April 4, 2022

Good Monday morning, MindSite News readers. Today we bring you a review by our own Courtney Wise about a new book that celebrates Black joy – and the history of resistance and resilience that form the Black experience. We also share a story about how the geography of the place where you grew up might influence your navigational skills later in life – a finding that may even lead to predictive tests for dementia. Also: More reason to worry about teens’ mental health. Evidence that the traditional triple approach to cancer treatment – surgery, radiation and chemo – may raise the risk for depression. And the answer to a question we’ve always wondered about: What, exactly, is person-centered therapy?


We Interrupt This Program To Bring You #BlackJoy

Photo: Shutterstock

Detroit writer Courtney Wise explores the book Black Joy in the latest addition to the MindSite News Review of Books. As Wise writes, “Black life is much more than the sum of its sorrows. That’s why Black joy is the center of Tracey Lewis-Giggetts’ latest work, Black Joy: Stories of Resistance, Resilience, and Restoration. The collection of essays, mostly memoir, is designed to interrupt the popular (read: played-out) narrative of Black people in the larger culture” – one of unrelenting struggle and trauma.

“We Black people – Black Americans in this case – know hard times, but our lives sparkle with joy, too. Songs have been written about it being ‘unspeakable,’ maybe because there’s an innate understanding that after 400 years, Black joy, and not just Black trauma, is our inheritance.Read the full review here.


Can your ability to navigate predict your risk for dementia?

Do you grow up in a grid-like city, as most Americans do, with streets that run north and south crossing those that go east and west? Or was your childhood spent in rural areas or in Europe, where streets went off at odd angles and curved around in unpredictable ways?

Old town Edinburgh, Scotland

It turns out that the street pattern during the period when your brain was developing may have a lot to do with your lifelong ability to navigate. Kids who grew up in grid-plotted places and didn’t have to work very hard to find their way are more likely, as adults, to struggle with spatial navigation. And that finding, according to research published in the journal Nature and reported on by the New York Times, might eventually lead to navigation-based tests that can predict dementia even before other signs of memory loss emerge.

In your early years, “the environment matters” and influences cognition well into old age, said Hugo Spiers, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London and a lead author of the study. The research came about due to a series of unlikely events involving a cellphone company, a controversial YouTuber and a video game, custom-made for the study, that tested users’ navigation skills and compiled basic demographic information including where people grew up. To everyone’s surprise, the game attracted 4.3 million players, yielding a huge global database that allowed Spiers and his team to assess the links between people’s geographic environment as children and their later ability to get around.

CDC survey warns of accelerating youth mental health crisis – and offers hope as well

More than 40 percent of teens feel “persistently sad or hopeless” and around 20 percent have contemplated suicide, leading the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to warn of an accelerating adolescent mental health crisis, the Washington Post reported. “These data echo a cry for help,” said Debra Houry, a deputy director at the CDC, which published a published a series of reports and data based on a national survey of teens during the first six months of 2021. “The COVID-19 pandemic has created traumatic stressors that have the potential to further erode students’ mental well-being.”


Plenty of other recent reports, including from the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have noted a mental health crisis among children. But the new survey delved into a wide variety of topics, including household stress. More than 50 percent of teenagers said they suffered emotional abuse from a parent or another adult in their house in the preceding year, and over 10 percent said they suffered physical abuse.

The survey also offered hope. The findings add to a body of research that shows feeling connected at school can be “a protective factor” for students, which schools can help foster by training teachers to better manage classrooms, facilitating clubs for students and ensuring that LGBTQ students feel welcome, said Kathleen A. Ethier, another CDC official.

Person-Centered Therapy, Explained

If you’ve heard the term “person-centered therapy” and wondered what that actually meant, VeryWell Health has a helpful primer, and the bottom line is this: empowering a client to take ownership of their mental well-being. Developed in the 1940s by humanist psychologist Carl Rogers, it provides clients with the tools they need to understand themselves and what they need to do to make positive changes in their lives. By using the term “client” or “person” rather than “patient,” it moves away from the notion that the person is sick. Among the key elements: Therapist should offer total acceptance and support for their client, take the client’s feelings and emotions seriously, and validate what they are feeling (known as unconditional positive regard). These techniques help shift the balance of power toward the person in therapy.

New research suggests oncologists should talk more about mental health

Two large, new studies published in the journal Nature Medicine make clear the profound impact that cancer can have on mental health and make a compelling case that oncologists should talk more, and earlier, with patients about their mental health challenges.


Overall, suicide rates for people with cancer are 85 percent higher than the general population, according to the first of the studies that was covered by the New York Times. Not surprisingly, cancers with the worst prognoses – such as stomach and pancreatic cancers – had the highest suicide rates, while those with the best prognoses – prostate, nonmetastatic melanoma and testicular cancers – had the lowest. The researchers reviewed 28 studies, including more than 22 million cancer patients, and found that U.S. cancer patients took their lives more often than their counterparts in Europe, Asia or Australia. The authors speculated about two possible reasons for the discrepancy: The Americans may face steeper out-of-pocket costs and want to save their save their families from bankruptcy; they may also have easier access to firearms.

The second study analyzed the health records of nearly 500,000 people with 26 types of cancer diagnosed in Britain between 1998 and 2020. It found that, after their cancer diagnosis, 5% of patients were diagnosed with depression and an equal number with anxiety. About 25% had a substance use disorder, which tended to increase over time, as did other psychiatric issues. The single biggest risk factor for developing a mental health condition: receiving all three of these major, invasive treatments: surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. This study also found that cancer patients with schizophrenia were more apt to receive palliative care, suggesting they didn’t get appropriate treatment early. Previous research has found that patients with severe mental illness are more likely to die from cancer than other cancer patients.

In Other News

Google is fine-tuning its search responses to better help people in crisis, The Verge reports. For example, a search for “Sydney suicide hot spots” likely would have ignored the word suicide and offered Australian travel tips. But soon MUM, the company’s latest machine-learning model, will be able to respond with a “Help is available” information box containing a phone number or website for a mental health organization, a Google product manager told The Verge.

West Virginia will start experimenting with a new payment model for addiction treatment providers that links part of their reimbursement to measures of how stable and sober their clients are months or even years after discharge, West Virginia Public Broadcasting reports. A new state law authorizes the three-year pilot’s phase-in of what is known as value-based payments, a model that is slowly gaining adherents in other health care settings to reward quality, rather than quantity, of services.

The coming 988 mental health hotline offers a rare opportunity to reshape how the country responds to mental health crises, experts told Inside Philanthropy. Mental health and emergency services traditionally have been handled differently from state to state, a major challenge in setting up the new number. What’s really needed, experts say, is a “continuum of care” that brings trained professionals to emergencies, provides longer-term supports and helps people manage their mental health issues overall. While government is largely funding the launch of 988, philanthropy could do a lot more to foster an effective continuum of care, the article suggests.

The wave of anti-transgender laws around the country continues to generate news and outraged commentary. The laws are likely to have a chilling effect on the practice of medicine, Georgetown University medical student Ashley Andreou opines in Scientific American. Activists Vivian Topping and Jade O’Connor write in Newsweek Opinion that the combined trends of anti-transgender and looser gun control legislation could worsen violence against trans people. Anti-transgender moves are also accelerating: The governors of Arizona and Oklahoma recently signed laws limiting transgender students’ participation in girls’ school sports, the Utah legislature overrode its governor’s veto of a similar bill and Indiana’s may do the same, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law what has become known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the Miami Herald reported.

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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Type of work:

Don Sapatkin is an independent journalist who reports on science and health care. His primary focus for nearly two decades has been public health, especially policy, access to care, health disparities...