October 24, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite News readers! In today’s Daily, we look at how librarians remain an under-recognized group on the front lines of the nation’s mental health crisis (while dealing with threats to their own mental health). We also examine how discrimination is found to impact the brain-gut connection in a way that leads some of us to gain weight by favoring less-than-ideal sugary snacks.

We then watch Oregon as it sets the stage for psilocybin use across the country. Plus, a glimpse at researchers who explore a new MRI technique to identify coma patients who might actually be conscious.

Libraries are the new frontlines of the nation’s mental health crisis

So reports the Wall Street Journal, which notes that librarians across the country are providing care and shelter for the unhoused and mentally ill, “reversing overdoses in bathrooms and defending against people brandishing guns.” Michael Bare told the Journal that as a librarian he thought he’d be helping people with research projects. Instead, he often functions as a mental health crisis counselor. “They just want someone to talk to,” said Bare, now in his fourth year as a librarian at the Cabell County Public Library in Huntington, West Virginia. It’s among a growing contingent of libraries across the country providing social, emotional, and shelter support for patrons experiencing mental illness or homelessness. 

In just the past six years, more than 100 public libraries have added social workers, community health workers, and social-work interns to their staff—up from less than two dozen in 2017. “Sometimes what they need isn’t a book,” said Martha Link Yesowitch, community partnerships manager at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in North Carolina.

At the same time, many librarians continue to suffer abuse, threats and harassment from extremist parent groups seeking bans on books or events that discuss racism, same-sex relationships,or even male seahorses that give birth. In an earlier MindSite News story on librarians and mental health, reporter Laurie Udesky interviewed librarian Brooky Parks of Colorado, who was fired by her library district for resisting censorship. Parks just won a $250,000 settlement from the district, reported her attorney and the Colorado Civil Rights Commission – one of the first such victories in the country. They added that this agreement “not only signifies justice for Ms. Parks but also serves as a stark warning to other districts engaging in similar behavior.” Her attorney also thanked Udesky for her MindSite News reporting, adding that “your coverage of this important issue and case has been invaluable.”

As psilocybin use in Oregon grows, researchers look toward the state with excitement and trepidation

Eyes are turned toward Oregon as the state sets national precedent for a legal market for psilocybin mushrooms, most commonly called “magic mushrooms.” Tho/ugh the District of Columbia and cities in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, and Washington have either decriminalized or deprioritized local enforcement of laws against psychedelic plants, Oregon remains the only state allowing for the use of psilocybin mushrooms as therapy since 2020. Researchers, who have eagerly awaited federally-approved study of the substance for the past 50 years, are mixed in their feelings about the growing interest in psilocybin for recreational and therapeutic use. Citing the little-discussed serious adverse reactions that some people have to psilocybin use, “I’m really uncomfortable with this,” said Charles Nemeroff, chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, told the New York Times. “We’ll end up back in the Nixonian era in which psychedelics could not even be studied.” 

Psilocybin triggers an intense brain response, lasting hours, with unpredictable outcomes for patients, Nemeroff said. He went on to tell the Times that one of his patients lost partial connection to reality. He worries that Oregon’s statute, which does not require clinical supervision or a medical diagnosis to acquire psilocybin, is a prescription for disaster. 

Janis Phelps, director of the Center for Psychedelic Therapies and Research at the California Institute of Integral Studies, said she is no longer wary of decriminalization.  She’s still concerned about keeping vulnerable people safe from those whose interest in psilocybin is purely financial profit, but she asserts legalization of psilocybin in Oregon can propel study of the substance in ways that aren’t as accessible in a science lab. Plus, she added, many researchers worked for years to ensure the US Food and Drug Administration thoroughly reviewed what they learned about the effects of psilocybin before state and local governments moved to make it legal. 

Discrimination may affect the brain-gut connection in a way that promotes obesity

A study published earlier this month suggests that discrimination affects the gut and brain in a way that promotes obesity, reports NBC News. For the study, researchers surveyed approximately 100 adults, mostly women, who reported their everyday experiences of discrimination. Afterwards, participants underwent brain scans as they were shown pictures of sugary and fatty foods, like cake and ice cream, along with pictures of lower sugar and fat foods, such as fruit and salad. They also submitted fecal samples to researchers who examined their gut microbiome. People who reported higher levels of discrimination demonstrated a stronger response in the reward processing region of the brain when shown unhealthy, high-calorie foods. This may cause them to reach for addictive, sugary foods when under stress, including discrimination, said Arpana Gupta, a professor at UCLA and senior author of the study.

“When you’re feeling sad and you’re feeling upset, what do you see on TV — that girl going to grab that tub of ice cream,” Gupta said. “It’s interesting that when we’re stressed, we crave these foods. We go for these foods for comfort. What our study was able to do was that it was able to show this at the brain level, as well as the gut level.” Gupta added that people experiencing higher levels of discrimination also had higher levels of glutamate metabolites in their gut. Not only are the compounds associated with inflammation and oxidative stress, which damage cells and DNA, too much of the compound can impact the brain, making it tough to control cravings when experiencing discrimination. 

In other news…

Researchers believe they may be able to identify people who are actually conscious while in comas: If conscious, then medical science wouldn’t classify a person to be in a coma. However, some people who appear to be in comas are really not. They are actually taking in the scene around them, but unable to respond. “Unfortunately, it could be that you were processing, you were understanding, you were wanting to talk to me. You just can’t,” Sudhin Shah, a neuroscientist based in New York City, explained to The Washington Post. The condition is called cognitive motor disassociation (CMD), and nearly 15 percent of patients are believed to suffer from it. Now though, researchers believe they’ve developed an MRI technique to identify brain lesion patterns specific to people with CMD. They see it as beneficial to patients who might otherwise be removed from life support too soon.

The impact of religious trauma on sexual pleasure: Have you ever heard of vaginismus? I hadn’t until I read this column from therapist Gabes Torres in Yes! Magazine. Doctors don’t know how common the condition is, but it triggers painful spontaneous contractions of the muscles around the vagina. The spasms occur when anything, including a tampon or medical instrument, attempts to penetrate the vagina. For Torres, who developed the condition herself, vaginismus was connected to religious trauma that caused her to develop feelings of shame and discomfort around the thought of receiving sexual pleasure. Now that she has recovered from the condition, she hopes to help others address the harm that purity culture caused them.

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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Continue reading…

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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...