April 26, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. Today, we share a couple of stories about teenagers. One is a delightful and useful book about puberty and the other is a powerful narrative about the mental health crisis that is affecting so many of our teenagers, accompanied by a moving mini-doc. Also: a reprieve from execution for a Texas woman with a history of trauma who supporters say was coerced into a false confession. And a quick look at how to recognize depression in dogs and the benefits of just 15 minutes of mindfulness a day.

The AAP’s Lively, Inclusive and – Yes – Reassuring Guide to Puberty

You-ology

Many great books have narrowly escaped an awful title. Consider “Gone with the Wind,” whose original title was “Mules in Horses’ Harness.” Then we have “The Great Gatsby,” originally called “Trimal Chio in West Egg.”  And Hemingway’s widow almost dubbed his posthumous book “A Moveable Feast” with the ghastly title “The Eye and The Ear.”

In similar fashion, the co-authors for the American Academy of Pediatrics recently toyed with the name “Hello Hairy” for their new, inclusive guide to puberty. Thankfully, the gods who protect writers were apparently watching over them: The book is called “You-ology: A Puberty Guide for Everyone,” and the illustrations alone are delightful enough to make us wish we had been given this very guide when we were teens. The three co-authors are all physicians and parents, and as one explained to a National Public Radio reporter, “The idea for the book grew out of interacting with kids and seeing the need for accurate information that avoids shame.”

NPR also quoted a 12-year-old reader named Stella on the book. “I’m excited about growing up and also kind of nervous about the changes,” said Stella, who lives in Chicago and identifies as non-binary. “The book was, like, very reassuring because it told me that everything is normal and your body is doing what it needs to be doing.”


An uncontrolled mental health crisis among US teens

By some markers, teens are doing better than ever. “Young people are more educated; less likely to get pregnant, use drugs; less likely to die of accident or injury,” said Candice Odgers, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine. But there’s no mistaking the alarming, escalating trend of despair, anxiety, depression, and suicide that is now playing out among adolescents – and has been since before the Covid-19 pandemic. “We need to figure it out,” Odgers said. “Because it’s life or death for these kids.”

Odgers is among the people we meet in a moving narrative about teens in crisis, part of an 18-month reporting project, by New York Times reporter Matt Richtel. He tells their story through teens like M, a 13-year-old Minnesota girl who, over the last few years, has spiraled downward into “severe depression, self-harm, a suicide attempt.” A 15-minute mini-documentary, “Worried Sick,” accompanied the print story and offered some hope in the stories of some young people who came through the worst of their depression and anxiety.

Social media takes a lot of blame for this crisis, although the evidence is contradictory. According to Bonnie Nagel, a psychologist at the Oregon Health & Science University, the social connections often amount to seeing “pictures of people hanging out, flaunting it, as if to say, ‘Hey, I’m very socially connected,’ and ‘Hey, look at you by yourself.’” In addition, today’s adolescents get less sleep, less exercise, and less actual in-person time with their friends – and it all combines to create a sense of overwhelming loneliness and feeling lost that leads to “a cognitive implosion of anxiety, depression, compulsive behaviors, self-harm and even suicide,” Richtel writes. 

“There’s something different about this era or generation that makes them much more susceptible or vulnerable,” said Taina Gainza, a clinical social worker who lost her 15-year-old daughter Elaniv to overdose. “There’s not that community, I guess.” Added Nagel, a psychologist at the Oregon Health & Science University, “They’re hanging out with friends [online], but no friends are there.”


UPDATE: Reprieve for Melissa Lucio, lifelong trauma victim facing execution

In an update to an item in our April 14 newsletter, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals ordered a stay of execution for Melissa Lucio who was scheduled to die by lethal injection this Wednesday, convicted of murdering her two-year old daughter, Mariah Alvarez. “I thank God for my life,” Lucio said in a statement published by the New York Times. “I am grateful the Court has given me the chance to live and prove my innocence. Mariah is in my heart today and always.” The court ruled that Lucio’s defense team raised claims that need to be considered by a trial court, including that prosecutors may have used false testimony and suppressed evidence that would have supported her defense. The case will now return to a lower court for examination.

Lucio is a survivor of horrific abuse from an early age perpetrated by multiple men. Her case drew national attention from supporters and mental health experts, who contend her history of trauma led her to falsely confess, under the pressure of interrogation, to hitting her 2-year-old daughter – though not to killing her. Her children have also said that she had not hit them or Mariah. One psychologist wrote of the case that Lucio showed “a consistent pattern of ‘psychological numbing’ often identified with victims of violence and abuse.” She reported that Mariah fell down a steep staircase outside the family’s apartment in Harlingen, Texas. 


In other news…

Doggie down? Identifying depression in the four-footed set:

Photo: Shutterstock

You may know how to identify depression within other humans, but what about dogs? After the loss of a family member, an illness, or traumatic injury, dogs, too, can experience depression. Veterinary experts told MSN to look for these symptoms: unexplained low energy; eating less without an identifiable reason; a noticeable change in sleeping habits; obsessive or highly anxious behavior; and sudden aggression. If you notice these in your beloved pooch, pack him up and head to the vet.

Just 15 minutes of mindfulness per day can stave off severe mental distress. “This is the mental health equivalent of brushing your teeth before you need a root canal,” clinical psychologist Broderick Sawyer told CNN. “If we really (practice mindfulness) throughout the day, then our mental health needs less of our energy, less of our juice.” Sawyer’s advice: Practice new activities that lower your cortisol. Intentionally track those activities to see how they make you feel. Pay attention to the time of day when certain things are more effective. And don’t be afraid to adjust as needed.

Black Girl Magic makes for a great hashtag and t-shirt slogan. But does it encourage Black women to ignore their mental well-being? Might “Strong, Black and Selfish” be better? Elon University undergraduate Eukela Little was granted $20,000 to conduct research and find out. Regardless of what she discovers, Little hopes to encourage Black women to do a little more of looking out for number one. Her project, “Strong, Black and Selfish: Reframing the Strong Black Woman Persona to include Self-Care through a Mobile Health Intervention,” is an eight-week activation designed to get Black women to prioritize themselves. “We’re all trying to be magical Black girls,”  her academic advisor Buffie Longmire-Avital told The Root. “But what does that mean and how can you still be a strong Black woman that is selfish, centers self-care and recognizes that you are just human?”


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.