December 6, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s edition, we look at a wrongful death verdict against MAPS, the nonprofit that has spearheaded the effort to research and test the therapeutic use of psychedelics. The jury held MAPS partly responsible for the death of a young woman who took LSD at a music festival and died of heat stroke.

Plus: Why many American workers try to hide their need for mental health days, respecting grief over the death of a beloved pet, and the importance of brown noise,.

MAPS found partially liable in death of a young festival goer who took LSD

via Twitter

Baylee Ybarra Gatlin, 20, died in 2017 shortly after members of the nonprofit Zendo Project attempted to help her through what appeared to be a bad trip from LSD at the Lighting in a Bottle music festival in southern California. Founded in 2012, the Zendo Project trains volunteers to reduce harm and provide peer support for those having distressing encounters with psychedelic substances.

Gatlin had shown signs of distress, including incoherent speech and an inability to drink water, after taking LSD, according to Lucid News, a news outlet devoted to covering the integration of psychedelics into society. This prompted her friends to seek help for her at a station run by RGX Medical, an outfit that provides medical staff to festivals and film sets, and the adjacent Zendo Project tent. Attorneys for Gatlin’s family asserted during trial that negligent inaction from both RGX and Zendo staff led to her death. 

Despite signs of deteriorating health, including convulsions, vomiting, and foaming at the mouth, an ambulance wasn’t called until 6 1/2 hours after Gatlin was taken into the Zendo peer support tent, according to the lawsuit. At that point Gaitlin had a temperature of 105 degrees, a heart rate of 170, and was in respiratory distress. She later went into cardiac arrest, with officials naming her cause of death multiorgan failure due to heatstroke.

MAPS – the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies – is a pioneering nonprofit founded in 1986 that has led the effort to allow clinical trials of psychedelics. It sponsored the highly successful trial of MDMA (Ecstasy) that may lead to its FDA approval next year. MAPS is also the fiscal sponsor of the Zendo Project, which does not have independent nonprofit status. A California jury found MAPS to be 25% accountable for Gatlin’s death in a $4 million verdict, according to Lucid News, a news outlet that covers psychedelics. If the verdict stands on appeal, the organization will have to pay Gatlin’s family $1 million in damages. The family has already settled with RGX Medical, Do Labs and other defendants named in the suit. 

After the verdict, juror Jeanne Turner told reporters that she and fellow jurors intended for their decision to send a message. “We are hoping that organizations like MAPS and Do Labs will pay better attention to safety measures,” she said. “We felt that people in the [Zendo] tent might have been referred to the medical tent. But there was really no follow-through.” MAPS has indicated it will appeal the verdict.

Employees reluctant to admit taking mental health days

via Twitter

Mental health stigma isn’t dead yet. A survey found that that employees who are eligible to take mental health days often claim physical sick days instead.

As Fast Company put it, “many workers would rather pretend to be sick than tell their bosses how stressed and anxious they are.” The magazine reported on a survey by the mental health app Wysa, which found many many employees were lying about mental health days, “but not because they didn’t need them.” Wysa surveyed roughly 1,000 workers about their mental health after COVID shutdowns, and found that only 20 percent of respondents had been honest with employers about taking days off for mental health. Another 42 percent simply pushed through, while remaining respondents claimed to be suffering physically in order to take mental health days. 

Young people, in particular, tend to be more affected: Almost half (47%) of Gen Z said they were struggling with clinical anxiety. “As it stands, too many people feel compelled to lie about taking time off when their mental health is affecting their ability to work,” wrote Ramakant Vempati, cofounder of Wysa, in the report. “Even those suffering symptoms of moderate anxiety or depression don’t feel comfortable letting their managers know. We can’t let this continue to be the elephant in the room. It’s time to start talking about it.”

In other news…

As reported in yesterday’s newsletter, NYC Mayor Eric Adams intends to force unhoused mentally ill people into treatment – and he’s putting police officers on the front lines of the effort. Critics told the New York Times that the strategy could pose a threat to public safety. Police are already undertrained for the responsibility of handling mental health calls, and according to a report from the city’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams, that’s been a significant challenge since 2019. Back then, less than one-third of the NYPD had received crisis training – before it was put on a mandatory pause by the pandemic.

To calm anxiety, give brown noise a try. In case you missed this NYT article, brown noise is the newest color in a popular trio of immersive sounds, including white and pink noise, which scientists say may help the brain to focus, sleep, or relax. According to the Times, brown noise is similar to white noise, but with “a lower, deeper quality, like water rushing somewhere in the distance…soothing, steady, slightly rumbly.” Some experts think it may even be useful for people with ADHD. Because of the lack of dopamine, a chemical that influences attention and motivation, their brains stay “hungry” while trying to concentrate, said NYU psychiatrist Yamalis Diaz. “While one part of the brain is trying to focus, the other part of your brain is looking for food” — and brown, white or pink noise might just serve as the menu. 

Our culture downplays pets’ deaths, but it should take them more seriously, said counseling and grief experts Michelle Crossley and Colleen Rolland. Inverse reported on the pair’s recent research paper published in the journal of HumanAnimal Interactions, in which they wrote that the lack of support for grief over a beloved pet can lead to mental health concerns, including anger and depression. Seeking out therapy and help from groups like the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, which Rolland leads as president, may help. “Giving a voice to individuals grieving a disenfranchised loss is one way in which counselors can help clients through pet loss,” they concluded.

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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Courtney Wise

Courtney Wise Randolph is a writer and creative based in Detroit, Michigan.