Summer is officially in full swing, so I thought this could be a good time to pull together a collection of some of the interesting mental health and addiction tidbits that I have been pondering over for the last few months.
• One of the first that comes to mind is Depressed Not Dead, an insightful podcast that details one Minnesota man’s life with depression. One of the things I like about this podcast is how it feels like a conversation with a friend who wants to talk about his struggle with mental illness. All you need to do is listen. Jamoalki, the podcast’s creator, is painfully open and honest about how major depressive disorder affects nearly every aspect of his life. Listening to this podcast is one way to get inside the head of a depressed person — and gain a little more empathy. Subscribe on iTunes, or follow Jamoalki on Twitter or Facebook.
• Minnesota Midsummer is an ideal season to encourage the kids — and the adults — in your life to spend more time outside: It’s good for their health. With this in mind, the folks at HealthPartners’ Make It OK campaign recently reached out to me to make sure I was aware of research coming out of Cornell University’s Department of Design and Environmental Analysis that emphasizes the link between ready access to nature and emotional well-being. Earlier this spring, in a strong summary article in HealthPartners Healthy Living blog titled “Can the Outdoors Really Make Us Feel Better?” the health plan detailed this research along with the work of Richard Louv, whose book, “Last Child in the Woods,” makes the case for something he calls Nature Deficit Disorder, or a harmful disconnection with the natural world. It’s summer. Get outside. It’s good for you.
• The last few weeks have also been busy with graduation ceremonies, including a particularly joyful one at Augsburg College’s StepUP residential sobriety program. Earlier this year, longtime StepUP Director Patrice Salmeri announced that she is shifting to a new role at the college, and so change is in the air for the program. When I briefly spoke to Salmeri yesterday, she told that the search is still on for her replacement. As soon as her significant shoes are filled, I’ll make sure to let readers know.
• Another popular summer activity in Minnesota is listening to music in the open air. On Aug. 5, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Hazelden will host Hazelfest, the fifth-annual sober music festival on the Hazelden campus in Center City. It’s an opportunity for music fans to hear top acts in a substance-free environment. This year’s acts include Lizzo, Har Mar Superstar, Sonny Knight & The Lakers and Communist Daughter. Tickets are still available online.
• In other addiction news, the emergence of the substance carfentanil in the state’s illegal opioid supply has sparked a new wave of deaths this spring. The synthetic drug, designed to be used by veterinarians as a sedative for large animals like elephants, is 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Just a few milligrams can be deadly to humans. Recently carfentanil has been found laced into heroin and other opioid-based drugs that have been sold locally, causing a rash of overdose deaths in the state. A number of local media sources are hard at work covering the story, including Minnesota Public Radio, which ran Tom Crann’s strong interview with Joseph Lee, M.D., Hazelden Betty Ford’s medical director for youth continuum. For a personal angle on the crisis, WCCO-TV’s Reg Chapman talked to Ann Taft-Wild, whose son Erick Taft died of a carfentanil overdose in January.
• Not all that long ago, I did a story about how the media portrayal of women and alcohol use sends the message that overconsumption is a harmless — and even funny — habit for females. My source, Cecelia Jayme, Hazelden Betty Ford’s director of clinical services, said that the increased emphasis on women’s excessive alcohol consumption could lead to a serious health crisis. New recommendations about alcohol consumption back that up, so take that into account at your next backyard barbecue. And another bonus read: While tooling around online the other day, I found this strong Chicago Tribune piece about the portrayal of addiction on television. Enjoy.
• I continue to be impressed with people who have gone public with their stories of mental illness and addiction. This trend can only be positive, because the more you see someone who has struggled with these very common ailments, the more we will realize that there is now shame in a diagnosis. Just the other day, I came across Blue Light Blue, an award-winning blog by Amy McDowell Marlow, a Falls Church, Va. suicide survivor, writer and peer facilitator. I particularly appreciated a recent “video-blog post” Marlow shared of a talk she gave earlier this month to her church, Rock Spring Congregational UCC in Arlington, Virginia. In the talk, Marlow tells of the childhood trauma she suffered after her father’s suicide and the resulting years of depression and hospitalization that event set off. “If you want to know what somebody with severe mental illness looks like, they look like me,” Marlow says to her audience. Such an important point.