Wednesday August 30, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite Readers. In today’s Daily: Yale University settles a lawsuit accusing the school of failing students struggling with their mental health. A Big Ten football coach reckons with his affection for a game that may have contributed to his son’s death. Researchers find a peer-support line for psychedelics users helps them avoid bad trips. And a PhD student invents a ball that helps people stay calm and focus on their breathing.

A football coach reckons with his love for the game that may have taken his son

When Michael Locksley registered his 7-year-old son for youth tackle football, he never dreamed the game might one day become a factor in his death. As he saw it, football made Meiko possible, along with the comfortable life Locksley built for his family. Football provided Michael a scholarship to college, where he gained a degree and met his wife. He took up coaching, and was the assistant coach for the Crimson Tide of Alabama when it won a national championship in 2017. Today, he’s the head coach at the University of Maryland. “The benefits of playing the game of football, coming from where I was, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he told the New York Times. “The brown leather ball with however many ounces of air in it, it changed the lineage of my family.” 

Back in the 1990s, when Meiko was starting to play, almost no one had heard of chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, and few were concerned about young kids getting concussions. “They were 7 and weighed nothing,” said Meiko’s mom, Kia Locksley. “And the hits, it almost looked like they just bounced off each other.” The couple now believes the concussions Meiko sustained during his youth  contributed to a severe decline in his mental health that he suffered in his 20s. Brain scans showed “hot spots,” and he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. He suffered and wanted to die – once even lunging for a police officer’s gun. The decline ultimately led to his murder six years ago. 

After Meiko’s death, Coach Locksley arranged for his brain to be donated to a brain bank and research study at Boston University. And now, the Locksleys have revealed a stunning truth: Meiko, like hundreds of other former athletes, had CTE, a diagnosis that can only be verified after death. The news has changed their feelings about the game. 

Kia now believes that children should not play tackle football before high school. It’s a position shared by CTE researchers who link the cumulative years of full-contact sports to development of the disease. No one will ever know for sure what role CTE played in Meiko’s mental illness, and that haunts Michael. “Does it hurt that I lost my son? One-hundred percent it does. Does it hurt to know that he had CTE and it possibly could have been because of playing college football, high-school football, youth football? Sure,” he said. “But if you were to ask me today how I feel — I have grandsons now that love football and are playing contact football before high school.”

For years, Locksley has been a champion of addressing mental health issues among his players. But since learning that Meiko had CTE, he also struggles with whether the two conditions – his son’s mental illness and his CTE – were connected. “I continue to differentiate between the two,” Locksley said. “I’m a layman, and my layman’s mind-set is that they weren’t really connected, and maybe they aren’t. Maybe they were. I don’t know.”

Yale University settles lawsuit alleging it ignored need of students with mental health struggles

Yale University and Elis for Rachael, a student group formed to help students with mental health issues, announced an agreement to settle a federal lawsuit. The suit accused the school of mistreating students with mental health issues, including pressuring them to withdraw. The group was named in honor of Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum, who took her own life in 2021 after the school refused to grant her a mental-health leave of absence. 

Yale committed to changing its policies regarding medical leaves of absence, including clarifying the reinstatement process for students ready to return to classes, and the student group called the settlement a “watershed,” according to the Associated Press. “Although Yale describes the circumstances for this accommodation as ‘rare,’ this change still represents a consequential departure from the traditional all-or-nothing attitude towards participation in academic life at Yale,” the group said in a statement. “This historic settlement affirms that students with mental health needs truly belong,” added Rishi Mirchandani, the group’s co-founder. 

Dean of Yale College Pericles Lewis said the new policies agreed to by the school “will make it easier for students to ask for support, focus on their health and wellbeing, and take time off if they wish, knowing that they can resume their studies when they are ready.”

LA’s Cecil Hotel is no haven for the unhoused 

At the end of 2021, the Cecil Hotel, closed to guests for the better part of a decade, reopened 600 rooms as permanent supportive housing to serve residents of Los Angeles struggling with homelessness. The plan was grand, and seemed to be working, the Los Angeles Times reported just last year. But today, that same paper finds a new story: one of folks given refuge from the streets only to secure new horrors. 

Residents report that mold, vermin and violence have overrun the building. “I honestly feel like they don’t care at this point,” resident Tracii Thompkins said of the building’s management. The community bathrooms are disgusting, she said, and managers once left a broken seventh floor window covered with only aluminum foil for a full month.

Unlike many other supportive housing complexes in LA, the Cecil is under for-profit management. Residents complain that it is understaffed and provides too few services.  “You can’t put people in apartments that have not really lived in an apartment setting for a while without providing the services,” said Dora Gallo from the nonprofit housing operator A Community of Friends. “It’s not just about putting people in housing, it’s making sure people have all the tools they need to succeed in housing.” 

That means permanent supportive housing should offer social workers, job training, and access to professional mental and physical healthcare. “A lot of people don’t remember how it is to take a shower, they don’t remember how to take care of themselves, so they need that extra help,” said Tescia Uribe, chief program officer at California’s People Assisting the Homeless. “They’re also coming off living off trauma, looking over their shoulders all the time.” 

A peer-support helpline helps people taking psychedelics

While psychedelics are gaining acceptance, they remain largely illegal, and most use continues to be outside of clinical or research settings. So when people who are tripping experience fear or anxiety, they need somewhere to turn to for help. That’s what gave rise to the Fireside Project, a peer-support hotline designed to help psychedelics users. And according to a new study led by researchers at UC-San Francisco, the project appears to be meeting those needs.

Two-thirds of 884 callers said calling the line helped ease their psychological distress. In addition, 29% reported they might have been harmed were it not for the call, 13% said it prevented them from calling 911, and 11% said the hotline kept them from visiting the emergency room. The study suggests that many people may be taking psychedelics to address underlying mental health conditions. More than 27% of those taking part in the survey said they had such a condition, with the most common being PTSD, depression and anxiety.

“Thanks to this study, we know that a psychedelic hotline, like other hotlines, is a high-impact, low-cost way to minimize harms, reduce distress, and provide people with support as they navigate challenging experiences,” Fireside Project Co-Founder Joshua White told Lucid News

In other news…

Safe injection bill languishes in Illinois state legislature: Now in her 31st year of recovery from opioid abuse, Mary Roberson traveled earlier this week to Chicago for International Overdose Awareness Day. She used her story to reduce the stigma around people with addiction. It’s a disease, she told the Chicago Tribune. “They think it’s a moral issue and it’s not.” Meanwhile, as overdose deaths continue to rise, a bill championed by harm reduction advocates to allow the operation of safe injection sites submitted to the Illinois General Assembly in May continues to languish. 

New interactive ball supports mental health: A PhD student at the University of Bath in England has invented a PAWS ball – Physical Artifact for Well-being Support –’ to support people’s mental health by helping them focus on their breath,, Medical Xpress reports. The ball expands and contracts in rhythm with a person’s natural inhalations and exhalations, while providing an item to focus on to regulate their emotions. “By giving breath physical form, the ball enhances self-awareness and engagement, fostering positive mental health outcomes,” said inventor Alexz Farrall.

Life under Taliban rule is too much for many Afghan women to bear. The Guardian reports that unofficial numbers show a surge in suicides among Afghan women so great, it’s surpassed that of men, a rare occurrence across all of the countries in the world. “Afghanistan is in the midst of a mental health crisis precipitated by a women’s rights crisis,” said Alison Davidian, the country’s representative for UN Women. “We are witnessing a moment where growing numbers of women and girls see death as preferable to living under the current circumstances.”

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...