Tag Archives: Mental Health

State Health Officials Cautiously Optimistic as COVID-19 Rates Hold Steady and Vaccination of Health Care Workers Continues

by Andrew Engelson

The day after Gov. Jay Inslee announced he was extending the state’s current COVID-19 restrictions by one week until Jan. 11, officials from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) said during an online press conference on Wednesday, Dec. 30 that they are cautiously optimistic about statewide infection trends and that vaccinations for high-risk health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities are ongoing.

“We are in a very precarious position,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, state epidemiologist for communicable diseases. “This is the highest rate of cases in Washington State since the beginning [of the pandemic]. But we’re starting to see this downward trend. It’s all very encouraging.” Lindquist noted that while the results are still preliminary, the number of positive tests across the state have plateaued slightly in the past week. He also noted that post-Christmas hospitalization rates are down slightly, saying “I’m optimistic but cautious.”

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As Pandemic Drags On, Parents Cope With Mental Health Challenges

by Alexa Peters

Before COVID-19, Ballard resident Gracey Cockram lived the busy, fulfilling life of a stay-at-home mom. On a typical day, she’d wake up early, get her 15-year-old daughter up for swim practice, shuttle her to the pool with friends, come home, check the news, take a shower, do the laundry, go to the gym, go to the grocery store, walk the dogs, drive her daughter to a part-time babysitting gig, then begin to prepare dinner.

These days, despite living in a 900-square-foot condo with her fiancé and daughter, Cockram spends a lot of time alone, feeling “defeated” — and it’s no wonder. Her once-active 15-year-old now remains in her room for nearly twelve hours a day studying for her AP classes, and has since become prone to anxiety and worrying emotional outbursts. After holding out for months, Cockram and her fiancé were forced to reschedule their June 2021 wedding due to the pandemic. Cockram’s extended family in Florida has stopped talking to them due to disagreement about how to handle COVID-19. And now, she can’t even get out of the house for a trip to the gym for an important kick of endorphins.

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How Seattle Therapists Make Space for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color

by Suhani Dalal

Since the start of the global pandemic, one Seattle therapist said that roughly 90% of her new clients are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC), compared to before, when about 70% were white. 

“There are so many people coming into therapy for their first time — first in their family, first in their history,” said Asian American psychotherapist and codependency therapist Ivy Kwong. “I always tell them: ‘I’m so grateful you’re doing this work, it’s not easy, but it’s the most important work I believe you can do in this lifetime. The work you are doing [honors] your entire lineage because it will heal past and future generations.’” 

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How I Survived the Collision of Racism and the Stigma of Mental Illness

by Marcus Harrison Green

(This article first ran in The Seattle Times and appears under a co-publishing agreement)

Survivor’s guilt terrorizes me sometimes. Why am I so lucky when others sharing my complexion and battling mental health struggles are not? That question arises every time I read about Black people with mental illnesses killed by police: Charleena Lyles, Daniel Prude, Manuel Ellis. Their specters summon us to the reality of a nation besotted with violence and indifferent to the vulnerable.

The 55 people with mental illnesses killed in Washington state by police since 2015, according to The Washington Post’s police-shooting database, also prompt reflection on my luck in avoiding their fate as I live with bipolar disorder.

In 2018, I had a psychotic episode in the middle of downtown Seattle. Walking down Fifth Avenue, with a mind crammed with carnage, I nearly destroyed my lungs screaming that I wanted to kill myself. 

My mother was by my side. 

Nearly a foot shorter and 60 pounds lighter, she could only pray. My sizzling brain cells were impervious to pleas of reason. 

Frightened for her son, she had only two options: somehow calm me down enough to try to stuff me into an Uber headed for family and friends, or call 911.

She did a rapid assessment: Black man, non-responsive, frantic. She pictured a police encounter quickly escalating into violence.

“What if they kill my son?”

She wanted to avoid the gnawing guilt that plagues Joe Prude, as he told The New York Times’ Daily podcast, after he called the police to assist his brother Daniel during a mental health crisis. Daniel’s encounter with them ended in death, ruled a homicide by complications of asphyxia.

Even if my scenario didn’t end as grotesquely, what about arrest? Turning me over to a racist criminal justice system would likely terminate any professional ambitions.

She opted not to call. Instead, she braved the horror-on-wheels that was a 30 minute Uber ride with a bellicose son, and a superhumanly patient driver.

My race meant I was six times more likely to be killed by police than a white person is, according to a Harvard study. An untreated mental illness further boosted the likelihood of death by police, 16 times as much, according to the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center. 

When the bias of race merges with the stigma of mental illness to collide with law enforcement and criminal justice systems inadequately addressing either, what else can be produced except disaster?

“Race matters and it is true that implicit bias does exist. And then you have an officer and someone in a mental health crisis who are experiencing two different realities,” says Nikki Jones, a professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies encounters between the public and police. 

It’s why current conversation around reshaping policing and our criminal justice system must be scrutinized in the context of officers being utilized as intended by society, says Jones.

“Another way we think about policing is as an institution that allows for a sufficient distribution of violence into the public. Violence is a centrality to policing. It’s demonstrated in the ability and the effort to defend police to use violence,” says Jones.

Of course that violence is not equally distributed in society. Jones points to a recent Pew poll that showed 56% of police officers agreed that it’s more useful to be aggressive in “certain” areas of the city. 

That’s a subtler way of saying Black people need to be policed more harshly. 

Imagine when that’s coupled with the force multiplier of the stigma often associated with mental illness. 

“There’s so much public misperception about violence and mental illness. If the public thinks that, then law enforcement is going to think that,” says Jennifer Piel, a University of Washington professor who helped launch the university’s Center for Mental Health, Policy, and the Law.

And there lies the heart of the problem, and the reason Black people and those with mental illnesses are overrepresented in police shootings and in the criminal justice system Piel studies. And the reason they are underrepresented in budget considerations. 

Bias feeds stigma, and stigma bias. 

It’s a reason we’ve continued hacking at our state’s mental health budget even before our pandemic without much resistance. Currently, King County’s Mental Illness and Drug Dependency program stares down a projected $42 million shortfall.

“[T]here is no replacement for a well-funded mental health system and increased cross-system coordination of services between medical care, mental health services, and the criminal justice system,” says Piel.

Budgets, policing, policy are nothing more than visible instruments of our society, crafted with entrenched prejudices, fears and ignorance. 

Until our society commits itself to narratives rivaling our current biases, and not merely responding to those biases’ symptoms, we’ll continue having ornamental pledges to social change vanish upon backlash. 

Imagine narratives not equating Black people with a need for social control or those casting people with mental illnesses as social defects.

For them, life and death would no longer rest on chance, but consideration. 

Marcus Harrison Green is the publisher of the South Seattle Emerald and a Seattle Times columnist.

Featured image is attributed to Victoria Pickering under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Wired for Connection: Adapting in the Coronavirus Era

by Liz Covey, LMHC

I saw a friend recently that I haven’t seen in months, this being COVID times. She has started a new job — a move she’d wanted for a long time. I asked what it was like to “onboard” during this bizarre time in our history — when meeting all of her co-workers and learning all the ins and outs of a new workplace takes place 100 percent online. “It’s actually great” she said, adding, “especially since I made a friend.” 

“That’s wonderful!” I replied. Then, without a thought to how this might sound — a sure sign I’m spending more time in my head lately than in social gatherings — I asked her: “How do you really know you are friends, with everything being so different now? I mean, you can’t go to lunch or chat on your way to the meeting or get a drink after work … ”

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OPINION: Why Does Seattle Public Schools Spend $3.2 Million on Security Guards?

by Kayla Blau

A seven-year-old Black student was put in a chokehold by a white school security guard at Stevens Elementary in March, right before schools closed due to COVID-19. The incident further exposed Seattle Public School’s commitment to punitive policing of students, a dangerous practice that fuels the school-to-prison pipeline.

KUOW reported that the student was screaming “I can’t breathe!” while the security guard, David Raybern, held her in an illegal restrictive hold with his “right forearm across her neck,” the article noted. Principal John Hughes was present for the abuse and did not intervene. 

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When You Thought You’d Seen It All … Healing From Racial Trauma

by Ashley McGirt

When I first saw the scars so deeply rooted into the back of an African American slave, I thought I had seen it all. When I viewed a photo of Emmett Till for the first time, I thought I had seen it all. I can still see his mother’s face, the cries that were captured on film, the crevices in the corners of her eyes that would form valleys so deep no one would ever dare travel through. I studied her face, then went back to her son’s face that no longer bore a resemblance to anything human. In that moment I saw how Americans can, and still do, view Black people as less than human. I remember Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Charleena Lyles, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and the countless others who we have lost to police violence. You continue to think you have seen it all until the newest tragedy is unveiled.

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Calling Out White Supremacy in Seattle’s Mental Health Establishment: One Therapist’s Confession

by Liz Covey, LMHC

“Miserable is exactly how the white people who want to help should be feeling right now, and then they should sit with that misery until something breaks in their brain, the narrative changes in their psyche, and the legacy of emotional paralysis lifts entirely.”

—Rebecca Carroll, The Atlantic (June 2020) 

I’ve had this saying about my work for years now, and it goes like this: I will spend the rest of my career indebted to the (mostly Black) kids and foster families with whom I worked early on, and who had to put up with my sorry self, before I knew the damage I was causing as a white practitioner in Black spaces. I dedicate any good work I do today to these kids. In the spirit of Black Lives Matter, I Say Their Names, to myself, in my heart, on the regular. 

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Ask a Therapist: Learning to Live in an Indefinite Crisis

by Liz Covey

Question: This shutdown thing feels like it will last forever, even though I know it won’t. At first I was sort of rolling with it, I got some masks, and checked in with my neighbors and all my family members. But now I’m beginning to unravel a bit. I’m not really sleeping well, and my husband tells me I’m being really negative. Should I try to remain positive, even though I’m starting to kind of lose it? There is so much advice out there, I can barely stand to even look at it anymore. What should I do??

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