Suicide and Mental Illness Close to Home in Wyoming

Kelsey Rose Wilson

Last week a Laramie Boomerang obituary page included a teen’s face.

Kelsey Wilson was a 16-year-old student at Laramie High School.

While I didn’t know her, what my untrained eyes see in her photo is a young woman who was well loved in life.

And what pain she felt in that life, I can only imagine.

Alongside the shock of her age, the obituary contained a raw plea.

“Suicide and depression are difficult topics to discuss, and the family hopes you will talk with your loved ones to help bring it into the light and reduce the stigma surrounding it.

“The family asks you write your legislators and representatives in Congress to push for better mental health interventions and suicide prevention services in Wyoming.”

I grieve for Kelsey and for her family.

And my own letter to Representative Liz Cheney has already been sent.

The Tragic Truth

–  31% of teens nationwide have symptoms of depression.

–  Wyoming has the 4th highest suicide rate in the country.

–  In Wyoming, worry about suicide in teens is becoming
the top reported concern.

–  1 out of 6 students nationwide (grades 9–12)
seriously considered suicide in the past year.

–  Teen suicides in Wyoming are rising and are
nearly three times the national average.

The top blue line shows Wyoming’s deaths by suicide per 100,000 for youth aged 15-19. The lower blue line is the national number.

Take Action!

•  Write Representative Liz Cheney.

•  Read Preventing Suicide in Wyoming.

•  Be reminded of good people doing good work in Wyoming:

–  Peace as Learned and Teachable Skills

–  Pain Should Not Be Wasted: The Story of Three Parents

–  Carla Trier Brings Heaps of Love By Way of the Foster Parent Exchange

.   .   .

Ellen is a native of northern Maine. Her interest in getting to know Wyoming focuses on ways people and organizations help and protect individuals, wildlife, beauty, and rights. She is a HeartMath® trainer and coach, a Connection Practice trainer and coach, and a biodynamic craniosacral therapist. Her website is:  EllenSynakowski.com and her email is EllenSynakowski@icloud.com.

“Remember that justice is what love looks like in public.” – Cornel West

Preventing Alzheimer’s and Slowing ALS: The Focus of Jackson Hole Medical Research Non-Profit

Brain Chemistry Labs is breaking rules and shattering the mold of how medical research is done.

And they’re doing it solely with small grants and private donations.

Dr. Sandra Banack, senior scientist at Brain Chemistry Labs.

What began as work focused on the motor neuron disease ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) has been led by research to include Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“I think we can change the world,” said Sandra Banack, senior scientist and ethnobotanist.

“What we’re doing takes a fraction of the time and a fraction of the cost,” she said.

Their work examines what is happening to people and what can be done about it.

“We’re close to a prevention, and I think that’s better than a cure.”    – Dr. Rachael Dunlop

Research shows that chronic exposure to the neurotoxin BMAA (β-Methylamino-L-alanine) found in cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae and most often pointed out by someone in my family as “that green stuff” on lakes and ponds) is a potential risk for neurodegenerative illnesses.

So they are testing and working with an amino acid called L-Serine that may counter BMAA and appears to be neuroprotective in its own right.

BMAA Surrounds Us

“We know that human health is related to environmental health,” Dr. Banack said.

People come into contact with BMAA through contaminated seafood and freshwater fish — possibly grains if they are watered by contaminated water.

And it can be in the air we breathe.

“Found in habitats ranging from the hot pools of Yellowstone to the deserts of the middle east to the middle of the oceans, cyanobacteria are nearly ubiquitous on the earth’s surface.” – Brain Chemistry Labs’ website

“This is like a slow toxin and a silent killer in a sense because we don’t know that it’s in the water that we’re drinking.

“We don’t know that it’s in the food that we’re eating.

“But we do know that it can cause neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s,” said senior research fellow, Rachael Dunlop, in the film Toxic Puzzle.

But hope is on the horizon.

“I think we can change the world,”  – Dr. Banack

Can L-Serine Forestall Alzheimer’s?

What’s already been shown in Phase I clinical trials is that L-Serine is safe for ALS patients to take at doses as high as 30 grams per day.

The data suggest that L-Serine can slow down the progression of ALS by as much as 85%.

“Our research also suggests that L-Serine may be able to push off the onset of Alzheimer’s, but there are still many experiments to do,” Dr. Banack said.

Currently L-Serine is accessible as an inexpensive and safe supplement.

And it is found in abundance in foods like sweet potatoes and soy products.

Alzheimer’s impacts millions of patients and even more family members, so the swift work of Brain Chemistry Labs matters.

Because of the positive results shown in Phase I clinical trials, the FDA has fast tracked L-Serine into Phase II Alzheimer’s trials.

The swift work of Brain Chemistry Labs matters greatly.

Alzheimer’s impacts millions of patients and even more family members.

And for ALS patients any slow down in progression translates to hope.

Once diagnosed, life expectancy averages 2.5 years.

The urgency is understood in Jackson where the time from research to clinical trials has only taken about five years.

That nimbleness is more than surprising to those of us who know the legend of drug development exceeding decades and costing billions of dollars.

Non-Profit Medical Research

Drs. Sandra Banack and Rachael Dunlop

The lean research team has fewer meetings and less bureaucracy, and that’s appealing to the scientists who work and answer the phones at Brain Chemistry Labs.

To join the research team, Sandra Banack gave up tenure-for-life in the California State University system.

And similarly, Dr. Dunlop left a Sydney, Australia university position and moved to Jackson.

“The possibilities were too big to turn down,” Dr. Banack said.

“We’re not beholden to stock holders or the stock exchange.

“It’s a different model from anything else that’s been done,” she said.

“We owe it to society to give something back,” Dr. Dunlop said.

“We exchange wisdom and pool it to solve problems.”
– Dr. Sandra Banack

Yet the work isn’t limited to this small group in northwestern Wyoming.

The Jackson team collaborates with more than 50 scientists in 28 disciplines worldwide.

“We exchange wisdom and pool it to solve problems,” Dr. Banack said.

Dr. Dunlop said, “We’re close to a prevention, and I think that’s better than a cure.”

Asked if what they’ve learned has changed their eating habits, Dr. Banack said, “I don’t eat seafood anymore.”

And Dr. Dunlop has increased her intake of soy — edamame, in particular — that she said is loaded with L-Serine.

My first order of the supplement should be here any day.

Take Action!

•  Donate to Brain Chemistry Labs.

•  Absolutely watch the 80-minute documentary, Toxic Puzzle, about BMAA, L-Serine, research and the founder of Brain Chemistry Labs, Paul Cox.

•  View Brain Chemistry Labs’ website.

•  Read a number of newspaper articles about this work.

•  See Paul Cox’s, TedX talk.

•  Read related research articles:

“Mapping amyotrophic lateral sclerosis lake risk factors across northern New England,” Nathan Torbick et al, International Journal of Health Geographics, 2014; 13: 1, (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3922844/?report=classic#).

“Phase I clinical trial of safety of L-serine for ALS patients,” T.D. Levine, et al., Feb 18, 2017, (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27589995#).

“Traditional Food Items in Ogimi, Okinawa: l-Serine Content and the Potential for Neuroprotection,” Paul Cox and James Metcalf, Current Nutrition Reports, 2017; 6(1): 24–31, (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5343079/).

•  Previous posts of interest: Civility Leads Climate Discussion and  Charity and Social Justice:  “Distinct but Complimentary”

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Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. She is a HeartMath Certified Trainer and Coach, and certified through HeartMath to administer the Stress and Well-being Assessment tool; A Connection Practice Trainer, a Trainer’s Trainer, and Coach; and a Registered Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist (RCST®). Her website is EllenSynakowski.com.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

Creating a Dignified Transition: A Daughter’s Gift to Her Mother

Eugenia (Jenny) Eurilda DeCosta Hylton in Plainesville, Ohio in 1957.

Creating a dignified transition was a daughter’s last gift to her mother.

My friend’s mom was 100 years old when she recently passed.

And though I never met her, I witnessed from a distance the tenderness that accompanied her last months.

My friend was clear that being in one another’s company during this time when her mother needed near round-the-clock care was the only choice .

Here was a daughter who created room in her home and time in her life so her mom’s last days were spent in heart space.

A daughter who fought daily fatigue to comfort and tend to another.

The email read, “My mom transitioned this morning. I am heading straight to bed now.”

Maureen Hylton cared for her mom, Jenny, through the end of her life.

From my cross country location I saw deep humanity accompanying exhausting days.

And I know that living that choice couldn’t have been easy.

I have to wonder if at its roots was a quiet, mutual understanding.

Personal and Social Justice

I saw two lives in service to one another, even — maybe especially — as one moved from purposeful to incapacitated.

Ultimately this love story is a triumph of personal justice.

For my friend it was simply the right thing to do and the right way to be.

Her decision demonstrated grace and grit, and it was in harmony with her heart’s intelligence.

And her mother was an equal partner.

She willingly received during what might have been the most vulnerable time of her life.

The email read, “My mom transitioned this morning. I am heading straight to bed now.”

What I had seen through occasional emails and conversations was a glimpse of what love looks like in private.

And in a similar way the empathy we show one another and the actions we take on behalf of fellow human beings, of animals and of the planet has a comparable resonance.

My friend’s love and action with her mother is an up close look at what Cornel West says we have a chance to demonstrate to one another in public.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public,” he said.

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Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  — C. West