Hello MindSite News Readers! In today’s newsletter, you’ll read how every staff person in a Michigan school district has been trained to support students’ mental health. You’ll also learn about a campaign to remove a suicide exclusion clause from life insurance policies. Plus, how paternal leave helps fathers form deeper bonds with their children.

Paternity leave helps new dads form life-long bonds

Companies around the country are offering new dads paid time off to bond with their new babies, according to an article in The Washington Post. A new dad at Pinterest in San Francisco was able to take off 4 months to care for his new baby and his two other young children.“Paternity leave lays the groundwork for your future relationship with your child. The more you’re involved in the beginning, the more it becomes the norm,” says the dad, Shahrouz Tavakoli, a Pinterest team leader. 

While companies are encouraging fathers to take paid time off, the federal government is lagging behind. The most recent attempt of four weeks paid parental leave was a provision of the Build Back Better ACT, which recently flopped in the Senate. Still, for some fathers, there’s no going back. “As a dad, I want to be seen as a caretaker,” said Matt McNutt, a mental health clinician in Worcester, Massachusetts. “These are my children.”

A school district in Michigan provides mental health support to all its students

Two student suicides last year and three suicide attempts since the fall prompted Michigan’s Van Buren Intermediate School District to ensure that every student in the district’s 11 schools have access to mental health support, according to an Associated Press story. With a deadly shooting in a school just two hours away, that need became still more urgent. At Paw Paw Elementary School, that translates to students arriving at school to be greeted by Trixie, a therapy dog who offers comfort and affection.

All school district staff who interact with students have been trained in a mental health program called TRAILS, developed by University of Michigan researchers and in use in 700 schools nationally. Its program includes mindfulness training, calming breathing exercises and cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches students how to reframe negative or distorted thinking, which in turn leads to more positive experiences. “We can’t control what’s coming at us, but we can control how we respond to it,” behavior specialist Eric Clark said.

Such all-hands-on-deck approaches “are critical because we cannot individually treat our way out of this crisis,” said Dr. Sara Bode, a pediatrician and the chair-elect of the School Health Council of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The need for such programs was recently highlighted in an advisory on the mental health crisis in youth by the United States Surgeon General.

Commentary: To help solve recidivism, provide mental health care to those leaving jails and prisons

Sheriffs and community advocates alike have supported bipartisan legislation that would provide much-needed medical care to those exiting the nation’s jails and prisons, according to commentary in The New York Times. The bill, known as the Medicaid Re-entry act, would provide the federal health care known as Medicaid to prisoners starting from a month prior to release. That would streamline care for those exiting the system, a time when formerly incarcerated are especially vulnerable to dying compared to the general population, especially from suicide and drug overdoses. In the first two weeks after release, formerly incarcerated people are 29 times more likely to die than other residents, according to a study in the State of Washington. 

The Medicaid Re-Entry Act is part of the Build Back Better Act, which will be voted on by the Senate in January 2022. Even if the bill fails, “it should be rescued and revived for another day,” according to the Times. 

September 22, 2020 protest over Breonna Taylor in Washington, DC. (Johnny Silvercloud/Shutterstock)

Why the Department of Justice is investigating police forces in Louisville and Phoenix 

Following years of protests over police killings of African Americans, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced it will investigate police forces in Phoenix and Louisville, according to an article in USA Today. The news followed the DOJ’s announcement this spring that it would do a probe of police forces in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died after an officer kneeled on his neck for nearly 9 minutes. Both Phoenix and Louisville police departments are under investigation by the DOJ for use of force, discriminatory policing, and how they handled protests, among other things.

Both the Louisville and Phoenix police departments have long and troubled histories. In 2002, police in Louisville shot and killed James Taylor, a 50-year-old Black man, while his hands were handcuffed behind him. The department was also involved in a sex abuse scandal, accused of unfairly targeting African Americans at traffic stops, and in 2020, came under fire for the killing of Breonna Taylor, a Black ER technician, in her own home. A recent outside review found that although African Americans represent just 21% of Louisville’s residents, they account for 44% of police arrests. Phoenix police have a similarly dismal track record, shooting more people than any other police agency in the country in 2018 and using more force against Latino, Black and Native American residents than white residents, according to the Times. 

A social worker and Congressmember Jamie Raskin work to upend suicide exclusions in life insurance

When her husband died by suicide in their bedroom last April, social worker Shelby French was refunded all of the payments made on her husband’s life insurance policy, including interest. The refund was based on a suicide exclusion in the policy, which is standard, with most in place for two years from when the policy is purchased. It meant that instead of $2 million, French and a teenage son would only get a few thousand dollars. French wanted to appeal and found a sympathetic ear in Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), whose 25-year-old son killed himself last New Year’s Eve. Raskin thinks the suicide exclusion is outdated and unfair. “I do believe there is something off about the underlying assumption that someone would purchase a life insurance policy in order to commit suicide and have the proceeds go to their family,” the congressman said in an article in The Baltimore Sun. “Shelby is raising a truly important issue for everyone to look at.” 

Researchers who study the suicide exclusion provision say it is unlikely that people purchase life insurance knowing that they’re going to kill themselves. Typically, suicide isn’t premeditated; it happens impulsively. In French’s case, he was three months short of passing that two-year suicide exclusion period. French says that her husband reported feeling depressed prior to his suicide, but he had not been diagnosed with any underlying mental illness and there was no indication at all that he wanted to kill himself. French says she herself doesn’t need the money, but she’s building a campaign for others. She is hoping, she says, to compel life insurance companies to think about “the new and constantly updated information about what we know about depression and other mental health issues that contribute to the act of suicide.”

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.

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Laurie Udesky reports on mental health, social welfare, health equity and public policy issues from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area.