June 27, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s newsletter you’ll find multiple mental health angles on two of the biggest stories — and societal disruptions — of the year, both emanating from the Supreme Court: the flat-out reversal of women’s longstanding right to an abortion, with potentially devastating impacts on people of color and those with low incomes. You also find the rejection of a century-old law in New York state — and others by extension — that prohibits carrying concealed weapons, softened ever so slightly by President Biden’s signing of the first gun safety legislation to pass Congress in years.

Also today: The impact of growing up with a challenged sibling, products with high THC levels that are making some teens sick, and a look at three MindSite News originals, including a pair of stories on the new PBS documentary on the youth mental health crisis.

Plus: Four young voices on the new PBS documentary

This week we bring you MindSite News culture writer Sarah Henry’s review of PBS’s new Ken Burns Presents two-part, four-hour documentary “Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness,” which features raw accounts of young people sharing their harrowing mental health struggles, along with a commentary piece on the film by four young people from Youthcast Media Group. The documentary, directed by brothers Erik and Christopher Loren Ewers, premieres at 9 Eastern tonight and tomorrow night on PBS and the PBS video app

This week we also bring you When Gayness was a Crime and a Mental Illness: One Man’s Journey from Involuntary Confinement to Pride. The story, written by Lee Romney and Jenny Johnson, takes us back to a dark era before the rights of gay people were recognized – and as KQED noted, that era now seems less far away than it used to.

Indeed, the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v Wade makes clear that the removal of a woman’s right to privacy and bodily autonomy might now be extended to the rights of LGBTQ+ people as well. Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurring opinion, wrote that the court “should reconsider” three other decisions, including a 1965 case that granted married couples the right to contraception, a 2003 case that struck down sodomy laws, and the landmark 2015 case giving gay couples the right to marry.

The article is a collaboration between MindSite News and KQED Public Radio‘s The California Report Magazine. And don’t miss the KQED audio documentary: you can listen to it here.


Abortion ruling “deliberately pushing people into a psychological crisis”

Credit: Twitter

Among the greatest aftershocks of Friday’s Supreme Court decision to abruptly claw back American women’s half-century-old right to an abortion and turn that decision over to the states is its impact on the mental health of women, according to an article in Fortune magazine. In fact, more than half the female population lives in states that are expected to ban abortion.“We are setting up a situation where we are deliberately pushing people into a psychological crisis,” said Frank C. Worrell, president of the American Psychological Association. Especially individuals who are low-income and people of color.

Black women disproportionately live in states that are planning to ban abortion, which they seek at higher rates than white women, partly due to lower access to contraception and higher likelihood of dangerous complications in pregnancy, which lead to higher rates of maternal death, according to a Washington Post opinion piece. And they are 75% more likely to be uninsured (plus, Medicaid abortion coverage is limited), although all kinds of insurance coverage is are about to become more complicated for women in most red states, according to MarketWatch. Research known as the Turnaway Study has also shown that people denied abortions “faced years of economic hardship, which had a negative impact on the financial security of their children, and on the mental health of the caretakers.”

The overturning of Roe v Wade will have an outsize effect on sexual minorities as well: 22.8% of lesbians and 27% of bisexual women who have been pregnant have had abortions compared with 15% of heterosexual women; a third of trans people have considered it, according to an NBC News piece.

According to a commentary by New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino, a comprehensive review of the history of abortion access in this country suggests that in the current hyper-partisan, culture war-obsessed climate, abortion bans could be much worse for women than in the past, even more cruel than they were before the landmark 1973 decision. Experts say that ending access to abortions will have a host of surprising and below-the-radar impacts on various groups: miscarriages and stillbirths, which can lead to depression and anxiety that often does not dissipate quicky, are likely to rise as women are forced to bring troubled pregnancies to term. And according to the Psychiatric Times, unwanted babies, especially those conceived through rape or incest, will sometimes be born and raised by traumatized mothers who, in the worst-case scenario, reject them, leading to lifelong mental health problems for the new generation.


When a challenged or disabled sibling pulls the focus away from you

BearPhotos/Shutterstock

In the movies, mentally disabled (or autistic or terminally ill) children invariably have loving, caring, totally devoted siblings who gain at least as much as they give and lean into feel-good Hollywood endings. In real life, not always.

Well sibling syndrome describes how “normal” brothers and sisters often feel when all their parents’ attention is taken up by the troubled child: invisible, ignored, excluded and alienated, emotions that they tend to keep inside to avoid stressing their parents. Their intense childhood experiences might lead to lifelong behavioral patterns (avoidance, self-reliance, eagerness to please), although few researchers have examined that area of family dynamics. 

The syndrome covers many disparate situations, Discover Magazine explains in a fascinating glimpse at an overlooked issue. A sibling’s terminal illness starts with a diagnosis that disrupts the family and eventually ends with a deep loss. For siblings with certain mental illnesses, the household rhythms may change abruptly with the child’s mood. The cost of caring for a sick or disabled child may force many families to cut back on playthings for the well siblings or ask them to hand over their beloved toys to their ill or challenged sibling. The result: resentment.


Supreme Court expands gun rights, and Congress funds mental health

Prixel Creative/Shutterstock

Along with erasing the right to abortion, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority also overturned a long-established gun control law — in this case, a strictest-in-the-nation 1911 New York state statute restricting concealed carry licenses, which was enacted in the wake of a sensational murder-suicide committed with a .38 caliber pistol during a period of skyrocketing gun violence. The decision will challenge states with similar laws and is likely to further increase the partisan divide. 

Two days after the court ruling and barely a month after a teen used an AK-47 purchased legally shortly after his 18th birthday to kill 19 elementary school students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, President Biden on Saturday signed into law a gun safety compromise measure that represented the first congressional action on gun violence in years. It provides billions of dollars for mental health, which experts say will have no impact on mass shootings, but is badly needed in other ways.

Another chunk of money will help states enforce red flag laws intended to catch potentially dangerous people who want to buy a gun. Red flag laws can be effective but also raise worries about abuse. Legislators in red states like Texas have little interest in adopting them. Many blue states like New Jersey already have them — and are now scrambling to identify as many “safe places” as they can where the high court said concealed weapons could be banned.. 

One of the most significant provisions in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will fund an expansion of clinics dedicated to mental health and addiction. Two senators have been working for more than a decade to create more clinics and reduce the burden of crisis mental health care for emergency rooms and the police — a gap that dates to the national movement to close psychiatric hospitals in the 1960s and treat mentally ill people in their communities, but which in practice often sent many out on the streets with minimal treatment. Beginning in 2014, Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics were funded in a limited number of states and successfully kept some people with addiction or mental health problems in treatment and out of ERs and prisons. The new legislation suggests that 10 new states will be able to opt into the federally funded program every two years, according to Bloomberg News.


In other news…

Products with THC levels approaching 100% are making some teens, who buy them illegally but easily, dangerously ill and highly dependent on the drug, the New York Times Well newsletter reported.

Suicide attempts by high school-age youths dropped 16%, on average, in states that enacted hate crime laws intended to protect LGBTQ youth — not just for sexual minorities but also for heterosexual kids, HealthDay News reported, citing a study published in the journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law.

Mobile, Ala., will pay homeless people to pick up litter, with “building relationships” the ultimate goal, an official told WTOK-TV, so that the city and its homeless ministries can provide wrap-around services. The pilot program will start small: five homeless residents will be paid $9 an hour for 60 days starting in August at a cost to the city of nearly $30,000.

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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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...