News & Announcements

Children Who Experience Family Members’ Trauma at Twice the Risk for Substance Abuse as Adults

Posted: July 28, 2014

We know the effects of childhood traumas like abuse and neglect on later substance abuse. But what impact does second hand trauma have? A study published in the August issue of the journal Addiction shows that when a child under age 15 is exposed to a family member’s trauma (e.g. a parent or sibling being the victim of violent assault or a parent’s cancer diagnosis), that child has approximately twice the risk of struggling with drug and alcohol problems 6 years later.

The data comes from 1.4 million children born in Sweden between 1984 and 1995. Researchers used codes from the Swedish Hospital Discharge Register to discover which of these children had family members that had experienced medical trauma. Specifically, researchers could tell from these codes when a child’s parent or sibling had been diagnosed with cancer, had suffered an injury leading to permanent disability, had been the victim of an assault, or had died. Using these four events, researchers gave each of these 1.4 million children a score from 0-4 roughly representing the amount of secondhand trauma children had experienced while young.

From medical, legal and pharmacy records, researchers could also tell which of these children went on to be diagnosed with substance abuse problems in their 20s.

Of course, the researchers tried to control for all of the many factors that might also cause drug use in populations that also happened to experience childhood trauma. For example, they took into account things like socioeconomic status, drug use in the family, psychological wellbeing, and parents’ education.

What levels of trauma led to what levels of substance abuse? Not only kids who scored a “4” on the scale of traumas, but even kids who experienced one of these secondhand traumatic events had twice the risk of later drug abuse.


Military Suicides up a Bit in 2014; More Seek Help

Posted: July 26, 2014

Suicides among active-duty military have increased a bit so far this year compared with the same period last year, but Pentagon officials say they are encouraged that more service members are seeking help through hotlines and other aid programs.

Pentagon documents show there were 161 confirmed or suspected suicides as of July 14, compared with 154 during the same time frame in 2013. The uptick was among the Air Force and Navy, while soldiers and Marine suicides went down. The documents were obtained by The Associated Press.

While the 2014 numbers are likely to change over time as each death is investigated, the slight increase this year is a reversal in the sharp decline in active-duty suicides last year, compared with 2012.

According to the final report released Tuesday, active-duty suicides dropped by nearly 19 percent in 2013, compared with the previous year, going from 319 to 259. Suicides among National Guard and Reserve members increased by about 8 percent, going from 203 to 220. The AP reported preliminary 2013 numbers in April.

Jacqueline Garrick, director of the Defense Department's suicide prevention office, said in an interview Tuesday that while there is always a concern when officials see the number start to go up again, it's still too early to tell because things could change.

She also noted that while often military suicides spike in the summer months, this year the number has gone down in the last month or so.

Alarmed by the steady increase in suicides over the past decade, military officials in recent years beefed up the number of programs and behavioral health specialists available for troops. Data hasn't found a definitive link between suicides and service members who deploy to warzones, and officials say that more often the deaths are tied to familiar, societal problems such as financial or job stress and marriage and relationship issues.

Garrick said service members are increasingly using the help programs. For example, she said there has been a 25 percent increase in the calls to the military crisis line. And a website for troops — — saw a 500 percent increase in visitors after a suicide prevention program linked to it was publicized in late May.

"Whenever we see people reaching out for help," said Garrick, "That's a win."


Child Well-Being Improving but Poverty Still High, Report Finds

Posted: July 25, 2014

While indicators of child well-being in the areas of health and education have improved in recent years, indicators of economic well-being have worsened, an annual report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds.

According to the 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book (60 pages, PDF), the official child poverty rate declined to 16 percent in 2000 but began rising again in the early 2000s, reaching 23 percent in 2012. At the same time, the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes into account tax credits, food assistance, and subsidies for child care and housing, fell from 27 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2009 before ticking up again to 19 percent in 2012. The report also found that in 2012 the percentage of children whose parents lack secure employment rose to 31 percent from 27 percent in 2008; that the percentage of children living in single-parent households increased to 35 percent from 25 percent in 1990; and that the percentage of children living in high-poverty areas rose to 13 percent from 9 percent in 2000.

On a more positive note, preschool attendance rates have increased by 34 percent over the last two decades, while fourth-grade reading proficiency rates, though still alarmingly low, saw a 7 percentage point improvement between 1992 and 2012; the percentage of children in families whose head of household lacks a high school diploma fell from 22 percent to 15 percent; and, more recently, eighth-grade math proficiency rates and high school graduation rates have improved.

In the area of health, the percentage of children without health insurance declined from 10 percent in 2008 to 7 percent in 2012, a 30 percent improvement. In addition, the report found that the death rate for children and teenagers fell dramatically from 46 per 100,000 in 1990 to 26 per 100,000 in 2012, while the percentage of low-birthweight babies — the only health indicator that has worsened since 1990 — remained stable at 8 percent.


Bringing Mental Health Awareness to the Basin

Posted: July 24, 2014

Losing a sister to suicide was one of the hardest things Kathy Haddock had to overcome. “It's hurtful, it hurts very much but if that story helps to bring families together and people to start talking about these issues then it's going to be worth it,” Haddock said. Monday, Haddock shared her story during the Speak Your Mind Texas event put together by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). 

The event, which was held at Medical Center Hospital in Odessa, is part of a state-wide initiative to discuss mental health issues affecting the community. During the town-hall-style conversation, speakers discussed the warning signs of mental illness and substance abuse and spoke on the resources available to those struggling with mental illnesses in the Permian Basin. “You want to stop that problem early on and the way you do that is to have the community come together and speak about how do we address these problems early,” said Mary Anderson, Regional Medical Director at DSHS. The event focused on teens and young adults because according to Anderson, more than 50 percent of the people that are going to develop mental illnesses develop them by age 14.

“The way to erase that stigma is to talk about ways to prevent mental health problems early on,” Anderson said.

Read more.

Familias Moving Forward on Mental Health

Posted: July 23, 2014

This blog post is written by Mayra E Alvarez MHA, Associate Director, Office of Minority Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, it originally appeared on

I grew up in a large Latino family. On any given weekend, I would find my extended relatives over at our house—the kitchen steaming with food, kids running around, and multiple conversations happening. I had three sisters, but if you counted my aunts, uncles, and numerous primos and primas, we were anything but the average-sized family. I was lucky--I had a number of people to talk to about school and relationships, or worries or stresses I was feeling.

Having a support system of friends and family, especially in Latino families, is a helpful way to alleviate stress and live healthier. But sometimes, friends and family alone are not enough and it becomes necessary to seek professional help.

Within our community, there are often negative perceptions about mental health that can discourage people from seeking treatment. Latino youth have been found to be at risk for higher levels of emotional distress because of the pressures to rapidly adopt the values of their culture as well as inequality, poverty, and discrimination. In the United States, the prevalence of having seriously considered attempting suicide was higher among Hispanic students (18.9%) than whites (16.2%) and blacks (14.5%). The disparity was even more apparent among Latina students who were 1.2 times as likely as white female high school students to seriously consider attempting suicide, even going so far as to create a plan.

To encourage conversations in the Hispanic community and across the country about mental health problems, identifying needs, and helping individuals get treatment, I am proud to spread the word about a new website and toolkit developed by SAMHSA and available in English and Spanish. and en Español have information about prevention, treatment, and recovery from mental health conditions and can help individuals and communities access treatment and resources. The website focuses on the importance of talking about mental health and engaging parents, young people, Latino-serving advocates, and other community leaders in conversations about mental health.



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