January 19, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s newsletter, you’ll read about the challenges that transgender youth face in states poised to restrict access to hormone therapy. You’ll also learn about the challenges facing California’s supportive housing programs. Plus: Tips for parents to support their children during the pandemic’s latest school disruption. 

Play outside! Plus other tips to help kids endure the latest school closures

Photo: Shutterstock

Parents have been bombarded by articles about the impact of school closures and social isolation, which have been linked to a rise in child and teen anxiety and depression worldwide. With this in mind, an article from CNN’s website offers some basic tips to help children thrive. Research has found that more than 3 to 4 hours of screen time is bad for kids’ mental health, so to help kids manage emotions, parents should encourage them to get outside, according to the network. The story recommends taking walks and playing sports for older kids and playdates for smaller ones, all of which help children connect with friends and burn off steam. Establishing structure through comforting routines for meals, bedtime and other activities all help to instill a feeling of control, according to CNN, which also gave shoutouts to yoga and meditation.

“The number one thing a parent can do right now isn’t catching them up academically; it is to stay calm and to convey that while things are hard right now, they will get better,” said Phyllis Fagell, a school counselor in Washington, D.C. “Help them process what’s happening in the world around them, and be a consistent, loving presence, because that is the number one predictor of resilience.”

Restrictive laws on medical care put mental health of transgender youth at risk, families say

Fourteen-year-old Zara Banks had known since elementary school she wanted to be a girl. After working with a therapist, and with approval from her parents, Zara, who lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, began taking puberty blockers at 9, according to a story in The New York Times. She was excited to finally be able to start estrogen therapy at 14, but shortly after her birthday, Arkansas passed a restrictive law – overriding the veto of Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson – that prevents doctors from giving hormones or puberty blockers to teens under 18. The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the law in court, and Zara can continue treatment in the interim. 

Fifteen other states are considering similar legislation, despite recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Endocrine Society, which say that trans youth should be able to access these medications before they turn 18 and that denying such care could be dangerous to their mental health. The Arkansas case goes to trial in July. “It’s pretty excruciating as a parent to be told by the state that it will become illegal to give your child what she needs to exist,” said Zara’s mother, Jasmine Banks. Adds Zara: “It’s not, like, other people’s decision who I am and what I’m not.”

One man’s story shows the benefits and challenges of California’s bet on supportive housing

Photo: Shutterstock

Increasing the supply of supportive housing – housing bolstered by mental health and other services – has been seen as perhaps the best way to help tens of thousands of chronically homeless people move from life on the street to life indoors. California has gone all in. Last year, lawmakers approved a two-year, $12 billion package to tackle homelessness with supportive housing at its core. This year, Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed another $1.5 billion. Is it working? CalMatters took a detailed look. 

In a beautifully reported piece, reporter Jackie Botts told the story of this effort through the life of one man, Fernando Maya, who spent years living under a freeway overpass and struggled with addiction, hearing voices, trauma, and incarceration – and then got a chance to exit the streets. In Botts’s telling, it has been an arduous journey: Maya’s struggle to get the supportive part of supportive housing exemplifies the shortcomings of an effort that researchers from USC say has been hampered by sky-high caseloads and a shortage of staff and providers that leaves people falling through the cracks.

In a companion story, experts interviewed by CalMatters identified systemic problems: Accessing promised healthcare is difficult and confusing; mental health care often translates to medication alone, leaving out much-needed, intensive counseling; understaffing, low pay, burnout, and lack of training or advancement opportunities for workers further hampers the effort.

Will things turn around? The state has a five-year plan to grow the mental health workforce, and the state will soon launch CALAim, a reform of the Medi-Cal program that will provide care coordination for people with the highest needs. A model that began in Trieste, Italy and is planned as a pilot in Hollywood will focus on helping people improve their health, maintain housing and “find love, belonging and purpose.” (See MindSite News’ story on the Trieste model and recent attacks on the program there.)

Exit interviews of officers leaving police force spur changes in Fargo

George Floyd march in Fargo, ND, May 30, 2021 (Credit: Shutterstock)

The Fargo, North Dakota, police department has seen 25 officers quit or retire in 2021, many citing severe on-the-job stress, according to an article in Inforum, a digital news outlet serving the state’s Fargo-Moorhead area. “You have cops that are struggling. You have cops that need, need, need help. And yes, you have cops that are one bad day, one bad call, one more argument at home (away) from suicide,” wrote one officer who was close to retirement and quit. What’s needed, according to new officers: A positive work environment and a better balance between hours on and off the job. Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski, who has come under heavy criticism, says his department will begin rolling out annual mental health checks.

In other news:

Nature Rx for the pandemic blues: A new study, discussed in Greater Good Magazine, shows that teenagers living in cities had much better mental health profiles if they ventured outdoors during the pandemic than their peers who stayed inside. One reason, suggests another study: Being outdoors makes us less inclined to ruminate. 

“Finding Wilson,” a new short film about post-traumatic stress disorder in young adults, will be screened this week in the United Kingdom, according to Film Industry Network. “I am sure the film will help remind people who are struggling in life that help is there for them if they reach out,” said Tristan Loraine, the producer and CEO of Fact Not Fiction Films, which produced the film in partnership with a British mental health charity. 

How much sleep should teens be getting during the pandemic? Between 8 and 10 hours of sleep nightly, according to an article in the Washington Post. If your teen isn’t getting enough shut-eye, it might just explain some truly disruptive behaviors. “When you don’t sleep well, emotional regulation is one of the first things to go,” says Lisa Meltzer, a pediatric psychologist at National Jewish Health in Denver.

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.

If Build Back Better Dies, the Biggest Losers Will be Kids

Senate Democrats’ inability to pass the Build Back Better plan is a catastrophe for poor families and their children.

Research Roundup: Nudges for Change, Screen Time for Kids

Our dilemma of the week: what’s the best option for discharging homeless patients from psychiatric hospitals?

Eco-Anxiety: The Real Tsunami of Climate Change

Kiersten Little is among the many young people who are so distressed about climate change, they’re hesitant to have children.

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