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Study Proves the ‘Friendship Bench’ Program Improves Mental Health

Study Proves the ‘Friendship Bench’ Program Improves Mental Health

Author: Justin Mckibben

Remember the movie Forrest Gump? If not, I am so very sorry. Spoiler alert: it’s about a southern gentleman (Tom Hanks) who tells the incredible story of his amazing life to total strangers while waiting on a bench. He taught the world that life was like a box of chocolates, and that going for a run once in a while will change your life.

While on that bench, Forrest shares a lot of himself, and it has a pretty deep impact on some of the random folks he sits next to. Not to mention all the people watching the film who were moved by the experiences and emotions he shares.

Well this whole idea of making friends on a bench and soothing the soul by opening up to the strangers you sit with has taken new life in a place very, very far from the little park in Georgia that Forrest found himself in. The ‘Friendship Bench’ program in Zimbabwe is changing lives for those struggling with mental illness. A recent study proves that even just sitting on a bench and talking to a new friend can improve your mental health symptoms.

The Beauty of the ‘Friendship Bench’

The program is carried out by Zimbabwean lay health workers, who give brief but effective psychological treatment to the public. Instead of a big medical office, you find them conducting their problem solving therapy sessions on simple wooden seats. These health workers, or community “Grandmothers” carry out this practice with a personal touch in several major cities in Zimbabwe. The benches themselves are located on the grounds of health clinics.

The lay health workers are trained to listen and support patients living with common mental disorders such as:

The beauty is in the simplicity of the system, and the fact that it is showing to be so influential for countries where access to modern mental health treatment is limited or even nonexistent.

Studying this Solution

The study of the ‘Friendship Bench’ was published in JAMA. As a randomized controlled trial funded by the Government of Canada through Grand Challenges Canada, multiple sources contributed to the trials, including:

  • The University of Zimbabwe
  • The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
  • King’s College London

After a six month period, following six weekly sessions of “problem solving therapy” on a ‘Friendship Bench’ with a health worker, data showed a significant difference. The severity of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts was noticeably reduced. This is based on locally validated questionnaires:

  • The Shona Symptom Questionnaire (SSQ)
  • Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale (GAD)

The Big Results of the ‘Friendship Bench’

According to the research:

  • 50% of patients who received standard care still had symptoms of depression– Compared to only 14% who participated in the Friendship Bench (based on PHQ)
  • 48% of patients who received standard care still had symptoms of anxiety- Compared to only 12% who received Friendship Bench care(based on the GAD)
  • 12% of patients who received standard care still had suicidal thoughts- Compared to 2% who used the Friendship Bench program(based on SSQ)

The Friendship Bench intervention was also shown to be well suited to improve health outcomes among highly vulnerable individuals. Out of all the ‘Friendship Bench’ program participants:

  • 86% were women
  • Over 40% were HIV positive
  • 70% had experienced domestic violence or physical illness

With CDN being granted $1 million in funding from Grand Challenges Canada earlier this year, the ‘Friendship Bench’ program has since been expanded to 72 clinics in the cities of Harare, Gweru and Chitungwiza (total population 1.8 million). The plan is for this growing movement to keep expanding. In 2017, the team plans to focus on extending the model to other vulnerable populations, including youth and refugees.

The Need for New Methods

Forgive me if my math and comparison is a little off, but I tried to put all this in perspective.

Zimbabwe has a population of 15 million. 25% of the primary care patients suffer from depression, anxiety or other common mental disorders. In a country with 15 million, there are only 10 psychiatrists and 15 clinical psychologists!

In comparison, (hypothetically) if even only 1/4 of the population of Zimbabwe suffers from a mental health disorder… That is still 3,930,000 people. Even if you could split them up between 25 mental health professionals evenly, it’s still 157,200 patients per person!

26.2% of adults over 18 in America suffer from mental health disorders. That’s 57.7 million people out of 318.9 million people (population as of 2014). If the United States had such a cripple mental health care system, it would be catastrophic.

At the end of the day, holistic treatment is all about healing mind, body and spirit through innovative and effective strategies. The value of sitting down with another human being and getting the support and therapeutic connection we need is paramount. Therapy can come in all shapes and sizes, and developing a unique and personalized treatment program can make all the difference. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call now. We want to help.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

72 Russians Died After Drinking Scented Bath Oil

72 Russians Died After Drinking Scented Bath Oil

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author:Shernide Delva

People are dying from scented bath oils.

Wait, what?

Sounds crazy, but it is true. Over the last week, 72 Russians died after drinking bath oils. Many of the victims were poor residents between the ages of 35 and 50 who could not afford regular alcohol. Instead, they opted for the bath oils because the ingredient label stated it was made from “ethyl alcohol.” Ethyl alcohol is the alcohol used in drinking alcohol.

Unfortunately, the bath oils were not made with just ethyl alcohol. Instead, they were packed with deadly levels of methanol, a toxic alcohol used in antifreeze.

A local prosecutor, Stanislav Zubovsky, said that 57 people were in the hospital over the weekend related to consuming the bath oils. Over 2,000 bottles of the bath oil were seized. Police found an underground manufacturing plant believed to be responsible for producing the tainted liquid, according to ABC News.

As a result of the incident, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev called for the government to put controls on the circulation of cheap liquids like perfume and soaps that contain alcohol.

“This is a complete disgrace and clearly we should put an end to it,” Medvedev said in a cabinet meeting on Monday. “Such liquids should simply be banned.”

Russia economy is just starting to recovery since the oil prices plummeted in 2015. The mayor declared a state of emergency, and officials posted warnings in homeless populations in regards to drinking the cheap alcohol knock-offs.

In January, a Russian consumer watchdog group reported that alcohol deaths contributed to the deaths of 30% of Russian men and 15% of Russian women.  Although drinking is an important part of the Russian culture, alcohol is too expensive for some citizens to afford.

This is especially true in the city Irkutsk which is home to 620,000 people.  At one time, the city was home to a booming industry, but the collapse of the Soviet Union and the decreased demand for machinery turned the city into a struggling economy.  With income levels lower than seen before, many find more affordable creative ways to consume alcohol.  Unfortunately, the attempt to maintain drinking culture resulted in unexpected fatalities.

Homeless Population Most At Risk

Russia is not the only area with an issue like this. The homeless population is known for finding ways to consume alcohol and other drugs through synthetic alternatives. The drug k2 is a synthetic form of marijuana popular in homeless areas all across the United States.

Just this November, dozens of homeless people in St. Louis, Missouri were found in a zombie state after consuming the k2 drug.

“People were standing and walking around like zombies,” said St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson. “They didn’t know what they were doing or where they were at.”

It was estimated that in one short period, over 100 members of the homeless population overdosed on the K2 drug. Other drug alternatives commonly used are products like Listerine and hand sanitizer.

Should companies feel obligated to ensure their products are safe for consumption? With the example of the bath oils, should the company be held responsible?

Regardless, addiction is rampant in all communities, both the upper class and homeless populations. Therefore, if you are someone you know are struggling with addiction or mental illness, please reach out. The disease of addiction does not discriminate. Call toll-free today. 

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Wisconsin Governor Asking Trump to Help Drug Testing for Food Stamps

Wisconsin Governor Asking Trump to Help Drug Testing for Food Stamps

Author: Justin Mckibben

Drug testing for food stamps and other welfare benefits is a debate people seem to never get tired of having. Over the past few years there have been many state trying to use this kind of restriction in order to save money on benefits, but ironically these programs seem to have a history of being ineffective and actually costing the states money. Money which taxpayers provide. Even though the effort seems like a lost cause, many are not yet convinced.

Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin, apparently has no intention of giving up his mission to drug test welfare and food stamp recipients. Despite the continuous failures of such initiatives, the governor is persistent. Now, Walker has gone so far as to write a letter to President-elect Donald Trump, asking him to give his state permission to begin drug-testing residents who collect food stamps.

Dear Mr. Trump

In the letter Governor Walker wrote Trump on Tuesday, December 20, Walker echoed his desire to require that all able-bodied adults applying for food stamps have to submit to a drug tested, among other requests. Reports state that Walker’s letter said that states can

“-effectively develop and deliver initiatives that align with your goal to make America great again.”

Walker told the Associated Press that he was optimistic that President-Elect Trump would respond quickly once he has taken office. Governor Walker also released a statement reinstating his position regarding a state’s rights. He wrote that,

“Too often, states have become mere administrative provinces of an all-powerful federal government in Washington. Now is the time to reverse that trend. These requests are the first of many my administration will make as Wisconsin leads the effort to restore balance between state and federal government.”

Apparently Governor Walker adamantly rejects the idea that drug testing for welfare is discrimination. He seems committed to this cause, regardless of what the federal government or statistics have told him.

The Failure of Drug-Testing for Food Stamps

As it stands now, federal law prohibits mandatory drug tests for food stamp recipients. Still, that doesn’t seem to bother Walker, who sued the federal government last year for the right to drug test food stamp recipients and those who receive unemployment benefits. In this campaign for a stricter policy, Walker claimed the drug testing was to be if there was “reasonable suspicion” of drug use. However, the suit was never able to gain any traction.

The kicker is, even if Walker were able to make his plan for drug testing for food stamps a reality, these kinds of programs have proven time and time again to be an excessive waste of money and resources.

Some of the States that Tried Drug Testing for Food Stamps

  • In 2009, Arizona claimed that it would save $1.7 million annually by drug-testing welfare applicants. Yet after 6 years it had only saved approximately $4,000
  • In 2013, Missouri spent $493,000 on similar testing, butrecorded just 20 positive results.
  • In 2014, Mississippi launched a program drug testing for food stamps. Out of the first 5 months, only 38 people out of 3,656 were tested, and only 2 tested positive.
  • Tennessee had a drug testing for food stamps program, but it only ended up denying 30 people out of 28,559 applicants. Again, the cost of testing outweighed the cost of benefits saved.
  • Florida lost out BIG with their drug testing for food stamps program. The state recorded a loss of $45,780… after only a four-month period from July to October 2012!

Not to mention it was later revealed by the American Civil Liberties Union that Scott had spent $400,000 in taxpayer money to defend his program and appeal the court rulings that it was unconstitutional, a fight which he inevitably had to give up.

These are just a few examples of failed initiatives requiring drug testing for food stamps.

The Problem in the Programs

In a serious shade-throwing piece regarding Wisconsin’s run for drug testing for welfare, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated last year,

“Governor Walker hasn’t read the law. It’s always a good idea before you start litigation to understand what the law is.”

In a similar discussion in 2014, the USDA told the state of Georgia,

“Requiring SNAP applicants and recipients to pass a drug test in order to receive benefits would constitute an additional condition of eligibility, and therefore, is not allowable under law.”

This debate always comes to the argument of “if someone has to drug test to have a job, others should have to drug test to get taxpayer money in the form of welfare.” The reality is, not everyone has to drug test in order to get a job. Clearly, as these past few years we have seen a massive hike in drug abuse, overdose and drug-related fatalities. To insinuate that all these people are unemployed is just ridiculous.

My favorite idea was to require drug testing for the wealthy to receive tax breaks, but that idea didn’t get quite as much support from government officials for some weird reason.

Another side of that implication is why many are offended by these programs, because they believe it assumes everyone who is poor and needs government assistance is a drug user. Even beyond that, others say it is harsh to deny those who could possibly be struggling with drugs and condemn them to a cycle of crime and abuse.

Either way, Wisconsin’s governor seems pretty confident that the way to “Make America Great Again” is by drug testing for food stamps, no matter how many times it has been ineffective or far too expensive to justify.

An addict isn’t ‘scared straight’ by these kinds of tactics, and our country is seeing the importance of treatment instead of punishment. There is a way out, and Palm Partners is here to provide effective treatment for those willing to seek help. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free  now.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Why Offensive Stigma on Store Signs Sparks Outrage in Ohio

Why Offensive Stigma on Store Signs Sparks Outrage in Ohio

Author: Justin Mckibben

As much as I love where I come from, Columbus, Ohio has been through a lot recently. Ohio in general has seen some of the worst addiction and overdose rates in its history, and the state was actually sited as being #1 in opioid overdose deaths in the country. So of course there are very strong opinions about the devastation caused by substance abuse. Having grown up in Columbus, it is sad to see how the community is suffering. It is even more disturbing to see how some are reacting. When I came across this headline and saw the comments being made, not just by the store but from people in support of their remarks, it disturbed me deeply.

Now many across the state are in an uproar about the controversy that has been brought on by one convenience store in Columbus, Ohio. The owners posted hand-written messages around the store that are appallingly indifferent to the pain of the people in their neighborhood.

The signs of stigma…

West Broad Street in Columbus is a side of town I’m pretty familiar with, especially while in active addiction, so I’m sure that plenty of people have seen these signs. The Save Way Mini Mart on West Broad Street displayed the two notes that they hoped would dismay customers from stealing, but some patrons have found it insulting and offensive.

One sign, near the front door, says:

“Keep bags up front. Don’t stink! Take showers. Take care of your kids. Stay sober don’t OD. Nothing is free.”

The second sign was placed above a shelf holding cases of tin foil. Some will use tin foil to cook whatever substance, often heroin but not exclusively, before smoking or injecting it. This one states:

“Attention junkies, go ahead and steal a piece of foil to get high. Just please make sure you OD. Thank you.”

Yes, let this all sink in for a moment. Not just the fact that the word “junkie” is so destructive, but the content that follows is callous.

First thing is first, this is inexplicably ignorant to the reality that is shaking the world right now. With more people across America than ever being hopelessly addicted to drugs and alcohol, and higher rates of overdose deaths than ever in our nation’s history, how can people still believe these kinds of stigma?

According to WSYX/WTTE, a local news source, the store’s management would not speak on camera, but they told the news station they meant no offense, but also said the signs will not be taken down.

Really, no offense?

What is wrong with this picture…

This is wrong on so many levels, and I can’t believe I actually have to explain to some people why, but just in case I’ll give it a shot.

These signs insinuate statements that are so incredibly wrong on so many levels. To sum it up, these signs say:

  • All addicts stink/don’t shower
  • All addicts don’t take care of their children
  • All addicts are thieves
  • If you are an addict, you deserve to overdose (OD)

These are all equally as stigmatic and offensive, but that last part is just disgusting. The amount of indifference toward those in pain must be pretty intense for someone to willfully wish overdose onto someone else. To mock the despair and hardship of some while essentially telling them, and promoting to others, the idea that addicts deserve to overdose. Shrugging off the death of people who battle an insidious illness every day because they are “junkies” is repulsive.

Beyond that, the fact is these signs ignore what statistics have been telling us about addiction being more than just something impacting a certain demographic. These stereotypes are a huge part of the reason why it is taking us so long as a society to move forward.

Not all addicts are homeless! Not all addicts are absentee parents! Not all addicts are poor! Addiction touches the CEOs and stock brokers the same way it touches the unemployed and criminal. When we make such harsh generalizations of people who need our compassion we marginalize people who already often feel chastised, misunderstood or hopeless.

To those who comment…

Now as I said, when I first saw this story, the signs themselves we incredibly shameful, but the comments it received in support of this message and ridiculing addicts only compounded the issue. People who say that people ‘choose’ to be addicts and that they ‘choose’ to do drugs and ruin their lives.

It is baffling how some people still insist addiction is a choice. Even when the medical community recognizes it as a medical condition, people adamantly deny that it is a disease; when many regard it as a brain disorder, consisting of various psychological and physical factors. Yet people still go on about how it is the addicts fault because they chose that life.

Sure, people choose to do drugs, but we don’t choose to become addicted. That isn’t up to use. How many people drink and do drugs in their lifetime and don’t become addicts? More than anyone will ever know. A lot of you have probably had your share of experiments. So count yourself lucky, you didn’t have to walk the path many of us do. Stop being self-righteous; try being grateful.

The stigma is killing us…

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently estimates that 91 Americans are dying of an opioid overdose every day! A true tragedy is that many people struggling with drug addiction never seek help because of the judgment they could face. They prolong their suffering as a result of blatant and baseless stigma, which can have a lasting impact. People are actually dying every day because stigma can discourage people from seeking help.

How many parents avoid getting help because of people who think addiction makes them horrible caregivers, or neglectful and absent? How many families are torn apart because the fear of how it looks to the world to be an addict? How many have died before they could get treatment?

Some people want to treat actions like this as no big deal. This writer thinks this is a pretty big problem. To suggest that a heroin addict, or any addict, deserves to overdose, or even die, for stealing tin foil… is insanely irresponsible and inconsiderate to the wellbeing of not just the afflicted individual, but the community.

Don’t let the stigma block you or your loved ones off from the solution. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now. We want to help. You are no alone.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

The Second Deadliest Drug in the United States is Cocaine

Author: Shernide Delva

The opioid addiction epidemic continues to increase in fatalities each and every year.  The use of opioids tripled between 2010 to 2014 and opioid overdoses occur every 19 minutes, according to the most recent surgeon general’s report. However, all the news about the opioid epidemic overshadowed the second deadliest drug in the United States. What is it, you ask?

Cocaine.

That’s right. The popularity of cocaine has not dwindled in the midst of the opioid epidemic. People are doing it, and doing lots of it. In fact, a recent CDC report revealed that heroin and cocaine are the drugs most frequently involved in overdose deaths in the US.

An analysis from U.S. News and World Report revealed that cocaine is the second most common drug involved in fatal overdoses.  Nevertheless, do not be fooled by these statistics. Opioids are much more deadly than cocaine and have a strong lead in comparison.

Breaking Down the Numbers: Heroin Leading Big Time

While heroin was responsible for 10,863 deaths in 2014 (23.1%), cocaine was responsible for 5,856 deaths (12.4%).  To gather the results, researchers looked at data from death certificates where medical examiners and coroners rule on the cause of death.

“The method was applied to provide a more in-depth understanding of the national picture of the drugs involved in drug overdose deaths,” the researchers wrote.

In addition to revealing the amounts of deaths, the data showed how the prevalence of heroin deaths have increased significantly, while cocaine deaths have remained for the most part stable. For example, in 2010, heroin caused 3,020 fatal overdoses. Only four years later, in 2014 that number tripled to 10,863 deaths. Yet, cocaine stayed relatively stable. In 2010, cocaine deaths were at 4,312 and rose to 5,856 deaths in 2014.

Other drugs that saw dramatic increases were antianxiety medications (4,212 deaths) and fentanyl (4,200 deaths). Although these numbers serve a valuable purpose, researchers do caution comparing numbers across years because increased reporting and detection can skew results.

Drug Interactions: A Deadly Combination

Another important part to note is that 49% of these overdose drugs involved more than one drug, according to 2014 data. Most of the time, overdose deaths involve more than one substance so the numbers could coincide with one another.

“For example, the majority of the drug overdose deaths [in 2014] involving methamphetamine did not involve other drugs,” the researchers wrote. “In contrast, among deaths involving alprazolam and diazepam, more than 95% involved other drugs.”

Overall, the number of overdose deaths increased by 23%, rising from 38,329 in 2010 to 47,055 in 2014. Although drugs other than opioids contributed to the rising overdose rates, the data confirm that opioids have a massive impact on overdose death rates.

“The most frequently mentioned drugs involved in these deaths were the opioids: heroin, oxycodone, methadone, morphine, hydrocodone, and fentanyl,” researchers wrote.

In addition to data about specific drugs, researchers called for more accurate data on overdose deaths to be kept. In the future, they would like a more detailed analysis on these increasing drug overdoses.

“The report also demonstrates the ability of a new method for abstracting data from the death certificate to enhance national monitoring of drug overdose deaths, and it emphasizes the need to include specific drugs involved in the death on the death certificate,” said the researchers.


Whether it is cocaine or opioids like heroin or oxycodone, the epidemic is resulting in massive fatalities. With the new year right around the corner, the time is now to make a change. Your past should not dictate your future. We are here to guide you in the right direction. If you are struggling with drugs or mental illness, do not wait. Call toll-free today.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

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