March 10, 2022

Good morning MindSite News readers. Can forgetfulness be a blessing? Sometimes, it can, says a neuroscientist in a New York Times essay. YA fiction is often unforgettable – and can be a valuable way for young readers to learn about mental illness and pick up some coping skills. Plus, coping with vicarious trauma and reframing negativity – useful skills for the Pandemic 20s. And more.

Forgetting can be a boon to healing

Forgetting, says Scott A. Small, can be a gift. He should know: Forgetting is the heart of his work as a neuroscientist who studies memory and memory disorders and is the subject of his book Forgetting: The Benefits of Not Remembering. In yesterday’s New York Times, Small wrote about the necessity of our collective remembrance of what the COVID-19 pandemic has taken from us – and hopefully, how it has changed us – while also acknowledging that for most of us the present pain will fade over time. For him, knowing that we will forget some parts of these difficult years is a comfort and an important key to protecting our mental health. 

Many researchers previously thought that forgetting anything demonstrated a malfunction in the systems connected to the brain’s memory. But new discoveries show that the previous viewpoint was limited in scope. “Memory and forgetting work in unison,” writes Small. “While it is often beneficial to remember the facts of a traumatic experience, sometimes even in pointillist detail, it is equally – if not more – important to the healing process to let the emotional valence of it fade. If we don’t, we can get stuck in total emotional recall, reviving our distress in perpetuity.” 

Alzheimer’s, of course, is a different beast – one that Small groups into “unhealthy kinds of forgetting.” But Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia notwithstanding, forgetting, it seems, is the process of letting some emotional memory go in order to make room for more.


Young Adult fiction can model coping skills for troubled youth

Grownups aren’t the only folks who need models to successfully navigate challenges with mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 17 percent of children aged 6 to 17 experience a diagnosable mental health condition. The good news is there’s a growing library of relatable content for youth to mine and feel less stigmatized or alone. School Library Journal reports that an expanding community of middle grade and young adult fiction authors are featuring authentic depictions of mental illness and its prevalence.

     Image credit: School Library Journal

That pop culture reference point is crucial. NAMI found that students living with mental illness are more likely to have to repeat a grade or not graduate from high school, so seeing their own experiences reflected in the books they read is a big deal. Just as importantly, the authors writing these stories know their readers’ struggles because they also lived them. Many manage mental illnesses themselves or love someone who does. As Sangu Mandanna, author of Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom, told the library journal, “There are a number of publishing professionals, librarians, book buyers, and parents who believe topics like mental illness are too big or too dark for young readers, which makes it harder to get these stories into those readers’ hands.” But the skill of these new authors is illustrated by their ability to create stories that tackle the pain of opioid addiction, sexual harassment, and even eating disorders with honesty, transparency – and hope.


Mitigating an episode of vicarious trauma 

Vicarious trauma is a condition in which distress is absorbed through observation, rather than direct personal contact. It can affect anyone, but is often found among professionals like therapists, doctors, military personnel and journalists who experience frequent exposure to trauma. To help people manage good levels of work health, Forbes author Dr. Bryan Robinson published 7 tips to protect your mental health and well-being in times of trauma and uncertainty, like the ongoing pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Among Robinson’s tips are limiting your exposure to the news cycle, engaging in calming activities, and taking direct action to lessen the impact of the issue causing you trauma, such as participating in an organized protest or donating aid relief (see our story What to Do When The World Is Ending); and following basic tenets of self-care. As CNN anchor Alysin Camerota told Robinson: “I’ve always been able to compartmentalize the losses and not carry them home. But I’m also aware that on some unknown level it takes its toll. I can easily get myself into that alpha state because my body doesn’t like to be at that fever pitch. I dial it back, write in my journal or stare out the window at the leaves.”


Reframing negativity at work

“Negativity is a virus,” writes Christine Porath. The Georgetown business professor and author of the forthcoming Mastering Community: The Surprising Ways Coming Together Moves Us From Surviving to Thriving used her own research as evidence. In an excerpt from the book shared by the website Thrive, Porath explained that people don’t tend to realize the impact their own energy and feelings can have on others. But that impact is real. In a study, she analyzed negativity among 137 managers enrolled in an executive MBA program. She found that their negativity led to decreased effort and output at work – and often spread to their colleagues. 

To keep from undermining their workplace, Porath asserts that people should try to reframe negative feelings. She recommends saying “this is challenging” rather than “this is the worst”; acknowledging progress, especially in tough situations; and reminding team members of past wins.

In other news…

Burnout is bad enough by itself, but it may lead to worse conditions. Bustle magazine reports that while there has yet to be a causal link found between burnout, depression, and anxiety, the two mental health conditions are associated with burnout – and in extreme cases, suicidal ideation. If that weren’t enough, scientists have found that the long-term stress from burnout on the body can lead to chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, muscle and joint pain, digestive and respiratory problems, and even early death. 

Roughly four months after the AstroWorld festival tragedy that claimed the lives of 10 people in a crowd surge, musician Travis Scott has announced Project HEAL, an event safety initiative supported by an initial investment of $5 million from his own coffers. Billboard reports that the project is funding the US Conference of Mayors Task Force of Event Safety to develop ways to prevent suffocation and crushing in deadly crowd surges in large venues. Project HEAL is also expected to launch a free crisis-care hotline and online channel to support youth mental health. The hotline and online portal are expected to be 100 percent staffed by fully licensed behavioral health professionals, with Houston-based mental health expert Dr. Janice Beal leading the effort.

Even before the pandemic, veterinarians were identified as a community at high risk for suicide. They’re roughly three times more likely than the general public to die by suicide, according to a 2018 study published by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Earlier this week, an audio story published by San Francisco’s KQED examines the mental health challenges facing veterinarians and vet techs, and what can be done to help them. 


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.


What to Do When the World Is Ending

I am part of a generation that feels, constantly, and even in the most mundane moments, that the world is ending. Almost every article I read these days begins with the same preamble listing all of the overlapping crises.

More Latino Men Dying By Suicide Even as National Rate Declines

U.S. suicide rates fell slightly in 2019 and again in 2020, the CDC reported last month. But there were some stark outliers. Suicides among Latino men increased by nearly 6 percent.

When Positivity Becomes Toxic

We are in the #GoodVibesOnly age, and it’s kind of a bummer. The book Toxic Positivity points the way toward authenticity.

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Courtney Wise

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