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Jails Are No Place for the Mentally Ill, Flavored Tobacco Lures Kids, Meet Mexico’s 13 Year Ol

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Welcome back to In Case You Missed It (our weekly roundup of articles touching on psychology, health, mental health and social justice issues from multiple news and commentary websites). This week, we address the challenges of living with mental illness in jail, flavored tobacco luring kids, a gifted young girl and 13-year-old psychologist, and more.

In this article, Justin Volpe, a certified recovery peer specialist in Miami, recounts how his own struggle with drug addiction and serious mental illness resulted in a horrific stint in the Miami-Dade County Jail where he was locked away on the “Forgotten Floor” with other seriously mentally ill inmates. Fortunately, Justin was able to take advantage of a program launched in 2007 instituting comprehensive coordination between law enforcement and behavioral health treatment centers. After 46 days in jail, a psychiatrist identified Volpe as having a mental illness and he was transferred to a hospital where he received the treatment he sorely needed. Since then, Volpe has been able to rebuild his own life and serve as a peer recovery specialist helping more than 600 people through jail diversion and treatment. Volpe makes the compelling argument that America’s jails have become warehouses for those struggling with mental illness as well as drug addiction. Serious mental illness now affects about one in six men and almost one-third of women in jails, rates four to six times higher than in the general population. For people with serious mental illnesses, stigma often keeps them from seeking treatment, which is how they wind up in the criminal justice system. There are currently 10 times more mentally ill people in jails and prisons than in state mental health institutions; the vast majority of these people are in jail for non-serious offenses. Volpe argues that the purpose of our justice system is not just to punish but to rehabilitate, yet research shows that even a brief stay in jail can hamper rehabilitation – reducing job opportunities, harming physical and mental health and increasing the likelihood of committing another crime. Rather than further disenfranchising our seriously mentally ill, Volpe calls for directing more resources to greater coordination between police and mental health services, innovations like mobile crisis units, mental health courts and pretrial diversion programs like the one that helped him.

Kids who smoke, vape or chew tobacco are flocking to the flavored varieties, a new government report shows. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 70 percent of middle and high school students who say they’ve used tobacco are going for the flavor. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has outlawed the use of candy and other flavorings, except menthol, in cigarettes, but hasn’t extended this ban to other tobacco products – including e-cigarettes. Brian King of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health said that e-cigarettes surpassed cigarettes to become the most common tobacco product used among middle and high school students in 2014. Teens say they like the way e-cigarettes look, and once they try them, they are more likely to move to traditional cigarettes. “The vast majority of these products contain nicotine, which we know can adversely affect the developing adolescent brain, aside from being highly addictive,” King said. They contain other chemicals, too, including formaldehyde. The FDA proposed its plan for regulating them and would make it illegal for kids under 18 to use e-cigarettes. For more on this topic, check out this recent APA Monitor article on the safety of e-cigarette use.

Becoming a psychologist is a remarkable achievement, but for Dafne Almazan at just 13 years old it is an incredible accomplishment. Dafne has also been named one of the 50 most powerful Mexican women this summer. Dafne’s motivation lays in her desire to inspire others like her that suffer from bullying at school, depression and demotivation for developing their talents. Dafne hopes to “guide all gifted children in Mexico.” The 2013 Talent Attention Center study found that in Mexico, a vast majority of gifted children are wrongly diagnosed as having a mental disorder. Dafne hopes to reform the Mexican education system that has an estimated 1 million underage geniuses.

(Note:  For information on education, training, and licensing requirements for psychologists in the United States and Canada, see the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards).

Anonymity has been the bedrock of Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery groups for decades. This principle ensures that those struggling with addiction can feel safe coming to these meetings. However, now, many younger activists want to break the veil of secrecy, and are encouraging others to do the same. So why the change? Stepping forward, they believe, is the only way to earn social acceptance, political clout and badly needed money for treatment. This movement is led by Millennials, who are more comfortable than the previous generations of addicts when it comes to sharing their private lives on Facebook and other social media. This new direction has many questioning whether it is beneficial or troublesome.

Legislation introduced this week in the District of Columbia, if enacted, would entitle every part-time or full-time employee in the nation’s capital to the most general family leave benefits in the country, including 16 weeks of paid family leave after the birth or adoption of a child, to recover from an illness, to recuperate from military deployment, or to care for a sick family member.   Funding for this new benefit would come from anew tax on D.C. employers. The measure is supported by a majority of the DC Council, although it is opposed by the DC Chamber of Commerce, who warned that the benefits would make the District uncompetitive. In 2015, APA supported the reintroduction of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act) (S. 786/H.R. 1439), introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro.

What do you think of these stories? What did we leave out?

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