Thursday June 1, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Hello, MindSite Readers! In today’s Daily: A look at the ways anti-trans legislation is affecting youth with autism and mental health diagnoses. Congressional Dem’s reintroduce a bill to help destigmatize mental health needs in Asian American communities. And incarcerated moms try to work through the grief of losing the right to parent their children. 

Plus, a psychiatric nurse says there’s a better way to prevent suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge than fitting it with a safety net, and more on the power of art to rewire our brains.

New bill aims to destigmatize mental health among Asian Americans

Yesterday, on the last day of Asian Pacific Heritage Month, a group of Democratic lawmakers reintroduced the “Stop Mental Health Stigma in Our Communities Act.” It is aimed at getting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to partner with advocacy and behavioral health organizations to provide outreach and education around mental health, especially in Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. 

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif, who first introduced the bill in 2016 told NBC News: “As the only psychologist currently serving in Congress, I know how critical it is to remove the barriers attached to seeking mental health care as well as reduce the stigma and raise awareness of mental health issues.”

The bill would also require SAMHSA to research and collect disaggregated data on mental health among Asian American communities. Current CDC statistics show that while people of Asian or Pacific Island heritage use mental health services at a lower rate than other racial and ethnic groups, suicide was the leading cause of death for young people from those communities aged 10 to 24. Mental health experts believe stigma about seeking help could be a key factor.

Red-state push to keep trans youth with autism or mental health conditions from receiving gender-affirming care

How’s this for a conundrum: Georgia, Arkansas, and Missouri have enacted policies that keep trans youth with autism or diagnosed mental health conditions from receiving gender-affirming care – or restricts access to such care until the autism and mental health conditions are “resolved.” But autism can’t be “resolved,” it is a neurological difference that autistic people have at birth which affects how they interact with other people and the world. Many trans people struggle with depression and anxiety from gender dysphoria, both often well-treated with gender-affirming care, research shows.

“This is a disability justice issue,” said Emerson Gray, a transgender person who was diagnosed with autism as a child. They had been receiving hormone replacement therapy treatment from a doctor in Missouri, just a short drive from their home in Illinois. After hearing about pending changes in Missouri – changes which have been temporarily blocked by Missouri courts from taking effect – they started looking for a new physician. “To have someone tell me that just because my brain is not functioning in the same way…that I can’t make my own decisions about health care that I need to access, it’s infuriating,” Gray said. 

For unknown reasons, transgender people have, on average, higher rates of autism and other neurodevelopmental diagnoses than cisgender people. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), which sets global standards for healthcare providers on gender-affirming care, says in its guidelines for treating trans youth that neither mental health disorders nor intellectual disabilities should prevent people from getting care.

Incarcerated mothers try to work through the grief of losing their children

Many incarcerated women have a grief that’s tough for others to understand. Their children are alive but their parental rights are gone. “Your child is out there, and you’re mourning that child, but the child is not dead. There’s no funeral, no one brings casseroles to your house to mourn that loss,” Jenny Eldredge told MPR News. She’s the executive director of Bellis, a nonprofit that provides a support program to women at Minnesota’s Shakopee Prison. 

The 12-week support group offers these mothers the space to grieve and be seen, while also providing them the tools to continue managing their emotions in a healthy way. The hope is that learning such skills will keep the women from returning to prison once released. The group made Sara Brown feel valued as a person. “Without these guys, I would still be living in that guilt and that shame of failing [my kids],” she said. 

The support group may also help address other traumas, like physical and sexual violence that often leads to mental health or substance use issues and arrest, said Joanna Woolman, director of the Institute to Transform Child Protection at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. “Every individual deserves dignity and respect,” Woolman said. “And that the sort of societal shame that we put on mothers who have done something that we perceive to be bad or wrong, or doesn’t live up to our expectations of what a mother should do, they pay such a heavy price.” 

In other news…

Is a suicide prevention net on the Golden Gate Bridge worth $400 million? Sherrie Page Guyer, an RN with an advanced degree in psychiatric nursing, suggests in a guest column for STAT News that the money could be better spent on mental health treatment and suicide prevention, rather than construction of a steel barrier to catch the roughly 30 people who jump into San Francisco Bay each year.

“We’re approaching mental health care in this country from the wrong end of the problem,” Page Guyer writes. “It would make far more humane and fiscal sense if we caught people long before they jumped…$400 million can buy an awful lot of therapeutic help and crisis intervention for those who need it – particularly given that 85% of those who choose to jump from the Golden Gate live within an hour’s drive,” she said.

Art is a powerful tool that can rewire our brains. That’s the gist of a new book, Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us, by Ivy Ross and Susan Magsamen. Magsamen is director of the Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics, a joint research partnership between the International Arts + Mind Lab, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and the Pedersen Brain Science Institute. In this 7-minute segment for PBS NewsHour, she spoke about the connection between the arts and brain health.

Fixing the homelessness crisis is a top priority for citizens in Los Angeles, according to the LAist. To that end, the publication has created a reader-friendly digital guide to understanding the modern roots of the issue, which officials are responsible for addressing it, and what people can do to help – or get help if they need it.

People with obesity are at greater risk of mental health conditions like depression, nicotine addiction, and anxiety, according to a study published in Translational Psychiatry. Elma Dervic, a co-author of the study told Neuroscience News that their team analyzed data from “a population-wide national registry of inpatient hospitalizations in Austria from 1997 to 2014,” which allowed them to determine risks associated with obesity between men and women. They found that while obese men were also at risk of developing mental health conditions, women were at greater overall risk.

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...