July 11, 2022

By Don Sapatkin

Good Monday morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s edition, three people who attempted suicide in the past share their thoughts and memories of how they were feeling before and after they tried to take their own lives. A small study finds that Black nursing home residents are transferred to hospitals more often than whites. Strength training seems to have psychological healing power. Plus, a documentary now streaming looks at the journey of three Chicagoans through jail and mental health courts. And more.

In their own words: Life before − and after − a suicide attempt

Image via Twitter

What’s it like to have suicidal thoughts? To attempt suicide? Fortunately, the period of intense despair is usually very brief: 90% of survivors will not die by suicide later in life. Several shared their stories with Metro.co.uk, a British daily and digital site, to show others that there is a way through the enveloping darkness. The site quoted them verbatim. Excerpts:  

Jem Henderson, 36, a community manager: I attempted suicide when I was 22, so 14 years ago. I was in an unstable relationship with a narcissistic man and had been signed off sick with mental health issues for three years. I was drunk, had an argument and went home where I attempted to end my lifeI never tried again. I was grateful to be alive. I’m in such a different place now. I’ve been married, I have a six-year-old, a good job, three degrees, a poetry career. It’s not that the thought never occurs. It’s like a reflex. The words “I hate myself and I want to die” pop up when I’m embarrassed, when I feel sad, when I’ve drunk alcohol for more than three days in a row… but it’s just that – a reflex, like kicking out your leg when you tap your knee.

Emily Sterne, 26, a community care worker: I was 16 when I first attempted to end my life, and there were around nine more attempts until the age of 24A lot of the time with my suicide attempts it wasn’t necessarily a death wish, it was very much a case of ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know why I feel so bad, I’m having these thoughts of suicide and attempting it because I literally don’t know what else to do.’…It’s not like you try to kill yourself, someone finds you and you get saved and then it is over, especially when you are trying to get help and you can’t – it can feel like continual terror.

John Junior, a mental health activist: I planned suicide at the end of May 2020, a few weeks after [British Prime Minister] Boris [Johnson] put us in lockdown. I was 30 at the time…I felt suffocated and trapped, like I was in a box and had no way out, no matter what I tried to do.…When I watched a suicide storyline (on a British soap opera), that’s when I came back to reality (and later made a 10-minute BAFTA-nominated film about the experience).…I also felt brand new, like a human getting a new life again, free of the manipulation of depression. I beat it and I was strong. A burden was lifted.…What I want people to know is this: “We don’t want to die, we just want the feeling to go.”

Black nursing home residents sent to hospitals more often than whites

Transferring patients from a nursing home to a hospital isn’t a desirable thing, especially when it happens four or more times in a single year. Now a small study has found that Black nursing home residents were almost 60% more likely than whites to be transferred to hospitals that often. Residents of any race who were younger than 65 also were more likely to undergo repeat transfers, typically after suffering a stroke or trauma complicated by multiple chronic conditions.

“In addition to the financial burden and adverse health outcomes like hospital-acquired infections that can occur, transfers from a nursing home to the hospital can be traumatic, stressful, and frightening for the mental health of frail adults,” Amy Vogelsmeier, an associate professor in the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing, told Futurity, a site that publishes research news from major universities. Vogelsmeier is first author of a research article about avoidable transfers, published in BMC Health Services Research.

While the study wasn’t designed to identify the reasons for the racial disparity, comments by nursing home staff explain some of it. Among them: Black residents are more likely to be disabled and to have complex care needs and less likely to have had conversations about goals of care than were white residents. (In the “competing interests” section, three of the seven authors reported investments in NewPath Health Solutions LLC, which provides consultation and technical assistance services to long-term care facilities.)

One way to lift the weight of trauma

Photo: Shutterstock

The overall benefits of exercise for mental health are well-established, and more recent research has shown it can be a valuable tool for addressing post-traumatic stress disorder. Now, the New York Times reports, weightlifting is growing in popularity as a balm for trauma, although scientists are only beginning to examine why, exactly, some people with trauma find lifting heavy things helps them recover.

Trauma leaves people feeling helpless, powerless and weak. Lifting, adherents say, helps them feel strong − not just physically but psychologically as well. “Lifting gave me a sense of agency,” said Cheng Xu, a former paratrooper and infantry officer in the Canadian Armed Forces who experienced a rapid series of traumatic events. “It gave me a sense of control.” Over time, he said, these feelings led to his recovery.

Despite the sport’s reputation for toxic masculinity, the lifting community is becoming more inclusive and expansive as people of all genders and abilities discover the benefits. Mental health groups, meanwhile, have begun to formalize lifting as a therapeutic tool and educate trainers in how to coach clients living with physical and psychological trauma.

Jail as treatment? A mental health journey on film

Margaret Byrne’s Any Given Day “masterfully interrogates the ways in which we treat mental health,” Pat Mullen wrote in a review for POV, a Canadian film magazine. The film follows three formerly incarcerated Chicagoans through a mental health court probation program over five years as they negotiate “a system in which the county jail all but serves as the treatment center for people with mental health.” Filmmaker Byrne, grappling with her own history of mental illness, ultimately becomes a fourth subject. Any Given Day is now streaming on various PBS apps as part of the America Reframed series and can be watched in full here.

In other news…

With at least 328 mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year, anxiety and stress are radiating outward − beyond the traumatized-for-life thousands who were injured or directly witnessed the event, to most of an anxious and stressed population that hears about them, USA Today reported. Way back in 2019, an American Psychological Association survey found that 79% of adults reported experiencing stress over the possibility of a mass shooting and 33% said that fear of it prevented them from going to certain public places or events.

The term “assisted suicide” appeared in Google searches 11 times as often over the past year as the more modern “assisted dying” (and almost 50 times as often the semi-official “medical aid in dying,” the term preferred by advocates). That’s a problem, cultural anthropologist Anita Hanning writes in The Conversation, a nonprofit news organization, because the latter are medical procedures whereas “assisted suicide” is a misleading and highly stigmatized term that causes suffering patients to hide their wishes and bereaved families to mask their grief.

The next big legal fights over climate change will involve mental health, at least in Europe, according to Grist, a Washington state-based nonprofit news outlet “dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future.“ With an early but growing body of research showing the severity and magnitude of climate anxiety among young people, lawsuits are beginning to cite existing climate anxiety alongside physical impacts to support claims that youths’ fundamental rights are violated by government policies.

The notion that many people who experience trauma not only recover but go on to a better life (see Nietzsche, Friedrich: “What does not kill me, makes me stronger”) is appealing but may be “largely illusory,” according to a Science News report. The story reviewed research presented at the Association for Psychological Science’s annual convention that raised questions about a term popularized by some researchers called posttraumatic growth.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889. Services are free and available 24/7.

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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...