March 16, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers. Michigan is providing more money to schools to support student mental health – but where will they find social workers to hire? An Oregon school creates a “calm room” for students to de-stress. And is the pandemic delaying infant development?

Michigan schools use COVID funds to address student mental health crisis….

A report from Chalkbeat Detroit finds that schools are using federal COVID dollars to fund what parents and teachers say they want most: people, resources, and support to address the mental health crisis among children and teens that has been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. Six billion dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds have finally been distributed to public schools across the state, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer has proposed a state budget that includes an additional $361 million for student mental health. 

But the nationwide shortage of social workers and counselors will make it hard to spend that money hiring professionals. At least one small school district chose to buy software that promotes social-emotional learning because there are so few social workers for hire. But in Dearborn, the money has allowed the school district to expand its school social work staff. Before the pandemic, their social workers were assigned to several schools and were so stretched they could help only students with the most severe needs. But now, schools like Becker Elementary have a full-time social worker able to visit every classroom once a week to teach kids about managing emotions, self-compassion, and connecting with peers. So far, students say, it’s made a difference. One fifth grader told Chalkbeat, “To care for other people, you have to care for yourself. I learned that here.” 

…and an Oregon high school creates a “calm room” for stressed-out students

After a spate of reports about students suffering from headaches and stomachaches, South Salem High School in Salem, Oregon opened a “calm room” to address student mental health. In a report by FOX-LA, school leaders recognized the reported ailments as signs of depression and anxiety, and after hearing from students via a schoolwide survey, opened the room “to offer students a school-based home for hope, wellness, and renewal.” Rather than send students home if they’re showing symptoms of stress, anxiety, or depression, students are directed to the calm room for a 20-to-30-minute break before returning to class. The room is staffed by a counseling support specialist and stocked with calming activities, couches, bean bag chairs, rocking chairs and workspaces.

“One of the most powerful strategies for navigating a rapidly changing and sometimes volatile world is to learn distress tolerance skills that help us get through difficult emotional situations one moment at a time,” behavioral health coordinator Chris Moore told FOX-LA.

Developmental delays seen in some pandemic babies can be overcome, experts say

That’s the question at the center of this article from EdSource, an independent nonprofit source of news about education. Studies from Columbia University and Brown University, respectively, have found increased developmental delays and significantly lower cognitive scores than usual among young children. Still, Lauren Shuffrey, a developmental neuroscientist and co-author of the Columbia study cautions, “Our findings do not necessarily indicate that this generation will be impaired later in life.” 

Also encouraging was Scott Moore, head of Kidango, a nonprofit organization that runs many Bay Area California child care centers. “Science has shown that trauma interrupts normal brain development in young children, which is why children with a high number of these [adverse childhood] experiences are likely to have developmental delays.” But babies and young children are hard-wired to bounce back. “With early intervention and mental health services, developmental delays can be resolved;  even the effects of trauma can be healed,” Moore said.

Robin Williams’ child co-stars recall him as a mental health mentor

Robin Williams in the 1990s, when Mrs. Doubtfire was made (Shutterstock)

In the poignant movie Mrs. Doubtfire, Matthew Lawrence and Mara Wilson were the child co-stars of the late legendary comedian and actor Robin Williams. They recently told People magazine that Williams – striking a real-life father mode – helped them steer clear of destructive drug use  in later life. By talking about his own struggles with addiction and depression, Williams also helped them cope with their mental health challenges. 

Lawrence told the magazine that when he paid a visit to Williams’ trailer on the set of Mrs. Doubtfire, Williams counseled him, “‘Don’t ever do drugs. Especially cocaine.” Lawrence said that after he’d stumbled upon Williams battling with himself, the actor  told him, “You know when you come to my trailer and you see me like that? That’s the reason why. And now I’m fighting for the rest of my life because I spent 10 years doing something very stupid every day. Do not do it.” Williams’ testimony was enough to convince Lawrence to leave drugs alone. 

For her part, Wilson said that Williams’ influence helped her gain the courage to be open about the lifelong struggles she’s had with anxiety and depression. She told the magazine that while filming, Williams “would talk to me a lot about his issues with mental health and addiction…And it was really the first time that I had someone sit down with me and go, ‘I understand that you have anxiety and you are not alone. You’re not just some weirdo freak who has something going on that nobody’s going to understand, that everybody’s going to reject you for.’ Like, this is okay and there are things you can do, and you will be alright.”

In other news…

In an interview on WBUR, journalist and therapist Lee Kravetz discusses his new novel, The Last Confessions of Sylvia P, which is inspired by the works of Sylvia Plath. A brilliant, short-lived poet, Plath wrote extensively about her struggles with mental health until she killed herself in early 1963. In his book, Kravetz uses characters both real – like Plath’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ruth Barnhouse – and fictional to explain and explore creativity, mental illness, and psychiatric treatment.

Send in the dogs: Though dogs have long been used in hospitals and nursing homes, there are few controlled trials on their therapeutic value in care settings. However,  Inverse reported that researchers at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada found that after just ten minutes, therapy dogs were linked with a profound improvement in the mental health of emergency room patients. People who were visited by a therapy dog reported greater well-being and significantly less pain as well as lowered anxiety and depression.

Fasting gets you high? Well, sort of. This article in Salon explicitly states, “You can’t starve your way to nirvana.” But there’s a strong link between fasting and religious ecstasy, which some scientists believe is neurochemical. Contemporary research has found some benefits to intermittent fasting, with some animal studies that found acute fasting can boost the release of dopamine in the midbrain. Tennessee physician and writer Danielle Kelvas told Salon that the journey of overcoming the hunger pangs in fasting leads to “intense pleasurable interest and luminosity.”

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.

New Funding Bill Boosts Money for Mental Health

It’s been 161 days since fiscal year 2022 began and an appropriations bill has finally passed both chambers of Congress. It contains substantial increases in mental health funding. 

Diagnosis by TikTok?

A new paper investigates the accuracy and uptake of TikTok videos about ADHD. Spoiler alert: accuracy is low, uptake is, well, viral. We also look at AI-based linguistic tools to measure thought disorder and – who knew? – the relationship of birth spacing to oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

What to Do When the World Is Ending

I am part of a generation that feels, constantly, and even in the most mundane moments, that the world is ending. 

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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...