June 1, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s installment: Once a love-inducing rave drug, Ecstasy (MDMA) may be going mainstream: By late next year, it may be on the market as a prescription treatment for PTSD. In Virginia (and likely other states) patients with dementia are ending up in state psych hospitals, where they don’t belong. And Dallas opens a new facility to help people homeless people with mental illness stay out of jail.

Where traditional treatments fall short, MDMA offers hope to people suffering from PTSD

Image: Shutterstock

As soon as late 2023, people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may have a new treatment option: MDMA, a drug better known as Molly or Ecstasy. It could represent a significant new therapy for a debilitating condition that affects some 12 million people a year in the U.S. and is especially common among combat veterans and victims of sexual assault. MDMA may provide “real hope for long term healing,” Rachel Yehuda, a professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, told the New York Times.

Other therapies often fail to ease the symptoms that can include nightmares, crippling anxiety, paranoia, sleeplessness, substance abuse, explosive rage and suicidal ideation. But growing evidence suggests that MDMA, when paired with talk therapy, can act as a catalyst, aiding a person’s own capacity for healing. Nigel McCourry, a former Marine and Iraq War veteran, said it helped him connect to his therapists in a way that allowed him to open up and work through his trauma. By combining talk therapy and MDMA, Dr. Michael Mithoefer said, “we’re stimulating the body’s own capacity for defense and healing.”

More research is needed to uncover how MDMA sparks healing. Data so far suggests the drug opens a window in the brain that is most commonly accessible during a “critical period” in childhood, when people are more malleable and amenable to new learning. “This critical-period explanation really offers a different way of thinking about it,” said Gül Dölen, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University and lead author of a 2019 study. “MDMA is allowing you to do a cognitive reappraisal and reformulate all of the personal narrative you’ve written around the trauma.”

Nowhere else to go: Virginia dementia patients languish in state-run psych facilities 

Hundreds of Virginia residents with dementia are being relegated to state-run psychiatric hospitals which are neither designed nor equipped to serve them. This can worsen their conditions and leave people with mental illness stuck on waiting lists or languishing in city jails, according to a story originally published by the Virginian-Pilot and picked up the AP and Washington Post. 

People with dementia end up in psychiatric hospitals because their families lack funds to pay for expensive memory care facilities that might otherwise help manage the progression of an incurable disease. State mental hospitals are designed to “restore people to a positive mentally healthy state,” said state Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg. “To send someone to a restorative environment, when they have a diagnosis like dementia and can’t be restored, it just doesn’t make any sense.” 

Stays for dementia patients can be three times longer than for people with mental illness as their agitation and confusion may delay discharge. “It becomes a vicious cycle where people can kind of get stuck in the system, which they never should have been in in the first place,” said clinical psychologist Emma Lowry, facility director of Piedmont Geriatric Hospital.

High quality memory-care homes offer a better solution but are expensive and can leave families with huge out-of-pocket costs. “The majority of Americans live their lives believing that there will be some government program that provides for their loved one when they are older,” says Katie McDonough of the Richmond, Virginia, Alzheimer’s Association. “Then they realize that health care and long-term memory care are two different things.” 

Develop a healthy relationship with your phone and your teens may too 

Image: Shutterstock

Teens who have a healthy relationship with digital technology tend to have parents whose tech usage is healthy, too, according to a study covered by Wisconsin Public Radio. “Parents serve as such role models,” said Dr. Megan Moreno, a professor of pediatrics and the study’s lead author. “When teens are older, parents teach more through their own behavior than through their own words.”

Examining digital media use and family dynamics of almost 4,000 teen and parent pairs, researchers found that teens categorized as “at risk” had parents who spent a lot of time on social media or had little or no restrictions on their screen time. Moreno and her team offer three main pieces of advice: 1) Consider family-owned devices, rather than individually owned ones. 2) Create and maintain household rules centered on content, not screen time. 3) Be aware, as parents, of your own technology and social media use. 

But be sure to get your adolescents’ input as you set boundaries, one teen advises. “It’ll be a lot more effective if (parents) treat it as working with their kids to regulate social media use instead of just coming down from above,” Janice, 17, told WPR.

Dallas officials open a new program to offer mentally ill better treatment

An effort by Dallas County to keep people who are homeless and mentally ill out of jail earned praise in a Dallas Morning News op-ed that described Texas jails as the state’s largest mental health institutions. Replicating a program based in Houston, the soon-to-open Dallas County Deflection Center will steer mentally ill people who may be arrested for low-level, nonviolent offenses to mental health treatment. Dallas police will be trained for the program. 

The new center will be based in the Homeward Bound addiction and behavioral treatment center, where 16 beds will be used for short stays of up to 48 hours. During that time, center staff will connect patients to psychiatric care, substance abuse treatment, transitional housing, peer support, and other services. Officials expect to help roughly 400 clients a year. “It’s a break from tradition,” said Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot. But here’s our question: Where do they go after 48 hours?

In other news…

Every unhoused person has a story: In the latest installment of a series, LA Times reporter Robert Karron introduces readers to three people living on the streets of Venice Beach who have lives as full and “normal” as any of ours – with the exception that they live outside. They work, explore, wrestle with life’s big questions, and even have stories of mingling with the rich and famous. It’s a good read that humanizes a community often forgotten.

Addiction and recovery are popular Hollywood story devices. But according to The Conversation, movies and films get a lot wrong in their depiction of substance abuse and treatment onscreen. They offer eight myths you’ll likely see in your next watch, including the idea that 28 days is an optimal length of treatment, (90 days is preferred); that rehab facilities provide patients mini-luxury vacations; and that tough love works. 

Could proline, a common protein found in food, be linked to depression? In the latest edition of The Debrief, reporters talked to Spanish scientists at Girona Biomedical Research Institute and Pompeu Fabra University who think so.

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. And if you’re a veteran, press 1.

Sam Quinones on How Fentanyl and Meth Hijacked Our Country

Sam Quinones offers a powerful journalistic account of how fentanyl and P2P meth came to ravage our country and users’ psyches – and how people addicted can recover.

To Understand Mass Shootings, Study Childhood Adversity

Searching for a motive to prevent mass shootings will get you a useless answer to the wrong question.The right question is: What happened to a child to turn him into a killer?

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Type of work:

Courtney WiseReporter

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...