Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s Daily: Why are U.S. and European suicide rates moving in opposite directions? A trans lawmaker in Minnesota seeks to make her state a safe place. A skeptical writer finds transformation and solace at a mystical center in the desert. And a practical kind of therapy may help people with depression function better.

A study in contrasts: European suicide rates have been declining for decades, opposite of the U.S.

Since the turn of the century, suicide death rates have been slowly falling across Europe while swiftly climbing in the U.S. In a new analysis, researchers on the continent examined mortality data in 38 countries between 2011 and 2019, a period when suicides declined an average 20% compared with a 14% increase in the U.S. Their findings were presented at the European Congress of Psychiatry over the weekend.

The researchers determined that suicide rates dropped in 15 countries (Lithuania experienced the biggest decline, 42%), remained stable in 22 and increased in one (Turkey, up 32%). Although their study wasn’t designed to identify the reasons behind the numbers, the authors noted that all European countries are working with the World Health Organization to implement suicide-reduction measures such as limiting access to the means of suicide (pesticides, firearms, certain medications), interacting with news media for responsible reporting of suicides (to minimize copy cats), fostering socio-emotional life skills in adolescents, and early identification, assessment, and ongoing management of anyone who is affected by suicidal behaviors.

American states are working to prevent suicides as well, but sometimes at cross-purposes with partisan calls to limit firearms restrictions and remove social-emotional learning from public school curriculums. You may have heard that the national suicide rate declined a few years ago. It went back up in 2021, almost but not quite to the 2018 high, building an increase of 39% since the turn of the century. Not a single state went down.

−Don Sapatkin

With support of fellow lawmakers, Minnesota’s first trans legislator seeks to make her state a refuge

Anti-trans bills have been introduced across almost all 50 states, including Minnesota. But rather than be discouraged, the first trans legislator in Minnesota’s history, Rep. Leigh Finke, has moved to make her state a refuge for trans youth in need of gender-affirming care. Her bill will allow people traveling from states where gender-affirming care is banned to receive care in Minnesota without fear of legal prosecution. Gov. Tim Walz said he will sign the bill if it’s passed by the senate.

“In my mind, this is the most important thing that we can do…the urgency couldn’t be more real for my community,” Finke said in an interview with STAT. “We want to be the kind of state that says: If somebody needs help, we want to be a state that will help them. If you are a parent who’s concerned about your child’s future, come to Minnesota, and we will do everything in our power to make sure that you will be safe, and you will access health care that you need, and that your child needs, really, to survive.”

Finke is also a Reproductive Freedom Caucus because the two issues have so much in common. “The Venn diagram of what’s happening for trans people and what’s happening to abortion, it’s the same work,” she said. “The values of bodily autonomy and the values of the freedom to make your own health care choices, they really overlap so often.” Read the full interview here.

‘I Thought Mentalphysics Was New-Age Nonsense. Then It Changed My Life.’

Mentalphysics is probably malarkey. That’s what Eric Willis, writing in GQ, thought when he went to check out Mentalphysics – “an obscure kind of superyoga founded nearly a century ago” – at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center in the Southern California desert. Adherents claim the practice imbues them with power to do what its founder, Edwin J. Dingle, promised when he founded Mentalphysics in 1927: “advance evolutionarily in Mind, Body, and Spirit and to live as long as I desire, to achieve whatever I wish.” 

Dingle, an English adventurer who walked across China (and wrote about it) in 1909, developed the practice as a “combination of meditation, mantras, and pranayama, or breathing exercises – all in the pursuit of the ‘scientific principles of self-mastery,’” Willis writes. Dingle came to Joshua Tree in 1941 and had some interesting sensations. He saw light emanating from Heaven and heard a voice directing him to build a city. He did, creating a retreat center designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd. Dingle amassed thousands of followers before he died in 1972. 

Willis, the GQ writer, made his way to the center hoping for relief – from anxiety and grief from his mother’s death, as well as some direction after leaving his job. The effects of the practice were noticeable right away, Willis said, and they changed his life. “In a way I was reborn,” he writes. No single moment caused his transformation, he says, but the breath work and meditation worked together to lift him from the burden of his stresses – not by taking them away, but by giving him the clarity to manage them. It was like Andre Le Fernier, the last known practitioner to have studied under Dingle, told him:

“You become more clairvoyant. Which is not magic, it’s just that a person under stress doesn’t see what’s going on around them, but a person that’s calm, they notice all kinds of things, and if you notice things, you can foresee things.” 

Occupational therapy to treat mood disorders?

It never occurred to me, but M. Terry Bowman argues in a guest column for the Seattle Times that it should be included as standard practice for the treatment of anxiety, depression, grief, and trauma. 

“As an occupational therapist for more than 25 years with experience in inpatient treatment, jails and communities in Washington and California, I have worked with people who struggle to get out of bed, who are withdrawn and have low self-esteem and who find it difficult to concentrate or follow directions,” Bowman writes. “My role is to identify the skills necessary to do an activity, including cognitive, physical, emotional and environmental factors. I then break down the components of a task, modify as needed, and make recommendations to improve the ease of doing it.”

In other news…

“I sometimes wish there were a Sobrietor for suicide,” writes Canadian philosopher and author Clancy Martin in his latest book, How Not to Kill Yourself: A Portrait of the Suicidal Mind, published today by Pantheon Books. (A sobrietor, by the way, is a device that remotely tests alcoholics to see if they’ve been drinking.) According to a review of the memoir in the New York Times, Martin has survived ten suicide attempts, the first of which occurred nearly 50 years ago when he was just six years old. Besides sharing his story, he hopes to “help others as he has been tempted,” much like Andrew Solomon’s 2001 memoir and historical survey on depression, The Noonday Demon, helped him. 

Finland is sponsoring free trips to “the happiest country in the world” for ten people after clinching its sixth consecutive happiness title on the World Happiness Report earlier this year. The catch? Your four-day stay will include a four-day Masterclass of Happiness, and your experiences will be filmed as content for the social media and marketing of Finland’s tourism board, reported NPR. You’ve also got to make a post on Instagram or TikTok explaining your interest in entering the contest. 

Does childhood trauma affect girls and boys differently? An international team of psychiatric researchers says yes, reported Neuroscience News. While adverse childhood experiences increase the risk of psychiatric symptoms in both genders in adulthood, certain experiences seem to affect men and women differently, said lead researcher Thanavadee Prachason. Emotionally or sexually abusive experiences in childhood increase the risk of mental health scars in women, but men seem more susceptible to negative mental health effects following emotional or physical neglect in childhood. 

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 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...