May 2, 2022

By Don Sapatkin

Good Monday morning, MindSite News readers. May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. To spread awareness, forward this newsletter to a friend. Meanwhile, read on for stories about how researchers hope to reduce child mortality by focusing on mothers’ mental health, why Black grief extends far beyond the deaths of loved ones to the losses and trauma that have affected an entire community, and how you can avoid being a bystander when watching a bully in action.

April 30 was International Day to End Corporal Punishment of Children, and MindSite News reporter Laurie Udesky took a look at some pronounced racial disparities in corporal punishment in U.S. schools: Black children remain far more likely to get paddled in the 19 states that still allow the infliction of physical pain against children in public schools. Udesky’s reporting included an interview with a hero of the civil rights movement who, as a teenager integrating a Mississippi high school in 1966, faced violent mobs. Today, she helps Black children in Grenada, Mississippi, deal with disciplinary charges the district brings against them and supports a Mississippi coalition working to help ban school corporal punishment nationwide.


‘Corporal Punishment is Violence’: Black Communities Vow to Ban School Paddling

On a Tuesday morning three years ago, Julia Ringo discovered her daughter was in terrible pain. Examining her, Ringo looked in shock at a mass of bruises and swelling on her daughter Kiorey’s buttocks, a day after the 8-year-old Black girl had been paddled with a wooden board at an elementary school in Grenada, Mississippi.

Ringo rushed her daughter to the emergency room and told the attending doctor what had transpired. “As soon as he looked at her behind, it was like he couldn’t even look at it,” she says, breaking down in tears. “He just took a deep breath, felt on her butt to see was it swollen. She was screaming.” Kiorey’s injuries were so severe, Ringo said, that she had to stay home the rest of the week.

Ringo also reached out to someone else: Diana Freelon-Foster, a lifelong resident of Grenada. In 1966, as a 15-year-old high school student, Freelon-Foster helped integrate the Grenada public schools. “The principal sent me and other students into a sea of angry white men who had bricks and pipes and stones” to vent their wrath over the school’s integration, Freelon-Foster told MindSite News.

During the school integration fight in Grenada. Dianna Freelon-Foster is in the second row of girls in a sleeveless top. Standing near the stop sign: Dr.Martin Luther King and folk singer Joan Baez. (Courtesy: Zinn Education Project).

Today, as the founder and director of Activists with a Purpose Plus, based in Grenada, Freelon-Foster advocates for students at school disciplinary hearings. She also served as mayor of Grenada in 2004 and 2005. To her, the beatings and disproportionate use of force against Black children like Kiorey, even today, is a continuation of the historical racial violence that has been perpetrated against Blacks starting in the days of slavery. “For me, corporal punishment is violence,” she said. “How can corporal punishment be thought of as reasonable?” Read the rest of this story here.


To reduce childhood mortality worldwide, help mothers – and address their mental health

Despite huge improvements in public health in developing countries, more than 5 million children under 5 still died in 2020 – nearly half of them within six months after being discharged from the hospital, according to new research that looked at their medical conditions and their families’ social and economic situations. The authors pointed to some low-cost solutions that could make a big difference, and most of them involve mothers.

While malnutrition was the biggest cause of death, caregiver characteristics, like maternal employment and mental health, turned out to be more important than even access to care. “Maternal mental health measured in these mothers around the time of their child’s sickness is a major part of the pathway to mortality,” Judd Walson, a study author and professor of global health at the University of Washington, told NPR. “The markers were not things like being suicidal or having psychosis but lost pleasure in day-to-day activities. The stresses on a poor mother with a sick child are enormous.”

The dozens of authors of the research, published in The Lancet Global Health, recommend expanding the use of friendship benches, where elders with some mental health training are available to talk with anyone who stops by. Adding health care workers in the community to deal with post-hospitalization issues is another important strategy. Walson also suggested targeted cash transfers to families around the time of discharge to ensure that children can return to the hospital if more care is needed.

Image: Shutterstock

Child mortality has plummeted by more than 50 percent worldwide since 1990 but the hospital-based practices that played a big role in that success have now been widely adopted and accomplished what they can. “We really think that we’re at a place where without a fundamental shift in strategy, we’re not going to continue to see the massive reductions in childhood deaths that we’ve seen in the past decades,” Walson said.

College sports are prioritizing mental health

Photo: Shutterstock

Sports conferences and university athletics departments are moving aggressively to shore up mental health support for their players, according to a comprehensive report in USA Today. Improvements gained urgency after James Madison softball star Lauren Bennett’s death last week was ruled the third suicide in two months among Division I women. Many team officials and coaches, recognizing the centrality of their players’ wellbeing, are aiming to treat mental health conditions with the same importance that they do physical injuries like concussion.

“We have to make it a topic that’s OK to talk about, that’s OK to be able to speak about without any sort of stigma or without any sort of judgment,” said James Borchers, chief medical officer for the Big Ten and co-founder and president of the U.S. Council for Athletes’ Health. Last fall, the Big Ten, Atlantic Coast Conference and Pac-12 created Teammates for Mental Health, an initiative to teach student-athletes and their coaches how to recognize signs that someone may be struggling with issues like anxiety and depression.

Athletics departments have hired mental health professionals and budgeted programs to improve well-being. Texas Tech, for example, does this in three ways: It integrates primary care across health services to ensure that trainers, team doctors and specialists are working from the same treatment plans. It emphasizes emotional intelligence to help players deal with the ups and downs of competition and schoolwork. And it uses organizational psychology to show how individuals can work together in a larger group to accomplish shared objectives.

“Wellness is the foundation of performance,” said Tyler Bradstreet, an associate athletics director and the school’s director of clinical and sport psychology.

Black grief is more than personal. It’s collective.

Health disparities due to race are well-documented. Simply put, Black Americans die six years earlier than whites, on average – and researchers have identified several major reasons, from lower access to care to high lifelong stress. One that has not been examined much is the level of grief that is embedded in the Black experience. Black Americans mourn the deaths of more loved ones, from heart disease, shootings and Covid-19, than other racial groups. And they continue to carry a collective grief suffered through America’s 500-year history of racialization and racial violence.

The George Floyd murder is an example of both, Da’Mere Wilson, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Arizona, explained in a university press release discussing a new study. “It was a personal loss for his immediate family and friends, but it was also a collective loss, in that many Black Americans looked at George Floyd as someone who could be their uncle, could be their brother or could be them.” Wilson is first author of the paper, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, which argues that “the current conceptualization of grief as ‘the acute pain that accompanies the loss of a loved one’ is too narrow in scope” for Black Americans and perhaps for other groups that experienced collective oppression such as Indigenous peoples in the Americas and Dalits in India.

The paper treats bereavement as a health disparity, since multiple losses have been linked to poorer health outcomes. It also draws a line from collective grief to group grievance and anger at injustice that can inspire action, like the 1963 killings of four black girls by white supremacists’ bombs in a Birmingham, Ala., church that fueled outrage and became a turning point in the civil rights movement.

How to be more than a passive bystander when you witness bullying

Image: Shutterstock

Bullying is bad, we can all agree. But what would you do if you witnessed a colleague – worse, a boss – bullying another? Most of us wouldn’t do anything. In The Conversation, a nonprofit site that publishes articles written by academics and edited by journalists, organizational psychologists Kara Ng at the University of Manchester and Karen Niven at the University of Sheffield, both in the U.K., examine the impact of standing by and how to make stepping in a more likely response.

The so-called bystander effect dates back to the 1964 killing of Kitty Genovese outside her New York apartment, which was etched into public memory by the headline  “Thirty-Seven Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call Police.” The headline was completely wrong — the police were called and there were only two witnesses, one of whom shouted at the attacker — but people are in fact less likely to help in more ambiguous situations like public attacks and bullying, largely because each member of the group feels less personally responsible to help.

Trying to see the situation through the target’s eyes might increase the likelihood that you’ll intervene. Organizations play a key role in preventing bullying and should have clear anti-bullying policies in place, along with confidential processes to report incidents that were directly experienced or witnessed. “Importantly,” the psychologists write, “organizations should try to find the root causes of bullying and if there is anything they can change to reduce it. For example, high workload and poor communication may contribute to a bullying culture.”

In other news…

A clinical psychologist describes how TikTok worsened his 14-year-old client’s depression and offers tips for parents in a USA Today opinion article. A University of Wisconsin researcher told HealthDay News that his survey of 31 teens, not yet published, found a range of attitudes toward the app, from boon to creativity to addictive time-waster, and suggested that parents raise benefits and concerns with their kids. Melissa Hunt, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, said in the article that “social media is like nicotine or opiates” and “a harm-reduction approach” is needed. (You can also check out Diana Kapp’s recent piece for MindSite News about TikTok’s obsession with narcissism and what that says about us.)

The job-search site Neurodiversity Career Connector, launched last week with the support of major companies like Microsoft and Wells Fargo, aims to increase meaningful employment for people with autism and other neurological or developmental conditions, according to HRD, a publication for directors of human resources.

Women were 50 percent more likely to die by suicide after someone they lived with acquired a handgun, the Sacramento Bee reports, describing the findings of a 12-year study involving 9.5 million California women that was published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Contrary to expectations, reports of child abuse declined in New York and elsewhere while parents and kids were stuck at home together during the pandemic – data that Dorothy Roberts, a scholar of race and gender at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, cites to make a provocative argument in The Nation. She says that America’s “destructive child welfare system” is unnecessary and that children would be safer if government directly supported parents and other family caregivers, including with money to help them escape poverty. However, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “the proportion of ED visits related to child abuse and neglect ending in hospitalization significantly increased” during 2019 to 2020, leading experts to speculate that child abuse was under-reported.

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.

Young Advocates Fight Campus Suicide

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death on college campuses. Peer support, trainings and suicide prevention programs aim to reverse this deadly trend.

Crying on the Subway: A Journalist Explores Her Trauma History

Talented journalist Stephanie Foo thought she had conquered her demons., moving past an abusive childhood to become a successful journalist and prestigious audio producer. So why was she so bereft?

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Type of work:

Don SapatkinReporter

Don Sapatkin is an independent journalist who reports on science and health care. His primary focus for nearly two decades has been public health, especially policy, access to care, health disparities...