November 14, 2022

By Rob Waters

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s edition, a program at UC Berkeley is training psychedelic guides. A columnist shares advice for helping isolated elders get the support they need. And diagnosis by TikTok – it’s dejá vu all over again. A survey asks nurses why they’re leaving the profession in droves, and many cite the need to protect their mental health. And a question: Can magic mushrooms help heal some cases of paralysis? Read on to learn more.

UC Berkeley begins training psychedelic guides

Image: Shutterstock

Interest in psychedelics is exploding and states like Oregon – and in last Tuesday’s election, Colorado – are legalizing psilocybin for use as mental health therapies. Both states have decided to allow its use in therapeutic centers under the supervision of mental health workers. At the same time, a growing number of clinical trials are underway offering participants the opportunity to use psychedelic substances for treating conditions like depression, anxiety and PTSD – again, under the supervision of a clinician or guide.

But at a time when there is a critical and growing shortage of mental health workers of all kinds, where will these psychedelic guides come from? The University of California, Berkeley, has created a program to train these guides, as part of its Center for the Science of Psychedelics. In an interview with the university’s news service, Tina Trujillo, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education, described the need and the workings of the new Certificate Program in Psychedelic Facilitation. The program, which started this fall, has 24 professionals in its first cohort – doctors, nurses, social workers and others.

“We teach our learners about the ancestral histories of mushrooms that existed long before science did, hundreds or thousands of years before the Age of Enlightenment, and the ceremonial use of psychedelic plants,” Trujillo says. “We teach professional ethics, what it means to provide this kind of care with an impeccable level of ethical integrity and safety, and about some of the ideal characteristics of a psychedelic facilitator. We learn about neuroscience and what it offers this work.”

More information is available at the program’s website.

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Is your elderly parent or grandparent isolated and depressed? Help them find a little support

We all know that the Covid-19 pandemic has had an especially dramatic impact on the mental health of school-aged children, but far less attention has been paid to the mental health of the elderly. Carolyn Rosenblatt, a Forbes contributor who writes about aging and caregiving, notes in her most recent column that social isolation had an especially demoralizing impact on many seniors. Their greater vulnerability to complications from infection meant that they avoided contact with others – and we, their children, grandchildren and relatives stayed away to protect them.

But social isolation itself is linked to poor health outcomes and increased risk of dementia and depression in a generation that is culturally far less receptive to seeking help – from therapists or medication.

So what can be done? If you have an aging parent or relative who seems stuck in a depressed or isolated funk, there’s a good chance they have no idea how to get help or find a therapist. So step in and do some research. Ask around, get referrals and call up some therapists and interview them. Take notes, and when you find one you think would be a good match, explain to your beloved elder why you think this person would be good.  

Struggling teens turn to TikTok – and get diagnosed by an app

A Baltimore teen named Kianna was feeling anxious and lonely as she navigated a world of virtual classes and social isolation. She began suffering from headaches, insomnia and odd feelings in her body. Like most American adolescents, she spent lots of time on TikTok, where she began to see videos about depersonalization disorder, a condition that makes people feel like their bodies and minds are disconnected.

“I have this,” she started thinking to herself, according to a story in The New York Times. But she didn’t tell anyone what she was feeling – or the condition she came to believe she had. “I was so in my head that something was wrong with me.”

Social media channels, especially TikTok, are becoming hubs of information – and frequently misinformation – about mental health and mental disorders, places where people go to figure out what they’re experiencing and often end up with a specious diagnosis. In March, MindSite News writer Diana Kapp explored the obsession with narcissism on TikTok, where #NarcTok and similarly hash-tagged videos draw billions of views.

Annie Barsch, a therapist outside Chicago, has been inundated with inquiries from adolescents who come to her thinking they have a certain condition – based on what they’ve learned from TikTok. Some will say, “I’m so OCD,” Barsch told the Times. “It’s almost as if me, as a professional – with a master’s degree, a clinical license and years of experience – is competing with these TikTokers.”

Higher rates of sexual violence against girls may explain higher rates of mental illness

Women and girls tend to have significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety and self-harm compared to males, and a new study published in Lancet Psychiatry may help explain why. The study followed 10,000 girls and boys in roughly equal numbers and asked them at the age of 17 whether they had experienced sexual assault or unwanted advances in the previous 12 months. They were also asked about symptoms of depression and self-harming behaviors.

The researchers found that four to five times more girls than boys experienced assaults or unwanted advances, and those who had these experiences were more likely to be psychologically distressed or to cut or otherwise harm themselves, according to a report in PsyPost.

If sexual violence did not occur, there would be a sizable reduction in mental health problems,” Praveetha Patalay, a professor of population health and wellbeing at University College London, told PsyPost. Patalay and colleagues estimate that, if they hadn’t experienced sexual violence as adolescents, 17% fewer girls would engage in self-harming.

In other news…

Psychedelics may help people recover from paralyzing injuries, according to a fascinating feature in Outside magazine.

Jim Harris suffered a devastating spinal cord injury while snow-kiting in 2014 that left him paralyzed from the chest down. Eight months later, he nibbled on some psilocybin mushrooms and noticed later that evening that he could move his foot and contract his hamstring muscle for the first time since the accident. In the years since, he has continued to do high-dose and moderate-dose trips and believes that they, combined with physical therapy, are what have allowed him to regain the use of his legs. Harris’s experience may be anecdotal, but some researchers believe psychedelics induce the growth of new nerve cells, reduce inflammation or both. Two studies are now underway studying psilocybin’s impact on people with traumatic brain injuries and co-occurring PTSD.

Nurses cite burnout and mental health risk as top reasons they are considering quitting their profession. A survey conducted by OnePoll and connectRN, found that the top reasons nurses plan to leave their careers are nursing shortages (61%), the need for a better work/life balance (58%), feeling their mental health is at risk because of burnout (56%), and a lack of appreciation (51%).

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:

Rob WatersFounding Editor

Rob Waters, the founding editor of MindSite News, is an award-winning health and mental health journalist. He was a contributing writer to Health Affairs and has worked as a staff reporter or editor at...