Social Work in the Public Eye (May 2016)

Frances Nedjat-HaiemDeath isn’t often an easy topic to discuss, but Frances Nedjat-Haiem, a New Mexico State University social work associate professor, is working to change that, according to an article at in New Mexico.

Nedjat-Haiem, an NASW member, saw many people in her 12 years of medical social work, especially Latinos not able to speak up for themselves when faced with a life-threatening medical condition, the article explains.

That inspired Nedjat-Haiem to start community conversations about topics such as the need for advance directives.

“For the last 12 years I’ve been looking at aspects of culture, community, family issues and the barriers that limit end-of-life care discussions to understand how to improve communication so that it can happen earlier,” Nejat-Haiem was quoted saying.

Currently, Nedjat-Haiem is working on a study titled “Improving advance care planning for Older Latinos with Advanced Cancers,” which is open to Latinos over the age of 50 who have one or more chronic illnesses.

Not only is Nedjat-Haiem conducting a study, she is also — along with graduate assistants — providing this information as a public health care message to local communities.

“Everyone has the right to understand how to make advance care planning useful, especially in English and in Spanish,” she said. “We are educating individuals and providing them with that education to document an advance directive and improve the quality of communication with their family members and providers.”

Nedjat-Haiem and her students have visited community centers, senior centers and assisted-living facilities around their region.

“There are many people who may have not had any experience with talking about the possibility of dying and don’t want to know anything about it because it is so painful to talk about,” she told the news organization. “That’s the key, if you have not had an experience in your life, it’s hard to begin to think about or talk about. So it’s not so much that death is taboo, but it’s an emotionally laden discussion that is hard to begin – but most important to start.”

Kitzia BaxterNASW member Kitzia Baxter is quoted in a story, posted at in Baton Rouge, La., about hospitals seeing an uptick of newborns suffering from heroin withdrawal.

Withdrawal can require 24-hour monitoring. Patients shake uncontrollably, wail and scream, the story says.

“It’s excruciating. They’re uncomfortable, it seems to last forever,” Baxter says about the side effects of detoxing.

However, Baxter, a licensed clinical social worker in Baton Rouge, sees babies born into addiction as collateral damage in a growing trend of heroin and opioid drug abuse. As mothers use, their unborn child also uses, the story explains.

Like hospitals across the nation, Woman’s Hospital and their Newborn and Infant Intensive Care Unit are seeing a rise in cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which are babies going through drug withdrawals.

Experts say addiction can override even the most protective instincts of a pregnant woman, making rehab especially difficult.

With the patients only in their care for a short period of time, doctors in the NICU say their impact is limited. The story notes that hospitals can treat babies suffering from NAS, but can do little once babies leave the hospital.

“Sadly, a lot of these parents, their families have no idea they’re addicted,” Baxter says in the article.

After birth, babies at risk for NAS have to be closely monitored for withdrawal symptoms and treated accordingly. How bad the withdrawal is, depends on what drugs the mother used. Sometimes, comforting a child is enough to calm symptoms. Other times, medicines like morphine may be required to wean a child’s addiction.

“When a baby is in the NICU for 40 days receiving morphine, it’s excruciating to watch,” Baxter says. “A lot of these parents aren’t here. Our volunteers are holding these babies and rocking these babies.”

A doctor from the hospital said reducing these cases and keeping the babies healthy after they leave the NICU will take help from everyone in the community — from law enforcement to lawmakers. He says an effort is needed to help mothers struggling with addiction early on, and more resources to help them stay clean after giving birth.

Across the country, health and human services providers have shown a growing interest in using yoga as an option for treating people who experience mental health problems, says a story by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill News.

However, a recent study from the university states that while there are some promising benefits to using yoga, enough evidence has yet to exist to support the practice as a standalone solution for improving mental health and well-being, the story explains.

NASW member Rebecca Macy, a researcher who works with violence and trauma survivors, headed up the study at the UNC School of Social Work.

“I really wanted to know if yoga is something we should be suggesting to people who have post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression, or anxiety or various traumas. What does the evidence really say?” Macy is quoted as saying.

The article says Macy and her colleagues analyzed 13 literature reviews to conduct a meta-review of 185 articles published between 2000 and 2013. Overall, the researchers found that yoga holds potential promise for helping improve anxiety, depression, PTSD and/or the psychological consequences of trauma — at least in the short-term.

Published in the journal “Trauma, Violence, & Abuse,” the study suggests that clinicians and service providers consider recommending yoga as an intervention in addition to other “evidence-based and well-established treatments,” including psychotherapy and medication.

Macy and other researchers are considering several possible future studies, including one that would examine the use of yoga within a rape crisis center or domestic violence shelter. However, because yoga is a holistic practice, researchers must be careful not to “undermine yoga’s approach,” Macy says.

“We need to ask ourselves if we’re taking these Western research methods and trying too hard to fit a round peg in a square hole,” she says in the story. “As a researcher, I don’t want to undo the potential benefits of yoga by making the practice unnecessarily standard and systematic.”

Dierdre AshleyWeather changes can impact people suffering with bipolar disorders, according to a monthly column written by NASW member Dierdre Ashley in the Jackson Hole News & Guide in Wyoming.

Ashley, who is executive director of the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center, notes that springtime can make many people feel more energetic, alert and distracted.

For most people the process of “coming out of hibernation” and enjoying newfound energy is turned to positive outlooks or actions, Ashley says.

For people with increased sensitivity to drastic change, this can be a more difficult adjustment, however.

“Those with bipolar disorders may be more sensitive to seasonal and daylight changes,” Ashley wrote. Many reports indicate that springtime sees an increase in people with the illness who experience a manic episode.

People in a manic episode may feel excited, impulsive, euphoric and full of energy, with little need or ability to sleep. They might engage in risky or unhealthy behavior such as drug and alcohol use or spending sprees. They may talk quickly, jump from one topic to the next, experience hallucinations or have delusions or thoughts of grandiosity, Ashley pointed out.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder go beyond the normal seasonal or daily mood fluctuations that many of us feel, she noted.

“If you recognize the symptoms of bipolar disorder in yourself or someone else, don’t wait to get help,” Ashley wrote. “It is a chronic and relapsing illness. Untreated, bipolar disorder will almost certainly get worse, and it can lead to career, relationship and financial problems as well as health and legal complications.”

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