Tuesday, August 8, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite News readers. In today’s Daily: The power of music to connect and heal. Summer camps support youth in the midst of a mental health crisis. Journalists reveal flawed handling of medical misconduct in Utah. Plus, a push to remove questions from bar applications about lawyers’ mental health histories. And a tiny-home community in North Carolina aims to help people struggling with mental illness.

The power of music to train and change the brain

Start playing music, and “a calmness comes over you,” says Amy Nathan, author of Making Time for Music. “You’re not writing the shopping list or thinking about the problem at the office. It’s a totally engrossing experience. You can’t worry about other things when you’re doing music.” Nathan’s conclusion is drawn from interviews with 300 amateur musicians. Besides reducing stress and anxiety, she told the Washington Post, listening or playing music is good for the aging brain. It offers a stimulating mental workout, and experienced in community, the benefits flow between performers and the audience. 

Music can also carry us through our toughest times, as one California woman found when singing at the bedside of a dying friend. I, too, can attest to this power. Earlier this year, my very best friend died unexpectedly in her sleep. I was devastated and a complete wreck. My stepfather had a massive heart attack days later. I believe what helped me to say goodbye to him so soon after the loss of my friend was having the benefit of holding his hand and singing to him until he took his last breath.

Music connects us to one another, across miles, languages, and cultures. It helps us to see and feel one another. “When I was young, music helped me forge my identity — it helped me feel like I belonged to my generation and to a community of fellow listeners,” said  pop music critic Chris Richards. “But to truly love music is to become curious about it as a whole…Now, I find that music helps me cultivate empathy. It’s become a way for me to better understand how others think and feel.”  

Summer camps grapple with the mental health crisis facing American youth 

The initial days at sleepaway camp have always brought some anxiety, especially for first timers. The homesickness, the awkwardness of making new friends, the need to adjust to a new environment. But now, after several years of  isolation and pandemic stress, camp directors told the New York Times, campers are arriving with mental health challenges too severe for some teen and young adult counselors to handle. 

Heather Klein, the mental health coordinator for NJY Camps, a camp network that reaches 5500 youth each year, is faced with tough decisions – like which children are well enough to attend, and whether she needs to send some home. “We are not a therapeutic environment,” she said. Even NJY’s intake form has been updated to identify children engaging in self-harm. “Has your child demonstrated any unsafe behaviors?” it asks. But that’s not always enough to capture the whole picture. Parents “want their kids to be able to go and do,” said Klein, “and don’t realize the importance of us having all the information.”

Then there’s the delicate dance of helping kids struggling with homesickness push through to get to the fun. Parents are struggling, too: Some must be convinced their child needs to go home, others must be encouraged to let them stay. Strained communication between parents and children these past three years can made it harder for both groups to be apart. “Parents used to trust us much more,” Klein said. The trick is to teach children that two feelings can be held at the same time: Sadness and happiness sometimes walk alongside one another, and that’s okay. When she was a camper, said Klein, “nobody gave me those words.”

A flawed system let Utah therapist abuse clients for years

An investigative report from the Salt Lake Tribune and ProPublica reveals a system of record-keeping and disciplinary reporting in Utah so flawed that it enabled a therapist to sexually abuse clients for years – even after complaints had been filed. Scott Owen breached his responsibility to protect his clients from harm by sexually exploiting men referred to him by Mormon leaders due to his supposed ability “to help people struggling with same-sex attraction.” 

One man, called by the pseudonym Andrew to protect his identity, reported Owen’s violations to both his bishop and state licensing officials within five months of his first visit. Yet references to Owen’s groping, kissing, and instructions to clients to undress during therapy sessions were never publicly disclosed. As a result, he continued to violate at least three other patients, two of whom also made reports to the licensing body. Only then did Owen finally lose his license.

Officials in Utah’s Division of Professional Licensing said they believed they’d appropriately responded to Andrew’s complaint when it was filed. But after Owen denied improper behavior and Andrew refused to wear a wire, the investigation went off the rails. In fact, Andrew, the victim,  was subjected to a polygraph examination — a tool generally inadmissible in courts and known to be unreliable with victims of sexual abuse. He failed it. He’s not alone. Half of US states have laws banning the use of lie detector tests on sexual abuse victims. But not Utah. 

In other news…

One of every two people on earth will develop a mental health disorder in their lifetime, according to a new study. The conclusion was drawn from the results of structured, face-to-face surveys with more than 150,000 adults across 29 countries of varied wealth. Mood disorders like depression and specific phobias were most common. “Mental disorders are a major health problem worldwide, with massive unmet need for treatment,” said Harvard researcher Ronald Kessler, in a press release on Harvard’s website. Speaking to Axios, researcher Brett Emmerson added, “If half of the population will have a disorder, then you have to start looking at what treatments there are,” he added. “Early intervention is better because if you leave it, you risk the disorder becoming chronic.”

A 40-acre bunny village in Chatham County, North Carolina, is also home to a community of 15 tiny homes for people with mental illness. “This is part of our animal-assisted programming,” Tahva Mahadevan, the director of the Farm at Penny Lane, told Spectrum News 1. “Bunnies can be quite anxious and nervous, but holding onto a bunny can really help you learn how to calm yourself down.” The 400 square-foot homes will be available for rent at no more than one-third of the resident’s income, with five reserved for military veterans. All 15 are expected to be occupied by Thanksgiving. 

Last week, the American Psychological Association’s Council of Representatives unanimously approved a policy to help the American Bar Association and state bar associations remove questions about mental health diagnoses and treatment history from questionnaires required for employment as a lawyer. “There is no connection between bar application questions about mental health and attorney misconduct,”  the resolution states. “Such questions have not been empirically shown to work as a successful screening tool.” Read more in this press release on the APA’s website

Shannon Rivers once struggled to grieve properly. After the murder of two of his brothers in the Gila River Indian Community, he became a bully and began a years-long battle with substance abuse. For a while, he was even without a place to call home. His saving grace? Witnessing other Natives engage their spirituality for political action and psychological healing. “I saw people who believed that the way they were — their way of prayer, their way of ceremony, their way of culture and traditions — were just as valid and just as important for their survival,” Rivers told the Arizona Republic. These days, he takes what he has learned to empower Native people incarcerated in Arizona’s prisons. 

His work, as he see it, is to help heal a community that has faced a long history of genocide and oppression and remains overrepresented in the criminal justice system. “It helps them navigate these systems that they feel like they’re not going to get out of,” Rivers said. “More importantly, it introduces them back into a society of their culture and traditions.” 

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...