Wednesday May 3, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s Daily: The Surgeon General says loneliness is as bad for you as smoking. The trend of diagnosis by TikTok rolls on. Seattle uses social work librarians to help patrons in need – and arms them with Narcan to reverse overdoses. And a new MindSite News Original looks at efforts to help people who are ready to extricate themselves from extremist hate groups.

Breaking Away From Hate

Trauma, abuse, and mental health problems can make people more vulnerable to violent extremism. Here’s how a movement founded in part by former white supremacists is helping extricate Americans from violent hate groups:

Pardeep Kaleka’s father died in an extremist attack by a member of a hate group chapter that former white supremacist Arno Michaelis had co-founded years earlier. But for the past decade, Kaleka and Michaelis have worked together, along with a handful of organizations, to help former extremists leave the life of extremist hate. Many suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, so the anti-hate groups provide referrals for mental health care as well as other support.
Read the full story here…

Loneliness as hazardous as smoking, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says

Image: Shutterstock

Loneliness is a public health hazard that poses risks similar to smoking 15 cigarettes per day, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared yesterday in a new report. It’s also expensive, costing the health industry billions per year, according to an Associated Press story on Murthy’s latest advisory. The problem has grown in recent decades, with Americans overall less socially connected. There’s also less engagement with churches, community groups, and families. Research also shows the number of single households is twice what it was 60 years ago. On top of that, the COVID pandemic exacerbated isolation.

“We now know that loneliness is a common feeling that many people experience. It’s like hunger or thirst. It’s a feeling the body sends us when something we need for survival is missing,” Murthy said in an interview with the AP. “Millions of people in America are struggling in the shadows, and that’s not right. That’s why I issued this advisory to pull back the curtain on a struggle that too many people are experiencing.”

The advisory is expected to raise awareness around loneliness and strategies to combat it, but neither federal funding nor programming has yet been announced to guide people toward more human connection. Rather, Murthy hopes workplaces, schools, community organizations, and other places for  human gathering will promote in-person connectedness.

What’s with all the self-diagnosing of mental illness?

Thanks to social media – TikTok in particular – there’s lots of online conversation about mental health. It’s common to open the app and scroll onto a video listing the symptoms of ADHD or bipolar II. Some users take things much further, though, the MinnPost reports. Videos like “How to Use TikTok for ADHD Diagnosing,” offer visual examples of what symptoms of certain disorders look like, actively encouraging viewers to self-diagnose mental illness. But is that safe? And do such videos minimize the challenges people living with mental illness face?

MindSite News explored this issue last year in “Diagnosis by TikTok” and “TikTok’s Narcissim Obsession.”

Liza Meredith, an assistant teaching professor in the psychology department at the University of Minnesota and counselor at Mindpath College Health, said she sees both sides. “It feels good and bad,” Meredith said. “It actually brings a lot of people out who have real psychological disorders that could benefit from treatment, but the problem is if someone is so fixated on the idea [that they have a particular diagnosis or disorder], they can’t hear an alternative perspective.” She also noted that focusing on particular behaviors, rather than the actual disorder, can lead to self-inflicted misdiagnosis. 

Misdiagnosis is also counselor Naomi Doriott-Larson’s concern. “Self-diagnosing can be helpful if you’re using it to be a critical thinker and using it to advocate for your own health, your own well-being,” the Twin Cities licensed counselor told the MinnPost. “If something doesn’t make sense or you’re on medication that isn’t working, seek a professional opinion.” 

Life coach Lorrie Gray disagrees. The Salem, Oregon resident finds value in the videos, even if they first lead to misdiagnosis. Engaging online can prompt people who were originally hesitant to seek help to connect with a professional, even if it’s for a second opinion. “People who have mental health issues often experience intense feelings of shame and isolation, and when you have those two things it becomes very dangerous,” Gray said. “They’re  looking for connection and community with people who understand them, and I think that is what people are finding on social media.”

Seattle libraries become outposts for people struggling with addiction and mental health

For nearly a decade, the Seattle Public Library has supported patrons seeking shelter and provided safety from domestic violence, relief from substance use and other emergency resources. Prior to COVID, the library worked with the Downtown Emergency Service Center for referrals. This year,it hired four “social services librarians” to provide more immediate help to people in need of emergency help. “We’ve been connecting people for a long time,” Valerie Wonder, the regional manager for the downtown library, told The Seattle Times. “It’s just that the crisis has grown by leaps and bounds and so the work we do has to shift as well.”

Included in that shift are staff members carrying cans of Narcan on their person to administer should they happen upon someone struggling with an overdose. It’s come in handy, used even by security guards to help people before the library opens. In addition, most library staff are trained in de-escalation techniques and trauma-informed practices due to the number of patrons navigating homelessness, substance use, and other mental health challenges. “We’re really trying to think about what are different things that we can have that either meet people’s needs or just so they can be in our space at that time,” social services librarian Daniel Tilton said. 

Their work has made an impact. In just five months, the SPL downtown branch has provided emergency supplies to 420 people and 280 referrals to other resources.

In other news…

Fans of Ed Sheeran may appreciate the close look at his life provided by The Sum of it All, a new docuseries on Disney+. The Guardian’s Rebecca Nicholson called it, “a surprisingly moving, intimate view of marriage, loss, and mental health.” 

What we call “gender-affirming care” isn’t brand new to American medicine. In fact, it reaches back at least to the nation’s first university-based Gender Identity Clinic at Johns Hopkins University in the 1960s. G. Samantha Rosenthal, a transgender writer, traces the history in an engrossing piece for Yes! Magazine.

More mandatory psychiatric care in California? Journalist Rob Wipond, a critic of mandatory mental health treatment, took on a new proposal in California, Senate Bill 43, in a guest column for the Los Angeles Times. The bill would expand the definition of “grave disability” in current legislation to allow forcing into treatment people who are “at substantial risk of serious harm, or [are] currently experiencing serious harm to their physical or mental health.” Wipond says the measure is unlikely to help anyone struggling with their mental health and contends that it would make a person “a potential candidate for forced treatment if they’re not ‘adequately clothed’ or not performing necessary ‘personal’ care.” A previous piece by LA Times columnist Anita Chabria took the opposite side, arguing that mandating care for people who are unable to care for themselves is humane and will prevent deaths like that of James Mark Ripee, a blind man with schizophrenia and brain damage who died last year.

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.

Recent MindSite News Stories

Breaking Away From Hate

Trauma, abuse, and mental health problems can make people more vulnerable to violent extremism. Here’s how a movement founded in part by former white supremacists is helping extricate Americans from violent hate groups.

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...