June 15, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. Be sure to register and tune in tomorrow for the first MindSite News Live Interview with the authors of a report from Hurdle Health on the mental health impacts of racism in honor of Juneteenth. More information can be found at the bottom of this newsletter.

In today’s edition of MindSite News: A look at the powerful impact of play on the future mental health of children. The stress-relieving impacts of visiting a museum. And a devastating series about the waves of stress and suicide facing California’s beleaguered wildfire fighters. Plus: the Zen of Draymond Green.

Play helps protect kids against mental health problems as they get older


Preschoolers who play well with their peers have better mental health in later childhood. That’s according to recent findings from the University of Cambridge, which analyzed data from nearly 1,700 children in an Australian longitudinal study and found that children who learned to play well with their peers by age 3 were likely to enjoy better mental health at age 7. That means less hyperactivity, fewer conduct and emotional problems, and fewer fights and conflicts with other children, according to a story in The Guardian.

“It is important to have research demonstrating this link between play and mental health to ensure that play is taken seriously in education and policy more generally,” said  Helen Dodd, a professor of child psychology at the University of Exeter, to the Guardian. “It is particularly important currently given that children’s play with their peers was so restricted during COVID-19 lockdowns.”

What do your spending habits say about you?

Illustration: Shutterstock

Clinical psychologist Barbara Greenberg has noticed that her patients feel more comfortable talking about sex than money – an observation shared by many therapists. 

However, people’s spending habits can tell you a lot about them, even suggesting whether you may or may not be compatible, Greenberg writes in her latest column for Psychology Today. She reports that a recent set of studies by a team led by psychologist Adrian Furnham of the Norwegian Business School found that savers were “more conscientious, stable, and introverted than spenders.” However, savers were less sociable and open to new experiences than spenders, at least according to the two group’s own self-ratings. 

Savers also saw themselves as more attractive, healthier and intelligent than spenders, who in turn saw themselves as more emotionally intelligent. They also rated themselves as more liberal and (perhaps not surprisingly) were less likely to own their own home. The study was limited, however, by the participants’ self-reports and the lack of access to their financial records. (Dr. Greenberg is a member of the editorial advisory board of MindSite News).

Museum visits can help ease stress and loneliness

If it’s been a while since you visited the museum, consider checking one out. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center say it’s measurably good for your mental health. Museums devoted to art and culture, in particular, are shown to reduce anxiety and stress. “If you just go for half an hour to an art museum and measure people’s cortisol levels before they go in, after half an hour it shows the kind of recovery time [normally] equivalent to a few hours,” said postdoctoral fellow Katherine Cotter, discussing a range of studies.

Cotter told PBS affiliate WHYY that she reviewed about 100 published reports to reach the conclusion that experiencing art in actual museums – rather than virtually – offers health benefits such as lower levels of pain, stress, anxiety and loneliness. Her findings were recently published in The Journal of Positive Psychology. 

California’s firefighters plagued by PTSD and suicide

Firefighters battle Bobcat Fire in Juniper Hills, California, September 19, 2020. Ringo Chiu/Shutterstock

It’s a given that fighting wildfires is a dangerous job. But it’s also hazardous to the mental health of the firefighters. In a compelling four-part series, CalMatters series looked at the wave of post-traumatic stress syndrome, despair and suicide that has afflicted the men and women of Cal Fire. Since the start of 2020, California wildfires have burned 3.2 million acres of land, and with increasingly longer and more intense fire seasons, employees in the statewide firefighting service are exhausted, overworked and traumatized. Discussing suicidal thinking among his employees, Cal Fire Captain Mike Orton estimated that “half of them have a plan to do it.”

Firefighters may be deeply admired by the community, but Cal Fire’s crews must contend with staff shortages, sleep deprivation, substance abuse, and family strain due to the 21-day mandatory deployments with no respite, which often go longer than that. One Riverside County battalion chief told the paper that 80% of his station house crew got divorced in a single year. And that’s in addition to consistently witnessing death and injury on the job. The organization wants to help its firefighters meet their mental health needs, but with 27 behavioral health workers servicing 6,500 firefighters, it urgently needs more help. (We’ll be republishing this in-depth series in MindSite News soon).

In other news…

The Zen of Draymond. If all goes his way, NBA superstar Draymond Green will not only clinch another championship with the Golden State Warriors in the next few days, he will also offer the world an intimate look into his mindfulness journey. The Sessions: Draymond Green is designed to reveal how the future Hall of Famer –known for his intense play and (sometimes excessive) passion – learned to train his mind as well as his body. “I’m excited for the world to see me go on a journey they could’ve never imagined me embarking on,” Green told Ebony magazine. “Meditation, zen, and mindfulness bring a new balance for me. The Sessions starts a deep dive into the mind of me – the player, the father, and the person.” The documentary is set to premiere this Friday, June 17.

NFL tries to protect the brains of its players. Numerous studies have highlighted the links between concussions and traumatic brain injuries on the one hand and dementia and other deadly neurological conditions on the other. The National Football League, stung by criticism that it has done too little, is testing out new equipment that can reduce the risk of concussion. Pittsburg’s NPR station WESA looks at one such effort to protect players – the Pittsburgh Steelers’ use of the Guardian Cap, a flexible, padded cover that fits over a players hard-shell helmet. It is said to reduce the force of tackle-collision impact by up to 25 percent.

Though thousands of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan sustained concussions and other traumatic brain injuries from roadside bombs, a new study examining brain tissue in veterans who died suggests they have not led to a significant increase in chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Only 6.7% of 45 veterans exposed to bomb blasts developed the degenerative brain disease associated with dementia and a range of psychiatric disorders – close to what is seen in the general public – compared to 87% of deceased football players in a 2017 study. However, bomb blasts can still harm the brain, according to study leader Dan Perl of the Uniformed Service University in Maryland. “One shouldn’t go away thinking that because we didn’t find CTE, the brains are normal, ” he told National Public Radio. “That’s clearly not the case.” Health News from NPR has more in this two-minute report.

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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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...