June 13, 2022

By Don Sapatkin

Good morning, MindSite News readers. Mental health professionals should beware of scams aimed directly at them. Some uplifting news in today’s edition of the Daily: states are increasingly allowing mental health days off for students, and a study in Denver finds that low-level crime dropped by a third when mental health teams were dispatched on certain calls instead of police. Plus, a psychologist shares what she told her teenage son about suicide.


Dispatching mental health teams instead of police cut low-level crime 34%, saved money

Downtown Denver (Photo: Shutterstock)

A six-month pilot program in Denver that dispatched non-police teams instead of uniformed officers to respond to certain 911 calls dramatically cut low-level crime by more than a third and, in theory, could save the criminal justice system far more money than it cost, USA Today reported. Before-and-after data published in the journal Science Advances showed a decrease in low-level crime. No change was seen in more serious crimes, which were handled, as usual, by uniformed officers. Low-level crime in surrounding precincts that were not part of the community response program increased.

Denver’s Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) Program sent a mental health clinician and a paramedic on 911 calls for assistance, intoxication, suicide concerns, trespassing and other specific codes when no criminal activity, weapons, violence or serious medical needs were involved. Researchers from Stanford mapped striking reductions in crime in participating precincts from six months before the June 2020 start to six months after, probably because the people helped by the team did not go on to commit other low-level crime, said Stanford Professor Thomas Dee, a co-author. “By providing health care, instead of an arrest, (STAR) may have prevented that recidivism, prevented the future events that might occur in the coming days and weeks,” Dee said.

The six-month pilot cost $208,000, about $151 for each of the 1,376 offenses it appeared to prevent. Handling those offenses through the criminal justice instead would have cost an estimated $646 each, suggesting the program saved far more than it cost.


Mental health scam alert

You’re a busy therapist getting ready to leave the office. Your phone rings, and it’s the police. A stern voice on the other end says you were required to serve as an expert witness in court, but you missed your subpoena. You’re told you have to pay a fine immediately or face arrest.

How should you respond? By hanging up and calling the police. This is a new variation of a phone scam in which callers pretend to be the police and try to intimidate people into sending them money. You can find out more about it at this blog or on this University of North Carolina health care alert.


Growing number of states allow student mental health days

Credit: Shutterstock

At least 11 states have policies that permit excused absences for students’ mental health – a move intended to address the nation’s teenage mental health crisis. It’s a novel ideas but will be limited in many areas by shortages of therapists who can work with students on their problems, according to a story on the NPR blog Health Shots.

“When you’re in school and not fully mentally there, it’s like you’re not really grasping anything anyway,” said Linnea Sorensen, a 17-year-old student in a Chicago suburb who said she struggles with her mental health. The Illinois law, which took effect in January after passing both legislative chambers unanimously, allows students to take five excused absences per school year for mental health reasons, no note required.

Lawmakers have also implemented mental health day policies in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and, as of last week, Washington state. Information about how often students use them is limited. Officials in Plainfield, Ill., a 25,000-student district south of Chicago, told Kaiser Health News, which partnered with NPR on the story, that 3,703 students took a combined 6,237 mental health days from January through the end of the school year.


Two reports find sharp increases in young adults identifying as trans or nonbinary

Disobeyart/Shutterstock

The percentage of U.S. residents that identify as transgender or nonbinary has long been squishy due to a lack of federal data. A large new survey found that one in 20 young adults say their gender is different from the sex assigned to them at birth, the Washington Post reported. About 1.3 percent of adults ages 30 to 49 said the same, as did 0.3 percent of those 50 and older. Among 18 to 29 year-olds, approximately 2% identify as trans men or trans women and 3% as nonbinary – meaning neither exclusively male or female. The total was roughly double previous estimates.

The Pew Research Center analysis of survey data did not give reasons for the big differences by age, but a researcher at Pew noted that “young adults tend to be more familiar with the idea of being nonbinary.” That age group also was the only one with a majority saying that they knew a trans person. Pew simultaneously released a report, based on a series of focus groups, on the experiences, challenges and hopes of transgender and nonbinary adults.

An unrelated analysis of federal health survey data that sought to identify numbers of transgender people from early teens through adulthood estimated slightly lower percentages although they, too, were considerably higher than past estimates and showed the same major generational shift, the New York Times reported: 1.4% of ages 13 to 17 were transgender, compared with 0.5 percent of all adults.

That analysis by the Williams Institute, a research center at University of California Los Angeles law school, also estimated that 1.3% of whites in the youngest age group identified as transgender compared with 1.4% of blacks, 1% of Asians and 1.8% of Latinx. State estimates varied widely based on a combination of data sets used for the statistical modeling. Blue states tended to have higher numbers and red states lower, suggesting questions about the role of peer influence or the political climate of the community, but there were notable exceptions to the pattern. Deep Blue New Jersey, for example, had the second lowest percentage of children identifying as transgender.


Talking About Suicide With Your Children

“He rolled his eyes when I said it, but I knew it had to be discussed,” licensed clinical psychologist Lee Bare recounts in a post for Psychology Today on talking to her college-bound son about suicide.

“So what did I want to tell my teenage son about suicide before he went off into the world on his own?”

  1. “It’s OK to not be OK.”
  2. “It’s OK to ask for help. And sometimes you have to.”
  3. “There are always other options.”
  4. “I will always be here.”

Parents can elaborate on these points in their own way. But to be heard, the author notes, “we have to say the words out loud.”


In other news …

Beautiful houseplants can boost well-being, but neglected plants can be worse than none at all, according to a researchers. “To benefit occupants’ well-being, sick or dead plants should be removed from the indoor environment,” according to a study published in the journal Building and Environment and summarized in a press release from the University of Reading and the Royal Horticultural Society.

Aetna canceled its in-network contract with the mental health startup Cerebral, effective Aug. 21, because of the same concerns over improper prescribing that led its parent company, CVS Health, to announce last month that it would stop filling Cerebral scripts for stimulants like Adderall, Forbes reported. Federal prosecutors issued a subpoena in early May to the company related to possible violations of the Controlled Substances Act.

The gut microbiome’s role in major depressive disorder is the focus of a MedScape interview that examined current research and where it is headed — the third in a series of 20-minute podcasts (with transcriptions) about depression.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a major proponent in Congress of the “Big Lie” that former President Donald Trump won reelection, recently attacked Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) regarding his mental health. Raskin is a member of the House select committee investigating the Jan.6 attack on the Capitol whose 25-year-old son died by suicide a week before the insurrection. Gaetz, who was grilled by Raskin last year about 2020 election claims, claimed that the Congressman was “unable to do the congressional experience outside of just the dungeon of that personal trauma,” Newsweek reported.


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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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...