Monday, October 31, 2022

By Rob Waters

Good morning, readers. At MindSite News Daily, we strive to bring you a mix of mental health-related news – stories that bring hope and signs of progress and humanity, as well as those that reveal important but uncomfortable truths or blow the whistle on egregious harms and backwards polices. Our lead item today unfortunately falls into the latter category – a New York Times investigation reveals a Louisiana juvenile detention facility where adolescents are routinely assaulted, isolated and mistreated. Our second item is no less distressing. It concerns the impact of extremism, conspiracy theories and mental illness in fueling political violence.

We also share advice from Forbes on how to cope with work stress, excerpts from letters to the editor responding to the New York Times’ mental health-focused opinion series, and some tips on boosting the health of your brain.

New York Times investigation shows how decades-long pattern of abuse of children at Louisiana detention center led to rash of suicides

Warning: the following summary describes egregious mistreatment of children. If you think such a story may be too disturbing, consider reading past it.

Not even the strong headline the Times uses for this story – ‘Dying Inside’: Chaos and Cruelty in Louisiana Juvenile Detention – fully captures the horrific treatment that children in a Louisiana juvenile detention facility have been subjected to for almost 30 years. The report documents the abuse that teenagers at the state-run Ware Youth Center have been subjected to since it opened in 1993 and that have led to a rash of suicide attempts – at least 64 in 2019 and 2020 – along with 91 or more escape attempts since the beginning of 2019, when two children took their own lives in the span of a few days. The children acted out of despair and desperation, the Times reports, because they feel that “that no one is going to rescue them from repeated acts of physical violence, sexual assault and psychological torment.”

The investigation, carried out in partnership with the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism, was based on more than 100 interviews with people who’d been incarcerated or worked at the facility, along with court records and security footage. This institutional cruelty – dished out in the name of the state and people of Louisiana – was carried out with impunity, the Times report shows:

“For years, Ware’s leaders have failed to report complaints of abuse, hired unqualified employees and disregarded state rules. Records offer no evidence that state regulators have ever fined or punished Ware, or threatened its contracts, even as inspectors have documented the same failings year after year. Local law-enforcement officials have been largely dismissive of sexual-abuse allegations at Ware.”

This is powerful – and deeply disturbing – reporting.

A gathering storm: At a time of rising stress and mental illness, QAnon and fringe conspiracy theories stoke violence

The man who invaded Nancy Pelosi’s Home and attacked her husband with a hammer, shouting, “Where’s Nancy?” has dabbled in fringe political projects for years and recently posted missives on social media with “rants about technology, aliens, communists, religious minorities and global elites,” AP reported. One was titled “Q,” a reference to QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory that argues that the country is being run by a cabal of child sex traffickers and satanic pedophiles.

Last year, the day after the Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol, another QAnon follower was arrested after texting friends that he was “thinking about heading over to Pelosi’s… speech and putting a bullet in her noggin on live TV,” Mother Jones reported. The FBI found an assault rifle, guns and hundreds of rounds of ammo in his trailer. A Michigan QAnon adherent killed his wife and dog and injured his daughter last year before being killed by police.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, which has tracked activities by QAnon adherents, found in a report this year that “at least 60% of QAnon criminal defendants had significant mental health issues, particularly the ones who were involved in murders,” according to Mother Jones. The report contained this conclusion:

“Traditional counterterrorism strategies are not designed to mitigate threats of violence that are primarily found in the household. We argue that a public health response based on violence prevention and support services would be a more effective strategy for countering the conspiracy theory.”

Letters to editor respond to New York Times opinion series on mental health

We’ve written here about several of the essays submitted to The New York Times opinion series on mental health. So have letter writers, expressing their own views. Bessel A. van der Kolk and Judith L. Herman, two prominent psychiatry professors, and Jennifer Hoult, a former prosecutor, took issues with Ethan Watters’ essay about the overreach of therapists three decades ago who claimed they could help clients unearth repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse.

“There is no question that incompetent therapists and police exist, or that, following relentless coercive pressure, some highly suggestible people are biologically capable of forming empirically false memories, or simply lying to stop coercive pressure,” wrote Hoult, who successfully sued her own father alleging he had sexually abused her as a child. “The existence of suggestible people does not refute the existence of people who are not prone to suggestion who survive life-threatening trauma, experience dissociative amnesia and recovered memories, and find corroboration for their trauma memories.”

Another letter writer, Ann T. Augustine, director of a community mental health clinic, wrote in reference to a different column:

“America has neglected people with serious mental illnesses for far too long. High-quality care exists. Our vibrant, caring staff members are attuned to the compounding traumas of poverty and racism and dedicated to supporting people with serious mental illness. The problem is that we are flooded by the demand and don’t have the resources to pay competitive wages to retain or attract needed staff while private psychotherapists earn triple what we offer. This is not sustainable.”

In other news…

See a therapist in training…Be flexible with scheduling…Go out-of-network, and if you need to, ask for a sliding scale: These are a few of the suggestions offered in a Washington Post column for people seeking therapy in the midst of a major shortage.

Play Wordle, cancel the noise, turn off your phone: Forbes offers tips to beat stress and boost your brain as you try to get through your workday.

The suggestions include using noise-canceling headphones or earbuds to reduce noise pollution. The column was inspired by the release of a new World Health Organization report with a promising title: Optimizing brain health across the life course.

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:

Rob WatersFounding Editor

Rob Waters, the founding editor of MindSite News, is an award-winning health and mental health journalist. He was a contributing writer to Health Affairs and has worked as a staff reporter or editor at...