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How Police Killings Affect Black Mental Health

Posted: August 16, 2018

“#IfIDieInPoliceCustody Know that the color of my skin was the only crime committed,” a woman tweeted in 2015, three days after Sandra Bland was found dead in her Texas jail cell.

“Nothing will happen to the Police in the Freddie Gray case... ” a man tweeted three days after the death of a 25-year-old Baltimore man whose fatal spinal injury while in police custody in 2015 triggered protests throughout the nation.

These sentiments — perception of a systemic unfairness and a loss of faith in institutions — are common among black people in the days and months following police killings of unarmed African Americans, according to a study published last month in the medical journal the Lancet.

The report analyzed data collected between 2013 and 2016 from 103,710 black adults, finding the incidents to be detrimental to the psyche, adding 1.7 days of poor mental health annually per person. The study also analyzed white Americans’ self-reported mentality after all police killings (of  white and black people), determining that “mental health impacts were not observed.”

Atheendar Venkataramani, a co-author of the study, told The Washington Post that these findings did not mean white people had no emotional reaction to killings. But their responses, he said, haven’t “crossed the line from being upsetting to something that can create or cause disease.”

The paper said the decline in black mental health was seen in all black Americans, regardless of whether there was a relationship with the victim, and can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including “reactions of anger, activation of prior traumas and communal bereavement.”

“Structural racism experienced vicariously can be very consequential for [black] mental health,” said Venkataramani, who is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “We are not telling people in the black American community something they do not already know.”

University of Texas at Austin professor Christen Smith told The Post in an email that society has “treated police violence like an acute crisis that only impacts those violated and/or killed and to some extent their immediate kin. This study pushes us to think more broadly about the impact of police violence however,” she wrote.

“Police violence poses a mental health threat to the black community writ large, which means that our social responsibility is much greater than we previously thought.”


2018 Health Disparities Research Institute Scholars

Posted: August 15, 2018

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) held its annual Health Disparities Research Institute (HDRI) from July 23–27, 2018 in Bethesda, Maryland. As with previous years, the selection process was very competitive with nearly 300 applications received from early stage investigators. Fifty scholars from 24 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and one U.S. territory were accepted to the Institute. Selected scholars shared one common attribute—a strong commitment and desire to build a research career focused on minority health and health disparities research.

During the weeklong Institute, leading scientists in minority health and health disparities research held interactive sessions that highlighted the current state of research. Lectures and lively scientific discussions focused on how to advance the field. Scholars were exposed to a wide array of research topics that spanned from how health disparities occur to how they can be effectively eliminated. Topics covered included the embodiment of social factors, big data, systems science, and the use of artificial intelligence, as well as promising and innovative intervention approaches to reduce health disparities. One theme clearly resonated with HDRI scholars—health disparities research is becoming inherently more transdisciplinary and requires a team science approach that harnesses the expertise of scientists from different fields.

Learn more about the Health Disparities Research Institute and the Scholars from

What We Know About the Connection Between Climate Change and Suicide Rates

Posted: August 14, 2018

The above-average temperatures that result from climate change are worrying for many reasons—and, according to a study published this week in Nature Climate Change, an increase in suicide rates is among them.

The study, which used data from the United States and Mexico across multiple decades, found that suicide rates rose when monthly average temperatures increased by one degree Celsius. The rate went up by 9.7 percent in U.S. counties, and 2.1 percent in Mexican municipalities. Using these rates, the study's authors project that climate change, on its current course, could lead to between 9,000 and 40,000 additional suicides by 2050. That rate change, they note, is "comparable to the estimated impact of economic recessions, suicide prevention programmes or gun restriction laws."

The study is not the first to point out a link between suicide rates and natural disasters—the latter of which are growing more frequent and severe due to climate change. Take post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans as an example: In the first 10 months after the 2005 hurricane, New Orleanians committed suicide at close to three times the previous rate.

Puerto Rico has also seen higher suicide rates since Hurricane Maria. Though no comprehensive study has yet been conducted, one report shows suicides increased by 29 percent in 2017 (the year Maria hit) compared to 2016. NBC News reports that more than 5,000 people experiencing suicidal ideation called a government crisis line in Puerto Rico between September of 2017 and January of 2018.

Stress and trauma following natural disasters are factors in the increased suicide rates that follow those events. When it comes to higher temperatures, according to the new study, the heat may have neurological effects, in turn affecting overall mental health.

Climate change also has profound economic consequences—for example, food insecurity—which can in turn further affect individuals' mental health. The American Psychological Association notes that long-term climate change affects "agriculture, infrastructure and livability, which in turn affect occupations and quality of life and can force people to migrate."

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's impossible to say how much climate change has affected or will affect that rate, but the authors of the new study note that the "large magnitude" of their results "adds further impetus to better understand why temperature affects suicide and to implement policies to mitigate future temperature rise."

A 2017 report from the American Psychological Association offers several recommendations for helping individuals "prepare for and recover from climate change-related mental trauma." These include cultivating coping skills, maintaining meaningful practices and healthy habits, and connecting with family and community.

Read more from Pacific Standard.

Written Exposure Therapy: A Shorter but Effective Treatment for PTSD

Posted: August 13, 2018

First-line treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often require many treatment sessions and delivery by extensively trained therapists. Now, research supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has shown that a shorter therapy may be just as effective as lengthier first-line treatments. The study appeared in the March 2018 issue of JAMA Psychiatry

First-line treatments for PTSD consist of psychotherapies that focus on exposure and/or cognitive restructuring. One such therapy is cognitive processing therapy (CPT), which is widely acknowledged as an effective treatment for PTSD. Patients being treated with CPT take part in 12 weekly therapy sessions that are delivered by a highly-trained practitioner. During these sessions, patients learn to recognize and challenge dysfunctional thoughts about their traumatic event, themselves, others, and the world. In addition, patients are given homework to complete between sessions.

“While of proven efficacy, structured therapies, such as CPT, require extensive training of therapists, a relatively long series of treatments, and, as a further burden on patients, homework exercises between treatment sessions,” said Matthew Rudorfer, M.D., program chief of adult interventions in the NIMH Division of Services and Intervention Research. “A more streamlined intervention that requires less specialized therapist training and fewer sessions while maintaining therapeutic effectiveness would, therefore, be appealing for treatment of PTSD in the community.”

In this study, the researchers examined whether another trauma-focused therapy—called written exposure therapy (WET)—may provide practitioners and patients with an equally effective, but shorter, treatment option. WET consists of five treatment sessions during which patients write about their specific traumatic event. Patients follow scripted instructions directing them to focus on the details of the event and on the thoughts and feelings that occurred during the event. WET requires less specialized practitioner training and no homework assignments between therapy sessions. While WET has been shown to be effective in treating PTSD, it had not yet been tested against more commonly used first-line treatments for PTSD, such as CPT.

To compare the efficacy of WET with CPT, the researchers randomly assigned participants with PTSD to either WET or CPT. Participants were assessed for PTSD symptom severity at baseline and at 6-, 12-, 24-, and 36-weeks after the first treatment session.  WET was found to be as effective as CPT at all time points. In addition, individuals assigned to WET were less likely to drop out before completion of the treatment (6.3 percent) than participants in the CPT group (39.7 percent). Participants in both treatment groups reported high levels of satisfaction with the treatment they received.

“The findings of the study suggest that PTSD can be treated with fewer sessions than previously thought and with less burden on the patient and the therapist,” said lead study author Denise Sloan, Ph.D., an associate director at the National Center for PTSD in the VA Boston Healthcare System and professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. “Moreover, the brief treatment was well-tolerated—demonstrated by the small number of patients that dropped out. We look forward to better understanding for whom written exposure therapy works best.”

Dr. Rudorfer added that while more research is needed to identify who might require standard, more intensive therapy, the availability of the new WET intervention “offers additional options for personalizing treatment to meet the needs of the individual.”

Read more on Click here to access the study.

Why ‘Latinx’ Is Succeeding While Other Gender-Neutral Terms Fail to Catch On

Posted: August 10, 2018

There are plenty of gender-neutral terms that people have tried to make a thing in American English. Take upstart pronouns like xe or zir, which have had champions for centuries and remain little-used. Consider “first-year student,” which is gaining steam but has a long way to go before supplanting freshman. Or recall the discussions about genderless military titles, like “midshiperson,” which have yet to leave port.

There have also been success stories, from flight attendant to alum. And it appears that the adjective Latinx — an alternative to Latino or Latina — is headed in that direction. Academic centers are adding the word to their titles. The term is becoming de rigueur among artists and politically active youth. Media outlets like NPR are using it without remark or explanation. Another sign that this word has staying power: dictionaries have recently taken the time to define it.

Latinx (adj.): Relating to people of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina)

The word, which bubbled up from college campuses, has appeal on several levels.

For some, using Latinx can feel feminist. Cristina Mora, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, says she first encountered it as a gender-neutral term that young people were using because they were “tired of reaffirming the patriarchy inherent in language.” For example: In Spanish, a group of women is referred to as Latinas, while a group of men or a mixed group — even one that is mostly women — is a group of Latinos. Feminists might balk at this the same way they’d balk at using he as a default pronoun or referring to mixed groups as “guys” but never “gals.” The subtext is the same: It’s a man’s world, you ladies are just in it.

Latinx gives people a way to avoid choosing a gender for a group or an unknown individual, much like using singular “they” avoids the choice between “he” or “she” in English. Both are gaining steam in a time when America is rethinking gender and whatever boundaries might come with it.

Mora notes that there have been other attempts to avoid this awkwardness in the past, like including both endings when writing about ethnicity (Latino/a) or writing the word as Latin@, because that symbol looks like the offspring of a feminine “a” and masculine “o.” But using a slash is clunky. And while there has been criticism that it’s not clear how to pronounce Latinx — many say “La-TEE-nex,” like Kleenex — it’s even less obvious how to utter “@.”

The “x” also jibes with LGBTQ politics that have been permeating the culture. A growing number of young people reject the notion that everyone falls into the binary categories of male or female (just like a growing number refuse to identify as either totally gay or totally straight). People who describe themselves as non-binary might feel that neither box fits or that both do or that their feelings can change over time. “This is a generation that has emerged with different understandings about gender and sexuality,” Mora says. And for some, the label Latinx “pushes against that idea that we should be gendered in the first place.”

The letter X can refer to unknown locations or quantities and has a rebellious patina. “There’s something visually arresting about the letter,” says linguist Ben Zimmer. “It looks good on a poster announcing your group is meeting on campus.” He says that the “x” helps the label immediately appear to be a political statement. Think Malcolm X, who used that letter as a way to buck a system in which many black Americans had ended up with the last names of slave owners. Zimmer also notes that the description has become popular enough to inspire imitation: Chicano is being recast as Chicanx; Filipina, as Filipinx.

Katherine Martin, head of Oxford’s U.S. dictionaries, points out the similarity to the gender-neutral honorific Mx., which people can use instead of Mr. or Mrs. if they want to leave their gender undeclared. She says that, per their research, the word Latinx was thrust into the American consciousness after the horrific shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016. It was a gathering spot where patrons were likely to have roots in both the LGBT community and Latin American culture, and the word cropped up time and again in the media coverage about what happened there. “That was the inflection point,” Martin says.

While many view the label as inclusive, the word also has detractors. Ed Morales, a lecturer at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, says that Latinx sounds futuristic — and while some consider that a good thing, others would prefer tradition. Critics have suggested that it sounds too American, erasing a Spanish language that needs to be preserved by immigrant communities. Others have said the word creates distance between Americans and people in Latin America who aren’t using the term. “Some people just think it sounds odd, maybe forced,” Morales says. And some conservatives see the label as just one more example of unnecessary political correctness.

There is a long history when it comes to political labels that have been adopted by — and forced upon — Americans with Latin American or Spanish roots. “No label has ever been perfect,” says Mora, the Berkeley professor. People have objected to the word Hispanic because it has vestiges of colonialism, she says. People have objected to Latin American for sounding “too foreign,” while Latino was “too vague.”

The tussling over labels mirrors a complex history of attempting to politically unite people from disparate backgrounds under a single umbrella, finding common cause for Cubans, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, for example. Mora suggests that some prominent immigrant rights groups may see a word like Latinx as a distraction in a time when they’re still trying to “affirm that Latinos belong to the U.S.”

Others see the rather mysterious-looking Latinx as the perfect label for a group that is hard to define. Morales may be biased, having decided to use the word in the title for his upcoming book about race and politics in the U.S. But he believes people will only see more of the word, one that his students have recently started wearing on T-shirts. “I see less and less resistance to it,” he says, “and I think it may actually become standard.”


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