August 15, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers! In today’s edition, we explore how troubled patients seeing the dentist in some U.S. community health centers may not only get their teeth fixed – they may get linked up to a therapist as well. Also, we look at a new study that links overexposure to wildfire smoke with an increased risk of dementia and how photography helped a Welsh man regain his mental health.

Plus: Why so many Americans are seeking ADHD medications.

Getting Dental Patients to Open Up for More Than the Dentist: How Community Health Centers Are Integrating Mental Health Into Their Dental Clinics

Credit: Paula Ginsborg

Two years ago, Stanley T.’s parents passed away. The 54-year-old retired electrician, who emigrated with them to the Bay Area from Vietnam over four decades ago, experienced profound grief from his loss. He couldn’t talk about it with his wife, who’d also passed away. And he hid how he was feeling from his two grown kids. 

“I didn’t want to burden other people with my issues,” said Stanley, who asked that his last name be withheld to protect his privacy.  

Around the same time, he went for a routine dental check-up at Asian Health Services in Oakland, Calif., and filled out a patient intake form. This time, though, there was an additional list of questions inviting him to rate how he’d recently been feeling: How often does he feel little to no interest in doing things? Did he think about hurting himself? It surprised him to be asked these questions, but he answered anyway – and began an unexpected journey into therapy. “There was somebody there to console me and help me move forward with life,” he says. In this MindSite News story by Celeste Hamilton Dennis, find out more about how community health centers are integrating mental health screenings into their dental clinics.

Overexposure to wildfire smoke linked to dementia risk

It’s well established that prolonged exposure to smoke bodes poorly for our lungs. Now we know it’s bad for our brains, too. “We saw specifically that emissions from agriculture and wildfires may be more harmful to the brain” than other emissions, Boya Zhang, lead author of a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, told STAT News. The findings are especially notable as wildfires burn harsher than average due to higher global temperatures and droughts. 

It is suspected that people living in areas with high levels of fine particulate matter called PM2.5 are at higher risk of developing dementia as they age. PM2.5 bits are so minuscule that they circumvent a body’s nasal defenses and head straight into the lungs. From there, they travel through the bloodstream and into vital organs, including the brain, wrecking cells and prompting inflammation. Zhang and her colleagues did cognitive assessments on 30,000 people in the U.S. who did not have dementia but had been exposed to different types of air pollution between 1998 and 2016. “Those who had higher residential PM2.5 levels were linked with increased risk of developing dementia,” with the strongest risk linked to agricultural pollution and wildfires, according to STAT News.

Zhang told STAT that she believes the new findings can help researchers identify ways to lower PM2.5 particle levels in the US, and to figure out how people can better avoid breathing smoke from wildfires. Marc Weisskopf, a Harvard professor of environmental epidemiology and physiology unaffiliated with the study agreed. “It sort of helps us to identify the best levers to pull from a regulatory perspective to try and reduce levels of dementia,” he said.

Photography became one man’s lifesaving therapy

In a captivating photo essay for the BBC, photographer Steve Liddiard said that picking up a camera saved his life. He’d been deeply depressed, and his general practitioner told him that along with medication, daily walks outside could be good personal therapy to help clear his mind. For his first walk, he visited Whiteford Sands, a beach in southwest Wales, and was struck by a lighthouse. “The lighthouse is worn, battered and bruised but still standing tall; I felt a connection to how I was feeling at that time,” Liddiard said. “I took some photos on my camera phone, shared them online and had positive feedback.” Now, photography itself is a form of personal therapy for him. “[It’s] almost like meditation,” he said. “You are focusing on your subject, adjusting for light, clarity, framing, you zone out completely. It was the perfect remedy for me.”

In other news…

Why are so many Americans seeking ADHD medications? In a column first published in The Conversation, ADHD researcher Margaret Sibley points to a few reasons: a shortage of mixed amphetamine salts, better known as Adderall; a steep rise in the number of women in their 20s and 30s diagnosed with ADHD in recent years; misleading ADHD content on Tik Tok and other social media platforms; and online ADHD care startups that sprouted up during the pandemic and had a penchant for over-prescribing stimulants.

New York City is home to one of the largest and most diverse communities of older adults in the nation. So what’s the city doing to prioritize their mental health care? In this 3-minute listen (or 8-minute read of the transcript) from NPR’s Weekend Edition, we learn that reduced rates for therapy are one benefit, as are mental health workshops at senior centers – though they’re not marketed that way. Social worker Tanzila Uddin made private time to speak with a 92-year-old participant in her gratitude journaling workshop about his relationship with his son. “You can always come in. You can make an appointment. We’ll sit down. We’ll be totally private, and we can really connect on what’s happening,” she said.

Child and teen survivors of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) developed after exposure to COVID-19 were more likely to have abnormal neurological findings, worse working memory, and more symptoms of depression, among other things, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital. “If parents are noticing changes in their child’s behavior or functioning, it could be related to MIS-C, and they should seek support,” said study lead Caitlin Rollins in a press release shared on the hospital’s website. It’s suspected the changes in children and teens with MIS-C could be related to the brain fog experienced by adults after a COVID-19 infection. “The acute illness is very different,” Rollins said, “[though] both could be part of the same spectrum.”

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:

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...