cent tax to phone bills to pay for crisis care, reports. The bill has bipartisan support but is opposed by the telecom industry. Its aim is to expand mental health crisis services, said Alabama Department of Mental Health Commissioner Kimberly Boswell. “There was recognition that calling 988 doesn’t do you any good if you don’t have the services, particularly crisis services, available to people,” she added.

Spring and summer, not winter, are the seasons in which people are at greatest risk of suicide, according to a new study in Translational Psychiatry. Researchers say depression peaks during the winter months – but for many who suffer, it takes a while to reach a tipping point that leads to suicide attempts, according to an article from HealthDay.

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...