Mental Health News Updates – November ’22

Research Review

A new study reports that major political events affect the public's collective well-being, sleep, and mood.

It might seem intuitive that major sociopolitical events could harm one’s sleep, mental health, mood, and overall well-being.

This groundbreaking study investigated how the 2020 US presidential election impacted sleep, public mood, and alcohol consumption. It also explored the relationship between affect and sleep changes during the peak period of election stress.

The findings, published in the National Sleep Foundation's journal Sleep Health show that divisive political events negatively influenced various factors related to the public mood.

One of the study’s authors, Tony Cunningham, Ph.D., director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at BIDMC, said “Our results likely mirror many of our own experiences surrounding highly stressful events, and we felt this was an opportunity to validate these assumptions scientifically."

437 participants in the US and 106 international participants completed daily surveys between October 1-13, 2020 (before the election) and October 30 -November 12, 2020 (days surrounding the November 3 U.S. election).

Each morning the respondents were asked to assess the previous night's sleep by recording their bedtimes, time required to fall asleep, number of awakenings through the night, morning wake time, and time spent napping during the day.

They also recorded the previous night's alcohol consumption. Mood was assessed using a validated questionnaire and questions from a standard depression screening tool.

Concerning sleep, both U.S. and non-U.S. participants reported losing sleep in the run-up to the election; however, U.S. respondents had significantly less time in bed on the days around the election. On Election night, U.S. participants reported waking up frequently during the night and experiencing poorer sleep efficiency.

U.S. participants who ever reported drinking alcohol significantly increased consumption on three days during the assessment period: Halloween, Election Day, and the day more media outlets called the election, Saturday, November 7. Among non-U.S. participants, there was no change in alcohol consumption over the November assessment period.

Analysis revealed that stress levels were largely consistent for both U.S. and non-U.S. participants in the assessment period in early October. Still, there was a sharp rise in reported stress for both groups in the days leading up to the November 3 election. Stress levels dropped dramatically once the election was officially called on November 7. This pattern held for both U.S. and non-U.S. residents, but changes in stress levels were significantly more significant in U.S. participants.

U.S. participants reported a similar pattern of depression that their non-U.S. counterparts did not experience; however, non-U.S. participants reported significant decreases in negative mood and depression the day after the election was called.

"This is the first study to find a relationship between the previously reported changes in Election Day public mood and sleep the night of the election," Cunningham said. "Moreover, it is not just that elections may influence sleep, but evidence suggests that sleep may also influence civic engagement and participation in elections. Thus, if the relationship between sleep and elections is also bidirectional, it will be important for future research to determine how public mood and stress effects sleep leading up to an election may effect or even alter its outcome."

A standard self-care tip shared widely in social media posts and conversations is to tune out and reduce or stop consuming news media altogether. Taking care of self in this way is one option. However, this approach solely focuses on the responsibility of the individual to deal with the stressors of the political climate and how elections and other significant events are presented by media outlets, political commercials, and rallies to name just a few.

As mental health providers, it is essential to take into account all of the factors of how political events shape our client’s well-being and to brainstorm ways to not only cope with the stress but also normalize the genuine impact that the world has on individuals and communities, especially the most vulnerable who have mental health diagnosis and/or other factors that world events could exacerbate. We can advocate for more community resources and supports that could facilitate civic engagement, which can be empowering with well-being.



Advocacy Alert

Content warning. This story discusses suicide.

Healthcare workers deserve stigma-free, accessible mental health services.

The ALL IN: WellBeing First for Healthcare campaign was developed by #FirstRespondersFirst and The Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation as a coalition of leading healthcare organizations committed to the prioritization of the wellbeing of the healthcare workforce and making progress on the barriers against persistent mental health and well-being challenges that disadvantage our healthcare workers, and therefore, our healthcare systems and the future of public health.

Dr. Lorna Breen, an emergency room physician, died by suicide in April 2020 after weeks of incredibly intense work caring for patients in the first wave of COVID-19. At one point during that surge, Lorna called her sister to confide that she was overwhelmed with exhaustion and grief – but she was fearful that she would lose her medical license or be ostracized at work if she acknowledged that she needed help.

In the years since Lorna’s death, the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation has heard from many families who have lost physician loved ones to suicide. Like one emergency medicine doctor in Florida reported that four of her physician colleagues died by suicide the previous summer. In too many of these cases, the clinicians have acknowledged to friends or family that they are reluctant to get treatment because of the stigma around mental health issues.

The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection has provided $135 million for programs that support health workers’ mental health and well-being. However, while this was a welcome first step, it’s only the beginning of the work needed to protect our clinicians.

Their research has identified 31 states, plus the District of Columbia, that may still use invasive or stigmatizing language requiring applicants to disclose any history of mental health concerns or to explain why they have taken breaks from work. Some require applicants to disclose any past psychiatric impairment, potentially going back decades, even to adolescence.

These questions might violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. They certainly violate applicants’ privacy. And there is significant evidence that they deter clinicians from seeking the care they need – at tremendous risk to their well-being and lives.

Indeed, a survey of more than 1,500 physicians conducted this year found that 80% agree there is a stigma around doctors seeking mental health care. Nearly 40% reported that either they personally or a colleague they know had been scared to seek mental health care because that treatment would need to be disclosed on their licensure, credentialing or insurance applications.

Like everybody, health workers deserve the right to pursue the care they need whenever they need it, without fear of losing their license, job, or promotion. This is especially important now, as healthcare workers have reported sharp increases in emotional exhaustion due mainly to the extraordinary strain of caring for patients while also enduring a surge of intimidation, threats, and physical violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you want to advocate for healthcare workplace mental health wellness, check out the links on our show notes and support their crucial work.


In the Headlines

New York City Will Hospitalize More Mentally Ill People Involuntarily

New York City Mayor Eric Adams says the NYPD, FDNY, and other city agencies will start forcing houselss individuals who are determined to be suffering a "mental health crisis" off the streets and out of the subway system. They will be taken to a hospital for evaluation even if they refuse to go independently.

The directive has stoked outrage, controversy, and debate about homelessness and mental illness and how to tackle both issues.

Often, homeless individuals with severe mental illness are brought to hospitals, only to be discharged a few days later when their conditions improve slightly. Mr. Adams said the city would direct hospitals to keep those patients until they are stable and to discharge them only when there is a workable plan to connect them to ongoing care.

Hospitals often cite a shortage of psychiatric beds as the reason for discharging patients, but the mayor said the city would ensure enough beds for removed people. He noted that Gov. Kathy Hochul had agreed to add 50 new psychiatric beds. “We are going to find a bed for everyone,” Mr. Adams said.

Asked about the legality of holding people involuntarily, Brendan McGuire, chief counsel to the mayor, said on Tuesday that people would be held under a state mental hygiene law that allows for involuntary commitment if they are a threat to themselves or others. Mr. McGuire said that workers would assess people on a “case by case” basis, including whether they could provide themselves basic needs such as food, shelter, and health care.

The state law on involuntary hospitalization empowers the police to have someone taken to the hospital only if the person “appears to be mentally ill and is conducting himself or herself in a manner which is likely to result in serious harm to the person or others.”

Guidance issued by the state in February said that that standard includes people “who display an inability to meet basic living needs” and that limiting it to only people who present as “imminently dangerous” leaves vulnerable people at risk.

The police, emergency medical workers, and some other responders will be trained to do those assessments. They’ll be given a hotline staffed by clinicians to advise them on these decisions.

Critics of the initiative discuss how The NYPD has long been accused of mistreatment and criminalization of citizens experiencing mental illness or in a crisis, according to past reports from the Urban Justice Center, New York University, and more.

People experiencing homelessness and mental illness are more likely to be incarcerated, with one study from the Vera Institute of Justice saying, "this crisis is perpetuated by a legal system that criminalizes survival behaviors associated with homelessness, fails to account for how people who are homeless face impossible odds within the legal process, and then releases them back into the community with even more obstacles than they faced before."

Advocates say involuntary hospitalization violates civil rights and is a form of incarceration for innocent, unhoused, and mentally ill citizens of New York City.

"Forcing people into treatment is a failed strategy for connecting people to long-term treatment and care," said the New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. "The decades-old practice of sweeping deep-seated problems out of public view may play well for the politicians, but the problems will persist – for vulnerable people in desperate need of government services and New Yorkers."

In a NY times article, the issue of random acts of violence, mainly in the subway systems, has become a concern for city officials and residents. Will this plan change people’s perceptions that the subways are no longer safe?

Let’s talk about where those perceptions come from first. Riders’ perceptions that subways are unsafe are driven by two things: their experiences dealing with people on the platform or the train who seem unstable enough that they might lash out and media reports about crime.

The statistics are not encouraging. Through October, felony assaults, murders, and rapes in the subway system — all crimes likely to be random — were up 20 percent compared to last year. Property crimes, including robberies, which can be violent, were up even more. This jump in crime has occurred despite several efforts by Mayor Adams to flood the transit system with police.

The tactic of involuntary hospitalization to “curb” crime is nothing new in the US. Other local governments are relying on similar measures to address mental health issues in their communities. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) recently signed a law that could force treatment on homeless people suffering from disorders like schizophrenia.

Source: PBS News Hour

Did you know…?

Did you know there is a rare mental health condition called Stendhal Syndrome (say that three times really fast)?

Those with Stendhal syndrome experience physical and emotional anxiety, panic attacks, dissociative experiences, confusion, and hallucinations when exposed to art. According to Medscape, these symptoms are usually triggered by “art that is perceived as particularly beautiful or when the individual is exposed to large quantities of art that are concentrated in a single place,” such as a museum or gallery.

However, individuals may experience similar reactions to beauty in nature. This syndrome is named after a 19th-century French author who experienced the symptoms during a trip to Florence in 1817. Stendhal syndrome may also be called hyperculturemia or Florence syndrome.

Source - Web MD


Resource of the Month

We asked the clinical team at Bridge Counseling and Wellness in Louisville, KY, which was the winner of the most frequent free resources they shared with clients and podcasts. The podcast they most recommend is Brene Brown, Unlocking Us, Herself, and Terrible, Thanks for Asking. Give those a listen and see what you think and if they would be a good fit for your clients.