January 9, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Hello MindSite News Readers. Today, find out what Seattle Public Schools say about the youth mental health crisis in their David vs. Goliath lawsuit against tech giants. We also explore the crushing mental health obstacles faced by public defenders and examine the shift in leadership in California’s State Senate Health Committee.

Plus: Some good news in the new year. A story about eight small businesses promoting community connection. A study that suggests gardening may reduce your risk of cancer and improve your mental health. And the Maternal Mental Health Hotline is still up and running.

Seattle Public Schools is suing tech giants on behalf of youth mental health

Seattle schools have filed a lawsuit against the tech companies running TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat, arguing that they’ve “created a public nuisance by targeting their products to children” and need to be held accountable for the youth mental health crisis, the Associated Press reports. The tech companies have hooked tens of millions of students on “excessive use and abuse” of the social media platforms, according to the complaint, including content that is “harmful and exploitive…such as pro-anorexia and eating disorder content.”

According to the lawsuit, SPS saw an average 30% increase in the number of students who reported feeling “so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row” from 2009 to 2019. The school district is requesting that the court force Meta, Google, Snap, and TikTok to “stop creating a public nuisance,” award damages, and pay for necessary mental health treatments related to excessive use of social media, in addition to education about safe social media use.

Public defenders: Bearing a hefty mental load with little mental health support

The decision to become a public defender hit Jenny Andrews like the proverbial “aha” moment during an undergrad internship in a public defender’s office. In law school, her professors drilled into her the importance of the work and the necessity of being wholly dedicated to it. “Having public defense sort of grow and expand into all parts of my life was actually really exciting and motivating and immersive,” Andrews told Slate. But after seven years of work that was all-consuming, Andrews gave it up. The unrelenting mental and emotional stress of wrestling injustices within the criminal legal system became too much, she said.

What Andrews thinks now: She and other public defenders who loved but left their work experienced moral injury. “It makes you feel like you came to a system to try to do something helpful, and the system is really inflicting harm – and there are times that you feel complicit in that,”Andrews explained,

Public defenders are particularly vulnerable to vicarious trauma, Andrews says, since such a “huge piece of public defense is listening to really painful stories” from their clients. It occurs when you experience the traumatic effects of a tragedy that happened to someone else, even when you didn’t experience it firsthand. Massive caseloads and clients facing terrible punishments all make for ongoing mental distress for those on the frontlines.

But public defenders who need mental health support often face significant challenges. How could you defend that person? is an oft-posed (and maddening) question from therapists unfamiliar with public defense work, according to Slate. Even with the most understanding mental health provider, the article notes, other public defenders may “self-limit” what they disclose about work stressors, out of an abundance of concern for confidentiality. And according to Andrews, the work hours are so awful that many public defenders may not be able to find the time for a therapy appointment – or even a visit to the dentist.

Co-author of California’s CARE Court law is the state senate’s new health chair

via Twitter

After playing a key role in helping Gov. Gavin Newsom pass his signature CARE Court legislation last year, California state Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman has been appointed chair of the powerful Senate Health Committee, California Healthline reports. The lawmaker and licensed social worker carried the CARE Court bill, which allows families, clinicians, first responders, and others to request involuntary hospitalization for unhoused people and others whose lives have been upended by untreated psychotic disorders and substance use.

“We see real examples of people dying every single day, and they’re dying with their rights on. I think we need to step back a little bit and look at the larger public health issue,” Eggman said of the bill prior to her appointment. “It’s a danger for everybody to be living around needles or have people burrowing under freeways.”

Despite near-unanimous support in the Democratic-controlled legislature, the bill remains unpopular with civil liberties groups, including Disability Rights California. The advocacy group contends the bill creates “a framework of coerced, court-ordered mental health treatment” and treats people with mental illness as “a separate class.”

Eggman’s shift to leadership comes as California Democrats focus their health agenda on two huge issues: homelessness and mental illness. According to HUD’s annual homelessness report, a full 30% percent of the nation’s homeless population lives in California. And a recent Stanford study showed a quarter of homeless adults in LA County live with a severe mental illness or substance use disorder. It’s also a challenging financial time for the state, which faces a $24 billion budget deficit and possible cuts to health care spending. 

In other news…

The not-so-surprising benefits of gardening: “No matter where you go, people say there’s just something about gardening that makes them feel better,” said Jill Litt, a professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Now she and her colleagues can quantify those benefits. Litt is the lead scientist in the first-ever randomized, controlled trial of community gardening, which found those who started gardening ate more fiber and got more physical activity. They also reported significantly lower levels of anxiety and stress. The study was published last week in Lancet Planetary Health. 

Update on the Maternal Mental Health Hotline: The 24/7 call center launched in May 2022 and received additional funding last month to continue operations. If you’re a mom needing support for your mental health, reach out – your calls will be answered by licensed counselors equipped with information and resources. There is no limit to the number of times you can call or how long you can stay on the line. The hotline is not a crisis line, so if you’re struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, dial 988 for emergency support. But for non-emergency help, call or text 1-HELP4MOMS anytime. Read more at AL.com.

In case you missed it: Good news stories from the online publication Goodgoodgood about eight small businesses that are building community and connection in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Cape Cod, Chicago and other places.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Type of work:

Courtney WiseReporter

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...