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Tip Sheets

Journalists and experts have written about covering patient safety and presented discussions on the topic at AHCJ conferences and workshops. This is a collection of the most useful and relevant tips. Click the title of the tip sheet that interests you and you will be asked to login because these are available exclusively to AHCJ members.

Amid upheaval, a Black mental health crisis and surge in requests for care 

October 2020
A spate of police and vigilante slayings of unarmed African Americans and a global pandemic that has hit Blacks especially hard is fueling a surge in the number of Blacks seeking mental health counseling, including persons who never before have sought such care.

While there’s no firm data on the number of seekers, clinicians say they have plenty of anecdotal evidence. That uptick in Black patients represents a chipping away at many Blacks’ long-held stigmas against securing mental health care. Their doubts, in part, have been grounded in a belief that personal resilience — built up since slavery — will carry them through a mental health crisis.

That uptick is spotlighting  anew the nation’s longstanding shortage of Black psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers. It also has ramped up questions of how well-prepared White clinicians, filling in gaps in a mental health workforce, are to handle Black patients.

Older adults and mental health during COVID-19 

Photo: Elvert Barnes via Flickr

September 2020
We know the elderly are the most vulnerable to becoming ill and dying from COVID-19, but don’t yet fully understand the emotional toll of the virus on this population. It’s prompted The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry to call for more research into the mental health effects of the pandemic.

Retrospective studies of the 2003 SARS epidemic found that rates of suicide among older adults spiked during that time. It’s urgent to study the mental health effects of COVID-19 on older adults in real time so any adverse impact can be anticipated and minimized, according to geriatric experts.

Get more background, statistics and a list of experts to help inform your reporting on this important topic.

Tips on covering mental health during the pandemic 

June 2020
It will take a while to learn all the ways the pandemic has affected the nation’s collective and individual mental health. But there are resources journalists can use now to begin teasing it apart and reporting on it. The tips and resources below all relate to covering the pandemic’s mental health impact, whether it’s coming up with story ideas, best practices for mental health reporting or learning about what past medical research has shown about pandemics and mental health.

Covering alcohol and drinking responsibly 

February 2020
Deaths related to alcohol – about 88,000 a year – exceed overdose deaths from all other drugs combined, including opioids. But news organizations almost never cover alcohol as a public health epidemic on the scale of that seen with opioids or gun violence.

Alcohol is often perceived as an “acceptable” drug in U.S. society, and journalists are complicit in maintaining that dangerous perception as well as many other misconceptions about the drug.

Tip sheet examines scholarly approaches combating dental fear   

January 2020
Why are people afraid of the dentist? That was the question that three British researchers sought to answer in a recent review of internationally published studies on dental fear, dental anxiety judgment and dental phobia. 

The answer to the question is complicated, the reviewers found. Dental fears may be traced back to a variety of sources, including frightening early dental visits, anxieties transmitted by parents and other role models, traumatic experiences unrelated to dental care and personality traits that may make some people more vulnerable to anxiety, according to studies that were reviewed. 

Older adult mental health peer specialists: Providing a path to recovery  

June 2019
The World Health Organization reported that between 2015 and 2050 the global population of individuals over the age of 60 is expected to jump from 12% to 22%; in actual numbers that means an increase from 900 million to 2 billion people.

Aging may mean a decline in physical and/or mental health. In a 2010 article, then-U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., asserted that mental and physical health in older adults is inextricably linked, but that some providers fail to recognize symptoms.

Phyllis Hanlon explores a program that trains older adults to act as behavioral health specialists and wellness coaches. These peer specialists learn to work with older adults who have physical and mental health problems that might include normal aging, cultural competence, anxiety, depression trauma, substance use and others.

What you should know about delirium in older adults

July 2018
Delirium is among the most common mental disorders seen in older adults, with more than 7 million hospitalized Americans suffering from the condition each year. It is associated with many complex underlying medical conditions and can be hard to recognize. It can also be life threatening, especially for the elderly.

Liz Seegert explains the risk factors of delirium, how family members can spot it and programs established to prevent the condition. She includes contact information for sources and experts, as well as a number of story ideas.

Responsible reporting on suicide

June 2018
When reporting on suicide, it’s important not only for reporters to have reliable data but also to be conscientious about the language and tone they use.

Suicide is one of the unique topics in which the very reporting of it can influence how much more frequently it happens, so simply doing your job as a journalist has the unfortunate potential to influence the news itself in this scenario.

These tips are a quick-and-dirty list from the World Health Organization’s guide, “Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Media Professionals.”

What you should know about hoarding disorder

March 2018
We have all read stories of houses so cluttered that emergency personnel can’t enter to rescue a fire victim or help someone in need of urgent medical care. There are reality TV series revolving around the problem of hoarding. While it may make for sensational stories, hoarding, particularly among older adults, is a growing public health issue, often requiring intervention by social service agencies, police, fire departments and mental health professionals.

Find out more about what hoarding is, risks associated with it and treatment options.

No more drinking whiskey and rye: Alcohol use disorders and older adults

November 2017
While previous generations were more likely to have had ready access to alcohol, baby boomers had easier access to alcohol, and other substances, such as marijuana, cocaine, crack, and prescription medications. Some people developed lifelong habits and disorders, and some reached late life with their substance use disorders intact.

Janice Lynch Schuster points out that alcohol addiction and alcohol use disorders among the worrisome trends in substance abuse among older adults. She reminds journalists who cover issues of addiction and treatment that even 85-year olds can have addiction or dependency problems. However, because of their age, substance abuse, whether from alcohol, opioids or other substances, may be mistaken for other health problems like cognitive decline or confusion.

Mental health needs of aging prisoners is a fruitful area for coverage

November 2016
All but a relative handful of incarcerated persons in the United States go home. But those sentenced to longer – if not lifetime – prison stays mainly account for an increasingly older population in state and federal correctional facilities.

While the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics has been tracking that surge, it has not tallied the prevalence of mental illness among prisoners who are aging. Moreover, aging persons — imprisoned or not — are at greater risk for certain mental illnesses.

A comparatively small coterie of university researchers, alongside physicians and others providing care for those behind bars, say older inmates’ mental illnesses run the gamut. These researchers and clinicians have begun, even if incrementally, to try to empirically measure mental health problems among aging inmates, adding, they say, to what is a relatively small body of research about this group of individuals.

Tips to keep in mind when reporting on the mental health of older adults

April 2016
The National Council on Aging defines mental disorders as “health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood or behavior (or some combination thereof), associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.”

As the U.S. population ages, the need for mental and behavioral health services is increasing. Addressing and treating mental and behavioral health problems is especially important for older adults living in underserved communities, and for those living in poverty, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

Recent studies indicate that about one-fifth of adults age 65 and older (20.4 percent) met the APA criteria for a mental disorder (including dementia) over the prior 12 months. While many older adults suffer from depression, anxiety and mood disorders also are common. Good mental health is important for overall wellbeing. Here are some tips and sources for writing about mental health as people age.

Depression in older adults all too common

October 2013
With age and the advance of illness, depression often strikes older adults. How often? Estimates vary. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that up to 5 percent of adults age 65 and older have major depression. Other experts believe that figure hovers around 7 percent to 9 percent.

The numbers are much higher for seniors who are hospitalized (11.5 percent are clinically depressed) or who require home healthcare services (13.5 percent), according to the CDC. Again, estimates from other sources are higher. The take-home point is that depression is even more common in seniors who need institutional care or nursing care in their homes.