July 12, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s edition, we discuss a new Netflix series based on Michael Pollan’s book on psychedelics called How to Change Your Mind. We also discuss the striking rise in Americans taking psychiatric medications, a study on trauma experienced by urban librarians, and a mental health checklist for college freshmen.

Michael Pollan Docuseries Explores the World of Psychedelics

Credit: Netflix

Michael Pollan’s 2018 book How to Change Your Mind, a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, premieres as a four-part Netflix docuseries on Tuesday, with each episode devoted to a different hallucinogen. “The show is evangelically focused on the substances’ therapeutic possibilities, often to the point of spacing out on the fact that tripping can be mad fun,” Bob Strauss writes in a review for the San Francisco Chronicle. MindSite News interviewed Pollan last fall on these subjects.

“I’ve had the most interesting experiences on psilocybin. The most purely pleasurable? I would have to say MDMA, which I think is an amazing compound.…But I have a special place in my heart for mescaline,” Pollan told Nick Hilden in an interview with Rolling Stone about the Netflix series, which is directed by Alisa Ellwood and Lucy Walker and executive-produced by Alex Gibson. In the docuseries, Pollan explains the compounds’ complex histories and their therapeutic possibilities, from end-of-life therapy and spiritual insight to the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. He chats, as always, with researchers, activists, therapists, and those whose debilitating conditions were eased by psychedelic intervention.

From food to caffeine to marijuana, Pollan’s enormous body of work has a common theme: He focuses on the interactions between people and plants. His latest book, This is Your Mind on Plants, extends the provocative discussion. His advice for people trying psychedelics for the first time: “Approach it with care. It’s a very consequential thing to do. There are risks involved,” he told Hilden. And if you see God or hear the plants talking to you, “It wasn’t the drug that gave you those thoughts or images: it was your mind. The drugs are catalysts. So it’s worth trying to understand what your mind is trying to tell you.”  -Don Sapatkin

One in four Americans are taking medicine are taking medication for mental woes and distraction

Credit: Twitter

In a wallop of a report from the New York Times, more Americans are being medicated for mental health conditions than ever. In 2019, the CDC estimated that 15.8 percent of adults took prescription pills for mental health. Just three years later, surveys from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau show that number has grown by almost 10 percent. Today, almost 25 percent of American adults are medicated for depression, anxiety, tiredness and distraction.

So what gives? The increase isn’t necessarily only being caused by worsening mental health, according to the article. Though rates of anxiety and depression have both risen during the pandemic, “there’s less of a barrier culturally around using medications,” said Boston-based psychiatrist Cecil R. Webster Jr. And, he added, “We have no tolerance for slow change. But many of the problems we are faced with demand slow change.”

Other doctors were even more frank about the increase in pharmaceutical remedies for mental health. Psychiatrist Peter Kramer, author of the 1993 book, Listening to Prozac, told the Times, “I think the reason doctors are more blasé about prescribing these medicines is that they’ve now been around for a long time and they can prescribe them without getting into trouble.” And he said, there’s our growing “intolerance” for “more mild levels of depression and neurosis.” That’s all led to a big rise in the use of drugs like Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, and Adderall for adults and teens. 

“We’re hoping that the depression [is] an aberration in their lives and not part of a recurring pattern,” said psychiatrist Robert Ashley of Los Agneles. “The hope is also that the medication lifts them enough out of the depression that they can engage better in their psychotherapy.”

Study highlights traumatic experiences of public librarians in U.S.

Credit: 2022 Urban Library Trauma Study

This March MindSite News published a story about the assault on school librarians’ mental health — including abuse, harassment, doxing and stalking — from an ultraconservative campaign to ban books having to do with gender and racial equality. Late last month the Urban Libraries Trauma Study was published, further highlighting the “trauma, stress, and burnout” urban librarians and library staff experience at work.

The study, which included a literature review, librarian survey, focus groups and two-day forum, found that 69% of librarians have experienced violent or aggressive behavior from library patrons and 22% from their own co-workers. Troublingly, workers reported that library administrators frequently failed to address such incidents effectively.Lauren Comito and Christian Zabriskie, co-founders of Urban Libraries Unite, told Publisher’s Weekly the study was important to reveal what’s happening to frontline library staff and hopefully spark meaningful change.

“We really wanted to hear the voices of the people who are experiencing these things,” Comito said. “We wanted to do a research report that was done by working public library workers for us instead of about us…The hard part comes next. The hard part is how we create a culture of community care in libraries when we don’t have a culture of community care in our country.” The second half of the study highlights ways to repair harm, such as creating trauma-informed strategic plans, an online database of community services, and including a library trauma strategic network.

Know a college freshman? Encourage them to make a mental health checklist before move-in day

Credit: Twitter

Mental health experts want young adults to be proactive about their mental health, the New York Times’ Well column reports. With the dramatic rise in teens struggling emotionally since the start of the pandemic, it makes sense to consider what to do if confronted with anxiety or depression on campus. “It’s never too early to say, ‘Hey, I need help,’” said Melissa Martin, a licensed social worker and chairwoman of counseling services at SUNY Broome Community College. “You might not see anyone else reaching out for help, but they might not be talking about it.”

The Times offers three major suggestions: 1) Connect early with the on-campus counseling center; 2) Embrace other resources that may influence mental well-being, such as tutoring, academic and peer advising, education coaching, student activities and career services; 3) Practice general wellness habits such as eating nutritious food, staying hydrated with water, getting plenty of sleep, and enjoying a social life.

In other news…

You can get more than joy from a night of theater: scientists say it may increase your empathy. Discover magazine highlighted research that linked an increase in empathy directly to the live theater experience. “There’s a dynamic and an ephemeral experience that is happening between the performers on stage and the audience members,” said Jenny Toutant from Milwaukee Repertory Theater. “You’re really connecting with people on a human level.”

Texas isn’t investing enough in children’s mental health and must spend more, says the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News. State officials may have folded $11 million for youth mental health into a school safety and mental health bill last month, but the editorial says it’s just another unsustainable stop-gap. Some 2,656 Texas children are still awaiting mental health services through the state’s Youth Empowerment Services Waiver program, the paper noted. “The importance of building a robust mental health infrastructure for children in Texas must not be minimized in the effort to improve school security,” the board said. “Both are necessary.”

Rank-and-file employees aren’t the only participants in the Great Resignation. Bosses and middle managers are also burned out from the stress of the pandemic, an article from Forbes says. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Courtney Wise

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