February 10, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers! In today’s newsletter: Overwhelmed by the mental health needs of their congregations, some Black and Latino pastors say they’d welcome some help – from mental health professionals. A lawsuit in Pennsylvania asks how much responsibility universities should bear for helping students cope with pressure. Plus, a call for more psychiatric beds in Michigan, peer support gains in Ohio, and Biles-inspired bravery on display in China.

Black and Latino pastors serve as frontline mental health providers – though they’d rather not

Photo: Shutterstock

In a new study, “Where Would You Go? Race, Religion, and the Limits of Pastor Mental Health Care in Black and Latino Congregations,” published in the journal Religions, Black and Latino pastors were found to be primary sources of mental health care in their communities – even when they felt overwhelmed and ill-equipped to serve in such a capacity. The study used focus group and interview data from pastors and congregants from Black and Latino churches in Houston. It found that while stigma surrounding mental health in the larger Black community drove Black congregants to seek pastoral counseling, Latinos churchgoers – among whom mental illness is also stigmatized – tend to believe that prayer, communion and “reliance on God” will ease mental suffering. 

Dan Bolger, one of the lead authors of the study, told BET.com that although Black parishioners saw their pastors as “uniquely qualified” to help address mental health concerns, Black pastors often felt inadequately trained and prepared to do so, particularly under the added stress of the pandemic. As one Black pastor told researchers, he and other clergy should not be afraid to say “this is beyond my scope; I need to refer you to someone else who can lead you in these particular ways.” Bolger and his co-author Pamela Prickett concluded that churches, mental health professionals, and mental health institutions should build partnerships that make it easier for people to get the help that they need.  


A grieving family’s lawsuit highlights gaps in campus counseling services

The University of Pennsylvania’s counseling center is under intense scrutiny as a civil lawsuit brought against the university by the family of Ao “Olivia” Kong finally begins. Kong was a 21-year-old student at Wharton, part of Penn, when she died by suicide in April 2016. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, her parents filed suit in 2018, alleging that counselors and psychiatrists at the school neglected to hospitalize Kong or notify her parents that she was suicidal, despite being told at least nine times – including by Kong herself – that she was experiencing a mental health crisis. 

“She begged them for help,” said her parents’ lawyer, Carol Nelson Shepherd, in opening statements. “Instead of recognizing this for the crisis that it was, they just shuffled her from person to person and place to place with no meaningful response to the seriousness and repetitiveness of her suicidal thoughts.”

Penn denies any responsibility, arguing that the university made multiple attempts to offer Kong counseling and other support services. The school also said that she saw two outside medical professionals who did not consider her to be in immediate danger. Kong is one of 15 people in the Penn community to die by suicide between 2013 and 2019, including Gregory Eells, the executive director of counseling and psychological services, who died in 2019.

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.


Michigan governor seeks to expand budget to treat youth in need of mental health hospitalization

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s is calling for a 45% increase in available beds at the Hawthorn Center, Michigan’s only psychiatric hospital for children, WXYZ-TV reported. Funding for the center has remained stagnant since 2015, leaving just 55 beds in use at the center, although it has the capacity to serve twice that many, according to WXYZ. Whitmer’s budget also calls for spending $325 million to build a new state psychiatric facility that would replace the Hawthorn Center and another facility for older adults. “This is an effort to restore the safety net,” said Robert Sheehan, executive director of the Community Mental Health Association in Michigan. “Our aim is to treat kids in their homes and in the communities, but when that fails—and it does fail at times—we need beds that are available.” Whitmer is a first-term Democrat seeking reelection. Though the bill will require approval from the Republican-controlled state legislature, preliminary signs point to bipartisan support, the station reported. 

Workers are approaching burnout, but managers can help

Bain & Company published a recent study that found rising numbers of millennials and Gen-Z workers report being stressed, overwhelmed, and reaching burnout at work. According to Forbes, there are three key reasons for this: less secure work relationships due to isolation from the pandemic, loss of a sense of place and belonging at work and financial hardship. 

Managers are encouraged to create a positive work culture that centers an “adult-to-adult” approach to relationships, fosters empathy, prioritizes mental wellbeing and allows space for workers to communicate safely. Managers should also demonstrate a commitment to work-life balance in their own lives. Paula Allen, global leader of research and total wellbeing at LifeWorks, told Forbes: “Managers need to invest in mental health like we all do. It is important to have a balance of experiences every day — fun, social contact, accomplishment.”


Peer support showing its power in helping Ohioans improve mental health

A movement of peer supporters – people who have personal experience with mental illness, substance use and recovery – is growing in Ohio and helping others get through the same experiences, according to Eye On Ohio, a nonprofit news outlet. The lived experience of peers, combined with training from organizations like Thrive Peer Recovery Services or Hope Recovery Community, gives them a special ability to help others through various stages of recovery, the Eye reported. The work of peers can help people get their lives back on track while potentially saving the state millions in healthcare costs. Peer supporters aid people seeking recovery from a variety of challenges, including substance abuse, disordered eating, social isolation and those needing help securing work. Thrive, which was founded in Cleveland in 2018 and now has a staff of 150, serves 66 of Ohio’s 88 counties. 

In Other News:

Therapy is still the best bet: Mobile mental health apps are no replacement for a good therapist, according to s story by Harvard Health Publishing. Research published in PLOS Digital Health from a review of randomized controlled trials representing nearly 48,000 patients found “no convincing evidence” that intervention from any mobile app greatly improved outcomes related to anxiety, depression, drinking, smoking, suicidal ideation, or feelings of well-being when used as a sole method of treatment. However, mobile apps can complement therapy when combined with a human therapeutic relationship, the study suggested.

Photo: Shutterstock

Biles-inspired bravery: Winter Olympians credit Simone Biles with inspiring their courage to speak out about concerns with mental health. Citing concerns over her frame of mind, Biles, widely seen as one of the greats in the history of gymnastics, pulled out of the women’s team final at last summer’s Tokyo games. Anna Gasser, a gold-medal winning, three-time Winter Olympian told the New York Times: “I feel like it was a game changer. Simone Biles’s message was that we’re not just athletes — that we are also humans and not robots.” Other Winter Olympians like figure skater Vincent Zhou and snowboarder Jamie Anderson have since followed in Biles footsteps, speaking publicly about their challenges with isolation and pressure and emphasizing the need for mental health self-care.

More mental health care…in jail: A federal judge has approved a settlement in a lawsuit over mental health care in the Alameda County Jail located in Santa Rita, California. The San Jose Mercury News reported that the settlement will increase staffing at the jail, expand oversight, and create a new unit for people with mental illness. The lawsuit was filed as a class-action, citing “excessive use of isolation, providing an insufficient amount of out-of-cell time and programming, inadequate classification systems, and a lack of due process protections.” The settlement was not universally well-received. Critics, including inmates who testified from the jail on video, contend that the agreement prioritizes incarceration over mental health care. “I object to the proposed settlement because deputies are unable to and should not be assisting in providing mental health care,” the Mercury News quoted Michael Lockhart, who is incarcerated at the jail, as saying. “The deputies look at us as the enemy. Anytime anyone is even a little bit loud, deputies put their hands on their Tasers.”


Bringing Sistas Together to Protect Our Mental Health and Save Black Lives

I knew I had to do something to protect the life of my child – alongside people who had the same interest in ending police violence.

When Does Cedric Lofton Get a Chance to Stand His Ground?

When I heard there would be no charges in the death of Cedric Lofton, I was heartbroken but I wasn’t surprised. Cedric, a teenager in the midst of a mental health crisis, died while being restrained at a juvenile detention center in Wichita, Kansas.

Intergenerational Trauma and Healing: Why Disney’s Encanto Resonates with Latinx First-Gens

An enthralling film for both children and adults, Encanto features a cast of Latinx females attempting to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma. As a Nicaraguan American, I know that most of us who identify as First-Gen often relate to “ni de aqui ni de allá” …


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Courtney Wise

Courtney Wise Randolph is a writer and creative based in Detroit, Michigan.