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Cohen Offers Perspective on Mental Health Facilities

Social Welfare Professor David Cohen provided context and history in a CNN report assessing the veracity of President Trump’s comments linking gun violence to the closure of mental health facilities. “They closed so many — like 92% — of the mental institutions around this country over the years, for budgetary reasons,” Trump said. Cohen clarified that, since the mid-1950s, about half of the nation’s psychiatric facilities have closed and the number of residents in state mental hospitals has fallen from about 550,000 to about 100,000 today. The facilities closed in an effort to “deinstitutionalize” the mentally ill by placing them in less restrictive environments — not because of budget cutbacks, he added. But many patients were left with nowhere to go. “Society after World War II discovered a new passion to solve social problems and include the excluded, and all sorts of institutions — including orphanages, institutions for mentally retarded persons, homes for unwed mothers, youth detention centers, etc. — were phased out, with their residents often in effect kicked out from where they had lived for years,” Cohen said.

Research by Abrams and Barnert Earns Distinction

A study co-authored by Laura Abrams of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and Elizabeth Barnert of the Geffen School of Medicine has been honored as a “highly commended paper” by the 2019 Emerald Literati Awards, which recognizes top-quality scholarly research. The study, published in the International Journal of Prisoner Health in 2018, found that children placed in juvenile detention centers, jails or prisons before their teenage years are much more likely to experience serious physical and mental health issues as adults. More than 20 percent of people who had been incarcerated as children reported poor general health in adulthood, compared with 13 percent for those incarcerated later in life and 8 percent for those never incarcerated, Abrams and Barnert found. The research points to a need for targeted health care for those incarcerated at an early age and calls into question the wisdom of detaining the youngest minors in juvenile halls, probation camps and other facilities. Abrams is professor and chair of Social Welfare; Barnert is a medical doctor and assistant professor of pediatrics. Their collaboration bridges the fields of child health and juvenile justice.


 

Latinx Conference Seeks to Break Down Borders

The student-led Latinx Caucus at UCLA Luskin collaborated with the Council on Social Work Education to host the 17th Annual Latinx Community Conference: Breaking Down Borders, Más Allá de la Frontera. The April 27 event brought together social services professionals and scholars to discuss issues facing the Latinx community, focusing specifically on immigration. “Immigration permeates every level of service, and without considering it holistically while also considering it within our specialties, we risk taking on a limited understanding of this complex social concern,” said MPP candidate Kassandra Hernandez, one of several student organizers. The event started with a blessing circle, followed by an address by Dean Gary Segura. Beth Caldwell MSW ’02, a professor at Southwestern Law School, gave the keynote address. Caldwell’s most recent research explores the consequences of deportation to Mexico with an emphasis on deportees who grew up in the United States. The daylong conference covered a wide spectrum of topics relating to the experiences of the Latinx community. Experts led workshops on mental health, educational barriers, domestic violence, LGBTQ issues, and the deportation of immigrant youth and families. Conference attendees enjoyed entertainment by the Mariachi de Uclatlán group during lunch and Changüí Majadero during the evening networking reception. Historically, Social Welfare students have taken the lead on organizing the community conference; this year, the scope was broadened to encourage full participation by Public Policy and Urban Planning students, as well.

Conference photo gallery available on Flickr:

Latinx Conference 2019


Santos Sees Developmental Science Through Intersectional Lens

Social Welfare Assistant Professor Carlos Santos is the co-editor of the latest publication of the journal New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development. Santos, who recently joined the UCLA Luskin faculty, is also a co-contributor to the special edition titled, “Envisioning the Integration of an Intersectional Lens in Developmental Science.” With a background in developmental psychology, Santos notes that he “adheres to the belief that developmental phenomena must be studied across diverse disciplines and perspectives,” and this project draws on the “largely interdisciplinary interpretive framework of intersectionality” — a view underscoring “how systems of oppression overlap to create inequities,” including heterosexism, racism, ableism or issues affecting those who are undocumented. His research has focused on gender and ethnic identities, stereotypes and their impacts on social adjustment, mental health and educational outcomes among adolescents and young adults in communities of color. Citing the relative lack of an intersectionality lens in the developmental sciences, Santos and co-author and editor Russell B. Toomey designed the publication to bring together developmental scientists who are actively incorporating intersectionality scholarship into their research. Each of the contributors was asked the following question: How can an intersectionality perspective inform the developmental phenomena of interest and particular developmental theories you draw upon in your area of research? “A lot of this piece is grappling with how to reinvent all of this to better capture the ways in which oppressions overlap. I really feel committed to that goal, to better understand that.”

Carlos Santos

Kaplan Discusses CDC Report About Suicide Rates Rising Across U.S. 

New CDC figures documenting the growing rate of suicide may not reflect the full scope of the problem, said Mark S. Kaplan, professor of social welfare at UCLA Luskin. Many suicides are actually classified as ”accidental deaths,” Kaplan, a noted suicide prevention researcher, told WebMD. “Some are classified as unintentional self-injury when, in fact, if you take a closer look, they look more like suicide,” he said. “The true incidence of suicide is unknown.” Kaplan said the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009 contributed to what he terms ”deaths of despair” by suicide. Some people, he said, never recovered economically.


 

Festival, Panel Focus on Food Security Issues  

UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Food Studies Certificate program hosted a Food Week festival and panel discussion on food security issues on Oct. 26, 2017. “Harvesting Change: Fostering Partnerships for Food Security” was held on the 3rd Floor Commons of the Public Affairs Building and included food, games and information booths. The event segued into a panel discussion hosted by Urban Planning alumna Jessica McBride MURP ’14, founder of Open Silo and project manager for three6ixty. Fatinah Darwish, a program manager at the L.A. County Department of Public Health, Nutrition and Physical Activity, talked about county efforts to reduce food insecurity by increasing inter-agency coordination among government, healthcare and non-profit organizations. Mental health expert Rhea Holler, Ph.D., spoke about the shame and feelings of failure often experienced by people who are unable to afford food for themselves and their families. UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow Rick Nahmias, founder and executive director of Food Forward, talked about his organization’s history and its ongoing efforts to repurpose surplus food from fruit trees, farmers markets and other sources to provide hunger relief in Southern California. Attendees also heard from Frank Tamborello of Hunger Action LA, which is working to end hunger and promote healthy eating through a variety of advocacy, direct service and organizing efforts that benefit Los Angeles residents. Access a Flickr gallery from the event below.

'Harvesting Change' festival

Getting an Early Start on Social Welfare Lessons Master of Social Welfare graduates share advice with incoming UCLA Luskin students who will be serving vulnerable clients and populations

By Stan Paul

Even before the fall quarter had begun, the new class of first-year UCLA Luskin Social Welfare master’s students was already learning the lessons that will become the foundation of future careers in social work.

“Ten years ago I was sitting exactly where you are,” said Tara Chandler MSW ’09, now a social worker in mental health care, as she and a panel of recent Luskin grads shared practical advice about their roles as mandated reporters for the children, families, senior citizens, dependent adults and others they serve as professional social work practitioners.

The seminar for the incoming cohort of Social Welfare students was one of two half-day sessions designed to help students understand the role of social work and their mandated obligations when working with clients and families, said Michelle Talley, a field education faculty member at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs who works with first- and second-year students.

Joining Chandler were Luskin Social Welfare alumnae Bridgette Amador ’11, Aiyanna Rios ’08, Malena French ’11 and Jolene Hui ’11, all of whom have moved up to positions as administrators and supervisors “in record time,” Talley said. In addition, Hui, who spoke on ethics and confidentiality issues, is director of membership for the California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, which governs the School’s MSW program, Talley said.

Session topics included mandated reporting of child abuse and elder abuse, domestic violence, suicide, and related legal responsibilities. The idea is to support students who had already begun internships a month before school begins, Talley said. “This is to help students, as they may encounter issues directly or indirectly at their placement,” she said, explaining that students participate in several modules to help them understand complex social justice issues.

The new cohort brings a broad range of experiences to the programs. On average, most of the students have one to three years of experience — either as volunteers or working in a service capacity, Talley said. This includes participation in research studies on adolescent and social anxiety, working with children and older adults, as well as working with a mental health agency providing case management services. Some of the students come from careers in teaching or law, or even as a behavior specialist, working with children with special needs and their families.

For UCLA Luskin student Tina Nguyen, who will be interning in a mental health setting in Los Angeles, the sessions served as a helpful refresher.

“For people who have worked with children or in mental health, you see that daily, so what they are talking about is very effective,” said the Orange County resident who has worked with children and adults in a nonprofit organization.

First-year student Brian Stefan said he was encouraged by the alumni presentations and plans to use his MSW to continue working in suicide prevention, outreach and education in the Los Angeles area. The L.A. native has had previous experience as a volunteer and a staff shift supervisor for a suicide prevention center. Stefan has also done volunteer work as a co-leader for a grief support agency and for the L.A. Mayor’s Office Crisis Response Team.

“The speakers sharing their passion and commitment to the social welfare field is inspiring,” Stefan said. “It’s amazing how much can be done with a Master of Social Welfare [degree] at UCLA.”

 

New Study Examines Effects of Stopping Psychiatric Medication UCLA Luskin School professor co-authors report showing that more than half succeed in discontinuing usage of drugs

Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according to a new study.

A new study shows that while long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals dealing with problems like severe withdrawal effects.

While 1 in 6 Americans take a psychiatric medication for serious mental illness, there is little research on people’s experiences coming off the drugs. In the first large-scale study in the United States on this subject, Live & Learn, Inc., in partnership with researchers at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, UC San Francisco and New York University, began to fill this knowledge gap. Study findings are now available online in Psychiatric Services, a journal published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Surveying 250 long-term users of psychiatric medications who had a diagnosis of serious mental illness and chose to discontinue use, the study found that more than half succeeded in discontinuing usage, despite having little professional support while experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms including insomnia, crying and diarrhea. The majority of survey respondents cited the main reason they attempted to quit centered on health risks of long-term use and side effects.

Of the study’s respondents, 54 percent managed to stay off psychiatric medication for at least one year, with few reporting relapse or re-hospitalization. Eighty-two percent of those who discontinued use reported being “satisfied” with their choice.

“People stop taking their psychiatric medications whether or not they find the drugs helpful, and they do so at all stages of the medication experience — days, weeks, months, or years after taking them,” said David Cohen, professor in Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin and a co-author of the study.  “This study is novel because it asks questions about stopping to take medications from the consumer’s point of view.”

Many industry-funded studies have asked patients why they stop taking their medications, but typically with a view to increase compliance, according to Cohen. By contrast, this study asks consumers what they experienced while coming off drugs, who helped them make and carry out their decision, and whether they were satisfied with their attempted or completed discontinuation.

“Over 70 percent of our study sample had taken medication for more than a decade; however, these individuals reported having little to rely on when discontinuing except the internet and social support in order to endure withdrawal. Limiting access to care through cuts to health and psychosocial services can only make that situation worse,” says principal investigator Laysha Ostrow, founder and CEO of Live & Learn, a California-based social enterprise that provides research, technical assistance and knowledge translation services to behavioral health systems. “Most were working with a provider at the time but did not find them helpful in the process. However, even though it was often complicated and difficult, the majority who were able to come off medication completely were satisfied with their decision to do so.”

Cohen said that there are still plenty of challenges for researchers who are examining this topic.

“There’s a lot of work to do to understand how people come off medications and how to help them do so safely, especially when they’re taking several psychiatric medications simultaneously,” he said. “This study didn’t use a probability sample. Though it very carefully selected the 250 respondents, most with over 10 years’ history of taking medications, it should be a priority to confirm or modify these findings with a probability sample.”

The study was funded through a grant by the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care.