January 20, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers! In today’s newsletter you’ll read about a new one-stop shop for unhoused people in San Francisco that’s offering mental health resources as well as showers, clothes and food. You’ll also find out how struggling families in New York City are faring in a new guaranteed-income program. Plus, D.C. youth covered by Medicaid can now receive immediate emotional support through texting. And, yes, therapy chickens (bunnies too).

Will NYC’s guaranteed-income program reduce new moms’ stress?

Photo: Shutterstock

Since July, 100 new moms in New York City’s Washington Heights, Harlem and Inwood neighborhoods have been receiving $500 or $1,000 a month through a guaranteed- income program called the Bridge Project. The money helps the mothers cover basic needs like food, diapers and rent, The New York Times reported. The program, with $16 million in funding from The Monarch Foundation, will expand to 500 expecting mothers in April. They’ll receive money for three years and be followed to see if the income improves their physical and mental health, earning capacity and children’s development. 

Stockton, California, was among the first cities to document that providing guaranteed income to low-income families provided stability while reducing anxiety and depression. (See our MindSite News story on the Stockon program.) Los Angeles and Chicago are also starting similar programs. “You’re talking about giving somebody money and letting them apply it to the highest-need area of life: keeping the heat on, contacting family in Venezuela, taking an Uber to the hospital, getting an unlimited MetroCard,” said Megha Agarwal, executive director of The Monarch Foundation.

San Francisco opens center to connect homeless to mental health and other services

A new center accessible to people on the street in San Francisco’s downtrodden Tenderloin neighborhood will make it easier for them to access mental health and detox services, according to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle. The drop-in center, designed to allow 50 people inside at a time, will also help people apply for housing; while there, they can bathe, get food and new clothes, and use the restroom. Outreach workers will hand out flyers and help transport people to the center. 

An emergency declaration by San Francisco Mayor London Breed last month enabled the center to open more quickly. When announcing the emergency declaration, prompted by skyrocketing drug overdoses in the neighborhood, Breed came under fire for saying that people using drugs on the street could choose to get help or go to jail. Despite those statements, San Francisco Police Department Captain Chris Canning said that won’t be the approach. “They can tell people there are these resources,” he said. “There is a collaborative approach, but not one of compulsion.” 

A bad day – or a mental health crisis?  

Encountering someone in the midst of a mental health crisis is disturbingly common in U.S. cities, especially in Los Angeles, where 50% of unhoused people have a mental health diagnosis. For a story in the Los Angeles Times, experts who work in street medicine and mental health weighed in on how LA bystanders can assess a situation and call for help. Clear signs of danger and safety concerns  – someone walking into traffic or physically threatening someone – require calling 911, experts say. But if someone appears to be in deep distress and there’s no imminent danger, they advise taking the following steps: Keep your distance and don’t stand over them – that could feel intimidating. Avoid prolonged eye contact, which could be seen as confrontational. Ask in a calm voice whether they need help. “This person may or may not be open to having help,” said Dr. Curley L. Bonds, chief medical officer for the Department of Mental Health. “You want to invite them to tell you what’s going on. You mainly want to express your support, your concern.” If they do want assistance, help them connect to LA’s mental health crisis line: (800) 854-7771.

D.C. teens on Medicaid can now text for mental health support 

Photo: Shutterstock

Teens living in Washington, D.C., who are in emotional distress and served by Medicaid can now text for help, the local NBC station reported. Alona Robinson, 17, has been texting this school year with a coach who is “there for me to support me and give reassurance like, ‘No, you’re doing OK,’” she  said. The program is offered through a health insurer, AmeriHealth Caritas, in partnership with MindRight, a mental health app. “D.C. unfortunately does have a very high incidence of trauma and adverse childhood experiences. But what we also know is that out of those experiences there can be a lot of resilience and a lot of ability to recover,” said Dr. Yavar Moghimi, the insurer’s chief psychiatric medical officer. “Having somebody to help you navigate these experiences and how you can grow from them is a really critical aspect of that.” 

In other news:

Farmers no longer feel they need to be stoic about their problems, says Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, in a commentary on the organization’s website. “Thankfully, more farmers and farm workers – 92% – now say they would be open to talking to their friends and family about mental health solutions,” he wrote.  

Therapy Chicken reporting for duty

University of Minnesota students needing mental health support can find comfort in visits from pets, including bunnies, miniature horses and even chickens through the PAWS program (Pet Away Worry and Stress),  reports kare11.com. “We are hardwired for connection,” said Tanya Bailey, who started the program in conjunction with Boynton Health. “That act of petting…helps to reduce that blood pressure, that heart rate.” 

Feeling glum? A dose of laughter might be just what the doctor ordered. “Spontaneous laughter – or genuine laughter – has been shown to reduce the stress hormone cortisol and trigger the release of mood-boosting neurotransmitters called endorphins,” says an article on the website of England’s National Health Service.

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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