November 11, 2021

Hello, MindSite News Daily Readers. In today’s newsletter, you’ll learn about a seven-month investigation revealing severe abuse and neglect in North Carolina’s psychiatric centers for children. You’ll also read the results of a survey showing that half of Las Vegas high school students knew someone who had attempted or committed suicide, and you’ll learn about a “safe place” set up in some Ohio schools that provides a respite for students who feel stressed out and need to relax. 

Kids suffer from predators, punching and neglect in North Carolina’s residential psychiatric centers

A boy at Jackson Springs Treatment Center near Fayetteville, N.C., was repeatedly punched by an employee who had served prison time for second-degree murder. He broke the child’s eye socket, but the facility didn’t take the boy to the hospital until four days later. An investigation of 40 psychiatric residential treatment facilities in North Carolina found that many children were neglected, restrained, sedated, and suffered physical and sexual abuse during their stays. Other teens were shipped far away from their families to facilities in other states with reputations for abuse.

These are among the stunning abuses uncovered by a 7-month investigation into North Carolina youth residential psychiatric facilities by the USA Today Network. The report included in-depth interviews with patients such as 15-year-old Elizabeth Dickey, who was made to strip naked and squat as a nurse checked her for drugs at a facility called Strategic Behavioral Health. The teen, a survivor of sexual assault, was traumatized by the strip search, according to USA Today. During her 4-week stay, she said she regularly heard teens being threatened with restraints and sedation, and that she only saw her therapist once and the psychiatrist twice for five minutes each. Reflecting on her months at the facility, she said, “I felt like I was on fire all the time.”

Most of the children in the dismal psychiatric facilities were Black and brown and served by the state’s Medicaid system. Teens who had been in the foster care system were held in facilities an average of 184 days. Said Coryne Dunn, public policy director for Disability Rights North Carolina: “These kids have been repeatedly failed by the system. What we are doing now is setting kids up for failure.” 

Employers are expanding access to mental health care

A new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that many employers are adding mental health benefits to help workers cope with the emotional and mental health fallout of the pandemic. Some 39% of the 1,700 nonfederal public and private companies that reponded have made changes to their mental health and substance abuse benefits. Among those changes:

• 31% expanded access to mental health coverage, such as allowing employees to make appointments through telemedicine, according to an article by Kaiser Health News. 

• About 16% offered new mental health resources through employee assistance programs.
• Approximately 6% widened access and 4% reduced cost-sharing for visits with mental health providers.

The survey, which ranged from January to July 2021 and was conducted jointly by Kaiser Family Foundation and the journal Health Affairs, also found that workers were tapping into their mental health coverage. Some 38% percent of employers with 1,000 or more employees reported that they saw an uptick in employees accessing mental health support in 2021.  

What Nobody Asks About Teens and Social Media

Ever since Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen released thousands of internal company documents to the Wall Street Journal, story after story has decried Facebook’s inaction upon learning that its Instagram app was having adverse mental health effects on teenage girls, according to a NewYorker story. 

Calls for penalties against Facebook abounded. But New Yorker writer Cal Newport says that the questions missing in all the commentary and discussion in Congress was this: Should teens be using social media at all? “Connecting directly with friends is great — texting, Zoom, FaceTime, and Snapchat are not so bad,” social psychologist Jonathan Haidt told Newport. Haidt’s real concern is with social media that is set up to “keep the child’s eyes glued to the screen for as long as possible in a never-ending stream of social comparison and validation-seeking from strangers.”

Other experts were split. One felt teens would be better off without social media (but noted this may be unrealistic given its ubiquity) and two who felt the case against social media use was overblown. But the author encourages parents, teens and others to keep asking these fundamental questions. Simply writing scathing editorials or skewering social media executives in Congress, he says, “sidesteps the conversation that these companies are trying hardest to avoid: the conversation about whether, in the end, the buzzy, digital baubles they offer are really worth all the trouble they’re creating.”

Ohio Middle School Creates a ‘Safe Place’ for Kids to Go When Stressed

When students at Olmsted Falls Middle School in Olmsted Falls, Ohio are struggling to deal with stress, they have John’s Safe Place to escape to: a room near the school’s counseling center that features a comfy bean bag chair, a couch and a large fish tank.

“We feel that mental health is equally important to academic success,” Olmstead Falls Middle School counselor Kathy Suvak told, the sister publication of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “We understand that kids do struggle – even the best of kids. They just need a space to kind of relax and chill and center themselves, even if it’s just for 10 minutes.” Since the beginning of the school year, she added, about 100 students have visited the room. One of the room’s highlights, according to Suvak, is an “encouragement board” where students can leave messages for their peers. “They’re writing (notes) like ‘Stay the course’ or ‘Be the sunshine in someone’s life today.’ I think that’s the best part of it all.”

The room at Olmsted Middle School is one of six similar rooms at schools in Northeast Ohio, named after John C. Haney, an area high school student who committed suicide in 2017. Following his death, his parents established a foundation in their son’s name with a mission of supporting teens with mental health issues.

Half of youth know someone who attempted or committed suicide, Lady Gaga-backed survey finds

Lady Gaga, shown here at the 2010 Grammy Awards, set up the foundation to help youth who, like herself, suffer from mental health issues. Joe Seer/Shutterstock

Nearly 50% of young people – and a majority of Black and LGBTQ youth – surveyed in Las Vegas report that they know somebody who has attempted or committed suicide, according to a new survey commissioned by the Born This Way Foundation set up by singer Lady Gaga. “So many of my peers were going through struggles mentally and they were too afraid to share anything,” said 20-year-old Colyn, in an article on the website of the local Fox affiliate, fox5vegas. Colyn went to high school in Las Vegas and volunteers for the singer’s organization, which holds workshops on suicide prevention. 

In the report, based on online interviews with 314 youth aged 13 to 24, more young respondents report they know people who attempted or committed suicide (62% and 52% respectively) than died of COVID (39% and 43%). Yet about a third said they rarely or never have access to mental health support. The cost of seeing a therapist or counselor was the greatest barrier to getting help. Some 80% of the respondents said they would feel comfortable taking a class that provided mental health and peer support. A related finding: “Peer support skills matter. Respondents share they are feeling more “anxious” (60%) than in past years, and they turn to each other for support with 71% of survey takers saying they rely on peers and friends rather than mental health professionals.”

The survey is the latest step in Lady Gaga’s work on teens and mental health. In 2019, Born This Way sponsored the Teen Mental Health First Aid program, which was piloted in eight Las Vegas high schools, according to The program, run by the National Council for Behavioral Health, teaches teens and young adults how to recognize signs of mental distress and how to help. “To be honest, it was probably one of the most satisfying and toughest things I’ve done in education. It was surprising how serious the kids took it, how thankful they were, how helpful they found it,” said Andrew Magness, a teacher at Valley High School in Las Vegas, one of the eight schools picked for the pilot program.

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.

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Laurie Udesky reports on mental health, social welfare, health equity and public policy issues from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area.