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Social Work Month – Celebrating Social Workers

Social Work

Social Workers in healthcare are unique from just about any other social work field. Their job is to help our patients and their families navigate the physical, emotional and financial struggles of living with acute or chronic medical conditions. To celebrate Social Work Month, we talked to clinical social worker Yuyuan Zheng, LMSW, who has supported patients at Charles B. Wang Community Health Center at our Flushing site for the past 3 years.

DN: What made you choose medical work in the healthcare field?

YZ: When I decided to go into social work, I did not know that I would end up in clinical social work. What drew me to Charles B. Wang Community Health Center was the opportunity to work with vulnerable Asian American populations. However, when I started, I found that clinical social work is about so many aspects of a person’s wellbeing. We do case management, care coordination, crisis interventions, counseling cases and support groups. I am also much more knowledgeable about medical terms, conditions and diagnosis since working with a range of healthcare professionals.

DN: What is medical social work?

YZ: A social worker that works in a healthcare setting collaborates with a medical team to best serve their clients. We work alongside family members, doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists and more to ensure our patients are receiving the spectrum of care that meets their specific needs. Most of the medical social workers at the Health Center have a masters degree in social work and are NY State licensed social work practitioners.  Much of my job is coordinating the whole team to support the medical, emotional and social needs of our patients and their families.

DN: What is the population of clients and patients that you serve, and what are their needs?

YZ: The majority of our patients are low income, uninsured patients that face language and cultural barriers to accessing medical care. Some of our patients are undocumented. Many of the patients have specific needs—like cancer support, chronic disease management, home care, or other issues like needing support for emotional and financial hardships. Some patients are referred to me because they are domestic violence victims, because they become disabled due to chronic medical conditions, or because they are kids with special needs requiring extra support and resources.

DN: What are challenges in working in medical social work?

YZ: I am always learning how to be a better communicator! Communication can be challenging. Every person on the medical team has their own perspective on the needs of a patient. When I say medical team, I also mean the patient and their family.  I have to work hard to reconcile the perspectives of each member of the team. For example, a patient may not communicate with the doctor about his home care needs.  I have to be a patient advocate, but also communicate to a patient what the team believes is best for them. At the end of the day we all want the same thing—what is best for the patient.

DN: Can you tell me about a rewarding experience as a social worker at the Health Center?

YZ: There are too many. My job is very rewarding. I recently received a phone call from a patient who has been struggling with years of depression but had never sought out help. She wanted to cancel her initial appointment with me. She sounded a little bit hesitate over the phone, and I simply identified her feelings and said to her, “I hear you are a little bit nervous. I just want to make sure, are you OK?” She ended up meeting with me, and expressed that it was my caring approach that gave her the courage to seek help. She is now receiving the correct treatment and care she needs, and is feeling more hopeful. This patient made me feel that my job is really important and meaningful. It reminded me to always take that extra step with our patients, because you never know what you say or do that may change a person’s life!

Thank you for being an incredible support to our patients, Yuyuan. Happy Social Work Month!

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A Call for a Better Mental Health System

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Written by Teddy Chen, LCSW, PhD

Most social workers have a few clients that leave an impression. They change your view on mental health, and the system, and motivate you to stay in the field to make it a better place for them.

The first time I saw her was at a community hospital’s psychiatry clinic where I worked as a social work clinician. She was a new patient who just started showing signs of a mental disorder. She was amongst a group of non-English speaking immigrant patients, but she stood out—she was a student of an Ivy League university with a passion for art and architecture.

I saw her again in a clinic recently, more than twenty years later. Her hair had turned gray and she is now a middle aged woman. Her speech is disorganized. Her mood is labile. She is angry with the voices she hears that frequently criticize her. She is confused and scared by people surrounding her on the streets that she thinks is trying to hurt her. She does not trust even her own family. She cries and screams hysterically when she is upset. She complains that she cannot find a quiet place to live. The evil illness has devoured this once bright young woman.

When I listen carefully, it is clear that her passion to study art and architect is still intact after two decades. Actually, she has spent the past twenty years hanging around campuses and libraries. She continues to pursue her dream ineffectively while the rest of the world sees her just another ‘mentally disturbed’ person.

Just like all of us, most of the victims of mental disorder have dreams they want to pursue. Because of the negative impact of their illness on their brain, the challenges are daunting. And the rest of us are not helping. I have met a psychiatrist who told me his story of being diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was in his teens. We at times see that success for schizophrenia is possible. But most of the victims of mental disorders are just forgotten by the society. One million Americans with serious mental disorder are not even getting treatment. We continue to let patients enter jails and prisons, or we leave them at the street corners or the morgues. We, as a society, need to do a better job.

The country is paying huge human and financial costs for not caring for the millions of Americans with mental disorders. We need better scientific research and knowledge to understand and to treat mental disorders. We need better attitudes towards people who suffer from mental disorders. Being a social work clinician and seeing patients day in and day out, I have a hard time distinguishing mental disorders from human suffering. Is the severe depression of a seriously abused woman just a medical condition, or a result of suffering in her life? Is treating the symptoms of her depression with the best medication enough?

I believe we need a mental health system and professionals that takes care of the entire person, not just the disease and symptoms. This is the mental health system that I and my team strive for.

Written by Teddy Chen. Teddy Chen, LCSW, PhD, is a New York State licensed clinical social worker, and the director of the Mental Health Bridge Program at the Charles B. Wang Community Health. The Bridge Program is a nationally recognized service model of providing total healthcare by integrating mental health with primary care.


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Managing Holiday Stress

HS 3

It is the most wonderful time of the year! And sometimes, it is also the most stressful. Make the most of this special season, and try our tips to manage the stress that often comes with the holiday.

Gift giving

  • Create a budget and stick to it! Be creative, and consider making homemade gifts.
  • If you have too many people on your list, start a family or friend gift exchange. Here is a great site on how to organize a gift exchange.
  • Ask people what they want instead of spending too much time looking for the perfect gifts. Ask your family and friends to create a wish list on Amazon this year. (If you shop through Amazon Smile, you can support the Health Center with every purchase you make. Learn more here.)

Getting together with family and friends

  • Being a host can be incredibly stressful and costly. To lighten the load, ask your family and friends to bring their favorite dishes. Accept when your guests offer to help you clean up.
  • Manage your time and expectations. It is okay if you cannot do all that is on your list, or visit all the people you hope to see during the holiday season. If you feel that you will not be able to visit all the people that you love, you can tell them that you will visit them after the holidays.
  • Remember to enjoy yourself! Sometimes there are so many places to go and people to see that we forget to enjoy time with our loved ones. When the holiday tension sets in, be intentional about doing something light. Take time to play games, make a craft or cook a meal together.
  • Take a break. Step away and take a walk when you are feeling overwhelmed. If you are visiting several places during the holidays, make sure to allow time to relax between visits.

Beat the holiday blues

  • Volunteering can be incredibly rewarding. It will remind you of the spirit of the holidays.
  • Be active to help with your mood. Take a walk, dance, or check out activities at your local community center.
  • Celebrate, even if you are alone. Do something that you love to do or eat foods you most enjoy. Do something a little bit out of the ordinary and special during this season, just for you.

Whatever you are celebrating, we wish you a wonderful and healthy holiday!


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Coping With Stress and Anxiety

Written by Sook Yee Yeung, LCSW

Mental Health is often negatively associated, stigmatized, and misconstrued—this can be particularly true in Asian communities. It is important to understand that our mental health is vital in maintaining our overall health. When we neglect to do so, we may fall prey to daily stressors, have difficulty coping, and can even become physically ill.

How does stress and anxiety affect your body?

When we are faced with stressful situations and do not know how to cope in healthy ways, our bodies may react with a wide array of negative symptoms. These can be physical—like headaches, dizziness, heart pounding, sweating, frequent urination or diarrhea, shortness of breath, poor sleep, tremors, twitches and muscle tension.

There are, of course, a range of emotional symptoms as well, including being easily annoyed or irritated, unable to sit still, trouble relaxing, feeling tense and jumpy, unable to stop worrying, and difficulty concentrating.

How can I manage stress and anxiety?

Everyone deals with stress, and many people live with anxiety. There are many practical ways that we can improve the way we cope. Here are 5 things you can incorporate into your daily life to best manage stress and anxiety.

1. Have a regular to daily exercise routine. Exercise is a huge stress reliever and mood booster. Try walking, jogging or even dancing for 30 minutes a week for a start.

2. Get Enough Sleep. A lot of times when we are stressed, our body is actually telling us that we need more rest and sleep.

3. Eat well-balanced meals. Foods that are high in fats and sugars often leave us feeling lethargic and less able to deal with stress. Also consider limiting alcohol and caffeine intake. Alcohol and caffeine can greatly impact our sleep cycle, which in turn can heighten our fatigue and stress levels. They can also aggravate symptoms of anxiety and trigger panic attacks.

4. Take a time-out. You can do this through meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and massage therapy. These activities will help your body to produce endorphins—a chemical which our bodies produce as a natural painkiller.

5. Talk to someone. Talking with trusted family members and friends about your stress and anxiety can help a great deal to relieve stress. It is also helpful to speak with your medical doctor or a therapist if professional help is needed. If you are a patient of the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, we have licensed professionals who can provide you with the right treatment, which could include medication and/or counseling. Call us to make an appointment at (212) 941-2213.

Written by Sook Yee Yeung, LCSW, is a New York State-Licensed Clinical Social Worker with the Mental Health Bridge Program at Charles B. Wang Community Center. She provides mental health related treatment and services.


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World Suicide Prevention Day – How Can You Help?

 WSPD

Written by Teddy Chen, LCSW, PhD and Cho Ru Weng

Suicide is one of the most challenging public health problems that we face today, both as a society and as individuals. Its effects are devastating, not only to a victim’s family and friends, but also to entire communities. Suicide prevention is a goal essential to our pursuit of public health.

How big is this issue? The World Health Organization (WHO) and International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) say that over 800,000 people die of suicide every year, and the number of people who attempt suicide is likely to be 20 to 50 times greater. In NYC in 2012, intentional self-harm was the 9th leading cause of death for Asian American Pacific Islanders.

Many people who have attempted or died by suicide had underlying mental health conditions that were unrecognized and so were left untreated. Understanding, identifying and treating these disorders is crucial to suicide prevention.

Suicide is preventable.

This year, the theme of World Suicide Prevention Day is ‘Suicide Prevention: One World Connected’, which is the idea that connections are important at several levels if we are to combat suicide.

On a global level, events that raise awareness and encourage large-scale interventions—such as World Suicide Prevention Day—are great steps towards suicide prevention. As a Health Center, we promote connectedness and communication between doctors and mental health providers. We work as a team so that mental illness can be identified by healthcare providers, and patients are given the care they need, when they need it.

Finally, there’s you.

How can you help?

Reaching out to a person who you think may be contemplating suicide can be frightening. You may think that by bringing up the topic of suicide, you will tip someone over the edge. You may be afraid that suggesting professional help will offend them or drive them further away. It’s easier, most times, to just avoid the issue altogether, and hope it blows over or goes away.

The truth is, social isolation can make a person more vulnerable to suicide. By learning to recognize the signs of mental illness, reaching out to offer friendship and support to those who are suffering, and encouraging them to seek help as needed, you may help to save a life.

Whether you are seeking help for yourself or for a friend or family member, there are resources available out there. Doctors can help to evaluate the severity of mental illnesses and provide referrals to appropriate treatment. Hotlines for mental illness and suicide prevention, such as Lifenet and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, are available at any time. For urgent help, the hospital emergency rooms are equipped to provide immediate evaluation and care.

We hope that today, our community takes time to reflect on our connectedness, and how simply reaching out can make a big difference for someone who may really need it.

Written by Teddy Chen and Cho Ru Weng. Teddy Chen, LCSW, PhD, is a New York State licensed clinical social worker, and the director of the Mental Health Bridge Program at the Charles B. Wang Community Health. Cho Ru Weng is studying psychology at the University of Rochester, and is a senior care management specialist in the Mental Health Bridge Program at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. The Bridge Program is a nationally recognized service model of providing total healthcare by integrating mental health with primary care.


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Bullying Hurts. How to Help Your Child Stand Up and Speak Out.

bullyingWritten by Selina Yang

Watching your children succeed in school is rewarding. What happens when your child dreads going to school? There could be a few reasons why children would rather not be at school, especially after summer fun. In case it is more than the back-to-school blues, it is important to be aware of the under-recognized yet wide-spread social issue of bullying.

Bullying can take place in various forms—physically, emotionally, psychologically, and now, takes place more and more online (it’s called cyber bullying). The truth is, bullying can affect your child’s health and academics. Children who are bullied are much more likely to experience depression and anxiety, substance abuse, and decreased academic achievement.

Watch this video to get an insight into the world of bullying. This short film was created by Project AHEAD interns to bring to light the effects of bullying.

 

Bullying can be an especially devastating problem in the Asian American community. With a combination of cultural values, stigma, and lack of knowledge on bullying—Asian American kids may be less likely to report bullying. Many wouldn’t think that name calling and teasing are serious behaviors of bullying. Also, being bullied is sometimes viewed as being weak, which makes reaching out an incredibly difficult thing to do.

How do you know if your child is being bullied at school?

Sometimes is hard to tell if your child is being bullied or not if they do not tell you. However, there are some signs you can look out for. Keep an eye open for unexplained injuries; unexplained loss of belongings; fear of going to school; if your child is suddenly sullen and withdrawn; or if they lose interest in things they once enjoyed.

So what should you do now?

There are ways that you can help your child prevent bullying.

  • If your child is bullied on the way to school, choose a different route or ask someone to escort them.
  • If the bully is taking your child’s belongings, tell your child not to bring valuable things to school.
  • If bullying is happening online, suggest that your child block the bully. Do not erase threatening messages, pictures or texts, since they are evidence if needed.
  • Help your child act brave! Advise them not to fight back to avoid trouble and so no one gets hurt. Advise them to stay calm, walk away and ignore the bully. It is always best to leave the situation and tell an adult.
  • If you worry about your child’s safety, tell your school teacher or principal, or report to the police. Get a written record of the incident.

And whether or not your child is a victim of bullying, encourage them to safely stand up and speak out against bullying. Want to give them some tips on this? Show them this video.

Written by Selina Yang. Selina is studying Biochemistry at Stony Brook University, and has an interest in medicine and public health advocacy. She was a 2014 Project AHEAD intern at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center.