Martin has been living on the streets for a number of years. As the case manager responsible for helping him obtain housing, I had concerns about his ability to manage in an apartment of his own and knew that he would need support. However, Martin wanted his own apartment, and ultimately, it was his decision, not mine.
New Year’s is here, and with it come your New Year’s resolutions. Like a whisper in your ear from a better version of yourself, New Year’s resolutions are more often carried out for awhile and then ignored as time passes. But, that is not a reason to avoid them entirely. Much like the concept of avoiding your primary care provider to ensure that you never hear what’s actually ailing you - never setting new goals means you’re destined never to fail, right? That’s wrong. I don’t mean to be patronizing, but some failure is inevitable, so don’t undermine your drive to become a better person just because you’re afraid to fail. Let’s call it long-term self-care.
For those living in the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice on December 21 marks the longest night of the year. It has been marked by a rich history of gathering and revelry. Communities traditionally came together to keep a spark of hope alive for a new and brighter tomorrow--literally and metaphorically.
Today, in cities across the country, the Winter Solstice marks a different sort of gathering--one of remembrance, respect, solidarity, and responsibility. We remember those individuals, children, mothers, daughters, sons, and fathers we lost to homelessness and poverty--those we failed to help.
I am affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short. Ironic as it may seem, SAD tends to make me sad. It affects my mood, my motivation, and my ability to focus.
What is the cause of this yearly disturbance? It’s related to the change in seasons. As autumn progresses, the sun shines more directly over the Southern Hemisphere, until it reaches December 25, when it begins to make its way slowly back toward the equator and the Northern Hemisphere. This scientific phenomenon is the reason why the sun does not rise quite as high in the fall and winter as it does throughout the rest of the year. Lasting darkness causes my seasonal depression and lethargy.
When I was a kid, my parents would trick me into an earlier bedtime by reminding me that when it was dark outside, I should be asleep. Now at 26 years old, I just feel depressed during the darkest months of the year. It’s hard to wake up because it’s still dark outside. My office doesn’t get much natural light, so I’m sleepy all day. And, the sun begins to set before or during my commute home. Thus, I’m sluggish, mildly depressed, and my diet shifts radically toward fatty, salty, comfort foods.
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.
World AIDS Day--recognized every year on December 1 since 1988--is an occasion to reflect on the global impact of HIV and AIDS and health care inequities across world populations. On this day, HIV/AIDS organizations around the world affirm their commitment to eliminate stigma and expand testing and treatment to people living where rates of HIV and AIDS remain high.
The U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator--Ambassador Deborah Birx, M.D.--asserts, “We will only end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 if no one is left behind. It is unacceptable that key populations still face stigma, discrimination, and violence, which impede their ability to access quality HIV services.”
This year, the U.S. is working to control an epidemic in Scott County, Indiana that has a higher incidence of HIV than any country in sub-Saharan Africa. Austin--the county seat with a population of 4,200--has more cases of HIV than all of New York City. In this small, rural county, the forces of poverty, addiction, and politics drove an injection drug problem to cause the first-known HIV outbreak related to the current opioid crisis in America.
Have you ever watched an infant play? I mean really observed them? Try it some time, and while you watch, contemplate this...
At birth, we have 100 billion neurons, most of which are not connected. Infants form 700 new neural connections every second – tens of thousands of pathways that literally build the architecture of their brains. Through their senses and their relationships, they come to know the external world, and their brain begins to build the systems to understand it. The attention they receive (or don’t) from their primary caregivers, stimulation they receive from their environment, stress they experience and the responses to that stress by those around them reinforce or prune away at their neural connections and promote or hinder cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development.
Right before my eyes, I have seen the numbers of people asking for money increase in New Bedford, MA. Seven years ago, you might have seen two or three people a month. Now, there are four at a single intersection every day.
You may ask, how do I interact with these individuals? Do I give money, or will they just spend it on drugs and alcohol? Do I provide food? Do I put my head down and pretend I don’t see them at all? Are they even homeless? Am I being played? Depending on whom you ask, you will most likely get a different answer. The Center for Social Innovation and t3 have a wealth of knowledge about homelessness. So, I asked my colleagues, what do they do when someone asking for money approaches them? There were many different opinions, but five patterns arose.
I recently spent my day writing final project reports. I wrote about how our project helped one state place peer recovery coaches in hospital emergency rooms to support people recovering from opioid overdoses. Another state expanded supported employment opportunities for transition-age youth. Several states created training and credentialing programs for peer recovery support specialists to help people enter and sustain recovery from mental health conditions and substance use disorders. Another state is re-examining and re-engineering their entire behavioral health crisis response system. We helped a U.S. Territory experiencing a substance use crisis take steps to establish their first-ever recovery community organization. We brought together adults in recovery with family members of adults with behavioral health disorders to discuss ways to improve supports for people in crisis.
As more of us explore ways to manage and respond to the stresses of everyday living, it can be helpful to look at approaches others have taken. One approach I have found helpful is mindfulness. Mindfulness can improve one’s physical, mental, emotional, and social health and well-being.
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is the act of purposefully paying attention to what is happening in the present moment without judgment. I have read many articles about self-care and mindfulness and very few offer examples of how to incorporate mindfulness-oriented activities into everyday living, besides doing yoga – which isn’t something I, personally, enjoy. After thinking about how I try to be more mindful in my daily life, I have come up with three personal tips I find helpful: