March 2, 2022

Good morning MindSite News readers. Last night in his State of the Union address, President Biden addressed mental health issues in a way no President has ever done — with the possible exception of John F. Kennedy. Plus, the pace of climate change is accelerating, with increasingly clear impacts on our mental health. The importance of sleep to mental wellness. Does microdosing beat placebo? And Sojourner talks to kids about banned books.

Biden Uses State of Union Speech to Announce National Mental Health Strategy

President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Washington. (Saul Loeb, Pool via AP)

Against a backdrop of Russia’s live-on-television siege of Ukraine and the escalating series of human tragedies the invasion is unleashing, President Joe Biden used his first State of the Union speech to address the mental and emotional suffering that has been festering in the U.S. and offered what he called a “unity agenda” aimed at tackling the mental health and opioid crises. Here is our report.

He noted, in particular, the suffering of children before and during the pandemic from “bullying, violence, trauma and social media” and called for tech and social media companies to stop targeting children and collecting data about them. “We must hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit,” Biden said.

He also uttered a term that probably has never before been used in a State of the Union address when he called for “full parity between physical and mental health care” – a reference to stepped-up efforts his administration is making to enforce laws requiring health insurers to pay for mental health services on the same basis as for medical or surgical care. (Read rest of story here.)

Climate change accelerates – to the detriment of our mental health 

Evidence of the devastating impact that climate change is having on human health continues to grow – and get scarier by the day. The latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released on Monday, says the pace of climate change is accelerating – and having major impacts on mental health. 

 “There’s increasing evidence that high temperatures, themselves, are associated with decreased mental health, increased rates of suicide, psychiatric hospitalizations,” Susan Clayton, a social psychologist and professor who studies climate change at the College of Wooster in Ohio, told NBC News.

Extreme weather events like floods, wildfires, and storms can trigger PTSD, anxiety or depression while causing massive displacement of people from their homes and pushing them away from their support systems. Some 30 million people around the globe were displaced from their homes in 2020, said Robert McLeman, a professor of geography and environmental studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, and a member of the IPCC committee that wrote the new report.

Prioritize sleep – your brain will thank you

America’s work culture often celebrates workaholism and the dedication of people who work into the night but it’s not good for your mental health – or your overall health. “Sleep is really the foundation which the rest of our health depends on,” Dr. Natalie Dautovich and Environmental Fellow at the National Sleep Foundation told the digital publication Salon. It’s a two-way street, she said – poor mental and physical health can cause less restful sleep, which in turn undermines your mental and physical health. However, getting enough sleep can boost both your physical and mental well-being and sharpness. Rather than considering it a “waste of time” or a period of lost productivity, sleep can be understood as a state in which the body refuels to help people do their best work. 

Dr. Constance H. Fung, an associate clinical professor at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, explained what happens biologically when you sleep. “Your immune system releases proteins called cytokines that help your body fight infections and inflammation,” she said. “Your muscles and other organs use the opportunity to heal. And your brain not only heals, but sorts through its own log of information to find patterns and help you cognitively as you proceed with your day.”

Unpredictable school closures cause added stress for families

One in four U.S. school children missed more than a week of in-person learning in January, when the Omicron wave was cresting, according to a New York Times survey of 148,000 parents. Most missed at least three days, and almost one in 10 missed two weeks or more. Now a growing body of research is showing that school closures – or even the risk of them – is adding an extra layer of stress to students and their parents and caregivers. A Census Bureau survey revealed that in early February, 5 million adults were out of work because they had to care for a child who would usually be in school or daycare. 

Students are struggling with closures, too. A report from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that after unplanned school closures, children felt sadder and misbehaved more, and their parents had shorter tempers and worse moods. “Routine is really important for young children’s sense of stability in the world and is known to be important for healthy development in kids, so when routine gets disrupted, that creates additional stressors,” said Anna Gassman-Pines, an associate professor of public policy, psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and an author of the study.

The benefits of microdosing: Are they real or are they placebo?

Another day, another article on the upsides of psychedelics. This one, in the New York Times, explores whether there’s an actual benefit to microdosing hallucinogens like psilocybin and LSD, or if the improved mental effects people feel are a placebo effect. 

Scientists say that the research into microdosing has largely consisted of anecdotes from users who reported relief from anxiety and depression. Studies that support this anecdotal evidence, they say, have been small and did not compare a microdose to a placebo. This leaves much room for closer study when the placebo effect exists – or the phenomenon that occurs when people who expect to feel better after a particular treatment, even if they don’t receive the actual treatment, usually do. Dr. David Erritzoe, clinical director of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, put it this way, “You probably only participate at this point in a trial in microdosing if you really have a strong belief that this might help you.”

Report card on school mental health says Arkansas needs to do better

A new report from the Hopeful Futures Campaign, a coalition of 17 national organizations dedicated to youth and mental wellness, says the state of Arkansas needs to up its game in addressing the mental health needs of students. While the state is providing mental health services at schools for 30,000 students, the number of qualified mental health professionals – school psychologists, social workers, and  counselors – in K-12 schools is far below recommended standards. 

Dr. Betsy Kindall of the Arkansas Department of Education told KTHV-11 in Little Rock that the state “has a clinician shortage, like many states across our country.” To address that shortage, the state is seeking to train all public school personnel in teen suicide prevention and Mental Health First Aid. 

In other news…

As we live through the latest era of book bans, this list of reviews published in Sojourner offers a bit of delight. Rather than wrestle with adults about what books should be freely available in libraries and schools, it simply offers some thoughts from kids on the banned books they’ve already read. Young reviewers responded to the following questions: What did you like about the book? Why do you want other people to read this book? How did this book teach you to love God and love your neighbor?

Only 21 years old, Chase Gladstone has become firefighter of the year in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and founded a nonprofit to raise awareness around suicide prevention. Stigma 22 was started to honor both his grief and the life of his brother Zachary, a U.S. Marine suffering from PTSD who died from suicide in 2017. Gladstone told CN2 News, “We post statistics, resources within the county, and signs to look out for. If you need someone to talk to, we are there.”

In an article for Forbes, Jacqueline Schneider writes that music can be a balm for mental health struggles and extols the benefits of listening to Louis Kevin Celestin, better known as Kaytranada, a Haitian-Canadian record producer and DJ. His music, Schneider writes, is medicine.

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.

Suicide by Gun Rises Among Youth of Color

Firearm suicide rates rose steadily among young people in their teens and twenties over the last decade, with the sharpest increases among people of color.

We Have a Message: Stop Criminalizing Mental Illness 

As Partners for Justice advocates embedded in the offices of public defenders, we work to connect clients to resources. In turn, our clients have taught us that to heal this nation, we must learn to respond to social harms and injustice with mercy.

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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...