May 31, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers. As we bid farewell to Memorial Day, we want to pay tribute to our fathers, still teenagers, who shipped overseas to fight Hitler and fascism in World War II, as well as all the other soldiers, resisters and victims of war throughout time.

In this issue, we share a moving essay in The Atlantic calling on the government to stop the use of prisons as de facto warehouses for people with mental illness, examine the arguments for gun control, and learn about Bridgerton star Ruby Barker’s hospitalization for mental health problems linked to intergenerational trauma. Plus, how a simple, earth-toned room might help calm your teenager.

—Diana Hembree and Rob Waters, MindSite News editors

By Courtney Wise

Prisons are no place for the mentally ill

There is today a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to transform America’s mental health care system, write two people who know that system well. In a deeply personal essay for The Atlantic, Norm Ornstein, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, and Steve Leifman, a judge who runs a mental health court in Miami-Dade County, Florida, call for ending the use of prisons as unofficial warehouses for the mentally ill.

The two recount their personal experiences in helping people navigate the mental health care system. “People with mental illnesses in the United States are 10 times more likely to be incarcerated than they are to be hospitalized,” they write. “Those who don’t end up in prison are likely to cycle repeatedly through patchy psychiatric care, spells of homelessness, and emergency rooms. And every year, about 2 million arrests are made of people with serious mental illnesses.”

As more than 70 percent of incarcerated persons also hold a mental health diagnosis, the prison system is, in effect, the largest psychiatric institution in the nation – one that doesn’t treat mental illness effectively. Aside from the human toll of such warehousing, it’s costing American taxpayers a lot of money that could be put to use actually helping people. 

If we kept people with mental illness from languishing in jails or prisons, the authors argue, we could both heal people and save tax dollars.

Without gun control, even increasing mental health resources cannot prevent mass shootings

Customers examining automatic weapons at a gun shop. Photo: Shutterstock

In the wake of yet another mass shooting in the U.S. – this time in Uvalde, Texas – that state’s politicians are calling for increased mental health services to prevent the next tragedy. But psychiatric experts tell NBC News that while more and better mental health care is badly needed across the nation, it won’t prevent mass shootings; that kind of change will also require effective gun control. As we noted in a MindSite News statement, “mass shootings and daily gun violence are a failure of public policy and protection, not mental illness.”

Mass shooters who do show prior signs of mental illness often blend in with mentally ill people who never become shooters. “If you’re looking at a group of people with those mental health issues, it’s almost impossible to pick out the one that’s actually going to commit a mass shooting,” Dr. Ziv Cohen, a forensic and clinical psychiatrist based in New York City, told NBC. “This is why we haven’t really found a solution.”

Simply put, there’s no way around the need for politicians to act and legislate gun control. “We can do all the things we can to help students, but at the end of the day, if a student has the notion to go shoot up a school and has access to the weapons to do that, I’m not sure any measures that may or may not have taken place would necessarily prevent it,” said Jill Cook, the executive director of the American School Counselor Association. “If somebody comes to a door with a semiautomatic weapon, that’s it.”

Bridgerton star Ruby Barker hospitalized for mental health treatment

Ruby Barker as Miriam in “Bridgerton”

In a video testimonial posted to her Instagram account, actress Ruby Barker, star of the Netflix smash hit Bridgerton, shared with the public that she’s getting intensive mental health support after struggling for some time – and she encourages others to do the same. “I just want to be honest with everybody, I have been struggling. So, I’m in the hospital at the minute, [but] I’m gonna get discharged soon and hopefully get to continue with my life” after a short break, she said. “I want to encourage others, if you are struggling, please do yourself a favor: Take a break, stop being so hard on yourself.”

ETalk 20 reports that Barker went on to share that she sought professional help to heal unaddressed “intergenerational trauma” which caused her to be rage-filled, frustrated and angry. Part of her work now, she said, is to forgive herself and learn to set appropriate boundaries to improve her mental health. Barker also said that she’s received a specific mental health diagnosis, but did not yet reveal what it is.

Can interior design boost your teen’s mental health?

Home environments play a role in adolescent well-being, pediatrician Hansa Bhargava, chief medical officer at Medscape Education and author of Building Happier Kids, told Forbes. Teens need a “safe place” inside their home that’s theirs and quiet, Bhargava said, and color is known to have a mood-affecting quality. “A cooler (green/blue) color scheme in places of reset (such as a lounge area or a bedroom) is a good idea,” she said. The materials inside a room can also be used to affect how people feel, interior designer Sarah Cole advises: “To reduce anxiety, balance a strong color with calming neutrals, and layer textures rather than too many colors.”

From a ‘Zits’ comic by Jim Borgman/Pinterest

Families can also employ simple designs to avoid overstimulating spaces, said educational designer Karen Aronian. She strongly encourages parents to partner with their children to make design decisions together. That way, the teens’ preferences for restorative spaces can be prioritized, too – not just the parents’.

In other news…..

It’s the end of Mental Health Awareness Month and the unofficial start of summer. As more and more people head outdoors, we hearken back to the top of May and a feature in Runner’s World UK describing how five “accidental” runners transformed their mental health battles with agoraphobia, depression, an eating disorder, and substance abuse – one run at a time.

In remarks at the National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp’s banquet this past weekend, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III reiterated a commitment to improving mental health care in the armed forces. “It … means redoubling our efforts to reduce the stigmas on getting help and to lower the barriers and increase the access to mental health care,” Austin said. “We continue our critically important work to prevent suicide within our military community and our veteran family. You have heard me say this before, and I intend to keep on saying it: Mental health is health, period.”

Business Insider reports that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott repeatedly blamed
the Robb Elementary shooting on the state’s lack of mental health resources while failing to take accountability for cutting nearly $200 million from the state’s Health and Human Services Commission. And social scientists from Harvard and Johns Hopkins told NPR that the most effective way to prevent mass shootings or reduce the number of casualties is with stronger regulations that would 1) Enact strict licensing requirements for gun purchasers. 2) Place bans on assault rifles. 3) Restrict the purchase of large-capacity magazines or ammunition-feeding devices for semi automatic weapons.

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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Courtney WiseReporter

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...