How Social Workers Play A Role In Disaster Relief

Federally declared disasters have increased by 40% over the last 15 years, according to the Clinical Social Work Journal, and internationally, those numbers are higher. Over just the last two decades, natural disasters have doubled.

In the past, the term “disaster” was poorly defined, leading to emergency response plans that were a one-size-fits-all solution to multifaceted problems. This approach left survivors with fewer options for critical care, especially in the area of mental health.

The National Center for PTSD recently redefined disaster as “a sudden event that has the potential to terrify, horrify, or engender substantial losses for many people simultaneously.” It went on to further define disasters based on type, differentiating between natural and man-made disasters. If more widely accepted, this definition opens the door to opportunities for mental health care in these urgent situations, giving social workers a vital role in relief, recovery, and community resiliency.

Responses in Disaster Relief Social Work

Social workers can offer a variety of mental health services in the immediate aftermath of disasters. Traditional psychotherapy performed by therapists is known for its long-term approach involving session work and trust building, allowing patients to share their trauma narratives. However, when social workers are called up for active disaster relief, their critical and immediate intervention skills are far more necessary for psychological triage. Among them are:

  • Psychological first aid (PFA): PFA assists those in crisis in the aftermath of disaster. It relieves initial distress in an effort to promote short- and long-term coping. This sometimes includes crisis intervention and counseling.
  • Family care: Family social workers help families during crisis. They aid survivors in locating the services they need to overcome post-disaster challenges and repair their lives.
  • Mental health media communications: This field provides voices and vital points of view for under-represented or disadvantaged populations.
  • Resilient community capacity building: This includes creating response plans for various groups.

Above all, the pledge to “do no harm” is the first aspect of every skill.

Assistance During Disaster

Disaster relief programs typically consider the short-term needs of survivors in order to identify the best allocation of resources and promote beneficial coping in the aftermath of tragedy. Social workers assist in these programs in a number of ways, including:

  • Case management: Social workers locate appropriate resources for clients, making sure they receive the services they most require.
  • Case finding: Case finding involves providing survivors with information about the programs available to them. Many are unaware that such services are available or fear stigmatization for participating in them.
  • Outreach: Social workers performing outreach increase program locations in order to allow services to be more accessible.
  • Advocacy: Using connections within various relief organizations, social workers advocate on behalf of clients to qualify them for additional services.
  • Brokering: When acting as a broker, social workers link client systems to the resources they need, fulfilling client needs throughout a multiplicity of programs.

Ultimately, all these methods allow social workers to disseminate information, refer clients to services, and assist them in qualifying for resources in disasters.

Disaster Relief Social Work in Practice

In the U.S., the American Red Cross and the Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program have provided almost half of all social workers participating in disaster relief programs. Depending on the type, duration, and severity of disaster, the challenges and requirements of social work change. When preparing ahead of an impending calamity, social workers may be identifying and organizing supplies, assisting with area and hospital evacuations, or even determining which patients can or should be moved.

During an actual emergency, the needs of the afflicted tend to take precedence over one’s own needs. Moment-to-moment changes in operational requirements contribute to the notion that social workers must remain flexible. They must be able to go where they are needed when they are needed there. The following are some real-world examples of social workers in the midst of disaster.


The residents of Beaumont, Texas, were witness to devastation on a massive scale. In the fall of 2017, Hurricane Harvey descended on Texas and Louisiana, and with it came ruined homes and wrecked lives.

In the end, the storm caused over $125 billion in damage and took 107 lives. The end of the storm was nowhere near the end of the damage. Long-term psychological trauma is a reality for many survivors, especially children. According to a recent survey in the aftermath of a hurricane, nearly 3.4% of respondents were found to have suicidal thoughts. The assessment, response, and counseling of suicidal behaviors were critical concerns that social workers on the ground were able to address.


In September 2017, the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship, was deployed to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The crew included social workers and mental health providers for inpatient and outpatient mental health services. These providers developed protocols to educate the ship’s staff in treating psychiatric patients in addition to treating patients on board.


The Wildfire Mental Health Collaborative was established in Sonoma County after the devastating Tubbs fire to offer survivors tools for dealing with trauma. In the wake of the fires, The Guardian reported that many social workers were funded by grants from FEMA, which allowed them to connect with nearly 70,000 people in Sonoma County alone. These social workers were able to identify and refer thousands to much-needed mental health services.

Research Applications

Further study of the impact of disasters on the mental health of survivors is critical to the practice of disaster relief social work. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has emphasized that children are especially vulnerable in disaster conditions, as they take their emotional and behavioral cues from adults.

Anxiety and startle responses, typical symptoms in children that have survived hurricanes, require therapeutic activities to help them cope in healthy ways. According to NASP, other disasters can prompt separate trauma responses. Tornadoes can cause survivor’s guilt due to their suddenness, whereas wildfires, given their advance warning, can cause anxiety. Negative effects stem from displacement, property destruction, and the concerns associated with biological threats to one’s health.

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.

Life After Addiction Treatment: How to Fill the Void During Recovery

The first year of recovery is difficult to manage. Triggers lie everywhere and applying the skills you learned in rehab is easier said than done. When a recovering addict first begins life after their addiction, they may discover a void left from their past life. Whether the void is their past experiences, low self-esteem, or avoiding bad feelings, addicts typically used drugs or alcohol to fill that void.

Now in the absence of those unhealthy “coping” mechanisms, addicts now face those voids alone. Maintaining recovery requires an addict to learn how to fill their life with positive things and not go backwards into their old ways.

The certified counselors at Cold Creek Behavioral Health have put together a list of recovery and coping skills in handling life after treatment.

Recovery Skills

Rehab isn’t the end of addiction, it’s only the beginning of recovery. Once an addict leaves treatment they soon realize that life and all the factors that brought them into their addiction are still there waiting for them.

Although you can’t change everything, you can learn how to handle things better and develop behaviors that’ll help you maintain your recovery.

Learn to Mourn

As strange as it may sound, it’s important to begin your recovery by first mourning the loss of your past addiction. Since your past addiction had been with you for a very long time, it’s important you mourn the loss of it. This can require not only giving up the addiction but saying goodbye to bad friends, places, and the unhealthy habits that led to your addiction. From where you used to hang out to who you were with regularly and on, it determined a lot of your day.

It’s important you recognize that loss but also recognize that although it was something you did—it didn’t define you. Recognize that loss and move past it. Then you can move on and maintain your recovery day to day, drug-free.

Avoid High-Risk Situations and Triggers

Some common high-risk situations are described in treatment as the acronym, HALT:

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

Recognize Your Emotions

Of course, you can’t always avoid HALT situations, but you can be more aware of them. If you take better care of yourself, you’ll be able to recognize your emotions before they send you spiraling. By develop healthy habits, use support groups, and more, many of these situations will be far and few between, rather than consistent occurrences.

Steer Clear of Boredom

For an addict, feeling a sense of boredom is dangerous. This is because it allows your mind to wander and not stay focused on maintaining your recovery. This can even go as far as triggering a relapse. For that reason, it’s important that you stay busy.

Fill your day with activities you enjoy. Find new interests. Keep busy. This will keep you busy and far from the feeling of boredom. It also helps you develop healthy habits. Remember: a routine is critical to helping you stay abstinent.

Fill Your Life with People and Love

A great way to start filling that void is to re-establish old friendships that may have been lost on your path of addiction. Surround yourself with supportive people both help you and make you feel cared for and loved.

Recovery is also a good time for an addict to mend fences with family and friends. Doing this will also help make you feel better about yourself because you’ll be righting your wrongs and maintaining your recovery.

Healthy Habits and Activities Are Crucial

There are many activities you can pick up on the road to recovery, as well. Some of these healthy activities include:

  • Making a to-do list so you can feel a sense of accomplishment as you mark things off.
  • Relaxing and trying to stay stress free
  • Playing video games to relax your mind
  • Reading
  • Doing crossword puzzles
  • Start becoming more proactive by starting a blog or doing volunteer work
  • Play sports
  • Take a class
  • Learn to coo

Other Coping Skills

Some other skills that are very helpful in maintaining your recovery include:

Stress Management

Learn how to handle your stress in healthy ways. Use tools listed above to help tackle your stress one day at a time.


Make sure that you are completely honest with yourself and others. One of the key components of drug addiction is creating a culture of deceit—combat that with complete honesty and integrity.


Maintaining a regular schedule of therapy sessions can really improve your chances of staying clean—especially in the first year.

No matter what you do, staying busy with some type of constructive activity and surrounding yourself with healthy relationships is a key component to staying sober and not letting old triggers creep back into your life. Maintain realistic expectations and remember: getting and staying sober is a process, a marathon; it’s not a sprint.

How to Prevent an Addict from Relapsing

Preventing a relapse is typically harder than it was getting sober. The reason for this is because maintaining recovery spans a lifetime. There is always a chance that a trigger lies right around the next corner and without support in defeating that trigger, an addict can start their former patterns all over again.

Tips for Helping a Recovering Addict

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to help. For example:

Finding a support group where the addict feels comfortable, can also provide a great deal of help. Being part of a group where members have gone through the same trials and tribulations helps an addict feel less alone in his or her struggle, and more like there is somewhere he or she belongs.

Family support is also of the utmost importance. The family structure is one of the key ways recovering addicts maintain their recovery, but it can also be a trigger source for some. Making sure you’re being as supportive as possible can help them immensely.

Just being around for non-judgmental listening can help tremendously. If an addict feels they can go to you for help when they are feeling triggered will help them in more ways than one and usually helps avert any crisis.

APA Offers Resources for Coping with Mass Shootings, Understanding Gun Violence

Constant news reports about the shooting in Las Vegas can cause stress and anxiety for people, leaving them with questions about the causes of and solutions to gun violence. Resources on the American Psychological Association’s website can help people with both issues.

One APA resource offers tips for managing feelings of distress in the aftermath of a shooting. “You may be struggling to understand how a shooting could occur and why such a terrible thing would happen. There may never be satisfactory answers to these questions,” it says. “Meanwhile, you may wonder how to go on living your daily life. You can strengthen your resilience – the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity – in the days and weeks ahead.”

Talking to children about the shooting isn’t easy but parents or teachers shouldn’t completely shield them from violence or tragedies. APA offers a series of tips to parents and other caregivers on how to guide the conversation in a proactive and supportive way. “The conversation may not seem easy, but taking a proactive stance, discussing difficult events in age-appropriate language can help a child feel safer and more secure,” according to the resource available in the APA Help Center.

Parents should also watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety.

For those who feel too overwhelmed to use the tips provided, APA suggests consulting a psychologist or other mental health professional.

“Turning to someone for guidance may help you strengthen your resilience and persevere through difficult times,” it says.

There is no single personality profile that can reliably predict who will use a gun in a violent act, according to a report issued by the APA in December 2013 entitled Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention, and Policy. There is, however, psychological research that has helped develop evidence-based programs that can prevent violence through primary and secondary interventions.

Written by a task force composed of psychologists and other researchers, the report synthesized the available science on the complex underpinnings of gun violence, from gender and culture to gun policies and prevention strategies.

“The skills and knowledge of psychologists are needed to develop and evaluate programs and settings in schools, workplaces, prisons, neighborhoods, clinics, and other relevant contexts that aim to change gendered expectations for males that emphasize self-sufficiency, toughness and violence, including gun violence,” according to the report.

Gun violence is estimated to cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year in medical, legal and other expenses, not to mention the psychological toll. That is why the government needs to approach it as a public health problem, according to APA acting Executive Director for Public Interest Clinton Anderson, PhD, writing in a blog post entitled No Silver Bullet: Why We Need Research on Gun Violence Prevention.

“Some have argued that we need to focus on policies that prosecute criminals and prevent those individuals who have been found to be a danger to themselves or others from obtaining a firearm,” wrote Anderson. “While these policies have merit, they are clearly not fully effective, and do not address the roots of violence in our society.”

No one policy will prevent gun violence, writes Anderson. “It will take a multi-faceted approach. Funding research that explores these horrific, impulsive acts can help us all inform and adapt our policy approach.”

In another blog post, clinical psychologist Joel Dvoskin, PhD, warned against unfairly stigmatizing the mentally ill by immediately jumping to the conclusion that most shooters have a mental illness.

“Too often, even the most well-intentioned among us believe that most mass shootings are carried out by those with untreated mental illness,” he wrote. “What the perpetrators seem to have in common is the experience of extreme situational crisis.”

Additional resources:

Talking to Kids When They Need Help

7 Ways to Talk to Children and Youth about the Shootings in Orlando

Helping Children Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting

How Much News Coverage is OK for Children?

Gun Violence Prevention

APA Initiatives to Prevent Gun Violence

National Survey Reveals the Scope of Behavioral Health Across the Nation

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report provides the latest estimates on substance use and mental health in the nation, including the misuse of opioids across the nation. Opioids include heroin use and pain reliever misuse. In 2016, there were 11.8 million people aged 12 or older who misused opioids in the past year and the majority of that use is pain reliever misuse rather than heroin use—there were 11.5 million pain reliever misusers and 948,000 heroin users.

“Gathering, analyzing, and sharing data is one of the key roles the federal government can play in addressing two of the Department of Health and Human Services’ top clinical priorities: serious mental illness and the opioid crisis,” said HHS Secretary Tom Price, M.D. “This year’s survey underscores the challenges we face on both fronts and why the Trump Administration is committed to empowering those on the frontlines of the battle against substance abuse and mental illness.”

Nationally, nearly a quarter (21.1percent) of persons 12 years or older with an opioid use disorder received treatment for their illicit drug use at a specialty facility in the past year. Receipt of treatment for illicit drug use at a specialty facility was higher among people with a heroin use disorder (37.5 percent) than among those with a prescription pain reliever use disorder (17.5 percent).

The report also reveals that in 2016 while adolescents have stable levels of the initiation of marijuana, adults aged 18 to 25 have higher rates of initiation compared to 2002-2008, but the rates have been stable since 2008. In contrast, adults aged 26 and older have higher rates of marijuana initiation than prior years. In 2016, an estimated 21.0 million people aged 12 or older needed substance use treatment and of these 21.0 million people, about 2.2 million people received substance use treatment at a specialty facility in the past year.

Rates of serious mental illness among age groups 26 and older have remained constant since 2008. However, the prevalence of serious mental illness, depression and suicidal thoughts has increased among young adults over recent years. Among adults aged 18 or older who had serious mental illness (SMI) in the past year, the percentage receiving treatment for mental health services in 2016 (64.8 percent) was similar to the estimates in all previous years.

“Although progress has been made in some areas, especially among young people, there are many challenges we need to meet in addressing the behavioral health issues facing our nation,” said Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use. “Fortunately there is effective action being taken by the Administration and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with initiatives to reduce prescription opioid and heroin related overdose, death, and dependence as well as many evidence-based early intervention programs to increase access to treatment and recovery for people with serious mental illness. We need to do everything possible to assure that those in need of treatment and recovery services can access them and we look forward to continuing work with federal and state partners on this goal.”

“Addiction does not have to be a death sentence – recovery is possible for most people when the right services and supports in place, including treatment, housing, employment, and peer recovery support,” said Richard Baum, Acting Director Office of National Drug Control Policy. “The truth is that there’s no one path to recovery because everyone is different. And frankly, it doesn’t matter how someone gets to recovery.  It just matters that they have every tool available to them, including peer recovery support and evidence-based treatment options like medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.”

NSDUH is a scientific annual survey of approximately 67,500 people throughout the country, aged 12 and older.  NSDUH is a primary source of information on the scope and nature of many substance use and mental health issues affecting the nation.

SAMHSA is issuing its 2016 NSDUH report on key substance use and mental health indicators as part of the 28th annual observance of National Recovery Month which began on September 1st. Recovery Month expands public awareness that behavioral health is essential to health, prevention works, treatment for substance use and mental disorders is effective, and people can and do recover from these disorders.

United Way’s 2-1-1 Information Service Stands Ready to Help Those Impacted by Hurricane Irma

With Hurricane Irma on course to hit Florida, United Way stands ready to help storm victims with 2-1-1, an information and referral service that can provide local information about shelters, food and water, health resources, and other needs related to hurricane recovery or anything else. Anyone in need of assistance should call or text 2-1-1 to connect with a trained specialist for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

2-1-1 centers from to have stepped up to help people in Irma’s path. As a national network, 2-1-1s will continue to answer calls and texts from residents in the Southeast even if centers in the region close due to hurricane damage. If phone services are impacted, residents can text “Irma” to 898-211.

2-1-1 specialists can answer questions regarding the following:

  • Shelter locations
  • Where to get food
  • Where to get supplies
  • Help accessing disaster programs
  • Other non-life threatening emergencies

“In the wake of the devastation from Hurricane Harvey, we are once again preparing our 2-1-1 call centers to help people impacted by this dangerous storm,” said United Way Worldwide U.S. President Mary Sellers. “We urge anyone in crisis to reach out to us with question or concerns throughout the weekend.”

Further, in anticipation of the devastation expected to impact the region, United Way has created the United Way Irma Recovery Fund to support local communities in the and affected by Hurricane Irma. United Ways in the affected areas will continue to raise money locally and respond to emerging needs as appropriate. United Way’s Irma Recovery fund will complement those efforts, help smaller United Ways who may not have the capacity to create their own fund and provide a single clearinghouse for individual and corporate donors who want to help.

United Way’s focus will be on mid-and long-term recovery and 100 percent of individual donations given to the United Way Irma Recovery Fund will be used to meet storm-related needs in the affected areas. The money will be distributed to United Ways in the affected areas of the Southeast United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and trusted partners in other affected areas of the Caribbean.

United Way has a history of serving as the cornerstone for long-term recovery after natural disasters including Hurricane Katrina, as well as flooding in Tamil Nadu, India. United Way is laying the ground work for mid- and long-term recovery in the areas affected by Hurricane Harvey and Irma, which is expected to take several years. The United Way Irma Recovery Fund is just one more way the organization will continue the fight for every person in every community.

To donate or volunteer, please go to

Recovering Addicts Share 3 Surprising Benefits of Sobriety

People working to overcome their substance abuse issues are fighting the battle of a lifetime. It’s not just about rebuilding a healthier life that doesn’t revolve around an addiction — it’s also about learning how to find joy in the simplest details life has to offer.

Through our discussions with people in recovery, we learned that maintaining a positive perspective in your sobriety is a wonderful tool for staying focused on living a fulfilling, drug- and alcohol-free life. And our conversations showed us that there are plenty of ways to stay inspired — many that the people we spoke with never even thought about until they were on the path to recovery!

“We help each other when we’re down and we’re happy for each other when something good happens.” So says Zach, who reached a year of sobriety in June with help from the Treehouse in Texas. Zach and other recovering addicts spoke to me about some of the positives that come with life in recovery, and it turns out that some pretty inspiring stories commonly emerge from the dark experiences of addiction.

1. You can inspire others.

You can inspire others with your story. While you may not have ever considered your life to be inspirational, the fact is that what you’ve accomplished through recovery can show others trying to get to where you are that they can do it too.

I spoke with a number of recovering addicts from various facilities around the country, and I heard time and time again that they learned more from their peers than from trained professionals. That help that you can give to others is a feeling like no other, and can work wonders for your self-esteem.

“I loved seeing people’s faces light up while I was helping them in treatment, and I liked being able to understand what others were going through,” Zach told me. He now hopes to become a licensed substance abuse counselor.

“I want to go on and get my education so I can help others the way the people at the Treehouse helped me. I want to give back to those people,” he added. “By helping just one person, you’re really helping a whole family. If I can make an impact on just one person’s life, I’m fine with that. I just want to do what I can to give back and pass on what’s been given to me.”

2. It becomes easier to open up to people.

Another benefit of sobriety is that you’ll likely find it easier to open up to people than you did while you were using. Wendy said she shares her story as often as she can in the hopes that it will help others.“A lot of people are in denial. I’m not afraid to tell people my whole story, including that I relapsed,” she told me. “That’s probably the best thing that happened to me because it made me realize that I had a drinking problem [in addition to a drug problem].”

3. You’ll find yourself in a better mood more often.

People often think about drugs and alcohol as a way to put themselves in a better mood as they take a break from their problems, but in reality, sobriety will give you a more positive attitude than dangerous substances ever will.

“It’s very rare I’m in a bad mood now, because I’ve learned how to turn my bad mood around,” Wendy said, recalling a time when she came home from work with  groceries, but didn’t get any assistance from her significant other carrying them into the house. She admitted she was perturbed at first, but added, “I sat in my car for a few minutes and thought, ‘Really? Is this something to be mad about?’

“Now instead of letting myself be overwhelmed by negative thoughts, things just disappear,” she explained. “Things aren’t as bad as we make them. We tend to make huge deals of things that are really just tiny specks on the spectrum.”

While it may feel easier to turn to drugs or alcohol to try to cope with your problems, the reality is that you’ll get far more benefits from remaining sober with the right perspective.

Drug Overdose Epidemic in America

Every 25 seconds someone is arrested for drug related activities in America. According to an FBI crime report, police make more arrests every year for drug abuse violations than for any other reported crime.

Surpassing the number of both violent crimes and property offenses, David White, a Texas criminal defense lawyer reports that over 1 million people were incarcerated in 2015 for drug possession and abuse. Although drug activity continues to remain the single most common cause for arrest, the numbers have actually been dropping over the last decade. However, illicit drug abuse is showing no signs of slowing down.

Drug Users in America

In 2013, 2.8 million Americans became ‘new’ drug users which is equivalent to almost 7,800 people per day experimenting with drugs for the first time. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), reports that the highest percentage of first time drug users are among 18-20 year olds with more than half of users beginning with Marijuana, but the study does not investigate alcohol use in the conclusions made.

The U.S. has officials focused its attention on opioid overdose. With 47,000 reports of drug induced fatalities in 2014, 61 percent of these were driven by opioids – originally prescription painkillers that have evolved into heroin. The drug has taken icons such as Elvis Presley, Prince, and Chris Farley. While sending people in and out of the legal system and to rehab facilities, it has quickly destroyed the lives of thousands. As fatality rates from excessive drug use have more than doubled since 2000, it’s safe to say that America is suffering a deep rooted drug crisis.

The police of East Liverpool, Ohio, recently took it upon themselves to show the non drug using public just how serious the side effects of heroin are. In September of 2016, the city released a graphic photo to Facebook showing a couple overdosing on what they believe to be heroin. The photos show the two incapacitated in the front seat of an SUV while a 4-year-old child sat trapped in the back.

The police responded to the backlash of the photos commenting, We are well aware that some may be offended by these images and for that we are truly sorry, but it is time that the non drug using public sees what we are now dealing with on a daily basis. The poison known as heroin has taken a strong grip on many communities not just ours…”

The Effects of Heroin

Heroin can be used in many different forms – it can be injection, inhaled, snorted and smoked. All four methods deliver the drug to the brain at a rapid rate, contributing to the high risk for addiction.

Shortly after the drug enters the brain, enzymes convert heroin into morphine while simultaneously binding it to opioid receptors. The binding of the two then triggers an intense sensation of both pain relief and euphoria – an intense feeling that the body cannot produce on its own.

Also intensified when heroin hits the brain is dopamine production, an otherwise natural response to rewards such as eating food. Heroin is estimated to produce an amount 10 times the normal level.

Heroin abusers risk losing their long-term memory, their ability to make decisions, as well as the ability to control one’s own social behavior. Due to the high potential for abuse and addiction, heroin is considered to be among the most dangerous drugs.

James Fata, a recovering addict comments to the Guardian, Id like to say its getting better because I see at least things are being brought to the surface and theres an advocacy movement, but on a numbers level, its getting worse. On the amount of deaths I see, its getting worse. The amount of heroin use Im seeing, its getting worse.

Experts warn that Fata is correct, the overdose epidemic in America hasn’t peaked yet. The most critical component to prevent the abuse of painkillers and illegal drugs is by really educating our youth on the dangers of the addiction. The NIDA has plans to advance awareness, prevention, and treatment in primary care practices, including the diagnosis of prescription drug abuse. To learn more about drug addiction and how you can help visit

Four Tips for Dealing With Mental Health Needs in College

CAMBRIDGE, MA, USA - NOVEMBER 2, 2013: Harvard Yard, old heart of Harvard University campus, on a beautiful Fall day in Cambridge, MA, USA on November 2, 2013.
Photo Credit: Harvard University

Utilization of mental health services on college campuses have been increasing quickly each year, and college campuses are increasing mental health services in an effort to meeting the needs of students. A recent study found that 1 out of every 12 college students has written out a suicide plan.

Due to the increase in federal funding, programs that focus on eliminating suicide, reducing stigma, and bringing awareness of mental health issues have been placed in middle school, high school, and colleges throughout the country.

On many college campuses, counseling services have been improved in order to cater to students’ schedules and expand the utilization of therapy by hiring more counselors and extending the hours. Being a college student is already difficult and adding a mental health issue can make it seem impossible. Here are some tips to help you get through another semester.

1. Learn about the resources offered on campus

Many students with mental health needs don’t know that their campus has resources that can help them. Before you start classes it would be helpful to set up services at the Counseling Center and Disability Center. College offers accommodations that could help you get through a tough semester and really set you up to succeed despite any challenges you may face. Some accommodations that may be offered are extended deadlines, a quiet/private place to take exams, and more.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Due to stigma, many people feel afraid or even ashamed to reach out for help. Just like going to the doctor for a physical illness, mental health needs should be dealt with in the same manner. There are people out there to help and the first step is to ask. Identify and locate your University’s Student Health and Wellness Center who can assist you or help provide you with information to assist someone you care about.

3. Stay connected on campus.

It’s very important to make connections on campus. Not only will you make friends, but it will also provide you with a support system on campus. Take a look at the clubs and events held on campus and join a few. Students who are a part of social life at their school tend to do better and cultivate solidarity in their lives.

4. Create a self care plan.

The most important of these tips to maintaining mental health during school is to create your own self care plan. These are your own steps, resources, and supports that can help you get through tough times. This may include remembering to take your medication every day, picking up yoga, going to a Zumba class each week, and/or eating healthy foods. Self care is such a vital part of mental well being. Even taking 10 mins at the end of each day to relax can help you feel so much better.

Genocide Survivors: Contributors not Victims

Polish-born Holocaust survivor Meyer Hack shows his prisoner number tattooed on his arm during a news conference at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem June 15, 2009. A 95-year-old Auschwitz survivor, Hack, donated jewellery he took from the clothing of Jews who were gassed to death at the Nazi camp to Yad Vashem on Monday. Hack, who now lives in Boston, found the gems while sorting the clothing of victims sent to die in the gas chambers, which was his job at the camp where his mother, brother and two sisters perished. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (JERUSALEM CONFLICT SOCIETY) - RTR24OVC
Polish-born Holocaust survivor Meyer Hack shows his prisoner number tattooed on his arm during a news conference at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem June 15, 2009. A 95-year-old Auschwitz survivor, Hack, donated jewellery he took from the clothing of Jews who were gassed to death at the Nazi camp to Yad Vashem on Monday. Hack, who now lives in Boston, found the gems while sorting the clothing of victims sent to die in the gas chambers, which was his job at the camp where his mother, brother and two sisters perished. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (JERUSALEM CONFLICT SOCIETY) – RTR24OVC

Listening directly to survivors and learning from them have provided me with the most powerful, inspirational, and insightful lessons. Individuals who witness the dark side of humanity have much to teach us about coping and adaptation. In the words of Elie Wiesel, Auschwitz survivor and Nobel peace prizewinner, “Listen to survivors, listen to them well. They have more to teach you than you them!”

Unfortunately, genocide and war did not end with the Holocaust. People continue to be displaced by global armed conflict. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that in 2015, over 60 million people have been displaced. Holocaust survivors are among the oldest living survivor populations of genocide and war. Lessons learned from working with them as they recovered from and transcended victimization can benefit survivors of other mass atrocities around the world who are trying to recover from similar ordeals. It sends a message of hope to these communities that recovery is possible.

In my work, I focus on strengthening and leveraging their coping skills that have remained strong and intact and minimizing limitations and handicaps. Practicing from a strengths perspective begins with the premise that every individual, family, group, and community has strengths (positive attributes and abilities, knowledge, resources) that are mobilized to achieve their goals and visions (Saleebey, 2006). By changing our perceptions, and seeing them as survivors rather than scarred victims, we move away from the traditional deficit model of mental health to one that is competence and strengths based.

When I first started this program 18 years ago many survivors cried when we had entertainers and music. They missed their families during happy occasions. They were still grieving their losses and did not give themselves permission to experience joy because it was difficult to detach from their suffering. Some survivors felt that living with painful memories helped them keep memories of their murdered families and friends alive. They believed letting go of their pain and suffering would betray those who were murdered during the Holocaust.

In recent years, we noticed that group members were able to recover from the after-effects of their horrendous ordeals. They are able to laugh and give themselves permission to have a good time, demonstrating their detachment from their suffering. In fact, they request lighthearted and fun-filled programs so they can enjoy themselves. They are also aware of their needs and are able to modulate their emotions when these are triggered by an external event that reminds them of their war experiences, e.g. terror attacks in the media.

My approach led to the development of a Drop-in Centre for Holocaust Survivors that I refer to as a group trauma recovery model. This program provides a safe environment where survivors interact with their peers and learn coping strategies that include a holistic approach to well-being. They grieve their losses together by participating in commemorative events and creating mourning rituals. They also participate in activities that bring meaning and purpose to their lives such as publishing a book of memoirs and experiencing themselves as “witnesses to history” through intergenerational programs. This program takes place in a community setting and is run in partnership with survivors where they serve as the Board of Management.

As service providers, it is essential to have a theoretical framework for practice to guide our work with individuals and groups. It is imperative we acknowledge survivors’ coping abilities and resilience that co-exist with their post-traumatic symptoms such as intrusive recollections, sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression.


Saleebey, D. (2006). Introduction: Power in the people. In D. Saleebey (Ed.) The strengths perspective in social work practice 4th ed., 1-24). Boston: Pearson Education.

Ten Years after Hurricane Katrina


August 23rd marked ten years since Hurricane Katrina which was the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States. The hurricane lasted just over one week, with winds reaching up to 175 mph. Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana were amongst the worst affected areas. A confirmed 1,833 died as a result of the hurricane and the subsequent flooding.

Hurricane Katrina was particularly devastating for New Orleans, which suffered the highest number of deaths. After the storm hit the city, nearly every levee in the city failed and over 80 per cent of the city flooded and remained flooded for weeks. Over the following two months, up to 700 bodies were recovered from the city, many of which had been floating in the water for many days.

Ten years after this disaster, the impact of Katrina is still prominent. As a Social Worker working in New Orleans, I recently passed through the Lower Ninth Ward and saw first-hand the empty, broken homes and decimated roads. It is almost impossible to imagine the trauma those living in this ward have experienced. Not only have they lost their homes, their belongings, their jobs and their loved ones, but ten years later they still live in an area where almost one in four homes are deserted or destroyed.It is a daily reminder, not only of Katrina, but also of the sad fact that in the richest nation in the world not all lives are equally valuable.

Whilst much economic recovery has been made in New Orleans since Katrina, it has not been felt by everyone. The Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program and Data Center published ‘The New Orleans Index at 10’, which provides data on New Orleans’ recovery ten years after the hurricane. The report shows that ‘Metro New Orleans has weathered the Great Recession very well, with job recovery rates substantially higher than the national average. The report concludes “Ten years after Katrina, the regional economy is embarking on a new path, benefitting from new infrastructure investments, a more diverse set of industry clusters, and an entrepreneurship boom.” It notes, however, a very important caveat; the growth is not inclusive.

The report shows that employment and income disparities between African Americans and whites are starker than national disparities and poverty is increasing. “The median income for white households in metro New Orleans is on par with white households nationwide, but the median income for black households in metro New Orleans is 20 percent lower than black households nationally.

In 2013, the disparity in incomes between black and white households was 54 percent, compared to 40 percent nationally.” The employment rate for white men is 77 percent compared to 57 percent for black men. 44 percent of black household’s earnings are in the lowest tier, earning less than $20,900 with poverty is increasing. The share of the metro’s poor that “live outside the city continues to expand, growing from 46 percent in 1999 to 58 percent by 2013.”

An interesting side note from the report states jail incarceration rates in New Orleans still remain twice the national average. New Orleans has the highest incarceration rate in the country which has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Public corruption rates still remain unacceptably high which has been a worrying factor when taken into consideration the amount of money New Orleans has received to aid its recovery. The report makes clear that many are not benefiting from the New Orleans economic recovery.

The criminological ‘Broken windows theory’ states that if a neighborhood lies in disrepair with broken windows and littered streets, then the residents begin losing respect for the area they live in and their community. This in turn can lead to more severe crime. A broken window in a house, if left unfixed, can lead to squatting, burglary and arson. To leave the Lower Ninth Ward in its current state of disrepair, one can conclude it is to abandon an entire community to increased levels of crime and anti-social behavior.

However, out of this misery come hundreds of stories of hope. Those who know New Orleans, will tell that it is an incredibly resilient and magical city. Numerous charities have sprung up all across Louisiana to help restore people’s homes and lives.  An estimated 575,554 have volunteered to help with recovery since the hurricane. And these selfless people have done amazing work.

Thousands of homes have been built or re-built and filled with donated furniture. Nearly 50 million meals have been distributed to keep people fed. Crucially, volunteers have been there to listen and comfort when needed. Their work is yet further evidence that grass-roots movements and simple acts of kindness from one person to another are immeasurably powerful.

Katrina is a disaster that will remain in the hearts and minds of its residents for generations to come. However, we cannot let the physical scars last as long as the mental ones. Public offices have to match the zeal of the volunteers when it comes to repairing infrastructure, housing and ensuring high quality education for all. You may hear many reports in the news over the coming days, praising the restoration of New Orleans over the past ten years, and certainly many people do deserve praise. But, you must remember that the ‘recovery’ has not been felt by all, and we are a long, long way from finished.

The Persistent Stigma of Substance Use Disorders

“Stigma is a five dollar word for a two dollar concept. It’s prejudice.”

Stigma, a set of negative stereotypes tied to behavioral health conditions, is not a new problem. Results of a recent survey suggest that views may be changing when it comes to mental illness. Advocacy efforts are getting results, and the public is beginning to recognize that mental illness is, in fact, a health condition.

We need a similar evolution to start when it comes to substance use disorders. Public perception of what it means to be addicted hasn’t shifted significantly. This is a problem.

In a study of Americans conducted by Johns Hopkins University, only 22% of people surveyed were willing to work closely with someone suffering from drug addiction, yet 62% were willing to work closely with someone suffering from mental illness.

Every person struggling to manage a substance use disorder, and every family stigmatized while supporting a loved one, are part of this broader landscape. Our current culture of stigma creates resistance to funding prevention and treatment. Belief that persons with substance use disorders are immoral, not ill, reduces support for behavioral health-centered policy.

Funding for treatment of substance use disorders isn’t commensurate with the scope of the problem. If substance use were recognized by the public as a health issue, it’s likely that prevention would be a higher priority.

We must help each other, and our communities, reshape the distorted image of substance use disorder as criminal and deviant. A person with a substance use disorder remains a person first. Examples of person-first language for substance use are included in this chart shared by Michael Botticelli, Director of Office of National Drug Control Policy. Note: Mr. Botticelli is himself a person in long-term recovery.

Language for addiction

Of course, stigma-free language is only one step and changing a stereotype takes time. We should see this as part of the process of removing structural roadblocks to health. As we break the persistent stigma that clings to substance use disorders, we’ll turn the focus instead to very real opportunities that exist for health and recovery.

Dealing With Addiction During the Holidays

The holidays are meant to be a time of reflection and relaxation as people celebrate with their family and friends. Many choose to spend time with their loved ones enjoying the chance to spend quality time. However, the holidays may also bring with it stress and additional pressures especially for those who struggle with addiction.

For those battling addictions during the holidays, this stress may be magnified. The temptation may be to fall back on old habits such as drugs and alcohol to cope with such stress, or perhaps the jovial atmosphere of a holiday party may tempt an addict to use as well. Whatever the case may be, those facing substance abuse battles will want to have reliable plans in place so that they do not make a decision they will later regret as a result.

Steps to take to prevent relapse during the holidays

HE_holiday-drinking_s4x3_leadFirst, take special note of what tends to cause you stress during the holidays. Perhaps you lost a loved one at this time of the year and this still brings you sadness. As a result, you will want to avoid situations and events that remind you of this person. Focusing on what causes you stress may be difficult at first. However, remember that you are doing so to prevent further complications later on.

Be sure to simplify your holiday plans so that you are not taking on too much or setting yourself up for failure. If there will be a party with alcohol present, then you should logically avoid such gatherings as an alcoholic. Also, avoid any parties where drugs will be present so as to not set off any addictive tendencies. Be aware that as an extra incentive, the police will be anticipating such behavior for the holidays. You will be avoiding any legal consequences that arise as a result in the process as well.

If you do end up attending a party where alcohol is present, politely decline an offer for a drink. You are not further obligated to explain why to anybody. A true friend will not question you further or pressure you about it. However, remember in turn that you can’t necessarily tell others whether they can have a drink or not. This only applies if you are hosting your own party, where you have specifically stated that you do not want any alcohol or drugs present.

If you will be attending such an event where alcohol is served, you may choose to attend with another person who is in recovery. This may help you feel less alone and more confident in your decision not to drink. By relieving such anxiety, you will be less tempted to indulge. Call a mentor or sponsor before attending if you are able to as well. They will be able to give advice and ideally, they will be available if you need to call during the festivities. If you are able to get through a single event without drinking, then the next event will only be easier. You may also choose to carry a picture of a loved one to remind you of the importance of your sobriety to those in your life.

If wine is present at an event, another option is to choose cranberry juice. This will prevent others from questioning you about your beverage. This also works if you choose a beverage such as ginger ale instead of champagne. You may also choose to arrive at such an event later on than others and leave earlier than others. The point is you still have appeared polite by accepting an invitation and showing up. There is no need to be present for the end of a party when alcohol consumption has become more excessive and others may be more likely to be pushy about your sobriety.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can handle troubles related to addiction all by yourself. If you need to confide in someone close to you so that you can help get something off your chest, then you should. Be sure the person you choose is someone you know will listen and not be judgmental. You may choose to speak with a professional counselor, especially if you are not sure you have someone close to you that you can confide in.

Continuing care support groups are always available for additional help if needed as well, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and that there are plenty of others out there who will be struggling to maintain sobriety this holiday season as well.


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: A Different Approach to Anxiety Disorders

Most coping techniques that teach people how to handle their abnormal anxieties focus on skills that reduce, replace, and avoid discomfort. These techniques are many that I have tried for my own anxiety including deep breathing, relaxing music, muscle relaxation, and more.

Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches people to control and change their upsetting feelings and thoughts. On the other hand, Acceptance and Commitment therapy teaches people not to change their thoughts or feelings but to change the way they react to them. The three steps of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are; accept, choose, and take action.

According to Psychology Today,

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a type of psychotherapy that helps you accept the difficulties that come with life. ACT has been around for a long time, but seems to be gaining media attention lately. Categorically speaking, ACT is a form of mindfulness-based therapy, theorizing that greater well-being can be attained by overcoming negative thoughts and feelings. Essentially, ACT looks at your character traits and behaviors to assist you in reducing avoidant coping styles. ACT also addresses your commitment to making changes, and what to do about it when you can’t stick to your goals. Read More

  1. Acceptance: Acceptance of anxious feelings means learning how to observe and sense them without judgment. Instead, you are able to use compassion and gentleness when confronted with anxiety, fear, worry, panic, and other sensations that may cause discomfort.
  2. Choose: This step is where you decide how you want your life to go. You can ask yourself do I want to remain a prisoner to this anxiety or do I want to live a fulfilling meaningful life?
  3. Take Action: This is by far the hardest step. This involves accepting that in order for things to change you much change your behavior. Taking action means facing your fears and anxieties and making them a small part of your life instead of something that consumes you.

To learn more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy check out the book:  The Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety by John P. Forsyth and Georg H. Eifert.

How to Find a Therapist in Your Area

Shop Around-Find the Right Therapist for You
Shop Around-Find the Right Therapist for You

Finding a therapist that is right for you can be a very daunting process. If you are like me, then you get easily overwhelmed with the number of mental health professionals that are out there. Therapy is an important part of the recovery process so finding a professional in which you can trust can make all the difference. Here are some ways you can begin your search for a therapist.

1. Make a list of the types of therapy you want to try. If you have no idea which type of therapy you want to test, that’s fine. It will allow you to have a broader search when you begin looking. For those of you who already know your interests such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dialectic behavior therapy and more, add this to you search list.

2. Call your insurance company. This is an important step because it will allow you to really get a great list of professionals that can help you. Your insurance company can provide you with therapists in your area that accepts your insurance plan.

3. Ask around in school. If you are in high school or college, your guidance counselor or counseling center is a great place to start. You can ask of if they know any professionals in the area or even organizations that offer therapy. They might even help you out by putting together a working list of therapists.

3. Utilize your Personal Networks: Word of mouth may be more useful than you think. Asking family members, friends, and coworkers about the therapists they’ve had or heard of can really give you an inside scoop.

4. Google Search: Upon having several therapists on your lists, goggling them can really help to narrow the list even further. Look up their websites, LinkedIn and really think about the pros and cons of each person on your list.

5. Skype and Phone: For those of you who are unable to go out for therapy, it may help to narrow your search for therapists who do Skype and phone consultations. This is a great option because it takes into account those who might have a hard time leaving their homes due to their mental illness.

Regardless of how you get there, remember that finding the right therapists means finding the right one for YOU. Don’t hesitate to test the waters of therapy. If someone isn’t working for you, do not feel obligated to stick with him or her. This is your journey to recovery and it’s okay to put yourself first.

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