Community Voices, part of the Satcher Health Leadership at Morehouse School of Medicine, will hold this year's event at the Marriott Buckhead in Atlanta, on Thursday, October 7th. In workshops, top experts will discuss how to better secure options for people in need of substance abuse treatment; providing effective mental health care in communities of color; and ensuring that ex-convicts have access to public benefits that will ease re-entry into their communities.
We have identified these issues as some of the most significant challenges faced by communities of color, especially as unemployment and its related stress increases in minority communities. At the same time, city, state and federal responses to these issues are on the decline as government at all levels cuts back on social services following the recession.
What it means is that families and community-based organizations must do more than ever to ensure healthy outcomes in their neighborhoods. The Freedom Voices Conference will provide information to help accomplish that goal by leading discussions on innovative approaches to these issues:
Securing Options To Deal With Substance Abuse
A decision to get treatment is a major step for someone with a substance abuse problem. We need to ensure that the individual has our full support, while recognizing that successful treatment doesn't happen overnight. In fact, there may be some intermediate steps necessary before actual treatment of the abuse can begin. This could include a detoxification program, or even physical or mental rehabilitation. This is crucial because there is likely to be some kind of withdrawal as the individual tries to stay sober. Here is where family and friend support is badly needed, but many people will also require professional care to make the transition from the addiction to sobriety.
There are a variety of options to get proper treatment for addictions. Most programs are either residential where the individuals actually live at a facility for a period of time, or outpatient where treatment is offered, but individuals return to their own residences each night. It's important that a professional evaluate the individual and the right program is selected. Everyone involved must recognize that it is difficult to break an addiction. It takes time; and it takes effort not only by the individual but by family and friends who support the individual.
Providing Effective Mental Health Services
When many people think about mental health treatment, we often envision one-on-one sessions with an individual lying on a couch talking with a psychiatrist or people locked up in institutions. But the reality today is that both models are outdated. There are fewer large facilities, and innovative approaches are far more community based.
The Group Health Research Institute is a leader in innovative approaches to treating mental illness, with an emphasis on patient-centered care.
Here are examples of new approaches that they have developed:
* Flexible psychotherapy programs delivered by telephone
* Depression programs tailored to patients with co-occurring health conditions (diabetes, heart disease, obesity)
* Using new communication technologies (Internet, e-mail) to make care for depression and bipolar disorder more convenient
* Integrating peer support with professional treatment for mood disorders
* Broadening the focus of mental health treatment from symptom management to recovery
* Activating mental health patients to be more knowledgeable and assertive consumers
Clearly our challenge is to bring these innovations to communities of color, where often people with mental illness go undiagnosed until it is too late.
Providing Public Benefits To Ex-Convicts
Over the last 30 years, communities of color have been devastated by anti-crime strategies that have focused on expanding the list of felony offenses and mandatory minimum sentences. The streets are filled with ex-convicts, who in many cases were first incarcerated for drug-related offenses or other non-violent crimes. But the prison experience has turned many into hardened criminals, who are back on the streets without the tools, skills or desire to be rehabilitated. The data is stunning: 12 percent of African American men in their twenties are incarcerated in jails or prisons, compared to 4 percent of Latino men and 1.6 percent of white men.
With such large numbers of ex-convicts in our communities, there must be more emphasis placed on creating successful re-entries and that starts with ensuring that ex-convicts can obtain public benefits.
Some jurisdictions, such as New York State, have successfully enacted legislation that has broadened benefits and opportunities for ex-convicts. New York has enacted laws that reinstate Medicaid benefits to ex-convicts after they are released from prison; eliminate excess fees associated with collect calls from inmates to their families; and ended automatic disqualification of individuals with criminal records when applying for licenses to barber or practice cosmetology. Communities must advocate for similar laws to be enacted around the country.
Dr. Henrie M. Treadwell is director of Community Voices at Morehouse School of Medicine, which works to improve health services and health-care access for all Americans.