One day in early March 2020, just as the pandemic was gaining momentum, sixth-grader Carolina Martinez-Nava was heading to the school cafeteria when she saw her sister coming down the stairs, looking for her. Arlene, an eighth grader, was crying. “She came and hugged me,” Carolina said. Students had been peering out windows all morning at the black smoke rising a few blocks from the school, in Bridgeport. But that still couldn’t prepare Carolina for her sister’s news that it was their family’s house that was burning.
Some Connecticut hospitals and doctors and a clinic are starting to treat severely depressed patients with a new nasal spray called Spravato, touted as the most significant federally approved depression medication since Prozac was approved in 1987. Spravato, which received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in March, has raised hopes for preventing suicides and relieving depression after other treatments have failed. But there are concerns about possible side effects, including drug abuse, elevated blood pressure and heart rate, sedation, and hypersensitivity to surroundings. The nasal spray is prescribed for treatment-resistant depression after at least two other antidepressants haven’t worked and is given with an oral antidepressant. It is only administered in restrictive clinical settings to reduce potential for abuse and side effects.
Betty Williams says giving up crack cocaine was easier than her ongoing struggle to quit cigarettes. “A cigarette is a friend,” said Williams, who lives with schizophrenia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. People with mental illness account for 44% of the cigarette purchases in the United States, and they are less likely to quit than other smokers. High smoking rates among people with mental illness contribute to poorer physical health and shorter lifespans, generally 13 to 30 years shorter than the population as a whole. About 37% of men and 30% of women with mental illness smoke.
Combining medication with other forms of therapy can help people with opioid addition avoid relapse by calming cravings and managing the symptoms of withdrawal. Less than half of the privately drug addiction programs nationally offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT); and even in those programs, only one-third of patients receive MAT, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. In Connecticut, there are about 40 Medicaid providers that prescribe medication for treatment. In our podcast, sponsored by Wheeler Clinic, Dr. Robert Grillo discusses medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction. Increasing access to MAT is important given the extreme danger associated with relapse, says Dr. Robert Grillo, medical director for psychiatry at Wheeler Clinic.
Stephanie Almada’s journey to opioid addiction began with a prescription to relieve her premenstrual symptoms and accelerated after she had a cesarean section. “The pain pills came, you know, very quickly and I had bottles at home anyway,” she said. “And then it became energy for me. It became the way I coped with life.” Today Almada, 44, is a peer recovery specialist at Wheeler Clinic in Plainville, where she helps women get off opioids. Americans are using opioids at record rates.
Connecticut has seen a continued rise in opioid-related addiction among women, with more than 420 women dying of drug overdoses in 2015 and 2016. To address the crisis and stir community discussion about prevention, intervention and treatment, the Conn. Health I-Team, in collaboration with Wheeler Clinic, will host a free community forum, “Working Women: The New Face of Addiction,” from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on April 6 at the New Britain Museum of American Art, 56 Lexington St., New Britain. The event is open to the public. Register here.
The incidence of suicide in nearly all age groups has increased by 24 percent since 1999—and by 200 percent among girls between the ages of 10 and 14. Theories behind such astounding unprecedented increases, reported recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vary. Some research says that among older Americans, the recent recession may have played a part, though the correlation is not a simple one. As for why so many more young girls are killing themselves, the answers there, too, are complicated. Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 showed the greatest rise in suicide of any age group since 1999, from 0.5 per 100,000 to 1.5 per 100,000 in 2014, according to last month’s CDC report.
What are the warning signs of teen depression? How do you talk to your child about his or her mood swings? How do you know when it’s the right time to consult a social worker? Kimberly Nelson, a licensed clinical social worker at the Wheeler Clinic, has provided answers to various questions regarding how to both spot and treat teen depression. In May, C-HIT hosted a forum on teen depression: Uncovering Our Kids: Towards A Better Understanding Of Teen Mental Health.
This much we know: Boys and girls are different. We also know this: Adolescence is the most challenging time of life, and teen girls are particularly challenged to get through those years unscathed. Suicide attempts spike during the teen years, yet even with all that, it’s tough to know what’s “normal,” and what is cause for alarm. And that’s even truer for girls. By the time girls and boys hit their teen years, girls are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder than are teen boys.
The growing number of children and teens exposed to traumatic events in everyday life has forced the state’s crisis intervention teams to respond to a broader range of behavioral and mental health issues, and those teams often serve as a bridge until at-risk youth find appropriate outpatient or inpatient services. Sixty-four percent of Connecticut’s youth who use Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services (EMPS), the state’s mobile crisis intervention team, have experienced one or more traumatic incidents, such as domestic violence, cyber-bullying, physical assaults, or gang warfare, experts report. Research shows childhood exposure to violence, physical or sexual abuse, and other traumatic events can cause chronic health and behavioral health problems, and such exposure is associated with increased involvement with the child welfare and criminal justice systems.
“The number of children who have been exposed to trauma is a significant concern. It’s a common occurrence among young people,” said Jeffrey Vanderploeg, vice president for mental health initiatives for the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut (CHDI). He is director of the EMPS Performance Improvement Center, which is housed at CHDI.