February 23, 2022

Good morning readers, in today’s MindSite News Daily: A new bill in Congress seeks to rein in social media companies and protect children. Kids’ mental health emergency visits are on the rise. New insights emerge on the benefits of exercise for mental wellness. Addressing homelessness in Dallas and Louisville. And more…

Bipartisan Senate bill puts tech companies on high alert for child safety

After months of damaging disclosures from a Facebook whistleblower about the ways social media companies harm teens’ mental health, Senators have introduced a bipartisan child safety bill, the New York Times reported. The Kids Online Safety Act would prohibit online platforms from promoting harmful behavior including suicide, bullying, self-harm and eating disorders; give parents of kids under 16 more tools to block content; and require annual reports from tech companies about potentials risk to kids.

“Big Tech has brazenly failed children,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who is sponsoring the bill with Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Tech companies are pushing back, saying they already follow a web of federal laws aimed at protecting children. The bill will apply to “any online service reasonably likely to be used by children 16 and younger” including streaming services and video games. 

Pediatric ER visits for mental health care on the rise

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that examined the rates of pediatric ER visits from January 2019 through January 2022 found an increase in visits for mental health conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for girls. Visits related to disordered eating and tic disorders rose significantly. 

Doctors in Colorado told KRDO-TV in Colorado Springs they were seeing that increase first hand. “Loneliness, isolation, a loss of connection – those are really the enemies of mental health,” said Dr. Tamara Pryor, senior fellow and director of research at EDCare, an eating disorder clinic. “We very often talk about eating disorders being ‘disorders of disconnect’. A disconnect to self and others, and the pandemic just simply increased that tremendously.”

Scientists learning how exercise improves mental health

Researchers have been reporting for years that exercise is beneficial to mental health, but scientists believe they are finally beginning to understand why. According to the Washington Post, one theory is that exercise sparks the release of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the hippocampus region of the brain. Key to memory and learning, the hippocampus is typically smaller in people with depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Researchers suspect that BDNF is boosted through physical exercise and helps to alleviate these conditions. In addition to releasing BDNF, exercise encourages the release of endocannabinoids, molecules that help to change the structure of the brain.

The best part is that exercise is far more affordable than either talk therapy or medication and triggers few negative side effects. “It’s a very potent intervention to be physically active,” said Anders Hovland, a clinical psychologist at the University of Bergen in Norway. Some researchers argue that physical exercise should be prescribed as an explicit part of health and mental health care. Who can argue with boosting your mood and getting fitter at the same time? 

All aboard the Hope Buss

A nonprofit group called The Hope Buss is just weeks away from opening a structured tent city called The Hope Village for unhoused residents of Louisville, Kentucky. It’s designed as an outdoor space for up to 50 people without homes who don’t wish to enter one of Louisville’s indoor shelters. The Hope Village will offer outdoor tents, showers, and toilets, along with access to housing navigation, substance abuse counseling, and mental health support, WDRB-TV reports.

Stachelle Bussey, founder of The Hope Buss, who was listed as one of Louisville’s most notable individuals in 2020 (Credit: The Hope Buss) 

In other news…

Promoting mental health for Black students. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has partnered with Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the state for a Virtual Mental Health Summit that takes place today, February 23, from 12-3pm EST. “Peeling Back the Layers of Minority Behavioral Health” will assess the mental health needs of Black students, other students of color, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Registration is free.

Sometimes, throwing things makes you feel better.  That’s the premise, at least, behind 1:11 The Collective, a space billed as “a mental health activity center” in Southfield, Michigan. Visitors can smash plates, throw axes (safely) or beat a punching bag, but more traditional stress relief activities are available, including massage chairs, sound bath therapy, yoga, and tantra therapy for couples.

4th hotel to combat homelessness in Dallas: The current Townhouse Suites in Dallas, Texas may soon be the fourth hotel approved by the city council to be used to support people experiencing homelessness. In addition to providing transitional housing, the city is expected to partner with a local nonprofit to provide mental health, substance use, and job placement services to residents. 

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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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...