August 2, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Hello, MindSite News readers! In this time of climate change, we worry if our kids and other loved ones are facing extreme heat or cold. Imagine if your children were being forced to spend their days in a sweltering windowless room with no AC in 133 degree heat. That is what has been happening at Angola Prison in Louisiana, whose officials do not seem to be in a hurry to move the mostly Black boys into a safer facility, despite being sued by the ACLU.

Many of the children in Angola Prison suffer from mental illness or developmental disabilities, so keeping them in these life-threatening conditions seems especially cruel. We’ll be reporting on what happens. Also in this edition: managing bipolar illness with medication, culturally competent mental health care for Latinos, and how the climate crisis is affecting farmers’ mental health.

Incarcerated children in Louisiana endure life-threatening heat

Amid deadly heat waves across much of the nation, Angola Prison (as the Louisiana State Penitentiary is called) has regularly locked up Black boys in solitary confinement for 72 hours at a time in dangerously overheated cells.

MindSite News publicized this news in a reprint of The Appeal’s report “133 Degrees and No AC: Kids in Angola Prison Kept in Potentially Deadly Heat”  on June 21. The ACLU is also calling for accountability from prison officials who, they told Capital B News, had to have known about the inhumane conditions and chose to look the other way. They’ve also asked for the kids to be moved immediately to a non-punitive youth facility, but Louisiana appears to be in no hurry to move the remaining Black youth, saying they will be in another facility by late fall.

“I would not dare to keep my dog in these conditions for fear of my dog dying,” wrote Susi Vassallo, an expert cited by the ACLU.. “The science is clear that prolonged exposure to high heat indices places people — including younger and healthier people — at risk of death or permanent physical injury. People are also at risk of engaging in acts of self-harm when trapped in these conditions, powerless to cool themselves off,” she added. Aside from being subject to regular isolation, dangerously high temperatures in tiny cells with little to no air circulation and discolored faucet water that they fear might make them sick, Gregg says roughly 40% of Louisiana’s incarcerated youth enter the system with disabilities and mental health conditions that make them more vulnerable in the high heat.

“They’re more concerned… about keeping people in conditions that makes them feel their punishment in addition to their loss of freedom,” said Tammie Gregg, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project.

Added lead counsel David Utter: “The state’s treatment of kids in Angola has been a series of broken promises. The state promised the Angola facility would close in the spring. The state promised the kids wouldn’t be held in solitary. The state promised the kids would receive their education and treatment. None of this has come to pass. We are asking the judge to take urgent action to put an end to this unprecedented mistreatment.”

The lawsuit, filed in July, is being brought by the ACLU National Prison Project, the ACLU of Louisiana, the Claiborne Firm and Fair Fight Initiative, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and attorneys Chris Murell and David Shanies.

Is it possible to manage bipolar disorder without medication?

The true question, as this thoughtful Los Angeles Times column suggests, might be, “Bipolar disorder remains a misunderstood and stigmatized mental condition; is there any way to avoid feeling more outcast by not taking medication to treat it?” Probably not, said therapist and doctoral candidate Andrea Vassilev, herself diagnosed with bipolar at age 14. At best for most people, there are habits and behaviors that might reduce the intensity or frequency of bipolar episodes. But as with other serious health conditions, like insulin-dependent diabetes for instance, daily medication may be necessary for many to maintain health for the rest of their lives.

“Because mood stabilizers are treating our brains, though, it can feel like it’s about who we are,” Vassilev said. “People sometimes don’t want to take medication because they fear that it’ll change who they are. But in actuality, medication can bring you back to your baseline. Combining medication with therapy is a game changer too; it helps people achieve self-acceptance and recognize that many people with bipolar live full, quality lives.

There is still much to learn about bipolar illness. In fact, the American Psychological Association admits that, as recently as the 1990s, the condition was thought to be both rare and restricted to adults. Today, though, researchers understand bipolar as a condition that exists along a spectrum, affecting more than 13 million Americans of all ages and races. And for now at least, many of those who are thriving with bipolar do so with the aid of medication.

Lawmakers seek to raise awareness of  mental health treatment for Latinos

One year after the horrific school shooting massacre in Uvalde, Texas, experts are still trying to help treat grieving survivors and their families. “There’s still unmet needs and people who are eligible for services still struggle to access those,” said Muñoz Martinez, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, to NBC News. Martinez is trying to help bridge cultural and communication gaps within the local community to expand access to mental health resources. One such challenge is helping residents understand their dedication to their faith will not be hindered in seeking mental health support, Martinez said. 

Now, Latino lawmakers, including three in Congress, Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif. and Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif, have introduced a bill titled the Mental Health for Latinos Act that they hope will reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and help people get help whenever it’s needed. “We’ve been for 20 years trying to get attention focused on Latino mental health,” said Napolitano. She explained that the measure is intended to create outreach strategies that both promote mental health services while making people feel comfortable using them. We want to “reinforce the message that there is no shame in asking for help,” she said.

In addition, says Diana Anzaldua, founder of Contigo Wellness, an organization aimed at helping communities of color heal ancestral and generational trauma, therapists must respect Latinos’ cultural beliefs. These may include efforts like offering ‘decolonizing therapy’ and treatment options such as acupuncture and curanderismo (traditional healing) to help people open up to receiving help. “It’s all ending trauma and not perpetuating it,” Ansaldua said. 

In other news…

In case you missed it, mental health advocate and self-proclaimed former poet Bassey Ikpi’s 2019 essay collection, I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying, offers a poignant look inside the mind of someone with bipolar disorder. A highlight of the collection is her transparency about the unreliability of memory. She talks more about the book in this interview with Electric Lit online

A woman is pursuing legal action against Police Scotland after being eliminated from job consideration for taking antidepressants. Laura Mackenzie told the BBC that she “sailed through the recruitment process” to achieve her goal of becoming a police officer. She was all set to be fitted for her uniform, too, when the organization’s health officials told her she was no longer eligible for employment due to a policy that says new officers have to be two years free of antidepressants to work in the force. “This is a hugely important case for our client given everything she has been through, but also for employees and candidates with disabilities who are discriminated against during the recruitment process,” said Jay Lawon, Mackenzie’s lawyer.

In another brief yet important glimpse at how the climate crisis is affecting farmers and their mental health, Yes! magazine examines the rise in agricultural workers overwhelmed by anxiety and depression. “This is what climate change is doing,” says Iowa farmer and psychologist Mike Rosmann. “It’s putting people in a place of extreme apprehension, where they feel there is no way out.”

Two recent studies suggest that teen cannabis use may increase their risk of psychiatric disorders later in life. Young men are at greater risk, according to a summary of the studies published on Medscape. Youth with cannabis use disorder appear especially vulnerable, though teens without a daily cannabis habit also showed an increased risk of adverse mental health outcomes.

Photo credits: Shutterstock and Twitter

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...