March 7, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite News readers! Today’s roundup looks at the hidden face of eating disorders and a Texas bill to prohibit the execution of mentally ill prisoners. Plus, state legislation to allow nurses workers’ comp coverage for PTSD, introducing students to nature and mental health, and more.

Children in low-income families at increased risk for eating disorders, data shows

via Twitter

Eating disorders aren’t just the scourge of what University of Michigan researcher Kendrin Sonneville, calls “SWAGS:” skinny, white, affluent girls. New research suggests that children living with economic disadvantage are at increased risk for developing disordered eating, especially if they have underlying genetic risk. Boys in low-income families are also susceptible to eating disorders, many likely having suffered quietly for not fitting the disordered eating stereotype, Sonneville told the Detroit Free Press. “If you meet the stereotype, you’re getting help. If you don’t, you’re not getting recognized,” she said. “There are a lot of misconceptions in this field that serve to disadvantage the disadvantaged.”

Data shows that “eating disorders affect everybody,” said Kelly Klump, a psychologist at Michigan State University Foundation and co-author of a recent study on disadvantage and disordered eating in boys — which in her research, was found in boys as early as 6 years old. In addition to stress, she and other researchers theorize that food insecurity may trigger a genetic risk for disordered eating in youth to earlier ages than usually seen: When funds are tight, food may be restricted; when money is more available, overeating may occur.

To help prevent eating disorders, Sonneville suggests limiting children’s exposure to social media, better regulation of diet product ads, partnering with schools to improve youth media literacy and boost kids’ self-esteem, and prohibiting the sale of weight loss and weight control products to anyone under age 18.  (See MindSite News contributor Laurie Udesky’s story on teens and diet pills for Kaiser Health News.)

Going Mental: A look at ‘mental health influencer’ Eileen Kelly

via Twitter

Eileen Kelly grew her online following by doing precisely what her father said not to do. “I remember my dad told me in high school, ‘Never put anything on the internet that you don’t want your teacher to see.’ And I was like, ‘Well, oops. I put literally everything on the internet,’’ Kelly said in a profile for the New York Times

These days, she’s popular for baring all on “Going Mental,” her podcast on the Dear Media network. On the program, she candidly shares personal experiences about everything from her dreams and dating life, to her [borderline personality] mental health diagnosis, being treated by the same therapist who helped her mother, who has since died, decades ago, and even her 2019 inpatient stint at McLean Hospital.

Utter transparency, particularly related to her journey with mental health, is a hallmark of social media influencers like Kelly, said Tara Isabella Burton, an author of books on wellness and social media. “They’re balancing the role of entertainer and cultural repository of our neuroses,” Burton said. Mental health influencers, she went on, “invite the viewer into a kind of intimacy with their struggles, in a way that perhaps the prototypical influencer of five or so years ago with the ‘perfect body’ and ‘perfect life’ might not have done.”

Mental illness and the death penalty in Texas

Arthur Brown, who suffers from mental illess and was convicted on shoddy forensics and unreliable eyewitness accounts, according to The Innocence Project, is due to be executed this Thursday (Credit: ActionNetwork)

Texas is well known as the state having the most executions in the modern era of the death penalty. It has already executed three people on death row this year, with five others on the docket for later in 2023—including two people this week. Both men, Gary Green and Arthur Brown Jr., have been diagnosed with severe mental illness and intellectual disabilities. They’re also African American, representative of the disproportionate number of Black people condemned to death in the state (46%, although they make up only 13.2% of the state population). A bill currently being debated in the state house, HB No. 727, would block people with severe mental illness from execution, though it’s unlikely to benefit Green or Brown.

Arthur Brown, scheduled to be executed on Thursday, is intellectually disabled and has sat on death row since 1994—despite a conviction planted on shoddy forensics and unreliable eyewitness accounts, according to The Texas Observer. Recently, evidence pointing to his innocence has emerged. “Texas does not have a good track record when it comes to innocence claims with people on death row,” said Burke Butler, executive director of the Texas Defender Service. “Melissa Lucio’s case last year really showed us that in Texas, there’s widespread and bipartisan agreement that we just should not be executing people who have viable claims of actual innocence. And we’re seeing those issues come up again in Arthur Brown’s case.”

In other news…

There’s scientific evidence that spending time in nature is good for your mental health. That’s why nature practice teacher Natasha Deganello Giraudie decided to talk with Yes! Magazine about one of her approaches for helping students grow more attuned to the outdoors.

For 35 years, Patrick Vala-Haynes has taught high school theater students how to slap each other safely on stage. Now, he’s been told that to do so could trigger some young people in his class and make them feel unsafe. He wrestles with the shift in this essay for Slate. “At its best, stage violence is dialogue, both between actors and among actors and their audience…. I understand and respect educators’ need to protect their students from trauma. But that’s a teaching opportunity I will miss.”

In Washington state, the senate is considering legislation to provide nurses with workers’ comp insurance coverage to pay for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s similar to a Washington law passed in 2018 allowing such coverage for police and firefighters. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), told The Seattle Times it’s essential for nurses who still face serious mental health challenges everyday at work. “While many of us believe the pandemic is behind us and have moved on, these individuals continue to see the impacts, every day,” Cleveland said.

Farmers in the United Kingdom are being encouraged to open up about their mental health. Yahoo News reports that the urging comes after a Farm Safety Foundation report revealed as many as 94% of UK farmers under 40 cite mental health as one of their biggest daily challenges. 

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...