Good Mental Health Equals a Happy Marriage

Happily married couples enjoy better mental health status, according to researchers.  They fall sick less often, have fewer instances of depression and anxiety, and suffer less from loneliness and feelings of solitude.  A recent study in Sweden shows that mentally healthy married couples are less likely to get pneumonia, undergo surgeries, develop cancer or have heart attacks. It makes sense that the joy that is part of being part of a happy couple translates to mental and physical well-being.

What are some of the benefits to a marriage in which affects partners in possessing good mental health?

Security.  Mentally healthy people provide each other with a sense of security.  They don’t have to wonder if the person they are coming home to will be “up” or “down” or worry about leaving the children in their care.  They are free from the worry that their partner is secretly unhappy or hiding some big secret.  They don’t have the situation where one person plays the role of the parent, and the other one of a child.  It is truly a marriage of healthy equals.

Mutual support.  With two mentally healthy people, there is a built-in support system.  Each is invested in helping the other reach their goals, whether they are personal or professional.  Need someone to listen to a business pitch you’ll be presenting tomorrow?  Your partner is there.  Looking for a running partner?  Your spouse, may be eager to join you. Happy, stable people do not mind when their partners seek to improve themselves and are happy to be part of their transformations.  There is no jealousy or sense of competition.

Witnessing life’s events together.  Mentally healthy people embrace their roles as witnesses to each other’s lives.  They are there for each other as they go through the inevitable life stages with all the joy and challenges these stages can bring.  They accompany each other to life celebrations as well as doctors’ appointments and hospital procedures.  What a gift it is to know that “in sickness and in health” is not an idle phrase.

Goal-setting and accomplishing.  Mentally-sound couples have a higher chance of accomplishing a goal together, as they are excellent at collaborating.  They enjoy shared activities because they know that doing things together promotes a stronger relationship.

Eating together.  Mentally-healthy couples love to come together at mealtimes, as they provide an opportunity to share both food and conversation.  Additionally, they enjoy grocery shopping together, and deciding what the meal plan will look like.  This generally leads to healthier home menus.

Physical health mindfulness.  These couples seek to maintain and sustain good physical health, integrating new knowledge about wellness and urging each other in health-related activities.

Encouragement and Praise vs. Criticism and Nagging. Happy couples use encouragement and praise as communication tools rather than criticism and nagging their partner to do something.

Respect and Fairness. Both partners share the workload at home and there are no gender roles.  Both partners respect the work each contributes to keep the home happy and balanced.  They remember to express thanks and gratitude to each other.

There’s an understanding of each other’s love language.  Mentally sound couples understand where the other person is coming from. They understand how each expresses love. They do not seek to teach the other the “best” way to love.  Rather, they learn and appreciate each other’s unique style.  Whether it is physical touch, verbal affirmations, gifts, notes, surprises or just doing the dishes when it isn’t “their turn”, there is an understanding of each other’s manner of demonstrating their feelings.

Better sex, even into the golden years.  Happy, mentally stable couples have better sex.  These couples use good communication skills which help them keep their intimate lives active and evolving.  They do not use sex as a weapon, withholding it to punish or hurt a partner.  (They talk things out so issues don’t carry over to the bedroom.)

Hardship During the Great Recession Linked with Lasting Mental Health Declines

People who suffered a financial, housing-related, or job-related hardship as a result of the Great Recession were more likely to show increases in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and problematic drug use, research shows. The research findings, published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveal declines in mental health that were still evident several years after the official end of the recession, but were obscured when examining trends in population-level data (e.g., the number of people overall with each mental health outcome).

“Our study provides a new perspective on the impact of The Great Recession, showing that population-level analyses likely miss important patterns in the data,” says lead researcher Miriam K. Forbes, who began the research at the University of Minnesota and now works at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. “By looking at individuals’ mental health and experiences of the recession, we could see a different picture.”

“Individuals who experienced even a single recession impact still had higher odds of nearly all of the adverse mental health outcomes we examined – including clinically significant symptoms of depression, generalized anxiety, panic, and problems with drug use – three years after the recession,” Forbes explains. “And these odds were higher still in specific sociodemographic groups who suffered marked losses during the recession or without a strong safety net.”

Forbes and University of Minnesota colleague Robert F. Krueger examined data collected as part of the longitudinal Midlife in the United States study of adults aged 25 to 75. To investigate the impacts of the Great Recession, which officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, the researchers focused on data collected in the 2003-2004 wave, three years before the recession began, and the 2012-2013 wave, three years after the recession ended.

Forbes and Krueger examined participants’ symptoms of depression, anxiety, and panic disorder and their symptoms of problematic alcohol and drug use. In the 2012-2013 wave, participants also reported whether they had experienced a variety of recession-related impacts, including financial impacts (e.g., missed mortgage or credit card payments, declared bankruptcy), job-related impacts (e.g, took on an additional job, lost a job), and housing impacts (e.g., moved in with family/friends, threatened with foreclosure).

As observed in previous studies, the prevalence of each mental-health outcome in the full sample remained stable or decreased slightly from 2003-2004 to 2012-2013. But when the researchers looked at mental-health outcomes in relation to the hardships individuals experienced as a result of the Great Recession, the analyses told a different story. Specifically, each hardship experienced was associated with an increased likelihood of having symptoms of depression, generalized anxiety, panic, or problems with drug use. This pattern held even when Forbes and Krueger accounted for participants’ previous symptoms and their sociodemographic characteristics.

The researchers also found that individuals who did not have a college education were more likely to show increased anxiety in relation to job-related hardships. And people not living with a spouse or partner were more likely to have problems with drug use associated with housing-related hardships. These associations may reflect the relative lack of safety net available to people in the job market who have fewer qualifications, or who rely on a single income.

The analyses also showed that people with greater financial advantage were particularly affected by some hardships. Compared with their less-advantaged peers, participants who were well off were more likely to have anxiety symptoms associated with housing-related hardships and were also more likely to have drug use problems associated with financial hardships. These associations may reflect that fact that experiences such as “moving in with friends or family to save money” or “selling possessions to make ends meet” likely signal a substantial loss of assets and a considerable level of hardship for people who were previously living comfortably.

The researchers note that the observational nature of the MIDUS data does not allow them to conclude that recession hardships caused an increase in participants’ symptoms. However, the findings do reveal the limited perspective afforded by aggregate-level analyses – understanding people’s actual lived experiences requires analyses that examine individual-level outcomes and changes over time.

The Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 resulted in huge losses to employment, earnings, assets, and income in the United States and this research shows that those losses were associated with lasting negative mental health outcomes for many individuals.

“These findings suggest the adverse effects of the Great Recession on individuals’ mental health likely compounded and prolonged its economic costs, highlighting that government-funded mental health support following financial recessions may not only ease individuals’ burdens, but could be a sound financial investment that may act to stimulate faster economic recovery following future recessions,” says Forbes.

“These findings may be particularly pertinent given some indications that the next period of economic contraction might begin as early as 2020,” she adds.

Global Social Welfare Digital Summit Call for Proposals: Interdisciplinary Approach to Global Social Change

SWHELPER will host its four day annual virtual Global Social Welfare Digital Summit beginning on February 25th through February 28th, 2020. The Summit’s primary goal is to enhance practice for helping professionals by using technology to eliminate geographical borders for training, networking, and collaboration. 

Our goal is to use an interdisciplinary approach for helping professionals to provide news, information, and resources critical to global knowledge sharing,says Deona Hooper, SWHELPER Founder and Editor-in-Chief, and host of the Global Social Welfare Digital Summit. 

The virtual format transcends geographic locations and expands learning to a global classroom. Most importantly, it allows us to provide the same great content as an in person conference yet at a more affordable rate. Our four-day conference will focus on Activism, Health Care, Trauma Informed Care, Prevention and Solutions,Deona concludes.

Call for Proposals 

We are looking for speakers who are interested in giving presentations from micro to macro perspectives on topics of ethics, technology, research, policy and other related themes. All speakers are exempted from paying the participation fee and will have free access to all four days of the conference.  Additionally, each speaker will get a dedicated page where he/she can promote their work and products as well as free marketing and promotion leading up to the Summit. 

  • There are no fees for speakers. All presenters will be given a four-day pass to the live conference along with 1-year access to view all recorded presentation if they can not attend the other presentations live.
  • We will create graphics and posts for each presenter to promote on SWHELPER social media.
  • SWHELPER will publish articles recognizing all speakers chosen to present at the 2020 Summit.

The call for proposals is open, and it will end on September 15th, 2019. Visit https://on.swhelper.org/2LyU54D for more information. Global Welfare Digital Summit will work with other media outlets to arrange interviews for speakers who want to discuss their work and presentations for the Summit. 

About SWHELPER is a woman-owned, award-winning, mission-driven, and progressive news website dedicated to providing information, resources, and entertainment for the social good. Our audience is comprised of academics, policymakers, social workers, students, mental health practitioners, helping professionals, caregivers, and people looking for information to help themselves or a loved one in crisis. Visit us at www.swhelper.org

Emotions and Politics: A Social Work Response to the Mental Health of Immigrants

Some of my clients have called their immigration journey, the immigration nightmare. One noted, “everyone talks about the American dream but nobody talks about the American nightmare.” This nightmare has become a real every day experience for many of them.

Children crying and terrified after a stranger, an immigration agent, separates them from their parents when they arrive at the US border. Young adults living in limbo in a life that feels uncertain to them, not knowing whether in a few years they will continue working where they are or studying their university programs because of the nature of their temporary Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Parents worrying that if they get deported to their countries of origin their children will become foster kids because they will have to make a hard choice to leave them behind in the United States rather than to bring them back to countries plagued by violence, poverty, and hunger. Scholar and social worker Dr. Luis H. Zayas refers to these children, impacted by immigration policies of family separations, as the forgotten citizens.

These are just of the few stories that represent the plight that immigrants who are undocumented or have temporary status face in the United States. In the last year, we have seen increased political efforts to seize migration and punish immigrants who chose to migrate in the only way they could, creating feelings of insecurity, trauma, depression among community members affected by these policies.

As social workers, it’s crucial we become well-versed on the challenges that existing immigrants and a new generation of newcomers face and that we follow our National Association of Social Workers (NASW) code of ethics to support them and treat them with dignity and worth of a person regardless of how they arrived to this country, nor our political views.

Going Beyond the Headlines, Facts about Immigration

Over the last year, we have been inundated with countless stories of immigrants arriving in record numbers through the Mexican border. Some of the media stories have focused on the illegality of migrating through the border; other outlets have reported on the reasons why immigrants are knocking on our doors but with little emphasis on why immigrants “choose” to come through the border. Reasons for coming include fleeing violence, political unrest, and persecution among others.

From testimonials of lawyers, service providers, and human and immigrant’s rights organizations who are working profusely on the ground at border towns, we know that most of the immigrants who are arriving can qualify as refugees. Noting this difference is important because refugees seeking asylum have a right to seek asylum in the United States and have certain protections. The UN Refugee Agency defines refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries,” (UN Refugee Agency, 2019).

We often hear questions like “Why can’t they come the right away?” or “They need to get in line?” The reality is that our immigration system is broken. To come to the United States legally, individuals have to either have a family member who is a Citizen or US Resident petition for them, or be sponsored by an employer through a work visa, most employment visas are usually for high skilled workers, or apply to a lottery system, for the “lucky” opportunity to obtain a visa. It sounds simple, right? Just apply and you should be fine. Not so much!

There is a restriction of the numbers of visas granted each year. According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are about 140,000 work visas per year and family sponsored preferences are limited to 226,000 visas per year. There are currently two types of backlogs impacting the issuance of US Resident cards, which allows people to come to the United States and stay permanently.

“The first is due to visa availability, not enough to go around and meet the demand. The second is due to processing delays of applicants’ documents. A brief illustration of that is that in February 2019, the U.S. government was still processing some family-sponsored visa applications dating to August 1995, and some employment-related visa applications from August 2007,” (Migration Policy Institute, 2019).

This means that a mother who is concerned that gang members have infiltrated her neighborhood, and are looking to extort her each month for a sum of money that she does not have or she and her family will be killed, who may not have a US Resident or Citizen family member or an employer to sponsor her, has no other way to enter the United States as a refugee seeking asylum. She and scores of others do not have another choice.

Clinical Implications

When working with immigrants is important to remember that while there are some similarities in the immigration journey for some, not two stories are alike. This is our opportunity to allow the client to be the expert of their story and have them guide us in their experience.

Community members who are in the United States without an immigration status or a temporary status or are seeking status may face many challenges as they adjust to a new environment or simply work towards surviving it. But their distress or trauma may not be new or their first trauma. Clinical psychologist Dr. Cecilia J. Falicov reminds us of the pre-trauma, during trauma and post-trauma immigrants can experience during their journey. Trauma sometimes begins before people leave their countries of origin. Understanding what their experience was prior to coming to the United States is critical during clinical or initial assessment or throughout work with clients.

Immigrants may experience trouble with acculturation, getting used to new norms, traditions, food, and language. Most importantly and often overlooked is the grief and loss they may experience for having left (or lost) a place they knew, friends, family members and things they are familiar to.

Aside from the trauma, kids who are separated from their parents may experience, attachment to their parent or caregiver may suffer, making it harder for them to have a healthy reunification at a later time.

Furthermore, immigrants may face discrimination, racial profiling or bullying in their community, at work or school, which can lead to stigma about immigration status or passing to hide their immigration status. They can experience abuse at work or exploration, such as earning low wages while working long hours. Perpetrators of abuse can threaten victims who are undocumented to call immigration authorities on them. Often times victims do not call for help out of fear of being deported and what they may not know is that there are actually certain protections for victims of violence or crime who are undocumented.

Immigrants may realize the limitations of their immigration status such as not being able to obtain driving licenses (some states do grant licenses to immigrants who are undocumented), not being able to obtain in-state tuition (some states have passed in-state tuition laws for students who are undocumented), not being able to travel and little or no access to services, resources or benefits.

These and other challenges can lead to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which are the three main diagnoses that impact immigrants. And media news about immigration policies that may impact their life may exuberate symptoms.

While someone’s immigration status can represent a social determinant of health, not all immigrants want to address challenges regarding their status in their work with social workers right away or sometimes ever. Teenage immigrants sometimes just want to talk about dating; parents want to talk about parenting, DACA recipients want to talk about their dreams and aspirations. We must be mindful and respect the client’s self-determination and not impose our own agenda to address what we think the client “should” address and meet the client where they are at in their journey.

The Social Work Response
I propose a comprehensive approach to meeting the needs of our immigrant clients composed of clinical, psychoeducation or supportive services, mezzo (support groups) and advocacy. In my work with immigrant clients whose goal is to address their distress connected to their immigration status, I use a psychoeducational, skills building and processing approach where I incorporate:

Psychoeducation on the impact of politics in everyday life such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD; identifying feelings, emotions, behaviors, thoughts, and overall mental health symptoms.

Processing emotions, verbalization of feelings, normalization and validation through empathy, reflective listening, etc.

Skills building including stress and anxiety management, behavioral activation to combat depression, self-care, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness (focusing on present moment and grounding). Strengths assessment and positive qualities. This activity entails helping clients re-discover or discover their strengths by reviewing all they have accomplished so far, including getting here. For many, the journey of getting here is a demonstration of determination, risk-taking, and survivorship.

Fostering a sense of safety, building safety plan (to address fears like “what if I get deported,” etc.)

Empowerment: gaining control over what we can control.

Building Awareness: providing know your rights information, connecting clients to local resources, and providing information analysis.

In addition to the work we can do through our own agencies or places of work, effective interventions include providing services for community members at their schools, churches, and community based organizations.

This requires us to partner with entities and cross collaborate. Not too long ago, several colleagues and I were going to schools to talk to immigrant parents about stress management. The local school system and the organization I worked at then formed a partnership to bring awareness during “drop off kids and coffee time.”

The clinical response and mezzo responses are just some ways of helping clients address their distress. But we know that our client’s distress is connected to environmental issues and as long as there isn’t a solution to that can aid the millions of lives impacted by the broken immigration system, our immigrant community currently in limbo will continue to suffer. This is when micro becomes macro. We have plenty of opportunities to engage right now on important fights including the passage of the DREAM and PROMISE ACT and decrying the family separations that are impacting children and are a form of children neglect and abuse. This is when we join together to fight for social justice as our NASW code of ethics calls us to do.

REFERENCES

Falicov, C. J. (2014). Latino families in therapy (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Gilford Press.

Zayas, L. H. (2015). Forgotten citizens: deportation, children and the making of american exiles and orphans. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Zong, J., Zong, J. B., Batalova, J., & Burrows, M. (2019, March 14). Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states

What is a Refugee? Definition and Meaning. Retrieved March 15, 2019, from https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/what-is-a-refugee/

Smartphones Help UB Researcher Better Understand the Nature of Depression and Anxiety

Decades of research into anxiety and depression have resulted in the development of models that help explain the causes and dimensions of the two disorders.

For all of their well-established utility however, these models measure differences between individuals and are derived from studies designed using few assessments that can be months or even years apart.

In other words, the models are highly informative, but not optimal for examining what’s happening emotionally in a particular person from moment to moment.

Now, a University at Buffalo psychologist is extending that valuable research to repeatedly and frequently measure symptoms of specific individuals, in real time, to learn how immediate feelings relate to later symptoms.

The research casts anxiety and depression in a manner not previously studied and the results suggest that some emotions linger in a way that predicts feelings beyond what’s happening at specific times. This information could provide treatment benefits for patients struggling with the disorders, according to Kristin Gainey, an assistant professor in UB’s psychology department and the study’s author.

“Clinicians aren’t primarily interested in how one person’s symptoms compare to someone else, which is what most studies focus on. Rather, they’re most interested in how to shift the feelings of someone with anxiety or depression. In other words, they want to understand how to change the emotional experiences of a given individual over time and across different situations,” says Gainey, an expert on emotion and affect in mood and anxiety disorders and a recent recipient of one of the American Psychological Association’s Early Career Distinguished Scientific awards. “The only way to get at that directly is to measure these processes repeatedly within a person as they’re happening.”

To do that, Gainey conducted baseline assessments on 135 participants, each of whom were already seeking some kind of psychological treatment.

Three times a day for 10 weeks, the participants received surveys on their smartphones about their feelings and symptoms. They completed the survey within 20 minutes of its arrival.

“That generated enough reports to provide a good sense for each person’s fluctuations and trajectories of symptoms and affect (defined as the objective feeling state that’s part of an emotion),” says Gainey.

A smartphone provides a portrait of immediacy that questionnaires distributed in a lab that summarize feelings over extended periods are unable to achieve.

“We can’t always remember accurately how we felt days and weeks ago, especially if there were some days you felt really bad and other days you felt great,” she says. “That’s not easy to summarize in a single index.”

Anxiety and depression are each unique disorders, but they often appear together in a single patient. Both disorders share high levels of negative emotions, such as fear, sadness, and anger, while low levels of positive emotions, like excitement and interest, are unique to depression.

Gainey says it’s not surprising that particular affective states, like feeling happy or feeling sad, might be responsible for symptoms experienced soon afterward. What researchers don’t know much about is how long those effects tend to persist, and which specific symptoms they lead to hours or days later.

“This study let us see that some effects were short-lived, but for depression, if you were feeling high levels of negative affect, even if we control for how depressed a participant was at that time, it was still predictive of increased depression 24 hours later,” says Gainey.

That might suggest that clinicians could track peoples’ positive and negative affect in real time and plot trajectories that are indicative of increased risk.

“If we can identify specific risk factors for increased symptoms in real time, we could even use smartphones to send suggestions about helpful strategies or alert the person’s mental health care provider,” she says.

The Importance of Finding a Facility That Offers Both Inpatient Drug Rehab and Inpatient Alcohol Rehab

Navigating life with an addiction to alcohol or drugs can be especially difficult and exhausting. It always feels like the substance is taking over. If it’s not in the foreground dominating life, then it’s in the background, always in the back of your mind. Through treatment at an inpatient alcohol rehab or an inpatient drug rehab, life can finally be different, changing for the better.

Of course, not all rehab facilities are the same. Some offer only outpatient care. With this form of rehab, the enrollee is attending the facility but still going home to their daily life. While outpatient rehab may help some enrollees work through their alcohol or drug addiction, recovery doesn’t always stick.

Inpatient rehab, on the other hand, offers more comprehensive care. That’s because enrollees are at the facility around the clock for a set amount of days (although not in all instances).

Finding a facility with inpatient rehabilitation for alcohol and drug addiction may have seemed impossible until now. However, there are more options now than before. The care administered at the new breed of treatment centers is holistic, meaning there’s more to recovery than simple withdrawal, therapy, and then out the door. Instead, there’s work done to improve the lives of enrollees by nourishing and restoring their spirit, body, and mind.

Those who want to are ready to make a change in their lives may be interested in these inpatient rehabilitation facilities. Here are several reasons inpatient care can be so significant for enrollees looking to become sober.

Inpatient Treatment May Be More Successful Than Outpatient Programs

According to data cited from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse on Alcoholism, inpatient alcohol rehab may have better sobriety rates than outpatient care. To back up that claim, 303 alcohol rehab enrollees were tracked over five years. Of those 303 enrollees, 120 of them participated in outpatient rehab while the other 183 did an inpatient program.

In the study, enrollees with intact social support systems and in better psychiatric health were proven to do equally well in an outpatient versus inpatient rehab setting. Those with weaker social support and a higher rate of mental illness did better exclusively in inpatient settings.

Regardless of the social support and mental health of enrollees, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse on Alcoholism discovered that those who were in outpatient rehab programs had a four times higher chance of relapsing into alcohol use over those in an inpatient program.

This could because those in an outpatient rehab program can keep going back to their same old haunts or toxic relationships that provide alcohol, drugs, or other addictive substances. Even though they show up for rehab, if they’re still using when they’re home, a vicious cycle repeats itself. True recovery becomes practically impossible.

Whether it’s for inpatient alcohol rehab or inpatient drug rehab, then, a facility with comprehensive inpatient care is best.

Alcohol and Drug Addiction Are Not Alike

Those who are addicted to alcohol will not necessarily need to go through the same treatment modalities as those with a drug addiction, and vice-versa. When a rehab facility only offers treatment for one type of addiction over another, it gets easy for an enrollee to be pigeonholed.

For example, perhaps an enrollee with an alcohol addiction enters a drug rehab center because it’s conveniently close to them or it’s more affordable. They figure that an addiction is an addiction and they’ll come out on the other side sober.

Without special attention and focus on what factors created the addiction in the first place as well as individualized care, it’s unlikely the rehab will work. It’s much better for someone who’s addicted to alcohol to receive inpatient alcohol rehab and someone who is addicted to drugs to get their own care at an inpatient facility.

Looking for Inpatient Rehabilitation Facilities for Alcohol or Drug Addiction?

Whether addicted to alcohol, drugs, or even both, getting the right help at inpatient rehabilitation facilities is crucial. QUality programs will provide both inpatient and outpatient care to treat addiction. Through this comprehensive, holistic approach, which combines medically-supervised withdrawals, therapy modalities, physical exercise, improved diet, meditation, and more can renew an enrollee’s entire being.

We don’t put a limit on the length of our inpatient care, either. While some patients will stay at an inpatient program for 30 days, others will need more time. A quality inpatient addiction center is willing to work with those enrollees for as long as it takes to make a return to a healthy, addiction-free life.

Music: The Secret to Mental Health and Balance While Aging

No matter where you travel, you’ll notice one universal truth — music has a very particular and powerful hold on us all. Cultures everywhere make and love music. This has been the case throughout history. We have used music to relax, communicate and celebrate — the human brain is hard-wired to react to music. According to Kimberly Sena Moore, a neurologic music therapist, “Your brain lights up like a Christmas tree when you listen to music.”

The magic of music goes much further than entertainment — there a surprising number of health benefits for the elderly, and there is a lot of evidence to support the fact that music is a secret weapon when it comes to maintaining optimal mental health and balance in our old age.

Boost Memory by Learning to Play an Instrument

If you want to ensure your memory is strong well into your winter years, consider picking up an instrument. Regardless of what you prefer to play, the act of learning how to play will sharpen your memory recall. This is because the process of learning and playing an instrument requires a great number of complex tasks, such as reading musical notes and knowing where to place your fingers. In time, this expands your working memory capacity and your ability to multiprocess without feeling overloaded. You will also be able to remember information for longer periods.

Music Can Act as a Stress Reliever

Coping with stress can become more difficult as we get older. We have less resilience to it, and it can affect us differently, which is stressful in and of itself. On top of changes in response to stress, we can experience changes in triggers as the years go by, so it is important we all find a way to cope.

There have been many studies to show music has a notable (and positive) effect on our stress and blood pressure levels. In fact, this is the case even if we’re not conscious. One study involving surgery patients found the use of music before an operation reduced stress levels to an even greater degree than anti-anxiety medication. The act of singing sends small vibrations throughout the body, which lowers cortisol (the stress hormone) levels and releases endorphins, thereby helping to keep you calm and collected in trying times.

Music Can Reduce Falls in the Elderly

Remarkably, studies show when the elderly exercise while listening to music, it helps them maintain balance and reduce the risk of falling. Falling is a huge concern for those over the age of 65, and music might well be the answer. According to a 2011 Swiss study, where participants were trained to walk and perform certain movements in time to music, they experienced 54% fewer falls when compared to the control group. The study also found that walking speed and stride length increased as a result.

A Good Drum Beat Can Kickstart Brain Function

The brain instinctively syncs to a rhythm. Because of this, therapists use drumming to get through to patients with severe dementia who don’t normally respond to external stimulus. When dementia patients hear music, you can detect a noticeable shift. They show more of an interest in their surroundings, they clap to the beat or even sing. This is because music can stimulate many parts of the brain simultaneously. Music which was popular when the patient was between the ages of 18 and 25 generally gets the most positive response.

Music Can Soothe Physical and Emotional Pain

Swedish researchers have found your favourite music can be a great pain reliever, as it can distract us and boost positive emotions. Interestingly, by evoking nostalgia, music can help us get through the pain, both physical and emotional.

Music Can Combat Depression and Boost Happiness

A serotonin imbalance in the brain causes depression. When you listen to music, you experience a boost in serotonin, so music can be used as a tool to combat depression in the elderly. Doctors claim the simple act of singing can release oxytocin, providing a significant mood booster. So while music alone may never entirely relieve the symptoms brought about by depression, it can certainly do its bit to enhance wellbeing.

Music Provides Opportunities for Social Interaction

Music can provide an essential source for social contact, which promotes interaction and a sense of belonging. This is increasingly important as we age. By incorporating music therapy and joining a choir, the opportunities to socialise and collaborate let us make new friendships and create new bonds.

Music Can Improve Quality and Quantity of Sleep

Many seniors don’t get as much sleep as they need, which can cause serious medical issues in time. Lack of sleep has been shown to have a profound and negative impact on mental health and wellbeing. A 2009 meta-analysis found music can improve the quality and quantity of sleep. Of course, the benefits may not happen overnight. But if you persist, in as little as three weeks, you should notice a pay off from this relaxation technique. Some of these include falling asleep faster and remaining asleep for longer.

10 Ways to Diversify Your Social Work Income in 2019

Social Work is not a high-paid profession; we all know this and we didn’t get into this field because we want to become rich. But, if we can’t be comfortable taking care of our own financial commitments, we won’t be in the position to give ourselves fully to our clients when they need us, whether we’re providing case management, intensive counselling/therapy, or community advocacy.

The answer is for Social Workers to diversify their income streams. This is something lawyers, doctors, and other professionals learned years ago but that Social Workers are still struggling with. It sometimes seems antithetical to our mission to make money for ourselves – but there are ways to generate revenue while also providing value to our clients.

With the new year almost upon us, here are 10 ways you can diversify your income in 2019:

1. Open a Private Practice

The classic private practice is still an option. Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) can bill Medicare in all 50 states.  For those who decide not to take insurance or to take self-pay clients, you can often charge north of $100 an hour for counselling or therapy – especially if you have a well-developed niche like working with bereavement, with men or with those who have HIV/AIDS.

To save money when starting out you may choose to use a home office, or even to see clients virtually via Skype. This can make therapy more accessible to your clients, but make sure you check with your licensing board first to avoid any issues with confidentiality.

2. Start Writing

It’s been said we all have a book inside of us, and you may too. But you don’t have to write a full book to make money with your writing. Launching a blog and monetizing it using Google Adsense or the Amazon Affiliate program can help you build your professional brand and demonstrate your expertise while generating you money for every click on your ads.

To get started, you can create a blog using the free WordPress.com platform, and then consider seeking out technical assistance to move your blog to its own domain and hosting to help you expand your audience.

3. Join a Speakers Bureau

A Speakers Bureau is an organization keeping a roster of speakers on contract so you can deliver keynote speeches or other talks for a fee. The Speakers Bureau helps connect the client and the speaker (yourself) together and negotiates a speaking fee you get paid. The Speakers Bureau takes a cut in exchange for the representation and you get the promotion.

If you don’t have the popularity, name recognition, or specific niche skills to join a Speakers Bureau yet, do some networking and reach out to conferences and other organizations proactively to get yourself some initial speaking engagements. If you’re lucky, some new business will come via word-of-mouth.

4. Create Mobile Phone Apps

This is the most technical of the answers here – but surprisingly not as difficult as you might think. Social Workers have a wealth of knowledge on mental health which they can apply towards creating apps that don’t exist yet to help people.

These can be targeted at professionals in the field, for example:

  • An app allowing you to complete risk assessments on a tablet and allows the information to be exported
  • A Social Worker’s Legal Reference with information on the laws relevant to child protection, suicide intervention and other laws relevant to Social Work in your state
  • A digital study guide helping social workers in training prepare for their licensure exam

Or targeted at clients:

  • A guided meditation app which helps clients calm down when they feel stressed
  • A digital crisis plan clients can complete and then refer to when they’re having trouble coping
  • A guide to local resources in your community like crisis lines, mental health agencies, and hospitals

These are highly complex topics. You can read up on the Swift programming language (used for Apple devices) or the Java programming language (for Android devices) or join up with a skilled programmer who lacks your specialized mental health knowledge.

5. Develop a Subscription Service

A subscription service is one way to help current or future clients to receive support. By paying you a small monthly fee, they can get check-ins with you on a regular basis between appointments. If they’re struggling, you can help connect them to crisis lines or other supports. For people who haven’t yet become clients, this may offer them an opportunity to build a relationship with you as they consider whether to book an appointment.

6. Launch an Online Course

Social Workers have skills in many areas which they can turn into online courses to teach others. For example, successful online courses have been launched teaching people how to have better relationships with their spouses or children, how to avoid getting angry or upset, and how to stay cool under pressure in a challenging workplace.

Providers like Udemy can help you build your course in exchange for a small fee taken out of each purchase.

7. Teach at Night

Universities and colleges frequently hire Masters or Doctoral-level Social Workers to teach classes as an Adjunct Professor. This can help you generate revenue but also to give back to the next generation and share what you’ve learned during the course of your practice.

8. Train Other Professionals

In addition to teaching in a school environment, you can make money by becoming an instructor for training programs. For $500 you can get certified to teach the Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) Gatekeeper Course in suicide, while for $2,500 you can get Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) Training-for-Trainers (T4T) certified.

As a trainer, you can make between several hundred and several thousand dollars in a weekend leading a training course on a subject which you’re passionate about.

9. Become a Consultant

If you have an area of specialized knowledge such as program evaluation, fundraising, or experience building a nonprofit from the ground up then you may choose to become a nonprofit consultant. By helping clients avoid the same pitfalls you may have experienced yourself, you give them a great return on their investment.

Consultants also facilitate Strategic Planning sessions or Board of Directors Training and this may be an option for yourself as well.

10. Build a Video Library

If you don’t like to write but you do want to get your message out there – consider building a video library on YouTube. These videos, when you have a high-enough following, can be monetized and you’ll get ad revenue before each video plays.

Conclusion

There are a lot of ways Social Workers and other helping professions can use their experience and training to help others while also diversifying your own revenue and helping to build your personal brand. It’s important that you focus on the elements that make the most sense for your passions and level of technical expertise but also which makes sense with your desired client-base. Good luck!

The Mind-Body Connection

One of the most important things I learned from my experience of depression was how closely linked my physical and mental well-being are.  In the thick of it, I remember many days of trying to figure out why I felt so low.  I talked through with my therapist all the various stressors which could have been affecting me that day. This included all my thoughts and feelings, and possible resolutions to my troubles. Only to figure out later on that I hadn’t had enough sleep the night before…and when I got enough sleep the next night, my mood was hugely improved.

It’s still true if I don’t sleep well, I’ll invariably feel a bit low the next day.  Not to the extent that I’m depressed, but I definitely notice being more irritable and sensitive to things which wouldn’t normally bother me that much.  Being sick is another example of when not feeling great physically affects my emotional resilience and makes everything else that much harder.  On one occasion, when I was horribly sick and sleep deprived, I burst into tears because I dropped my toast, butter side down, on the kitchen floor!

And who hasn’t heard of the phenomenon of being “hangry” ie: getting so hungry you start getting angry.  I’m sure this is a regular for me coming up to lunchtime at work.

The Mind-Body Connection

It seems so obvious now, the mind-body connection is important, but it took me such a long time to figure it out.  For the longest time, I didn’t realise every little fluctuation in my level of happiness didn’t necessarily indicate anything major going wrong other than my body trying to say, “take care of me, please!”  Of course, sometimes there are other things going on when you’re feeling down. But I guess I found it useful to realise that my physical health is connected to my emotional well-being, too.

Now that I’m working as a therapist, I’ve noticed this theme with clients as well.  Whenever someone says to me they are having a bad day, the first thing I ask about is how they’ve slept, whether they’ve eaten, or if they are sick at the moment.  Of course, the answer is not always this simple but I’ve been surprised at the number of people who will say, “Actually, I didn’t sleep at all last night…and now you mention it, no wonder I’m feeling a bit crappy today.”

Separating Mind and Body

These days we are very good at separating mind and body.  Our mind – our thoughts, perspectives, moods, and emotions – almost seems like a completely different thing to our physical experience of the world.

These days, it’s essential to think about our physical and mental well-being as interconnected and it’s equally important to take care of both.  I’m not one to preach about what this might mean for you. I’d be the last person to advocate that everyone should stick to any particular health regime – I’m firmly from the school of doing whatever works for you!

But I think what it boils down to is a little self-care (and for me personally, a healthy dose of balance) is good for both body and mind. I find noticing the effect of one on the other is helpful in understanding my experience of the world.

What are your thoughts on the mind-body connection?

Increased Inmate Deaths and the Lack of Accountability

Sandra Bland

One year after the death of Sandra Bland on July 13, 2015, the Huffington Post compiled a list of persons who died in jail. In the following twelve month period, there were 811 deaths, most of which were the result of suicide. In fact, 253 detainees committed suicide in the year after Sandra’s death, constituting 31% of all fatalities.

This heartbreaking statistic highlights a historical pattern; one of racial targeting and classism, poor management, health care oversight, and corruption. The criminal justice system fails our communities by allowing preventable inmate deaths while targeting the most vulnerable communities. These alarming trends in our prisons, jails, and juvenile detention centers have us wondering, why?

Experts examining suicide and death in our nation’s jails reveal disturbing trends across the most vulnerable communities. A recent New York Times article, for example, Preventing Suicide in America’s Jails, reveals in 2013 a total of 967 jail inmates died while detained in local corrections facilities. This statistic continued to grow the year after, even though the inmate population declined by 4%. Other authors and researchers cite poor management, inadequate health care, and perfunctory oversight as major culprits. Although these issues go mostly unresolved, they continue to institute a pattern of death and suicide.

Reasons Behind Inmate Deaths

Many jail fatalities are overlooked and underreported. Generally, jails are not required to disclose fatalities occurring within their facility to their community. Even the most egregious incarceration centers can go unnoticed by the community at large when they aren’t being held accountable for deaths occurring in their own institutions.

Different from prison, jail stays are shorter (approximately 21 days) and most of the inmates have yet to be sentenced. Jail inmates could also be under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or have mental or physical health issues that correctional staff might be unaware of. For these reasons, many jail suicides occur in the first week of incarceration as indicated below by the Prison Policy Initiative.

According to KyCIR’s reports in Kentucky’s Grant County Jail, rampant corruption, employee incompetence, ineffective staff preparation, and inmate maltreatment were all present in the jail’s culture. In an environment where accountability is minimal, inmates are more likely to be disregarded and mistreated, as is the case of Danny Ray Burden at Grant County Jail.

“Danny Ray Burden fell asleep mid-sentence as he was booked into the Grant County jail, toppling over on the bench where he sat. Prodded awake, he coughed, shook and pleaded for emergency medical attention. A blood test showed that the 41-year-old diabetic badly needed insulin. Instead of assisting with proper medical standards and medications, deputies put Danny Ray in a cell, where he was found unconscious just three hours after he had entered the jail on March 27, 2013. He died a week later.”

Reflecting on the data, including the specific cases of Sandra Bland and Danny Ray Burden, who is at risk for jail fatality?

Vulnerable groups at correctional facilities include:

  • Persons booked for lesser crimes
  • Those without financial resources who are unable to post bond
  • Communities of color who are profiled by police and often receive harsher punishments
  • Sex offenders and those accused of vicious crimes

Why Death by Suicide?

For inmates whose lives were previously difficult, a brief jail sentence could prove traumatic. The most at-risk inmates may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms, a lack of access to prescriptions, and/or low availability of medical or mental health services. An inmate with a troubled emotional, mental, or physical state of inmates suffers even more while imprisoned, especially when our system neglects their basic needs.

Correctional facility detainees may have anxiety about unemployment, broken relationships, loss of residence, healthcare, or the inability to care for children. Without financial resources, these issues are compounded by the inability to pay a bond. And for black inmates, especially those in the 18 to 29-year age range, accruing considerably greater bail amounts than their peers in other racial groups isn’t uncommon.

Suicide Prevention Strategies for Correctional Facilities

In Matti Hautala’s article In the Shadow of Sandra Bland: The Importance of Mental Health Screening in U.S. Jails, the author examines the multifaceted environment of our American jail system and garners evidence-based recommendations for inmate suicide prevention.

The author suggests the initial entry procedure, including the preliminary psychological evaluation, acclimates the inmate to the criminal justice environment. This experience could have a lasting impact on the immediate future for that inmate; although alternative programs such as parole, probation, or mental health courts are recommended. Community supervision, rather than incarceration, is especially effective for those with psychological or mental health issues. Further recommendations include:

  • Psychological evaluation instruments and qualified evaluators
  • Proper procedures regarding medical records and treatment
  • Limiting the use of restraint and isolation
  • Frequent visual follow-ups, every 15 minutes, with suicidal or homicidal inmates.

The gross lack of culpability by local and state corrections personnel and increasing inmate deaths calls for advocacy and reform. Social workers, helping professionals, and concerned citizens must engage our political and community leaders in evidence-based dialogue and program development to reduce the number of inmate fatalities in our nation’s correctional facilities.

By engaging with our local communities and representatives, together, we can hold our system accountable. We can force our jail and correctional facilities to say “mea culpa!” and reform our policies to prevent tragic and unnecessary death.

Personality Disorders: How They Affect You

Most people get along with others. There might be the odd bit of friction between a person or two, but for the most part, most people get along.

There is a sub-group of people, however, that doesn’t seem to get along with almost anyone. These persons tend to project blame onto others for their conflict and may also cause others to feel guilty for not meeting expectations in the relationship. Further, some of these people while feigning interest in others, are really only interested in meeting their own needs. These people can be manipulative, self-serving and distressing to others. If they themselves are distressed, it is only due to the reaction of others, or for others not attending to their demands. They tend not to be distressed about their own behaviour. In fact, when confronted on their own behaviour, they are quite unable to see a problem with themselves and treat the confrontation as a serious attack. They are incredibly adept at making excuses which continue to exonerate themselves while making it seem like everyone else is the problem.

If you explore their childhood, one often sees a history of abuse or abandonment. There may have been parental alcohol or drug abuse and violence in the home. These persons may have been subject to many moves in childhood and care by multiple alternate caregivers.

Such persons may have a personality disorder. A personality disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis given to adults whose behaviour brings them into conflict with many persons and society. Their behaviour presents as frequently troublesome, inflexible and persistent.  There are many behaviours common to persons with a personality disorder. When clusters of certain behaviours are seen in the same person over time, different types of personality disorders are identified. Hence 10 distinct types of personality disorders are distinguished and there are mixed types. Some persons are loud or dramatic while others cause rifts in relationships between other persons with themselves seeking to be in the middle. Some may flaunt the law, believing it is their right to do so and others make everything seems about themselves. These characteristics relate to the histrionic, borderline, antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders.

Treating Personality Disorders

Personality disorders cannot be treated with medication, although someone with a personality disorder may have another disorder such as depression or anxiety, which can be treated with medication. The personality disorder itself may be treated by psychotherapy; however, many persons with personality disorders are treatment resistant. In other words, the psychotherapy does not work and the personality disorder continues. The reason many are treatment resistant is due to the nature of the personality disorder. Another feature of the disorder is the inability of the person to view themselves realistically. They have tremendous difficulty or may be fully unable to realistically appraise or see their own behaviour as troublesome. Therefore, they are quite unable to accept it is they who have the problem and needs the help.

People who live with someone with a personality disorder may come to believe they have the problem, rather than the person with the disorder. The one with the personality disorder is so good at projecting blame and their version of reality and are so inflexible, that others are drawn into accepting blame and feeling guilty. Hence treatment for the family and friends of the person with the disorder becomes paramount. Treatment or counselling is aimed at educating the family and friends as to the nature of the disorder and at helping these persons form strong boundaries to protect from the intrusions of the one with the disorder. Some family members or friends may also have to distance themselves to be self-protective and others may need coping strategies to manage situations as when they need to be near the person with the disorder.

If you are having difficulty with someone as described above and even if they do get help, get help for yourself. Describe the situation to the therapist and seek education, guidance, and support to manage the relationship and make choices as to how you will cope and decide what is acceptable for you. You are allowed to be independent of the person with the disorder, regardless of the relationship.

Operation Surf Uses Surfing to Help Veterans

Photo Credit: ESPN

Every day roughly twenty veterans commit suicide. It is estimated that 22% of all suicide deaths in the US are veterans. Former professional surfer Van Curaza wants to change that.

Curaza originally founded the nonprofit Amazing Surf Adventures (ASA) as a way to help at-risk youth by getting them into the ocean and off the streets. He expanded ASA to help veterans overcome the challenges caused by war with surfing – a program dubbed Operation Surf.

Operation Surf is a free program “that offers week-long adaptive surfing trips for wounded-veteran and active-duty military men and women.” They pair veterans “with their own individual surf instructor and develop a goal-based curriculum around their unique abilities. Operation Surf offers an environment of camaraderie and healing to its participants by giving them a shared experience in the water each day.”

Curaza and Operation Surf are featured in the award-winning Netflix documentary “Resurface.” The film is about Marine Corps veteran Bobby Lane. Bobby was planning on committing suicide, but he wanted to check surfing off his bucket list first. He ended up participating in Operation Surf and it changed his life. Not only did Bobby decide he wanted to keep living, but he decided he wanted to work with Operation Surf to help other veterans.

The first time I volunteered for Operation Surf I briefly met a young man named Tommy Counihan. He was learning how to kiteboard. With his long blonde hair and slender build, he looked more like a surf hippie than a veteran.

In 2011, while on deployment in Afghanistan the armored vehicle Tommy was in drove over an IED. It exploded directly under Tommy’s feet. His right foot ended up needing to be amputated. But it was more than a physical injury, “I felt like when I made that decision that day to amputate my foot that I lost more than just a physical part of myself,” he said. “It plays tricks on your head. It brings you to a really dark place that’s almost impossible to get out of on your own. I remember the times when I would sit there by myself and contemplate whether or not I should commit suicide.”

On the advice of his therapist, Tommy participated in Operation Surf. Even though Tommy had surfed when he was a teenager, he was skeptical that it would help him now. Then he caught his first wave, “I was just so ecstatic that I was able to stand up on that board because in that one instant I knew that everything that I thought I had lost was just something I was creating in my head. That I was going to be able to do it all. I just had to push myself to overcome these barriers that I placed in front of myself.” Tommy won the wounded warriors division at the Hawaii Adaptive Surfing Championship last year.

Surfing can have a profound impact on veterans’ mental health. Dr. Russell Crawford, Air Force veteran and licensed therapist, conducted a research study on Operation Surf participants and found that surfing decreased PTSD symptoms by 36%, decreased depression by 47%, and increased self-efficacy by 68%.

Surfing can help veterans overcome the challenges caused by war. It has given Bobby, Tommy, and hundreds of other veterans a new lease on life. You can show your support by volunteering or donating to Amazing Surf Adventures and Operation Surf by visiting their website.

Using Deliberate Practice to Improve Social Work Practice

Every field from sports and entertainment to science and politics include individuals who excel, those who are average and those that struggle. We all dream about being the top performer but it may not be obvious how we get there. If you’re familiar with the pop-psychology book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, you’ll know that he suggested 10,000 hours as the magic number for greatness. While that book de-emphasized some of the elements identified by researchers, there is a lot of research on how to be the best Social Worker you can be.

Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice, as defined by Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson (one of the foremost researchers in the topic of expertise) involves training or learning activities that are specifically designed to improve performance. Usually, that means having a coach or trainer who is a high-performer and working through an outcome-based curriculum to develop one’s skills. The “read it, watch it, do it” model of teaching counselling skills is one example of deliberate practice in action.

Applying Deliberate Practice to Social Work

In order to apply deliberate practice to social work, we must understand the current state of the field. Scott D. Miller and his organization, the International Center for Clinical Excellence (ICCE) has conducted research showing that much of the outcome in therapy sessions among different clinicians was the result of how much time they spent developing and refining their skills. This deliberate practice added up to 7 hours per week in the most effective clinicians and just 20 minutes per week in the least effective ones.

Clinical supervision is one opportunity to engage in deliberate practice, as is video or audio-taping your sessions (with client consent) in order to identify areas for improvement. Taking classes and other courses as part of a continuing competency program is also helpful – as long as you ensure you actually change your practice as a result of taking those classes.

Evaluation and Outcomes

In addition to engaging in deliberate practice, one must also regularly evaluate themselves to ensure they are really making progress. In the same way that we may administer a Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II) tool to a client as they proceed throughout therapy, it is important that we evaluate ourselves.

The ICCE provides two tools for this purpose: the Session Rating Scale (SRS) and the Outcome Rating Scale (ORS). The SRS is used to assess the degree of therapeutic alliance (your client’s perception of their relationship with you), while the ORS allows the client to rate their level of functioning in order for the therapist to get a sense of their pre-session and post-session change.

Both the ORS and the SRS have been extensively researched. Clinicians using the ORS/SRS and engaging in deliberate practice have the opportunity to move from being an average therapist to being one of the “supershrinks” – the top 10% of performers that are known for being extremely effective with clients.

The reason this kind of evaluation is effective is because they have a true understanding from real-time data of what works and what doesn’t work in therapy with each individual client, a far cry from the generic tools used to evaluate therapy after it is completed or exit-interviews emailed or mailed to clients who have stopped showing up to sessions.

Conclusion

If you want to improve your social work practice, you can begin to put deliberate practice into use immediately. Add rating scales like the ORS/SRS to your therapy sessions. Go back to the basics and review the therapeutic modalities. Practice your empathy statements, and continue your professional development.

How to Maintain Mental Health When Diagnosed with a Physical Illness

A diagnosis of a physical disease or ailment is the last thing anyone wants to encounter in their lifetime. Humans are naturally concerned with self-preservation, which prompts our hunger for advancements in comfort, technology, and healthcare. For many people, a cancer diagnosis may be the worst news they receive, but imagine having multiple diseases piling on top of each other and feeding off one another.

Here lies the intersection between mental and physical health. A study published in the Western Journal of Medicine (WJM) by psychiatrists Jane Turner and Brian Kelly found these ailments can compound one another, leading to the worsening of both illnesses.

Mental and Physical Health, Linked

It is no surprise a diagnosis with a chronic physical illness can lead to feelings of grief, sadness, hopelessness, and a general need to adjust to a new lifestyle. However, the WJM study found sometimes these feelings can turn into something more severe, like depression or other psychiatric disorders.

Separating an expected period of emotional adjustment from a legitimate disorder is difficult, as is discerning between symptoms associated with depression, or ones common in patients of physical diseases.

For example, cancer patients undergoing strenuous and tiresome treatments like radiation or chemotherapy are likely to experience fatigue, appetite changes, weight fluctuations, mood disturbances, and sleep pattern changes. These symptoms are also common in depression patients, which can make a mental diagnosis very difficult.

“Despite these difficulties,” wrote Turner and Kelly, “it is essential to diagnose and treat depression in patients with chronic conditions. Even mild depression may reduce a person’s motivation to gain access to medical care and to follow treatment plans.”

If patients begin to neglect their treatments, this may impact their physical health, leading to further feelings of hopelessness and an exacerbation of depressive states, creating a vicious cycle hurting the patient at the center of it all.

Those Who Are Hit Hardest

Certain populations are more at risk of developing serious diseases than others. Cancers often result in this sort of psychological impairment, and there are a number of risk factors for developing different forms of the disease.

Low-income populations are generally more at risk for developing cancer, as evidenced by a Korean study found the lowest income brackets are over 110% more likely to develop stomach, lung, liver, rectal and cervical cancers.

Lung cancers, in particular, have a much higher incidence among lower income tiers at around 160% more likely. Developing cancers like mesothelioma or lung cancer can be largely due to environmental factors, which can be difficult to rectify for lower-income populations.

Asbestos, the only known cause of mesothelioma, was used amply in the construction of housing complexes during the 20th century. Many low incomes and public housing complexes have been around since the asbestos era, disproportionately exposing people who live there to the dangers of asbestos.

Other environmental toxins like smoke, lead paint, mold, and chemicals are common in housing complexes and are all risk factors for cancers and other health ailments.

For social workers, it’s important to make sure residents of places with environmental toxins are aware of their available courses of action. For example, if a building built before 1980 appears to be in disrepair, residents can approach their landlords about bringing in asbestos abatement professionals. Many states have provisions concerning the habitability standard property owners must maintain, or risk having their tenants break their leases.

Treating the Mind and Body

For anyone diagnosed with a serious physical illness, mental health care should be part of a holistic treatment plan. Mary Jane Massie, a psychiatrist specializing in treatment for people with breast cancer at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, has learned oncology patients do less well when depressed.

“This is probably due in part to the fact that because they feel bad,” Massie said. “Psychologically, physically, or both —they decide it isn’t useful to take their medications. And there can be a domino effect: They stop filling their prescriptions and may even start to miss medical appointments. But there is a lot of help available.”

Many top notch cancer treatment centers like Memorial Sloan Kettering now offer emotional support services, but not everyone can afford these facilities or is geographically close to them. Of course, there are other ways to help these patients.

Many diseases, like Alzheimer’s, Breast Cancer, and ALS, have extensive support networks for patients and their families. Support groups for physical diseases can help mental health by connecting people going through similar circumstances and giving them an outlet to talk.

Other emotional support options include individual counseling, online support groups, and virtual therapists. Some patients may prefer to go the route of medication. Depending on the individual, talk therapy may feel like too much of a commitment and antidepressant medications may seem undesirable for other reasons.

Psychological concerns don’t end after the physical disease has been treated though. Post-treatment depression can be common for many patients, even those who didn’t suffer mental health concerns during diagnosis or treatment. For other patients, end of life counseling may be in order.

Healthcare professionals are generally equipped to treat the whole patient, but some people may not know when to ask for additional help beyond physical treatment. For a patient of any serious illness, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of psychological distress and familiarize themselves with what to expect along the treatment path.

What is Social Emotional Learning?

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social and emotional learning (SEL) as “The process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Within the context of schools, SEL can be easily understood as the study of soft skills. SEL is where students learn how to treat others and how to treat themselves in a responsible, caring, and compassionate way.

Why do Social Workers Work as SEL Coordinators?

Oftentimes, schools rely heavily on teachers to provide SEL instruction and planning. While many teachers deeply value SEL learning, sometimes the pressure for students to perform well academically leads teachers to prioritize content lessons over life skills. When schools hire a specific person to coordinate and teach SEL, it sets aside time specifically for SEL and creates accountability for SEL practices within the school. Social workers are the right person for this job for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, social workers are highly qualified to teach the content. The core values of social work align perfectly with the learning goals of SEL. The social work profession is grounded in the values of social justice, the importance of human relationships, competence, integrity, service, and the dignity and worth of the person.

These values are aligned with the five competencies of social and emotional learning: self-awareness, social awareness, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and self-management. For instance, social workers value relationships and learn explicitly in school how to develop authentic relationships with clients. Therefore, social workers are equipped to break down and model what it looks like to have relationship skills. Further, CASEL teaches that effective SEL programming is SAFE: sequenced, active, focused, and explicit.

Social workers have training in explicitly teaching social skills through explicit and focused role-plays. This skill can be easily modified and applied to the whole-class setting, seamlessly integrating social work therapeutic techniques with direct instruction. Additionally, social workers know how to respond in the moment. Due to the reflective and process-oriented nature of SEL lessons, students may sometimes disclose personal information, such as experiencing abuse, death in the family, thoughts of suicide, bullying, and more.

Not only do school social workers know the correct protocols for handling high-risk situations, such as suicide ideation or abuse, but social workers can provide therapeutic services in the school or refer students to effective mental health providers in the community. Social workers have training in both responding in the moment with empathy and also caring for themselves as practitioners later through explicit self-care to prevent burn-out. Teachers may not always feel comfortable and prepared to respond to difficult disclosures such as these.

Benefits to the Mental Health Staff

The social worker providing direct SEL instruction builds a reciprocal nature, benefiting all mental health staff at the school. With effective SEL services, the number of students needing more intensive services may decrease as students learn adaptive coping skills, healthy relationships, and effective conflict resolution within the classroom setting. When students are equipped with these proactive skills for addressing common problems which emerge in school, maladaptive responses that require the assistance of mental health professionals become less common.

Further, students who do need additional social work services benefit from a renewed sense of anonymity and decreased shame. When all students in the school are accustomed to interacting weekly with the school social worker, it becomes less obvious which students are receiving intensive services. Young students do not assume when a social worker walks into a classroom they are there for one specific student and therefore, privacy is restored.

Additionally, by offering ways for all students to see the social worker through self-referrals and lunch bunch services, almost all students trickle in and out of the social work office at one point or another. With this volume of foot traffic, students are much less likely to be concerned a peer may notice them coming or going from the office. Talking to the social worker about problems and issues becomes the norm, effectively alleviating mental health stigmas which often permeate through schools and the larger community.

Lastly, when the social worker takes such an active role in the classroom setting, they are better equipped to effectively respond to students with high needs when crises happen. Oftentimes in large school settings, student to social worker ratios can be extremely high. This presents challenges to building authentic relationships with all students at the school as social workers may be meeting students for the first time during a crisis. When the social worker provides direct SEL instruction, it is almost guaranteed the student and social worker have interacted positively during class previous to the incident. A level of trust is built faster and with more authenticity during the most difficult situations.

How the SEL Coordinator Position Works

Social workers are ideal providers of SEL instruction and support in schools. The social work mission requires practitioners to enhance well-being and empower those who are most vulnerable (NASW, 2008). By supporting students with SEL development in school, social workers equip students with valuable life skills that not only enhance their well-being, but may in the long-term serve as a protective factor for many inequitable outcomes.

Presently, I work in partnership with our school counselor in a school of approximately 600 students pre-kindergarten through fifth grade to provide wellness services. Our school counselor provides tier two and three services while I primarily provide tier one and two. This arrangement allows me to be available for predictable and scheduled classes in a way school social workers are typically not, as I am not pulled out for crisis response. I provide SEL lessons through direct instruction in all 19 of our elementary homerooms bi-weekly.

On the weeks I do not provide direct instruction, I prepare lesson plans and materials for homeroom teachers to implement the lessons on their own. To support the SEL curriculum, I also provide ongoing training to staff and family roundtables for parents/guardians. Additionally, I provide social skills and therapeutic services for students through individual and group services outside of regularly scheduled lessons.

All students are given the opportunity to meet with me through lunch bunches, where students sign up to eat lunch in my office. Through self-referral services, students request to discuss mental health-related concerns with a member of the wellness team. Overall, my week is split halfway between direct instruction in the classroom and more typical school social work services.

Closing Thoughts

When I enter the school building, I hear echoes of “Good morning Ms. Knipp!” as I make my way to my office. One elementary student holds up two fingers when he sees me, to indicate he has put two drops in classmate’s buckets (our way of measuring kind acts) so far this week. When I arrive at my office and open my calendar, I see today I have four lessons, a lunch session, two therapeutic groups, and a parent learning event after school.

I have the best job in the world. I am a social worker, but my official job title is “Social and Emotional Learning Coordinator.” My main responsibility is proactive, preventive work through direct instruction of social and emotional learning.

Empowering students with tools for SEL development at a young age promotes social justice in the long run. Social workers have the training and values necessary to implement these lessons in schools now. SEL instruction implemented by social workers not only improves the school, but it also improves social work practices within educational environments.

Study Highlights Racism, Sexual Assault as Contributors to College Mental Health Challenges

A text mining analysis of academic and news articles related to mental health issues in higher education finds that racism, violence and sexual assault are key contributors to mental health challenges for students. The research also highlights the need for mental health services, and outlines some ways that mobile technologies may be able to help address these needs.

“We had found in our previous work that students are concerned about mental health issues, and we wanted to better define the scope of mental health challenges for students and what factors contribute to those challenges,” says Fay Cobb Payton, corresponding author of a paper on the work and a professor of information systems/technology and University Faculty Scholar at North Carolina State University.

To address these questions, the researchers used text mining techniques to analyze 165 articles published between 2010 and 2015. The researchers drew on both peer-reviewed research literature and articles published in higher-education news outlets.

“We included news outlets because that allowed us to capture timely information that reflected conditions across campuses nationally,” Payton says.

The most common theme that cropped up in the articles was an increased need for student mental health services, an idea that appeared in 68 percent of the analyzed material. Among factors that contribute to mental health concerns, the most common was racism and bias against ethnic groups, found in 18 percent of the articles. The researchers also pointed to violence and sexual assault – mentioned in 5 percent of the articles – as a significant contributing factor.

The researchers note that colleges and universities are taking steps to both provide mental health services and offer targeted outreach to students of color. But, the researchers say, many students are simply not taking advantage of the services that are available.

“More needs to be done to address the stigma associated with seeking help in the aftermath of violence or sexual assault, and more needs to be done to address the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health challenges,” says Lynette Kvasny Yarger, co-author of the paper and an associate professor of information sciences and technology at Pennsylvania State University.

“Students who are facing the trauma of sexual assault are dealing with the dual stigma of seeking help for both the assault and the ensuing mental health challenges,” Payton says.

The researchers also note that mobile technologies may help to meet some of these mental health needs.

“Mobile apps may be valuable for sharing information and resources with students, as well as providing students with improved access to treatment or to connect with communities that could offer peer support,” Payton says. “Apps could also be used to create opportunities for peer training or for storytelling that could address issues related to stigma.”

However, the researchers note, such mobile app interventions should be driven by evidence-based approaches – and the field of mobile interventions is still in its relatively early stages.

“Our study highlights salient mental health issues for researchers seeking to develop impactful mobile interventions,” Payton says. “Additional evidence-based research is needed in this domain.”

The paper, “Text Mining Mental Health Reports for Issues Impacting Today’s College Students: Qualitative Study,” is published in the journal JMIR Mental Health. The paper was co-authored by Anthony Pinter of the University of Colorado Boulder.

How to Ace your Social Work Fieldwork Placement

Undoubtedly, social work fieldwork placements are a key component in social work education. Acting as an essential link between studies and practice, field placements can greatly impact the future functioning of students, and hence why students do their utmost to achieve a successful placement.

But how you may ask?

Throughout both of my fieldwork placements, I gained a number of skills and tips which helped me to cope with the demands and stress fieldwork placements brought with them.

Time Management

In the beginning of my fieldwork placement, I struggled. I was still finishing my dissertation, had to keep up with 8 cases, as well as attend lectures once every fortnight. I had no other choice, but to challenge myself to plan before hand and manage my time better.

My advice to you is to write an exhaustive list of all the things you have to do. You can either do this every week or once a month whichever you deem the most helpful. Prioritize the list accordingly and plan how much time you will need to spend on each task. Avoid getting stuck on single activities, if you feel like you cannot concentrate on a specific task, be flexible, and move on to another task. Every time you finish something, tick it off your list – it is so satisfying!

Supervision

You have probably learnt the importance of supervision during your lectures. Now is the time to actually make use of it. Do not hesitate to ask for supervision if you feel more guidance and information is needed. Additionally, ensure the time allocated for supervision is not used solely for case management. Use some of this time to discuss how you are coping with the workload, the feelings clients are evoking within yourself, your fears and safety concerns if any. Do not be afraid to use supervision as an added support. Whatever is said during supervision is confidential (obviously, if no harm will be caused to self or to others), so use this opportunity to process and assess your placement because hearing others’ problems is surely emotionally draining.

Research

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of doing research throughout the course of your placement. Be informed and read about the client group you are serving. Understand and be aware of the services available to them and the skills you can use when working with them. Fieldwork placements are a great opportunity for you to widen your knowledge, so make sure that you do this to the best of your ability. Both editorial and academic journal articles can be a source of information for you. Read them while commuting, watch videos while eating or cooking – educate yourself as much as possible because as they say, “you cannot pour from an empty cup!”.

Ask Questions

Your practice educator is not expecting you to know it all on your last day of placement – let alone your first day! Social work is a learning process, and we can never reach a point where we can say we know everything. Human beings are different and dynamic. Hence, why asking questions will only help you understand your client group and what is being expected to enhance your practice. Do not hesitate to tell clients that you are not sure about an answer while assuring them you will research a solution. Do not be afraid to ask for clarification, if you did not understand something. Ask your practice educator about the agency’s policies, regulations, procedures or any reference materials you can access when needed. Do not pretend you know it all – because you do not, nobody does!

Respect your Practice Educators and Tutors

You may not always agree with your practice educators and tutors, but ultimately they are the ones who will be assessing your progress. Starting on a wrong foot is surely not ideal which can derail the placement before it begins. Try to stick with their guidelines and even though you may feel at times it’s wasting your time on unnecessarily. I highly suggest you take a step back before complaining. I am not saying you should be passive, however, avoid arguments about word limit of essays, working hours or workload. Keep in mind your practice educators and tutors know what they are doing, so if they request something try to find a diplomatic path forward.

Do More than it is Expected

Give your placement your very best, and at times this may entail doing work that is not compulsory. Attend any meetings, conferences or opportunities taking place within your organisational framework. Observe how graduate social workers interact with their clients, chair a meeting and extend your comfort zone. Volunteer to take phone calls or intakes, even if this may mean staying for an extra hour. It is amazing how much you can actually learn from this! In the beginning of my first placement, I was terrified to answer the phone because I was always scared that I will stutter, or say something wrong. However, after sitting in the office and answering the phone for 10 weeks, I have gained a lot of confidence while talking to others over the phone.

Self-Care

Ultimately, as social workers, we have to preserve ourselves because we have minimal tools to protect ourselves from burnout. So while I highly suggest you do all the above, you also need to have an ‘off’ button. Learn to assess and identify your limits in order to detach yourself from placement related work for a few hours a day especially before going to bed. Dedicate some time for yourself, read a fiction, watch a funny video, take bath or go for a walk – do something that makes you feel good. Stop yourself from going to bed thinking about the following day and the long to-do list that you have waiting for you. Avoid thinking about action plans and give your mind a well deserved break.

Although sometimes you may feel unstoppable and very motivated, especially in the beginning you must remain mindful of your body limits because otherwise, you will be risking being burnt-out before actually stepping into the profession.

Self-Regulation Significant to Overcoming Early Adversity in Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Self-regulation may hold the key to helping young adults overcome their risk for developing alcohol and drug problems, according to recent research from the University of Georgia.

The study looked at 225 non-college-educated adults aged 18-25 from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who grew up in rural areas in Northeast Georgia. Led by Assaf Oshri, an associate professor in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences, the research team found that young adults who experience abuse as children have a higher risk for developing alcohol and drug problems. These same young adults also have a decreased ability to self-regulate, or avoid impulsive decision-making in socially stressful situations.

Oshri pointed to the results as evidence of the need for family-focused preventive intervention programs for adolescents that target self-regulation, in hopes of better identifying factors that promote resilience among youth.

“If we use delayed gratification, we can do well in life, but it seems like those who have specific early life experiences are less able to perform this optimal decision-making, and that can affect their risk of substance abuse,” said Oshri, who is housed in the department of human development and family science.

Protective factors at the biological and psychosocial levels offer hope that interventions targeting decision-making can help at-risk youth, he explained.

“The goal is to try to identify mechanisms that will help youth who experience adversity in life,” he said

During the study, the young adults were assessed twice over two years. In addition to completing surveys measuring their drug and alcohol use and experiences with child maltreatment, participants completed a decision-making task that evaluated their tendency to make impulsive decisions and ability to self-regulate and delay gratification.

To accomplish this, researchers used a tool called “delayed reward discounting.” The young adults answered questions such as “Would you rather have $14 today or $25 in 19 days?” They also agreed to have their heart rates measured while they completed a series of increasingly difficult math-related tasks in front of an audience of research assistants. These measurements allowed researchers to record stress levels and assess self-regulatory capacities.

Study results found that as participants’ maltreatment experiences as children increased, the higher their inclination toward impulsive decision-making and problems delaying gratification.

The paper, “Child maltreatment, delayed reward discounting and alcohol and other drug use problems: The moderating role of heart rate variability,” was published online in August in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Co-authors are UGA graduate students Sihong Liu and Erinn Bernstein Duprey and James MacKillop from McMaster University in Canada. The work was supported by the UGA Owens Institute for Behavioral Research and the Sarah H. Moss Fellowship for UGA faculty.

The abstract can be found at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/acer.13858.

Get Comfortable With Not Knowing

How easy is it for you to be in a state of not knowing? Not knowing what will happen next? Not knowing your next step? Not knowing who you are as you’ve evolved into this present moment?

Not knowing can be an unsettling prospect. We like to know. We like to think that we know.

It is much more comfortable to feel like we have it all figured out ~ like we are guaranteed the outcome of our desires. And most of the time, we do feel like we are in the know when it comes to what our day will bring and what we can expect from each other.

The truth is though, that things can change on a dime. We find a sense of security with the thought that we can expect things to move along as they always have. Of course, we feel more secure when that expected direction is something that we want.

Alternatively, when we find ourselves stuck in situations that challenge us, we might pray for things to change while harbouring a suspicion that they never will because we know how these things have always played out in our lives before.

What if we got really cozy with the very real state of not knowing? What if we made friends with the reality that we could be surprised at any moment? And what if we began to anticipate that these surprises could be enriching and life-affirming as opposed to dark and threatening?

Serving Consciously

Recently on Serving Consciously, I interviewed Alexander Demetrius who has immersed himself in the vast expanse of the unknown and has discovered the rewards inherent in it.

Alexander Demetrius

Alexander Demetrius’ literary contributions have primarily been influenced by Joseph Campbell. During his lifetime, Campbell was one of the world’s foremost authorities on global mythology. Using Campbell’s monomyth or hero’s journey, Demetrius discovered that critical events from his past paralleled the typical sequence of events found in practically every narrative throughout the world.

The Reward of Not Knowing is an account of Demetrius’ memoirs, transformed into an epic journey that began in San Antonio, Texas, and spans across the Pacific Ocean to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he currently resides. What makes his journey unique is that much of it took place within, where so few ever voyage.

Through careful reflection and examination, he overcame some paralyzing characteristics that once constrained him to a life of insanity, orchestrated by his mother who suffers from dissociative identity disorder or multiple personalities.

Tap into All that You Do Know

It is easier said than done ~ this idea of being comfortable not knowing. Sure, we can acknowledge that we are lacking information in the moment or that we can’t see the next step on the path, but feeling comfortable with it? That’s another story.

To assist ourselves in this process, we can shift our focus to what we do know for sure.

Do you know that you can trust yourself?

Do you know that you can have faith in the process?

Do you know that you are capable of getting back up EVERY time you fall down?

Do you know that you are loved?

How connected are you to your resiliency?

How connected are you to your capacity to care for yourself?

How connected are you to your internal guidance system ~ your intuition?

How connected are you to a sense of self-love and self-worth?

If things go wrong, do you know that you can course correct?

If you feel unsupported, do you know you have your own back?

If you are frightened by what’s around the next corner, do you know that you can face whatever comes?

If you can’t see the forest for the trees, do you know that clarity resides within you and will eventually emerge?

Tune into all that you know to be true regardless of any evidence. Allow the unknown to exist without pressure from you to be different. Be patient as new information becomes available.

Learn to dance with the mystery.

7 Tips for Staying Strong During Your Recovery from Addiction

When you’re overcoming addiction, the road to recovery can be tough to walk at times. However, recovering is one of the most worthwhile things you’ll ever do, and beating addiction will make you a stronger person. Here are seven things you can do to stick to your goals and have a successful recovery.

Take care of your health.

Addiction can take a toll on your physical health, so it’s important to take especially good care of yourself now. Get some exercise every day, eat right, and get at least eight hours of sleep every night. Even small positive changes, like eating fruit instead of candy, can make you feel a lot better. When you’re healthy, you’ll have an easier time maintaining a positive mindset and saying to temptations.

Be gentle with yourself.

Don’t dwell on the time you spent addicted. It’s easy to feel bad about wasted time, money, and opportunities once you start recovery, but there’s no point in beating yourself up. The past is over, and everybody makes mistakes. The important thing is that you’re making the effort to get better right now. Shift your focus to your successes instead of your failures.

Focus on one day at a time.

It can be overwhelming to think about spending your entire future sober. Instead of worrying about how you’ll get through the next month, year, or decade, just focus on today. If thinking about the whole day is still overwhelming, focus on the next hour or even the next minute. After all, a sober future is built one minute at a time.

Reach out to your support network.

Stay in touch with your family members and friends who support your recovery. When you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to call or text someone you trust and tell them how you’re feeling. Therapists and recovery programs can also make great additions to your support network. If you’re still looking at your options for recovery programs, there are plenty of options to choose from, like Addiction Treatment Riverdale Utah or Long Island Center for Recovery. You can find the best one for you online. The important thing is to surround yourself with people who want to help you get better.

Build new habits and routines.

A daily schedule can help you stay on track and fill your time with constructive activities. In addition to scheduling your work and other daily responsibilities, set aside some time to exercise, work on your hobbies, see your friends, and pray or meditate every day. Avoid activities and people that might trigger a relapse.

Make a plan for dealing with temptation.

You’ll probably have to deal with temptation at some point. Maybe someone who doesn’t know you’re in recovery will offer you a drink, or maybe you’ll start craving a drink or a hit when you’re feeling stressed. It will be easier to get past feelings of temptation if you make a plan for how you’ll cope. Practice saying no to offers of drugs or alcohol ahead of time, and come up with some emotional coping strategies as well. For instance, if you want to relapse, you could plan to call your sponsor or go for a walk instead.

Focus on your goals.

If you’re struggling to stay strong in the moment, your long-term goals can help you stay on track. Take a deep breath and think about why you want to stay sober for the long haul. Maybe you want to spend more time with your kids, start your own business, go back to school, or just stay healthy as you get older. Learning to prioritize your long-term goals over your immediate feelings is key to staying strong during your recovery.

Wrapping Up

Recovering from addiction is an attainable goal. Millions of other people have done it, and you can do it too. Use these tips to help you stay strong and focused throughout your recovery. You’ll probably find that sobriety is more meaningful and fulfilling than you ever imagined.

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