Social Work in the Public Eye (March 2012)

The process of downsizing can be intimidating for anyone, but especially for those transitioning into a later stage of life, according to an online article by the Associated Press/Canadian Press.

Tracy Greene-MintzOlder people who must move out of their home into a more manageable living arrangement — a term the article calls “late life downsizing” – can cause stress not only for them but also their children, the article says. Social worker Tracy Greene-Mintz, who specializes in relocation stress syndrome, says in the article that this transition can take an emotional toll on an older person, causing anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and short-term memory loss.

Deciding what possessions to get rid of and what to keep can be an overwhelming process when elderly people, through a decline in their health, are unexpectedly faced with the task of downsizing. Some people in late-life downsizing situations may have little time to sort through all of the things that have collected over the years; they have put off the inevitable until the last minute, or they may not be able to pack up their things because of debilitating health, the article says. And it’s sometimes necessary for an older person to leave their home immediately in order to go into a more supportive living situation.

When these events occur, packing up the house is often left up to the grown children, who must go through a houseful of their parents’ things with little or no input on what to keep and what to toss. This can cause mental stress and exhaustion, the article says.

“It’s a train, and everybody gets on the moving-mom-and-dad train, and it’s easy to focus on the logistical details because they don’t require you to address the emotional aspects of the move,” Mintz says in the story. “Then mom and dad get to their (new) place and they just shut down.”

To ease the situation, Mintz suggests trying to communicate with aging parents.

“Ask mom or dad, ‘Does any of this make you feel anxious? Does any of this make you feel a little bit sad?’ “That tiny nudge goes miles toward a better outcome in the new place,” Mintz says.

Frederic ReamerDrunken driving is a term used for people who get behind the wheel after having too much to drink. The fear of being pulled over by a police officer and getting charged with driving under the influence probably is not the first thought that goes through a person’s mind when they decide to drive after drinking alcohol.

But what if the drunken driver is the police officer? In an article by the Cape Cod Times, a series of incidents involving police officers driving while drunk — sometimes even while on duty in patrol cars — has authorities questioning whether the officers are getting the help they need to deal with the stress of the job.

Many police officers in Cape Cod, Mass., and the surrounding areas have resigned or been fired from their long-term careers after getting caught for drunken driving, the article says.

Social worker Frederic Reamer, a national expert in police counseling and a graduate professor in the School of Social Work for Rhode Island College, says in the article that he provides counseling to officers in this situation.

“They can talk about personal experiences,” he says. “That can be extraordinarily powerful and cut through denial.”

Many police officers are under the impression that seeking help for their emotional and mental health is a sign of weakness and is not looked upon favorably by colleagues, the article says. Officers also may fear that if they do actively seek therapy and word gets out, it could lessen their chances of getting a promotion.

Even seeking help at a local AA meeting, Reamer says, can be an embarrassment, because the attendance of a police officer likely would not go unnoticed by the community.

“They’re supposed to be the people in control, the people who are supposed to tell others what to do in a crisis,” he says.

Drinking in excess is seen as a much more acceptable means of coping, and the act of getting intoxicated a part of the work culture, the article says. But Reamer points out that enlightened departments provide programs to help their officers. Some even have mental health professionals on staff, which can protect an officer’s privacy, he says.

Ruth Ettenburg FreemanThe art of raising responsible children is the subject of an online article by the Huffington Post: Parents, which offers parenting tips like basing rewards on achievement, celebrating everyday accomplishments and milestones, and communicating clear expectations.

Social worker Ruth Ettenburg Freeman says in the article that acknowledging small accomplishments can reinforce self-esteem and increase a sense of self-worth in a child. This will, in turn, help them independently make wiser decisions and avoid peer pressure.

“Parents can help by identifying everyday rites of passage and creating family rituals to celebrate them,” Freeman says. “This helps tremendously with kids’ self-worth, with peer pressure, and with keeping them from engaging in risky behaviors.”

The article says families are too caught up in celebrating the game of “Rites of Passage Monopoly,” where a child automatically receives rewards and privileges for natural occurrences, such as hitting a milestone birthday like age 13.

Freeman, who is the founder of Positive Parenting and the co-founder of the Connecticut Parenting Education Network, offers a recommendation that parents communicate clearly with their children about what they expect in terms of behavior.

Parents also should establish a benchmark that children can work toward in order to earn a privilege, rather than just having it handed to them, Freeman says.

“Parents should set up a system of things that kids need to achieve that will tell everyone — the parents and the kids — that they’re ready for the privilege.”