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Helping professionals do an excellent job of breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness. However, when we look in the mirror, we are not quite as good at applying those same stigma-fighting and self-compassion principles. There is a tendency for helpers to place the needs of others above their own needs.

We will fight incredibly hard to help others enjoy peace, health and their human rights, but in order to do so we often compromise our own peace, health and human rights. We spend our working days carefully listening to the needs of others, deaf to the screams of our own hearts and bodies. Ashamed of the humanness that has prevented us from living up to the SuperHero image of helping professionals, we are wary of sharing our own stories.

Unwilling to share our vulnerable selves, the stories we do release for public consumption are often so heavily edited the end result resembles little more than a “once upon a time” fairytale. Let’s not contribute to the all-too-common fairytales about what it’s like to work as a helping professional. Instead, let’s talk about how it really feels to face the darkest corners of human life (and death).

Let’s talk about burnout, Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma.

If we don’t, they will become the bogeymen that consume us. My own story of Vicarious Trauma began suddenly in 2006 when I was working as a Child Protection Officer. My ears and eyes were filled with the sounds and images of broken babies. My hands were filled with paperwork and my head was too full, too busy, to do anything except meet the deadlines that came thick and fast from all directions. The bogeyman that bit into me refused to let go and evolved into a full-blown eating disorder.

From 2008 to 2011, I was hospitalised twice and worked hard to heal my body. From 2012 to 2016, I worked hard to find the words I’d buried, match them with feelings, piece it all together and also work up the courage to share my precious story with strangers.

Without a doubt, the research and writing I undertook during those four years were the most agonising and significant steps I took towards recovery. I began by researching anorexia. Up until my mid twenties, I’d enjoyed healthy eating patterns and body image. How was it possible for such a person to suddenly stop eating? I started with the book “Eating Disorders in Adult Women” (edited by Julian Fuchs, 2008) and moved on to the wealth of research from Steven Levenkron.

There were many references to eating disorders stemming from Trauma, but I rejected the theory that my eating disorder was the result of this. Trauma was, I told myself, something that happened to survivors of war or whose lives had been threatened under the most horrific of circumstances. I refused to minimise the awfulness of their experience by including myself within their number.

Perhaps what happened to me was “just burnout”. I pulled out Christina Maslach and referred to her extensive research on the topic. Her descriptions of burnout were familiar but didn’t quite fit my symptoms. Again, there were plenty of references to Trauma. Fine. I piled my bedside table with all the classics on Trauma – Judith Herman, Peter Levine, Babette Rothschild – never believing I’d find myself living within their pages. I did. I knew about Trauma, of course. I’d learned the basics at university and had applied the theories when working with clients who’d experienced domestic violence, sexual assault or childhood abuse.

Reading these books was a completely different experience and everything I thought I knew about Trauma was turned on its head. I read the theories as if I were reading them for the first time. Now, I didn’t just understand the words, I felt them and knew them to be true. Since releasing “Selfless: a social worker’s own story of trauma and recovery” I’ve been privileged to hear many people tell me about their own experiences of burnout, Compassion Fatigue and Trauma.

It’s been wonderful to be part of this burgeoning web of storytelling and it has strengthened me more than I ever thought possible. It’s my dearest wish that my book will start a conversation about how to improve the support we provide to our frontline helping professionals. There is so much more that can be done. Let’s show how much value we place on the essential services they provide.

Kristen Holzapfel is the author of "Selfless" where she writes about her work on the frontline of social work and how, after several years in this relentlessly fast-paced environment, she developed symptoms of Vicarious Trauma. Read more about "Selfless: a social worker's own story of trauma and recovery" at www.kholzapfel.com

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Disability

Colin Kaepernick and How Self Care Must Go Pro

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For years, permanently injured players have been left to figure out how they will financially support their families and how they will carry on with their lives after committing years to football. Currently, the NFL is settling numerous lawsuits from former players who claim that their disabilities resulted from injuries on the field. But that’s not the only controversy stirring in the NFL.

In Fall of 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem. At the time, many believed the media would quickly move on to another more trendy story. Afterall, he wasn’t chanting or picketing. He was simply kneeling. But as weeks passed, white anger slowly unveiled itself, and patriotism took the main stage. Critics saw Kaepernick’s quiet gesture as a radical protest. Yet, he still knelt game after game.

Kaepernick proved his physical ability early in his professional career by leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013. At that time the public didn’t know that Kaepernick had a metal rod placed in his left leg prior to his rookie year. Still, he attended and did well in practices. But in 2015, he injured his left shoulder and would later report injuries to his thumb and knee.

Working with such disabilities would prove challenging to most people, particularly for professional athletes who are required to demonstrate physical grit day after day. When Kaepernick’s scoring record took a hit, questions arose as to whether he was worth his contract. But Kaepernick saw himself as more than just damaged goods. He had something else to offer: a perspective on the value of black lives in America.

By kneeling, Kaepernick demonstrated ownership of his body, a black body that has been endangered for a time that is too long to measure. That is a radical act of self-care. The concept of self-care, for a long time, was viewed as a luxury accessible to an elite few. And, self-care is publicly declaring that your life matters beyond what your performance on the football field.

In a recent interview, Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy said he thinks that Kaepernick was released because he’s not a great player, not because he didn’t stand for the anthem. He added that from the perspective of a team owner, Kaepernick isn’t worth the distraction if he can’t play well. However, star quarterbacks Aaron Rogers and Cam Newton came out in support of Kaepernick. Both stated he should be starting in the NFL, but he isn’t due to his protest of the national anthem.

I’d argue that even when athletes play well, there is a general discomfort with them expressing resistance to racism. They usually are told to stick to the game, proving once again that a working, non-resistant black body is most favorable (and profitable) in this society.

The NFL has a longstanding history of utilizing bodies for financial gain, in particular, black bodies. It is a marketplace for bodies. Bodies that can be negotiated and sold and traded in the name of increasing revenue. I hear sports fans say often that certain teams don’t win because the owners ‘don’t want to spend the money’. However, Kaepernick was recently released from his contract, something for which he seemed prepared.

According to the New York Times, NFL players are becoming permanently disabled after suffering head traumas. Those injuries have caused concussions, dementia, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Now, some players’ wives have created at least one space, in the form of a private Facebook group, where they share their experiences and gain strength from each other as they become caregivers and advocates for men who once were larger than life. I believe that this generation of athletes will begin to demand more than money for play. They will demand the right to safety and self-care, and they will begin to plan for their legacies and quality of life off the field.

Athletes are human and imperfect. For many, they are heroes which must be a compliment, but it must also be a lot of pressure. This next generation of athletes will need to employ a high degree of self-care if they want to have a productive career and higher quality life after retirement.

Athletes inspire us because of their consistency and their unmatched desire to win. I’ve never met an athlete who thought second place was good enough. They want to be the best. Their drive is a metaphor for how many of us want to live our best lives.

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Health

Self Help Tips and Advice For Social Workers

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There is no denying the positive impact social workers have on hundreds of families and individuals throughout their career. They will tell you about the rewarding experiences they have helping others in need. Unfortunately, for every success, there is at least one case in which they could not help. Social workers see the best and the worst of society every day, and even the strongest among us can crack under the pressure. That is why self-care is so important. Being mindfully aware of your needs as well as the needs of those around you can keep you healthy and able to be there when you’re needed.

What is Self Care and How Can You Do It Every day?

Self-care is a practice that becomes a lifestyle. Understand and commit to the idea that it is not something you do once, it is something you do every day. The key is to be mindful and aware.

It is important to be mindful of where you are and what you are doing as you go about your day. Whether you are in a meeting or at the grocery store, notice how you are feeling in the moment. This can range from listening to your body and noticing your state of health to recognizing an emotional situation in your life.

Become aware of your breathing. When we are feeling stressed, emotional, or run down, we forget how to breathe. Our breath can become fast and shallow which deprives our bodies of the oxygen it needs. Pay attention to your breathing and focus on slowing it down. Allow the air to fill your abdomen, not just your lungs. You will find that mindful breathing exercises calms your thoughts, allows for greater clarity, and lessens your anxiety.

Now That You Are Aware, How Do You Improve?

It’s one thing to be mindful and aware of how you are feeling, but doing something about it is another matter. Improving your physical and emotional state requires some life changes as well.

Many social workers have the stress relieving habit of smoking or grabbing an unhealthy snack from the vending machine. It makes us feel like we’re taking a moment for ourselves. Instead of grabbing a cigarette or a bag of chips, try an e-cigarette starter kit or grab a granola bar. This gives you a moment away while making healthier choices through controlling the nicotine and sugar you intake. The idea is not to deprive yourself but to make small changes that will make you feel better over time.

Changing the way you approach daily tasks is another life change that will give you some added peace of mind. For decades we have been taught to multitask but all we’ve learned is how to start tasks but not finish them in a timely manner. By focusing on one task at a time you’ll allow yourself to finish a job before moving onto something else. This creates a sense of accomplishment and boosts your confidence at the job you are doing.

Maintaining Your New Found Awareness

Creating a support system is important when attempting to care for yourself. By relying on your friends and family you are willingly accepting love and nurturing that you simply cannot give to yourself. When meditating on an issue in your life doesn’t result in answers, one of the best things we can do is turn to our support system for help. It’s not necessary to face every challenge alone and often times, they can see from a perspective that you cannot. You may also find that the more willing you are to receive care from others, the easier it becomes for you to provide care for the people you’re working to help.

Self-care is difficult for those who spend their lives taking care of others. By allowing yourself the care you need you will find that it not only feeds your soul but it will improve your ability to care for the people around you.

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Mental Health

National Survey Reveals the Scope of Behavioral Health Across the Nation

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The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report provides the latest estimates on substance use and mental health in the nation, including the misuse of opioids across the nation. Opioids include heroin use and pain reliever misuse. In 2016, there were 11.8 million people aged 12 or older who misused opioids in the past year and the majority of that use is pain reliever misuse rather than heroin use—there were 11.5 million pain reliever misusers and 948,000 heroin users.

“Gathering, analyzing, and sharing data is one of the key roles the federal government can play in addressing two of the Department of Health and Human Services’ top clinical priorities: serious mental illness and the opioid crisis,” said HHS Secretary Tom Price, M.D. “This year’s survey underscores the challenges we face on both fronts and why the Trump Administration is committed to empowering those on the frontlines of the battle against substance abuse and mental illness.”

Nationally, nearly a quarter (21.1percent) of persons 12 years or older with an opioid use disorder received treatment for their illicit drug use at a specialty facility in the past year. Receipt of treatment for illicit drug use at a specialty facility was higher among people with a heroin use disorder (37.5 percent) than among those with a prescription pain reliever use disorder (17.5 percent).

The report also reveals that in 2016 while adolescents have stable levels of the initiation of marijuana, adults aged 18 to 25 have higher rates of initiation compared to 2002-2008, but the rates have been stable since 2008. In contrast, adults aged 26 and older have higher rates of marijuana initiation than prior years. In 2016, an estimated 21.0 million people aged 12 or older needed substance use treatment and of these 21.0 million people, about 2.2 million people received substance use treatment at a specialty facility in the past year.

Rates of serious mental illness among age groups 26 and older have remained constant since 2008. However, the prevalence of serious mental illness, depression and suicidal thoughts has increased among young adults over recent years. Among adults aged 18 or older who had serious mental illness (SMI) in the past year, the percentage receiving treatment for mental health services in 2016 (64.8 percent) was similar to the estimates in all previous years.

“Although progress has been made in some areas, especially among young people, there are many challenges we need to meet in addressing the behavioral health issues facing our nation,” said Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use. “Fortunately there is effective action being taken by the Administration and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with initiatives to reduce prescription opioid and heroin related overdose, death, and dependence as well as many evidence-based early intervention programs to increase access to treatment and recovery for people with serious mental illness. We need to do everything possible to assure that those in need of treatment and recovery services can access them and we look forward to continuing work with federal and state partners on this goal.”

“Addiction does not have to be a death sentence – recovery is possible for most people when the right services and supports in place, including treatment, housing, employment, and peer recovery support,” said Richard Baum, Acting Director Office of National Drug Control Policy. “The truth is that there’s no one path to recovery because everyone is different. And frankly, it doesn’t matter how someone gets to recovery.  It just matters that they have every tool available to them, including peer recovery support and evidence-based treatment options like medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.”

NSDUH is a scientific annual survey of approximately 67,500 people throughout the country, aged 12 and older.  NSDUH is a primary source of information on the scope and nature of many substance use and mental health issues affecting the nation.

SAMHSA is issuing its 2016 NSDUH report on key substance use and mental health indicators as part of the 28th annual observance of National Recovery Month which began on September 1st. Recovery Month expands public awareness that behavioral health is essential to health, prevention works, treatment for substance use and mental disorders is effective, and people can and do recover from these disorders.

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