Monday, April 17, 2023
By Don Sapatkin
Good morning, readers. In today’s Daily: Investors pour money into new behavioral health facilities. Virtual reality and telehealth come together to treat PTSD. The mental health of home health aides is slipping. An app called Love Your Period teaches girls to manage the challenges of menstruation. And the barbaric death of an incarcerated mentally ill man.
Virtual reality therapy may be coming to a home near you
For years, therapy clinics have put headsets on their patients and used virtual reality to treat PTSD and phobias. Patients re-experience traumatic scenes that trigger painful memories, reframing their fears with help of a therapist – a technique called exposure therapy. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports, researchers are developing VR-based therapy to be used at home – with help from a tele-therapist. Clinicians can even send pre-made smells such as diesel fuel and burning rubber to make the experience more real.
“It is a lot easier to multiply headsets than mental health providers,” Anne Bailey, director of clinical technology innovation for the VA, told the Journal. Her team is starting a pilot to send a virtual-reality headset home with veterans for an eight-week course to address chronic pain. Other clinicians are pulling images from the internet and taking photos to create new scenarios that are as realistic and effective as possible.
Warning: This is hard to read, but too outrageous to ignore
This is one of the most disturbing stories I’ve ever read: A schizophrenic man having a psychotic episode at his home was brought by police to an emergency room – and then taken to an Indiana county jail because he pulled a nurse’s hair. He was left naked in solitary confinement for three weeks without mental health care or even access to a toilet until he basically starved to death, according to a lawsuit. Surveillance footage obtained by our friends at The Appeal shows him over a period of 21 days screaming, rocking back and forth, licking the walls and wasting away. His cause of death at the hospital where he was finally taken was listed as “multiple organ failure due to refusal to eat or drink with altered mental status due to untreated schizophrenia.” We republished the harrowing story, which you can read here.
Texas judge bars abortion pill, citing concerns over women’s mental health. Researchers say he cherry-picked the studies
The federal judge who overturned the FDA’s approval of the widely used abortion pill mifepristone did so, he said, because the agency failed to consider “the intense psychological trauma” that can affect women having medical abortions. But critics says Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of Texas cherry-picked studies that support his views. Several of the studies he cited have been criticized for faulty methodology, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The “mental health impacts on women who have terminated their pregnancies have been studied extensively ─ and the most rigorous research doesn’t support Kacsmaryk’s assertions,” the Times reported. As MindSite News reported last summer, a comprehensive long-term study followed the psychological wellbeing of women who were initially denied abortions due to state laws. Some were forced to carry their pregnancies to term, while other were able to obtain abortions. Five years later, 95% of women who ended an unwanted pregnancy felt they had made the right choice and were no more likely to contemplate suicide than those who carried their pregnancies to term.
Kacsmaryk’s ruling was temporarily stayed by the Supreme Court on April 14, to give the full court time to consider an emergency appeal by the Biden administration.
Rising demand for mental health services leads to building boom for treatment facilities
The basic math is simple: Mental health needs in the United States have been growing, and there aren’t nearly treatment beds to meet the need. As a result, the New York Times reported, health systems, private investors and government agencies have been creating and expanding clinics, hospitals, and treatment centers. The overall behavioral health market is expected to grow to $105 billion by 2029, up from about $77 billion in 2021, according to Fortune Business Insights, an industry research organization.
Real estate investors and private equity firms are among those investing heavily to construct or repurpose old buildings to serve behavioral health needs. “We’re in the midst of a behavioral health awakening,” said John Hennegan, a founding partner of Shore Capital, a private equity firm that invests in small behavioral health companies.
Landmark Recovery, an addiction treatment provider based in Franklin, Tenn., plans to open 23 new centers by the end of 2024, on top of the 14 it already operates. Still, progress is often slow: It can take an average of 2-1/2 half years to open a substance use treatment facility.
The mental health of home-health workers is suffering
For millions of health care workers who assist infirm and disabled people in their homes, pay is low, isolation is high and mental health is poor. They often earn little more than minimum wage as they care for – and often face verbal abuse from – deeply dependent clients who may be suffering from pain, loneliness and dementia. Since the vast majority of Americans say they want to age in place, the number of home health aide jobs is expected to increase 25% by 2031.
Improving the working conditions and mental health of home-health workers isn’t just important for them, it will also improve care for patients, according to STAT, a health new site. Peer support programs could help alleviate some of the pressures, according to a 2020 study – but such programs only go so far. Big policy changes are needed to improve pay, benefits and job security, according to Emma Tsui, an associate professor at the CUNY School of Public Health.
In other news…
“Vanderpump Rules” star Raquel Leviss checked into a mental health facility, TODAY reported, after rumors began circulating that Leviss was having an affair with co-star Tom Sandoval. A representative for Leviss said she was seeking help for “mental health and trauma therapy.”
Starting to menstruate can be a source of anxiety and shame for many young women. Two sisters in Wales started a Love Your Period campaign to normalize that time of the month and help girls avoid the embarrassment that can affect them “emotionally, physically and mentally.” One of the sisters, Molly Fenton, now 20, told the BBC:
“I remember being shown in school three times how to put a condom on, but never told how to use a tampon, or about female contraception.”
For children, a parent’s death is a heartbreaking experience that can cause long-term mental health problems. Families that come together during a time of loss to create a sense of support, intimacy and connection can mitigate those outcomes, according to a recent study. It found that teenagers who lost a parent to cancer when they were 13 to 16 years old were less likely to report depression, anxiety, sleep problems and emotional numbness six to nine years later if they recalled strong family cohesion in the year after the parent’s death. The study was described in a press release.
Walmart is launching a mental health education effort to teach its leaders and managers how to respond when employees struggle with behavioral health issues, a Forbes writer reported. The course will be led by clinicians from Lyra Health, which contracts with employers to improve workplace mental health, A Walmart employee last year killed six workers at a store in Virginia. A lawsuit filed by a survivor claimed she submitted a complaint about the gunman and the danger he posed to fellow workers, but that Walmart continued to employ the man, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
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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