Social Work in the Public Eye (February 2009)

Caitlin RyanA groundbreaking research study conducted by Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project, and her team at the Cesar E. Chavez Institute at San Francisco State University, was the subject of a news report that aired on National Public Radio's All Things Considered in December. The study, published in the Dec. 29 journal "Pediatrics," found that the gay, lesbian and bisexual young adults and teens at the highest risk of attempting suicide and having some other health problems are ones who reported a high level of rejection by their families as a result of the their sexual orientation.

"A little bit of change in rejecting behavior, being a little bit more accepting can make a significant difference in the child's health and mental health," Ryan said on the radio show. The story noted that Ryan and her researchers conducted lengthy interviews with more than 200 gay, lesbian and bisexual young adults. They found that those experiencing high levels of rejection were nearly 8.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide. They were nearly six times more likely to use illegal drugs or engage in unprotected sex. This was compared with adolescents whose families were neutral or only mildly rejecting in knowing their children's sexuality.

Because the level of rejection is hard to measure, Ryan examined whether parents tried to get their children to change their sexual orientation, or tried to stop them from being with other gay youth.

"Parents thought that by trying to change them, that would make them happy," Ryan said in the segment. "But actually it put their children at great risk. When we shared that with parents, they were shocked."

Health researchers are excited about Ryan's work, the story noted. Effie Malley, a senior prevention specialist at the federally funded Suicide Prevention Resource Center in Newton, Mass., said Ryan's research should help parents recognize the words they use and the actions they take can be harmful to their children and to stop using those behaviors.


Bernice Catherine HarperNASW Social Work Pioneer® Bernice Catherine Harper received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Capital Hospice recently. Harper was honored for her dedication, and leadership in hospice and palliative care.

"Your contributions have served to advance hospice and palliative care, increasing awareness of the importance of our work," said Marlene Davis, president and CEO of Capital Hospice. Davis said the hospice community continues to use content in Harper's book, "Death: The Coping Mechanism of the Health Professional" during orientation of new employees in order to help them understand the normal reactions health care providers experience when working with the dying.

Harper was formerly the Medical Care Advisor, Centers for Medical and Medicaid Services, Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. She was also the director of the Division of Long Term Care at the U.S. Public Health Service. As a health care leader, Harper has served as chair of the National Task Force on Access to Hospice Care by Minority Groups as well as a board member of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. She is also a member of the Board of Governors of the National Hospice Foundation.


Barbara Stubbers (no photo) was quoted in the Bradenton Herald in Florida in a story that warns people not to ignore their stress levels. While stress has the power to wear your body down, it also can effect emotions and behavior, making you cranky and irritable, Stubbers, a licensed clinical social worker and marriage and family therapist in Bradenton, said in the article.

Besides moodiness, extra worries and stress can cause a lack of sleep, which, in turn, contributes to a host of other problems, including weight gain and mental fatigue.

Stubbers suggested lots of physical exercise to help melt away tension, anxiety and depression. "Do all the things that mom always told you to do," Stubbers said.

Talking to a counselor or friend makes people feel better too, she said. Many places of employment offer an assistance program for employees who would like counseling or just someone who will lend an ear.

Other people lift their spirits through prayer and attending church, said Stubbers.

Other medical advice includes taking breaks throughout the day from work, listening to smoothing music or picking up a new hobby, such as knitting or playing an instrument, to get your mind off stressful things.


Paula SharpPaula Sharp was quoted in the Idaho Statesman in a story about the best ways to talk with children about the downturn in the national economy and how it may be affecting the family personally.

No matter what age the children may be, honesty is still the best policy when talking about a difficult subject, the story pointed out.

"If you're laid off, and the lifestyle you've been enjoying is being modified, I don't think there's anything wrong with saying to your kids, 'Daddy just got laid off from his job, and until he finds another one, we're going to be cutting back a bit,'" said Sharp, a licensed clinical social worker in Boise. "Label what the problem is, offer reassurance for the future, and what you're going to be doing in the meantime."

Sharp added, "Young kids have a hard time with the concept of time. They may think what is happening in this moment is going to happen forever. You need to remind them you're hoping for things to change for the better in the future."

Above all, the constant message parents need to send their children is: "Our family is OK."

"What's really important is the fact that we're a family, we're here for each other, we love each other," Sharp said in the article. "What's really important in life are our relationships. The rest of it is really icing."