News & Announcements

Black Gay, Bisexual Men Have Much Higher HIV Infection Rates: BROTHERS Study

Posted: August 19, 2012

A study of black gay and bisexual men in six U.S. cities found HIV infection rates that were 50 percent higher than among their white counterparts, and rates were even higher for men under the age of 30 in the same community. The study by the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) is called HPTN 061 or the “Brothers” study.

The study, conducted between 2009 and 2011, enrolled a total of 1,553 gay and bisexual men from six cities: Atlanta, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Most of the men identified themselves as black, and while not all identified themselves as gay or bisexual, they were having unprotected sex with men. The team tested all of the men for HIV infection, and referred those who were infected to get treatment. They continued to follow those who were not infected for a year, and found that overall, 2.3 percent of the men in the study became infected with HIV, a rate 50 percent higher than white men who have sex with men.

The numbers were more startling when the researchers looked at men under the age of 30. In these men, 5.9 percent were infected with HIV at the end of the study period, a rate three times higher than white men who have sex with men.

The study also highlighted the problem of high infection rates and low testing rates. Of the men in the study who had not been tested for HIV or did not know their status, 12 percent had positive tests at the start of the study.

A webinar was held on 15 August 2012 to review the study results, view the webinar slides.

Read more on the Medline Plus website. Read the Emory University press release.

Mobile Health Vans Care for Alameda’s Homeless with Serious Mental Illness

Posted: August 18, 2012

The walking wounded wander the streets of Alameda County. They are people who are homeless and live day to day in public parks and shelters. They are people in need of support for mental health issues and drug and alcohol addiction. And says Addie Brown, they are also one of the most difficult groups of patients to treat. Brown would know. She oversees the operation of the Mobile Health Services Van headed by the Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless Program (ACHCHP). The van travels throughout Alameda County serving approximately 160 homeless individuals each month. A team of healthcare providers, including nurse practitioners and social workers, provide no-cost primary care and support services, such as counseling and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

“Over the years, we’ve saved a lot of lives. A lot of clients come with conditions that would have gone untreated had we not gone out there. We’ve been able to help them with their medical issues and getting them hooked up to the appropriate clinic, or doctor, or specialty care,” Brown explained. But despite the mobile team’s success in treating the homeless over the years, there has been a growth of patients with untreated mental health conditions and drug and alcohol addiction.

Not altogether surprisingly, Brown says these patients often fail to follow through with their medical referrals and go on with their lives — untreated. “Those are the hardest clients to work with and the hardest clients to get a positive outcome with because of their struggles with mental health and substance abuse,” Brown said. Gerald Walker, a mental health specialist from Alameda County Behavioral Health Services Agency, counsels mentally ill patients and helps them seek proper treatment. While he cannot treat them, he can refer them to the appropriate care. “Part of our job is to teach them to become better patients,” Walker said. He described the van’s mentally ill patients as “treatment resistant individuals,” because it is up to them to decide if they want to get treated for their conditions. “They haven’t come to a point where they want to admit that they have a mental illness,” said Walker. “It’s almost impossible to treat someone who is telling you that the problem does not exist.

Even with the current challenges, Walker remains optimistic and points to Alameda County and the state of California’s current push to combine behavioral health care and primary care in treating patients. “We are a few steps ahead of many others because we … realized that this has been a problem for a really long time. We’ve been putting systems together that can address that,” Walker explained. Still, the systems do not support all patients equally. “In Alameda County right now, we have a pretty strong system of care for people that have a serious mental illness,” said David Modersbach, Director of ACHCHP. “That could be something like schizophrenia or very severe depression or other sometimes organic mental illnesses. However, persons that have a low acuity mental illness such as depression, anxiety, personality disorders — these mental illnesses don’t qualify them for low cost care.”

Read more on the KQED Public Radio website.

Tribal “Wellness Court” Uses Native American Culture to Assist Addiction Recovery

Posted: August 17, 2012

A “wellness court” in Minnesota uses Native American ceremonies and other cultural activities to help people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. The court is a partnership between the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and two counties in northern Minnesota. The program targets people with chronic substance abuse problems, Minnesota Public Radio reports. The wellness court is similar to drug courts. The voluntary program offers structured supervision and rehabilitation for participants, who are non-violent repeat drug and alcohol offenders. The average length of the program is 24 months for felony offenders, and 18 months for those with gross misdemeanor offenses.

One participant featured in the report must attend weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and wellness court meetings every other week, and answer to a probation officer. Program staff can require drug and alcohol testing at any time. Court sessions are held jointly by both tribal and county judges, who receive updates on participants’ progress. Family members are encouraged to become involved in the process. The program has helped participants find housing and jobs, and has reunited some families.

While some tribal leaders initially were skeptical of the program, they realized it gives tribal judges the opportunity to sit in a courtroom with county judges, as equals. The tribal judges have a direct say in the outcome of cases involving their members.

According to some estimates, as many as 60 percent of the reservation’s tribal residents are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. Almost every family is affected. While Ojibwe people make up 12 percent of the population, they usually account for almost half of the county jail population.

Read more on the Partneship for Read more on the Minnesota Public Radio website.


University Clinic Offers Low-cost Counseling to Central Texans: Collaboration Key in Spreading Word

Posted: August 16, 2012

Texas AM University-Central Texas is helping fill the need for low-cost mental health services through its community counseling facility. The Community Counseling and Family Therapy Center, at the university’s North Campus on Witlow Drive in Killeen, provides a number of counseling and therapy services. Individuals, families, adults and children can get help with depression, stress management, communications skills, marriage counseling, conflict management and other mental health issues.

Costs are based on a sliding scale, allowing access for those who would normally not be able to afford them. “There’s a growing need for these kinds of services, and we are here to try and help address that,” said Ida MacDonald, the university’s director of counseling services and a licensed professional counselor. “We hope the center will be able to collaborate with other partners in the community to help address the issue.” The center held its grand opening in February. Since then, the center has provided services to about 80 people, MacDonald said.

The challenge for the center now is to let people know they are available to help. “It’s one of those cases where people don’t really think about where to get the services until they need it,” MacDonald said. “It’s important to have the information out there so people know where they can go.” Part of the process will be working to develop partnerships with local organizations who can refer potential clients to the center. MacDonald said the center already has a referral agreement with the Bell County Adult Probation office. “(The center) has opened the door for a lot of collaboration,” she said.

The center not only provides counseling and therapy for the community, but is also a training facility for graduate students in the university’s Department of Education and Psychology.

Read more.

Childhood Poverty, Stress Induce Mental Disorders in Adolescence

Posted: August 14, 2012

How we spend our childhood and the experiences we gain at a tender age stay with us for the rest of our lives. A new study has linked childhood adversity to chronic stress during teenage years, which could cause many a physical and mental health issues. According to the study, the more time spent during childhood in poverty, the greater the risks the children are exposed to and this is linked to increased markers of chronic stress by the time the children are 17. The study is titled Poverty and Health The Mediating Role of Perceived Discrimination and was published online in July in Psychological Science.

For the study, the researchers quizzed 173 children about their family income and exposure to such risks as housing conditions, family turmoil and violence. Children's blood pressure, overnight levels of stress hormones and body mass index were measured to assess physiological changes, known as allostatic load, which are associated with chronic stress.

"While prior work has shown that childhood poverty is linked to elevated chronic stress, as indicated by allostatic load, this study adds two critical ingredients: We demonstrate this in a prospective, longitudinal design which makes the evidence stronger, and we show that the poverty-allostatic load link is explained in part by low-income children's exposure to cumulative risk factors," said lead author Gary W. Evans, the Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of Human Ecology in Cornell's College of Human Ecology in the press release. "In other words, one reason why poverty leads to chronic stress is because of the confluence of risk factors poor children encounter," Evans said. 

According to the authors, all the risk factors put together can add up to levels of stress which could cause damage to the developing brain of the children. Along with physiological damage this can cause disorders in children later in life. "Poverty often leads to chaotic circumstances that make it more difficult for children to get what they need to develop optimally," Evans said. "Chaos makes it difficult to sustain predictable and increasingly complex exchanges between caregivers and the growing child. Furthermore, this chaos occurs across many of the settings in which the children's lives are embedded, such as neighborhoods and schools."

Read more on the Counsel & Heal website. Read the abstract of the study.

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