September 29, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s edition, we introduce you to a third generation healer near Los Angeles who focuses on creating sacred connectedness. Fetal alcohol problems are often misdiagnosed, making it hard for parents to get help. The Biden administration is taking heat for seeking new psych evaluations for families separated at the border. And more.

A revered traditional healer at work in California

Jerry Tello is a third generation healer with Mexican, Coahuiltecan and Texan roots. He grew up watching his mother and grandmother help family and neighbors using an indigenous form of massage called sobadas and traditional herbal remedies. Now, he leads people through a menu of wellbeing services, including medication circles, life coaching, and family counseling in Whittier, California, just outside of LA. Though the Sacred Circles Center, where he does his work, is housed within a nondescript white building with no sign, he’s certain that “the people that need to be here, will be here,” he told the Los Angeles Times

One way his practice differs from his maternal ancestors is that he’s more open about it. As a child, his mother warned him not to tell his teachers about her healing because it wasn’t honored by Western medicine. Tello earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and worked in community mental health clinics, but came to feel that mainstream techniques weren’t right for his community’s needs. With a group of therapists and community health practitioners, he helped form Calmecac (the name of a school for the sons of Aztec nobility)  to “explore effective ways [for] really healing, not just treating, not just intervening, not just medicating and diagnosing but truly healing our people.”

Tello, who is known within his community as el maestro – the teacher – was named a White House Champion of Change during the Obama administration. In an interview with Times reporter Karen Garcia, presented as a Q & A, he talked about his work and his approach to healing the whole person. It began like this:

“There is a word in my Indigenous Nahuatl language, Tloque Nahuaque, which, loosely translated, means interconnected sacredness. In Indigenous thought, our sense of wholeness or well-being is a sense of us being physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually balanced and harmoniously connected to ourselves and all our relations.”

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The trouble with misdiagnosing fetal alcohol problems

We’ve known for some time that alcohol consumption during pregnancy can damage a developing fetus and cause lasting developmental and neurological problems for a child. And most people know about the most severe form of this condition – fetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS. But like many conditions, these problems occur along a continuum, known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD

Children with FAS often have discernible facial features and cognitive impairment, making the condition relatively easy to diagnose. But when children have less severe cases, further down on the spectrum, their condition is often confused or misdiagnosed. The symptoms these kids develop – such as memory trouble, lack of impulse control, problems concentrating, or even violent outbursts – are often mistaken for childhood tantrums, ADHD, or autism. 

South Carolina Public Radio spoke with parents who adopted children with FASD and have struggled to get accurate diagnoses and to access behavioral and mental health support for their kids. Despite her training, Leslie Jurado, a pediatric occupational therapist, didn’t recognize that her son had FASD during the eight years it took to get an accurate diagnosis. He was instead labeled with multiple mental and behavioral disorders. “It was never presented as a spectrum,” she said.

Refraining from alcohol during pregnancy is the only way to prevent fetal alcohol problems from occurring. For children who were exposed to alcohol in utero, fetal alcohol problems aren’t reversible but early diagnosis coupled with good therapy and parent training can support a child’s development.

Emotional exercises for better mental health

We know that aerobic workouts are good for your mental health, but did you know there are emotional workouts you can do for yourself as well? The Washington Post spoke with mental health experts who shared the following four mental moves for busting anxiety and stress. You can add them to your self-care regimen:

  1. Schedule a worry time. Literally. Clinical psychologist Emily Anhalt suggests dropping a 10-15 minute time period on your daily calendar to focus on stress and list out your worries. This may help cut down on constant rumination throughout the day.   
  2. Do self-reflection ‘pushups.’ Whenever you find yourself especially annoyed with someone else’s behavior, assess yourself according to the 3Js: JOIN, JEALOUS, and JUDGE. If the behavior is something you also do, particularly along the lines of the 3Js, it may help you empathize.
  3. Befriend tough emotions. Don’t distract yourself from the emotions you’d rather not feel. Name your feelings and respect them, in order to work through them. It may also help to pay attention to where you feel the impact of said tough emotions in your physical body.
  4. Exercise curiosity to combat anxiety. Replace the “why is this happening” that often accompanies anxiety with “what is happening” to help uncover the root cause of your anxiety and undermine its power.

Biden Administration under fire for seeking psychological tests of families separated at border 

The Associated Press reports that the Biden Administration wants the parents of children separated at the US-Mexico border to submit to another round of psychological testing to assess their level of trauma from a Trump-era policy widely viewed as inhumane. Lawyers seeking compensation from the federal government for the migrant families argue that the request is an effort to downplay the mental and emotional harm they’ve endured. 

The Justice Department is also asserting the right to have psychologists examine the children as well. While such evaluations are typical in emotional-damages claims, the government’s role in traumatizing both children and adults in the course of implementing the Trump administration’s forced-separation policy is well-documented, the AP report noted.

“President Biden called the Trump family separations criminal and a moral stain on the nation, but now his administration is hiring doctors to try and claim the families didn’t suffer all that much,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. It’s the latest development in a lawsuit that was filed after settlement attempts between the families and government broke down last year.


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In other news…

Earlier this week, we noted that lawmakers in New Jersey moved to institute “community schools” across the state in an effort to support the educational, social, and emotional needs of students. Today, we share a KQED profile of two San Francisco schools – Martin Luther King, Jr. Academic Middle School and Buena Vista Horace Mann – that highlights the positive changes on both campuses after the schools boosted mental health and wellness services.

Boldt Company, a construction group based in Wisconsin, has developed a peer network of employees to act as a first line of support in preventing suicide and improving mental health, WUWM reports. “Gatekeepers” volunteer to be a first point of contact for fellow employees experiencing mental distress. “We focus in our construction industry about physical safety, but I think in 2021, in the middle of the pandemic, we realized an opportunity to really focus on mental health and mental safety as well,” said John Huggett, a Boldt Company vice president and gatekeeper. According to the CDC, construction is in the top five for suicide rates among major industries.

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...