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    t3 Threads: Changing the Conversation

    Gloria Dickerson

    Gloria Dickerson
    Gloria Dickerson is a Recovery Specialist at the Center for Social Innovation. Her expertise in recovery derives from academic training and lived experience of recovery from trauma, mental illness, and homelessness. Gloria received a B.S. from Tufts University and has completed master’s level studies in Instructional Design and Psychiatric Rehabilitation.

    Recent Posts

    Making the Case for Peer Providers

    Once a person is assigned a stigmatizing label, they are often seen as “less than” and in need of fixing for the remainder of their lives. Members of the larger society often see individual recovery as only partially effective or non-existent. These erroneous conclusions do not go away--no matter how successful or how accomplished the individual may be. These views can be mitigated by the inclusion of peer providers in various key roles.

    Peer providers help employers, colleagues, other peers, and services users by example. They use their recovery experiences to make systems of care more focused on the needs of individuals. Peer providers increase the effectiveness of efforts to eliminate stigma in medical and behavioral health care settings.

    Calling for a Public Health Approach to Trauma Awareness

    Why a Public Health Approach? There are many reasons to learn about the impact of trauma and untreated trauma on individuals, families, and communities. Trauma and untreated trauma are common in all socioeconomic groups and are often misunderstood. For example, people experiencing opioid addiction, other substance use conditions, mental illness, and homelessness may shy away from treatment because of stigma in communities and treatment settings.

    The symptoms of trauma and its under-treatment are evident more and more everyday. Early childhood and adult trauma are implicated in the onset of addictions and the comorbidity of post-traumatic stress disorders and mood-related psychopathology.

    Supporting Parents in Recovery

    The number of parents in recovery from mental illness, trauma, homelessness, and substance use is unclear because there is no standardized national data collection.This lack of data leads to a huge gap in service delivery to a sector of the population who is raising children.

    This can be remedied by screening and assessing parents across our health care system to identify needs for specific education and support services--particularly in areas of mental illness, trauma, homelessness, and substance use. This would give families a good chance to receive critical support services to keep them intact and healthy. Children could escape the isolation and helplessness that comes with living with a parent who is ill, but without treatment. Interventions could occur before children are neglected or abused.

    To Providers Who Do their Best: Thank You!

    I often write about relationships between providers and people they serve. It is very easy to look at services and write about what is wrong and what needs fixing. However, I do think that there are more respectful and caring providers and agency personnel than not.

    As a young adult, I was homeless. I had been in and out of hospitals and was discouraged about my chances of being successful in therapy. My moods were all over the place, and I was having intrusive memories. I was trying very hard to find housing. I showed up for appointments. I was so scared and angry at the possibility of being turned down that my intolerance for disappointment was reflected in my attitude. I was anxious and certain that no one wanted to help. 

    Recovery Benchmark: Sustaining Relationships

    Recovery outcomes are valued goals of services throughout the nation. Relationships that empower and encourage choice and self-direction are hallmarks of all activities that support recovery. 

    It is a beautiful Sunday morning. A friendly visitor is coming to my house today. She is a young person studying at a university in Boston. I am looking forward to our meeting. She is just starting out in life. I am in the older stages of life. When we are having coffee, I realize we are speaking the same language. The generation gap is not evident in our communications. She reminds me to be energetic and hopeful. She makes me laugh. She is a bright spot in my day. I trail off in my thinking…I wish I had family and children in my life. I am alone most of the time. I actually like my company, but occasionally I lament that along the path to recovery I did not construct my own family. I realize the importance of relationships and quality of life in promoting recovery.

    Providing Quality Minority Mental Health Care

    Research on “health care disparities,” the euphemism for unnecessary deaths and adverse outcomes among people from low socioeconomic groups and from communities of color, often attribute them to individual characteristics and structural barriers within mental health systems. Most often an individual’s use of services as well as the way services are arranged and delivered are cited as causes.

    I want to begin by commenting on what is going wrong and then discuss what is hopeful in the provider-client relationship. Although research is taking place, there is little agreement about best practices and ethical standards in minority mental health care. The issues of staff bias, racism, institutional racism, prevailing practices, and methods of prioritizing who gets time and attention are omitted from the discussion. Also, questions of discrimination that stem from preconceived notions and racial profiling of African American people and/or questions of how stigma influences medical decisions are absent, if not actively avoided, in discussions of healthcare disparities.

    Trauma Therapies Support Enduring Sense of Safety

    Trigger Warning: Trauma re-enactment

    I am 65 years old and a trauma survivor. When I entered therapy, I was labeled as having an adolescent adjustment reaction. Years later, the mental health label was changed repeatedly—from schizoaffective disorder to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression and then later to dissociative identity disorder, paranoia, and bipolar disorder. It was clear to me that my trauma symptoms determined the diagnosis. I wanted a cure and a reduction of my symptoms, instead of a variety of methods to merely manage them.

    My commitment to making therapy work was matched by the efforts of my therapist. She is a learner spirit and as tenacious as I am. Even so, it has taken a lifetime to arrive at an enduring sense of safety and freedom from the daily derailing of my consciousness by the intrusion of trauma memory content. Therapy changed as new knowledge of the impact of trauma emerged. I wondered if there was a way to combine therapies to improve the quality of my life and speed recovery.

    Elder Homelessness: Acknowledging the Need and Responding

    We see the need almost every day. As we move through our daily routines, we encounter people who are experiencing homelessness. Occasionally we will drop change in their cup or walk on the other side of the street. On any particular day, we may be on our way to Starbucks or to the grocery store when we notice a person who is experiencing homelessness. We sadly lament…it is horrible that a person is elderly and homeless. We stop and think about the horrors of homelessness, especially for elders. Then we continue on our journey...

    Elders in Recovery: Locked in Poverty and Out of a Home

    With over 50 years of mental health recovery, I was flourishing. In my mid-fifties, I had my first full time job in years. I was working using knowledge and experiences from academic training and my personal recovery. I felt secure in my ability to overcome life challenges. I was proud of the effort I invested in my recovery and my work with a group of knowledgeable and passionate folks helping others overcome the challenges of homelessness, mental illness, trauma, and substance abuse.

    Trauma among Physicians: Healthcare Implications

    Too often, trauma research focuses solely on impact on patients in health services—especially people who experience mental illness, trauma, substance use disorders, and homelessness. We need to expand the research questions to include the following: How does trauma impact physicians and what are the implications for their relationships with patients?

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