Wednesday, April 12, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite News readers! In today’s edition: Taking a cue from John Fetterman, four members of Congress came forward to publicly share their mental health struggles. Therapy dogs are joining the Orange County fire department. And growing numbers of college students are feeling so stressed, they’re considering dropping out or taking a break.

The Fetterman effect: Four members of Congress step up to discuss their mental health struggles

For mental health advocates – and millions of Americans – Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman’s act in stepping forward to disclose his battle with depression and decision to get treatment was inspiring. It also has inspired some of his colleagues. This week, Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota and Representatives Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Ruben Gallego of Arizona and Ritchie Torres of New York shared their mental health journeys with ABC News.

“Telling our stories is a form of public service,” Torres said. “I felt like I had a profound obligation to confront the culture of silence and stigma and shame that often surrounds the subject of mental health.” 

Moulton and Gallego shared their ongoing struggles with PTSD, stemming from their service in Iraq with the Marines. Torres spoke about living with major depression and surviving attempts at suicide. “I never thought I would make it to the United States Congress,” he said. Smith’s recollections of battling depression in her undergrad years and again as a new mother were moving to me since both of these experiences have also been mine.

The four legislators acknowledged that stigma affected how they previously moved in public. Torres, who is gay, said that when he first ran for office 10 years ago, he was more comfortable being open about his sexuality than his mental health struggles – and a political opponent tried to weaponize the issue against him, he said. 

Public sentiment has changed enough to make the four legislators, all Democrats, feel safe stepping forward, particularly after seeing the support Fetterman received. Yet, they know that among 535 other members of Congress, others are likely struggling in silence. “The fact that the four of us are here is a sign of progress,” Torres said. “But, the fact that only four of us are here is a sign that we have a distance to travel.”

Therapy dogs to the rescue!

Pax, a three-year-old yellow labrador, works with firefighters – but he doesn’t help with arson investigations or search and rescue. Pax’s job is to help Orange County, Calif. firefighters relax. “He loves playing fetch, he loves playing with his toys, he loves treats,” Pax’s handler Wade Munson explained to ABC 7 viewers in Los Angeles.

Working as a firefighter or EMT is among the most stressful jobs out there, with suicides averaging about 130 a year from 2014 to 2023, according to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance. Across the country, more firefighters usually die from suicide than in the line of duty.

Pax provides vital support to members of his squad, said Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy.  In fact, he’d like to see more therapy dogs join the ranks. “Our firefighters are proud of what they do,” Fennessy said. “But in that, there’s going to be some scar tissue along the way.” One K9, he added “is a start. I’d like to see us at least with three.”

Nearly half of college students consider leaving school to ease stress

More evidence about how stressed-out many college students are: A large survey found that 2 in 5 undergraduate students – and almost half of female students – experience emotional distress frequently. What’s more, 41% of students in four-year schools and 44% of community college students have considered stepping back or dropping out for at least a semester. “The number one thing I struggled with was feeling overwhelmed and like I had space to even remember to eat,” Isabel, 20, told CNN

Young adult years are a vulnerable time for mental health. About 75% of lifetime mental health problems emerge for people in their mid-20s, said Sarah K. Lipson, an adolescent researcher at Boston University. College adds to that stress. Many students are now deciding to cope by taking a break from their studies to reduce the pressure and improve their mental health. 

“There’s no shame in taking some time off. Take a semester. Take a year,” said Marcus Hotaling, a psychologist at Union College and president of the Association of University and College Counseling Center Directors. “Get yourself better – whether it be through therapy or medication – and come back stronger, a better student, more focused and, more importantly, healthier.” Taking a break from school is not the right answer for every student, but more colleges are providing options for students to do so.

In other news…

Top real estate agents may be resourceful and dogged but the “hustle hard” lifestyle is tough on their mental wellbeing, reports BisNow. “It’s inevitable that [mental health] is not going to get the attention it needs because a lot of people in our line of work are in survival mode,” said Isabella Zellinger, a senior adviser at Cresa Commercial Real Estate in Orange County. The article reports that some commercial real estate firms were paying more attention to the mental health needs of their agents in the early part of the pandemic but are now slipping back.

A Detroit substance use treatment program set to double capacity. A 100-year-old program in downtown Detroit  will soon double in size, enabling the 24-hour facility to expand its social services, housing, health and mental health offerings and to serve women as well as men for the first time. A new addition next door to the existing Mariner’s Inn program will include 40 recovery apartments and 44 units of permanent housing, and offer counseling, career education and job training services, according to The Detroit News

The pros and cons of stress. It’s not always a bad thing: Some people use its power as motivation to get things done, the Washington Post reports. But over a long period of time, chronic stress can wreak havoc on one’s mental and physical health. In fact, a study in JAMA Network Open suggests that elevated stress levels are linked to cognitive and memory issues in people ages 45 and older.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. 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...