NBA Scores With Love, Insurers Study Telehealth For Autism

Science: About 40% of dementia cases may be prevented or delayed by modifying 12 risk factors, researchers reported this year at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. Risk factors include excessive alcohol intake, mid-life head injury and exposure to air pollution later in life. It will be interesting to see how advocacy groups, schools and government at the local, state and federal level adjust policies to limit these dementia risks.

Sports: Kevin Love, a power forward for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, experienced a panic attack in the middle of a game and he wrote about it in his Player Tribune article. Love said he had a hard time figuring out how to talk about his inner struggles without showing “weakness”. Teens in middle school go through this all the time during travel sports games – they hear coaches yelling and see parents in angst. The anxiety spirals into panic. Love’s struggle has been empowering. He now has appointments to see a therapist and collaborates with the NBA to talk about mental health nationally. Ironically, athletes are at a risk of developing mental illness despite their high fitness levels. Many suffer from too much training, what their parents or friends may think, or for Love, what their fans would think. Young athletes and high-paid pros like Love may seem to live very different lives but they live in the same sports culture that pushes winning. Combating stigma in sports will continue to require coaches, parents and teams to be educated on how to support athletes instead of suppressing mental health issues.

Policy: Use of telehealth to support children on the autism spectrum has skyrocketed since March, representing around one-third of treatment today in some regions, up from just 5% pre-pandemic. Social worker Katherine Wooten works for a behavioral health company, New Directions, says she’s a “convert” but more data is needed to help determine its value, price and place in treatment . Darren Sush, a behavioral analyst who’s now with the insurer Cigna, is impressed with the progress but now wonders what they can learn from this. “We are looking at what has worked and what hasn’t worked and a number of funding sources.” The Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness is urging the government to collect and analyze data on whether audio-only therapy and counseling are effective as a long-term vehicle for care delivery.

Perspective: Between the COVID pandemic, job losses and nationwide protests in response to centuries of racial injustice, the past few months have exhausted the already significant mental health needs of many Black, Indigenous, and non-Black people of color (BIPOC). Youth are the most impacted. School closures have removed access to therapy for BIPOC youngsters and teens and have added to the stress of remote learning and social isolation. Some schools with smaller populations have been resilient, creating “pods” of teachers and therapists who zoom with families and kids daily, offering a lifeline, summer school, live basketball drills and free meal deliveries. It’s something – but this creativity is difficult in larger schools and communities where BIPOC people are less likely to have advocates. In 2019, 14 million students attended a school with a police officer but no counselor, nurse psychologist, or social worker, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. As students return to school this Fall 2020, all students will need immediate support to cope with the events of the past several months or the trauma of the pandemic will outlive the virus itself.

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