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Article

Early Brain Development for Social Work Practice  

Terri Combs-Orme

Development of the brain in the first 3 years of life is genetically programmed but occurs in response to environmental stimuli. The brain is organized “from the bottom up,” that is, from simpler to more complex structures and functions, so the experiences and environment that shape early development have consequences that reach far into the future. This entry describes the ontogeny and processes of fetal and infant brain development, as well as major risks to early brain development (during pregnancy and after birth), with emphasis on the factors seen in social-work practice. Neuroscience research is changing social work practice, and understanding early brain development and the contributors to poor development is critical for social workers in medical, mental health, child welfare, and other practice settings.

Article

HIV/AIDS and People of Color  

Michele Rountree and Courtney McElhaney Peebles

Communities of color are disproportionately burdened by the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Research has shown that race and ethnicity in the United States are population characteristics that correlate with other fundamental determinants of health outcomes. This entry will chronicle the history of the epidemic, report the disparate impact of the disease affecting communities of color, and acknowledge the social determinants of health that contribute to the vulnerability of risk. A call to address the imbalance of health inequities, with a complement of individual-level interventions and new approaches that address the interpersonal, network, community, and societal influences of disease transmission, is discussed.

Article

Human Needs: Health  

Toba Schwaber Kerson

Health is a need, a basic requirement for life. Needs can become rights when bodies of people, usually governments or organizations such as the World Health Organization sanction them. While many have declared health as a right, the greatest burden of illness continues to be carried by minority and medically underserved populations. Also, industrialization, urbanization, economic development, and food market globalization have brought with them the poor health habits that place people at risk for cardiovascular and other diseases. Improved health habits and universal health care coverage would help to address the health needs of all.

Article

Mental Health and Older Adults  

Hee Yun Lee, William Hasenbein, and Priscilla Gibson

As the older adult population continues to grow at a rapid rate, with an estimated 2.1 billion older adults in 2050, social welfare researchers are determined to fill the shortage of gerontological social workers and structural lag to best serve the baby boomers who are expected to need different services than previous generations. Mental illness impacts over 20% of older adults in the world and the United States. The major mental health issues in older adults include depression, anxiety, loneliness, and social isolation. Depression is considered one of the most common mental health issues among this population; however, the prevalence could be underestimated due to older adults linking relevant symptoms to other causes, such as old age, instead of as possible depression. Like depression, anxiety symptoms are often mistaken as results of aging. It is also difficult for providers to diagnose anxiety in this population due to anxiety frequently being coupled with other illnesses and the psychological stress that comes with old age. Because the presence of loneliness or social isolation can manifest depression and anxiety symptoms in older adults, it is also difficult to separate these two issues. With the anticipated increase of the older adult population within the next few years, measurement tools have been created to assess depression and anxiety specifically for older adults. In addition to adapting assessment tools, interventions tailored to older adults are essential to ensure treatment coherence, even though medications are the go-to treatment option.

Article

Primary Prevention  

Martin Bloom

Primary prevention involves coordinated efforts to prevent predictable problems, to protect existing states of health and healthy functioning, and to promote desired goals for individuals and groups, while taking into consideration the physical and sociocultural environments that may encourage or discourage these efforts. This entry discusses the history of this basic approach to professional helping from medical, public-health, and social-science perspectives. It also reviews major theories that guide preventive thinking and action. One section sketches the substantial empirical base for evidence-based practice and how such information can be retrieved. This entry concludes with a review of practice methods for increasing individual strengths and social supports while decreasing individual limitations and social stresses, which together characterize most contemporary preventive services.

Article

Sleep  

Jessica M. Black

Sleep is required for healthy and adaptive neurobehavioral and psychosocial functioning throughout the life course. Sleep is restorative, facilitates memory consolidation, improves immune function, and regulates emotional responses. Sleep deprivation, whether due to sleep disorders or other life conditions and transitions, is a significant risk factor for negative developmental outcomes at all stages in the life course. This article adheres to the biopsychosocial model to review current research describing the benefits of adequate sleep and ways in which insufficient sleep, as determined by developmental needs throughout the life course, can undercut healthy development. Particular attention is paid to social issues of relevance to social workers, with a closing discussion of policy and implications for future work within the field.

Article

Stress Effects on Health  

Paula S. Nurius and Charles P. Hoy-Ellis

Evolving understandings of stress have literally transformed how we think about health as contextualized within complex and multilevel transactions between individuals and their environment. We present core concepts of stress through the lens of life-course and life-span perspectives, emphasizing appraisal-based and biobehavioral models of stress response systems. We describe theories of allostatic load, embodiment, epigenetics, weathering processes, and accelerated aging that operationalize mechanisms through which stress affects health and contributes to health disparities. In addition to social determinant and life-span developmental perspectives on stress and health, we emphasize the value of health-promotive factors that can serve to buffer stress effects. Social work has important roles in targeting health-erosive stress from “neurons to neighborhoods”.