‘It’s our purpose’: How two young men from the NT combat mental health issues in their community

When Jahdai Vigona and Danté Rodrigues were heading down the wrong path after high school, they had two options: keep going or make a change.

They chose the latter, and ever since they have been working tirelessly to improve the mental and physical health of Indigenous men in their community.

The two cousins, who are are both proud Tiwi Islands men, say that with the help of mentors, family members and positive role models, they were able to turn things around for themselves, and hope to do the same for others.

“Jahdai and I grew up around a lot of things like domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and crime and for a while we were even going off on our own wrong path,” Danté says.

“I’m only 22 and I’ve lost more friends and family than I can count,” Jahdai adds.

“I’ve attended more funerals than weddings in my lifetime. That’s just the harsh reality for someone like me coming from the NT.”

A better self, 1 per cent at a time

Jahdai and Danté decided to take matters into their own hands — or boxing gloves.

“How can you expect someone to be a good person, if you don’t teach them how to be,” Danté says.

“We are lucky that we had a lot of positive role models to help us, but for a lot of people in the Northern Territory, Indigenous or not, they just don’t have that support.” 

With their One Percent program, they try to help young Indigenous men in the Northern Territory become better versions of themselves day by day, 1 per cent at a time.

Mindfulness is a integral part of Jahdai and Danté’s program.(Supplied)

The duo run weekly sessions in Darwin, inviting anyone who’s keen for a work-out and a proper feed to join.

A session usually starts around 10 in the morning at an oval in Darwin. Participants start with a jog around the field.

What follows is Danté leading the physical component of the session, which consists of kickboxing, pad work and other exercises.

The second half of the session moves into the more spiritual side.

“We do team building and I facilitate theatre work as a way of strengthening communications and bonds within the group,” Jahdai says.

Theatre work generally takes the form of games that strengthen group bonds, like one where the participants have to count to 21 by yelling a number without interrupting each other.

If they manage to get to 21 uninterrupted, Jahdai asks the group who didn’t yell out a number. Those quieter members are encouraged to let their voices be heard in the next round.

“Sometimes there are stronger voices and sometimes quieter ones, but we try to teach people that the stronger voices aren’t any more or less important than the quiet ones,” he says. 

Group picture of 20-odd people on a field, behind them are soccer goals.

Participants start off the day with a jog around the field.(Supplied)

The program also incorporates a lot of practical life skills.

“I’ve had to figure a lot of things out for myself, like how to get a loan for a car, how to do my taxes, how to write a proper job application, how to communicate, how to write effectively,” Jahdai says.

“All these foundational skills you think you’d learn in 12 years of schooling.”

Danté acknowledges that a lot of those skills are usually taught by parents.

“But a lot of kids, Indigenous or not, don’t have that. We want to make those services more available to people like us.” 

Jahdai and Danté know from their own experience what it’s like to struggle with their mental health.

One of the things that helped them through it is sports.

Two young men are pictured sitting down on a flight of stairs.

Jahdai and Danté have used their own personal experiences and backgrounds to develop the program.(ABC News: Leah White)

Discipline through kickboxing

Danté, who is also a professional fighter and has competed in the WAKO Kickboxing World Championships, explains how his sport got him off the wrong path.

“There was drug and alcohol abuse, not attending school, running amok and just being a nuisance. You know, normal stuff,” he says. 

“But when I started focusing full time on sport, that’s when I noticed my life was getting better in almost every aspect.

“A really big lesson that kicked into me was to surround myself with positive people, always.”

Two men are pictured, the one of the left is hitting at the boxing pads that the one on the right is holding.

Danté says kickboxing helped him get his life under control.(Supplied)

Kickboxing teaches important values like discipline and self-worth, he says.

“That sport builds so much resilience and so much accountability, compared to any other sport,” he says.

“It teaches young men that when you get knocked down, you have to get back up.”

More than just boxing

“[The program] covers all aspects of needs for a young male. It’s spiritual through meditation and mindfulness, there’s social connection and a mental health side where we talk and listen to each other,” Jahdai says.

Jahdai, who has a mental health education background, has worked a lot with Indigenous youth in correctional settings and remote communities.

He uses those experiences at the One Percent Program. Each session focuses on a different value: from discipline to mindfulness and social connections.

A row of men is pictured boxing, some hold pads as others are wearing gloves, hitting at the pads.

“[The program] covers all aspects of needs for a young male,” Jahdai says. (Supplied)

Fourteen-year-old Numaka Jarlson says the program has taught him about discipline.

“It’s been something that gets me out of bed on the weekends instead of just sitting on my phone all day,” he says.

“[The program] gives me a really good model of a good man … It gives me a standard that I look up to.”

“I really enjoy just settling down and just talking about feelings and life because I think it’s really meaningful and it’s really important. 

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‘It’s our purpose’

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that in 2022 the rate of suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was more than twice that of the broader population, with over three-quarters of those who died by suicide being male. 

Earlier this year a Darwin inquest was told that NT’s child and youth suicide rate was more than three times the national average.

Two men are pictured, both are wearing sunnies are wearing dark shirts. They are standing on a field with soccer goals.

Jahdai and Danté say that there is a need for a program like theirs.(Supplied)

Jahdai and Danté say they get regular reminders of why they started the program.

“We’ve had participants share with us that three days before coming to a session they felt suicidal. The only thing that got them out of the house was participating in our program,” Jahdai says.

“We didn’t think a program like this would have such an impact and to hear stuff like that from our participants, shows that there’s a need for it.

“The program really is just who we are, our characters, our people’s upbringing, it’s what we want to do. It’s our purpose,” Jahdai concludes. 

Danté agrees: “It’s a reflection of who we are.” 

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The war in Gaza is creating a health crisis that will span decades

Palestinian children wait to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen amid shortages of food supplies in Rafah

Ismael Mohamad/UPI/Shutterstock

The situation in Gaza is rapidly devolving into the worst humanitarian crisis in modern memory, and international health organisations have no long-term plans for addressing the territory’s post-war needs.

More than three-quarters of Gaza’s 2.2 million residents, half of whom are children, are internally displaced, trapped in one of the most densely populated areas in the world with minimal access to food, water or healthcare. Since 7 October, when Hamas militants from Gaza invaded Israel and killed more than 1000 civilians, Israel has intensely bombed the enclave, hindered the flow of humanitarian aid and decimated civilian infrastructure. As a result, more than 30,000 Palestinians have died in Gaza – mostly women and children – according to the United Nations, and more than 72,000 have been injured.

Yet, these figures signal only the beginning of the public health catastrophe. Those who survive the war will face lifelong health effects. Thousands of Palestinians will be living with missing limbs, compromised immunity, mental illness and other chronic conditions. Meeting their health needs will be a decades-long undertaking, one that no global aid organisation has adequately planned for.

The World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, UNICEF, the Palestine Red Crescent Society, CARE International and Doctors Without Borders all lack concrete, long-term plans to address health needs in Gaza, according to information each organisation shared with New Scientist. Save the Children and the International Committee of the Red Cross didn’t provide a response to questions about their long-term plans.

An unprecedented humanitarian disaster

The lack of planning for the coming decades of healthcare needs is partly due to the enormity of the current humanitarian crisis. Most people in Gaza are living in crowded conditions without sewage treatment and trash removal. On average, people have less than 1 litre of clean water per day. As a result, infectious disease is rampant.

A survey in a limited number of shelters in December and January found that at least 90 per cent of children under 5 years old have one or more infectious illnesses and 70 per cent have had diarrhoea in the past two weeks. “And that doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands of people who aren’t in refugee shelters,” says Margaret Harris at the WHO.

Hunger is also widespread. Almost two-thirds of households eat one meal a day, and a quarter of the population faces imminent starvation and extreme malnutrition. Conditions are most dire in northern Gaza where 1 in 6 children are malnourished, according to the survey. Gaza’s health ministry reported on 7 March that 20 people, including 15 children, have died from malnutrition and dehydration. Poor surveillance means these numbers are likely much higher.

“The difficult thing about malnutrition in children is that it begets more illness,” says Tanya Haj-Hassan at Doctors Without Borders. Malnourished children are more susceptible to infections, which wears the intestine’s lining, making it difficult to absorb nutrients. “So, they become more malnourished, more immunocompromised, and it just becomes this vicious cycle that’s essentially a snowball down to death,” she says.

Bombing has made much of the territory unsafe. UNICEF found that by December, more than 1000 children had lost one or both of their legs since the conflict began – or more than 10 children a day, on average. And there are few options to obtain care for these injuries: as of 21 February, only 18 of the 40 hospitals in Gaza were still functioning, but with reduced capacity. “They don’t have drugs. They don’t have machines. They don’t have power. They might have a few doctors who are running an emergency room. So, there’s really no functioning health system,” says Selena Victor at humanitarian organisation Mercy Corps, which is providing emergency food in Gaza.

The overwhelming humanitarian crisis has left health organisations scrambling. “We’ve not seen such a level of violence, horror, fear and deprivation enacted on any population in modern history,” says Harris. “We are, in a sense, charting unknown territory.”

Gaza’s impending public health crisis

Even if the war ends tomorrow, survivors will face lifelong health consequences. Many will have physical disabilities. Others will have severe mental illness. Some may develop chronic lung conditions, heart disease and cancer from the chemical pollutants in bombs and destroyed buildings, says Harris.

The impact will be most severe for children. Persistent malnutrition early in life stunts growth and impairs brain development, causing deficits in cognition, memory, motor function and intelligence, says Haj-Hassan. It also weakens children’s immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to illness. Research shows that malnutrition during pregnancy increases the risk of babies developing obesity, hypertension, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. A February report from Project Hope, an international aid organisation, found that 1 in 5 pregnant women treated at a Gaza clinic were malnourished, as were 1 in 10 children seen there.

However, the most widespread harm will be the mental health effects, says Harris. “Just imagine what it’s like for the people who are going through this every day relentlessly. They have a terrible sense of uncertainty – no idea where to go, what’s going to happen next, where the next little bit of food is going to come from,” she says. Such traumatic experiences are associated with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicidal thoughts. In children, this trauma can disrupt brain and organ development and increase the risk of learning disabilities and mental health conditions. Without early interventions, these problems may continue into adulthood. “We’re going to see an enormous burden of mental illness that is going to be extremely difficult to deal with,” says Harris.

Adults who experience childhood adversity also have 12 times the risk of developing alcohol and drug use disorders and attempting suicide. They are more likely to have physical health conditions, too, such as heart disease or cancer. Young men who survive conflict have almost triple the rates of severe mental disorders, such as psychosis, compared with those who don’t experience war.

Current post-war plans are not enough

Given these consequences, long-term health plans for Gaza must be established. Such plans will have to address rebuilding infrastructure, developing mental and physical rehabilitation programmes and routinely screening for illness.

“It seems absurd to be talking about what the municipal authorities will look like when right now people are dying trying to get a handful of bread for their families. It just doesn’t compute,” says Victor. “But we need to think about it.”

Yet, most organisations have only just begun to do so. The few with protocols in place – including the Palestine Red Crescent Society and CARE International – address the next year or two, but not decades down the line. The WHO is developing plans to address health needs from April 2024 to the end of the year. “We’re working with several different scenarios. The good scenario is a ceasefire that helps us to then genuinely look at [long-term plans],” says Harris. The other plausibility is that the war continues.

This uncertainty, along with the looming question of who will govern Gaza in the aftermath of the conflict, makes future preparations extremely difficult. “Why we are desperate to see not just a ceasefire, but a peaceful resolution, is that until we’ve got that, any plan, anything we even consider, is just castles in the air,” says Harris.

Israel has limited aide organisations’ access to the region, and the few workers who are in Gaza can’t operate safely. “Half the time they can’t do anything. They can’t move around safely. Basic things like communications keep getting shut down,” says Victor. And many of them have died. For instance, a member of the WHO’s limb reconstruction team in Gaza, a 29-year-old named Dima Abdullatif Mohammed Alhaj, was killed by an Israeli airstrike alongside her 6-month-old baby, two brothers and husband, says Harris.

These dangers and hurdles complicate long-term planning. “You can make any plan you like, but if you don’t know what the needs are, you’re not going to make a very useful plan,” says Victor.

It will take an enormous amount of money to address the widespread devastation in Gaza. Margaret Harris at the World Health Organization says that early estimates suggest $204.2 million will be needed to fund its health emergency plan in Gaza for 2024 alone.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Palestine Red Crescent Society says the organisation has a $300 million budget for its campaign in Gaza, which will run until the end of 2025. Roughly $38 million of those funds will be used for the health sector, including restocking medical supplies, deploying additional ambulances and preventing infectious disease.

This won’t begin to address the long-term health needs of Palestinians in Gaza. It is hard to estimate what will be needed now, but Harris says that in the long run “I think it is fair to say we’ll be looking at billions”.

Article amended on 12 March 2024

We clarified the role of Mercy Corps in the region


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Why even a little bit of exercise can go a long way to helping your mental health

During the pandemic, Nikola Sowry made a decision that helped her become happier and healthier.

After feeling challenged and disconnected during recurring lockdowns, the 29-year-old decided to try out a community football team in Melbourne’s inner suburbs. 

“Finding footy and this club genuinely changed my life,” she said.

Before football, Nikola struggled to find exercise that suited her.

Nikola at pre-season training with the South Melbourne Districts Football Club. (ABC News: Kate Ashton)

While she never had a diagnosed mental health condition, she credits the South Melbourne Districts team with transforming her physical and mental health.

“I’m just such a happier, healthy version of myself by being here,” she said.

What Nikola experienced is backed by research. 

The link between mental health and physical activity is strong enough that studies are showing exercise can be used on its own as a treatment for mild to moderate depression or anxiety. 

A woman in a red footy jumper handballs a yellow football.

Nikola says she always leaves footy training with a better mindset. (ABC News: Kate Ashton)

Physical activity has also been shown to prevent the onset of common mental health conditions in the first place.

With the latest figures pointing to declining mental wellbeing and an alarming rise in mental illness, particularly among younger Australians, experts say increasing the use of exercise for mental health should be part of the solution.

Exercise can change the brain, researchers say

Last year, a group of Australian researchers published a review summarising what we know about the effects of physical activity on symptoms of depression, anxiety and mental distress in adults.

The scope of the study was large, and looked at previous reviews that captured the results of more than 1,000 trials involving 128,000 participants. It was peer-reviewed and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

“What we found was that basically any type of exercise is effective for improving our mental health,” said University of South Australia researcher Ben Singh.

A bearded man in a blue collared shirt sits on a park bench, with a serious expression.

Ben Singh says there’s strong evidence for using physical activity to improve and treat mental health conditions. (ABC News: Brant Cumming)

The review found that using physical activity to treat mild to moderate depression and anxiety was more effective than conventional treatments like therapy.

“And on average, we found that it was about 1.5 times more effective than medications,” Dr Singh said.

Exercise has also been shown to prevent the onset of mental disorders like depression. 

“There is a lot of strong evidence to show that people who are regularly active over a long period of time have a lower rate of being diagnosed with a mental health condition,” Dr Singh said.

Female footballer players high five each other on an oval at training

The social element of exercise is believed to help protect against anxiety and depression. 

Part of this is due to the sense of community and achievement physical activity can provide, the research suggests.

Exercise has also been shown to trigger structural and biological effects on the brain.

While there’s still more to learn, exercise has been proven to help reduce brain inflammation, promote the growth of neurons and trigger the release of mood-boosting chemical messengers like serotonin.

And even a small amount of physical activity can help. 

From tai chi to swimming, all exercise can bring benefits

Dr Singh and his co-authors found all kinds of physical activity could help relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety, or distress.

That included cardio such as walking, cycling, swimming, running or playing a team sport. 

A group of walkers walk up a dirt hill during a parkrun event.

Even low-intensity exercise like walking can improve mental wellbeing. (Supplied: parkrun)

Strength and resistance training was found to have the biggest impact on symptoms of depression.

Mind-body exercises like tai chi and yoga were most effective at reducing anxiety and were shown to help with symptoms of depression too, the study found.

Dr Singh said it was important people chose the type of exercise that suited them. 

In general, the review found the more vigorous the exercise was, the bigger the improvement in mental wellbeing.

“But what was important is we found that also low-intensity exercise — so just getting outdoors for a leisurely stroll — is still extremely beneficial,” he said.

A checklist graphic for the use of exercise for mental health concerns. 

Key advice on how to use exercise for mental health concerns. (ABC News: Magie Khameneh)

The national physical activity guidelines recommend adults aged 18 to 64 should aim to be active on most days, if not every day. The advice is to aim for 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity and between 1.25 and 2.5 hours of vigorous physical activity a week.

For some people, that might sound like a lot.

But Dr Singh’s research found even those doing less than 2.5 hours of physical activity per week experienced mental health benefits.

A young woman wearing a red footy jumpy braces herself to take a mark.

Nikola had never played Aussie Rules before joining a community footy team. (ABC News: Kate Ashton)

Exercise should be used more often for mental health conditions, researcher says

Jodie Sheehy, a PhD candidate with Melbourne’s Victoria University, thinks exercise should be used more often to treat mental health conditions and promote mental wellbeing. 

Her current project is investigating how to encourage general practitioners to prescribe exercise specifically for mental health concerns.

“There’s actually been a number of studies that look at GPs prescribing physical activity for mental health, and they really don’t,” she said.

A curly-haired woman wearing a blank singlet sits in a gym, surrounded by weights.

Jodie Sheehy says more Australians could benefit from using exercise to address mental health concerns. (ABC News: Darryl Torpy)

“Some recommend it, but they seldom prescribe it.”

She said using physical exercise to treat mental health concerns was not a big part of the GP training curriculum, despite the fact most people saw their doctor more than any other mental health professional.

“What I would like to see happen is for there to be something specific, so that a GP can actually prescribe the exercise — the type, the dose and the frequency,” she said.

Challenges for using exercise in mental health treatment

Caroline Johnson is a Melbourne GP who delivers mental health training to doctors wanting to become general practitioners. 

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners said exercise was included in medical school curriculum on mental health. The college also produces resources for GPs on this topic.

Dr Johnson admitted it was a small mention in a “jam-packed” curriculum. 

“But most GPs know that exercise is good for depression. It’s more about how do you deliver that message to the person in a way that will actually help them engage with it,” she said.

An older woman wearing a red top and glasses is pictured  in her GP consulting room. She is smiling.

Caroline Johnson says a GP can help a patient consider what type of exercise might work for them. (ABC News: Darryl Torpy)

She said the more pressing issue was whether patients had the time, money or ability to actually do it.

“Depression really does affect your sense of self — you lose motivation, you lose interest in doing things and sometimes you even lose a belief that you’re worth working on,” Dr Johnson said.

She said it was easy to portray exercise as free and easy, but that was certainly not the case for people of different abilities or those who were time-poor. 

“If you’ve got low income, or you’re not in an urban environment where walking is easy to do, where there’s not parklands, those kinds of things, then that’s a much harder thing for you to change,” she said.

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Rosalynn Carter, former US first lady and mental health activist, dies at 96

Former US first lady Rosalynn Carter, who President Jimmy Carter called “an extension of myself” owing to his wife’s prominent role in his administration even as she tirelessly promoted the cause of mental health, died on Sunday at age 96, the Carter Center said.

Rosalynn Carter, who in recent days had entered hospice care at home in Plains, Georgia, died with her family by her side, according to a statement released by the Carter Center, a nonprofit organization founded by the couple.

Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, served as president from 1977 to 1981. He and his wife were the longest-married US presidential couple, having wed in 1946 when he was 21 and she was 18.

After his single term as president ended, he also enjoyed more post-White House years than any president before him, and she played an instrumental role during those years, including as part of the Carter Center and the Habitat for Humanity charity.

Her family in May disclosed that she had dementia but was continuing to live at home. Jimmy Carter, 99, himself is in hospice care after deciding in February to decline additional medical intervention. 

“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” the former president said in the statement. “She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me.”

She was seen as unassuming and quiet before coming to Washington in 1977 but developed into an eloquent speaker, campaigner and activist. Her abiding passion, which carried far beyond her White House years, was for the mentally ill, not because of any personal connection but because of a strong feeling that advocacy was needed.

“The best thing I ever did was marry Rosalynn,” Carter told the C-SPAN cable TV channel in 2015. “That’s the pinnacle of my life.”

Before her husband was elected president in 1976, Rosalynn was largely unknown outside of Georgia, where he had been a peanut farmer-turned-governor. He lost his 1980 re-election bid to Ronald Reagan, a Republican former California governor and Hollywood actor.

In Washington, the Carters were a team, with the president calling her “an extension of myself” and “my closest adviser.” She was often invited to sit in as an observer at cabinet meetings and political strategy discussions. In a 1978 interview with magazine editors, Carter said he shared almost everything with his wife except top-secret material.

“I think she understands the consciousness of the American people and their attitudes perhaps better than do I,” he said.

She also was sent on important official missions to Latin America and was part of the unsuccessful campaign for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ensure equal treatment of women under the law.

The Iranian hostage crisis – in which American diplomats and others were held captive in Tehran after the Islamic revolution – occurred when Carter was seeking re-election. The crisis contributed to the downfall of his presidency as he refrained from campaigning while trying to resolve the standoff.

During that time, Rosalynn Carter sought to support her husband by speaking in 112 cities in 34 states during a 44-day tour. Her speeches and forays into crowds were credited with helping Carter defeat Democratic challenger Ted Kennedy in the 1980 primaries, although he went on to lose overwhelmingly to Reagan.

First lady Jill Biden on Sunday paid tribute to Carter during an event in Virginia. Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, in a statement called Carter “a woman of dignity and strength.” Former President Donald Trump in a social media post called her “a great humanitarian.”

Mental health interest 

Eleanor Rosalynn Smith was born Aug. 18, 1927, in Plains to Edgar and Alice Smith, and married Carter on July 7, 1946. They went on to have four children.

Her interest in mental health issues stemmed from the early 1970s when she began to realize, while helping her husband campaign for governor, the depth of the problem in her home state of Georgia and the reluctance of people to talk about it.

As first lady of Georgia, she was a member of a governor’s commission to improve services for the mentally ill.

In the White House, she became honorary chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health, key to passage of a 1980 act that helped fund local mental health centers.

After leaving Washington she pursued her work through the Carter Center, which the Carters founded in Atlanta in 1982. She continued to advocate for mental health, early childhood immunization, human rights, conflict resolution and the empowerment of urban communities.

“I hope our legacy continues, more than just as first lady, because the Carter Center has been an integral part of our lives. And our motto is waging peace, fighting disease and building hope. And I hope that I have contributed something to mental health issues and help improve a little bit the lives of people living with mental illnesses,” she told C-SPAN in a 2013 interview.

Speaking about her 1998 book “Helping Someone With Mental Illness,” Carter said she longed for the day when the mentally ill would be free from discrimination.

In their post-Washington years the Carters were also key figures in the Habitat for Humanity charity, helping build homes for needy families. Their humanitarian efforts were crowned in 2002 when Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

“I am especially grateful to Rosalynn, who has been a part of everything I’ve done,” a teary-eyed Jimmy Carter said in a speech in Plains after learning he had won the award.

Both Carters were active members of the Plains community, including at the Maranatha Baptist Church where Rosalynn served as a deacon and the former president as a deacon and long-time Sunday school teacher.

The Carter Center said she also is survived by her four children, 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.


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Don’t serve disordered eating to your teens this holiday season | CNN

Editor’s Note: Katie Hurley, author of “No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident and Compassionate Girls,” is a child and adolescent psychotherapist in Los Angeles. She specializes in work with tweens, teens and young adults.


“I have a couple of spots for anyone who wants to lose 20 pounds by the holidays! No diets, exercise, or cravings!”

Ads for dieting and exercise programs like this started appearing in my social media feeds in early October 2022, often accompanied by photos of women pushing shopping carts full of Halloween candy intended to represent the weight they no longer carry with them.

Whether it’s intermittent fasting or “cheat” days, diet culture is spreading wildly, and spiking in particular among young women and girls, a population group who might be at particular risk of social pressures and misinformation.

The fact that diet culture all over social media targets grown women is bad enough, but such messaging also trickles down to tweens and teens. (And let’s be honest, a lot is aimed directly at young people too.) It couldn’t happen at a worse time: There’s been a noticeable spike in eating disorders, particularly among adolescent girls, since the beginning of the pandemic.

“My mom is obsessed with (seeing) her Facebook friends losing tons of weight without dieting. Is this even real?” The question came from a teen girl who later revealed she was considering hiring a health coach to help her eat ‘healthier’ after watching her mom overhaul her diet. Sadly, the coaching she was falling victim to is part of a multilevel marketing brand that promotes quick weight loss through caloric restriction and buying costly meal replacements.

Is it real? Yes. Is it healthy? Not likely, especially for a growing teen.

Later that week, a different teen client asked about a clean eating movement she follows on Pinterest. She had read that a strict clean vegan diet is better for both her and the environment, and assumed this was true because the pinned article took her to a health coaching blog. It seemed legitimate. But a deep dive into the blogger’s credentials, however, showed that the clean eating practices they shared were not actually developed by a nutritionist.

And another teen, fresh off a week of engaging in the “what I eat in a day” challenge — a video trend across TikTok, Instagram and other social media platforms where users document the food they consume in a particular timeframe — told me she decided to temporarily mute her social media accounts. Why? Because the time she’d spent limited her eating while pretending to feel full left her exhausted and unhappy. She had found the trend on TikTok and thought it might help her create healthier eating habits, but ended up becoming fixated on caloric intake instead. Still, she didn’t want her friends to see that the challenge actually made her feel terrible when she had spent a whole week promoting it.

During any given week, I field numerous questions from tweens and teens about the diet culture they encounter online, out in the world, and sometimes even in their own homes. But as we enter the winter holiday season, shame-based diet culture pressure, often wrapped up with toxic positivity to appear encouraging, increases.

“As we approach the holidays, diet culture is in the air as much as lights and music, and it’s certainly on social media,” said Dr. Hina Talib, an adolescent medicine specialist and associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in The Bronx, New York. “It’s so pervasive that even if it’s not targeted (at) teens, they are absorbing it by scrolling through it or hearing parents talk about it.”

Social media isn’t the only place young people encounter harmful messaging about body image and weight loss. Teens are inundated with so-called ‘healthy eating’ content on TV and in popular culture, at school and while engaged in extracurricular or social activities, at home and in public spaces like malls or grocery stores — and even in restaurants.

Instead of learning how to eat to fuel their bodies and their brains, today’s teens are getting the message that “clean eating,” to give just one example of a potentially problematic dietary trend, results in a better body — and, by extension, increased happiness. Diets cutting out all carbohydrates, dairy products, gluten, and meat-based proteins are popular among teens. Yet this mindset can trigger food anxiety, obsessive checking of food labels and dangerous calorie restriction.

An obsessive focus on weight loss, toning muscles and improving overall looks actually runs contrary to what teens need to grow at a healthy pace.

“Teens and tweens are growing into their adult bodies, and that growth requires weight gain,” said Oona Hanson, a parent coach based in Los Angeles. “Weight gain is not only normal but essential for health during adolescence.”

The good news in all of this is that parents can take an active role in helping teens craft an emotionally healthier narrative around their eating habits. “Parents are often made to feel helpless in the face of TikTokers, peer pressure or wider diet culture, but it’s important to remember this: parents are influencers, too,” said Hanson. What we say and do matters to our teens.

Parents can take an active role in helping teens craft an emotionally healthier narrative around their eating habits.

Take a few moments to reflect on your own eating patterns. Teens tend to emulate what they see, even if they don’t talk about it.

Parents and caregivers can model a healthy relationship with food by enjoying a wide variety of foods and trying new recipes for family meals. During the holiday season, when many celebrations can involve gathering around the table, take the opportunity to model shared connections. “Holidays are a great time to remember that foods nourish us in ways that could never be captured on a nutrition label,” Hanson said.

Practice confronting unhealthy body talk

The holiday season is full of opportunities to gather with friends and loved ones to celebrate and make memories, but these moments can be anxiety-producing when nutrition shaming occurs.

When extended families gather for holiday celebrations, it’s common for people to comment on how others look or have changed since the last gathering. While this is usually done with good intentions, it can be awkward or upsetting to tweens and teens.

“For young people going through puberty or body changes, it’s normal to be self-conscious or self-critical. To have someone say, ‘you’ve developed’ isn’t a welcome part of conversations,” cautioned Talib.

Talib suggests practicing comebacks and topic changes ahead of time. Role play responses like, “We don’t talk about bodies,” or “We prefer to focus on all the things we’ve accomplished this year.” And be sure to check in and make space for your tween or teen to share and feelings of hurt and resentment over any such comments at an appropriate time.

Open and honest communication is always the gold standard in helping tweens and teens work through the messaging and behaviors they internalize. When families talk about what they see and hear online, on podcasts, on TV, and in print, they normalize the process of engaging in critical thinking — and it can be a really great shared connection between parents and teens.

“Teaching media literacy skills is a helpful way to frame the conversation,” says Talib. “Talk openly about it.”

She suggests asking the following questions when discussing people’s messaging around diet culture:

● Who are they?

● What do you think their angle is?

● What do you think their message is?

● Are they a medical professional or are they trying to sell you something?

● Are they promoting a fitness program or a supplement that they are marketing?

Talking to tweens and teens about this throughout the season — and at any time — brings a taboo topic to the forefront and makes it easier for your kids to share their inner thoughts with you.

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Atopic dermatitis: Timely access is needed now

Moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis (AD) is not just an itch and may not just go away on its own.

It is neither a small rash nor just some dry skin, and it doesn’t only impact children.

The fact of the matter is that one in three pediatric AD patients have moderate-to-severe disease. Not all will outgrow their AD; those that don’t face a lifetime of disruptive symptoms. A lifetime of intense itching, redness, inflammation and discomfort can have a profound impact on an individual’s physical and emotional well-being.

Misunderstandings about the complex nature of the condition means that AD is often managed with less-than-optimal outcomes. However, too many people require more than just topical and anti-inflammatory treatment. In fact, millions who live with moderate-to-severe AD without the necessary treatment experience lifelong implications, impacting life events such as education, career, marriage and personal family decisions.

Furthermore, AD has implications beyond the individuals living with it. Being a caregiver for someone living with AD can have substantial mental, physical and financial consequences. For example, research has shown that parents can spend approximately 22 hours a week applying any treatment they can find for their children – including moisturizers, wet wraps or bleach baths – to alleviate painful, chronic, debilitating flare-ups of inflamed, raw and bleeding skin.

Ensuring children with AD and their caregivers have appropriate access to effective treatment can be vital to address the frustrating, inefficient and recurring cycle of time-consuming visits to general practitioners.

Ensuring children with AD and their caregivers have appropriate access to effective treatment can be vital to address the frustrating, inefficient and recurring cycle of time-consuming visits to general practitioners to try and manage symptoms and stop chronic flare-ups. Importantly, this approach would not only improve health outcomes, but it could also positively impact AD patients and their families.

Impact of AD is beyond the visible and the individual

While it is easy to think of AD as a skin disease, the lifetime impact of the condition on a person is more than what people see.

While it is easy to think of AD as a skin disease, the lifetime impact of the condition on a person is more than what people see.

For instance, missing school and social activities can become a normal occurrence for children with severe AD. Their daily routine is frequently overshadowed by appointments, treatments and flare-ups, as well as the emotional burden of shame and low self-confidence about their physical appearance. This burden results in some children struggling to keep up with their peers, which has a bearing on their quality of life and their educational and social development. A study has shown that 12.5% of children under three who have severe AD experience developmental delays in motor skills, communication, relationships and play.

An often-overlooked aspect of living with AD is that the condition can lead to significant sleep disturbances, often caused by persistent itching.

“Sleep is a huge factor that’s affected by AD and lack of sleep affects every aspect of your life. It doesn’t allow you to concentrate in school if you’re sleep deprived [and] you’re definitely more moody,” explained Dr. Patrick Finklea, a pediatrician and parent of a child living with AD.

As children get older, AD-associated issues broaden the gap with their peers, leading to increased social difficulties, isolation and a significant mental health impact. According to a survey from the National Eczema Association, 20% of parents say that their child is bullied at school because of their eczema (including AD, the most common form of the condition) and 75% highlight that their child experienced lower self-esteem as a result.

In addition to the physical and emotional strain on caregivers, the financial burden of attempting to alleviate a child’s chronic symptoms, arising from lifestyle adjustments, lost wages and out-of-pocket costs, are substantial. Caregivers may also have to consider a career change or give up work altogether due to the demands of looking after someone with AD.

Act now to ensure a brighter future

It is vital to stop thinking about AD as a childhood issue – one that will be outgrown. Instead, it needs to be prioritized as a serious lifelong condition and recognized as a chronic and debilitating disease with lasting and profound impacts.

It is vital to stop thinking about AD as a childhood issue – one that will be outgrown. Instead, it needs to be prioritized as a serious lifelong condition and recognized as a chronic and debilitating disease with lasting and profound impacts; a disease that not only affects the individual but also the social ecosystem.

In Europe alone, the total direct cost to society associated with moderate-to-severe AD is estimated at €30B annually.

Given the substantial individual and societal costs of AD, decision-makers need to urgently implement an effective response to meet the needs of patients. In Europe alone, the total direct cost to society associated with moderate-to-severe AD is estimated at €30B annually. Therefore, prioritizing investment in early and effective AD interventions – including timely access to specialists and effective treatments – can have significant impacts on the overall cost and outcomes of disease management.

As MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen (EPP, Finland) said at a POLITICO Spotlight debate last year, “Countries always reimburse the cheapest drug on the market, then the next cheapest, then the next one. This ladder approach is wasting money and enabling the condition of the patient to deteriorate so much they can’t recuperate.”

We call on decision makers to implement evidence-based policies to improve access to care and prioritize timely intervention to manage AD – all with the aim to advance the health and well-being of individuals and contribute to the long-term economic and social prosperity of society.

MAT-GLB-2305184 V1.0 | October 2023

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Karan Johar’s Public Journey With Mental Health: An ‘Anxious’ Evolution

“I was sweating, I didn’t even realise. He (Varun Dhawan) came to me, held my hand and asked ‘Are you okay?’ And my hands were shaking. I first thought it was a cardiac arrest. I went back home and I just went to my bed and I cried. I didn’t know why I was crying.”

After the very first episode of season 8 of filmmaker Karan Johar’s talk show Koffee With Karan was aired on 26 October, something unusual happened. Usually, after each season (or to be fair, each episode) social media trolls get to their job of hating Johar.

This time around though, along with the usual negativity, there was a sympathetic wave for the filmmaker. On the show, Johar had asked actor Deepika Padukone about her struggles with mental health and how Ranveer Singh helped her through it as a caregiver.

During the episode, he also opened up about his own brush with anxiety at the opening of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre just months before in March. But this wasn’t the first time the filmmaker acknowledged his mental health issues. 

Over the past few years, Johar has often used his stage, mic, and privilege to shed light on mental health and medication.

‘Like Oxygen From Your System Has Been Sucked Out’: When KJo First Talked About Anxiety

Back in 2015, when Padukone had first talked about her battle with depression, it gave space to others in the public domain to break their silence too.

Leading up to the release of his 2016 directorial feature Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Johar told NDTV,

“There was a phase in my life when I was really depressed. I realised that I had some internal issues to deal with, which got built up to such point that it resulted in anxiety.”

Just a few months after this, in January 2017, when his autobiography An Unsuitable Boy was launched, it came with quite a few revelations. Johar had dedicated a whole chapter to what he called his “midlife angst.”

To Johar’s credit, it was nothing short of brave for a mainstream massy filmmaker to tell the world that he was on medication for anxiety.

Time and time again, the latest being on his show, Johar has emphasised that those struggling with mental health conditions should be provided access to professional resources and not given “simple solutions like “go for a drive!!! Meet friends!! Go for a holiday. Get a massage… (sic)”

And of course, in his classic storyteller style, he has also helped his readers visualise exactly what he was going through.

“You feel like the oxygen from your system has just been sucked out. You feel like you’re in Ladakh. You feel you need acclimitization. Your mind is running, your dreams are running. You dream, you wake up, you dream, you wake up. That’s anxiety.”

Karan Johar, in his book An Unsuitable Boy

Many Triggers, Much More Courage

Whenever Johar has talked about his mental health, he has very often delved into the specifics of his life, and revealed his potential triggers.

As a child, Johar was called “pansy,” for being more feminine than the boys his age. Recently, in a conversation with content platform Yuvaa’s Nikhil Taneja on the latter’s show Be A Man, Yaar, Johar had mentioned how he always wanted to ‘fit in, until he realised he couldn’t.’

That’s also a recurring theme through his book – how even though his family loved him unconditionally and was extremely supportive, he did grow up with insecurities.

The filmmaker, who is also famous for knowing how to take a joke on himself, has often said publicly that humour and self-depreciation, for him, are actually defense mechanisms. 

But what has majorly pushed the director to also speak up is the social media trolling he has faced since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, when actor Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide, there was a wave of anti-nepotism (in Bollywood) sentiment that surfaced online, with Johar being one of the primary targets.

The filmmaker, in the past year, revealed how much of a toll it took on not just him, but also his mother – who would see all kinds of negativity being spurned towards Johar on different media platforms. 

To the audience too, it was quite evident that Johar was down bad. On Taneja’s show, there was a segment where the team had curated compliments for Johar from social media users.

As the host fished out these compliments, it was a little sad to see the filmmaker be genuinely surprised that people were saying nice things about him – after so many years of only being trolled online.

All this also got a hold on Johar as the filmmaker admitted to growing more and more anxious leading up to the release of his 2023 feature Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani

Johar also told film journalist Anupama Chopra in an interview with Film Companion

“I have never been this stressed before a release. I think it’s a combination of the fact that it’s been a seven year gap (of directing) and also a certain anxiety that built over the last three years within me with a lot that happened on social media.”

There’s Still Criticism…

As a hardcore KJo fan (Dharma [Productions] is my only dharam), I have always believed that Johar knows how to balance the business of storytelling with the stories he wants to tell.

Many of his films, like Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna and My Name Is Khan, have been ahead of their times. At the same time, he has also made films purely for business and to cater to what the audience wants when they go to see a Dharma film – a masala entertainer like I Hate Luv Storys and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.

He has also been one of those rare filmmakers who has always talked about their feelings.

But with Johar taking the stage to talk about mental health, a similar criticism has come forward too.

Johar knows what his audience wants. 25 years ago, it was Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Today, it may be mental health conversations that the GenZ wants.

But that said, opening up about mental health struggles in public is never easy – whether it’s Karan Johar, Deepika Padukone, or the person reading this piece.

With the World Health Organization estimating that mental health illnesses account for 15 percent of the global disease burden, every little conversation around stigma and seeking mental health support must be welcome.

In this context, doesn’t a filmmaker like Johar, who has taken very many opportunities to speak about mental health conditions, deserve more than just a wave of sympathy?

I cannot help but wonder if Johar deserves some acknowledgement or even appreciation for speaking out – and for invariably sparking more conversations.


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In Israel, Tribe of Nova festival survivors seek solace in trance music culture

From our special correspondent in Israel – The Tribe of Nova was the first time one of the world’s most famous psychedelic trance (or psytrance) festivals took place in Israel. It turned out to be the country’s worst terror attack. For psytrance music followers, the time for therapy to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder has come.

“It was the most amazing minute of my life. All my people were there. The sky was beautiful. The birds were beautiful in the sky. The music, everything was so amazing. I felt like the whole world has a way for salvation. And then it happened. So this is what makes it horrible. Because it was the most beautiful moment,” psychotherapist and clinical social worker Einat Haimovich tells FRANCE 24.

Since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, Haimovich has been listening to the survivors of the Tribe of Nova music festival. She has heard stories like this a lot. Far too many.

Read more‘We survived by playing dead’: Hamas attack turned Israeli rave into nightmare

Some 260 people were killed and dozens more kidnapped among the 3,500 or so who had flocked from all over the world to celebrate the values of “free love and free spirit, preservation of the environment, appreciation of natural values” promoted by the festival. “Many people that I spoke to said it was the best party they have ever been in,” Haimovich says.

“[Everything was] sunny and beautiful. [Everything was about] friendship and love … [and] in a minute [’s time] … dark[ness] came into our lives,” she adds.

The social worker was due to travel to Greece that day to celebrate her 50th birthday.

Einat Haimovich has opened a shelter for survivors to help them ground themselves in reality. © Assiya Hamza, FRANCE 24

Instead, Haimovich, along with her partner Iftach Shahar created a place to welcome members of their psychedelic trance music community.

“I [originally] built this place for Dhamma (editor’s note: Buddha’s doctrine) teaching and meditation,” Shahar says.

“[But] after we understood the situation here in Israel … we opened it especially for the people that came back from the festival. But we are open for everybody. We are not making any selection. Anyone that feels that he needs to talk and needs a big hug. We are here to hug him … be with them for a while and cry with them and maybe laugh with them,” he says.

The refuge, located in a moshav, a cooperative farmers’ village south of Tel Aviv, was ready in less than 10 days. The set-up is simple but welcoming: a large wooden terrace, second-hand furniture, an open-plan kitchen and, behind it, a room entirely dedicated to meditation. Everthing is set against soothing background music made up of the metallic jingling of wind chimes.

‘Hippies in our souls’

“I think that the trance community here started in after the first intifada in Israel (editor’s note: 1987-1993),” Haimovich says.

“After that we all felt like we need to bring our free spirit, to bring our love, to bring the idea of peace. We [are] all like hippies in our souls even though we had to fight in the war,” she says.

Since then, Israel’s psytrance music scene has grown massive. The Tribe of Nova was the first Israeli edition of the Brazilian psytrance festival Universo Paralello, one of the best known in the world. But it became the worst terror attack in Israel’s history.

Iftach Shahar has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder for 25 years.
Iftach Shahar has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder for 25 years. © Assiya Hamza, FRANCE 24

Apart from the volunteers, the place Haimovich and Shahar created is for the moment depressingly empty.

“We just opened yesterday. So people still don’t know about this place,” Shahar says, noting that only six people came the previous day.

“I believe that next week … people will start coming,” he adds.

Like other Israeli therapists, Haimovich began talking to victims through Zen Zones, groups set up to help people whose psychedelic journeys were not going as planned.

“It was there they [were] sending us their name and we’re calling them and we start talking to them … Many therapists in Israel start[ed] talking to them on the phone to help overcome the trauma through grounding, breathing … talking about the guilt, the fear, [and] everything that they’ve been through in that horrible day,” Haimovich says.

The nightmare had lasted during 12 hours for the victims, Haimovich adds.

Soon it became clear that the victims needed a place.

“Not for therapy but to be together, to sit down, to eat something, to drink coffee, to do some art, to paint, to play music … to get back to their lives, to what they knew of themselves before,” she says.

“The idea is that the people who need therapy … long-term therapy, will go to therapy, and they can come here just to be themselves,” Haimovich says.

Every day, five to 10 people, all volunteers, will take turns to welcome them. Each with his or her own tools and techniques. Among them, dance therapist Tal Weiss Sade explains her methods.

Tal Weiss Sade uses her ocean drum on October 19, 2023.
Tal Weiss Sade uses her ocean drum on October 19, 2023. © Assiya Hamza, FRANCE 24

“My perspective is always the body,” she says, kneeling in the meditation room.

“In trauma the body is quick to speak and we need a lot of … grounding,” Weiss Sade says, adding that she uses Tibetan bowls, ocean drums and sand-filled cushions that she places on the body.

“That heavy touch [is] very relaxing … like an ocean … [which helps] lower our anxiety levels,” she says.

Tibetan bowls installed in the meditation room on October 19, 2023.
Tibetan bowls installed in the meditation room on October 19, 2023. © Assiya Hamza, FRANCE 24

Weiss Sade readily admits that helping the survivors allowed her to breathe a little. To escape the four walls of her home, where she lives with her daughters.

“This is … what’s so beautiful in Israel. The civilians, the communities here are amazing,” Haimovich says.

“Everybody … volunteers to do something … [Even though] the country is not really working … the people working here are amazing … We hold a hope that something good will happen in Israel after this terrible, terrible thing that happened here,” she says.

Read moreEx-soldiers shift from protesting to providing aid to people – and pets – in southern Israel

Shahar meanwhile hopes to help the festivalgoers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“You know [the series] Fauda (editor’s note: an Israeli television series about a special forces unit going undercover among the Arab population)? I was in Gaza streets walking dressed as a woman. The fighting there was very bad at the time… In half a year, nine guys from my unit died and me and my friends in the unit killed hundreds,” Shahar recalls, suddenly seized by a rush of emotion.

“So I came out of the army with very strong PTSD … and it took 25 years to understand how to deal with my PTSD,” he says.

Saved by psychedelic therapies

Shahar says he went through 25 years of wandering accompanied by alcohol and drugs.

“After a while, I understood that it’s either I choose death [or] I choose life … slowly I started recovering and then Buddhism and meditation came in and [I started] working with psychedelics and medicine. And slowly, slowly I started to, to touch my traumas and deal with them. And today I can say that I’m okay, but I’m not cured,” Shahar says.

Recounting his first psychedelic trip, Shahar says he had had to take 10 grams of hallucinogenic mushrooms for it to work, whereas today he only needs “2 grams [and] I’m like in heaven”.

Shahar says he saw himself in a cradle at a year-and-a-half old.

“I was crying, crying, crying, crying and nobody came to me and then I looked at that baby and … it’s the same feeling that I’m feeling now. It was depression. And I went to that baby … and I hugged him and I said, everything will be okay and sorry. And the day after I woke up … no [more] depression like a miracle,” he says.

Shahar then began taking other psychedelics such as LSD, and managed to deal with army-related traumas.

“I froze, you know, and people like were hurt and I couldn’t do anything. And then I started to understand that all these years of drinking and taking drugs and running away, because I forgot that situation,” he says.

Considered 60-percent disabled by the Israeli army due to PTSD, Shahar admits that he has been going through a difficult time since the Hamas attack.

“I built this place for people who I know are going through hell.”

Read moreIsrael’s Negev Bedouins, forgotten victims of the Hamas attack, rally to provide aid

Shahar is convinced that many of the survivors of the attack are in the limbo he was in 25 years ago.

“They are now sitting in their homes and smoking weed like crazy or maybe trying to work with themselves with psychedelics, which is very bad because you need people who know how to work and how to take you through the trip … So yeah, we need to take them by the ear and bring them here,” he says.

Haimovich, however, warns that she will not be using any psychedelic therapy.

“It’s not legal here. So we’re just doing the preparation and the integration,” she says.

The psychologist then recalls that many festivalgoers were on drugs and in a state of ecstasy when the attack began.

“Some of them ran, hid, helped other people to hide … not moving for six hours. They really are heroes. It is amazing to hear the stories. They found power in the most terrible moments of their lives, to talk to their moms and to tell them thank you,” she says.

Haimovich does not hesitate for a second when asked whether the psytrance scene, firmly established in Israel for decades, can survive such a trauma.

“We believe that all of us are one and this is what’s happening in these parties … People died while doing this [so] we must continue the legacy that they left us. This is the legacy of love and peace,” she says.

This article is a translation of the original in French.

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We all need ‘Sushi Tuesdays’: Lessons in understanding and finding a way forward after suicide | CNN

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, help is available. Dial or text 988 or visit 988lifeline.org for free and confidential support.


When Sam Maya, a beloved husband, father, friend, stockbroker and coach, died by suicide 16 years ago, he left a note. He apologized to his wife, Charlotte, for being a burden and telling her and their two sons, then 6 and 8, that he loved them.

In her recent heartbreaking memoir, “Sushi Tuesdays: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Family Resilience,” Charlotte Maya bears witness to Sam’s life, death and the aftermath with a singular purpose: to humanize the face of suicide and help readers develop a fluency in discussing mental health.

She spent nearly a decade writing “Sushi Tuesdays,” beginning with a blog by the same name, an homage to the weekly ritual she created after her husband’s death.

Every Tuesday while her kids were at school, Maya set aside her overwhelming to-do list as a lawyer and widowed single parent. Tuesdays began with a yoga class, then therapy, followed by whatever she needed most: perhaps going back to bed, going on a hike or heading to a solo sushi lunch.

I met Maya in a memoir workshop last year. I have a family history of mental illness and suicide, so I connected with her work and motivation for sharing her story.

In 2021, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Americans ages 10 to 34, the fifth for ages 35 to 54, and the 11th leading cause of death nationwide, claiming the lives of more than 48,000 people, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The suicide rate among men in 2021 was nearly four times higher than the rate of women, according to the CDC. Research supports the assumption that men typically choose more effective and lethal means, such as firearms, to complete suicide, according to Dr. Ashwini Nadkarni, a psychiatrist and researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Additionally, men are less likely to seek treatment for depression due to gendered expectations that equate masculinity with emotional stoicism, Nadkarni said.

Suicide is a national health crisis, Maya told me, but when we hear of such a loss, we often attribute each death to the unique problem the deceased faced, such as financial or legal troubles.

These stressors don’t explain suicide, she said. “Lots of people lose money, and they don’t take their own lives. They figure things out.”

When her husband died, Maya knew he had back pain and was stressed about work and money, but she didn’t think these things added up to being suicidal. In retrospect, she can now spot clues, such as his review of his will shortly before he died.

“I wanted to turn back the clock after Sam died,” she said. “I felt so strongly that if I could get back to that morning, I could have changed everything. It’s hard to reckon with what cannot be undone, to face straight into what I did or didn’t do, where I failed, where Sam failed.”

“Whenever I say that Sam made a mistake, the mistake I mean is that he didn’t ask for help,” Maya said. “It’s hard to say you’re suffering when you’re suffering, so let your loved ones know you are available to help.”

Asking people directly about suicidal thoughts may reduce, rather than increase, suicidal ideation, according to a 2014 review of scholarly literature in the journal Psychological Medicine.

That does require that people look for and notice signs that others may be struggling, such as changes in mood, behavior, appetite or sleep habits or that they are giving away cherished possessions.

The writer has since remarried. The combined family includes Gregory Stratz (from left), Tim Stratz, Jason Maya, Parker (the dog), Charlotte Maya, Danny Maya and Daniel Stratz, here in 2011.

Speaking directly about mental health became a trademark of Maya’s single parenting. She aimed for her boys “to live full and fruitful lives, not defined by their father’s suicide, not limited by their father’s suicide, but also not ignoring their father’s suicide.”

Her sons grieved their dad in their own ways, including denial (one pretended his father was on an extended business trip) and rageful episodes that ended with destroyed Lego sets and tears. Maya mourned with them about the “daddy-shaped space in their hearts” but promised that someday they’d be able to say, “I survived my father’s suicide, and I can do anything.”

“It can be awkward to say yes when people ask to help,” Maya said. “Because I was so shocked and overwhelmed, I just said yes. I recommend that course of action to people. Let people show up and help you.”

The support from Maya’s village was so vast that she wrestled with which of her friends would be fully fledged characters in “Sushi Tuesdays” and which would have cameo appearances.

She dealt with this challenge — and the confusion caused by many friends with names starting with the letter J — by cleverly referring to her friends, collectively, as “The Janes.” Given her background as a lawyer, she thought of them as Jane Doe No. 1, Jane Doe No. 2 and so on.

In the book, readers meet District Attorney Jane who helped with the coroner’s office, Engineer Jane who gets the boys to school each day on time and Prayer Warrior Jane who prays for Maya while she’s “not exactly on speaking terms with God.”

One friend, identified not as a “Jane” but as “Bess” in the narrative, is Katherine Tasheff, a college friend from Rice University. When Sam Maya died, Tasheff was a single mother living on a budget in Brooklyn and couldn’t travel to California to visit. So, she did what she could: She wrote her friend an email. And then another. And another. Morning and night for 365 days following Sam’s death.

The emails were always heartfelt and genuine but often mixed with dark humor. In one, Tasheff wrote, “We did an informal poll on whose husband was most likely to take his own life, and I want you to know that Sam came in last place.”

Almost immediately, Charlotte Maya replied, “Dead last?”

This kind of banter fueled Maya, who told her therapist to “call 911” if she ever lost her sense of humor. Finding moments of levity, she said, helped her hold onto her humanity. “Humor doesn’t cancel out what is devastating,” Maya told me. “Just like gratitude cannot cancel out what is horrifying. What’s important is having the capacity to hold both of those things.”

After her husband's death, Charlotte Maya says moments of levity helped her hold on to her humanity.

Seven years after her husband died, in 2014, Maya felt ready to write about surviving his suicide. Tasheff acted with her signature hadn’t-been-asked swiftness, setting up a blog site for sushituesdays.com within an hour.

By then, Maya had met and married the most eligible widower in her town, now nicknamed Mr. Page 179 because that’s where he shows up in the book. They each brought two sons to the marriage. (Coincidentally, each has a child named Daniel, so they now have two Daniels.)

Maya continues to honor her Tuesdays with therapy and yoga, a hike with a friend, and sometimes a sushi lunch.

She urges everyone — especially single parents and anyone managing anxiety or depression — to carve out a similar weekly ritual, even if it’s just an hour to “treat yourself with the same compassion as you treat your dearest friends.”

The coping mechanisms that Maya relied on in her grief may further explain the gender disparity in suicide rates, according to psychologist Lauren Kerwin.

Men may be less likely to have strong support networks or to engage with them when in stress or emotional pain and may be more likely to use maladaptive coping strategies, such as substance abuse or isolation, Kerwin said.

Seeking social connection and professional help is critical to preventing suicide.

“Now, more than ever, we have a better understanding of the neuroinflammatory basis for depression — the medical framework gives us a model in which to consider depression as a medical condition and one which can be treated,” said Nadkarni, the Boston psychiatrist.

If you see warning signs or are worried about someone who may be struggling, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recommends you assume you are the only one who will reach out. Find a time to speak privately and listen. Let people know their life matters to you and ask directly if they are thinking about suicide. Then encourage them to use the national suicide hotline by calling or texting the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, contact their doctor or therapist or seek treatment.

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How psilocybin, the psychedelic in mushrooms, may rewire the brain to ease depression, anxiety and more | CNN


Shrooms, Alice, tweezes, mushies, hongos, pizza toppings, magic mushrooms — everyday lingo for psychedelic mushrooms seems to grow with each generation. Yet leading mycologist Paul Stamets believes it’s time for fans of psilocybin mushrooms to leave such childish slang behind.

“Let’s be adults about this. These are no longer ‘shrooms.’ These are no longer party drugs for young people,” Stamets told CNN. “Psilocybin mushrooms are nonaddictive, life-changing substances.”

Small clinical trials have shown that one or two doses of psilocybin, given in a therapeutic setting, can make dramatic and long-lasting changes in people suffering from treatment-resistant major depressive disorder, which typically does not respond to traditional antidepressants.

Based on this research, the US Food and Drug Administration has described psilocybin as a breakthrough medicine, “which is phenomenal,” Stamets said.

Psilocybin, which the intestines convert into psilocin, a chemical with psychoactive properties, is also showing promise in combating cluster headaches, anxiety, anorexia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and various forms of substance abuse.

“The data are strong from depression to PTSD to cluster headaches, which is one of the most painful conditions I’m aware of,” said neurologist Richard Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic in the Center for Brain Health at Florida Atlantic University.

“I’m excited about the future of psychedelics because of the relatively good safety profile and because these agents can now be studied in rigorous double-blinded clinical trials,” Isaacson said. “Then we can move from anecdotal reports of ‘I tripped on this and felt better’ to ‘Try this and you will be statistically, significantly better.’ “

Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin and LSD enter the brain via the same receptors as serotonin, the body’s “feel good” hormone. Serotonin helps control body functions such as sleep, sexual desire and psychological states such as satisfaction, happiness and optimism.

People with depression or anxiety often have low levels of serotonin, as do people with post-traumatic stress disorder, cluster headaches, anorexia, smoking addiction and substance abuse. Treatment typically involves selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, which boost levels of serotonin available to brain cells. Yet it can take weeks for improvement to occur, experts say, if the drugs even work at all.

With psychedelics such as psilocybin and LSD, however, scientists can see changes in brain neuron connectivity in the lab “within 30 minutes,” said pharmacologist Brian Roth, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“One of the most interesting things we’ve learned about the classic psychedelics is that they have a dramatic effect on the way brain systems synchronize, or move and groove together,” said Matthew Johnson, a professor in psychedelics and consciousness at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

“When someone’s on psilocybin, we see an overall increase in connectivity between areas of the brain that don’t normally communicate well,” Johnson said. “You also see the opposite of that – local networks in the brain that normally interact with each other quite a bit suddenly communicate less.”

It creates a “very, very disorganized brain,” ultimately breaking down normal boundaries between the auditory, visual, executive and sense-of-self sections of the mind – thus creating a state of “altered consciousness,” said David Nutt, director of the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit in the Division of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London.

And it’s that disorganization that is ultimately therapeutic, according to Nutt: “Depressed people are continually self-critical, and they keep ruminating, going over and over the same negative, anxious or fearful thoughts.

“Psychedelics disrupt that, which is why people can suddenly see a way out of their depression during the trip,” he added. “Critical thoughts are easier to control, and thinking is more flexible. That’s why the drug is an effective treatment for depression.”

There’s more. Researchers say psychedelic drugs help neurons in the brain sprout new dendrites, which look like branches on a tree, to increase communication between cells.

“These drugs can increase neuronal outgrowth, they can increase this branching of neurons, they can increase synapses. That’s called neuroplasticity,” Nutt said.

That’s different from neurogenesis, which is the development of brand-new brain cells, typically from stem cells in the body. The growth of dendrites helps build and then solidify new circuits in the brain, allowing us to, for example, lay down more positive pathways as we practice gratitude.

“Now our current thinking is this neuronal outgrowth probably doesn’t contribute to the increased connectivity in the brain, but it almost certainly helps people who have insights into their depression while on psilocybin maintain those insights,” Nutt said.

“You shake up the brain, you see things in a more positive way, and then you lay down those positive circuits with the neuroplasticity,” he added. “It’s a double whammy.”

Interestingly, SSRIs also increase neuroplasticity, a fact that science has known for some time. But in a 2022 double-blind phase 2 randomized controlled trial comparing psilocybin to escitalopram, a traditional SSRI, Nutt found the latter didn’t spark the same magic.

“The SSRI did not increase brain connectivity, and it actually did not improve well-being as much as psilocybin,” Nutt said. “Now for the first time you’ve got the brain science lining up with what patients say after a trip: ‘I feel more connected. I can think more freely. I can escape from negative thoughts, and I don’t get trapped in them.’ “

Taking a psychedelic doesn’t work for everyone, Johnson stressed, “but when it works really well it’s like, ‘Oh my god, it’s a cure for PTSD or for depression.’ If people really have changed the way their brain is automatically hardwired to respond to triggers for anxiety, depression, smoking — that’s a real thing.”

How long do results last? In studies where patients were given just one dose of a psychedelic “a couple of people were better eight years later, but for the majority of those with chronic depression it creeps back after four or five months,” Nutt said.

“What we do with those people is unknown,” he added. “One possibility is to give another dose of the psychedelic — we don’t know if that would work or not, but it might. Or we could put them on an SSRI as soon as they’ve got their mood improved and see if that can hold the depression at bay.

“There are all sorts of ways we could try to address that question,” Nutt said, “but we just don’t know the answer yet.”

The mycelium, or rootlike structure, of Lion's mane mushroom is part of the

Stamets, who over the last 40 years has discovered four new species of psychedelic mushrooms and written seven books on the topic, said he believes microdosing is a solution. That’s the practice of taking tiny amounts of a psilocybin mushroom several times a week to maintain brain health and a creative perspective on life.

A typical microdose is 0.1 to 0.3 grams of dried psilocybin mushrooms, as compared with the 25-milligram pill of psilocybin that creates the full-blown psychedelic experience.

Stamets practices microdosing and has focused on a process called “stacking” in which a microdose of mushrooms is taken with additional substances believed to boost the fungi’s benefits. His famous “Stamets Stack” includes niacin, or vitamin B3, and the mycelium, or rootlike structure, of an unusual mushroom called Lion’s mane.

Surveys of microdosers obtained on his website have shown significantly positive benefits from the practice of taking small doses.

“These are self-reported citizen scientists’ projects, and we have now around 14,000 people in our app where you register yourself and report your microdose,” Stamets told an audience at the 2022 Life Itself conference, a health and wellness event presented in partnership with CNN.

“I’m going to say something provocative, but I believe it to my core: Psilocybin makes nicer people,” Stamets told the audience. “Psilocybin will make us more intelligent and better citizens.”

Scientific studies so far have failed to find any benefits from microdosing, leaving many researchers skeptical. “People like being on it, but that doesn’t validate the claims of microdosing,” Johnson said. “People like being on a little bit of cocaine, too.”

Experimental psychologist Harriet de Wit, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Chicago, was excited to study microdosing because it solves a key problem of scientific research in the field – it’s hard to blind people to what they are taking if they begin to trip. Microdosing solves that problem because people don’t feel an effect from the tiny dose.

De Wit specializes in determining whether a drug’s impact is due to the drug or what scientists call the “placebo effect,” a positive expectation that can cause improvement without the drug.

She published a study in 2022 that mimicked real-world microdosing of LSD, except neither the participants nor researchers knew what was in the pills the subjects took.

“We measured all kinds of different behavioral and psychological responses, and the only thing we saw is that LSD at very low doses produced some stimulant-like effects at first, which then faded,” de Wit said.

The placebo effect is powerful, she added, which might explain why the few additional studies done on it have also failed to find any positive results.

“I suspect microdosing may have an effect on mood, and over time it might build up resilience or improve well-being,” Nutt said. “But I don’t think it will rapidly fragment depression like macrodosing and going on a trip.”

Obviously, not all hallucinogenic experiences are positive, so nearly every study on psychedelic drugs has included therapists trained to intercede if a trip turns bad and to maximize the outcome if the trip is good.

“This is about allowing someone access into deeper access into their own mental processes, with hopefully greater insight,” Johnson said. “While others might disagree, it does seem very clear that you need therapy to maximize the benefits.”

There are also side effects from psychedelics that go beyond a bad trip. LSD, mescaline and DMT, which is the active ingredient in ayahuasca tea, can increase blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Ayahuasca tea can also induce vomiting. LSD can cause tremors, numbness and weakness, while the use of mescaline can lead to uncoordinated movements. People hunting for psychedelic mushrooms can easily mistake a toxic species for one with psilocybin, “leading to unintentional, fatal poisoning.”

Another issue: Not everyone is a candidate for psychedelic treatment. It won’t work on people currently on SSRIs — the receptors in their brains are already flooded with serotonin. People diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, or who have a family history of psychosis are always screened out of clinical trials, said Frederick Barrett, associate director of the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins.

“If you have a vulnerability to psychosis, it could be that exposing you to a psychedelic could unmask that psychosis or could lead to a psychotic event,” Barnes said.

Then there are the thousands of people with mental health concerns who will never agree to undergo a psychedelic trip. For those people, scientists such as Roth are attempting to find an alternative approach. He and his team recently identified the mechanisms by which psychedelics bond to the brain’s serotonin receptors and are using the knowledge to identify new compounds.

“Our hope is that we can use this information to ultimately make drugs that mimic the benefits of psychedelic drugs without the psychedelic experience,” Roth said.

“What if we could give people who are depressed or suffer from PTSD or anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder a medication, and they could wake up the next day and be fine without any side effects? That would be transformative.”

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