Friday, May 25, 2012

Suicide Prevention

Suicide causes more than 37,000 deaths in the United States each year and is devastating to family, friends and communities.  SAMHSA estimates that for each person who dies by suicide, 5 to 10 other people are severely affected by the loss.  The end result is that hundreds of thousands of people are affected by suicide each year.

Youth are the most at risk for suicide, but it affects people of all ages.  To date, it’s the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds, with gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents in grades 7 through 12 more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as heterosexuals within the same age range.

There is a critical need for suicide prevention efforts and to help those in crisis.  Below are tips from SAMHSA about how to help someone who may be considering suicide:
  • Allow the person to express his or her feelings without passing judgment or acting shocked.
  • Listen, and don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong.
  • Be direct and get involved. Talk openly and matter-of-factly, showing interest and support for the person at risk.
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy – seek support and professional help for the person at risk.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available.
  • Get help from people or agencies that specialize in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
For more information or to help someone who may be considering suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255.)  The line is open 24 hours a day through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Monday, May 7, 2012

National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day

May 9th is SAMHSA’s National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.  SAMHSA's "Caring for Every Child's Mental Health" was originally created in 1994 with the mission of increasing awareness around children's mental health issues.  

Visit for information about the Awareness Day national event in Washington D.C., which will be held on May 9th. The event will include an exhibit from the American Art Therapy Association, a tribute program to children who have demonstrated resilience after traumatic experiences, and a Special Recognition Award ceremony, which will honor artist, advocate, and Awareness Day National Event Honorary Chairperson Cyndi Lauper.

You can watch the live webcast of the event at from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., EDT, on Wednesday, May 9, 2012.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Addiction Treatment and Las Vegas, Perfect Together?!

Recently, I traveled to Las Vegas to attend the annual, national conference on the care and treatment of opioid addiction held by AATOD (American Association of the Treatment of Opioid Dependence). It was a huge gathering of some of the most important and influential addictions professionals, counselors, medical personnel, and other entities involved in the overall treatment of this population. I know what you're thinking... "How could you travel to Vegas and not invite me?" I know, I know. Next time.

You are probably also thinking... "Addictions conference? In Las Vegas? Really?" It's okay, we got this response quite often. Even if a person wasn't comfortable enough asking the question outright, I certainly could tell it is what they were thinking. The stares and pensive looks were enough. Yes, it is ironic, no doubt. To be surrounded by excess and clear addiction in many forms (substance use, gambling, shopping) while upstairs discussing these very topics was surreal indeed.

Yet, somehow it makes sense. Vegas is a vast land of extremes. Everything is exaggerated beyond all realistic representation. Gluttony and capitalism to the tenth power. Vegas represents (with casino credit, show girls, and glitter) what most people think and feel about addiction. Anyone is allowed to have a few wild nights, along with endless alcohol, drugs and sexual exploits, so long as "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas". Vegas is where denial was born and now thrives. Leave your secrets in the desert. No one will know.

Our culture views addiction in this exact way. Those who have the money and ability to live it up in Vegas and then immediately return to the status quo are the only ones allowed to use drugs and alcohol. Those who can't handle the sweet seduction of all things Vegas are "bad, sick, damaged, wrong, and sinful." It is their problem and they deserve all the consequences that go along with using drugs. They certainly do not deserve any help in any way. They brought this on themselves.
Being in AATOD within the Sin City demonstrated the clear divide between drug use and drug treatment in our culture. We welcome the use of substances, so long as a person can keep it to themselves and not bother anyone (or even be the life of the party). The moment it becomes a problem and a person seeks treatment, now this same person is undeserving of our help. It is a sad reality since drug and alcohol addiction is a disease. If our society viewed it more as the true disease that it is, and embraced the true care and treatment of this disease, there would be far less negative consequences of use.

Keynote speaker William White articulated this phenomenon powerfully. He stated, "We know addiction is a chronic disease, yet we continue to treat it like a broken arm." Addiction is not about having a person stop using and be done. No, there needs to be a comprehensive approach to treatment that includes family involvement, addressing mental health issues, past history of trauma, HIV risk and treatment, intimate partner violence, housing, employment, finances, and many others. In many instances, a person may turn to drugs and alcohol as a reaction to a past (and/or current) traumatic situation. Substances can be very powerful coping mechanisms - just ask anyone walking on the Vegas Strip after a night of partying! When a person takes steps to reduce or eliminate the use of substances, the memories of abuse may come flooding back. These nightmares and real memories can be debilitating and terrorizing. The fear of the memories could be a reason why people do not "get clean" or why they tend to relapse. In instances like this, we cannot blame the person for being "weak" or "immoral" or "criminal". This person needs further care and treatment to develop healthier coping skills to deal with the fear and pain. Yet, since our culture does not view substance use in this way, this person only gets a band-aid, not the full surgery he may need.

We have a lot of work to do. Our culture devalues those with an addiction of any sort. We frown upon anyone doing anything in excess ... even in Vegas.

Yes, there is hope. This conference exemplified the hope and inspiration we all have and all need to improve how our society treats those with addictions. More awareness is being raised about this disease, especially with more and more people coming out with their struggles. People are beginning to realize that denial is not enough. Denial is not working, even in Vegas. It's not so easy to just leave our worries on The Strip and pretend they don't exist. We all need to face this disease, show compassion to those who are living with it, and treat it comprehensively.

Next year the AATOD conference will be held in Philadelphia. Okay, it may not be the most glamorous setting, but it may just be a little more real.

Elizabeth Lombino