Biden Plan Would End Subminimum Wage, Offer Stimulus Checks To More With Disabilities

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Joe Biden Giving a speech wearing Blue suit and tie

By Disability Scoop

In his first major undertaking, President-elect Joe Biden wants to do away with a decades-old option to pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage while giving stimulus payments to more people in this population.

Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion proposal late last week to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fallout from it. The so-called American Rescue Plan includes $1,400 in direct payments to many Americans as well as funding to support vaccine distribution, reopen schools and support state and local governments while

(Photo Credit – Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)

also extending unemployment benefits and expanding paid leave.

Notably, the plan would provide stimulus payments for adults with disabilities who are considered dependents for tax purposes. These individuals have been disqualified from the previous rounds of direct payments issued by the federal government since the start of the pandemic.

The proposal also calls for eliminating subminimum wage for people with disabilities.

Under a law dating back to 1938, employers are able to receive special 14(c) certificates from the U.S. Department of Labor allowing them to pay individuals with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

But many disability advocates have been pushing for years to end the practice, which they say is outdated and exploitative. Some states and cities have already banned employers from paying subminimum wage and, as a candidate, Biden pledged to support a phaseout of the program.

Read the full article at Disability Scoop. 

Diagnosing Mental Health Disorders Through AI Facial Expression Evaluation

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Researchers from Germany have developed a method for identifying mental disorders based on facial expressions interpreted by computer vision.

By , Unite

Researchers from Germany have developed a method for identifying mental disorders based on facial expressions interpreted by computer vision.

The new approach can not only distinguish between unaffected and affected subjects, but can also correctly distinguish depression from schizophrenia, as well as the degree to which the patient is currently affected by the disease.

The researchers have provided a composite image that represents the control group for their tests (on the left in the image below) and the patients who are suffering from mental disorders (right). The identities of multiple people are blended in the representations, and neither image depicts a particular individual:

Individuals with affective disorders tend to have raised eyebrows, leaden gazes, swollen faces and hang-dog mouth expressions. To protect patient privacy, these composite images are the only ones made available in support of the new work.

Until now, facial affect recognition has been primarily used as a potential tool for basic diagnosis. The new approach, instead, offers a possible method to evaluate patient progress throughout treatment, or else (potentially, though the paper does not suggest it) in their own domestic environment for outpatient monitoring.

The paper states*:

‘Going beyond machine diagnosis of depression in affective computing, which has been developed in previous studies, we show that the measurable affective state estimated by means of computer vision contains far more information than the pure categorical classification.’

The researchers have dubbed this technique Opto Electronic Encephalography (OEG), a completely passive method of inferring mental state by facial image analysis instead of topical sensors or ray-based medical imaging technologies.

The authors conclude that OEG could potentially be not just a mere secondary aide to diagnosis and treatment, but, in the long term, a potential replacement for certain evaluative parts of the treatment pipeline, and one that could cut down on the time necessary for patient monitoring and initial diagnosis. They note:

‘Overall, the results predicted by the machine show better correlations compared to the pure clinical observer rating based questionnaires and are also objective. The relatively short measurement period of a few minutes for the computer vision approaches is also noteworthy, whereas hours are sometimes required for the clinical interviews.’

However, the authors are keen to emphasize that patient care in this field is a multi-modal pursuit, with many other indicators of patient state to be considered than just their facial expressions, and that it is too early to consider that such a system could entirely substitute traditional approaches to mental disorders. Nonetheless, they consider OEG a promising adjunct technology, particularly as a method to grade the effects of pharmaceutical treatment in a patient’s prescribed regime.

The paper is titled The Face of Affective Disorders, and comes from eight researchers across a broad range of institutions from the private and public medical research sector.

Data

(The new paper deals mostly with the various theories and methods that are currently popular in patient diagnosis of mental disorders, with less attention than is usual to the actual technologies and processes used in the tests and various experiments)

Data-gathering took place at University Hospital at Aachen, with 100 gender-balanced patients and a control group of 50 non-affected people. The patients included 35 sufferers from schizophrenia and 65 people suffering from depression.

For the patient portion of the test group, initial measurements were taken at the time of first hospitalization, and the second prior to their discharge from hospital, spanning an average interval of 12 weeks. The control group participants were recruited arbitrarily from the local population, with their own induction and ‘discharge’ mirroring that of the actual patients.

In effect, the most important ‘ground truth’ for such an experiment must be diagnoses obtained by approved and standard methods, and this was the case for the OEG trials.

However, the data-gathering stage obtained additional data more suited for machine interpretation: interviews averaging 90 minutes were captured over three phases with a Logitech c270 consumer webcam running at 25fps.

The first session comprised of a standard Hamilton interview (based on research originated around 1960), such as would normally be given on admission. In the second phase, unusually, the patients (and their counterparts in the control group) were shown videos of a series of facial expressions, and asked to mimic each of these, while stating their own estimation of their mental condition at that time, including emotional state and intensity. This phase lasted around ten minutes.

In the third and final phase, the participants were shown 96 videos of actors, lasting just over ten seconds each, apparently recounting intense emotional experiences. The participants were then asked to evaluate the emotion and intensity represented in the videos, as well as their own corresponding feelings. This phase lasted around 15 minutes.

Click here to read the full article on Unite.

How ‘ghosting’ is linked to mental health

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A woman using her iphone

By Royette T. Dubar, The Washington Post

Check your phone. Are there any unanswered texts, snaps or direct messages that you’re ignoring? Should you reply? Or should you “ghost” the person who sent them?

Ghosting happens when someone cuts off all online communication with someone else without an explanation. Instead, like a ghost, they just vanish. The phenomenon is common on social media and dating sites, but with the isolation brought on by the pandemic — forcing more people together online — it happens now more than ever.

I am a professor of psychology who studies the role of technology use in interpersonal relationships and well-being. Given the negative psychological consequences of thwarted relationships — especially in the emerging adulthood years, ages 18 to 29 — I wanted to understand what leads college students to ghost others, and if ghosting had any perceived effects on one’s mental health.

To address these questions, my research team recruited 76 college students through social media and on-campus fliers, 70 percent of them female. Study participants signed up for one of 20 focus groups, ranging in size from two to five students. Group sessions lasted an average of 48 minutes each. Participants provided responses to questions asking them to reflect on their ghosting experiences. Here’s what we found.

The results
Some students admitted they ghosted because they lacked the necessary communication skills to have an open and honest conversation — whether that conversation happened face-to-face or via text or email.

From a 19-year-old woman: “I’m not good at communicating with people in person, so I definitely cannot do it through typing or anything like that.”

From a 22-year old: “I do not have the confidence to tell them that. Or I guess it could be because of social anxiety.”

In some instances, participants opted to ghost if they thought meeting with the person would stir up emotional or sexual feelings they were not ready to pursue: “People are afraid of something becoming too much … the fact that the relationship is somehow getting to the next level.”

Some ghosted because of safety concerns. Forty-five percent ghosted to remove themselves from a “toxic,” “unpleasant” or “unhealthy” situation. A 19-year-old woman put it this way: “It’s very easy to just chat with total strangers so [ghosting is] like a form of protection when a creepy guy is asking you to send nudes and stuff like that.”

One of the least-reported yet perhaps most interesting reasons for ghosting someone: protecting that person’s feelings. Better to ghost, the thinking goes, than cause the hurt feelings that come with overt rejection. An 18-year-old woman said ghosting was “a little bit politer way to reject someone than to directly say, ‘I do not want to chat with you.’ ”

That said, recent data suggests that U.S. adults generally perceive breaking up through email, text or social media as unacceptable, and prefer an in-person break-up conversation.

And then there’s ghosting after sex.

In the context of hookup culture, there’s an understanding that if the ghoster got what they were looking for — often, that’s sex — then that’s it, they no longer need to talk to that person. After all, more talk could be interpreted as wanting something more emotionally intimate.

According to one 19-year-old woman: “I think it’s rare for there to be open conversation about how you’re truly feeling [about] what you want out of a situation. … I think hookup culture is really toxic in fostering honest communication.”

But the most prevalent reason to ghost: a lack of interest in pursuing a relationship with that person. Remember the movie “He’s Just Not That Into You”? As one participant said: “Sometimes the conversation just gets boring.”

Click here to read the full article on The Washington Post.

Gamifying Fear: Vr Exposure Therapy Shown To Be Effective At Treating Severe Phobias

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Girl using virtual reality goggles watching spider. Photo: Donald Iain Smith/Gett Images

By Cassidy Ward, SyFy

In the 2007 horror film House of Fears (now streaming on Peacock!), a group of teenagers enters the titular haunted house the night before it is set to open. Once inside, they encounter a grisly set of horrors leaving some of them dead and others terrified. For many, haunted houses are a fun way to intentionally trigger a fear response. For others, fear is something they live with on a daily basis and it’s anything but fun.

Roughly 8% of adults report a severe fear of flying; between 3 and 15% endure a fear of spiders; and between 3 and 6% have a fear of heights. Taken together, along with folks who have a fear of needles, dogs, or any number of other life-altering phobias, there’s a good chance you know someone who is living with a fear serious enough to impact their lives. You might even have such a phobia yourself.

There are, thankfully, a number of treatments a person can undergo in order to cope with a debilitating phobia. However, those treatments often require traveling someplace else and having access to medical care, something which isn’t always available or possible. With that in mind, scientists from the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Otago have investigated the use of virtual reality to remotely treat severe phobias with digital exposure therapy. Their findings were published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.

Prior studies into the efficacy of virtual reality for the treatment of phobias were reliant on high-end VR rigs which can be expensive and difficult to acquire for the average patient. They also focused on specific phobias. The team at the University of Otago wanted something that could reach a higher number of patients, both in terms of content and access to equipment.

They used oVRcome, a widely available smartphone app anyone can download from their phone’s app store. The app has virtual reality content related to a number of common phobias in addition to the five listed above. Moreover, because it runs on your smartphone, it can be experienced using any number of affordable VR headsets which your phone slides into.

Participants enter in their phobias and their severity on a scale and are presented with a series of virtual experiences designed to gently and progressively expose the user to their fear. The study involved 129 people between the ages of 18 and 64, all of which reported all five of the target phobias. They used oVRcome over the course of six weeks with weekly emailed questionnaires measuring their progress. Participants also had access to a clinical psychologist in the event that they experienced any adverse effects from the study.

Participants were given a baseline score measuring the severity of their phobia and were measured again at a follow up 12 weeks after the start of the program. At baseline, participants averaged a score of 28 out of 40, indicating moderate to severe symptoms. By the end of the trial, the average score was down to 7, indicating minimal symptoms. Some participants even indicated they had overcome their phobia to the extent that they felt comfortable booking a flight, scheduling a medical procedure involving needles, or capturing and releasing a spider from their home, something they weren’t comfortable doing at the start.

Part of what makes the software so effective is the diversity of programming available and the ability for an individual to tailor their experiences based on their own unique experience. Additionally, exposure therapy is coupled with additional virtual modules including relaxation, mindfulness, cognitive techniques, and psychoeducation.

Click here to read the full article on SyFy.

Disability Advocate Chelsie Hill Has the *Best* Advice for Fending Off Fitness Class Intimidation

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Chelsie Hill seated on a wheel chair in front of a pool with yellow digital background surrounding her

By Zoe Weiner, Well + Good

When Chelsie Hill was in a car accident at age 17, her “whole world was flipped upside down,” she says. A spinal cord injury left her paralyzed from the waist down, but as a lifelong dancer, she refused to let the fact that she was in a wheelchair get in the way of her passion. So two years later, in 2012, she started a wheelchair dance team called “The Rollettes.”

Hill connected with a group of women through social media who, like her, were in wheelchairs and wanted to dance. “I wanted to meet girls like me and find friends… I wanted to just feel a sense of normalcy, and feel like I wasn’t the only person in my community or in the world who got in the car with a drunk driver or became paralyzed,” she says. “When you’re by yourself and you’re alone and you’re trying to figure out life, it can be very lonely—it can feel like you’re the only one. And for me, being around these girls helped me gain a sense of confidence that I never thought I would ever get.”

In the near-decade since the Rollettes conception, the group has performed all over the world, introduced the “Boundless Babes Society” mentorship program to connect women and girls living with a range of disabilities, and grown its platform to increase visibility for people with disabilities. “I have so many little ones who come to Rollettes Experience and they look on TV and they don’t see anybody like themselves,” says Hill. “And so for us, representation and education are the two biggest things that we’re very passionate about in every way.”

Hill’s role as the team choreographer has given her the opportunity to take the dance moves she loved when she was younger and make them accessible to people with differing abilities. “I love going to dance classes and adopting the choreography from an able-bodied choreographer to make it work for me,” she says. “That’s when I get the most creative, because I am forced to do moves that my body naturally wouldn’t know how to do… but I can translate them in a way that looks similar because my body is used to all of the moves from when I was a little girl. That’s kind of the advantage I have as a wheelchair dancer: I know how all these moves are as an [able-bodied person], so I just make them work for what my ability is now.”

Even with decades of experience under her belt, though, Hill is no stranger to the oh-so-relatable experience of entering a dance or workout class and immediately feeling intimidated—something many of us can relate to. “I was always so intimidated to go into any class, especially in Los Angeles with some of the top dancers in the industry, top choreographers and me and my wheelchair rolling in and people looking at me like, ‘What is she doing here? Does she know where she is?'” she says. “So I can totally empathize with that feeling of not feeling like you’re ready.”

Click here to read the full article on Well + Good.

Disabled people are ‘invisible by exclusion’ in politics, says Assemblymember running to be the first openly autistic member of Congress

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Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou

By , Business Insider

The halls of Congress have yet to see an openly autistic legislator, but New York Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou could change that.

Niou, who was diagnosed with autism at 22, said she was “surprised” to learn she could be the first openly autistic Congressmember but also said it showed a lack of representation of disabled communities in policy making.

“I think we hear a lot of the first and only sometimes,” Niou told Insider. “While it’s an amazing thing, I think that what’s more important is that there are people understanding that it’s also a really lonely thing. And I think that it really is important to have representation because you need that lens to talk about everything in policy.”

Niou, a progressive Democrat and Taiwanese immigrant who represents New York’s 65th district, announced her run for Congress this year in a high-profile race against Bill de Blasio and Rep. Mondaire Jones.

Niou’s diagnosis became well known after Refinery 29 published an article discussing it in 2020. After parents and kids reached out to her relating to her, she became aware of how talking openly about her autism helped to “drive away stigma.”

Among full-time politicians, disabled Americans are underrepresented. People with disabilities make up 6.3% of federal politicians, compared to 15.7% of all adults in America who are disabled, research from Rutgers shows.

“People with disabilities cannot achieve equality unless they are part of government decision-making,” said Lisa Schur in the 2019 Rutgers report.

The number of disabled Americans may have increased in the past two years. Estimates show that 1.2 million more people may have become disabled as a result of COVID-19.

Niou also said that she knows what it feels like to be shut out of the government process. In 2016, Niou became the first Asian to serve as Assemblymember in her district, a large Asian district that includes New York’s Chinatown.

Disabled people have been “invisible by exclusion from the policy-making process,” Niou said. Her disability status helps her bring perspective to a host of laws from transportation to housing, and she wants to make sure that neurodivergent people have more of a say in the legislative process.

“We’re not considering all the different diverse perspectives, especially when you’re talking about neurodivergent [issues] or when we’re talking about disability issues,” Niou said.

Disabled people are more likely to be incarcerated, are at a higher risk of homelessness, and more likely to face impoverishment.

Click here to read the full article on Business Insider.

Mental Health Apps; do they actually work?

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Woman's Hands Working From Home on Computer while looking at her iPhone

By Samantha Kerrigan, CBS 12 News

Returning to the office is a reality a lot of us are getting used to, but after working from home for more than two years, that can be a little stressful.

These days there are tools to help you manage those feelings and they’re available right at your fingertips.

Mental health apps like Calm, Headspace, Moodfit and Simple Habit are becoming increasingly popular.

Sleep stories and guided meditations are just a couple of the resources most of these apps have in common. But do they actually help? According to licensed psychotherapist Kristen Bomas, the answer is yes.

“There’s more harm in not trying because the fear stays alive.”

Kristen says the anxiety many people are feeling about transitioning back to the office environment is normal and the first thing to do is accept those feelings.

“Life is vague. Work is structured and so that’s the difficulty, but if you can get used to that, you really do separate work and life,” Kristen says.

The starting point could be as easy as taking a deep breath because according to Kristen, we’re all forgetting to breathe.

“We are breathing so unconsciously and we’re just letting our body breathe as it has to, but conscious breathing when we become aware of our breath, it is by far the most healing modality,” Kristen explains.

Focusing on your breath is the first step to all the guided meditations offered on the apps.

“Some lead up to full mediation and some keep it short and sweet which a lot of people need,” Kristen says.

It might not be for everyone, but Kristen says meditation is proven to calm your mind.

Even just a one-minute meditation sitting at your desk can help clear out anxious thoughts.

“You start to think on your own which is important when we talk about fear, which is at the basis of stress and anxiety.”

Another way to clear your mind is to dump your thoughts into a journal.

Some of these apps have space for journaling, or you can just use old fashioned pen and paper.

You can even find a gratitude journal on Moodfit which is one of Kristen’s recommendations for starting your day right.

“I always tell people once you get rid of all the space taken up with all of this, you have space for more to come in and I tell them to fill it with gratitude,’ Kristen says.

And how you end your day is just as important to your mental health, so before you pick up the remote control at bedtime, think about this Kristen says the worst thing we can do if we’re having trouble sleeping is turn on the TV.

“Those apps with sound sometimes bridge that gap, so for them its giving them a sound that’s proven to match the neurological waves in your mind,” Kristen says. “That gets your mind in alignment with your body so that the mind is also falling asleep and getting restful as the body is,” she goes on.

While these apps are realistic for managing your stress anxiety long term, Kristen says they won’t be your sole healer.

Its key to remember that what works for one person, doesn’t work for everyone.

So, it’s important to find what feels right for you and then just take it one day at a time.

Click here to read the full article on CBS 12 News.

Psilocybin Spurs Brain Activity in Patients With Depression, Small Study Shows

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Person sad in their bedroom

Psychedelic compounds like LSD, Ecstasy and psilocybin mushrooms have shown significant promise in treating a range of mental health disorders, with participants in clinical studies often describing tremendous progress taming the demons of post-traumatic stress disorder, or finding unexpected calm and clarity as they face a terminal illness.

But exactly how psychedelics might therapeutically rewire the mind remains an enigma.

A group of neuroscientists in London thought advanced neuroimaging technology that peered deep into the brain might provide some answers. They included 43 people with severe depression in a study sponsored by Imperial College London, and gave them either psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, or a conventional antidepressant; the participants were not told which one they would receive. Functional magnetic resonance imaging, which captures metabolic function, took two snapshots of their brain activity — the day before receiving the first dose and then roughly three weeks after the final one.

What they found, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine, was illuminating, both figuratively and literally. Over the course of three weeks, participants who had been given the antidepressant escitalopram reported mild improvement in their symptoms, and the scans continued to suggest the stubborn, telltale signs of a mind hobbled by major depressive disorder. Neural activity was constrained within certain regions of the brain, a reflection of the rigid thought patterns that can trap those with depression in a negative feedback loop of pessimism and despair.

By contrast, the participants given psilocybin therapy reported a rapid and sustained improvement in their depression, and the scans showed flourishes of neural activity across large swaths of the brain that persisted for the three weeks. That heightened connectivity, they said, resembled the cognitive agility of a healthy brain that, for example, can toggle between a morning bout of melancholia, a stressful day at work and an evening of unencumbered revelry with friends.

Although the authors acknowledged the limitations of the study, including its small size and short time frame, they said psilocybin appeared to have a “liberating” effect on the brains of people with severe depression.

“Psilocybin, it would seem, allows you to see things in an entirely new light, particularly when you have a psychotherapist who can help guide you through that experience,” said Richard Daws, a cognitive neuroscientist and a lead author of the study. “You can unpack difficult experiences that might define how you see the world, which is interesting because that’s exactly what traditional cognitive behavioral therapy is trying to do.”

Experts not involved with the study said that the results were not entirely surprising but that they provided a possible biologic explanation for the anecdotal accounts about therapeutic breakthroughs with psychedelic medicine.

Patrick M. Fisher, a neuroscientist at the Neurobiology Research Unit in Copenhagen who studies psilocybin’s effects on the brain, said the findings could help explain why study subjects in psychedelic research often report long-term relief from psychological ailments. “One or two doses of psychedelic drugs seem to impart lasting clinical benefits and changes in personality and mood, and that’s an unusual characteristic of drugs,” he said. “Although these brain imaging data are important for resolving the brain mechanisms that support these lasting changes, this study leaves prominent questions unanswered.”

Other researchers agreed, saying the results highlighted the need for further study. Dr. Stephen Ross, associate director of the N.Y.U. Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine, who has been studying the antidepressant effects of psilocybin on cancer patients, cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions given the relatively brief monitoring period of participants’ brain activity. “It’s a little bit like looking out into the universe with a telescope and seeing interesting things and then starting to build theories based on that,” he said. “This is an important contribution though I’m more interested in what happens in three months or six months.”

A separate, smaller experiment that was included in the Nature Medicine paper appeared to support the notion that psilocybin therapy could provide enduring benefits. In that trial, 16 patients were recruited with the knowledge that they would receive psilocybin for their treatment-resistant depression. Brain scans taken a day after the final doses were administered showed similar results to the other study. And when the researchers followed up six months later, many participants reported that the improvements to their depression had not subsided.

“These results are very promising, but obviously no one should go out and try and procure psychedelics without speaking to a doctor or a therapist,” Dr. Daws said.

The field of psychedelic medicine is still in its infancy following a decades-long gap in research, a direct result of antidrug policies that prevented most scientists in the United States from investigating mind-altering compounds. But as the stigma has faded and research funding has begun to flow more freely, a growing number of scientists have begun exploring whether such drugs can help patients suffering from a wide range of mental health conditions, including anorexia, substance abuse and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Along with psilocybin, MDMA, popularly known as Ecstasy, has been especially promising. A study last May in Nature Medicine found that the drug paired with talk therapy could significantly lessen or even eliminate symptoms of PTSD. Phase 3 clinical trials are now underway, and some experts believe the Food and Drug Administration could approve MDMA therapy for PTSD as soon as next year.

Depression remains one of most common and intractable mental health challenges in the United States, with an estimated 21 million adults reporting a major depressive episode in 2020, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Although Prozac and other antidepressants known as S.S.R.I.s have been effective for many, they have significant side effects and the drugs do not work for everyone.

Click here to read the full article on the New York Times.

Selena Gomez Says Being Diagnosed As Bipolar Was ‘Freeing’

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Selena Gomez smiling at the camera at a red carpet event

By , The Cut

Since Selena Gomez revealed her bipolar diagnosis in 2020, she’s been selective about what she makes public and what she keeps to herself. In fact, she’s been much more selective with her press appearances in general. She even skipped the Grammys on Sunday, despite earning her very first nomination. But on Monday, April 4, Gomez spoke about being diagnosed as bipolar and how she’s been taking care of her mental health since. (Hint: It involves the World Wide Web and a brand-new company.)

Gomez gave a rare interview on Monday to announce the launch of Wondermind, her new multimedia company focused on mental health. “I really want people to be understood and seen and heard,” she told Good Morning America of her goals for the company. Co-founded by her mother, Mandy Teefey, and Daniella Pierson, the group aims to create an “inclusive, fun, and easy place where people can come together.” Wondermind is meant to provide people with tools to work on their “mental fitness,” which will include journaling exercises, podcasts, and resources. For the singer and actor, one of those tools has been stepping away from the spotlight a bit, which included taking a four-year break from the internet. “I haven’t been on the internet in four and a half years,” she admitted. (Shout out to her social-media people keeping her Instagram alive!) Another tool: knowing her diagnosis. “It was really freeing to have the information,” she said. “It made me really happy because I started to have a relationship with myself, and I think that’s the best part.”

The actor went public with her diagnosis after years of speaking out about her depression and anxiety. “After years of going through a lot of different things, I realized that I was bipolar,” she said during an appearance on Miley Cyrus’ former Instagram Live show, Bright Minded. One year later, she told Elle that finally receiving a diagnosis felt like “a huge weight lifted off me.” She explained, “I could take a deep breath and go, ‘Okay, that explains so much.’”

Click here to read the full article on The Cut.

Music Is Just as Powerful at Improving Mental Health as Exercise, Review Suggests

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Woman wearing a green top and orange blazer listening to music

By DAVID NIELD, Science Alert

The next time you’re not able to get out to the gym, maybe spin some records instead: new research suggests the positive impact on mental health from singing, playing, or listening to music is around the same impact experienced with exercise or weight loss.

That’s based on a meta-analysis covering 26 previous studies and a total of 779 people. The earlier research covered everything from using gospel music as a preventative measure against heart disease to how joining a choir can help people recovering from cancer.

A growing number of studies are finding links between music and wellbeing. However, the level of the potential boost and exactly why it works are areas that scientists are still looking into – and that’s where this particular piece of research can be helpful.

“Increasing evidence supports the ability of music to broadly promote wellbeing and health-related quality of life (HRQOL),” write the researchers in their published paper.

“However, the magnitude of music’s positive association with HRQOL is still unclear, particularly relative to established interventions, limiting inclusion of music interventions in health policy and care.”

All of the 26 studies included in the new research used the widely adopted and well regarded 36-Item Short Form Survey (SF-36) on physical and mental health, or the shorter alternative with 12 questions (SF-12), making it easier to collate and synthesize the data.

The results of the studies were then compared against other research looking at the benefits of “non-pharmaceutical and medical interventions (e.g., exercise, weight loss)” on wellbeing and against research where medical treatments for health issues didn’t include a music therapy component.

According to the study authors, the mental health boost from music is “within the range, albeit on the low end” of the same sort of impact seen in people who commit to physical exercise or weight loss programs.

“This meta-analysis of 26 studies of music interventions provided clear and quantitative moderate-quality evidence that music interventions are associated with clinically significant changes in mental HRQOL,” write the researchers.

“Additionally, a subset of 8 studies demonstrated that adding music interventions to usual treatment was associated with clinically significant changes to mental HRQOL in a range of conditions.”

At the same time, the researchers point out that there was substantial variation between individuals in the studies regarding how well the various musical interventions worked – even if the overall picture was a positive one. This isn’t necessarily something that’s going to work for everyone.

Click here to read the full article on Science Alert.

Mental Health Providers Are Busier Than Ever. Here’s How to Find One.

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person in front of a computer looking up mental health providers

By 

Finding a therapist — let alone one who is a good fit — can take time and determination, especially during the pandemic, when many therapists report they cannot keep up with demand and must turn away patients.

When The New York Times surveyed 1,320 mental health professionals in November, nine out of 10 therapists said the number of people seeking care was on the rise. During a Senate committee hearing in February to address the nation’s growing mental health and substance abuse problem, Senator Patty Murray of Washington noted that nearly 130 million Americans live in places with less than one mental health care provider per 30,000 people.

Even therapists can have trouble finding help. Thomas Armstrong, a clinical psychologist in eastern Washington, waited more than a year to get treatment for his youngest child, who was 2 when they started searching. And it took more than two years to get the treatment that proved most beneficial, found only after he tapped into his academic network through Twitter.

“All the stars had to align for me,” he said.

If you are looking for a mental health care provider, don’t give up — there are several strategies that can help.

Phone a friend.
For some people — like those suffering from a debilitating bout of depression — the thought of spending weeks or months searching for a therapist can seem overwhelming.

“It’s not something you’re doing wrong — it’s that the system is inherently broken and it needs fixing,” Jessi Gold, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis, said.

If you don’t have the energy to get started, ask a friend or family member to help you contact providers and set up an appointment, Dr. Gold suggested. It is “one of the best ways that people who care about you can help with your mental heath,” she added.

You can also try getting referrals directly from your personal network — whether it is someone from your local parenting group, your friend’s therapist, an obstetrician, your primary care doctor or a trusted colleague. For students, referrals can also come from on-campus counseling centers, health centers or a guidance counselor.

Jeanie W. Shiau, a licensed clinical social worker in Georgia whose practice is usually about 90 percent full, often helps find providers for patients she cannot see individually.

Take a chance on a provider who is new to the field.
One of the best places to call is your local university’s psychology clinic, which trains graduate students, said Margaret E. Crane, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Temple University whose dissertation compares strategies to help caregivers seek therapy for youth anxiety.

These clinics offer evidence-based treatments to both children and adults, she added, and they often have shorter wait lists than community clinics or therapists in private practice. “They also can provide you with high-quality referrals in the area,” she said.

You might also consider working with someone who has obtained a degree but is still gathering the supervised experience needed to earn a professional license. These clinicians are usually less expensive, and their work is continually being reviewed by a more experienced therapist.

Finally, when looking for a provider, don’t assume that a higher degree equates to better therapy. Keep in mind that most licensed therapists in the United States — like licensed clinical social workers and licensed professional counselors — have master’s degrees, not doctoral degrees.

“Rather than looking for a specific degree, look for therapists who have been trained in evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy,” Ms. Crane said.

Check your employee benefits.
Arniece Stevenson, 34, a graduate student in Philadelphia who works for the Girl Scouts, used her Employee Assistance Program, or E.A.P., to locate a therapist faster than she ever expected.

An E.A.P. is a free intervention program that can help employees resolve personal problems by connecting them with the right resources, and may also provide a small number of free therapy sessions.

E.A.P.s are billed as confidential, but some employees feel wary of contacting them because of privacy concerns. Ms. Stevenson was hesitant, but she finally reached out one evening around midnight. “I just had to muster up the courage,” she said.

The person she spoke with said someone would be calling her back soon. The following day she heard from a therapist who could begin seeing her right away.

“I was shocked — I was like, ‘Wait, already?’” she said.

The therapist she sees is white, and Ms. Stevenson, who is Black, said she would have preferred a provider who was African American. But the two of them “happened to click,” Ms. Stevenson added.

Explore digital directories and virtual options.
Many people start searching for a provider by scrolling through their insurance company’s list of providers, then cross-referencing those against another database like Psychology Today to learn more about each practitioner.

The insurance company’s list may not be up to date, however, and some providers may not respond to your queries because they are already full.

It may be more efficient in some cases to look at free online directories where you can filter results by who is currently taking new clients. Options include Alma, ZocDoc, Monarch and Headway.

Companies like BetterHelp, 7 Cups of Tea and Talkspace offer online therapy and messaging with a licensed practitioner for a weekly or monthly membership fee.

And if you’re specifically looking for a provider of color, a variety of websites have popped up in recent years to help make those connections, including Therapy for Black Girls, LatinxTherapy and the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network.

Look to nonprofits.
Nonprofits focused on helping specific groups can also aid people in finding a therapist.

Examples include the Beacon Tree Foundation, which assists parents in Virginia who have children with mental illness; the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Postpartum Support International took just two days to connect Melanie Vega, 39, with a provider on her insurance panel when she developed postpartum depression after the birth of her first child.

“I knew that something was wrong when I kept saying to myself my family would be better off without me,” said Ms. Vega, who has now been seeing that therapist for four years. “She has helped me tremendously.”

Other helpful nonprofits include The Trevor Project, which offers trained counselors to L.G.B.T.Q. youth; the Trans Lifeline; Black Men Heal; and the Asian Mental Health Collective.

Click here to read the full article in the NY Times.

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Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. Join us in D. C. for Tapia 2022!
    September 6, 2022 - September 10, 2022
  4. The 2022 Global ERG Summit
    September 19, 2022 - September 23, 2022
  5. ROMBA Conference
    October 6, 2022 - October 8, 2022