Good morning MindSite News readers. With disturbing images of war in Ukraine dominating news everywhere, today’s newsletter offers perspectives on anxiety and how to minimize it. Plus an inspiring walk among hand-painted rocks in New Zealand, an intriguing question in psychedelics research – does the benefit require the high? – and how the media can better cover suicides, which – surprise! – went down during the pandemic’s first year. With so much heaviness in the world now, we hope you’ll enjoy images of the beautiful hand-painted rocks mentioned above, which we’ve scattered throughout today’s newsletter. And please take care of yourselves – and your friends and neighbors.

Rocks that inspire

Take a hike on New Zealand’s South Island or wander through suburban parks around Christchurch, NZ Herald reports, and you may encounter some uplifting surprises: rocks with hand-painted messages of love and inspiration – along with the number for a suicide prevention hotline on the back. “You are loved,” reads one. “It’s OK to not be OK,” says another.

From Facebook post by Pip Lodge: ‘I found this up the top of Mt. Herbert two weeks ago’

The messages are universal but Anna Scarlett’s inspiration for Kim’s Rocks came from the love of mountains that she shared with Kim Raines, a high school friend who took her own life 18 months ago. Scarlett has written on and placed more than 100 rocks as a tribute to her friend. “They are all over the place. Many disappear and that’s okay as my hope is that someone that needed the reminder on the rock took them with them,” she said. Scarlett gets messages or photos sent to her at least once a week; “a lot of people are thankful to have found them and to have read the messages,” she says. There are now similar projects in the memory of loved ones who died by suicide in several countries, including Zoe’s Rocks in Massachusetts.


Russian invasion of Ukraine heightens global anxiety

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is triggering yet another wave of anxiety on top of Covid, inflation and a spiraling political climate. “As individuals, we may be able to cope with any one of these events. Having to cope with all of them simultaneously is proving to be overwhelming for many people,” Lawrence Palinkas, a USC professor who studies mental health, told the Los Angeles Times. Those with relatives in Ukraine are having an especially hard time and refugees from war-torn countries like Syria may relive some of their own trauma. Putting your media device in another room, getting exercise, meditating or doing yoga, and doing things that make you happy – whether going outside or watching TV (but not endless cable news) – are time-tested ways to lower your anxiety, the Sydney Morning Herald and WebMD report. Children of all ages are scared, and the Associated Press provides tips for parents about how to talk with their kids.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s list of groups helping in Ukraine, most of them nonprofits in need of donations, includes several that provide mental health services and psychological support. Finally, we’ll leave it to you to decide whether New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s ban on Russian vodka, reported by WMUR in Manchester, is good for the spirits. 



Suicide rate and child abuse declined in 2020

The 2020 suicide rate declined for a second straight year, according to U.S. News & World Report, based on final data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that may seem surprising. Unrelated anecdotal reports and some modeling during the pandemic had suggested a rise, and drug overdose-related deaths, which include some suicides, were up sharply during the pandemic’s first year, based on separate provisional data.

Even with a 3 percent drop, the 2020 suicide rate of 3.5 per 100,000 population is 30 percent higher than two decades ago, authors of the CDC report wrote, calling the new numbers “encouraging” while adding that “existing data suggest that suicide rates might be stable or decline during a disaster, only to rise afterwards as the longer-term sequelae unfold in persons, families, and communities.” In other counter-intuitive news, child abuse appears to have decreased during the pandemic, according to an interview with Robert Sege, a pediatric researcher at Tufts University, that expands on his JAMA Pediatrics Viewpoint article. And the website StudyFinds reported on research in the journal of European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry that found a third of U.K. schoolchildren were happier during the pandemic.



Media outlets need to take care when reporting on suicides

The news media needs to do better job reporting on suicide and put safety above clicks, experts say in an extensively reported story by Verve Times. The American Association of Suicidology, among other organizations, says “suicide contagion” – the potential for a distressed or depressed person to be influenced by media accounts about suicide – is real and is supported by research.

“It’s clear that there’s a real impact of the media (coverage) on subsequent suicides, depending on how the story is shaped, how headlines are shaped, and the pictures that are included in the article,” said Madelyn S. Gould, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York. Celebrity suicides, in particular, can lead to copycat deaths. The story examines coverage of several high-profile deaths.

Experts say that reporters and editors should avoid glorifying or presenting a suicide as a coping mechanism. Details about the method used, location, time, and other sensitive material, like photos, videos, or mention of suicide notes, should also be largely avoided. So should overly emotional, dramatic, or romantic language – a particular danger when a celebrity takes his or her own life.

What should be included? A bit of hope, healing and positive coping strategies, along with information about treatment of depression and – always – resources for people who are considering suicide, such as a link to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and this number: 800-273-8255.



Prescribing psychedelics…without the high?

Psychoactive substances including MDMA, psilocybin, LSD, and ketamine have been shown to be effective for treating certain mental health conditions such as PTSD, depression, and even addiction, when given therapeutically under controlled care. Research results have been so promising, in fact, that major institutions like Johns Hopkins University, Stanford, and Yale have set up psychedelic research centers for continued study. Now an article from Discover magazine explores a new question that scientists seek to answer about these drugs: Can psychedelics be formulated to treat mental health conditions without making patients high? Are hallucinogenic experiences necessary to provide a therapeutic benefit?

“Trip-free” psychedelics may offer some help to patients at risk of induced psychosis, like those with schizophrenia or a family history of psychosis. Some researchers assume that cutting the high will also reduce the risk for abuse. 

The question is worth exploring, though some researchers believe that the altered mental state itself is a necessary component of successful treatment. Mary Cosimano, director of Guide/Facilitator Services at Johns Hopkins University, told the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) that she believes the induced psychoactive state helps patients share more. “Once they have opened up and shared, they are much more likely to let go and progress though their psilocybin experiences, managing difficult moments with more ease, and eventually restoring their deep and intrinsic connection to their true selves.” –Courtney Wise


In other news…

Transgender kids are struggling with fear and anxiety at the hands of politicians, Kaiser Health News reports, with governors and legislators pushing anti-transgender policies in a growing number of conservative states. In the past week: Texas outlawed gender-affirming care for transgender minors and made it a crime to not report such care to the authorities, Slate reported, sparking a White House rebuke, according to ABC news. The Georgia Senate passed a similar ban, the Georgia Record reported, which Gov. Brian Kemp suggested he would sign if it reached his desk. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signaled support for a bill that would ban trans girls from participating in K-12 sports and the Senate advanced it, ABC News reported. And the Florida House passed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would ban certain discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, The Hill reported. Gov. Ron DeSantis has signaled his support.

Singer-songwriter Judy Collins was in deep grief – after her son died of suicide in 1992 – when she got a call from the late comedian Joan Rivers, whose husband had taken his own life five years earlier. Healing “is about therapy – and having people who can pull you up,” Collins, now 82, told People magazine. She got through the devastating experience and became a suicide-prevention advocate and author, in 2003, of Sanity and Grace: A Journey of Suicide, Survival, and Strength.

Columbia psychiatrist suspended for racist tweets. Jeffrey A Lieberman, chair of Columbia University’s psychiatry department, was suspended after a tweet he later conceded was “racist and sexist,” the New York Times reported. In response to a photo of Nyakim Gatwech, a dark-skinned American model of South Sudanese descent, Lieberman sent out a tweet: “Whether a work of art or freak of nature she’s a beautiful sight to behold.” His apology did not keep him from being removed from his related position as psychiatrist-in-chief at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Gatwech replied with style: “ I love my dark skin and my nickname “Queen of Dark,” she wrote on Instagram in a response to Lieberman.

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.


The Confess Project: Barbers Help Black Men Talk Mental Health

The barbershop is the cornerstone of the Black male community. What better place to offer mental health support?

Heatwaves and Mental Health

New research demonstrates how high temperatures can negatively impact mental health and increase emergency room visits.

‘Only One Bus’: Reflections on a New Path to Mental Health

As with the fight for civil rights or climate change, it’s going to take a movement, with families at the core of that effort. We need to reframe this crisis as more than a medical challenge: It is an issue of social justice. 

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Don Sapatkin

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...