Three great stories we found on the internet this week.
Many of us dread spending time in the dentist’s chair. But it’s also a surprisingly good place to talk about mental health: Dentists see patients regularly, and often for longer than other kinds of medical visits, creating an opportunity to build a connection.
That’s why Asian Health Services, a health center in Oakland’s Chinatown district, has integrated oral and behavioral health care. Patients fill out a mental health survey as part of their intake form, and dental staff members receive training on how to talk to patients who show signs of depression. Of the 300 to 400 patients Asian Health Services screens annually, about 7 percent are referred to counseling.
The center serves a majority Asian population, including a lot of older adults on Medi-Cal, and the staff makes an effort to avoid stigma. For example, the office where a patient’s first meeting takes place has a sign that says “Consultation” rather than “Counseling.” As Asian Health Services’ Chief Dental Officer Huong Le puts it, “Nobody needs to know what you’re in that room for.”
Health and healing
From 1819 to 1969, Native children in the American West were rounded up, sometimes violently, and taken from their homelands to attend federally funded boarding schools. As awareness of this legacy grows, so too does awareness of the intergenerational trauma it caused — and Indigenous mental health providers and social workers are working to address it.
According to the Indian Health Service, American Indians and Alaska Natives are 2.5 times more likely than the general population to experience psychological distress. The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition has a program specifically dedicated to addressing mental health concerns linked to the federal boarding school era. The program includes workshops on coping with trauma, anxiety and depression.
Secadio Sanchez (Diné), a behavioral health therapist in Salt Lake City, hopes to see more Native Americans and Alaska Natives recover from trauma by blending traditional healing with behavioral health therapy. “We can provide interventions that are focused for Natives, that’s going to work for Natives, that bring familiarity to those who have experienced trauma,” Sanchez said.
Not a crime
In March, Ghana’s parliament voted to decriminalized suicide and attempted suicide. It’s one of four countries to decriminalize suicide this year, raising hopes that awareness and understanding of mental health is spreading and other countries will soon follow.
“[Ghana’s decision] should have an impact on the work ongoing in other countries, especially in the Africa region,” said Professor Joseph Osafo, head of psychology at the University of Ghana. There are at least 17 countries where suicide is still considered a criminal offense. Health experts and advocates say suicide should be treated as a public health issue, not a crime. Decriminalization makes it easier for those in need to seek help.
Anita Abu Bakar, founder and president of the Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (Miasa), has already seen changes since suicide was decriminalized in Malaysia in June, including the expansion of crisis response teams. “Obviously decriminalisation is not the only way to prevent suicide,” Baker said, “but it’s a big one.”