November 22, 2021

Good morning MindSite News Daily readers. In today’s newsletter, we present stories about an 87-year-old therapist who’s making the most of her “one wild and precious life” and about the work of trauma expert Gabor Mate to educate the world to the link between trauma in childhood and addiction and depression later in life. We also share an article exploring the factors behind rising rates of suicide in Black youth. We’re taking the rest of the week off for Thanksgiving but we’ll be back at you next Monday. Have a great holiday week.

What’s behind the rising rate of suicide attempts among Black kids?

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Suicide used to be thought of as a “white phenomenon,” said Michael A. Lindsey, executive director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University. But in recent decades that has changed, especially among youth, according to an article in the New York Times. Self-reported suicide attempts among Black teens have risen nearly 80% from 1991 to 2019, although the rate of attempts didn’t change significantly among children of other races and ethnicities. In addition, Black children 5 to 12 are twice as likely to commit suicide as white children in the same age group, a 2018 study shows. “I think the statistics are shocking,” Lindsey told the Times.

Many researchers now believe Black youth may have unique risk factors for self-harm, exacerbated by the lack of mental health resources in the schools, systemic racism and discrimination, along with a shortage of Black psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists, according to experts interviewed by the Times. “Talking about your family’s business with a white person — much less an outsider — is often discouraged in the Black community,” said Dr. Kali D. Cyrus, a Black psychiatrist at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., and an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University. 

At 87, psychotherapist wants to fully live her ‘one wild and precious life’

Like many people, Katharine Esty had to make some quick changes in her lifestyle when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020. A psychotherapist, she shifted her meetings with clients to Zoom, she and her boyfriend moved in together, and she spent a lot of her free time reading books and writing a professional blog. These changes were not so different from those of many other people, except that Esty is 87. She has certainly felt the weight of the pandemic, she writes in an essay in the New York Times, but for her, the risk of getting back out in the world as things open up was less worrisome than not making the most of the life she still has to live – her “one wild and precious life,” she writes, quoting the poet Mary Oliver. 

Esty, who has taken up dancing and tai chi, is thrilled to be dining with her peers again and has plans to travel. She ascribes a laissez-faire attitude to a feeling that her time is too precious to waste. “Those of us in our 80s and older are used to having death for a neighbor,” she quoted a 90-year-old friend as saying. She also tsk-tsks that some adult children have become “bossy and even tyrannical,” telling their 80-something parents that they’re not allowed to go outside. “Being in your 80s doesn’t mean you have to focus on survival,” says Esty. “It is a time to enjoy a full life. And that’s what I’m ready to do.”

To find the roots of addiction,  Gabor Maté points to childhood trauma

Addiction medicine specialist and trauma expert Dr. Gabor Maté is on a mission to convince his fellow doctors that anxiety, depression and addiction are rooted in childhood trauma. Maté is the author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. In it he explored the lives of his patients on Vancouver’s skid row and how trauma underlaid their depression, anxiety and life in a type of no-man’s zone. “Trauma fundamentally means a disconnection from self,” Maté explained in an article in Yes! magazine. “Why do we get disconnected? Because it’s too painful to be ourselves.” 

Maté learned that from his own experience. He was a baby when Nazi soldiers stormed Budapest, sending his Jewish grandparents to Auschwitz and his father to a labor camp. His terrorized mother handed him to others for safekeeping at the age of 1, where he was separated from her for weeks. He grew up to be a “workaholic” doctor, but when he started treating people with addiction, he felt oddly at home. Both overwork and addiction, he realized, were ways of trying to bury trauma and close your mind off from your true self. Unraveling the trauma of people with addiction, he suggests, can help them work through it and reclaim their authentic selves – a process he hopes to encourage in the criminal justice system.

Substandard health and mental health care in Arizona prisons amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment,” attorneys say

A trial in a federal class action lawsuit filed almost a decade ago against the Arizona state prison system has been generating headlines in recent weeks. Attorneys representing prisoners contend that conditions are substandard and cause unnecessary suffering and preventable deaths among the system’s 27,000 inmates. They want US district Judge Roslyn Silver to take over health and mental health operations in the state prisons and appoint an official to run them. This summer, Silver determined that the state had not met its obligation to improve conditions and threw out a previous settlement agreement. 

Last week, Corrections Director David Shinn testified that inmates  “often have greater access to care than I do as a private citizen,” according to an Associated Press account. Attorneys have presented disturbing examples of substandard care: a man who died from unattended infected wounds on his swollen legs; a severely distressed man with mental illness who chewed off part of his fingers; and several prisoners with mental health issues who killed themselves after being denied access to care, according to another article by the Marshall Project

Pot use during pregnancy may lead to anxiety, aggression in kids, study finds

Photo: Shutterstock

Marijuana use during pregnancy or shortly thereafter, when a mother is breastfeeding, may lead to behavioral and developmental problems in children, according to a small study covered by the New York Times. Children whose mothers consumed pot during pregnancy were more than twice as likely to be anxious, hyperactive and aggressive between the ages of 3 and 6 as the children of the same age whose mothers didn’t use cannabis during pregnancy. The study doesn’t prove that cannabis caused the problems, but the researchers did find biological changes in the placenta that suggested it is the driving force.

Some pregnant women who feel nauseous or anxious use marijuana to ease their discomfort, unaware of the potential risks, according to a study published in the International Journal of Women’s Health. Women “tend to think smoking and drinking during pregnancy need to be avoided at all costs, but not cannabis,” Yoko Nomura, a behavioral neuroscientist at Queens College, City University of New York and co-author of the new study, told the Times. “We have a long way to go to educate pregnant women, policymakers and even OB-GYN doctors on this issue.”

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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Laurie Udesky reports on mental health, social welfare, health equity and public policy issues from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area.