Tuesday, October 25

By Rob Waters

Good morning, MindSite News readers. This election season, unlike any before, mental health has emerged as an issue being discussed by candidates and rated as an important issue in polls. Last week, the two candidates for U.S. Senate in Colorado took part in a forum focused solely on mental health. It’s also coming up as an issue in many school board elections across the country.

In other news, therapists and crisis responders in Flagstaff, Arizona, are finding a novel way to cope with their stress – by creating art, now on display at a clothing boutique. And a new research center will focus on preventing suicides among a group of people that is among the most vulnerable to suicide: people who have spent time in jail or are currently incarcerated.

Mental health is a political campaign issue – for better and worse

As the November election draws near, mental health is emerging as a political issue in contests up and down the ballot. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic candidate for Governor, tweets about it.  

Democratic Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and his Republican challenger, Joe O’Dea, faced off in a forum last week about mental health issues (co-sponsored by MindSite News; you can see the video of it on our YouTube page).

Colorado Senate candidates debate Oct. 18 at a forum on mental health issues.

Five candidates for board of education in South Orange-Maplewood, New Jersey, debated one another in an Oct 10 forum covered by the Essex News Daily. “The pandemic has only brought more attention to the nationwide epidemic of students’ social-emotional and mental health struggles,” said candidate Ritu Pancholy. Another, William M. Meyer, spoke in favor of using social-emotional learning in the classrooms and called for “increased use of social work interns and exploring volunteer programs with therapists in our community.” Regina Eckert posed a question about recovery from the pandemic: “Students suffered and are still suffering,” she said. “Do students have a place to work through their feelings?”

In Michigan, the Battle Creek Inquirer asked candidates for the Pennfield School Board about their mental health policies.

In Wyoming, the debate has animated races for the legislature and school boards, including in Natrona County. The Caspar Star Tribune notes that while mental health has long been a concern in Natrona, candidates and backers of Moms for Liberty have other concerns. “NO PORN IN SCHOOL. NO GROOMING OF MINORS,” Jeanette Ward, a nominee for a state legislative district, says on her Facebook page. “Since when did we as a society expect schools to raise our children?” school board candidate Renea Redding asked at a forum.

Several articles looked at the concerted push in school board elections for slates of candidates who oppose social-emotional learning, inclusive gender policies and the presence of books on gay themes in school libraries. The Twin Cities Pioneer Press noted that many of the candidates are backed by right-wing groups like Parents Alliance, Moms for Liberty, No Left Turn and Parents Defending Education.

Psychedelics & Mental Health Live Conversation Series

Our conversations on psychedelics as mental health therapy continue this week, on Oct 27 at 10 am PT, with a panel discussion with journalists covering the psychedelic space.

New suicide prevention research center to focus on people in jail

A little-known predictor of suicide is having spent time in jail. So a new suicide prevention research center, based at Michigan State University, will look at that issue and strategies to reduce it, using $15 million in funding from the NIMH, the Lansing State Journal reported.

“One in 3 men and 1 in 8 women who died by suicide have spent at least one night in jail, and a lot of times that is more recent because that’s when things are starting to unravel for folks,” said Jennifer Johnson, a C.S. Mott endowed professor of public health at MSU. “That’s when they’re in crisis. If you’re looking for folks at risk for suicide, not well-connected to care, that’s where they are.”

The center will try to identify people at risk when they first enter jail and when they are leaving jail to connect them to services. It will focus attention on three Michigan jails and the police and emergency medical system in Cambridge, Mass. Brown says jails are good places to focus work because three in four people in jails have had substance use issues and half have been diagnosed with mental health disorders.

Mental health professionals in Flagstaff use art to work through stress, challenging jobs

At Rainbow’s End, a boutique in Flagstaff, Arizona, 13 pieces of art are now hanging. On one wall, a black cat is photographed against a bold-red field. Above a register, an orange person with a mushroom cap-head is surrounded by white flowers. Rays of light peak out from behind a mountain’s peak in a pencil drawing.

The work was created by counselors, therapists and other local mental health professionals, who have found in art a way to cope with the pressure they feel while tending to the mental and emotional needs of others. It’s the brainchild of Sirene-Rose Lipschutz, who is in charge of two crisis response centers in Flagstaff.

“I couldn’t do it without going home at night and painting or sculpting,” Lipschutz told the Arizona Sun. “For me personally, I do a lot of art, incessantly, to make myself feel better. I dabble in all kinds of things and just get on these kicks of things that make me feel really good. Ninety-nine percent of what I do isn’t topically related to mental health or anything specific. I paint flowers and I make little mythical creatures out of clay. Things that are fun and light. I use a lot of color.”

Students struggling in rural communities, too, report finds

In Pennsylvania, a state survey found that more than 4 in 10 students reported feeling sad or depressed most days. The problem is especially acute in rural communities, according to testimony at a recent public hearing of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania covered by Center Square. Increased grant funding from the federal and state governments is helping address the needs, but a behavioral health administrator for St. Luke’s University Health Network, Jody McCloud Missmer, pointed out a problem. “Grants are not sustainable, they do not build a sustainable system,” she said, and reimbursement levels from public and private insurers are too low.

From mental health policy and investigations to book reviews and stories about new solutions to the mental health crisis, MindSite News brings you comprehensive coverage of mental health. Please help support our work and our mission.

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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Rob WatersFounding Editor

Rob Waters, the founding editor of MindSite News, is an award-winning health and mental health journalist. He was a contributing writer to Health Affairs and has worked as a staff reporter or editor at...