May 11, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers. Today, we look at the intense mental and emotional pressure facing women who are college athletes. We look at a not-so-new strategy employed by some parents worried about too much screen time: banning their kids from cell phones. (Could it work?) Plus, new stories on the link between climate change and mental illness. Read on!

The mental health crisis facing women in college sports

Photo: Shutterstock

Women in college sports are struggling with their mental health. Following the deaths of four women athletes by suicide since the start of spring, the crisis has sprung to national attention. Students like Caitlin Bracken, a lacrosse player at Vanderbilt University, are speaking out about their struggles to juggle athletics, academics and a social life – and feel valued beyond the field. As Bracken wrote in an open letter: “Sometimes the worst part of all of this is that it feels like the people in your life—namely, the adults—aren’t thinking about you at all. They’re thinking about the result that you create: the wins or the losses.” She went on, “When you are an adult in this space, you have a massive responsibility to – above all else – make sure that the young adults with whom you work feel safe, loved and valued.” 

In an interview with he Chronicle of Higher Education, Ellen J. Staurowsky, a professor of sports media at Ithaca College, and Joy Gaston Gayles, a senior adviser at North Carolina State University, said even high-profile women like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka – who have been transparent about the state of their mental health – haven’t immune from criticism and attack. And they, like other women athletes, are expected to excel in their sports and model idealized, unflappable womanhood. 

Staurowsky also noted that the pressure athletic departments face to generate revenue may affect the way coaches interact with players. And athletes may be reluctant to utilize campus mental health services, especially if they believe that the sports psychologist assigned to them is only there to get them back on the court, rather than to provide the care that supports their wellness, even in the offseason. 

Worth a try? Some parents banning kids from cell phones

Photo: Shutterstock

After watching her teenage clients clock nine hours a day of screen time, Adriana Stacey, a psychiatrist with a large teen clientele, decided to ban phones for her own kids. Setting limits simply wouldn’t be enough, she decided. “Teenagers are spending more time on their phone than they are sleeping,” she told the Washington Post. “If they want one when they turn 18 and they have a job and they can afford it, that’s their choice.”

It’s a choice few parents are making. According to a 2019 report from Common Sense Media, more than half the nation’s kids have a smartphone by age 11, 89% by 16. Half of teens say they feel addicted to their phones – and with good reason: As former Facebook employee Frances Haugen told Congress, smartphone apps are designed to keep users logged in. Indeed, smartphone addiction looks a lot like drug addiction in the brain, said Bradley Aaron Zicherman, who runs a recovery clinic for adolescents at Stanford Children’s Health. One of the biggest problems he faces in trying to change the behavior of youth: parents who want to limit the smartphone use of kids without modifying their own. He encourages families to set smartphone rules for the whole family – before device addiction sets in.

Drought and hot weather linked to mental distress

Almost everyone gets a little irritable in hot weather, but for some Californians, it triggers climate anxiety, bringing back memories of devastating wildfires. “I have asthma, so I feel this sense of dread when summer comes,” Santa Clara resident Monica Sain told the Mercury News. “There will be fires, and the air is going to be bad.”

As global temperatures rise, researchers are looking at the impact of climate change on mental health, hoping to prepare for public-health emergencies brought on by heatwaves, hurricanes and drought. Stanford economist Marshall Burke and Solomon Hsiang, co-director of UC Berkeley’s Climate Lab, have shown a connection between rising temperatures and aggression, despair and suicides. One paper found that temperature rise could lead to 21,000 suicides in the United States and Mexico by 2050 due to poor sleep, high stress, and bad moods. “When heat goes on for days, the impact accumulates,” says psychiatrist Elissa Eppel. “There are spikes in admissions to hospital ERs, not just for health problems but for psychiatric emergencies. The heat also impacts psychotropic medications, so they don’t work as well.”

MindSite News writer Diana Kapp examined eco-anxiety in January.

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In other news…

Yesterday, we shared a story about hospital emergency rooms that have turned into holding stations for teens. Unfortunately, it’s not only happening in ERs. Dozens of foster kids in Virginia are spending night after night sleeping in government offices, according to the Virginia Mercury. Most are older than 10 and need mental health care to address trauma, as well as support for medical and cognitive needs. Andy Crawford, director of the Bedford County Department of Social Services calls it “a mental health emergency that’s impacting child welfare.” Ya think? As in other places, severe staffing shortages and a lack of residential facilities have exacerbated the problem.

In a triumphant graduation ceremony, Calvin University granted bachelor’s degrees to several incarcerated men at Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, Michigan. With half the inmate population at Handlon in need of mental health support, many graduates of the program lead substance abuse and addiction courses or run religious services. “This is their world, this is their community, so we want to equip them to make this the best place it can become,” Todd Cioffi, director of the PROGRAM, told WXYZ-Detroit. “This opportunity re-instills a sense of hope in these guys. And a sense of purpose and meaning even if they are going to remain incarcerated.”

Burnout doesn’t only happen at work. A new study from Ohio State University found that some parents have become overwhelmed during the pandemic, resulting in mental distress for themselves and more punitive behavior toward their kids. “It can feel shameful to think that you can get burned out in your role as a parent,” parent and OSU professor Kate Gawlik told NBC Right Now. “But parents need to understand that they’re not alone, and that it’s okay to need help sometimes or to say ‘no’ to activities or commitments that are going to overload you.” For those seeking strategies to overcome parental burnout, OSU issued the following report: Examining the Epidemic of Working Parental Burnout and Strategies to Help

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or experiencing a crisis and would like to talk to someone, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You call also text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. Both services are free, confidential, and available 24/7.

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Courtney WiseReporter

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...