Thursday, January 5, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite News Readers, and Happy almost Friday! In today’s Daily, a cause for relief: A recent study found the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why did not, in fact, trigger suicide contagion in adolescents. Voters in Massachusetts may reconsider physician-assisted suicide. A driving instructor in the UK suggests service workers like hair stylists and

tattoo artists should be trained to guide their clients to proper mental health support. Plus the NFL faces concerns about player mental health.

And MindSite News names the Top 10 Mental Health Stories of 2022.

The Top Mental Health Stories of 2022

2022, the Year of the Tiger, was the year mental health was fully embraced as a national issue – and seen, finally, as a major human crisis that had long been ignored. It was a year of unprecedented attention on mental health from the media, and unprecedented funding from politicians.

But it was also a year of backlash against efforts to build mental health supports and knowledge into schools, libraries and community centers. And it was a year when enthusiasm – dare I say irrational exuberance – for digital technology and psychedelics was tempered.

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New study finds Netflix show didn’t lead to adolescent suicide spike

The adolescent suicide rate increased alongside the release of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, but not – as some researchers had contendedbecause of the program. That’s the finding of a new analysis which found that seasonal changes and other factors explain the rise in youth US suicides from 2013 to 2018. Dan Romer, research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and lead author of the new study, found a seasonal pattern to adolescent suicide, increasing during the school year and dropping in the summer when school is out. 

The show depicted the aftermath of a high school student’s suicide as she explained the 13 reasons for her decision – and some linked it to a rise in suicides. But association is not causation, Romer says. “The suicide rate increases in the springtime for adolescents and young people, just as it does for everybody else,” he said in a press release. “When you control for that, the apparent increase goes away. The bottom line is we don’t have any evidence to show that 13 Reasons Why had an effect on suicide as far as the national rates are concerned.”

Will Massachusetts soon become the 11th state to legalize physician-assisted suicide?

The debate about medically assisted suicide has gone on for as long as I can remember. I’m a born-and-raised Detroiter who vividly remembers the legal trials of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a physician and staunch proponent of voluntary euthanasia who spent his entire life and career in Metro Detroit. To date, 10 states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing for medical aid in dying, and since Maura Healey was elected Massachusetts governor last November, a group of legislators in the state hope theirs will become the 11th. 

“Our communities support this, and I’m hopeful we can do it next year,” Massachusetts state rep James O’Day told the Boston Globe in December. The article cited Healey’s support for such a bill. “Maura supports legislative action to allow medical aid in dying, provided it includes sufficient safeguards for both patients and providers,” her spokeswoman Karissa Hand said. “She will review any legislation that reaches her desk.”

But opponents vow to fight. Earlier this week, Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby laid out a case against such a law, arguing that “the more the practice [of medically-assisted suicide] has been normalized, the more patients are being pressured, coaxed, or invited to avail themselves of it.” It’s presented as a “reasonable solution” to the trials of life, inviting the option of death to people facing very difficult, but not life-threatening scenarios. Therein lies the slippery slope, Jacoby concludes. “It’s only a small step from the idea that some people should have the right to be helped into the grave to the conviction that some people ought to be helped into the grave.”

The NFL and our collective mental health

All eyes are on the NFL this week after millions watched Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin be brought back to life during Monday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Medical personnel restored Hamlin’s heartbeat after he suffered cardiac arrest after a tackle, and the 24-year-old remains in critical condition at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. But beyond hope for Hamlin’s full recovery, concerns are again rising about the sport’s mental impact  – to viewers at home as well as to players.

Damar Hamlin, during his time as a University of Pittsburgh college player. Photo: Shutterstock.

Players were shaken, sobbing openly on the field, an atypical scene in a hazardous and violent sport. Every professional player has seen or knows of someone seriously injured or even paralyzed during play – and they’re trained to remain steady and keep their heads in the game, said retired NFL player turned broadcaster Domonique Foxworth. Normally, he said on the Mina Kimes podcast, tears only come from the player whose season or career has been ended by injury. What happened Monday night was different.

Which begs the question: What’s next? There are no plans to resume the game this week. Psychologist Scott Goldman told the Wall Street Journal that some players might find solace in the game while others might be unable to return to the field while their teammate is in limbo. “This is going to be a really complicated thing for the individuals to navigate, the organizations to navigate and the league to navigate,” said Goldman, who has worked with NFL teams. 

And those of us who watched the game at home? How many wondered if we had just watched Damar Hamlin die – and waited to see if the game would resume? When Andscape writer William C. Rhoden found himself wondering if play would restart, he realized, “with sadness, the extent to which I had become desensitized to the real-life violence of our national pastime.” He added: “We see players as objects, figures in the entertainment space, see them as imaginary, not as human beings with jobs and families, but as cogs in a machine, chess pieces to move around a virtual board. The explosion of fantasy football and now unbridled gambling has contributed to a general numbing of our sensibilities.”

In other news…

Good news for pregnant people on antidepressants: A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that pregnant people taking antidepressants have little need to worry about the medication impacting their fetuses’ neurological, behavioral or cognitive development. “Pregnancy is a period where women are at increased risk of worsening mental health disorders,” physician Abigail Dennis told Baltimore’s WBAL-TV11. “Their bodies are changing, their hormones are changing, they’re about to bring a new person into their lives, and we know that people with mental health disorders are more likely to be sick and have an escalation of their symptoms.” Knowing they can safely continue taking the medications they need should give women greater peace of mind.

A little counseling with your driver’s ed?

When Louise Dale takes her driving students out for lessons, more than half of them engage her about their mental health, she told the BBC. So she jumped at the chance to get Samaritans training to help her support her students. “People jump in the car and over the course of the weeks that we’re training together they feel like we’re friends,” she said. “It’s a safe space and then they start to open up gradually.” Driving instructors shouldn’t try to become therapists, she said, but knowing how to listen and where to point people in need of help is useful, she said. “I see it along the lines of first aid training and I think in this day and age we’re all responsible for helping other people.” 

Mental health days for K-12 students in NY? Maybe. PIX11 reports that NY State Senator Brad Hoylman is introducing legislation for the third time – after trying in 2017 and 2019 – to make mental health days an excused absence. “Just like if you have a cold or the flu,” Hoylman said, “mental health is as important as other forms of physical well-being, if not more important.”

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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Courtney WiseReporter

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...