Social Work in the Public Eye (March 2014)

Carla DamronCarla Damron, executive director of NASW’s South Carolina Chapter, wrote an article for South Carolina’s The State newspaper about the importance of having licensed social workers on staff to help clients with mental health issues at the new emergency shelter in Columbia, S.C.

The city provides funding to keep the shelter running, but not enough to keep trained social workers on staff. She said this lack of professional staffing could cause the city more expense later on.

“Licensed professionals could provide case management and oversight, coordinate with vocational specialists in the community to expand the range of work options, and work with mental-health and other service agencies so those with mental illness get needed treatment” Damron wrote. “As the city prepares its request for proposals for next year’s funding, I hope it takes these deficits into consideration.”

Damron praises the shelter and says the facility offers classes to try to motivate clients to work toward an independent life. However, shelter staff has seen an increase in clients with mental health issues, some severe, and Damron said these clients can often be the most complex to help.

While the staff does its best, Damron said they are not trained nurses or social workers and are not equipped to help clients with medications and treatment.

“Homeless people in our city need more than a bunk and a meal; they need — and deserve — comprehensive, person-specific care,” she wrote. “For the city, this might prove to be a worthwhile investment.”

Lynne SpevackA walk in a natural, outdoor setting can help relieve the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, so NASW member Lynne Spevack leads New Yorkers with SAD on walking tours every winter through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

According to the New York Times blog City Room, Spevack is a licensed psychotherapist with a specialty in helping people cope with winter blues, and she said many people might not realize they have it.

“People come see me with marital problems, office problems — they don’t realize they have (SAD),” she said. “They think, ‘This is just how I am, and this is just how life is.’”

Spevack said in the blog she believes that even if it’s cold out, exposure to natural sunlight and exercise are good ways to combat winter gloom. But convincing cynical New Yorkers to this simple solution can be a challenge, she said.

“There’s not a pharmaceutical company behind natural light that’s funding advertising for it,” she said. “People don’t know about it.”

The article says SAD is common, and more prevalent in places far from the equator. Spevack said she has experienced symptoms of SAD since she was a teenager and has been making winter visits to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens for decades. She said going there always made her feel better, and she was inspired to help others.

“I was walking around, and I saw rabbit tracks in the snow, and birds clamoring on the bushes with the berries, and it was so beautiful,” Spevack said. “I was like, ‘I’m here all alone. I should be giving a tour.’” Her last tour of the season was on March 3.

Valvincent ReyesNASW member Valvincent Reyes, a retired lieutenant colonel, is included in an article in the Los Angeles-based newspaper The Tidings, because Reyes was a speaker at a workshop titled “Moral Injury and PTSD: Warriors, Families and Communities,” which was held in November at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Reyes, a licensed clinical social worker at the Del Amo Military Hospital in Torrance, Calif., spoke about PTSD and the moral injuries soldiers face — where they feel overwhelmed about what they did or didn’t do while in combat. Reyes said with moral injury, a lot of veterans replay those emissions or commissions that brought them a sense of shame and guilt.

“And when you replay an event, there’s a thought process or a belief system that’s attached to those images,” he said. “We tell ourselves this is the part where ‘I did something or didn’t do something, because I know it was my fault.’ So there’s the emotion of shame and guilt.”

Reyes said it’s important to allow each veteran or soldier to bring personal meaning and talk about any conclusion they want to add to their own narrative, the article says.

“Every traumatized person has a story to tell from beginning to end,” he said.

Jeffrey ZachariasNASW member Jeffrey Zacharias published a blog on titled “Treating addiction in the transgender community — what you need to know.” In it, he says that 30 percent of the LGBT population struggles with some form of addiction, whether it’s drugs, alcohol, sex or gambling.

Zacharias points out that addiction rates are approximately 9 percent in the general population, making addiction epidemic in the LGBT community — and even higher in the transgender community.

He says most addiction research focuses mainly on gay men and lesbians, and less so on the bisexual community. Zacharias writes that it’s important to put equal focus on the transgender population, and he offers some key elements for social workers to keep in mind when working with transgender clients.

They include: using appropriate terminology; knowing the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, and asking the client which they would prefer; and keeping in mind that a transgender client could be dealing with loss and grief on multiple levels, like loss of a previous identity, rejection by friends and family and doubt or dissatisfaction and/or regret related to surgery.

Successful treatment means developing a deep understanding of the multiple factors that drive a transgender person’s addiction, Zacharias says, and then working through those multiple treatment issues to deliver the strongest evidence-based treatment.

According to an online article of Nebraska’s Star-Herald newspaper, statistics say suicide needs to be talked about more.

Lori RodriquezNASW member Lori Rodriquez says in the article that people are uncomfortable talking about death in general.

“They know it’s there,” she said. “They don’t know how to talk about it. Some feel ashamed and think it might be their fault.”

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services recorded overall suicide rates of 10.1 per 100,000 and 14.9 in the Panhandle from 2007 to 2011, the article says.

“The fact is one in seven teens in Nebraska seriously considered suicide and one in 10 had a plan,” said Rodriquez, a licensed clinical social worker at Options in Psychology in Nebraska.

More than half of the completed suicides involve guns, she said, and boys are four times more likely to succeed. They are also more likely than girls to use deadly means. But girls think about suicide twice as often as boys do, she said.

The warning signs of suicide, especially among teens, include: mental health issues, substance abuse, a sudden drop in grades, losing interest in activities or friends, and engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviors.

“Someone suddenly talking, writing, or drawing about death or giving away possessions is a risk factor,” Rodriquez says in the article. “The majority of the time there are signs. Pay attention to the signs. Talk to kids at home and school. Ask questions about how they are feeling. Help them problem solve, ask specific questions, be direct and just talk.”