July 6, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s edition, a man with OCD has a timely warning: Don’t become your diagnosis. A Salvadoran American poet calls for a focus on healing, not punishment. And psychedelics research is surging in Europe while regulators lag behind. Plus: Is AI therapy for you?


One patient’s view: Don’t let your diagnosis become your identity 

Image: Shutterstock

For many people, a mental health diagnosis can bring about relief. Brad Stulberg was one of them. After an onslaught of nonstop, intrusive thoughts left him feeling anxious and filled with dread, he welcomed the diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder he received from a psychiatrist because it helped him understand what he was experiencing. “I went from drowning in a bottomless and unexplainable sea of terror to ‘having OCD,’” he wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. “The label helped me make sense of my reality, pointed the way to a specific type of treatment (something called ‘exposure and response prevention’) and made me feel less alone.”

But instead of a tool that helped him get back to his life, the label quickly became the central facet of his identity, he said. His sense of self became so intertwined with having OCD that some of his therapy began to focus on disconnecting from the label. But even as mental illness becomes destigmatized and more people become aware of the need for treatment, he worries that “mental health diagnoses are being embraced as identity statements.” 

“Labeling an individual with a diagnosis can allow them to better understand their situation and access the support services they need to function,” Colorado-based physician Emily Johnson told Stulberg. “On the other hand, labels can carry stigmas and be constraining, unnecessarily confining people to certain boxes.” And assigning a label to all of those people “would cease to be useful.” We need categories and labels to make sense of ourselves and our world, Stulberg argues, but we have to take care to not allow labels to define us.


Activist/artist Christopher Soto uses poetry to challenge policing and prison

Photo via Twitter

In a debut volume of poetry, Diaries of a Terrorist, Christopher Soto dares to “imagine the world as we want it to be.” Inspired by personal experiences with violence and community trauma, the volume’s themes center around the abolition of prison and incarceration, according to a feature published by NBC News. He points to statistics from the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) that show that only about 3% of sexual assaults lead to incarceration and asks: “Why are we so heavily invested in police and prisons? What about the other 97% of victims of sexual assaults?…Shouldn’t we be investing in systems that help them, rather than relying on a prison framework that re-perpetuates systems of violence?” 

Journalist Roberto Lovato, who also has Salvadoran roots, praises Soto’s work for “telling more love-soaked, and not blood-soaked, stories” about Central American people, focusing on the richness of their lives – not just MS-13 and violence. Adds Soto: “I feel like, for the US media, it is easier to talk about our deaths – rather than the breadth of our lives, the beauty we produce, and joy we share, as a people, when we are together.” 


Can probiotics really help improve your mental health?

Credit: Shutterstock

Are articles or posts popping up in your social media feed urging you to buy some “good bacteria” to flatten your belly and boost your mental health? They are for me. One of my aunts has sent me a bottle of lactobacillus acidophilus every other month for the past five years. I don’t ask why, and she just urges me to “Take it!” – along with the other supplements in her packages. But I bet she’s familiar with the linkage between gut health and mental health. There’s even a field called “psychobiotics” focused on the idea that probiotics – good gut bacteria – might help people improve their mental health. 

But will probiotics really relieve stress and depression?  Megan Rossi, a gut health researcher, author, and dietician told Women’s Health that more than 20 clinical trials studying probiotics in the treatment of anxiety and depression have led to inconclusive results – and larger studies are needed.

Psychedelic research charges ahead in Western Europe

It’s not just in the U.S. where researchers are moving quickly to study psychedelics as treatments for mental illness. Five years ago, there were no companies developing  psychedelics as therapy, but now there are around 50, said David Nutt, a professor at Imperial College London, in a lengthy and interesting interview with POLITICO. Nutt, who also co-founded and chairs the Psychedelic Access and Research European Alliance (PAREA), says psychedelics may help some of the roughly 50% of people with conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, anorexia, and addictions who haven’t been helped by standard treatments.

Despite the potential shown by drugs like psilocybin and MDMA, they’re still illegal, classified by the United Nations as Schedule 1 narcotics. That makes the cost and time needed to get a license one of the biggest barriers to accelerating the research. “There’s a real pressure now to try to accelerate this research by…getting them out of Schedule 1 and putting them into Schedule 2,” Nutt said. “If that happened in Western countries that would greatly facilitate research.”


In other news…

Could AI therapy be for you? Psychology Today explored the benefits and drawbacks of therapy guided by a machine. Pros: Therapy would be accessible almost immediately from anywhere in the world. Cons: Users might worry that data from their sessions with a bot would spread to places they don’t want it or trigger ads in their social media feeds.

Lawmakers in New Jersey recently added more than $480 million to its 2023 state budget to provide mental health services to its residents. The money, Assemblywoman Sadaf F. Jaffer (D-Somerset) told WHYY, “is vital to child development and wellbeing.” About $5.6 million will be set aside to recruit and hire more mental health professionals. 

In a heartbreaking op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, Cheryl Hayton wrote that the CARE Court proposed by California Governor Gavin Newsom would not have addressed her unhoused son’s most pressing need – long-term, stable housing. He died not long after being made to leave a halfway home due to a bureaucratic glitch. “Stable housing is not optional, especially for people with severe mental challenges,” she wrote. “No new court structure meant to help people like my son can be successful if it doesn’t assure housing and assistance for as long as people need. And schizophrenia, for example, lasts a lifetime.”


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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Courtney Wise

Courtney Wise Randolph is a writer and creative based in Detroit, Michigan.