July 8, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s edition, we look at Texas juvenile detention facilities that are on the verge of collapse, which may lead the state to consider a solution promoted by youth advocates across the country: closing youth prisons in favor of community-based or family-centered programs. We also look at Nature Rx for people of color, new interest in group therapy, licenses for art therapists and more.

“The system is collapsing:” Kids in juvenile lockups 24 hours a day in Texas at risk of suicidal behavior

A severe staffing shortage within the Texas Juvenile Justice Department has reached its apex, according to the Dallas Morning News. Shandra Carter, the agency’s interim executive director, informed state officials that the department has far exceeded its capacity to serve the youth already in its care, let alone house any new young people awaiting transfer. “Our people are exceptionally exhausted,” she said. “We have placed so much strain on the system, and asked so much of people, that it is collapsing.”

Carter testified to state legislators last month that the department had a 71% turnover rate in 2021 and struggles to retain staff. With a typical shift for juvenile correctional officers currently at 12 hours, regularly scheduled mandatory overtime pushes the workday to 16 hours or more. The staffing challenges have forced the department to keep youth confined to their rooms rooms up to 22 hours a day —not for safety reasons—but because there is no one available to supervise them elsewhere.As Brett Merfish, director of youth justice at nonprofit advocacy group called Texas Appleseed, “Putting youth in solitary confinement is a terrible thing to do, period. It’s really a bad situation.”

This makes it harder to intervene and curb already occurring suicidal behaviors among youth, Carter wrote in a letter obtained by the Dallas Morning News. This testimony follows news last October of a U.S. Justice Department civil rights investigation into allegations of physical and sexual abuse at the juvenile lockups. 

Opening nature’s mental health benefits to communities of color

Last week, we shared the benefits of forest bathing uncovered by Japanese researchers, and just about every month, we run across another article extolling the positive effect time in nature can have on one’s mental health. Today we’re sharing a piece that promotes Nature Rx for people of color  – while acknowledging the outdoors hasn’t always been an accessible, safe or welcoming place for them.

As The New York Times reports, Black people were legally banned from lots of outdoor recreational spaces for years, with many state and national parks posting signs that read “For Whites Only” well into the 1950s. Even today, Black people may experience discrimination and violence while trying to enjoy the outdoors. Birdwatcher Christian Cooper was harassed in Central Park in May 2020, and earlier that same year, Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down in Georgia while jogging. The article adds that  “a 2020 analysis by the Center for American Progress found that Black, Hispanic and Asian communities are three times as likely as white people to live in nature-deprived areas, or areas affected by urban sprawl, drilling, mining or logging.” Simply put, it hasn’t always been easy for everybody to find solace outdoors.

All that’s not to say people of color shouldn’t look for peace outside: It’s certainly possible to find. Groups like Black to the Land organize in cities like Detroit to reconnect Black and Latinx communities to nature with lots of resources, guides, and emotional support. There are also mental health providers like Laura Marques Brown, a clinician at Anchored Hope Therapy in Maryland, which offers ecotherapy for low-income people of color. “Acknowledging the racist history of the outdoors is an important first step toward making people of color feel safer in nature,” she said. After opening an initial one-on-one outdoor session by walking clients through the history of the Indigenous land the clinic occupies, Marques Brown has an avenue to help clients establish their own relationship to the land, too. “I tell my clients that when we go outside, we are with generations of family,” she said.

Licenses for art therapists?

Art therapy might be perfect for you. After all, you don’t have to be a trained artist to do it; you don’t even have to be especially creative. Art therapists work with clients of all ages and from different walks of life, supporting healing in young children, elderly patients with dementia, and everyone in between. “Art has this amazing way of gently but powerfully moving through walls we’ve put up in our lives, often not consciously,” art therapy professor Sara Roizen told The Boston Globe

With long wait lists for help exacerbated by a national shortage of licensed mental health providers, some also argue it’s time to streamline the path to licensure to get more people access to the help they need. Though art therapists are trained and have to earn professional credentials from the Art Therapy Credentials Board, most states do not offer a license for practicing art therapy. Since 2019, Massachusetts State Senator Diana DiZoglio has been campaigning to pass a bill in the state to establish licensure for art therapists. “We desperately need increased access to mental health services across the board in the state of Massachusetts, especially post-pandemic,” she said. “Art therapy is something that has proven to be incredibly effective and helpful for folks struggling with mental health challenges.”

Struggling to find private therapy? Maybe give group sessions a try

There’s been a shortage of mental health providers since before the pandemic, and COVID has increased demand. Not surprisingly, securing private therapy is tough for a lot of people right now. Besides telehealth or AI therapy, a more classic innovation may be able to offer help: group counseling, according to the Washington Post.

Angela Lundberg told the Post that she worried about sharing her personal life with strangers but that she was also desperate enough to give group therapy a try. She’s glad she did. “The main benefit was being part of a caring group of people,” she said. “I looked forward to seeing them each week, and it helped me feel less alone.”

Group therapy can be helpful for a number of conditions, including depression and anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, grief, postpartum depression, and more. Vaile Wright, senior director of health-care innovation at the American Psychological Association, said true group therapy is led by a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist, social worker or psychiatrist, who is trained to provide “competent group therapy.” To find one, reach out to your doctor for a referral. You can also browse online directories at sites like Psychology Today and the American Group Psychotherapy Association.

In other news…

Disability often intersects with domestic violence. In this offering from Yes! magazine, Angela Kim shares how her struggles with OCD made it difficult to navigate an abusive relationship – and the four srategies she’s learned since getting out of it that can aid domestic violence survivors with disabilities.

Mental health advocates in the state of Connecticut are appalled by a federal court ruling that allows behemoth health insurer, United Behavioral Health, to make choices on coverage for mental health needs based on its company’s proprietary guidelines, rather than generally accepted standards of medical care. It’s a decision that opponents say will have negative effects across the country.

Ever wanted to change your personality? In Psychology Today, clinical psychologist Barbara Greenberg explores new research that suggests by changing your outlook on the world, you can. (Dr. Greenberg is an advisory board member for MindSite News.)

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889. 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...