Saturday, January 29, 2011

This Week: Help is a Phone Call Away

"It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are." - e.e. cummings

We often associate youth with a healthy appetite for life. In these moments, which we’ll eventually refer to as the good ol’ days, we have an unwavering devotion to not only having fun, but ambitiously pursuing our goals.  While these characteristics can often lead to a fulfilling 80+ years on Earth, the pressure of maintaining a social life and thriving career is often a major source of stress, which can easily lead to depression. While we know “everyone’s dealing with it”, sometimes that reassurance is not enough to quell the feelings of being overwhelmed. In 2007, both the CDC and the National Institute of Mental Health cited depression as a major risk factor for suicide, particularly among young Black males. 2008 studies showed that rates had again started to rise, when the previous level of stability was reached in 2003 after a sharp increase in the '80s and '90s. In 2008, you may have heard about a 19-year old named Abraham Biggs, who committed suicide by overdosing while a populated chat room watched via webcam.  You would think that as students, (as individuals between ages 15-24 usually are) who have access to free or discounted health care services on campus, we would have no problem combating depression and other mental illnesses. Suicide rates should be low among our age-group, because we have such ease of access to care, right?

Wrong. The stigma associated with mental illness sometimes causes an even bigger barrier to healing than does access to care. The African-American community has an especially negative outlook on mental illness, which could spur from a number of different cultural influences. Dr. Annelle Primm, deputy Medical Director for the American Psychiatric Association, once cited the religious and spiritual center among many African-American families as a barrier to acceptance of mental illness. There is an association of an inability to deal with depression and sadness with a lack of faith. A large challenge for Black males is a heavy emphasis on masculinity; with the struggles that African-Americans face on a day-to-day basis as a minority population, Black men often serve as the impervious guard for the community. Seeking counseling is often seen as a sign of weakness.

By 2008, rates of completed suicides were still higher among males, while suicide attempts were more common among females. Whites and blacks leveled out in the rate of suicide among males.  I found no CDC or other major health institution reports on suicide more current than 2008. A lack of current literature on the topic may mean that the rates of suicide have leveled off or begun to decrease, as another increase would likely spur more research into the issue. I still consider it highly important, however, to continue to market that mental health counseling is nothing to be ashamed about. The CDC recommends using this website to search for inpatient and outpatient mental health counseling. Growing up is hard enough- if you or someone you know need to, seek help so you can continue to pursue your dreams, and live a happy and healthy life. There's a lot to look forward to, and we'll be looking back on the good ol’ days soon enough.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

Saturday, January 22, 2011

NBC4 Annual Health Fair

The Washington Convention Center was jam-packed last weekend for the 18th annual NBC4 Health and Fitness Expo. I paid a visit to the event and got to speak with BPHSN President Chi Chi Anyanwu about her experience. I was pleased to see a huge turn out from the community. The line for free HIV screenings spilled into aisles between participant booths, and the dance floor was packed as visitors exercised to music played by Majic102.3.

The annual event usually offers DMV residents an opportunity to get valuable health information, donate blood, and learn more about improving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. There were a wide range of activities, including a blood donation center, a table providing information on Alzheimer's, and even a teeth whitening booth, just to name a few. There were also a number of seminars and interactive workshops for community members to improve their efficacy at various health behaviors. Top Chef Spike Mendelsohn was demonstrating how to make pizza at home, as I made my way to the exit.

Chi Chi, who worked the table for a non-profit org named WomenHeart said, "it was a tiring, but fun experience. It was great to be able to see our volunteers in action and educating women on the importance of protecting their heart health. We reached over 1000 ladies that weekend. It was amazing!"

BPHSN Volunteers on MLK Day 2011

Usually, MLK Day revolves around three very important things: remembering the man and honoring his legacy, actively engaging in and improving our community, and of course, no school! This year, BPHSN took advantage of their day off to accomplish the two most important traditions, by volunteering at the New Community for Children, located on Rhode Island Avenue and 6th St. NW. 

The event was organized by Greater DC Cares, the largest coordinator of volunteerism in the region. Every year, the more than 750 non-profits and over 24,000 volunteers participate in various service initiatives in and around the District. BPHSN joined the ranks on Monday, January 17 to help re-paint the children's community center. After clearing out the space, the DC Cares and BPHSN volunteers livened up the walls with fresh coats of bright-colored paint. 

Before any sprucing up began, the event coordinator spoke briefly to the volunteers. He encouraged them to "temper power with love." The volunteers all seemed to echo those sentiments through action, as they worked tirelessly into the afternoon, despite the cold weather and occasional splashing paint.

BPHSN took the time on Monday to answer what Dr. King once posed as life's most urgent question: what are you doing for others? Once that was taken care of, all that was left to ask was...where's lunch?!

For more pictures, and info on BPHSN events, visit!/group.php?gid=12450053382

This Week: Can't We All Just Get Along?

Many of you saw a vote for repeal, and resurgence of Republican opposition for the Affordable Care Act coming. However, you might have missed the shoes, bricks, and foul language thrown at both Republican and Democratic legislators who support health care reform. In 2010, just after the bill passed, a brick was thrown into a Niagara Falls representative’s office, and another shattered a window in the Democratic party headquarters in Rochester, NY. Last March, a Tucson-based Democratic representative’s office window  was destroyed only hours after she voted in favor of the bill. Now, Gabrielle Gifford is in Houston, about to begin rehabilitation after surviving a gunshot wound to the head on January 8th.
             It’s unfortunate to hear these stories, especially when they're juxtaposed with stories about those who this reform benefits. For example, pre-term infants born with chronic lung disease are currently guaranteed insurance because companies are unable to deny coverage due to a “pre-existing condition.” Medicare recipients, like Paul Horne who received a $250 rebate check to help cover his prescriptions once the bill passed, are desperate for someone to keep fighting for the Affordable Care Act. Democrats posit that mandating health insurance for all Americans will ultimately save the government money and reduce the deficit. Republicans argue that these conclusions were drawn from false financial reports from the Congressional Budget Office, and that the bill will ultimately put America in more debt.  

Regardless of which side of the aisle you’re pulling for in this debate, remember to also root for civility, compassion and, especially, for common sense. Rhetoric has been toned down, even if only slightly, for the sake of progress.

This time around, we can only hope that the vandalism and threats are kept at a minimum. The real fight needs to exist within the confines of the Capitol building, with lawmakers using only their pens, Pages, and valid arguments as weaponry. 

For more information on what the Affordable Care Act means to you, visit Read the facts, pick a that order!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

This Week: "...It's Who You Know"

January 2011 marks the 10th annual National Mentoring Month, so proclaimed by President Obama just before Christmas last year. Studies* show that both one-on-one and academically-centered mentoring increase college attendance and retention, knowledge of career opportunities, and mentees' self-esteem.

I spoke with Dorothea Parker, the program director for D.C.'s Child Family Life Services (CFLS) Volunteer Mentor Partnership. Mentors are paired with foster youth aged 6-21 years of age, and are committed to a year of service with their mentees. It's an activity-based program, where mentors take their mentees on outings for a total of 4-6 hours a month. Most of the hours are spent exposing the mentees to things that they may be interested in, but have never had the chance to experience. This Christmas, when Dorothea was making rounds to visit various foster families, she delivered gifts to mentees, some of whom told her that it was the first Christmas present they'd ever received. She also told me the story of a young man, age 15, who was ecstatic to bowl for the first time at a group outing for the mentees. By taking mentees to meet professionals in careers in which they've expressed interest, or to auditions for plays, the mentors facilitate personal and professional growth.

In February, Dorothea will enroll at least 25 new kids into the program, all of whom she'd like to match with an appropriate mentor.  No matter the race or creed, any one who is willing to make the time commitment  is encouraged to contact CFLS. Dorothea noted that gender plays a critical role in matching mentors and students. The issue is not so much safety as it is the ability to relate. For example, some of the young ladies in the program are facing pregnancy, and it's obviously easier for a young woman to talk to a female mentor, because she can more readily relate to, or empathize with, that experience.

January 25 is Thank Your Mentor day. We are encouraged to not only personally thank our mentors, or share a tribute online, but to pass on what we've learned and become a mentor to someone else. So, I implore you, DMV readers, to contact Dorothea Parker at, or by phone at 202-247-0511. And, readers across the country, you're not exempt- there are plenty of ways to get involved, which you can find here. Remember, in this world it's not just about what you know. So, do your part to guide others toward success. "Help them get there. Be a mentor!"
“Ultimately, happiness rests on how you establish a solid sense of self or being. Happiness does not lie in outward appearances nor in vanity. It is a matter of what you feel inside; it is a deep resonance in your life. To be filled each day with a rewarding sense of exhilaration and purpose, a sense of tasks accomplished and deep fulfillment- people who feel this way are happy. Those who have this sense of satisfaction even if they are extremely busy are much happier than those who have time on their hands but feel empty inside.” – Daisku Ikeda