September 20, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In this issue, learn how 75% of women who’ve experienced intimate partner violence have sustained traumatic brain injuries. The outdoors can be a balm for mental health. Plus: a local suicide prevention organizatiom teams up with “Soul Shop” to help Black church leaders work with parishioners struggling with their mental health.

Survivors of intimate partner violence likely to sustain traumatic brain injuries

Credit: Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock

Intimate partner violence is known to be physically and emotionally scarring, but new research shows that it can also cause traumatic brain injury (TBI). Dr. Eve Valera, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, discussed this finding at the latest meeting of Yakima, Washington’s domestic violence coalition, which was covered by the Yakima Herald-Republic. Valera, who has studied domestic violence for nearly 25 years, said that most women who’ve experienced intimate partner violence sustain a brain injury as a result. “It doesn’t take a lot to sustain a brain injury, and it definitely doesn’t take a lot to sustain what we would call a mild traumatic brain injury, which is also another term for a concussion,” she said. While there are many kinds of TBIs, Valera said they all share two characteristics: a hit or jolt to the head and a disruption in brain function. 

Valera began to focus on the brains of domestic violence survivors after learning that between 80 to 90 percent of intimate partner violence against women involves the head or neck. But unlike the recent growth in TBI research examining the brains of athletes and military personnel, she noticed there wasn’t any literature focused on those experiencing intimate partner violence. In her study of 99 women who suffered partner violence, three-fourths reported at least one brain injury from their partner and more than half sustained repetitive brain injuries from their partner. 

While Valera noted that there isn’t yet enough data to determine how many women have been affected, she says her findings are enough “to know that we need to be doing more.The bottom line here… is this is not something that’s happening to just a small number of people.”

Valera also hopes to raise awareness of the symptoms of TBI. Research shows that TBIs are associated with poor cognitive and psychological outcomes, and the symptoms of TBIs don’t always look how one might expect. Anxiety, irritability, and depression are among the signs, Valera said.  “Sometimes you may think someone’s just being really annoying or aggressive or wrong (when) maybe they’ve sustained a brain injury.”

Outdoors as a balm for mental health

More and more research has shown that spending time in nature is good for your mental health—and that knowledge hasn’t been lost on folks in Detroit. Planet Detroit connected with citizens across the city that host “wellness balms” for residents through various green spaces. 

Take Gail Beasley, a resident of Islandview, who once had a thriving garden in her own backyard. But after severe storms last summer soaked her garden beds with sewage-contaminated stormwater, she started a prayer garden elsewhere in the neighborhood for people to relax, meditate, and even take home some of the vegetables she’s planted there. 

Not too far off, Demetrius Thomas can be heard striking therapeutic tones on his steel drum. Thomas often plays along the Detroit River, but he’s also a drummer-for-hire who lends soft, soothing metallic tones to yoga classes, weddings, baby showers, and other events across the city. Sunset Point at Belle Isle Park is his favorite place to practice, he told Planet Detroit, because it offers quiet and an unbroken view of the river.

“You got a whole lot of water, just doing its thing, just calming you down, relaxing you as you just watch it from side to side, wave to wave,” he said. “This is my therapy right here. Just playing my drums, playing to the water, just letting some stuff go. And then I can just go home peaceful.”

Mental health tends to improve with age

Credit: Shutterstock

While some skills are lost over time, other things get better with age. That’s the good news from a study published last week in Psychology and Aging and reported on by US News and World Report. Researchers from the University of California at San Diego confirmed that certain mental skills decline as people age—while overall mental wellbeing improves

The study, which examined 62 younger adults and 54 seniors, took a close look at participants’ mental health, specifically assessing symptoms of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and overall mental wellbeing. In addition, study subjects performed mentally demanding tasks while scientists measured their brain activity via electroencephalography (EEG). 

While younger adults showed more activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex—part of the brain’s executive control system—older adults with higher thinking performance showed greater activity in the inferior frontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps guide attention and avoid distractions. Researchers hope that the new information about older adults’ brains will eventually help support the mental health of younger adults.

“We tend to think of people in their 20s as being at their peak cognitive performance, but it is also a very stressful time in their lives,” said Jyoti Mishra, the study’s lead author. “So when it comes to mental well-being, there may be lessons to be learned from older adults and their brains.”

In other news…

via Twitter

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recently launched “Soul Shop,” an initiative aimed at training Black church leaders to recognize and help parishoners who may be struggling with mental health or who have been affected by suicide. “I personally know how important it is to have support and guidance during one of the most difficult experiences anyone can ever face as a human being,” said Phillip Tyler, board chair for the AFSP Washington State chapter, in a press release shared by Ebony Magazine. “I lost my son, Devon, to suicide and know that many like me turn to our religious institutions during these trying times. It’s very meaningful for me to be in the position to equip church leaders with the understanding and tools that will help them support and care for people like me who have faced suicide.”

Zac Efron, star of High School Musical, is opening up about his mental health. In an interview with Men’s Health, the actor shared that he struggles with agoraphobia, a mental disorder that can make it difficult to be in crowded or open spaces. 

The HHS is targeting mental health parity in a new roadmap, according to Healthcare Finance. “The administration is suggesting reforms to the way behavioral health is financed, particularly through programs such as Medicaid,” the journal reported. Learn more.

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...