May 16, 2022

By Don Sapatkin

Happy Monday morning, readers. From our weekend inspection of headlines and stories, the MindSite News Daily found some compelling stories to celebrate, and to reflect on. On the inspirational side, singer-songwriter Carla Morrison talks about how she reclaimed her mental health, and a British firefighter walks with other men as a way to share feelings and break the taboo of talking about men’s mental health. On the downside, two news organizations look at state bureaucracies that have failed troubled children and incarcerated adults.

Carla Morrison’s mental health journey, in song

In  “Ansiedad (Anxiety),” Mexican singer-songwriter Carla Morrison sings about the anxiety she’s known since her pre-teen years and through three Latin Grammy Awards:

En el viaje, perdí mi verdad
Siendo una estrella dejé de brillar

(In the journey, I lost my truth
Already being a star I stopped shining)

Many of the songs on Morrison’s new album, “El Renacimiento (The Renaissance),” are about her mental health journey. Sharing it, honestly, in song and on social media, has been key to reclaiming her mental health, Morrison told the Los Angeles Times in an emotional interview ahead of a 19-city tour. Last year, she started Martes de Ansiedad (Anxiety Tuesday), a virtual conversation on Instagram Live. She often starts a conversation by sharing one of her anxieties and asking her fans to comment.

In 2018, after more than 15 years performing, Morrison was faltering, flattened by comments from strangers who called her fat, stupid and untalented. “They broke mi persona,” she said. She took a hiatus to study music in Paris, where no one recognized her. She walked along the river, crying for hours, and never feeling judged. Then she and her husband moved to Los Angeles, and back to reality. Her father had recently died, and Morrison’s sadness intensified. But she found a therapist, made use of ketamine and her fear and sadness have lifted. “It’s been a journey,” Morrison said. She wants to bring you along.

Can asking about firearms help prevent suicides?

How do you help people who may be considering suicide? Asking the right questions would be a start. Firearms were used in 24,000 U.S. suicides in 2020, far more than the next two methods combined. Yet gun owners, most of whom are men, are least likely to tell someone – including professionals – that they are having suicidal thoughts, Ideastream Public Media reported.

The action phase of a crisis that leads to suicide typically is sudden and short-lived, so slowing things down can be critical – and that’s where gun safes, gun locks and trigger locks can help. “Placing these barriers between someone and ready access to a loaded weapon oftentimes slows the process down long enough that a person moves out of that peak crisis,“ said Craig Bryan, a clinical psychologist at Ohio State University and author of Rethinking Suicide: Why Prevention Fails, and How We Can Do Better.

Adding a few questions to widely used risk-screening tools may help surface suicidal thinking among gun owners, said Bryan. His new paper in JAMA Network Open found different groups respond differently to the same questions. Most screenings ask whether someone has thought about suicide, not how they might do it. Adding questions that assess “thoughts about specific ways or methods of attempting suicide” – with a gun, for example – may improve detection of those at high risk, he and his co-authors conclude.

Brit blokes walk and talk about their mental health

Across the U.K., men are walking for mental health. Not just for exercise, not to raise money, but to talk. “A while back, after a traumatic incident, I realized that I was not coping, and needed to talk to someone,” recalled Dean Corney, a firefighter with the London Fire Brigade. “I went to work the next day, got the chaps together and said: ‘Look, I’m not coping, and need to talk.’”

The response was instantaneous – other men admitted they needed help, too. Corney and a colleague decided to start a walking-and-talking group that would be open to all men, with some “joining regularly and others dipping in and out, as they feel the need,” he told Positive.News. Similar groups have popped up in other towns (but not, according to a quick Google search, in the U.S., where you are unlikely to stumble upon The Proper Blokes Club). Corney’s effort has birthed four offshoots.

“People even turn up in torrential rain,” Corney said, an indicator of how necessary they are. “Just in our small group, we have five people who were on long-term sick leave but have now returned to work. They say that the group walk is their ‘reset’ for the week, they know they can cope with anything, because they can talk about it during the weekly walk.”

Troubled kids in Florida, inmate suicides in Georgia – and the states’ roles in the wreckage

A New York Times investigation looked at the history of two middle-school-aged children in Florida, a boy and a girl, who fled from a group home, broke into a house, found weapons and engaged in a shootout with sheriff’s deputies. The girl had been placed in five group homes, one foster home and four mental hospitals in the two years after she was removed from her mother’s custody. She was committed to psychiatric facilities dozens of times during her childhood. Yet intensive residential therapeutic care was provided just once. For one month.

The Times found that rather than supporting its chronically underfunded mental health system, Florida has expanded its use of brief, involuntary emergency mental health commitments, forcing tens of thousands of children as young as 5 and 6 into psychiatric facilities where, according to one report, they face “conditions that would harm and traumatize even adults.”

One state north, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution uncovered 125 suicides by inmates in state-managed prison facilities since 2017. Most were mentally ill, with known conditions and risks, yet they were neglected, isolated and treated with cruelty, the paper reported. An earlier story found that inmates at Georgia’s second-largest prison for women were subjected to brutal violence, as a gang of inmates intimidated the prison’s understaffed security. In 2019, the most recent year for which comparable state and national statistics are available, the suicide rate in Georgia prisons was 44 per 100,000 inmates, 60% higher than the national average.

In other news …

Walmart will train its workers on how to identify, understand and respond to people who appear to be struggling with their mental health, according to the business journal Bizwomen.

Drug overdose deaths leapt 15% to nearly 108,000 in 2021, the New York Times reported – pushing the number of lives lost since the turn of the century over 1 million. Rising use of street fentanyl, which is increasingly mixed with meth as well as other street drugs, again accounted for most of the increase and the most fatalities overall, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Therapists, defined. Many people may not know exactly what psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and counselors do.  This helpful story in the wellness-oriented site, Everyday Health, describes the training, licensing and work of these mental health clinicians. (We covered coaches last week.)

Veterinarians have higher suicide rates than the rest of the population, likely for many reasons, from debt following graduation from veterinary schools to easy access to poisons to the grief experienced after repeatedly euthanizing pets they’d cared for since they were kittens or puppies, according to Discover magazine. Pharmacists, too, take their own lives more often than the rest of us, the University of California, San Diego, reports in a press release, describing  an analysis led by its researchers and published in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association.

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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Type of work:

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...