Social Work in the Public Eye (February 2011)

Elizabeth RootElizabeth Root was profiled in a story published in The Ithaca Journal that noted that she will give the keynote address at the New York State School Social Workers Association’s annual conference. The article said her speech “will examine promising practices that are being developed to address children’s developmental and educational needs without drugs.”

Root told the newspaper: “An especially intriguing trend is the revival of science of neuroplasticity, which refers to the natural ability of the brain to regain optimal functioning following a disturbing upset.”

She said research supports such practices as yoga, meditation, benign hypnosis, dancing, drumming, psychodrama and healthy living techniques like sound sleep, good diet and exercise to help young children.

Root, who has worked with families and children in the field for the last 17 years, told the newspaper that “psychotropic drugs perturb the brain’s ability to utilize its natural plasticity and lead to true chemical imbalance that may be irreversible.”

Root, who has written a book on the topic, was also profiled in Insights, the Syracuse University College of Human Ecology magazine for alumni. She noted in the article that professor emeritus Joseph Seiner made a large impact in her life.

“He mentored and encouraged me to matriculate when I tentatively started out taking his introductory course,” she told the magazine. “He upheld very high standards in his assignments to ‘critique’ the work of others, a skill that enhanced my own writing.”

Alma Young (no photo) received an award from the American Public Health Association honoring her continuous service and leadership to the association’s Social Work Section from 1970-2010.

In addition to being a founding member of the section, Young was its chair in the 1990s and was recognized as Public Health Social Worker of the Year in 1997.

The APHA’s 2010 annual conference program recognized the Social Work Section’s 40th anniversary.

Social workers have had an active presence within APHA for more than 100 years. The profession’s roots in the public health association date back to 1910, when it was called the Sociological Section. The Sociological Section was one of five sections initially organized within the association. By 1922, the Sociological Section disbanded. Many social workers from the Sociological Section migrated to the Mental Health Section, re-emerging as the Social Work Section in 1970.

According to Theora Evans, chair of the APHA Social Work Section and associate dean and associate professor at the University of Tennessee College of Social Work, the APHA Social Work Section focuses its activities on the promotion of evidenced-based practice and translational research. It also provides members with networking, mentorship, newsletters, recognition/awards, Listserv discussions and publication opportunities.

Melissa SkrzypchakMelissa Skrzypchak was quoted in a Wisconsin Rapids Tribune article about seasonal affective disorder. It explained that the disorder is linked to the reduction of sunlight during winter and it is thought to be caused by a change in biochemical processes.

The article noted that SAD symptoms start in late fall or early winter and tend to go away in spring or summer. “As many as six out of every 100 people in the United States feel the impact of winter depression, according to statistics provided by the American Academy of Family Physicians,” the article stated. Women are more likely to suffer from it than men, and although teenagers and children can be vulnerable, SAD usually doesn’t start in people younger than 20. The condition is more common in northern regions of the country, where the sun shines only a few hours a day during the middle of winter.

“It’s a real diagnosis,” said Skrzypchak, a licensed clinical social worker with Aspirus Behavioral Medicine Clinic in Wausau, Wis. “It is to be taken seriously. ... It can distort your thinking process, put you in a state of mind where you’re not making good choices for yourself, not taking care of yourself.”

Dr. Brenda Banaszynski, a family practice physician and medical director at Bridge Community Health Clinic in Wausau, told the newspaper that the line between normal “winter blues” and the more serious conditions related to SAD can be fuzzy. A simple rule of thumb: Seek help “when it affects your ability to live your normal life,” Banaszynski said in the article.

The TribLocal in Evanston, Ill., reported that Ada E. Deer (no photo) will deliver the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian’s first Dr. Carlos Montezuma Honorary Lecture. Her address will be called a “A Path to Social Justice.”

The story noted that Deer helped lead the successful fight to restore federal recognition to Wisconsin’s Menominee Indian tribe, securing the tribe’s sovereignty, land and natural resources. “Because of her work, Deer became the first woman to chair the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin,” the story stated. “She served as assistant secretary, Indian affairs, at the U.S. Department of the Interior during the Clinton administration — the first Native [American] woman to hold that position, which included supervision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”

The Mitchell Museum’s Dr. Carlos Montezuma Honorary Lecture is named for an early 20th-century Native American physician and civil rights crusader who lived and worked in Chicago, the article explained.

“I’m very honored to initiate the series bearing his name,” Deer told the newspaper. She is distinguished lecturer, emerita, at the School of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin. The story noted she was director of the university’s American Indian Studies program from 2000 until her retirement.

Deer, an NASW Social Work Pioneer®, said she hoped her talk would motivate listeners of all backgrounds to tackle public issues close to their hearts.

“Pay your rent on the planet. Do something to help others, based on your knowledge and skills and your sense of obligations,” she said. “If you haven’t discovered your passion, get busy and find it. Tribes have survived because it’s we, not me. The individual is secondary to the group.”

Deer said the challenges facing Native American communities today are much the same as in the past: “preservation of land and resources, poverty and racism, upholding tribal sovereignty.”

Carolie MeccicoCarolie Meccico was quoted in a story in the Standard-Examiner of Ogden, Utah, about eating disorders and emotions related to eating. Meccico is a certified eating disorder specialist and a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in South Ogden.

“About 75 percent of the population overeats at one time or another and it’s usually caused by emotion, so they’re eating in response to feelings instead of hunger,” Meccico told the newspaper.

The story noted the many emotions associated with overeating.

“Happiness triggers overeating all the time,” Meccico said. “We celebrate with food. Even the changing of the seasons can cause us to emotionally overeat, wanting more high-carb and comfort foods when it’s cold and dark.”

The article pointed out that occasional emotional overeating is acceptable. It is a problem when it happens consistently, causing weight gain and health problems, or when food is used as a crutch.

“We turn to food to heal our emotions and it can become a habit,” Meccico said. “People turn to food instead of learning skills to resolve emotional issues.”

The pattern can begin in the early stages of human development. “Many of us learn food means comfort, at least in the short term,” Meccico told the newspaper. “That’s a learned, reinforced response — we know that from the time we’re a baby.”

Emotional overeaters may seek diet pills from their doctors. But the doctor may suspect some underlying issues and, as a result, refer the patient to a nutritionist or to a therapist.

“Diets don’t work,” Meccico said. “You have to change your relationship with food, and change your behavior and thoughts.”

Emotional overeating should not be considered a mental illness or eating disorder, she added.

“It should not be confused with binge eating disorder,” she said, explaining that such a condition involves compulsive, uncontrollable overeating.