November 1, 2021

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s newsletter you’ll hear about a North Carolina campaign to fund free mental health counseling for musicians after a spate of suicides and a billionaire’s design for 11 stories of cramped, mostly windowless rooms for students at UC Santa Barbara that a consulting architect called “unsupportable.” You’ll also learn the surprising takeaway from former residents of Paradise, California, the town destroyed by the 2018 Camp Fire, and you’ll read about the latest move in San Francisco to move unhoused people into tiny homes.

Be Good To Yourself/Cover art: Woodie Long

“Be Good to Yourself”: NC musicians confront substance use, mental health

It’s no secret that many musicians struggle with alcohol, addiction and other mental health challenges – the long line of artists who’ve died tragically include Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston, Prince and Tom Petty. A 2018 survey of 1,227 musicians by the Music Industry Research Association found that 50% suffered from depression, twice that of the general population. In North Carolina, 66-year-old bass player Ed Bumgardner was at a funeral of a former bandmate who had died from alcohol abuse in 2019 when he decided he’d had enough. “I’ve lost… one, two, three, four (musician) friends to suicide, at least another half-dozen to overdoses, and came awful close to the same fate myself,” said Bumgardner, who is now four years sober, in a story in the Charlotte Observer. He and another friend at the funeral began a campaign called “Be Good to Yourself” and recruited fellow musicians to perform in an album to be released Nov. 8. Proceeds will go towards providing mental health counseling for North Carolina-based musicians. 

Trauma-deformed design for UC Santa Barbara?

We’ve discussed trauma-informed design in MindSite News, but what about trauma-deformed design? “Cheerful” is how 97-year-old billionaire Charles Munger, Warren Buffett’s business partner, described his design for an 11-story Munger Hall packed with small, mostly windowless rooms to house 4,500 students at UC Santa Barbara. “Absolutely stunning” was the response from UC Santa Barbara, which approved his design. But Dennis McFadden, the architect consulting on the project was so appalled he resigned in protest, according to a story in the New York Times. McFadden compared the project to “a social and psychological experiment,” noting the vast majority of students would be crammed in tiny rooms that were “wholly dependent on artificial light and mechanical ventilation.” In a withering letter to the university, he said that in his 15 years as a consulting architect to the committee, he had never seen a design “potentially more destructive to the campus…The basic concept of Munger Hall as a place for students to live is unsupportable from my perspective as an architect, a parent and a human being.” The university, which has a housing shortage so severe that some students are housed in hotels, thanked McFadden for his contributions, with spokeswoman Andrea Estrada adding that UC Santa Barbara was moving forward with the project and design “as planned.”

Study of California wildfire says schools play crucial role in community recovery

Aftermath of fire in Paradise, California. Photo: Tina Lawhon/Shutterstock

Civil engineers have long researched the structural integrity of buildings and the impact of natural disasters. But a team from Oregon State University’s College of Engineering decided to go further during their investigation of the damage from the 2018 Camp Fire, which burned 153,000 acres and leveled the small town of Paradise, California. The researchers recruited a multidisciplinary team to interview residents about the damage to Paradise’s schools and health systems and the process of recovery, according to a summary of the study released by the school. Their key finding? A functioning school system is essential. “We found that after an event like the Camp Fire, schools’ ability to support students, teachers, and staff mental health is critical to community recovery,” said research team member and civil engineering professor Erica Fisher. “Particularly in communities where kids have pre-existing conditions of trauma, because an accumulation of stress over time deteriorates mental health even more than a one-time incident.”

Will Minneapolis vote on police department future reverberate?

The murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin set off global protests for racial justice and calls for slashing police budgets in Minneapolis and other cities to divert more funds to community-based programs. Since Floyd’s murder, there has been little change in policy in Minneapolis, according to an article in USA Today. That could change tomorrow, Tuesday Nov. 2, when voters there decide on whether to eliminate the police department from the city’s charter and create a new Department of Public Safety focused on mental health, wellbeing and social services. If the measure fails, supporters worry that it will deflate momentum for police reform and change. “What happens in Minneapolis is important because it is ground zero for this modern civil rights movement,” said Domonique James, a Democratic political consultant who is advising the Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign.

San Francisco Upgrades Tent Village to Tiny Home Community

During the COVID-19 pandemic, San Francisco organized tent cities with access to showers and toilets for the city’s large unhoused population, which numbers more than 8,000. To provide more stability, a new project by non-profit DignityMoves will set up 44 “tiny homes” at a tent encampment, according to a story in Next City. The project is part of the city’s two-year, $1 billion effort to build housing for homeless people. The idea behind the sites is to allow people who have been homeless to become more stable. “I can tell you firsthand that everybody experiences trauma while homeless,” says Andrea Urton, CEO of HomeFirst Services of Santa Clara County, a consultant on the tiny homes project. Urton told Next City that the heightened state of stress and panic people feel on the street undermines their health and “their mental ability to problem-solve deteriorates.” DignityMoves is modeled after LifeMoves, a tiny house community in Mountain View, California, where people can live for up to 100 days and get access to social workers, nurses and mental health care. The new San Francisco site will not have those services, and that’s concerning to Urton. “Unless there are rapid rehousing services attached to the units, it takes a lot of time to permanently rehouse people,” she said.

In the US, if you or anyone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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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.