April 28, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Hello MindSite News readers. Today we’re featuring a MindSite Original story on strategies to end the campus suicide crisis: A movement led by youth and mental health nonprofits, aided by researchers and concerned professors. We also feature an investigation on unliveable SRO hotels used to house the formerly homeless in San Francisco and a mother’s plea to remember that all the unhoused people on the streets are someone’s child, possibly hers. Plus, talk therapy may be a far better treatment for people with dementia than medication.


Young Advocates Take the Lead to Curb Campus Suicides

Image credit: Shutterstock

When the campus alert system at the University of California at Los Angeles notified students of a possible shooter on campus this February and ordered them to shelter in place, senior Meera Varma found herself surrounded by frightened students. She told the alarmed undergrads hunkered down in her dorm it was okay to be scared – a technique she’d learned in a mental health training. 

“Residents told me they were really nervous, they didn’t know what to do,” said Varma, a resident advisor at the dorm. “I validated their feelings and told them you’re not alone in feeling scared. I told them I appreciated that they trusted me and wanted to come to me.” She then assured them that she could refer them to the counseling center once the danger was over. 

The tool that Varma used, which goes by the acronym VAR – validate, appreciate, refer – was created by a national mental health organization for students called Active Minds. The group teaches thousands of students crisis intervention technique each year in 600 campus chapters.  The young advocates in Active Minds — some of whom had earlier tried to kill themselves — are among those leading a movement to stop student suicides through peer support, connection, and innovative strategies such as distributing backpacks featuring stories of loss and hope in a campaign called “Send Silence Packing.” Learn more in this engrossing story by education writer Holly Korbey.


SF’s SRO housing for homeless so abysmal that tenants prefer the streets

The city of San Francisco is spending $160 million per year to shelter part of its unhoused population in tiny one-room apartments neglected by city leaders and regulators and plagued by code violations, squalor, and death. A year-long investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle revealed the ecosystem that includes the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, or HSH, and local nonprofits to house people in roughly 70 single-room-occupancy hotels, or SROs, is simply not working.

Image credit: Twitter

SROs done properly, according to peer-reviewed research, are the best way to address homelessness, offering people housing stability, supplemental resources, and other support to manage or overcome poor mental and physical health, addiction, and poverty. They’re designed to provide people with “permanent supportive housing” until they can secure independent housing of their own. But this is not happening in SF: data on the 515 tenants no longer in an SRO in 2020 showed that 25% died, another 21% returned to the streets, and 27% more left without specifying a destination. 

With the choice between an SRO or sleeping on the streets, some tenants found the streets a better option, particularly after experiencing mold, roaches, bedbugs, broken elevators and a rodent infestation so severe that one woman pitched a tent in her room to keep away mice at night.

Equally discouraging, some case managers assigned to SROs have a caseload five times greater than the federal recommendation and their facilities receive less than half the allotment necessary to properly support tenants in need of mental and physical health care, job training, and other assistance. While it’s not all bad news—the city’s Garland Hotel was recently renovated to address its deplorable conditions—the city has not managed to repair the years of neglect for the majority of San Francisco’s SROs, much to the detriment of a growing homeless population. 

A mother’s plea for compassion for “the homeless”

Illustration: IFH/Shutterstock

The scores of unhoused people across the nation aren’t abstractions. They’re real people with families and friends who love them —and Shannon Jones wants you to remember that. In a Washington Post guest column entitled “That Homeless Person Could Be Someone’s Son. Mine, For Instance,” Jones writes about her experience of mothering a son who is mentally ill and homeless despite her and her husband’s ongoing attempts at keeping him housed and in touch with his caseworker:

 “Homelessness makes people uncomfortable, particularly in my world,” Jones writes. “I’m a real estate agent, and homes are my livelihood. And yet my son is homeless. I wonder when people see him on the street, when they see him sleeping on a sidewalk or a bus bench, do they know he has a story? Do they care? Or do they just walk by, not really seeing him, perhaps looking the other way? I hope they offer him a smile or a kind word. I try to do that when I encounter other homeless people, because I know that they are someone’s son or daughter, maybe someone’s father or mother, cousin or friend. And they all have stories.”

UCL study suggests talk therapy may help people with dementia

Ocskay Mark/Shutterstock

Here’s some good news for people with dementia: Talk therapy may alleviate the depression and anxiety that is common to the disease, according to research from University College London published by the Cochrane Library. It’s a big deal, explained lead author Dr. Vailiki Ortega to the Evening Standard, because the only available treatment is antidepressants, which often don’t work in patients with dementia. Instead, she and her team say people with dementia should have the same access to mental health care as everyone else.

“Our findings break the stigma that psychological treatments are not worthwhile for people living with cognitive impairment and dementia,” Ortega said. Adds co-author Dr Phuong Leung: “There is now good enough quality evidence to support the use of psychological treatments for people with dementia, rather than prescribing medications, and without the risk of drug side effects.”

In other news … 

Are you wanting mental health support, but hesitate to seek it for fear that it may cost too much? Check out some of these suggestions from MLive to find mental health care that you can afford. A couple of the tips are specific to the state of Michigan, where the publication is based, but most are relevant to people anywhere in the US.

Partisan politics are undermining the lives of students, say advocates of building a mental health center inside Connecticut’s Killingly High School. They say that, despite the prevalence of depression and anxiety among students, conservatives have opposed the center over concerns about students receiving counseling about “controversial topics.” But Seth Varin, a senior at KHS who struggles with depression and anxiety, told the CT Mirror, “They’re putting politics over students. Even if it saves one person, I feel like it would be beneficial.”

A summer YA read: In the Key of Us, released earlier this week by author Mariama J. Lockington, tells the story of one summer in the lives of Andi and Zora, two Black queer girls who meet at the mostly white, prestigious Harmony Music Camp, their experiences with racism, self-harm, and mental health, and of course, young love. As a bonus, Lockington included a list of mental health resources for Black women and girls, and LGBTQIA+ youth in the book.

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.