Category Archives: Mental and Emotional Well-Being

Dec 3 2014
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Caring for Patients Across Disciplines

Katherine Diaz Vickery, MD, MSc, is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Clinical Scholars program, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School, and a clinician-investigator in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center. On December 5, she will be a panelist when RWJF holds its first Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health. Learn more.

Katherine Vickery Katherine Diaz Vickery, MD, MSc

People who know me–even just a little–know of my pride for my home state of Minnesota. While there are beautiful lakes, biking trails, farmer’s markets, and a ridiculous state fair (that takes special pride in its offerings of various types of food-on-a-stick), there’s something more... Minnesota has been making strategic efforts to improve the health of its communities for many years.

Scholars Forum 2014 Logo

If I could bring you to Minnesota today (bundle up!), I’d show you what I mean by taking you to Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) and specifically to a meeting of the patient advisory board of the Hennepin Health Accountable Care Organization (ACO).

I would introduce you to Jorge, a Mexican-American whose road to recovery from severe depression was paved by his multi-disciplinary care team from Hennepin Health. Jorge might tell you about Susan, the social worker who helped him find transitional housing. Or Lucky, a community health worker who gave him a voucher to get a haircut, a toiletry bag, and helped him find a primary care medical home. And if he really opened up, he might tell you of his career aspirations to take courses to supplement his graduate degree from Mexico and become a family therapist or community health worker. 

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Nov 13 2014
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Addressing the Needs of Female Veterans Who Have Experienced Violence and Harassment

Jacquelyn Campbell, PhD, RN, FAAN, is director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholars program and Anna D. Wolf chair and professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.  Angela Amar, PhD, RN, FAAN, is an associate professor at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University and an alumna of the RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program.

Jacquelyn Campbell Jacquelyn Campbell

As two scholars who have worked in research, practice and policy arenas around issues of gender-based violence for years, we honor our veterans this week by paying tribute to the Pentagon and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for addressing intimate partner and sexual violence among active duty and returning military and their families, and urge continued system-wide involvement and innovative solutions.  

In our work, we’ve heard outrageous, painful stories. One female servicemember explained to Angela why she was ignoring the sexual harassment she experienced. She knew that hearing that she was inferior because she was a woman, being called “Kitty” instead of her name, and having the number 69 used in place of any relevant number was harassing. She knew it was wrong. But she had decided that she would not let it bother her. I can acknowledge that he is a jerk, but I can’t let that affect me.  

Angela Amar Angela Amar

I can’t let his behavior define me as a person. On some level this may seem like an accurate way of dealing with a problem person. However, sexual harassment isn’t just about one obnoxious person. Not telling the story doesn’t make the behavior go away. Rather, it sends the message that the behavior is acceptable and that sexist comments are a normal part of the lexicon of male/female interactions.

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Nov 13 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: EpiPens in schools, suicide prevention, financial incentives for wellness, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni and grantees. Some recent examples:

A study by RWJF Physician Faculty Scholars alumna Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, shows that keeping supplies of epinephrine, commonly known as EpiPens, in schools saves lives, Health Day reports. Epinephrine injections are given in response to life-threatening allergic reactions to food or to insect stings. Gupta’s study found that epinephrine was administered to 35 children and three adults in Chicago public schools during the 2012-13 school year. “We were surprised to see that of those who received the epinephrine, more than half of the reactions were first-time incidents,” Gupta said. “Many children are trying foods for the first time at school, and therefore it is critical that schools are prepared for a possible anaphylactic reaction.”  Forty-one states have laws recommending schools stock epinephrine, according to the article.

Matt Wray, PhD, MA, an RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumnus, writes in Medical Xpress that when it comes to preventing suicides, it’s important to focus some attention on how a person seeks to end his or her life. According to the article, suicide-prevention research has shown that when people who have begun to act on suicidal impulses find that access to their chosen method is blocked, many do not seek out other means. “Most people don’t have a backup plan,” Wray writes. “So when their initial attempt is stalled, the destructive impulse often passes. Moreover, contrary to what many believe, people who attempt suicide more than once are rare. Less than 10 percent of those who survive an attempt ever end up dying by suicide.”

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Nov 12 2014
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Improving Mental Health Care for Veterans is Vital

Ilse Wiechers, MD, MPP, MHS is associate director at the Northeast Program Evaluation Center in the Office of Mental Health Operations of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and faculty with the Yale Geriatric Psychiatry Fellowship. She is an alumna of the Yale Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)/VA Clinical Scholars Program (2012-2014).

Ilse Wiechers

Health and disease are on a continuum.  We are at a point in time where we are trying to understand the constituents of health, whereas historically our focus has been on understanding disease. It is important to recognize that veterans have unique determinants of health not shared with the rest of the population, such as exposure to combat and prolonged time spent away from social support networks during deployment.

These exposures can put veterans at increased risk for mental health problems, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance use problems. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a health care system uniquely positioned to help improve the overall health of veterans because of its expertise in addressing these unique mental health needs.

I have the privilege to serve our nation’s veterans through my work as a geriatric psychiatrist conducting program evaluation for the Office of Mental Health Operations (OMHO) at the VA. My work provides me an opportunity to directly participate in several of the key components of the comprehensive mental health services the VA provides for veterans.

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Nov 10 2014
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To Honor Our Returning Veterans, We Must Address Their Family Needs

Tova Walsh, PhD, MSW, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholar at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Her research focuses on the role expectant and new fathers play in the health and well-being of their partners and children, and the influence of parenthood on men's health and well-being. Walsh has used interview, focus group and survey data to examine the experiences of service members returning to family life after deployment.

Tova Walsh (Veterans Day)

On Veterans Day, we honor the service and sacrifice of U.S. military veterans.  Recognizing that it is not just the individual who serves our country, but his or her entire family, we honor, too, our military families, whose support is essential for our servicemen and women to carry out their duties.

When a service member deploys, partners, children and other family members re-organize their lives to accommodate the physical absence of a loved one. They live each day bearing the burden of separation. When their deployed loved one returns home, they share not only in the joy of long-awaited reunion, but also in the joy and challenges of the extended process of the veteran’s reintegration to home, family and community. The youngest members of our military families are least able to understand or express the impact of these experiences, and yet are deeply affected by these transitions and the accompanying shifts in emotions on the part of the adults who they depend upon for care, love and security.

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Sep 17 2014
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Shifting the Dialogue: Considering Ray Rice and Intimate Partner Abuse

Thema Bryant-Davis, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology at Pepperdine University and an associate editor of the journal Psychological Trauma. Bryant-Davis is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Connections grantee who studies the intersection of trauma and culture. 

Thema Bryant-Davis

The assault perpetrated by Ray Rice, which ended in him dragging his unconscious fiancé, Janay Palmer, off an elevator, has captured wide public attention. Unfortunately, most of the dialogue has focused on blaming and shaming Ms. Palmer and other victims of intimate partner violence for staying in abusive relationships. There has also been an attempt to build sympathy for the perpetrator by questioning whether Rice’s punishment, which went from suspension for two games to permanent dismissal from his team, was fair. The most important questions have received far less attention. Why do abusive partners like Ray Rice abuse their spouses? Why does the public support intimate partner abuse either directly with words and actions or indirectly with their silence? What are the consequences of intimate partner abuse? And how can we stop intimate partner violence?

Partner abuse is an action not caused by the victim’s behavior, substance use, mental illness, or biology (being male).  People choose to abuse their partners emotionally, physically, sexually, verbally and financially to exact control over the person and because they believe they have the right to do so.  

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Sep 12 2014
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Changing the Culture of Health to Prevent Suicide

Alexander Tsai, MD, PhD, is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, a staff psychiatrist in the Massachusetts General Chester M. Pierce, MD Division of Global Psychiatry, and an honorary lecturer at the Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda. He is an alumnus of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program (2010-2012), and a member of the core faculty in the Health & Society Scholars program at Harvard University.

Alexander Tsai

When Robin Williams ended his life last month, his suicide sparked a raft of online and print commentary about the dangers of depression and the need to inject more resources into our mental health care system. I strongly agree with these sentiments. After all, as a psychiatrist at the Massachusetts General Hospital, I regularly speak with patients who have been diagnosed with depression or who are actively thinking about ending their lives.

But what if suicide prevention isn’t just about better screening, diagnosis and treatment of depression? What if there were a better way to go about preventing suicides?

It is undeniable that people with mental illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder are at greater risk for suicidal thinking or suicide attempts. But not everyone with depression commits suicide, and not everyone who has committed suicide suffered from depression. In fact, even though depression is a strong predictor of suicidal thinking, it does not necessarily predict suicide attempts among those who have been thinking about suicide. Instead, among people who are actively thinking about suicide, the mental illnesses that most strongly predict suicide attempts are those characterized by anxiety, agitation and poor impulse control.

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Sep 11 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: Mental health and returning service members, children of incarcerated parents, nurse turnover, more.

Around the country, print, broadcast and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni and grantees. Some recent examples:

When reserve service members return to civilian life, such stresses as marriage and health care problems are more likely to trigger drinking problems than traumatic events that occurred during deployment, according to a study reported by Fox News. When it comes to the “long-term mental health for National Guard members, what matters is what happens after they come home,” said lead author Magdalena Cerdá, PhD, MPH, an RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumna. “Financial difficulties, re-integrating, difficulties accessing quality health care, all of those seem to matter.” But deployment stress also has an impact. “[T]he more traumatic events they are exposed to during or after combat, the more problems they have in daily life when they come home,” she said. RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research recipient Sandro Galea, MD, MPH, DrPH, co-authored the study. Health Canal also reported on it.

An estimated 17.5 percent of newly licensed RNs leave their first nursing job within the first year, and one in three leave within two years, according to research conducted by RWJF’s RN Work Project. Advance for Nurses quotes co-directors Christine T. Kovner, PhD, RN, FAAN, and Carol Brewer, PhD, RN, FAAN. “One of the biggest problems we face in trying to assess the impact of nurse turnover on our health care system as a whole is that there’s not a single, agreed-upon definition of turnover,” Kovner said. “A high rate of turnover at a hospital, if it's voluntary, could be problematic,” Brewer added, “but if it’s involuntary or if nurses are moving within the hospital to another unit or position, that tells a very different story.” Nurse.com also covered the study.

Having incarcerated parents is associated with significant health problems and behavioral issues, and may be more harmful to children’s health than divorce or the death of a parent, USA Today reports. “These kids are saddled with disadvantages,” said Kristin Turney, PhD, author of the study that reached those conclusions. She is an RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumna. “They’re not only dealing with parental incarceration, but also mental health issues.” The study found that having a parent in prison was associated with such conditions as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, speech or language problems, and developmental delays. Turney’s study was also covered by US News and World Report, Salon, Psych Central, Healthline and Mother Jones, among other outlets. 

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Sep 10 2014
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I Am Who I Am Because of You

Faith Ikarede Atte, RN, MSN, is a Future of Nursing Scholar studying for her PhD at Villanova University, supported by Independence Blue Cross Foundation. The Future of Nursing program is a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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There are things in life so personal and private that when one vocalizes them, there is fear of being judged. It was eleven years ago that I had a personal encounter with myself. It is admittedly odd to look back at the path that I have walked on, now overgrown and distant—yet still so close to my heart.

Eleven years ago is when I lost a sense of who I was in the eyes of society, and I had to look within myself to find my footing. It is during this time that I had arrived from Kenya, full of vigor, light spirited and quick to laughter. I was hungry for knowledge and the sky was the limit.

Little did I know that life was about to teach me a lesson. It became obvious to me that my accent was different. Most immigrants can identify with the situation of being different. The more I spoke, be it in class or in a group of people, the more I felt isolated due to reactions like, “What did you say? Speak up.  Your accent is too thick. I don’t know what you are saying.”

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Aug 7 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: The ACA and mental health treatment, HIV training for nurses, the rise of superbugs, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast, and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni, and grantees. Some recent examples:

An Affordable Care Act (ACA) provision that allows parents to keep adult children on their health insurance plans under they reach age 26 has resulted in millions more young people with mental-health and substance-abuse problems getting treatment, according to a study led by Brendan Saloner, PhD. Time reports that over two years, young adults ages 18 to 25 who had screened positive for mental health or substance abuse disorders increased their use of mental-health treatment by 5.3 percent compared to a similar group who were not eligible for their parents’ coverage. Vox and HealthDay were among the outlets to report on the study. Saloner is an RWJF Health & Society Scholar.

Infection Control Today quotes Jason Farley, PhD, MPH, CRNP, on the growing need to train nurses to provide HIV care. An RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar, Farley developed new HIV curriculum for the John Hopkins School of Nursing, where he is an associate professor. “For many years these specialty training programs in HIV have been available for physicians,” he says. “This is the first time we’re offering them to non-physician providers. It’s quite an important development. When you look at data comparing patient outcomes with physician care and with nurse practitioner care in HIV, whether in the United States or in sub-Saharan Africa, those outcomes are the same.”

Magda Cerdá, PhD, MPH, an RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumna, explores the stressors that lead to high numbers of returning National Guard soldiers abusing alcohol, reports Science Codex. Cerda is the lead investigator of the study, which examined 1,095 Ohio National Guard soldiers who served primarily in Iraq or Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009, and found that having just one civilian stressor such as job loss, or legal or financial problems, raised the odds of alcohol use disorders. Medical Daily and Medical Xpress also cover Cerda’s work.

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