Wednesday, April 19, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, readers! In today’s Daily, we share an incredible three-day look at one city’s mental health crisis. Plus: Comedians combat climate anxiety with laughter. A former Marine helps other veterans heal mental anguish through art. An organ transplant recipient writes about gratitude as she waits to die. And more.

A San Diego story: Three days in the life of one city’s mental health crisis

Like virtually every other part of the country, San Diego is in the grips of a mental health crisis – on the streets and in jails, in classrooms and in homes. Most Americans are aware of that crisis – but they rarely get to see what it looks like on a minute-by-minute basis. Until now. 

In a remarkable feat of reporting, the San Diego Union-Tribune sent 22 reporters and photographers into the field across San Diego County for three consecutive days to show us what that crisis looks like in real time. They observed patients, police officers, clinicians, judges, dispatchers and the loved ones of those suffering. They found intense suffering, an often dysfunctional system and lots of programs and people dedicated to creating change. But above all, they found “a system overwhelmed at every step.” 

In those three days, law enforcement received some 230 mental health calls, 90 people were admitted to psychiatric facilities and five took their own lives. The stress and effort of mental health providers,  law enforcement, patients and their loved ones is felt in each account and buoyed by the resolve of survivors like Lisa Garcia.

Garcia experienced an intense psychiatric crisis more than 30 years ago and got through with the help of Recovery International. Today, she’s a program manager for that agency, where she has worked for 25 years, leading groups for others in pain. She has a mantra that she uses for herself and shares with those in the program: “You may feel hopeless,” she tells them, “but there are no hopeless cases.”

Here are links to each day’s story: 

Day 1: ‘I thought she was going to kill me.’
Day 2: ‘People who have mental illness are shunned a lot, and I’m one of them.’
Day 3: ‘You might feel hopeless, but there are no hopeless cases.’

Laughing out loud about the climate crisis

One of the best ways to combat climate anxiety and doom may be to laugh about it. Of course, it’s more nuanced than that, Yes! Magazine reports, but triggering laughter is absolutely at the heart of the Climate Comedy Cohort.

The network of nine comedians spent nine months learning climate science and evidence-based solutions to create change. Then they produced shorts, pitched networks and went on tour, bringing levity to a topic that usually inspires hopelessness. And that’s the goal: to inform and shift folks’ perspectives from, ‘nothing can be done,’ to ‘we all have the power to change this!’

Comedy’s power is its ability to help people feel hope and optimism, even about the most challenging subjects, said Caty Borum, a professor at American University and and author of The Revolution Will Be Hilarious: Comedy for Social Change and Civic Power. “The very unique qualities of comedy that allow us to break through taboo,” Borum saysm, “contributes to people feeling like they can take action.”

Armed with paint and a school bus, an ex-Marine helps other vets heal through art

Jessica Rambo isn’t fictional. The real-life Marine veteran and artist spoke to CBS News about her travels across the country in an old school bus she calls the Painted Buffalo. Filled with art supplies stored in ammo cans, it is home to the Paint Can Project, which Rambo started to help veterans like herself heal from their struggles with depression, anxiety, addiction, and PTSD. The project enables them to create art or tell a story without having to interact with other people. 

“They can be alone in their safe place, and it’s just another tool in a toolbox,” Rambo said. “I call it creating your own mental healthcare package.” She comes from a military family, and nurtured a love of art from an early age. She enlisted in 2006 and became a combat cameraperson, but a car accident left her with a brain injury and an addiction to alcohol and pain pills – and forced her to retire early. 

Her life shift came after she became sober and graduated from art school. Creating helped her overcome depression and anxiety, so she thought it might also be how she could help others. “That really kind of changed the trajectory of my life and gave me a new path, a new way to serve my community,” Rambo said. So far, the Paint Can Project has reached hundreds of veterans across 38 states – and counting.

In other news…

Colorado’s first behavioral health chief left office after a year, the Colorado Sun reports. Dr. Morgan Medlock told the Sun she parted ways due to “lack of support” from Gov. Jared Polis’ administration. Michelle Barnes, who leads Colorado’s child welfare system and adult protective services, will act as interim behavioral health chief until a permanent replacement is found.

Select CVS Pharmacy locations provide mental health counseling services. KABC in Los Angeles reported on the Wellness Center in LA’s Westwood neighborhood where licensed therapist Tiffany Ramm sees clients. “Our level of mental-health professionals can service anxiety, depression, grief loss, work, stress. Anything that falls under mild-to-moderate emotional behavioral issues,” she said.

Amy Silverstein lived 35 years after two people gave her their hearts. Now though, her end is near. She has terminal cancer, forcing her to reckon with the meaning of her gifts of life. Silverstein says she feels a “gratitude paradox” – she’s grateful to have lived, but frustrated with not feeling free to speak about the harrowing challenges she’s faced because of a lack of progress in learning to help patients after they receive their organs.

“Organ transplantation is mired in stagnant science and antiquated, imprecise medicine that fails patients and organ donors, she writes in the New York Times. “It’s long past time that the medical community raise the bar for post-transplant medicine. I am speaking out while I still can for my magnificent hearts.”

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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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...