June 4, 2022

Greetings, MindSite News readers. No, we haven’t started a weekend newsletter – but for some inexplicable reason, we just realized that our Thursday morning newsletter didn’t go out. This was also a problem because we wanted to let you know in advance that our research newsletter, which normally goes out on Fridays, was taking a hiatus. Oops. Apologies, and now let’s go back to Thursday morning’s newsletter (to a time before the Golden State Warriors had lost game 1 of the NBA Finals – and please forgive me for betraying my basketball bias).

-Rob Waters

By Courtney Wise

In today’s edition, we hear from Arda Öcal, a sportscaster of Turkish descent, about feeling othered, and from Stanford basketball star Mikaela Brewer about her struggles with mental health. Plus, a maternal mental health program has great success in India – and then loses its funding. And more.

Also, an update: Our Research Roundup, which normally comes to you on Fridays will be taking a brief summer hiatus to allow for some R&R.

Protecting the mental health of student athletes

For much of the spring, the mental health crisis among college athletes has been front of mind on campus. Athletes in numerous sports have attempted or committed suicide. One of them, former Stanford basketball player Mikaela Brewer, wrote about her experience in a column in Global Sports Matters that was republished by Slate

“Athletes train to perform, compete, and thrive under pressure,” Mikaela Brewer writes. “This pressure doesn’t go away outside of training and competition. In non-sport environments, the ability to perform under pressure mutates into an internal pressure to perform all the time.” Athletic departments must be cognizant of their responsibility to “train young humans to be great athletes,” rather than pressuring young athletes to be superhuman. 

Brewer also urges that athletes be taught that having mental toughness doesn’t mean that they don’t need help, and help doesn’t always have to come in the midst of a crisis. In fact, she says, maintaining good mental health is a lot like the ongoing practice of staying physically well. 

Names offer history, identity, and belonging

What’s in a name? At the surface, given names offer a hint about where a person belongs, their family history, their culture. Underneath, they’re emblematic of personal identity and affirmation. They also may represent an evolution in one’s relationship to place and power. In the case of Black Americans like Amiri Baraka, bell hooks, or even Tina Turner, they are proof positive of self-determination and self-possession. In this spirit, journalist Arda Öcal reveals in Andscape his journey to fully embrace his given name, both personally and professionally.

The Canadian-born sports broadcaster is the only child of Turkish immigrants. Growing up, he often found himself the only Muslim or Middle Eastern student at school. Even harder to find was representation in pop culture. Muslims in TV and film were terrorists or evil henchmen. Muhammad Ali and Hakeem Olajuwon were powerful examples of the peaceful nature of Islam, but didn’t share his culture. Öcal’s father encouraged him to hide his identity. “You don’t want people to judge you just because of your background, no matter how good of a person you are,” he said. 

At one point, Öcal considered changing his name to Adam but instead changed his mind. Then he had an experience at ESPN that affirmed his choice. As one of the only Muslim and Middle Eastern SportsCenter anchors in the show’s 42-year history, a graphics producer made an error with his name onscreen. And that’s when things got good. “I got an email from the graphics producer apologizing for neglecting to put the umlaut over the “O” on my last name,” Öcal wrote. “He assured me it would be correct moving forward…The kid who once felt like he never fit in was now getting an umlaut put on his name without even needing to raise his hand!”

Indian maternal mental health hotline fights to survive

Back in 2018, two nonprofit groups wanted to address the severe lack of maternal mental health services in the rural Samastipur district in India’s Bihar province. So Innovators in Health and the Schizophrenic Research Foundation got funding to set up a free hotline. Mothers who called could hear pre-recorded messages featuring songs about maternal mental wellbeing, have a phone conversation with a trained counselor, or even have a counselor come to their homes.

As part of the effort, 14 local women got trained as lay mental health counselors, including Swetanjali Jha. The work was challenging, especially getting members of a crowded household to accept them. “You can’t really walk into a house which has at least 10 to 12 people and say I am here to provide therapy to your daughter-in-law or wife,” Jha told CNN. “We had to keep the baby at the center.” The hotline became a lifeline for expectant mothers. Women got support, learned terms like depression and anxiety and began using recommended techniques like breathing exercises.

But its funding didn’t come from the government and despite its success, the program ran out of money and closed. Now women like Jha, who learned so much from the training, feel an obligation to continue, even though they no longer get paid. Dr. Vijaya  Raghavan, a psychiatrist with the Schizophrenic Research Foundation, says the program must become a national project. “The only option is if these mental health projects are integrated into the country’s healthcare system,” he said.

In other news…

Teens Faiza Ashar and Matt Suescun are hosting the second season of “On Our Minds,” a podcast sponsored by PBS Newshour’s Student Reporting Labs and WETA’s Well Beings campaign. “It’s honestly all about teenage mental health and having healthy conversations about how teens deal with their mental health and how teens experience mental health,” Ashar told WJZ-Baltimore. The podcast is free to listen to and is available wherever you get your podcasts. 

There’s been a great deal of shared grief these past few weeks – for adults and kids. If you’ve been wrestling with how to help your child navigate their feelings, or even just trying to decide where to get help, mental health expert Dr. Michael Lindsay spoke to BET.com about how to recognize and talk about grief with your kids – and help them find positive ways to process it.

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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Courtney Wise

Courtney Wise Randolph is a writer and creative based in Detroit, Michigan.