Posted by: Beverly Davidson, LMSW | December 12, 2018

Sometimes the system does work….

It has been awhile, and this blog has been quiet for some time. I wonder if that is because it has been a long two years of carrying a heavy load, or if life just got in the way. Perhaps a bit of both. So often we read stories of how terrible the systems designed to serve and protect the vulnerable do not work, and that makes those of us who are a part of that system feel a deep despair. We are left to wonder if what we are doing even matters. And then every once in awhile, a family I have worked with grabs my heart and helps me let go of my woeful self.

Almost 3 years ago I met a young baby who was born premature and addicted to many drugs. He was placed in a foster home after his discharge from the hospital, and he had trouble eating and breathing. He was struggling with withdrawal symptoms that was wrecking his regulation system. His foster parents were loving and caring, and wanted to ensure his safety. This little baby started his life with the loss of growing full-term inside his mother’s womb, and then suffered another loss of his mother when he was placed in foster care. His foster parent recognized that loss, honored it, and opened her arms to his grandparent who came forward and wanted to care for this young baby. This was a case that could have easily ended in termination of parental rights, and the birth family connection to the child would have been lost. All the public systems involved could have worked in isolation of each other, without any regard to what the child needed, but the foster care caseworkers, courts, therapists, medical professionals, foster parents, and birth family all came together to keep this baby healthy and connected to his family. Often there is little urgency and incentive to think creatively on how to do this with so many systems involved, and sometimes it just cannot be done and termination of parental and family connections is necessary to ensure the safety of the child. I am so grateful that for this baby all the systems and people involved worked together and a child stayed safe and loved.

The court would not let the grandparent care for this baby for a few months because she had a past that was questionable. She had to “prove” some things to the court before the baby could move in with her. On paper, she should never have been approved. But in person, after getting to know her and seeing how her life had changed and how dedicated and “in love” she was with her grandchild, many people working with her believed she could do it. Finally, the court, the foster care worker, and the lawyers all agreed she could be his caregiver. I followed this baby from hospital to foster home to relative home, hoping he was safe, nurtured, and given the proper stimulation to help him catch-up on his developmental milestones. All of his caregivers were loving, but I often wondered what all the moves, from hospital to foster home to relative home were doing to his emotional system. I also often wondered if any of my visits made any difference in the world for he and his family. Sometimes I never know. I only hope.

This baby was resilient. He struggled and survived through withdrawal symptoms, arching his back, crying incessantly, writhing in pain at his wrecked nervous system. He had a difficult time drinking because of the effects, and often was crying in hunger. He also had some trouble with movement because of his prematurity. He always knew he could do more than he could, and it was frustrating him, even as a young baby. But he quickly showed everyone he was a joyous baby, always smiling and inviting others into his world. And he was fierce. And he was loved and wanted by all who knew and cared for him.

After he moved in with his grandparent she told me, “I know I did not do right by my daughter when she was young. She has this addiction because of me. It is in our bloodline. I ain’t very smart, and I don’t have a lot of money, but I have to keep my family together.” I can work with that, I thought. She talked at length about how as a young mom she had no help, her husband left her with young children, she fell on hard times and started using drugs. She also worried how all the struggles in her grandson’s young life might affect him. She was asking all the right questions, I told her, and her ability to think about all this from his perspective will help her raise him. She also had such guilt about her own daughter, and I knew she might be trying to rectify that through her grandson. She was re-parenting her daughter through her recovery process, and trying to raise her grandson through loving eyes and not guilt-ridden eyes. There was so much for her to manage – therapy appointments, follow-up doctor visits, court hearings, foster care worker visits, and then also supporting her own daughter in her path to recovery. Often times she felt like she was in the middle of a tornado. And often, I would stand beside her and feel the winds surrounding her, just trying to prop her up and keep her standing.

She had developed a nice relationship with the baby’s old foster family during the transition, and they decided they wanted to stay involved and keep in touch. I watched this grandparent take a risk and become vulnerable with people she did not know well, and witnessed the unconditional acceptance they gave her. They, too, took an emotional risk, to fall in love with a child they knew they had to give back, but knowing that their love they gave him, no matter where he is, would always be inside him. They were healing the grandparent, and she in turn could heal her daughter and grandson. My role was to support these connections between birth family and chosen family, to nurture and support all the relationships surrounding this baby, as well as to make sure he continued to meet his developmental milestones.

Sometimes a connection between a birth family and a foster family is not supported by the child welfare system, for many complicated reasons. This connection, however, was supported by everyone involved. The foster family viewed their job as surrogate parents and helping this young baby and his family of origin stay intact. They provided respite care to the grandparent so she could take breaks and help her daughter through her own recovery process. They never judged. They became the grandparent’s “village,” a village she never had when raising her own daughter but one she so desperately needed. The grandparent would tell me “I think my life would have turned out differently if I had had some help with my kids like they are giving me now.” Yes, probably so. They provided concrete, hands-on non-judgmental care and assistance. I think all of us raising children could use that from time to time.

Today the foster parents are now chosen family and are continuing their support and care. Most importantly, they offer friendship. It is just one of the love stories that has evolved with this beautifully created chosen family.

There may be some anger at the mother for using drugs during her pregnancy and putting her son at such risk with a premature delivery. I admit I was when I held the baby, trying to massage him and calm him through neonatal abstinence syndrome. But then I met her. What I saw was a lost, scared soul, who was genuinely remorseful for how her son came into the world. What I saw was a young woman who grew up a bit rough, had to learn some things the hard way, and who lost her way in the throes of addiction. What I saw was pain and sorrow. I found her humanness, and I was not angry at her anymore. I wanted to wrap her up in a blanket, along with her baby, and rock them together so they could feel some safety and comfort together.

Today, she has many months of sobriety and lives on her own. Even though her mother is the child’s legal guardian, she is in his life regularly and helps to care for him. She knew that her addiction would be a lifelong battle, and she knew that being in her son’s life, but not caring for him full-time, would be the safest choice for both of them. The child knows who his mom is, knows who his grandma is, and knows who his former foster parents are. They are, quite simply, his family.

I will be saying goodbye to them soon. His grandparent and I were recently reflecting on all that he has overcome in his young life. He took a long time to learn how to walk, and we were worried he would not talk well. He can now run, climb, and kick a ball. He can sing me his favorite song, tell me how old he is and what he wants for Christmas. He is healthy, spirited, and joyous. His grandparent said, “Beverly, remember when he had that RSV 2 years ago? He couldn’t breathe and I was worried he was going to die.” “I remember, and you held his hand every second and he made it.” I sometimes visualize her holding his hand tightly, telling him how strong he is, and that she is ready for him to come home. It helps me get through the tough days, because he did come home.

I often ask my families what has been helpful to them in our time together, so I asked the grandparent what helped her. “You always told me I could do it, and you were always so patient with him, and me, always telling me he would get to where he needed to be. And he got there. Maybe a little late, but he got there. I remember the doctors telling me he might have disabilities and he would be limited because of what my daughter did, and I was always so mad at them. But you always said there was hope. You always said he was doing well, and if he needed anything extra you would help me get it for him. You just believed in us.” I do believe in them, and I believe in all of my babies. And I want all of my babies to be part of an “us.”

Some days I wonder if what I do matters, and the last few months have been particularly heavy-hearted. Some days I do not ever see growth or progress. Some days are just hard.

But for this day, I am reminded that one person believing in someone can make a difference. I am reminded that if all I can offer a family is hope, that is enough. I am reminded that a child needs to feel wanted and chosen, not just loved. I am reminded that when all of the helpers in a child’s life can come together and just be present, be accepting, and help to create space for love and growth to unfold, magic can happen.

Posted by: Beverly Davidson, LMSW | October 18, 2016

Just Make It Stop.

Is anyone listening?

Just Make It Stop.  I can’t get these four words out of my head.  I don’t think we know yet how deeply this has affected us all, but I believe our entire country is being victimized by a racist misogynistic predator.  The notion of “when they go low, we go high” has helped carry me for awhile, but now there is no higher place to go right now than to stop the madness of this campaign.  My wish is that both sides of the aisle would end all campaigning and the media would stop reporting on it until November 8th.  Enough has been said and done, we know all there is to know, and our country is hurting.

“Please, someone, just make it stop.  All I want is for all this craziness to go away.  I feel tense all the time.  My mind is running in circles.  I can’t concentrate.  I can’t stop looking at the news.  This is so scary.  The people that I love are hurting each other now, just because we disagree.”

This was paraphrased from a therapy session I conducted with a client who is an abuse survivor. The person, who already has PTSD, now has secondary trauma from this campaign.  We are in a different time now.   We are seeing trauma at every hour through every news outlet, through every social media outlet, listening to it on the radio, hearing people fighting in the streets, in our schools, and at the dinner table. Children are anxious and one report shows an increase in bullying in schools especially as it relates to children of color and of different religions.   When little kids are worried that the color of their skin or their religion will get them sent away or killed it is time to stop. The vitriol and hate spewed through these means by a de facto leader of a major political party is more than one can bear.  The media is culpable in this, too.  They could have chosen not to elevate this madman into a viable candidate and just stop feeding his narcissism with attention.  But they didn’t, and they won’t.

Just Make It Stop. 

We are being continuously assaulted by the vicious attacks on humanity that is being championed by a candidate running for President.   He incites violence, intimates his opponent should be killed, tells constant lies in the face of facts, pushes the boundary when others say stop, attacks and demeans women and people of color, sexualizes childrendemoralizes his accusers, and threatens the very core of our democracy by instilling fear and doubt about our election process. Even if he loses, the racist and misogynistic evil he has awakened and nourished in his supporters will not go away.  I cannot implore enough how much his rhetoric and tactics are textbook abusive behaviors that are designed to make people feel crazy, fight like a primal animal, or just flee from the destruction so they cannot make a difference and bring us back to safety.  The only hope is that the pervasiveness and ugliness of racism and sexism have been exposed more than ever and perhaps we can work towards healing it.

Just Make It Stop.

I am surprised at how triggered I and others I know have been with this campaign. The stalking, predatory stance he took at the 2nd debate was the tipping point that set me and many others over the edge.  I could not get his presence out of my mind for days.   All the insults, injuries, threats, and memories that we survivors have worked hard at stopping are back.   And it’s #notokay.  

“I don’t think we should be doing this. Please, no, don’t do that.” He did it anyway.  There was a time I did not think about it.  Now, it’s all I can think about.

“No, no, no, not that.  Please don’t hurt me. No, I’m begging you.” “Shut-up, bitch.  You don’t know what the fuck you are talking about.”  And he did it anyway. 

Her mind is saying stop, but she can’t find her voice.  Her arms are clearly pushing him off. She’s trying to get up. Trying to untangle.  Frozen. In. Time.  And he did it anyway.

The words of a young child continue to haunt me and have become louder with each passing day.  When I was a child protective services investigator working the sexual abuse unit, I interviewed a young girl who was being sexually abused.  One of our investigative techniques was to ask the child what her 3 wishes were.  “What are your 3 wishes,” I ask. “Only one. I only want one.  I want him to stop hurting me.  But if I tell he said it would get worse and no one would believe me.  So I don’t want to tell you what happened, I just want him to stop.  Can you please just make him stop?”

That’s my wish, too, little one.

Someone, anyone, please listen.


Posted by: Beverly Davidson, LMSW | March 8, 2016

NASW-MI releases Flint Water Recommendations

The following recommendations have been developed by the NASW-MI Flint Water Task Force, and will be sent to public officials and stakeholders.  Go to NASW-MI for further information on how you can become involved.  NASW-MI and its members continue to be a strong advocate for the families affected by this man-made disaster. 

NASW – Michigan Flint Water Disaster Task Force Recommendations

As the water disaster in Flint continues and the recovery process begins, NASW-Michigan, our members, and our partners remain committed to restoration. In Flint, members continue to make critical home visits to the most vulnerable families to provide water, filter installations, lead education, and other services under the coordination of Crossing Water. The chapter continues our involvement and support of the local effort to organize and plan relief, including consideration of short and long-term impacts on behavioral health and the social determinants of health. In Lansing, the chapter continues to support funding appropriations and advocating for the resources necessary to mitigate the disaster. Nationally, the chapter continues efforts to meet and talk with federal officials about concerns and requesting additional resources and coordination.

This is a complex issue with lasting consequences. The water disaster worsens, in many cases, already dire conditions faced by disenfranchised populations. Among those impacted are the vulnerable populations of central concern to the social work profession: low-income individuals and families; people of color; immigrants; people who are homeless; older people; people with disabilities; people who are isolated, institutionalized, or otherwise at risk; and all exposed children. These populations may be among the most vulnerable and require special attention during immediate relief and recovery. Disaster creates trauma for entire communities by virtue of massive disorganization, disruption of infrastructure, and changes in customary leadership, which in the case of Flint played a role leading up to the disaster through an emergency manager.  All of this trauma leads to grief and a sense of anger and helplessness in individuals, families, and small groups owing to losses, severe disruption, and frustrated attempts to obtain assistance and solve problems.

The Flint water disaster is a collective, community-wide traumatic event that has caused extensive infrastructure damage and human injury with widespread social and personal disruption. Even though an immense emergency response system of voluntary and government organizations has become involved, if the disaster is undermitigated or significantly mismanaged a second disaster will occur. The “second disaster” phenomenon is cited as creating more long-lasting and severe stressors for those impacted than the original issue (Cohen & Ahearn, 1980; Myers, 1994).

In an effort to support the prevention and relief of the harmful consequences from the Flint water disaster and enhance responsiveness of relief and recovery efforts, NASW-Michigan recommends that:

  1. Flint should immediately be declared a disaster zone.
  2. Coordination should take place through a federally and locally managed command center according to National Incident Management System (NIMS) protocol.
  3. The government (state and federal) should immediately mobilize the appropriate resources, including those necessary to construct a temporary water system that will provide clean water to each household.
  4. All plumbing systems, public and private, should be tested by qualified EPA sanctioned officials, not residents, at the state and federal government’s expense.
  5. All pipes and plumbing fixtures in Flint’s system that contain lead, or are otherwise toxic, harmful to humans, or unusable, whether on public or private property, should be replaced immediately at the state and federal government’s expense.
  6. Control of Flint’s government should be fully restored to its elected officials immediately.
  7. In order to prevent future crises, PA 436, the law empowering appointed Emergency Managers, should be repealed immediately.

As the planning, relief, and recovery process unfolds, the following must be incorporated:

  • Ensure access and provision of mental health and social services to residents.
  • Provide trauma-specific interventions to all students in Flint area schools to maximize their educational outcomes.
  • Systematically provide door-to-door services, including water delivery, food, water testing, filter installation, and educational materials.
    • the normal stages of disaster reaction
    • functional coping methods
    • strategies for accessing and successfully using services
    • info on lead exposure, including bathing in the water
    • food nutrition to mitigate the effects of lead exposure
    • daily updates and instructions on the progress of relief and recovery efforts.

It is critical to develop a team of well-trained disaster professionals committed to effective interdisciplinary and interorganizational collaboration in disaster response, at both the administrative and direct services levels, including consideration of the following:

  • Give attention to the special and critical training, stress management, and support needs of disaster workers in all capacities, from administrative to field staff, and the need to support their self-care.
  • Pay residents/youth wages for relief efforts to bolster the local economy.
  • Incorporate the presence, commitment, and leadership of social workers in the planning, immediate relief, and recovery process:
    • Of all the allied health and human services professions, social work is uniquely suited to interpret the context of this disaster, to advocate for effective services, and to provide leadership in essential collaborations among institutions and organizations;
    • Individuals, families, groups, neighborhoods, organizations, schools, interorganizational networks, and whole communities require intervention;
    • Disaster assistance must be construed holistically, encompassing the physical, developmental, psychological, emotional, educational, social, cultural, and spiritual needs of Flint residents;
    • Respected disaster response modalities readily translate to the language of empowerment and classic, generalist social work practice.

We respectfully submit these recommendations, along with our pledge of full support and assistance in implementation. We stand ready to collaborate with local, state, and federal partners and allies to implement these recommendations. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us at 517-487-1548 or via email at Thank you for your time. We look forward to your response.



NASW-Michigan Flint Water Disaster Task Force

Maxine Thome, Ph.D., LMSW, MPH – Executive Director, National Association of Social Workers – Michigan (NASW-Michigan)

Allan Wachendorfer, LLMSW – Director of Public Policy, NASW-Michigan

Donna Secor Pennington, LMSW – Michigan Association of School Social Workers (MASSW)

Dr. Otrude N. Moyo – Social Work Department, University of Michigan-Flint.

Beverly Davidson, LMSW, IMH-E (III) – Clinical Social Worker

Michael A. Dover, M.S.S.W., Ph.D., LMSW – School of Social Work, Cleveland State University

Laurie Carpenter, MSW – Co-Director, Crossing Water

Michael Hood, BSW – Co-Director, Crossing Water

Judith Fischer Wollack, ASCW, LMSW – CEO, Wolverine Human Services

Charles Banks, BSW Candidate – Board of Representatives, NASW – Michigan

Anu Agrawal, LMSW – Social work supervisor, University Center for the Child and Family

Valerie Southall, ACHE – Community Liaison, StoneCrest Center

Marjorie Ziefert, LMSW – Professor of Social Work, Eastern Michigan University

Ann Rall, Ph.D., MSW – Assistant Professor, Eastern Michigan University School of Social Work

Roxanna Duntley-Matos MA, LMSW, PhD – CUFFEJ/CAFE Coordinator, Crossing Water/Assistant Professor, Western Michigan University School of Social Work

(Based in part on: Social Work Speaks, 10th Edition: NASW Policy Statement on Disasters)

Posted by: Beverly Davidson, LMSW | February 16, 2016

“Look for the helpers…”

“For me, as for all children, the world could have come to seem a scary place to live. But I felt secure with my parents, and they let me know that we were safely together whenever I showed concern about accounts of alarming events in the world.   There was something else my mother did that I’ve always remembered: “Always look for the helpers,” she’d tell me. “There’s always someone who is trying to help.” I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong……” Fred Rogers, 1986.

With the continuing man-made water crisis in Flint, MI, this city has become a scary place for children and families to live.  Volunteering there, I have seen the scared faces of people whose trust in their government has been shattered, and who are unsure of how to keep themselves and their children safe from their water.  I have heard horror stories from others who have worked tirelessly to help the most impoverished get the assistance they need.  I will never forget the face of a young mother who was so grateful for the water we delivered, as she rushed out to tell us she just had a baby and drank the lead-poisoned water throughout the pregnancy.  I worry for her, and how this knowledge will affect her attachment with her baby.  I worry about the baby, whose developing brain was flooded with poison.  Their world is now a scary place to live.

Children respond to the faces and emotional tones of the grown-ups around them.  If their parents are scared and worried about something that should be as simple as clean drinking water, what do the children feel and see?  When parents are scared, it is in turn more terrifying for their children.  If our biggest helpers, our government, who are responsible for providing basic services such as clean drinking water, cannot keep our adults safe, how do parents keep their children safe?  What do the parents tell their children?  “Look for the helpers.”

The children of this city will need thousands of helpers over the course of a lifetime.  As an infant mental health specialist, I work with infants and young children and their parents to form a mutually respectful partnership so that the parent can feel supported and nurtured. In turn, the parent can support and nurture the child, in spite of the hardships they face.  I work primarily with infants and toddlers with special-needs and developmental delays, and often these needs impact the parent-child relationship.  I have sat with a myriad of parents wondering why their child is developmentally impaired, chronically ill, etc., and almost always these parents blame themselves.  “What did I do to cause this?”  Nothing, you did nothing wrong.  It just happens sometimes, I say.

But today, in 2016, we have a generation of children who will likely have developmental, behavioral and emotional impairments because of catastrophic mistakes that the biggest helpers of all created.  This did not “just happen.”

Early interventionists, infant mental health specialists, teachers, nurses, social workers, counselors, doctors will all need to be bigger and stronger helpers than ever before so that these children and their parents are wrapped up in secure blankets and held tightly. We will need a continual influx of private, state, and federal funding to ensure that there are more than enough infant mental health specialists to support and nurture the parents who are devastated and mired in shame and guilt for unknowingly giving their chidlren lead-poisoned water.  We will need funding for medical homes, school nurses, school social workers, teachers and programs to provide as many safe grown-ups as we can find to let these children know that “it’s ok to feel scared, it’s ok to feel sad, and it’s ok to be who you are because you did nothing wrong.  And, I will take care of you.”  These children will need helpers in every developmental stage of their life.

The question is, will our government make it happen?


(To help, please consider volunteering with or donating to Crossing Water, who are some of the most amazing helpers on the planet).


Posted by: Beverly Davidson, LMSW | January 31, 2016

No words….

Yesterday two of my friends and I had the honor of volunteering in Flint, MI for a small NGO called Crossing Water.   This is a volunteer organization started by some members of the National Association of Social Workers-MI chapter.  The goal of this group is to create connections among community groups in Flint to help serve impoverished communities who are deeply affected by the current water crisis.  What I saw was heart-breaking beyond words.  And it was only one day there.  I am trying to imagine living this way and I can’t.


We came to a low-income housing complex run by the Flint Housing Commission.  I saw a case of water on people’s doorsteps that had been delivered earlier in the day by volunteers.  There was no governmental system in the complex to test water, distribute water, or provide lead-testing to the children.  This is a complex managed essentially by HUD.  Where are the government leaders?

We knocked on one door to deliver filters and water.  A young man answered who was happy to see us.  “Do you have a filter?” He does, but it did not fit, so we gave him another one which would work in his unit.  I asked if he had had his water tested, and he was not sure.  He showed me the testing bottle he had from his aunt’s house, which was on the floor of his car, but he could not find the paperwork to go with it (which is used for tracking and data analysis).  I explained how he had to get his water tested, making sure he understood to use unfiltered water that had been in the tap for at least 6 hours.  He had no idea he had to do this, as he had not heard that filtered water was not safe to drink either.  Children under six live with him, and they cannot drink even the filtered water. He had no idea, no one told him, and he does not have access to the internet to get all of the updates online.  My brilliant friend had the idea that instead of the Governor hiring PR firms to spin his reputation, perhaps he should hire PR firms to get a coordinated message out on safety and testing to ALL the people of Flint.

The next house four young children answered the door gleefully, as if they knew we were delivering water to them.    The little girl joyfully showed us her newly painted nails as we talked to her young auntie who was caring for them while their mom was at work.  We explained to the aunt about how to get her water tested, and she had no idea of the process.  She at least had a filter and we made sure she knew the kids could only drink the bottled water.  Then, the young boy strongly and sternly put out his arms for the case of water.  I said, “It’s pretty heavy, kiddo,” but he persisted with “I can do it!” I gave him the case and he proudly held it and brought it into the apartment.  All I could think about was that this little boy should not have to be so strong and sturdy that his little arms have to carry a case of water for his family, he should be holding out his arms to catch a ball or grab a swing.  But he was eager and ready for water.  Water he should be getting out of his tap, not out of a bottle.

Knock. knock.  A young mom answers her door and we ask if she needs water or a filter. She needed both, and I asked if there were any urgent medical issues.  She said her baby had a bad skin rash after a bath the other day, “but it’s ok, it went away today.”  NO, NO, NO, it’s not ok.  In the state of Michigan in 2016, a mother should be able to joyfully give her baby a bath and trust that her baby will be safe from skin rashes.  The saddest part is that this young mom just accepted this without much anger or question.  She has learned to live in a world that has treated her less than for so long that she readily accepts that her home is giving her baby skin rashes.

A few doors down, a young man answers the door for his elderly male relative who is homebound.   We give him some jugs of water and ask if they have a filter.  “yea, someone came by one day and gave us one.”  Did you know that you have to change your filter regularly, like every 2 months?  He yells to his relative and asks about the filter.  “no, we didn’t know that, ya got any?”  So we gave him a replacement cartridge.  Did anyone tell you to test your water? “Nah, how do you do that?”   We give him a test kit, the instructions, and realized that the water testing being done is abysmal.

A woman runs out to our car and asks if she can have some water because her daughter is pregnant.  Her apartment is not on our targeted list but of course we will give her water.   “Do I need to sign something for the water?”  My friend reassures her “No, no, you do not need to sign anything, we are not checking anything, we just want you to have water.”  She knows that her pregnant daughter cannot drink even filtered water, but she does not know how to get her unit tested.  We give her a test kit.  “We need to get our blood tested, do you know where we can go?”  I look up test sites on my Iphone, give her some information and tell her to take care of herself and her daughter.  She thanks us profusely, and we get in our car and scream.  How can this be happening?

I ask another woman if anyone from the Housing Commission has been out here.  “Nah, but we got some water delivered once by a guy in a big Budget truck.”  Good God, this crisis has been going on for 2 years and no one from Housing & Urban Development (HUD) or the Housing Commission has been out here to educate its residents or test the water?

Later in the afternoon we go further into the East side of Flint.  The dilapidated homes are surrounded by barren lots, old abandoned buildings, a trailer park with gutted trailers tagged with graffiti all next to a junk yard and old factory.  One house we are trying to reach has a disabled adult who is homebound.  His dog is outside and greets us, doing his duty and barking and protecting his home.  We respect him, but then I see a person looking out the window.  We hold up some water, but no one comes out.  I wonder, would I come out and get water and a filter from a complete stranger?  Would I want to show my vulnerability and inability to perhaps walk or move, and come face to face with a stranger who reminds me daily that I cannot drink water from my own home? No, I do not think I would.  We understand this, we understand that this dog is not menacing, but protecting its owner, and we gently leave the cases of water and filter on the driveway.  I hope they understand we do not judge, we do not want to cause shame.  We just want them to be safe.

My friend knocks on the next door, and an elderly woman doesn’t get up but let’s her peek in.   “We are here with Crossing Water to deliver water to you.”  She does not want us to come in and really does not want us to ask any questions.  We know she is homebound, is isolated, and has cancer from the canvassing done earlier, which is why we are there.  We want to make sure she is medically ok, has a filter and understands the risks.  My friend tells her we have 3 cases of water for her.  “I only want 2.” No, really, we have three for you.  “I only want 2.”  Respectfully, we leave two cases for her.  And I know my friend will never be able to get this woman’s face out of her mind.   What will happen to her?  2 cases of water does not last long.

Across the street we go and knock, knock, knock.  A young mother of four races out to greet us in her driveway.  “Oh, my god, I’m so glad to see you guys, I just had a baby 3 weeks ago and I’ve been drinking water from the tap my whole pregnancy.  I don’t have a car because someone stole the ignition out of it.  I have some water for the formula but I have to wash his bottles with the tap water.”  We give her a filter, a test kit, and extra jugs, breaking the rules of how much water we can deliver to each house.  My heart breaks.  I work with infants, I know the effects of neurotoxins during pregnancy.  This baby likely has had massive lead exposure that is yet to be discovered.  This mom may have known the risks but HAD NO CHOICE but to use her only source of water for the last 9 months.  Her older daughter is watching us from the window.  She looks sad.  But is she mirroring my face?

The city was eerily quiet, with a myriad of In and Out marts, gas stations, bars, vacant lots, run-down houses, and churches surrounding the East side.   I wondered where all the water trucks were, where the National Guard were, where are all the governmental leaders?  This city has its entire water distribution destroyed, and all we could see were private volunteers at churches and businesses handing out cases of bottled water to people through a make-shift assembly line.   We can go to the Middle East, bomb and destroy entire cities, rebuild these cities, and we can’t fix this?  Where are the temporary water systems that our government could set up?  Where are the military personnel and trucks who could deliver cases of water and filters to people who have no resources nor transportation?  Folks are supposed to go to a local fire station, pick up a filter, a test kit, some water, and then return the test kit to the fire station for testing?  That’s the plan?  Seriously?  In 2016, that’s the plan?

I thought we’d see a local Command Central in an abandoned building, a church, or a school where there was a base of operations for water testing, water distribution, and lead testing.  I thought we’d see National Guard going door-to-door collecting water samples from each home so that accurate testing and mapping of the city could be done in an organized and coordinated manner.  I thought we’d see Red Cross tents throughout the poorest parts of the city.  What I did see were local groups and amazing volunteers of people from churches, social service groups, and unions meeting people in their homes so they could at least have bottled water and filters.  What I did see was good people trying to help, perhaps restoring some kernels of hope for people who have been beaten down.  More importantly, what I did see were poor people who, instead of being outraged at the indignity and destruction their government has created for them, have been so disenfranchised and are so impoverished that they have been conditioned to believe they are not worthy of even a basic human right such as clean water.

Not only does the infrastructure need to change, but so does an entire belief system on how we treat the poor.

In the words of Hubert Humphrey, “The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick and the needy, and the handicapped.”

In this city, in this state, our government has failed this test immeasurably.


Posted by: Beverly Davidson, LMSW | January 11, 2016

Racism + Destruction of Democracy = Flint Water Crisis

Racism + Destruction of Democracy = Flint’s Water Crisis

Why did the Flint water crisis happen? 

Much has been and will be written on the poisoning of the residents of Flint, MI.  There were decisions made by people in the short-term that lead to the public health crisis, but there are long-term institutional and political reasons that the city was placed in such a vulnerable position for this to even happen.  This was years in the making, replete with a multitude of past and present factors that all came together at just the right time that has now created a man-made yet entirely preventable public health disaster.  Racism, socio-economics, and the destruction of democracy all combined to poison an entire city.  But if it could happen in Flint, MI, it can happen anywhere when we are not paying attention.

Socio-economics and the intersection of racism and classism

The downfall of the auto industry in Flint as well as dozens of other urban cities across the rust belt set the stage for this industrial city’s economic decline.   Flint lost its manufacturing base when GM left and never recovered economically; hence, population dwindled, so the tax base dried up, and infrastructure could not be updated nor repaired.  So now Flint, like many other urban centers, has decaying pipes infused with lead ready to leach out at any given moment with just the right chemical make-up from the water it carries.   In October of 2014, even, GM pulled its water source from the Flint River, because the water was rusting car parts. But save the cars, and not the people?  I’m not sure what the powers of GM did or did not do politically or publicly to force the government to help the city and its residents regarding the poisoning that was happening…..the workers, on the other hand, have rallied and are loyal to their city.

The decline of jobs in cities is a piece of the puzzle, but German Lopez of Vox points out eloquently how racism has also played a part in how lead contamination happened in Flint.  The article outlines how lead exposure hits communities of color harder, and has been doing so for decades.  In a 2013 study by the CDC, it was found that although blood lead levels among US children have declined since the 1990’s, high blood lead levels among black children (1 to 5 years old) between 2007 and 2010 were still more than twice as high as their white counterparts. See here and here

Lopez goes deeper than economics and points out that “centuries of discriminatory and oppressive policies have pushed black people into poor towns and cities that can’t afford the lead abatement programs that wealthier places can.”  Lead exposure is just one of the ways we see racism rear its ugly head in our society.  We can easily find the disparities between blacks and whites in the areas of infant mortality and morbidity, high school graduation rates, educational attainment, suspension rates in school, incarceration, lead exposure, employment, wages, police brutality to blacks, etc.  Anyone with a computer, Google and a brain can determine that racism exists in this country; it is loud, bold, real, deadly and quantifiable. One of my favorite authors on the subject, Ta-Nehesi Coates, details in his 2014 essay in The Atlantic  how “two hundred fifty years of slavery…ninety years of Jim Crow….sixty years of separate but equal….  thirty-five years of racist housing policy…..” have all created a continual oppressive and racist American society.  He writes, “until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”

The bottom line is that in an affluent, white community lead-contaminated water would never have reached its citizens.  Never.

Racist Dictatorship Destroys Democracy

Governor Rick Snyder has engaged in a city by city power grab, and most notably, the cities and schools he has taken over are predominantly African-American and poor (Racism – affluent whites know better – see Ta-Nehesi Coates article above).  For a complete list of Snyder takeover in Michigan, go here:

For instance, Detroit’s takeover ensured that 50% of Michigan’s African-American population are not being run by their elected officials, but by gubernatorial appointees.   Even though Michigan voters rejected Snyder’s emergency manager law in 2012, Snyder and the Republican legislature passed Public Act 436 (against the voter’s wishes) that gives the governor authority to, per State Representative Rose Mary Robinson, a Detroit Democrat, make moves “without debate, without democratic involvement, without the people’s involvement.”  The Emergency Manager law gives him the authority to employ someone to disempower local elected officials and who can “impose cuts to public services, toss out policies established by the voters and their elected representatives and trash contracts with unions representing municipal employees.” See here:

Emergency Managers are not held accountable to anyone but the Governor.  They can make unilateral decisions without regard to any process or policy that has been in place via city councils, boards of education, and the like.  The elected representatives of a city or a school have are merely symbolic in nature, and have no authority to ensure the protections of the citizens they represent.  The Emergency Manager is essentially a dictator that is put in power to save money for failing schools or cities, the same cities and schools that have been oppressed for decades by long-time discriminatory and oppressive policies meant to keep their citizens down.  Louise Seamster and Jessica Welburn of The Root point out: “Flint’s citizens, 52 percent African American, have been deprived of the right to govern their city since 2011. Michigan’s Emergency Financial Manager law allows the governor to appoint an unelected official to control a city determined to be in fiscal crisis. Emergency Financial Managers have been primarily assigned to majority-African-American cities across Michigan. In the past decade, over half of African Americans in Michigan—compared with only 2 percent of whites—have lived under emergency management. EFMs are supposed to take over cities based on a neutral evaluation of financial circumstances—but majority-white municipalities  with similar money problems have not been taken over.  Flint’s poisoning is one effect of the systematic stripping of black civil rights in Michigan.”

Much is coming out now about who knew what when.  Blame is being thrown to the Flint city council and its officials, but remember, they had no power.  Flint has been under an Emergency Manager since 2011.  And, as early as March of 2015, the then-appointed Flint Emergency Manager Ambrose knew there were problems with the water, but yet he did nothing.  “We understand the concerns about discoloration and odors,” said Gerald Ambrose, Flint’s state-appointed emergency manager. “We tell everyone who complains (note his word, complain) that we would be more than happy to come out to their house and test their water….but there has been no link to health problems.” The fact that he used the word “complain” says much about what he thinks of the people of Flint.  If they were affluent people, I bet they’d be “reporting,” not “complaining” on what they are seeing in the water.

With no electability, there is no accountability, thus no one takes responsibility. Many cities in Michigan are not functioning as a democracy thanks to Governor Snyder and his myriad of oppressive policies (and the state itself is not much of a democracy these days, either).   Benjamin Spoer, in his op-ed for Al Jezeera America, is calling this a human rights violation, which I would agree.   In 2010, the United Nations declared that “ … clean drinking water … [is] essential to the realization of all human rights.” Flint’s contaminated water will prevent children from realizing their human right to health, enumerated in Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human RightsOur government allowed and perpetrated not only a public health crisis, but committed human rights violations.  The Emergency Manager Law should be repealed, rewritten, or constitutionally amended before another Michigan city has its residents irreparably damaged by oppressive, indifferent, incompetent and uncaring officials (who are not  even elected).

For a recent update on the timeline of the crisis, go here:

 And now, the history and dangers of Pb(CH2CH3)4

We all know by now, if paying attention, that lead is a neurotoxin and does irreparable damage to a child’s developing brain and other organs.   The abundance of research has shown that there are no safe amounts of lead.  The EPA now says unequivocally that there is “no demonstrated safe concentration of lead in blood,” and it turns out that even levels under 10 μg/dL can reduce IQ by as much as seven points. An estimated 2.5 percent of children nationwide have lead levels above 5 μg/dL.  Low exposure to lead has been linked to attention and hyperactivity problems in children and higher amounts linked to reduced IQ and behavioral and criminal activity in adolescence and adulthood.  Lead exposure also causes anemia, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity and toxicity to the reproductive organs.  But why?

Lead promotes brain cells to die,  and when it settles in cerebral tissue, it prevents calcium ions from doing their job, thus causing physical damage to the developing brain.  This brain damage lasts into adulthood. Further, lead is distributed to organs such as the brain, kidneys, liver and bones. The body stores lead in the teeth and bones where it accumulates over time. Lead stored in bone may be remobilized into the blood during pregnancy, thus exposing the fetus. Undernourished children are more susceptible to lead because their bodies absorb more lead if other nutrients, such as calcium, are lacking. Children at highest risk are the very young (including the developing fetus) and the impoverished.  Thus, the concentrations of lead in the more poverty-stricken parts of Flint are of extreme concern.

At lower levels of childhood exposure that are seen later,  behavioral changes such as hyperactivity and shortened attention span can occur (accounting for higher rates of ADHD, perhaps?)  Lead exposure also causes anemia, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity , and damage to reproductive organs.

The University of Cincinnati has been following a group of lead-exposed children for more than 30 years.  They have MRI scans to demonstrate the neurological differences between children with high and low lead exposure in childhood.   One study found that high lead exposure inhibits the formation and structure of myelin, which is a protective sheath around the connections between neurons.  Thus, the neuronal communication is lessened, and the “brain becomes both slower and less coordinated.”   Another study found high exposure was linked to losing gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, which is a part of the brain associated with “executive functions – emotion regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility, and the impact is greater among boys.”  Kim Cecil, a member of the Cincinnati research team states, lead affects the areas of the brain that “make us most human.”   Incidentally, the effects of lead exposure are similar to the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, another known neurotoxin,  both of which leads to permanent brain damage that is highly preventable.

Research into the effects of lead exposure in the 70’s and 80’s led to a public health campaign and efforts to reduce lead in the environment. Leaded gasoline was finally banned in 1996.  Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978.  Researchers have even posited that the reduction in crime in the late 1990’s was a result of eliminating leaded gasoline in the late 70’s and 80’s.  (However, there is research supporting that even more lead abatement is needed, especially to the soil in inner cities, as this is continuing to expose lead to children particularly in the core of inner cities).  For a detailed analysis of the history of lead and its link to violent crime, go here:

The fact remains, however, that a public health response to reduce lead exposure to children, by removing lead in gasoline and paint, and by instituting lead abatement programs, has been proven to be successful.  This fact makes what happened and is continuing to happen in Flint, MI nothing more than A CRIME.  We know that lead abatement programs work, that reducing exposure to lead for children has individual and community-wide health benefits on a multitude of levels.  But yet, the Governor of our state appointed Emergency Managers to control an industrial city only to cut costs not to preserve nor enhance public services, and these officials made unilateral decisions that allowed children to drink poisoned lead-infused water.

It likely won’t be for another 10-15 years that we will know the long-lasting ill effects of the 9000 children under 6 who were exposed to lead. Their physical health, educational attainment, mental health, and behavioral health are left now to the unknown, but with an expected trajectory that we must be ready for.  But what if that was the goal all along – to keep an entire generation of people oppressed, damaged, untrusting of government and unable to participate in true democracy.

Our children are continually left without a voice, so we have to keep speaking for them.

Ways to help:

Flint Water Fund

“Water You Fighting For” organizer Melissa Mays video on how to help

Water Resource Sites

Posted by: Beverly Davidson, LMSW | November 18, 2015

A boy named Ben

It’s fascinating to me how my personal and professional worlds parallel the external world, and how certain events help me pause. The world is full of fear right now, and has been for a long time.  I have thought about how that fear has affected me in my work, and in my personal life. The fear has blocked kindness to some degree. And then yesterday and today happened.

Yesterday I sat with a mom whose son is 2 1/2 years old. I’ve known them since he was an infant, when he came into the world way too early, weighing only 1 pound. After 2.5 years, she was able to talk to me about her agony of not being able to hold him after he was born, as it took 4 days before he was stable enough to be held by his mother. Those 4 days were the longest most harrowing days of her life, she said. I felt that from her, but never spoke it. I could not give voice to the sorrow then, because she needed to survive and feel hopeful. Hopeful that he would come home, hopeful that he would eat on his own, hopeful that his brain bleed would not cause long-term damage. Now, as he approaches his 3rd birthday this spring, she is able to breathe a bit, and see him for the bright, happy and amazingly healthy little boy he has become. She told me she never grieved those months she lost with him, when he was in the hospital and hooked up to machines and tubes. She couldn’t, she had to make sure she could just get out of bed and stand up so she could be there for him. There was no time for feelings, no time especially for sadness. She had to survive so he could. His parents nor I knew what the future held for him. Would he live? Would he have delays? What will his life be? Today he is walking, talking, running, and making the world brighter. Today his mom can breathe, and we can now work on allowing her to honor her grief and sadness for what she lost.
Yesterday we watched the video of his first year that she made for him, and I felt so touched that she opened that piece of her heart to me. Even though I have visited him since he was a baby, seeing him on video and watching him grow through that first year made me realize that I, too, was “on hold.” I had to hold on for her as I sat with them that first year, providing guidance and support as he struggled to hold his head up, sit up, crawl and then walk. I realized that each time he tried to scoot, I was holding my breath, just a small similarity of the enormous breath she was holding for these last 2.5 years. Yesterday I sighed with her, let go of some fear, and held her hand as she cried for who and what she lost, and cried with joy for who she now had.

Today I was sent a picture of a young man who I knew when he was a baby. He is a teenager in high school now. He was a premature baby, too, and has cerebral palsy. I was reminded of how little he was when I met him, and how scared his parents were for him, and what the future held. There was no way of knowing. There were many close calls with him, numerous hospital stays, therapies, tears, laughter, joy, sorrow, and an absolute fear of the unknown. But he survived, and he thrived. To this day, I share the story of him to other parents. I tell them the story of a baby I once knew, and his name is Ben. I tell them that the doctors all said he’d never walk. I tell them that now he is a strong young man in high school who can not only walk, but who can dance. I tell them that the brain is mysterious, and with that mystery plus love, dedication and courage all things are possible. I tell them that when they are doubtful, to think about a boy named Ben. Because even though they don’t know him, he is hope. And hope knows everyone. Ben gave me hope all those years ago, and he made me a better person.

The mom from yesterday reminded me that I told her a story of hope almost 2.5 years ago, and how helpful it was. Today I am thankful for Ben, and thankful for hope. And thankful that we are all strong enough to hold on, because we will get to a place where we can breathe, because hope knows everyone.

Posted by: Beverly Davidson, LMSW | December 24, 2014

3,830 Acts of Kindness

My work can often be frustrating, exasperating and exhausting. My early intervention team and I see some devastating things happen to infants and toddlers and their families. Some of our kids have profound disabilities, are exposed to drugs and violence, are put into foster care, and grow up poverty-stricken homes and neighborhoods. Some of our kids have amazing parents and caregivers, but struggle daily meeting basic needs because of economic inequality, lack of education, and quite simply, bad luck. Sometimes it is hard to see the positives, especially after working with a family for so long and the same problems keep happening over and over again. In my work, I look for what I call the “moments of hope,” because there are days that is all there is. These moments can be as simple yet as profound as a depressed mom, who after six months of working with her and her infant, can finally see her baby and experience reciprocal joy with him. The moment might only last a few minutes, but it is there, and we hold on to the belief that if it happens once, it can happen again. Another moment is the knowing that at least during my visits, the young toddler will at least have someone who sees him, plays with him, and can speak for what he needs. I can hope that he will come to know that some adults are safe, and there is goodness in the world. Or, in spite of being homeless and living couch to couch and having very little money, a parent continually brings her child to the playgroup, because “I know she needs this help and I want to do right by her.” After days of witnessing abject poverty, broken parent-child relationships, and a system that does not provide safety nets, these mini-moments of hope are all I can focus on so that I can keep doing my job with an open heart.

Recently, though, 3,830 acts of kindness happened that filled my heart and soul for weeks and months to come. After a particularly hard day at work, where I sat with families sorrowful about how to provide for their kids over the holidays, I sent out a desperate plea on Facebook asking my friends and family to donate gift cards that I could give to my families. I even quipped that I would provide a festive party for all if they donated. What happened in the coming weeks was inspiring. In one month, 40 individuals/families donated $3,830 dollars worth of gift cards so that families could purchase food, winter clothes, gifts for their kids, and gas to get to necessary appointments. One donor generously paid for a family’s heat bill for a month so they would have extra money for the holidays. So far, 23 families have been helped, and we have enough now to create an emergency fund for our families who are experiencing a crisis in meeting basic needs. I am in awe of all of my friends and family and their generosity. To let people know how much their kindness mattered, let me tell you what my team and I witnessed, so that you know how much your help was appreciated and honored.

A young mom with her baby responded with “You have no idea what this means to me. No one has ever treated me this nicely before.” And, all I (you, actually) did was give her Kroger cards to buy Thanksgiving dinner. Another mom cried with gratitude because “I had no idea how I was going to get gifts for my kids this year. We never have even had a Christmas tree. Now we can. Thank you.” A young family who is homeless can now continue to save money for an apartment and be able to provide a holiday meal and gifts to their kids – she said “Thank you, this will help us so much, and we are trying so hard, thank you.” Another young mom who has worked harder than any mom I know to stay healthy and sober just sat with me and cried, telling me there was probably someone else who could use the help more than her, and she didn’t need these. I made her take them, because she needed to know she deserved kindness. A mom who grew up in foster care, who really had no role models on how to parent, is doing an exceptional job of caring for and loving her children. She can now purchase the developmentally necessary toys for her premature baby and said, “I don’t know what to say, so I guess just thank you. The system never has been this good to me before you guys, ‘ya know. Growing up in foster care wasn’t easy, and I’m making sure my kids won’t ever know that life.” And, I’m sure they won’t, because of her fierce love she has for them.

I could go on and on about the depth of gratitude that our families have, but for now just know what an impact all of you, my dear friends, have made on the families I work with as well as my co-workers and me. I am forever grateful for the kindness because not only was I able to help our families, you provided me with magical moments of hope that inspired me to continue the work that I love. After a particularly difficult year in the infant mental health field and in the world at-large, I was thankfully reminded that random acts of kindness matter, that people are inherently good, and that by simply asking for help, you might just get it.

Blessings to all, and let’s hope for a gentler and kinder world in 2015.

Posted by: Beverly Davidson, LMSW | August 27, 2014

The hardest parenting question yet

I had my last visit with one of my little friends who is turning 3 this fall. He is a sweet, charming and active little guy,thriving even though he is living in the midst of poverty and chaos. His mom tries hard and does the best she can. He has done well in our program, and I hope that we have made a difference for him. Saying goodbye was hard. I am not sure if I’ll cross paths with him and his family again, but I hope and pray I won’t read about him in the paper. You see, he is an African-American boy, who will grow up to be an African-American teenager and African-American man. I pray he will stay alive and not get shot by the police just for being black.

Just last week I had a session with a young mom and her son. She is white, he is black. I had already been thinking about the death of Michael Brown and all the other unarmed black men who have been killed by the police, and I wonder if she was reading my mind. She and I discussed the usual topics, his speech and behavior, how to get him ready for preschool, etc. Then, she very matter-of-factly asked me if she should start telling him that the police are not safe. “What should I start teaching him about the cops?” “I heard about that kid getting shot in St. Louis, I’m scared for my son.” There are cops in her neighborhood all the time, and she has often told her son that if he feels unsafe, or if someone breaks the law, the cops will come and make people safe. In her young life she had the insight to say to me that because she is white, she was brought up to believe police are safe. She has never had any trouble with the cops, and so her experience tells her to go to the police for help. “But what about my son?” He is black, and black men are getting killed by the very people who are supposed to protect them. “Should I tell him to be quiet, walk away and seek cover when he’s older and sees a police officer?” “Should I tell him that some cops are ok, but some cops are racist?” She said she’s been reading about the Michael Brown shooting, and has seen the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” pictures. She was pained when she told me that she could not imagine telling her son to just put his hands up when he sees a cop, EVEN IF HE DID NOT DO ANYTHING WRONG!” “He’s only 2 1/2 Miss Beverly, what do I teach him to make sure he doesn’t get shot?” This is a parenting question I have never ever been asked. And it’s a question that I cannot believe I have to hear in 2014.

I was deeply saddened by her reality, and felt utterly hopeless because I did not have any sage wisdom or thoughts to share. I get many parenting questions – about potty-training, toddler development, discipline, temper tantrums, feeding, and the like and usually I have responses based in years of experience and/or research. But I have nothing for this question. Absolutely nothing. Nothing but despair, anger, rage, sadness and fear for this young mom and her son, and the hundreds of other little African-American boys I have worked with over the years. Nothing but despair, anger, rage and sadness for myself as a human being. As human beings we should all be feeling these things, shouldn’t we? Some of my former little guys are approaching 16, 17, 18 years of age now. What will happen to them?

So I listened. Closely. I lIstened to her pain, her confusion, her desire to make the best parenting choices she can make. I thought long after this visit about her experience versus mine. I am white, my kids are white, and I live in a predominantly white neighborhood. My kids see the police and they comment about how police are “helpers,” as that is what we have taught them, because that has been my experience. My worries for my kids encompass their school life and academics, will they feel accepted and have good friends, will I be able to save for college for them? I do not worry about them getting shot by a cop. I do not worry about their safety in their school or neighborhood. I cannot imagine living with that fear, and parenting through that lens every single day. When you parent through a lens of fear, there is a harshness and toughness in the approach, and I have always “gotten it” that some families have to parent that way for mere survivial. No judgement here, just a fact. But now I get it even more.

I think I have been missing this fear for awhile. I think I do a decent job of understanding my families in poverty and the struggles they face parenting their kids with little resources. It is always constant learning for me as a social worker, but I did not see this one coming. Was it because I didn’t want to see it? Much like many of us do not want to see the blatant racism in our society? Was it because it is too painful to see? Can you imagine walking the earth and believing that just because of what you look like you will either be pulled over, profiled, harassed or killed by a cop? Or “just because I fit the description?” as it did to Los Angeles TV producer Charles Belk. See

I cannot imagine looking at my kids and wondering how I will keep them safe from the police because of what they look like. I am trying to imagine it now, because it is affecting the families with whom I work. And I need to figure out a way to be mindful and helpful on a clinical level. But this is so much bigger than one clinician. We have to have a national conversation, plan and response to the blatant and ugly racism in our society, because our little boys are dying.

Posted by: Beverly Davidson, LMSW | August 14, 2014

The Black Hole of Depression

So much to say – a beloved actor and caring, benevolent man has passed at his own hands, falling prey to the tunnels of darkness. So much has been written already about him, and about the horrors of depression. Calls to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and increase treatment are being championed all around the media and blogosphere. But will we rise?

I have been thinking these last few days of all the people, both personally and professionally, I have known who have struggled with such illnesses. I have been flooded with many memories of conversations I have had over the years, mostly with clients, on what it is like to have a debilitating brain disease such as depression. I shudder at some of the response I gave during my early years of practice. So much I did not know, so much I did not understand.
I think about some of the times I have asked my clients about their illness and what it is like for them. Here are some answers I have remembered. Some are so haunting they have stuck with me for years. I try to never forget their answers so I will always have compassion the next time I meet someone who is suffering and feeling so utterly alone.

What is depression like for you?
“It’s like a black hole you can’t crawl out of, it’s neverending, and it is blinding.”
“It is paralyzing, my body aches, my heart hurts, and my head spins. It just won’t stop.”
“Sometimes the drugs help, a lot of times they do, but then there is that day they don’t. Then it is darkness all over again. And then less hope.”
“People tell me to just be happy and pick myself up by my bootstraps. But it it feels like I can’t even get my boots on.”
“I have bipolar. The highs are fantastical. I feel so alive. Then the lows come. It is worse than being dead.”
“I feel like I can’t move. I can feel it coming on, and I can’t stop it. I pray, I tell it to go away, I beg. It just doesn’t go away.”
“I just want it to end. I have tried every med there is. I just don’t think there is any point.”
“I am just sick and tired of being sick and tired. My hope is almost gone. Without that what is there?”
“I try so hard to make it stop. I worry about my family. I do think sometime they’d be better off without me. I have no joy. I have nothing to give.”

What, I ask you, do you say to such pain?

What about therapy? Have you tried that?
“Yes, but therapy is mostly talking. I have nothing inside of me. I feel nothing. I am nothing. What is there to talk about?”
“Why would I talk to someone about how I feel? No one can change how I feel, and I wouldn’t want to be a burden on someone, even a stranger, for how desperate my soul is.”
“Therapy works for awhile. Just like the meds. Then it comes back. It always comes back.”

These truths are real, and there are no easy answers.

These are real-life statements from people who I have known. People of different socio-economic and racial backgrounds, not just the poor and uneducated. Their voices periodically linger in the back of my mind, and even more so this week. I have known two people who have taken their own lives. They were severely depressed, and struggled with addiction. But so did many other people I have worked with over the years. I do not know what sets them apart from all the others I have known with mental illness. I don’t think anyone will ever know. Why him? Why not her? It makes sense if she did it? But him, no way? The truth is we just don’t know the inner workings of someone’s mind, even in spite of their outside persona. A person’s inner soul is so immensely private, that likely a very select few ever see it. This I do know. Depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, any of the “mental illnesses” are insidious and complicated diseases, and anyone who suffers from them need our compassion and understanding, even during death, for a person to take his or her own life, he must have been suffering greater psychic pain than any average person will ever, ever know. Be kind, in life, and in death.

It does continue to make me wonder what we can do.

One thing that comes to mind is that we need to reframe the discussion. Why are we calling depression, bipolar, addiction, or schizophrenia a mental illness? These are physical illnesses that are due to atypical brain chemistry. When you call something a mental illness, there is an implication that a person is at fault and there is some kind of character flaw. With that belief, it is easier to blame the person and villify him as a defective human. When we can blame a person, there is no collective responsibility for humanity or compassion. Is that what we have come to?

When a person has diabetes, they have a pancreas that is not functioning properly. When a person has asthma, they have lungs not functioning properly. If a person dies of an asthma attack, is he blamed and characterized as being at fault? Unlikely. When a person has depression, their brain is not functioning properly. The pancreas and the lungs and the brain are all organs, and organs we all need to survive. Diabetes, heart disease, lung disease all are treated with scans and tests of the organ responsible for the disease. “Mental” illnesses are the only illnesses whose organ, the brain, is not routinely scanned or evaluated to determine appropriate treatment. I once met with a psychiatrist for my own struggles with anxiety, and he said that psychiatry is more an art versus a science, and so we experimented with different medications to see what worked. Would that type of experimentation happen with heart disease?

I am not intimating that the medical profession is at fault for the evaluation and treatment of “mental” illness. In fact, no one is, but we all are. I am suggesting, however, that if we remove the term “mental” from these illnesses, and just call them physical illnesses, less stigma would be attached to the individuals who suffer so greatly from such pain. Less blame translates into more compassion and kindness…..and that leads to better treatment overall.

I am grateful I have never suffered from the black hole of depression. No one deserves to have such suffering. To all those who struggle, may you find peace and compassion.

Older Posts »


%d bloggers like this: