March 7, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers! Today’s newsletter anticipates – with some trepidation – two new streaming TV series focused on mental health themes. State attorneys general launch investigations into TikTok. A writer examines Vladimir Putin’s childhood and finds lots of adversity – poverty, hunger, bullying – that helped form a personality seemingly devoid of empathy. Also, the devastating “eco-grief” of remote Labrador villagers facing severe climate impacts and a children’s book looks at the issue.

Coming soon: Two streaming series built around mentally ill characters

Mental health advocates have long been concerned with how mental illness is portrayed in the media – and research suggests there was good reason for those concerns. Have things changed? Two new series may provide a clue.

Moon Knight, Marvel’s deeply troubled antihero – he suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID, formerly known as multiple personality disorder) – is coming to Disney Plus in a six-episode series starting March 30, The Scotsman reports. Moon Knight’s multiple personas belong to his alter ego, Marc Spector, the son of a Jewish rabbi who escaped from Germany on the eve of the Third Reich. Probably no condition has been more distorted and sensationalized than DID. One recent article asked the question: “What does the media get right about dissociative identity disorder?” Its answer: “Almost nothing!”

YouTube video

Marvel Studios’ Moon Knight | Official Trailer | Disney+

Over on Hulu, Elle Fanning stars in a plucked-from-the-headlines story about Michelle Carter, the Massachusetts teen whose texts egged on her boyfriend to commit suicide. The Girl from Plainville, an eight-episode series based on the 2017 Esquire article about the case, begins March 29. Screenwriter Liz Hannah told Huff Post that Fanning studied the real-life Carter and “threw herself into making sure that the movement and the way she spoke was authentic.”

In other pop culture news, Sandra Oh tells Entertainment Tonight (a little) about her childhood depression and anxiety. And MSN examines how drug addiction and withdrawal are depicted in HBO’s smash hit series Euphoria. Conclusion: realistically.

Coalition of attorneys general launch TikTok investigation

Attorneys general from eight states, red and blue, launched an investigation to determine whether TikTok’s design and promotion harms kids’ physical and mental health, the Washington Post reports. There is increasing evidence of social media’s toll on children’s mental health and well-being, California Attorney General Rob Bonta told Yahoo Finance Live. “We want to know what TikTok knew about those harms to children, when they knew it, and what they did to increase engagement.” The coalition includes AGs from Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont.

The announcement comes four months after whistleblower Frances Haugen described in detail how Facebook deliberately hooks children and other users. Last week President Biden called on Congress to act to rein in social media’s harmful effects on children and gave a shout-out to Haugen, who attended his State of the Union address.

Did a traumatic childhood make Putin heartless?

The world may not be ready to empathize with Vladimir Putin as he inflicts unprovoked carnage on the Ukrainian people, but Jane Stevens has an explanation for his callous indifference. Stevens is the founder and editor of ACEsTooHigh, a news site that reports on the impact of adverse childhood experiences.

Photo: Shutterstock

Stevens says Putin’s childhood was laden with ACEs – “lack of food, inadequate housing, bullying, neglect, parental depression, etc. And he obviously inherited a bunch of ACEs from his parents, including wartime trauma personified by Nazi forces that threatened their existence and their homeland,” she writes. “But what’s also evident is what he didn’t seem to get: appropriate attachment – the strong and requisite bond between a parent and a child that leads to a healthy life and without which children can die or be damaged… Kindness and affection didn’t seem to be part of Putin’s world.”

In other invasion news, NPR reports that many LGBTQ refugees are likely to face hostility if not worse in Poland and Hungary, countries with anti-gay histories enshrined in law. And many transgender women are finding it impossible to leave Ukraine to begin with because government IDs still mark them as male – and men are forced to stay and fight under the country’s conscription laws. Women do fight in Ukraine’s military, and soldiers are not expelled for being gay or transgender, but they are not necessarily welcomed either.

Climate change roundup: A new kid’s book, a new report, and “eco-grief” in an Inuit village

A young Philadelphia couple has written an illustrated children’s book intended to help parents have “the climate talk” with their kids, according to the Allegheny Front, a public radio program focused on the environment. In Coco’s Fire: Changing Climate Anxiety into Climate Action, Coco the squirrel and her father go on a journey to stop climate change. 65% of the proceeds from sales of the book will support research on climate change and mental health.

The book for kids comes as the first examination of climate change’s expected impact on mental health was released by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The chapter‘s co-lead author, Wilfrid Laurier University Professor Robert McLeman, told the Canadian news site that his team’s assessment of 1,600 scholarly publications over four years identified three pathways by which climate change may affect mental health:

• experiencing natural disasters that lead to long-term anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder

• the moral injury of watching loved ones suffer from extreme weather events

• instilling “climate anxiety” in youth who develop a “well-founded” fear for their futures.

Another author described to JapanToday the wrenching grief of Inuit residents of the remote coastal village of Rigolet in Labrador and Newfoundland. In research going back a decade, people described the land like a family member – “just as much a part of your life as breathing,” said Ashlee Cunsolo, a researcher at the Labrador Campus of Memorial University. Cunsolo describes the impact of climate change there as a kind of ecological grief – one of a range of new term for environmental emotions that also includes solastalgia – “the homesickness that you have when you’re still at home.”

States pile on against transgender kids

Iowa enacted a law banning trans girls from participating on female sports teams from kindergarten through college, NBC News reports, and became the 11th GOP-led state in two years to limit transgender students’ participation in school athletics. Indiana lawmakers sent a similar bill to their governor, according to the Associated Press, and the Alabama Senate approved a bill that would criminalize hormone treatments for transgender youth, Mobile’s WKRG reports. Bucking the trend, Utah’s  governor said he would veto a surprise bill passed by his fellow Republicans, according to KUER in Salt Lake City.

Students across Florida walked out of school – and one organizer was subsequently suspended – to protest the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would prohibit primary school discussions of gender identify and sexual orientation, NBC News reports. A Texas judge temporarily blocked a state child protection agency investigation of parents whose teenager received gender-affirming care (the state immediately appealed), according to the Texas Tribune, even as the Texas Health and Human Services agency removed from its site suicide prevention resources for transgender youth, Your Tango reports. And Dr. Jack Turban, a child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at Stanford, wrote in a commentary published by the Santa Fe New Mexican that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on standard transgender care, which the governor labeled “child abuse,” was a tragic mistake “on par with putting children with diabetes into foster care because their parents gave them their insulin.”

In other news…

In a landmark settlement, the Sackler family and oxycontin-maker Purdue Pharma, the company they owned, agreed to pay as much as $6 billion to avoid thousands of trials seeking to hold them responsible for the opioid crisis and to begin paying states and communities soon, the New York Times reports. The deal still faces potential hurdles in the courts.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a dramatic new solution for the state’s intertwined mental health, addiction and homelessness crises: moving people with addiction and major psychiatric disorders through a new system of mental health courts that could provide medication, housing and other care, the Los Angeles Times reported in two stories (here and here).

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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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...