September 22, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In this edition, we look at how therapy dogs bring support and comfort to students in Michigan schools. More children’s books are exploring Black lives, diversity and mental health. Feds look into the online health care company Done Global Inc. Plus: Researchers link childhood feelings of being unloved with adult depression.

Therapy Dogs: A new way Michigan schools are supporting students’ mental health

via Twitter

With the shortage of mental health staff in public school districts across the nation, some districts have turned to hiring another source of support: canines. According to a report from the Detroit Free Press, 52 school districts in Michigan and some in other states have partnered with the nonprofit 4PawzStrong to put trained therapy dogs to work. 

At Derby Middle School in Birmingham, for example, a nine-month-old English Labrador retriever is working full-time. A mere two weeks into the school year, he’s helped one student manage anxiety that made her afraid to attend class, and he’s a source of daily support for another who struggles with high levels of frustration. Eighth grader Joey Fearon receives “Jake Time” twice per day for staying on task and completing his schoolwork. For him, Jake Time is more effective than a visit to the occupational therapy room or crawling under a weighted blanket. “The dog helps a lot, lot more,” said his dad Paul Fearon. “When he’s been agitated, he goes and sees Jake, and it really helps calm him down quickly.”

There is little scientific research on therapy dogs’ effectiveness in schools, but anecdotal reports are largely positive, even among skeptics. Assistant Principal Fred Costello had some understandable concerns about bringing Jake on board, including worries about students who are allergic to dogs or afraid of them. But since seeing Jake in action, he’s sold. “Just seeing the reaction that he gets out of kids has been so uplifting, especially those with higher emotional needs. It’s [his] ability to take a bad day and turn it into a good day.”

Karen Storey, a veteran special education teacher for Brighton Area Schools, founded 4PawzStrong after witnessing therapy dogs’ impact on Oxford High School students following a deadly school shooting last November. “What we have in place here is super successful and our goal is for every school in the country to have a dog at school,” Storey said. “These dogs are doing things for kids and staff that humans can’t do.”

Children’s books increasingly reflect the world’s diversity

via Twitter

Children’s literature—even picture books—have long covered subjects many adults would rather not discuss, including “subversive” views and challenging emotions and issues, like fear, jealousy, rebellion against adult rules, mental illness and death (think: Charlotte’s Web, A Wrinkle in Time, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, the Harry Potter series, ad infinitum). Now, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, the characters at the center of such stories tend to reflect the world’s diversity, in race, size, religion, ethnic background, and abilities, as well as its ongoing injustices and racism. “There was a time when we wanted to keep children sheltered from these issues; that time is now behind us,” said Naren Aryal, CEO and publisher of Mascot Books. “But we are learning as a society that it’s better to talk about these things that have gone unspoken in the past.”

It couldn’t be more timely: Data from market researcher NBD Group shows that sales of children’s books are up 17 percent this year, as compared to pre-pandemic sales. The diversity of characters and a focus on real-life struggles has expanded, likely sparked from the social justice outcries following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

Carl Lennertz, executive director of the Children’s Book Council, told the Inquirer that despite the mega success of works like Ezra Jack Keats’ 1962 picture book The Snowy Day, which featured a young Black  boy playing in the snow, publishers have been hesitant to spotlight more inclusive stories. A 2015 survey, in fact, showed that only 2% of children’s books were written by Black authors about Black children. But, said Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, whose Philadelphia’s African American Children’s Book Project has produced the African American Children’s Book Fair for over 30 years, “Book publishing is a business. We are talking about Black lives and serious topics more openly now. Children’s books are part of that revolution.”

In other news…

Federal investigators have questioned people about the telehealth company Done Global Inc.’s prescribing practices for controlled substances, according to the The Wall Street Journal, following up on its earlier reporting that some Done clinicians and providers felt pressured to prescribe stimulants or diagnose attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The allegations, which the San Francisco-based company denies, are similar to complaints (also denied) against rival telehealth giant Cerebral, which experienced explosive growth during the pandemic but stated in May that it would stop prescribing Adderall and other controlled substances after receiving a subpoena from the Justice Department. – Don Sapatkin

Home page of Done First (of Done Global Inc)

In the program Ballet After Dark, dance is a tool to help survivors of sexual trauma reclaim their power. Tyde-Courtney Edwards, a Baltimore-based, classically-trained ballerina and a sexual assault survivor, founded the program in 2014 to give people a free and safe place to heal. “We are repurposing [ballet] as a joyful tool to expose underrepresented, low-income survivors and community members here in Baltimore City,” she told Ebony magazine. “We’re creating a well-rounded safe space to restore confidence, empower survivors, and help them to reprocess, rebuild, and reclaim relationships with their bodies.”

Loneliness and isolation are feelings everyone experiences at times, but new research published in Psychological Reports and reported in The Swaddle suggests that feeling generally unwanted and unloved before age 18 can lead to depression in adult life. Analyzing the responses of more than 5,000 adults with an average of 29 years, the study found that those who experienced neglect or felt unloved and unwanted “often” in childhood had much higher risk of clinical depression than those who only felt unloved or unwanted “sometimes.”

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 Wise

Courtney Wise Randolph is a writer and creative based in Detroit, Michigan.