May 25, 2022
By Courtney Wise
Good morning, MindSite News readers. California has a plan to fight its share of the national overdose epidemic that is claiming 100,000 lives a year. It wants to create safe sites for supervised drug use, but it will need to face down opposition to do so. Also in this issue: A Detroit man on a mission for mental health, the link between trauma and memory loss, a Google study on the impact of screen use, and more.
Will supervised drug use sites ease the overdose epidemic in California?
California lawmakers are working now to decide whether or not to open supervised drug use sites in the state. Supporters argue such facilities could save both money and lives. “Our hospitals, our emergency rooms, our fire department, our ambulances are all spending huge resources on people who are overdosing,” said Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. He sponsored California Senate Bill 57 to pilot facilities in Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Speaking to NPR, he added that in addition to curbing the overdose crisis, “safe consumption” sites could slow the spread of HIV and hepatitis because they’d provide users clean syringes.
Alex Kral, an epidemiologist for the nonprofit research group RTI International said that in practice, the sites would provide users two rooms – one in which to consume drugs and the second in which to be monitored afterward. People showing signs of overdose would be tended to by health care workers equipped with naloxone and other tools to prevent deaths.
California wouldn’t be the first state to pass such legislation if the bill is successful. Two are operating in New York, and Rhode Island has approved supervised injection sites that have yet to launch. In addition, safe consumption sites are currently open in 12 countries across the world. Still, opponents like Anne Marie Schubert, Sacramento County district attorney, argue there’s nothing good about them. “It’s an open drug scene,” she said. “The fact that we’re considering allowing our government to essentially aid and abet the illicit use of drugs that are killing our citizens, I find shocking.” She proposes more court-ordered treatment, arguing that the law doesn’t allow judges to compel enough people to get help. But former addicts say sobriety can’t be forced, and Kral adds: “There have probably been tens of millions of injections people have done in (such) sites over the last 35 years, and no one has ever died of an overdose.”
With a cousin in crisis, Detroit educator is a man on a mission
Prostell Thomas is an activist and educator on a mission to increase mental health awareness and the volume of mental health resources in his hometown of Detroit. It’s personal; his efforts are driven by his recent struggle to help a cousin with mental illness. “It was emotional because I’m at the hospital and I didn’t know what to expect. I raised him from a baby, so I had never been in that space where he needed help and I couldn’t help him,” Thomas told Model D Media. “We started going through the process…and ended up in a maze, just completely lost. Up until earlier this year it had been our sixth or seventh time going to the ER. We couldn’t get a consistent doctor; we couldn’t get a diagnosis.”
After meeting more and more people with the same experience, Thomas decided to convene HEAL: A Community Mental Health Fair last month in Highland Park, a Detroit enclave. Featuring onsite therapists, grief counselors, a men’s healing circle, mental illness discussion panels, and plenty of takeaway resources, the event was so successful that Avalon Village has agreed to partner with Thomas to continue making it available monthly. In future iterations, he plans to make crisis mental health professionals available, but most of all, he hopes to help people learn to cope with stressors that might spark a crisis later. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care,” Thomas said.
Google partners with a university on a study about phones and mental health—and you can participate
Researchers at the University of Oregon are curious to learn the effect phones have on mental health, so they’re partnering with Google to figure it out—and they hope you’ll sign up. In a post shared to the tech company’s blog, Nicholas Allen, a lead researcher on the project, invited adult Android phone users in the US to become part of this sample.
The study will use passive and continuous sensing technology through Google’s Health Studies app to see how people use their phones in real time, rather than relying on people’s self-reported phone use. It will also track helpful assets to wellbeing, like sleep and exercise.
Allen argued that it’s vital to conduct the study because pandemic isolation pushed even more people “to turn to digital technology to maintain some semblance of their lifestyle.” With the vigorous debate surrounding whether smartphone and social media usage should be scaled back, Allen advocates exploring the devices’ harms and benefits in an effort to mitigate risks. People interested in participating can sign up for the four-week study beginning this Friday, May 27th.
In other news…
The American Psychiatric Association released a special edition of its flagship publication, the American Journal of Psychiatry, focused primarily on structural racism and its negative toll on mental health.
How in the world does a person forget entire decades of their life? Apparently, if the history is traumatic enough, that’ll do it. Forgetting can serve as a coping mechanism, the brain’s way of protecting itself. “When an experience is significantly shocking and it overwhelms your innate coping mechanisms and resources, your body may look for ways to process the experience,” says an article from PsychCentral. “On rare occasions, memory loss could be an effect of trauma.”
In a letter to The Washington Post, three national advocates for maternal mental health saluted the paper on this recent article from Jennifer Wadsworth: “Rise in perinatal and postpartum depression needs to be tackled.” In addition, they urged Congress to take action on national mental health legislation and encouraged local officials to create “community-based interventions focused on prevention” that prioritize the needs of women of color, who are at greatest risk.
In a guest column for The Guardian, Dr. Lubna Karim wrote about why she decided to step away from her work as a child and adolescent psychiatrist in the UK’s National Health System amid the nation’s ever-expanding need for pediatric mental health care. Calling her colleagues “extremely dedicated and committed,” Karim said that after 15 years, she became overwhelmed by “a system which is clearly broken, and am no longer able to provide the early intervention that is so vital in so many cases.”
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.
A teenage girl learns to embrace her inner panda.
Corporal punishment is disproportionately inflicted on Black children and is higher in areas with histories of lynching.
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The name “MindSite News” is used with the express permission of Mindsight Institute, an educational organization offering online learning and in-person workshops in the field of mental health and wellbeing. MindSite News and Mindsight Institute are separate, unaffiliated entities that are aligned in making science accessible and promoting mental health globally.